Author's Note: Yes, yes, yes, I know I have four fics that are sadly in need of updating (and I am, in fact, very close to updating Father's House, Husband's House), but what can I say? Inspiration is a funny thing…
The sky was the color of cherry blossoms in the spring, the bright pinkish light that gilded the clouds creating the border between the dying rays of the sun and the gentle curtain of night. The only sounds to be heard were the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze and the soft crunch of sandals as they treaded the well worn path in a steady rhythm. Inuyasha hitched the sack a bit higher on his shoulder and tucked a stray lock of ebony hair that had blown free back into the short, thick tail he wore high at the back of his head. It wouldn't be long now – with any luck he would make it home before full dark.
The sweet aroma of dinners being cooked reached his nose as he rounded the last bend, and he noticed for the first time just how hungry he had become. He sniffed a bit more out of old habit, trying to distinguish the exact smells, but of course all he could do was make an educated guess – his sensual acuity wasn't half as good as it had once been, and even after three months he still had to remind himself of that fact from time to time. Eighteen years worth was a lot of habit to break.
Waving aside a pang of longing for his half-demon senses, he turned his thoughts instead to the reason for his sacrifice, and smiled to himself as the longing subsided. Kikyo – wonderful, beautiful Kikyo. She was the one thing in his world that made life worth living, and she was all his – just as he was hers.
He pushed back the reed curtain that covered the entrance to their hut to find his lovely wife kneeling before the cooking stove, a pot of something delicious bubbling gently as she stirred. Hefting the sack of rice he'd bought from the market that afternoon on his way home and propping it against the wall, he brushed the road dust from his brown hakama and navy blue gi, kneeling beside Kikyo to give her a kiss on the cheek. "Hey," he said softly in greeting.
She answered with a gentle, affectionate smile. "Hi." Nodding toward the abandoned sack, she said, "Put that away now, won't you, before you forget."
"Right," he replied, and went to work emptying the contents of the carrying sack into the large clay jars that they used to store food. By the time he had finished, dinner was ready, and the two of them ate in companionable silence.
"How was your day?" Kikyo asked after awhile.
He shrugged offhandedly, swallowing another mouthful of stew, "Fine I guess. You know how it is – not much excitement in farming, but it's not bad work. The soil's good this year – should be a nice yield. How 'bout you?"
"I saw Mariko-sama this morning – she'll be delivering any day now, we hope."
"Good, good," Inuyasha murmured in reply, though in truth he was only half listening. Kikyo was a fantastic cook, and the stew was gradually drawing more and more of his attention. He bent forward, ladled up another hefty bowlful and dug in once more.
Just then, a very strange thing happened. He was looking into his bowl, pushing the vegetables around with his spoon and preparing to take another bite, when he felt an eerie sort of chill run down his spine, just as a phantom jolt of excitement and delight overcame his stomach. But the strangest part of all was that, as this all occurred, he could have sworn that for a moment the stew – instead of being a thick, meaty brownish color – had taken on a glassy, translucent yellow shade, the vegetables replaced with thin, curling noodles that gave off a chicken scent. But then it was gone, and everything was exactly as it should be.
Apparently Kikyo had noticed the strange expression cross his face, because when he looked up she was peering at him in mild concern. He smiled at her to show her that everything was fine, and she returned to her meal, as did he, though he couldn't quite shake the ghost of the feeling the experience had left him with.
After dinner, Inuyasha went for a walk in the cool night air, hoping to rid himself of the eerie feelings he'd had earlier. He told Kikyo he was going out to cut some fresh firewood, since they were running low, and said she needn't wait up for him. He almost forgot to grab the axe from the chopping block on the way, and chuckled wryly to himself as he ran a thumb over his dull human fingernails – wouldn't have much luck chopping down trees with those. As he cast his eyes about for a suitably sized tree, not wanting to cut one that was too large and make more work for himself than was necessary, he merely followed his feet wherever they chose to go.
