Chapter 1

"I will always protect you, Kagome. I swear on my life, on the honor of my family name, on the kami. You will be protected."

Those were the words Inuyasha had spoken to Kagome when the well had been destroyed by her just in time to stop Naraku from getting through it. When that battle had ended the grief that she'd choked off at the loss of her home while still fighting had overwhelmed her, and fear for her situation had taken root in her mind.

The truth was that while traveling and fighting Naraku and looking for the shards of the jewel Kagome knew she was as safe as she could possibly be. But once the quest was over everyone would go their separate ways. When she'd been bound to return to her own world that had been okay, though she would have missed her companions – especially Inuyasha. But she knew he'd chosen to follow Kikyou to hell and in the end she wouldn't take that choice from him.

But what he'd said to her with the remains of the well still smoldering in a clearing that was totally destroyed had given her hope. Had he not chosen to follow Kikyou, after all? He was vowing himself to her, to stay with her and protect her?

She should have known it was too good to be true. Naraku wasn't even cold on the ground before Kikyou appeared, and with few words beckoned Inuyasha to follow her. He had been so entranced the moment that she had appeared that he hadn't even remembered his companions still watching in shock as he disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again.

In that last moment he'd completely forgotten his promise to Kagome, and now she was all alone in a world she had no chance of surviving in.

Yes, she was miko – but untrained, and with no one to help her, her strong but uncooperative powers could not be counted on to protect her. They only came when she was under great emotional duress, and usually by that time it was too late – or would have been had she been without other protection to take up the slack.

True, Sango and Miroku would not abandon her, but they had their own lives to live and she couldn't impose on them to the extent that would be needed without interrupting their future to a great degree.

Heart broken and laying inside her chest in tiny little pieces as she watched Inuyasha's crimson fire-rat disappear forever into the darkness of the forest, Kagome allowed her injuries from the battle, her broken heart, and her fear for the future to take her mind and force it into darkness as she collapsed to the blood-drenched ground.

The only thing echoing through her dark and empty mind as she fled the light of day was the word forsaken.

Because that was what she was.


The repercussions of the days actions were felt more on the spiritual planes than the physical.

Especially loud was the echo of that word forsaken as it rang through Kagome's darkened mind.

When Inuyasha had sworn what he had, he had sworn not only on his own power to protect to her, but had vowed his family's honor as well towards that same goal – all while invoking the kami's attention to the vow by calling out to them in it.

The breaking of that vow had infuriated the gods and now his family, such as it was, would have to shoulder the responsibility for Kagome – because Inuyasha had sworn in their name.

The heavenly realms roiled in agitation as the anger of the kami began to affect their surroundings.

"It is not to be borne!" shouted Bishamon*. "His vow was of the most powerful for those whose names he used, and his honor is forfeit for his failure to meet his obligations. He must be made to pay!"

The cool voice of Amaterasu* broke in. "Calm, Bishamon. He will pay. But that is not the issue here. Now that he is gone, what is the girl to do? Sesshoumaru will never agree to take on a vow that his foolish brother spoke. I would not thrust her on him as we could so easily do, binding him to protect her, when he would do all in his power to make her existence miserable for that binding. She fulfilled our wishes in destroying the Shikon no Tama and aiding in Naraku's demise. I would not have our own honor tarnished by forsaking her now in her time of need."

Inari* spoke up, his aspect sliding between forms as a fox appeared in his place. "What then, are we to do? Give the girl more power? Allow her to access what she already carries with no training?"

Princess Konohanasakuya* eyed the fox and nodded. "We could," she said, her voice rumbling like a volcano through the ether. "It is not as if it is not within our power to do so."

"But there is a reason that we do not do so," Inari countered. "Those who gain power without having to work for it learn nothing, and they then begin to abuse it, at first not even realizing they are. And by the time they do they have already been seduced by the concept of power without consequence and become that which must be destroyed – like Naraku."

"Are you then saying that Kagome would also do the same?" Amaterasu asked. "Her heart, even broken is more pure than any child we have ever created. Would she really react that way?"

