The Dangers of Love

Hello! How are you? Well, I hope you're as bored as I am, so I won't feel so alone in the world…just kidding, I hope you peeps are living your summer lives to the fullest and having fun doing it.

Dude, did you know that Paul Dobson plays both Myoga and Naraku in the anime? Isn't that hilarious? I had to stuff my hand in my mouth to keep from shrieking with laughter when I found out (it was midnight…my mother would have killed me if I had woken my brother up).

Another interesting thing: Kagura and Kanna are also played by the same person, and Shippo and Jakotsu are played by girls (Saffron is a girl's name, isn't it?).

Disclaimer: Why do you think "STORY AND ART BY RUMIKO TAKAHASHI" is printed in the bottom-left corner of every Inuyasha manga?

BTW, italics equals flashback.

111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

"KAGOME!" Inuyasha screamed at the top of his lungs. He could only watch as his female companion for the past year was lifted into the air. She dangled limply in the arms of a man dressed in the white hide of a baboon, Naraku's golem.

"Well, we have what we came for, Inuyasha. Have a nice day." The female demon he had been battling moments before whipped a white feather from her hair. With an unspoken command, it grew to the size of a rug, carrying her into the sky.

"Damn you! Naraku, Kagura, come back, you cowards! Give Kagome back!" His huge sword fell to the ground, changing into a battered, rusty old blade the moment it left his hand. "Kagome," he whispered, staring into the empty sky.

"Inuyasha!" He turned at the sound of his friend Miroku the monk's voice. "We have to follow her!"

"I'm not a fool," he snapped. He bent to retrieve his sword and put it back in its sheath, staring at the sky. "They will not get away with kidnapping Kagome!"

Another of his friends, Sango the demon slayer, mounted her firecat, absentmindedly gesturing for Miroku to mount up behind her. "They headed northwest," she said, studying the sun. "Come on, let's go, Kirara!"

At this command from her mistress, the firecat flew into the air, with Inuyasha close behind. His young companion, the fox demon Shippo, leaped onto his shoulder. Miroku and Sango discussed what Naraku could possibly want with Kagome, wisely leaving Inuyasha to his own thoughts.

And he was having a lot of them. Memory after memory tumbled through his head, drowning out Shippo's worried whimpers.

--

Inuyasha struggled in vain against the vines that were slowly sapping away his blood. 'Damn it, I've lost too much blood!' he thought. 'My eyes…beginning to blur…'

The door flew open, and the Peach Man, the demon who had been lucky enough to capture Inuyasha on the night of his human transformation, walked in. "Aww, you're still alive." He casually flung a pile of clothes onto the ground. Inuyasha stared at them in horror. The vivid green and white, the small red tie…

'Kagome's clothes…don't let it be…'

"What a tragic expression on your face," the Peach Man said jeeringly.

"Kagome…what did you do with her?" he shouted.

He took a sip from a jug of what appeared to be medicine. "Don't worry. You'll see her soon enough…in my belly!"

His heart skipped several beats, then made up for them by speeding up immensely. "You…you ate her?"

"Well, what else are mortals for, hmm?"

Inuyasha could almost feel his blood boiling as he hissed, "Bastard! You're going to die!"

--

He sent an uncertain glance back at Kagome. Tsubaki's shikigami had been beheaded; why wasn't Kagome recovering from the curse?

The black priestess sneered at him. "Kagome will die." The skin around her eye grew strangely rough again, signaling the approach of more demons. "And then, you will follow."

At least ten demons burst from her eye, one catching him in the stomach. "Ungh!" With a quick swipe, he clawed off its head, yelling, "Saucy wench!"

Dimly, he sensed Sango and Miroku joining the fight, leaving Kirara to guard Kagome.

Just as he had dispatched another demon, a flicker of movement in the grass caught his eye. "What…?" The snake-like body, the miniature dragon head…it was the shikigami! It had been restored! "Damn! These demons were just decoys!" And now, Kagome was in danger!

Tsubaki sneered, "You've caught on too late!" Raising her voice, she ordered, "Bite off the woman's neck and retrieve the Shikon shards!"

"Kagome!" he shouted, running toward her, mentally screaming, 'I won't make it in time!'