Soon he reached the edge of a clearing and began to scan the trees near the brink, in hopes that they would be a bit smaller than some of the others. Only after he'd been there for a few moments did he realize where he was, his eyes recognizing the ancient trunk of the Goshinboku -- the sacred tree. A smile spread across his face as he took a step or two closer. He'd always felt connected to this tree somehow, as though it were part of his destiny – not that he really believed in such things, but nonetheless. He hadn't realized they had built their house so close to it. Perhaps there was such a thing as fate after all.
Then, in only the space of a blink, he saw something that scared him – the Great Inuyasha – out of his wits. It had only lasted a moment, but in that brief space of time he had been absolutely sure that there, pinned to the tree by an arrow through the chest, was Inuyasha himself. Not as he was now, but his hanyou self – the person he had been before he and Kikyo had purified the jewel, relieving themselves of their outcast statuses and taking on the lives of ordinary villagers.
How could this be? How could any of this be? One strange hallucination in a night was weird enough, but two? He was beginning to get the feeling that someone was trying to tell him something – but that was ridiculous.
Shaking his head to clear it, he noticed that one of his hands had wandered up to where his right ear had once been, patting his head as though searching for the missing appendage. He scowled and dropped the offending limb to his side, turning promptly to put some distance between him and the clearing. Sure he missed his demon attributes from time to time – who wouldn't? There were definite advantages to being able to run at speeds that humans could only aspire to, smell enemies on the horizon, hear danger coming from miles away – but they'd had their disadvantages as well, that was for damn certain. He sure as hell didn't miss being run out of town for those oh-so-useful ears, or having them tugged on, or squashed flat beneath that ridiculous hat…
Inuyasha stopped in his tracks, his brow furrowing at the odd and quite foreign thought. What hat? He didn't remember a hat…
Far be it from him to even dream of admitting it to anyone, but this was getting really spooky. Every time one of these little things happened, the world around him seemed to feel…wrong, somehow. But how could this be wrong? Didn't he have everything he'd ever wanted? Wasn't he happy?
Maybe he'd be better off if he just went home and went to bed…
The next couple of weeks passed without incident, and soon Inuyasha had all but forgotten about his odd hallucinations or delusions or whatever they had been. He chalked them up to a combination of overwork and lack of sleep – after all, he was still getting accustomed to the limits of his human body. Perhaps he had pushed it a bit too far lately.
Whatever it had been, it was gone now, and he was glad of it. He sank into the rhythm he had created with pounding his hoe into the rich, dark soil and turned his mind to enjoying the sweat and the sunshine. Some days he actually managed to do it, but most days he could feel unwanted restlessness beginning to creep in on him around midmorning, and it took all his effort to quell the urge to slam the thing into the ground one final time and take to the trees. Then, of course, he would remember that that was no longer possible, which made it much easier to resist. Running off and jumping up and down like an idiot trying to reach the lowest branch on one of the nearby trees was not the least bit appealing.
It wasn't so bad though, really – he was sure he would get used to this kind of work in time. He hadn't even made it a full season yet, and he had always imagined how satisfying it must be to see the fruits of one's labor growing right out of the ground after all that work. He'd never been a particularly patient person, but if that was what it took to spend his life with Kikyo than he would damn well learn. She wanted a human – he'd be human. She wanted a farmer – he'd be a farmer. She wanted an ordinary life – he would give her an ordinary life.
But unfortunately, for all his determination, the fields wouldn't hoe any faster, so it seemed that this would be a challenge not only of endurance, but of patience. Thus it was him and his rhythm, day in and day out.
A muffled commotion coming from the direction of the village square drew the attention of all the workers in the field, Inuyasha included. He peered in the direction of the noise, but there were too many houses in the way for him to see what was going on. By the sound of it, it might have been a fire, or some other such disaster, but there was no visible smoke. Before long the other workers had shouldered their tools and were headed off toward the square to see what was wrong, and Inuyasha wasted no time in joining them.
There was a large, angry crowd gathered in the center, most of them male, some brandishing farming tools and other sorts of potential weapons, and they were shouting and jostling incoherently, but Inuyasha could see no object for their malice. What the hell's going on here? he thought defensively, brandishing his own weapon and readying himself to confront whatever danger lay ahead – he would protect Kikyo and the others to the last, demon powers or no. Even as a human, he was stronger than most of the villagers, and he'd be damned if he was going to let anyone or anything hurt them.
