Hardened Heart

He'd been such a fool, he'd allowed hope to grow in his human heart. Hope that just maybe the hatred that his brother had for him was mellowing to dislike; perhaps at the best indifference. His heart had not allowed any further hope that maybe a friendship could be cultivated, it had not betrayed him that much. Yet it hurt enough to cause pain; but he was very used to quashing the feeling of self pity and it no longer came as a hard task, disappointment could be channeled into very useful anger.

Anger in that his brother should have been there to help in the battle against Naraku; after all his big talk about how He the Great Sesshoumaru was the rightful person, the one with righteous anger himself; the one who'd been insulted, blah, blah , blah. How the right to send Naraku into oblivion; belonged to him and only him. Well, where was he then? Standing in the sidelines somewhere just waiting to deliver the 'coup de grace'? Well, he could just go to blazes, who needed him anyway? Certainly not his neglected and abused baby brother that's for sure.

It was time; even the wolf was there, not that Inuyasha needed any help; Naraku was his and only his. Now it was more than personal; not just for Kikyou, but Miroku and Sango all needed vengeance and the world needed to be rid of such a malevolent manipulator as Naraku. It was amazing, just how many thoughts could go through the mind in the seconds before the attack happens; the calm before the storm and Inuyasha found himself turning the thoughts and regrets of his life off.

A split second later and the peace erupted in a mass of noise; the final battle had started. Inuyasha was a hard hitter; his sword full of power and all the anger he could focus. He used all the pain of his neglected childhood; every cruel word from his brother, anything at all that he could bring to mind went straight down his blade and into Naraku. But anger can also be blinding and with someone like Naraku, all the senses are vital for victory; the saying that 'vengeance is a dish best served cold' came to Inuyasha's alert mind. For once he heeded this inner voice and tried to think through his moves and strategise rather than act totally instictively.

However trying to ignore the insults from his adversary was difficult; Naraku knew by now exactly which of Inuyasha's buttons to press and was expert at getting under the hanyou's skin and he made a mistake. Before any one could predict his move and before Kouga could get to them; one of Naraku's monster tentacles found the weaker of his enemies and with a low painful cry and a high pitched shriek, Kaede and Shippou were pierced through. Kouga called out to Inuyasha;

"I have them Inuyasha; keep on at Naraku, don't let him get away with this." He looked across but Inuyasha only acknowledged the comment by fighting harder.

Soon though, Kouga came back; his tail hanging and his shoulders stooped, to his self disgust he had not been able to save the kit or the old lady. But there was no time to mourn now; he had to help Inuyasha, who was now likely to get erratic. However, the news of their deaths had already reached Inuyasha's sensitive nose; over and above any other smells, the scents of his pack were picked up first and the stench of blood and death had preceeded Kouga's appearance. But to Kouga's surprise, Inuyasha had not shouted out any more threats or abusive epithets to his enemy; but had managed to up his power and seem calmer.

Inuyasha felt most strange, his anger felt colder; he even seemed to feel nothing but a sort of numbness at the deaths of Shippou and Kaede. Naraku saw the change in his eyes, they grew much harder and less easy to read; so he called out more insults, this time about the old lady's miko skills. To his surprise though, Inuyasha got in a telling shot and Naraku felt threatened for the first time. He countered by pulling out a strong limb from somewhere behind him, then he dropped it from a great height; hitting Kirara and Sango down with such force as to break both their backs.

Inuyasha, once again did not need to hear the desperate cry of Miroku; or the keening cry of Kagome, to know what had happened. He did not need his eyes to see the mangled bodies of two more members of his ill fated pack; but once again, the grief that briefly surfaced was ruthlessly subdued and hidden. He did not realise it himself; but Kouga could tell, that the fight style had changed. Inuyasha had become faster; his well known moves and attacks had become unpredictable and he was using more slicing and stabbing moves even with the transformed fang, plus his claws were dripping with Naraku's blood.

Kagome was also trying to put her feelings behind her until she had the freedom to mourn; at the moment she was trying to make all her arrows count and Kouga was protecting her whilst fighting with his pack. Unfortunately Kagome's mind couldn't help but wander; even while she was doing an excellent job of shooting at various youkai that seemed to spring up all around Naraku, protecting him. She did not notice the incarnation Kanna, standing at a small distance behind her; and as Kanna's mirror silently removed her soul, all Kagome knew was that she was becoming tired and sleepy.

