OK, so I'm late with the update which should have been here one-and-a-half weeks ago. I have a good excuse for that. Really. And that excuse is: it was on purpose. Why? Well, look at the 'Update date' and compare it to the 'Publishing date'. That's right people. Today, on the 29th of January, this story has officially turned three years old. Time sure flies, doesn't it ;)

Hope that's enough of an excuse for you to forgive me for being purposefully late LOL Happy reading everyone :D


NANOYMOUS REVIEWERS:

NikkiBB: Thank you for the kind words, I'm happy to hear you enjoyed. As for Kōga's and Kagome's reunion… well, you might have to wait a few more chapters for that. You'll understand as you read on ;)
An estimate of chapters, huh? Well, let's see. We're entering Arc 11 out of 18 I've planned for just the first part of the fic. Considering all of my Arcs are 2-4 chapters long (there are but few exceptions to that unspoken rule, I noticed), and that we're in chapter 43 already, I think it's safe to assume that we'll hit the seventies before part 1 is over. Then, there's still part 2 and possibly 3, which will probably be just as long… so something between 140 and 200 chapters? Wow… that's quite a bit… especially since originally I was going for hundred LOL I'm kinda getting scared of just how big into a project I've gotten myself into here :D And no, there are no plans of lemons for now, although there will definitely be fluff at some point. I ain't saying between which characters, though ;) By the way, your review is greatly appreciated ;)

Elena: You seem to be thinking a lot of canon characters a lot. While your interest in the relationship between Kagome and Kōga makes me happy, I have to wonder why you want canon-Inuyasha to notice the possibility of Kagome and Kōga together is real. I mean, it's not in canon. It just is in my fic, so if anyone will notice it (not that he's not aware of Kagome's feelings for the wolf already), it's my Inuyasha, not the canon-one. We won't be seeing much of canon-Inuyasha and canon-Kagome actually, sorry if it disappoints you. Still, this story is a what-if, it has almost nothing to do with canon, except the connection I made through the prologue (and will again through the short epilogue). Still, I'm happy to hear you enjoy it thus far :3 Thank you very much for reviewing.

Guest Reviewer (reviewed chapter 33): I don't plan on Inuyasha and Kagome being any more 'couple-like' than they were in the manga, once we get to the point, anyway. And I plan even less on letting them become OOC. So you needn't worry, OOC-ness won't happen so long as I'm in my right mind. Glad to hear you liked it, thanks for the review :)

Reviewer (reviewed chapter 1): I humbly thank you for the praise. I'm really happy to hear you enjoyed it as much. As for your hopes… well, it might happen at one point once Kagome's able to cross the well again, but on another hand, there's also the possibility it won't ever happen. You'll just have to wait and see ;) Thank you for the great review, I really appreciate it :]


Tracks for this chapter:

Blood-C OST:Shousa ni wa Houbi O, Haisha ni wa Bachi O

Blood-C OST: Destiny

Final Fantasy X OST:Truth Revealed

SID: Namida no Ondo

Standard Disclaimer and Reader's Key apply.


What happened last time: Kagome and her group finally found the main den of the illusionist yōkai and Kagome engaged it in a duel, deciding it was better than risking anyone else of the group getting emotionally scarred by seemingly killing someone they loved. Despite still not being fully recovered from her previous fight with the demon, and the damage she took in human form after Inuyasha purified her, the half-demon manages to defeat her enemy, but causes a cave-in in the process. With Miroku's Air Rip allowing them for only so much protection, Kagome tries to persuade Inuyasha to try and make a barrier to save them and the children the yōkai had wanted to eat. When Inuyasha refuses and the cave's ceiling finally yields under the weight of the hill above it, Kagome does the unthinkable – she unleashes a stronger than ever, uncontrolled Sankon Tessō in hopes that the energy blades destroy all the rocks and debris, but leaves the people she wishes to protect unharmed. Almost miraculously, she succeeds. The hill is reduced to nothing but dust and the children and Kagome's friends are all alright. The only one who has suffered was Kagome herself, as her own, uncontrolled energy wounded her so severely that the hanyō's very life might be in danger, and so Sango volunteers to tend to Kagome's injuries in hopes of saving her…


Chapter 43 – Sanzu-no-Kawa(1)

Inuyasha bit his lip worriedly as he stared down at Kagome, fighting the urge to grasp her hand once again or at least to push her hair out of her face. The last time he tried to touch her, his powers had reacted again, leaving burn marks on the hanyō's hand. His powers were getting more and more out of control with each passing hour, and Inuyasha feared that before long, just being near yōkai would be enough to trigger a reaction. And he had to avoid that. He didn't want to hurt any of his demonic friends – or, in the case of Kagome, he didn't want to hurt her more than he already had.

The half-demon, for her part, hadn't even twitched when his powers threatened to burn her arm off. In fact, Inuyasha was quite certain she hadn't even registered it had happened. How could she if she was unconscious?

Sango had done all she could have done for Kagome. Still, even after she had treated her, the slayer had been anything but optimistic. While she had managed to temporarily stop the blood-flow, Sango revealed that Kagome had lost a shocking amount of the life-giving fluid. Enough to be certain that if she weren't half-demon, she would have long since died. Plus, there were still her internal injuries from when the illusionist had gotten to her while temporarily human. Overall, Kagome's situation looked grim. Hanyō or not, Sango had said, if she wasn't treated by an actual healer, Kagome would most likely not make it.

And, although no one had realized it, Tessaiga was also proving that the taijiya was right as it vibrated softy at Kagome's side, working as hard as it could at keeping the hanyō's demon blood at bay, as it fought to emerge and slaughter the threat that no longer existed.

Sango's predictions seemed to be true in everyone's eyes either way, though. Not even two hours after the fight, and even shorter after Sango's first aid treatment, Kagome's condition had worsened considerably. She was even paler than before and her up-until-now-calm breathing turned unto erratic gasps for air. Her face was coated in sweat, betraying a fever the half-demon should never had gotten due to her blood, which only proved how weakened she was. And as if that wasn't enough, her wounds were starting to show signs of infection – another thing the half-demon should never have to worry about, but had a system so weak by that point that it could no longer fight off the simplest of things without sacrificing healing the injuries. And no matter which it chose to do, heal or protect from any additional, even if tiny, damage, the end-result would be the same. Kagome was going to die. At least, if they didn't get her to a healer. Now.

Which was why Miroku had somehow managed to contact Hachi, the tanuki demon who helped him out every once in a while and who had helped their group as a whole once before. Currently, the tanuki was transformed into a gigantic, cloud-like, yellow… something, and carried Inuyasha, the injured Kagome, Miroku and some of the children towards Kaede's village, while Sango and Kohaku followed with Kirara and the remaining saved victims of the illusionist-yōkai on the ground.

'Kagome…' the black haired priest thought worriedly, his eyes never leaving her face as she struggled for breath. She was dying right in front of his eyes. Even he could tell. And he couldn't do a damn thing about it. 'Kagome…'

"We need a barrier. You need to make one," her voice, commanding and yet gentle, resonated in his mind again. She had been giving him orders, and yet, now that he stopped to think about it, her voice sounded as much pleading and trusting as it was commanding. She had been ordering him, yes, but at the same time, she was pleading with him to try… and she had trusted him not to screw up.

"I don't know how," his own, pathetic answer came back to him and Inuyasha closed his eyes in shame. But he knew these words were the truth. He didn't know how to make a barrier. Heck, he didn't even know how to control his power, much less use it.

"But I do. And I should be able to guide your power, like Miroku-sama had…"

"Are you insane?! What do you think will happen if my reiki and your youki collide?!"

"Inuyasha! Your power won't kill me!"

But what she had to do because he'd been a coward just might.

Inuyasha's fists clenched as guilt slammed into him once again. This was the second time in one day he'd done it, even though this time, he had been trying to do everything he could to make sure she wasn't hurt. And yet, once again, the exact opposite happened. Why was it that any time he wanted to protect her, his actions ended up causing the exact opposite?

He had been scared that if he tried to use his powers, or let her try to guide him, he'd end up making her human. So he had refused to try, and instead, made her do something that might truly cost her her life.

