Kiss Me Goodbye

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha.

A/N: This story follows along with most of the events of the final season of Inuyasha – but there are several points of divergence. It addresses some of my feelings about the anime, not the manga – the opening sentence in this story wasn't made in the manga, only in the anime. Still, I always felt a little let down about the lack of real resolution of the triangle between Kikyou, Kagome, and Inuyasha. There was just some things that happened, in the anime especially, that I felt were a slap to Kagome's face... and I wanted to explore a slightly alternate way that things might have happened, due to that. I just think there was a lot of angst there that should have been explored - on Kagome's part.

Hopefully, people will see what I'm talking about as this takes shape. It will not be a long story, probably no more than two chapters, around 16-17 thousand words, but maybe those two chapters will entertain. Though, there is a possibility that it might go to a third chapter... who knows.

However, this one I am not going to rush. It will come as it comes, and as the plot is going to be somewhat involved, especially later, it's going to take more thought. Please understand and have patience with that – this story is proving dear to me, and I will not compromise it just to post fast.

Amber

Chapter 1

"I wanted to protect her forever."

Kagome could feel the pain and longing in the words that Inuyasha uttered that kept echoing through her mind, still – even weeks later. Kikyou had finally died, once again, at Naraku's hands, and though the hanyou was the most grief-stricken... he wasn't the only one who was hurting.

But that didn't really matter anymore, because despite the fact that Kikyou's death had hurt her badly in a different way, the truth was that the pain caused by his pain was even worse. The whole thing had made her susceptible to Kaou, and if she wasn't able to find a way to deal with it soon, it could very well taint her heart and render her unable to purify the Shikon no Tama.

That was a thought that terrified her. Since her only real use to anyone on this side of the well was her ability to find the shards, which was no longer needed, as all shards were accounted for, and her ability to purify them, she was afraid to lose her last reason for being here. She only had one purpose left in this era, and if she couldn't fulfill even that responsibility, then she would be of no value to her friends whatsoever anymore.

Plus, she'd promised Kikyou that she'd finish what Kikyou herself had been unable to, and she wouldn't leave this world without fulfilling that promise.

There was simply no room for failure.

Downcast, thoughts going in pointless circles in her mind, Kagome continued to trudge along behind the rest of the group, not really paying any attention to her surroundings as the rest of the group also seemed lost in their reflections. This day's travel had truly been made mostly on autopilot – and that was especially notable in their hanyou leader.

With a pained and saddened inward sigh, Kagome glanced at him, then, wincing at his far-away stare, she scrunched up her face and looked away, not wanting anyone to catch her looking at him. She needed to distance herself from him – it was the only way to keep her heart intact at this point. The moment that she had heard those words from him, all her dreams had come crashing down, and she had realized that Inuyasha wasn't hers... and never would be.

He had wanted to protect, and be with, Kikyou – forever. That pretty much said it all... after all, if he'd had the opportunity to keep Kikyou at his side, forever, she, Kagome, would never have been born.

Couldn't be much more blunt than that, really... while he might care about her as a friend, he would rather have Kikyou with him. And as much as it hurt, she could understand.

That didn't mean that it wasn't killing her, but even so, with all her heart, she wished she could find a way to take away his hurt. A way to give him his wish... his wish...

She didn't notice that she'd stopped in the middle of the road as her eyes widened, and she became completely concentrated on the idea that had just occurred to her, nor did she realize that she'd paled dramatically, surprising her companions into stopping, as well, as they turned concerned gazes on her.

Wish... it's Inuyasha's wish to have Kikyou with him forever. And that's what the Shikon is for – wishing. Her brow furrowed in fierce concentration. But... it's supposed to be the right wish. If it isn't, then the tama won't disappear. And I can bet bringing Kikyou back to life isn't exactly the right wish. Then there's the whole thing about the stupid jewel not actually granting your true wish. It gives you a corrupted version of it, but that's not what I want.

She huffed in irritation, then, and absently started walking again, still not noticing that she'd been at a standstill, or that her friends were all staring at her with confused expressions.

But if I could find a way... I could at least do something for him, to make him happy. Sadness permeated her scent again, at that thought, and she clenched her eyes closed for a moment, to keep the tears in at the knowledge that no matter what, his happiness was going to cost her her own – and probably her very life. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make, though... if she could find a way to do so, and with that knowledge firmly planted in her mind, she squared her shoulders and firmed her determination.

After all, I always want Inuyasha to be happy – and maybe that's why I was born. Maybe I was what the kami needed to fix everything so he could be happy. In that case... I'm a tool, and was never meant to be with him, anyway. In some strange way, I'm like the tama – I'm here to make sure he gets his wish, and it's here to grant his wish. If I can figure out how...

