Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha or any of its characters they are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. This story was written for the purposes of entertainment and I by no means will profit from the story other than the satisfaction of exercising my imaginative and writing abilities

Chapter 28: Shifting Perspectives

The battle was over. Five who had fallen had been returned again to the land of the living. A brother lost had been granted not only life but his own sense of being once more. Three fallen enemies, newly revived had pledged their allegiance to the Lord of the West. In the peace that followed the fray it was easy to relax, but this was far from over; Naraku still lived and the jewel still existed. There were battles of different kinds yet to be fought, many questions still to be answered, a world to save from ultimate ruin, and a young miko's fate remained uncertain.

Rain still fell and gray clouds still blocked out the sunlight bathing the shell shocked inhabitants of the clearing in its eerie light. Numbly they watched the stoic taiyoukai stand before them. His command hung in the air around them and each one of these witnesses was a little taken aback by the events that had just transpired moments before. To his shell shocked companions the taiyoukai before them appeared unperturbed and this mystified each one to varying degrees of inaction. In truth the mind of this demon was far from easy. One would have to have no feelings at all to be unmoved by all that had so recently passed. The seemingly stoic creature was no exception. It was through sheer will alone that his emotions were safely tucked away. Years of habit allowed his face and demeanor to betray nothing of the tempest of thoughts and feelings that brewed within him as shuttered topaz eyes regarded those that remained with him.

Kagome was the first to act. The weakened maiden found it a struggle to stay conscious but struggled to her feet. At the moment she could sense any emotion from him at all. The decline of her powers didn't register at the moment, only the lack of feeling she felt from him. Like the others, her eyes saw nothing but the demon she had initially believed him to be. After everything that had happened this afternoon, she could only think of one reason for his lack of sentiment, their disobedience. It had to be that or he would have acknowledged her when she spoke his name. But he had ignored her.

Midnight eyes welled with tears as she let her disappointment sink in. Cut to the core by his lack of response to her. The miko knew why and her heart inexplicably twisted at the thought of losing whatever friendship she had established with him. But she could not regret her decision to come here, not after what she had seen today. Inuyasha and Sesshomaru were truly brothers again. If she and the others hadn't come, Kikyo may well have succeeded and Sesshomaru would have been left with all these unresolved feelings. Kagome knew she was right in coming, but that knowledge did nothing to quell the rising dread she felt at losing whatever friendship she had begun to build with Sesshomaru.

With the aide of Sango and Miroku, Kagome struggled to make it onto Kirara's back. Though her companions were strong, they too were battle weary and emotionally worn. Despite their assistance and the great pains the monk and taijiya took to handle the younger woman with care, they were only human after all and Kagome found herself once more falling to her knees, fighting the oblivion that threatened to engulf her.

Suddenly the young woman found herself being cradled gently in a pair of strong arms. Her vision blurred as she could barely make out the glimmer of topaz and the soft glow of white through the rain that fell. She managed a weak smile as relief flooded through her as she recognized her savior.

"Sesshomaru…" she whispered breathlessly before the blackness claimed her. She closed her eyes knowing that all was not lost.

Topaz eyes gazed down upon the face of the young woman who lay limp in his arms. Raven tresses plastered in disarray around her face, the small garments that she wore were thoroughly wet and useless. Her body felt chilly to his touch, even colder than the raindrops that still fell against his skin. If it weren't for the fact that he could hear her breathing his concern would be far greater than it already was. He had to get her back to the cave.

"Inuyasha, Koga help the others." He commanded. The inu demon gathered his energy and before any of the others had time to react, he and Kagome were lifted in the air and speeding off towards the haven of the cave where Jaken and the children anxiously awaited their return.

Jaken in particular was especially fretful as he remained near the entrance of the cave, his yellow eyes taking in all that happened within sight. The rain still fell, but the wind no longer howled at the entrance to the cave; however, at this moment the weather was the least of the obsequious toad's worries at the moment. It had been a while, too long in fact, since the humans had gone after his master. Unthinkable thoughts sprung to his mind as it conjured all sorts of horrible images lending to the youkai's increasing nervous energy. The retainer's unease manifested itself in the small creatures incessant pacing relentlessly back and forth in front of the entrance, like some half pint sentry patrolling a castle's entrance. The visions were not just of the unknown possibilities of what could be happening with the stupid cats, but of what would happen to him when Sesshomaru returned.

"Those foolish humans, ooh, why couldn't they have just listened to what they'd been told to do?" he muttered to himself as he looked out at the rain searching for some movement however small as some indication of what could be happening. If their lack of discipline didn't get Sesshomaru harmed, Jaken surmised that he would pay for their lack of self control. Experience had taught him that failure was met with punishment. "Those insolent mortals should be here with these two. I should be at my master's side, not babysitting…"

He turned to look at the children whom he found were watching his antics with avid interest. He snorted in frustration as he started to pace once again. Staying with Rin was bad enough, now he had a kitsune to deal with as well. How far had he sunk? He had once been a ruler of a nation, but now he had been reduced to nothing more than a nursemaid. But then again, it didn't matter anymore as he was certain his time left in this world would be over once his lord returned.

"Imbeciles, ill timed storm, if only I'd returned sooner, I'd have been able to stop them… Master Sesshomaru's going to be furious with me…" the small demon grumbled under his breath as he contemplated his liege's return.

Once more the imp rethought his decision to follow Sesshomaru. Sure the young lord had saved him, but he knew as well that his salvation was merely an unforeseen consequence not an act of mercy. It hadn't matter what it was at the time, and it still didn't, the fact remained that he was here because the silver haired hero had slain his enemies… all of them. There was no rethinking the matter, his life was at the whim of this demon.

In all the years he had traveled with his master he had been given many a cause to wonder if he would have been better off dead, and just as many times he pushed the notion aside. Sesshomaru was a demon amongst demons, and he was lucky to be by his side. The stoic demon had never offered him sentiment or anything akin to friendship; in fact his liege had treated him no better than a servant, an expendable one at that. Yet, here he still was. And as he told himself before, that had to mean something, so for as long as he lived he would do as his master bade, even if it meant staying in a cave with a human child, a kitsune and a smelly two headed beast, all of whom he realized were watching him intently.

The youngsters watched their caretaker pace back and forth since he returned. Rin was used to being left behind with Jaken, but, never, in all her travels had there been so much upheaval during a departure. When she had been kidnapped, she didn't feel the anxiety she had now, as there was no one to feed off of. Now she had a friend, who sat beside her as anxious as she was and just as confused.

Shippo had always gone with them into battle. Kagome had never left him behind before and he had decided that he would much rather be near her than sitting, waiting, wondering about what was going on? It didn't matter that he had seen them fight battles, and seen them come out all right, somehow he had this feeling in the pit of his stomach, an emptiness that made him hot and cold at the same time. He didn't like it, this fear that gripped him now, it was worse than staring at the jaws of some hungry demon.

Watching Jaken pace back and forth wasn't doing anything to calm his impatience to know what was going on. It only seemed to make the time pass exponentially slower than it was since the others had left. It seemed like an eternity before Kirara's familiar figure appeared at the entrance to the cave.