"Nee-san… Nee-san will be alright, right?" a trembling voice suddenly spoke up, bringing Inuyasha out of his thoughts as he glanced towards the speaker. It was Souta, Kagome's cousin. When the group was splitting up, he had insisted on riding on Hachi despite being one of the older children who could easily make the trip back to the village on foot. Inuyasha was quite sure he knew why the boy wanted so desperately to remain with them, too.

"Souta," the future-born teen barely managed to utter, his voice failing him. How could he say anything comforting to the boy when he knew he wouldn't believe his own words the tiniest bit?

"I am quite sure she will be, Souta-kun," Miroku spoke as he appeared at Souta's side, laying a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "Kagome-sama is a fighter and she will not go down easy. Especially if she knows there are still people who need her."

The monk's voice was so calm and serene, he sounded so sure of himself, that Inuyasha almost believed him, too. Almost. But one look at the houshi was enough to shatter these hopes. While his reassuring smile didn't betray the lie, his closed eyes as he turned away certainly did. Though he didn't sound like it, it was more than obvious that even Miroku didn't believe his own reassurances. Inuyasha's heart sank before an ice-cold fist closed around it and he shivered, feeling that cold penetrating his body and reaching the deepest parts of it.

Souta, however, seemed to latch on to Miroku's words and either believed them, or made himself believe them.

As the boy turned his whole attention on Kagome and started whispering something softly into her ear in a voice that betrayed the tears he had not yet let fall, Inuyasha turned to the solemn-looking Miroku. The teen's mind really wasn't in the correct state to try what he was about to attempt, but on another hand, he had a feeling he could not wait any longer. If he did, who knew what the consequences would be.

No, he had waited enough.

"Oi, Miroku, I have to talk to…" Inuyasha started, but was interrupted by Hachi's distorted voice.

"We're nearing a village. I'm quite sure it's the one you were talking about, Miroku-danna. Should I deposit you at the outskirts, like last time?" the demon asked, his flight slowing as he approached the human settling.

"I believe that would be wiser. However, try not to land too far away from it," Miroku replied. Not even a minute later, Inuyasha could feel the descent and a short while later, Hachi landed gently on the ground. With Miroku's permission, all the children that had been riding with them save for Souta quickly slid off the tanuki's back and, after thanking him, raced towards their homes and un-expecting parents. Inuyasha and Miroku were slower to descend, the monk kneeling at Kaogme's side just as Inuyasha moved to pick her up.

"I do not think it would be wise for you to carry her, Inuyasha. Let me do it," Miroku said when he realized what the priest was about to do. Freezing mid-movement, Inuyasha was about to protest when his mind caught up with what Miroku was saying. Hanging his head dejectedly, the teen nodded and the monk slowly picked the injured hamf-demon up, holding her bridal style. He slid off Hachi's back with Souta and Inuyasha in tow, landing on the ground as gently as he could. As soon as they were off, Hachi's transformation disappeared in a puff of smoke and the tanuki reappeared in his original form. Miroku didn't even spare him a glance as he started walking quickly towards the village.

"I thank you for your help, Hachi. I will return with your payment shortly. Forgive me, but there are things I need first to take care of," he spoke crisply, causing the Tanuki to shrug.

"I figured, Miroku-danna. I will be waiting for you here then," the demon replied as he stopped walking, surprisingly quickly being left behind.

Luckily, the walk to the village was short. Even more luckily, they approached it from behind Kaede's hut without having to pass any other homes, allowing them to reach Kaede without being spotted or stopped by the joyous villagers, who by then had reunited with their children. At least, for the most part, as some of the kids still haven't arrived, having to walk with Sango, Kohaku and Kirara.

Miroku purposefully walked straight to the entrance of the hut, Souta and Inuyasha following closely, the latter with his head hung low and wincing with each of Kagome's ragged breaths. Was it just him, or was her breathing becoming even more pained than before? Did he just imagine it, or was she really struggling more and more with each breath she took?

Gods, he hoped he was just imagining it. He had to be imagining it…

"Kaede-sama!" Miroku called as they entered the hut. "Please, forgive the intrusion but…"

"Not now, houshi-sama, ye can explain later. Lay her on the ground, I need to examine the damage," the old priestess interrupted, her one eye easily catching the reason of Miroku's and Inuyasha's sudden entrance. Without a word, Miroku did as told and, after one sharp look from Kaede, he bowed and moved back towards the exit.

"We will be waiting outside, then" he said as he grabbed Inuyasha's arm and pulled the teen after him. Snapping out of the guilt-trip Inuyasha had once again sent himself on, the priest tried to struggle. He didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay by Kagome's side. He needed to.

Miroku merely tightened his grip of his shoulder and all but dragged him out of the hut, Souta following soon after to rush to Kaede's garden and gather some herbs she'd need. Once outside, Miroku roughly pushed Inuyasha to the ground and pinned him there with his hard eyes, as if daring him to try and go back into that hut.

"Let me go, Miroku!" Inuyasha all but yelled, even though he wasn't being physically restrained anymore. With the look the monk was giving him, though, he might as well have been. "I just want to help any way I can…"

"We've done all we could, Inuyasha," Miroku said in response as he sat down next to the kannushi, keeping a vigilant eye on him in case the teen bolted for the hut, anyway. "It's in Kaede-sama's capable hands now. All we can do is wait."

Inuyasha grumbled under his breath, but didn't protest and settled against the wall of Kaede's hut. Miroku was right. All they could do now was wait.

Inuyasha hated waiting.

XxX

Kagome looked around, bewildered. She knew where she was. Of course she did. She would recognize this place anywhere, no matter how long it had been since she'd last been here. This was, after all, the home she and her mother had lived at.

Still, wasn't she supposed to be somewhere else?

Suddenly, there was a silent explosion of light right in front of her, causing the young half-demon to shield her eyes from the sudden brightness. As soon as it appeared, it vanished again and Kagome's eyes snapped open as the scream of a child cut through the silence and she froze when the scene registered in her brain.

[T]

There were at least ten people in the room. One woman, one child and eight full grown men. The woman, Kagome realized all too easily, was her mother. The child was her. The men surrounding them were some of the village-men. Kagome remembered not liking their half-smiling, half-disgusted expressions when she first saw them. Now, when she saw them again and knew full well what they meant, she felt even worse.

"No… No way," she whispered. She knew very well what she was looking at. She wished she didn't. And she wished even more she wouldn't have to look at it. "Please, no…"

"Hold the little thing down. Wouldn't want it to interfere," one of the men spoke, even though he didn't need to, since the little version of Kagome was already pinned to the ground by two of the men and struggled in vain to get free, only to be laughed at.

"Let me go!" the child screamed and Kagome winced at the anger mixed with terror she heard in the child's, in her own, voice. "And let kaa-san go!"

"Silence, half-breed. Be a good girl and just enjoy the spectacle," the man holding her spat as he held her tighter before he turned to glance at Kagome's mother. The woman was being held by two more men while the third was about to continue what the little hanyō's sudden entrance a few moments before had interrupted. Namely tearing the woman's clothes off. Kagome growled.

"Spectacle?" she repeated, her voice menacing and the words hardly distinguishable between the growls she couldn't, and didn't care to hold back. "Oh, I'll show you a spectacle alright. Now let her go!" the grown hanyō yelled as she reached for the man who was trying to expose her mother's body. She wasn't planning on killing him of course. Despicable as the man was, Kagome didn't want his blood staining her claws. She merely wanted to scare him.

When her hand reached his neck, however, it passed right through without her being able to touch him and Kagome stilled, suddenly realizing several things at once.

One, she was revisiting an old memory. And two, since it was just a memory, she couldn't interact with it. She couldn't do anything. She was completely helpless, just like she had been when it happened.

Realizing this caused something within Kagome to snap painfully and Kagome sank to her knees.

"No," she whispered, the anger and strength draining from her to be replaced with dread, sorrow and defeat. "Please, no… stop," she whispered as she closed her eyes, despite knowing that her pleas would be for nothing. They would be even if the men around her could see her. There were no words that could possibly stop them from trying something. Only actions could. But right now, Kagome couldn't actually do anything other than watch.

"Yeah, let her watch. Let her learn what the likes of her and her whore of a mother deserve," another man said, glee evident in his voice. The man standing over Hikari only shrugged before going on with his business.

