Yes, that's right; I am, in fact, alive. I have no true excuse for my ignoring this story other than I have fallen out of the Inuyasha fandom. I tried writing this chapter several times, and every time it came out, if I may be frank, absolute crap. I read and re-read what I had wrote, and then deleted it all. I wasn't about to subject any of you wonderful people to anything less than my personally best, and then some. It's only what you deserve if you've followed this fanfic and are still with it today. The ending I am planning is the same as I had originally, and only a few loose ends have been altered. The next chapter will contain the climax, followed by what I have dubbed 'The Grieving Chapter', 'The Lime Chapter', and 'The Loose-Ends Chapter', and then this story will be finished.

On a special note, this chapter as well as all the ones to follow it, are dedicated to 'inuyashaluvskagome909', who asked me sincerely to continue and who brought on my bought of inspiration. In your honour, my friend.

Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha. This plotline, and my O.C.'s are mine.


The more you fight it, the brighter it burns.

Chapter 21: To the Blazes

He felt it.

That sickened, swooping feeling, like his stomach had just dropped out. His breath stilled and, for a heartbeat, the world stilled with it. His mind, stationary in shock, attempted (without success) to comprehend exactly what was going on. The scrambled pieces of the puzzle flitted across his unresponsive mind, facts and dates and half-truths danced over his brain, and he tried failingly to grasp at them, hold onto them, and make some sense of the situation presented to him. But it was impossible.

He may as well have tried to hold water in his hands without dripping any.

He was not a man of morals, or ethics, and very few decencies (most of which extended into the area of differentiating 'good' and 'bad'). He did what felt good, usually following his gut instinct on things, driven by the selfish desire that he may or may not gain an offspring in the end. (Grateful women were always a good option) Though his actions dictated differently, he had a heart of gold and he knew it, and used that knowledge to the best he could manage in such a turbulent time.

But, despite his golden heart, he was still an incredibly selfish man.

His sole purpose in life was to sleep with a woman (any woman, from any status, be they princess or peasant), and leave a son, somewhere in the world, to carry on after his death. That son, should he ever be born, would bear the burnt of his father's curse, passed down through the generations, and be forced to swear vengeance over punishment for a crime he didn't commit. Not only that, but the father may be long gone from the world before the boy was ever born, leaving him without guidance or advice for the remainder of his days. His mother, too, would suffer. She would forever bear the full responsibility of his one-night stand, give birth alone, and probably never see the man who had fathered her child again. She would be forced to deal with the Wind Tunnel all on her own, with no knowledge of it and no one to ask for advice. She'd watch her son leave, fearing for the lives of the people he loved, and face the possibility that he may never return to her, the same way his father never returned to her after their one night together.

He was selfish.

He knew he was undeniably selfish.

But the fact that he was well aware of his defect didn't stop Miroku from surging forward, his eyes almost black in fury, his face marred with rage, his heart shattering into a thousand pieces, into the touching scene of Sango and her secret lover kissing before the babbling brook.

Boys had always been something of an interest to her.

While it was her gender that ushered in the next generation, her gender that raised and nurtured it. Her gender that carried it and suffered the pain, the male half of the species had always left her wondering. If girls were the only ones who could have babies, then what was the point of there being boys at all, she'd ask her mother. Why were there boys, rough, rash boys who only liked to fight and scuffle and thought girls were, as only a toddler can say, 'icky!'

Her mother had smiled indulgently, an expression she would later come to despise and loathe, and told her that in time, she would see. After all, didn't she love her Daddy?

Daddy is different! She'd protested childishly. Daddy doesn't run away from me! Daddy isn't a boy, Daddy is Daddy. And Daddy loves me.

And Daddy loves me.

Her justification, her reason, and her purpose all in one. So long as her father loved her, who cared what the rest of the world thought? So long as her father loved her, the masses and masses of nameless, faceless beings who inhabited the world could fade away into shadow for she cared. If Daddy loved her, then all was right in her mind. If Daddy loved her, then nothing could go wrong. If Daddy loved her, then she was safe, secure, and content.

