Roaring in my ears, clouding my scent, tingeing my sight crimson…
Soaking the youkai carnage that sizzles on the battlefield in wet, sickening clumps…
Naraku. Bastard is laughing. As though he stands a-
Eh…? That look in his eyes. Locked on Kikyo. Now at me me, cocky and knowing. He's planning something. I don't like this.
His gaze is shifting...to...?
HEY! Get your eyes off of-
SHIT! He's going for them both!
Inuyasha sat bolt upright on the mattress, his heart pounding deafeningly in his ears. The muscles in his back immediately knotted up and he hissed at the pain of it. Confusion swamped his senses as his vision adjusted to a different setting. His nose twitched. The stench of death was gone, replaced by the scent of Kaede's hut. And instead of a battlefield, he was surrounded by bamboo walls, thatched roof, and…
"Inuyasha!" Kagome collapsed against his chest, and he grunted with the impact. "Oi. I was so worried," she choked.
He reflexively circled his arms around her as his mind struggled to catch up, clouded with the hallucinations that lingered somewhere between slumber and consciousness. He noticed her soft, weepy sniffling, and panicked. "Kagome," he breathed in her hair, dread filling him. "Are you hurt? Did Naraku…?"
She pulled her face back to look up at him, her eyes huge and shimmering. "N-no. You saved me…" she said before turning away in… Inuyashsa frowned.
Shame? She sat back at the side of the mattress, averting her eyes.
His blood was still racing through his veins from his last memory, and her strange behavior just added to his nervous apprehension. "What is it? Where is everyone? What happened?"
"Ah! He's awake!" Shippo declared, pouncing into the room. Inuyasha tensed as the little ball of auburn hair leapt at him, with great big tears in his eyes. "I was afraid you weren't going to pull out of it!"
Miroku and Kaede rushed in after, both wearing exhausted smiles when they saw him. "Ah, good," Kaede-baba mused. "Good, good."
Inuyasha snarled. "Gah! Will you all stop looking at me like I died, and tell me what the hell is going on?"
Miroku opened his mouth to speak, but Kagome interrupted him by standing shakily to her feet. "You're sure you feel well, then Inuyasha?" she asked, and it dawned on him how raw her voice was…and how tired her eyes were.
"Of course I'm fine."
She nodded, her hair hanging heavily about her pretty face. A small, rueful smile tweaked her lips. He almost missed it. "Good. I'm glad." With that, she exited. No explanation. No goodbye.
"Wh…where are you going?" Inuyasha tried to stand, but Kaede stopped him.
"Let her go back to her own time, lad," she insisted. "That girl has barely slept these past three days, worrying over you."
His jaw dropped. "Three days? I've been unconscious for three days?" Inuyasha couldn't believe it. His body only went into a comatose sleep when it was perilously close to death. And never had it gone on for that long. He vaguely recalled Naraku's blast that he'd jumped in front of.
Hn. No wonder his back hurt.
"Relax, Inuyasha. There's a good deal to tell," Miroku said as he plunked down on the floor, folding his hands neatly in his lap.
Inuyasha blinked. His hands… His BARE hands… "Miroku," he stammered, astonished. "The Kazaana… It's gone…"
Almost self conscious, the monk lifted his right hand and rotated it in front of his face. His eyes crinkled in a contented smile, but his lips were still tinged with sadness. "Much transpired after you took that hit for Kagome, my friend."
Inuyasha leaned back on his arms, wide-eyed, suddenly beginning to comprehend the magnitude of what he'd missed out on. He took a deep breath and licked his lips.
(a few minutes later)
"K...K…" Inuyasha swallowed. "Kagome destroyed Naraku?"
Miroku nodded solemnly.
The hanyou blew his breath out in a long whistle and fell back on the mattress. So Kikyo's soul was absorbed into Kagome... He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that yet. Relieved apprehension, maybe? Granted, it had saved the miko from Hell, but what if it tainted who Kagome was? He frowned at the thought.
But then there was Sango. Kaede said the Shikon no Tama had sucked she and Sesshoumaru into its dark dimension, and anyone who was trapped alone with his brother was headed for some misery. No one knew how to get them out, so the neutralized Shikon no Tama was in the safe hands of Kaede until they could figure out a way to rescue her.
Sesshoumaru could stay in there for all he cared.
