A/N: I don't own Inuyasha or Yu Yu Hakusho. They belong to their respective owners. I make no profit from the creation of this story.

Title: Accepting the Darkness

Words: 20,036

Pairing: Hiei/Kagome

There was something dangerously easy about giving Inuyasha everything he wanted. Wish Kikyou back to life, leave the Feudal Era forever, and forget anything ever happened. Simple. A wish on the forsaken Shikon no Tama should not have been this easy, but for Kagome, it was too easy; just a little too simple. She knew she would pay for it in the end.

The final battle had gone down in typical fashion; Naraku had sent his strongest minions at Kagome and the rest of the Inu-tachi. Sesshoumaru, Kouga, and even the peace-lover Jinenji gathered together to help go against the evil hanyou. There were losses on each side, more than anyone had anticipated, and death had claimed the taijya and houshi deep into the struggle. The fire neko, Kirara, roared her rage, but managed to survive her master and save the fox-kit Shippou who raced head-on at the vile hanyou in a reckless, childish action that had nearly given Kagome a heart attack.

But it was Naraku's parting words that caused deep unrest among those left standing at the end of the fight. 'You cannot defeat me, girl. I'm the darkness that lingers in the hearts of man. I have touched the darkness of demons, and I have harbored the taint of humans. You may destroy my physical form, but I will return. My soul will return one day, and I will destroy you. For denying my love, I will torture your soul for all eternity. This, I promise you.'

Kagome had done all in her power to make sure that such words could not linger in the hearts of her comrades. He had made this feud personal – because Kikyou had denied his love, he had not only tortured the original protector of the Shikon no Tama, but had tortured her reincarnation, and all those who came in contact with her. So, she would keep it personal.

She used her power to turn him into nothing more than ash. With Sesshoumaru's help, she scattered the remnants of the evil demon all over Japan, leaving her with just one task left: to wish upon the jewel.

Kagome stood at the mouth of the cave where it all began: Midoriko's cave. In her hand lay the innocent bauble that had taken so many lives and caused such destruction and chaos. Perhaps 'innocent' wasn't the proper term, but it had been relatively blameless in the course of death seared into the landscape of Sengoku Jidai Japan.

Nearby, in the graveyard that had been created for those of Kouga's pack who had been killed by Naraku and Kagura, three new bodies were laid to rest; Sango, the last taijya, Miroku, a Buddhist monk, and Kohaku, Sango's younger brother. The young boy's possession by Naraku, and a shard of the Shikon no Tama ensured that he wouldn't live past the removal of the tainted artifact.

Though Kagome had stopped crying, the perpetual sadness that lingered would not go away for some time. A haunting breeze shifted her hair lightly as she turned and walked towards the crystal outline of the creator of the Shikon no Tama. Surrounded by the seemingly carved shapes of demons, a serene face stared out into the distance, as if she could see that what she was doing would be for a greater purpose. Kagome only wished she had that much confidence. Instead, she was left with death on her hands, regrets in her heart, and memories that felt like they would never leave her mind.

She had one task left, to make a selfless wish. Countless times she'd discussed the topic with her comrades, and each one had different opinions on the matter. 'There is no such thing as a completely selfless wish.' One said. 'I think it depends on the heart making the wish. If the heart of the person making the wish is pure enough, then the wish itself will be thought of with pure intentions.' Said another.

Her heart hurt thinking about what she could wish for that would be completely selfless. In the end, wasn't it in human nature to be selfish? Her eyes softened in deeper sadness as she thought of her own selfish desire – Inuyasha's love. If he could only love her as she loved him, she would never want for anything else ever again. The tears that pooled in her sapphire eyes told her something else though; something devastating and painful. Inuyasha was never hers, and would never be hers. His heart belonged to his first and only true love, Kikyou. She may have looked like Kikyou, but that's where the similarities ended, and the differences began.

She lifted up a hand to wipe away the lingering tears before she took a steadying breath. If she could not get her heart's desire, then she would do the only thing she could to comfort herself; give Inuyasha his deepest desire. He had made no secret of wanting to be a full demon, but that wasn't the desire that she'd been thinking of when the tears had fallen.

"So, here's where you ran off to." A slightly deep male voice called out from the perimeter of the cave. The barrier kept him out for now, but he had followed the young miko's scent to this place, and knew that she had to be inside the earthen structure.

Kagome's head lifted up at the sound of his voice, and her chaotic thoughts stilled. Even with such a simple statement, he was able to calm her upset nerves. The thought brought even more pain to her eyes but she quickly threw on a smile and walked towards the opening of the cave.

"Inuyasha…" she paused, just inside the barrier, frozen by the sight in front of her. Next to her inu-hanyou friend was her previous incarnation – Kikyou. Some time before the final battle, the un-dead miko had come to terms with the rage boiling in her heart. It wasn't rage at Inuyasha, but Naraku. The chaos that that rage had inflicted made her lose sense of herself, and her actions. Her saving grace had been the piece of Kagome's soul that she harbored in her clay and ash form. Kagome's darkness always held a piece of light, and that light helped Kikyou return to some semblance of who she was before.

Somehow, Kagome kept that soft smile on her lips as she stared at the two of them. Even here, she could see how much they meant to one another. Her hand shook slightly as she looked between them, before she finally said, "…I was just thinking. I didn't mean to worry you two."

"Feh." The hanyou replied, eloquent as ever towards his first real friend. "Just didn't want you to get yourself killed. Go figure you'd be the one to help defeat Naraku, and then go get yourself chomped on by some weak-ass demon." He smirked, teasing her.

Kagome would have been offended, if she hadn't seen that teasing look. It made her heart light to see this softer side of him, but she knew that this couldn't last between them. Kikyou knew of her jealousy. She'd heard it straight from her mouth. She couldn't stay here, in this time; but there was something else that was left undone, and that something was held in the palm of her hand.

She gave him a small smile before she shook her head, not stepping past that barrier that stood between them. He didn't seem to notice, but Kikyou did. She reached up a hand to step through the barrier and was held forcibly back by that invisible wall. Her eyes widened in momentary shock. She was still a miko, too, though she wondered briefly if her sins as an undead being had stained her miko soul too far to be redeemed; though that would mean that Kagome's soul would have been tainted beyond redemption. The puzzle was pushed back for a later date as she spoke. "It's about lunch time…we should probably eat something."

The young miko nodded lightly once, before she said. "Before that though…I think I'm ready."

"Ready for what, Kagome?" Inuyasha questioned, as he looked to his first true friend with curiosity and uncertainty.

She just smiled and held out her hand, which was wrapped around the Shikon no Tama. "One final wish."

She smiled with confidence she didn't feel as she stared first at Inuyasha, and then at Kikyou. "A second chance."

The words seemed to echo in the clearing for a moment, before the Shikon pulsed and flared to life in a pale pink energy that was all its own. Kagome knew that demons and humans from miles around would have felt that blast, but by the time they would arrive to investigate it, the jewel would be gone. Or, that was the plan.

Midoriko's voice emanated from the jewel as she spoke to her fellow miko. "Are you sure that this is what you want? The jewel's power always comes with a price. Are you sure you're willing to pay it?" she questioned.

Kagome's expression faltered for half a second before she nodded quickly. "Yes. I know it will cost me something…but I've already lost everything I can possibly lose. What more could the jewel do to me?" she said, underestimating just what the jewel could, and would, ask in exchange for the power to do what she wanted.

Midoriko's face turned stricken as she said quickly, "The jewel requires sacrifice. Only someone willing to selflessly sacrifice something dear to them can make a pure wish. It won't disappear, Kagome. You realize this. Naraku's immortal darkness will forever taint it. It will never truly be gone. Please, reconsider…do not make such a wish…do not sacrifice yourself in such a way!"

Kagome was quiet, taking in Midoriko's words for a long moment before she looked to the immortal being inside of the jewel – its creator. "…I wish for his happiness. At the expense of my own…I would give my life for him. You may not understand it…and it is certainly foolish, considering everything. Even so…I will do this, because…it's the only thing I can do to make things right."

Inuyasha and Kikyou watched as Midoriko appeared above them, and seemed to carry on a secret conversation with Kagome. They couldn't hear what was said, but Kagome just seemed to nod in determination. Inuyasha rushed forward and banged his hand on the barrier, which repelled him with little effort back a few feet. "Kagome! Kagome, what are you doing?!" He screamed, frustration and fear clouding his voice.

Kikyou stood by and watched the spectacle with slightly pained eyes before she looked back to her predecessor and her reincarnation. She knew there was nothing she could do to change the young miko's mind, and a part of her felt jealous that the girl would give up so much for her duty. She took it seriously always and never tried to hoist it off on anyone else, or wish away its existence. Not like her. She had fallen for Inuyasha, that was true, but it was a series of circumstances that had started with her using him to ebb away her own loneliness. Kagome had loved him from the beginning with no ulterior motive. Even now, she was wishing upon the jewel to help Inuyasha, not herself.

Midoriko's stricken face fell before she nodded once. "I understand." The pale pink power that was growing in an ominous cloud above her swooped down without another word and enveloped the young miko. A loud cackle filled the air and sent a wave of terror washing through Kagome.

"I told you I would torture your soul for eternity, my miko. You will lose those things most precious to you in exchange for your wish." Wide, blue eyes looked up and around frantically and prayed beyond hope that the voice didn't belong to who she thought it belonged to.

Inuyasha, seeing Kagome's fear through the film of pink that surrounded her, quickly pulled out Tetsuseiga and was planning on tearing his way through the barrier that held him between her and himself, when he felt Kikyou's hand on his shoulder.

"She has made her choice…we cannot interfere." She said softly, though her tone held bitterness and regret. It should have been her making this choice, this selfless wish.

He looked back to her for only an instant before he heard Kagome's scream and he rushed the barrier again without a second thought – not thinking that he couldn't get through; his only thought was that he had to protect Kagome.

He fell into the barrier and the wall of energy that had gathered around his friend. "Kagome!" he screamed, reaching for her, but his hands found nothing but air as the swirling energy flew back and left him free of its powers. The rush took Kagome back to the heart of the cave – where Midoriko's stone form remained.

Kagome screamed when Naraku's face came into view. She had wanted to deny it but the evidence was piling up rather quickly. "I destroyed you!" she shouted, reaching for a bow that she didn't have. "And I'll do it again!" she rushed him only to be thrown back and forcibly moved by the power of the Shikon towards the back of the cave. Naraku's misty face grinned in delight at the proceedings, though he was surprised that Inuyasha had broken through the barrier around the cave with strength of will alone.

"You've made your wish, miko, and though it pains me…" he turned back and looked at the hanyou, who was following quickly behind them. Instantly, Inuyasha was surrounded in pale pink light and he screamed into the air, feeling as if he was losing control of everything for a split second, which slipped into a still well of hyperawareness. He'd felt like this before, though he'd never been in full control of his actions. He looked down to his hands which were surrounded by pale pink wisps of power that were changing him from a hanyou, to a full demon. His eyes flew up to the scene in front of him and he screamed out Kagome's name again, which came out as a roar. His nose began to elongate and his eyes began to turn into thin slits of red. From outside the cave, he heard a similar roar of anger and frustration, and he turned to see Kikyou's familiar form bound into the cave at speeds she'd never been capable of before, trailed by pink strands of power.

