………….

Disclaimer: I don't own these marvelous characters; they are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. I merely torture them at will and put them in uncomfortable situations whenever possible.

………….

Chapter 31

A Pure Wish

……

"Inu-Yasha."

She was calling him back from the dark slumber. If only he weren't so tired, so damnably weak! This was why he hated his human side – how could he protect his mate when he couldn't even open his eyes? Sango deserved better than this…

A light slap to his cheek forced his eyes open. "Stop," Inu-Yasha mumbled, catching Sango's hand as she tried to shake him awake. "Just give me a minute to catch my breath," he groaned, knowing it would take a lot longer than a minute. Every last muscle in his body was screaming for mercy.

He managed to sit up, with a lot of help from Sango. "What's happening?" he asked, craning his head to survey the mansion grounds. The house was still standing, but it had taken a hell of a beating from the attacking youkai. The landscape surrounding the mansion was equally battered, the lawns and shrubbery uprooted. He noticed the huge stone fountain lying on its side, water gurgling from the broken pipes.

"Naraku's gone and his so are his minions," Sango told him. Her face was etched with worry. "I don't know what happened. There was a bright flash of pink light, and then the barrier suddenly disappeared. The others ran to check it out." She pointed to the cluster of humans gathered by the edge of the property. "Inu-Yasha…I think something's wrong," she finished in a whisper.

……

Taisho had returned to consciousness in time to see Naraku die, and his first waking thought had been directed to the welfare of his beloved Kaede. Fortunately she was sitting close by, an exhausted Kikyo tending to her wounds. Having assured himself that neither of the women suffered from anything life-threatening, he next turned his attention to his Favorite Darling.

Her crumpled form was at the edge of the mansion's grounds, surrounded by Sesshomaru and the rest of the household. He hastened toward her, but his gut was already starting to clench. He could smell the emotions radiating from his son, telling him the awful truth – his Darling Kagome was gone. Sorrow unfurled within his heart, a giant blossom of hurt and regret.

The silence as he approached the others was horrible. Taisho found he was reluctant to speak as well, for what comfort could he offer when Kagome's body was lying at their feet? Solemnly, he stood with them and watched as Sesshomaru fell to his knees beside the miko and gathered her into his arms.

"Sesshomaru," Taisho whispered hoarsely, his voice choking with sadness.

The younger demon raised his head slowly, capturing Taisho's gaze. They stared at each other for a moment, father and son, before Sesshomaru spoke. "Father," he rasped in a pitiful, broken voice, "give me the Shikon Jewel."

"No, son." Tears slid down the elder inuyoukai's cheeks. He knew why Sesshomaru wanted to use the Jewel – he was sorely tempted to use it himself – but he could not allow the Jewel to be used in a selfish manner. "No," Taisho repeated. "I'm sorry, but I cannot agree."

"She deserves to live!" Sesshomaru protested, his voice growing louder. "She is better than you or I – or any of us! How can you deny her this?"

His father grimaced, eyes shutting tight with pain. "She would not want you to do this," Taisho said heavily. "She would not want the Jewel tainted with such a request. Would you wish upon her the same fate as Suikotsu?"

Sesshomaru's demeanor crumpled and he buried his face in Kagome's neck, drawing her to him. "Leave us," he begged, his shoulders convulsing in silent grief. "Just leave us…"

The group hesitated, but at Taisho's nod, they withdrew. Only Kikyo had enough presence of mind to pick up the Shikon Jewel lying in the wreckage. Silently, she offered the cursed object to Taisho, but the grieving demon merely wrapped her hand around the Jewel, bidding her to keep it.

……

Kagome wasn't certain how much time had passed, for time had ceased to have any meaning to her. Where she was once floating, she now felt oddly constrained, and her feet touched something that, in another place, she would have described as solid. Except…it wasn't solid, it was just indescribably there.

