"Are you saying the jewel isn't gone?!"
Kagome's mind began to race with panic. 'No, no, no, no. It has to be gone. I made it disappear. It can't hurt me anymore! No! No! No! No!'
Inuyasha heard Kagome's heart start beating erratically a second before she began hyperventilating.
"Kagome, look at me. Look at me! Look me in the eyes." He turned her in his lap, holding her face between his clawed hands so she couldn't look away.
"You need to breathe, Kagome. Slow and deep. Breathe with me." He kept her eyes locked with his, urging her to match the rhythm of his breaths.
"What's going on out here?!" Sango asked in a loud whisper as she returned to the other room. She'd encouraged both Shippō and Rin to lay down with the other children, hoping that they'd doze off. It had worked, but clearly she'd missed something while she was gone.
Sango watched Inuyasha calm Kagome while Miroku quietly filled her in on what had been revealed. Her heart went out to her dearest friend as she tried to process everything Miroku was telling her.
Kaede, too, felt pity for how much the child had clearly suffered. She spoke up then, hoping to ease Kagome's fears. "Kagome, child, the jewel is gone. When I examined ye, there was nought about the power within ye that I could sense as being impure or malevolent. Truth be told, the power of the Four Souls has so completely merged with your own aura that if we had not known ye so well before, we would not have sensed aught amiss now."
Miroku nodded in agreement. "Kaede is correct. The power was clearly purified by your wish, but it may be a while before we are able to ascertain the exact extent of your new power."
Inuyasha was having none of it. This revelation had shaken Kagome to her core and all he wanted to do was protect her from any more pain. "It doesn't matter what powers she has or doesn't have. Kagome is still Kagome. Nothing's gonna change that."
Kagome smiled weakly up at him before leaning her head down on his shoulder. Any tiny seeds of doubt that had begun to take root in her over what this might mean for them were banished in an instant by his words.
"I agree with Inuyasha." Sango's voice was filled with conviction. "We shouldn't worry over this. Instead, we should be grateful. Kagome is back with us now, so we have all the time in the world to figure this out."
She hesitated then, "I mean, I think we do… Do we, Kagome? Did you mention how long you'd be visiting while I was in the other room with the children?"
Inuyasha stiffened at Sango's words. He'd been avoiding asking Kagome that question all day, fearful of what her answer might be. Had she planned this to be just a short visit? Would she soon go back to her own time? Would the well close behind her again locking her away from him forever?
Kagome raised her head from Inuyasha's shoulder to look at her friends around the room. "I…" she trailed off. "This isn't a visit." She said finally.
"What do ye mean, child?" Kaede asked.
Kagome had hoped to talk to Inuyasha about this alone before blurting it out in front of the others. She could feel the embarrassment overtaking her as she thought of having to explain to everyone how the instant the well had opened, she'd jumped through without a second thought. No plan, nothing packed, and no return ticket.
'Nope,' she thought with a cringe. 'Not doing it.'
"Kaede-sama," she finally said. "It's been a long day and I'm really tired. Do you think, maybe, we can talk more about that in the morning?"
Inuyasha was crestfallen. Maybe she didn't want to talk about how long she planned to stay because the fact was she didn't plan to stay at all! Because if this wasn't a visit, like she'd said, then what was it? Goodbye?
No! He couldn't accept that. If this was going to be his only chance, then he would have to somehow convince Kagome that she shouldn't leave forever, that he wanted...needed... her to stay here with him. No matter how selfish it was, the thought of losing Kagome again was more than Inuyasha could bear. He knew he wouldn't survive it a second time without losing his mind.
Interrupting his thoughts, Inuyasha heard Kaede concede to Kagome's request. "Of course, child, of course. Would ye like to stay with me this evening? With Rin and Shippō sleeping here, there will be plenty of room."
"Yes, thank you, Kaede-sama. You're very kind."
Kaede got up from her seat then, stretching her old bones and groaning inwardly. She was not as young as she'd once been.