Naraku was in serious trouble from the 'new' Inuyasha; he had become so deadly in speed, he was almost a blur and Naraku was busy watching for the tell tale signs of his power charges which somehow had more energy flowing through them than normal. He was also finding himself tiring because of the energy expenditure in keeping up barriers that Inuyasha could now blast away with Tessaiga. No one could get near to Inuyasha; he was in his own world of cold, calculating aggression; his only single minded need, to take Naraku down now and forever.

Naraku was now in actual danger for the first time and he felt fear which caused him to withdraw slightly; he also became very aware of the others who were starting to close in on him and he had to think quickly. He knew of the wolves who had been tackling the side diversions he'd made; the chief wolf Kouga, seemed to be protective of someone and there was Sesshoumaru standing back and observing intently although ready to attack him when required. But what was it with Inuyasha, his eyes had become blood red; his claws were long and sharp like razers, and his fangs had lengthened to his lower jaw. Not only that but he was silent; all of his energy was going into the fight.

Sesshoumaru had seen his brother's transformation with great surprise; Inuyasha was using the Tetsusaiga which sealed his youkai blood, this should not have happened. Yet this time it was different; Inuyasha, he could tell was not acting mindlessly as each blow was counting and his speed had increased dramatically. He could also see that Inuyasha was now totally unaware of anyone other than Naraku; he didn't know that his brother was there or that Kagome was down. It seemed to Sesshoumaru, that Inuyasha's youkai had responded to his danger and that his Tetsusaiga was aiding him by controlling the blood.

Inuyasha knew that his youkai had surfaced, it had come quickly but was not taking away his mind completely this time and he welcomed the extra strength and power. He relished the look of fear in Naraku's face, his insults rolling harmlessly off Inuyasha's back; Naraku could not upset him anymore, the youkai did not care what the stupid mixed up hanyou in front of him thought. Youkai Inuyasha had a tough heart and hotter blood; which he had curled round his softer human heart, shielding the more vulnerable feelings that he usually had. He had never looked more like his brother than now; when his movements were full of grace and each one, dealt a telling blow.

Naraku realised that Kikyou had taken up position standing over the prostrated girl on the ground, standing serene and regal; a beautiful mockery of her former life, but even more skilled and powerful than she had been before she died. She stood with her bow and arrow ready, looking to find an opening for her arrow to fly; aiming to finish him off. But unfortunately for her, a clear shot was impossible with the flying red and silver blur that was her former love; Inuyasha.

Naraku had no feeling towards Kikyou anymore, he had finally killed off his handicap; Onigumo, so he could get rid of her by swiping another tentacle across her body sideways. She was too preoccupied with watching his main body to notice her danger, Kikyou went flying and this was Naraku's chance to distract Inuyasha. Inuyasha didn't notice Kikyou, but Naraku wasn't bothered; his target was the other girl. He knew that the only chance to stop the onslaught was to destroy Kagome; because even the youkai Inuyasha would be affected by the girl's death. Miroku and Sesshoumaru both noticed Kagome was vulnerable at the same time; but it was Kouga who reached her, to pick her up and jump out of the way.

Naraku smiled viciously at Inuyasha and simply said:

"Your wench is now dead" and he shot a violent blow towards, not Kouga and Kagome; but at Kanna and the mirror that housed Kagome's soul. Miroku tried to reach the white girl, but he couldn't get there in time. The mirror shattered and Naraku laughed. "She's gone, her soul was destroyed with the mirror and you didn't know or care that I had her captured. Soon her body will follow." In the back of his mind, Inuyasha recognised the truth of Naraku's words; plus nothing else could make the pitiful fleabag wolf make that dreadful sound, he was howling his grief to the sky.

It worked; Inuyasha's head turned towards the sound and as he did so, he was pierced through fatally by Naraku; who started to gloat at his cunning. He was also ready to face Sesshoumaru, who came out of the shadows at him.

"Sesshoumaru, I have done us both a favour by ridding the world of the dismal hanyou; perhaps we can come to some understanding?"

"I already understand enough about you, Naraku; it is time for you to die." He ignored the dark hanyou as Naraku smirked and came forward, towering over Sesshoumaru raised up on the tentacles.

"This looks somewhat familiar, Sesshoumaru; you cannot defeat me". Sesshoumaru didn't dignify Naraku with a reply and his expression didn't change when Naraku started to disintegrate in front of him, because he had forgotten about Kikyou. She had taken the opportunity of Naraku's exposed back and sent her purifying arrow flying; her power had no trouble in finishing of the monster of a being, that had been Naraku.

