Let's get some answers, and tie up a few loose ends.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the storyline.

Laid to Rest

Their victory, while much anticipated, was bittersweet. All around them the bodies of fallen allies lay, and it seemed that soon one more would be added to their numbers. Sango hovered fretfully, watching with dark eyes as the monk and miko tended to her brother.

Miroku stood, face sombre as he told her, "He hasn't much time left."

"I'm so sorry, Sango," Kagome whispered, eyes dewy with tears. While she had managed to purify Naraku's miasma from the boy's body, he'd lost too much blood, the wound on his back too deep to mend properly in this setting.

The slayer shook her head, reassuring, "You've no need to apologize; you both did what you could."

Moving closer to Kohaku's side, she took his hand in hers, smiling down at her brother – her last blood-relative. Gently, comfortingly, she brushed the hair from his face.

He looked up at her, his expression torn. Guilt and relief warred in his eyes, and he took a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry."

"Stop," she scolded, sternly but softly. "That's enough of that. You need to save your strength."

He smiled at her sadly. "I'm going to die, sister. Let me say my piece."

Her brows beetled, and the tears she'd been trying so hard to keep at bay began to fall. She nodded in consent.

"I never forgot you," he told her truthfully. "Even when his hold on me… was at its strongest, I n-never forgot your face… never stopped trying to fight him. I'm sorry… for hurting you."

"I forgive you," she replied, her grip on him tightening momentarily. "I love you."

"I love you too, sister."

Kohaku shuddered, never having felt so cold in all his life. Everything hurt, but slowly the pain ebbed, his body numbing, and he knew it was time. He forced himself to form one last smile. "At least… I die free."

Sango nodded. "Yes… you're free now, little brother."

She held him as he took his last, ragged breaths, held him even when he went still and his heart stopped beating. Curling over his lifeless body, she wept for him, wept for the life he never got to live, and prayed his soul would know peace in the afterlife.

Kagome cried, watching from a short distance away, and hating that she could do nothing to ease her friend's pain. Her healing skill could only go so far at this point in her training.

The daiyoukai observed his miko's sadness, his chest tightening at the scent of her sorrow. It did not become her. He gazed down at his father's fang, wanting more than anything to erase her pain, to give her happiness once more. The sword remained lifeless.

He scowled, angered by the blade's uselessness. Was this not his weapon, handed down to him by his sire? Was it not made to react to his compassion?! 'This Sesshomaru wishes to protect his human's heart. You will obey!'

Tenseiga flared to life at his hip, his golden eyes flashing in surprise. It was the first time the sword had ever responded to his command, the first time he'd been able to summon its powers by will. Satisfaction coursed through him.

Kagome, sensing the energy, turned to look at him, her blue eyes widening when she realized what was occurring. The hopeful look on her face was all he needed to draw his weapon, long strides carrying him swiftly to the slayer's side.

Sango glanced up at him, startled by his approach. When she saw the Tenseiga in his hand she gasped in understanding, carefully laying her brother's body out before him, and taking a swift step back.

He stared carefully down at the boy's corpse, watching as the small spirits of the underworld came into focus. Wasting no time he drew his father's fang over the body, cutting neatly through the greedy soul collectors. They screeched and vanished, and he took a step back, sheathing the blade once more.

Everything was still for the barest fraction of a second, and then Kohaku was arching up off the ground, air rushing into his lungs.

"Thank the gods!" Sango dove to her knees, ignoring the pain from her hastily patched injuries as she gathered her brother in a fierce hug. Cinnamon orbs turning to peer up at the silent daiyoukai, she whispered, "Thank you, Lord Sesshomaru!"

He merely nodded, turning to accept the miko's gratitude as she leapt toward him. Her slender arms wound around his neck as he caught her and pulled her against him, their lips meeting in a deep kiss. He relished the feel of her, his mind at ease now that their foe was defeated.

They parted slowly, an awkward cough drawing their attention away from one another.

Kouga shifted, putting his weight on his uninjured leg as he regarded the sword at the inu youkai's hip. "I, uh, don't suppose you could use that on some of my wolves?"

