All Good Things

Author's Note: At long last… a proper ending.

Chapter Nine

She stared down at her hands, waiting to feel something as she looked at the beautiful ivory combs that had held her hair away from her face on her wedding day. An intricate set, accented with carvings of bamboo and lotus flowers outlining basket-weave windows with a delicate pair of mockingbirds inside; she'd considered them too extravagant a gift when Sango had confessed they once belonged to her mother. But for all Kagome's hesitance, Sango had responded with insistence… and she'd smiled something bittersweet as the other girl regarded her best friend before the ceremony.

"Smile, Kagome-chan," a careful laugh. "You wouldn't want a scowl to be the first thing he sees when you walk down the aisle!"

The memory brought tears to Kagome's eyes. She held them back, drawing a breath and biting her lower lip as she set the combs gently on the tatami mat beside her. They were just beside the maple wood zori, braided with white silk. In her lap rested the kimono that she had worn that afternoon and into evening… but that was where the details began to blur like ink over parchment. A few delicate tears fell onto the silk kimono but if any of her companions had noticed, none dared to so much as breathe.

She muffled a sob with the back of her hand but her shoulders shook violently, as though from cold, when she finally acquiesced to let herself cry. At first she blamed it on his cruelty, that Kouga would be so headstrong as to whisk her away on the day of her wedding. But those angry thoughts didn't last long; quickly replaced by her confusion over the strange, vivid dreams she'd had of spending her wedding night in a cave with the ookami prince.
Were she the type, Kagome might have sworn she could still feel his arms wrapped around her, his warmth radiating toward her. It was a thought that, despite her tears, brought a flush to her cheeks. And she cried all the more passionately for the shame of what this realization brought.

For while she was convinced that she had loved Inuyasha on the morning of their wedding, Kagome was certain that the fire burning deep inside of her wasn't born of her love for the hanyou. It was something different, something that confused her to near madness.

It was 'I love you, lady; I have always loved you.'

'Oh, heavens,' the young miko sobbed into her palms. 'Was any of this real? What have I asked of him?'

"Are you done, yet?" Inuyasha's impatience was evident on his face as he crossed and uncrossed his arms over his chest from the corner of Kaede's hut. He shifted in agitation before muttering, "Women."

Having always prided himself on cool, collected behavior, the Houshi was first to raise his voice to reprimand Inuyasha for his insensitive words. The monk sat up straighter, drew a sharp breath, and pointed to the door with his right hand, "Out, Inuyasha!"

"This is not the time for your insensitive feelings to make themselves known," Sango admonished, wrapping her arms tightly around Kagome and pulling the younger woman close. She slowly rocked backwards and forwards, murmuring an occasional 'shh' or 'there, there, lovely'to Kagome.

But Inuyasha didn't make any attempt to leave the hut. He instead raised an eyebrow as Miroku stood from his position next to Kagome and crossed the tatami mats to Inuyasha's corner. The houshi grabbed the hanyou by the scruff of his collar and hoisted him to his feet, dragging the complaining white-haired boy out the door with him. Admittedly, Inuyasha hadn't put up much of a fight; he'd been anxious to leave the hut since Sango had returned with Kagome's wedding accessories. The taijiya had always had an unusual way of knowing exactly when he'd done something wrong and just how to make him feel most guilty for it.

"Hey!" Inuyasha protested after Miroku had hauled him nearly across the village and still showed no signs of stopping. "Lemme go!"

With a heavy sigh, Miroku dropped the red-clad hanyou, causing the silver-haired man to lose his balance. Steadying himself against the trunk of the tree they were standing under, Miroku fought to maintain his composure. He'd been pleased with the results of his effort as he calmly leveled his gaze with Inuyasha's and asked, "How cruel are you truly capable of being, Inuyasha? You made your choice the day of your wedding – and it wasn't Kagome."

He paused, waiting until the hanyou was scowling. It was enough confirmation that his words had hit their mark.

So the houshi continued, "I'm ashamed of myself for ever having let you near her. I went against my better judgment, letting you back into that hut, and it's been only Kagome to suffer for it! Don't you think you've put her through enough?"

"Heh!" the hanyou pouted. He crossed his arms over his chest and turned away from Miroku with his nose pointed towards the sky. Perhaps that was how he first caught the scent. Or it might have been no more than the wind's sense of humor, once more, withholding its helpfulness from the hanyou and giving it to the ookami youkai instead. It was lavender, fresh and clear. And the stronger that it became, the tighter Inuyasha could feel his fists clenching at his side. Through gritted teeth he growled at Kouga, "Do the girl a favor and do as she asked of you, ookami."

Stunned that the ookami prince had arrived so suddenly, what when the houshi had searched nearly three quarters of an hour from every edge of the village searching for him, Miroku felt his eyes widen, his breath catch in his throat. The hanyou and youkai had never been fond of each other; such had been a fact of life for three years of Kouga endlessly courting Kagome and Inuyasha's insistent dissent. But never had an exchange felt so tense, absolutely heated from the very beginning. The houshi could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he waited for the prince to react to Inuyasha's snide remark.