--

He felt his breath come faster, especially when Miroku's voice drifted over. "I hope he doesn't plan to kill Kagome, though considering the options, that may be the most merciful."

He growled and sped up. "Kagome is not going to die!"

111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

"Mmph…" Kagome's eyes fluttered open. "Where…where am I?" She was, as far as she could tell, in some sort of dungeon. The hall beyond the bars that formed one wall of her cell was dimly lit, as if there were a torch at the very, very far end.

Suddenly, she sat up. "Inuyasha! Inuyasha, Sango, Miroku, Shippo, where are you? Ah!" She put her hand to her suddenly throbbing forehead. Was that a lump?

"How touching." Kagome spun around in shock, this time better prepared for the wave of pain and dizziness. "Even when in enemy clutches, your thoughts turn first to the safety of others. How admirably foolish."

The words came from a woman who clutched a fan in one hand. Although it was very dark, Kagome recognized the silhouette. "Kagura," she said angrily. "Where am I? Where are my friends?"

"You are in a whole heap of trouble," she said, obviously amused. "And your friends are coming to join you. More specifically, you are in Naraku's castle, and your friends are following us, occupied with brave, idiotic thoughts of rescue and victory."

"I should've guessed," she muttered, gently rubbing a temple. "Why did you bring me here?"

Kagura tapped her chin with the fan. "Now, now, little girls must learn patience. Answers will come. They will come."

Kagome clenched her fists. "You realize that no matter what your master plans to do with me, it won't go through. Inuyasha almost killed him once; he can easily finish the job this time."

Unconcerned, Kagura inspected her nails. "Should he do so, then he has my gratitude. It's about time the bastard died." She smirked. "On the other hand, I still harbor a bit of a grudge against Inuyasha. You must forgive me if I don't weep when Naraku kills him."

"Excuse me? 'When?' Inuyasha will be the one to do the killing, if you don't mind me correcting you," Kagome said confidently.

"Well, you can't have taken into account the fact that Naraku is about to intercept your little friends, accompanied by a very gifted shape-shifter. Let's see how ferocious Inuyasha is when your life, or, should I say, your imitator's life, depends on whether he surrenders to Naraku." The red-eyed demon smirked.

Kagome froze. What would Inuyasha do if her life were in such jeopardy? Surely his resolve to fight Naraku would be stronger than his desire to protect her. Surely he wouldn't put her life ahead of the vengeful war she and all of her friends waged against Naraku. Surely he wouldn't.

Would he?

111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Inuyasha suddenly halted. That was Naraku's scent…and it was coming towards them! And, if he wasn't mistaken…Kagome!

"They're coming back toward us!" he shouted, holding up a hand to halt Kirara. But why? Surely Naraku wasn't just going to hand Kagome back to him on a silver platter!

Miroku and Sango stiffened, then prepared for another battle. Shippo hopped down, and Inuyasha placed a hand on the hilt of his sword as Naraku appeared. He had one arm lazily wrapped around Kagome's neck, belying the sword held against her throat. He clearly meant business.

"So, Inuyasha." In spite of the baboon mask that obscured his face, a sneer was easily detectable in his voice. "I can see your relief that your wench is alive. Unfortunately," he pressed the blade against her skin, making her whimper, "she won't be for very long, unless you follow my orders."

Inuyasha's eyes widened with horror. Naraku suddenly snapped, "If any of you make a move, she dies!" The words were directed at Sango, who had been shifting her boomerang bone into a throwing position. Then, he crooned, "Now, you will all kindly drop your weapons, or else…" He delicately flicked his blade, opening a long, shallow cut. Kagome gasped.

Without hesitation, Inuyasha untied Tetsusaiga's sheath and let it fall before him, blade and all. A jingle of metal rings; Miroku had surrendered. A loud clunk, followed by several more metallic clanks signaled that Sango had stripped herself of all of her weapons. A few small clatters and rustling of leaves; even Shippo was unarmed.

"Very good," Naraku smirked. "Now, Inuyasha, I have one final request before I return your woman to you."

"Tell me and I'll do it! Just don't hurt Kagome!" he barked.

Again, the verbal sneer. "Take her place. Give your life in place of hers. One will die today, and you get to choose who."

