A Long Time Coming

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha.

A/N: This is a simple one-shot accompaniment to Kiss Me Goodbye. In that three-shot, we saw the whole thing through Kagome's eyes. Now, in this story, Kagome is back after their three year separation, and this takes place the night before their wedding. It is Inuyasha's chance to see into Kagome's heart, to finally rid himself of the last doubts, and the final bits of his feelings for Kikyou. If you have not read Kiss Me Goodbye, then don't read this one first, or you won't understand most of what's going on.

Kagome haters, don't bother flaming me - I'm taking her character straight from the manga, so deal with it. If you don't like her, then why are you reading Inuyasha/Kagome pairing stories?

~oOo~

Restless, Inuyasha twitched again from his spot atop Kaede's hut and sighed before sitting up with a desperately annoyed growl.

He'd been antsy all night, and so far hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. It was all because of what was going to happen tomorrow – something he'd never have dreamed possible before a few years ago.

He was getting married.

There was actually someone out there that wanted to marry him, as a hanyou – to tie her life to his for better or for worse though he swore that she would never see the worst of anything – he'd make sure of it.

Still, even after all of this time it was just so hard to believe that someone really could love him. Oh, he knew he loved her – there was no question about that, but... he'd known her for mere months and then been separated from her for three years... how could he be sure she really loved him enough for marriage?

True, she had given up her life in her time to come back but that could just be a mistake on her part. What was to say she wouldn't come to regret it as the difficulty of life in his era kicked in? She was from an almost incomprehensible future where everything besides that school thing she'd had to do was easy.

Want clean clothes? Throw them in some weird ma-sheen and toss in some soap, turn it on and voila, clean clothes! Wanted them dry? There was a ma-sheen for that, too. Needed clothes? No hand-sewing for her – no, she could just go to a store and buy whatever she wanted.

Hungry? There was food that could be fully cooked in less than a minute – and even stuff that couldn't still took far less time to cook on her stove than it did over an open fire. Tasted different, too. Better, in some ways. It was assured that you'd never break a tooth on a bit of dirt or rock in your meal. And even just getting food! So much easier in her time – you went to a store. They had stores for everything, it seemed. Here you had to hunt it or grow it – and it was backbreaking work.

How long would she last here? Sure she'd been here before and knew what it was like – sorta. But back then she could hop down the well and go back to all her labor-saving ma-sheens. Now she didn't have that luxury.

He was really afraid that after a while she would become miserably unhappy here with him – and that wasn't even taking into account the vilification she would go through anywhere else but here. Sure, the people here in this village had accepted him and weren't unhappy to see this particular wedding, but if they went anywhere else? He shuddered at the thought.

Becoming melancholy he finally gave up trying to sleep and hopped down from Kaede's roof after assuring himself that all in the hut were still peacefully sleeping, and headed for the Goshinboku. For some reason something seemed to be calling him there on this night, and he didn't particularly feel like denying the whim.

As odd as it seemed, this tree that had been a part of so much of the pain in his life was one of the few places that could calm him. Kagome was the only other thing that could do so and if she was with him, it didn't really matter where he was. But for tonight she was sleeping peacefully, her beautiful face relaxed and innocent in sleep – he knew because he'd checked on her. That left him with the God Tree...

He sauntered slowly into the small clearing around the great tree, eyes a little sad and aura a bit disturbed as his mind wandered to the reason that he was so drawn to the tree.

Kikyou... and the arrow she'd put through his heart for a betrayal that hadn't actually been his.

With a sigh he reached the base of the tree, and leaning his back against the huge trunk he slid down, draping his hands over his knees as he stared out into the night.

So much of his past had been spent on trying to undo the damage that had been done by Naraku and his twisted desire for a woman he could never have. It was merely chance that had led the dying Onigumo to a cave so close to this particular village – and merely chance that Kikyou had found the dying man.

Like so many wicked, twisted things that live and thrive in the dark he was drawn to her light – a light he'd never seen nor felt before, and he coveted it, wanted it with all the darkness in his soul.

