Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha.

Author's Note: This idea came to mind pretty much fully formed the other day when I was in the shower (of all places). You never know how well such things are going to turn out, but it's always fun when a story just sort of writes itself. Can't look a gift horse in the mouth, now, can I?

The Last Battle

The battle had seemed to go on forever. Every time they thought it was over, every time they thought they had beaten him, he rose again, reformed, came at them—again, again, again. In the end, it was only the power of all of them combined that brought it to a close. It had taken everything they had, but they had finally done it—they had destroyed him. They had sent Naraku to hell.

On the ground where he had stood had lain the Shikon no Tama—still clouded and poisonous looking, but not as much so as it had been before. Naraku's presence, at least, had disappeared from it. Now it was up to only two of them to settle another battle, at long last—one begun long before Naraku had become so much as a flame in Onigumo's eye.

There was darkness everywhere. He couldn't move—he could barely breathe for the thickness of it, and the impenetrable restraints that wound around his limbs and torso. He jerked his head around as far as it would go, peering into the darkness in search of something—anything. Where was he? How had he gotten here? His last memory was of the forest—walking, he had been walking. He had been going to meet her…

Heh, heh, heh… a deep, mysterious voice, hardly more than a growl, yet eerily cool and calm echoed in the darkness. In fact, it seemed a part of the darkness—so formless and pervasive that he couldn't even tell whether it was coming from outside of him, or from within his own mind.

"Where am I?" he demanded furiously. "What's going on?"

The voice merely chuckled again, and all at once a point of light appeared directly in front of Inuyasha, a few meters away. The light spread like oil being poured onto a griddle, smoking at the edges, until it resembled a circular window into another world. In the center of the blinding whiteness, a picture began to take shape—trees, grass, sunlight…Kagome. She was facing away from him, gazing into the trees, apparently unaware that she was being watched.

"Kagome…" he murmured, almost involuntarily.

His own voice echoed him from beyond the window, though it surprised him with its harshness, and his blood ran cold at the sound. She turned around at the voice, a glowing smile spreading across her face as she gazed at someone out of sight—though not for long. A red sleeve appeared in the edge of the frame, moving towards her, and soon a very recognizable form took shape.

It was him. It was Inuyasha.

"No," he whispered, his heart rate climbing as horror pumped through his veins. No, it couldn't be…not now…not this time…

As the Inuyasha in the picture came to stand before her, Kagome's smile faded somewhat at the hard expression on his face. "Is something wrong?"

"Give it to me," the other Inuyasha said coldly, impassively.

Concern suffused her expression. "I don't get it—what's going on? What happened?"

"I've waited long enough," he spat. "I've protected you and put up with your whining and crying and endless do-gooding—now give me what I want, or I'll take it from you!"

"Kagome!" the real Inuyasha screamed as his doppelganger lunged at her. She pulled back just in time with a gasp and yelled "Sit!" sending her attacker sprawling at her feet—but it was no use. He pushed himself back up from the ground, showing no signs of damage or relenting. This time when he reached for her, he was too quick for her, and he caught her by the arms, pulling her roughly to within inches of his face.

"Where is it?" he demanded. "Don't make me ask again!"

"No," she managed, tears in her voice and threatening to spill over. "What's going on? Why are you doing this? Who's done this to you?"

"Done this to me?" he repeated, jerking her so that her head snapped back sharply, and Inuyasha's entire body clenched in anger and fear. "No one has done this to me! This is my true self, naïve bitch—I can't believe you never saw it."

"No—no, that can't be…" she choked.

"Why do you think I wanted to destroy Naraku? For revenge? Never—he was my competition. Who do you think really killed Kikyo? It was only my miscalculation that allowed her to live long enough to pin me to that tree."

"But Kikyo…and everything…everything we've…"

"Think of it, you stupid wench!" He shook her again. "I needed your eyes to find the jewel shards. Would you have stayed with me if you had known the truth?"

She shook her head violently, trying desperately to wrench herself from his grip. "No! I don't believe you! It's a lie!"

Inuyasha screamed her name as the imposter threw her to the ground with a furious yell and fell upon her, raking his claws across her front, tearing open her shirt and her flesh. "NO! Kagome! Kagome! KAGOME!" he yelled, pulling with all his might against his restraints. She was bleeding to death before his very eyes, and the monster wearing his face was leering ferociously down at her as he plucked an object from between her breasts—the sacred jewel. A cold, cruel smile spread across his lips as he shifted his gaze from his prize to his victim and got to his feet.