Her face crumpled then, the pain hitting all at once, even as some part of herself tried to find the comfort in knowing he would be happy, if she could just find a way to pull it off. The thought that she would be the one to enable him to finally be happy was suddenly her only comfort... and she clung to it like a frightened child, even as her awareness returned to the outside world, and she valiantly held back her tears, not wanting to disturb the others' ruminations.

She flinched when Inuyasha's voice popped up from right next to her, not having realized that he'd moved up to walk with her. "Oi," he asked softly, "what's wrong, wench?" With a sharp glance at her when she didn't answer right away, he finished with, "Don't try to tell me nothing, either. You're scent's been all over the place today, and I know all too well what that means."

Studiously refusing to really look at him, she shook her head. "Just thinking about some of the things that have happened lately," she said, trying to pass it off casually. "That's all. Besides... why are you asking me that, when everyone's been preoccupied today, even Shippo?"

Highly bothered that she was refusing to look at him, he growled under his breath. "Keh! Because the rest of us might have been thinkin' 'bout stuff, but weren't none of us cryin'!"

She looked startled at that. "I wasn't!"

He reached out a clawed finger and gently swiped it across her cheek, then presented the now damp appendage for her inspection. "Oh, really?" he asked, voice full of irony. "Then what do ya call this? Rain?"

She frowned at him, then reached her own hand up and wiped her cheek before pulling the hand back to stare at it, completely surprised to see and feel the wet there. "I-" she shook her head in denial, "-didn't realize... but, it's nothing. Just forget it. I guess I'm just tired."

"Nope... not buyin' it, wench," he growled. "Dammit, Kagome, I can't protect you if you hide stuff that's bothering you, or haven't you figured that out yet? Feh – Kikyou did the same thing, and look what it got her," he said, suddenly angry.

He caught the almost violent flinch at that, and the fact that she'd completely turned her face away, staring at the ground like it'd disappear if she looked away for even a second, sent Inuyasha's instincts screaming that something was definitely wrong. Normally, the little miko didn't hide anything - from him, at least.

Of course, he thought, with sarcasm directed solely at himself, it hadn't been too bright to bring up Kikyou, as he could smell Kagome's scent go completely cold, and her aura as well. Well, fuck – I just had to go stick my whole fuckin' leg in my mouth this time – hell, if I keep this up, I might end up swallowing the damn thing.

He tried to salvage the conversation from the huge pit that was his own big mouth. "Why are you all of a sudden trying to hide shit from me, wench? That's not like you, and I don't like it. Tell me what's wrong," he insisted. He scowled when he looked over at her, only to find her ignoring his attempts to get through to her.

What the hell is wrong with her? I...guilt flooded through him at his remembrance of what had happened with Kaou.

"This girl's soul has a magnificent flavor! She's even more wounded than you... and the cause of her pain is-"

Keh. Kagome managed to cut him off there, but I was a stubborn, blind fool not to notice that Kikyou's death had hurt her, too. She wanted to save her, but couldn't, and I know that really bothers her. She always takes everything on herself – but she can't save the world, any more than one person can. Kikyou's death wasn't her fault...

He wondered if that was what was wrong with her now. Knowing her, it probably was.

"Kagome..." he sighed, "you know Kikyou's death wasn't your fault, don't you?"

He didn't miss the way she stiffened, nor the scent of anguish, anger, sadness, and guilt that suddenly flooded the air around her. She felt unworthy. "If I had been stronger, then she would still be here for you to protect, Inuyasha," she said quietly, but with a bitterness that was obvious. "I was too weak... just like you always said. It should have been me that died that day – me being here only endangers the mission, because next to Kikyou I'm practically powerless."

She turned her face to the sky, and he noted the tight lines etched into the skin around her eyes – lines showing just how tense she really was. "But I'm all that's left, and I promised Kikyou I would see this battle through to the end. I mean to keep that promise – no matter what the cost," she said with a finality that immediately had warning bells going off in his mind.

His eyes narrowed as he looked down at her. "I don't think I like the way you said that, Kagome," he said suspiciously.

She just shook her head wearily. "What will be, will be, Inuyasha, and there's nothing you can do about it. So don't worry about it anymore, okay?" she asked, still not looking at him.

Keh! Now I really don't like what she's sayin'. She looks like she's ready to give up... maybe we've been pushing too hard. Hell, so much has happened in the last few weeks, and we haven't had a moment of downtime.

"Kagome... maybe... do you need to go home, or something? It's been a while since you were there," he offered, not liking the look of her, and hoping to take her mind off whatever it was that was bothering her – he scowled – which she still hadn't told him what it was, exactly, that was doing so. "Didn't you say your 'entrance exams' were coming up soon, anyway?"

Kagome shot him a surprised look, and nodded. "Yeah..." not that it's going to matter if I... manage to do what it is I'm thinking of doing... "Next week, I think. I'm kinda losing track, I'd have to look at my calender to see for sure."

He folded his arms into his sleeves, and called back over his shoulder to the other members of the group. "Oi, everyone – do any of you have any objection to heading back to Kaede's tomorrow? Kagome has to go home soon, and we should all get a little rest, too."