Sesshoumaru now surveyed the scene of the battle; taking in at a glance who had survived and who died, his eyes finally alighting on his younger brother's ruined body. Many thoughts went through his mind at the sight. This was something he had said he always wanted, the death of his brother; but he also knew that that had always been a lie, he had never been able to kill Inuyasha even though he'd had plenty of opportunities. Poor, stupid little puppy; he'd had a very hard life and now it looked as if there was to be no reward for all his efforts to find peace for his companions, let alone himself.

There was strangely no satisfaction for Sesshoumaru, in seeing his little brother dead and beaten; plus he needed Inuyasha to know that Tenseiga had been used successfully on his friends. Sesshoumaru also thought with satisfaction that Inuyasha was in his debt now and that there would be plenty of time to collect; allowing himself a small smile of pleasure at the thought of bringing Inuyasha back to life and reuniting him with those closest to him. Perhaps he would even allow Inuyasha to thank him and put the past behind them; perhaps it was time for reconciliation. Sesshoumaru could afford to be generous, his brother had now proved himself satisfactory.

Sesshoumaru then looked across at the girl who, without her soul was slowly waiting for her body to wind down; he had tried, but there was nothing he could do about her. Inuyasha would just have to take comfort in the lives of his other friends. Sesshoumaru did realise that they would not quite make up for the loss of the one his brother wanted to mate; but he could do no more for her. Kagome was a small price to pay in the long run; and Inuyasha would probably be able to find someone else eventually. He felt a bit smug, thinking that his brother would be so overwhelmed at the generosity he'd shown; that he would now have to admit the natural superiority of Sesshoumaru, over himself.

He found himself remembering fondly a time when 'Little Inuyasha' had absolutely adored his big brother; practically worshipping the ground he walked on. It made the youkai lord smile once again that he could admit to himself, he felt that he could tolerate the feeling once more. He was even willing to put up with the happy tears that the hanyou would be unable to stop; recognizing to himself that Inuyasha would be entitled to them.

So, painting warm pictures to himself of brotherly reconciliation on his terms; he went over to his brother's lifeless body. Inuyasha looked so small and young when his face was at peace; it gave Sesshoumaru a small pang of guilt and he found he looked forward to seeing his brother's face alight with life again and with that thought he passed Tenseiga over the boy's body.

Watching with satisfaction in his power, as the life returned to Inuyasha; Sesshoumaru found that he was actually quite excited at being reunited with all that was left of his family. He suddenly recognised the stupidity that had kept them apart for what it was, and he took great delight in watching the eyelids open and the amber colour beneath them start to shine with life. Making sure his expression and posture didn't change, he awaited for Inuyasha to see him; anticipating the puzzled expression that would appear on his little brother's face.

Restoration to life left the person totally exhausted and disoriented; which is why Inuyasha sat up rockily, finding Miroku supporting him while his eyes focused.

Sesshoumaru stood back and just observed; as Miroku spoke gently to his friend telling him about the outcome of the battle. He saw Inuyasha nod his head as he learned how Tenseiga had been used to great effect bringing back the life to his pack. Then he watched as Inuyasha learnt about Kagome, knowing his brother would understand that Tenseiga could not help her; he saw as Inuyasha stood slowly and once again supported by Miroku, started to go to see Kagome.

The hanyou shrugged off Miroku and walked over to Kouga. Knowing that although Kagome was breathing still, her life could not be sustained for long without the soul that had been shattered with the mirror; Inuyasha felt so helpless and blamed himself for failing to protect his beloved girl. No amount of reasoning would ever convince him that there was nothing he could have done; but he surpressed the thought immediately, he couldn't dwell on that for now. He even felt he had no right to deny Kouga the comfort of holding the shell of his beloved.

Kouga couldn't help himself, he started to growl at Inuyasha who in turn totally ignored his rival and bent down to kiss Kagome's forehead. He gave one shuddering sigh and said goodbye to the girl who had been his main support and comfort for the last three years. Kouga watched him, still growling as Inuyasha turned away walking back towards Sesshoumaru; this was very surprising. Kouga couldn't believe that Inuyasha hadn't tried to take Kagome away with him, he was acting most strange; it was almost as if he didn't feel a thing or care about anything at all.