"She isn't even fighting. I guess she knows she's only getting what she should have gotten a long time ago," he snickered as he slipped his hands under her kimono and prepared to pull it apart, only to draw back when she spat straight in his face. "Bitch," he hissed, slapping her in response while he used his other hand to wipe his face. "You'll pay for that."

"STOP IT!" the young Kagome yelled when the man literally ripped the kimono off her mother's body, leaving only her yukata to protect the woman's modesty. In response to the child's scream, though, she was merely pushed harder into the ground until she grunted in pain, feeling her little chest being crushed under the weight off the men who were restraining her.

"Shut it, you little fiend," one of the men warned, pushing her even further into the ground, stopping only when she cried out and tears fell from her eyes. "The whore is getting even more than she deserves. She's is, after all, a demon whore."

"Yeah. Instead of fighting, she should be honored a human would even want to touch her after a monster defiled her," another man added.

"Not to mention the sin she committed by allowing the spawn of that monster, namely you, to live. You should be grateful, half-breed. We're actually saving your mother from hell, cleansing her body from the touch of an impure being," a third one said.

"He was purer than any of you and all of you combined. And bringing my daughter to this world was no sin. Your actions are," Hikari suddenly growled back. She only got slapped once again in response.

"Did I say you were allowed to speak, you whore? I don't think so. So you should shut your mouth and speak only if your betters allow you to," the man over her growled. "And you should not move unless told to, either," he added as he leaned over her, preparing to get the last thing obscuring her body from his view away. Hikari, however, though little of his threats and orders and promptly head butted him, causing the man to stagger backwards in surprise.

"I don't see are any betters of mine, here. I only see scum well below my feet," she answered, her voice not betraying an ounce of fear despite her unquestionable knowledge of what these men were planning. "Now I advise you to let me and my daughter go. This instant."

"Or you'll do what?" one of the men holding Hikari down asked, his voice mocking. "You're at our mercy now, and you do what we tell you to unless you want to face dire consequences."

"The consequences you'll face if you don't listen to me now will be direr. Release me and my daughter and leave this house. Now," Hikari replied calmly, her voice unnaturally strong. Unlike any other woman in her position might have, she wasn't begging or pleading with her captors. Instead, she was giving orders.

"Or you will what? Call your demon on us? I don't think so. If the monster had wanted anything to do with you, he would have come years ago. You are no good to him and you should be glad there are humans out there who think your damaged goods are worth shit, bitch."

Kagome, still on her knees where she had fallen, fell to the ground completely and barely managed to support herself on her arms when one of the men moved to remove her mother's youkata. She felt ill. She felt like she was breaking. But most of all, she felt useless.

This time, she wasn't a child. This time, she knew how to fight, had experience with it and had faced more foes than she cared to count and come out on top. But still, she couldn't do anything.

All she could do was watch and despair.

Her younger self's thoughts weren't very far from her own. Little Kagome also felt useless. She felt like it was her fault – and judging from the men's words, in their point of view, it at least partially was. They saw her birth as a sin on her mother's part, although the little girl couldn't even begin to comprehend why that might be. She didn't think she even wanted to.

What she wanted was to help her mother. Do something, anything, to save the one woman who had ever showed her kindness and love. But she could hardly find enough strength to draw breath, let alone fight off the threat that were the men surrounding her.

Anger rose in her small body. What had she and her mother ever done to deserve this? They did nothing! They never harmed anyone! Neither of them were monsters or fiends. These men were! And they were threatening her mother! They were a threat. A threat that she needed to dispose of. Now.

It happened in a flash. Kagome didn't really understand how it could happen, but all of a sudden, strength filled her entire body. Then, there was a flash of gold and screaming as the men holding her suddenly drew back. She was free to move. So she did. Very slowly, she got to her feet, her head still lowered, her bangs obscuring her face.

"Shiba-san! Rutsumo-san!" one of the men cried, his voice no longer mirthful in any way. Instead, it sounded terrified. And Kagome could only feel glad.

[/T]

Kneeling a few feet away from her younger self, the grown Kagome froze when she saw the tiny girl stand up. Unlike the child, she didn't have the strength to feel anger anymore, feeling only growing despair, especially when she realized what was about to happen now.

"No…" she whispered again, shaking her head in denial even though she knew it wouldn't help any. "Please don't… stop! I… I don't want to see this again!" she screamed, her ears flattening on the crown of her head and her hands rising to cover them and muffle any sounds that they might still catch while she closed her eyes tightly. But unfortunately, it didn't help any. It was, after all, a memory, and memories are not something one could block one's ears and cover one's eyes from. Despite all she did, Kagome still saw and heard everything, as if she hadn't tried to block her surroundings out at all.

And then, a rain of blood covered the world.

XxX

"IEEEEEE! (2)"

Inuyasha's breath caught in his throat when a strangled scream came from the hut he was leaning against. There was no mistaking just who that scream had come from and in less than a second, the future-born teen was on his feet. He didn't even take a step towards the hut, however, before Miroku and Sango pushed him back down. The slayer had arrived with Kirara and the rest of the children a short while ago and was now waiting for Kaede to come out and tell the verdict, just as her brother, Kirara and the rest of the group did.

"You're not going in there until Lady Kaede says it's safe to enter," Miroku told him for what had to have been the hundredth time, irritation obviously plain on his face by that point.

"But…" Inuyasha tried to argue, no longer able to just sit still when he could hear just how much pain Kagome was in. He couldn't just sit back and wait. He had to help. There had to be something he could do.

"No buts," this time, it was Sango who pinned him down with a hard glare. "You wait here, just like the rest of us have to," her voice was hard, but her eyes betrayed compassion and also a hint of worry. Inuyasha, however, was too focused on his own emotions to notice that the demon slayer seemed to start to care for Kagome as well. Sango sighed when Inuyasha opened his mouth to protest again, then knelt in front of him and laid a hand on his shoulder, her features softening.

"Look, I know how you feel. But the fact is, you can't do anything to help right now. None of us can. I know it's frustrating and probably tearing you apart but… you just have to suck it up and wait. And believe in her."

"I know," the kannushi replied sourly, his shoulders sagging. "I know, damn it," he repeated for good measure, his eyes closing as he leaned his forehead on one of his hands, his elbow being supported by his knee. "I just… can't take sitting idly by anymore. It's driving me insane," he admitted, though he did not tell them just why that was, even though he knew. Truth was, the longer he waited, the more the guilt in him grew, and the more it did, the more its mixture with the also growing worry threatened to overwhelm him. He needed something to do or he would really lose it.

"Then try to find something to distract yourself with. We'll call you when Kaede-sama is done. I'm quite sure it'll still take a while, anyway," the taijiya offered, causing Inuyasha to frown. Of course, he had thought of that before, too, but he found two problems with it. One, he didn't want to be too far from the hut, for he wanted to be there when Kaede came out. And two, there wasn't much, if anything at all, he could actually do now.

Then again, there was one thing.

"Oi, Miroku," he started, waiting until the monk at least glanced his way before continuing. "You were right, you know. When you told me about what could happen if I didn't learn to control my power, I mean," Inuyasha said slowly, trying not to sound as though having to admit this left a sour taste in his mouth. Even if it, in fact, did.

"It was inevitable given the circumstances," the houshi replied calmly, nodding in agreement to Inuyasha's words. However, surprisingly, his voice didn't convey the message of 'of course I was right' like Inuyasha expected it to. Miroku was merely stating a fact and for that, Inuyasha was grateful.

"I know that now. And I also know I need to learn," the kannushi replied, his expression hardening as images of his power striking out at Kagome flashed in his mind again. "So… would you teach me how to control this power?"

For a moment, it looked like Miroku would agree. In fact, Inuyasha saw no reason for the monk not to. And it would be practical, too. They were travelling together anyway, so even if he hadn't learned everything he needed to learn by the time Kagome recovered, he could continue learning while they travelled. It was a fool-proof plan.

Except that Miroku had declined.

"I cannot do that, Inuyasha," he replied, his tone apologetic and even a bit regretful. Inuyasha blinked in surprise, as he hadn't anticipated such an answer at all. Another part of him, however, was disappointed and even a bit scared. If Miroku couldn't help him, then who the hell could? Did he have to learn by himself? It would take forever in that case, and even then, he wasn't quite sure if he could figure things out on his own. He hadn't up until now (although, granted, he hadn't even tried) and he probably wouldn't.