"It does not matter," Inari replied. "She might not – but then again, she might. There is no need to take that path – there are other ways. Let the girl gain control of her strength, but do it the right way. She must train."

A sigh came then; the other gods turned to look at the one who'd made the sound. "You have something to say, Omoikane?"* Amaterasu asked, eyebrow raised.

The god so addressed looked up at her and nodded. "There is only one other way to see this vow consummated, Amaterasu." He pinned her with serious eyes. "You know of what I speak. It is said that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children down to the third generation, is it not? What then, of the sins of the children? There is only one answer, in this case, at least." His expression deepened to solemnity as he gazed at her. "They must be visited upon the father."

There was silence for a moment amongst the gathered gods, and then murmuring and shouts broke out as the ether around them grew thick with power.

"Yes! Make the father answer for the vow of the son!"



It lay over everything in this realm of the dead, as necessary to hell as the silence that twined perfectly with it. In this realm, if there was any need for speech it was done in whispers, for the deep places that they lay in could not withstand anything louder; death was silent – only life was loud.

For two hundred years Mattaki, the great Inu no Taisho, had lain covered in this realm, the bright darkness of his power faded and sleeping within him. He was not happy here – but he was not unhappy, either. He simply was. He floated in silence and darkness wrapped in warmth and light that existed only in the fragments of his mind that still dreamed.

He still knew himself as most that lay within that realm did not, and that was why his spirit had not moved on into another life. For to escape the realm of death and darkness you must forget who you once were so that the gods could then shape you into someone new.

Always he would remember who he was, remember the feel of the wind through his fur and how it had felt to take on a human form, cloaking himself in their skin as a shapeshifter would to trick its prey. Not that he had ever preyed upon humans in that fashion, but in the analogy there lay a kernel of truth. His human skin allowed him to take what he willed from the human world – be it wealth or be it one of their own.

Izayoi was a predation he would never forget or regret. Always she would remain in his heart, even if it was only in a small corner of it as a bittersweet memory, but it was because of her that he had learned what being in love felt like. And it was an emotion he was glad to know – he never wished to forget what it was like to love someone in such a manner.

It was beautiful.

He wished that his firstborn would learn that lesson, too. Hoped that maybe someday there would be a precious human that would teach him love, as well. Wished that he could have been there to lead him in that direction – wished that he could have been there to show his youngest the same.

How fortuitous then for him that at least some of his wishes were about to be granted...

All because of the careless breaking of a vow and a young woman's heart by that same youngest son.


The first breath that Mattaki took burned through his lungs like fire, shocking him into painful awareness as light once more touched his form. His senses came to life so instantly and powerfully that conversely they almost made his mind shut back down, for after two hundred years his body had forgotten how to hold its strength.

Had forgotten how to live.

The gods, impatient, reminded him.

When he finally opened his eyes he took in the being before him and submitted – he was instantly aware that this power was far greater than his own.

"What is the will of the kami?" he asked, though dazed with wonder to hear his voice speaking above a whisper, he still listened most carefully to the kami's words.

"You are to be bound by the words of your foolish younger son. He vowed protection to a child of ours on his name and his family's name, and vowed so invoking our aspects as kami," came a voice containing more than one being. "Then he turned around and shattered that vow, forsaking his own honor and our daughter in the process. By his own words you will be bound by our power to provide protection to our daughter – forever, for her life does not burn out like others do."

There were many things that Mattaki felt in that moment – anger, at his son and his new situation because of said son, pain, when he realized that son had not learned what love truly was, sadness for the hurt the girl must have felt at his son's broken vow. Confusion... what had brought about this circumstance? And elation – for he would once more be able to live – to be freed of death's hold forever.

In all of that, there was only one thing he could say. "As it is the will of the gods and my son's sworn word, I will take up this burden."

Approval was granted him from the beings before him, and as he waited for their will to take effect, he smiled.

To life!


"Mmmm," came a low moan of pain as Kagome began to wake. She hurt everywhere, and it was a fight just to open her eyes. They felt as though they had been weighted down with lead.

Once she managed to, she frowned, the recent past forgotten for a moment in the confusion of first waking – but that ignorance did not last long. Tears blurred the vision of Kaede's timbered ceiling as she realized in that moment just how alone she really was now.