Opening her eyes, Kagome viewed her surroundings. She was in a garden of unbelievable beauty, and she was standing at the foot of a bridge that crossed a fast-flowing river. "Where am I?" she asked aloud.

"You're at one of the bridges leading to the next world."

The voice that answered her question was the last one she expected to hear. "Sota?" she asked hesitantly. She turned to look at the young man standing beside her. He certainly looked like her brother, but something was different…

It was his lips, she realized with dawning wonder. For as long as she could remember, Sota's lips had been tinted blue, the color betraying his faulty heart's inability to properly deliver oxygenated blood. Right now, though, his lips looked normal.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, surprised.

He answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "It was time for me to go, I guess," he commented indifferently. At her unhappy expression, he softened. "Oh 'Gome," Sota said with a lopsided smile. "Please don't be sad. We all have to come here at some point, and with my bad ticker," he thumped his chest, "we knew I was living on borrowed time."

"But – how?"

Sota understood what she couldn't articulate. "About ten minutes ago – or was it ten seconds? I've lost all sense of time, maybe it was ten hours…anyway, my heart quit working. I keeled over right in the middle of Sensei'sbiology lecture. I always said that his class was going to be the death of me," he chuckled.

"But the university is right next to a hospital!" Kagome exclaimed. Her mind was spinning, trying to take in the fact that her brother was dead. Of course, she also was dead, but somehow, she didn't quite feel dead. All in all, she was terribly confused and upset.

"Correction, 'Gome," Sota held up a finger to shush her. "The university is next to a youkai hospital. The nearest human hospital was across town." He looked grim for a moment. "I don't think the 'separate but equal' thing is working out very well."

He straightened after a moment. "Oh well, not much I can do about that, is there? I kind of envy you, Sis. At least your death had some purpose to it. Mine seems kind of pointless."

"You know what happened to me?" Kagome asked. "How? Were you watching or something?"

"Nah," Sota shook his head. "Word travels fast around here. The woman who guided me to this bridge told me all about it. What you did was really heroic, 'Gome."

"Don't expect me to be happy about it," Kagome told him glumly. "Believe me, if I could have thought of any other way to destroy Naraku, I'd have done it." She kicked at a pebble beneath her feet. At least, it looked like a pebble…but in this strange place, who knew what was real?
Her brother shifted, then took a step onto the bridge. "I have to cross this bridge, 'Gome. It's time for me to go to the other side."

"I'll cross with you," she offered, moving to take his hand.

Sota stopped, blocking her path. "Not yet," he told his sister. "The woman – the one who spoke to me earlier – she said you had to wait by the bridge. She didn't say why; she just said it was important."

"But you'll be alone," Kagome objected, disturbed by the thought.

"Honestly, Kagome," Sota chided, tugging a lock of her hair. "Don't you ever think of yourself? You're standing here every bit as dead as I am, and all you can worry about is that I might be lonely. I'll be fine, really." He hugged her tightly before stepping away. "I'll see you…whenever I see you. It won't matter if it's five minutes or five hundred years from now. The passage of time isn't very important in this place."

With that, he crossed the bridge and faded into the mist on the other side, leaving Kagome more confused than ever. "Why do I have to wait?" she asked out loud, hoping someone else would come along and answer her question. She waited for a response, but none came.

……

He needed to take her inside the mansion, but Sesshomaru found himself reluctant to move. Once he brought her inside the house they would take her body and prepare it for burial, and he would be forced to acknowledge his loss. He needed just a while longer, for he wasn't ready. She seemed so peaceful lying here in his arms; what harm was there in pretending for a few more minutes that his Kagome wasn't really gone? He could imagine that she was merely sleeping, although his youkai senses whispered that no sign of life remained.

With trembling fingers, Sesshomaru tucked a stray lock of her unruly hair behind her ear and kissed her forehead. Her skin was cooling beneath the touch of his lips, her body no longer heated with pumping blood. "How can I give you up?" Sesshomaru whispered to her fiercely, knowing she couldn't hear him. "You were mine for such a short time, Kagome, such a very, very, short time."

