It was a hard battle, a good battle. A long battle, but good none-the-less. As she glanced around the village, taking in the tired eyes, the slouched bodies, the numerous bloody bandages, she smiled. These were her friends, in life and in death. And they were all looking towards the future now.

She grinned, and stepped to Inuyasha. She had long ago realized there was to be no romance between the two of them, and had accepted that fact quite easily. It hurt too much playing second fiddle to a boy who only cared for the first. Still, they were friends, best friends really, if she thought about. So, she moved to him and without a word, wrapped her arms around him. "I'm going to miss you, baka-yasha," she mumbled, burying her face in his neck.

He snorted but hugged her tightly. "You stay outta trouble over there," he said gruffly.

A choked laugh and Kagome forced herself to pull away from him. Love him as a lover she didn't, but he'd always to managed to make her feel safe when wrapped in his arms, and in a place was safety was a luxury, so was the illusion of it. It was an illusion she was more than willing to wallow in, occasionally. "You're the one who always got us into trouble!" Sniffling, she wiped the tears out of her eyes and forced a smile.

"Keh! As if! Your ass was the one who always insisted on helping people!"

Kagome slapped his arm, but grinned. "And you better keep helping people," she returned, "Or I'll hunt you down in the future and give you hell for wimping out!"

Inuyasha tried to laugh about it, but he couldn't; gold eyes darkened in sorrow and he frowned. "I already told ya the chances of me living that long-

"Don't ruin it for me, baka," she murmured, unashamedly interrupting. She didn't want to think about him dying. She didn't want to think about any of them dying. Already she'd had to face the fact that neither Sango nor Miroku would live much longer. That had been a tear fest, and torn holes in the already shaky armor she'd built around her farewells. "Tell them I love them," she whispered, looking away from him to the setting sun over his forest.

"They already….." He sighed and looked away from her as well. "I will."

"And protect Shippou! Be there for him! He needs a good influence! Make sure he knows-"

"Kagome." He closed his eyes and his hands fisted at his sides. They'd already discussed the fact that Shippou was likely the only one who was going to survive into the future out of their small group. If it was the last thing he did, he would make sure the kid knew how to find her in the future.

"Sorry." The words were whispered as she leaned forward to pick up her bag and her fingers tightened almost convulsively around the straps. "Maybe I should stay here, you know? Make sure everything turns out okay!"

Gruffly, "Kagome. Go."

She cleared her throat, but nodded and turned on her heel to start up the hill to the well clearing. "I'm going to miss you guys!" And it was true. Probably more true than any other fact of her life, probably the truest feelings in her heart. Fighting back more tears, she slung her pack over her shoulder and continued to put one foot in front of the other. They had all discussed and agreed that returning to the future was the best choice for her, if only because she simply didn't belong in this time line, and remaining might somehow alter that time.

But that didn't make leaving any easier, especially when the people she was leaving behind were her family just as much as the people she was returning to.

By the time she reached the clearing, because of her dawdling steps, the sun was down and the sky was dusted with the beginnings of stars and darkness. So she almost didn't notice the figure among the tree line. Kagome almost stumbled, but caught herself at the last minute and took the few remaining steps to bring her to the well. She hesitated for only a moment before dropping a low bow. "Sesshoumaru-sama."

He did not hesitate to return the bow, though it was not as low. "Miko. You are returning to your time."

Her eyes widened at the gesture, but she nodded quickly. He had never bowed to her before. Ever. "Ah…y-yes! I haven't been home since before the battle, and Mama is probably worried. I haven't wanted to risk not being able to come back until I was ready."

He had nothing to say to her rambling, though he studied her with careful gold eyes, as if taking note of every little feature. Finally, he shrugged. "You present a challenge to this one, Miko. You are not allowing me time to repay my debt."

Surprised, Kagome returned the careful scrutiny but when she could decipher nothing from his gaze, she gave up. "What debt? You don't owe me anything, Sesshoumaru-sama."

"Rin." The words were simple, but the feeling behind them was not.

She stared at him, growing more and more surprised by the moment, before her eyes went soft and she shrugged a little. "You don't owe me for that. I would have done it for anyone. I didn't do it for anyone in particular."

"You brought her back to this one. For that alone, I find I am in your debt," he paused, and gold eyes narrowed. "You would not allow me this? You would impugn my honor in this matter?"

"N-no but-

"Then it is settled. You may look forward to this payment in your future."

"B-but Sesshoumaru-sama, really, it's not necessary and really, I appreciate-

Before she could say anything, another figure entered the clearing and drew the Taiyoukai's attention away from her. One glance at the wolf and Sesshoumaru was tempted to raise a brow in surprise, though such an undignified action was unbecoming of his status.

