AN: Ah, the obligatory Author's Note. Who was it that said, "A Forward is just the author apologizing for the book you're about to read"? Something to that effect anyway. I do however feel the need to apologize for my liberal use of some basic Japanese terms. It's lame probably, but I enjoy it. In a series that's set in Japan, there should be more Japanese, I think.

And I also boycott the usual "disclaimer" that people seem to always put here. 'zomg i don't own this!!!!1' Um...obviously. I should think that on a site with 'fanfiction' as the core of the address, that would go without saying. If a company wanted to sue, that would be really funny. Just...really, really funny.

But...GAH. I talk/type/ramble too much. On with the show!

It had started innocently enough. Actually, no. No, it hadn't. It had started with Kagome rationalizing her guilt into a more palatable feeling of concern. Inuyasha had been gone for a while now, and he might have run into trouble. It wasn't until after she'd told the others as much and set off on her own to assure herself of his safety that she realized she'd neglected to bring her bow. With a sigh, the girl decided to stop lying to herself right then and there. It was more than obvious—to herself as well as to the close-knit group of friends she'd left at the campsite—that concern was barely a percentage of the reason Kagome had decided to follow the hanyou.

If anything could be said for Inuyasha, he was not dishonest. He could have lied and snuck off to see Kikyou when he'd caught the scent of burial soil on the breeze. But he hadn't. He hadn't even made the move to go. But Kagome had noticed his brooding hesitation, and it didn't take any great mental strain to discern its cause. There was only one thing that brought that soulful look to those golden eyes she loved so much. Though it stabbed her heart with an almost physical pain, she hadn't even thought about continuing when she saw that look. Giving the others a vague, half thought out lie about fatigue and rocks in her shoes, she'd convinced them to camp early for the night. Inuyasha had met her gaze and held it for a long moment. He hadn't been fooled by the lie, and she saw a spectrum of emotions flash through the look he'd given her. Relief, gratitude, remorse, and underneath it all, an unspoken promise that he'd make it up to her. Kagome had forced herself to smile at him and had given him a tiny nudge. "Go on, it's okay." He always seemed to need her permission first, and she found a slight comfort in that. She found another tiny comfort in the way he hesitated meaningfully before frowning and turning away, bounding off into the trees. Kagome had stared at her shoes then, forgetting completely about the supposedly unbearable rocks she claimed were in them. But in retrospect, she should have known that Sango and Miroku were less taken in by her fib than Inuyasha had been. Kirara probably wasn't fooled either, but she obviously couldn't say anything about it. As for Shippou, the little fox youkai had been too busy digging in Kagome's backpack for candy to be bothered with the drama that was going on. No matter; he'd tell Inuyasha how much of a 'baka' he was when he came back. Kagome had been too engrossed in her mournful inspection of her shoes to notice the concerned glance that had passed between houshi and taijiya.

But that had been at least an hour ago, if not two. Now, Kagome was tracing the path she thought the hanyou had likely taken. Really though, she wasn't following his aura. She didn't have to. There was always a certain faint pull deep within her soul when the resurrected miko was around. Unsurprising, seeing as how a sizable portion of her soul still remained in Kikyou's possession. A rueful smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she had the vague notion that she could probably sense Kikyou's presence better than Inuyasha could. Of course, it helped that those strange 'soul catcher' things were never far from the miko. Kagome was beginning to see a few already. One altered its course and slithered around her in what might almost be an affectionate manner if it wasn't so detached and unconcerned. Kagome frowned. Even this thing was mistaking her for Kikyou! Well, it can't be helped, I suppose, she thought evenly, once she'd considered it. If we both only have a fraction of the same soul, then they probably would... Why am I thinking about this now? Shaking her head as if to clear it, Kagome slowed her pace as she felt the pull increase, knowing she was close and not wanting either of them to detect her. As she carefully crouched down, she put her finger in her mouth and held it up. Yes, she was down-wind. She'd escape Inuyasha's nose, at the very least. But she couldn't help but wonder...did Kikyou feel the same strange tug when she was around? Quite possibly. If that was the case, then Kagome's cover had been blown for a very long time.