Sesshomaru cocked a pale brow, glancing down at the priestess as she stared up at him expectantly. While he wasn't overly concerned with them, he knew they were her friends, and for her, he would try. He placed a clawed hand over Tenseiga's hilt, felt its power respond to his command. Yet, as he looked over the field, he could see nothing, the otherworldly minions having already come and gone. For these ones, it was too late.

He met the wolf prince's eyes. "There is nothing I can do for them."

He sighed heavily, nodding in acceptance. Then, turning to face Kagome, he ventured, "Perhaps there is something you can do, then?"

She looked at him quizzically, not sure what he meant. She could not resurrect the dead. Then she saw it - the small, round mirror held carefully in his left hand.

He offered it to her, explaining, "I don't know how many she sucked in, or if they can be saved… but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. You've… cracked it before, right?"

She nodded, accepting the mirror carefully as he handed it to her. She didn't know if she could save them, but she would try. The size of her soul had fractured the mirror last time, so perhaps her power was the key to shattering it.

Removing an arrow from her quiver, she charged the tip with spiritual energy and placed the mirror on the ground. She crouched over it, fingers tightening on the thin shaft as she focused her reiki. Then, drawing her hand up over her head, she instructed firmly, "You should stand back, just in case."

The ookami took an obedient step back, the daiyoukai, however, was immovable, not willing to leave her side. This was a relic of Naraku's incarnate, after all; there was still a chance it could do her harm.

Knowing that arguing with him would be pointless, she grit her teeth, and with all of her human strength she brought the arrow down against the mirror, shielding her face as she did so. A shrill 'ping' echoed across the clearing, but there was no explosion… She chanced a peek at the mirror, noting a tiny chip in its surface… but nothing else.

"Oh, come on!" she growled in agitation, striking the glass again. Another chip, another frustrated exclamation. Over and over again, until she became so exasperated she threw the arrow aside and balled her hand into a fist, bringing it down with as much force as she could muster against the stubborn mirror.

There was a crunch, and the glass burst, exploding into tiny fragments that turned to powder in the air. From within, thousands of small white spheres came pouring forth, shooting up into the sky like ghostly fireworks. Most continued to ascend until they were gone from sight, but some remained, floating over the battlefield until they settled back into the bodies that served as their vessels. They roused as though waking from slumber, shaking their heads wearily and rising on unsteady limbs.

Kouga watched, then turned his astonished gaze upon the priestess, who appeared equally as astonished. She blinked, owlish eyes shifting to him as she rose to her feet.

"Thank you," he told her gratefully as he encompassed her in his arms, uncaring of what the daiyoukai would do. At the moment he was so sore that he probably would have welcomed death.

She hugged him back, weary and relieved that she'd been able to help, even if she'd only been able to save a fraction of them. "I wish there was more I could do."

"You've already helped enough," he assured her, tightening his hold momentarily before stepping back and looking at what remained of his pack. They were few, but with Naraku now gone, they could focus on rebuilding their numbers, and becoming strong once again.

"Thank you, Kouga, for the support."

He turned back to her, grinning cheekily. "Like I would have missed this? No thanks are necessary; I was just paying the scumbag back for what he did to my kind. Now, I trust I can count on you to get rid of the jewel, so we don't have to worry about any more scumbags poppin' outta the woodwork?"

She nodded, telling him, "It's next on my list of things-to-do."

He winked, and turned with a howl to rally his wolves. They had brothers and sisters to gather and bury, and then it was time to return home. Tonight, justice had been dealt to those who'd wronged his pack, and he could sleep without fear of the spider.

As the ookami took their leave, Inuyasha stepped in front of the miko, grabbing her by the shoulders and giving her a single, firm shake. "Promise me you'll warn me the next time you wanna pull something like that!"

She laughed as he jostled her, responding, "If we'd told you, your reactions wouldn't have been genuine, and it might have jeopardized the plan."

He scoffed, taking a step back as he crossed his arms. "I still think we could've beaten his ass without you pulling a stunt like that."

"Speaking of which," Miroku cut in curiously, "how were you able to achieve the deception?"