"Why not?" the black haired teen finally asked.

"Because I am a houshi, not a kannushi," Miroku replied as if it was obvious. "Though both are holy, my power and yours are different. As such, I cannot teach you to control it. Only another kannushi or a miko could teach you."

"Then who do you suppose could help me?" Inuyasha couldn't help but ask, not even questioning why a monk's and a priest's powers should be that different. Miroku had no reason to lie, after all, so if he said he couldn't help, then Inuyasha believed him. Kagome had said something similar back in the cave, anyway, now that he thought about it.

"I am sure Kaede-sama would be more than glad to teach you," Miroku replied without a second thought. Inuyasha bit back a groan.

Yeah, sure, Kaede was a miko, so she could definitely help him. Problem was, she was now tending to Kagome, so he was stuck waiting until she was done – not that he hadn't been waiting for her to finish before.

And he really, really hated waiting.

XxX

"Stop… Please… Enough! I… I don't want to see this anymore!" Kagome screamed as she tried to force the memory to stop replaying itself. It was in vain, though. No matter how much she tried or what she did, she couldn't stop seeing and hearing her surroundings.

Most of the men that had been in the hut were already dead. The few that were still alive, Kagome knew, would not remain that way for long. There would be no saving them, either. If they weren't dead by the time they fell to the ground, their life would end seconds afterward, since Kagome's younger self was not holding anything back.

The little girl was already covered in blood from head to toe, although it really wasn't surprising considering what she was doing. As the men ran at her in a futile attempt to stop her rampage, her claws made very quick work of them. Some found themselves with their bellies cut open, others lost their head. It wasn't long until every last man in the hut was dead, the little structure quickly filling with the stench of blood and death. But the little hanyō cared little for the smell. In fact, she actually reveled in it. As she did with the sight before her.

The floor was littered with the corpses of her enemies – the threat she had wanted to destroy. The walls were painted red with their blood, a proof that her actions were quick, but also merciless. If she had been in her right mind, she would have found it terrifying. But now, she thought it was beautiful.

Her ears twitched when she heard yells from outside. Someone had undoubtedly heard the commotion and people were starting to gather near the hut in order to investigate. A growl rose in her throat and her blood-stained claws flexed. The hunt wasn't over. There were more of them. And she had to destroy every single one. Only then would she be safe.

She barely registered the movement behind her. But she did notice when a hand clasped down on her shoulder. She reacted on instinct and, without looking, cut the fiend that tried to harm her down.

"NO!" The grown Kagome called, although her voice went unnoticed by her younger self. "KAA-SAN! NO!" The person who had just tried to grab her younger self, and whom little Kagome had taken for a threat, had actually been her mother. Without even realizing it, Kagome had just wounded the one person she had wanted to protect, effectively sealing her fate. But while the grown-up version of Kagome knew this, her younger self did not.

In little Kagome's head, there were very few thoughts. Actually, there was only one: 'destroy the threat'. She should have taken care of all the threats in the hut. The one she had just cut down should have been the last of them. At least, out of those that were in the hut. Left were only those outside.

And she would take care of them all.

Snarling angrily, the little girl leapt outside without much thought or care and the older version of herself, though unable to move, found herself pulled after her. She didn't fight it. She didn't have the strength to fight it. Not anymore.

Screams filled her ears a second later and, despite her better judgment, Kagome looked up from her lap at her surroundings. She wished she hadn't the moment her eyes landed on the scene in front of her and the last remains of her heart turned to dust.

[T]

People were running, their faces the expressions of pure terror as they tried to escape. In vain. The demon among them was faster than them, stronger and utterly merciless. Whether man, woman or child, Kagome didn't care. Her claws sliced through anything and everything that moved, relishing in the feel of cutting through flesh.

The first few seconds were easy. There were so many people she hardly needed to move in order to cut someone down. But eventually, most were dead and only a few remained. This was where the hunt began and, although easy prey, Kagome found herself enjoying running after them. To give them the feel like they might escape, to see the fear in their eyes when she caught up and the terror when they saw her claws get ready to strike, it was something Kagome had never expected could be this enjoyable.

But even more exciting than the sight were the smells. The fiends she had always associated with the stench of hatred were now cowering before her, fear rolling off of them in waves of pleasure to Kagome's nostrils. Fear and blood were quickly becoming two scents the little hanyō believed would be her favorites. They proved she wasn't helpless, proved she could defend herself.

One of the people was stupid enough to try and fight her. She wasn't impressed by his slow approach. Easily evading the pitchfork he aimed at her, Kagome clawed at his face, relishing in his screams of pain as blood splattered on her face and clothes. She allowed herself a second or two of enjoyment before cutting the man down and going after the few others that remained.

She wouldn't let a single one escape the village.

"STOP! NO MORE! PLEASE, NO MORE!" A voice unheard by anyone pierced through all the other sounds of the carnage as the other half-demon, the grown-up one, collapsed on the ground, seemingly in agony. And such speculation wasn't incorrect, for Kagome was in pain.

She clenched her eyes shut in an attempt to block out her surroundings, but just like before, it didn't help at all. She didn't need to look in the direction of her younger self to know what she was doing. Whether she wanted to or not, she could only witness her own cruelty as she hunted down the few remaining, terrified villagers and killed them in cold blood with a bloodthirsty smile on her face as more of the red liquid fell on her and her surroundings. Kagome whimpered as tears she could no longer stop flowed down her cheeks.

Her younger self might be enjoying what she was doing now, but Kagome knew that as soon as the little girl's eyes lost the red hue and as soon as her irises turned back from blue to gold, she would be terrified at her own actions. She would regret them, too. And she wouldn't forgive herself for a long time.

In fact, Kagome still hasn't forgiven herself for what had happened back then, and having to relive it was more agonizing than anything else she had ever experienced.

The scream of another human reached her ears just then and she flinched.

"No more… Please… Make it stop… Please, make it stop," the hanyō whispered, though who she was pleading with, she did not know. She just wanted it to end, all of it.

As if listening to her plea, the screams suddenly stopped and for a while, silence reigned around her. But that was only a brief moment and soon, sounds of battle reached her ears again. Though she didn't need to, Kagome looked up again to see what her mind wanted her to relive this time.

First, she saw a cave. Next, she realized there were several people there. Two of them were fighting. One was her. The other…

"No…" she whispered weakly as she looked at her mother's face. She knew what would soon happen. Soon, history would repeat itself and Kagome would see herself end her mother's life. "No... no… please… please make it stop…" it was just too much. She couldn't handle it anymore.

Some tiny part of her was yelling that she shouldn't be fooled. Some tiny part of her was screaming she was missing something important. But right now, Kagome was unable to even attempt to listen to that tiny part of herself, the agony she was experiencing far beyond what she could handle. She wanted it to end. She needed it to end. She couldn't take more.

"Please let it end," she whimpered, only to cry out as the other her slashed at her mother and annihilated the woman in the bright light of the Wound of the Wind. She didn't scream any more after that. In fact, she didn't make a single sound. All she did was think a single sentence.

'Please… I just… want it to end…'

And that thought was answered by blissful nothingness as darkness swallowed her and she knew no more.

[/T]

XxX

"Would you quit your pacing? You'll end up driving us all mad," Miroku finally snapped at the kannushi in front of him. Inuyasha had long since been unable to sit calmly and had taken to pacing in front of Kaede's hut, which at least helped him with his restlessness. Too bad there was no such remedy for worry.

"Would you quit nagging, monk? That's the third time you said it," Inuyasha snapped back. He really couldn't understand how the monk could just sit there so calmly as if nothing were. Kagome could be fighting for her life in there, for crying out loud, and he was supposed to be calm? Like that would ever happen.

"But it's the first time you actually replied," the houshi replied with a sigh. "Settle down, Inuyasha. Getting all worked up won't help Kagome-sama."

"Settle down? Settle down?! How can I settle down when Kagome might possibly…"

"Inuyasha," Sango interrupted him sharply before he could finish the sentence. He glared at her, but the slayer wasn't impressed and merely motioned with her head towards a group of people near them. Looking in that direction, Inuyasha spotted a group of children, Souta and Shippō among them, playing one game or another with a priestess looking after them.

