Author's Notes at end.


Her Last Moment

If he held her hand any tighter, his claws would sink effortlessly into her delicate mortal flesh. In spite of his consuming weakness, he continued to cling as desperately, as securely, as he dared. She was propped heavily within the crook of his arm, her spine cracked and twisted so horribly that she only managed to sit up through aid of his strength. He would give over all that strength – all his arrogance and power – the instant he was able, if only he were able.

Her eyes were drowning in pain, though she still maintained the gentle, understanding smile that had at first drawn him to who she really was. It was this smile that hurt him the most; the knowledge that she was dying beneath it tearing down the stones that protected his most vulnerable of parts...

"Shippou...he's safe?" she queried softly, brown eyes becoming distant as the young kitsune's face drifted through her memory.

"Yeah..." was all he could utter, his own voice weak and strained. "Shippou's fine. Miroku and Sango too, they're all okay...same with you."

She laughed at that, the teasing sound becoming a painful hacking that clenched a fist more tightly around his chest. It passed quickly, and he felt the tension drain gradually out of her body. He took longer to recover, and a gentle squeeze from her fingers told him she knew his thoughts. She always knew, somehow. When he was angry, she could hold him in just the right way to soothe his ferocity. When he was depressed, a warm word or faint touch put everything back into perspective. And when he was happy...well, he was only ever happy when he saw her smile at him, for him...only him.

He'd lost so many battles, so many fights that in one moment were the most important of his life. Now, he understood with mounting fear, he was losing the only one that had ever actually counted for something.

"Don't cry..." she murmured suddenly, her cheeks losing more of their rosy glow with every passing moment. She left her right hand gripped tightly in his, but lifted the other to wipe away a traitorous glimmer in the half-demon's eyes. "Don't lose your strength now, Inuyasha."

He sat like a statue at her touch, his legs curled Indian-style and her body resting easily within his lap. She always fit perfectly, he realized. Whether he was diving to shield her delicate form with his own or snatching her up for a ride upon his back, she always slid naturally into his grip. This was one time he wished he didn't have to hug so fiercely to her, fearing that the next instant there would be nothing more for him to hold.

"You're fine," he repeated, shifting and stopping when he saw the pain creep further into her face. "They've gone for Kaede, you'll be on your feet again before you know it."

Her wan smile never faded, but she shook her head slightly.

"I can't feel them anymore," she whispered, a faint shimmering glossing over her eyes as she spoke.

A lump rose up in his throat, and try as he might, he was unable to force it back down to join the other stones keeping his stomach heavy in dread.

"Stop it!" he commanded harshly, more viciously than he'd intended. "Please..." he amended swiftly, gripping her palm securely. "Please, Kagome..."

"It's not your fault..." she insisted, she'd been saying it for over an hour now.

But it was. The battle flashed before the hanyou's eyes again, and he could play out a thousand different versions where he had bent to his duty and not pride, to his heart and not instinct.

They'd come across the blood-thirsty demon in the most perfect of times: during his regeneration. His offspring were easy enough to take down; the Wind Sorceress first, then the Guardian of the Mirror. Shippou could have finished them himself, had he the warrior's desire for mayhem and bloodshed.

Underestimation had proven their downfall, with his companions quickly taken out even during the youkai's vulnerable state. Then again, he did not need their help. He could do it on his own. Or so he'd thought, leaving the most precious asset he'd ever gained out in the open through his misplaced confidence.

His sword was cast aside immediately, but he didn't require it...he would defeat the beast more quickly by giving into that which he most feared. Just once...just this once and never again. He could feel the power overtake him, his sensibility melting away to leave behind only one directive. Murder, maim, mutilate...he had to do whatever it took to scratch this hindrance from the rest of his life. The youkai fell easily beneath his blood-stained talons; he still remembered the salty tang of blood as it burst into the air from a thousand open wounds.

But he'd forgotten about the others. He was wallowing in his victory, greedily inhaling the thick scent of waning life that set his veins on fire. It was then that he saw her...the one who had betrayed him, the filthy priestess who had delayed his quest for domination, who had attempted to purge his rightful power from his body and soul. She was so strange to his eyes...but it was still her. The damned human side was rising now, protesting against its incarceration and gradually pressing for control of his mind once more. He had to act swiftly.

Her screams were music, the brilliant innocence and trust still burning from her eyes as her blood joined the ebony stains upon his claws. So perfect...his two greatest conquests falling to him all but simultaneously.

And then he woke up. He roused from his slumber to find her broken body clutched viciously between his hands, her crimson life spilling out to feed the ground with its purity.