He left me. He forgot his vow and left without even once looking at me. Her power over him was so complete that he didn't even remember any of us at the end. And now he's gone... and I don't know what I'm going to do.

Why did I let myself love him? Why did I let myself believe him, when he'd lied to me so many times before? I'm such a fool...

She shook her head as anger pushed back the pain and slowly raised herself up on her arms to look around. She could hear voices outside the hut, but she was alone inside it though it looked as though that was a temporary thing, as there was a savory stew bubbling merrily on the fire. Kaede would never leave food on the fire and walk away – that was a quick way to lose one's home and treasured possessions to greedy flames.

It occurred to her to wonder how long it had been since the battle, but by the look and feel of her wounds it had been some time – at least a week, because though she hurt it was a great deal less than she had on that dreadful day.

Still weak, however, it took her some time to wrestle herself out from under the blankets that had been placed over her, and she growled in frustration at her predicament – at her weakness. It was a word she was quickly coming to hate as much as Sesshoumaru did.

"I am weak," she whispered with anguish, wishing she could hide from the knowledge but knowing she could not. "Weak. And that's why I'm alone."

She wasn't prepared for the greeting that came from behind her. Feminine, yet no one she knew, she twisted herself around as pain crashed through her causing jagged movements; she couldn't care, though, and her mind stopped all thought at the sight to meet her eyes as she finally managed to face the opposite direction.

"Who... who are you?" she asked, not differentiating her request to the two standing behind her; her question could have been for either – it was meant for both. And especially for the one that resembled Sesshoumaru – and yet didn't.

"Who I am matters not, little one," the female said. "You only need to know that I am of the kami. This one, however-" she indicated the silent male who was scrutinizing her carefully, "-is Mattaki, Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha's father. The hanyou swore an oath of power to you and called upon the names of the gods to witness it. That kind of oath can not be abrogated. Since he showed a lack of honor in abandoning you, the gods have chosen a replacement protector – Mattaki. He has agreed to the task."

Her jaw dropped in horror. "But I don't want to tie anyone to me like that! He shouldn't have to be forced to follow me around because Inuyasha was a jerk!"

The female sighed, a small smile crossing her face. "It does not matter, child. A vow such as was made cannot be simply dissipated. And there is this... it gives Mattaki a chance at something he would not ordinarily receive – a chance to live again. Would you deny him that by dismissing his protection?"

A scowl tightened her brow as she stared at the woman. She's using my heart against me! She knows I wouldn't do something like that, taking away someone's chance to live again. And now there's nothing I can do but accept... "This is only until I die, ne? After I pass on, he will be free to live again in any manner he chooses?"

A sympathetic expression in endless eyes, the female shook her head. "Death does not know your name, Kagome. You are an endless creation built to protect the Shikon no Tama with your very flesh. It cannot die, and so neither can you. He will be with you for as long as the jewel is."

'You'd force him to stay with me... forever?" she asked, utterly horrified on behalf of the so-far silent male.

"Was not Inuyasha's vow to protect you 'always'?" she asked gently. "Accept it, child, because it is what will be - no matter how you rail against this."

With that last statement she glanced at the male who had stood by quietly and then faded away, disappearing before Kagome could even get another word out.

She stared back at the male that was watching her with dismay – it seemed as though her fate was no longer in her own hands.

But she couldn't seem to pull any anger out of herself for the being now kneeling across from her and looking at her expectantly, as though he expected her to start yelling at him or fate, railing against what had been decreed by the gods, or something. But it was clear as she stared back that he was not expecting her to simply return his own look.

"You have no questions?" he finally asked, his silky, deep voice wrapping around her spine and making her shiver... though not in fear. She pushed the reaction away.

"Oh... ano, well, I think I'm still too surprised to really think of any," she said, suddenly drooping like her strings had been cut; her injuries were once again making themselves known through her consternation.

He seemed to know what the trouble was; in a flash he was next to her and helping her to lay back and straighten out her covers.