Kouga barely spared the girl a glance; his attention was all, mostly, for the demon lord. He bowed once, not as low as Kagome had, for he was of a certain status himself, but low enough that was respectable. He didn't say a word to the Lord, for no words were necessary on the issue he wished to broach. He knew his scent spoke loud and clear, and his intention even more so. When Sesshoumaru offered up a nod of acceptance and turned to leave the clearing, Kouga finally turned to her.

Her looks still took his breath away. She wasn't classically beautiful. Too skinny by far, but still growing. Her nose was slightly crooked, from one battle or another he was sure, and her hair, long, dark and sinful, was always a mess. He could go on and on about why she shouldn't be beautiful, but was. To him, anyway.

Befuddled by Sesshoumaru's sudden departure and Kouga's appearance, she forced the thoughts to the back of her mind and smiled with genuine warmth. "Kouga-kun. What are you doing here?"

He shrugged but took a step closer to her. His usual energy was gone, and his eyes, atypically watchful, were focused directly on her. "I heard you were leaving."

She smiled a little. "Yes. I have to go home now. I don't belong here."

"You weren't gonna tell me good bye."

The smile faltered and unconsciously, her fingers began tapping against the strap of her bag. "I didn't want to get in the way," she admitted.

His lips shifted into a scowl and he continued to move closer to her. "In the way of what?"

"Who." The correction was hesitant, but she shrugged. "It's who. Ayame loves you. You two belong together."

"Don't tell me who I belong with," he muttered. "Haven't you been listening to anything I've said to you?"

"Kouga-"

In one long smooth stride, he was before her, pulling her against him. One arm was snug around her waist and the other cupped her chin, forcing her to look up at him. "You were so busy looking at mutt-face you didn't even give me a chance, Kagome. It was like fighting fleas to get you to even glance my way."

Her heart skipped a beat at the sudden contact, and the only inane thoughts in her mind was that his body was really hard and his skin was really, really warm. "But Ayame-

"Is not the one I claimed!" he shouted, then winced. "I've claimed you since the moment I met you. You're my woman. You're going to be my woman."

"It's hard to take you seriously when you say it like that," she murmured, watching him carefully. Despite how firmly he held her, his hands were gentle.

Stifling another growl, he muttered a curse under his breath, before slamming his lips against hers. He poured every last emotion he could find into the kiss; heat, anger, passion, love, fear, sorrow. All of it, from his mouth to hers, even as he enjoyed the taste of her.

His lips were hot on hers and for a moment, Kagome was too stunned to do much of anything but stand there like a fool. She'd been kissed before, a mere handful of times, but nothing like this. His kiss was scorching her to her toes, searing her heart, even as it raced. She clung to him, her fingers digging into his shoulders; she was stunned to find herself returning the kiss, if somewhat less skillfully and definitely much more uncertainly, than he was.

At her hesitancy and clear lack of skill, but especially at the taste of fear, he gentled the kiss and brought her even closer, until there wasn't even a centimeter of space between them. He wanted to feel every last inch of her softness pressed against him, to know she was secure within his grasp. He used his tongue to gently probe at her lips, coaxing her to open for him, to trust him. When she did, his heart soared, because maybe there was hope. He allowed the indulgence of her heat, of her touch, for only a moment, before he carefully but firmly set her away from him. "Was that serious enough for you?" he asked, voice gruff.

It was a fight to catch her breath when he pushed her away from him; her mind was racing away with it too. Mutely, she stared at him, trying to fit him back into the place he belonged, and failing. "I'm sorry," she answered, voice weak.

For the first time, he acted normal and showed his usual grin, even as ice blue eyes narrowed on her. "Don't be. Now you know what it feels like. Now you know what to expect."

It took a moment for her brain to catch up with the conversation. "Expect? Kouga, you can't be serious! I'm going home now!"

A humorous glint came into his eyes and he took a teasing step forward. "Should I show you how serious I am again?" When she didn't answer, he merely took her hand and led her the few steps to the well.

She flushed and stared down at their joined hands in baffled consternation.

"I'm youkai, Kagome," he murmured, and leaned forward to place a gentle kiss atop her head. "Do you really think I wouldn't wait for you?"

"Five hundred years." She shook her head and looked from him to the well. "I won't ask you to wait, Kouga. I can't, not when I'm not even sure if I can return what you feel."

"You will." Confident, he edged closer to her until her legs were backed against the well siding. "And I'll wait, if you promise to give me a chance."

"But—"

"Promise, Kagome. You owe me that much."

Flustered, she scowled up at him. She was half tempted to rip into him about shoving is feelings somewhere she couldn't see them, but the look in his eyes, part danger, part safety, stopped her in her tracks. She sighed. "I promise."

His grin blossomed and he darted in to steal a quick kiss. "Good." Then he pushed her and watched as a glowing pink light swallowed her whole.