Flowers should have sprouted from the rusty blemishes. Wings should have exploded from her back and carried her away, off to join the choirs singing in the clouds. But instead she clung life, to him. Her face was agonized, but there was no anger, no hatred and no fear. There was just...hope. Hope and love, the two most nonexistent gifts in his life were radiating without consequence from her eyes. She did not withdraw her affections...even as she lay fading by his will.

A thousand deaths in hell could never exercise retribution for what he had done. He would rip out his own heart and squeeze the essence from it if she so commanded, and still accept eternal punishment for his actions. He was a murderer.

"I'm sorry, so sorry, Kagome..." he choked, amber eyes seeking out hers, flooding over with grief and tragedy.

"You've apologize for..." she assured him, fingers lightly stroking the silver hair that floated over to drape his cheek. "It's not your...fault..."

"It is..." he persisted, shaking his head. Her hand shifted to cup his face now, and he moved his skin to rest fully against the vanishing warmth of that palm.

"No..." she repeated firmly, fingertips trembling as tears slid freely from her eyes. "I know you, Inuyasha... I know you'd never hurt me. Not ever. I know your...secret, after all."

Her voice was fading slowly, and he found himself cursing Miroku and Sango for taking their time in seeking help.

" know mine, don't you?" she continued after a moment, a smile still lifting the pallid rose of her lips. Another smile granted only for him, all the more exceptional for its brevity. It was to be her last.

"N-no..." he stuttered, struggling to hug her more tightly, to prevent the departure that his every instinct screamed was nearing.

"You always dense..." she laughed, an expression of agonized amusement. "You must know...everyone else does..."

He shook his head again, replying with urgency, "Stop talking, Kagome. You're making things worse..."

"I won't let you live in guilt...Inuyasha," she said, the strength in her voice shocking him. "I won't let you live in...shame... You've done nothing wrong...never could."

She was babbling now, he asserted. He needed to quiet her or she'd worsen her condition, but every attempt ended in failure.

"Kaede knows what will happen...what to do..." she breathed with difficulty, her chest rising and falling with a visibly harsh rhythm. She was losing the battle; she needed to finish what she was saying. "Miroku and Sango know what...happened. Let them tell Shippou... You're no monster, Inuyasha...don't make yourself into one... Death...death is only...a renewal, not a punishment..."

"But I am a monster... Gods above, I've killed you, Kagome..." he sobbed, bowing his head over her and letting his tears mingle with hers. "How can you be so forgiving? How can you still care?"

"Because, Inuyasha..." her voice drifted off, hand slipping behind his skull to pull him closer. Her lips were millimeters from his, her breath tickling the flesh of his mouth and tempting him with everything he knew he would never have a chance to claim. "Ai...aishi...teru..."

Her last breath was the sweetest he had ever tasted, her soft pink lips slightly parted as they rested gently against his. Her hand fell slowly from his ivory-cloaked head, the one gripped inside his palm slackening, though her fingers remained though to remind him she was still there, would always be there.

The half-demon was numb when Miroku and Sango arrived minutes later, Kaede in tow upon the back of Kirara. He was bowed over her limp form, his robes stained burgundy from the newness of her blood. They pulled him gently from her side, tending to their own assurances of her passage whilst he sought solitude in the wide branches of a cherry tree.

How many times had he hoisted her into these same limbs, sat close next to her as they watched the sunset? How many times had she laughed and teased when he threatened to knock her from her seat for some simple annoyance? How many times had he dreamt of pulling her against his chest, of burying his face in her raven mane and forgetting about everything but the moment?

Shippou grieved when the news was brought. He watched from another tree as the young fox broke down into tears and screams of denial. He was nothing but a child; she had been the mother he'd suffered so long without.

It was only when the little kitsune darted out into the night, squalling the hanyou's name, that he realized he too had become a parent. But he stayed out of sight, his own ache far too consuming to spare comfort for another.

- - - - -

She was wrapped in fine blankets and carried to the funeral pyre. He watched as Shippou and Sango draped her body in flowers. Cherry blossoms, her favorite flower, were out of season, but the fox and slayer did their best with meager wildflowers. She would not have cared anyway; anything bearing simple beauty had always delighted her. He still remembered the undiluted pleasure in her eyes when Shippou once brought a small ivory pebble as a gift. She was always sincere, affectionate and forgiving...never deceitful, caustic or hateful.

They burned her with the completed Shikon Jewel, as Kikyou had been burned years before. It was the last thing they'd done together, cupping the shards carefully as they melded into one magnificent violet gem. It had once seemed such a grand accomplishment...but came at a price he never would have willingly paid.