Inuyasha could understand that desire, really. He'd been drawn to her light, too. But it hadn't been meant to be – her doubts in him had begun to dim her light and all the evil, nasty things that lived in the world had started to approach as her light withdrew.

That was part of the reason he was so awed by Kagome. Reincarnation or not, there was no more proof he needed that they were different people than Kagome's reaction to him from her very first words. While angry, she was angry at his behavior towards her – not that he was half-youkai. The differences between them had never even entered her mind.

And for all that her light had never dimmed – even when she had claimed outright to love him, it hadn't – in fact, her feelings for him had actually made her shine brighter, her light actually growing bigger and illuminating everything around it.

He never wanted to be the cause of her losing that light...

After a while the peace of the clearing and his whirling thoughts worked against him, and he fell asleep...

~oOo~

He woke in an odd place – it looked like the Goshinboku clearing, but without the god tree. No, instead, standing in the spot the tree was supposed to was someone he'd never thought he'd see again.

He stared, astounded.

"K-Kikyou," he stuttered, completely confounded that he was seeing the miko of his past. The last time he had seen her had been inside the Meidou, when he'd gone after Kagome and she'd appeared to take him to task for his big mouth and awkward speech – and warn him about what Kagome was about to do. "What... what are you doing here?" he finally asked, as she just appeared to be watching him bemusedly.

She sighed. "I've been sent here to help ease your heart of your worries about Kagome and the future. Back... then, when I last saw you, I told you what Kagome was doing, and what she thought because of the horrible way with words you have," she grinned at him playfully, "but you never got to see her heart. I think... that you need to understand that your fears are unfounded."

"Keh." He folded his hands into his sleeves and looked down. "I don't see how they could be, Kikyou – you never saw her world. It's so completely different to this one," he murmured. "those people in her world would never make it here, and people from here – well, they wouldn't make it there. It's almost like its a totally different world not even connected to this one."

Kikyou laughed at him, startling him – she'd never, in all the time he'd known her, laughed like that. It was a carefree laugh... a happy laugh. She looked at him affectionately.

"Oh, Inuyasha. Don't you remember who I am? I live inside Kagome... so I know her world through my connection to her. And it is different... very different. But Kagome is more than what you realize, Inu – much more. Come with me," she beckoned, and he moved forward immediately, not even thinking about it, "and I will take you on a journey that is way overdue, and when we are finished you will know Kagome better than she even knows herself."

As soon as Inuyasha's hand touched Kikyou's the forest clearing disappeared and they were back in the meidou, only this time they were both watching the jewel taunt and torment Kagome.

He scowled, remembering his rage when he'd come through and found her, only to listen to that stupid bauble taunting her and twisting the truth for its own gain. He shivered, watching – it brought back the fear he'd felt when he'd been trying to find her and realized what she was about to do... he'd barely made it to her in time – he'd broken through to her just as she was making her wish.

If I had gotten there just a breath later things would be completely different now. I couldn't bear the thought of Kagome's light being lost in Naraku's grasp.

"I told you back then what Kagome was going to do, didn't I? That she was going to give up her life to the jewel and wish me back to life – so that you could protect me forever, like you'd said you wanted."

Wincing, Inuyasha nodded. "Yeah."

"To understand the depths of her love for you, which far surpasses my own, I will show you the fate she had willingly chosen in order to give you what she thought you wanted. It is not pretty," she warned him solemnly, "it is most dark and horrifying – and she knew what would happen to her, Inuyasha – the jewel showed her. And she still chose to do it... she carries so much love for you inside that her love for you is really what makes her Kagome. Without you... she wouldn't even exist as she does."

Eyes wide, he stared at Kikyou suddenly uncertain he wanted to do this... "Is it really that bad, what she would have faced if I hadn't gotten there just in time to stop her?"