"They're back! Let them in! Let them in!" he cried excitedly to the little imp who stood at the entrance just peering at them through the energy barrier.

"Be silent, impudent kit." Jaken reprimanded in his squawky voice, "I know my place if others do not!" the peevish little demon snapped, angry that the children had noticed his master before he had.

He planted the staff of two heads firmly on the ground; the old man opened its mouth and yelled, "Enter Master."

"Oh master I tried to stop them. But the humans wouldn't listen they're such stubborn undisciplined creatures." The small toad groveled as Sesshomaru stepped into the safety of the cave.

"Not now Jaken." Sesshomaru stated coldly as he strode past his discombobulated vassal. "Get something that will keep get her warm. "

"Yes, milord" the yellow eyed servant bowed and scurried to where Kagome's bag lay against a stone wall. The pint sized demon had no idea what the human girl needed but he was determined to find something, anything that would appease his master.

"Inuyasha, where is the taijiya?" Sesshomaru inquired from his brother as soon as his younger sibling strode through the opening of the cave.

"She's with Miroku on Kirara. They'll be here any second. Is Kagome all right?" Inuyasha queried gruffly as he stood beside his brother and gazed at Kagome's pale face a moment before lifting his eyes to look at his brother before posing his next question. "What the hell happened to her to make her so weak?"

Sesshomaru lifted his eyes to meet his brother's. This time he didn't have any answers. "I wish I knew."

For a moment all was laid bare to the hanyou. In that brief instance Inuyasha saw the concern the taiyoukai held for the young woman cradled gently in his arms. If it had been any other time Inuyasha would have smiled, only Kagome could have inspired these protective feelings in his brother as she had in him, as she had in everyone in this group, including the wolf that had just came barreling into the cave.

The moment between brothers was over as the wolf began his own inquisition. "What the hell happened to Kagome? I thought you were supposed to be protecting her." The wolf demanded as cerulean eyes locked onto the figure still cradling the miko in his arms.

Thankfully the fire cat arrived at that very moment bearing its mistress and the monk who had been momentarily delayed as the two of them had stopped for a moment to themselves. Sesshomaru wasn't about to answer the wolf's queries delivered in such a tone. The lupine demon may have saved his brother, that debt had been paid when the wolf was restored his life. The taiyoukai owed him nothing more. Right now, getting Kagome warm and dry was his main priority; everything else could be and would be dealt with after Kagome was seen to. The welfare of the young woman in his arms was crucial, and he knew it had nothing to do with the fact that the fate of them all rested with her. No indeed, it was more simple than that and at this moment he could not deny it.

"Taijiya, are you well enough to help Kagome into some dry garments?" Sesshomaru asked the black clad warrior that had just dismounted.

The slayer turned quickly, surprised not only at being addressed, but the question itself. Sure she had witnessed his concern for Kagome before, but any assistance that had been rendered her friend had been seen to by the demon who had just spoken to her. Never would she have thought he would ask her for assistance, yet she was touched that he had. The taiyoukai could have easily taken care of her friend without any assistance, and yet she wondered if he was making an effort to… The thought trailed off as a new idea formed as sable looked into amber; it wasn't that the demon couldn't take care of seeing to the woman in his arms or that it was beneath him to attend the her friend in such a menial way. She was able to discern the truth; this mighty demon asking the help of a mere human for the sake of the young woman's modesty.

"What an afternoon this had been." Sango thought as she nodded her head and followed Sesshomaru to the back of the cave. The imp carrying the overlarge pack went scurrying after her.

Koga however wasn't about to be ignored. True Sesshomaru had saved his life. But it appeared to him that the inu youkai was pretty arbitrary with who he saved as he saw fit to resurrect the damn nekos that had killed him in the first place. He already wanted answers for that, but Kagome's plight was more important. Something had happened; somehow she had been involved in the battle. As far as he was concerned she never should have been anywhere near the fight. Kagome should have been safe in the cave, out of harm's way.

"Answer me damn it." Koga snarled as he raised fist at the retreating figure of Sesshomaru, who still ignored him. "You can't ignore me forever you bastard."

"Put a sock in it. Can't you see Kagome needs to be taken care of?" Inuyasha growled as he stepped in front of the wolf.

"What the hell happened out there?" Cerulean eyes blazed angrily as he now directed the questions to someone who at least was going to give him a fight. "Why are you all of a sudden defending your brother? Didn't you see what I saw? Or am I the only one who's wondering why he would bring back those filthy cats? You all seem to have lost your minds."

"Now, now Koga," Miroku soothed as he stepped beside Inuyasha.

"Save your breath Miroku." Inuyasha sniped, "he's too stupid to understand what happened. Besides the only thing I want to know is what happened to Kagome. That's the only thing that matters anyway."

"That's the first smart thing you've said since I've met you dog boy."

"Why you…" Inuyasha growled as his hands clenched into fists at his side.

"You think you'd be more grateful since I saved your pathetic life." Koga snarled.

"Well I could say the same for you. But I guess now we're even and that means all bets are off." Inuyasha ground out through gritted teeth as he cracked his knuckles.

The monk sighed wearily, it had appeared nothing had changed between these two. It didn't matter how battle worn they were, nor did it factor in that the two of them had just cheated death here they stood toe to toe, adrenaline flowing through their veins, eyes blazing at the prospect of tearing into one another, both itching for yet another round. He would never fully understand demons.

"Well I guess neither of you wants to know what happened to Kagome then." Miroku tacitly baited as he watched the two of them. One would think that everything that had just happened that one or both of them might have had some sort of epiphany in regards to their tempers.

The mention of Kagome instantly quieted their fight and redirected their anxiety back to the original target. Cerulean and amber turned in sync, silently conveying the anxiousness that both rivals were feeling.

The monk smirked. Nothing had changed.

"Well…" The monk drew out that word as his thoughts raced trying to decide just where to begin. "Hmm… it's rather difficult as Sango and I were involved with the cats and Kagome was with you Inuyasha…"

"I knew it dog boy! I knew this had to be your fault." Koga cried accusingly as he pointed a finger at Inuyasha.

"It wasn't my brother's fault." Sesshomaru stated coolly as he joined the three. "Kagome did what she needed to do."

"As I was saying," Miroku began again his annoyance creeping into his tone as he once again garnered the attention of the wolf and hanyou. "Kagome arrived with Sango and me." The monk paused here. Violet met amber as he looked his friend in the eye. The human's face was set in somber remembrance of what had occurred just hours before. "She was the first of us to see you lying there. She couldn't get to you fast enough…"

"I remember that. Her face was the last thing I saw before… well…." Inuyasha replied his voice devoid of the earlier edge it held as he recalled his last moments.

Cerulean eyes widened as he realized what Inuyasha meant. He hadn't thought for a moment that the Inu had fallen. Then suddenly it made sense as to why Inuyasha had intervened earlier, his sudden change in demeanor to the brother who just this morning inspired an animosity that Inuyasha had never exhibited before in the time he had known the half demon. Sure the wolf and half breed had fought both verbally and physically, but beyond the barbs and blows there had always been a sort of grudging respect between the two.