Pushing his way into the crowd, he fought forward, hoping to glimpse his foe. What he saw shook him to the very core.
The man standing determinedly before the angry mob, of which Inuyasha was a part, was a half-demon. Having been one himself for most of his life, Inuyasha didn't need his sense of smell to be able to tell that – the telltale signs and attributes of the wolf hanyou being similar to his own, he knew it on sight.
Inuyasha gaped at him, completely oblivious to the crowd around him. The experience was truly surreal – he was, in effect, seeing his own life from the other side. Not only did he now blend into the crowd, but he was actually a part of it, and had – until a moment ago – been ready and willing to join his neighbors and friends in doing to another exactly what had once been done to him. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this whole ordeal was the strange sensation that he was no longer himself – that he had somehow, somewhere along the line, become a different person than he had once been. It was as if…he'd sold his soul to the devil, and was now beginning to think he wanted it back.
The wolf hanyou regarded them all defiantly, and for the first time Inuyasha noticed that the man was not alone. Perched on his back, her arms slung around the wolf's neck, was a girl who appeared to be unconscious. Apparently noticing the lack of belligerence in Inuyasha's expression, the wolf hanyou locked eyes with him and said seriously, "She needs help – there was a battle, and she was injured. Tell me where I can find…"
It happened again. For a split second, the wolf hanyou was no longer a wolf hanyou, but an inu hanyou, dressed all in red, and the girl perched upon his back was none other than…
"Kagome…" his mind whispered.
And then it was gone.
The wolf hanyou was still regarding Inuyasha with silent entreaty, and at last he snapped out of his daze and pushed forward out of the crowd. "Come with me," he said shortly, leading the man around in the direction of his and Kikyo's hut. The shouts of the crowd turned from angry to surprised and appalled, but Inuyasha ignored them. This was too important to be worrying about what they all thought of him at the moment.
Kikyo gasped quietly when her husband stormed into the hut in a determined fashion that she had not seen him use in months, followed by the strange hanyou and his unconscious cargo.
"She's injured," Inuyasha explained without delay, "We have to help her somehow."
Kikyo still looked somewhat alarmed, but she glanced from her husband to the man with the girl on his back, and back to Inuyasha, giving a nod before setting in to work.
Who was Kagome?
Inuyasha sat silently in the corner of their hut, pondering the question that had been plaguing him all day long. Evening had long since fallen, and the girl's injuries had been tended to by Kikyo's expert hands. She had been left to rest near the fire across the room from him, the wolf hanyou sitting vigil by her side while Kikyo was out replenishing her stock of medicinal herbs. The man had hardly taken his eyes off his charge for hours, watching her breathe in and out as though entranced. Why did that seem so familiar?
Of course, his first thought was of Kikyo – but for the life of him he couldn't ever remember her being seriously hurt. Besides, something deep inside him told him that that wasn't quite exactly how he would act if she ever were hurt. Certainly he would see that she got well again, but he couldn't imagine Kikyo allowing him to sit hunched over her bedside like that, coddling her and worrying over her, the way the wolf seemed to be. He imagined she'd want him as far away as possible, in fact. She hated weakness, especially in herself. No, she wouldn't want him hanging around.
"But Kagome would…"
Inuyasha's eyes widened slightly as the strange thought crept in, unbidden. Who the hell was Kagome! He had never known anyone by that name – had he?
Before long, Kikyo appeared at the door, and once she had put away the supplies she had gathered, the two of them retired into the next room, leaving their guests in solitude.
For a long time Inuyasha lay on his side of their futon, gazing up at the full moon that shone in the window, casting light across their prostrate figures. He thought about Kikyo, and the days he had spent following her around the village, watching her go about her business, before they'd purified the jewel. He thought about the long, lonely years he'd spent wandering the earth after his mother's death. He thought about the jewel itself, and the days in which he had sought it in order to become a full demon. Finally, he thought about the day that Kikyo had asked him to become human, to purify the jewel and remove it from this world so that the two of them could live out their lives in peace, as ordinary villagers.
