AN: Thanks so much to both inufan625 and Knittingknots for their beta jobs. It was greatly appreciated!
Disclaimer: I still don't own InuYasha or any other characters from the manga/anime. They belong to the creative genius of Rumiko Takahashi.
Spoilers: Manga Chapters 465, 494 - 530
The Edge of Winter
Kagome sat alone under Goshinboku. She looked up into the great tree, frost covered leaves glistening in the sun and swaying with the winds that announced the approach of winter. She toyed with the green fabric of her skirt. It was not so different from what she’d worn to the past for the last year as she and InuYasha looked for jewel shards and Naraku. Much to her surprise, she had passed the exams and been accepted into high school. The biggest difference between her old uniform and new one was that the blouse was the same color as the skirt.
Her hands straightened her skirt back flat across her legs and moved up to pull the completed Shikon no Tama from under her blouse. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she rolled the nearly white and perfectly round jewel between her fingers. This object desired by so many was the source of her dilemma. For as badly as she had wanted to complete the jewel, now she wished they hadn’t been able to - at least not yet. She didn’t know what she should do: should she stay in the past, in InuYasha’s world, or should she return to her own world for good? At one time it had briefly crossed her thoughts that she might eventually have to choose, but she’d set those thoughts aside to worry about another day. Unfortunately, that day was now approaching at the velocity of a bullet train.
She knew that soon she would have to purify the jewel. She would have to figure out what the “Right Wish” was that her grandfather had referred to on one of her visits home. Kagome was fairly certain that whatever she chose, she would be miserable because the well would surely seal. There would no longer be any reason for her to travel to the past with the jewel complete and Naraku defeated. Or if she stayed in the past, she would never see her mother, brother or grandfather again, much less her school friends and everything that she had grown up with. However, she couldn’t leave the Jewel whole forever. It was a source of trouble and seemed to attract it in both worlds, though especially when she went back to the Feudal Era.
Her eyes began to fill with tears. She couldn’t help it, but the thought of never seeing the others again broke her heart. However, she couldn’t imagine leaving her real family for good, either. It wouldn’t be as difficult if it weren’t for InuYasha’s behavior ever since they had finally vanquished Naraku.
Up until that time, she thought they had slowly but surely been growing closer. On one of her trips home, he had promised that he would protect her with his life, and she had promised to stay with him always. She really meant what she had said, and she knew that he had, too. However, something had happened. She didn’t know what, but InuYasha suddenly couldn’t bear to be in her presence anymore. He disappeared into the forest for longer and longer blocks of time. When he was around her, he seemed unbearably sad, like it killed him to be near her. She wanted to reach out and hold him, or even just to touch him, but then he’d be gone again. It had even crossed her mind that he was pining for Kikyou, now that all was said and done. When she tried to talk to either Sango or even Miroku to see if they knew what was going on with him, they replied that maybe he thought he was doing what was best for her. She got the impression that they were leaving something out, but she couldn’t get any more out of them than that. Besides, they were busy getting on with their own lives.
Miroku was building a hut for Sango with the villagers’ help, and soon they would be settled as husband and wife. Shippou had been staying with them though he’d announced that he was going to search for some of the other kitsune he’d met at the fox inn during their travels. Kohaku had survived, but he had left again with Sesshomaru after making promises to come and visit. They all had plans, and she didn’t seem to be included in any of them.
Unable to bear her burden alone any longer, she decided to go and talk to the one person she hadn’t really taken the time to, the one person she probably already should have – Kaede. Kagome knew that even InuYasha went to her from time to time because Kaede had always seemed to have faith in him, no matter what else had happened. Standing up and brushing herself off, she went to the ancient well and jumped back into the past.
Kagome walked along the familiar path towards Kaede’s hut, trying to plan out in her mind what she was going to say, what she was going to ask. It was so hard to choose between the people she loved here, and her real family five hundred years away. In spite of everything that had recently happened, she still loved this era. She did miss some of the luxuries of her time, like shampoo and hot showers, but things were so much simpler here even in the face of the everyday struggles to live. She really had come to think of this era as her home as well, or at least she had until recently.
