Kikyo wandered aimlessly through the woods, her soul collectors trailing beside her like loyal dogs. This cold and lonely path was not chosen by her; merely fate dictated how she had died. But she had accepted it. She accepted how much more desolate her heart felt. Kikyo accepted that she couldn't be with the man that she loved. They were two worlds apart.

She lifted her chin to the endless sky of dark blue. Although a new morning would come, Kikyo knew she'll always be tied down to the darkness. That the night had consumed her and taken the light from her life. She pondered on how it would feel to be up there among the Buddha. Then she recalled how she sustained this incomplete body; with souls of innocent women. Her head tilted downward to face the ground.

"I am a priestess but I don't belong among the honorable." Kikyo knew her place. That fear of dying kept her from ending her accursed existence. Selfishness drove her to keep walking. Inuyasha drove her to keep trying to live a life that was now beyond her reach.

Gently she cradled the head of a soul collector. It's tail wrapped around her body like white ribbon. "Please forgive my selfish ambition." She murmured.

The soul only went inside of her as a response.

Kagome stretched in delight beside the river. The sun was bright and the day held a sense of peace that alleviated her. Everyone was relaxed, chewing the cooking that she had worked on so ardently the night before. It gave her a sense of accomplishment to provide them with delicacies that blew their minds. It wasn't often that they ate 'like kings' as Miroku would say.

"Once again you have made a delectable meal, Kagome." Miroku smiled.

"Yeah, it's nice to eat like this." Sango agreed. "We appreciate you making it for us."

Kagome beamed at their gratitude. "I'm glad you like it. If there's anything else you'd like, just let me know before you leave again."

"How about some buns?" Miroku suggested, touching Sango's rear. She gasped, stiffening at the intimate caress. Her body shook with excitement and anger as she proceeded to give him a hard slap across the cheek.

"Don't you ever get tired of that?" She raged.

"No, I could never get tired of touching you, Sango." Miroku still smiled despite how much his face stung.

"That's not what I meant, you sleazy monk. If you keep this up, your face is gonna fall off."

"This pain is well worth that risk."

Inuyasha and Shippo looked on, blinking all the while.

Kagome put a hand to her face. Miroku's interest was too direct. Kagome knew that Sango resisted because she didn't want to look easy. 'Maybe that's the only way he knows how to show her.' She concluded.

"Idiot," Shippo muttered, shaking his head.

"And he just doesn't know when to stop." Inuyasha added. Kagome gazed at him. Sensing her stare, Inuyasha turned to her in annoyance. "Hey, Kagome, is there any reason why you're staring at me?"

Clueless as usual, Kagome thought. She sighed. How much more obvious can she be for him to take the hint? "No reason." Kagome knew that he still harbored feelings for Kikyo. That's why she couldn't make a move. Her biggest apprehension was that he still preferred Kikyo over her. That would hurt more than anything.

"You're so weird." Inuyasha replied, standing up. "Anyway we better get going."

"So soon?" Kagome asked. "We just ate and we've been traveling for days. Don't you think we should rest for a while?"

"Does Naraku ever rest?" Inuyasha retorted, crossing his arms. There was that fire in his eyes that sent a shiver up her spine. It was intense. It was meant for Kikyo. Ever since he discovered that Kikyo was killed by Naraku, Inuyasha had that burning desire to avenge her death.

Kagome stood up, fists at her sides. She didn't like that she couldn't be the person that made Inuyasha aspire for such a meaningful goal. However, she knew it couldn't be helped. All that mattered to her was helping him achieve that goal; no matter how much it hurt. "You're right. We better go."

Suddenly her pulse quickened and she gasped as a wave of power vibrated through her. It roared through her with the intensity of a lion. Such tremendous power could only belong to, "Naraku." She breathed. "He's coming this way and he's coming fast!"

Kirara was enveloped in flames, multiplying in size. By her side, Sango readied her weapon. Shippo stood in front of them, a ball of fire floating about his palm. Miroku loosened up the prayer beads that sealed his wind tunnel. And Inuyasha stood in front of Kagome, allowing her a moment to pull herself together.

A purple mist trailed down from the sky and Naraku materialized before them. He smirked sadistically at the people he took great joy in victimizing time and time again. A deep chuckle escaped his lips. "It's been a while, Inuyasha."

"Naraku," Inuyasha growled. With a furious tug, he unsheathed Tetsaiga. "Are you done playing hide and seek? Because we've grown sick of your cowardice!"

