To those I couldn't respond to:

InuyashaKagome: Wow … I never knew I could have that kind of effect on people. I have to agree, though. Heartbreak is one thing I wish no one ever had to experience. I had it from both ends this past year – had my heartbroken and broke someone else's heart. And to be honest, it sucks from both points. In any case, glad you enjoyed the chapter. It was a bit startling, though, to hear the whole 'Kagome should end up with someone else' coming from a reader whose penname is 'InuyashaKagome.' Made me giggle just a bit, until I realized the severity. Swaying a hardcore IK fan? That's not something that's done every day. Lol

Dragonheart: I hope this was a happy enough ending for you. Feel free to let me know.

Silkrose: Hope I didn't take too long to update. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Somewhere Beyond This

Chapter 23: In This Life

I didn't know it would be so hard.

I swallowed against the lump in my throat and tried to take deep breaths. The whirlwind of memories that hit me was like a punch to the gut. My tongue felt like sandpaper and heavy in my mouth. My eyes shifted around the airport terminal, searching the faces of strangers for something I didn't understand.

"Hurry up and come back!"

I shuddered as Eri's ghostly voice came back to me, and I could suddenly see all of us standing in the middle of the terminal, smiling and chatting like old friends. My stomach churned with nausea and I could feel the tears building in my eyes. This place was where the wheels began to turn, bringing about the end: of my relationship with Kouga, of my hope still holding out for Inuyasha, and of Eri's life.

This hallway was where it all began. It was on this blue carpet and within these white walls that everything had begun to change and fate had taken control. It was where I said goodbye to the girl I was before the plane crash.

I took a deep breath to calm my frantically beating heart. "Come on, Gate 3 is this way," I heard Sango say as she began walking ahead of me.

My eyes widened and my body suddenly felt so cold. It couldn't be. It just couldn't. Was the universe so cruel as to force me to relive my last happy memories before everything collapsed?

I shook my head slowly and stared down at the plane ticket in my hand, staring at that large, black number three that haunted me so. I felt weak in the knees and my heart clenched painfully.

Gate 3.

The same gate we boarded from all those months ago.

I closed my eyes and reminded myself to breathe.

In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

"Kagome, you coming?"

I opened my eyes and put on a smile before nodding at Sango's words.

I could do this.

I steeled my resolve and tightened my hand around the handle of my suitcase before following after my best friend. Each step I took felt like lead. My heart beat faster and my hands were cold with sweat.

Breathe, Kagome.

"Breathe, dammit!"

I stole a glance toward the big windows to my right, watching as a plane took off from the runway and became a white spec in the sky.

I still dreamt about the island. Sometimes I could still feel the cold water as it dragged me further and further into the ocean, watching as the plane burst into flames. I could remember the feeling of being unable to breathe, of life leaving me with every passing second.

"Souta!"

My brother's terrified gaze haunted my thoughts, even though he smiled at me just this morning and wished me luck. I couldn't forget the pained look on his face when we were on our way home after spending several days stranded, or the sobs that wracked his body as he grieved Shippo's death.

Memory after memory came flying back. Every detail that had occurred on the island seemed to return full force, as if I was living it all over again – Kouga's heartbroken expression; Miroku's wise words; Sango's headstrong attitude; and Inuyasha's rough yet protective demeanor.

Then that final moment, the last time I had spoken with Inuyasha, had my heart breaking again.

"Don't," I interrupted him with a shake of my head. I smiled sadly at him. "I understand, Inuyasha. I know that when we get back, things will return to normal."

He looked at me for a long time, studying me in a manner I knew he never would again. "Are you okay with that?"

I bit my lip and shook my head to clear his voice from my mind. Now was not the time to be dwelling on such painful memories. I had plenty of time to do that over the last couple of months. What I needed was to follow through with my plan.

Before I knew it, I was standing at my designated gate. That giant black three taunted me mockingly, as if knowing that I loathed it. It hung over the doorway like a guard and asked if I possessed the strength to pass through. I swallowed, recalling how a hundred people had walked through that gate all those weeks ago. Only nineteen came back.

"We don't have to go, you know," Sango said as she stood beside me and followed my gaze. "We can turn around right now and spend the summer at home."

I smiled and stole a glance at her. "Sango, you spent a fortune on these tickets. There's no way I'm backing out now. They're nonrefundable."

She shrugged. "Maybe, but you're more important than money, Kagome. Just tell me what you want to do."

"Thanks," I replied, sighing. "But I need to do this. Some time away will do me good."

She touched my arm gently. "I'll be there every step of the way."

I nodded and turned away from the entrance of Gate 3, deciding to look out the windows and try to think about something else. We still had a while before we would begin boarding. "Have you talked to Ayumi lately?"

"Yeah," Sango said as she set down her bag and stood beside me. "She and Yuka are going to spend the summer at home with Eri's family. They were all pretty close."