Kagome turned her head for a second to see what her wish had done and for a moment, she regretted not being able to do more – but she'd given him and Kikyou their happily ever after – their eternity together. He would be stronger now, and he would have his first love by his side. Her eyes shifted back to Naraku's darkened form before he looked back to her. As their eyes connected, she felt a sharp thrill of fear from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She was at his mercy, and that was the last place she ever wanted to be.

"Sacrifice, my miko. Time to pay the piper." He smirked, before he held out his hand, and Kagome felt her eyelids grow heavy. "Your memories sustain you, and your hope that you'll be able to return to your family. I say those are fitting sacrifices to the jewel. Memories, and time…" he laughed evilly, and Kagome struggled to stay awake and fight against him.

As she closed her eyes she heard the soothing voice of Midoriko. "Rest…when you awaken, the fight will begin anew. It is not over, but we will win. For now, I will fight him." Her tone had changed to hold fierce protectiveness and determination.

With those words echoing in her mind, her eyes slipped closed and the pink energy around her hardened and left her form protected in the center of the pure, crystalized arms of Midoriko. The image of her statue, which had her holding out her hand to ward off the demons, had changed. The demons were surrounding the crystalized form of Naraku now, and he was staring with angry eyes into the eyes of Midoriko, who had one hand out, as if blocking an attack, and another around the form of a young girl, protecting her from his gaze as she had the girl's head turned into her chest.

Standing outside the spectacle and the vibrating power of miko and demon energy, was Inuyasha, who was dumbfounded, and Kikyou, who wasn't sure what to feel. She was most certainly a demon. She felt power coursing through her veins that she'd never felt before. She questioned how she could have fought against such beings and won, but that thought was fleeting. What had Kagome done with her wish?

"Kagome?" he said softly into the silence before he reached up and touched the crystal smoothness of her cheek. Kagome had given him the ultimate gift, at the expense of her own freedom. He didn't know what happened, or why Naraku was part of the scenery now, but his eyes narrowed and he leapt high into the air and sliced downward at the new statue with anger and rage. "You bastard!"

An invisible force threw him back almost to the entrance of the cave but it didn't expel him completely. He came back and slashed again and again, only to get the same result each time. Finally, Kikyou couldn't take anymore and she reached up to stop him. "Kagome will be okay…Midoriko is protecting her now. All we can do is watch over her."

He looked to his first love, and the woman who held his heart. For a moment, his fierce look remained, before it crumbled and he looked away from her, only to have her come up behind him and wrap her arms around him. "I never expected this…but…in a way, she knew our deepest desire." He turned his head to look at her, before he drew her into his arms and held her tightly.

"You smell of an inu-youkai." He said softly. She nodded slowly before she looked up into his eyes.

"And you're a full-demon." She stated.

He nodded once before he drew her in close again. "Kagome…" he said, looking at the statue again. She knew him better than anyone else. She knew him better than he knew himself. And now she was in an eternal struggle for the jewel, against a foe that had given them all more trouble than he could express…all for them. For him, and Kikyou, and everyone. Without warning, tears squeezed out of his eyes and down his cheeks, while outside of the cave a lone figure stood in pristine white, with hair of silver. The power had drawn him here – the scents were what made him linger. For a brief moment, he thought he felt the aura of Naraku, but that was impossible.

He would not know until centuries later, but it was quite possible, and the fight for the Shikon no Tama was not over yet.

"I can't believe I'm out here in the middle of nowhere on a freaking field trip with the toddler." Yusuke muttered under his breath as he followed said 'toddler' through a semi-dense forest of the Makai. Normally, he would've taken a pass, but some weird things had been happening lately between the barriers. Demons were gathering en masse near the border between the Ningenkai and the Makai – the one that no longer existed. After it was discovered that his father was brainwashing demons to create the "threat" of demons in the Ningenkai, Koenma put his foot down. However, the fact that so many demons were gathering in such large numbers seemingly in tune was worrisome. He and his team had been run nearly ragged keeping tabs on the large number of demons that were making camp along the border. They weren't causing trouble, which was the irritating part. They couldn't kill them or escort them back further into the Makai just for coming so close to the border, but their mere presence was almost mocking. They were gathering in flocks and it was putting more than the demi-god of the Reikai on edge. If they all decided to cross at the same time into the Ningenkai, it could elicit a mass panic not only in the Human Realm, but the Demon, and Reikai realms as well.

Yusuke, Hiei, and Kurama were using their contacts in the Makai to figure out what was going on and what was happening, but none of the usual suspects were providing any information. It wasn't a mass takeover, and not a revolt. In fact, they weren't doing much of anything as they waited outside the border just outside the Ningenkai.

"So where are we going again, Toddler?" Yusuke questioned, irritated by their lack of progress and information on the situation.

Koenma rolled his eyes for the fiftieth time today and looked back at his traveling companion. He would have brought Kurama and Hiei with him but they said they would catch up after following some leads in the Makai, and he trusted them to know the destination. "We are going to visit one of the old Lords of the Demon Realm. You may have actually heard of him. His name is Sesshoumaru, and he has been ruling the Western territories for centuries."

Yusuke lifted an eyebrow before saying, "Never heard of him. If he's such a powerful ruler, why didn't I meet him when the old man croaked, and we were fighting for control of the Makai?" he questioned, for once sounding semi-interested in this fieldtrip.

"That's because most rulers fear him beyond anything else they've met. He isn't the boogeyman of demon kind, but he has been around for centuries and he is immeasurably powerful. He is a just ruler, and for the most part stays out of the affairs of the other leaders. His domain has been mapped since the times of ancient Japan, before it was unified even, and no one dares to challenge him and take over his territory. When the demon tournament for leadership of the Makai took place, it didn't need to be spoken that Sesshoumaru's lands were not in the spoils. It was a given." Koenma explained.

"Sounds like a challenge in the making." He said with a roguish grin that made Koenma pale.

"No, Yusuke. Sesshoumaru would crush you without even trying. He has been alive longer than you can imagine, and he is a dog-demon. He is incredibly territorial and if he feels anything of his is threatened in any way, including himself, he will not hesitate to eliminate the threat. Please behave yourself and don't say anything that will make you a target. I could bring you back to life, but that's if there's anything left to bring you back to. Promise me, Yusuke." The demi-god wasn't above begging, but the tone of his voice had Yusuke pausing with his smart-assed remark. He sounded terrified of this "Sesshoumaru" person.

"I'll be good, toddler." He said nonchalantly, but it was as good as a promise, and he didn't break those on pain of death. He looked back to the rather dull scenery and he asked, "…why are we even going if he's such a badass?"

Koenma took a small breath and silently thanked the gods that Yusuke was at least willing to take threats seriously. "…he may be able to help us figure out why all these demons are mass migrating towards the Ningenkai. Those who live in Sesshoumaru's territory know better than to skip between the Ningenkai and the Makai – he would find them and kill them himself. But maybe he has some clue, or has heard wind of anything that might help us stop this gathering before it gets any more out of hand." He explained. "I haven't spoken with him in some time, and it's no secret that he dislikes my father greatly. His father, the previous ruler of the Western Lands, Inu no Taisho, openly showed his hate of my father and the way he ran things. He came from a time where a ruler was supposed to protect his people and provide for them. He was of the mentality that a happy peasant was a prosperous peasant, and be it human or demon, he wished the best for his people and continuously eliminated threats that came to his territories. His territory was one of the safest in Sengoku Jidai Japan, because he fought and trained to keep it that way. One of the reasons was probably because he had a human mate."

Yusuke's eyes widened to the size of saucers, as he blurted out, "Inu no Taishou had a human mate?!" he questioned incredulously. He knew it was rare – and very much frowned upon. He'd heard as much from Raizen when it came to his mother.

Koenma nodded lightly before continuing, "He fell in love with her, and took her as his mate. His wife, and Sesshoumaru's mother, was quite dishonored when he did so. It was even more so because soon after, she gave birth to a second son, Sesshoumaru's half-brother, Inuyasha."

Yusuke whistled low before saying, "The guy had balls; I'll give him that. What happened to him? I can't see him taking her for his mate if he couldn't protect her, and from what you say, he was even stronger than this Sesshoumaru guy."

Koenma shook his head. "He was strong, but at that time, he was fighting a war with the other territories. At the time, Japan wasn't united like it is now, and it was a very lawless time. Even the Reikai had limited power to help anyone, demon or human. We were so busy running the Reikai that most of the law and order of Japan fell to its inhabitants. He was weakened greatly in battle, and was sent a challenge by the dragon-demon Ryukotsusei. He couldn't refuse, but he had to have known he was walking to his death. His pride was too great, and because of it, he died in the battle...but not before sealing away Ryukotsusei."

The two were silent for a few moments as Yusuke took in Koenma's story. "Even weakened, he made his final stand. I'm kind of sad I didn't get to meet him." It was a moment more before he asked, "What happened to Inuyasha? He's a hanyou, right? Raizen told me about hanyou children some…" Yusuke trailed off, the thought being particularly unpleasant. He was a hanyou. He was protected by being in the Ningenkai, but Inuyasha was born in a time that had no shelter for half-demon children. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"There are conflicting accounts, but the few facts I can garner are that he is the Prince of the West. Somehow, Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha came to an agreement of some sort and he was accepted back into the Western house. To further complicate things, Inuyasha is a full-demon. We don't know how, or why, but he has appeared on our radar as an S-class demon, but that doesn't make any sense simply because he is appearing as a full-demon. If he were causing trouble or for some reason we needed to know why, we'd have investigated more thoroughly before now, but since he hasn't and it wasn't…well…" he had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Just admit it, you were too chicken shit to send out your little Reikai flunkies out to the Western lands and get your answers." Yusuke snorted, looking both condescending, and amused, at the same time.

"You haven't even met Sesshoumaru. He's more powerful than Inuyasha might ever be. You'll understand once we get there and meet him in person. He has granted us an audience, but I have no illusions that he won't kill us if we make a wrong move. His nickname is well-known as being the 'killing perfection'. There's a reason for that, Yusuke, and you'd be wise to remember that."

The toushin swallowed lightly before he grinned. Sounded like his kind of demon. He couldn't wait to meet him and size him up. The male in him was great enough that he wasn't entirely afraid of this demon, but he was smart enough that he wouldn't go picking a fight…at least at first. They were there for information after all. "Sure thing, toddler."

Koenma stared hard at Yusuke for a minute before he sighed and shook his head. He had a feeling he'd be doing a lot of apologizing for the toushin in the upcoming hours, but he couldn't think of anyone else he'd rather have at his back than Yusuke.

"This can't be good…" Kikyou murmured quietly as she examined the age-old crystal that remained hidden in Midoriko's cave. Her hand was held suspended over the pale pink fragments that had seemingly slipped off of the crystal statue and was gathering in small pools along the cave floor, as if it were melting. Her eyes went to the intense irises of her former predecessors and her hand clenched in worry. For centuries, she had been watching over this cave and its inhabitants, but this was the first sign that something had changed. It almost seemed as if Naraku looked more sinister, and radiated more evil than normal. Though it looked as if it were a mere statue, she knew better.

A familiar hand squeezed her shoulder gently and she looked to her mate. "Sesshoumaru may have a plan. He's set up a meeting with Koenma." He said.

"I know how serious it must be for him to call on the Reikai for anything. I want to believe that it's nothing we can't handle…but Naraku has taught me better than that." She replied softly, as she dropped the small crystal fragments to the floor.