Kikyou shook her head slowly. "No, Inuyasha – it's worse." With that ominous statement she took his hand and pulled him along until they seemed to be in a different place within the meidou – though it was still the jewel.

"This would have been Kagome's fate had she made that wish, Inuyasha. What I am showing you is what would have been had you not stopped her."

He nodded, really wishing that he hadn't tacitly agreed to follow her.

Reluctantly Inuyasha looked up at Kikyou's direction, and stared into something so horrifying that he froze, inside and out. He couldn't even breathe.

There was Naraku with Kagome caught in one of his webs, a blank, dead look on her face such as he'd never seen before. She had given up, it seemed, her mind warped by the torment she'd endured within the jewel, and the bastard was taunting her even as he raped her.

"This particular scene would be about a hundred years after being drawn into the jewel," Kikyou murmured, and Inuyasha tried to speak but couldn't – he was so enraged, so disgusted and horrified that he almost threw up.

"This is blasphemous!" he hissed, wanting nothing more than to go attack that bastard and destroy him so that even the possibility of such a thing happening would never occur.

Kikyou nodded, shivering herself – after all, the soul had been hers as well, and to see such a thing happening to your soul was certainly not comfortable.

"Yes," she said quietly. "But the jewel showed her this happening to try to get her to wish for something else, something it wanted. It tried to frighten her, thinking that her fear would have overcome her love for you and she would have given in to its desires. But it didn't work... her love for you is so strong that she was still going to wish for what she thought you wanted."

Still trying to scrub his mind of the visual he'd been forced to see, he shook his head, numb – she'd thought that he would want Kikyou back at the expense of her soul? That he would let her suffer such horrors for eternity – just so he could defy fate?

How badly had he harmed her for her to believe something like this would ever be acceptable to him – for any reason?

Closing his eyes, he demanded Kikyou take him away from such a thing – and she did. This time, he watced an alternate ending – if she'd succeeded in banishing the jewel by getting it to grant two wishes under the guise of one.

He blanched as he realized that he was viewing Kagome writhing in torment... in hell. With Naraku by her side she screamed in eternal agony as the flames burned her soul.

Inuyasha's heart burst at that, simply unable to take anymore, and with a roar he drew Tessaiga and destroyed that image, the sound of her screams eating at him until he wanted to scream with her. Panting, drenched in sweat just from the horror of what he'd been watching he stared at Kikyou like he'd never seen her before.

It was clear he was lost in the horrid things he'd seen.

"Why would she ever think I would find this acceptable?" he asked again, though it was clear he wasn't really talking to her. "Did I make her think that I would ever agree to see such a thing happen to her, just so I could have you back? Even if she had been right, and I loved you and not her at that time, I would never have bought my own happiness at the expense of... this."

Kikyou nodded. "I know, Inuyasha. But to Kagome, there was literally no price she wasn't willing to pay to see you happy." Turning, she led him away from that last vision until she came to another halt. "Listen."

"Because I love him - because I always will."

Kagome's voice came through strong and clear, and his heart softened and his eyes misted as he heard her avowal. It wasn't the first time he had, but sometimes he just had a hard time believing it. It seemed so unreal that someone, especially someone like Kagome, could really love him. He was an abomination, something that should never have existed.

"I will be honest with you, Inuyasha. As much as I thought I loved you, I would never have been willing to go to the lengths Kagome would to see you happy. I don't think there has ever been anyone with a heart like hers – and out of every person she could have given it to she gave it to you, even believing that you would never return her feelings." She sighed as she looked at the handsome hanyou. "I wasn't capable of giving anyone that measure of love, Inuyasha. It was always Kagome that was meant to save your soul and heal it."

"Kagome was always that way," he said softly, a light blush coloring his cheeks at the open love she showed to the world unashamedly. "She never agreed with all that 'hatred of the hanyou' thing most humans and youkai seem to have. Her heart is bigger than anything I ever saw."

Kikyou nodded, then said again, "Listen to her thoughts, listen to her heart, Inuyasha. Feel her emotions for you."