There were murmurs of surprise from the three walking along behind them, but nothing negative, and finally, Inuyasha nodded. "Good. Then it's settled. Tomorrow, we head back."

Kagome didn't say anything to his offer, and she could only hope he hadn't noticed, because she was in no way up for any more questioning.

But I don't think we're gonna get back to Kaede's so easily...

For some reason, her senses were trying to warn her.

I just wish I knew what they were trying to warn me about. Heh... Kikyou probably would have been able to tell – but I can't even do that.

She looked up at the sky... Kikyou, I think you chose the wrong person to put your faith in – I don't think I can be what you need me to be. But... I'll do it – or die trying, I swear.

I won't let even my own feelings get in the way.

-sSs-

Dammit!

Inuyasha swung Tessaiga again, anger, fear, and frustration egging him on even through his exhaustion. But just as every time before, the barrier around the shrine of Hitomiko would not come down, and finally, he slumped, feelings of helplessness and rage weighing him down so much that he could barely even lift his head anymore.

I've just gotten past losing one woman I loved, and now I'm faced with losing the other?

Kagome...

He desperately blinked back tears, not wanting to let them fall – he couldn't allow himself to cry, because crying meant she was gone.

He refused to believe it. He couldn't lose her...

Fight, wench! I know you can do it – you're the only one of all of us who has come within a hairs-breadth of destroying that bastard, and that was back in the beginning! You're stronger now! Just don't give up – you have to come back to me in one piece...

Don't let Naraku win! Whatever scheme he's using that dead miko for, I know you can win. I know you can! Look what you did to Kaou, woman.

"Come back to me, Kagome – you have to come back to me," he murmured, not even caring if the others heard him. They had been out here all night waiting, and morning had come again, and his patience was gone.

He knew that whatever was happening inside the shrine, Kagome was still alive and fighting at this point – or else Naraku would have already appeared to gloat about defeating her. But it didn't help – he wanted her out here with him, where he could protect her like he hadn't been able to do with Kikyou. He feared every second would be her last, and he knew that he would never be able to go through a goodbye with Kagome like he'd gone through with Kikyou.

They'd been through so much in the last few weeks since Kikyou had passed on – Kaou, fighting Kanna and her mirror, Tessaiga gaining the Meidou from Tenseiga, and he and Sesshoumaru's battle inside it, that there had been little time to talk – and clear some things up between them. There was a lot they needed to talk about, and he found himself, for the first time ever, praying that Kagome would come out of that shrine alive and well – so that they could have that long talk.

He was so lost in his thoughts and fears that when the barrier finally did fall, he stared at it, stunned, for a moment, before leaping up the last steps followed by the others, and onto the shrine grounds, intent on finding Kagome, now.

Haunted eyes met his from the wooden floor she was kneeling on, holding the released body of Hitomiko, when he and the group came flying around the corner, and he skidded to a halt before her.

"Kagome, are you okay?" he asked, almost frantically as he took in the rather wounded look in her gaze. He was worried – she appeared dazed, as though something she hadn't expected had happened.

She nodded after a moment, and looked down at the body of the priestess she'd wanted so badly to save. The only consolation in the whole thing was that, as Sango pointed out, she had the most peaceful look on her face, and Kagome knew she'd at least managed to save her from eternal torment in hell.

The moment the grateful villagers had seen them on their way, Inuyasha was demanding to know what had happened.

"Keh – I want to hear it all, Kagome. Everything that happened," he said. "Where'd you go when she pulled you into the shrine? Because for having been there all night, your scent was really faint there."

With a sigh, she looked at him for a moment, then her gaze dropped to stare at the bow she had clutched tightly in her hand. This bow... I used it to save Hitomiko, but I couldn't save Kikyou.

Shaking her head to clear it when Inuyasha prompted her angrily, she continued to stare at the bow. "I went to hell," she murmured, so low he almost didn't hear it. But he did, and he came to a shocked halt for a moment, his jaw dropping as he sputtered, trying to say something coherent from the mess that was his mind in that moment.

"W-what?" he whispered. "What did you say?"

The entire group came to a halt at the sight of Inuyasha's shock, eyeing Kagome uncertainly as they wondered what she could possibly have said to have their normally ill-tempered hanyou leader so stunned.

Kagome finally tore her gaze from the bow, and looked up into the sky, staring into the wild blue yonder as though she could see all the answers of life there. "I said, I went to hell. It was all a trap by Naraku. He wanted me to use the bow to destroy Hitomiko, but if I had, then my heart would have been corrupted, and I wouldn't be able to purify the shikon anymore, because I'd have killed someone else just to save myself. Or, on the other hand, I could refuse to attack Hitomiko, and simply die, staying in hell forever. For Naraku, it was a win/win situation."

Sango stared at her, just as shocked as Inuyasha. "But... then how did you save her – and yourself...?"