He nodded once before he directed her towards the opening of the cave. "I'd like to be there when the meeting starts. I know they've been having trouble patrolling the border. Too many demons are heading for the human realm. It's almost as if something is calling them." His eyes flashed to Naraku's sinister ones, and he growled under his breath.

Kikyou placed a gentle hand on his arm before saying, "Let's go. Maybe we can stop this before it gets out of hand." 'Unlike before…' was her unspoken thought, as each looked back to the crystal figure of Kagome, who was held in Midoriko's embrace, hidden and protected from Naraku's gaze. Inuyasha was the first to look away with an expression of pain on his face. He was the one who was supposed to protect her, and yet he'd failed her again. This time, he wouldn't screw this up. This time, he'd protect her, like he promised her all those years ago.

Kagome wondered if her eyes were playing tricks on her. For so long, there had been a veil of pink surrounding her, not letting her see what was going on in the world outside her small, enclosed space. Now though, there was darkness. Waves of black pierced through the pink veil and seemed to burn wherever they touched. For the millionth time since she'd found herself stuck in this strange space and time, she touched the edge of her prison and tried to peer out into the world beyond. Surprise filled her features as she saw Kikyou and then Inuyasha. It was only a brief glimpse, before the shuddering darkness drew her attention again. She knew this power, and she knew how dangerous it was. A cold chill raced down her spine as she backed away from the edge of that wall that separated her, from the darkness. The wall between them was weakening…what would happen when it completely fell?

Yusuke wasn't expecting another fieldtrip so soon, but this time he had company. The team had been gathered together and was being led by Sesshoumaru, the lord he'd been so warned about had indeed, been someone to be wary of. He hadn't felt someone so powerful before in his entire life. The stoic lord was quiet for the most part, his voice never rising except if he were angered, and he was remarkably intelligent. He knew the reason for the Reikai's upset even before they'd contacted him, so it was with some surprise and shock that the first words out of his mouth at the meeting were, "There is something you must see. It will explain everything."

They were heading towards the Ningenkai, and at each step they could feel the press of more and more demon energies. They were all fairly weak, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Even powerful demons such as themselves could get overrun by thousands of weaker youkai. The uneasy looks that passed between each of them was just more confirmation that there was a serious problem in the Makai.

As they approached the invisible line between the Makai and the Ningenkai, everyone who wasn't up to speed on the current situation looked to Sesshoumaru for guidance. He didn't seem to notice that his followers were slowing down, but when he finally crossed that line, he looked back and paused. "This battle began long ago, when demons ran free and humans feared the dangers our race presented. In order for you to understand, we have to go back to the beginning. There is a village up ahead that houses the final protector, and the creator, of the Shikon no Tama. It also houses the half-demon who gave up his heart to try and obtain it." He fell quiet before he looked back to some invisible image that only he could see, leaving Inuyasha to take over where he had stopped.

"The jewel isn't gone, and neither is the hanyou who tried to take it. The fight is still going on, even after all of these years."

"But…Naraku is gone, right? He hasn't been sensed on our radar for centuries. We thought you and your team destroyed him." Koenma's voice was cracking with disbelief, and fear. Yusuke stepped closer to him to lend him his silent support. He didn't know what was going on, but it had Koenma disturbed and though they didn't see eye to eye a lot of the time, he respected him. Hearing the leader of the Reikai so afraid of someone, a demon, which was supposedly gone, had him pissed off, and remembering Toguro.

He remembered the fear he felt when he was subject to his mercy. He was so twisted, so mentally disturbed by his own power that Yusuke had no choice but to feel fear. That feeling was creeping back inside him and he didn't like it. His hands clenched into fists at his sides, and he felt Kuwabara step up near him in unconscious support. Whatever the threat was, he had his best friends at his back. He could feel Kurama and Hiei step closer to him, whether it was consciously done or not, it didn't matter. They would be there together to face whatever happened. That helped him keep a clear head, as he followed the conversation.

Kurama was strangely silent as he took in the words of both Koenma, and Sesshoumaru. He had known vaguely of Sesshoumaru from his days as a spirit fox, but it had been centuries since they'd met face to face. It was clear that time hadn't really changed the Lord of the West, but that didn't surprise him. What did surprise him was the worry that the Taiyoukai was trying to keep suppressed, though for it to leak out even a little was proving just how dangerous the situation was.

Inuyasha was about ready to ask where the hell was Koenma when his "team" had to defeat Naraku, but Kikyou beat him to the punch. "He was contained by Kagome's powers…it was the best any of us could do at the time. His power had grown beyond our control. Not even Midoriko could fully contain his power. You will see for yourselves. The seal is weakening."

No one had a good comeback for that. The feel of so many demon energies so close-by, and the feel of another power, a darker, decidedly eviler power was just out of reach had them all on edge. It was weak, but it seemed to grow from their very fear of it. Kuwabara rubbed his arms harshly, trying to shake the feeling away but he couldn't stop himself from saying, "Guys it's like there's a million bugs crawlin' over my skin. What the hell is that?" he questioned aloud.

Sesshoumaru looked a little surprised that the human of their group was so sensitive to the evil that Naraku radiated, but he took care not to show it. Perhaps Koenma's team would be able to help them after all.

Shippou turned around to face the tall, orange-haired male before coming to a decision. "That's Naraku. His darkness is like a disease. He gets into your head, makes you see things and feel things that you don't really feel. He exploits your moments of weakness and he breaks your mind and spirit. He doesn't like confronting his enemies head on; instead, he toys with them, and breaks their will to fight on. He is the deadliest opponent I've ever faced in my life, because he doesn't fight to hurt you physically. He hurts you where it counts; emotionally. I can heal a cut or scrape, but..." his voice trailed off as he looked down, his eyes filling with fear and sadness. "…there are memories that I'll never forget."

Everyone watched as Inuyasha stepped up and placed a gentle hand on the kitsune's shoulder. Nothing needed to be said, but the grateful look that he gave the inu-hanyou was proof enough of the bonds between the group of demon fighters. It was proof that they were as close if not closer than the Reikai Tantei.

"This guy is that scary, huh?" Kuwabara said, his voice deep with uncertainty.

"Scarier." Kikyou said quietly, as she looked back towards the direction Sesshoumaru was staring at.

For a moment, no one said anything. Finally, Yusuke had had enough. "Okay, enough with the preliminaries. Let's go see this thing that will 'explain everything'. If there's a demon's ass to kick, we'll kick it. That's what we're here for." He said with a grin that seemed to rouse some calmness back into the situation. Kurama had a small, wry smile on his face while Kuwabara chimed in, "Yeah, Urameshi! That's what I'm talking about!"

Hiei just shook his head and muttered lightly, "Fools." Though it was clear by his tone that he was amused more than anything.

Inuyasha opened his mouth to reprimand them for not taking the situation seriously, but Shippou shook his head before he smiled. He knew it was their way of rallying behind their leader and gathering their courage. If they were going to die, at least it would be with courage and honor, and it was something that had the kitsune reminiscent of their own team and the days when their team was new and so very young.

Sesshoumaru didn't seem to care one way or another, as he continued forward towards Midoriko's cave. The rest of the group followed, while Kikyou took the initiative to explain what had happened so far, from Kagome's first adventures into the well, her own revival, and Naraku's changes through the years they had fought him. Coming upon the cave, her story stalled, just before the final battle.

"This is the last known village of the taijya warriors." Shippou began, as he gestured around them. "The jewel was brought here for safe-keeping. When they realized that they couldn't keep it pure, it was given to Kikyou…" he looked to the miko. "…and like she said, she had it burned with her body. From there it was reincarnated into Kagome's body in the future."

Each of the Reikai Tantei took in the desolate village. There wasn't much left of it, but a lone graveyard with flowers swaying to and fro in the breeze. The inu-tachi didn't seem to like the surroundings much, but then again, they knew what the ground held, and the history of the village. They knew that much blood had been spilled on its ground and many lives had been lost once upon a time. It was a painful reminder of what had happened, and the situation at hand.

Kuwabara took a step back, not wanting to even approach the cave further. "Somethin's in there guys, somethin' bad. It's the most evil thing I've ever felt in my life." He muttered as he rubbed his arms again.

Yusuke looked to his long-time friend and asked, "More than Toguro? And Sensui?" Even though neither had been inherently evil, they had done some very evil things in their existences.

He nodded once before saying, "It's like…it's like losing everything that ever made you happy. There's no hope…just darkness, and pain." His eyes fell as he looked to the ground. "…so much pain…" When he looked up, there was something in his eyes that made the rest of the group happy that they couldn't feel what the sensitive empath could feel. Hiei, for once, didn't comment on the situation. It was clear that something big was going on, and they might just be in over their heads.

Without a word, Inuyasha walked forward and past his brother, which normally would have been a breech in protocol, but all of them were so shaken by the turn of events that no one dwelled on it. Each of the group followed behind him and navigated the small set of twists and turns until they came upon the end of the structure. A few gasps could be heard from members of the Reikai Tantei as they looked upon the sight with disbelief.

There was a girl trapped within the disintegrating crystal, held in a protective embrace by another girl, this one looking towards a wall of dark encased in even more crystal. There seemed to be a figure imposed on the crystal, but the darkness was too great, and no one could make out his features. Kikyou stepped forward quickly along with Inuyasha before she said, "It has gotten worse since this morning." She kneeled down and picked up more pieces of the fragmented crystal before she held them up to Sesshoumaru. "The seal is weakening. I can only take this to mean that Midoriko is weakening as well."

"And what about Kagome?" Inuyasha asked, as he whirled around to face Kikyou.

The miko shook her head. "I don't know, Inuyasha…if she is trapped in there, and Midoriko is defeated…I don't know what will happen to her, or the Shikon no Tama."

The former inu-hanyou walked forward and touched the glass-like structure with a tentative hand. It was clear by his expression that he was at a loss. "…how can we help her?" he asked, his tone torn between breaking completely, and shouting.

Kikyou looked to Sesshoumaru, and then the rest of her team. Finally, her eyes rested on the Reikai Tantei, as if asking for answers. Her eyes were imploring. Despite everything she had gone through with Kagome, and everything that had happened, she still cared about the miko, and didn't want to see her fall into Naraku's hands. She had no answers for Inuyasha, or herself.

For a moment, no one spoke before Koenma looked to Hiei. "I don't know if it will even do anything…but can your Jagan sense them in there?" he questioned, earning everyone's attention as he broke the silence.

Suddenly, Hiei could feel a number of eyes on him, all waiting and anticipating what he could do. The inu-tachi had various degrees of pain resting in their eyes, and only as much hope as they allowed themselves to feel. Shippou had lost his mother, Sesshoumaru, an ally, but Inuyasha had lost his best and first true friend. She had loved him like no one else, and gave him what he needed at the time – someone who forgave him when he needed it the most. The Jagan was almost itching to find out the reason for such complicated looks and feelings, and the pressure that was surrounding him, but Hiei shook his head and glared back uncertainly. "I don't know what it would do to let the Jagan loose in there." For a moment, the darker part of himself wondered if he could destroy Naraku before he was freed. Would Koenma allow him to do so? And if he did, would he unintentionally destroy the two miko who were fighting the evil demon?

"It is a risk I won't let you take without their okay. If something happened to the girl, I don't want them to say that they didn't know." Koenma looked to Sesshoumaru, standing his ground in this instance. He would protect his team from the backlash if he could. It was the least he could do.