He quieted as he did as Kikyou said, listening to her words – but even more, feeling what she was feeling as her memories were replayed.

This bow... I used it to save Hitomiko, but I couldn't save Kikyou.

He could feel her honest pain when thinking that – she had wanted so badly to save Kikyou for him, thinking that was who he needed to be happy.

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

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

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

You can be together without concern.

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

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

Memory through memory love for him spun, coloring everything she did and said. Nowhere, not once, not in any memory was there any hesitation about it – she loved him completely. He was humbled - worshiping her would not be too much for her to ask, as far as he was concerned, and if she did ask he would do it.

But she wouldn't, because she was Kagome. She just wanted him to love her in return.

And he did.

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

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

Kikyou, please, live and love Inuyasha enough for us both – live long and well with our soul... because its next rebirth will be cursed rather than blessed. Live ten thousand lifetimes all in one, so that our soul will have those memories to hold dear in the darkness of my tomb... so that I will have your happiness to comfort me until the world ends and I am freed from the endless night inside the Tama.

Yes... I'll give him love... though it will be through Kikyou, and not myself. That doesn't matter – I've always wanted him to be happy, even if I wasn't part of it.

He'd heard her say something like that before and had scoffed in his mind – no one would love him like that... now he simply felt a fool for ever doubting it.

It hurts – but I also feel so warm knowing that I can give him happiness. I can give him Kikyou – and Kikyou also deserves happiness. Maybe I can... maybe I can be content with this fate. I'm still afraid – but it's bearable, knowing that I leave him with the joy he should always have had.

No matter which way things go, he's going to get hurt... but letting me go will be the lesser of two evils. With Kikyou back, any hurt he feels at my passing will be minimized, so...

You can't save me from yourself... or from my own choices, you silly baka. And this is my choice... to give you a second chance at a life with your beloved.

If I succeed, and Kikyou comes back and I wish the Tama away, I'll simply be bound to Naraku in hell instead of inside the jewel, so I guess it doesn't make any difference. At least I know what to expect in hell, now... since I've already been there once.

And then came the insidious voice of the Shikon no Tama that he remembered with nothing less than hate. "Hm. How true... just like your beloved hanyou, Naraku wanted Kikyou. Neither of them wants you... what is it about that other miko that they are so enamored with? What is it about her that you cannot measure up?"

That pissed Inuyasha off like nothing else, and he turned beet red trying to hold in his temper – after all, there was no one to take it out on. And that thought frustrated him to no end.

"Kikyou..."

Oh... he's reliving what happened between them fifty years ago.

'I never realized that the two of us had fallen into Naraku's trap... hating and hurting each other. Or that Kikyou ended up dying.'

"Kikyou... I'm going to protect you this time. I won't let anyone kill you again."

'But in the end, I couldn't save you.'

Inuyasha remembered this – inside the body of Naraku, when he had been taken over.

"Do you see, little miko? Even after attacking you and leaving you for dead you and the danger he'd put you in weren't even in his thoughts. Even dead she holds him, heart and soul, and all he feels for you is responsibility. When he even bothers to remember you at all."

The words that the jewel was throwing at Kagome struck deep inside him, making him cringe in pain – he couldn't believe the torment she'd withstood for three days at the hands of that disgusting jewel. He wouldn't have lasted five minutes.

"I wanted to protect her forever."

Inuyasha flinched as he heard that again, knowing how much it had almost cost him. What she'd been about to do to herself just because of those six words was something he couldn't even fathom and would certainly never forget, and guilt swelled in him – how could he doubt her love, after everything she'd already done proved that she loved him more than her own life?

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.

He blinked as he heard that and his own heart broke at the weary, heartsick sound of her voice. "I almost broke her," he muttered, trying to hold back tears. He still wasn't comfortable crying around others – well, all except Kagome, funny enough.

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...