Kouga paused briefly, adjusting the sword at his side and the lavender blossoms in his hand, and his sky blue eyes traveled over the hanyou. While typically he had always participated in a short bout of banter with the hanyou, Kouga knew he had more important matters to attend to. So he only raised an eyebrow at his tormentor before turning away without a word and starting in the direction of Kaede's hut.

"Nanda!" the hanyou tried again. "I said get the hell outta here, baka ka!"

Kouga paid him no further attention. And Miroku grabbed Inuyasha by the elbow, holding him in place with a warning look. Both houshi and hanyou watched, stunned, as the ookami prince slowly made his way into the hut.

He flinched at the look Sango directed at him.

The taijiya with her arms around the young miko, glared daggers up at him. Her deep brown eyes seemed to ask, 'What in the seven hells took you so long?' But she spoke not a word as Kagome's tears began to subside and the hard look on Sango's face eventually softened as the ookami prince gathered his thoughts.

Admittedly, he'd not prepared any form of confession for Kagome. The only thing he had thought about while crossing the distance between them had been reaching her; seeing her one more time. Confirming that she hadn't meant what she had asked of him. He'd never had a way with words. But despite his reservations, Kouga knew he couldn't live another day if he didn't say something… if he didn't try to make her understand.

"Kagome," he breathed, kneeling down at the edge of her mat.

Her breath caught in her throat at the sound of his voice and she looked up suddenly. The motion from the miko was enough to coerce Sango to lessen her grip on her friend and silently excuse herself from the room. But if either figure had noticed, neither showed any sign.

Tears were still clinging to the corners of Kagome's eyes and, in an attempt to lessen the awkward silence that had fallen over the pair, Kouga made a slow motion to dry a trail one of those glistening tears had left as it had fallen down her pale cheek. Kagome flinched away from his touch.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, the pain so evident in his voice he couldn't have hid it from her if he had tried. He pulled his hand back, cradling it against his heart as though he might be able to keep the pieces from falling apart. His voice was soft, still barely above a whisper, when he spoke again. "I'm sorry I came back, Kagome. But you have to understand…"

He paused.

She whimpered.

Kouga bit his lower lip before thrusting the lavender blossoms into her lap, "I brought these. They're for you."

Kagome's left hand tightened around the fresh stems, her right finding its way to the tiny blossoms that dotted each bloom. As the intoxicating scent filled her lungs, she gasped as her gaze was locked on him. Her silent realization was written evident across her features.

Her reaction strengthened his resolve to continue, "You have to understand that I couldn't leave without telling you – making you understand what I mean every time I tell you that someday I'll make you my woman."

"H-how long have you felt this way, Kouga-kun?" she barely breathed.

He smiled something bitter, exhaling deeply, "I figured out just how much I loved you the night of your wedding, when you looked at me from over your shoulder, about to jump over that cliff."

Kouga frowned. Kagome lowered her gaze to her hands, gracefully folded in her lap. He'd made her nervous, chastised her for her foolishness with his bluntness. But that had never been his intention.

"I couldn't protest your wishes to marry him; if you had felt anything like what you feel for Inuyasha for me, you would have understood the gravity of what you'd asked of me, Kagome," the ookami prince shook his head, unsure if he should continue. But reason won out in the end; the knowledge that he'd regret for the rest of his life not telling this woman how he felt about her. "To stand by and watch you marry someone else? I thought, all the more reason to say nothing. But then, when I saw that look in your eyes; that sorrow on the night you should have been with – with him… well, I knew that it wouldn't be fair. To me, mostly. I've loved you for so long, Kagome, and I didn't realize what that meant, how deep that goes, until I was faced with losing you forever, for eternity… The implications of my feelings for you aren't something that I am capable of speaking out loud."

Kouga paused for a moment, gathering his emotions so they wouldn't betray his intentions.

"Oh, Kouga-kun!" Kagome breathed, her shoulders shaking as she tried to hold back a sob.

"I'm sorry, Kagome-chan," he started to get up, bringing his right foot towards his left knee and anchoring his right hand in preparation to help him stand. "I never wanted to make you cry."

"Once upon a time, there was a boy who ran like the wind," Kagome whispered. "He was handsome, perfect in the way that boys who run like the wind always are…"

He froze as her gentle tenor trailed off. His shoulders tense, heart pounding.

Then she began again, "And there was a girl; a girl who loved him very much. A girl who was simple and plain in all the ways that girls who love boys who run like the wind should never be. She was shy, afraid, and she spent three years convincing herself he was so much more than she deserved."

Kouga visibly relaxed, leaning closer to her so that their lips were nearly touching. And he whispered against her jawbone, "What if he promised to spend every day for the rest of his life convincing her just how lucky he would be to have her?"

Kagome smiled.

And Kouga laughed.

Before either of them could think, the raven haired beauty was in his arms, kissing him quickly at first – as though making up for lost time. And then she kissed him slowly because they had all the time in the world. His lips were soft and the careful, passionate way he moved them against hers brought that familiar, burning feeling to her stomach. His fingers laced through her hair, savoring the feeling of the silky waves against his forearms. And her hands fell to rest against his forearms as he held her. Somewhere in between kisses, she managed, "I love you, Kouga-kun; and I will love you until I die, and if there is life after that, I'll still love you then."