The miko, Sango had told them when she had arrived in the village, had been among the illusionist's victims and had been unconscious for the most part of the journey back. But when she had woken shortly after arriving at the village and had learned from Sango that the demon had been defeated, she had thanked her profoundly and had told her and the rest of the group how she ended up in the cave to begin with.

It turned out she was a travelling miko. On her journey, she had come across a village not far from Kaede's own, and happened to be there just as the illusionist used its powers on the children to lure them to its den. She had managed to save most of them, but not all, and had thus come after it. But she had not been able to defeat the yōkai, though she attempted it multiple times. Why it had not killed her on the spot the first time it had defeated her, the miko had not known (although Miroku had speculated the yōkai simply wanted to eat her later, like the rest of the children), but be that as it may, she had survived. Now, she was occupying Souta and Shippō while they waited for news about Kagome's condition, along with a group of children that weren't from Kaede's village and which she would later lead back to their home village after a good night's rest.

Inuyasha sighed as he turned away from the group. Both Shippō and Souta had been sent over to play with the other kids (although Shippō needed to use his illusions to look human and had been lucky enough that the priestess was too tired to sense his youki) to get their mind off Kagome. Both had also been assured that the half-demon would be fine. And while both kids had seen the extent of Kagome's injuries, Inuyasha was sure they chose to believe that assurance.

If they were to hear the truth that Kagome might be dying right now… well, it was better they didn't know yet.

Then again, if Kagome did die, they'd need to know.

Inuyasha shook his head as that thought crossed his mind. No. Kagome would not die. She was stronger than that. She would not die. No way in hell.

Just then, the tatami mat that hung at the entrance to Kaede's hut was pushed aside as the old miko came out, looking more like she had come out of a bloody battle than from treating someone. The silence that suddenly hung over the group instantly turned heavier as it became apparent that the moment of truth had come. Inuyasha stopped his pacing, Kohaku jumped to his feet, Sango and Miroku stood as well and Kirara mewled softly, her tails twitching in anxiousness. Shippō and Souta, although not completely absorbed by the game they were playing with the other kids, had yet to notice Kaede coming out.

"Well, Kaede-sama? How is Kagome-sama?" Kohaku finally asked, his voice quiet as if he was afraid to ask that question. And he probably was, not that he was the only one. Inuyasha gulped, the next seconds seemingly stretching into a small eternity before Kaede finally answered.

However, her answer was not one Inuyasha had wanted to hear.

The old priestess sighed.

"I have done all that I could," she said mournfully.

Inuyasha's world stopped. He barely heard Miroku's mournful sigh or Sango's sharp inhale, the best proof of all that she actually cared.

The young kannushi understood the message hidden behind that short statement, of course. It was hard not to understand. But while his mind comprehended what Kaede was saying, it also refused to believe it. It just couldn't be true. There was no way Kagome was… She just couldn't be… She couldn't…

[T]

This time, when the black haired priest moved, no one tried to stop him, though even if they did, they wouldn't have managed to. Before even Inuyasha himself realized what he was doing, he walked past Kaede and pushed the tatami mat aside to enter the hut, practically running to Kagome's side and promptly falling to his knees when he got there. For the first second or two, he just looked at her serene, if slightly pale face in both wonder and disbelief. She looked just as if she were sleeping, covered by her haori like a blanket, were it not for the fact that her chest wasn't moving. Inuyasha shook his head. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening!

"Kagome?" the future-born teen asked tentatively as he reached out a hand and clasped one of hers. It wasn't cold. It was warm, which gave him hope. And when he moved his hand to her wrist without realizing it, he felt it: a small pulse. It was weak, sure, but it was there.

Inuyasha breathed a sigh of relief. Kaede had him worried there.

A second heart-beat could be felt at Kagome's wrist artery, making Inuyasha frown. The time between the two heartbeats… it was way too long.

Biting his lip, Inuyasha kept his hand firm where it was as he softly called out Kagome's name again.

But a third heartbeat didn't come.

He waited for at least a minute before the realization sunk in. There wasn't a pulse anymore. There was nothing. Nothing at all.

His eyes widened and he shook his head in denial. This wasn't real. It had to be a dream, a freaking nightmare! Nothing more. It couldn't be anything more. It just couldn't.

"Come on, Kagome, wake up," the young kannushi said, his voice turning a little more desperate with each word as the grim reality stared him in the eyes. "Open your eyes damn it. Please, just open your eyes. Wake up and look at me. Please," he found himself saying, his hand squeezing hers harder as if it would wake her. It didn't. Kagome didn't even twitch, much less respond to his voice. Inuyasha's breath hitched.

"You're not dead," he tried to tell her, and himself, though it helped little in hiding the truth from himself. "You can't be dead, Kagome. You just can't!" Fear was starting to rise in his gut and a lump formed in his throat, making it very hard to talk. This wasn't real. This couldn't be real. "Come on, Kagome… you… you can't just die like that. You're stronger than that… so much stronger… you kept telling me that again and again, didn't you? Well then prove it now and open your eyes already! You can't die, you hear?" he wanted to yell at her, but for some reason, all that came out of his mouth were whispers and desperate pleas. All he knew was that this couldn't be real. She couldn't be dead. It just… wasn't possible.

"Don't you dare die on me," he couldn't help but whisper again as he repositioned himself to sit cross-legged at her side before he gently picked her up and placed her in his lap with her head resting against his shoulder. She was completely limp in his arms and the warmth was slowly leaving her body, making the truth of her death all the more unquestionable and real. Without realizing it was happening, Inuyasha's body started to shake. "C-Come on… Kagome… Wake up… Please… Just… Wake up… open your eyes… please… don't die… you can't die… please," the kannushi whispered with a quivering voice into her silver hair, his eyes closing when she still remained unresponsive. Why couldn't she just open her damned eyes? Was that so much to ask? It wasn't so hard, was it?

Well, so long as you were alive, it wasn't, but Kagome…

"Didn't you promise to protect me? We both know you did. But how can you protect me if… if you're not here? How can you make sure I'm safe if you're gone?" Gods, he never thought he would actually pull out that card. Her promise to protect him had always gotten on his nerves. She wasn't the one who should protect him, it should be the other way around. He had always tried to turn it around, too. But that didn't matter right now. What mattered was finding a way to wake Kagome up. The results would justify the means.

Still, Kagome remained still and unmoving, giving no sign of having heard him. Nor any sign of life for that matter. And the longer she stayed so deathly still, the more something inside of him was threatening to break. Whatever it was, it was cracking already, and that alone hurt. Inuyasha didn't know what it was or why it was happening, but he didn't even care. All he knew was it hurt and would only stop if Kagome opened her eyes, or groaned, or gave any sign of life at all.

But she did not.

Inuyasha shook his head in denial, even though there was nothing that could possibly make the truth before him into a lie. Kagome… was dead.

"No… You can't be… you can't… you hear me, Kagome?" his voice was breaking, just like that something inside of him. "Come on already… Open your eyes… please… K-Kagome… C-Come on… Wake up already… Come on… hanyō-wench…" How long has it been since he called her that? When had he stopped? When had she stopped glaring daggers at him when he slipped up and said 'hanyō', instead? Just when had she become so important to him that the idea of losing her turned into such torture?

In any other situation, Inuyasha might have wondered what the phrasing of 'losing her' meant. It wasn't like Kagome was his, after all. But as things were, he cared for little more than seeing her eyes open again. A thing that probably wouldn't ever happen anymore.

"No… Please no… Not Kagome… Not you, hanyō-wench… please don't… don't die… don't… leave… please… don't leave me…"

He didn't even realize what he was saying anymore as he closed his eyes and hugged the still half-demon. His eyes burned and he couldn't stop the shivers that ran up and down his spine. Some part of him deep inside, a part he hadn't even known existed, hurt. It hurt so much…

"Please wake up…"

She didn't.

[/T]

XxX

Whatever it was she was lying on, it was rough, but not completely uncomfortable. It was rough but also kind of soft, however that was possible. She didn't feel like moving, especially not with the nice feeling of the gentle waves washing over her every now and then. She was probably lying in some shallow water, that would explain it. And it felt nice.

Yes, Kagome definitely didn't want to move.