Peering around a tall bush, she saw the two of them, sitting against the wide trunk of a gnarled tree. Kagome could read nothing from Kikyou's expression. Perhaps she was safe, then. How could anyone keep their face so blank? Kagome wondered, her shameful jealousy all but forgotten in her curiosity. This scene was quite different from the first and last time she'd (albeit unwillingly) spied on the two of them together. That time Kikyou had been trying to avenge her own death by dragging the hanyou to hell with her. Now...that agenda was long forgotten, it seemed. The miko appeared to be merely tolerating Inuyasha's presence, while he stared at her with that look in his eyes. The one that killed Kagome to see. Not because it made her jealous, but because it was so heartbreaking. He looked so desperate, so lost, so pained. But that's all he was doing: looking at her. He wasn't reaching for her or touching her at all. They weren't even speaking. Kikyou was staring off into space blankly, leaving Inuyasha to marinate in his pain.

Kagome wasn't sure what would break her heart more; seeing him hurting like this, or seeing them locked in a loving embrace. She forced her gaze away, unable to take any more of it. It was only then that she noticed she'd been digging her nails into her palms and realized she'd done it to stop herself from rushing into the clearing to hold him and tell him everything would be all right. It was deathly quiet, so much so that she could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears as she tried to stave off the tears. Inuyasha... It was so stiflingly quiet that she almost jumped when Kikyou's dark, smooth voice broke the silence.

"You should go, Inuyasha. Your companions will worry."

"...K-Kikyou..." The eavesdropper didn't have to look up to know that the desperation she'd seen in Inuyasha's eyes before had probably just spread throughout his entire face with that one choked word. He was begging her not to send him away, begging her...for so many things.

Things she would not give. "We all have our paths to walk, Inuyasha. Our journeys are not yet over. Perhaps one day, our paths may yet cross again. I hope that on that day, Naraku will finally be defeated. But until then, Inuyasha, you must be strong for your friends."

"Kikyou...will you--"

"--I'll be fine. Now go."

How like her own earlier words those last, dismissive ones were! Kagome mourned for Inuyasha even more. He was like a ball being tossed back and forth between the two women. 'Go on, it's okay.' 'I'll be fine. Now go.' Was it any wonder he was so lost? With both of them telling him to go to the other, what else could he do? Maybe, Kagome reasoned wildly, if next time (because there would always be a next time) she told him not to go, it would relieve him of this painful game of catch. It might also make him angry. But maybe all he's ever needed was for one of them to tell him, 'Don't go, Inuyasha, I need you.' Would that really be so hard to say? ...Yes, it would. But perhaps, when the time came, Kagome might have the courage to say those words. Perhaps.

She'd been so lost in her melancholy thoughts that she hadn't even noticed the departure of the hanyou. She didn't notice the thick silence descend once more. What jolted her out of her reverie was, once again, Kikyou's voice breaking that heavy silence.

"You can come out now, Kagome."

Kagome stifled a gasp. Had she known the whole time? She must have! Is that why she'd spoken and acted the way she did? Somehow, Kagome didn't think so. Kikyou didn't seem like the sort of person who'd censor herself for anyone, much less her naïve reincarnate. It would be foolish and cowardly to run, now that she'd been uncovered like that. No, she'd do the honorable thing and face whatever harsh words the miko had for her. Kagome stood and walked out into the clearing on legs that had suddenly become slightly shaky. She was surprised to find that Kikyou's face was still blank. There was no trace of affront or indignation whatsoever. For some reason, the lack of those things made Kagome want to apologize more.

"Kikyou...I didn't mean to..." Yes, she did. "...Gomen." She felt so ashamed of herself. What had she been thinking, spying like that? She was better than that. With her apology, she bowed her head and stared at the ground. She didn't really expect Kikyou to forgive her. But then, she realized, she didn't know what to expect from her at all.

"Iie. Don't worry about it. I understand."

"You...what?" This must be a joke. No, not a joke. Kikyou didn't joke. This must be a trick.

