Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warning: A brief flirtation with citrus content.

I. Closed

It felt as though she would never breathe again. Her eyes rested, unfocussed and unseeing, on a caterpillar winding through the grass.

Much like the first day she had come to this place, the fresh breeze caressed her softly and the birds sang overhead. Kagome didn't notice. She barely registered the discomfort of the almost painful lump rising in her throat.

Jii-chan, Mama… Souta…

The well was closed.


His clawed hand clasped her shoulder firmly as he knelt beside her. His hot breath skittered past her ear. She shivered.

"C'mon, let's head back to the village. We'll figure this out later."

If it hadn't been for the strength in his arms as he lifted her to her feet, she was sure that she would not have been able to stand.

Slinging the bulging yellow pack that held the last few precious remnants of her old life over his shoulder, Inuyasha grasped her hand and tugged her toward the well-worn path.

Kagome sobbed.

Inuyasha turned, the pack dropping carelessly to the ground, and drew her tightly to his chest. Unconsciously, Kagome wrinkled her nose. The musty smell of firerat did little to conceal the smell of his sweat. The firerat didn't bother her so much when he leapt freely through the air, but it could get a little ripe on humid days. Kagome didn't mind too much, though. The smell was Inuyasha, and at this moment that was a comfort. His claws scored her scalp lightly as he ran his hand through her hair.

"Please don't cry. No matter what, I'll take care of you."

His words had the opposite effect, of course – tears she hadn't realized that she was holding back broke loose, streaming freely down her cheeks.

When she finally quieted, he handed her the bag and lifted her onto his back, heading for Kaede's.

The mood was somber in the small village. Several months ago, Kikyou-sama had come back to them in the guise of an odd young girl in strange clothes from a faraway place. But accompanied by the hanyou Inuyasha, the monk of dubious piety, the sad taijiya, and an assortment of small youkai, it seemed that the reborn miko had completed her mission.

The moon had turned almost two full cycles since the day the anxious travelers had returned to Kaede-sama with an unconscious Kagome. There had been talk of a great battle, a heroic defeat, but the odd girl from the faraway place had been gravely injured. Protective as ever, the hanyou would not leave her side during the four days that the elderly miko tended to the girl's injuries. He climbed the hill with Kaede-sama to return Kikyou-sama's remains to their sacred resting place only after it was certain that Kagome would return to health.

The weeks of Kagome's recovery passed with joyous festivities. The village girls were evenly divided in their opinions as to whether Miroku's marriage to Sango was an unfortunate loss or a welcome relief. They all agreed, however, that the taijiya would have the challenge of her life keeping the monk in hand. So long as she kept his hands full, the marriage would work out just fine.

But early that morning, the mood had grown heavy when Kagome announced she was returning to her home. Inuyasha, they had decided, would travel with her. With the jewel gone, it was uncertain whether they would be able to return to the village. But he couldn't let her go, not now, not after everything they had been through.

Having realized Kagome's inevitable choice long ago, Miroku and Sango bid their farewell to the odd pair that had come to be their dearest friends. The young kitsune surprised them all, bearing the parting without too much fuss. Over the course of their adventures, it had become apparent to even the youngest member of their close-knit group that Inuyasha would win her in the end.

It was thus with some surprise that Miroku turned to greet the hanyou that afternoon. The trademark blur of red and silver had entered the clearing by their hut with a typically abrupt greeting.

"Oi, bouzu, we need you. Where's Kaede?"

Miroku still found the absence of the customary perjorative disconcerting when Inuyasha referred to the elderly miko. The coarse hanyou had dropped his traditional "babaa" after she had healed Kagome-sama, but couldn't bring himself to grace her with an honorific.

It was the precious cargo that Inuyasha lowered gently to the ground, however, that caused Miroku's forehead to crease with a worried frown. Kagome-sama was pale, her eyes puffy. It seemed that their unspoken fear had been realized.