"This time I won't repeat my mistake," he murmured coldly. "This time, I'll stay to watch you die…"

Inuyasha's vision zeroed in on the terrified expression in Kagome's eyes as she stared up at her murderer, her breath coming in shallow, fitful gasps as the life drained out of her. "Inuyasha…" she murmured weakly. "No…"

And then, it was as plain as day—he could see it seeping into her eyes as she lay there, growing weaker and weaker: understanding, realization, resignation…hatred.

And then, her eyes slid shut.

"NOOOO!!!" he cried out, the word wrenched from deep within him, and he struggled against his restraints with more strength than he would have ever guessed he possessed, feeling them beginning to creak and give way.

Don't you see… the voice had returned. In her last moments of life, even she, the one you thought would never doubt you, has betrayed you in her heart…

"No—Kagome!!" he screamed again, ignoring the voice completely. He didn't care. He didn't care about any of it—none. All he could think of was her. Even if she had betrayed him, even if she never forgave him…he couldn't even think of that. She was dying. He had to reach her…he needed her…he loved her…

With a final burst of strength, he managed to break free—and as his restraints dissipated behind him, so too did the darkness that had surrounded him, the window into the other world growing larger and larger until it was the world that was around him. Wasting no time, he charged forward drawing Tetsusaiga, his vision a blur of anger and fear. The doppelganger barely had a chance to turn around before he was torn to shreds by Inuyasha's blade, the jewel he had been holding falling meekly to the ground, ignored.

Inuyasha skidded to a halt on his knees beside her, his hands hovering over her delicate form, not knowing what to do for fear of making things worse. Her front was covered in blood, but from the subtle, if uneven, rise and fall of her chest he could tell she was still alive. He tore off his shirts, wrapping his undershirt tightly around her open wounds, hoping to staunch the bleeding a bit, and covering as much of her as he could with his haori to keep her warm. As he was finishing this, he heard her stir slightly, and looked up to see her eyes opening, ever so slightly.

"Inuyasha…" she whispered.

"Don't speak," he urged her. "It's okay, you're going to be alright." But he was certain the shake in his voice betrayed his uncertainty.

"I…I knew…"

"Shh…" he interrupted, placing a gentle hand against her cheek.

But she was determined to get the words out. "I knew it…wasn't you…" Her breath was weak and unsteady, and there was a wetness in her voice that he feared didn't come from tears. When he noticed a film of blood at the corner of her mouth, his fears were confirmed.

"Kagome, please…"


There were tears in her eyes, and he knew she was in pain, but try as he might, he could think of no way to help her. There was nothing he could do—no way to slow the inexorable drain of her blood, her life, her spirit.

"…I love you…" she breathed—and then, with no further warning, what little light had remained left her eyes, and her body went still.

He couldn't breathe—he couldn't speak. There were tears in his eyes, but they couldn't fall. He was trapped—there was no way to go, nothing to do. His chest was a cage, his emotions roiling inside it, unable to escape, unable to subside. He could feel no anger, no fear, no despair—nothing, only a crushing suffocation. All of it was nothing without her. "No!" he finally managed in a strangled shout. His hands grazed her cheeks, as though trying to coax her back to him, just for a moment longer. "Kagome…" he gritted out, one tear spilling over the edge and falling from his eyelash like a raindrop off a spring leaf. "Don't leave me…"

But there could be no response. And yet, he couldn't let her go—he didn't have it in him. Wild desperation taking him over, he leaned in and crushed his lips to hers, tears spilling freely down his cheeks now, his breath hitched with silent sobs. Kagome…Kagome… His mind called her name over and over again. But there was nothing.

At first, he registered the sound only vaguely—in fact, it was almost more of a feeling than a sound, a high-pitched ringing that seemed to resonate within his very bones, growing louder and louder until it was nearly impossible to ignore. He opened his eyes slowly, squinting against the brightness that seemed to have surrounded them while he wasn't paying attention. The forest was gone—but before him, somewhere deep within the light, a vague silhouette swayed and twisted, moving toward him, growing larger and more distinct with each passing moment. When the figure came to rest in front of him, he could see that it was a woman—and from the features he could make out where the light spilled over her shoulders and around the edges of her face, he was able to recognize her—it was Midoriko.

"The demons of the jewel have tested you—it was their last, desperate ploy—but you were not taken in by their deception," she said, her calm, gentle voice seeming to echo from the light itself rather than directly from the silhouette. "The bond between you is strong."