In point of fact however, Inuyasha was in such inner turmoil now that he was ready to explode; although seeing the calm Sesshoumaru, his anger became very contained and he marched up to him.

"Why?" Inuyasha demanded. Surprised, Sesshoumaru blinked and said;

"Why what?"

"Why did you revive me? You want me dead, I wanted to be dead; so why am I here?" He glared as Sesshoumaru answered by saying;

"Naraku had no right to kill you."

"Oh, of course, I was forgetting, that is your right isn't it; well you've got competition." Inuyasha started to laugh, but there was no humour in the harsh sound.

"You are making no sense Inuyasha", Sesshoumaru was not sure about the state of Inuyasha's mind at the moment; he had thought that despite their differences and the time that had passed, that he knew most of his brother's moods. Was this perhaps, just a reaction to his grief over the girl; he had to admit that the laughing was slightly unnerving and seemed to be bordering on the hysterical in the way it was going. Stepping forward to his brother; he drew back his hand and mindful of his claws, he struck Inuyasha twice across his face.

Inuyasha sobered immediately and stared at his older brother with his amber eyes, defiant and angry.

"I have a solution to everyone's problems with my existence, Sesshoumaru if you will listen to me." His brother nodded. "Kouga wants to kill me himself, so I will let him and you can then bring me back with Tenseiga; you can then kill me yourself. Hell, you can do that as often as you want; until your honour is satisfied that I have been punished enough and paid for my miserable life. You just then have to bring me back one last time so that Kikyou can kill me finally; that way, everyone who wants me dead will be happy." Then he knelt in front of Sesshoumaru; and baring his chest, he called Kouga over before Sesshoumaru could stop him.

"Get up you fool, what are you doing ?" cried Miroku, trying to drag Inuyasha up, "why are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"Leave me be Miroku, go back and leave me; say goodbye to everyone for me and I hope you live well, look after the old lady and the kit. Go now and don't worry about coming back. I have no fight left in me and Sesshoumaru will soon be tired of playing cat and mouse."

"I certainly will not leave Inuyasha, you shall not be alone; I am your friend remember?" Miroku saw a quick gleam of a strange emotion in Inuyasha's eyes as he pondered over his words.

"Friends?" he said, "Friends and hanyous, are like family and hanyous; they don't mix very well." and Inuyasha turned away, "Good luck Miroku, goodbye." Miroku had a sudden flash of intuition and looked directly into Inuyasha's eyes, keeping the contact even when Inuyasha tried to look away.

"You do know that we are your friends as well as Kagome's, don't you Inuyasha? Don't you?" There was no answer. "Inuyasha, do you mean that all this time you never realised we all care about you." Miroku was aghast as Inuyasha pulled away from his presence and said;

"I remember, I always got the blame when Kagome got upset or went home; I remember all the harsh words that were said; even when it wasn't my fault and all the times you forgot how good my hearing is. Look, I do understand how things are in the world; we were a good team. I told you to go Miroku, you can all start your lives properly now Naraku's gone; leave me, your conscience is clear. There is no room for hanyous in this world, I won't exactly be missed will I?" He looked to the ground as Miroku just shook his head sadly at the boy,

"I'll say it again then, Inuyasha; I am your friend and I'm not leaving you here on your own." With that Miroku, again stood close to Inuyasha.

"I renounce my claim to your life Inuyasha, I do not want someone who no longer loves me; ours was not the same pure love that you have with Kagome. I will leave with no regrets; but I would like one last kiss to take with me." and Kikyou came to claim her kiss from him. Then she moved away to take a position near to Sesshoumaru.

"I am not just going to kill you in cold blood either you mangy mutt, I am not your executioner; your brother has always claimed that right I understand." He paused and then added, "What did you do to make him so mad anyway?" Kouga looked at both the brothers in turn.

"I was born and had the misfortune to carry on living and blighting the family blood; but that will soon be put right." Once again Inuyasha positioned himself in a submissive pose in front of his brother and felt the blade at his neck.

"Are you really so eager to die Inuyasha? You have just got rid of your main enemy."

"I have nothing left to live for Sesshoumaru, nobody left to protect; I have been hounded all my life, accepted by no one except Kagome and my mother and they are both gone . I am afraid of being alone again, so get on with it; get rid of the trash and make your bloodline pure again." Inuyasha virtually spat out the last words venomously at his brother. Sesshoumaru stood pondering whilst he watched his brother. The bitter, angry words; full of hurt but not self pity, were just an accurate picture of Inuyasha's life as he perceived it and they rang accusingly in his brain.