An enigmatic smile crossed her face. "I went to hell with her." She cast a glance at a suddenly shifty-eyed Inuyasha – that statement hit way too close to home... since he'd once intended to go to hell with Kikyou.

"Perhaps the correct question would be, how did you come back, Kagome?" Miroku asked.

She turned and continued walking; the rest of the group hurried then, to catch up, a silent Shippo hitching a ride on Miroku's shoulder.

"I had to remember something from when I was a kid. She set me a riddle, and I figured it out. Then I used the spiritual power in the bow, combined with mine, to create a new attack – and I destroyed the part of Naraku that was controlling her, without hurting her." She shrugged. "She told me something, though, at the end... she said that most of my powers are sealed. That they didn't appear until the very instant that my arrow left the bow. So, something is sealing me... and I wonder if it was... Kikyou."

Inuyasha blinked, then frowned at her. "Oi, why would Kikyou do that?" he snapped defensively.

Kagome chuckled inwardly, a hollow sound in her mind. I guess in some ways he's still protecting her, eh?

"I don't think it was deliberate, Inuyasha," she murmured. "I think... it was her feelings in the instant that she died, the first time. Wanting to take the shikon with her so it wouldn't ever hurt anyone else, she tried to seal it, but when it was born in me again, well, I was sealed instead... That is, of course, if it was her. I can't figure out anyone else it would be, though... except Naraku, but he couldn't have done that across a gulf of five hundred years."

Inuyasha didn't know what to make of any of it. "So... wait. You're telling me that all of this time, the powers that you've shown are just the smallest part of what you really have? That the rest is all sealed away?"

Kagome nodded slowly, not meeting anyone's eyes. "Yeah... that's what Hitomiko said."

Everyone of the group walking along stared at her in awed shock, almost unable to fathom such. After all, though she was untrained, her powers had always been pretty strong, and she'd even almost completely destroyed Naraku back in the beginning – with one arrow. None of the rest of them, including Inuyasha himself, had ever come so close to doing so.

Kagome... Inuyasha couldn't even fathom what she was saying – and the whole 'went to hell' thing was just so wrong, that he couldn't bring himself to think about it. Kagome had no business ever being in such a place. She just didn't.

After a few minutes of silent walking, Shippo popped up with, "Kagome... what was hell like?"

Inuyasha was ready to pound the little twerp for even asking such a thing and making her remember that, but Kagome spoke up instantly, answering his question, though her gaze had gone far away again. "Well, it hurt. I was burning, but not burning. It was a spiritual fire – it burned my soul. I could barely think, and there was so much torment and... pain," she said sadly. "That's what Hitomiko was feeling. Despair, and sadness, too."

"Keh!" Inuyasha waved his fist threateningly at Shippo. "That's enough with those kinda questions, you stupid little brat! Why would Kagome want to think about things like that, huh?"

Her expression became closed off, then, and she said, "It's okay, Inuyasha. He was just curious – most people would be." She flicked a quick glance his way as Shippo stuck out his tongue at the hanyou. Aren't you the least bit curious?" She chuckled. "And it's so ironic – you were the one planning to go to hell with Kikyou, and yet, I'm the one that went, with someone else. Heh. The kami have a weird sense of humor, don't they?"

He scowled at her, not liking the odd mood she'd been in for the last several days. Even before Hitomiko – since that day she'd been crying absently as they walked, and not even realized she was. He was worried... this kind of mood wasn't normal for her, and he wondered what she had on her mind that was depressing her so badly.

"Oi, wench, stop talkin' like that. You've been acting weird for almost a week, now, and you still haven't told me what the problem is." He eyed her narrowly as she opened her mouth to speak, and cut her off. "And don't try to fob me off with bullshit about how we all have stuff on our minds! None of us are acting like you!" he growled.

She took a half-step back, coming to a halt as she watched him uncertainly. "Inuyasha, what the heck is your problem with me lately? You're always staring at me and giving me these looks – like I failed you or something. Do you really blame me for Kikyou dying? Is that it?" she cried, guilt lining her features sharply.

He stared at her, mouth hanging open, aghast that she would think that. "No! If anyone failed to protect her, it was me, again – and it's Naraku's fault she's dead, not yours! You did what she told you to do, and more than most people would have done, and I know that. So did she," he sighed, looking away. "She knew that you wanted to help her, and protect her. And so did I."

"Then why? Why do you keep looking at me that way?" she whispered.

Sango wanted so badly to say something, but Miroku stuck out a hand and pulled her back towards him gently. "No, Sango. This is something between just the two of them that they must work out on their own."

She bit her lip, but nodded tentatively, though she had every intention of talking to her friend the first chance she got. She had to find out what Kagome was really thinking – before something irrevocable was done.

"... worried about you! You have this look all the time now like you aren't really here – like you're going far away, and I don't like it!" was what she came back to, Inuyasha's voice desperate, afraid – and angry.