"Cowardice," Naraku echoed. He harrumphed at the accusation. "I do not possess such a measly trait. It takes time to contemplate how to be a step ahead of you fools. And I say I've been doing that pretty well."

"What do you want from us?" Kagome asked.

"I want you, Kagome." Naraku responded. All it took was a raise of his hand to have Shippo running behind Miroku in fear. A gust of wind pushed Inuyasha back. The Tetsaiga was thrusted into the ground to prevent him from being blown away.

"Hold onto me, Kagome!" Kagome shouted. She complied, her arms tight about his waist.

"Miroku," Sango called. In response, he tossed her his spiritual staff. Swerving her body around, she let out a roar as her Hiraikotsu soared out of her hands and towards Naraku. That assail made Naraku move to the left in lightning speed to evade it. In turn, the wind dispersed.

"Thanks!" Inuyasha yelled, picking up his sword. "Adamant Barrage!" He shouted, sending hundreds of spears towards Naraku. Within seconds, each one pierced through his body. Inuyasha grinned at the lack of a barrier. "Looks like you've lost your touch, Naraku!" With the utmost confidence, he charged at Naraku. Sango and Miroku joined him, jumping onto Kirara's back when Naraku reappeared floating above the ground. Kagome reached for an arrow and was about to adjust it on her bow before she froze. An ominous presence lurked behind her. It was Naraku.

She saw his face for a split second and then blacked out.

Shippo witnessed in horror as Naraku disappeared into thin air with Kagome in his possession. He screamed, gaining everyone's attention. Once they turned to face Shippo, the demon puppet melted into the ground. "Naraku has Kagome! He used a demon puppet to distract us!" He panicked, making his way onto Miroku's shoulder.

"Damn it. I got carried away…" Inuyasha cursed, jamming his sword into the ground. He tightened his hold on it, growling in antipathy. 'How could I have been so careless?' He thought, cursing himself. He vowed that he'd protect her from Naraku; from sharing the same downfall as Kikyo did.

"Don't be so hard on yourself, Inuyasha." Sango soothed. "We were all duped."

"I can't sense his presence." Miroku informed. "What do you suggest we do now, Inuyasha?"

Before he could reply, a small tornado made its way over to them. It dissipated to reveal Koga. "Was Naraku here? I caught his scent and…" He noticed Inuyasha defeated expression and that Kagome wasn't there. His head oscillated as he put two and two together. Koga's eyes narrowed in disdain. "Where's Kagome? He took her, didn't he?" He snarled at Inuyasha. Silence was his only response. Letting out a growl, Koga grabbed a fistful of Inuyasha's red robe and shook him. "You're too weak! Kagome is always getting into some kind of trouble. All because of you."

"That's enough, Koga. Nobody's to blame here but Naraku." Miroku reasoned, attempting to separate them. It was to no avail because he was roughly pushed away by Koga.

"I'm tired of seeing you walk all over her like she's some rebound for that Kikyo woman! She deserves better. She deserves a man like me, one who will love her and no one else. And one who will protect her from scum like Naraku."

Finally Inuyasha shoved Koga off of him. Koga stumbled back and caught himself before he could fall. He faced Inuyasha, who glared at him. "And you think you're any better? You damn scrawny wolf. Unlike you, I've got better things to do than argue. I'm going to go save Kagome." With that, he ran off.

A wave of sadistic power coursed through her. Kikyo slowly turned around to the cave she passed. "Naraku," she realized. She stood stagnant for a moment, contemplating her next move. 'Why are you making your presence ostensible? Is this another one of your traps?' Kikyo stared hard, sensing Kagome. 'No matter. Trap or not, I can't pass up the opportunity to eliminate you once and for all.' She concluded, sauntering into the cave.

The cave was dimly lit. Kikyo looked up and saw a pack of bats huddled above her as she passed through a thin corridor. They were dormant, reminding her of her ageless existence. Kikyo ignored the nostalgia that came over her and approached Naraku as he came into view. Kagome lay unconscious on a human-sized spider web beside him.

"Kikyo, how nice of you to come."

"Quit the cordial mockery, Naraku, and tell me what you're after."

"I see you're still pining after your beloved Inuyasha." Naraku smirked, satisfied to see that he hit a nerve. "You walk the Earth by your lonesome, constantly reminded that the man you love had fallen for your descendant, Kagome Higarashi."