The inu-tachi looked at each other uneasily before they looked to Sesshoumaru. No matter how their team dynamics had worked in the past, Inuyasha wasn't their leader anymore. Sesshoumaru had been taking care of them for centuries now, and he knew more than they ever would about life, and since Kagome had been missing from their group, it was clear that Inuyasha had lost the will and desire to lead what was left of his team. Kagome's encouragement had given him the ability to lead his group with limited fears of failure, and it was clear that her loss was felt most by him. The taiyoukai nodded once before saying, "This Sesshoumaru would like to limit the number of casualties if possible. Kagome would agree. If something happened to her, but Naraku was defeated in the process, she would not blame any of us for the result. If there is a way to stop him before this seal breaks completely, do it. We will deal with the consequences afterwards."

Yusuke turned to the hiyoukai before saying, "Don't risk yourself like this. We'll figure something out. I don't like you going in there on your own to face this guy. It's got Koenma so spooked he's about to piss himself. Hell, it's got pretty-boy over there so riled he can't keep it from spilling over to us." He said, flicking his thumb towards Sesshoumaru. Koenma's eyes widened in fear and he turned to apologize to the taiyoukai, but that didn't stop Yusuke from continuing. "We'll figure out a better plan…a safer plan."

For once, the rest of the Reikai Tantei looked a little stunned. Hiei could only manage to keep a neutral face. Normally it was Yusuke running into danger headfirst and asking questions later, but something about this entire situation had him unnerved, and that wasn't like him. Apparently, Kuwabara thought along the same lines because he came up and swung his arm around Yusuke's shoulders tightly. "Hey man, Hiei's got this. It's true, it's creepy as hell here, but if Shorty can stop this before that guy gets free, wouldn't that be better? Give him a little credit…he's been training as hard as you since Sensui."

It was quiet a moment before Kurama tilted his head and added, "Kuwabara is right. If something happens, we're right here. We'll still be watching out for him. He won't be going in alone. I think Hiei should at least be given the chance to try, if he would like." He said, as he turned his bright emerald eyes towards the hiyoukai.

Hiei stood there, the center of attention of his teammates. It made him feel valued. It was a small sense of peace that he'd gathered for himself, by himself, in a world that otherwise had thrown him away. He knew that these people, his friends and allies, would grieve if he were lost. They cared about him in a way not many other people had. He valued their concern, and the way Yusuke put himself out there with his fears. He valued their faith in him. He moved a few steps forward, and brushed his arm against Yusuke's. "I'll yell if I need help." His tone held sarcasm, but that brush of his arm let Yusuke know that it meant a lot to him that he was looking out for him.

Yusuke ruffled a hand harshly through his hair before he nodded. "Okay, okay…let's get this over with."

The group parted like waves in front of the fragmented statues, backing away and giving Hiei the space to do whatever he needed to do. Sesshoumaru and Koenma were the only two who knew much of anything about the Jagan or what it could do, though Kikyou looked wary and almost angry that a stranger, and a former criminal no less, was going to be allowed so close to Kagome. Inuyasha just wanted her to be safe, and he trusted Sesshoumaru's judgment.

Hiei took a moment to examine the statues closer before he did anything else. The darkness felt familiar, though he couldn't place it just yet. It seemed to have a life of its own as it flickered and seemed to absorb the limited light that was in the cave. Slowly, the hiyoukai reached up and touched the surface of the crystal, trying to place the familiar feeling. No answers were forthcoming, and after a moment, a collective breath was released behind him. He tilted his head backwards, not realizing that they were scared for him. Just being so close to what was left of Naraku had his team, and the inu-tachi, scared of what would happen. Was Naraku so powerful that just being this close to him would terrify them? That didn't bode well for the already tenuous situation.

Anger and uneasiness made him all but rip off the bandana hiding his powerful Jagan, letting the appendage open fully for the first time in a while. For a second, the darkness seemed to dim the light around them further, before a laugh echoed in the open area.

"Naraku!" Inuyasha shouted, earning a few looks before everyone's attention flew back to the darkness which was growing around the crystal statue of Naraku. Kikyou had her bow drawn and Sesshoumaru had a tendril of yellow in his hand, ready to strike at a moment's notice. Hiei stepped back from the moving darkness, but his Jagan wasn't as cooperative. It seemed eager to inspect the growing black shadows that radiated from the corner of the cave. Yusuke ran forward first as he placed himself between Hiei and the expanding darkness. His hair began to elongate down his back and fade into a bright shade of white. There was nothing to attack, but that didn't matter.

"I knew this was a fucking bad idea!" he shouted, as his eyes darted around quickly to find something to destroy. Hiei was stationary as he felt his eyes widen in shock and for the first time since he was young, fear. The Jagan wasn't closing, and as he fought to shut it down, he found that he was losing control over other aspects of his power – namely, his dragon which lay innocently on his arm.

"An imiko…" Everyone fell silent as a deep voice echoed in the cave. "How long has it been since I've felt such conflicted elements?" The voice sounded almost sad for a moment, before another evil laugh boomed around them. "I shall be merciful and put him out of his misery."

Yusuke rushed forward to punch at the dark statue, but was thrown forcibly back as Inuyasha had been all those centuries ago. "Yusuke, move out of the way!" Hiei shouted, as he felt himself being pulled forward towards the darkness.

Kuwabara and Kurama rushed forward to grab either side of the hiyoukai to pull him back, but the force pulling on him was something neither of them had experienced before. "What the hell is going on?!" Kuwabara shouted even as Inuyasha raced forward to place himself between Hiei and the darkness, Tetsuseiga fully transformed in his grip.

"Naraku wants your friend. I don't know why, but we can't let him go! Naraku's specialty is absorbing demons!" Inuyasha shouted behind him, as he readied himself to let loose a fierce attack. Hiei looked to those who were trying to protect him – his friends, and even those he'd just met. The dragon was smoking at his side, itching to be let loose, but he held onto it with an iron will of control that had been forged over many long years.

His eyes narrowed before he said, "If he wants me, he's going to have to fight for me." It was the only warning any of them were given before Hiei had done something that he'd only done a few times before; separate his soul from his body. It was an odd sensation. It was, all at once, as if he were seeing through a different perspective. His body fell limp between Kuwabara and Kurama's grip, and the dragon, which had been smoking with the threat of being released, fell completely silent.

A roar of rage nearly deafened the occupants of the cave as Naraku's voice shouted, "What have you done, imiko?!" A long, broken scream of anger sent chills down their spines but none of them spoke aloud what had happened – most of them couldn't answer him because they didn't know.

Koenma looked towards the ceiling with a calm, calculating look as Hiei's spirit descended into the wall of darkness, and he quickly looked to his team. "Hiei has bought us some time, but we must figure out a way to stop Naraku from breaking this seal completely."

"How the hell are we supposed to do that?! He's not even a solid form, we can't hurt him physically…what's left?" Yusuke questioned, his eyes just a little too wide as he looked between Hiei's limp form and the growing black mass.

"The only way to combat a demon is a miko." Sesshoumaru said, his low voice heard clearly even in the chaos of the area. His eyes drifted to the two pale pink statues, and he stepped forward, surprising them all as he placed his hand on the carved shoulder of Kagome.

"It is time, Kagome. The fight must begin again." He said quietly; though no one understood what he meant, it was clear that he knew more than he was letting on. He drew his hand back only to have small burns on his hand. He smirked very lightly to himself before the burns disappeared and he looked back to the others. "It is not over yet."

"What about Hiei? We don't even know what's happened to him!" Kuwabara shouted out, looking almost outraged that none of the new demons were acting upset or scared. Were they allies with that Naraku guy? Was this all a way to trick them?

"Kuwabara, calm down." Koenma said, stepping up and looking quite serious as he looked at each of his team in turn. "Hiei knows what he's doing. We must trust that he will come back to us."

The taller young man looked doubtful before he nodded once. "If you say so…"

Yusuke's rage seemed to be growing as the seconds passed before he shouted out, "So we're just supposed to stay out here and do nothing?!"

No one answered him for a long moment, before Sesshoumaru stepped up, commanding the attention of everyone easily. "This fight is not ours to battle. Not here." He tilted his head towards the opening of the cave before he continued. "The seal is weakening, and Naraku's forces are moving."

Kikyou looked surprised before she spoke. "He's…commanding the lesser demons. He's gotten into their heads, like he did in the past." She quickly turned towards Inuyasha. "All of those demons gathering…we should have recognized what it was!" She sounded afraid, and her voice held disbelief. "He's commanding an army of lesser demons…he's either going to send them into the Ningenkai, or…"

She trailed off, making Yusuke snap at her, "What? What is he going to do?"

Her face looked stricken as she whispered, "He'll absorb them all…gain their powers and abilities…like he was trying to do to your friend."

Yusuke's face froze for a second before he said, "You know more about him than we do…" for a moment, he was silent. His face looked pained, for a number of reasons. "…tell us what you know about him, and maybe…maybe we can figure out a way to help Hiei."

Kikyou's face looked a little pained. Even though she didn't like Hiei, it was clear he meant a lot to his friends. She didn't have a lot of close allies but she could understand their worry and fears. "We don't have a lot of time…but…Inuyasha?" she looked to her mate, her face searching. A lot of what they knew about Naraku came with personal experiences that were painful in and of themselves. Inuyasha had been tortured, as they all had been, by Naraku's evil plots.

Slowly, he looked to them before he started to talk, and as each new horror was unfurled, the darkness seemed to grow. An air of pleasure joined the fear that surrounded them, making it hard to breathe. Naraku was aware of what he'd done, and he was proud of it. While each of them learned about what he'd done in the past, Hiei was battling some of those horrors, as he fought to find a way out of the darkness the half-demon had created.

Kagome was aware of the closeness of her friends. The beams of darkness surrounded her and sliced through the pale pink miko energy that had been protecting her for all these centuries. Midoriko was weakening, and she knew it. She nearly had a heart attack as she felt Naraku's pleasure, and then, felt the collective fear of her friends and demons and humans she didn't even know. She trusted Inuyasha and Kikyou to do what needed to be done, but it was Sesshoumaru's voice that broke through the thick silence of her self-imposed prison.

"I know the battle isn't over yet, Sesshoumaru." She whispered quietly, as if afraid to draw attention to herself. "But what am I supposed to do?" she turned to face the darkness that kept encroaching on her space. "…would he be happy…with just my death?" The words resonated in the empty space, before she heard another voice, one that wasn't familiar to her. It made her jump and step back even as she paused to listen. She'd never heard this voice before, but it sounded sure, and absolute. The words that he spoke though, were so tragically sad, that she felt it at the pit of her stomach. Without thinking, she moved forward, touching the barrier between her and Naraku's darkness. Who was calling to her? He almost seemed to be mocking her, but, she understood him.

"If you're so unhappy why aren't you dead? Continuing to fight isn't going to change anything, so you might as well put yourself out of your misery once in for all. For my entire life I never I experienced the joy of being loved. I had to endure being despised and deserted by my own people. And like you, I've tried to perch my pain through blood. After all, we're both only capable of expressing ourselves through our violence." The voice shouted, even as the darkness lightened.

Hiei slashed at another vision, that of Mukuro. He had said those words and he had meant them, but even now he fought against what he'd said. Could he only express himself through violence? Was he still now, unloved? He remembered his friends, waiting just outside this prison of darkness. He knew he was cared for. He even knew, that Yukina loved him, though it was never spoken aloud. She was intelligent enough – she knew the secret between them, but she kindly kept it, knowing the price it meant to reveal it. He wasn't alone anymore. "You're such a fool, imiko."

