Chapter 3

"You have finally realized that which I, also, have only learned since my second death, Inuyasha," Kikyou smiled. "You truly were born for Kagome, not me. I wasn't ready to be with you as I was."

Eyes wide, stunned, Inuyasha stuttered, "K-Kikyou?" in disbelief, unable to say more.

The image of the miko of his past laughed outright at that, and he was even more stunned at the peaceful, happy expression on her face. He'd never seen her that way – not even when she'd been truly alive.

"Hai, Inuyasha. Is it really that shocking?"

"Hell, yes! What are you doing here?" he asked, still so busy trying to take in her presence, that he hadn't even noticed what she'd said in the beginning.

At that, her expression turned serious, and Inuyasha felt a wave of dread wash over him at the look in her eyes as he waited for her to speak.

"I've come to help you save Kagome – from herself, from her misconceptions... as well as the Tama."

He tilted his head, eyeing her suspiciously. "What... do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Kagome has gone to her doom, willingly for your sake, and if you don't stop her..." she trailed off, not needing to finish. Inuyasha understood.

"Dammit! I knew she was gonna do something stupid," he ranted, pissed and worried as hell. "She promised me she wouldn't! What the hell is she planning?"

Kikyou chuckled dryly. "She doesn't see what she's doing as stupid – so in her eyes, her promise to you isn't being broken by her actions. As for what she is planning to do..." Kikyou paused, and a pained look filtered across her face. "She believes, due to certain things said, and actions taken, that you are in love with me, and that she is no more to you than a friend. But because she loves you more than her own life, she wants you to have happiness – no matter what the cost." She eyed his flushed cheeks at her words. "She plans to force the jewel to grant two wishes in one – to bring me back to life for your sake – and to make the jewel disappear forever. But if she succeeds in her wish... she will be lost to wander in darkness... for eternity, with no company save Naraku – and no chance of salvation."

Inuyasha, once he took them in, was absolutely devastated at Kikyou's words. As if the thought of Kagome lost to him forever wasn't bad enough... that she truly thought he wanted Kikyou, and that he didn't love her, hurt something inside him that he'd never even known was there. And the thought that she would be trapped with Naraku... there weren't even any words for the horror that made him feel.

"What... what did I say and do that would make her think to do something like this?" he whispered, anguish thick in his voice, distorting it.

Kikyou looked at him, eyes narrowing. "Plenty."

He looked taken aback at her answer. "What... do you mean?"

She smiled and shook her head at him. "You've always been so blind, Inuyasha," she chided. With a sigh, she moved closer, and reached out a hand to him. "Take my hand – it will be quicker for me to show you than to speak of it, and time is not something we have a great deal of."

With an uneasy look, he nodded, then almost gingerly took her hand in his. "How are you going to show me things that have happened between me 'n Kagome?" he asked, a bit uncertain.

"Is Kagome not my reincarnation? I am part of her – therefore, our soul is one. What it remembers, I remember." With that, she took his hand in hers, and began to flood his mind with all the things he'd done and said over all the time Kagome had been with him.

It was not an easy thing for him to see – and having to see it all at once made it that much more painful.

I'm such a damn fool! his heart cried out as visions of said foolishness drifted through his consciousness.

There it all lay before him, every instance when he made a choice between the two – and almost without fail, every time, he'd chosen Kikyou. There was only once that he had chosen Kagome, instead – the time Kagome had healed Kikyou of the miasma, and he'd actually chosen to stay with her rather than chase Kikyou down.

There was the time when he'd first chosen Kikyou, deciding to leave Kagome in the future and concentrate on protecting the undead miko... until Kagome had asked to stay by his side. He'd never had anyone that had asked him something like that, not even Kikyou. The time when Naraku had attacked Kikyou and they'd thought she was dead – then he'd heard the rumors that were actually only a trick, and gone chasing after them, practically delivering Kagome into Naraku's filthy hands.

I almost lost her that day, he thought, the memory still paining him, streaking his tarnished soul with guilt. And when I saved her then, I only temporarily staved off the inevitable, because now I'm losing her to my own stupidity, he thought, despair eating at him.

He heard all his insults over again, and even though he'd stopped that a long time ago, gradually learning not to be so embarrassed that he was afraid to show any softness to those he cared for, still – those poisonous words had left scars on her heart – and some were still open wounds. He saw all the times he pushed her away, only to turn and moon over Kikyou. All the times he left her to run off to see the miko of his past... all of it was presented to him, then, and his shoulders almost bowed with the shame.

As surprising as it was, Kikyou was taking him to task, giving him her opinion of his behavior along with the memories.

"What I don't understand, Inuyasha, is why you treated her that way... you've loved her for a long time. I knew it even before I died..." she trailed off, her tone questioning.

He shook his head, not looking at her. "I... I don't know," he said softly. "I guess, a lot of it was guilt – about you. I didn't know how to face what I saw as a betrayal of our feelings from the past – and I couldn't stand the thought of hurting you. After everything you'd been through, to reject you..." he shrugged. "If you hadn't noticed, Kagome's changed me a lot... and where before, I wouldn't have cared about hurting someone's feelings, since nobody ever cared about hurting mine, now... I can't handle it – especially not you, Kikyou."

"So, instead, you hurt Kagome. Let me ask you this, then. Why was it okay to hurt her, but not me?"

That question went right to his heart, just like her arrow had so many, many years before.

This one hurt far worse, however.

He snapped shocked eyes up to look at her, suddenly angry at her, at himself – at everything. "Hey! It wasn't like that! I never liked hurting her," he swore vehemently, "I hated it! I detest seeing her hurt in any way... but I felt like you were there first, and because of what had happened, I had to see to you first. That's all. I would never deliberately hurt Kagome just to do it. This whole situation was bad... someone was bound to get hurt, and I think we all three did, don't you?"