Inuyasha froze. Surrender his life or Kagome's? One to live and one to die…he turned to gaze pleadingly at Sango and Miroku and even annoying little Shippo, but they only stared helplessly back. Both he and she were vital to the fight against Naraku. Both were loved and cherished. How could he choose?

"Inuyasha…" His head flew up at the sound of Kagome's shaking voice. "Please…I'm scared."

"Make your choice, Inuyasha!" Naraku snarled, opening yet another cut on Kagome's neck. "Either kneel and prepare for death, or pick up your sword, walk away, and let her die."

But Inuyasha only half-heard him. Most of his concentration was fixed on Kagome. She stared at him, begging him…

Begging…

For what?

Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. Trembling slightly in spite of himself, he slowly went down one knee, bowing his head. "I've made my choice, Naraku," he said softly, afraid to let emotion show in his voice.

Sango and Miroku gasped. Shippo whimpered and tugged on one leg of his pants. "Inuyasha, no!"

He shook his head, fixing his eyes on Kagome. More to himself than to them, he whispered, "I have no choice."

111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Kagome sat huddled against a wall of her cell. Her gaze was fixed on the bars blocking her escape route. But it wasn't escape she was worrying about. The only thing she could think of was Inuyasha.

"Don't do it, Inuyasha," she whispered. "Not after we've fought so hard for so long. Don't let it all go to waste. You can carry on the quest without me, but we're nothing without you. Gods, don't let him do it," she prayed, sending a pleading glance at the stone ceiling. "The fight against Naraku is so much more important than my life."

She didn't know how long she sat there, numb with anxiety, wringing her hands and hoping. The already faint light dimmed until she could barely make out her own legs, could hardly distinguish the metal bars from the darkness beyond them. The pain on her forehead dulled to a persistent, barely tolerable throbbing.

Suddenly, she sat up and listened. Were those footsteps?

Yes, they were!

She scrambled to her feet and fumbled her way to the bars. "Inuyasha?" she called softly.

The humorless chuckle that answered her sent a shiver up her back. "Guess again."

The light suddenly brightened, until she may as well have been standing outside on a sunny afternoon. She quickly shaded her eyes and, blinking rapidly, sought to find the owner of that cold voice. After a moment, she could make out the shape of a man, dressed in the robes of a lesser lord, enveloped in long, scraggly hair. A strange spot of light shone from the base of his neck, as if he wore some sort of pendant. "A Shikon shard," she whispered, when a familiar buzzing sensation entered her mind. Then, her voice hardened. "What do you want with me, Naraku?"

He stepped toward her, raising a small bundle of what looked like deep red cloth. "May I present a gift to the young lady?" he said sarcastically. With a flick of his wrist, the cloth flew through the bars to land at her feet. A slight clicking arose when it hit the ground, as if small stones or beads had been wrapped inside.

Casting a cautious glance at her imprisoner, Kagome bent and picked it up. After a moment, she gasped. The deep ruby shade she had seen had come from the copious amounts of dried blood splattered over the cloth. After turning the bundle over a few times, she found a small patch of clean cloth. It was bright vermilion, a color that sent a shiver of foreboding through her. Was it just a coincidence that Inuyasha's clothes were the same color?

As she peered in for a closer look, she noticed several small lumps that weren't caused by something so soft as the cloth. She unwrapped it, and her knees gave way. She sank to the floor, staring in shocked silence at the broken string of dark red beads, five at a time alternating with a brilliantly white fang. At least, they would have been white had they not also been covered in blood. "This…" she whispered, "this is Inuyasha's subduing spell."

She could feel Naraku's cold smirk as he said, "Why, yes. How perceptive of you."

She glared at him, one hand tightly gripping the beads. "How did you get this? How did you get his clothes? Why are they covered in blood?" she demanded.

Naraku's smirk didn't flicker as he said softly, "Now think, mortal. How could I have gotten those things from him, when he usually charges at me, swinging wildly and refusing to give me an opening?"

Kagome blinked, not wanting to see, but still seeing, where he was going with this. "You…you couldn't have," she forced out.

"Very good. I could only have gotten his possessions if he had let me. But Inuyasha would never allow me to get so close. So I had to force him. And what is the only way to force such a stubborn half-blood as him?" He leaned forward, pinning a horrified Kagome with his red gaze. "Death, Kagome. Your precious half-demon friend is dead, and your friends along with him."