The voice sounded almost like his own, and he growled and shouted back, "Get out of my head! You know nothing about me, Naraku!"

The dark voice laughed before he said, "They care nothing for you…only of your strength and what you can do for them. Humans are filthy, selfish creatures, who only care about what they can be given in this world without working for it. You're only valuable as a protector of the world…a hardened killer. You do their dirty work and they pat you on the head like an obedient dog. You're such a weak fool. I can make you useful…if you just give in to me."

"Never! I don't take orders from anyone…especially those I beat!" he shouted, as he threw himself headfirst into the dark image that had appeared in front of him – of the words he'd spoken to Mukuro so long ago it seemed. The image shattered, and a glow of white light appeared. The shape of a girl's face appeared, as if calling him and luring him forward. She didn't say anything, but he knew that face.

Naraku's fierce yell was ignored as he raced forward the through the darkness. "I will have you, miko! I will have you and your precious light! You will love me, before the world falls!"

Hiei was almost shocked in his tracks. There was something far more complicated going on than he knew, and if ever he got out of this situation, he was going to punch Koenma in the face for dragging them all into another life or death situation without any forewarning.

Kagome could feel the frustration flowing off of Naraku, and she let out a long sigh. She knew of his heart's desire…but she couldn't give it to him. Kikyou's heart belonged to Inuyasha before she even met Onigumo. He came too late. "Isn't that always the way…" she said softly, even as tears stung at her eyes. She didn't even feel the emergence of another power until it was falling through the barrier. Her eyes widened as she scrambled backwards as far as she could go, and held out her hands in front of her in fear and shock.

Hiei had run, following the girl's face and the trail of light. It was oddly ironic. He was darkness itself, and yet, he chased after the light, seeking to be accepted. Mukuro's drab voice haunted him as he ran, her words made him angry and yet, he couldn't argue with them. "Your hate, no, don't make me laugh. If it were hatred, you would've destroyed the glacial village long ago. It's not hatred, it's longing. You just want to belong to something. You know in your soul that I am right Hiei, admit it."

"I admit it, you old hag." He grumbled to himself, even as Naraku's piercing laugh echoed around him again. It was clear he wasn't the most stable cookie in the jar. "Now leave me the fuck alone!" he shouted, even as he ran headfirst into a wall of glowing white. It was so bright it blinded him, but he didn't even care. He felt into that light, let it surround him and cover him, let it pierce his soul as he gave himself up to it. Whatever happened, even if he died, he prided himself knowing that Naraku would never have him.

What he felt though, in that light, was a warmth that went beyond anything he'd ever felt before. The warmth pierced his heart, and engulfed him, catching him as he fell headlong into it. It cradled him, and soothed his battered and frayed nerves. It calmed him, as if whispering without words that everything would be okay. In the light he found a sliver of loneliness, and a vast wealth of acceptance. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, completely relaxed. This was a place that he would be safe. It was an odd sensation, to be completely safe. He was so cynical of the world and knew that it was a kill-or-be-killed place, but the light seemed to strip away all of those insecurities and fears. He would have questioned it, but he couldn't seem to. A flash of his infantcy invaded his memory, of a woman holding him so tenderly.

Kagome was afraid she'd have to try and defend herself from the darkness, but as the barrier wavered and warped, her eyes widened in surprise. A person was slipping through the wall, and she rushed forward, unconcerned for her well-being. He was bleeding, and beat up, as if he'd been fighting for his life. She knew that with Naraku involved, he probably had. She mentally questioned herself if this was someone whom Naraku had absorbed, but he didn't seem like it. If that were the case, that would mean that the vile hanyou was weakening, and she knew that wasn't the case.

Her arms wrapped carefully around him as he slipped the rest of the way though the barrier though she wasn't expecting him to be so heavy, and she stumbled. She tightened her grip around him as she let out a soft sound of surprise, breaking his fall as they fell. He landed heavily on her, leaving her trapped beneath his weight. Her face was scrunched up in a little pain, but she managed out, "Are you okay?"

Hiei was lost in the feelings of the light, but that feeling of being held became a more solid thought. He could feel the tightness, and tenderness, of someone's arms around his shoulders. Quickly, his eyes flew open as he heard a feminine voice speak. He looked up, becoming aware simultaneously of the softness of a body under him. His eyes met sapphire blue and he was temporarily stunned.

Kagome was worried a second at this person's reaction, but he seemed to be okay, though he didn't answer her. She managed a little awkward smile for him though she winced as she felt a rock dig into her back. "Where did you come from?" she questioned, ignoring her discomfort as she tried to figure out who he was.

Her voice shocked him into action as he scrambled up and off of her. She moved her arms from around him, letting him move away as she lifted herself up from the ground. His eyes narrowed as he looked at her, but it was quickly dawning on him that she caught him and stopped him from crashing headfirst into the ground. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it, not sure where to begin.

"Did you escape from Naraku?" she questioned, her face was a little sad, inquisitive, but sincere at the same time. It was clear that she was worried about him, though he wasn't sure why or how much of this was real, or Naraku's doing.

"Who are you?" he questioned, figuring that he should start at that. He stood and glanced around quickly at his surroundings. There was a wall of pink around them, but he could feel Naraku's evil, pressing at his back in constant waves. It felt like someone was watching him as the space between his shoulder-blades itched in an irritating way. He glared back behind him, even as the girl answered.

"My name is Kagome." She paused. He hadn't answered any of her questions, but if he was there to kill her, he would have already. Naraku was looking for any reason to entrap her further in his grasp. If this person were one of Naraku's minions, he would have made himself known already. She bit her lower lip in thought. "It could be another trick" she thought. "He could be trying to lure me into a false sense of security…but…" her thoughts trailed off as she looked at the bruises and cuts on the strange demon. "…he hasn't attacked before this…and he's stronger now than he's ever been. If he could've tried something like this before, he would have." She reasoned out, as she asked, "What do you want here? Where did you come from?"

She sounded sincere enough, but Hiei was wary of trusting anything. He felt as if some invisible wall had been forcibly torn down that he'd held up before between himself and his emotions. He felt naked, for lack of a better word, and it left him feeling uneasy. Diving into the light, on second thought, might have been a bad idea, but he didn't have any other choice. He blinked, an unexpected thought emerging from his mind. "I can't hear Naraku's voice anymore." He looked quickly to his surroundings again, as if expecting the evil hanyou to pop out of a hidden corner and scare the shit out of him.

Kagome was about to yell at him to give her answers, but he looked scared, and wary. She could feel the waves of uneasiness radiating off of him. "How long was he trapped with Naraku?" she wondered quietly. If it was longer than a few moments, she could understand his fear. She'd been in his position before. Quietly, she stepped forward and held out a hand, as if approaching a wild animal, or a scared child. "You don't have to worry…you're safe here. Naraku can't touch you here."

Hiei quickly turned to look at her. She was approaching him slowly, but as soon as he glared at her, she stopped, and her hand fell to her side as she looked at him. She was wary herself, but she was calm. Was he really safe here in this light? This girl, she was the one that her friends were worried about. This was the one, who had been trapped in a century's long battle with Naraku. This was the protector of the Shikon no Tama. She looked so weak, but he knew that looks could be deceiving. He couldn't feel her power, but for her to survive, even with Midoriko's help, for so long against such an opponent as Naraku, was impressive. There was more to her that he couldn't see or touch, but it was enough that he'd seen her through the darkness of Naraku's evil. She was powerful enough to break through his darkness. She was powerful enough to save him. With a jolt, he realized that she had saved him. She'd saved his life.

Kagome watched as various emotions played out in small nuances across the strangers face. He wasn't pleased with her, but as the seconds passed she also saw recognition, pride, and then complete shock cross his face. She took another tentative step towards him before she asked again, "Are you okay?" her voice was soft, and a little worried.

He looked away from her, unable to look her in the face. She had saved him. Even having her own battles to wage and an eternal jewel to protect, she had saved him. That warmth he felt as he ran into the light, was that her doing? Was that gentle protectiveness, that overwhelming acceptance her doing?

"You have more important things to worry about, miko." His voice filled with anger, but it wasn't anger with her, but with himself. "The seal is weakening." He lifted his head and glared darkly at her, though he didn't mean to. "You are in danger."

She looked surprised when he finally spoke, though as he said that, she gave him a weak smile. "I'm always in danger." Her smile grew as she continued, though it was pained. "All I need to do is keep fighting. Things will turn out okay." She sounded brave, but Hiei could feel her fear. What had Naraku done to her to make her fear him, hell, to make all of her team fear him as badly as they did? He'd only felt a little of what Naraku could do to someone – but her entire team feared this demon. What was he capable of, and did he really want to know?

Her courage made him angrier at himself; he couldn't face himself, and Naraku manipulated him and had nearly broken him. This girl had managed to survive what he could not, and his own weakness screamed at him, and made him want to conquer it. "Fool! That sort of nativity will get you killed!" he screamed at her. His hands were shaking at his sides, as he recalled his childhood, and his weakness. He had spent his entire life destroying his weaknesses, and making himself more powerful. In a few moments, he had discovered that he wasn't as powerful as he made himself to be. He was strong physically, but in other ways…he was as weak as a newborn.

"As long as he doesn't hurt anyone else…that's okay." She replied quietly, not taking his anger to heart. It wasn't the first time she'd been called a fool, and she was sure it wouldn't be the last.

He froze at her words. She wasn't just being brave. There was conviction to her words, but something else, too. The sadness in her eyes told a lifetime of stories – stories filled with pain and loss. Mukuro had had a terrible childhood, but she'd freed herself from her enemies, and had become strong enough to get her revenge and make a place for herself in the world. The girl before him had been at the mercy of her enemy for centuries, trapped where no one could encourage her, comfort her, or even tell her that it would be okay, even if it was a lie. Even he had not spent so much time alone. He had gathered strength, loneliness and all, and discovered the rest of the Reikai Tantei. He'd never been at the mercy of an enemy like Naraku before. He'd killed his enemies before it got to that point. Even through all of this though, Kagome held onto strength. Even in the face of death, she would accept it with honor if only to protect her friends and allies. It was the mentality of a warrior – a fighter. It was the mentality of a survivor.

He would know.

He'd been a survivor since the day he was born.

"Your team is near. Even now they are trying to find a way to rescue you." He said, not approaching her, but not moving back from her either.

Her eyes, if possible, filled with even more sadness. "Why?" she questioned forlornly. Hiei frowned in confusion. Why would she question their actions? It almost sounded as if she didn't want them to save her.

"They care for your well-being. Why else would they have watched over you for so long?" he questioned.

"Obligation. Regret. Guilt." Her expression gentled as a bitter smile came to her lips. "Inuyasha is great at that last one." She couldn't help but look away from him, to hide the pain that had filled her eyes. "They feel guilty because I chose this path to protect them. They don't understand that I did this so that they could be happy. I don't want them to worry about me." Her expression fell as she lifted her head to look at him, desperation on her face. "I don't want to be looked after. I don't…I don't want Inuyasha to be tied down by feelings he has for me. I don't want him to be obligated to me." She looked away, unable to keep contact with Hiei's intense stare. "…he spent most of his life feeling obligated to Kikyou…I wished on the jewel so that they could be together and he would never have to feel like that again." Her voice was broken as she whispered, "I wanted him to be free."

