A/N: Canon? What's that?

Kagome fell into the water after her, and forgot that she usually needed to breathe. Kikyou lay beneath her, cracked open, abandoned, like the exoskeleton of a cicada. The grave soil was slowly dissolving through her fingers, and it had been so long since she had tasted air, but she hung in the water, immobilized, looking at Kikyou's opened chest.

In the cavity where one would normally find a heart, lungs, ribs, muscle, nerves, blood, lymph, and all the other accompaniments of life, there was nothing, nothing at all.

In the many times Kagome had wished for Kikyou's death, this was the first time it was for mercy.

Kagome pressed the grave soil to the emptiness in Kikyou's chest, and did an unmerciful thing.

The snake youkai pulled her heart into its mouth and swallowed in one long, sinuous pull. Tsubaki knew the snake would take better care of her heart than she ever had. But the worst damage had already been done.

At least now she had no heart to ache when Kikyou was near her, unattainable. But when Kikyou chanced to look her in the eye, the hollowness in her chest thrummed, an indescribable something echoed, finding neither peace nor escape.

Tsubaki was horribly envious, you see. She believed that Kikyou had been born without a heart.

"Wait," Tsubaki said, grabbing a corner of Kikyou's sleeve.

"What have you done to yourself?" Kikyou demanded. "You...you've given away your heart."

"We can't all be born perfect," Tsubaki said cryptically. "I would have given it to you, but you wouldn't have taken it."

"You're right, I wouldn't."

Tsubaki snaked closer, relishing any contact. "It's your fault, anyway. You made it hurt so bad."

"No," Kikyou said, pushing her away. "I never did anything."

"Of course you didn't," Tsubaki said, and smiled. "Cruel, isn't it? I love you because you'll never love anything. I want to be you. I want you to be mine, because you'll never be anyone's."

Kikyou held her bow up suddenly, and it glowed with purifying light. Tsubaki's eyes lit strangely, and the lattice-scarring on her face showed itself momentarily. "You're wrong," Kikyou said. "There's nothing in this world I don't love. Even you. Even if I must defend myself against you."

Tsubaki released Kikyou's sleeve, and leaned against the wall, spiritually exhausted and intolerably aroused by the psychic battle. "That feeling, of holding yourself apart from and above the world, that is not universal love, it is contempt," Tsubaki said. "Never change. If you dared love anyone but me, you would have to die."

Kikyou's eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat? Or a curse?"

"It's neither," Tsubaki said. "It's a warning, for something beyond my control. My heart acts without my head, these days, and all it has ever loved is you. Do not scorn it, unless you are immune to snake venom."


"Yes, Inuyasha?"

"Do you really want to do it? Be normal? Is that better?"

"If you're having second thoughts..."

"Nah. It's not particularly great to be a hanyou. But people respect you. And you seem really good at what you do. I don't know. I just can't see you as a normal girl."

"I guess...I just want to prove that I can. That I could be a good wife and mother." A pause. "Do you think I couldn't?"

"I'm becoming human and marrying you, aren't I?"


"That look in your eye, when you shoot a purified arrow straight into a youkai's heart. Where will it go?"

There was a snake in the grass, watching her, flicking its tongue, waiting for her answer. "I won't need it anymore. I love you, Inuyasha."

The snake turned away, disinterested. Kikyou let out a breath. It would not strike. She'd failed the test.

The burned man's tear ducts were broken, and he wept and wept, even out of his ruined eye that would never see again.

He tried to tell her his story, in rasping, painful syllables, but sometimes she did not understand him and nodded anyway, and sometimes she begged him to save his strength, and sometimes he dreamed of telling her and picked up somewhere in the middle upon waking. Sleep and waking had become indistinguishable then, the line blurring as death approached.

As a boy he discovered that he was born with a curious gift, the talent of seeing into people's hearts. It was due to this that his parents grew uncomfortable with him, and under pressure from the rest of the village, resolved to sell him to a high-end brothel. Brothels always needed boys, and few parents were so willing to part with a son. They believed it would be a good life for him, he would be cared for. But endowed with this gift as he was, he saw through their plans and ran away first.

Perhaps he had not chosen the better of two fates, but having run to meet his exile rather than being thrust into it was a comfort to him. His talent served him well among bandits and outlaws, and he was able to pick those who would protect him, then as he grew older, those who would serve him. He was a good leader, confident, charismatic, rewarding of loyalty and unforgiving of treachery.