"Please, sit a while. I know you and I haven't been on the most friendly terms," she began with a wry smirk. "But we obviously have much in common." There was something strange in her voice, something Kagome couldn't place. She sounded almost tired, but that wasn't it. Underneath the dry humor, there was a deep sadness very different from what she'd seen in Inuyasha's eyes a few minutes ago. Kikyou's sadness was calm. Whatever it was that made her so sad, the miko had long accepted it as an unchangeable reality. Was this the sadness of one who has died? It seemed different, somehow. Her face was still hauntingly blank, however.

"That's sort of an understatement, isn't it?" Kagome replied with an amiable smile. She held no hard feelings for the miko, despite everything. Maybe it was crazy, but it was true. She was still wary of her, yes. But she didn't, and would never, hate her. And if Kikyou was making the attempt to be friendly, then by all means, Kagome would make it easy for her. She didn't know why, but she also didn't know why not, and the latter far outweighed the former doubt.

To Kagome's surprise, Kikyou actually smiled. Though it didn't reach her eyes, it was a start. "Hai...I suppose you are correct." She studied the younger girl for a time, thoughtful if nothing else, before finally moving her gaze to the treetops above them. "It's funny, don't you think? The cruelties of fate."

Kagome merely stared at the musing miko, having absolutely no idea how to reply to this philosophical topic. Was she talking about herself and Inuyasha? Her own death? Perhaps she meant the two of them, existing in the same time and being forced to share a soul. She had no idea. After a pause, it didn't seem like Kikyou was going to say more, and for some reason, Kagome didn't want the channel to close, so she prompted, "What do you mean?"

Intense, dark eyes lowered to settle indifferently on the face that looked so like her own. That same mirthless smile returned before she replied in a voice Kagome would not have recognized as Kikyou's. It was too quiet, and lacked that confident strength that she'd come to associate with the miko. "Have you ever noticed that the things you desire the most are the things you cannot attain? Yet, things you do not desire, or perhaps, once desired but no longer do...these are the things that fall at your feet." Kikyou tilted her head appraisingly for a moment before adding, "I think you understand what I mean."

At first, the words made little sense. But slowly, the connection formed. '...once desired but no longer do...' She was talking about Inuyasha! Of wonder she looked like she was barely tolerating his pleading presence; she was. Kagome almost didn't want to ask the question, but she couldn't stop the words from forming. "You don't love Inuyasha anymore?" It was actually quite impressive how she managed to keep the hope out of her voice. Maybe she truly was simply curious. Then again, this entire conversation felt totally unreal.

A devious smirk rewarded Kagome's insight, but just as quickly as it appeared, it faded. "If I still wanted him, we'd be in hell by now." Her tone, surprisingly, was not mocking or condescending in the slightest. It was actually almost sorrowful in its matter-of-fact directness. Kikyou was even kind enough to say it quietly, knowing that the truth of the statement would be painful for Kagome. She might be dead, but she was not without a heart. ...Well. Sort of.

Despite Kikyou's kind delivery, Kagome still flinched at the words. They were true, she realized. She was grateful Kikyou had abandoned that quest for revenge. At least, that she'd come to see that it wasn't Inuyasha who was deserving of that revenge. Hugging her knees, Kagome sighed, feeling unsettlingly as though Kikyou could see right through her. How much of her heart could she read, anyway? Maybe she was just obvious in her love. Although, Kikyou had been there. Exactly where Kagome was now. It was probably easy to see traces of herself in the girl's behavior. Even in her sighs. Kagome realized there was no point in trying to lie to the woman who possessed part of her very soul. "You're right," she admitted softly. "I do know exactly what you mean. Inuyasha..." But she couldn't bring herself to say it. Inuyasha loves you. She couldn't say those words. So, she skipped them. "There's a wolf youkai named Kouga who keeps saying he loves me, but I don't love him. He even has someone who loves him, another wolf youkai, Ayame. But he rejects her. I bet probably there's someone who loves her that she doesn't want. Maybe it just goes on and on. In that case, how does anyone find happiness?" She certainly had not meant to ramble on like that, to all people definitely not Kikyou. Kagome looked at her out of the corner of her eye with trepidation, sensing an upbraiding to come.