"N-no," she breathed, dropping the cloth and beads as if they were on fire and backing away.

"Believe what you like," he said, straightening again. "But you'd be foolish to believe that he lives when the evidence says otherwise." With a final cruel smile, he left, apparently taking the source of the light with him, for the dungeon quickly dimmed to the near pitch dark it had been before.

"Inuyasha…" Kagome whispered. "He can't be…Naraku couldn't have…there's no way that he could be dead." She fumbled her way back to the place where she had dropped Inuyasha's clothes, not noticing the tears that began to pepper the cold stone floor. "It's a trick…just like Kagura said, it's a trick. Naraku's trying to fool me. Inuyasha just…he only…" She choked around the lump forming in her throat.

Trembling, she pressed the cloth to her face, ignoring the crackling of the dry blood. There it was. Inuyasha's distinctive smell: a hint of cinnamon, a dash of forest mist, a whiff of the air after a thunderstorm. A million images swept past her eyes, a million sensations trembled through her body. The feel of Inuyasha's strong back under her, the tickle of his silver hair brushing past her face, his bottomless golden eyes, his rough voice calling her name, his callused hand covering hers, his warm arms wrapping around her…

"He can't be dead," she sobbed. "He just…he can't be dead!" she shouted, the words echoing through the nearly empty dungeon. "Can't be dead…be dead…dead…dead…dead…"

"No, no, he's not dead! He's not dead!" She stood, screaming defiantly. "Inuyasha is alive! Inuyasha isn't dead! HE'S NOT DEAD!"

She slumped against the wall, breathing hard. "He's not dead," she murmured to herself, clutching the bundle of cloth to her chest. "He can't be…he's not—" She buried her face into her arms, sobbing. "He can't…be dead…"

--

"Inuyasha…probably died without regrets."

Kagome wanted to scream. But she couldn't. She could only watch and listen as Miroku said gently, "For even as he sacrificed his life…he knew that he was saving yours, Lady Kagome…"

She turned away, away from Miroku, away from Shippo, away from the body of the Peach Man, the demon who had taken her companion's life. She heard herself say, "But…I didn't want that…I didn't want him to…"

She clenched her hand into a fist. "He didn't have his demon powers…but he kept fighting…you're an idiot, Inuyasha!"

She heard Miroku sigh. "He was indeed a fool…"

Shippo wailed, "You humongous idiot!"

Suddenly, a familiar, ominous voice washed over them all. "If you're all finished…"

Her heart stopped. Vaguely, she heard Shippo say shakily, "You can't be…alive?"

"Sorry to disappoint you…" He was! He was alive!

Miroku staff jangled as he stood. "And what are you sulking about?"

She heard the tone of his voice change as he addressed her."You think I'd die from that? Who's calling who an idiot here?"

She felt irritation pinch her even as tears of relief began to spill from her eyes. She turned to pin a watery glare on him. "How dare you call me that? Am I an idiot for caring about you?"

He flinched. "Gah…wh-what do you…?"

"You were pushing yourself too hard! I know it!" she yelled wetly.

After a flustered moment, he shouted back, "We're all alive! Stop crying!"

Even with the waterfalls cascading down her cheeks, she retorted, "I am not crying!" She let herself fall to the ground, sitting on her heels. "I'm just so glad you're alive!"

--

'Kill Inuyasha!'

Through the pain emanating from the poisoned shards embedded in her neck, Kagome felt herself stand and pick up her bow. 'No…' she thought, putting an arrow to the string. 'Inuyasha…' He was facing away, staring at the sky through the reed curtain. Such a cursed easy shot!

'Release the arrow!'

Her body obeyed, but her arm twitched slightly to the side, sending the arrow flying into the wood above Inuyasha's shoulder. He spun, staring incredulously at her. "Kagome!"

She put another bow to the string as the voice insisted, 'Kill Inuyasha!'

"Kagome…"

"…run…" she forced out. Taking a deep breath, ignoring the burning pain, she screamed, "Run away, Inuyasha!"

'Kill him!'

But he didn't move. "Please…run away…" she begged.

