The quarter-moon shone down dimly on the wreckage of what used to be a simple family hut. The building was now nothing more than a pile of rubble, with only one wall still standing.
What was odd was the fact that this hut was situated nowhere near any towns or villages- it simply sat by itself, next to a lush forest. If one sat quietly, the not-too-distant waterfall could be heard, roaring softly behind the voices of birds and beasts of the forest.
Yet now, the only person around to listen to its song was beyond hearing. A dark form lying on the ground was all that remained.
As the moon's glow filtered through the trees, a lone man, perhaps only 20 years of age, ran through the vegetation, sweat dripping from his brow. He clutched a small bundle in his arms as though it contained some priceless treasure. He looked around, panic evident in his dark brown eyes. His simple dark blue haori with black hakama were torn by more than branches, and blood was oozing from several wounds. He glanced around again, trying not to breathe too heavily.
Suddenly a deep roar sounded behind him. The young man's gaze snapped to the foliage that was shaking with the force of the sound. He turned and ran downstream as fast as he could, never relinquishing his hold on the bundle in his arms.
"Keh! I don't know why we have to keep sitting around here for! Why don't we just go look for the rest of the shards?" Inuyasha, a young dog hanyou seemingly of about 18 years of age, complained as he sat cross-legged on the wooden floor of the hut. He propped one clawed hand up on his knee, while the other knee supported his elbow, with his chin resting in the other hand. He glared at the doorway of the hut, obviously annoyed with something. Although with Inuyasha, he was usually annoyed with something.
"Come now, Inuyasha," Miroku the monk soothed as he drank his tea. "You know that although Naraku is gone, there are still many dangers out there. Kagome will be here soon with supplies from her own time, and then we can leave." He sipped his tea reverently, eyes closed. "And Sango is waiting for her by the well, so there is no need for you to trouble yourself about her safety."
Swinging his attention back Miroku, Inuyasha brandished a fist at the calm young man, blushing furiously as he spoke. "I'm not worried about her, if that's what you're trying to say!" he yelled at the monk who seemed unaffected by this sudden outburst of "anger."
Shippou, the young kitsune youkai, spoke up from his seat next to Miroku. "We all know you're in love with Kagome, so it's natural that you'd worry about her when she's not by your side." That little bit of insight from the little kit earned him a bonk on the head from Inuyasha, who was now standing up, his face as red as his fire-rat haori and hakama.
"Who says I'm in l-love with K-kagome!" he managed to sputter out just as said-girl and the lovely taijiya Sango entered the hut, the promised supplies in hand as they readied themselves a trip to find the rest of the jewel shards. Kagome froze and Inuyasha slowly looked over at her. He winced.
"Inuyasha?" Sango asked in surprise. "You finally admit you're in love with Kagome?" She closed her eyes and bowed her head, shaking it side to side in wonder. "It's about time."
"I never said any such thing! There's no way I'd say I was in love with Kagome!" Inuyasha bellowed as he turned to face the two ladies head on.
Then he caught what he said. "Eh…I… uh…K-kagome…" he stammered out as he looked over at her.
Kagome looked at him, her heart breaking. It figures, she thought. He's still in love with Kikyou, even after all we've been through.
Then the anger began to set in. She hugged her backpack to her chest tighter, clenching her fists. When is he going to wake up and see that she's DEAD? I'm the one who's alive! I'm the one who's right here! I'm the one who… her thoughts stopped briefly, but she knew she couldn't lie to herself. …loves him now…
She stood there silently, her brown eyes staring painfully at Inuyasha as she struggled internally to relax.
Calmer now, and a bit saddened, Kagome simply turned around and left the hut without saying a word. As the door flap swayed behind her, Sango, Miroku, Shippou, and even Kirara turned to look at Inuyasha, who was staring after her as if he expected something.
"I can't believe you got away with that, Inuyasha!" Shippou exclaimed, shaking his head.
"I agree," Miroku said sagely. "I highly expected Kagome to respond to your hurtful words with her usual reaction."
Sango just glared at him, her expression voicing her disgust more vehemently than words would allow her. She too turned around and left the hut, letting the flap hit the hut wall a little harder than normal.
As the two men and the little kitsune stared after her, Inuyasha finally straightened up, his wariness receding. "Keh!" he scoffed as he folded his arms and struck his best "I'm a bad-ass" pose. "I don't know what you guys were expecting, but…-!"