"And how did you know he'd go after the fake?" the slayer added, rather curious herself.

"Naraku's assurance of his own cleverness was his downfall. Byakuya, too, fell to that same inherent trait," Sesshomaru answered as he stepped alongside the priestess. The inu reached down and fingered the talisman given to her by the kitsune, explaining, "I had this fashioned with a very specific purpose, though it was made to appear as something entirely different."

"Misdirection?" the priest hummed, studying the finely crafted charm with fascination.

"They are connected," Akimitsu chimed in, having appeared seemingly from thin air as he stepped out from behind the daiyoukai. He held the talisman's twin between his claws, green eyes glinting as he tossed it to the priest.

Miroku – having been so startled by the fox's sudden arrival – nearly dropped it, though he was able to recover quickly enough.

"It has dual effects, the first of which is the shielding of its wearer's aura and scent. Would you care to guess the second, monk?" Akimitsu inquired, watching a crease form along the human male's brow.

Said monk looked carefully at the item in his hand, violet eyes then shifting to the second charm, the one that still hung about Kagome's neck. "They are connected, you say… Then, could it be… that they are also capable of replicating the aura of whosoever might be wearing the other talisman?"

The kitsune grinned. "You are clever."

"So… you basically swapped auras?" Inuyasha stated with a quirk of one bushy eyebrow.

Sesshomaru nodded. "When Naraku's incarnate first came upon Kagome, we knew that he would be skeptical of how simple it was to attain her. Yet, when the shield 'momentarily faltered', he would catch a glimpse of an aura that did not belong to her..."

"Leading him to believe that I was the decoy, and – in turn – go seek out who he thought was the real priestess," Kagome finished. "Then, it was just a matter of waiting for Naraku to come out and gloat."

"Yeah, if there was one thing you could always count on, it was for that bastard to rub salt in our wounds whenever he got the chance," the hanyou agreed, casting a begrudgingly respectful glance at his brother.

The daiyoukai nodded in response, reaching into his garment to retrieve the accursed jewel that was the cause of so much trouble. Offering the pieces to his miko, he said, "It is time for you to finish this."

She swallowed thickly, looking down at the fractured orb. A part of her was scared, uncertain of what would happen once the task was complete. This was it. No more Naraku, no more shard chasing… it was done after this moment. It was the end of the adventure.

She ventured a peek at the daiyoukai, and his eyes stilled her worried thoughts, the steadiness in them calming her racing heart.

'No,' she thought to herself with a little smile. 'It's the end of this adventure, and the start of a new one. No matter what it is… no matter where I go, it will always be an adventure.'

Closing her eyes, she pressed her hands together, feeling the shikon as it shifted and became whole once more. Then, without hesitation, she wished it from existence. When she parted her fingers, it was gone.

"Well done," Akimitsu applauded, flicking a stray curl of fiery hair over his broad shoulder.

"Yourself as well," Kagome responded. "That was quite the performance you put on."

A foxy smile curved his lips. "Why thank you, dear priestess. You are too kind."

He took a twirling leap away from the group, dipping into a formal bow as he regarded the daiyoukai. "I will take my leave of you now."

Sesshomaru nodded in both consent and thanks, aware that without the fox's aid they would never have been able to defeat their enemy so easily.

Akimitsu regarded the miko again, bowing to her as well. "I thank you for your service, Lady Kagome. Know that you are welcome in my home at any time."

"Thank you," she insisted, giving her own little bow. "And know that I will undoubtedly take you up on that offer, so that you can uphold the other deal we made."

He laughed, nodding, and in a flash of blue fire, he vanished.

Inuyasha huffed. "Foxes."

Kagome shook her head, suddenly feeling very tired. It was… odd. Without the weight of the world on her shoulders, one would think she would feel lighter. She couldn't really be sure why she felt this way; all she knew was that she wanted nothing more than to rest.

She looked at her friends, noting exhaustion in all of their expressions. Even Inuyasha's usually bright eyes were a little duller. Seemed as though she wasn't the only one experiencing it.

"Guys… let's go home."

And there we have it! One last chapter to go, and the story is finished! What did you think?!