Ten hitching breaths echo in the fragile space between them, which she cuts with her knife. Gone her arrows, absent that impossible innocence she had long wrapped around herself against the world's cruelties. There is only her righteous revulsion, the slipping into primal cruelty, and the knowledge of death.

The Low Road.

"Kagome." His voice sneers at her, if a voice could be said to sneer, but his face reveals only sincerity and suffering. "Such hypocrisy from one so young. Look into my eyes and tell me why I deserve to die."

Kagome looks at the beast with the absolute clarity only hatred can bring. "You bear Naraku's heart. You're not even a person. Naraku has hurt too many people. He deserves death more than anything that has ever died."

Mouryoumaru's patched-together face peers at her from under his hair. "Oh, my heart," he says dramatically. "Your words would wound it, if only it were mine. No, sweet Kagome. Even if I am a monster, the heart you seek to destroy is a man's heart. The enemy is not the monster, but the human. And if you kill a human, do you not also deserve to die? Will you become a murderer, to fill the void mine and Naraku's deaths will create?"

Ten steps to bring her into killing range. "You don't understand. I'm not doing this for myself. So whatever happens to me…" a slightly unhealthy smile, brought on by stress, "is okay."

Not a knife, he realizes, but Toukijin's broken hilts. She kept it, that sword conquered by Sesshoumaru, broken in his own hide, purified against her breast and shining with malignant virtue, flesh of his kin. Even in her childishly trembling hand, it proves quite deadly.

Kagome's eyes widen in horror as she forces the blade through his resistant flesh, and feels the beat of the heart-that-is-not-his vibrate up through her hands.

For a moment, she thought their hearts beat as one. But then, there really was only one.

The High Road.

Maybe it was her mother's voice somewhere in her head. Maybe her white-knuckled grip on Toukijin loosened a moment, and the clarity of hatred slipped from her eyes. But for a moment, Kagome saw a human and a monster. And the human was a menacing figure with hatred and the intent to kill, whereas the monster calmly faced his fate with dignity, tinged with sorrow.

He never had a mother or a father. Never a childhood, never a sense of humor or a cause for one, never a whole body that belonged to himself alone, never a lover or a friend. She even hates him less for his scorn of Kagura, how could he understand what she went through? Only now does he face mortality and pain, but suffering has been his constant companion. He is still only a few months old.

Perhaps these are not even her reasons. Sympathetic as she is to him, she cannot deny that he deserves to die. She just wonders if she deserves to kill. She has committed no sin, only stepped too close to a well, and then everything just happened. She loves Sango. Heart bleeds for Kohaku. The tragedy of Kikyou's death does not escape her. But she is not sure she should live the rest of her life with this guilt because of them.

Eleven steps to bring her within killing range. Only she doesn't. Her hand reaches out to his face, but he whips his head away. He would run if not for his injuries. Spurned but not discouraged, she strokes his cheek, her chest tightening as she feels the seams in his flesh. "I'm sorry," she says, not really knowing why she's apologizing, except maybe that someone has to, and she's willing to be the one to start.

"Do you think you're better than me?" he asks, as Toukijin's hilts clatter to the ground.

"I think we can all be better than we are."

"And you're just the girl to save me. How presumptuous. What did you think you could possibly do to change me?"

Kagome shakes her head. "It's not like that. But you were never given a chance at all. You were created never knowing that you had the choice of being good. If I were to tell you about it a thousand times, it would still mean nothing to you, because you'd have no point of reference. So I'm going to show you." Gently she takes his hand, and she sees his features soften a bit, mangled and monstrous as he is, shaken by her touch. "Remember my mercy, Mouryoumaru."

His hand tightens around hers, and he pulls her towards him, impaling her on his kongousou armor. Her blood runs into his wounds, and he says, "I will."