Notes: This is an old fic from 2006 that is pretty much a direct commentary on an arc that had just run in the manga then, the Kaou arc. (The chapters are somewhere in the 470s.) Also a spoiler for chapter 465. I hesitated to post this, as it's slightly too long for a drabble, and slightly too short for a oneshot, and makes almost no sense if you haven't read that particular arc in the manga, but with the manga ending, here it is, for completion's sake.

Written for iyfic contest, theme "Memory."

His chest actually hurts as he punches Kaou, and in a different spot from where the vines penetrate him. It isn't easy to turn down Paradise.

But Inuyasha knows that there is a difference between real happiness and longings catered to by illusions. Illusions slit open scars, keep old wounds raw and cause them to fester, for all they feel like healing. Inuyasha has enough pain without that. When he saw Kaou's Kikyou, instead of his heart leaping with hope, he'd wanted to claw his hair out. Not again, not another fake with her face, will it never end. They don't all get to play with him like that. He really, honestly doesn't want to look at that Kikyou another minute. Hanyou constitution has nothing to do with it; that was the real reason he broke the spell.

Leaving the fake Kikyou hadn't hurt a bit. He knew what she was; he was used to it by now. What hurt, what caused that curious, phantom pain when there was cause for real pain only a few inches away, was leaving the idea of Kikyou, all of her myriad incarnations. Oh, he loved her, loved her so much every minute was a challenge not to follow her into death. And the fact that all trace of her was really gone... He'd told Kagome the truth about that, to some extent. It wasn't even that it hurt, any of it. He couldn't mourn a body that had never been alive to begin with, and losing Kikyou herself, well, he wouldn't describe it as pain. But it was so lonely, unbearably lonely and bleak.

That decides it for him. He loved Kikyou once. Loving her once was enough. He isn't going to torture himself or defile her memory with any more fakes. It serves no one but his enemies.

So with Kaou defeated, and his beautiful clay Kikyou gone, that only leaves one illusion left. Not that he doesn't love her too—hadn't he loved all of them?—but he's done with this. He's so sick of imitations.

Of course, Kagome is different. She doesn't even look that much like Kikyou, and doesn't pretend to be her. She's another person entirely, it's true. But she isn't of his world, and the only thing tethering her here is Kikyou's soul. It may not be who she is, but it is what binds them. For him in particular, it's too close, too dangerous.

That terribly lonely world he accepted when he punched Kaou looms before him, and with a pain in his chest that has nothing to do with his wounds he sees that he truly has loved, and lost everything including himself.

Pushing all illusions from his mind, he knows that with that pain, he is alone, himself. 'Inuyasha,' whoever that really is. Kikyou is gone, and all of her shadows and phantoms must follow.

"He seems to be back to his normal self," they say. Inuyasha wonders what his normal self is, and if these people have ever met it. He feels calm with his new self-knowledge, free to play-act the man they all assume he is. He may not be back to their old perception of him, (and that, he knows, will never happen) but in some deeper sense, he really is back to himself.

He doesn't really plan to stay after their mission is accomplished, but until then, he feels no pressing urge to escape. It doesn't matter if other people are there, even if they ride on his back. Right now, he's alone anyway, no matter where he is.

The Inuyasha they see, that they consider normal, that's the illusion now.