It had all sounded so perfect then. Being free from that which made him an outcast, that which made him different from everyone else. What could be more perfect than to belong somewhere?
But something still wasn't right. He knew that now, though he'd been trying to convince himself that it was just a matter of getting used to things as they were now. And it wasn't only him: he'd lost count of how many times he'd seen Kikyo gazing up at the temple on the hill overlooking their village with a look of great longing in her eyes. And even though she no longer possessed the spiritual powers that had allowed her to become a master archer, she still kept her bow and arrows in a chest beside their bed.
Inuyasha sighed in the darkness. "Kikyo," he murmured.
"Are you…happy?" he asked softly.
For a long time she said nothing, and he began to wonder if perhaps she had drifted off to sleep. Then, at long last, he heard a whispered, "No…"
A small, sad sort of smile crossed Inuyasha's face. He probably should have been surprised at the answer, or at least a little more hurt, but the only thing that surprised him was how unsurprised he felt.
"Are you, Inuyasha?" she asked in return.
Once again, he smiled sadly. "No…"
Kikyo sighed quietly and murmured, "It wasn't supposed to be like this…"
At last the long and eventful day seemed to be taking its toll on him, and soon Inuyasha's eyelids were so heavy with weariness that he could no longer keep them open.
He was alone. No – no, not alone…there was someone else. A woman – and she was crying. The room was of a strange sort – the floor was cold and hard and felt as though it were made out of squares of pottery. The windows had panes of glass in them, and frilly curtains hanging at their sides. All around the walls were fine wooden cupboards and numerous strange contraptions he couldn't identify. The woman sat at a high table, upon which she rested her head, sobbing into her arms. Her clothes were strange as well, made of foreign materials and cut much closer than any he had ever seen.
There was someone else as well – another woman sitting beside the first, her hand upon the crying woman's shoulder as she murmured words of comfort.
Gradually the woman's sobs subsided and she began to sniff and take deep breaths, trying to calm herself. She lifted her head and swiped at her eyes, her lip still trembling though she tried to steady herself. She looked so familiar…
Only when she ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back from her face and dispelling the shadows did he notice the dark bruise that surrounded her left eye, and a couple of scrapes across her chin. What could have happened to her?
"How could I let this happen?" she murmured helplessly to her friend. "He was so different when we first met, so kind and sweet…"
"I know," her friend comforted softly, tucking a strand of ebony hair behind the woman's ear, "I know…"
"I never thought…I mean, if I'd thought, even for a minute, that he was capable of…I never, ever would have married him…"
"Of course you wouldn't…"
"God, how could I have been so stupid…" Another tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped it away, taking a deep, shaky breath.
"Kagome…you can't let him keep doing this to you," the friend said firmly.
Kagome? Where had he heard that name before…?
"I don't have any choice!" she replied somewhat frantically. "He adores Keiko – if I were to try to take her away from him, I don't know what he'd do. And whatever he does to me, he wouldn't dream of harming her, ever."
"You don't know that. What if he—"
"I can't! I just can't. What if I were to try to leave with her and he were to accuse me of kidnapping? He could get custody of her and take her away from me forever! I can't lose my baby…she's all I have left…"
"But this is no way to live – Kagome, you are stronger than this," her friend entreated, clearly distressed at the young woman's state.
"No, I'm not! Not anymore… I won't do it -- please, don't ask me to, because I can't…"
All at once, everything made sense. This was Kagome! He knew her! But she was hurt…someone had hurt her. Suddenly Inuyasha was overwhelmed with the urge to hunt down and kill whoever it was who had hurt her. He couldn't bear to see her like this. How could this have happened? What had gone wrong…?
"It wasn't supposed to be like this…" she whispered sadly.
It was the color of cherry blossoms in the spring, the bright pinkish light that emanated from the center of the smooth, round object glinting in the reflected glow of the dying rays of the sun and overwhelming his vision. He blinked once, twice, three times, and at last the rest of the world began to come into focus. But what was he looking at? The jewel, the Shikon no Tama, whole, bright and in all its glory, sitting innocently in cupped, clawed hands. His hands. His hanyou hands.