"But you see," he said in his cracked, pained voice, "I surrounded myself with evil men, dark thoughts. I let it seep into me every day, and that is what I became." There was remorse in his voice. He did not tell her all the things he'd done.

The bandit called Onigumo reached up with his bandaged hand and caught Kikyou's sleeve. She hesitated, torn between pity and repulsion. "I am glad I met you," he told her. "You...are beautiful." His strength spent, his hand fell back down, useless.

Kikyou looked uneasy and left without a word. Onigumo was saddened by this, but did not blame her. He had failed to make her understand. She had not heard his story.

Tsubaki crumpled to the ground, crying out. She was aware of people watching her, afraid to help or relieved at her misfortune. Living here without her heart, she had not made many friends.

She had sent the snake away, to watch Kikyou or do as it pleased, desiring peace from heartache. But now she felt her heart die in the belly of the snake, and knew she should have died with it, she should have died with her Kikyou.

Upon her arrival in Kikyou's hometown, Tsubaki found a hanyou sleeping as though dead, a half-blind mourning child, and a stone marker over an urn of buried ashes. The ash of Kikyou's cremation was still heavy in the air, the child's sobs still raw, the sleeping hanyou's blood still wet from his wound. She walked here as though in a dream, the villagers looking up suddenly at the sight of her red hakama and white gi, then looking away when they saw she was not their miko.

Past the village, into the wilderness a bit, she saw a naked man walk into a stream. He did not go about washing, but stood there, waist-deep, letting the water flow past him. Then he sank down, evenly, slowly, until every part of him had vanished. Tsubaki watched this surreal scene, not knowing what to do or think, until she realized that he had been under for some time and might have drowned. With a cry she plunged after him, clothed, in a somewhat belated bout of heroism.

She found him easily under the clear water and pulled him up by the wrist. He did not resist her in the slightest, but he didn't seem grateful for being rescued, either. Tsubaki suddenly noticed that his arm was stained up to the elbow with blood and let go, stumbling backwards and nearly falling. Jaki roiled off the man, but it seemed mismatched, unfocused, as though it came from a thousand small youkai and not one big one.

"You...what have you done?" Tsubaki demanded. She called some spiritual power about herself, but she did not think it would be enough. There was darkness in this creature to taint far purer ones than her, to corrupt them or leave them writhing and broken.

But to her surprise, the monster did not rally himself, but merely slumped in the stream, looking at the blood slowly washing off his hands. "I have made a horrible mistake, I think."

The emptiness in Tsubaki's chest seemed to swell into a great abyss. "You killed her."

He looked at her miserably, unwaveringly.

"For the Shikon no Tama? Where is it?"

"Fool," he muttered. Then he reached for her, and Tsubaki shrank back, but not quickly enough. The wet hand that he placed on her shoulder only left a slight bloodstain on her gi, but it would never scrub out. For a moment she had the impression of him looking into her rather than at her, and every defense she put up was snapped effortlessly by him. She felt corruption spilling into the emptiness in her chest, and knew that no mortal priest or priestess would be able to purify it.

Then he fell away from her as suddenly as he had struck. He hunched down in the water, and Tsubaki saw a scar carved into its back, vaguely resembling a spider. His back convulsed strangely, and after a minute or so Tsubaki realized he was crying. She watched it with empty detachment, the gesture seeming meaningless to her.

"Take it from me," he said, his voice wavering, "take my heart, or destroy it. Please."

"I...I can't."

"But you've done it for yourself. You're free of the pain."

"I don't know how to take yours. You aren't even human."

He fell to his knees in the water, clutching at her hakama weakly, not seeming to care if his face went under. A realization hovered at the edge of Tsubaki's perception, something she knew of from forays into darker magic. It can't be, it can't be.

"It's already been taken, hasn't it?" Tsubaki said. "That's all that's left. A youkai body, and a human heart."

"The rest was all burned," he said. "Wanted...I wanted to hold her. To talk to her. To protect her. But she was so fragile." He looked miserably at the blood caked under his fingernails. "I don't want this anymore. I don't want to keep my heart, if all it does is want her."

In the bowels of Hakurei-zan, Naraku pulled the pulsing thing from his chest, and laid a cool, smooth stone in its place. At last, the pain dulled.

He could stand to kill Kikyou now, in spite of his lingering love for her. That was the nature of their relationship, founded on mercy.

He hoped she would do the same for him.