Miroku waited a moment, anticipating another outburst from the wolf at this, but none came. Wisely, the storyteller suppressed the urge to smile a little at this. Violet eyes spared a glance at the young ex-chieftain before they shifted back to the face of his friend. Maybe something had changed after all. "Sango and I left her there to help Sesshomaru fight the nekos. It was only a few moments later that we felt this blast of energy. It was a power I have never in all my years felt."

"Nor I," Sesshomaru whispered, but the three of them heard him nonetheless, and they heard the tinge of concern in his normally flat voice. Three sets of eyes turned to face the taiyoukai.

"Was she trying to revive me?" Inuyasha asked. He could still see Kagome's face, her eyes filled with tears that fell and mixed with the rain on her face. The sorrow and anguish that filled her voice as she spoke to him was forever ingrained in his memory.

Sesshomaru remained silent. Amber clashed with violet in silent communication. Neither sure of what to say, both knowing the answer truly lay with the woman that was resting near Ah-Uhn, both fearful of Inuyasha's reaction when he learned it had something to do with Kikyo, and both certain that it was inevitable that Inuyasha would indeed find out that his resurrected lover was involved.

"No, well, we don't know for sure. All we know is that suddenly there was this immense release of energy, when we turned to see what it was we saw Kagome..." Here he took a deep breath and ventured a look at his friend knowing what he would say next would more than likely decompose him, "and Kikyo."

Amber eyes widened in astonishment, "Kikyo was there. But how…" he paused here as he remembered her words; "Your anger calls to me, begging me to take you from this plane." He had been angry, hell he had been beyond angry today and Kikyo had come for him. Kagome must have stepped in her way and been hit with a blast of energy. Koga was right, it was his fault Kagome was lying in the back of the cave unconscious. All fight was gone from him and he hung his head in humbled shame. "It was me… Kikyo came for me…I promised…She did this to Kagome so she could take me to hell."

"You misunderstand brother." Sesshomaru stated as he noted his brother's guilty demeanor. "Kikyo did not injure Kagome, it was Kagome who released the energy and Kikyo was carried away by the Shinidamachu."

"What…" Inuyasha's head shot up immediately as his brother spoke. Amber met amber, disbelief met with truth. "How… Just what did she do?" He asked his eyes flicking between the face of brother and friend.

"We're not sure." Miroku said as he placed a hand on his chin, "although I do have my suspicions."

"Indeed." Sesshomaru stated. Again the only indication of Sesshomaru's curiosity was a single raised eyebrow that silently encouraged the human to continue.

"Mind you," the monk began tentatively, " I've never heard of such a thing, and I doubt that it' even possible." Miroku hedged uncertainly. With all their eyes turned to him expectantly he was suddenly having second thoughts for even thinking such a ridiculous thing. Even in his mind it sounded far fetched but to voice it or even form the thought into words made it seem more implausible.

"Well nothing that's going on right now is supposed to be possible, is it?" Koga muttered angrily as the monk fell into silence, some answer no matter how far fetched was better than nothing. "The jewel being broken, Kagome traveling through time, a sword that can revive the dead… all those things shouldn't happen, but they are."

"You forget a dead miko surviving on just a mere fraction of her soul." Miroku added intrigued at the wolf's insight and gaining confidence from these observations. It was true, not much of anything that was happening was truly plausible, but it was indeed happening.

"Yeah, yeah, you two can talk about all that later. Just tell us your damn theory Miroku" Inuyasha said testily.

"Well, I think, maybe somehow Kagome gave Kikyo a piece of her soul, from what I understand she'd been able to retrieve parts of the soul before, it follows that she should in theory anyways be able to give it back." The dark haired human replied with trepidation. He knew full well how very unlikely this was, but it was the only thing that could explain such a diminishment in her powers. He thought back to earlier in the day; that release of energy… it wasn't youkai, it wasn't purification but whatever it was had caught everyone's attention.

"What?" Inuyasha cried. Amber eyes went wide upon hearing his friend's theory, the ramifications of such an occurrence were at the very heart of one of his most fervent wishes. If Kikyo regained another piece of her soul, a piece of Kagome's soul, maybe, just maybe there was hope that she would get past the bitterness that directed her every movement. There was a chance that Kikyo would be the woman he had loved all those years ago. Then they all would see just who she truly was, they all would understand what he already knew, and had known all along. And maybe, if there was a charitable god there would be a future for the two of them.

"Why the hell would she do that?" Koga snarled. His hackles rose at the thought that Kagome would give something as important as a piece of her soul to whatever it was that Kikyo was. "From what I understand…"

"You don't understand anything" Inuyasha growled, interrupting before the wolf said something that would really set him off.

"I understand more than you know." The wolf continued, not about to let the hanyou speak. He'd heard rumors about this Kikyo person, about who she was, and more specifically who she was to Inuyasha. It was part of the reason he had long held out hope for Kagome's affections. It just didn't make sense to him that Kagome would do such a thing. Sure she was generous and forgiving to a fault, but for the girl to give her rival, some creature who was the result of a demon craft a part of her soul was too much. Especially when the young girl's very survival depended on the strength to summon the jewels and survive what came next. The wolf rounded on Inuyasha fangs bared. "I know that it's going to take all of Kagome's strength to try and summon the damn jewel, I understand that freeing Midoriko's soul could kill Kagome. But I guess it doesn't quite matter to you does it dog boy since you'll be getting what you wanted all along and Kagome be damned." Koga bellowed furiously, cerulean eyes blazing blue fire as they locked onto amber ones that glittered dangerously.

"You don't know how I feel about Kagome." Inuyasha roared back resentful that the wolf could even think that he didn't care about Kagome.

"Enough." Sesshomaru commanded. Amber eyes regarded the two angry males before him. They were not helping matters. The demon was thankful that Jaken had been smart enough to place a barrier between them and the young miko recuperating in the back of the cave. At times the small retainer could prove that he was indeed useful to have around.

Twin fiery sapphires turned upon the taiyoukai as the wolf turned his fury to another target, "Look, I know what the hell will happen to Kagome if you destroy the jewel. If you haven't forgotten I have spoken with Lord Hikari, I know all about this plan, this alliance. They were only too happy to tell us what would happen." Cerulean eyes flicked to Miroku and Inuyasha for a moment before turning back to regard amber ones as he threw down the verbal gauntlet. Right now it didn't matter that the demon lord before him had just moments earlier saved his life, it didn't matter that he owed him something for that, and it didn't matter that Koga knew the extent of this youkai's power. All that mattered at this moment was Kagome. "Did you tell them? Do they know that you're planning to sacrifice her?"

Amber eyes narrowed and red tinged their outer rims, a warning growl rumbled deep in the taiyoukai's chest as he regarded the impertinent whelp before him. Sesshomaru knew that he would regret what the sword had bade him to do, and now he did. Kagome knew there was a risk, she had trusted him, but these questions could very well undo all he had accomplished.