Kikyou nodded, a regretful expression crossing her face. "Oh, yes... but now you need to put aside your worries about hurting me... and concentrate on Kagome. If you don't, she will fall into darkness." At his uneasy expression, she cast him a stern look. "You cannot hurt me any longer, Inuyasha, save by hurting Kagome. And right now, the Shikon no Tama is trying to poison her soul. I only hope you can get through to her – before it's too late."

Inuyasha frowned. "You can tell what's happening to her... right now?"

"Yes."

"So what's it sayin' to her?"

A deep sigh. "Half-truths. It is slanting things that happened – making it seem one way, when it was really not so."

He looked at her expectantly. "So...?"

"Your reaction at my death this time... the tears?" She continued when he nodded. "It showed her the memory of when she almost died at the hands of the poison master-" a brow rose at the scowl that crossed his face, "-and the one tear you refused to even let fall... and then compared it to the waterfalls at my death. Though it showed her strictly the truth, it slanted the reasons for that. It told her it was because you didn't really care for her much – but for me, instead."

Growling angrily, Inuyasha clenched Tessaiga's hilt as hard as he could as the pressure of the anguish inside began to rise beyond his ability to control it. "That's not...! It's because she taught me how to be able to grieve for someone I care about... if it weren't for her, I wouldn't have been able to cry for you!"

"I know, Inuyasha. But she does not - you need to tell her that. Another thing-" she glared at him, "-and this one is all attributable to your big mouth – after I died, and you told her you had wanted to protect me forever? That was the moment she gave up on ever having a future with you. After all, and this is how she took it, if you had protected me forever, she would never have been born. That was the biggest screw up you've made, Inuyasha. That told her that you would rather have me with you – even at the cost of her very existence."

His mouth dropped open, and he stared at her, stunned. "B-but... that's not how I meant that! I hadn't even thought of something like that! I meant as things were... I didn't want to ever let you fall at Naraku's hands again! That's all I meant," he said softly. He looked at her dejectedly after a moment. "I've really screwed this up, haven't I?" he asked, and she nodded.

"But there is still a chance. Right now, she is fighting the Tama, and gathering her courage to make the wish she feels she needs to make for your sake. Find her... and stop what she is attempting to do. There is no leeway here, Inuyasha. You cannot fail," she said fiercely.

"But how do I find her?" he growled out, angry. "I've looked everywhere in this stupid endless void!"

"The path will open now that you are ready."

He nodded, and Kikyou began to fade. "Kikyou... wait! Are you... really happy?" he asked, remembering the peaceful expression on her face when she'd first appeared.

"As long as you stop Kagome from doing what she is attempting, I will be, Inuyasha. Now go, and don't grieve for me anymore. You've done enough of that already."

"Goodbye, Kikyou," he whispered as she faded completely away. "I'm glad you're happy – that's all I ever wanted for you."

He stared at the place she had disappeared for several seconds, then turned and firmly set her memory aside.

"Kagome," he shouted, "can you hear me? Don't make a wish! Don't you dare make a wish! Wait for me to get there!"

Frustrated, he looked around the seemingly endless void, still not seeing any difference anywhere. The darkness was uniform all around, nothing to distinguish any one part from any other, Naraku's web the only visible thing.

What the hell did she mean that the path would open? What fucking path? I don-

Before he could finish that thought, the Tessaiga, which he was still holding, pulsed, then pulsed again, the blade darkening, becoming the meidou Tessaiga, and he frowned down at it. Meidou...?

He looked back up, trying to see if there was any indication of where to use the sword – and after a moment, a crescent-shaped glimmer of light began to form before him, spreading out like a crack into the perfect darkness of the void. As it formed, the Tessaiga pulsed louder, and Inuyasha asked no further questions, firming his determination, he lifted the sword, and then swung, sending the meidou crescents into the crack of light with a shout.

As the void opened, he leaped in without hesitation, trusting Tessaiga to take him where he needed to be.

Hold on, Kagome. I'm coming for you!

-sSs-

"I'm not going to break, so you may was well stop."

The jewel pulsed, seemingly calm, though she could feel the irritation that it was trying to hide. "Your soul is strong – that is good. The stronger the source, the more power will be available for use – to fuel my existence."

Kagome shook her head. "You just don't get it, do you? You can't break my heart for your use – Inuyasha already did. But it wasn't his fault that he couldn't love me the way I do him, and so there's no anger in me for him – and no bitterness towards he or Kikyou."

She narrowed her eyes as she felt a certain slyness come from the jewel, then. "But is that really true, little priestess? I can sense the pain in you – and if there were no bitterness, or the potential for it, there would be no pain."

Eyes widening at that, Kagome stared at the jewel, shocked, and suddenly uncertain. Was there bitterness somewhere deep within herself towards the fate she was facing – a lifetime stuck with Naraku, while her broken heart remained ever in pieces?

Just because she understood that Inuyasha hadn't chosen Kikyou to hurt her, still - that didn't mean that her own heart wasn't left suffering with no way to release all the love for the hanyou that was pent up within it. Her heart and soul felt stifled, and that wasn't going to change just because she understood. After all, the knowledge that you don't choose where your heart goes, didn't just apply to Inuyasha, it also applied to her, and she couldn't change the fact that she loved him.

But did her pain equal bitterness?

Or, better yet... would it, as time went on in her own private hell?

She stared down at her hand, clenching it around her bow, then shook her head. After all, it won't matter if bitterness does end up tainting my heart after the wish is made and the Shikon gone. And I can't say that it won't, because I don't know what will happen to me. But if my heart is still clear when I make the wish, then my fate afterwards doesn't matter.