And that was all it took. With a stricken look on his face he broke down and cried, finally accepting that for whatever god-forsaken reason Kagome truly loved him, always had and always would. All he wanted to do was wipe away every part of that nightmare she'd suffered through and love her back – as no one else on earth could.

Because the bottom line was that no one else on earth would go to the ends of it for Kagome's sake. But he would. "Keh. And what she was about to do for what she thought was my happiness isn't any more than I would be willing to do for her. I would give my life and my soul for her, too."

Kikyou smiled. "Then you have learned what I brought you here to learn. Never doubt her love for you – it does her a disservice when you do, and she doesn't deserve it."

He nodded, shamefaced. "I... understand. I'll try my damnedest."

"Do better than that, Inuyasha. I know you can. Give her the total devotion you tried so hard to give to me," she replied.

He flushed and nodded. "I couldn't do anything else, Kikyou. I love her with every part of my heart."

Everything around him began to fade, and his eyes started to close involuntarily. Before they could close completely, he whispered, "Goodbye, Kikyou – be happy."

He woke back in the clearing, still under the god tree with only an echo of Kikyou's voice returning his goodbyes, and as the dawn lightened the sky he knew that his future was assured.

His life would be happier than he'd ever thought it could be back when he was small and fighting for every breath he took all the time. And all because of Kagome – the kami made perfection when they created her, and his heart swelled inside him as he came to his feet and took off towards the village. He had to see her, just to make sure she was really still there.

It shook him to his core how close he had come to losing what he now knew to be the other half of his heart. It also made him feel so guilty at his constant need to be reminded she loved him – it felt like a betrayal of her, as though he thought her a liar.

It was dishonorable.

Reaching Kaede's hut, he slipped inside after ascertaining that everyone inside was still asleep and crept quietly to Kagome's bedding, lifting her into his arms.

While she was still sound asleep he took off, heading back to the Goshinboku with his woman right where she belonged – with him.

He watched her for hours, quietly enjoying her scent and the light, fragrant morning breeze, all the while kept cool in the shade of the God Tree. It was soothing and peaceful – and after the things he'd seen last night, he needed that peace.

With a shiver he pushed the visuals aside, trying to fight off the remembered horror. I'm so grateful that things turned out as they did. I could never enjoy any sort of life if Kagome had made that wish. He put his head down and nuzzled into her raven locks, inhaling her beloved scent as deeply as he could.

Eyeing the morning sky he expertly noted the time – the wedding wasn't until noon, and he knew that he would have to let go of her soon so that she could get ready – and so that he could, as well.

But he wanted to remember this little bit of time when there was nothing but quiet and contentment – no past and no future, just the here and now and the peace. There had been so very little of that in his life, and funny enough it had only been when Kagome was with him.

He examined her pretty face, running loving eyes over her as his heart melted inside. He had never hoped to have love like Kagome gave for himself, and almost didn't know what to do with it now that he had it but he certainly wasn't going to turn it away, and perhaps that was the only answer he really needed. She loved him, and he wanted her love like he'd never wanted anything before.

All that was needed now was for him to accept her gift and then spend forever loving the woman who'd almost lost everything, just to do something she thought would make him happy.

It had helped to hear Kikyou's honesty, really. When she'd told him that she didn't love him as much as Kagome did, and that she wouldn't have been prepared to give what Kagome had it didn't hurt as he'd once thought it would have – it somehow freed him from any lingering guilt about loving Kagome. After all, as he'd told her, he did love Kagome that way – but looking back and then thinking about it, he realized... he hadn't loved Kikyou as much as he loved Kagome, because he wouldn't have gone to the lengths for her that he would for the woman in his arms.

Yes, he'd been prepared to go to hell with her - but while he might have given up his life for his debt to her, he would never have given up his very soul - and he would for Kagome.

And as he welcomed this new day, a day he'd never thought he'd ever see, he felt the last little tears in his heart close over with Kagome's presence and he was finally able to let go of the past... as well as his fear, and embrace Kagome's love for him, instead.

This was his wedding day...

It had been a long time coming.