"Kagome…" he said softly. "…idiot. I can't run away…"

He leaped toward her. "…not and leave you behind!"

'Kill Inuyasha!' There was no resisting this time. She could almost feel her heart split in two as she pulled back and released, letting the arrow fly.

--

Inuyasha glared at her indignantly. "It was because I thought of you that I'm alive at all!" He reached down and grabbed her hand, holding it in the space between them. "So can you please try to trust me a little more?"

--

"Kagome…until I met you, I couldn't trust anyone. But you cried for my sake…you stayed by my side. I feel lighter with you. My heart is calm."

--

"Another act of charity, Kagome…?"

--

"Watch out!"

--

"…then I realized that…I really did want you near me."

--

"Sorry. It must have hurt."

--

"You've got it wrong…"

--

"And when did I get worked up?"

--

"Kagome, are you all right?"

--

"Ha! Admit it, Kagome! You were wrong! Admit it! Come on!"

--

"This isn't your fault!"

--

"Can you hang on just a bit longer?"

--

"I'm sorry, Kagome…it's because you were with me…"

--

She whimpered as the memories came faster and faster, mixing, overlapping, cutting each other off.

No. It couldn't be true. Not after they had shared so much.

But…

Her grip tightened on the cloth. How could she deny this?

"He's dead," she whispered. "Naraku…he killed the man I love…"

The knowledge shuddered through her. He had held her, protected her, understood her. His always-short temper and awkward kindness were gone.

Something settled over her, like a blanket of snow. She was cold. She could feel her heart wailing; yet her head was suddenly unbelievably clear, and unbelievably angry. One thought occupied her mind, a thought she let roll through her, fill her, charge her with energy before giving voice to it: "Naraku will pay."

She stood slowly, tying Inuyasha's tattered, bloody subduing spell around her neck. She held the cloth to her cheek for a moment, inhaling his comforting scent, then tossed it to the ground. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I promise you, Inuyasha. I will send Naraku to hell, even if I have to drag him through the gates myself."

She reached inside herself and recalled the power she felt whenever she drew her bow. A strange fuzziness, a tingling in her arms and fingers. When she found it again, she let it grow and expand, filling her skin, spilling through its pores. She opened her eyes and found herself glowing with an odd pink light that lit the dungeon like a miniature star.

She stepped toward the bars and smiled coldly when they began to crumble as the light touched them. Such long exposure to Naraku's miasma made them vulnerable to her purifying powers. She stepped through the bars and stared down the hallway. "It's time to die, Naraku."

She slowly walked down the hallway, allowing her power to illuminate her way. Had she looked back, she would have seen the bars of every cell, as well as the wood and stone in the walls, crumble into dust.

But she didn't look back. She kept walking until she reached the end of the hall, where two staircases led upwards, one to the left, one to the right. She closed her eyes and searched for the presence of a Shikon shard, that slight buzz in her mind.

Her eyes flew open. There, forwards and toward the left. She turned and ascended the creaking staircase, paying no attention to the sound of wood crumbling like ashes. Her head slowly emerged from a hole in the wooden floor into an empty hallway. She stepped onto the floor and closed her eyes again, this time heading straight ahead. He wasn't too far off.

But before she had taken more than two steps, Kagome heard a sharp female voice behind her. "How did you get out?"

She turned and saw Kagura, staring at her with anger and vague apprehension. "Tell me, Kagura," she said softly and furiously, ignoring her question, "what did you have to do with Inuyasha's death? Did you plan it? Did you participate?"

The demon involuntarily stepped back, flinching at the girl's pink glow. "I…I…"

"Because," Kagome continued, stepping toward her, barely noticing the wood that was beginning to split with its exposure to her power, "if you did help, I would be forced to kill you on this very spot." With a twist of her mind, she brightened the glow, ordered her power to extend tendrils beyond her skin.

Kagura stepped back again, shaking. "I had nothing to do with his death!" she said quickly. "I hated Inuyasha, but he was my only hope for freedom! I would never kill him, not when it meant killing my only chance at being as free as the wind that flows through my veins!"