"There is one hope left, Sesshomaru."

He hadn't heard the woman's approach, and in the fading light of evening, he could barely see her. "Who dares to disturb us?" Sesshomaru growled, clutching his dead mate against him. Had this woman come to take Kagome from him? Why couldn't he smell this intruder?

"Hope comes with a price." She stepped closer so he could make out her features.

Sesshomaru drew back in horror. His tortured mind was playing cruel tricks on him, for the woman standing before him could not possibly be who she appeared to be. Inu-Yasha's mother was dead, and had been for centuries!

"Izayoi?" he breathed, hardly daring to make a sound.

"I accept," she told him.

This was unexpected – and confusing. "Accept what?" Sesshomaru asked carefully.

"Your apology for the abominable way you treated me," Izayoi informed him.

"No such apology was offered," the inuyoukai responded automatically, icy self-defense dropping into place.

"No?" She raised a delicate brow. "That's strange.I could have sworn I heard you say something the other day…you were talking with Taisho, I believe."

"You heard that?" Sesshomaru sputtered. He cringed, for she was correct. In a brief conversation with his father, he had actually mentioned something to the effect of finally understanding Taisho's love for his human mate Izayoi, and how much he, Sesshomaru, regretted his actions toward the woman…

"I'm dead, not deaf, Sesshomaru," Izayoi reminded him. "Do not think that your conversations are always private. Now, we waste time in this discussion when we have little time to waste. As I was saying, there is a single hope left for Kagome, but the potential price could be heavy –"

"I'll do it," he interrupted her.

Izayoi frowned at him. "You haven't even heard what it is I have to say, impatient pup!"

"It doesn't matter," Sesshomaru told her. "No matter the price, I'll pay it!"

"So like your father," Izayoi said, shaking her head with exasperation. "Always charging in to save the day, regardless of the consequences. Fine, then." She tossed something on the ground. "Goodbye, Sesshomaru," Izayoi said, not unkindly. "I wish you well in your endeavors." She turned to leave.

"Why?" Sesshomaru called after her. "Why are you doing this?"

The woman stopped long enough to send him a wistful smile. "I do it for Kagome, because I love her so much. She's the daughter I couldn't give Taisho, after all. But I also do it for you, Sesshomaru. It came as quite a surprise to me, but you do have a heart lurking inside that frozen chest of yours."

And then she was gone. Reaching over Kagome, Sesshomaru picked up the object Izayoi had thrown at his feet. The last rays of sunlight glinted off the blade, catching his reflection.

Tenseiga. He wanted to weep; he wanted to shout with joy. Izayoi had gone into the old storage shed and retrieved his useless sword, a gift long abandoned because he, Sesshomaru, had not loved anyone enough to need a blade that could cheat the grave. The single life it had saved was Jaken's, and that, he admitted, was done more out of a desire to test the sword's powers than to reward his servant's loyalty.

Inu-Yasha's mother hadn't misspoken when telling him the opportunity came with a price. Sesshomaru tested the sword's weight in his hand, judging the amount of ki left within. The power he had once felt coursing through the fang was greatly diminished, which meant he would have to draw upon his very soul in order to wield the blade.

Once, a very long time ago, Sesshomaru had witnessed the amplification of a sword's powers. The memory still made him shudder. The process involved running the blade through one's own body, and the risk was huge. Even with his youki increasing Tenseiga's power, it might not be enough to activate the blade. And if the sword wasn't completely active, it would become a true fang, fatally piercing his heart.

It didn't matter. He'd take this opportunity to resurrect Kagome, even at the peril of his life. "My heart is already pierced," Sesshomaru growled, raising Tenseiga. Pulling Kagome's body tightly against his chest, he plunged the sword through the both of them.