It would be so easy at this moment to return the cur to his grave, but that would achieve nothing, save some peace of mind for him, but it may very well undo the progress he had made with his brother today. Not only that, he couldn't bear to look into a pair of midnight eyes when she confronted him about it, and he had no illusions that she would let this worthless canine's death go without a thought. "I've told you before I do not intend to sacrifice Kagome. In fact if the monk's theory is indeed true, it is a most fortuitous turn of events."

"If she's too weak to even stay awake right now, how the hell is she supposed to stay alive after the jewel is destroyed? That is if she can even summon the jewel in the first place." Koga pressed his point further knowing full well that he was on shaky ground as it was, but at the moment his anger made him reckless.

"She will have all of Midoriko's soul then, and only a part of Kikyo's. If we can keep the remainder of that soul from returning to Kagome, she shall survive this." Sesshomaru stated calmly, his cold exterior once more intact. He would not let this disrespectful imbecile get another rise out of him.

"Just how do you intend on doing that. Hikari told us that the souls have already begun to bond, that the remaining piece will be called to her and a new soul will form and Kagome would die. Not could, WOULD! You and I both know that there's nothing that can prevent that from happening." Koga ground out bitterly looking for any sign of emotion from the demon lord.

"The Kokoikomi." Miroku chimed in as he recalled the various training sessions the demon lord had spent with Kagome. He had always wondered at the need of such a barrier since the young woman would not be able to summon the shards to her under its protection. The monk had never questioned this aloud, but it had always been a source of great curiosity to him that Sesshomaru insisted that his young friend master that particular barrier.

"Yes." Sesshomaru stated impressed that the monk had once again shown a quickness of mind that reminded him of a certain young miko.

"What the hell are you talking about? What does that damn barrier have to do with any of this?" Koga cried as he spun to look at the human resentful that someone had stepped in to aide the taiyoukai. All of them had been duped by these taiyoukai and the grand schemes to save the world. These were Kagome's friends, they were all supposed to look out for her. He had thought by challenging Sesshomaru in front of them they'd see, they'd talk some sense into her. He had thought wrong. Inuyasha's voice pulled him from his thoughts.

"Well look who doesn't have a clue now." Inuyasha said crossing his arms in smug satisfaction. The mangy wolf wasn't as in the loop as he thought he was.

"And I suppose you do." The wolf countered back.

Miroku shook his head and heaved another long suffering sigh but he was determined that they would find some peace, and he knew for all of Inuyasha's smugness that the silver haired hanyou didn't either, it was just that Koga had asked the question first. Patiently the monk began his explanation. "The Kokoikomi is the strongest of spiritual barriers, the one who erects it is basically ensconced behind an impenetrable wall of energy, nothing gets out and nothing gets in."

"All right, that's all fine and good but is she supposed to live in that barrier the rest of her life?" Koga put the question to the monk. Cerulean and violet clashed then and the silence hung between the two as the monk had no further answer as he had not thought beyond the immediate. The human struggled to find a longer term answer and came up with nothing.

Satisfied that he had made his point, Koga turned his anger back to its original target. Once more blue fire clashed with polished topaz as he posed his question, "as I said before just how are you trying to save her?"

"The well," was all the reply he received from the silver haired demon.

Violet eyes went wide in understanding as a gasp of disbelief escaped his lips. Miroku turned to regard his young friend who now lay at the back of the cave, unconscious, oblivious to this conversation. Kagome would have to return to the future and the well destroyed. Kagome would save them, their friend would survive, but at a cost almost as dire as if she was dead. He glanced at the two hot headed demons and wondered if either of them could live with that. Would knowing that she survived be enough? Movements caught his attention briefly as his eyes followed the others that attended to the miko's comfort, he was surprised that Sango or the children hadn't come to join in the argument, especially now at this moment when their discussion had turned to the inevitable fate of their friend. That last thought brought his mind back.

"Does she know?" Miroku asked Sesshomaru as he turned his attention back to the demon.

"No. I intend to tell her when the time is right." Sesshomaru answered before he turned and walked out of the cave effectively putting an end to the discussion.

"Does she know what?" Koga demanded turning his wrathful gaze upon the violet eyed human Sesshomaru may keep try to keep this to himself, but he wasn't going to give the human the same option. This afternoon had only too well proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how powerful Inuyasha's elder brother really was, so the wolf knew there was no way he could force the taiyoukai to speak. This human was Kagome's friend and normally he would have let it go at that but this concerned Kagome's well being.

Inuyasha stared after his brother's departing figure a moment before he intervened on the monk's behalf, "whatever it is, it's none of your business so drop it." Inuyasha's voice was barely above a whisper, almost a low guttural growl, full of warning to the insistent wolf.

"How the hell can you just tell me to drop it?" Koga barked. In truth the wolf was stunned the hanyou wasn't pressing the monk as well. Inuyasha's concern and care for the girl had never been anything he truly questioned until this afternoon.

"Sesshomaru said he'll tell her, and Kagome is the only one who needs to know." Inuyasha said in a low menacing voice.

"He knows." Koga bellowed as he pointed an accusatory finger at the monk.

"He doesn't know or else he'd have answered your question instead of my brother." Inuyasha yelled back.

"First that stupid imp, now you guys. Would you two keep it down?" Sango said irritably as the taijiya approached the two squabbling males. "Kagome's resting. She's been through enough today and doesn't need your childish antics."

"Yeah, so cut it out you two." Shippo said as he stood next to the female slayer and crossed his arms in front of him.

The three males looked at each other bemusedly. Why was it that the taijiya was only now reprimanding them for this argument that had been going on for quite a few minutes? Understanding dawned on each of them as they looked towards the back of the cave where a small imp laid against the wall a large lump forming on his skull. And over to where Kagome lay sleeping curled up next to the dragon. It was time to take this conversation elsewhere. Koga stalked out into the rain after the departing taiyoukai, followed by Inuyasha. Miroku however, chose to remain behind with Sango and the children. He would at least be able to think in peace.

Inuyasha caught the wolf's arm effectively stopping the other demon's progress. Koga whirled on him but Inuyasha didn't give him a chance to speak. He knew that look in his brother's eyes, and Sesshomaru needed some time to think. Despite the hanyou's own burning questions and anger that was building inside him, Inuyasha had learned one thing today; there was more to his brother than others had given him credit for. That and he had seen first hand many times over that his brother truly cared about what happened to Kagome. If his friend were merely a pawn he'd have let Inuyasha have her summon the jewel. His brother wouldn't have wasted time training her. No, Sesshomaru was on Kagome's side and he was certain the last thing Sesshomaru wanted was her death. "What the hell do you think you're doing? My brother ain't gonna tell us anything before he tells Kagome."

"Well he should have already told her. Don't you think she has a right to know what she's in for? That what he's going to ask her to do just might kill her?" Koga snapped angrily.

"And just how the hell was he supposed to do that? Can you tell Kagome that she may die, despite everything that she's been learning? No matter how much stronger she's been getting or how hard she's been training that it's all been for nothing? Could you do that?" The silver haired hanyou demanded of his companion.

"I've tried if you don't remember. I couldn't get here fast enough when from that damn council meeting. I tried to talk to her, but your damn brother has got her so brainwashed. I have to get her to see reason. I have to stop her from trying to save the rest of us." Koga snarled.