The taijiya sighed as she hefted the chain blade, laying it aside. The weapon had been badly damaged in the battle with Naraku. Although weapons maintenance was one of the first things that every taijiya learned in training, Kohaku showed no interest in fixing this one. Sango doubted whether he would ever pick it up again. Perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing.

Sango smiled as she watched Shippou and Kirara frolicking with the normally sombre young boy. She had feared that he might never again know joy, but time and the persistent playfulness of his furry companions seemed to be having some effect. She cautiously hoped that he would come to his own terms with the horrors of the past.

Not for the last time, Sango silently thanked Inuyasha's enigmatic brother for reviving Kohaku with his healing sword. Without the shikon shard, the boy's life had slipped away during the final battle. But when the dispassionate youkai had refused Kagome-chan the benefits of Tenseiga as well, the hanyou nearly lost his mind. "The tsukai have not come" the elder brother had intoned, before turning and departing the bloody and charred battleground.

Sango's eyes flicked to her friend, who was quietly watching the setting sun. It had been hours since Houshi-sama had left with Inuyasha and Kaede to inspect the well. After the battle, no one had spoken of the possibility that access to Kagome-chan's world might be sealed for good, focusing instead on the more immediate concerns for the young woman's survival and healing. Optimism and joy, it was felt, would aid in her recovery. With the future so uncertain, Kaede had encouraged the betrothed couple to marry as soon as possible so that Kagome-chan might share in and benefit from the joyous occasion.

The taijiya's thoughts immediately strayed to the man who was now her husband. Sango had not been ignorant of the ways of men. She was an attractive young woman, after all, and it was not uncommon for village youth to explore the pleasures of the flesh. But married life had turned out to hold more than a few surprises in the darkness of the night, not to mention the early morning or later in the day, when the young couple might be able to slip away or when the other occupants of their new hut were otherwise occupied. Just thinking of Houshi-sama's honeyed voice brought a burnished tint to her cheeks.

As though her thoughts had summoned the deliciously wicked monk, the distinct jingle of his shakujo drew the attention of everyone present to the narrow path. The looks on the faces of the returning trio told the story, even before Kaede knelt before Kagome-chan to deliver the news.

"I'm sorry, child, but it appears that there is nothing we can do."

tsukai – the little imp things that come to carry the souls of the dead to the next world. Sesshoumaru's Tenseiga works by exterminating the pesky little buggers, reviving the nearly departed. Apparently the word translates into something like pall-bearer, but tsukai is shorter and it simply won't do to have Fluffy-sama utter more syllables than necessary.

bouzu – according to Chris Rijk, who manages the Sengoku o-Togi Zoushi translation site, this is an insulting name for a Buddhist priest. In the original Japanese, Inuyasha frequently refers to Miroku this way. Contrast with Sango's "Houshi-sama," which is a very formal way to address a Buddhist monk.

babaa – a disrespectful term for an elderly woman. The equivalent for an old man is jiijii, as in when Inuyasha refers to "Myouga-jiijii".

shakujo – Miroku's jingly staff. The following description comes from www. geocities. com/oviedokempo/shaku[underscore]e. html:

"The shakujo was one of the few material possessions that were allowed to the Buddhist monk. According to one old custom, the number of rings that could be carried on the stick was equivalent to the hierarchy that each person had reached in the way towards the enlightenment (a Bodhisattva would carry six, for example, symbolizing the six kingdoms or stages of transmigration until arriving at the Buddha state). Nowadays the shakujo has a solely ceremonial function, but originally, among other functions, it served the mendicant monk to drive away the evil spirits and to alert the little animals that could cross in his way, so that he could avoid to do involuntarily damage to them, or even to defend himself from more dangerous animals, in that eventuality, or against the frequent attacks from the bandits. Also he could use it like call, so that the people of the villages by where he walked in his pilgrimage were alert of his arrival and went out to give him food or to ask for his blessings."