"Inuyasha?" a light voice asked in concern, and he glanced up dazedly, peering into the face of the girl before him. Her brown eyes were mildly troubled, and the thick black hair that framed her face cascaded over her shoulders with barely tamed abandon. "Inuyasha, are you alright?" she asked again, since he had failed to respond, too busy gaping at her like an idiot.
"Kagome, is that you?" he said at last.
"Of course it's me – who else would it be? And if you say you thought I was Kikyo, I'll 'you know what' you so many times you'll—oof!" Kagome cried out in surprise when she found herself knocked backward to the ground underneath roughly one hundred and eighty-five pounds of inu hanyou. Startled – not to mention confused as hell – she tried to wriggle her way out of his iron embrace, but her arms were firmly imbedded between their bodies, and he didn't seem to be planning on letting go any time soon. "Inuyasha, what on earth has gotten into you!" she demanded, unnerved by his strange behavior.
"Kagome…I thought I'd lost you," he murmured, burying his face deep into her neck and taking in her scent.
"Lost me?" she repeated softly. "What do you mean? I was right here all along…"
"No, you weren't – you were somewhere else. We were all somewhere else."
"Inuyasha," she pushed at him again, and at last he released her and sat back, one leg bent upon the ground before him, the other with the sole of his foot flat on the ground, his elbow resting on his knee. Kagome pushed herself up into a sitting position as well. "What's going on here? What are you talking about?"
"I'm not really sure," he said, turning his gaze to the jewel, which sat in the grass where he had dropped it when he had lunged at Kagome. He was still putting the pieces together himself, trying to reconcile conflicting experiences, but it was all beginning to come back to him now. The jewel was whole; Naraku had been defeated. The only problem they had left to face was what to do with the jewel itself.
Kagome had left that decision to him, since that had been the original reason for their quest in the beginning. Although much had changed since they had begun, she still felt that only he had the right to decide what to do with it, and she trusted him to choose well. He had taken the jewel and gone to ponder his choice. And that was how this had begun.
"I don't really know where to start," he said, picking up the jewel and turning back to Kagome. "A lot's happened to me just now, and I'm not even really sure how – maybe it was some sort of dream, or maybe somehow the jewel was trying to help me make a decision, I don't know – but I know that it was real to me, one way or another. I remember thinking that maybe…maybe I should use the jewel…to put things right from the beginning. To avoid the whole conflict and all the pain it caused by wishing that Kikyo and I had used the jewel as originally planned."
"Oh…" Kagome said, in a voice so quiet he could barely hear it, her eyes dropping to her lap.
"No, wait, Kagome – just listen. Somehow I…I got a glimpse of what that wish would have brought. I lived it – I experienced it. It was…"
"Yes…?" she prompted.
"…Wrong. Everything was wrong. I'd always believed that if only it hadn't been for Naraku, everything would have been perfect – but I was wrong. I mean, for awhile it was nice, being able to have a normal life, never being attacked for being a hanyou or because of some stupid grudge. But somehow it just wasn't…enough. It wasn't enough for either of us. And when I saw what had happened to you…"
Kagome frowned, reaching out to touch his face gently and draw his gaze back to hers. "What happened to me?"
"You weren't happy either. You'd ended up married to some lowlife scumbag who – god, I won't ever let anybody hurt you like that, Kagome. I love you too much…"
The girl gave a small gasp at the unexpected admission, and she smiled at the light blush that spread across his nose when he realized what he'd said – but he didn't take it back. She smiled. "Funny – you know you never seem to get embarrassed when you say things like that to Kikyo, but whenever you even get close to saying something like that to me, you go as red as a tomato."
"Well maybe…that's because they didn't mean as much when I said them to Kikyo."
"If that's true, then why did you say things you didn't mean?
"Because I didn't know the difference until just now," he replied.
Kagome smiled and Inuyasha drew her forward, pressing his lips to hers in a sweet, simple kiss. "I love you too, Inuyasha," she murmured, and sunk into his embrace once more, this time letting the kiss grow deeper and deeper until they seemed almost to surround one another.