In one swift move, Kikyo positioned her arrow onto her bow. "You are mistaken."

"Am I?"

"Yes, I exist merely to destroy you Naraku. Nothing more, nothing less."

"How delusional you are, Kikyo. I recall that you and Inuyasha were once lovers and that you'd bestow him the Sacred Jewel in order for him to become a human. Such trust held in that promise can only be that of love. Or have your feelings changed? Do you not wish to walk among the living again?"

"That is trivial."

"You won't have to deny yourself any longer, Kikyo. For I have a way for you to live; to be with Inuyasha again." Naraku regarded Kagome with a wave of his hand. "I can use the power of the Sacred Jewel to let your soul transfer into Kagome's body. That way you'll get what you most desire."

Kikyo hesitated to speak. It was a rather tempting offer although she was aware that there was a catch. Naraku was trying to manipulate her and muddle her judgment. That was his forte; using other people to get what he wants. Kikyo was positive that she'd become his obedient slave just as the boy Kohaku had. But wouldn't it be worth it if Inuyasha only saw her? If his eyes, heart, body, and soul belong to her again? Then he'd be able to rescue her from this eternal damnation.

"Why do you hesitate? Just go with what you desire the most."

"With pleasure."

Kikyo took languid steps to Naraku. She held a hand out to him and used the other to stab him with an arrow. "You thought I'd give into you." Kikyo stated, hearing him draw a sharp breath in pain. "Finally I got you where I want you." The Shikon Jewel – nearly whole – fell at her feet. Kikyo acted fast to pick it up and take several jumps back from Naraku. Her touch was enough to purify the tainted Shikon Jewel, which she stuffed into her pocket. "Prepare to be consumed by the flames of hell, Naraku." Kikyo sneered before shooting an arrow at him. In the nick of time, he saved himself by disappearing. The ominous aura that lingered in the air vanished as well. Kikyo took a deep breath, retrieving the jewel from her pocket. She made no move to help when Kagome fell to the ground, no longer confined in Naraku's web.

The jewel mystified her. It held such tremendous power. It could make anyone's wish come true, even hers.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha's voice echoed with such worry. Kikyo turned to face him, her chest heating with warmth. She made him stop dead in his tracks. His attention was hers, but only until he saw Kagome. Inuyasha ran to her aid. The heat in Kikyo's chest was replaced with a harsh blizzard. Inuyasha had looked past her. Kikyo closed her eyes and began to walk over to them.

"Give this to Kagome when she wakes up." Kikyo ordered, handing Inuyasha the jewel. Once more, she turned her back to him and left.

"Inuyasha…" Kagome woke up to see his alleviated face above her. Slowly she sat up, recognizing their surroundings as Kaede's place.

"Are you all right, Kagome?" Inuyasha asked, putting a hand on each of her shoulders.

"I am now." She smiled, leaning against his chest.

"That's good to hear." Inuyasha murmured. He held her tightly. "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry about?"

"I almost lost you again…all because I was too careless. Besides I haven't been so great to you anyway…"

"What are you talking about?" Kagome asked. Her voice trembled a bit because he sounded so serious. About her. "You're very kind to me, Inuyasha."

"But I…I've hurt you more than Naraku ever could." He pulled away to cup her cheek. She blushed at the contact. "It took some scolding from that scrawny wolf to make me realize it too. Why don't you ever tell me that I'm mistreating you?"

"Because you don't." Kagome replied, simply.

"Don't lie. Doesn't it hurt you whenever Kikyo comes into the picture? Aren't you displeased by how badly I handle that?"

"Inuyasha, I could never hold that against you. I know that you still…" Kagome looked away, her heart aching. "…love her." She felt his hands gently tug her face. The next thing she knows he is kissing her. It filled her with a zeal that set her whole body ablaze. With her eyes wide, she faced him when their kiss ended.

"I used to love her. And yeah, I still have feelings for her, but those feelings…I've thought about it and I realized that I love how she used to be. There's no way to go back to that and…I've come to accept that. The longer I'm with you, Kagome, the more I think about the future. I think about how dumb it is to get all gloomy about the past. It's all over and one with. And I've learned from it. I've learned that I need to do all I can to keep those I care about safe. I fight hard to protect you, Kagome, because losing you would just…" The words died in his throat when Kagome kissed him.

"I know it's been hard on you. I'm glad I could make it less painful."

"Oh, Kagome."

They embraced for a long while.