This was not what he had imagined just a little while ago, of how his brother would be when Tenseiga revived his life; but then, he had never really considered Inuyasha's life before and how he felt about it. He was puzzled though, Inuyasha seemed to be unusually strong in his self control; there had been no strong emotion from him except for the laughing, making his words all the more poignant.

Sesshoumaru suddenly felt a blistering anger at all those who'd made his brother's life a misery and he was honest enough to direct the anger at himself as well. He sheathed his sword and reached for the boy in front of him, pulling him up to his feet. He then replaced Inuyasha's shirt and kimono back over his shoulders saying;

"The past should be left in the past Inuyasha, your birth has never been your fault and I wish to start again with my brother."

"No!" Shouted Inuyasha, "No, I have prepared myself to die; I cannot go on for years and years on my own with no Kagome. She alone was my strength when everything was wrong, she always cared about me; no matter what I said or did, she understood me. Take my life Sesshoumaru please; don't condemn me to a long life of more hate and despising." Sesshoumaru was genuinely shocked; he could now see past his brother's facade, to see how scared he really was and how bleak his future seemed to him. Inuyasha wanted a way of escape by dying at the hand of his brother.

Gently, Sesshoumaru put his hand on his brother's shoulder and said

"You will now always have me Inuyasha, you are my brother and I will treat you as such; things will be better for you I promise." But now Inuyasha was afraid and not listening to him; however, someone else had been and Kikyou now drew Sesshoumaru away.

"My time to depart now draws near, there is no reason for me to stay, but I need you to do something for us all if you please." Signalling that she should continue, Sesshoumaru inclined his head.

"During the battle, the girl Kanna removed the soul of Kagome into her mirror. But the piece of soul I still hold of Kagome's, called out to that taken in the mirror and it came out and joined itself to me. Therefore, I now have all Kagome's soul complete in my body. I think it could be returned to the girl, if you strike me with Tenseiga; which would destroy this clay body, but release Kagome from within me. I think it's worth the try." Sesshoumaru agreed it might work and if that was what Kikyou wanted, he was prepared to strike; but not where Inuyasha would see.

Miroku was sitting back down with a very withdrawn Inuyasha; he was worried by the lack of feeling in his friend and could only hope that eventually he would work things through in his mind. Miroku was determined that Inuyasha would always be able to count on his friends to be there for him. He had not known how much Inuyasha hadn't realised that he had friends before and was determined to make sure he understood now. However he had to leave Inuyasha for a short while with his own thoughts, because Miroku had been asked to be a witness to Kikyou's request; so that when the time came, Inuyasha would know that it was what she herself wanted.

Kikyou came and sat by Inuyasha and turned his face to make him look at her.

"It will work out for you Inuyasha, you must have hope." She gave him a small smile as Inuyasha looked at her, but his eyes were dull and expressionless. Kikyou had seen that look on many faces during her time as a healer. She had been faced with people who suffered loss; whether it be a husband, wife or child often enough and she knew that for many there was no end to their despair; but she was determined this should not be the case with Inuyasha.

"Inuyasha, I must go now. Please remember me not for my hatred of you; but for the love I once shared with you." and once again she gave him a kiss goodbye.

"Kikyou, I'm sorry I do not still love you; but I do care, do you wish me to stay with you?"

"No, Your brother has said he will aid me and stay with me. I do not wish to postpone my departure anymore, I am tired and long for my sleep; farewell Inuyasha."

"Goodbye Kikyou, I will always remember; I could never forget you." and he held her close to his heart for a while till she pulled away to leave him.

Sesshoumaru was quick and Kikyou vanished with a peaceful sigh, as one of her soul snatchers took Kagome's complete soul and gave it back to her body. Then, with a sigh just as peaceful; Kagome came back to herself and turning over, she went to sleep. Miroku awakened her gently and filled her in with all that had happened, including how worried they were about Inuyasha. Kagome was then concerned for him herself and she was sad for Kikyou but very grateful; bewildered, but understanding Kikyou's generosity. Poor Inuyasha, he had been through so much; no wonder he had turned off his feelings, he was probably working on auto pilot.