But then, her father was gone, and with him, away went her fragile heart.

She trembled and cried and begged and pleaded on bended knee, but it did her no good. Her father was gone, her heart was gone, and in her chest where there should be a steady beat was a gaping, empty hole. As her mother gathered her up into her arms and carried her to bed in shaking arms and weak knees, an idea had occurred to her. It burrowed in deep and twisted and turned her thoughts around in her head until the unaltered, undeniable truth was laid out flat before her, in all its heart breaking glory:

Her father no longer loved her.

Had he loved her, even a little, he would never have left. He would have stayed, if only to be with her, to be by her side, no matter what problems he was having with her mother, no matter what kind of money had been offered to him, no matter what had happened. If he'd loved her, he would have stayed right where he was – with her.

At the very least, he could've taken her with him.

But he didn't.

He left her, a lonely, helpless child, barely old enough to truly understand heartbreak, with an order and the warm brush of his hand on her face in some distant memory. He'd left her, alone and isolated from the world because of the heat in her blood and crazed dreams in her slumber.

The only male whose love mattered was gone.

So she had to find someone else.

Her father left, taking her heart and a fraction of her mind with him. She couldn't find him, not a little child like her, and the realization hadn't hit her until years later. That if her father did not want to be found, he wouldn't be. She remembered hazy games of hide-and-seek, searching over and over until she gave up, calling out for him. Sometimes, when her reminiscing slipped into her dreams, she'd call out. Sometimes, a distant, half-forgotten voice, tender and low and baritone, called back in incoherent mumbles.

Most times, there was no answer to her desperate shouts.

So she searched, and she searched and she searched, for someone, anyone, who could see her, see past the mask on her face, past her sunny smiles and fake laughter, and find her, the sniveling, broken little girl child whose father had left her to rot years before.

She called out for years, asking, begging for someone to answer back, for anyone to call out to her that they could see her, could hold her, could love a monster like her. She waited and hoped, and hoped and waited until the whole in her chest ran dry, for the boy who could love her, wouldn't think she was 'icky'. She waited for the boy who would be willing to give her back everything she'd lost, everything she'd surrendered to the father who no longer loved her. She waited with baited breath, for a man who could prove to her that even if she wasn't worthy of her father's love, she was worthy of his.

And then, one day, a day painted red with the sparks of a decimated village, her call was answered.

And piece-by-piece, the hole slowly began to fill, as he shared his heart with her.

She didn't know it at the time, of course. She'd assumed that he was returning her own heart to her, giving it back after her father had so cruelly stolen it. She'd felt the empty space fill slowly, slowly, and ignored the fact that her mind teetered even more, that the shard of her mind that had vanished as well was not being given back. If anything, the dance became wilder, twisting and turning and shimmying and swaying until she couldn't see straight. The fires rose higher and higher in her nightly visits, and burned brighter than she had ever seen. Piece by tiny piece her heart was returned, but she sanity slipped away faster and faster until it seemed like grains of sand, sifting out of her unskilled hands. She didn't dare question anything, fearing for her restored heart, but still, it bugged her, poked at the edges of her brain. And then came her answer.

One of Naraku's brood.

A traitor.

A liar.

A bastard!

And she flung his heart back at him, the hole greater than before, colder than before, emptier than before. And she begged and cried and pleaded and wondered why it hurt so much this time, why it hurt more than even Inuyasha's betrayal, hurt more than her separation from Tarot, hurt more than any pain she'd ever experienced.

And the fire told her.

It caught her up in the trance of slumber, blanketed her in its flames, and told her the tale of the little maiden, who'd called the fire, the First Fire, into her blood in her grief and heartbreak.

And it told her of a fireling, and boy with power, who loved the maiden with all his heart, enough to offer it to her, because she had none to speak of.