It was while he was pulling up the blankets after checking her bandages that disaster tried to strike; Kaede chose that moment to enter the hut with Sango and Miroku right behind her. The three froze momentarily as they took in the tableau before them, and then the hut erupted in shouts.

It took several tries for Kagome's sore abdomen and chest to put enough strength into her voice to get everyone's notice.

"Please, shut up!" she finally managed to yell, wincing in pain right afterward as the three froze again, this time in surprise at Kagome's words.

They watched in silence as the unknown youkai once again settled the girl against her bedding, straining to catch her now weak voice. "This is Mattaki... Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha's father," she began wearily, not sure why she was telling this story, since she'd just heard it herself and still hadn't had a chance to take in what it would mean for her. "Inuyasha swore a binding oath, it seems, to protect me forever; since he cared nothing for his word to me the kami took exception. So... to make a long story short they brought Mattaki back to fulfill it, since Inuyasha also swore on his family's name and honor."

Warily, the three moved further into the hut and sat down, watching the two across the fire. Finally Miroku asked, "If that was the case, why did they go to the trouble of resurrecting you, Mattaki-sama, instead of just placing her with Sesshoumaru, since he is still alive?"

Mattaki studied the monk across from him as closely as the monk was studying him, and then finally said, "Because, while they could force him to be bound to the letter of the vow, namely protection, they knew that he would make her life as miserable as possible without technically violating the terms of the vow, all in payback for being bound at all."

At that, the three relaxed somewhat; there was no denying he'd answered well. Sesshoumaru was just the type to do such a thing, for never would he take being bound against his will easily, and none of them wanted their battered friend to face anything like the rage such a thing would engender in him.

"So... what now?" Sango asked tentatively.

The answer was simple and to the point. "We let her heal, taijiya. And then we will see what she wishes to do."

All three glanced over at Kagome at that, only to find her eyes glassy and far away – she wasn't even in the hut with them anymore.

Silence fell over the group as Kaede stirred the stew in its pot; they all lost themselves in their thoughts as the fire danced merrily and crackled cheerfully to itself.


Back in the underworld a portal opened with a flash of light as a soul descended into the darkness and then closed, leaving light and life behind. Inuyasha shivered and reached out for Kikyou's hand, only to feel nothing.

Panicked, he called out to her.

His voice barely left his throat; it was muffled as though spoken into a pillow and did not carry more than a foot or two away.

The sound was answered, however.

"Kikyou is not here," a crumbling, quiet voice whispered back.

"Where is she, then?" he asked, fear sharpening his voice though he'd given up on shouting.

"She has moved on into her next life, hanyou. As Kagome. You, however, will not be so fortunate." The voice became stern. "Tell me, did you forget something? A vow, perhaps?"

Inuyasha quieted as he frowned, trying to figure out what the being was talking about around his fear of what he'd already said. "What?"

"So you did forget your vow to Kagome, then," it said, frozen disapproval in its voice. "You are a shame to your proud name, half-breed. You vowed to protect her always, on your name, your family's name and honor, and you invoked the gods as witnesses. And yet... here you are."

Oh... I did. And I forgot. I'm sorry, Kagome, he thought in passing. "What's that got to do with anything?" he asked.

There was a subtle menace in the voice now as it drew closer, and Inuyasha tensed. "It has everything to do with it. Because of your lack of honor, the miko has been left defenseless. The kami are not pleased with you. For your desertion of your duty and desecration of your honorable family name, this is your punishment. The thing that Kagome saved you from – eternal sleep in loneliness with no chance of escape is the hell you now face. Relive your life in your dreams, hanyou, and know that you will never escape the regret and grief you will feel as you lose all hope to this darkness."

And with that Inuyasha was sealed to the void, fear slipping into his scent as heavy darkness wrapped around him.

The kami do not take lightly those who forsake their honor and tarnish the gods names, as well. Inuyasha would certainly learn to regret what he had done.


It had been a few days since Mattaki had been introduced to her and in those days he'd stayed quietly in the background, not trying to order her around, just watching over her. It was very different than the way his son had fulfilled his promise of protection during their hunt for Naraku.