"Humph… and you said you knew Kagome." Inuyasha sniffed. "Do you know how many times I've tried to get her to stay out of a fight?" He paused here knowing that the wolf had no idea. "No you don't do you. You don't even know why she fights. You didn't even know that she came from another time. You didn't know any of that."

"I didn't need to." Koga replied angrily. "None of that matters."

"It does matter, it matters to Kagome." Inuyasha bit out. "She doesn't have to come here, she doesn't have to fight and put up with all this. But she does. Partly because she was the one that broke the jewel and she's the only one that can see the shards. It's more than that. She's doing this to protect the future, to protect her world that doesn't even know any of this is going on. In her time they think demons and half demons are fairy tales, they don't think we even exist. Kagome's different than them, she knows and she has this need to protect everyone she cares about, no matter who they are or what they've done."

"I may not know anything about her time, but I don't need to. I know how much she cares about others. I know what she'll do for someone that she thinks she can help. Why the hell do you think I love her?" Koga growled.

A sensitive ear twitched, and amber eyes regarded the wolf next to him before averting his gaze elsewhere. There was something underlying in Koga's tones that struck a chord within the hanyou. Normally there was this arrogant presumption that invaded the wolf's speech, but now there seemed to be something tender and melancholy at once included at the end of the speech. It was as if the wolf had somehow been humbled. A small smirk graced Inuyasha's lips. Kagome could do that to a person, and Inuyasha could more than relate.

"Hmph… I guess you would know that about her, wouldn't you? She forgave you too, didn't she?" Inuyasha muttered. This was the closest to commiseration that he was going to get.

Koga didn't answer, but instead remained silent for a moment. He hated to admit it, but Inuyasha was right. He couldn't tell Kagome that she might die destroying the jewel and there wasn't anything he could do to help protect her.

Koga balled his fists and growled low in frustration, earning him a curious glance from the silent half breed. He hated feeling helpless. It wasn't something the young demon was used to. He was used to being the one that his den looked to for answers, guidance and protection. But he had given that up, turned his back on those that looked to him for guidance, all for the affections of a mortal girl, affections that he was now certain he could never win.

Here, amongst this eclectic group of seemingly incompatible characters he now found himself a part of; he was continually frustrated to no end. This latest argument was just one example of how out of his element he was. A human was coming up with the answers that he couldn't. That didn't sit well at all.

However, Koga knew where his real troubles stemmed from. Disappointment welled within him once more as he allowed his mind to wander to earlier this afternoon. The shock he had felt at witnessing the stoic taiyoukai revive their enemies had been short lived and quickly replaced by heartache.

He could still hear her voice calling out that name, "Sesshomaru" . Cerulean eyes closed hoping to stave off the memory and the turmoil it had set off within him. With the utterance of a single name Kagome had managed to send his world crashing down around him. He hadn't been able to breathe, let alone move when his ears caught her voice on the wind, it had been a whisper, but had she shouted it the damage would have been the same. Each syllable she uttered so full of emotion sliced at his heart. He was thankful that he could not see her face, the look in her eyes… that would have been more than even he could bear.

His anger returned as he remembered the cold look on his rival's face as he instructed them to return to the cave. The bastard hadn't even acknowledged the girl or that he'd heard her. If it hadn't been for the pesky little fact that Sesshomaru had saved his life he would have kicked that bastard's ass right then and there. Or he would have died trying and he doubted Sesshomaru would have brought him back from the dead again.

No, instead he'd stayed frozen in his place, rendered immobile. He had been a prisoner of his emotions, and then Kagome fell. The taiyoukai had been there, faster than he or Inuyasha, catching her in his arms. He still didn't quite understand how or when Sesshomaru acquired the other arm, that was just another piece that he didn't know, nor did he care. All that mattered was that Sesshomaru had been the one to carry her home. He had been the one to see to her needs. He had been the one to figure out how to save her.

Koga shook his head to clear these disturbing thoughts from his mind. He still had his dignity and he'd be damned if he let his mind dwell on it for too long in Inuyasha's presence. The hanyou's resemblance to the taiyoukai would not work in favor of concealing his emotions at this moment.

"Do you think the monk was right? Do you think it's possible that Kagome gave Kikyo a part of her soul?" Koga queried in an unusually civil tone. His cerulean eyes opened and fixed on a spot beyond where the two of them had come to stand above the entrance to the cave.

Inuyasha turned to look at the wolf for a moment before he replied. "I don't know." Inuyasha answered honestly. "I don't know what to believe anymore." He finished before he turned to stare out upon the rainbow that had formed over head in the clearing sky.

Once more the witch's words taunted him as they had the day she had been reborn. "That which keeps Kikyo moving is nothing more than her deep hatred of you. It seems most of the soul has returned to the girl from whence it came. Kikyo's hatred of you and her need for revenge must have been absorbed into the graveside soil itself. The once pure maiden is nothing more than a monster, a monster feeding off its hatred of you. Lovely image is it not." Those had been Urusue's final words and they had not been far from his mind since then.

They had been freshly planted there when he begged Kikyo to return to Kagome's body. That had been the only time he asked this of her, because he hadn't thought it through. All he had desired was for her to return to who she was; never thinking that by returning to Kagome Kikyo would be lost to him forever. He could still hear Kikyo's voice; see the look of pain in her eyes as she asked him if he wished her dead. He never asked her again, because her death was never something he wished for. No his heart was set on many things, one of them needed her very much alive.

Silently he sent out a message. "Oh, Kikyo, part of me wishes that Miroku is right, that Kagome somehow was able to give you another piece of the soul you two share. I've always believed that Kagome would save us all. I just wish I could see you and know for sure what's happened to you. I hope wherever you are at this moment that you are safe and well. Then there's this other part of me is scared to death that the monk was right. If she did give you another piece of the soul I don't know if she'll have the strength to be who she needs to be to survive. Whatever happened I pray it was for the best."

In a clearing a safe distance away the miko in his thoughts was grappling with her own questions as to what had happened. A few Shinidamachu hovered protectively near their mistress. Others streamed from all over the land to be by her side. The dark grey skies were a stark contrast to their opaque translucent bodies. To anyone who looked towards the heavens it would appear as if some celestial being had hung gossamer streamers the color of moonlight in the sky to dance in the breeze as these minions of darkness hastened their way to where the raven haired miko lay unmoving on the ground.

These creatures of darkness had once again acted in defense of this particular priestess and had taken her to a safe haven far from the fray. It had been believed that these specters of hell held no true loyalty for any one master had, yet it appeared that once again these foul beasts went against what had been surmised by the world that still had yet to understand what they truly were. Long had they been despised by humans and demons alike; their kind believed to have no one true allegiance. These scavengers of souls appeared to be only too willing to share their cargo with any that required souls. Nor did it seem that they cared if any that summoned them would meet demise, nor had any witnessed their interference on the behalf of one, until now, until Kikyo.