And it told her how the fireling shared his heart with the maiden, only to have it thrown back at his minor betrayal.

But the maiden still held his heart in her hands, the Fire crackled in her ear, wondrously hot and ashy. A heart, once given, cannot simply be thrown back. It must be taken. The fireling did not take his heart back, because he knew the maiden needed it more. Do you see, my little one, do you see what foolishness this is?

Daddy doesn't love me anymore, She'd whispered to the flickering flames around her.

But Moeru-shi does, The Fire murmured, a sound like ashes in the wind and smoke rising into the air.

He does?

Of course, little sparkling. He will love you until the day he dies. Look at your hand.

And in her clenched fist she held flames, bright and warm and fluttering.

That is his heart. He gave it to you. Use it well.

She awoke trembling.

And when she'd called out, in desperate, hopeless adoration, across the vast expanse of terrain that separated them, Kagome felt her knees go weak as Moeru-shi's heart flickered, unseen, in her chest.

" You're late."

Hikaru paid no mind to the expressionless miko as the serpent-like creature floated lazily up to a branch, cooing lightly as the warm barked touched her ever-chilled skin.

Kikyo felt a stirring of annoyance, and clamped down on it swiftly.

She raised her cold eyes skywards, eying the sinking sun with mild interest, trying and succeed to ignore the dull ache in her chest that meant she would need to forage for souls again before the night was through. Her body felt weak, her muscle, molded of clay, ached, and her throat felt almost brittle it was so dry. She reached a pale hand up, intent to brush a stray black tendril from her face and froze mid-movement.

Her hand was trembling.

It shook and wavered, about as versatile as a leaf battered by a cruel winter's wind. Kikyo tried to control it, to calm the trembling down, but her hand continued to shake and, to her horror, feel progressively dryer and dryer. With a sickening 'crunch', a large, ugly looking crack appeared on her normally flawless skin, spreading down the curve of her thumb.

With extreme difficulty, Kikyo bit back a curse.

" I need souls." She stated loudly, as calmly as she could. Several of her reapers looked up, eying her with distaste. She glared at them.

" I need souls." She repeated, agitation creeping into her voice as the creatures heaved themselves off the low hanging branches with almost painful slowness. Another crack appeared on her hand, running up her wrist to her forearm. A bubble of fear floated into her chest. "Now, if you will."

The soul reaper farthest in the clearing slowly rose up and floating at its own pace to her, yawning and cooing slightly. Kikyo eyed the cracks on her left arm with something akin to fear, her right trembling with such force that it gave way to another crack, running from her palm to her elbow.

"We need ssssssleep, you heartless priessstesssss." A voice by her ear hissed. Funnu, the appointed leader of her reapers, glared darkly at her.

" And I need souls." She couldn't keep the irritation from her tone.

" We've been gathering sssssoulsss for you for the passsst two nightssssss. We require ssssssome ressst, lesssst we decompossssse." The creature fixed her with a cold look. " Need I remind you, Kikyo?" She noted the lack of respectful title. " You made usssss from misssst and thisssle leavessss. We are not natural, not ssssso bound to thissss earth assss otherssss. We require sssssleep and thissstle flowerssss to ssssusssstain ourssselvesss on thissss plane of exissstence."

"I made you to serve me!" Kikyo snarled, instinctively grabbing her right shoulder as yet another crack opened on her skin. " You have to obey me!"

Funnu laughed as cruelly as her kind could, a deep, throaty retching noise from deep within.

" And where would you be without ussss? In a pile of dirt along sssssome road ssssomewhere. You can't gather the ssssssoulssss yoursssself, or elssse you would never have made ussss ssssnatcherssss. You hate to depend on ussss, I know thissss. So hold your tongue, you foolish little wretch, and calm your heart. The clay will only crack fassster."