"Inu-" Kagome started to say, but once again, he interrupted.

"No! I know something's wrong, Kagome, and you should just tell me." He looked down miserably, then. "I have to protect you – I promised, remember?"

You remember your promise to me now, though... now that Kikyou is gone. Did you forget, Inuyasha? You promised to protect me before Kikyou came back – but once she came, you forgot that, and promised her. Now, because she's... She shook her head in sad denial... that's the only reason you remember. Because once she came, you only protected me when it wouldn't interfere with protecting her.

Eyes hazed by staring so hard into the past, she didn't even notice the others watching her so closely, nor Inuyasha's pained and worried expression.

But that was the way it had to be – because I chose to stay with you after you decided you had to protect her. After that, it meant I was responsible for protecting myself...

She sighed, and shook her head again. "When I came back through the well after you decided that your duty and your will was to protect Kikyou, I became responsible for myself. I know that you have saved me a lot, when it didn't interfere with your protection of Kikyou, and I'm grateful for that – but I've also protected you. That's just what friends do for each other." She looked up to find him staring at her, shocked. "But just because Kikyou's gone now, I won't be your burden. I won't let you take responsibility for me just because you think it's the only way you can honor your vow to protect Kikyou, since she still lives in me. I'm Kagome, not Kikyou. You can't honor your vow to her through me, Inuyasha."

With that, she turned and continued walking, leaving three astounded people, and one horrified person behind her. As she looked up over the ridge they were all coming over, she could see the village in the distance, and her pace quickened, wanting nothing more than to get there, so she could get ready to go back to her era.

After all, Inuyasha, did you think I forgot what Kaou said? I know you probably hope that I did, but... how can I? The woman you loved most in the world... you wanted to die so you could go with her. I know I called you back, but... it wasn't so much me, as your sense of responsibility to your friends. That's why I said what I did. So that you understand that you aren't responsible for me. You're free of any of that, so that when I bring Kikyou back for you...

You can be together without concern.

At least this way, though, you won't have to die to be with her.

You can live... both of you, like it should have always been.

-sSs-

Inuyasha stared at the wooden floor of Kaede's hut as he told her of Kikyou's final moments, too sad and guilty to look her in the face as he told her of his failure to save her from her onerous fate.

"You hurt, too, Inuyasha, about this," she said sadly.

He nodded dejectedly. "For me, it was inevitable."

Kaede sighed. "Yes. But my sister is no longer in pain – her suffering is over. I can only be thankful for that."

"Yeah."

"But I wonder..." she glanced at him sideways, only to find him with his arms hidden in his sleeves, and a weary look on his face. "I think that my sister passed all her duties to Kagome. Now that Kikyou has passed on again, everything is up to Kagome. I hope that she can fulfill all of that..."

Inuyasha flinched at that. I... yeah, I'm certain she did, too, and Kagome intends to finish this, like she said, no matter what. I don't know what passed between her and Kikyou before I got there, and now I wish I did. Because... I don't want Kagome to have those duties. They killed Kikyou... and I couldn't bear it if it happened to Kagome, too.

Kaede watched his thoughts pass across his face openly, and sighed. So much wickedness that came from the kindness – and naivety - of my sister's heart. Some – like Onigumo – are too wicked to be safe to help. She should have given him herbs to ease his pain, and then let him pass on – before all this happened.

"Where is Kagome, Inuyasha?" she asked. "From now on, she shouldn't be left alone, because with my sister gone, Naraku's focus will be on her, since she is the only one that can now purify the jewel, she is the most dangerous to him."

He scowled at that. "She's outside washing her clothes. He's already started coming after her, though. He killed another miko, and used her to try to get to Kagome to taint her heart." His brow furrowed thoughtfully, then. "That reminds me... that other miko told Kagome that most of her power was being sealed."

Blinking in surprise, Kaede stared at him for a moment. "Sealed?"

"Yeah. Kagome thinks it was Kikyou," he said quietly.

"No, that's not possible. Kikyou wanted Kagome to finish this – she wouldn't have passed on the bow from Mt. Azusa if she hadn't. There would have been no point to her doing such a thing if she had intended to seal Kagome's powers away from her."

"Then who could have done it?" Inuyasha asked, frustrated with everything going on – and the lack of answers to all the questions.

Kaede sat back on her heels, a contemplative look crossing her elderly face. "Well, I imagine it would have been the Shikon no Tama."

It was Inuyasha's turn to stare at her in surprise. "The Shikon no Tama?" he asked, incredulously.

"Yes. In the Shikon there are two opposing spirits – Naohi, the spirit of good, and Magatsuhi, the spirit of evil. I would imagine that Magatsuhi feared Kagome's powers, and sealed them when she was born, so that she couldn't purify him."

"So... the Shikon no Tama fears Kagome, eh?" he mused thoughtfully. "Keh – it should. Kagome's scary when she's mad, and she's pretty mad at all the suffering that stupid jewel has caused."