One after another these creatures tried to gain a response. And each met with disappointment. No amount of cajoling with their offerings of the small glowing orbs could entice her to respond. Instead their mistress lay where she had been gently set, huddled in a cocoon of memories and emotions. That girl, Kagome, had managed to give her a piece of the soul they shared. There was no denying what had happened just moments ago, the sensations that coursed through this body hadn't been felt since before Inuyasha's new companion had summoned back most of the soul that fateful day Urusue had managed to infuse it into this body.

Kikyo remembered that day only too well. The demon was indeed a formidable and knowledgeable witch; whatever magic she had used had managed to awaken the part of the soul that was Kikyo. Somehow she had regained the consciousness of the priestess she had once been in conjunction with the girl she had been reborn as. The sensation was odd, as if she had been stretched from within and that part of her that was awakening as Kikyo had clung to the part that was still Kagome with all her might, using all her strength to stay where she was. But the magic was strong and the miko she had once been was perilously close to returning. The girl she had been reborn as lay near death, and she wasn't going to let that happened without a fight.

She had known what awaited her if the soul had been allowed to awaken as Kikyo once again. How she had longed to stay asleep deep within the safety of her reincarnation. She did not want to be Kikyo again; she did not want to have to deal with everything that had been her life. Most especially she did not want have to deal with his betrayal again. As long as Kagome lived, as long as the girl held on she could remain, she could forget but it wasn't meant to be.

Then he had arrived. The silver haired hanyou that was part of her life, even now, after death and being born in another time he was still a part of her life. The part of her that was still Kagome reacted to his presence. She felt the hope and confidence rise in the young girl. But she knew, the reproduction of her former self sat within sight and the rage and hatred she felt for him began to simmer once more. She prayed he'd come for the girl she now was, the girl she hoped to remain and leave it at that. But she saw only too well where those amber eyes fell.

"Do not call out for me." she pleaded as she tried to hold back those awful bitter feelings. "Do not call out my name." she chanted again, hoping that some god would intervene and strike the mongrel mute. The gods apparently had other prayers to answer that day.

"Kikyo" he had called her name, the girl's heart skipped a beat in disappointment at the sound of his voice and in that moment the soul they had shared was released, the anger, bitterness and hatred all rushed forth in that instant. She could hear the sound of her name being spoken by him even now. The disbelief it held, but more than that it was spoken with a tender reverence, with an affection that the bastard was not allowed to have, not for her. Not after what he had done. It was his claws that drew her blood, his claws that had inflicted the mortal wounds that had taken her prematurely from this world.

Once again, her murderer stood before her. For the briefest of seconds obsidian clashed with amber then, gazing into those eyes that had tortured her even in death. In those golden pools she saw the reflected the hurt, pain, confusion and love he felt. How dare he look at her that way, he had no right to feel that way to look at her with tenderness. An all consuming fury took hold of her. She couldn't care less what sorcery had managed to free the despicable creature that stood before her. All she knew at that moment was he needed to be brought to justice once again. There would be no mercy this time, no arrow that merely pinned him to the tree, preserved with the foolish feelings she still harbored for that bastard. No, this time she would send him to oblivion in a million pieces. Nothing would prevent it this time.

She would not be fooled as she had been when she died by that look upon his face when he closed his eyes, nor would she allow the feelings of self loathing as she once had. This time those unfortunate sentiments of love and compassion would not temper his fate. No, she would not be duped by the concern that displayed upon her face as she stumbled forward, crippled by the same mortal wounds that had also injured her spirit. The claws of her lover had sliced more than flesh, those deadly weapons had lacerated her very soul, ripped apart that belief she had in his goodness, shredded any faith she had in her own heart. Yes, those same lesions appeared now as the same emotions flowed through her body once again as she gazed upon the face that she both loved and hated.

But besides those feelings of old, a new bitterness had stirred as well. She had been reborn and lived her life as another incarnation, but the damage he had done had been potent enough to follow her even after she had lived as another. The injuries he had inflicted on her body with his claws were nothing to the damage his betrayal had done to her soul. She had loved him with everything she had, she had trusted him as she had no other and that had been repaid with betrayal. She had loved him and he had spat that love back in her face. She hated him for that most of all. No other creature had the power to hurt her as he had.

Tear drops fell from obsidian eyes then because she knew now that she had been tricked, that a minute piece of her heart was the only part of her that had known the truth. It had been right all those years ago to not take his life, but to bind him with an arrow. It was the love that she still felt for him, that soft emotion that lingered despite everything she had seen. Besides the bitterness and confusion, there had been that small part that had believed in him implicitly. Only now that part had been returned to her when it was too late the damage had been done and Inuyasha was beyond her grasp once again.

When she had originally chosen her fate all those years ago, too much had happened between the two of them for her to truly believe with every part of her that he could have played her a fool. Yet she could not deny what he had done to the village or to her sister she had seen that with her own eyes as she struggled to find the strength to pin him to the tree. She could not forget the look in his eyes when the arrow came towards him. Amber pools that looked so sad, so hurt, so confused and angry all at once. For a moment she had wished that she could recall the arrow, confront him, comfort him, listen to what he had to say. She wanted so desperately to believe that there was something more than all she had seen, but the life seeping out of her, the pain from the physical wounds he'd inflicted, his callous words echoing in her mind convinced her otherwise. Even now, after all these years, death and rebirth hadn't erased them from her memory.

"Fool, I have no desire whatsoever to become human but I shall take the Shikon Jewel none the less, thank you. This jewel is about to absorb a great deal of pain and suffering when I use it to slaughter the villagers."

Those words had given her the conviction to act as she let fly that damning arrow. She had watched the shaft sink deeper into his heart effectively pinning him. Obsidian eyes ever vigilant had seen the exact moment the emotions faded from his amber orbs as oblivion claimed him.

Only then did she let go of her strength and allowed herself to fall to the ground, physically and emotionally drained. Never once did she take her gaze from his form, but she couldn't see him any longer. His eyes flashed before her face again, and in the back of her mind she had held onto the small hope that she had been wrong. It had been tempting for a moment to cling to life, to break the spell, to undo everything that had just happened and grasp happiness again. The jewel she guarded could grant the two of them another chance.

Kaede had appeared then, it was her younger sister's voice that broke through her thoughts. Looking at her sister she could see the young child's injuries had been severe, a heart-rending reminder that she was not the only one to have suffered this day at the hands of Inuyasha. Properly chastened Kikyo made the only decision she could, she handed the jewel to her sister, putting temptation out of her hands knowing that she didn't have the strength to resist, because she knew if she saved herself, she would save Inuyasha as well. Not initially, no at the moment she was angry, resentful and bitter and she would let him stay where he was. But the dying miko knew in time she would relent, such was the weakness of one who had a forgiving heart; the predilection of an incautious heart.

At this moment the distraught priestess remembered the look in Kaede's eyes as she instructed her sister what to do with the jewel. The pain on that dear face, the terror that reflected in those chocolate eyes that had always looked to her with sisterly love and admiration impressed upon the dying woman something that had escaped her until then. It dawned on the elder sister for the first time that Kaede was going to be alone from then on. Kikyo desired at that moment for the power undo everything that had led up to this sad outcome.