“Kaede, may I talk with you?” Kagome asked softly as she approached the old miko, who was stirring a pot of stew outside of her hut.
“Of course, Child.” Kaede sat down and indicated for Kagome to join her. “What can I help you with?”
“I… I… I don’t know what to do…” Kagome said, her voice trailing away. “I’m afraid that when the jewel is purified, I’m going to have to choose. It’s so hard, though I’m starting to think that everyone else is trying to make the choice for me. I thought I wanted to remain here, but everyone is acting like they want me to go to my time and stay there instead. Did I do something to make everyone angry with me?”
“Everyone, or just a certain someone?” Kaede asked wisely.
Kagome’s cheeks filled with color. “InuYasha hates me now, doesn’t he? It’s my fault…”
“It was not your fault, and he knows that,” Kaede answered. “He knew you were sealed and could not make use of your power.”
“But because of me… he… he… he…” the young miko couldn’t finish. Instead, she wiped her tear filled eyes. “He promised that he would protect me with his life, but I didn’t expect him to actually do it. Now, he despises me.”
“If anything, I would say the opposite was true,” Kaede offered. “Unfortunately, I think he has been given some very poor advice.”
Kagome looked up to meet her eyes. “What do you mean?” she whispered.
“I think others trying to do you, and maybe even him, a favor, have made a mess of things. I think you need to find InuYasha and talk with him. Do not seek guidance from any other. Speak only to him and find out what is really troubling him. Do not be afraid to tell him your thoughts and your fears. Remember how you felt when you thought that you had lost him for good. You have a good heart, as does he. There is nothing wrong with following it.” Kaede climbed to her feet to stir her stew again. “I think you will find him up in the tree if you look high enough.”
“Thank you, Kaede.” Kagome slowly stood up and straightened her clothing. The uniform only seemed to remind her that sooner or later, all things must come to an end. Once again, she started along the path she knew so well. Only this time she continued on past the well and to the great sacred tree. She knew that could be the only one that Kaede meant since it was InuYasha’s favorite place to hide away from them.
She stood back from the tree and gazed up into its branches. It still looked much the same as in her time, though over the five centuries it had grown taller, and the trunk was even wider than the tree she stood before now. Here they seemed to be in for an even milder winter than in her era as there was not even a breeze to make any of the thousands of leaves flutter and no trace yet of frost. Her eyes trailed upwards, looking for a flash of red that would give away the hanyou’s position. Finally, much higher than she had ever seen him perched before, she spotted him.
“InuYasha? InuYasha! Will you please come down? I really need to talk with you,” Kagome pleaded.
InuYasha heard her call, and his ears plastered to his head. This was it; she was finally going to tell him her choice. He had been preparing himself as best he could but he hadn't been doing a very good job of it. According to Miroku and Sango, it was a no win situation – at least for him. Jumping down and landing in front of her, his face featured the most sullen, unenlightened expression he could muster. He had been told not to tell her what was in his heart – that he had to let her go for everyone’s good.
“InuYasha,” Kagome started, but then found her throat closing as her emotions threatened to overwhelm her. Unable to say what she initially intended, she croaked, “It’s my fault! Please forgive me!” No longer able to hold them in, her tears overpowered her and she broke down and bawled.
The hanyou did not think it was possible for his ears to droop any further than they currently did. He was completely bewildered; he had no idea what Kagome was talking about. What had she done? Why did he need to forgive her?
His answer came as she continued though her body heaved as she tried to speak, “Naraku killed you, and it was all my fault! I know you hate me for it. I was so weak… If your brother hadn’t come…”
Kagome had collapsed to the ground, grabbing her legs and pressing her face to them. She muttered incoherently into her knees as she rocked back and forth.
Squatting down next to her, he resisted the urge to wrap his arm around her and hold her to try and comfort her. “Kagome, I promised to protect you with my life. I meant what I said.”