I'll still get what I wished for, because the Tama can't affect anything anymore once it's gone.

"There's no bitterness right now – and that's all that matters. As long as you're already gone by the time anything like that could happen to me, then it won't change anything." She nodded, almost as if to herself, eyes far away. "Being stuck with Naraku for eternity, I probably will end up twisted beyond all recognition, anyway," she sighed. "But what happens to me after you're gone doesn't matter – what I wished for will not be affected."

"I can sense your fear of that outcome, Kagome. You fear the darkness – and you fear an eternity with Naraku. Would you like a glimpse of the fate you have chosen?"

Without waiting for anything from her, a new vision opened, and Kagome couldn't stop the shudder from taking her over as fear almost drowned her in it's cold arms.

"Do you think you can avoid what you see? You cannot. If you do what you intend to do, this fate will befall you. After all, for Naraku, you are the only part of Kikyou that he will ever have. And so... he will have you. Are you willing to give yourself to your enemy – to Inuyasha's enemy? To allow him to rape your very soul?" The tama's voice was wicked, cold and gloating as her fear spiraled ever higher. It had found her weakness – fear. Not hurt, not her broken heart. Those things she could withstand.

Her fear of what it was showing her was the way to reach her - and taint her.

Kagome's eyes were glued to what the jewel was showing her, no matter how badly she wanted to look away, she couldn't, and she wrapped her arms around herself defensively, suddenly colder than she had ever been. Her voice was frozen inside her, as well, leaving her unable to deny what she was seeing, or stop it. She couldn't even fight back...

Powerless, and weak. Unable to defend myself – what did I expect would happen to me once Inuyasha wasn't around to protect me? she screamed inside her mind. That fate would have been mine a million times over already since I fell down the well without him always saving me. I can't... she choked as tears flooded her eyes, even as tightly closed as they were. Fear was eating at her determination...

Which was exactly what the Tama wanted.

"Can you truly make that wish you want with a heart untainted by your fear?" it taunted. "If you leave me any chance, any opening, I will taint your wish. You know this."

I know! But I'm so scared... oh, Inuyasha, what do I do? I want you to be happy so badly... but I'm so terrified – how do I get past this fear and accept what's going to happen to me after it's all over? Because if I don't accept it, I can't make the wish!

She let loose of her bow, not even noticing as it simply floated near her, both hands coming up to cradle her face, despair eating at her heart. A frightened sob broke from her as the images she'd seen played out in her mind over and over. No matter what happened to her from this point on, those scenes would live in her nightmares forever.

Raping the body was one thing – you could heal from that – but when it was your soul that was attacked in that way? It left you twisted beyond all recognition... destroyed. How do you accept a fate like that?

A sound almost like a chuckle came from the jewel. "What is wrong, priestess? Aren't you going to wish for that hanyou's happiness? Or is it that I have found a limit to your purity – to your love? You can't give yourself to that fate, because his happiness isn't worth everything, like you thought it was?"

Is it right? Have I found something I'm not willing to do for his happiness? "I... how do I know that what you're showing me is even going to happen? You twist things for your own purposes," she gasped out. "You just don't want me to make my wish."

"True." There was the feeling that if the jewel had a body, it would be shrugging. "But I do not lie to do so. I only use reality – truth. It is, after all, is much sharper and more deadly than any sword. And I enjoy causing harm to those that would think to use me. Their pain and fear soothes me – feeds me."

Kagome only cried harder, knowing somehow that it was telling the truth. There was no need for it to lie – not when truth was much more painful to its victim.

"But then... perhaps in time you will come to enjoy what he will do to you. After all, both of you are in the same place – discarded by those you cared for. He wasn't Inuyasha, and therefore not good enough for Kikyou, and you weren't Kikyou, and therefore not good enough for Inuyasha. You understand his pain, as he could understand yours. Why, then, do you fear?"

"No!" She cried out, overwhelmed. "That-" she gestured wildly at the vision still playing before them, "-isn't understanding! It's domination – he's only trying to destroy me – to break me further!"

"Ah... but then, in order to become one with him, you would have to be as broken as he is," the tama whispered to her, and her eyes widened as she inhaled, shocked. Stillness flooded her soul and the void around her as she thought about his words...

She knew what the tama was trying to do – play on her fear and disgust to force her to make some other wish – one that it wanted.

But in that statement, it had just overplayed its hand.

For it was right – Onigumo had been broken by his love for the priestess Kikyou. That's what had allowed madness to take over, and how he had been born as Naraku – by inviting demons in to take over his soul... in hopes that he could then be with her. And even his desired wish of the tama had been to be with Kikyou – a most modest wish, as she'd thought before, and one that hadn't been granted.

When the jewel pointed that out, it helped to diminish her fear... leaving compassion in its wake. Oh, there was still some fear in her... but not enough for the tama to use. Instead, she could only imagine his own pain and sadness due to his rejected feelings, and found that it echoed in perfect resonance with that which was within her.

The only difference between them, is in how they had reacted to that rejection. Naraku had allowed rage and hatred in in its place, while Kagome had only stepped back, wishing for Inuyasha's happiness above all else.

And oddly enough, from what she had seen in the vision the tama had shown her, was that, as much as Naraku had wanted Kikyou, he in no way mistook her for the dead miko – he knew full well that she was Kagome. To the broken-hearted, weary, and frightened young woman, that thought was almost balm to her soul.

If that's to be my fate, then at least, he will know who it is that he's tormenting. I'll never be mistaken for Kikyou again, she thought, with a tired sigh.

For some reason, a certain memory flashed into her mind... though why she remembered it, she couldn't say. A memory of Naraku, at the final battle... he'd looked so defeated – when she'd spoken to him about his wish, and his feelings. And so tired. It had an odd effect on her now...