Kaede chuckled at that – it was the truth, after all. Kagome, for such a tiny, dainty thing, had quite the temper when riled, and pretty much feared nothing. It made her a formidable opponent under those circumstances – as Naraku had found out early in the game when she'd come so close to killing him for messing with her friends.

"She is, at that. But it is that fiery spirit which will carry her through when she needs it the most, Inuyasha, you just watch and see."

The hanyou nodded, and both fell silent, losing themselves in their thoughts.

There was, after all, a great deal to think about.

-sSs-

Later that afternoon, Kagome dressed herself happily back into her clothing, more than needing to get out of those miko robes. She hated wearing them... especially when Inuyasha might run into her. She didn't want to see that pained look in his eyes when he would see her in them.

It hurt that what he was seeing in that moment was Kikyou, and not Kagome.

I will always just be a reminder of what he doesn't have anymore, she thought sadly, before trying to push those thoughts away. Then she shook her head, frowning fiercely. It doesn't matter, though – haven't I already decided that I was brought here to fix things for Kikyou and Inuyasha? That's what I need to concentrate on.

Just then, before her thoughts could get any more morose, she stiffened as a horrible feeling surged over her... a feeling of such complete evil that she almost choked.

What...?

Miroku and Sango, with Shippo hanging on, came charging through the matting before she could do more than turn to face the doorway.

"Kagome, did you feel that, too?" Miroku asked urgently, and she nodded.

"Yes. I felt a really intense evil..." The kind you want to stay far away from.

"I think we should go investigate, Kagome. This is surely not a good sign," he said, giving all of them speaking glances.

"I think we should, too," Sango agreed. "Where's Inuyasha?"

"He stepped outside so I could change," Kagome said, moving to the edge of the wooden platform, and sitting down to yank her socks and shoes on.

Just then, he stepped into the hut as well, and within moments, the group was on their way, Kagome's trip home completely forgotten – for now.

They weren't expecting, however, the scene they came upon – Sesshoumaru being attacked by some new demon, even as that evil being was trying to shred his only remaining arm. They all panicked when they caught sight of that demon trying to taint Kohaku's shard – but no one more than Kagome.

The moment that Inuyasha severed the limb holding Sesshoumaru and Kohaku, the boy dropped, and Sango and Kagome both went running, Sango to assess his well-being, and Kagome to purify that shard once again. She couldn't allow Kikyou's light to go out.

"I'll purify the shard, Sango – that should wake him back up. He just passed out because of the taint." Sango nodded as she watched Kagome's warm blue aura reach out and enfold her brother, thankful that she had such a friend.

Kagome's mind, however, was on the new demon – and why he felt familiar. It felt as though she should know him, except she knew she'd never seen him before in her life. Turning her head as her aura automatically worked on purifying the shard, she stared at him, a frown on her face.

Is he really the one that tainted the shard? An incarnation of Naraku? But... something feels different...

Right at that moment, as though he could feel her gaze on him, he turned his head and met her gaze – and she could feel a pulse of evil so great, that it immediately overwhelmed her, and she blacked out, only one thought in her mind as the darkness came up to swallow her... Inuyasha!

"Kagome!"

"Kagome, are you alright?"

"Kagome!"

Inuyasha's attention was immediately pulled from the demon he was facing to his friends, rage taking him when he saw Kagome laying on the ground unconscious, and the weirdo in front of him staring at her with a nasty smirk on his face.

"Bastard! What did you do to Kagome?" he shouted.

His blood boiled when the fucker just laughed, and he completely missed his brother's words to his friends.

"Take Kohaku and leave," Sesshoumaru said, coming to a stop near Kagome and the others.

"Huh?" Sango asked.

"You are in my way."

He leaped, then, landing just behind his brother, and Inuyasha caught sight of his severely injured arm.

"Baka! This is no kind of fight to be in when you're hurt like that! Just leave this bastard to me – I owe him for whatever it was he did to Kagome!"

"It's all your fault," he heard Jaken shriek. The toad had been standing to the rear, watching. "It's because he gave the meidou to yo-"

"Shut up!" Inuyasha yelled, then fell silent as a wind began to pick up – a youki wind.

"It seems I have been underestimated," Sesshoumaru said. "For a half-demon to pity me... hmph!" he growled, and eyes suddenly going crimson, he held up his arm, and everyone watched on in awe as the wounds in it healed within mere seconds.

The demon grinned at that, and made to attack. "I guess that you're not done yet," he said, seemingly pleased to continue the fight.

To his surprise, however, though Sesshoumaru didn't even move 'til the last moment, he couldn't land a blow, as the Lord suddenly disappeared into an energy orb – and then transformed into his huge inu form, dropping down and tearing the demon's head from his body in one swift strike.

Still...