"Well, then I shall take my leave of ye now. I'm sure Inuyasha will be happy to walk ye back to my home once ye are ready to retire for the evening. Goodnight to ye all."
"Of course I'll walk her back," Inuyasha grumbled, then blushed furiously when the sudden thought of Kagome staying at his hut instead of Kaede's came into his mind.
Miroku saw Inuyasha's colour rise and, being the lecher he was, knew exactly what his friend was thinking about. Mischief sparkled in his eyes once more.
"Kagome," he began. "Did Inuyasha tell you that he has a hut now as well?"
"Miroku…" Inuyasha growled his name in warning.
But Kagome paid no attention to it. She was happy to latch onto any topic of conversation that would distract the others from returning to their previous questions about how long it was that she intended to stay.
"Inuyasha, is this true? You have a home in the village now?"
"Yeah," he grumbled. "It's true. When we were rebuildin' the village and had been invited to settle, that's when Miroku and Sango's house was built, and mine, too. It's a little ways apart from the rest of the village though, closer to my forest. I like it that way. Less noise and smells and stuff. I figured it'd be good to have a secure place to spend my human nights."
He didn't, of course, mention that the real reason he'd accepted the offered hut was that he'd hoped that, if ever Kagome returned, that she would be willing to share the small home with him.
"I'd love to see it," Kagome whispered shyly. She desperately wanted to talk to Inuyasha alone before morning, when apparently the headman would be searching for her and Kaede would, no doubt, be looking for answers as well.
Miroku smiled inwardly at Kagome's words. This chance for further teasing was simply too good to pass up! "Well, it's not too late. Inuyasha, why don't you walk her by to see it on your way to Kaede's. Sango and I really should be retiring anyway. Ichiro wakes many times in the night and if we do not retire soon, I fear we will both be quite useless come morning."
"Miroku…." It was Sango's turn to give her husband a warning growl. She knew him too well not to realize the mischief he was up to.
Kagome didn't care, she took the out when it was offered. "Oh, of course! I didn't even think about that. You guys are parents now. Come on, Inuyasha, let's go." She rose to her feet as the others did as well.
Sango stepped forward to embrace her friend. "You don't have to leave, you know. Miroku's just being Miroku." She gave Kagome a meaningful look.
"No, it's fine, Sango, really." She glanced over at Inuyasha and then back at Sango, urging her friend to understand that they still had more to talk about.
Sango seemed to understand. "Alright, Kagome. Then we'll see you both in the morning, yes?"
"Of course you will. It's not like she's gonna jump back in the well while you're sleeping." Inuyasha folded his arms across his chest, tucking his hands into either sleeve. He gave Kagome a quick look from the corner of his eye, gauging her reaction to his words. He needed to confirm for himself that she really wasn't about to do just that, but he couldn't bring himself to come right out and ask her either.
Kagome just smiled and shook her head. "Nope, I'll definitely be here in the morning. See you then!" She waved at her two friends as she and Inuyasha exited the warmth and light of the hut and were immediately enveloped by the chilly darkness of the night air.
Kagome shivered. It was only April and the short skirt and light cardigan she had on were doing nothing to keep out the cool spring breeze. She rubbed her hands up and down over her arms.
"Are you cold?" Inuyasha asked.
"Yeah, a little."
Inuyasha immediately stopped walking. He untied the outer jacket of his fire-rat robes, shrugging his arms out of the sleeves before draping it around Kagome's small form.
"Thanks." She smiled shyly up at him.
'It smells like him,' she thought and her earlier nerves began to return. There was just so much she still wanted to say.
Thankfully, she was rescued from her anxious thoughts by Inuyasha's next question. "So… you still wanna see my hut?"
Did she want the chance to be alone with Inuyasha? Kagome blushed a bit at the wicked turn of her thoughts.
"Yeah, I'd love to see it."
If anything, she thought, the walk would help her gather her courage. She was desperate now to speak the words she'd been longing to say to Inuyasha for almost four years, though she couldn't seem to bring herself to break the silence.
It was Inuyasha who eventually spoke first. "It's just up this next hill, near the treeline."