……

It was strange to be waiting, watching people cross the bridge. Kagome sat wistfully near the foot of the bridge, acknowledging those passing by with a polite nod and all the while wondering when it would be her turn. It wasn't that she was in a hurry to get to the world of death, but she was feeling unhappy and lonely. She had lost all contact with everyone she loved today; at the very least, why couldn't she join her younger brother?

And this stabbing feeling in her chest – it was more than a nuisance. Kagome had believed herself to be removed from all hurt. What was the point of death, after all, if you still felt pain? Perhaps this was the pang of separation from her soulmate.

"Sesshomaru," she whispered tearfully, sadness overwhelming her. She missed him so much already; it wasn't fair! They'd been together for such a short time…

Kagome.

Sesshomaru? His voice was so quiet, she almost didn't hear him. Kagome shifted, searching for her beloved youkai. "Where are you?" she cried frantically when she didn't spot him. "Sesshomaru? Answer me!"

Come to me, Kagome.

A blurred figure appeared, extending an arm in her direction. She jumped to her feet, reaching for the slender, striped hand she recognized. He was here! Her mate, her love, her heart – he was here!

She grasped the hand and allowed him to tug her toward him, only to be yanked backward. Death's creatures had appeared from nowhere and were suddenly swarming across her. Kagome struggled in horror as they grabbed her legs and clutched at her body, trying to pull her away from Sesshomaru. "No!" she screamed. "Sesshomaru, help me!"

A giant, curved blade swept over her, and the creatures released her. Kagome felt herself falling, then landing with a hard thump against Sesshomaru's chest. "Stay with me, my little miko," Sesshomaru gasped. "Do not let go."

Kagome could hear the racing of his heart. The inuyoukai was panting from the effort of holding what had to be the strangest sword she'd ever seen. A green light was emanating from the blade, crackling energy snapping at the various creatures foolish enough to attempt another grab at her.

A huge wave of power shot from the hilt of the sword, and Sesshomaru cast it from his hand. "It is done!" he shouted, wrapping his arms around Kagome with a grip so tight it seemed as if she would break. "Tenseiga, you have brought me here – permit me to leave or force me to stay, but do not rend us apart!"

The sword flew through the air, tumbling end over end until it landed with a splash in the river. A great cloud of steam arose, and the air around them vibrated with its released energy. Kagome felt it pulling at her, trying to force her away from Sesshomaru, but she managed to hold on. She wouldn't be torn from him again!

And then it was over. When Kagome came to, she found herself lying on the ground, sprawled across the inuyoukai's prone form. Weakly, she lifted her chin from where it was embedded in Sesshomaru's shoulder. "We're home," she croaked, vaguely able to pick out her surroundings in the dark. She could see the light shining through the windows of the mansion.

"Home…home is Kagome," her mate murmured, grasping a raven lock and pulling her mouth against his.

So exhausted was she, she could hardly return the kiss. It was enough, though, to lie in his arms and know that her mate, who had battled the grave to retrieve her, was here with her. She was home, indeed.

……

……

One Year Later

"Dammit, Kaede, you know how much I hate flying in these contraptions!" Taisho groused. "How much longer until we land?"

"Five minutes less than the last time you asked me that," Kaede sighed, rolling her eyes.

……

"Wake up, little brother." Sesshomaru walked into the darkened front parlor and drew the curtains, letting the bright midday sun flood the room. "The others will be arriving for the Family Gathering at any moment."

Inu-Yasha winced as the light hit his eyes, disturbing his stolen nap. "Whazzat?" he yawned. The coo of a baby alerted him to the presence of his daughter Eri. Upon hearing his voice, she made a delighted noise from her perch, where she was tucked against Sesshomaru's shoulder.

"Sango is feeding Yumi," Sesshomaru informed him, referring to the other pup. "Your offspring have your voracious appetite; you must be so proud."

"Yeah, like your brat isn't eating us out of house and home," Inu-Yasha countered, taking Eri from her uncle. "Every time I go looking for a snack, Shippo's beat me to the pantry."