And Kagura. He'd seen the look in her eyes when she said Naraku's name. Not a big surprise there, but wow. Kagome? Radiating all that power like they said?
"Unbelievable," Inuyasha muttered, staring at the ceiling in a barely concealed awe.
"Hn," came Miroku's reproachful tone. "And to think she almost didn't come because you nearly convinced her she was useless."
Inuyasha winced, his face twisting in denial, but Miroku gave him a knowing look, and he sighed defeat. "I…I had a bad feeling," he reasoned. "I was afraid she'd get hurt. Or worse…"
"You words hurt her more than Naraku's youkai-"
"Idiot! Would you have rather I knocked her unconscious?" he snapped, not too thrilled about being made to feel guilty on something he already regretted. Especially since she'd been the one to save them all.
Miroku shrugged, and Shippo yanked on his hair.
"Either way, you should apologize," the little fox demon declared.
"Feh!" He started looking around for his shirt, grimacing at the lingering pain still in his back. "Where's my-"
"That blast you took melted it right into your skin. You have no shirt," Kaede said, tossing a murky woven top at him. He caught it, and his lip curled.
"It's ugly," he complained, but started to slip it over his head anyhow. It was then that he noticed something was missing. Something major. He pawed at his neck. "Where is it?" he asked in alarm. "That cursed 'SIT' necklace?"
"Kagome removed it from you while you were unconscious," Shippo explained in his helium-pitched voice. "Said there was no need for you to wear it anymore."
"Oh…" Inuyasha frowned. "Hated that thing, anyway," he said unconvincingly, wondering why on earth it felt like a dismissal - like their bond had somehow been severed… He shrugged it off. He'd give her a day. One day to recuperate, and then he'd go see her.
ONE WEEK LATER
Really really short. Cropped above her shoulders, and wrapped up in a ponytail that looked more like a dish scrub than a feathery plume. She'd nearly cried when those long, raven locks - that had taken years to grow - had fallen to the barber's floor yesterday, and had regretted it more than once since then.
But the mirror reminded her why she'd done it. Kagome pushed her bangs off her forehead, ignoring the drawn, sad face looking back at her. At least I look less like Kikyo, now… she thought. Or at least I will when I stop looking so depressed.
Reuniting with the remainder of the miko's spirit didn't make her feel that much different inside. Granted, she was less quick to smile, and certainly more somber since she'd returned home, but that could be credited to other things…
Agh. She missed them. Inuyasha, Kaede-baba, Shippo, Miroku... Sango... The demon exterminator would still be trapped in the Shikon no Tama, and Kagome didn't know what she could possibly do to rescue her friend from its mysterious realm, but she couldn't just forget about her. No matter what debilitating words the hanyou had said to her.
The thought of him, as usual, made her eyes sting.
Inuyasha. Do you hate me so much, now?
Kagome turned away from the mirror and went to the kitchen before the shimmering in her eyes materialized into tears. She'd just gotten the courage up to return to the feudal era, and wasn't about to intimidate herself out of it.
It had been an entire week - quite possibly the longest week of her life. A small part of Kagome thought that Inuyasha would come and get her. That he'd show up, all angry that she hadn't returned - in his own, belligerent way showing that he cared about her.
But then she'd remember his last words to her on the day of the battle. The words that seemed to make so much sense. She was a nuisance. Weak. Her work was done, there. She should go home and not come back…
Dangit… Despite her resolve, a couple tears escaped and she turned her head away from her mother as she filled her pack up with food. She tried in vain to focus on something else - the label on the ramen, the stain on the table, the sound of Buyo mewling…anything, but her train of thought inevitably took her to the nail in the coffin. The biggest reason she felt so vacuous and awful inside.
Kikyo had died because of her. It was Kagome's fault that the woman Inuyasha loved was dead. She may as well have killed the miko herself, considering the insolent manner in which she'd defied Inuyasha's order and shown up to battle anyhow. Just as he'd predicted, he wasted his time saving her, when he should have been jumping in front of Kikyo.
I shouldn't have gone, the words sounded unbidden in her head, as they had done for the past seven days. I shouldn't be going back, now. I have no place there. As usual, the logic didn't acknowledge the fact that she had destroyed Naraku. That small victory was sorely overshadowed by the grief of losing something…someone…that she may never have had in the first place.
But she owed him an apology. At least that much. She would return for her friends, and for that. "Bye, mom!" she put on her best cheery voice as she hopped out the door and towards the shrine, bag in hand.
