Sesshomaru heard it first- so faint it was almost undistinguishable. Pausing in his step, he turned to cast another glance at her, wondering if he was mistaken, only to see the last remnants of light which radiated from her body fade back into it. Before any thoughts could cross his mind, however, he heard it again- he was sure this time. A heartbeat.
He did not think. With blinding speed he rushed to her side, raising her up from the shallow surface as she coughed water, her chest heaving with each hungry breath she took.
"Kikyo," he called her urgently. How was this possible?
Her eyes opened to focus on his.
"Sesshomaru?" she murmured softly, just as confused as he was. Wasn't she supposed to be dead?
"Kikyo..." this time her name was only a whisper as he bent his head to hers, catching her breath with his lips in a deep kiss. She raised a hand to brush against his face, and he could feel the warmth they held beneath the cold of the water still clinging to her skin.
"What the hell are you doing?" Inuyasha cried, stamping in after them, utterly confused.
But Kagome stopped him, "SIT BOY!"
He crashed into a foot of water and whirled around to yell at her, "What was that for?"
"SIT! SIT! SIT!" she replied.
Sesshomaru ignored them, pulling away only to let her exhale.
With a small half smile, he remarked cooly, "You never stay dead, do you?"
"Not even when I want to," she returned softly, sharing in the joke before her eyes closed again.
When they opened again, she found herself back in her room at his castle, the bright midday sun pouring in through her window. This time she was by herself and no one came to greet her, but her clothes had been dried and laid out. Slowly she dressed, wondering where they were, dreading the thought that they had left her. Making her way downstairs, she went outside.
Sesshomaru was waiting for her at the door.
"Inuyasha wishes to speak with you," he told her shortly, before walking off in the direction of the gardens.
She watched him go, wanting to say something but deciding against it. There would be time later if he allowed her. Right now she had another matter to attend to, so without speaking, she went to find Inuyasha.
Sesshomaru wasn't stupid or delusional. He knew that this was bound to happen- that she would eventually return to his worthless half-breed of a brother. She did love him after all, and now she was out of excuses for their continued separation.
No one knew how for sure- the girl believed it to have been the work of that damn jewel, and he supposed that was probably right- but the state of the matter was that her body had been fully restored to her. There was still something off, something he could not quite understand about her existence, but what did details matter anyway? She had her blood and her heart and her senses back- what did it matter how. And now finally she could be with him.
The thought of Inuyasha touching her sent waves of animosity through Sesshomaru, but so long as she was content, what could he do? If he had been smart, he told himself, he would have left already, but he didn't. He knew it was really no longer any of his business, but he didn't care. He would make sure Inuyasha was at least a little deserving of her love- Sesshomaru would not let him waver endlessly between her and that girl. Today he would have to choose once and for all.
Kagome hugged her knees to her chest willing back her tears. She wouldn't cry, she told herself. Tears were useless now. Of course she too had known that this day would come, but she had clung to a hope that some way, some how everything would work out for the best. But that was impossible. She didn't doubt Inuyasha loved her- not passionately, perhaps, but he did care about her- but she also had no doubt he'd never be able to forget Kikyo. The worst part was that she couldn't blame him, couldn't blame her, because what they had suffered and what they continued to suffer was out of their hands. It had always been. So there was nothing for Kagome to do but try her best to accept the inevitable outcome.
She didn't know how, but she knew they were together right now.
He was waiting for her under a vine covered pavilion, staring thoughtfully into space, when she came.
"Inuyasha," Kikyo called quietly.
Turning to face her, he gave her a small smile.
"Hey," he greeted just as quietly. "I'm glad you came."
"We need to talk," she answered.
In agreement, he nodded and said, "Kikyo, I've decided. I've decided to make things right between us. No matter what, I'll stay with you from here on out. I promise I'll take care of you."
Her eyes locked on to his and softly she asked, "Is that what you really want, Inuyasha?"
"What?" he replied. "Of course it is! Kikyo... I don't want you to be lonely anymore."
"But what about you?" she pressed. "Are you lonely?"
Her question perplexed him. What did she mean was he lonely? But he realized he couldn't answer that seemingly simple question.
In response to his silence, she told him, "One of the things which used to pain me was seeing you with them- your friends- and especially with that girl. I couldn't help it. My bitterness at first led me to believe it was because you didn't deserve such happiness when I had to suffer so much, but as that reasoning melted away, I came to realize it hurt me because it was only proof of how much you no longer needed my love."
"What? But, Kikyo-" he protested.
With a shake of her head, however, she stopped him, "It's alright, Inuyasha." She smiled at him wanly, "Sometimes it's alright to let go."