But it did not come. "They break the chain, I suppose," Kikyou answered simply. There was a thoughtful gleam in her eyes that had lit at some point during Kagome's account. Does it go on and on? She hadn't considered such a thing. All Kikyou was aware of was their little triangle, and...her own problems. But as the girl had told her story, the image of a chain of heartache had formed in the miko's mind. It was depressing.

"...Chain...?" Kagome repeated dully. It made sense. They were all linked, but by what? Misunderstandings and misplaced affections. They were all fools, in the end. The thought made her smile mirthlessly, making her look even more like Kikyou. "A chain of fools," she commented, eliciting a matching smile from her companion. Something then occurred to Kagome as she imagined the sad links of their depressing chain. Something was missing. What Kikyou had said in the beginning didn't quite fit. Why would she say that about wanting something you can't have unless she...? But that couldn't be. It would explain why she looked so sad. But who would deny someone like Kikyou? She was so beautiful, powerful, graceful, and mysterious. She could have anyone, anyone she wanted. But apparently that wasn't completely true. Clearly, there was at least one person whose heart could remain unmoved by the miko's beauty and skill.

She wanted to ask, but she wasn't sure she had the right. Granted, their conversation up til now had been a rather bonding experience, but she didn't want to press her luck. Although...her curiosity was slowly getting the best of her. Kagome didn't notice that she was staring at Kikyou until she found depthless black eyes staring back at her expectantly. Now she didn't have a choice, it was either ask the question or come up with another one. She opted to just ask the question. The worst that could happen was...well, a lot of really bad things could happen, but most were unlikely.

"Kikyou? What you said before..." She'd have to put this lightly. "You're...not at the top of the chain...are you?" Like Kikyou had done before when delivering hurtful truth, Kagome asked this softly, and without a trace of ill-intent. Her tact worked. Kikyou grimaced faintly and shook her head. When no words were forthcoming, Kagome tilted her head and asked the next question in the logical progression. "...Who...?"

"It doesn't matter. You need not concern yourself with such things." But it would seem their conversation had had a lasting effect. Normally, Kikyou would have said this coolly, with a touch of disdain. Now however, she said it with world-weariness, with a touch of consideration. Rather than feeling slighted by these words, the miko's tone had made Kagome feel as though she'd genuinely been spared from unnecessary stress. It was strange.

I wonder if this is what she was like...when she was alive. Kagome smiled, both at the thought and at the miko beside her. Suddenly, both their heads turned in the same direction at the exact same moment. Neither was alarmed, just alerted. Kikyou spoke the thought that was on both their minds.

"He has come looking for you. You should return."

Nodding, Kagome stood and looked down at the still-seated miko. She didn't want Inuyasha to find them talking together, because he'd give her no peace until she told him what they talked about. But she was also in no hurry to leave right away. "Kikyou. I'm sure you and I will both break our chain someday," Kagome said optimistically.

Kikyou smirked ruefully. "I shall break it when I return to the earth. But you, may have done so already. We'll see."

"Arigatou, Kikyou-san," Kagome replied, feeling tears welling in her eyes at the hope the miko just injected into her heart. "I'm sure we'll see you soon." As she turned to leave, she heard Kikyou's voice call out to her, in the decadent, chilled tone she was more familiar with.

"Kagome... Let's not make this a habit, shall we?" When Kagome turned again to leave, both women were smiling.

Back to square one...

P-AN: Obligatory post-author's note! For those of you who have had absolutely no contact with the Japanese language (I'm so sorry), here's a clue on the words I used. Because you should always learn something new everyday! If I forgot anything, let me know.

hai – yes

iie – no

houshi – monk

taijiya – demon slayer

youkai – demon

hanyou – half-demon

miko – priestess

gomen – sorry

arigatou – thanks

baka – idiot (as a noun); stupid (as an adjective)