Kagome looked up to where he was pointing. She could just make out the faint outline of a small hut nestled amongst the trees at the edge of the forest. "I got them to build it up here 'cause it's a better vantage point for keeping an eye on things."
Kagome turned and could see that, indeed, the house sat on higher ground and from the porch, it was likely that Inuyasha would be able to see the entire village laid out before him.
They finally reached the hut then. Inuyasha held the door aside for her to enter.
Moving inside, Kagome hung Inuyasha's fire-rat on a hook near the door before removing her shoes and stepping up onto the smooth wooden floor.
Inuyasha went straight to the fire pit that sat near his kitchen area. Expertly, he unearthed the still-smouldering coals from earlier in the day, using them to help light a new fire, and before Kagome's eyes could even adjust to the darkness in the hut, the room began filling with light and warmth.
Kagome blinked several times, eyes adjusting to the contrast of flickering shadows and light. She turned slowly in a circle then, surveying Inuyasha's home.
There was a small kitchen area to the left of the fire with a good-sized low table for working or eating at nearby. To her right were shelves and a chest, likely for storage, though the shelves were all but empty except for what Kagome assumed were a few containers of foodstuffs. On the far side of the hut, opposite the door, she could see a sleeping area, privacy screen mostly blocking from view what looked to be the edge of a large, rolled-up futon against the wall with blankets piled atop.
It was a modest home, without luxuries… but to Kagome it was perfect. "I love it," she whispered under her breath, as much to herself as to Inuyasha.
He heard her words, of course. "Yeah? I mean, I know it's not much but it's… mine." He wanted to say 'ours,' wanted to blurt out everything he'd had to keep locked inside himself just as Kagome had been locked on the other side of the well.
"Look, Kagome," he began, unable to hold back any longer. "About earlier… That song…" He took a deep breath. "It's all my fault."
"Come again?" Of all the things that Inuyasha could have said about her passionate performance, 'It's all my fault' was not one that Kagome had mentally prepared herself for.
Inuyasha began again, his voice heavy with remorse. "Look, I know I hurt you back then… a lot. Looking back, I could kick myself... but I can't take it back."
"Inuyasha? I'm still not sure I'm following you…"
"You know…" He tried again, "About Kikyō."
Kagome flinched at the dead priestess's name, and the action was not lost on Inuyasha. She hadn't thought about Kikyō in a long time, but suddenly it felt as though her previous incarnation was standing right there in between them all over again.
Kagome sighed. "I'm– I'm not going to lie, Inuyasha. Yes, it did hurt when you chose Kikyō over me. I mean, I know I can never be her and I don't want to be, but–"
He cut her off. "I don't want you to be either, Kagome. Please believe me." He stepped forward, taking both of her hands in his. "I know you think that I chose her over you, but it was never like that. I know I never explained it either. It was just… I felt like it was my fault that she was dead, like I owed it to her to still be there for her. I had loved her a long time ago, and we'd made… promises…. and I just... My honour wouldn't let me walk away from that, no matter…" He faltered before continuing, "No matter how much my heart wished it was free to choose differently."
Kagome's breaths were shallow as she tried her best to hold back the tears stinging at her eyes. "I didn't– I mean, I always thought that you regretted everything. That you wished that she was still alive. That you loved her so much that you couldn't let her go. And that I was just…" She gulped, trying to force the words out. They'd been poisoning her soul for four long years, but she couldn't hold back now. A tear slipped down her cheek as she finally said the words aloud. "That I was just second best."
"NO! NEVER!" Inuyasha practically snarled the words. "Never that, Kagome! I never thought of you as second best. Please believe me. You have no idea how much you mean to me."
Inuyasha grabbed her by her upper arms. His eyes were smouldering with the passion of his words, willing her to feel all he felt for her, to trust that he would never – could never – see her as second best.
After a long moment, he shifted his eyes to look down and away unable to maintain eye contact as his guilt swelled within him again. He was the one who'd made her feel second best after all.
He spoke, his voice quieter than before and once again laced with remorse. "Please believe me. I don't think I could bear it if… If you left again."