However, considering the voices above her, she didn't have much of a choice.

"Who is she, I wonder?" someone asked, the voice sounding as if it came from right above her, as if the person was leaning over her face. That was probably the case, Kagome figured. And from what her ears told her, it was a female.

"Probably another one seeking judgment. Who else can it be?" a second voice said, sounding a bit further off. This one was male.

"But they usually come on foot from over there. Not one has ever been washed ashore by the River itself," the female spoke up again.

"Maybe she tried to go back to the other world?"

"You know as well as I that it would be impossible, not to mention unthinkable. This way cannot be walked back on once the River is crossed."

"Well, why don't you ask her yourself? She seems to be waking."

That wasn't quite true. Kagome had been awake for a good while already. But it was only now that she decided to open her eyes and make that fact apparent. The first thing her eyes fell on was the female standing over her, who turned out to be an oni. One of the most hideous Kagome had ever seen at that. But despite her repulsing appearance, the demon wasn't intimidating or terrifying. In fact, the female looked quite kind.

Still, somehow, Kagome knew she was just lucky to see this side of the oni. The hanyō somehow knew that this wasn't how the yōkai usually treated others.

"Seems like it," she said as she glanced at Kagome, gently helping her to her feet. "Out with it, young soul. How have you gotten here?"

"I don't know," the young half-demon replied truthfully. "I don't even know where 'here' is," she added as she looked around, confused. The last thing she remembered was darkness and before that… before that there was pain and that was enough for Kagome to decide she didn't want to know anything more. Instead, she focused on her surroundings.

She was indeed at the edge of a beautiful river. The water was crystal clear, allowing the hanyō to see the bottom perfectly well. It wasn't too deep, although crossing on foot might have gotten problematic further in. Further to her left, the river became more shallow, allowing save passage through a ford and on her right stood a wooden, red bridge – quite obviously the best way of crossing the water, as the river was rather wide.

However, the river was the only thing even remotely beautiful in the landscape. The rest was simply dead, barren land.

"You are at the Sanzu-no-Kawa," the female oni said. "I am Detsue-ba, sometimes called by humans the 'demon hag of hell'. And he over there is my mate, Keneō," she said, pointing to the man behind her. He was also an oni, and just as hideous as his mate, if not even more so, although he lacked that kind glint in his eyes that Detsue-ba had. He was sitting at the base of a tree – a very obviously dead tree. "And who are you, young soul?"

'Sanzu-no-Kawa?' Kagome repeated in her mind, the name sounding vaguely familiar. When Detsue-ba asked who she was, however, the hanyō quickly forgot her musings and replied, knowing full well that just her name would not suffice. If a demon asked who you were, they wanted to know more than just a name.

"I am Kagome. I am the daughter of the late Lord of the Western Lands, the Inu-no-Taishō Shugonin, and the late princess of the house of Higurashi, Hikari. I am the Inuyasha," she replied without hesitation, her voice strong with pride. Her answer was a laugh.

"Shugonin, eh? I don't remember that Hikari woman, but Shugonin sure left an impression. One hell of a strong demon. I think he still refuses to abide by the other kings' wishes and, despite the fact he should have been reborn, still stubbornly remains here. Let me tell ya, girl, your father is not one the judges are very happy to have here," Keneō said before chuckling again. "Hell, he even had the gall to try and cross the bridge after I told him he shall cross through the ford."

"And the best part is, he actually did it without you being able to do a thing about it," Detsue-ba added, obviously trying to poke at the other oni's pride.

"Oh, shut it ya old hag. Ya think I want to be walking as a skeleton for the rest of my eternal existence? Ningen are scared of both of us enough as it is, no need to add to the horror," Keneō grumbled in response before glaring at Kagome. "Well, enough reminiscing, time for the routine. Get to work, hag."

"I will as soon as you turn around," the female replied plainly, causing the other demon to stutter.

"Turn around? What the hell, babaa? Ya never told me to turn around before!"

"We never had Shugonin's daughter as our guest, either," she shot back, visibly irritated. The other demon grumbled some more under his breath, but eventually listened to his mate and turned around, although he was visibly none too happy about it. Satisfied, Detsue-ba turned back to Kagome and held out a hand expectantly. "Off with the clothes now, or I'll take them myself," she warned. Kagome shrugged in reply and moved to open her haori, somehow not even thinking about protesting. Her mind was elsewhere.

'The routine… taking off clothes with the help of a female demon while a male waits… a decision where to cross… Sanzu-no-Kawa… where did I hear that before?' she wondered as she slowly let her haori slide off her shoulders and handed it to the waiting oni. Somehow, the name of the river kept bugging her. 'Sanzu-no-Kawa… The Sanzu River… River… River of Three Crossings!' she suddenly realized as she unknotted her hakama and prepared to take them off, as well.

"I'm at the River of Three Crossings," she said slowly as she stripped, her hakama quickly joining her haori in the female oni's hand, only her kosode now covering her body. "Does that mean I'm dead?"

"That's what I would guess," Detsue-ba answered as she took the last piece of clothing before turning around and walking over to Keneō to hand the garments to him. He took them without turning around and easily hung them over the tree branch in front of him. "But as I said before, usually, souls come on foot from over there," she continued, pointing in the general direction away from the river, "not carried by the River's current and washed ashore mere feet from the ford. But be that as it may, you're here now, so we might as well see how you're supposed to cross… or if you're supposed to cross at all."

"Is it possible that the tree tells you I'm not supposed to cross yet?" the young half-demon wondered aloud.

"Never happened before. But then again, never before has Sanzu washed anyone ashore," Keneō replied gruffly as he hung the last of her clothing on the branch before taking a few steps back and staring at the tree, as if something should happen now. But nothing did.

"Strange," Detsue-ba commented, causing Kagome to frown. But before she could ask what was so strange, the male oni replied, as if reading her thoughts.

"I have never seen a soul who lived a life without committing a single sin. Never has the branch remained unmoved after I hung clothes on them. It has always bent at least a little bit," he said with a frown on his face. Kagome merely blinked.

"And what does that mean?" she asked. To her great surprise, Keneō didn't reply right away, as if he wasn't so sure of the answer himself, as if he were hesitating what to tell her.

"I guess… it's the bridge for you?" he said, sounding more like he was asking than stating something he knew to be a fact. Kagome blinked again as the oni took her clothes off the branch and handed them back to his mate, who in turn held them towards Kagome in a silent indication for her to get dressed again. She didn't need to be asked twice.

"Well then, have a nice crossing," Detsue-ba said as farewell, pointing Kagome in the bridge's direction. Shrugging, the hanyō-girl walked over to it and started to cross it. If she was here, it meant she was dead, which in turn meant she was supposed to cross, anyway. So why hesitate?

She barely reached the middle of the bridge, however, before something happened she was sure was not supposed to happen.

"Hello, Kagome," a voice said ahead of her, causing the hanyō to look away from the peaceful river and toward the speaker – a person whom she knew very well and whom she would never mistake for anyone else. "I never thought I would meet you here. And so soon, too," she said, her voice sad. Kagome stopped dead in her tracks, unable to even take a step further as she glanced at the person in front of her.

[T]

"K… Kaa-san?" she asked, disbelief plain in her voice. The woman in front of her nodded.

"Indeed. Though I never thought we would meet again in this place… or this soon to be honest," Hikari said slowly as she leaned on the bridge's railing and stared out at the river beneath them. "Tell me, Kagome, are you sure you should be here?" she asked quietly, her voice pained. "Is it not too soon?"

"If it was, I wouldn't be here, right?" the young half-demon replied, leaning on the railing as well. "I guess it was just time… I'm sorry," she added, although she wasn't quite sure what she was apologizing for.

"I wonder," Hikari said, her eyes never leaving the river. It looked like she was about to cry and Kagome had to fight a panic attack. Seeing her mother cry was the last thing she wanted. "Tell me, Kagome, how did you die?" her mother asked quietly.

How did she die? Well, that was a question Kagome would have liked to know the answer to herself. But she couldn't remember anything beyond the darkness that led her here. Or maybe she just didn't want to – something in her just told her some things were better left forgotten.

But her mother wanted to know. That should be enough of a reason to remember, right?