"We just can't give up faith or else we're already beaten."

I bit my lip, recalling Yuka, her eyes brimming with tears and a smile on her face. She had lost Eri and Ayumi had been on the brink of death, yet, she still encouraged us to keep going. I was amazed at her strength. I shook my head to clear the thoughts.

"And Miroku? How's he going to handle his girlfriend being gone all summer?"

She scowled and crossed her arms. "Oh, I've already spoken to him about his behavior and told him what was going to happen if he stepped out of line."

I raised a brow. "What could you have possibly said to Miroku that would make him cower in fear?"

She smiled deviously. "I threatened to castrate him."

I giggled nervously and cringed. "Don't you think that's taking it a bit too far?"

"This is Miroku we're talking about," she reminded me while twirling a loose strand of hair around her finger. "You can never take anything too far with him."

"That's true." We shared a laugh, bringing up memories of the lecher from our high school years.

I had to admit, I had noticed a change in everyone after those long days on the island. Although Miroku sounded cheery over the phone, sometimes there were lengthy pauses, and I knew his thoughts had turned elsewhere.

Rin was the same as she was when we boarded the flight. Her memories had returned, as the doctors had hoped. The only thing she didn't remember was the crash itself. I was thankful for that. At least she didn't wake up screaming from the nightmares.

She had actually left me a voicemail the other day, reminding me that I had to plan a day to have dinner with her and Ayame. She said they needed to catch me up on their new boyfriends. I hadn't spoken to Ayame since I first returned, though. It was strange knowing she started dating Kouga a few days ago. I was happy for the both of them, of course, but things still seemed awkward. Not to mention Rin was dating 'Sesshy', my ex-boyfriend's brother. Sometimes it all made me a little sick to my stomach.

"How's Kohaku doing?" I asked Sango before my mind could take another trip down memory-lane.

She shrugged and her smile lessened a degree. "He's quieter than he used to be, and sometimes I find him just sitting there, staring into space. What happened on that island really affected him. I mean, he's seeing a psychiatrist, but I still worry about him, you know?"

I wrapped my hand around hers. "He'll be okay, Sango," I said gently. "I promise."

"Yeah," she replied with a nod. "It's just going to be a tough road for him. I'm thankful he has Souta and Hitomi around to relate to."

I smiled, thinking about my brother's new found friend and possible future-girlfriend. After the tragic loss of her family, Hitomi went to stay with her grandparents, who didn't live too far away. It was nice that she and the boys were still able to get together.

Another plane took off and I watched as it slowly began down the runway. I wondered where its final destination was or where everyone on that plane was going to end up. Strange. I would think that after surviving something as horrific as a plane crash that I would be absolutely terrified to fly. But I wasn't. In my mind, flying half-way across the world was going to bring me an escape I desperately needed.

My eyes flickered over to Sango as she turned to peer over her shoulder. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed before she left my side. Curious, my gaze followed after her until she met up in the middle of the airport terminal, speaking to a dark-haired man.

I didn't know why Miroku was here. We had said our goodbyes to him hours earlier before leaving for the airport. We were supposed to be boarding at any moment, so he was cutting it a bit close.

I glanced down at the bags at my feet. I couldn't very well leave them, so I simply crossed my arms and watched the exchange between my best friend and her boyfriend. I thought perhaps he had simply forgotten to give her something, but I could tell Sango was a little unnerved and Miroku was trying to calm her down. I was too far away to hear what they were saying.

Then suddenly I knew. My eyes caught a glimpse of silver and I swore, spinning around to face the window. I wrapped my arms around my torso and bit my lip, praying to every heavenly being that it wasn't who I thought it was.

With a deep breath, I glanced over my shoulder and searched the crowd. Time seemed to stand still as I locked gazes with a beautiful shade of amber that haunted my every thought. I blinked, hoping it was just a figment of my imagination, but when he only stared at me with a pleading expression, I knew my hope was in vain.

Fear raced through me as I turned back toward the window. I took deep breaths and tried to calm my racing heart. I didn't understand why he was here. Hadn't he tortured me enough? Hadn't he already shattered my heart into a million pieces? What more could he possibly want?

I couldn't do this. Not here, not now, not when I was about to fly away from everything he had done to me. I was so close to freedom, so close to escaping the heartache that still beat strongly in my chest. I already felt the tears welling in my eyes, but I forced them back. I couldn't let him see me like that. I had shed more than enough tears over him.

I clutched a hand to my chest and swung my gaze to my right and left, looking for a way out. But I already knew there was none. I was cornered between the man I loved and the plane that would take me far away from him. If only we had boarded minutes earlier. If only we had booked an earlier flight. Then I wouldn't be standing here with baited breath.

"Kagome …" My name was a whisper on his lips.