This day found Kagome sitting by the remains of the well as she thought of her family and spoke her goodbyes. The pain in her heart that now seemed permanent worsened with the loss of her future. She was truly adrift now, with nothing to hold her in one place.

Sure, she had Sango and Miroku, Shippo and Kirara, but yet she really didn't. Sango and Miroku were planning to revive the slayer's village and Kagome, in the state she was in knew she could never make a home there. There was too much of a pall of death and despair over that place for her to ever be comfortable there.

As for Shippo, he was not around all that much now that he knew she would be okay. He was busy learning how to be a kitsune, training in the kitsune youjitsu. While he visited still, he was moving forward with his life – a life it seemed that she was only a peripheral in.

It was something that Kagome could not do. She was not of this time and so could not make a life within it on her own, without someone who was of this time making one with her. If Inuyasha had kept his vow and stayed with her perhaps they could have married and then she would have had a place here, but now she quite simply no longer belonged.

She was adrift without an anchor... and it came to her that was all she could ever be here... adrift. The only thing left for her was to drift wherever the tides of time took her. Perhaps if she did that, she could find a place for herself – a place for her to belong. Someday. But it was increasingly certain that she didn't belong where she was any longer. The village, this village, could no longer house her.

It was time to move on.

Gathering what she would need and could carry in her bag slowly as she healed she'd kept her decision secret from all but Mattaki, since he would obviously be going with her. He'd said nothing but nodded at her with a piercing gaze, his eyes strangely knowing.

That day Kaede had pronounced her fit once more and Kagome had chosen to say her goodbyes, as she would be leaving on the morrow at first light. That was why she was at the well... saying her goodbyes to her family in the only way left to her.

Sitting quietly as the tall grasses blew softly in the wind around her, Kagome closed her eyes and sighed, patting the broken wood of the well with heartbroken affection. "I came to say goodbye, mama, jii-chan, Souta." She sobbed out a broken laugh. "Things didn't end the way I hoped they would, mama. Inuyasha abandoned me. I really was just his shard-detector, and once they were all found and Naraku dead he forgot about me and followed Kikyou. He's truly gone now."

She fell quiet again as her thoughts wandered; her mind was so far away that she startled when Mattaki simply appeared by her side and folded his elegant body into a sitting position.

Blinking up at him as her heart slowly calmed, she waited for him to speak.

"I asked you that day if you had questions, and you indicated that you did not," he began, and she nodded. "I find I do, however, have questions for you, if you are willing to answer them."

Holding his gaze for a moment, she sighed and finally looked away after several intense seconds. "You can ask, but I can't promise to answer. I will, however, promise to answer what I can."

He cocked his head at her odd phrasing, but then thought he might understand what she was saying and simply nodded in acceptance.

Thinking for a moment, he finally began with, "Will you explain the circumstances of this vow that my son broke? The kami explained nothing but that he had broken a powerful vow, so I find myself confused by this situation."

Kagome sighed again. Twirling a piece of grass nervously between nimble fingers, she decided she would answer this question even though to talk of Inuyasha in any way hurt. He deserved to know why his sleep had been interrupted and he'd been forced to take over the responsibility to watch over her for, well... forever.

"We were... companions on a quest to reassemble a broken jewel of power called the Shikon no Tama, and to destroy an evil spider hanyou named Naraku, who also coveted the jewel," she began, her voice weary at having to relive it all again.

"I know of the jewel – I never understood Midoriko's choice in her final battle to create such a bauble. Certainly, there were too many youkai even for one of her might to win against, but she should simply have abrogated the battle. They were all low-level youkai, and it is certain that had she left them alone-" he shot a glance at her to get her reaction, "-the world would have been better off."

Kagome frowned. "How can you say that? They would have attacked more defenseless villages if they hadn't been destroyed!"

"Ah," he said, "but they weren't destroyed, were they? How many more villages and people have been destroyed because of the Shikon no Tama? This jewel has caused more destruction since its creation than the original youkai would ever have been able to. Especially as higher youkai also destroy the low-level vermin when they catch them."

She blinked, surprised. She'd never thought of that, but he was right. Why had Midoriko made such a bad choice?