He had murdered her. Her blood still stained his hands in the shadows; her body's mangled, twisted form still haunted the corners of his eyes.

He had murdered her...and her last words had been I love you. Everything he never deserved was given freely by her. And what had he to offer in return? She asked for nothing, and it was all he felt he could give.

A dark figure came to stop beneath his tree, eyes staring coldly between the branches to rest upon the silver hair that almost glowed beneath the moonlight.

"She was not lying, Inuyasha," came the cold, factual voice. It had once been warm, just as lively and pleasant as another's. This was who she had once been, yet the two could not have been more different.

"Leave," he commanded, staring up at the stars and searching for a falling one. She'd once said they gave life to wishes. He would test her faith now.

"You have no right to dictate my actions, Inuyasha," Kikyou replied coldly. He hated it when anyone said his name now. The only one who had ever given it life, beauty, was dead. "Especially not when I come to relieve your pain."

"Rid it by taking her place, as you should have long ago!" he spat bitterly, eyes continuing to search the heavens with a fervent desperation.

"Your guilt is misplaced, you will realize such soon enough," the dead priestess told him, turning and disappearing once more into the woods.

He ignored her words. He needed to think about the morning, the morning he would take a final journey down the well and share the news with her family.

- - - - -

He failed. The well would not accept him as he dove down to its depths. He hit the hard, packed-dirt bottom three times before finally accepting it. He would spend eternity in misery within his own time; her family would suffer the unknown in theirs.

His guilt doubled.

- - - - -

The days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into seasons. Time passed without sympathy, he watched without company.

They all thought he was gone for good. He'd been absent from their presence for nearly a year before the group disbanded. Sango went one direction, and in spite of his sworn-celibacy, Miroku followed her trail soon-after. They returned to the village some time later, Sango's belly swollen and their hands clasped tightly in a lover's grip. To him, it looked the same as the last embrace he'd shared with his own.

Shippou stayed in the companionship of Kaede. He watched the boy grow slowly from afar, saw the fox mourn at the elderly priestess's death and take over her duties as protector of the village.

Strangely enough, as Shippou's face lengthened and his body grew, his former guardian's did not. Each day, the hanyou peered curiously into the reflective surface of the nearby river. Each day, he was granted with the same appearance as the moment she had passed on. He had not aged since.

- - - - -

Somehow, he survived the successful Youkai Purge decades later. Somehow, he survived the detection of an ever-expanding civilization. Somehow, he preserved his sanity.

The guilt was ever-present. His heart yearned to see her face again, and it was this all-consuming desire that kept him from perishing even after burying Shippou, after seeing Miroku and Sango slain in the defense of Kirara.

His amber eyes cast upon the racing mechanical beasts below him now. A group of school-girls were giggling and crowding around one another as they trooped home. He followed them carefully.

One split off to trek through a residential neighborhood. Another bounded up the stairs of a large apartment building. Three were left, then two as yet one other climbed the steps leading towards a massive shrine. He trailed after this one.

- - - - -

He stepped out from behind the Sacred Tree as she came into sight. She was the same as he'd remembered, her small green skirt bouncing merrily as she half-walked, half-skipped over the hewn-stone courtyard. The girl's hair even shone in the same way that had mesmerized him all those years ago. He hesitated, pulling harder on the red baseball cap that covered his ears.

She stopped when the strange man moved into sight, her eyes taking deep appreciation for the stunningly-pale locks that cascaded down his back and over his shoulders. He was different, he was new...he was familiar.

Images of foreign people and terrifying beasts flooded her mind, and she recognized them instantly as dreams from nights past. Through it all, there had been one face she was never able to see clearly...

"Inuyasha!" she suddenly blurted, school-bags dropping with a thud as her shoes slapped over the ground.

His arms opened automatically and she fell into them, wrapping her own snugly about his waist. Perfect...she always fit so perfectly.

Tears soaked through the fabric of his shirt, and he realized with a start that she was crying against him. He felt his own eyes burn and pulled her closer, bending his head to bury his face against her hair.

"I told you...I told you not to feel guilty," she sobbed, her voice muffled. "I told you...death was only a renewal..."

"Kagome..." he murmured, feeling his heart explode. He wouldn't miss his chance now, never again... "Aishiteru."


Author's Notes: This story has been around for about two years now, but I like to repost it around Valentine's Day so that new readers can enjoy it. I also tend to make modest edits to the piece as I grow older and become a more experienced author. Hopefully, no one holds this ambition against me. If you do, please email me to discuss your displeasure and do not let it discolor my craft via a review. Arigatou.

By the way, "Saigou" means "one's last moment."