" I'm going to DIE!" Kikyo screamed, abandoning all pretense as her legs gave way beneath her and she sank to the ground below, throwing her hands on her calves in a desperate attempt to keep them together. "I'm DYING, can't you see that?! For the love of the gods, help me!"

" Die?" Funnu laughed again. " How can you die? That halfling killed you yearsssss ago! You've been dead fifty yearsssss, Kikyo, how can you die? You have no heart to stop, you have no breath to ceasssse, you have neither blood to ssssspill, nor tearssss to cry! You are a dead woman, you cannot die! The living die, but you aren't living, are you? No, you're dead, dead, dead, dead!"

Letting go of every lesson she'd ever been taught, Kikyo let out a horrified scream as her finger tips turned to dust and blew off in the wind before her eyes. She shrieked and pressed her hands to her hcest, praying and wishing, not for the first time, that she could cry. Her throat felt like a great weight was being place upon it, and to her horror, she felt the tiniest little crack open up, below where her pulse should be.

" No!" She wailed in horror, looking around with wild eyes at the gathering soul snatchers. They hovered by Funnu, who watched Kikyo's body cracking to pieces with vague interest.

" Help me!" She screamed. " Help me! I'm going to die, can't you see that?!!? Don't you understand?! I can't die here, not yet, not in this place! I have to….I have to…." Her throat was failing her. It was cracking with every word. " I…Inuyasha…I h-have to….Inuy'sha…Hell. Nar'ku. …I …I must…I…"

She choked back a scream, as a huge fissure opened from her stomach up to her collar bone.

' I'm…I'm going to die…' She thought desperately, eyes fluttering closed as the crack shot up over her mouth, rendering her speechless.

" Well, there's something I never thought I'd see: A helpless Kikyo."

She blinked hazily and nearly screamed as something was roughly shoved into her chest, tearing away at the thin covering of clay. The fragile mold gave into the hard thrust of the round object, and Kikyo felt energy slam into her core and course into what would be her veins. She distantly felt her body begin to repair itself, but the energy burst left coupled with her terror and near death left her weak and trembling. With her last ounce of strength, she glance up, taking in the form of her saviour.

Kagura's smirk slipped and she looked almost sorry.

" Compliments of Naraku."

Koga was at her side in a fraction of an instant, gently brushing his hand with more tenderness than anyone would've suspected the wolf prince to possess over her wounded, torn cheek. The skin was agitated and the four parallel grooves in her normally smooth skin made his gut turn over. At the very least, he observed, someone had washed the wound.

The wound he'd given her.

Inuyasha felt sick.

In all his time with Kagome, in all the weeks and months spend chasing after the shards of the Jewel that was to make his dream come true, Inuyasha had never physically hurt Kagome. He'd yelled and shouted and bitched and whine, but never, not once, had he ever raised a hand to her. Some deeply ingrained lesson from his mother had him remembering that while getting into an argument with a woman as permissible, striking her was the worst offense a man could possibly commit. Knowing he was stronger than her and still using his strength to hurt her rather than protect her meant that he was scum, the lowest of the low, the most pathetic and useless creature to ever crawl out of a hole.

And that was how Inuyasha felt.

" Kaggsie told there'd be boys. She never said anything about someone as damn hot as that!"

An excited, drawling, female voice, cut through his self pity party. He looked over at the oddly-hair coloured girl a few yards away from where Kagome had watched their battle, noticing her for the first time.

" Who the Hell are you!?" Inuyasha snarled, stomping over to the girl who was leaning against the tree, observing his desperate attempts to get through to Kagome with the air of the sadistically amused. She raised her eyes, one blue, one silver, and surveyed him up and down. Finally she reached his face and gazed into his eyes with a detached air.

" Yeah" She asked, flipping her unnaturally coloured hair over her shoulders. " What?"

" I said who the HELL are YOU?!!" Inuyasha shouted, loosing his almost nonexistent patience. But he was taken aback when the girl leveled him with an icy glare.