Kagome felt weak all over from the intense way he had been staring at her just moments before. It was as though it had released some heavy weight that she hadn't even known she'd been carrying. She felt weightless and oddly separate from her own body.
Perhaps it was this feeling of freedom that suddenly gave her the courage to confess her own secret as well. "I'm not leaving, Inuyasha. I– I think the well is still closed."
Inuyasha's eyes shot back to hers at those words.
She continued, "I can't be sure. I mean, I'd have to try it to be sure… but that's not a risk I'm willing to take."
"What do you mean, 'the well is still closed'? You're here, aren't ya?" Even in his confusion, Inuyasha could feel a small flicker of hope igniting inside his chest.
"I think, this time, it was a one-way trip." She said softly.
"Kagome?" Her name came out as a strangled whisper, his mind reeling at the implications of her words.
Kagome closed her eyes and took a steadying breath before she began to explain. "I– I was in the well house. It wasn't even my usual day to try the well or anything, I was just wandering around and found myself there. I guess I was lost in thought, but as I stood staring down into the well I just– I couldn't bear it anymore. The idea that I was meant to stay in that world, that I might never be able to return here. I felt like it was eating me alive. It was the most wretched existence I could possibly imagine. And in that moment, all I wanted… All I cared about… was to see you again."
She blushed at her words but continued. "The next thing I knew there was a– a breeze blowing over my face and then I could see the sky here on this side of the well! That had never happened before, though I think I knew somehow what it meant, that this was it, my one chance. I can only think that some kami somewhere must have heard my prayers and decided to grant me a single chance to choose. Here or there…. And, well... I choose here."
Inuyasha had turned away from her at some point during her confession. He was trying desperately to reign in his raging emotions. He wanted to squeeze her tight and never let her go, but he also felt like yelling at her at the top of his lungs for being so foolish.
Finally, he was able to speak, though he did not face her. "You mean… You mean you're here forever? But what about your family? Your whole life is back there, Kagome!"
"No, my life is here, Inuyasha. My mom understood that. By some miracle she'd been walking by the well house when it happened and found me right before I jumped. She told me… She told me to follow my heart."
Kagome squeezed her eyes shut tight for a moment before continuing. "I don't think I'll ever go back there – that I'd ever want to go back there – because as much as I know I'll miss mom and gramps and Souta, if the past three years have taught me anything, it's that I would never have been happy over there because this is where I belong."
Inuyasha still stood with his back to Kagome, and she began to worry that she'd upset him with her confession. "Inu– Inuyasha? Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing's wrong." His words came out low and thick. She moved quickly around to his front, needing to look him in the eye. She touched his cheek, forcing him to look at her. His eyes were filled with both relief and guilt, and it was almost as though she could see the inner battle he was fighting with himself.
Finally, he whispered, "You gave up everything to come back here to a place where it's not safe! You could get hurt, or sick, or attacked, or–" Kagome rose up on her tiptoes and pecked a soft kiss on his lips to halt his words.
"This is what I want, Inuyasha." It was a plain and simple statement of fact. There would be no changing her mind.
A long moment of silence stretched out between them before a thought struck Kagome. "But… why did you think my song earlier had something to do with Kikyō?"
"Well," Inuyasha began, only mildly phased by her non-sequitur. "Weren't the words to your song all about being hurt so bad you felt cut open?"
She took a deep fortifying breath before exaggeratedly smirking and rolling her eyes. Oh Kami, she loved him so much, even when he was being a total baka.
"Inuyasha, is that all you paid attention to? Didn't you hear the other lyrics of the song?"
She hummed the lyrics softly then, in Japanese this time.
"I don't care what they say, I'm in love with you…"
Trailing off, Kagome looked up into Inuyasha's golden eyes – eyes suddenly awash in comprehension quickly replaced by longing. It was a longing that, before now, he'd made sure to always keep hidden from her view.
And all Kagome had time to do was gasp in astonishment before Inuyasha grabbed her in his arms and crushed his mouth down onto hers.