That had been the first time she could ever truly recall regretting anything, the first of many times that the fallen priestess had desired the power to turn back the hands of time. The sounds of her sister's grief ringing in her ears, the fading miko simply wanted to go back to before she had set eyes on the half man whose fate she had just sealed. She desired that moment back, the second she had witnessed that lost look in his eyes, it was a breath in time but she had been undone. The expiring maiden knew she had shirked her duty and offered him what wasn't hers to offer, the jewel… and her heart. She had fallen in love, not a cardinal sin by itself, but it seemed clear back then that her heart had chosen an unworthy object for its affections; a hanyou who desired the jewel she was sworn to protect. If she hadn't been weak, no one would have suffered needlessly as those that now mourned her did. She was shamed. Inuyasha had cost her more than just her life and she wouldn't forgive him for that, nor could she forgive herself.

At that moment of her death, Kikyo had known the bitter truth. Both she and he would breathe no more, but the memory of who they were would live on in the memories of all as examples of what happens when earthly desires get in the way of duty. Her body was to be burned, the jewel with it to protect the village since their priestess had failed them so abominably. And her half demon lover, he was sealed away to the tree, a monument of sorts, a constant reminder to others of her folly. All would know her mistake, and they would not shirk their duties as she had. Love, she had decided when she closed her eyes, was a sentimentality that only the weak minded indulged in.

That was what she had believed when she closed her eyes as Kikyo. It had taken being reborn for her to come to know what had truly happened that day. To know that they both been duped, by the one she knew as Onigumo. The thief whose black soul she had taken pity on and had endeavored to give him some measure of comfort and peace in his final hours.

Kikyo had been far too overwrought with bitterness and fury when she first heard the tale to give credence to anything anyone had tried to tell her. The pleas of the old woman still rang out in her mind, those pleas only served to fuel that blind rage she had felt at the moment. All that had registered initially through the haze was that an elderly miko was asking her not to harm the deceitful creature that broke her heart, left her sister an orphan and harmed the villagers that had begun to slowly accept him. The intensity of that rage increased when the old fool revealed herself to be Kaede, her younger sister. Apparently her death had been in vain, especially since it was her sister that had seemingly learnt nothing from the mistakes that had been made. The insidious cur was running around alive, and the reanimated priestess surmised that it was her foolish sibling who had set the beast free. That was the instant her resolve had been set and had been immovable ever since… until now.

The newly restored priestess had attacked with a vengeance, only caring that he be destroyed forever with no hope of returning. She would lay his body to ash as she had Urusue's moments before. Nothing could bring him back from that. The wrathful miko took the arrows forcibly from her sibling and let one fly, but before the arrow could strike him dead for eternity Kagome had managed to take back much of the soul, but Kikyo had managed to cling to a piece of it, unwilling to leave her revenge unfinished, vowing that no one else would kill Inuyasha but she. Only one who had suffered as she at his hands had the right to end his life as he had ended hers.

Eventually this impassioned maiden had come to know what had truly transpired that day, and had come to accept the truth, but she could not release her anger. No matter how desperately she tried she could find nothing in her heart that resembled anything akin to what she had once known. Resentment grew within her easily and she despised herself for it, just as she despised Inuyasha, the girl, Urusue and anyone else that may have been entangled in this drama. Bitter, destructive sentiments clouded her actions despite whatever intentions she had otherwise; until this afternoon she had uncovered no way to overcome them, no way to feel what was denied her.

"As long as you live I can not be saved." She had said those words to him, and took some satisfaction in the melancholy frustration that graced his features. Little had the priestess known the truth those words carried, because now the hanyou was gone, and only now she could feel. Now she could accept what had happened, forgive, move forward and love him again as she had, now that it was too late.

The shamed priestess shook her head as the irony of it all sunk in. Since that day Urusue had revived this body the only solace she had known was in performing her duties as a miko. Now as she lay here, she wondered how it was possible, that a being so consumed with dark emotions as she had been could still possess the ability to heal and purify souls of their own evil, yet she had been unable do that for herself. Since her unfortunate resurrection the miko had walked this land in a haze, trying to recapture who she once was.

Village after village she had found temporary respite as she aided those in need. She found all too brief solace in the eyes of the countless villagers that looked upon her with respect, admiration and gratitude for her efforts, and sometimes the guilt would creep in. But mostly it was that longing to be who she once was, who she could now be again. But as it now stood these feelings that coursed through her meant nothing, not as she had once thought they would.

At this moment she could love, and her heart broke from the weight of that crushing emotion. Since learning the truth from her sister all those months ago, vengeance truly wasn't a focus, all she wanted more than anything was to feel the love she had for Inuyasha. She wanted to feel the warmth she felt when he kissed her that first time. She longed for the sensation of fluttering in her stomach when she looked into those amber eyes of his, so full of love and trust when those emotions were directly solely at her. That is what she had wanted. Yes, she felt them, now she not only remembered having them; now she could reciprocate what he still felt for her. No, what he had felt.

Inuyasha was dead. She had heard the girl's cries and knew. The image of his lifeless body lying on the ground was all she could focus on as the Shinidamachu carried her away. Her heart twisted in agony at the thought as her mind hit upon the injustice of it all. How many times had she longed for this outcome? She could still remember that evening not too long after this body had breathed new life. Hatred had flowed through her then, but it wasn't the heated rage that had boiled the blood of their first meeting. No this time it was desperation more than anything else.

Looking back on the fiasco that was her first attempt to regain what had been lost, a grab at a new beginning had ended in utter failure. It had all begun with a chance encounter with that monk, his name had long since faded from memory, still but those words of his come back now with clarity; "Priestess, I do not know what binds you to this world, but it is certainly not a place for you to linger; go and return to where you belong." She should have known then, she should have let go then. It would be so easy to let go now. But something deep inside still clung to life. As easy as it should be to let go of this last remaining piece of spirit she could not.

Back then there was something beyond all the bitterness and anger. There was an emotion far deeper than that made her stay now, her guilt. That feeling was also embedded in the soil that formed the flesh of this new body. It was that consciousness at having failed so many that kept her here. Kikyo sought to redeem herself somehow starting by being the priestess she should have been when she truly lived. This time duty would come first. That pledge coupled with the feeling of peace when she was with the villagers, the children especially it was so easy to let the past slip away.

That too had been an illusion. Obsidian eyes looked at the creatures that swirled around, undulating almost rhythmically as if the moved to the beat of some mystical music only their kind could hear. Terrified brown eyes came to mind and the specters were forgotten once more as their mistress recalled the face of one particular girl, little Saiya.

A sigh escaped her lips, and true tenderness filled her. The sensation was bittersweet for the musings that accompanied the child were simultaneously welcome and painful. The young girl was just as Kaede had been, as she had remembered her before she had fallen. The Kaede she had met was a woman grown with a history she did not know; Saiya was the sister she had left. The girl was vivacious, quick and eager with a ready smile and a laugh that warmed the heart. Those brown eyes revealed everything the girl had felt, there were no illusions, no pretense with one so candid and pure. For a brief time the tragic priestess had allowed herself to believe she had indeed beaten time.