Inuyasha was very confused. One minute he was dead, the next alive; one minute under death sentence again, the next with a reprieve; one minute an unwanted orphan, the next having a brother who will care; it was all too much to think about. Inuyasha couldn't pin one thing down to mull over, before the next thought demanded attention. He didn't want to face the black void in the corner of his thoughts that spelled out Kagome; he knew he would drown over there. Kikyou was a sadness but also a relief; at least that was something well done that he no longer had to worry about.

Suddenly he felt drained and very tired; his head began to swim and he fainted right onto Sesshoumaru, who had just returned and had been sitting nearby him. He had been at a loss; not knowing what, if anything, he could say to his brother. Sesshoumaru had many things to think about of his own, regarding his treatment of his brother; he had never felt such guilt before and it troubled him. That is how Miroku and Kagome found them; Sesshoumaru idly stroking Inuyasha's hair and looking far away into the distance, while Inuyasha slumbered with his head in his brother's lap.

Sesshoumaru's amber eyes turned to them slowly, and he said;

"I think monk, it would be good for you to let your friends know of the events here; that Kagome is well again and the older priestess will wish to know her sister is at rest, I am sure. I will guard these two from any harm that may linger." Miroku nodded and left, he would be glad to get back to see Sango again. Sesshoumaru gently moved Inuyasha without waking him and said to Kagome, "I will be within calling distance; but Inuyasha I am sure, will prefer to just see you when he wakes."

He left them, but only as far as a nearby tree; where he jumped onto a branch that was high up and sat, making himself comfortable. Kagome did not see where he went but didn't think he would go too far, so she sat down to wait for Inuyasha to wake. While she waited, she thought of all the things that had happened that day; it did not seem possible that the journey to finish of Naraku was over. There were only a few more shards to collect, but she felt so relieved that she started to hum quietly to herself and she started a daisy chain which she eventually put on Inuyasha's sleeping head.

Just like Rin, thought Sesshoumaru as he watched her. He was beginning to get concerned at how long Inuyasha was asleep, when he noticed the white ears on his brother's head twitch. 'He will catch her scent soon and then her voice and then he will realise she is back among the living and then...' Sesshoumaru looked around the area his eyes scanning and assessing, then he settled down again having found what he had sought.

Inuyasha started to become aware, but thought he was hallucinating; he could smell Kagome quite close by and he thought that they must have laid her body near him. But he was sure he could hear her voice and he listened, letting the sound soothe him; wondering how long he could stay in this land of dreams, where his love could stay alive. He wouldn't open his eyes to see the body of his love, lifeless; he would live in here, in his head and hear her pretty voice for as long as possible.

Kagome saw his ears flicking towards her and she saw him scrunch his eyes tight shut, understanding that he was afraid; so she reached her hand to his ears, stroking them as only she was allowed to do and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. Inuyasha's eyes flew open and he just stared at her; great big, amber gold pools staring at her, unblinking. He was taking in the fact that she was watching him, not lying down as her life drifted out of her body; but sat, watching him and then she smiled.

Inuyasha grabbed hold of her; his desperation to touch her, making him grip her painfully and drawing blood where his claws gripped. Kagome didn't pull away or call out, her own need to hold Inuyasha was just as deep; then suddenly, he picked her up and fled into the trees. He was leaping and jumping higher and higher, holding tight to his prize; until he found the perfect spot to settle and just hold her close, never wanting to let her go. Sesshoumaru followed at a distance, he already knew where Inuyasha had taken her; having seen the perfect spot from his search earlier.

Inuyasha pounced on Kagome, pulling her to him and into a deep passionate kiss; which although it surprised her, she was certainly enjoying. Then just as suddenly, he turned her around; examining her back where his claws had drawn blood and giving a little whine, he dropped gracefully to the ground carrying Kagome; then left her and took off. Sesshoumaru was by her side in an instant and having made sure she was safe; he set off after his brother, following his scent easily. He'd not gone far.

Inuyasha stood in a clearing near a hot spring, he was clutching the hilt of Tessaiga in his left hand whilst his right hand had dug his claws into his breast above his heart; Sesshoumaru could hear his breathing was laboured as he fought for control.

"What are you doing Inuyasha, you have left your wench alone, come you must return." His voice was soft, not aggressive, and he waited for Inuyasha's answer,

"I cannot yet, he is too confused; his heart is hurting and he is in pain. I must protect him, I have always protected him; he depends on me. I have hurt Kagome, she is bleeding; I cannot take him to her yet." Inuyasha was whispering and Sesshoumaru considered his words.