Looking up at the manifestation of the jewel that had ruined so many lives, Kagome took in a deep breath, and grabbing all her courage, she pushed away all the fear, allowing only compassion for Naraku, love for Inuyasha, and caring for Kikyou through. Letting it stream out of her in an almost visible display, she let all the negatives go, and said, "Shikon no Tama, I'm ready to make my wish. I wi-"

"-gome! Can you hear me? Don't make a wish! Don't you dare make a wish! Wait for me to get there!"

Kagome's voice cut off in a shocked huff as she heard Inuyasha, stunned into immobility, all she could do was stare into the void, eyes wide. Inu..?

She flung up a hand to cover her face, then, eyes clenching closed tightly as a flash of light burst into the darkness surrounding her – though the tama carried its own light, it was soft, barely touching the blackness. This other light was like lightening – powerful. As soon as it faded, Kagome dropped her hand, staring at what the light had brought...

Tears welled up in overwhelmed eyes. "Inuyasha?" she choked out.

Is it really him, or just an illusion?

-sSs-

Inuyasha knew, as soon as he came through the meidou, that he'd interrupted her just in time – somehow. He didn't question his knowledge, he just accepted it... and swallowed the frightened lump in his throat as he realized how close he'd just come to losing her forever.

Without a thought to what he was doing, he grabbed her and pulled her into his arms, wrapping himself around her. It wasn't enough, though, to fill the hole he felt at the thought of her being gone, and with desperation plain in his actions and expression, he lowered his head and clamped his mouth to hers.

Oh... it's not an illusion – it's really Inuyasha...

Kagome...

For Inuyasha, the kiss that he'd been wanting for so long was finally happening, and he didn't care if he never took another breath as long as he could stay right where he was forever. She tasted more wonderful than anything he'd ever known, and in one instant, he was addicted. She would forever be the only thing that he couldn't do without... now he just had to figure out how to convince her of that.

For Kagome, it was more pain than she'd ever felt – and more joy than she'd ever known, all at the same time. Pain because she believed it wasn't really for her, and it would be the last one – and joy because she'd at least have this to remember when eternity swallowed her.

The thought that it was going to end cut into her so much that she almost folded over with grief – she would have if it weren't for Inuyasha holding to her so tightly.

Kami... how can I say goodbye? I wanted this kiss... but now I wonder... it would have been better if he hadn't arrived when he did. After all, if it had only been a few seconds later, it would have been done.

Now... now he's going to argue. Please don't, Inuyasha – don't argue. Just kiss me goodbye, and let me go...

She almost sobbed when he finally pulled away. Licking her lips, a few tears overflowed as she tried to memorize his taste, the way he'd stroked her tongue with his, so passionately, so desperately, as though he had really wanted her. She didn't want to ever forget any part of that kiss...

Looking up, she caught his gaze on her, and flushed.

"What the hell are you thinking, Kagome?" he gritted fiercely. "Didn't I tell you that if you go, I go? I won't let anyone take you away from me – not even you!"

Kagome choked on a sob. "No... I remember every word you've ever said to me, Inuyasha. It's all inside my head. But I also know..." she trailed off with a tired sigh.

"What do you think you know, Kagome? Is it some of that bullshit the stupid jewel was trying to put in your head?" He stepped back a bit and sheathed Tessaiga, then grabbed her by both arms, staring into her eyes with an intensity she'd rarely seen in him. "Or was it some of the shit that you've put in your head?"

Eyeing him, she started to say something, then noticed the jewel, and frowned, wondering why it was being so silent. It had certainly chattered enough before...

She stared at it narrowly for a moment, but then Inuyasha shook her a little, and yanked her attention back to him.

"Well, wench? Start talking! I know some of the things it was sayin' to you – but what I want to know is, why the hell were you listening to it?"

Blinking at him, she asked, "How... how do you know what it was saying to me?"

His grip on her arms loosened at that, and he sighed. "When you disappeared into the meidou, I created another one and followed. I got attacked by a bunch of youkai... and saw Midoriko fighting some, too. Those youkai... they told me some things that I... didn't like." His hands squeezed her arms lightly as they clenched. "They said you were born to fight in the jewel forever, just like Midoriko. That pissed me off, and I yelled at them, then destroyed them..." he trailed off, still not looking at her.

Kagome narrowed her eyes on him. He's reluctant to say something... "What happened, Inuyasha?" she asked, expression set. If he doesn't want to tell me, it's probably something to do with...

Kikyou.

"I saw Kikyou. She looked happier than I'd ever seen her... peaceful, you know?" he said, turning his head to look off into the darkness when she stiffened. "But then, she told me why she was there-" he jerked his head back to look at her with a frown, beginning to growl, "-and what you were planning to do. I ain't gonna let you do something so damn stupid, wench!"

She laughed, though it wasn't in amusement, the sound empty. "Why not, Inuyasha? You love her... and this will give you both the chance to live as you would have if the Tama and Naraku had never interfered. I accept the consequences of my wish."

He yanked her back into his arms, holding her so tightly she could barely breathe for several long seconds, then pushed her away, staring at her with angry eyes. "But I don't, stupid! I don't accept the consequences! You have no right to take my choice away from me – if I had wanted to be with Kikyou, I could have gone with her to the afterlife like we had at one time planned. But I don't want to do that, because I want to stay here with you, and Kikyou knew that!"

Kagome twisted away from him, turning to look off in the opposite direction, shaking her head wearily. "Only because you have this rather deep sense of responsibility towards me. You feel like you need to protect me-" she sighed, "-but you can't save me from what's going to happen to me now," she said softly.