I swallowed and tried to steady my nerves. "Inuyasha," I breathed, cursing how shaky my voice sounded. I didn't turn around, instead grasping at every ounce of courage I could find. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see you."

I bit my lip and shook my head. "You can't do that."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You can't come all the way here just to see me, Inuyasha." I clenched my hand into a fist around my skirt. I peered at him out of the corner of my eye.

He looked at the floor and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, I wanted to call you, I did, but I didn't know what to say."

I spun around and glared up at him defiantly. "Then why come all the way here?" I demanded, my eyes searching his for the truth.

"Dammit, Kagome," he growled with frustration. "You know I've never been good with words."

"Even if you were, actions speak louder," I bit back fiercely. "You've made your intentions perfectly clear."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

I turned my head and gazed out the window, clenching my hands into fists at my side. "Please, just leave."

"What if I don't want to?"

I turned startled eyes toward him, ready to unleash every thought that ran through my head. He couldn't do this! He couldn't break my heart to pieces and decide to show up moments before my escape! How cruel could a person be? I was trying to get over him. Didn't he understand that seeing him caused my resolve to waver, that in his presence I wasn't sure if I should really be leaving or not?

I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream and shout until I couldn't anymore, until he knew exactly how much he hurt me. But I couldn't do any of that. Because as those thoughts ran through my head, he gently grasped my face, looked me lovingly in the eyes, and kissed me.

I knew I should pull away. This wasn't supposed to happen. I wasn't supposed to fall for his tricks again. He had more than enough chances to mend my broken heart, but he continually pushed me away. And now, when I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to move on, he shows up, wanting to take me back.

"I'm sorry," he murmured against my lips before kissing me again. "I'm so sorry."

He continued apologizing, kissing away the tears that I hadn't realized I shed. I wasn't sure what to do. I wasn't sure where my heart or my head was, and it scared me. One thing I always knew was that I was in love with Inuyasha. That he was my soul mate and forever my one true love.

My heart thudded in tune with his and I felt my lips responding. I kissed him back and curled my hands around his shirt, pulling him toward me. His arms wrapped around me and his hand became entangled in my hair. The rest of the world fell away and it was just the two of us. Everything seemed right and I didn't allow my thoughts to think about what the next step would be.

There was only him and me. It was all I had ever wanted.

"Now boarding for Flight 118. San Francisco, California."

The voice over the airport intercom brought me back to reality. I pushed Inuyasha away and stepped back. I took a few deep breaths and looked at him. Confusion flitted through his eyes.

"Kagome?" he questioned, reaching out a hand toward me.

I shook my head. "I can't do this, Inuyasha," I replied.

He furrowed his brows. "What do you mean?"

"After all we've been through, after everything I've felt, I just don't know where I stand anymore." I spoke the truth. "What you did to me … it broke me. For years I hid away the pain, pretending that I was fine, but after what happened on the island …" I simply shook my head.

"Kagome," he mumbled, taking a step toward me. "I said I was sorry. I never meant to say the things that I did. I was just … scared."

"Scared?" I asked, searching his gaze. "Why? What did you have to be afraid of?"

He clenched his hands into fists. "Keh, you know how my life's been. Hasn't been easy."

I nodded, recalling all the events he had gone through in his life, beginning with his mother's untimely death on the night we met. He had struggled ever since then. But did that give him any reason to do what he did? Did that make it all better?

"That's no excuse," I scolded him. "You're not the only one who's lost someone or faced hardships, Inuyasha. Tell me what you were so afraid of that you had to break my heart over and over again."

I stared at him with an unwavering gaze. I was so tired of this game. I wanted to move on. When was the last time I was happy? Would I ever be again? I wasn't sure, but I needed to figure it out, and Inuyasha wasn't a part of that.

He swallowed and finally looked at me. "I was afraid of love," he admitted quietly. "I didn't deserve to be loved and you deserve better. I'm just a washed up rich kid who's got nothin' goin' for him. I didn't want that for you."

I shook my head. "That wasn't for you to decide. You made your own assumptions and decisions. All I wanted was to love you. That was enough for me."

"Final call. Boarding for Flight 118. San Francisco, California."

I glanced over at Gate 3, watching as the line of people to board grew smaller. Sango had already come to grab her bag and was off to the side, saying her final farewell to Miroku for the duration of the summer. I sighed and grasped the handle of my suitcase.

"I have to go," I told him, slinging my carry-on over my shoulder.

He grasped my arm gently. "Wait." I looked up and his eyes begged me to stay just another moment.

"I can't." I shrugged off his arm and pushed past him.

"Keh. Fine, go, see if I care."

I stopped and glanced over my shoulder. I could tell he was hurt by his fallen expression. "It's for the best," I said, more so to reassure myself than him.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "So that's it, then?" he called after me. "You're just gonna walk away?"