"You are speaking as if you are not Inuyasha, do you consider yourself as separate identities? You are not transformed, you look the same as you always do"

"I am Inuyasha, I am not separate; but sometimes the youkai blood becomes stronger when my human blood hurts and needs protection. He doesn't always need to transform; but, if I am protecting myself or Kagome; he relies on me more. He always has, I can shield him from his hurt and pain; I feed his anger when the world is cruel. When you hate him, I convince him he doesn' t need you or anyone; I can look after him, at the moment he is fragile and frightened; but I am not."

"So who is 'he' that you are speaking of, if you are Inuyasha?"

"He is my human heart, we are not separate; but at times, I am the stronger part of my personality and sometimes, he is the stronger. At the moment we are not in balance, because he is in danger."

"There is no danger here, you destroyed the danger and now your woman is in need of you and you also need to rest." Sesshoumaru watched Inuyasha carefully as his words were thought over, he had also heard Kagome; who had stopped just out of sight in the trees, where she could listen.

"What do you mean, I'm not in danger; do you mean to try to fool me, my brother. I have kept him safe from your hatred for far too long to just hand him over to you now; he gave you your chance to kill him. My human heart is too sentimental where you are concerned. He has always loved you, did you know that? I tell him what a fool he is, trying to get affection from anyone; especially you, though he still grieves and gets lonely; but he knows he can depend on me."

When Inuyasha finished speaking, Sesshoumaru noticed that his brother's eyes were suspiciously bright; however he made no comment about this, but just said;

"You have no need to fear me anymore Inuyasha." Inuyasha did not answer, not even to scoff that he did not fear his brother and never had. "You did not believe me earlier did you Inuyasha?" Sesshoumaru was surprised, he was not used to being doubted and coming from his brother it seemed to hurt him. "I will not harm you anymore Inuyasha, I would like for us to be proper brothers again; it is important to me that you know this. You also need to believe me, so that you can find your balance again and go back to your friends. They wish to greet you, and your wench Kagome wishes to have you back; she needs reassurance from you."

There was silence from Inuyasha; then he started to growl to himself and he sank to his knees, clutching at his hair.

"Part of me wants to believe you and he has strong feelings but..." He looked up, lost and confused. Sesshoumaru went over to him slowly and calmly, watching the silver ear twitch in his direction and he placed his hand on Inuyasha's head and said;

"I do not lie my brother. Come." With that command, he raised Inuyasha by his arm; then he said "Look at me Inuyasha, you are safe and so are your friends and your miko."

"Kagome" Inuyasha whispered "Where are you Kagome, I'm sorry I hurt you; where are you?"

"I'm here Inuyasha and I'm not hurt. It's over now, you did it; we are all free, we are all free and safe; you did it." She came to him and took him in her arms then her words, so softly spoken; took the reality through to him and he lay his head on her shoulder, breathing in her sweet scent and letting her restore his balance as she held him; tightly wrapping him in their own world.

Then and only then, was he was able to weep; shedding tears of relief and sorrow, releasing all the tension and misery that had been buried since he first heard the death cries of Kaede and Shippou. He also wept for Kikyou, for her death and because he felt guilty that he was glad she had found peace without him. Then, when he finally remembered, that Kagome had nearly died; he folded her to him in a grasp that nearly suffocated her and his raw,desperate sobbing shook both their bodies. His tears soaked her neck, but she held on tightly to him; not trying to stop or soothe him, knowing that he had been terrified when he thought he'd lost her and that the tears were a much needed release.

Sesshoumaru had kept a respectful distance from the couple, he was painfully aware of his brother's distress but knew that Inuyasha only needed Kagome for now. Then, when he sensed that Inuyasha was becoming more composed and he heard the girl start to hush him; he came over to them and placing his arm round his brother, he urged them to go back to the village saying that they both needed to go to see their friends and to eat and rest. Only among their friends could they both start to recover fully from the ordeal that all of them had been through.

They started to leave and Kagome noticed Sesshoumaru held back, so she said;

"You must come with us too, Sesshoumaru; we all owe you so much and Inuyasha needs you, no one should be on their own tonight. You too could do with rest and food." He smiled to himself, the girl didn't realise that as a full youkai he needed neither food or rest at the moment; but time spent with his brother was another matter. It would be a chance to start to get to know Inuyasha again and he had promises to keep. To be a proper brother and have family again would be an intriguing challenge and one in which he intended to succeed.

THE END