Something in her words had his hackles rising, and he grabbed onto her, forcing her to turn and look at him. "What the hell does that mean, Kagome? What's going to happen to you now? How do you even know what that is?"

She refused to actually meet his eyes. "The tama was kind enough to show me my fate," she said, sarcasm literally coating her words. And then she slumped a bit, as the drain of the last few days finally overwhelmed her, leaving her empty. "Please, Inuyasha... I'm so tired of hurting. I'm just tired. Let me go, take the happiness I'm offering you with Kikyou. Let me finish this."

"No," he roared, stunning her. "Have you really gotten so blind that you can't see what's right in front of you? I thought you were smarter than that! All that shit the tama showed you? It was all crap! You wanna know why I couldn't cry a whole lot when you almost died, even though I felt like someone had ripped my soul out? Because I didn't know how! The only reason I grieved so much for Kikyou, is because you taught me how, not because I loved her more! I couldn't even cry that much for my mother – and I definitely loved her!"

Kagome blinked at him, a little shocked at the ferocity of his response. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but he wouldn't allow it.

"And another thing! When I said I wanted to protect her forever? The way you took it was not how I meant it! I just..." his voice went soft for a moment, "... hated the thought that Naraku was the one that took her life - again - whatever life she really had. I wanted to protect her from his grasp forever, so that he would never be able to hurt her again, that's all I meant! Not that I wanted to be with her forever, leaving you out in the cold." He shrugged guiltily as she stared at him, obviously surprised. "Kikyou took me to task for my big freakin' mouth, always saying crap the wrong way. It never even occurred to me you'd think what you did."

A pulse of power came, then, the first in some time, as the tama once again made itself known. "And what of your time inside Naraku after you pushed Kagome away? The only thing on your mind was Kikyou... Kagome's fate didn't even play into your thoughts." The voice became sly. "I showed Kagome that part of the past... she saw with her own eyes, and heard with her own ears."

Inuyasha's eyes narrowed with hate as he glared at the jewel before him, wanting nothing so much as to see it gone from the world forever. "Shut up, you stupid fuckin' worthless piece of crap!" he snarled. "You showed her lies!"

"No... the tama doesn't lie, Inuyasha," Kagome whispered. "It doesn't lie because it enjoys using the truth to cause harm." She looked down at her own hands as they tightened into tiny fists, then opened again, leaving deep crescents in her skin.

"Okay then," he shot back, "just how much did it show you? Did it show you my memory of you returning – the memories it had tried to take from me, and my panic and fear when I realized that I didn't know where you were? The horror when I realized your blood was on my hands... and the shock when Naraku told me I'd killed you?" He clenched his hand over his heart, still smelling her blood on him... little trapped particles under his claws since they'd not had a chance to stop and bathe along the way. It hurt to know he'd injured her... and the dried blood still staining her sleeve condemned him even more.

"I... I denied it, you know. For the first time, I knew that I couldn't have killed you – not even my youkai side, so bloodthirsty and angry, could kill you, and somehow, I knew it."

Kagome stared at him, spellbound, as he pulled his hand from his chest and stared at it. "No matter what, these hands will never be able to take your life, Kagome. Ever."

"Inuyasha," she whispered, voice caught in a closed throat. He looked up at her, then, such a look of longing in his eyes that she was stunned. Is he...? Could he really be looking at me that way? Or is it just that he's looking through me... to Kikyou?

He looked down, his hand falling back to his side. "Why do you keep insisting that I'm in love with Kikyou - now?" he asked softly. "I won't deny I was once... but that was a long time ago. That was the past, and contrary to popular opinion-" he rolled his eyes as he glanced up at her, "-I do know that the past is the past. I don't want you to bring Kikyou back... and after talking to her, she doesn't want to come back, either. It's her choice to stay where she is, and she's happy and peaceful sleeping inside of you, where she's supposed to be. Are you going to take her choice away? Force her to do something she doesn't want?"

Kagome stared at him, suddenly uncertain about everything she'd been planning. She'd never thought of that. Did she have the right to change things so drastically by bringing Kikyou back... if the dead woman didn't even want to be brought back in the first place? "I..." she started, then paused, confused. How can I do that? I'm not the fates, or the kami... and it's not my right to take away someone elses choice. I just always thought she'd be happy to be given another chance... but then... what about Inuyasha?

"You... you're happy with that? That she doesn't want to be brought back?" she asked disbelievingly.

His sighed, and shook his head at her, irritation plain in his gaze. "Kagome, stop being so dense! I don't want Kikyou to do anything she doesn't want to do. And even if she did want to come back, things wouldn't be the same, because I don't want to be with her that way anymore. We'd only ever be friends. Why can't you understand that?"

The tama pulsed again, light pouring off of it. "If your wish is no longer valid, priestess, then what will you wish for?"

Inuyasha shot it a sour glance, gritting his teeth. "Ya know, Kagome, why don't you make the right wish right now... and we can talk about this whole mess later – once that stupid thing is gone?"

Kagome looked down at her bow, still floating near her, and took in in her hand almost absently as she thought about it. I have to be sure... because if I don't bring Kikyou back now, I never can. Is he really telling me the truth, and not just what he thinks I need to hear? Looking back up at him, she locked eyes with him, and said, "Tell me again, Inuyasha... I need to be sure that I'm doing the right thing. You truly don't want Kikyou back? What about your plans to marry?" She winced as she said that – it was one thing to think about it, and another to verbalize such a painful thing.

He growled at her, and grabbed her by the arms again, shaking her a bit. "How many times do I have to say it? Didn't that kiss tell you anything?" he asked, exasperated with her stubbornness.

She shook her head sadly. "I don't think my heart knows how to understand things like that anymore, Inuyasha," she whispered, still staring him in the eyes.