I glared at him. "What did you expect me to do, Inuyasha? Fall into your arms and forget everything that happened between us?"

"Well ... no," he stuttered. "But I didn't think you'd just leave."

"I didn't think you'd leave either," I reminded him. "It happened anyways. Guess things don't always work out the way you want them to."

He scowled. "A man tells you he loves you and you don't even care. What the hell do you want from me then?"

I sighed, looking at him hesitantly. "You need to let me go," I told him with a heavy heart. "I need to figure out who I am without you. But knowing you're holding on will only hold me back. So please, Inuyasha, just ... just let me go."

His gaze was so intense. I could never begin to explain the sheer emotion that fell from his eyes. I wasn't sure if he understood what I was asking him to do, or if there was any way he could carry out my request, but when he looked away, I knew I had my answer.

I bit my lip and looked at him a moment longer before hoisting my bag higher on my shoulder. "Well then, I guess this is goodbye, Inuyasha."

"Keh, whatever." His voice was filled with defeat and I knew that my words had really stung.

Inuyasha had once been a very good friend to me before we began dating. We confided in one another about everything. I never wanted to hurt him or to see him upset. But in the end, that's exactly what I did. I couldn't say I was proud of it, or say that he deserved it. Sometimes, though, the truth hurts. It was out of my control.

Our final words spoken, I turned around to hide the tears and headed toward the gate before I changed my mind. I smiled politely as the lady checked my ticket and cleared me to board. I followed after Sango silently, wiping a hand across my cheeks as we walked onto the plane. We stowed our bags above our seats, and I sat down with an exasperated sigh.

"You okay?" Sango asked me, putting a hand over mine.

"No," I mumbled, tearing my gaze away from the window. I smiled at her. "But I will be."

The decision I made wasn't easy. It was probably one of the hardest things I would ever have to do. But I knew in my heart it was the right one. I was sick of always thinking about him and where Kikyo stood in all of this. I was tired of always feeling as if I was never good enough, or that I had done something wrong. And even though he came to me and confessed his love for me, I still needed to let him go.

In this life, there were no guarantees of happiness or promises of a bright future. There was heartache and betrayal, love and lost, courage and fear. The past was the past. I couldn't change it. The present, however, could be changed and perhaps lead to days in which I didn't feel like I had reached rock bottom.

Because somewhere beyond this moment, where the plane took off and blue sky surrounded us, I knew I would be okay. Maybe I would return at the end of the summer, or choose to stay in the United States. Perhaps I would fall in love with someone who far exceeded Inuyasha in my eyes, or perhaps I wouldn't. The best part of it was that I didn't know what was going to happen when we touched down. I only knew one thing.

Somewhere beyond this, I would find my happiness.


A/N: This is the end, folks. There will be no more chapters and no sequel. I may write a one-shot as a sort of spin-off, but even if I do, it won't be for a while. So don't hold your breath. I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Many thanks to:

My amazing beta, Dani: She didn't help directly with this story, but as many of my readers may know, since I began writing, my style and level has improved greatly. I would never have come this far if it wasn't for her.

All of my reviewers. This story started out as a small project me and a coauthor brainstormed together. I thought nothing of the outcome or where it would lead. And here I am, 300+ reviews later. Every time I got a small note from my readers, it made me smile. There are far too many names to list, but always know it is because of your kind words and asking me to update that I continue writing. Also, here's to those anonymous reviewers who took a few minutes to leave a small comment: Kitkatkathy, noodles579, inumongirl18, inu+kaglover4ever, YASHA101, Inu4ever, KagomeInuyasha, InuKagsLuver4Eva, erica, rossgirl1997, Casiosiris, m, Stardust, PrincessDay12, InuKag, kicca, Vanessa, InuyashaKagome, Dragonheart, Silkrose, and anyone else who reviews after this is posted. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

All of my readers. Even though most didn't leave a review, I'm glad I had those who enjoyed the story enough to follow it from beginning to end. Besides, not everyone has the time these days to leave a small comment. You should know that I appreciate everyone's interest in the story. I hope you find my future work worthwhile as well.

As some of you may know, when a story comes to an end, it's like a period of my life is coming to an end. I began writing this story when I was still in high school and I'm now finishing up my second year of college. Time sure flies. This is actually the first chapter-length story I've written that was in first-person POV. I've added a poll on my profile page, too, asking if you enjoy first-person POV or third-person POV better. Take it if you wish. In any case, although it's sad to see this come to an end, I'm happy at the same time. I'm always eager to finish stories and begin adding new ones that I'm sure you'll enjoy. My next story, Ripple Effect, should be coming out sometime this summer hopefully, if not sooner. It's an Inu/Kag centric piece, so add me to your alert list if you don't want to miss it. Ciao for now!

Sassybratt