"I still love you," he told her firmly.
"As do I," she replied, "but it's no longer that simple. No matter how much we might wish to, we can't erase all that has passed between us. Do you not think it does not hurt me to see the guilt in your eyes every time you look at me? I don't want to be the cause of such sorrow for you."
"But you're not!" he insisted vehemently. "I'm the one who..." his voice trailed off as he realized what he was about to say.
Knowing that he finally understood, Kikyo wrapped her arms around him and he reciprocated the gesture.
"It's alright, Inuyasha. It wasn't your fault- none of it was. I forgive you, now you must forgive yourself."
"Kikyo," he murmured. "I just want you to be happy."
"I will be if you are."
Silently he reflected on what she had said. She was right. Even if they did love one another, how could they ever be truly happy when each blamed themselves for the pain in the other? How could they ever move on and forget when those feelings always lingered? But could he really let her go?
"Are you sure this is what you want?" he asked her.
And she answered, "Yes."
"I'm not lying you know. I'll always love you."
"And I you."
"Will you be ok?"
"Don't worry," she assured him. "I'm well capable of caring for myself."
"Yeah, I know," he conceded, "but if you ever need anything- I mean anything," and he added with a grin, "like if you ever need someone to pound some sense into that guy for you, you know where I am."
Chuckling softly, she answered, "Thank you, but I don't think it's necessary. But if you ever have need of me, as well, all you need to do is find me."
They pulled away to gaze at each other and smile, then wordlessly, they met for a soft brief kiss.
"Don't let her abuse you with this," she cautioned him, tapping the beads around his neck. "I can remove it for you, if you like."
"Nah," he replied. "One of these days I'll tear it off myself... hopefully."
Stepping away from one another, he gave her a long fond stare before turning to leave.
"See you later, Kikyo," he shouted, sprinting away to avoid any awkward moments.
She just stared after him, smiling to herself. They weren't lying- they did love each other. More than anyone would ever know. Maybe they could never be lovers, maybe they never were, but they would always be friends.
"Inuyasha?" Kagome looked up in surprise to see him smiling and sauntering towards him.
"Let's go, Kagome," he told her lightly, motioning to his back. "I bet that old hag is probably planning our funerals right now."
Cocking her head to one side, she scrutinized him, confused by his almost bubbly happiness. Had he just chosen her, she wondered. But even if that did explain his presence, it did nothing to justify his gaiety. Ok... what the heck just happened?
"Well, come on," Inuyasha prodded gruffly. "Or are you just gonna sit there and stare all day? I'm getting hungry, y'know."
Kagome blinked at the normalcy of the situation, then she grinned. Aw, who cares what happened. All she knew was that everything was ok, and that was good enough for her.
Climbing on to his back, she beamed, "Inuyasha..."
"You're a good boy," she teased.
"Oh for crying out loud," he argued. "Quit treating me like a dog!" And they went on to bicker and banter with one another in mock anger.
Just like always.
"Sesshomaru." Kikyo smiled at him when he turned at the sound of her voice, quite surprised to see her.
"You're still here?" he asked, trying to be aloof. He had thought he had felt Inuyasha's aura leaving the premises.
"Unless you'd prefer it otherwise," she replied.
Diverting his gaze back to some obscure point in the sky, he answered, "Do what you want," but then added curiously, after being unable to pick up a trace of his brother, "Where is Inuyasha?"
"Gone back to the village with Kagome, I suppose," she said nonchalantly.
"What?" he whirled around to see her. "He'd dare to abandon you here?"
Smiling at his apparent concern, she assured, "He didn't abandon me. We decided it was best for both of us to part... I told you- we weren't meant to be."
"Do you still insist upon that?" he queried, and she shrugged.
"Perhaps I was looking at it the wrong way. I had thought fate was keeping me from Inuyasha, but perhaps it's merely telling me that I was meant to be with someone else."
"Hm. I don't really know."
They let a moment of silence fall between them before he asked, still keeping his eyes away, "Kikyo, stay with me."
She went rigid with surprise, unsure whether it had been a plea, a request, or a command.
"Are you sure?" she asked tilting her head questioningly.
Without hesitation he answered, "Yes."
Smiling, she went to him, bringing her face to his, "Then you have your answer." She wrapped an arm around his shoulder as his instinctively encircled her waist, pulling her closer as their lips locked.
How? they both wondered to themselves, almost ironically. How had they managed to fall into such a situation? A demon lord and a human priestess...
But there was no where else they would rather have been than with each other at that very moment.