CHAPTER THIRTEEN: BEFORE IT BEGINS

"You have to end it," Sesshomaru told Kikyo firmly. "I will not have competition." Kikyo didn't budge from her place on the rock. They were at the outdoor hot springs, just a few nights after their encounter with the reborn Naraku at Kikyo's former high school. Sesshomaru had greatly avoided the conversation since then, but it was clear now, and always had been, that the incident still angered him. His pride and woman were at stake. Sesshomaru is far more common than he thinks, Kikyo thought to herself.

"There is no competition," she insisted, equally calm. "I have belonged to you from the very beginning. As if it mattered, I chose you for myself, and now we are married both by force and by choice." Sesshomaru did not respond, simply sat in silence while watching her watch him.

"You won't undress?" he asked. Kikyo shrugged. She had met Sesshomaru out front as he returned from an errand in town, and at his insistence had followed him out to the hot springs in her nightclothes. Something about him was odd, and she did not feel very inclined to indulge him tonight. She had grown accustomed to wandering about the mansion without her bow or arrows, but not whist Sesshomaru wasn't home. She had them with her now, though, because for some reason she felt she ought to have them close by. The night air ran cold, and though she shivered, she lay sprawled out on the large boulders, warm from the heated water they contained, and listened.

"Something is wrong," Sesshomaru decided, careful not to approach her.

"What gives you that idea?" Kikyo asked dryly.

"You are unresponsive." The priestess cast a skeptical eye upon this man before her. "I offer romance, and your eyes turn cold toward me." Kikyo could not resist giggling.

"My husband is absolutely not a romantic," she said. "He's gentle, yes, but he has very little inclination to be romantic."

"Why would you insult me this way?" Sesshomaru demanded, standing.

"Lord Sesshomaru is a dog after all, possessive and disagreeable," Kikyo continued. She slowly sat up, discreetly reaching for her bow and an arrow. "I may not have the nose of a demon, but I can tell demons apart.

"My husband is a powerful, full-blooded demon. His aura, much like his father's, is often consuming, overpowering, but yours... is weaker than even Inuyasha's. Poor Onigumo, you can take the likeness of others, but you cannot replicate any of the qualities that truly make them who they are." A small smirk formed on the false Sesshomaru's lips.

"I should never have expected to fool my beloved Kikyo," he relented, reverting to his newer form as Naraku. "Still, you must agree this body is nearly perfect. Far more worthy of your beauty than my former body."

"Your body is composed of thousands of demon parts," Kikyo said, recoiling in disgust. "There is nothing beautiful about it."

"This body is much more acceptable than the charred remains I used to inhabit," Naraku insisted, now approaching Kikyo. "Imagine how it will glisten with the Shikon Jewel, tainted black, in my possession."

"How do you expect to achieve that, Naraku?" the priestess asked. "Your charades will not work on me. I see through you every time. The truth will bind us together permanently." Naraku's eyes widened, displaying the fullness of their unnatural hue: Red, like cruel, thick blood. His thin, frail body stiffened, and he came just a little closer.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked. Kikyo drew her bow and aimed it at Naraku's chest.

"I can forgive you always, but I cannot pretend anymore," Kikyo said. "This death will always weigh upon my conscience, and in that manner you will never leave me." Naraku began to back away from Kikyo, his features contorting to anger, confusion, and feelings of betrayal.

"I have to end this before it even begins. You cannot accept your troubles, nor can you deal with them, and so you approach life as though everyone and everything is indebted to you. If I allow you to continue this way, with hatred in your heart, this fool Naraku will become a monster, and eventually the death you suffer will be untimely. I'll be filled with regret, knowing that here in this moment I could have finished everything, could have completed this task for my future, and the future of Demons' Nook. I have to protect myself, and Shikon no Tama, and my family." Kikyo was almost surprised to see Naraku so confused and hesitant, but he did not run away. How could he? Where would he go?

Sesshomaru emerged from the shadows slowly, his harsh glare encouraging Kikyo to carry out this task, meanwhile Inuyasha sat on a branch in the trees up above. Even the Inu no Taisho knew what Kikyo was about to do. If he were watching her, he would be just as insistent that she destroy Naraku and end their burdens and the bond they shared that Sesshomaru despised so much.

"Goodbye, Onigumo," Kikyo said, releasing her arrow.

