But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
-Andrew Marvell, "To his Coy Mistress," 21-32.
The worst torment lies in the things she used to love. The things she dreamed of, pined for, wept for the lack of.
The worst pain of all is having Inuyasha inside her, devoted, loving her, and having a body not designed for such things. Kikyou screams, and cries, and finally, her eyes pleading for forgiveness, she begs him to stop, and he does.
Afterwards he holds her tightly in his arms, and promises to love her forever. He has no idea how long forever is.
"When he saw you," Kagome had said, "He had already chosen. Even though I love him, you two belong together. I know I can't compare. But promise me one thing, promise me, because I'm giving up everything for you. Don't let him die before his time."
Kikyou did not promise.
Inuyasha had been sad when Kagome told him she was returning to her own time. His feelings for her ran deep, and he would miss her. But in some ways, he was like a criminal who has been caught and sentenced to death after years on the run. Relieved.
He was as sick of pretending as she was.
If Kikyou died, smashed her body and set her soul free, she isn't entirely sure how she would be born next. Perhaps a woman, a man, a beast, a god… so many worlds, and such conflicted karma she has made for herself. She is certain she was virtuous enough to be spared a tenure in hell, for which she was sorry. For hell is the only world that can purify, rend self from soul and make her into something new. She cannot bear the thought of living another life with this weight on her soul.
I killed you, Inuyasha.
They have their vengeance. Naraku, his eyes blue and bloodshot, the rest mangled as if to seem inhuman, but no longer youkai or hanyou, she had burned all that away from him. "Are you sorry for all you've done, Onigumo?"
Unbelievably, he can still form speech, deformed though it is. "There is no repentance."
"Would you go to hell, would you give yourself that chance?"
"I would not. Karma must drag me there by my heels, and even then I shall escape."
Kikyou sighs. "It would be best for you if you would accept it. I know you fear the pain, but it is nothing compared to that which you have already endured, and that which you have brought on others. This is your only hope to escape the vicious circle you have made for yourself, and perhaps someday become enlightened."
Onigumo spits. "I fear no pain, only forgetting you, my Kikyou." Something that had perhaps been a hand brushes her cheek, leaving a red-orange smear. "Let me die as myself."
Kikyou grants him that. She doubts he will be reborn as a human any time soon, so it's not as if he is likely to cause them any trouble.
But now, now, with their vengeance claimed and intimacy denied, it is only the thousand little things which they must endure. Inuyasha eats, and even takes up cooking, trying to invent 'ramen,' and Kikyou is for once grateful that she cannot eat, and therefore be obligated to test his creations.
She guards the Shikon, not daring to use it, and Inuyasha guards his sword, for she has learned, he is dependent on it. The youkai come, and the youkai die.
The topic comes up, every twenty years or so.
"Could you use it?"
"I could, and I won't."
"It could bring you to life. Fix me, so I don't go mad if I'm away from Tessaiga. We could be 'normal.' We could have a family."
Kikyou is very sad then, always very sad. "There isn't enough of me left to bring back. I would not be a woman, I would be a thing, and you couldn't love me anymore. The Shikon is powerful, but it is not omnipotent. And you, it is the same. There isn't enough of your youkai side to make you a pure youkai, not a thinking, rational one, and if you were human…"
Yes. If you were human, you couldn't defend yourself. Even if I guarded you every second, you would still die, and leave me alone.
"Forever?" he asks.
"Forever." She takes his hand, and kisses it.
Kikyou watches generations grow up. She is foster-mother to countless adoring children, and then their children, and then their— So she wonders, if she were a human girl, if she could bear Inuyasha's children. Hanyou were sterile anyway, were they not?
Perhaps it is best. They, still suffering from betrayal decades old, are not ready to move on.
He cannot make love to her, but she finds other ways to pleasure him. Her hands, her mouth, her breasts, all endeavor towards his satisfaction willingly. He tells her he loves her, that he doesn't need any more. He has to tell her that he is content, since he is the only reason they do this anyway. Her body can find no pleasure, no matter how she is touched.
Yet every thirty years or so, they try again.
And every time, it is too painful for her, and they stop, and he assures her that it's okay, and that he'll still love her forever.
Every time this repeats, he gets a better idea of what forever is.
They have a lot of graves. The grave of Inuyasha's mother, he visits it from time to time. The graves of Miroku and Sango, long dead of old age, and their children, and their grandchildren…
Kikyou notices that Sango's grave never lacks for flowers, but she says nothing.
The grave of time, the well to distant lands. It's not a choice anymore, it still goes a fixed five-hundred years or so, so Kagome's dead by now. It stands as barren as all their others.
The final grave, the inescapable one. Their own coffin-hut, their little place of death. It is perhaps the one they mourn the most.
Shippou visits them, on and off. He's a fell warrior now, mane of flame, fierce sword, powerful magic. He helps defend the jewel when need be, and keeps them company. He eats Inuyasha's cooking, and polishes his legendary armor.
When he's not with them, he's off in search of power and knowledge. Kikyou knows what he's searching for.
He doesn't talk about it much, but she knows. When his eyes meet hers, there is a quick apology, from him, I'm sorry, I haven't found it yet, from her, forgive me, I never meant for you to waste your life on me.
He leaves flowers on their grave, and continues his noble quest. Each time she hopes he will give up, forget about them, and she won't have to see him again, because he still has hope, and she doesn't.
So every forty years or so, she asks Inuyasha.
"Will you come to hell with me?"
His reason is the same as Onigumo's. "I don't want to forget you, Kikyou."
"We would find each other, and our love would be new and untainted."
"You don't know that, you don't know. Let's wait a little more."
But things don't get better, Shippou finds no answers, and Kikyou never agrees to use the jewel. There is never any change, not even in their love. He still swears to love her forever.
And every time, she tells him, "I'll love you longer."
After living for so long, it is hard for Kikyou to give up. Hard for her to think that after a hundred thousand times, this will be the last time she kisses Inuyasha, the last time she walks over her own grave, but they're trapped, and something has to end it. Like Kagome, she has decided to give up and set Inuyasha free, come what may.
After four-hundred years, Kikyou opens hell.
She expects to be alone, but at the last moment, Inuyasha takes her hand. Kikyou is sorry, and glad that she never promised anything to Kagome. Kagome had no idea what she was asking anyway.
When she is born, she knows nothing.
She doesn't dream of past lives, or call old lover's names in her sleep.
She learns to speak, to walk, to type, to ride a bike.
The well should remind her, but it doesn't. When she sees Inuyasha sleeping there, she feels no guilt, no old pangs. It really is as if for the first time.
She learns to love, for the very first time.
Nothing triggers a memory in her. She doesn't know that they went to hell together the instant she turned her back, sure in her heart that she'd struck a chord with Kikyou. She doesn't know what hell was like, that it wasn't all oni and purifying fire, but a far greater torment. She doesn't know that she kept Inuyasha in her heart an eternity there, and found him again immediately after. And she will never know, that past is closed to her now.
When she sees the sorrowful choice in Inuyasha's eyes and leaves, she is sure they will be able to find happiness together.
For the very first time, on her side of the well, away from Inuyasha for the rest of her life, Kagome learns what forever is.