"I don't care if you tear this body to shreds," he laughed, his head, still caught in the great inu's teeth, staring at Inuyasha and the others jeeringly. "It's only borrowed, so..."

With a growl, Inuyasha yelled, "Who the hell are you?" getting pretty pissed at this demon that kept mocking them all.

Sending more tentacles from his decapitated body, the demon said, "Since you asked, I'll tell you. My name is Magatsuhi."

Inuyasha's eyes widened, and he gasped. "Magatsuhi?"

That's the one that Kaede said sealed Kagome!

-sSs-

A silent group made it's way back to Kaede's, all of them thinking over the awesome battle they'd seen as Sesshoumaru finally took his destiny into his hands – and gained his own sword, as well as his left arm back.

He had proven himself greater than his father on that day, and despite the fact that Magatsuhi had escaped, it was only a matter of time before Sesshoumaru caught up with him.

Kagome, however, wasn't thinking about that – since she'd pretty much missed the whole thing while being unconscious. Her mind was occupied with the one she now knew was Magatsuhi – the evil will of the jewel. And the fog that seemed to have penetrated her soul. She felt dazed, and unable to focus, and that fact had her uneasy – this was no time for something like this.

After all, she had to get going home once they got back to Kaede's, so she could take her exams, and she still had her responsibilities here, as well, though how she was supposed to do anything about those with her powers now totally sealed, she didn't have the first clue.

Maybe I'm just tired, she thought. We really haven't had any rest. Not that I'll get any of that at home, with all the studying and testing, and...

She sighed quietly. Plastering a fake smile on her face at her friends inquiring looks, she shook her head. "It's nothing. I'm just thinking about my exams, that's all! I've got to get going home, so I'll see you guys after I finish with them."

Sango and Miroku both eyed her with concern, but didn't say anything, simply waving her on as she turned to head towards the well while they themselves moved on to Kaede's, Kirara carrying a still-unconscious Kohaku. No surprise that Inuyasha followed on along behind Kagome – he'd barely let her out of his sight since that whole episode with Hitomiko.

And now that her powers were somehow sealed completely, things had gotten a lot worse.

She felt horrible that Kohaku was still unconscious, unable to awaken because his shard was corrupted... and she couldn't do a damn thing to help him. She felt like such a... a … failure.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't even notice Inuyasha following right behind her, nor did she notice the silence of the forest around them. It was overrun by the darkness shrieking in her mind.

After everything that's happened, I've failed to protect Kohaku's light. And the only way to get my powers back is for Sesshoumaru to find Magatsuhi, and destroy him, in that way breaking my seal. But there's no telling how long that will take... and I think the battle with Naraku will be decided soon.

Her shoulders slumped. I'm so sorry, Kikyou... I was right when I told you that you'd picked the wrong person to take over for you.

Forcing back the tears she so desperately wanted to cry, Kagome stared at the well for a few moments, then sighed, and jumped in.

All I can do now is hope that Sesshoumaru comes through so I can do what I need to do. What I was... born to do.

"Inuyasha," she whispered, as the time slip opened and took her away from the past.

She still hadn't realized that the object of her thoughts was right behind her – and had heard her dejected whisper.

Kagome... what's wrong with you? What's really on your mind?

-sSs-

Inuyasha watched through Kagome's bedroom window as she sat at her desk, studying, just as she always seemed to be doing when she came back through the well. Leaning back against the trunk of the great tree he was settled in, he folded his arms behind his head, and let his thoughts wander, now that Kagome was on this side of the well and safe.

It didn't take more than a few seconds of thinking, though, to have him scowling. And what the hell did she mean by spouting all that bullshit about it not being my responsibility to protect her the other day? Didn't she understand that when she asked to stay with me, and I agreed, even though I would have to protect Kikyou, that I was saying I would protect her, too? He huffed as his eyes narrowed angrily.

Baka woman. Like I'd let her wander around my world without my protection! Feh! Does she really think I only said I'd protect her because of Kikyou? How stupid can she be? I don't see her as Kikyou, and I know I can't keep my promise to Kikyou by saving her. I protect Kagome because I want to protect Kagome. That has nothing to do with Kikyou.

He knew he'd have to have a long talk with her about that one... he'd wanted to since the moment she'd said it, but they just hadn't had the chance – and it didn't help matters when she was seemingly trying to avoid him. It wasn't like she was running from him, or anything, of course, but she had just seemed to get more and more distant since Kikyou died, and then the whole mess with Kaou didn't help matters.

Keh. That vision... and the things he said to me. Did Kagome really take them to heart? I... yes, part of me did want to follow Kikyou for a moment – the part that was still trying to face our past. But most of me, only wanted peace. It felt peaceful in that dream, for just a few seconds – but it was only an illusion, and when I heard Kagome calling for me, I had to go back to her. I could never leave her willingly.