"Growth spurt," his brother dismissed the charge.

"So where have you and Kagome been all morning?" Inu-Yasha questioned curiously. He smothered another yawn. Twins were hell on the old sleeping schedule, he noted.

"Visiting Sota's grave," Sesshomaru answered somberly.

"Oh," the hanyou murmured awkwardly. The news of Sota's death had tempered the joy of Kagome's resurrection with a bittersweet tang. "How's she doing?" he asked, referring to his brother's mate.

"The loss of her brother still saddens her, but Kagome is at peace," Sesshomaru told him before switching the topic of conversation. "By the way, Kaede called. She and Father have left the airport and will be here as soon as Father quits harassing the cab driver. From the tone of Kaede's voice, it's been a long trip for the both of them."

"They were the ones who decided to vacation on that stupid island," Inu-Yasha pointed out. "Maybe next time they'll choose someplace closer. The plumber finished working on their quarters, right?"

"So to speak. Actually, the plumber took one look at those pipes and said he'd have to tear the mansion apart to fix it. His offer was graciously declined, so expect further complaints from our Esteemed Parent."

"Maybe it's a good time for me and Sango to go to that remote island," Inu-Yasha groaned.

"You could always move out of the mansion and find a place of your own," Sesshomaru commented mildly.

"Like hell I will," Inu-Yasha countered. "I ain't leaving this place until either you leave or Father kicks us out. And as long as Kagome's still around, neither one of those things is going to happen."

Sesshomaru ignored him, as usual. This was common banter between them, neither one of them having any real intention of leaving. The rest of the former slaves had left the mansion and found places of their own, but Taisho and his sons had remained, along with their respective families and the two guards. The interior of the house had been remodeled to give the three families more privacy, leaving room enough – Taisho informed them with a broad wink – for future additions. In spite of the occasional flare-up, life at the mansion was relatively peaceful.

"Sango said there was a problem at the office," Sesshomaru mentioned.

"I took care of it," Inu-Yasha assured him. "Some vendor tried to make a delivery that didn't even come close to matching the contract specs."

"Why didn't they just refuse the delivery?"

"That would be an intelligent decision," Inu-Yasha agreed. "Too bad all of the smart employees had gone to lunch. Look, you really need to hire some floor managers. Work at the company shouldn't come to a grinding halt just because you, Kagome, and Yura decide to take the day off."

"Floor managers are the least of our problems. The Shikon Division is still bleeding cash, the renovations at the office are six months behind, and Miroku has turned in his resignation. Kagura's been offered a job as a scriptwriter, so the two of them are relocating," Sesshomaru said, rubbing his head tiredly. "I don't suppose I can convince you to come back to work?"

"You stand a better chance of getting Father to come out of retirement," Inu-Yasha snorted. "And speaking of Miroku, he called earlier and said he'd be a little late; he's going across town to pick up Kanna and Kohaku." Inu-Yasha shifted Eri to his other shoulder. "Get this: he and Kagura returned from some soap-opera fan convention two days ago, and the first thing he did was go to Koharu's shop. She told me he bought every nurse outfit in the place, claiming it was for 'research.'" He snorted. "Being tied down to Kagura hasn't changed the Pervert one bit."

"Don't call Miroku by that name," Kagome chided, entering the front room in time to catch her brother-in-law's remark. "You should watch what you say in front of the baby, Inu-Yasha. What if she copies you?"

"She isn't even talking yet!" Inu-Yasha protested.

"And if she does call him a pervert, then she's a fast learner," Sesshomaru added dryly, enjoying the outraged expression crossing his brother's face. "It'll certainly give her a head start when she's grown."

"That bastard better not come within ten steps of my daughters, or I'll rip his nu – "

"Language!" Kagome warned, clapping a hand over the hanyou's mouth. "So, Inu-Yasha," she asked, trying to change the subject. "You didn't tell us how your interview with the publisher went. Are they interested in Sango's cookbook?"