"Stupid girl," he whispered back. "I think your heart understands fine – it's just your head that ain't listenin'. Make the wish that will make us all happy – by getting rid of that nasty piece of crap forever. I've got a lot of plans, and I can't get to any of them until that thing is gone."

She held his gaze for several long moments, searching for the honesty in them... and she found it. He really, truly, doesn't want Kikyou to come back. Tears of relief began to pour down her cheeks, and a lightness of spirit she hadn't felt in months hit her, leaving her almost giddy. My fate... it's my own again! I don't have to spend eternity with Naraku in darkness. She sobbed, dropping her face into her hands for a few seconds as she let the fear and the pain out, draining weeks of poison from her heart.

Inuyasha was patient with her, letting her cry it out for a bit, but he was thankful when the tears began to wind down, and when she finally looked up, he smiled at her. "Feel better now?" he asked softly. She'd always felt better after a good cry, and he knew it, though he hated to see her do so.

"Y-yeah. I really do," she said, smiling a little. "I think... I'm ready to make that wish, now."

"You know what the right wish is, don't you?"

She nodded. "Sure." She turned as Inuyasha pulled her protectively into his side and faced the jewel one last time. She could feel the waves of discontent coming from it – it knew that it had failed to taint her, and that its time in their world was done.

Still, it had no choice but to grant her wish, whatever it was.

"Shikon no Tama, I'm going to make my wish now. I want you to disappear... forever."

With one last powerful, but forlorn pulse, the Tama admitted defeat to Kagome, and exploded into nothingness...

Allowing Midoriko, the youkai, and Naraku free, so that they could finally find their rest.

It's over...

-sSs-

Inuyasha stepped up to the Goshinboku, stared up into its canopy, and sighed. Putting out a hand, he gently touched the spot he'd been pinned to for so long, then leaned his head against his hand, and closed his eyes, sad and weary. The only thing keeping him alive at this point was his trust in Kikyou's words – that Kagome had been born for him. He'd remembered those words... after the jewel was gone.

It had been three long, desperate years, though, and he was losing hope. After making the wish, he and Kagome found themselves back in the well, in her time, and after she jumped from his arms to run to her mother with muffled sobs, he'd found himself being pulled back in, and deposited back in his own era.

Alone.

Without her.

Since then, he'd tried the well every three days... and it hadn't worked. He had no doubts that she'd tried it on her end, too... but since she'd never appeared, he knew that the well was simply refusing passage to anyone. The stupid thing was that the magic was still there – he could feel it.

It just refused to respond.

All the things he'd told her he had planned, had fallen by the wayside, since those plans had all revolved around her, and without her, he had nothing, not even a life.

He certainly felt dead enough inside to support that thought.

His fist tightened with anguish. "Why!" he yelled suddenly, pulling away from the great tree and throwing his head back to howl his words to the uncaring sky. "Why am I still here, still alive – but without the one thing I need to actually live? Do all you kami find it funny to condemn me to this half-dead state? Why not just let it be all dead?" Sinking down onto his knees, he folded up into a ball, and just lay there, miserable.

Sure, he'd told Kaede that he'd felt like he had to leave Kagome there in her time, since he wasn't the only one who cared for her, but for kami's sake! Didn't all children grow up and leave their families at some point – to start ones of their own?

Why couldn't he have that? Why couldn't he have that... with her? Was he really supposed to spend the rest of his damned long life, alone?

His heart sank, then, as he realized that she wouldn't live as long as he, anyway... but he decided he wouldn't care about that if she were to come back to be with him. He'd stay hanyou, protecting her until she died... and then he'd follow her. They'd certainly live long enough to make sure any children they had were grown and able to care for themselves before passing, and that's all that counted, anyway.

He really didn't care where they were, as long as they were together. Dead, alive... it just didn't matter.

He was still laying there when Miroku came looking for him, intent on dragging him back to the village.

It was a good thing he had friends to help him through and that he remembered Kikyou's words from in the meidou, because if he hadn't, he'd probably have fallen on Tessaiga the day she was taken from him.

If he had, he would have missed out on a wonderful life...

-sSs-

I can't believe school's actually... over.

Kagome wandered around the shrine courtyard, feeling restless and unhappy. It had been two days since her graduation, and she was now a legal adult – eighteen and finished with school. She'd opted not to apply to a college, instead feeling as though she didn't belong anymore – as though her fate lay elsewhere.

She knew where she wanted it to lay.

I miss Inuyasha...

With that thought, her feet took her to the well-house, and she slid open the door, taking note of the layer of dust that lay over everything...

It's been so long since I tried it. Moving forward, stepping down the stairs, she walked up to the edge, and stared at it, her thoughts sad. So many times I jumped through, taking for granted that it would always work... and then it took Inuyasha away, and stopped. Yet... I can still feel the magic in it.

She sighed. For so long, I was to frightened to return, too. Afraid that the things that Inuyasha said in the jewel were not what I thought. That I had misread things. But now... none of that even matters – because I would go back even if he just wanted to be friends. Because I... I want to see him again.

After all, everything I needed to do here is done. I've honored my family, and now, my life is my own to do with what I want. What I've learned in these three years, is that I need Inuyasha... in any capacity.

She reached out a hand and laid it on the edge of the well, gripping it gently and closing her eyes.

What I want is... to be with Inuyasha again.

A faint breeze touched her bangs, and a scent that she hadn't caught in three long, weary years... dust and grasses, and flowers – the scent of the meadow surrounding the well... in Inuyasha's time, filtered through the dust scent from the wellhouse. Heart in her throat, and breath caught somewhere close to it, she leaned over slowly, not opening her eyes 'til she was leaned over it completely...