After a moment, she nodded and continued on with her explanations. "That makes a lot of sense, actually, but it's a question I can't answer. Anyway, Inuyasha needed me to help him gain vengeance on Naraku. Fifty years ago, the jewel was being protected by a priestess named Kikyou. Inuyasha came after the jewel, but instead of getting it he and Kikyou fell in love. However, she was caring for a dying bandit named Onigumo who also wanted her, and when he realized that she was in love with someone else he gave his soul to youkai and became Naraku."

Mattaki nodded slightly, his eyes far away as he took in her story. "Hn... continue."

She chuckled inwardly and a little hollowly at that. He sounds like Sesshoumaru when he says that – only not as cold. Then again, Sesshoumaru hasn't been as cold lately. I think his heart has softened... just a bit, thanks to Rin.

"Naraku decided to take the jewel, so he basically caused Kikyou and Inuyasha to betray each other, each one thinking it was the other who had done so. Kikyou died, but not before pinning Inuyasha to a tree. He was sealed there. That ended that part of the story, and it was my advent into this place that started the rest. You see, I'm the reincarnation of Kikyou."

"How is that possible?" he asked, his eyes showing his confusion. "You say it has only been fifty years since she died? Reincarnation takes much more time than that, since the soul must forget its previous life before it can be reshaped into a new being."

The breeze picked up and the grass rustled for several seconds before falling still again, and Kagome picked another stalk to roll between her fingers. "Hai. You see, this well acted like a portal through time. I'm not from here – I came from five hundred years in the future."

Stunned, Mattaki simply stared at her, not sure what to think. He didn't doubt her word, however. "That is... quite the span of time, little miko," he finally said, a new respect in his eyes for her.

"You have no idea how right you are. My world resembles this one not at all. When I came here I had no clue how to use a weapon, didn't know that youkai were real, and had no idea I was a miko. In my time, miko, monks, and youkai are all myths and legends. People don't even believe that they were ever real." She glanced sideways at him. "That was why I needed protection – because I couldn't survive in this world alone. And even now... I'm proficient with my bow, yes, but I can't control my reiki. I've never been trained, and beyond my *hama no ya I'm pretty much defenseless."

No youkai in the future? Well, I at least have to exist, because the kami ordered me to protect her... forever. "Well, I suppose I will get the chance to see that time myself, since I will be with you for what amounts to eternity," he chuckled wryly. "So I will save those questions for another time. Tell me the rest of this story," he encouraged.

She nodded. "Anyway, I arrived here and long story short, I woke Inuyasha from his seal. The Shikon no Tama was inside my body when I was born, since Kikyou had it burned with her body when she died. I was attacked by Mistress Centipede, who tore it from my side, and shortly after that it was stolen by a corpse crow. I tried to shoot the crow, but ended up shattering the jewel and scattering it across the entire island, instead."

"And this is where that Naraku comes back into the story, ne?" he asked.

"Yes. We began a quest to re-gather the shards, and partway through that task, Urasue, a youkai sorceress-" she paused at the odd look on Mattaki's face, then continued, "-recreated Kikyou's body from her ashes and tried to steal my soul to re-animate her. She only partially succeeded – I managed to thwart most of her spell and reclaim the majority of my soul, but Kikyou was able to remain on this plane of existence by using what she kept of my soul and stealing the souls of dead maidens."

"I know of this Urasue," Mattaki said in disgust. "She was practicing her vile arts in my lands about a century before my death. I cast her from them, as I would not allow her to force those who were resting peacefully in death to return only to be enslaved by her. Without her kiln she could not perform that spell, and she could not take that with her when I sent her away. I suppose after my death she sneaked back, since Sesshoumaru was so stuck on his 'Supreme Conquest' idea."

He's an honorable person... it's so difficult to understand how he fathered Inuyasha. She nodded at him. "Probably. At any rate, once Kikyou was revived Inuyasha went crazy, I guess you could say. He'd vowed protection to me, but once she was returned he often forgot his words and instead vowed to protect her. I refused to give up though, and continued to search out the fragments of the jewel. I'm the one, after all, that shattered it, and it was my responsibility to fix it."