It was clear she was hurting. She had loved Inuyasha, even he could see that, but Kikyou was his true love, and she came first to him. To try and forget Inuyasha, and her pain, she sealed herself away purposely, was protected inadvertently by Midoriko, and trapped in an eternal battle for the Shikon no Tama. Kagome didn't get anything she wanted. She still remembered, she still had to fight…she was still being protected in a battle she wanted to fight alone. Hiei could respect that. She knew the risks, but she still wanted to fight against Naraku alone – no matter the outcome. She gave Inuyasha and Kikyou everything they ever wanted – each other – knowing that it would just cause her pain.

The dejected girl in front of him seemed to gather from some hidden reservoir of strength as she stood and looked to him. The sadness and pain was diminished in the wake of her determination. "Naraku wants to get revenge against me…let him. Whatever happens, I'll see this through."

He frowned as he replied, "You're about to get your wish, miko. Midoriko is weakening. But then, you already knew this. Soon, it will just be you and him."

She was quiet for a moment, but her reply seemed to hold a lifetime of relief. "…finally."

He just stared at her, not sure how he felt about the strange girl who seemed to have so much strength within her petite frame, and yet, she was weak when it came to her emotions. She had the strength to sacrifice herself for everyone around her, yet she kept nothing for herself. Was she that selfless? Or that stupid?

He couldn't help but step forward, but he didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't want to just let her run headfirst to face Naraku. He wasn't going to let her protect him again. Male pride, and a small sense of obligation made him want to protect her, at least as much as he was able. The part of him that had been afraid of Naraku was spreading and he wanted nothing more than to squash that fear. He wouldn't go around fearing anyone, let alone some fragment of darkness that called himself Naraku. He would not be dictated by his fear.

Kagome looked up to him with a little confusion before her eyes widened and she shouted, "Look out!"

It was all the warning he was going to get as he was slammed into the front by the young miko, and knocked forcefully to the ground. He was about to shout at her, before he saw the smoldering pool of darkness that was nearby. It was as if evil was liquefied and he knew, without touching it, that it would suck him back into Naraku's sick world with just a touch.

Kagome picked herself up gingerly as she whispered an apology. "That's been happening a lot lately…I can purify it but…I don't know what it would do to you." With that said she leaned over towards the dark puddle, and in a move that shocked Hiei for not the first time today, she touched the edge with a single finger and it instantly returned to the pink perfection it had been.

He leaned up slowly, bewildered a moment before he stood and moved backwards towards the other side of the pale pink barriers. It seemed as if the darkness was spreading, and surrounding this small space on all sides. He gripped his katana tightly as he assessed the situation. If something wasn't done soon, he'd be trapped in here with Kagome when all hell broke loose. He really wanted to be on the outside when this went all pear-shaped. As it was, he was only at a fragment of his true power, only being in spirit form. His astral form was powerful but only in one aspect of his power. He couldn't even summon the various flames he was so famous for producing. Naraku had him on the ropes, so to speak, and he didn't like it.

Kagome looked over to him as he stood, and she got to her feet. "We need to get you out of here."

He blinked quickly as he narrowed his eyes at her. Could she read his mind? He growled under his breath in frustration. He knew so little about her, but at the same time, she was trying to help him. That should've counted for something.

She looked away from him, as she inspected the barrier before she walked to the center and looked up. For a moment, she was still before he heard her talking, seemingly to herself. "…I'll do anything." She said. "There must be a way to get him out of here."

He frowned before walking closer to her, only to jump back in distrust. Another voice echoed in the contained area, one that he didn't recognize.

"I can't hold Naraku off for much longer…if you wish to save him, you can break the barrier, but you won't have any protection. You will have to face Naraku…we won't have any more time to prepare." It said, though its voice was soft, almost weak, and weary.

Kagome took a deep breath before she said. "It'll be okay. No matter what happens…I'll figure something out." She smiled to no one, before she turned to look at him. He didn't try to pretend that he hadn't heard what she said, as he glared at her.

"What are you thinking about doing, miko?" he questioned, his tone dark, and full of mistrust. Her smile is what unnerved him most. It was serene, almost peaceful. Though pain and sadness filled her eyes, she still managed a smile, even in the face of most certain death.

"This is my fight." She said softly. She lifted her head to look into his eyes. It was clear she had resigned herself to whatever happened. The sheer amount of courage in her eyes shamed him. There was no way he couldn't return her look – there was no way he could leave her alone. "Here…I will end it."

Her words seemed to echo in the small space, before the calm turned to complete chaos. The crystal world around them shattered into what seemed to be a million or more fragments of pink glass, releasing him immediately into the air of the cave. Gasps, echoed by the sound of tinkling glass were a forethought in his mind as he looked to face the darkness of Naraku. His eyes were drawn to the red pupils of emanating from the wall of black that was Naraku. He was paralyzed with fear and he didn't even know why. Naraku hadn't been his enemy, not like he'd been Inuyasha's, or Kikyou's…or Kagome's.

That, perhaps, was the greatest reason for his fear. As he hovered in place, he watched with horror as a young girl, barely old enough to be considered an adult, ran headfirst into the darkness. Just as he had embraced the light, she moved to embrace the darkness, with tears staining her face, and unimaginable heartbreak in her eyes.

He was suddenly back in his body and his arm was up, reaching for the girl who held on tightly to the solidified darkness that Naraku had become. "Finally!" the vile hanyou shouted triumphantly, even as Kagome clung to his form. "I will have you, miko! You are mine!"

Inuyasha moved forward with Shippou, and the rest of his team moved simultaneously forward, ignoring him as he moved to stand from the ground. She slowly sank into the darkness, as Naraku did what he did best – absorb the young miko, and with it, the hopes of all of her friends. They watched in stunned silence as she slowly disappeared into the darkness. Hiei was the only one who heard as she whispered quietly, "I'm sorry I couldn't love you."

He only had a moment to question, "Love…Naraku?" The thought was so perplexing that he didn't think about his next movement. The hiyoukai leapt to his feet and rushed forward to pull her back from the darkness enveloping her. His hand gripped her skirt, which was all that remained visible of her. With a strength he didn't know he possessed, he pulled on the fabric, ignoring the shouts of his friends and allies. He could feel his heart in his throat as he pulled; the Jagan flashed to life as he tried to reach her, to let her know that help was still here – that she wasn't allowed to just give up like this.

"It's not courage if you just give into death!" he screamed in his head. "You're stronger than him…you can win…fight! For god's sake, Kagome, fight him!"

He didn't understand why he was fighting so hard for her – he barely knew her. He didn't really know how hard she fought to reassemble the jewel – he didn't know how much she'd truly sacrificed for it. Even then, she found it in herself to forgive someone as dark and twisted as Naraku. Someone who had killed her friends, and allies, someone who had tortured her and broke her spirit – she was able to forgive him, and was apologizing for not being able to love him. Hiei didn't get it.

In the shifting waves of darkness, Kagome heard someone shouting at her to fight. She expected it to be Inuyasha or Kikyou, possibly even Shippou, but the last person she expected to hear was that stranger's voice. She didn't even have his name. She turned, as her attention shifted from Naraku to the voice. She didn't know why she should continue fighting. If everything ended with her, then they would all be safe. It was worth her life, to protect them.

"It'll be okay." She thought, smiling, even through the pain that began to engulf her. "It'll be…" her voice caught in her throat for a fraction of a second before she began to scream.

"My miko…my miko forever. You've left yourself open to me. There's only part of a soul sustaining you…you don't have the strength to fight me anymore." Naraku said, earning a fresh scream from the young miko.

Hands joined the hiyoukai's as they each fought to draw Kagome back from the darkness. Naraku's voice echoed in the cave, and the moment he mentioned her soul being incomplete, Kikyou gasped in recognition. "No! This can't be!"

Koenma looked over quickly to her before saying, "What is he talking about?" he knew about souls, he even knew that they could be torn into pieces, but he knew nothing about Kagome and Kikyou's unique connection, beyond the fact that they were supposed to be one and the same.

Kikyou began talking, as the story blurted itself out. "Kagome is my reincarnation. When Orasuwe brought me back to life, I stole a piece of her soul to stay alive. I thought that the wish gave me a complete soul, only different from hers, because I'm a demon now. But…but it didn't. It didn't! Kagome only has part of her soul, the rest is in me! She's fighting a spiritual battle that she can't win!"

The words registered with everyone, but it left Kuwabara and Hiei in a bit of a daze. They knew more about spirits and souls than the average person, but to live, to survive, with only a part of a soul sounded impossible, but it made sense. Kagome would never end Kikyou's life because of Inuyasha's attachment to her. Even if she was incomplete as a person, she would never hurt Inuyasha in such a way…because she loved him. Unconditionally. Irrevocably. Completely.

And he didn't return that love.

Hiei closed his eyes in pain. It was a pain that was centuries old that overwhelmed him all at once. He just wanted to belong to something. No, not something. Someone. His hand tightened around the slip of fabric that kept the young miko connected to him. "She can win." He said, as he turned and glared at the other miko. Anger unimaginable filled his face as he shouted at the woman, "She can win! She never gave up, not on you or him…" he glared at Inuyasha. "…she never gave up on anyone! She took everything upon herself. Why isn't it you in there, facing Naraku?!"

Kurama placed a gentle hand on Hiei's shoulder. He'd never heard the hiyoukai so emotional about anyone or anything before, besides Tarukane and he'd kidnapped Hiei's sister. He looked to the kitsune before darting his eyes back to the darkness and that one slip of fabric. He couldn't face Kurama. He couldn't face anyone. He'd opened himself up to this – he'd opened himself up to her kindness, and he was a breath away from losing it.

Kagome felt like she was being burned up from the inside out. It felt like Naraku was splitting her apart and pouring himself in the pieces. Her powers flared to life to try and protect her by purifying the darkness as fast as it invaded her, but it was too much, too quickly. She was still fighting against the darkness, even as she meant to embrace it. Another shrill scream filled the air, and with a jolt she realized that it was her voice. She closed her eyes as tears pooled down her cheeks, ready to give into death, and ready to give in to Naraku.

A thin slice of pale pink tore through the darkness, lighting Kagome's face like a halo. "Remember, Kagome…darkness is just darkness. It is neither good, nor bad. It just is…and darkness cannot live without the light." Naraku screamed in rage and the light disappeared in a flash, leaving Kagome blinded for a second. She opened her mouth to scream again, but froze as an image made itself clearer in the darkness. For just a second, she saw Onigumo, before he had been burned beyond repair. He was young and full of promise. He had loved Kikyou.

"All I wanted…was Kikyou's heart." He said. His face was full of pain and longing, a look so powerful that it would've brought Kagome to her knees if she could've moved.

"I know." She whispered quietly, her own pain making itself known as she thought of Inuyasha. "I know…and…I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Slowly, she broke down into quiet sobs that elevated in volume. She had never fully grieved for her loss, and knowing he felt the same as her only made it worse.

The darkness stilled in the cave, and Kagome slowly began to emerge backwards from it. The darkness that so surrounded her began to shrink, as her arms became visible again. Her arms tightened around the darkness, as if she were hugging someone. "Let me stay with you. Don't leave me in the darkness again." He said, before his form faded completely. Kagome only nodded, unable to do anything else.

"It's the least I can do…to make things right."