"OSUWARI!" came the faint yell from outside, a fair distance away from the hut. Inuyasha's smug retort was cut short by a faceplant to the hut floor.
Miroku and Shippou both hung their heads in shame, slowly shaking their heads side to side. "We warned him," said Shippou.
Kagome sat on the hill next to the river, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around her legs. She looked unseeing at the river, and then rested her chin on her knees.
When will I learn that I'll never be a part of Inuyasha's life any more than a jewel shard finder? She thought sadly. As much as we've been through, he'll always love Kikyou. Didn't he even promise her they'd be together after Naraku was defeated?
She looked up at the quarter moon in the sky, shining silently on her moist eyes. She thought back to the battle that they had waited for for so long.
"Dammit!" Inuyasha growled under his breath as he hacked off yet another of Naraku's tentacles. "What's taking that baka so long?" He turned his head briefly and yelled over to Miroku. "Hey, Miroku!
The monk jumped back just in time to miss being hit by another tentacle. "Stay sharp, Inuyasha!" he replied. He didn't want to say something that might tip Naraku off that they had finally found the way to destroy him for good.
"Keh!" He grunted. "No need to remind me!"
While the others were busy keeping Naraku's attention diverted, Kagome had finally managed to find her quarry. The aim of all their searches, the heart of Naraku's evil:
The pale, lavender-haired baby that was Naraku's heart lay in Kanna's arms. It held the Fuyouheki in its pallid little hands as it seemingly slept. Kanna stood, silent as ever, facing the general direction where Naraku was battling Inuyasha and company. The white-haired child was giving Kagome a perfect view of the baby in her arms.
Kagome closed her eyes, relaxed, and remembered Kaede's instructions. Her scent and her miko aura were cloaked, allowing her to approach her targets, hopefully, undetected.
When she opened her eyes, she could see the barrier protecting Kanna and the baby. What was she to do about the barrier? Would the sacred arrow pierce through it like Inuyasha's red Tetsusaiga?
As she silently pulled out an arrow and fitted it to her bow, she never took her eyes off her target. The almost invisible red glow of the barrier shimmered around them. Then, to Kagome's shock, the barrier dissipated.
The baby stirred, but didn't open its eyes. "Kanna, why have you released the barrier?" it said in a disturbingly normal voice.
"It will be over soon," Kanna said in her whisper-soft voice, her vacant eyes revealing nothing as usual.
Although Kagome couldn't be certain, it was almost as if Kanna were giving her the chance she needed to be rid of Naraku once and for all. If Kagura were willing to betray Naraku, could Kanna feel the same?
Not one to question something as important as this, Kagome immediately took aim and prayed to all the gods and deities she had ever heard of for her arrow to hit the mark.
There was a flash of lavender light as the arrow flew toward its goal. The baby opened its eyes just as the arrow pierced its chest. Disbelief showed on its face as its body began to disintegrate, the purifying arrow finally destroying the root of evil causing such pain, horror, and hardships to those in Sengoku Jidai.
Kagome stared as the baby cried out in anger and frustration as it disappeared completely. Kanna looked down at her now-empty arms, and then looked over at Kagome with still no expression on her pale face.
Kagome froze, wondering what the white child would do. She readied another arrow, but Kanna simply turned and walked away. As Kagome heard the familiar whisper-soft voice, she lowered her bow and arrow.
Inuyasha stopped dead as he watched Naraku's face contort in agony. Kagome must have managed to destroy Naraku's heart! He glanced quickly at Miroku and was gratified to see that the monk had come to the same conclusion. Inuyasha raised his Tetsusaiga for the final blow.
"KONGOU SOUHA!" came the war cry as Inuyasha let loose the diamond spear attack that would finally finish off Naraku for good.
Naraku gasped and held aloft the almost-completed Shikon no Tama. "You may have finally defeated me, hanyou, with the help of that miko bitch of yours, but I will have the last laugh!"
He laughed weakly and closed his eyes in concentration. As the diamond spears ripped his body apart, Naraku did the only thing he could do at that point.
He shattered the shard again.
"NO!" Inuyasha screamed in frustration. "You bastard!" He could only watch helplessly as the shards once again scattered to endless places unknown. He held the Kongou Souha attack with all his strength, but knew that Naraku may still pull his body together again if something else wasn't done.
"KAZAANAAA!" Miroku ripped the prayer beads off his right hand and proceeded to suck the remains of Naraku into the very void he himself had created in Miroku's grandfather's hand so long ago.