Inu-Yasha's chest puffed with pride. "Not only do they want to publish Mixed Company: A Cookbook for Every Appetite, they want to purchase the rights to the next three volumes." He licked his lips. "Guess who's going to be working full-time as Sango's food-tester?"

……

His Darlings and their mates were all present, Taisho noted with satisfaction, sinking into a soft spot on the couch. The front room was packed, causing the inuyoukai to wonder how they'd all managed to fit in there on previous occasions. Even Toto-sai had arrived, bringing along Yura and – to everyone's surprise – Kikyo.

Kagome's elder sister hadn't shown her face much since Naraku's defeat. She had accepted the responsibility for the Shikon Jewel, then left for parts unknown with little more than a farewell to her sister. While the others had voiced their doubts as to whether or not the woman could be trusted, Taisho felt no discomfort. He had placed his faith in Kikyo for good reason, and he was confident she would handle her duties well.

He scanned the crowd, sheer force of habit causing him to search out his Favorite Darling. He found her talking to Koharu and Nazuna, discussing the varying stages of Koharu's pregnancy. Koga hovered nearby, glowering at anyone who accidentally nudged against his mate, and Sesshomaru stood a short distance from the group, trying to look disinterested.

Taisho watched, vastly amused, as Koharu placed Sesshomaru's hand on her immense belly so he could feel the pup kicking. A pink flush crept across the stoic youkai's cheeks, and the pleading look he sent his mate had everyone laughing. Taisho didn't miss the shy, somewhat proud cast to Sesshomaru's eyes, nor did he fail to notice Kagome's quick wink. He could expect an announcement any day now from those two, Taisho thought smugly.

"Want to hold Yumi?" Inu-Yasha sat next to him, distracting him from his observation of the heated discussion between Hiten, Miroku and Kagura. Taisho was starting to become concerned, but Kanna and Kohaku were trying to mediate and appeared to be doing a good job of it. Those two were made for politics…

"I'd be delighted," Taisho answered with a smile, accepting the squirming bundle. His large hands dwarfed the tiny pup, who stared back at her grandfather with inquisitive eyes that resembled her mother's. "Hello, Little One," Taisho said softly. Yumi gave a soft yip and promptly wrapped her small hand around his finger.

"She's going to be a strong one," Kaede observed as she leaned over the back of the couch.

"Just like her mother," Taisho said happily. He gently rocked the pup against him, enjoying the feel of her. Memories of holding his own children rushed back, making him feel sentimental and old all at the same time.

"She's something else, isn't she?" Inu-Yasha quietly got his attention as Kaede wandered off to rescue Sango's fire-cat, Kirara, from the not-so-tender attentions of Shippo and Rin. The hanyou was giving Yumi a tender look. "Her and Eri both…"

"Yes," Taisho agreed, "they're amazing, and they're unique. It's strange…I wasn't surprised by the difference in personality between you and your brother. What shocked me was how that personality was evident from the very first day. I don't know why I thought that was something you had to grow into."

They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying Yumi's little noises. "You know, Father, I finally get it," Inu-Yasha said, reaching out to trace a clawed finger against his pup's soft cheek.

"Get it?"

"This whole parenthood thing," his son explained. "Why you'd do anything and give everything to help your pups. There's nothing I wouldn't do for my daughters, nothing." He paused. "And I guess I finally understand some of your actions. Even if they were wrong, you did them because you loved us."

"Can you forgive my errors?" Taisho asked gently. "Even the way I handled the situation with Kikyo?"

"Yeah," Inu-Yasha shrugged. "I already did, a long time ago. But don't think this gives you a free pass to stick your nose in my business in the future," he warned.

"Agreed," Taisho chuckled. "Speaking of Kikyo, she's headed this way. Give us a moment alone, will you? You'll probably have to distract Toto-sai; he seems to be suffering from the pangs of unrequited love." Taisho shook his head. "He has a bad habit of falling for women who can never return his feelings. I don't know why Yura doesn't slap him senseless."