Kagome studied her for a moment, part of her mind urging her to get on with it before Naraku heard of this and had a chance to escape. Finally, she said softly, "Go, and fly free. Naraku will be dead before the day is out. You and your winds may fly where they wish. However, if I ever catch sight of you sniffing around for Shikon shards or terrorizing humans, you will be sorry that you missed this chance for a quick purification." She stared coldly into her red eyes.

With a quick bow to express her gratitude, the wind sorceress whipped out of the room, presumably heading for the exit. Kagome sighed and turned back to the Shikon shard. Skirting the wood weakened by her power, she murmured, "I showed Kagura mercy because she is as much of a prisoner as I just was. Believe me, Naraku, I shall willingly forget the meaning of mercy once I have my hands on you."

She walked slowly down the hallway, only briefly registering the crash made by the floor's falling into the dungeon. She suddenly stopped, eyeing a screened-off room at the end of the hall. "He's in there," she breathed. The beads around her neck clicked as she quickened her pace. But before she reached the room, a very pale girl stepped out of the shadows, holding a mirror in her arms.

"My lord commands me to kill you where you stand," she said softly, apathetically.

"Don't be a fool, Kanna," Kagome retorted. "Nothing is going to stop me now. Either leave and live as your own master, or defend this one and die in the attempt. I'd rather you leave, for I'm in too much of a rush to close my own hands around Naraku's throat."

Wordlessly, the girl brought the mirror up to chest height, making Kagome see her own reflection. "This time, I will succeed in stealing your soul. Then, I will order you to do away with yourself. You won't be able to resist once your soul is mine."

Kagome smirked. "My power has grown since then, Kanna. Even so long ago, you couldn't contain me. Don't think you can now." Several pink tendrils of power erupted from her arms, twining together into one thick vine that plunged toward the mirror.

Her opponent held the mirror steady. "Your power can do nothing against this mirror; it can only be absorbed."

"We'll see about that," she murmured, watching the tip of her rope of power plunge into the mirror. She gritted her teeth and, concentrating totally on the mirror and her power, gave a tremendous mental yank.

The mirror suddenly shattered in Kanna's speechless grip. She stared at the cuts the glass had left, shocked. With a grim smile, Kagome sent the vine of power to wrap around Kanna's neck. "This is for my friends," she whispered, ordering the vine to tighten, at the same time sending miniature lightnings playing over her body. Kanna screamed as jolts of purifying energy lashed through her. Suddenly, her body burst into a cloud of dust. She was dead.

Panting, Kagome called her power back to her. "And now, it's time for the big fish," she hissed.

She met no one else as she approached his room. The Shikon shard hadn't moved; he probably assumed that Kanna had overpowered her. A cruel smile flickered across her lips as she slammed the screen open. "Naraku! Now, you die!"

He looked up at her from his seat near the window, plainly surprised. To his credit, he recovered quickly, getting to his feet with the grace of a dancer. "Dear girl, you are mistaken." At those words, miasma burst from him, clouds of poisonous gas that threatened to suffocate her and eat away at her body like acid.

Kagome shook her head and ordered her power throughout the room. Threads of power streaked through the miasma, purifying it as they went. Soon, the room was clear again.

"You underestimate me, Naraku," she said conversationally.Internally, she was clutching desperately at her power. Now was notthe time to start to weaken. Searching for a something to stoke her magical fire, she found her deep hatred and relentless thirst for revenge. She smiled internally as the force of her power roared up again.

"Feh." He leaped toward the window, ready to escape. At an unspoken order, her threads converged on his only available escape route, weaving themselves into a net of power. He sprang back with a hiss of pain, clutching the arm that had brushed the net. It was raw and red, as if it had been burnt.

As he snarled at her, Kagome stepped toward him, ordering more threads to coat the walls and ceiling, in case he tried to ram through. "You see Naraku, I made a promise. I promised that you would be sent to hell, even if I had to deliver you in person. And," she summoned all the power that hadn't gone into the cage that contained the two of them, "I don't break my promises." With that, she forced out a battering ram of power, one that struck Naraku's right side. He grunted as his right arm and part of his chest melted away in the face of Kagome's power.

"Wench," he gasped. "You think a little purification will kill me?"

Kagome ignored his question and stepped toward him, gripping Inuyasha's subduing spell. "You killed Inuyasha, Naraku. Since he isn't available, I return the favor in his place!" She suddenly drew in all the power she used to hold Naraku in that room, then sent every last dreg of energy she had out through her skin, generating an enormous sphere of purification. "DIE!"