"You have honor," he said, smiling at her. "Most would have simply gone home and let someone else take up the burden."

She almost fell over.

Wow, she thought blankly. Maybe I should ask him not to smile at me unless I'm laying down, because that smile's dangerous.

His smile widening at her wide-eyed expression he gently nudged her into continuing with the story.

Flushing, she cleared her throat. "Ah... yeah... so, anyway, after the well here was destroyed by me to keep Naraku from using it and going to the future, Inuyasha swore that he would protect me forever. His exact words were, "I will always protect you, Kagome. I swear on my life, on the honor of my family name, on the kami. You will be protected," she finished, and Mattaki growled with anger at his youngest pup.

Eyes flashing crimson, then back to gold along with the growling didn't really comfort Kagome much and she leaned back, her eyes wide and defenseless as she watched him cautiously. With herculean effort Mattaki forced his black blood back into place and let it calm before speaking again.

"I apologize, little miko, I did not mean to make you nervous. I was simply greatly angered at my son's desertion of his honor – and his friends. Tell me... what happened to him?"

Tension eased, Kagome's worry vanished and she answered quietly. "Naraku hadn't been dead five minutes when Kikyou appeared at the edge of the battlefield and called to him. He went to her and disappeared into the forest... we won't see him again, because she took him to hell with her." She looked up at the sky, trying valiantly to hold back her tears as the breeze blew her raven locks out behind her in a whirl of midnight black. "He didn't even say goodbye. He didn't look at any of us, didn't wave, didn't acknowledge us in any way, simply walked away as though none of us existed any longer. I think... that's what hurts the worst. To be dismissed as though I meant nothing after sacrificing so much for him."

Mattaki watched her fight her tears and sighed inwardly. She loved him. And he took advantage of that love. It would have been better if he had never been sired, he acknowledged almost tiredly. My mistake affected so many lives.

"I am sorry that my son hurt you so much, Kagome. I wish that I could erase what he's done to you somehow, and it is a bitter pill to know that I cannot," he sighed, watching her watch the heavens. "It would have been better had he never been born, and that is a fault that is solely mine."

Startled, Kagome looked back down at him. "Oh, don't say that!" she exclaimed. "Didn't you love his mother?"

He closed his eyes as he remembered his elegant wife, her smiles and soft hands. Her eyes that always saw so much... rather like this little miko. After a moment, he said, "Yes. But Inuyasha should never have been fathered. Hanyou don't usually live good lives, and I knew this. I did not want a child of mine to suffer so - I had not planned to sire a child with my hime... it just happened. But I could have stopped it if I had been paying attention."

Kagome flushed and looked away with sad eyes. "I'm sorry – I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. Especially as you're trapped with me, now... and can never see her again. I feel so badly that the kami have done this to you."

She did, too – he could feel the misery rolling off of her petite form in waves. It made something in him ache. "What do you mean, see her again?" he asked, a bit confused.

"You know, if you were to find her reincarnation." Her eyes lit up then, as she thought of something. "But hey... maybe you could! If you did find her again, I would stick around in the background and you could be with her once more. That way, as long as the letter of the vow was being followed, the kami wouldn't get angry," she explained. "You could build a house for her, and I would live quietly in a small room or something. I wouldn't interfere."

Standing up, he offered his hand to her; it was getting dark and was time to retire to the village. Dawn would come early.

It was quiet for a few minutes as they headed for the village, but finally Mattaki shook his head. "There would be no need for you to do such a thing, little one. A reincarnation is not the same as the previous incarnation. I loved Izayoi, that is true, but that time has come and gone, and while it will always be a bittersweet memory in my heart, I no longer mourn what is so long dead. If I find love again, I will accept it for the gift it is and not yearn after the past, destroying my future." He met her wide, innocent eyes. "I am not Inuyasha."

Kagome took in his words quietly, wishing that Inuyasha could have understood what his father seemed to see so easily. It would have made a world of difference, but there was really no point in thinking of the 'what ifs', because they would never happen.

The past was dead, the present was dying, and only the future still lived.