But I'm sure she heard what Kaou said... about the woman I loved most in the world dying. And then saying that I wanted to die to follow her – that had to bother Kagome, even though none of it was true. But she hasn't said anything. Not like she's really been talking much to me, lately, though. She won't tell me what she's thinking, and I know something's wrong.

His fists clenched with frustration, and he looked down at them, suddenly feeling helpless. It wasn't something he was used to feeling – the only ones who'd ever left him feeling that way, were Kikyou... and Kagome. But that was only because he loved them so much.

Kikyou... he'd loved her so much when he was younger, before all that had happened with Onigumo. But it hadn't been enough... and he was well aware that when it had counted, they hadn't trusted each other. That had been their downfall. And while part of him would always love her, and keep her memory bright, he had moved on.

When Kikyou had finally died, there in his arms those weeks ago, they'd had a chance to speak a little before she went, and he'd spoken truthfully to her when he had told her that she was the first woman he'd ever loved. She was... but she wasn't the only. He loved Kagome, in the here and now, and Kikyou had known that, even before she had died. And while he felt badly that their fates had been sundered from each other because of Naraku's treachery, he couldn't bring himself to regret Kagome's presence in his life.

It was confusing, and sometimes he felt so guilty – because he knew that if Kikyou hadn't died, and he hadn't been sealed, he wouldn't have met Kagome... and not regretting that he had met her, meant that in some way, he was glad about what had happened. Okay, maybe not glad, but certainly... accepting. It felt as though he were buying his happiness at the cost of Kikyou's happiness and life. And that wasn't really fair to her... though everything that Kagome had been through, and was still going through, wasn't really fair, either.

He shot another glance into her window, his eyes softening as he watched her raven hair flutter in the breeze being let in through it. She tries so hard to honor her family here, and us there... and it's wearing on her. I can see the dark shadows under her eyes.

He looked down at his still-clenched hands once more. "I swear to you, Kagome, we're gonna have this all out. I'm not letting you push me away. Somehow, I'm going to find the time to tell you... everything."

-sSs-

Kagome sighed, annoyed to no end with Inuyasha. She just couldn't believe how destructive he could be.

I mean, honestly! Using Tessaiga to kill a roach? Talk about overkill! I hate those things just as much as the next person, and I freak out as badly as mama does when I see one, but a newspaper like grandpa had was more than enough! What was he thinking?

"Inuyasha-" she started to say.

"I know, Kagome, I already said I was sorry, didn't I?" the hanyou grouched as he assisted her out of the well.

"Baka! What were you going to do against that bug with Tessaiga? The Adamant Barrage?" she muttered, eyeing him askance. "I just can't imagine what was going on inside your mind!"

He glared at her, then shrugged petulantly. "Keh! Who cares? It's over, and I said I was sorry. Now-" he broke off as Kagome's face paled, and he lifted his head into the wind to sniff. "Poison, and blood – in the village!"

Kagome hopped on his back without another word, and he took off like a bat out of hell, heading for the village at top speed, praying that their friends were okay.

"Hurry, Inuyasha – something's very wrong!"

"I know, Kagome!" He came to a skidding halt as they entered the village at the sight of Kaede's hut collapsed in on itself, and letting Kagome slide off his back, he pushed through the ruined doorway, almost panicking at the sight that met his eyes.

Kagome gasped in shock when she caught sight of Sango – she was sporting a terrible wound in her back, and she instantly dropped to her knees at her side, trying to help her sit up. "Sango! What happened here?"

Inuyasha, meanwhile, was more concerned with Miroku – he could hear the wind tunnel, and ripping his robes away from his shoulder, he scowled at the now waking monk. "Baka! You used it again, and now the miasma is spreading!"

"Now isn't the time for taking me to task, Inuyasha!" he snapped back. "You have to go after Kohaku – Magatsuhi took control of him, and is leading him straight to Naraku. Go after him and stop him!"

Inuyasha nodded, then wheeled around to look at Kagome. "Let's go, Kagome. We have to stop Kohaku."

Kagome winced, then looked down at Sango, who nodded. "Please, stop him, Kagome – Inuyasha."

"Okay. You'll be alright here?" she asked, concerned for the wound on her friend's back. It needed to be treated.

Just then, Kaede stepped into the ruins of her house, and took in what was happening at a glance. "Go – find Kohaku. I will take care of Miroku and Sango."

"Keh! Let's go, Kagome," Inuyasha snapped out.

She didn't answer, merely swinging onto his back again, and just like that, the two were gone, following the trail of the young taijiya that fate had betrayed so badly.

Kohaku is like Kikyou... the shikon has brought him nothing but suffering. Perhaps I can work it so that he can be restored, too. He shouldn't have had to live with everything that he has. Sure, a lot of people have died since Naraku became obsessed with the jewel – but Kohaku was denied even that peace, just as Kikyou was – death wasn't a release for either of them thanks to Naraku.

And that's why I will give everything I have to make it right – for Kikyou, and for Kohaku, too.