She watched with rapidly blurring eyes as Naraku was engulfed in her power. His mouth hung open, an animalistic shriek pouring out of him. Slowly, his body was eaten away, every last bit. Kagome didn't recall her power until Naraku's only remaining legacy was the enormous shard of the Shikon Jewel, now a pure, glistening pinkish-purple. Naraku, who had caused so many so much pain, who had finally crossed precisely the wrong person, was dead.

She vaguely registered the sounds of the other parts of the castle crumbling as she sank to the ground. Quite suddenly, she was exhausted. She didn't even have the energy to crawl the fifteen feet between her and the shard. Instead, she lay down, fiercely holding the beads around her neck, tiredly closing her eyes. "I did it, Inuyasha. I killed him. I killed him for you."

"And I'm grateful."

She sat bolt upright, ignoring the dizziness that slammed into her like a hammer. Almost afraid of what she would see, she turned. Her heart skipped a beat. "Inu-Inuyasha…?"

He stood perhaps twenty feet away from her, in the midst of the wreckage of Naraku's castle. His bright red shirt was missing—it looked like it had been torn away—leaving him in pants of the same shade and a white undershirt, both badly torn and splattered with generous amounts of blood. His subduing spell was missing, his silver hair almost red with blood, his dog-ears drooping with exhaustion, but he was still Inuyasha. When she spoke his name, he smiled and nodded.

"Oh no. Oh, gods, don't do this to me, not now, not now!" She scrabbled away from him, unable to take her gaze from his expressive amber eyes.

He took a hesitant step forward. "Do what?"

"D-don't come any c-closer!" she ordered, shakily pointing at him. "I won't let myself be fooled into thinking Inuyasha's alive! No hallucination is going to fool me! No sir!"

His forehead wrinkled. "Hallucination?"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm going mad!" Kagome said hysterically. "You're just a figment of my poor, shattered imagination, don't you try denying it! But then, if you were something I just made up, you probably wouldn't know, would you? My mind would want me to believe that you're actually Inuyasha, so naturally, you'd think that you really were—"

Once she began babbling, he shook his head and walked toward her.

"H-hey!" Kagome cut herself off. "I thought I told you, hallucinations aren't welcome!" She raised a hand to try and ward him off, although some part of her mind whispered that he would probably pass right through it.

However, he didn't. Instead, he gently grasped her arm and lifted her to her feet. She went silent the moment his flesh touched hers. Once she had regained her own balance, he wrapped her up in a sudden, tight hug. "I'm real, Kagome," he whispered. "I'm really here. I'm really alive."

She automatically relaxed in his embrace. Even as her mind remarked, 'That's it! You're going loony,' she wrapped her arms around his neck. 'Maybe it really is him,' she thought, feeling his muscles shift under her arms.

Kagome buried her nose in his shoulder, inhaling deeply, the same he was doing to her hair. Even though her nose wasn't half as sensitive as his, she could still detect the familiar mix of cinnamon, forest, and rain. His scent, his wonderfully reassuring scent. She pulled away slightly, staring up at him. His face was right. Rough, but handsome, with rebellious golden eyes. Her eyes traveled upward to the white ears nestled in his silver hair. As if they noticed the attention, they pricked up and focused on her.

Hypnotized by the minuscule movements they made to capture every sound, she raised a hand. Without realizing it at first, she softly grasped one between her fingers and gently rubbed. Only when Inuyasha leaned into the caress and made an involuntary sound, something of a cross between a growl, purr, and satisfied sigh, did she blink and understand exactly what she was doing. Blushing, she yanked her hand away and let it drop to her side. "I'm sorry, Inuyasha, I just—"

"Are you satisfied that I'm real now, Kagome?" he asked with a wry grin and a blush to match her own. He kept his arms around her waist, preventing her from stepping away in embarrassment as she so longed to do.

Mutely, she nodded. After a few moments, she rediscovered the ability to speak. "B-but…Naraku told me you were dead…he had your shirt and your subduing spell…" As one of her hands went to her battered necklace, one of Inuyasha's hands reached up to touch it as well. His hand covered hers as she grasped one of the fangs. Her face flamed again as she continued, "He went to find you with a shape-shifter that looked like me. Kagura said that he was going to make you trade your life for mine…and then he came back with your shirt, all covered in blood…" She shivered, remembering the shock, the grief, the devastating sense of loss.