Biting her lower lip, the hanyō-girl closed her eyes and tried to recall her last moments in the world of the living. It was hard. Her head hurt when she tried to reach past the darkness, but she pushed onward anyway, trying to ignore the pain. And little by little, it came back to her.

"I… was in a cave," she said slowly, her eyes opening to stare at the slowly-flowing river below. She didn't have to look at her mother or even her reflection to know the woman was listening to her. "I went there… to fight a demon… to save someone… and… I think I wasn't alone," she continued, her brows furrowing. Her memories were fuzzy and it was everything but easy to recall the details at first. But little by little, it was coming back to her. "We managed to save that someone, too… but then something went wrong. I can't recall what," she admitted, slowly looking up at her mother. She was greeted by a loving, if a little sad, smile.

"So you died protecting others, huh," she said, rather than asked, and Kagome could only nod. "Like father like daughter, I guess."

"Is that supposed to be a compliment, or a reprimand?" Kagome asked, unsure if her mother was praising or chastising her. Hikari giggled.

"A little of both, I guess," she replied before sighing. "But Kagome, darling, do you remember anything more? About who was with you or whom you wanted to save?"

Her mother's voice sounded a bit desperate, as if Hikari wanted above all else that Kagome remembered. The young hanyō frowned. If it were anyone else, she would have simply asked why that should matter – what was done was done, she was dead, why try so desperately to remember what was before that? She didn't need to. In fact, something told her she was better off not remembering. But her mother seemed to want her to, so…

Her eyes narrowed as she stared down at the river, as if it held all the answers. And maybe it did. The longer she stared at it, the more she had the impression that she could see more than just herself and her mother. There were other people there, or more like shadows. She couldn't make out their faces, but she could tell they were people she was supposed to know.

It wasn't hard to chase the shadows away. She hadn't forgotten her whole life, after all, just the few moments (or maybe it was days?) shortly before her death. Remembering Tsurugi-kun and Kogarashi wasn't hard at all. Neither was recalling her still-living cousin, Souta. Or the people who were her friends as of late: Shippō, the fox kit, the houshi Miroku, the taijiya Kohaku and his sister Sango… well, the last one wasn't really her friend, but at least they were starting to tolerate each other. To be frank, the current development of her relationship with Sango reminded her of how she had grown close with Kikyo and she couldn't help but wonder if Sango would also have become as close to a sister to her as Kikyo had if she hadn't died.

And of course, there was Kirara. Possibly the best friend she's ever had, and only demonic friend, too.

"I see. It sounds like quite the lively group," Hikari laughed when Kagome told her everything. But surprisingly, and the hanyō-girl didn't fail to miss it, the laughter didn't reach her mother's eyes. "Were these all the people that were there, though, darling? Wasn't there anyone else? Someone who tried to find you despite being late? Someone you waited for?"

"Kōga-kun," Kagome replied immediately, her heart hurting slightly at the memory of the wolf-demon. Of course she had wanted to meet him. And she knew he had tried to follow her, too. She couldn't quite recall how she knew it, but somehow, she was sure. "Yeah, he tried to find me after I… well… ditched him, to be honest… but I guess the demon's barrier kept my scent hidden so he couldn't find the den."

Maybe it was because she mentioned the barrier. Or maybe it was because she mentioned how hunting the yōkai hadn't been planned at first. Or maybe it was simply because she started to think about the demon again. Be it as it may, suddenly, as if a fog had been lifted, Kagome could recall exactly what it was she had been hunting for and the half-demon fell to her knees when they suddenly refused to keep her upright.

"Kagome?" Hikari asked in concern as she knelt next to her daughter. Kagome barely heard her, her wide horrified eyes fixated on the water below and the images it was showing her. Or maybe she was just imagining it and they were simply playing out in her head. They were, after all, just memories. Memories she had suppressed. Memories she wished she could forget again. "Darling, what's wrong?"

"It was you," Kagome whispered brokenly as the images faded, but the feeling remained and dug a hole deeper and deeper in her heart and her very soul. "That demon… somehow, it was you… I hunted you… I… killed you…" she whimpered, unaware of how her mother's expression turned from worried, to understanding, to aghast.

"No, Kagome," she said sharply as she forcefully turned the hanyō so Kagome would look at her. But her daughter did not and continued to stare at her lap, instead. Hikari's voice softened. "It wasn't me, Kagome. You never killed me."

"Yes, I did," Kagome replied brokenly.

"No, you didn't," her mother replied, her voice becoming sharp and commanding again, willing the half-demon to listen. "It wasn't me."

"Yes, it was."

"No, it wasn't. And you knew it, Kagome. That was the only reason you could fight. You knew it wasn't me, that it was just an illusion. And you insisted to fight it because you didn't want your friends to go through the pain you knew would follow the fight."

"Just… an illusion?" Kagome repeated, as if she didn't believe her mother even though she did. It were her memories, after all, and although the images were painful to recall, the feelings weren't as much. Most of them were anger, anyway. Anger that the yōkai had dared to take on the face it had. "Yeah, just an illusion," she repeated, slowly allowing the relief to flood her and ease the pain, if only slightly. But it didn't go away completely. It never would. Not with her memories of early childhood still plaguing her.

"You see, Kagome," Hikari replied, relief plain in her voice as she smiled. "You never killed me, darling."

"Yes, I did," Kagome replied with a sigh, her voice sounding defeated and remorseful.

"No, you did not. It was a demon, Kagome. It wasn't me," her mother said again, now sounding exasperated. The young hanyō-girl's shoulders slumped.

"Two hundred years ago, it was you," she said, her eyes starting to water. How could Keneō decide she was allowed to walk the bridge? Considering the sin of killing her own mother, along with all those villagers, she should have been forced to swim through the snake-infested, turbulent, deep waters.

"Oh, Kagome," Hikari sighed sadly, easily realizing where her daughter's thoughts have wandered off to. "I cannot say it wasn't me that time, you're right. But it wasn't you who killed me, either."

"Yes, it was," Kagome countered and put her hands around her arms in an attempt at a self-hug. Years upon years of pain, regret and self-loathing were now finally able to come out and she had neither the will, nor the strength to stop it. "It might be a part of me I keep locked up and refuse to acknowledge or accept, but it's still a monster that lives inside of me. It's still me! And it were my claws that took your life!" she all but screamed, the tears that have built in her eyes finally overflowing.

If she had stopped to evaluate the way she acted right now, she would have been astonished how her actions mirrored Inuyasha's, even though she hadn't been able to understand them at first. Just like him, she was now doing everything she could to make her mother see she was right, as if she wanted the woman to hate her. And just like Inuyasha, she couldn't accept Hikari's reassurances that what had happened wasn't her fault and did all she could to make her mother think that it was. When Inuyasha had done something similar, she hadn't seen the logic in it, and yet she was doing the very same thing now.

It was funny how she never realized just how much like a human she sometimes behaved – or rather how much like a simple, living being able to feel emotions, most of all regret.

Just like Kagome herself, however, Hikari was having none of it. She wasn't about to start hating her daughter merely because the hanyō-girl acted like she wanted just that, mostly because it was simply only an act. And Hikari knew it as much as Kagome did.

Which was why in the next second, the crying half-demon found herself enveloped in a warm, comforting embrace.

"Shhh, darling. It's alright," Hikari said quietly, acting much as if she were comforting a hanyō-child of three years, and not an adolescent, fifteen-year-old half-demon. But Kagome had to admit that she did not mind and melted all too willingly into her mother's embrace like a small, scared child. "I never blamed you to begin with."

With the waterworks her eyes had turned into, it took Kagome a while to actually register those words. But when she finally calmed down and the statement penetrated her brain, she leaned slightly away from her mother, just enough to see her face and stared at her, her eyes and nose working overtime to try and find any sign of a lie. But there was none.

"How could you not blame me?" she asked slowly, her voice betraying her disbelief.

"How could I?" Hikari countered with a smile. "You're my daughter. I could never hate you for that reason alone. Let alone hating you for trying to protect me, even if it wasn't the best of ways to go about it," she said, pulling Kagome close again. "Don't misunderstand, darling. I'm not happy about what had happened that night. But I could never hate you for it, either. You wanted to protect me, and once you woke, you regretted what had happened, as well.