The darkness vanished in a blinding flash of brilliant pink and black swirls into the petite frame of the miko. She landed heavily on her feet, her arms wrapped around herself as she lost her balance and began to fall. Hiei shifted quickly and drew her close, his hand falling from her skirt as he all but clung to the young miko. This had to be a dream…how had she beat Naraku? Or had the evil hanyou won and was now inhabiting Kagome's body? No matter how much he protested that she would win, a part of him was doubtful that she could overcome the obstacle in front of her.

He quickly looked into her eyes, to find that they were closed, and tears were pouring slowly down her cheeks. Without thinking, he reached his hand up to brush them away. She didn't indicate that she'd even felt his touch before she opened her eyes, all but knocking him to his knees with the emotions held in her eyes. Before he could do anything else, she turned her head and saw the audience they held from the inu-tachi, and Reikai Tantei. Of all of them though, Inuyasha looked the most upset. It was clear he was angry at the way Kagome was being held, though Hiei didn't completely understand why. Inuyasha had his chance, once upon a time, but he threw the girl away.

She looked as if she were about to say something, when a sharp pop broke the silence and a familiar blue-haired girl appeared, almost out of thin air. "Koenma, sir!" she called out.

"Botan…what are you doing here?" the Reikai leader questioned, as he turned to face her. She looked like she were about to explode with the information she had but she managed to land on the ground without falling on her face.

"She's arrived, sir! The miko Midoriko has finally arrived in the Reikai! She refuses to tell us where she's been all these centuries, but she's awaiting your judgment!"

Koenma glanced slowly towards Kagome, who had yet to move from Hiei's arms. "So you freed her." He said, no longer focused on the bubbly grim reaper.

She nodded once before she said, "She's earned some peace after all these years. So…so if you could give her someplace quiet and nice to stay, I'd appreciate it." She looked hopeful; though it was clear she felt terrible at all Midoriko had suffered because of her and the jewel.

"I think that can be arranged." He replied, his tone taking on a more regal tone – as if he were more important than he sometimes let on. The young miko managed a small smile of thanks, but his next words wiped it completely from her face, as he glanced back to the blue-haired girl. "…did you happen to receive a soul by the name of Onigumo, Botan?"

Kagome's face filled with guilt as she looked away and found her eyes locked onto orbs of red. Hiei had been watching her reactions to the Reikai leader, and it was clear that she tried to do all she could for everyone involved. She'd even managed to free Midoriko, which was a great feat in and of itself. However, at the mention of this Onigumo person, she tensed in his arms. He could see and feel the guilt radiating off of her, but he didn't understand why. He didn't know who Onigumo was – Kikyou had conveniently forgotten to mention who he was.

The young reaper shook her head. "No, sir. Should I have?"

The tension that filled the cave could be cut with a knife. Everyone's eyes darted to Kagome, who met none of them except for Hiei's. "Kagome…what happened to Onigumo? Where is his soul?" Koenma questioned, as he approached the young miko. He knew that Naraku had all but destroyed his soul when he allowed the demons around him to devour his flesh in exchange for mobility. As time went on, and more and more youkai were absorbed into his half-demon form, his human form was changed beyond recognition in some instances. However, one fundamental element stayed the same. Naraku had a human heart – and a human soul. Though he was a half-demon, his soul was human, much like the phenomenon that had happened to Kurama. Shuuichi still had a human soul – he just became an avatar for the soul of the kitsune, Youko.

She didn't answer for a long minute, before Inuyasha broke the silence. "Kagome! Where is Naraku's soul?!" the absolute rage was barely contained in his voice as he stepped closer to her. She bit her lower lip before she shook her head and finally turned to look at him.

Nothing was said, until she stood and broke the silence first. "Inuyasha…" Without thinking she moved from Hiei's arms forward and reached for him, an expression of pain on her face.

The inu-hanyou blinked once before a look of disgust and intense distrust formed on his face. He stepped back, out of her reach before she could touch him. The pain turned to that of a different sort on the miko's face, as she recoiled as if visibly slapped. Even a couple of the Reikai Tantei couldn't help but wince as what was supposedly a long-time friend of the miko so easily shot her down.

"I'll ask you again…" his eyes narrowed into thin slits of red. Tetsuseiga was at his side, fully transformed. "…where is Naraku's soul!?"

Slowly, she lifted her head to look at him, before saying, "His soul…is with me."

Everyone looked to the young girl with shock on their faces, save for Hiei and Koenma, one of whom didn't really do the "shocked" expression, and the other had an idea of what she'd done before she did it. He wasn't as out of the loop as he appeared on occasion. With a single gesture, he pointed to Botan and the reaper walked forward towards the young miko. She glanced to Botan warily but didn't stop her when she held out her hands. She didn't touch her, but a small glow formed in her hands. Kagome winced as she let out a soft sound of discomfort. It felt as if someone was touching a deep part of her that no one should touch. Her eyes widened in shock and she quickly stepped back as a sheen of pink surrounded her without thought. Botan's expression matched her own.

"W…what did you do?" the reaper questioned as she looked to Koenma. "His soul is attached to her own… there is a distinct feel of hers…and his. Onigumo's soul…has merged with hers." She said, her tone full of disbelief.

Inuyasha turned his gaze from Botan to Kagome, his hands flexing in anger. "He's a part of you now?" he asked, hesitant and also full of disbelief.

Kagome nodded, fighting off the urge to flinch at the way her friends now looked at her. She knew what she'd done. She'd done it for a purpose – she'd protected everyone, and given Onigumo something he'd desperately wanted all of his life – acceptance. Why couldn't they see that? Why couldn't they see that she was still the same as she'd always been?

"How could you care for that monster?!" Kikyou all but screamed as she notched an arrow in her bow. As far as she was concerned, Kagome had taken the monster known as Onigumo into her being – she was Onigumo, and in effect, Naraku. If it came down to it, she knew it would be safer and easier to destroy Kagome. If Kagome was destroyed, then Naraku would be, too. She just needed an excuse – a reason to let her arrow fly.

Kagome looked from the bow, to Kikyou's all-too-similar eyes. Hiei's hand gripped his katana tightly as he decided when the best moment would be to move forward – if Kikyou let her arrow fly he would be the first to intercept it. He didn't know why the woman suddenly became so hostile, but he wouldn't stand by and let the strange girl who'd seemingly managed to save them all get cut down in front of him.

Kagome's voice was soft as she said, "He wasn't always a monster. He was…a long time ago…a person whose only wish was to be loved." Her expression broke as she felt tears run down her cheeks in slow rivers. Who was she crying for? Naraku? Not likely. Onigumo? Possibly. Or maybe, it was for herself, whom after everything was standing at the wrong end of Kikyou's sacred arrow. Quickly, she shook her head in frustration. She was not weak! She'd survived things that would've broken people weaker than her! She didn't care what Inuyasha had called her all those years…she wasn't powerless! She did what she had to…wasn't this best for everyone?

"Hey…it's okay. Everyone's alright…so you don't need to cry anymore." Kuwabara said as he approached the strange girl. He inadvertently stepped between her and the pointed arrow, earning a small smirk from Hiei. He was aware that Kuwabara probably had no idea what he'd done, but that didn't matter.

Kikyou's eyes filled, if possible, with more rage. "Move aside, human!" she shouted, earning a glare from Yusuke.

"Don't call him that! He's strong enough to kick your ass, demon, so watch your mouth!" he shouted back to the woman, stepping forward to stand between his long-time friend and the demon who still had her arrow pointed towards Kagome, and now Kuwabara.

Kagome lifted her head and found herself meeting the eyes of the orange-haired man and she managed a smile though the sad and bitter tears. Even Hiei could see her broken heart. Yusuke stepped forward, closer to Inuyasha and Kikyou. "You bastards wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. You said so yourselves, and here you are treating her like shit because you don't like the choice she made. So she has this Naraku guy inside of her now – so what?! She still looks the same to me, and Botan would've freaked out a lot more if her soul was evil. Right?!" he barked out as he looked to his long-time friend.

She blinked widely before nodding quickly. "Of course, Yusuke! If her soul was evil I would've let you know…" she trailed off, while the toushin continued.

"You see? So she's a little demonic…isn't everyone?!" he quipped, before flashing a cocky little grin towards Hiei and Kurama.

Kagome flushed a little when Yusuke stepped forward to defend her. She was getting more sympathy from complete strangers than her own friends, and that hurt. Her expression was still torn as she moved to look around Yusuke and Kuwabara. She couldn't let them defend her – they barely knew her, and like it or not this was still her fight. Even if it was against opponents she never imagined she would face. Before she made it past Yusuke, she was stopped as Sesshoumaru stood between the two opposing forces. He commanded everyone's attention as he looked between his half-brother, and Kagome. He never imagined that the situation would deteriorate to this, but he would be the first to defuse it.

"This Sesshoumaru, trusts Kagome's judgment. Naraku is contained in a vessel he cannot escape from, and since all of you have been bickering between one another, you have failed to notice that the gathering forces near the barrier have moved away back into the Makai." He paused, glaring to each of them in turn. It was true – as Hiei let his Jagan float over the area, he could feel the dispersing groups of demons heading back into the demon realm. Each of them glanced back to the taiyoukai, as he continued, "Midoriko has been freed, and the jewel returned to its rightful protector. I see no reason to treat the miko differently." His expression gentled as he finished, "She has saved us all…again." He looked with piercing yellow eyes to the young miko, and for a moment, he was still, before he bowed lightly.

Kagome's eyes widened in pure shock as she reflexively moved forward to stop the Taiyoukai from bowing to her. Her hand hovered for a second before she let it fall to her side. If she said anything or denied accepting his very kind gesture, who knew what he would do next? After all, just knowing how he felt towards her, brought tears to her eyes again. Quickly, she squashed them down as she returned his bow with a deeper one of her own. "Thank you, Sesshoumaru." She said quietly; it wasn't missed by anyone around her.

"No, miko. It is us who should be thanking you." He said as he lifted his head and looked back into her eyes.

"Are you crazy, Sesshoumaru!? She houses Naraku! He could take her over, use the jewel for his own purposes…she cannot be trusted!" Kikyou shouted in disbelief as she stepped forward. Yusuke and Kuwabara moved up beside the young miko, already pledging without a word that they would protect her, even if it were from her friends.

"She has managed to purify the jewel with Onigumo's soul attached to her own…I believe she has the situation under control." Koenma said forcefully, as he stepped up to join his teammates. Each of them nodded quietly to him, giving him their silent consent. They didn't expect Koenma to get involved, but they wouldn't question it.

"Naraku is sneaky…he may have planned this whole thing." Shippou said softly, earning a shocked look from Kagome. She never expected her little Shippou to be against her, but it was clear he was torn about the entire thing. He wanted to believe in her, but he had experienced the evil of Naraku too much to not be wary of him…even with Kagome telling them it would be okay.

"So Kagome's actions are false? Her tears are fake? And I suppose she just goes around doing this sort of thing all the time?!" Hiei growled out, unable to keep silent even as the kitsune who claimed to be her child spoke against her. He'd seen the light she radiated – he'd heard the story straight from the kit's mouth – she had protected him and sheltered him when he was an orphaned child, and yet he would stand against her because of his fear; no, it just told him that the kitsune didn't trust that she could handle the situation. Perhaps he had been taught that she was someone that couldn't be trusted.