What greeted her had her clenching both hands to the lip of the well with unfettered hope.

The sky...

"Kagome?"

She half turned to look at her mother, a look of wonder still on her face. "Mama... the well..."

Her mother stepped down to her side, looking down into it. She sighed, then met her daughter's gaze. "Kagome... it's okay." She squared her shoulders, and smiled at her. "I always knew... that someday, you'd go back. Your heart is there. You're grown, and now it's time to live the life you want. You've certainly earned it."

Kagome's eyes filled with sad, yet happy tears, such an odd thing, she thought, and she hugged her mother. "Thank you, mama. I love you, and I'll miss you... please, tell grandpa and Sota that I love them, too." She let go, then, and stepped back, storing the memory of her mother's touch in her memory alongside her smiling face, and then climbed up onto the lip of the well in her era for the last time.

With one last wave of her hand, she pushed off...

And vanished into history, to finally find her fate.

-sSs-

Inuyasha would never forget the day that Kagome returned.

It started out dismal and forlorn, just like all the one thousand and ninety-five days before it... and then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.

He caught her scent first, that lovely, unmistakable scent that had haunted him for all the time he'd known her, and even more so after she'd vanished from his life. At first, he'd thought he was smelling things – that his mind had finally gone... but then the breeze brushed past him, and instead of getting fainter, the scent only got stronger – and it was coming from the well clearing.

Instantly, he was up and gone, completely forgetting everyone else in his rush to get to the source of that beautiful, life-giving scent. He hadn't moved so fast since she'd disappeared, and the entire time he ran, he prayed to every kami he knew the name of that she really was back.

Heart pounding, he skidded to a halt before the well, almost missing the sound of breathing coming from inside it because his own breathing was so loud. Thrusting a hand into the dark interior, he begged the kami in that moment, praying just not being enough to encompass the sheer emotion welling up inside him.

Her hand grabbing his ripped a gasp from him, and he pulled her out of that well with all the longing in his soul visible in his eyes.

Oh, gods, Kagome... it's really you!

The yearning expression that settled on his face was beautiful, and with tears rimming her eyes, she smiled down at him, a matching look of sweet longing on her face.

"Inuyasha... I'm so sorry – were you waiting for me?"

Stupid girl! Of course I've been waiting! "Kagome," he breathed, adoration, exultation, and sheer want engraved in his eyes. "You idiot! What have you been up to?" Smooth, baka. She's been gone for three years, and that's all you can say? Shaking his head, he pulled her into his arms, determined to never let her go again, almost afraid that if he blinked, she'd disappear.

When their friends finally made it to the clearing, he had to fight himself to let her loose, his determination not to let her go, he found, just a tad bit over the top, and not really possible to keep to.

She would definitely not be leaving his sight for a long time to come, though, and on that he wasn't willing to compromise.

-sSs-

Night had finally fallen, and for the first time that day, Inuyasha felt calm, and at peace.

He and Kagome were perched high in the Goshinboku, staring out at the lands around them, and the stars above them.

It was quiet for a time, both just enjoying the sense of homecoming, and then...

"So... those plans you told me about when we were inside the jewel? The ones you said you had... did you ever do anything about them?" Kagome asked, curious. They'd never had the chance for that talk he'd wanted to have, and even though three years had passed since then, she figured they still needed to say some things from back then to finish it.

He didn't even pretend not to know what she was talking about. "Keh, no. How was I supposed to do that with you gone?" he scoffed. "Since those plans were all dependent on you, ya know."

She flushed a little. "Oh?"

With a sigh, he shifted a bit, settling her against his chest a little more comfortably, then wrapped his arms tighter around her. "I guess we still need to have that talk, don't we? We never got the chance..." his voice trailed off, reluctant as he was to even think about those endless-seeming days that she was gone. "How much of that do you remember?"

With a catch in her voice, she said, "Everything." She turned her head and looked up into his face. It was dark enough that she really couldn't see too much except his eyes. It didn't matter, though. They were enough. "I've never forgotten any of it – nothing about my time with you, the things you said and did. I remember it all. I think I told you that before, silly," she murmured affectionately.

"Yeah," he chuckled, his voice sounding a little strange. "Funny thing about that... I remember it all, too. Never wanted to forget any of it – especially if memories were all I was gonna be left with."

She reached a hand up and cupped his cheek tenderly. "I missed you so much, Inuyasha. Every day, all I wanted was to see you again. I never stopped wishing that I would, you know."

His eyes closed, emotion welling up inside him so fast he didn't know how to handle it, and almost choked. Drawing in a deep breath, he calmed himself, and then opened his eyes and looked down at her.

"Have you finally accepted that I didn't want Kikyou back – that I just wanted her to have peace?" he asked bluntly. It had to be finished – that past had to be laid to rest, or they would never be able to be together the way he wanted – the way he hoped she still wanted.

Kagome jerked slightly, her hand dropping from his cheek, startled at the blunt way he'd asked that question. "I..." she trailed off, too surprised to know what to say.

"Oh, for the love of kami, Kagome, don't tell me you're still hung up on that old mess? What more can I do to get it through your head that I don't love Kikyou that way anymore, that I haven't in years? That you are the one I love?"

With a gasp, Kagome twisted around to stare into his face fully, eyes as wide as he'd ever seen them. "You... Inuyasha," she breathed, "you've... never said that before. Ever." There was wonder in her voice, and Inuyasha flinched at that.

"Aw, hell... c'mon, Kagome! You can't tell me you didn't know that! Everyone else did – including Naraku - and my ass of a brother."

Brow furrowed, she sent him a confused glance. "Naraku? How did he know?"