"Besides, I could see you weren't yourself, darling. I should have also known there was no telling what you would do in that state. I had wanted to stop you from doing any more harm, because I had feared what it would have done to you. But now I know… I should have just let you go, even if it would have made me feel responsible for all the other lives that would end. Then, at least, I would have been there to help you get through it instead of leaving you alone.

"But I was a selfish woman, Kagome. I had tried to stop you, and when you cut me down and I knew I would die, I was relieved. I was glad I could at least die with a clean conscience as I had tried to stop you. And only once you came back and it was obvious you were yourself again did I realize how selfish I was, how irresponsible of me it was to leave you alone.

"I am sorry, Kagome. I never should have done that. I should have stayed with you. Instead, I left you alone. I'm sorry, darling."

The hanyō-girl couldn't believe her ears. She had always thought her mother would be at least a little angry with her because of what had happened. If not because of the fact she had been killed by her own daughter, then at least because of everything else that happened. And instead, her mother was blaming herself for leaving her alone? She was blaming herself for dying?

They were one messed up pair of mother and daughter, weren't they.

"It's alright, kaa-san," Kagome whispered, feeling like it was her turn to console her mother this time. "I turned out alright, didn't I? I took care of myself just fine. Maybe not at the very beginning, but I learned. All turned out to be fine."

"Indeed," Hikari said quietly as she gently dried her eyes with her sleeves while Kagome tried to ignore the scent of salt. Gods, she hated it when her mother cried. "You are alright, darling. And I'm proud of you, of who you are," Hikari added, her words making Kagome freeze. Forgiveness was one thing, but pride?

She had never, ever, as much as dared to hope her mother would have been proud of her.

"Why such a surprised face, darling?" Hikari asked, now openly laughing as she rose and brought Kagome to her feet, as well. "Didn't you think I would be proud of who you now are? Did you think I wouldn't be proud of being the mother of the protector people call the Inuyasha?"

"I never… thought about it, to be honest," Kagome admitted sheepishly, causing Hikari to giggle again.

"Well then, know that I am proud. Just as your father is."

And as if on cue, right then, Kagome felt her hair stand on end as on the other side of the bridge, the side where she had yet to set foot, a tremendous amount of power was released. Of course, she didn't feel the youki as Inuyasha, or any other spiritualist would have, but she still knew the person at the center of that power-display was insanely powerful. Even more powerful than Sesshōmaru, which she hadn't thought possible.

The wind picked up suddenly, the blast forcing her to close her eyes as she shielded her face with her arm after instinctively moving in front of her mother in order to protect her. A few times, something seemed to smash against her, but mostly, things flew past her. Trying to get a good look, Kagome noticed they were imps, though she wasn't aware it were the imps of the underworld, which usually dragged the souls of the deceased to the other world, most likely to this very river.

As suddenly as it started, the wind died down again and Kagome's ears twitched when they caught the sound of someone walking toward them on the bridge. Behind her, her mother giggled.

"Well, speak of the devil," she said with a laugh. "Show-off."

"I was not showing off, mate. I was simply cleaning the way of vermin who thought they could stop me from marching unto this bridge if I so wished," a deep, male voice responded just as Kagome's eyes caught sight of the person who had caused the commotion a few moments ago. "Although I suspect their attempts are justified. Usually, once one crosses the Sanzu River, they do not cross it again. But I did not plan on crossing it, merely meeting someone half-way. And I see this someone is here," he added, his eyes landing on Kagome.

For some reason, however, despite the man's display of frightening power and might, Kagome wasn't afraid or even remotely nervous in his presence, despite the fact that he should be a total stranger. She was sure she had never seen him before, either. And yet, she knew without a doubt who it was.

"Otou-san," she whispered before she could stop herself, causing a smile to appear on Shugonin's lips.

[/T]

"Hello, Kagome. I am glad to finally be able to meet you. Although I would have preferred other circumstances, my daughter."

She knew, of course, that these were the only circumstances in which the two of them could meet. And even then, that was only possible because her father, for whatever reason, refused to be reborn (at least, according to Keneō). But still, she couldn't help but agree that meeting in other circumstances would have been more enjoyable.

But then again, she was glad she could even meet him at all.

Some instinct in her told her to go to him and embrace him. She hardly knew him, but it hardly mattered. He was her father and she wanted to at least pretend this wasn't the first time they met, if only for a little while. But before she could even think about moving, he acted first and stood before her without her ever seeing him move. And next thing she knew, she was confined in a tight embrace as her father pulled her close to his chest, mindful of the chest plate he was wearing.

"I truly am glad to be able to truly meet you, Kagome," he repeated, as if wanting to make sure she understood. Kagome smiled, somehow finding her father's unfounded fear that she might not believe him (well, unfounded as far as she was concerned, she saw no reason not to believe him, after all), and hugged him back in a silent form of reassurance.

"I'm glad I get to meet you, too."

If only it were in other circumstances…

XxX

In the world of the living, in Kaede's hut, Inuyasha was still alone, safe for Kagome's prone body. He wasn't calling her anymore, although from time to time, he would whisper her name in hopes she would wake. But she never did and that desperate, and actually unfounded, hope was slowly disappearing. It was over. She was gone.

"Kagome…" Inuyasha whispered again, trying to convey all of his pleas into that one word. He would give anything for her to wake. To yell at him again about how stupid he could sometimes be. For her to do something. Anything. Anything but just lie in his arms, unmoving, like a doll that's never been alive to begin with.

But no matter what he offered or who he pleaded to, it was for naught. She didn't wake and never would again. She was gone. She was… dead.

"Kagome…"


(1) Sanzu-no-Kawa – 'The Sanzu River' or, literally, 'The River of Three Crossings' (or 'The River of Three Ways') is the Buddhist equivalent of the Greek River Styx, which the dead must cross to enter the world of the dead (by Buddhist beliefs 7 days after their death). It is situated between the realms of the first and second king of hell (out of ten), who judge the souls of the dead to decide in which realm the deceased shall be reborn into – hell, the world of hungry ghosts (Preta), animals, humans, fighting demons (Asura) or heavenly Devas, all of which are stages of suffering (yes, even heaven – those born there are said to be suffering out of pride -_-'). At the river's bed the deceased meet a horrid old hag named Datsue-ba who strips them of their clothing (and her name conveniently means 'to strip', 'to take off one's clothes') and then decides how they may cross. On the other side of the river is Emma's Palace, where the dead are judged. That's one version of the belief of a soul's fate at the Sanzu River. In another version, it's the first king, Shikō-ō, who decides where the soul may cross the Sanzu River, and after the crossing, the soul meets Detsue-ba, this time in a form of a demon hag from Hell. And in a yet another version of the belief, the soul meets a couple of demons at the riverbed: Datsue-ba (female) and Keneō (male). Datsue-ba strips the dead of their clothes, which Keneō then hangs on the branches of the tree they reside under to weight the deceased person's sins, and then decides on an according punishment with Detsue-ba (like cutting off fingers if you were a thief) along with where he/she might cross the River, out of three possibilities (hence the river's name): the bridge for the good, the ford for those whose sins were equal to their good deeds, and the deepest part of the river, with harsh currents, many whirlpools and possibly infested with snakes for the sinners. Personally, I give most believe to the first version, as it came from a source I'm most confident in (the other two came from the internet, so I'm not sure how verified they were, and the first one came from a book on Japanese Mythology). However, ass you'll notice/have seen, in my fic, I used the version with the demon-couple Datsue-ba and Keneō, simply because it fit my purposes better.

On a side note, for the curious, in Buddhist belief, a soul is supposed to reincarnate 49 days after death.

(2) 'Ie' – 'no' in Japanese.


Well, here it is. *Duks from incoming flying objects* Hey, come on, calm down! So Kagome's dead, what of it? The story obviously ain't over, so don't despair just yet. There's still Ririko, who people have suspected to be Kagome's reincarnation, you know ;)

That being said, I hope you can survive with the 'cliffhanger' (can I call it that?), especially since I have bad news for you all. With exams approaching fast (only two weeks left *screams*) I can't promise I'll be able to update in February, meaning IRWR will possibly be on break next month and will only be updated in March. Sorry for that. But, if it makes you feel any better, the next chapter will be extra long :)

Now, I need to go back to studying. Do leave a review, won't you?

Next Chapter: Father and Daughter

See you then.