" Don't take that tone with me, two timer." She pushed herself off the tree, crossing the distance between them in three long strides. " Who am I?" She asked mockingly. " Who am I?"

She stormed past him, flipping her hair once again so that it hit him in the face, making her way towards Kagome. He almost didn't catch her answer, but his dog-ears picked it up, and it made his blood run cold.

" I'm the best friend of the woman you betrayed and I'm here for one reason Inuyasha: To make you suffer."

He might have said something, might have commented on her insane hair (black with bright green streaks), had his conscience not decided to kick back in.

" What happened, love?" Koga asked gentle, still stroking her cheek. Kagome blushed cutely under his fingers.

"It-It's nothing, Koga-kun. Just an accident."

"Bullshit." Koga growled, and gave her hand a sharp yank, causing her to tumble into his waiting arms. " Inuyasha did this to you, I can smell his scent in the scars. He's marred up your beautiful face and I won't forgive him."

"K-Koga-kun." Kagome stuttered from his arms. Inuyasha felt his blood begin to boil, only yo be cooled quickly by the sight of Kagome's ragged cheek.

" I can't let my woman stay here with such an abusive cur. You're coming home with me."

" The HELL she is!" Inuyasha exploded, launching himself at Koga with the full intent of yanking Kagome back. Koga dodged, pressing Kagome deeper into his chest as she whimpered in fear.

Of him.

A tremor passed through him. Kagome was not supposed to fear him. She was supposed to jump out of Koga's arms like she did every other time and run behind him, reassuring him silently that her place was by his side. She wasn't supposed to cower as he came near.

" Ka…gome…" He whispered, watching with a sinking heart as she burrowed deeper into Koga's chest. " …I…"

It's okay, Kagome." Koga soothed. "I won't let him hurt you."

"I wouldn't hurt her!" Inuyasha shouted.

"Then what do you call this?!" Koga snarled, pointing to her visible cheek. " A token of affection?!"

" I-I got mad. I c-couldn't….I didn't….I didn't mean to!" He tried desperately. He looked at the girl huddled in his rivals arms. His golden eyes softened as she looked up at him.

" Kagome, you know I would never hurt you on purpose." He whispered, barely heard over the wind. " You know that , right?"

He reached a clawed hand towards her. She eyed it warily.

" You know I'd never want anything to happen to you. You know I'd do anything to protect you. Anything. I can't…." He faltered, blushing bright red, but continued. " I can't bear the thought of you getting hurt. You…You mean a lot to me. you know that, right Kagome?"

She stared at his outstretched hand, puzzled frown dancing over her pretty features. Slowly, so slowly it may very well have been centuries, she disentangled herself from Koga's grip and took a tiny, barely visible step towards him. Inuyasha's heart soared.

"Of course I know that Inuyasha." She whispered, reaching for his hand.

'She's forgiven me.' His mind whispered in awe. ' She's actually forgiven me.'

" I know I mean a lot to you." Her bangs fell over her face. " I know you'd to anything to protect me.

' I promise,' He murmured to himself, ' I promise I'll never hurt you again.'

" I know all that. I know I'm the most important thing to you…"

' Kagome, you'll never have to be afraid of me again. I swear, I'll look after you like I'm supposed to. I'll be there for you, whenever you need me. Kagome, I'm gonna….I'm gonna…' He'd let her go before, and he was damned if he wasn't going to make the best of this opportunity. He was going to hold onto her come Hell or high water.

" The thing you care about most…"

'I'm gonna love you like you deserve.'

" Kagome." He said, stepping towards her, eyes soft, and smile gentle. " Kagome, I…I…I..lo-"

" Until Kikyo comes around."

He froze with the rest of the world.

Kagome flipped her head back, black hair tumbling away from her cynically smiling face.

" Let's face it, I'm oh-so-special for as long as I'm the only one around. The second Kikyo walks up, poof!" She snapped her fingers. " I mean jack-shit."