"He hasn't got any sense to begin with," Inu-Yasha scowled. "Sure, I'll do it. I'm in Kikyo's debt right now, anyway," he added mysteriously before scooping Yumi into his arms and taking her over to Toto-sai.

"You're looking well, Taisho," Kikyo said politely as she sat next to him. She lowered her voice. "You'll be happy to hear that the Shikon Jewel is gone from this world."

"I'm assuming your wish was pure, as nothing catastrophic has happened," Taisho commented. "Or should I be preparing for imminent destruction? Satisfy my endless curiosity and tell me of your wish, Kikyo."

The miko beamed at him, a rare, genuine smile that radiated from her soul. "You're looking at them," Kikyo said, nodding her head in the direction of Inu-Yasha. The proud father had located his other pup and was now foisting the pair of them on the helpless Toto-sai.

"Those two?" Taisho looked at the pups. "How are they part of your wish?"

"Not just them, but Inu-Yasha as well." Kikyo settled back against the couch. "It was very difficult, thinking of a pure wish," she continued. "So many options presented themselves. I had to be certain that my wish wasn't a selfish one, or we'd be right back where we started. After putting much thought into the matter, I determined that the best wish would be the one that benefited our world as a whole, and not just a select group."

"Let me guess – world peace," Taisho deadpanned.

"Very funny," Kikyo rolled her eyes. "Be serious for a moment, will you?"

"Forgive me. Continue, please."

"As I was saying, it had to benefit all of us. That meant that I couldn't wish the youkai out of existence or wish for the humans to suddenly take over the world. Our world needs balance, Taisho, and it occurred to me that the future of the world is in their hands," Kikyo stated, pointing to the pups.

"Eri, Yumi, Inu-Yasha…the hands of all hanyou," Kikyo went on to clarify. "Taisho, our society is changing. As human-youkai relations become more commonplace, there will be more hanyou born. And what has been the biggest threat to all half-demons?"

"The instability of their blood," Taisho surmised.

"Exactly," Kikyo stated. "I saw Inu-Yasha's transformed state – it was horrible! That mindless, bloodthirsty animal wasn't him. So that was my wish," she finished. "I wished that all hanyou blood would become stable."

"It won't change an evil heart into a good one," Taisho cautioned her.

"I know," Kikyo sighed. "But good or bad, their choices will be their own. They cannot be controlled by the delirium of overwhelmed blood. And Inu-Yasha will never have to worry about harming his mate during a bout of insanity. I know that thought bothered him."

"Kikyo," Taisho whispered in her ear as he caught her in a tight hug, "That is a truly wonderful wish. Thank you, dear girl."

She blushed profusely but permitted the embrace. "Inu-Yasha and Sango are the only ones I've told, other than you," she advised him. "I'd rather not have my name tied to this wish. I'm under threat of death from humans and demons alike; there's no point in giving my enemies additional ammunition. There's still a lot of prejudice in this world, and not everyone is going to be thrilled at the prospect of more hanyou."

"But the hanyou already in existence need to hear the good news," Taisho argued. "And there are human/youkai couples who might consider bearing offspring now that this danger has been eliminated."

"That's where you come in," Kikyo announced. "I'm relying on you to pass the message along, Taisho." She gave his chest a friendly rap with her knuckles. "I don't care what you say or how you say it, as long as you keep my name out of it."

"Are you implying that I have a big mouth?"

"I'm placing my confidence in your multitude of connections, Taisho." Kikyo planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. "Much like the way you once placed your confidence in me. You were right, by the way," she added. "You said I was strong enough to resist the feelings of the ancient priestess, and I did."

"Is she still with you?" Taisho asked curiously.