His eyes flicked back to the former hanyou, who shouted, "She's a stupid wench who forgives too easily! Naraku almost killed us all!"

"And yet she's saved us all. Even with Naraku inside of her…she has saved us all. She took the ultimate risk, taking his soul inside of her own, knowing that it could be the end of her. There would've been nothing left of her soul, but she made the choice anyway and prevented what probably would've surmounted to an apocalypse. Not just for the human realm, but the demon, and Reikai realms as well." Kurama pointed out, his tone diplomatic as always, but it was clear he disapproved of what was happening.

"She's a fool." Hiei began, his tone almost normal again as he looked from the angry and shocked faces of her teammates, to the young miko in question. "…but…" everyone looked to him as he stared straight into Kagome's eyes. "…but you trusted us…you trusted that we would destroy you if it went wrong. You were willing to die…to save us all."

She was quiet a moment before she said, "I had to protect you." Looking into his eyes, Hiei felt her conviction – it wasn't just his teammates, but him specifically. "It was my fight, and you and your friends were dragged into it. I knew…that if I became Naraku…you would destroy him, and me. You would make the painful choices that needed to be made for the good of everyone. You wouldn't feel guilt…" she looked to Kikyou, "…or obligation." She turned her gaze to Inuyasha a moment, letting her words linger before she looked back to the hiyoukai. "You would fight to survive even if that meant my death."

It was still in the cave a second, before she shifted her feet, and slowly knelt down in a deep, complete bow, where her entire body came in contact with the hard, cave floor. It was the only time Hiei had ever known anyone to show him such gratitude. He could hear around him the astonished sounds from Kuwabara and Yusuke, while he heard a sound of approval from Sesshoumaru. The gesture, he knew, was extremely important in human culture, and now, she was prostrating herself in front of him. "Thank you…more than I know how to express…thank you for being here. It was because I knew you were here…that I could make such a choice, and know that whatever happened, everyone would be okay."

He couldn't help but look stunned. Here he was, the one who should be thanking her for saving them all, and she was beyond herself in gratitude towards them – towards him. Without thinking he moved forward and grabbed her arm. "Woman, raise your head." His grip was gentle but there was a small panic fluttering in his chest. He didn't know how to take her gratitude. It was beyond anything he'd ever been given before. Her absolute sincerity threw his mind into chaos. He didn't earn or deserve this. Not from her. He had done nothing to earn her praise or thanks. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop with her but it hadn't, and a deep part of his mind was telling him it wouldn't.

Kagome was everything he'd never known, and more. She was kind, selfless, gentle, loving, tender, and yet she was strong, loyal and honorable. He'd never met anyone like her before besides maybe Yukina, and he found himself wanting to protect her light, as he did for his sister. She had earned his loyalty, not to be outcast as she was by her own friends and allies.

The young miko couldn't move for a second as he grabbed her arm – she never expected his touch to be so gentle, so it was with a bit of wonder that she lifted her head slowly to look at him. "You're the one who urged me on…you told me to fight. I owe you more than I can say." She remembered his voice in the darkness, his shout to fight on even if it was hopeless. She knew that if it went wrong, he would make it right. She smiled gently, though there was a little uncertainty in it. "I don't even know your name, but I took your words to heart. It's because of you that I'm here right now."

With a jolt he realized that she was right. He'd never given her his name yet he encouraged her not to give up. He emotionally invested himself in her fate with no fear for his own emotional well-being. How would he have fared if he would've had to kill her? Why did he even allow himself to do so? It wasn't like him…so why? The situation was so new and unusual to him that he didn't quite know the answer to those questions.

Slowly, he tugged the girl to her feet. "Hiei." He said quietly in her ear as she moved to steady herself. She looked completely shocked for a second as she looked into his eyes, making him second guess himself for only a brief moment.

Then she said, "Hiei." She smiled warmly, a tender, gentle smile that was aimed directly at him as she repeated his name. "Thank you…Hiei."

Yusuke cleared his throat with a small grin before he looked to Koenma. "So…according to fluffy here…" he pointed back towards Sesshoumaru, "…the demons are headed back to the Makai, right? Does this mean the mission is over?" he questioned, ignoring how pale Koenma turned when he called the Taiyoukai of the West, "fluffy".

The rest of the team looked thoughtful before he glanced to Kagome. "Nearly." If he focused on business, maybe Sesshoumaru would overlook the idiocy of his team. "Midoriko's return to the spirit realm was unexpected. Where is the jewel now?" he questioned.

Kagome paused in concentration before she shook her head. "Right here." She answered, before she placed her free hand on her side. There was a look of confusion on her face though as she lifted her shirt a fraction to see the scar she knew would be there.

"Whoa, lady! What are you…" Kuwabara stopped as she did, exposing the jagged scar that marred her smooth flesh.

"Whoa…" Yusuke mimicked, though his tone was impressed. "Nice scar." He grinned, giving her a wink. Yusuke would never stop being a pervert, and for a second, Kagome blushed. So many years around Miroku though had her trained to take his comments with a grain of salt. After all, he could be doing worse.

He laughed, earning a small smile from the young miko. She was relaxed around these new strangers, something that didn't go unnoticed by Inuyasha, who was starting to revert back to his old ways.

Koenma smirked gently at the interaction between his team and Kagome, before he cleared his throat, too. It seemed to be the theme of the day. "The jewel?" he questioned. It seemed as if Kagome had thought of something.

Kagome looked to the Reikai leader before saying, "It started with me…since Midoriko is gone my power alone will be purifying it, and there doesn't seem to be any problems." She paused. "…if there was anything that would go wrong with it, it would've happened already. The jewel can be corrupted with a single touch…if it hasn't been corrupted yet, it won't be." She explained.

He looked to Sesshoumaru who nodded once in agreement. He'd seen what the jewel could do – he noticed how corrupted it became in even his hands when he used it to attach an arm to his body in order to wield Tetsuseiga.

Inuyasha, finally tired of keeping quiet, shouted out, "Why?! Why would you let Naraku off so easily!? He killed our friends…our family!"

"Hey, did you ever stop to think that maybe she didn't have much of a choice?" Yusuke interrupted, nearly ready to beat down on the whiny demon that kept harping over some of the same points over and over. He wasn't there, so he couldn't know what Kagome went through. To Yusuke, it was a miracle they all came out of this particular mission without much incident – he'd been on missions that had nearly taken all of their lives.

Inuyasha glared at the toushin before he whipped his head to look at Kagome. "Well?!"

She was quiet a moment before she gathered her mental strength. She knew she'd need it to deal with Inuyasha, not to mention Kikyou, and even Shippou. "I had a choice."

"And?!" he shouted back.

"…and…I chose to save Onigumo…the only way I knew how." She explained quietly.

"And now that bastard basically has access to the full Shikon no Tama! You stupid wench, you never think shit through!"

"I did what I could!" She shouted in earnest. "I didn't have the power to stop him otherwise!" The rest of the Reikai Tantei looked to her as wisps of pink began to gather around her form.

"Kagome is…glowing." Shippou murmured in disbelief. It was all the proof he needed that Kagome was still Kagome. There was no way Naraku could survive being surrounded by her miko powers. That was what defeated him in the first place all those centuries ago.

Kikyou noticed the same thing. "She hasn't lost her miko abilities…if anything…they feel stronger." She said in reply as she watched the miko and hanyou shout at one another.

"You could have gotten our help! We could have attacked him together, like we did the first time!" Inuyasha shouted, anger making his voice sound deeper and darker.

Kagome had lost her inhibitions to make her feel afraid as she shouted back, "Stupid! It didn't work! Don't you understand?" she looked imploringly to Sesshoumaru. "You know why…don't you?"

"I am the darkness." The Taiyoukai said, quoting Naraku's words from centuries ago.

Kagome nodded gently. "Darkness is something you accept, and endure…not conquer. There is no darkness without the light."

Inuyasha fell silent as he looked between his brother and Kagome. Since when did they understand one another so well? Jealousy made him scowl darkly at the young miko, but before he could speak, Shippou broke the silence. "Kagome…I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

Everyone looked from the kit to the miko before she gave him a gentle, loving smile. "It's okay…we've all learned to be cautious around Naraku…but, everything's okay now. He can't hurt anyone ever again." She said with conviction to her voice – just like when Hiei had heard her say that it was her fight, and that she would finish it. She had, in her own, unconventional way. The hiyoukai watched as she embraced the kitsune, and he found himself a little envious of him, but the emotion was fleeting. He didn't focus on those too long, and he found it was absolutely dangerous around the miko where his emotions were concerned.

Kurama gave him a small nudge, though they didn't dare take their eyes off of Kikyou. Her bow was at her side for now, but they still didn't trust her. As the tension between the majority of Kagome and her allies broke, Koenma walked forward and placed a gentle hand on her arm. "You've been away from home for a long time…I have a feeling you want to see your family."

Kagome's eyes widened before she nodded quickly as excitement filled her face. "Can I?!"

He smirked before saying, "Of course you can…though…" his expression fell a fraction as he continued, "I don't know how safe things will be…until we know how changed the Shikon no Tama is since Midoriko's been released, we'll have to keep an eye on you and your family…just to keep you safe."

She frowned before shaking her head, "I hate having to be looked over."

"I know, but it's the only way. I would feel safer having a member of my team with you at all times…just until we know the jewel isn't a threat." He stated.

Kagome was quiet a minute before she glanced back to Inuyasha, who was looking surly. Kikyou was paying attention to him now and trying to cheer him up, leaving a bitter, and painful feeling in her chest. She quickly straightened her back and nodded firmly. She would have to move on, and with a member of Koenma's team looking after her instead of someone from her old team, that would be easier. She didn't know how much of Kikyou and Inuyasha's cute relationship she could take. "I understand. So…" she glanced over the new teammates that she'd acquired. "…what are your guys' names?" she questioned, as she glanced from the red-head, to the tall, orange-haired male, to finally, the kid with the slicked back hair.

The two younger looking men grin at her and introduced themselves, while the kitsune held out a rose to her, and gave her a charming smile. Her expression gentled before she took the rose. "A charmer…I bet you have all the ladies falling at your feet." He had the grace to look embarrassed but she just smiled before her eyes flicked to Hiei. He didn't seem pleased with the kitsune's actions but she refused to dwell on it. She'd had enough emotional stress for one day and with that, she looked back to Koenma.

"Who will be taking the first watch?" she asked; she assumed that the Reikai leader would be choosing, but she wasn't expecting the short, black haired male to say, "I will."

Everyone turned to look at him, even the bickering couple. He glared back at them all in turn, as if daring to question his decision. Kagome hid a small, almost relieved smile behind the rose before she said, "Well then…" her eyes locked onto his. "…shall we head home?"

His eyes widened a fraction, barely a change at all, before he nodded once and moved closer to her. Botan opened a portal and led them all through, all except those from her past. Inuyasha and Kikyou were still locked in a verbal spat, Shippou stood beside Sesshoumaru, taking his cue to stay behind. A pang of sadness lingered on Kagome's face before she looked ahead, and found herself looking to Hiei.

His presence comforted her, and though she didn't know it, he was starting to realize that her presence was a comfort, too.

She would always be grateful to him – he knew she felt at least that way towards him. Now…he would begin to earn it.

/The End

A/N: This story took me FOREVER to write. I'm not completely happy with the ending, but this was all about the "End of the World" or "New Beginnings". I hope I incorporated a bit of both in there.