Inuyasha's hand left hers as he hugged her again. "I'm alive and well, Kagome. Naraku did come with that false you. He made us drop our weapons, then gave me the choice." Suddenly, his voice became oddly strained. "I was torn. I didn't know what to decide. Then, she said, 'Inuyasha, I'm scared,' and stared at me with this pleading expression…"

He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts, then continued, "And that's when I became suspicious. If it had really been you, you would have been screaming and kicking and yelling for me to run and save myself. So, I decided to test her. I knelt like Naraku asked. In that situation, Kagome, I knew that you would have started crying and calling me an idiot, using words that make even mercenaries look like priests. But Kagome…she did nothing."

She stared up at him, surprised. He was right about how she would have reacted…but how had he come to know her so well?

"Once I was sure, I grabbed Tetsusaiga and attacked them. I didn't have a chance to explain that to Sango and Miroku, or else they would have helped before Naraku killed the shape-shifter. In any case, we had a long, hard fight. Naraku hit me in the shoulder…no, it's bandaged, I'm fine," he assured her when she jerked her arm's weight off the bloodier shoulder, "and somehow managed to cut off part of my shirt and the subduing spell. Then, he conjured one of those clouds of miasma, and disappeared." His voice changed again, now carrying a heavy amount of awe. "We followed his scent just in time to see the castle and Naraku get hit with all that purification power. And then, I saw you. Sango, Miroku, and Shippo are probably still picking their way through the forest, since Kirara got exhausted, but I had to come ahead and see if you were okay."

Kagome sighed and rested her head against his chest. The aloof, icy sensation was melting away from her mind now, leaving only exhaustion and a crippling sense of relief. Was that why her eyes were wet?

Inuyasha seemed to notice the same thing, for he tilted her chin up, making her look into his eyes. "You're crying," he murmured, brushing away a tear with the pad of his thumb. "Is something wrong? Did something else happen?"

Kagome shook her head and pressed her face against his chest again. "I'm…I'm just so glad you're alive," she murmured, wiping her eyes on his bloody shirt. "I thought you were dead. I was so angry, I just…I lost my temper."

Inuyasha chuckled. "You have understatement down to an art, don't you?"

She yawned, leaning more heavily against him. Perhaps she shouldn't have put so much power into purifying Naraku. "I'd much rather be an artist of sleep right now, if it's all the same to you. I'm so…tired…" Another yawn caught her up.

His arms shifted, and she suddenly found herself being carried bridal-style in Inuyasha's strong arms. "Then sleep, Kagome. You've earned it. You really have."

She sighed contentedly and snuggled closer to his warm body. "G'night, Inuyasha. Love you."

He halted abruptly. Only his demonically enhanced sense of balance kept him and Kagome from sprawling out over the castle ruins. "C-come again?"

But she didn't answer. She was already sound asleep.

He frowned down at her in consternation. Then, he glanced up at the forest, from which Sango, Miroku, and Shippo still battled to emerge. When he detected no motion, he returned his gaze to Kagome's small, sweet face. Shifting the arm that supported her head, he kissed her forehead. "I do, too, Kagome. I'm glad you're safe."

111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Woo, I'm done with this one!

If there are any Tamora Pierce fans out there, did you notice a vague correlation between this and the climax of Emperor Mage?

…okay, so it's more than a vague correlation…not, mind you, that it has anything to do with the fact that Emperor Mage inspired this one-shot. Nope, nothing to do with that!

While I go immerse myself in denial (or de Nile, whichever you prefer…I always have wanted to see Egypt…) (how appropriate…Carthak is a lot like Egypt, don't you agree?), would you please review and reassure me that my writing isn't complete crap?

Yeah, I can just see it now…

--

Of course this isn't complete crap! You did a phenomenal job spacing the paragraphs apart!

--

Oh, don't be so hard on yourself…your author's notes were gripping.

--

Hey, you'd better not be getting any ideas! Hey, think carefully before you press that review button! I mean it—