The silence stretched into eternity as her voice still seemed to wash over him—a balm to his soul, even though it was silent. And then, at last, it came again. "You have suffered much for my sake, and for the sake of this world, and those you have encountered on your travels. Despite your demon blood, your heart is pure, your spirit kind. You shall not suffer further at the hands of the jewel you have fought to protect from evil."

And with those words, the silhouette and the light surrounding it began to dissipate, receding into the distance, faster and faster, as though being drawn into nonexistence. And all at once, the light and all evidence of it had disappeared, and they were once more on the forest floor.

Inuyasha blinked at the point at which the light had seemed to disappear, but there was nothing left—he couldn't even be certain he had seen anything at all. It all seemed so hazy and indistinct, as though the moment had existed outside the confines of time and space. But every ounce of curiosity about the mysterious light and the silhouette therein disappeared when he felt Kagome stir ever-so-slightly beneath him.

He looked down suddenly, watching her face intently, daring neither to breathe nor hope. It was a moment before he realized that the blood at her lip was gone, and when he pulled away his haori and undershirt, he could find no trace of the wounds that had marred her smooth, pale skin.

"Mm…" she mumbled, her face scrunching slightly as though she were waking from a light sleep. Her eyes blinked open slowly, mild confusion filling them as she glanced around at her surroundings, and finally up at the hanyou leaning over her, watching her with bated breath. "Inuyasha…I…I'm not…" she began, her confusion growing as she moved a hand to search for the wounds on her torso, finding none. "What happened?"

Inuyasha meant to answer—really he did—but before he'd given it a second thought, he leaned down and kissed her full on the mouth, burying himself in her scent free of blood and death. She was startled at first, but soon caught on and returned the kiss with equal enthusiasm, her right arm coming up around his back to clutch at his shoulder, her left hand delving into his hair to pull him closer.

When, at last, they slowed, both panting, yet breathing more easily than either had in what seemed like an eternity, he pulled back just far enough to look into her eyes. "I thought I'd lost you…" he whispered. "I didn't know what to do…I thought I'd lost you…"

She pulled him down against her chest, and he buried his face against her neck, wrapping his arms more tightly around her fragile body, reveling in its solidness, its wholeness. "I love you…" he murmured finally, feeling his own breath warm the skin at her nape, and breathing her in as she nuzzled her cheek against him.

"I know," she replied, and the words warmed his soul.

When they had eventually satisfied themselves that both were safe and in their right minds, they had risen to leave—only then had it occurred to them that the jewel was nowhere to be found.

He told her of the vision he'd seen, of how Midoriko had saved her life in repayment of their sacrifices—and how the demons of the jewel had tried to turn them against one another in a last ditch effort to prevent them from purifying the jewel from existence. They knew then what had happened without either of them having to say it—it was gone. The battle was ended. Midoriko had won.

Kagome slipped her hand into Inuyasha's, a smile curving her lips as she wrapped his haori around her a little tighter, and they turned to walk back to the village. They had fought, and won, and lost, and protected, and failed, and survived, and now it was finally done. The time for battle was over; it was time to live.

A/N: (--grin--) You know, this is exactly the kind of fic I usually try to stay away from writing—so gut-wrenchingly emotional, without any humor to leaven it. They're hard to do well—they're always in danger of going overboard and just coming off ridiculous. But I've always wanted to write something that somehow tested Inuyasha and Kagome's trust in one another, and since I really have no interest in writing a huge "parallel to the canon" sort of epic (you know, a big long story that climaxes with the defeat of Naraku and the destruction of the jewel), I figured why not zero in on the part I actually want to write? Besides, every Inuyasha author's gotta have one of these in her files somewhere… (--grin--)

I could sit here and poke holes in this (for instance, don't subject Evil!Inu's explanation of his past behavior to too much scrutiny. I tried it, and it doesn't hold up well. But I figure he's relying on her shock and the overwhelming terror of his presence to blind her to the truth—he is, after all, banking on the assumption that she doesn't know or trust Inuyasha as well as she thinks she does…), but I won't do that (except for that little bit in parentheses over there. But that's it... --grin--). Bottom line, (humorless as it is) I wrote this one for fun. Call me a sadist, but I just love watching my favorite hanyou squirm (especially when there's a happy ending in the wings)…

Oh yeah—I know I probably should have called this an "Angst/Romance," but I can't help it—I hate the word "angst." It makes me think of thirteen-year-old girls belting out Celine Dion at the top of their lungs (like I used to) and weeping over the unrequited love of guys they barely know (ditto)… (--grin--)