He gaped at her, trying to form some kind of answer, some kind of reply to this Kagome. He's seen her before, against the wall of the hut after she'd first met that fire bastard, in the field where he'd given her that mark, and now, here she was. The frightening, confident, terrifying Kagome who didn't belong anywhere in his life.

" I could be your best friend, hell," She snorted, " I could be your lover, but the second you get a whiff of good ol' grave-ward soil and ashes, I become, …oh what's the word?….Oh yeah!" She hissed sarcastically. " Expendable."

" That's not true!" Inuyasha protested. Kagome's lips curled back in a sneer.

" When have you ever proven otherwise? Huh?" She eyed him. " When you allowed yourself almost get dragged into Hell while she blasted the tree I was involuntarily tied to to smithereens? When you abandoned me and Sango as Naraku prepared his new body so you could get Kikyo? When she tried to kill me in front of you when we were got in the illusionary death? When you went looking for me, changed your mind, and looked for her, and still found 'just me', right before we met Menomaru? When you ditched us on Mount Hakurei? When you spent weeks moping and wouldn't even fucking look at me?!"

Her face grew steadily redder and redder as she raised her voice to a shout, eyes blank and darkened in rage, heat emanating from her clenched hands. Inuyasha took a step back, but she followed, in her full glory in her fury. Her hand shot forward, grabbed one of the tendrils of silver that hung down about his face and gave it a sharp yank. He yelped, and she ignored it.

" When you abandoned me to Kagura and that fucking leech of an infant?! When you chased her clone on that island, leaving me to fight off the fucking demons by myself?! When you ditch, abandon, leave, run away, turn away from, refuse to look at, won't talk to?! Is that when you show me that I mean more to you than Kikyo?!!? Is that now you fucking show a girl that she has value?! That she means something to you?! No!" She roared. " That is how you make her feel worthless! That is how you make her hate herself! That is how you hurt a girl!" She tugged his hair and forced him to stand eye-to-eye with her.

" Were showing me you loved me when you ripped my cheek open for coming between you and your alone time with your zombie girlfriend?"

The hiss was low and had anyone there been human, they wouldn't have got it. But everyone there had some form of demon blood, and the words echoed darkly in their ears. Kagome smirked.

" I don't give a flying fuck about you. Go and rot in Hell with Kiks for all I care."

She turned away, cold and uncaring.

" I'm done with you."

The world may very well have shattered at his feet. The sky may very well have fallen, the land swallowed up by the sea, and sun burst into tiny fragments of light. But Inuyasha didn't care. All he knew was that Kagome, his Kagome, was 'done with him', and so nothing else in the world mattered. The shock numbed his mind and dulled his senses and, distantly, he could hear his demon roaring in anguish, clawing and tearing at its chains to be free to kill, to maim, to do anything, anything, that would lessen the tight, throbbing ache in his chest.

" Swing and a miss." The odd girl commented from somewhere near Koga, snickering at his pain and tearing through his last restraint.

" Shut the HELL up you BITCH!" He snarled, launching himself towards her, not quite registering the nonchalance in her eyes.

" Leave her ALONE!" Kagome screamed, throwing herself in-between. " Don't you dare touch Tarot!"

"What an interesting picture this is."

The four present whipped around, Inuyasha and Koga with bloody eyes, Kagome with hers furious and blank, flames dancing in her palm, and Tarot, pale and shaking, fearful for the first time in years, to Face Naraku.

The demon in the baboon pelt smirked.

"Miss me?"

And so, you have Chapter 21. Please wait patiently, as I know you have all been doing (and that I have no right to ask, but I'll beg anyway) for the next two chapters at the very least. The finale, or 'Loose Ends', has practically all but been written in my head. That one won't take to long, I hope. (Touches wood).

And a cookie to who can tell me what 'Funnu' means.