"Bye honey! Have a good time!"
The well was waiting for her. It had been taunting her this entire time, and as she stood at its edge, she wondered how on earth she'd had the discipline to keep from returning until now. Before her courage failed her, she hopped over the ledge, and its darkness swallowed her immediately. She was abruptly assaulted with the scent of wet grass, and old wood.
The feudal era. Dusk, no less. Kagome realized her hands were shaking, and quickly put them to work and climbed out of the well. When her feet hit the ground, she stood there, immobile, clutching her backpack in a white-knuckled fist. Why was she so nervous? He couldn't get mad at her for returning. Besides, he might not even be there-
The quick patter of feet proved otherwise. Kagome looked up to see Inuyasha, who had come to a skidding halt two feet from her. His hair fell over his shoulders with the sudden stop, and he gaped at her with an unidentifiable expression, his golden eyes wide and staring.
Kagome blinked. He was waiting?
Her stomach dropped out. Seeing him like this… It made her soul hurt. She wanted to embrace him so bad it winded her, and she stood there mutely, with her heart slamming the breath from her lungs…tears stinging her eyes.
It didn't help that he looked conflicted as well. So many emotions were battling for control of Inuyasha's face right then, she couldn't tell if he wanted to kiss her or scream obscenities at her. With a hissing intake of breath, he went with the latter.
"IDIOT! Where the hell have you been?" Inuyasha's glare bounced up to her hair, blinking surprise at the change. He looked like he was about to comment on it, but clearly he wasn't finished berating her yet. His face scrunched and he made a fist. "What! Do you think you're too good for us, now that it's all over?"
"I…" She fumbled clumsily over a few words, but none them made it out before he cut her off.
"Think you can just forget everyone?"
"I…" she gulped. Did he really miss her? "But those things you said-"
"A WHOLE WEEK, KAGOME! And with Sango still trapped inside the Shikon no Tama, no less!"
She took a step back, and found her voice. "I didn't think I'd be of any use-"
"Keh!" He folded his arms over his heaving chest.
She stared at him, marveling at how many mixed signals he gave off when he was mad. "If you needed me," she said cautiously, "then why didn't you come and get me?"
He scowled, and thumped a hand to his chest. "Because you took the damn necklace off! The well wouldn't let me through without it."
"What…?" No wonder he was the only one able to travel to her time. The charm had connected them somehow. And here she thought she'd been doing him a favor. "I didn't know…"
"I didn't," she said more earnestly.
He eyed her skeptically, and spun his back to her before his mask of projected irritation fell. She imagined by the subdued tone of his next words that he was more hurt than angry at her absence. "Either way, the baba made another one. It's back at the village, and you're not returning until you sit me with it. I won't let you get off that easily."
"I…I wanted to come back, Inuyasha," she said quietly.
"Hmph." He fidgeted, shifting weight from one foot to the other. "Well if that's the case, then it took you long enough to return."
"I…I didn't think you'd miss me."
"Feh! You talk such nonsense, sometimes." He turned to glare at her over his shoulder in offended dignity. "Well, come on, then. They'll want to see you."
"Inuyasha," she reached out for him as he started to walk off. "There's something I have to say to you."
He turned around to face her…almost too quickly. It gave her the impression that he didn't want to leave at all.
"I…" Kagome looked down as her vision blurred. She tugged absently on the hem of her shirt. "I'm sorry…about Kikyo."
"She'd still be alive if I would've stayed like you said. And I'm…" Egh… Why was it so hard to get the words out? "I'm sorry."
Brief pause. "What are you talking about?"
"You…" her voice hitched and she wiped the moisture from her eyes with the back of her hand, "you chose the weaker of us to protect, figuring she'd survive it. So if I hadn't been there…"
"Then we'd all be dead."
Hn? She lifted her gaze only to see an entirely different emotion in his face. The anger was gone, replaced by an expressive mix of sympathy, admiration, and bafflement all at once. She tensed as he stepped towards her, leaving just inches between them. The sudden proximity made her gasp, and he bowed his head until their eyes were level.
"Stupid girl," he reproached softly. Sadly. "I knew the blast would kill Kikyo."
What? She blinked the water from her astonished eyes. "You…did?"