"Damned if I know," he grumbled. "But when we were inside him, after I remembered you in defiance of the jewel, Naraku came and gloated about how I had killed my 'beloved woman'. His words, not mine – though they were true, anyway," he finished, disgruntled, flushing.

She blinked at him, stunned.

"Gods, Kagome, you've got to be the most oblivious woman in existence," he burst out when she just continued to stare at him. "What more did you want me to do to prove it?"

She shook her head, trying to clear it of the shock. "Maybe if you had told me, Inuyasha. After all, you told me that Kikyou told you off about your habit of saying things the wrong way and giving the wrong impression. What did you expect with the things you said to me? The things you did?"

He looked away at that, oddly ashamed as he remembered all the horrible things he'd said to her over the years. "I've got a lot to make up for," he finally said. "So many things I did and said that were the height of stupidity."

He turned his face back to her, after a moment, with a firmness she had never seen from him before. "I'm making it up starting now. Listen, and listen well, Kagome. I don't want Kikyou – that ship sailed a long time ago, and I don't even miss it. I love you, and have for a damn long time – what seems like forever. I told you once that if you go, I go, and I meant that. From now until forever, I will never be apart from you, even if all you want me as is a friend."

Speechless as she heard the words she'd been wanting to hear for what seemed like forever, all she could do was cry. Throwing herself against his chest with abandon, she held on to his suikan with a death grip, sobbing as she tried to get words out.

"Inuyasha," she gulped, "Inuyasha." Inuyasha, Inuyasha, Inuyasha, her mind screamed, as she tried to force her voice past the obstruction in her throat. "I'm gonna love you forever, Inuyasha! 'Friends' isn't enough for me," she cried, a deep euphoria spreading through her entire shell-shocked system. Oh, please, please, please, mean what I think you mean!

He wrapped his arms tighter around her, holding her so close she was almost inside his skin with him, and just inhaled her beloved scent madly, so much joy flooding his system he literally didn't know what to do with it. He'd never been so happy before - it was unknown territory.

"Kagome," he murmured, rocking her gently back and forth comfortingly. My beautiful Kagome. I've finally got everything I've ever wanted right here in my arms, and I'm going to keep you here forever. "Marry me?" he asked, for the first time in his life confident about something other than his survival skills – at this moment, he had no fear that she would turn him away.

Frantic nodding was his answer, along with a fresh round of sobs, and he chuckled. Same old Kagome, always crying at the drop of a hat. But at least I know these are happy tears...

"Silly wench... you'll never change," he said, affection rife in his voice. "Always with the tears."

She laughed a little through those tears, punching his shoulder softly. "Jerk."

He grinned, then his face softened as he tilted her face up to look at her. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it again, shaking his head, he just continued to look at her.

She licked her lips, then, a thought occurring to her. "Inuyasha," she whispered, "kiss me... kiss me hello."

Eyes sparking with fire, the hanyou did just that, leaning down to capture her lips, pouring every bit of his heart and soul into their third kiss. And the best part was that Kagome reciprocated with everything she was, too... leaving no doubt in either of their minds of the feelings of their partner.

Tilting his head to the side just a bit, he ran his tongue along her pouty bottom lip, and she opened to him on a gasp, letting him in to taste every corner of her mouth. Hotly, sweetly, he twined his own appendage with hers, stroking it softly, lovingly.

She tastes so wonderful...

Kagome let him take everything he seemed to need from her, and reveled in the giving, her Inuyasha-starved heart singing within her at the way he tasted and felt moving against her tongue the way he was.

It was perfect... a perfect hello.

Finally, needing to breathe, he pulled away, happy to note the drying tears, and swept her bangs away from her eyes. "How was that?" he asked, a soft look in his eyes that she had rarely seen. She smiled at him, then laid her head against his chest.

Snuggling further into him, she sighed deeply, contentedly, and rubbed her cheek against him. "Wonderful." She smiled wider when he tugged his claws through her hair. "That feels so good," she said drowsily, the long, emotional day finally catching up with her as she yawned.

Inuyasha looked down at her, contentment pouring through him as well as he watched her eyes flutter closed. "Sleep, itoshii," he said softly, and smiled at the smile that touched her mouth.

"Mmm... 'Yasha," she mumbled. The tears took their toll on her as she succumbed to sleep, a peaceful, happy look on her face for the first time in three years.

The silver-haired hanyou, however, didn't sleep a wink that night.

He stayed awake, fine-tuning those plans he'd been so keen on three years ago. After all, this time, he could actually finalize them.

My Kagome. My... wife.

-sSs-

One hundred years later, Shippo sighed, gentle melancholy flooding his system as he stared at the newly finished shrine housed in the well clearing.

I hope you two are as happy together in death as you were in life, he thought, glancing over at the young man next to him. We've all missed you guys so much these last twelve years since you passed on...

"Do you think they'd have liked this idea?" the silver-haired male asked, and Shippo nodded.

"Sure... enclosed in this shrine, their remains will never be tampered with like Kikyou's were – I made sure of that," he said firmly. "This way, they won't be separated ever again – even in death."

They were silent for a time, and then Shippo spoke once more. "C'mon, Hiroshi, let's get back to your uncle. You know he hates waiting."

Hiroshi nodded, then took one last look at the shrine that housed his parent's remains. Rest in peace, 'kaa-san, 'tou-san. I miss you...

With a bittersweet smile, the hanyou turned and followed Shippo from the shrine.

-sSs-

A/N: And it is the end. Some ppl are probably gonna fuss about wanting more details of the wedding and all... but I personally like the way I ended this, and don't feel the need to change it. I think there's enough details to go on with – besides, the wedding wasn't so important in this story, so much as the knowledge that there was one. Lots of angst, some psychological battering, and a great deal of love later, and the two got their happy ending.

That's the important part.

Amber