Naraku's grin of triumph quickly turned to a scream of horror as he realized what was happening. The hole in Miroku's hand gradually grew smaller as the pieces of Naraku's body entered the nothingness. It vanished completely as the last bit of Naraku disappeared into his hand.
Miroku stared at his hand, his whole body shaking. He dropped to his knees. Sango, who had braced herself behind her Hiraikotsu with Kirara, came running to his side.
"Miroku? Miroku!" she cried as she fell to her knees beside him. "What's wrong?"
Silently Miroku looked at her, tears in his grey-blue eyes. Then he held up his right hand. She gasped and covered her mouth with her hands, tears quickly coming to her own soft brown eyes.
Miroku sat wordlessly as Sango took his hand, brushing her fingers over his palm as though disbelieving what her eyes told her. She lifted her eyes to his.
Without hesitating, Miroku pulled Sango to him and kissed her deeply, finally able to give in to his desire for her without anything else standing in his way.
Sango pulled away, shaken by the passion in the kiss. She blushed deeply as she took in a shuddering breath, looking into his eyes once more. She looked away, embarrassed at how breathless his kiss had left her.
She reached up with a shaking hand and ever so lightly brushed his cheek with her hand in a mock slap. He felt it as a sweet caress.
"H-h-hentai…" she whispered, trying to conceal her soft smile of delight. He chuckled, and then pulled her into his arms, where she clung as tightly as he.
Inuyasha watched the happy couple in embarrassed disgust. All he wanted was to find Kagome- was she all right? Shit, he thought. Now we have to find all those blasted shards all over again…and the sooner we find them and complete the Shikon no Tama, the sooner I'll become a full youkai.
He nodded to Kirara to stay by the monk and his taijiya, and then bounded off, searching for Kagome's scent. Kaede had taught her how to conceal her presence and scent with a miko spell so that blasted baby wouldn't sense her before she could destroy it.
Sailing over the trees, Inuyasha finally caught Kagome's scent- she must have let down her miko spell once the deed was done. He zeroed in on her, preparing to land near her. Suddenly another scent caught his nose.
He landed at the top of the closest tree, looking toward where the scent was coming from. Sure enough, Kikyou's soul stealers, the Shinidamachuu, were taking their precious cargo into the trees. Where they were headed had to be where Kikyou was.
Inuyasha paused, torn. Should he go find Kagome and make sure she was okay, or should he go to Kikyou?
He shook his head as though clearing his head, then changed directions and bounded toward where the Shinidamachuu were headed.
He found her, of course, walking serenely through the trees while her soul collectors continued to follow her. He landed on the soft forest ground, earning him only a glance from the dead miko.
"Kikyou…" he said as he stood up straight. "Naraku is dead. We finished him off for good this time."
Kikyou stopped and turned toward him, her sad gaze steady as she looked at him. "And what makes you think I didn't already feel his youki disappear when he was vanquished, Inuyasha? I may be dead, but my powers are still intact," she rebuked, her voice calm as always.
Inuyasha blushed slightly at the reminder of her death. He stepped closer, his feelings toward Kikyou confused and uncertain. "Kikyou…Naraku…he- he shattered the Shikon no Tama again. The shards are lost again."
"Then what will you do, Inuyasha?" Kikyou smiled, but it never reached her eyes. "Find all the shards once again and become a full youkai?"
"Of course!" he growled back. That was his purpose all along, wasn't it?
She dropped the smile and scowled at him, her voice dripping with scorn. "And what of your promise to me? To join me in Hell once Naraku was defeated?"
Kagome stepped out from the trees, having heard the entire conversation, just as before, when Kikyou had kissed Inuyasha.
Now, experience gave her boldness, and she would no longer sit idly by while these two planned their reunion. "Yes, Inuyasha… what of your promise to Kikyou?"
Inuyasha stepped forward, shock in his golden eyes. "K-kagome… I-I…" He couldn't find the words to explain to either of them.
"If the shards are lost again, then we simply will have to go find them again," Kagome said stiffly. She nodded once to Kikyou, then turned on her heel and walked off, heading towards Kaede's village and the Bone Eater's Well. "With, or without, you."
"Wait! Kagome!" Inuyasha yelled after her retreating form. As she disappeared into the forest, Kikyou turned and walked away as well.
"It would seem that my incarnation has chosen for you, Inuyasha…"