It was so far from what she'd assumed, that her mind whirled, not quite grasping what that meant. The backlash of being in a pessimistic rut the last few day still tinged her train of thought, however, and she jumped to the worst conclusion.
Had he known she would absorb Kikyo's soul when the miko passed? Thus preserving it in flesh and blood instead of clay? Kagome's heart sank. She studied his face…his heavy, lowered eyes, parted lips, lightly flushed cheeks. She recognized the look, and just like the times before, she found herself wondering whom he was seeing.
"Don't look at me like that," she plead as another set of tears rolled down her cheeks, "I'm not her!" In some pitiful attempt to prove her point, she reached up and yanked on her stumpy ponytail. "See?"
His open-mouthed protest shifted to a rueful expression when his attention was averted to her chopped hair. "Idiot," he scolded gently, brushing his fingers across the top of it. "Is that why you did it?"
Her jaw dropped to answer, but his reaction had left her stupefied. She'd expected something much more irate.
He sighed heavily and shook his head. A weary hand lifted to his brow, rubbing his eyes in exasperation. "All that studying," he mused seemingly to himself, "yet still so dumb..."
She frowned through her tears as he rested his hands on her shoulders, locking her in his stare.
"I try and tell you, and you think I'm lying. I kiss you and you think I'm pretending you're someone else." He growled frustration, and took a step back. "I don't know how else to make you understand, Kagome. Stronger, or weaker, I would have still jumped in front of you when Naraku went after you both."
Kagome blinked. Was he implying that…? She shook herself. No. No more jumping to conclusions. He had to say it. She squared her shoulders, her lips set in a determined line. "Why?"
He snarled, his fangs flashing in the fading sunlight. "Because I couldn't imagine my life without you in it, that's why!" he snapped, clearly aggravated that she'd forced him to say it out loud. "And even now you accuse me of seeing Kikyo in your face, when I don't! Gods, I haven't since she was brought back from the dead. The two of you are nothing alike," he spat and swiped at the air. "SHE, for one, wouldn't be doubting everything I've been trying to-Why are you still crying?"
Kagome sniffed. "You mean it…"
He huffed and rolled his eyes. "YES! Now stop insulting me and-"
Kagome fell on him, then, as she had so many times before, throwing her arms around his neck and burying her face against his collar. She could feel his exhale in her hair, and after a couple seconds, he composed himself enough to hug her back.
"You understand, now?" he asked in hushed tones.
"Hn." His arms tightened around her and he rested his chin on her crown. "About damn time."
Her relieved laughter sounded suspiciously like a sob.:
As he relaxed in the encircling warmth of her arms, Inuyasha consciously tried to sort through the deluge of emotions that Kagome always made him feel. She was so fragile. Effeminate. Vulnerable… Which was odd, because the effect she had on him was just the opposite. Her nearness empowered him. Completed him. His heart seemed to catch on fire and radiate through his entire being when she was in his arms. He was alive with her, he decided. She filled up that gaping void that had been plaguing him all his life, and the hanyou thought he could have stayed there, holding her forever.
Well, maybe more than just hold her, he mused as the blood rushed to his face, noticing the pressure of certain curves as they rested against him. With great reluctance, he resisted the powerful urge to take the embrace one step further. He remembered the last time he initiated a kiss between them, and things were going far too well right now to-
His breath caught as her lips brushed the ridge of his collarbone.
Did she just…?
Inuyasha froze as she kissed him again, the soft warm suction of her mouth on his neck somehow making every hair on his body raise on end.
Her fingers rested lightly against his jugular as she worked her way up, and he shuddered involuntarily, wondering how it was that such small gestures could drive him so insane. His ears spasmed, and he instinctively tilted his head to nuzzle her cheek, breathing in her breath, her skin, that heady floral aroma of her hair… She cupped his face in her hand and brought it down until their lips were touching.
The sensation was overwhelming. He nearly pulled back, afraid of losing himself. But then he realized that it was okay, now. Besides, he thought with a mental smirk, she started it.
So he kissed her…
…and kissed her, and kissed her. He clutched at her, bending her against him. He removed that ridiculous elastic band from her hair so he could entwine his fingers through what was left of her silky, obsidian tresses. He smiled satisfaction when she made small appreciative noises against his mouth...
There were no subliminal red flags or insecurities. No act of frenzied desperation to prove a point. Because this time…this time when Kagome had kissed him, she'd meant it. And come hell or high water, he was going to hold her to it.