"No," Kikyo told him. "After I made the wish, the Shikon Jewel disappeared and so did she. For the first time in my life, I'm all alone. I won't lie, Taisho – it terrifies me." She drew a deep breath. "I'll be all right, though. I'm finding that I'm not such a bad person to live with."

Laughter erupted from the other side of the room. Taisho looked up to see Hiten sporting a flower in the middle of his forehead. "Nazuna needs to work a little on that spell," the elemental demon said sheepishly.

"Quit hogging the babies and let me hold one, Toto-sai!" Koharu was chastising the metal-smith. Toto-sai handed Yumi to Koharu and crossed the room to give the other infant to Taisho. At his approach, Kikyo mumbled something to Taisho about needing to use the facilities and made her escape.

"Take the brat," Toto-sai said, dumping Eri into Taisho's lap. "I've no use for the little ankle-biters." Having done this, the weapon-smith stomped off to the corner, where Bankotsu and Miroku had started a friendly game of cards.

Taisho settled the sleepy infant in the crook of his arm and leaned back in enjoyment. The chatter in the room had resumed, voices rising and falling with the ebb and flow of conversation. Over here was Koharu's laugh, so reminiscent of wind chimes, over there was Sango's clear voice, telling Nazuna about the success of the cookbook. And not far from him, he could hear his Darling Kagome scolding her mate about a houseplant that had somehow gone missing…

A familiar scent crossed his nose, one of herbs mingled with a deeper, sweeter smell. "What a lovely sight," Kaede whispered, gazing at the pup in his arms. She settled on the couch next to Taisho and ruffled the fine strands of Eri's hair. At her motion, the pup yawned and closed her eyes, snuggling her nose into Taisho's bicep.

"Yes," Taisho agreed whole-heartedly, raising his head to cast a smile at the mate he'd been granted so late in his life.

He returned to watching his Darlings, reveling in the joy they'd brought into his life. Kagome and the others were a gift, he realized, a gift he'd never expected but no longer wanted to live without. Their love filled not only his heart, but also the empty spaces in what had once been a very broken family.

Kaede was right – they were a lovely sight, indeed.

- The End -

……

……

Really Long Author Note: I solved the puzzle of Kagome's Gordian Knot with a sword. Hey, it was good enough for Alexander the Great…

This fic would not have been finished without the fabulous beta-work of TitianWren. Seriously. I would have fallen into a hole in the plot back in Chapter 10 and never recovered. I can't tell you how many times she's saved my bacon.

When I started this fic, I naively assumed it would take about the same length of time as it took me to write Naraku's Angels, which was about three months. I didn't realize that, five chapters into the fic, a series of life-events would extend the time to over a year. A hurricane wrecking my house, a death in the immediate family and the deployment of My Favorite Blonde to the desert were just some of the drama. And bear in mind that I am an accountant and this time period covered not one, but two tax seasons. The miracle is that I managed to finish this at all. I truly appreciate your patience.

Inspiration for this fic came from three sources:

The first source was Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku, which is her series based on life in a boarding house. After reading the manga, I was struck with the image of what would happen if all of the Inu-Yasha characters were stuck in one house. My twisted little brain thought the situation would be immensely entertaining.

The second source was the fan-art The Three Swords by Giovanna BC Guimaraes, found at (remove the spaces) http // elfwood . lysator . liu . se / fanq / g / I / giovannabcg1 / 3espadas . jpg . html. Actually, several of her works inspired me – all of them are just beautiful (and extremely drool-worthy). Check out her gallery; you won't be sorry.

My final source of inspiration came from soap-operas themselves, one of the original homes of fan-fiction. And yes, I do realize that this fic is a soap-opera. While I haven't followed daytime-drama for many years, I have a good friend who records every episode so she can watch them when she gets home from work. That kind of devotion is what drives the fan-fiction world.

Final thanks go to my readers, who fed Black Lavender's immense ego with their reviews and warmed her with their flames. I love y'all – each and every last one of you!

- Lavender