Soon the truth had once again reared its ugly head. The moment of Nirvana had vanished with a single look. Obsidian eyes saw nothing of her willing minions as a pair of brown eyes gazing up at her horrified betrayed cut through her heart. Saiya had seen what she was, and had allowed her to see as well. Her self deception had come to an end that night, and Kikyo knew that her future here would require her to wander about from village to village there was no place for her. The monk had been correct in his assessment, she was tragic. And she had made the decision to leave this world once again. But she wasn't going to leave it alone.

It was during this time that she had lain in wait for her one time hanyou sweetheart. This memory was just something more for her to regret, another stain upon her reputation. Yet she had plowed heedlessly forward in spite of everything she knew to be true. She had allowed bitter thoughts and vengeance to lead her astray.

"Oh, Inuyasha, how could you have loved me as you did? How could you even stand the sight of me after everything I've done?" The maiden cried aloud, grief stricken that she was here and he was not. Ashamed of what she had been so willing to do, if not for Kagome she would have succeeded then too.

"Kikyo…" Obsidian eyes opened, mortification filled her being and her heart pounded heavily as the memory of his voice rang in her head. Again the undead priestess wondered at how unfair it was that she should feel something when it no longer mattered. Her love was gone and at this moment she could only regret how many wasted opportunities had passed her by. She railed at the forces at work in her existence. There should have been a way for her to get past the bitterness and acknowledge his feelings, return them as she longed to.

Still the young woman ignored the creatures that sought to ease her pain. Her constant companions, these scavengers of souls were a painful reminder of the being that she had become. Ruefully, raven tresses covered her face as the solitary woman hung her head as the tears truly began to fall in earnest. The words of the demon lord she encountered the other night entered her thoughts then.

"You've become nothing more than a foul being, an abomination of nature, who selfishly consumes the souls of dead maidens."

At this moment this regretful soul couldn't help but agree with the taiyoukai's assessment of her. Had she relinquished that final piece of this soul to the young woman named Kagome from the start all this might have been avoided. The pieces of the jewel may very well be together and in the hands of the young girl already. Naraku wouldn't have gained the power that is now his, and countless victims wouldn't have been made to suffer in this seemingly endless battle for that accursed gem.

But she had interfered hadn't she? Indeed she had been selfish. She wanted to live again, but not as a priestess. No, she desired nothing more than to be an ordinary woman. The vision of this new life was to be with Inuyasha as they had once planned. That dream, that absurd, irrational dream that he could be human; that they could destroy the jewel by doing so, that they could lead a normal life had been behind it all along. She had just longed to be with Inuyasha anyway she could.

Somewhere in her mind it seemed logical at that time to give Naraku the pieces of the jewel she had taken from Kagome. She hated the accursed Shikon Jewel. The reincarnated shrine maiden despised that small trinket that had so infused itself into every aspect of her being. Death had apparently not removed its hold over her. The damned thing had attached itself to her very soul like some sort parasite. Her debt had been paid in blood, still it demanded more. The miko wasn't going to give it any more. By taking the jewel from Kagome might make the younger woman reconsider her role in all this. Part of her actually convinced herself that she was acting in a benevolent fashion by giving her reincarnation an opportunity to escape the fate of those that protected the jewel.

The future version of her soul astonished her once again and did not take the easy road. No the girl had shown a strength of character and restraint. The girl kept the details of their altercation to herself. Kikyo could not deny that Kagome could have very easily told Inuyasha everything that had transpired. But her reincarnation held her tongue. Had the roles been reversed, she wondered if she would have done the same, or would she have used this opportunity to break Inuyasha's heart, to make him feel her pain. She knew the answer; she would have reveled in his pain. It would have matched hers, and they would suffer together. She had turned into a monster, a selfish monster that cared only for vengeance.

"Yet, selfish is what you were when you were human… do you not remember the teachings of old? … You and my brother were stopped for a reason… Is it possible that you do not remember the balances of the universe that are inextricably tied to each of us? Has love removed all knowledge of the forces that are at work"

Cold heartless words from Inuyasha's despised elder brother invaded her thoughts. When she encountered him that night she had been too resentful to give his words a second thought, let alone acknowledge that there might indeed be a grain of truth in all that bastard had said to her. The history of the jewel was not totally obscure or unknown, for it was common knowledge that it was entrusted to priestesses with immense purification powers, all of whom died protecting the jewel from the demons that lusted after the jewel.

Back then the thought of using the jewel for good seemed a novel idea, inspired even. Now, sitting here, she knew the truth. It had been a selfish fantasy. She would use the jewel so she could be free, so she could be an ordinary woman. But making Inuyasha human would never have taken her powers from her. She still would have been a priestess, a priestess who was in love with a human instead of a half demon, but a priestess none the less. There were other responsibilities that went with that title, other burdens for her to bear. After all, the village and those who resided in it would not have left with the jewel. True, without the jewel, the attacks on the village would decrease, but they would by no means end. In the end she had left them unprotected, just as she had left her sister an orphan. She had not been able to save them; she hadn't been able to save herself.

"I can't save you." Inuyasha had said those words to her. She could still hear the regret in his voice. But more than that, she could remember the tenderness in his eyes, recall vividly the softness that lingered in the amber depths, a gentleness she had not previously seen reflected back at her. She had been angry then, blamed the girl who had the misfortune of being reborn with this cursed soul they shared. At this moment she acknowledged the truth that she had long denied, love had put that look in his eyes. Love for her and her alone had placed it there. Every time he looked at her, even the last time he had spoken to her in anger, his love was there. It never left. No matter how unworthy she had become.

For the first time in a long time the priestess was humbled and everything was clear again. Inuyasha had loved her despite the monster she had become, regardless of the sins she had committed against him and others. It was time for her to be worthy of his devotion. Before she left this world she would prove that his faith wasn't misplaced all this time, starting now.

Another eager serpent-like creature gently nudged her hands as it attempted to gain its mistress' notice. Obsidian eyes looked gently upon the glowing orb being offered freely to her. Reaching out she accepted it and cradled the newest offering in her hand. The energy of the orb was melancholy at best. Tears coursed down her face as her hands glowed pink and the bright glow dimmed to a pale blue light as the soul became peaceful. Obsidian eyes watched as the phantom returned to take the placated soul and made off towards the heavens disappearing through an opening in the clouds that began to part. One by one these creatures came and offered her these souls, and one by one they retrieved the now placated souls and journeyed to take them to a better resting place.

With each soul she healed, strength entered her body. Determination and conviction were restored as a plan began to form in her mind. By the time the last of the Shinidamachu that carried a soul departed she was certain of what she must do. Naraku would be defeated; the jewel, the remainder of the soul would be returned to Kagome and the priestess Kikyo would rest once more. One of her guardians remained steadfastly by her side aware of its future role, knowing that its mistress would not be long for this world.

Author's Note: First let me apologize for the very long wait with this chapter. I couldn't seem to really hit the right tone, that and Real Life sometimes creeps in. Hopefully updates will happen faster than the last, there really isn't too much more to go. So again thanks to thebigW for all his input and patience with this wayward author. Let me also thank anyone who may still be reading this story.