Author's Note: Well ... this is the end of the road. The fic is done. I had doubts along the way and considered giving up several times, but I'm glad I saw it through. Now I find myself with a few ideas for other Inu-Yasha/Kagome fics ... I'm sure some of them will find their way onto FF.net and MediaMiner.org eventually. :)

Thanks: Thank you to everyone who has reviewed this story, and everyone who reviews it in the future. Reviews inspire me to write, and that is always a good thing. So thank you!

Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me. This fic, however, is mine. Please don't take it without my permission.

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Epilogue:
First Kiss

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Kagome woke in darkness, but it was not the dark silence of the forest or her lonely hut in Tanaka's village. Instead, she woke to darkness, warmth, and the quiet sound of her heart beating.

My heart really is beating! I thought maybe it was a dream.

Attempting to lift her head to glance at her shadowy surroundings, Kagome felt arms tighten around her, a hand pressing her cheek to the warm skin of a bare shoulder. The strength of his arms, the scent of his skin, the quiet sound of his sleeping breath, the soft feel of his hair brushing against her fingers where her hand rested against the side of his waist...

Inu-Yasha!

As she relaxed trustingly into the hanyou's embrace, Kagome listened to his heart beating slow and steady while he slept.

It's been a long time since I really felt safe. But I do now. I do with you.

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The next few days passed quickly. Kagome remained tired and drained, which Kaede speculated was a result of the sheer intensity of magics that had surrounded her recently. Her soul, apparently, needed to recover.

And so Kagome spent much of her time sleeping. When she was awake, she cuddled with Shippo and talked with the others who hovered around her in concern. She was uncharacteristically reluctant to talk about her time away from the group, however. The sadness and pain she had experienced while in Kikyo's body was something she didn't know how to explain, and she didn't want her friends to feel bad for her. Instead, she smiled and talked with them of wanting to go home to visit her family and other unrelated things, though Miroku and Sango's curiosity was silently obvious. Shippo, at least, was easy to reassure, since all he wanted was affection.

Inu-Yasha, on the other hand, seemed terribly skittish, always avoiding eye contact and sitting as far from Kagome as possible without losing sight of her. Kagome wondered why he wouldn't talk to her, but whenever she tried to ask, he fled. She thought perhaps he was staying away from her because he was embarrassed about the thoughts they'd shared during the spell, but it still hurt her feelings. I've been away from him for so long, and now he won't even look at me?

One morning, she woke early, while the others were all still sleeping, and felt a bit stronger than she had the day before. She could hear birds singing outside, and suddenly wanted to see the world again ... she wanted to see it with her own eyes. Not Kikyo's eyes ... Kagome's eyes.

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Inu-Yasha woke with a jolt. Something was wrong. He immediately glanced at Kagome's sleeping bag ... and found it empty. His heart thumping anxiously in his chest, he ran outside, clutching Tetsusaiga in his right hand.

"Kagome?" he cried, knowing that he was probably waking the village, but not caring. What if something's happened to her again? I would never forgive myself. Never.

Detecting her scent in the air, Inu-Yasha ran toward it, through the trees and into a small clearing less than a mile from Kaede's hut. Several yards away, Kagome stood in her green-and-white school uniform, her hair gently billowing in the breeze, her head back as she gazed up at the clear blue sky.

"Kagome!" sighed Inu-Yasha in relief, and she turned in surprise at the sound of his voice. When she saw him, though, she smiled the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen in his life.

Gods, I missed that smile! I thought I was never going to see it again!

He walked toward her, the tall grasses brushing his bare feet and the red fabric of his hakama. His heart began to slow from its frantic pace, but he still shouted, "What the hell are you doing out here, wandering off by yourself? Some damned demon could have shown up ... and you don't even have your arrows!"

"Inu-Yasha," she smiled even brighter, "you were worried about me?"

He crossed his arms, tucking his hands into his long sleeves and looking away. The silence stretched, and at length Kagome again turned her face toward the sky, her eyes wide with wonder and happiness. "Isn't it all incredibly beautiful?"

Inu-Yasha glanced back at her, his golden eyes shy. "Yeah," he murmured quietly. "Beautiful."

Turning toward him, Kagome began walking slowly, the tall grasses brushing against her white socks. She looked right into Inu-Yasha's eyes, and he found that he couldn't look away, though the prolonged eye contact brought a blush to his face.

"Thank you for saving me," she said softly.

That made him look away, and so he turned his head and stared guiltily at the grass in the distance. "Nothing bad would have happened to you in the first place if I hadn't run off and left you alone."

Kagome was close enough to touch now, and she rested her palm against his cheek, turning his face so that she could meet his eyes again. "I wasn't alone, Inu-Yasha. And you can't protect me every single minute."

Glaring at her, he grumbled, "I can try!"

But she laughed lightly, and the sound of her laugh relaxed him that much more. Her scent ... her smile ... her laugh ... Kagome, I missed you so much!

"Don't worry, Inu-Yasha. I always feel safe with you."

"Yeah, what kind of moron are you, walking up to me when I was transformed? You couldn't even 'sit' me!" Inu-Yasha shook his head in disgust.

But Kagome only rolled her eyes. "I knew you wouldn't hurt me, silly. You would never hurt me."

It was so similar to some of what had passed between them when their minds were connected that it made Inu-Yasha nervously begin to take a step backward away from Kagome, but when he saw hurt flash briefly in her eyes he somehow found himself stepping forward, instead. Somehow found himself sliding his hands through her hair to cup the back of her head as he lowered his lips to hers, his eyes fluttering closed as he reveled in this first kiss.

Her lips were warm and soft against his, and she made a small sound as he kissed her, like a sigh or a moan. Her arms rose to twine themselves around his neck, burrowing under his hair and gently pulling him even closer. Inu-Yasha wrapped his arms around her and held her close, listening to her heart beating quickly, racing with his own.

Eventually, he pulled his lips from hers in order to pant for breath. His mouth slightly open, his lips rubbed red, his golden eyes soft and warm as he looked down into her face, he couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound stupid. But then Kagome burrowed close, nestling against his chest, and he simply held her tight.

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The End

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