The arrow seemed to freeze in time at Naraku's chest as it pierced through, released, and purified the toxic spirits of the many demons that formed his body. The darkness of the night was interrupted by an explosion of celestial, white light and a strong, virulent force. Sesshomaru, though mystified at what he saw, fought his way to Kikyo and protected her with his body as the wicked souls, now purified, escaped and soared into the air, only to disappear as they neared the clouds. He watched with anger and pure astonishment as Naraku's body began to disappear. He could hear Kikyo whimper beneath him, horrified and overwhelmed by the light. Inuyasha had leapt down from his perch as well and was huddled beside the rocks near his brother and sister, his hair dancing in the wind created. He reached for Kikyo's hand to reassure her, and when they at last met, they held on tightly.

"When does this stop?" Inuyasha shouted above the rush. Kikyo looked toward Inuyasha, feeling distressed even as Sesshomaru draped his body over her to keep her safe.

Minutes passed before at last the wind died down, and Sesshomaru collapsed on top of Kikyo, releasing a relieved sigh. Inuyasha was the first to stand, albeit uncertainly, and began surveying the skies for the departed souls. No remnants of Naraku remained.

"Where do they go?" Inuyasha asked as Sesshomaru climbed off of Kikyo and helped her up.

"Beyond," she muttered absently, dusting off her nightgown. She turned to Sesshomaru and buried herself in his arms.

"You were afraid?" her husband asked. Kikyo remained silent, nuzzling his chest lovingly as he watched in confusion. Inuyasha frowned as well.

"No, but I..." Kikyo drifted off. "I... I'm just glad it's over."

"Me too!" Inuyasha agreed, instantly lightening the mood. Kikyo separated from Sesshomaru awkwardly, and he took her bow and arrows for her, guiding her back to the estate. As the breeze picked up, Kikyo shivered again, the light hairs on her legs bristling. She couldn't stand the chill anymore, and dashed to the estate ahead of the brothers, who continued on silently without a word.

"What do you make of all that eternity stuff Kikyo was talking about?" Inuyasha asked.

"What?"

"You know, when she was talking to Naraku," Inuyasha explained. "Said that the truth would 'bind' her to him forever. What does that mean?" Sesshomaru growled, recalling his fury upon hearing those words leave Kikyo's lips.

"She had a soft spot for him, pity."

"But-"

"And even though she sees the monster he's become, she can't help but remember him as that twisted fool with the burns covering his body. Somehow he's still a victim to her." Inuyasha was silent for a while as he churned this over in his head.

"You've known about this all along," he concluded. "That's why you despise Onigumo so much."

"Yes."

"But you know," Inuyasha continued. "Now she's officially chosen you. Not that she would have fallen in love with him, but she's chosen to completely abandon all feelings of pity and mercy in exchange for love from you. That's good, right?" The dog lord remained silent.

When Sesshomaru finally arrived at the bedroom he shared with Kikyo, she already had a warm fire going, and she sat before it on a small cushion on the floor. She looked up at her husband innocently as he set her things by the door, taking note of the look in his eyes. Sesshomaru couldn't resist admiring his young bride, the warm glow from the fire on her skin, her black hair radiant, and the thin, silk negligee she was wearing were all very inspiring. Her body was both strong, and delicate, and she grew so soft and tender in his arms, demure. A part of her almost feared him, his experience, but craved it at the same time. This strange, blossoming woman was his now. He had gone through such great lengths to claim his priestess, and such a wonderful, powerful priestess she was. Mentally gorging himself on the way he planned to reward her that night for the choice she had made, he approached Kikyo, who stared up at him with a puzzled smile, and held out his hand to her. Kikyo took it and stood, kicking the pillow away from the fireplace.

"What are you thinking of?" she whispered. Sesshomaru didn't say anything, simply took her lips in his and kissed her hungrily. Kikyo succumbed at first, but pulled away, insistent.

"All of the trouble you've caused me," Sesshomaru replied. Kikyo smiled.

"But it's over now," she said, pouting. "Until next time. And we have so much fun." Her husband rose an eyebrow.

"We have a long, long life ahead of us," he told her. "And great responsibility." He licked his lips, starving for that reward he wished to give her, and he could tell she knew. Kikyo's eyes sparkled with mischief as she slowly slipped out of her negligee and headed for their bed. He followed her unhindered.

"I'm not worried about those things," Kikyo said as Sesshomaru leaned over her and began kissing her neck. "I trust you."

"You are mine," Sesshomaru growled in her ear. "No one will take you from me."

"I'd never leave you, Sesshomaru," Kikyo whispered, hugging him warmly against her. "I love you." Sesshomaru didn't speak, but instead began gently kissing the scars he'd left in her shoulder. Mine.


A/N: Um... no one say anything about where I've been (because clearly it was not here). I apologize for collapsing into... elsewhere. But I finished! Thanks for all of your support, everyone!