At last they broke apart, both smiling and looking into each other's faces, happy to find no trace of doubt in either one. Then Inuyasha glanced down at the jewel still in his hand. "There's only one thing left to be put right." He looked back up at Kagome. "I know exactly what to do with it now."
Inuyasha sat cross-legged upon Kagome's bed, Tetsusaiga at his side, drumming his clawed fingers impatiently upon his knee. Although their quest was over and the Shikon no Tama had long since been laid to rest, life had been anything but quiet on either side of the well. Kagome was even busier with school than she had been before, her graduating exams fast approaching, and the problem of choosing a University plaguing her constantly. She had decided to go to school nearby and continue to live at the shrine, which delighted Inuyasha to no end, because he wasn't too keen on the idea of having to chase her half way across the country in order to get her to come back to the Sengoku Jidai every once in awhile (she studied way to much, in his opinion). Still, she wasn't quite sure what and where to study.
As far as life in the past, Miroku and Sango had, of course, gotten married – though all he really remembered about the ceremony was Kagome's crying and a lot of sake. They lived in a hut at the edge of Kaede's village, both still practicing their respective trades – though Miroku had cut down on the conning and lechery, at Sango's request. He now made his living as an honest monk…for the most part.
Kikyo had been restored to life by the power of the Shikon no Tama. The piece of Kagome's soul that she had possessed had been expanded to become an entire soul, and she now lived in a village some twenty miles or so from Kaede's, where she had taken up a position as the village priestess. Without the jewel to protect, her duties were somewhat less demanding than they had once been, yet she still possessed her spiritual powers and used them to protect and care for the villagers.
Inuyasha was somewhat less settled. Having had a taste of farming, he now knew at least one profession that he would not be considering in the near future. For the most part these days he spent his time traveling back and forth between worlds with Kagome, helping to protect the village from demons and other such threats in the past, and helping to protect Kagome from horny males in the present – though she sometimes 'sat' him for the latter. He had made peace with his brother, though the two weren't exactly on what one might call 'good terms.' Some people still quivered in fear at his demon nature, and some demons still scoffed at his human blood, but those who knew him knew that he was worthy of both trust and respect, and that was enough for him.
"Aren't you ready yet? What's taking so damn long?" he whined.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she assured him from within her walk-in closet. True to her word, she appeared a moment later in jeans and a t-shirt – she had given up wearing her school uniform to the past after her mother had warned her that if she ruined any more of them she'd have to start pitching in to pay for the replacements. "Alright, let's go."
"Finally," Inuyasha said, jumping up and heading for the window. When he paused out on the roof, she climbed onto his back with practiced ease and the hanyou leapt down onto the lawn, dashing off toward the well.
As he sprang off of the wooden rim and plunged into the portal, Inuyasha smiled to himself. Kagome had once told him that her world had a proverb: "The grass is always greener on the other side." The way he saw it, he'd spent his entire life with his chin resting on the fence, gazing longingly at the lush green lawn that covered the neighbor's yard, watching it grow and becoming ever more resentful of the tangled, weedy grass that he had beneath him. But it wasn't until he'd been able to cross to that other side that he noticed all the toil that went in to tending that grass – and all in all, his appreciation of it had waned considerably when he realized that the owners of the grass never really got to enjoy it. His lawn might have been a bit rough around the edges, but it was his – and as another of the proverbs that those in Kagome's time seemed to so dote on stated, "If you can't find happiness in your own backyard, you'll never find it anywhere." His life may not have been perfect – but it was pretty damn close.
A/N: Well, what do you think?
This fic was actually inspired by a particular line in the episode, "Return of the Tragic Priestess, Kikyo." Just after (or was it before? I can't remember) Kikyo falls off the cliff, Inuyasha says, "It wasn't supposed to be like this." This got me thinking: Alright then, Inuyasha – what was it supposed to be like?
Of course, the natural answer to this question was to write a fic exploring the "what if it weren't for Naraku?" scenario – but, avid Inu/Kag supporter that I am, with a slight bias (grin). I know this sort of thing has been done before, but hopefully I managed to make it unique enough to keep it interesting. Feedback is always much appreciated!