“But if I hadn’t been so weak, if I could have found my power before then… InuYasha, I felt like my heart had been ripped out when he pierced you like that. I didn’t think I could go on without you… I didn’t want to go on without you. InuYasha, I meant my promise, too: that I’d stay with you always. But you don’t want me any more.” Kagome broke down in a fresh round of gut wrenching sobs.
InuYasha’s heart began to pound. Kagome was making it clear that she needed him as much as he needed her. He’d been trying so hard to stay away from her; how could he make her understand? How could he tell her that miko and hanyou could not be together? Or at least, even after beginning to think that they could, that was what he’d been told – again.
“Kagome… Kagome,” InuYasha said softly. “That ain’t true. It’s just that… you… and me…” He sighed.
The miko finally looked over her knees at him. “You and me… what? InuYasha. I thought we could be together once Naraku was defeated and the jewel purified. I thought we were meant to be together after everything that happened. But I ruined it. You were dead, and would still be if you’re brother had not revived you. You resent me for it, don’t you? You wouldn’t have been put in that position if I weren’t so weak.”
“Kagome, I’d do it again without a second thought,” the hanyou responded. “I said that I would always protect you. It’s just…”
The miko finally looked up to meet his eyes. They were filled with sadness and hopelessness. She had not seen such a look of despair darken his golden irises in a long time. “What, InuYasha? Please, tell me what you’re thinking. I don’t understand why we both should be miserable when we should be happy and… and…” She couldn’t finish her thought that they should be happy and together.
InuYasha sighed and looked away. “If you go home, I’ll be left here alone again. Miroku and Sango are starting a new life together, so there really is no place for me. Even if you decided to stay, we couldn’t be together. The villagers tolerate me for the moment, but if they had any idea that I was any more than your protector, they’d hunt us down and kill us both. They’re still afraid of me no matter what I do to help them. If the villagers here didn’t do it, word would spread and others would come after us. As much as I… I… I want…”
“As much as you want what?” she whispered.
“To… to… to be with you,” he answered softly. “You were the first person since my mother that ever accepted me for what I am and didn’t want me to change. You have no idea what that meant to me.”
Kagome stopped and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. So, he wasn’t angry with her, and Kaede’s words were beginning to make sense. InuYasha thought he was destined to be alone, no matter what she decided.
“InuYasha… I’ve been thinking… thinking… about the well…” Kagome began. “Why do you think we’re the only ones that can travel through it? Though it did let Mistress Centipede and Yura’s hair through – I never really understood that…”
“I didn’t do it!” InuYasha exclaimed. “I didn’t make it work that way.”
Kagome nodded solemnly. “I know, InuYasha. I know.”
The hanyou looked at the ground; he couldn’t bear to look at her face. “It means you were meant to go back, and I’m supposed to stay here, doesn’t it? We were never meant to be together.”
“I don’t think that’s what it means at all, InuYasha,” Kagome responded.
“What if it means that we both have a choice – you can choose whether to stay here, or to come with me to my era? Perhaps the choice isn’t mine alone to make as I’ve been worrying over; perhaps the choice is yours as well.” Kagome studied his movements since he still refused to look up. She continued, “What if I were meant to come here to right the wrongs created by Naraku, starting with releasing you from the tree? What if we can travel together through the well because we were meant to eventually be together? What if Fate was trying to set things straight that Naraku messed up? But you don’t want me anymore, do you…”
“Didn’t you understand what I said? That ain’t it at all – but you’re a miko, and a powerful one. I’m just hanyou…”
“InuYasha, when I said that I’d stay with you always, I was trying to tell you that I love you,” Kagome blurted. Her faced flushed a brilliant shade of red and she looked away. She couldn’t bear to see his eyes when he rejected her. That’s what he was attempting to do after all, wasn’t it? He was just trying to be a lot more polite than usual.
InuYasha fell completely silent. He was stunned at her declaration – that wasn’t what he had been expecting at all. At the suggestions of the others, he had been preparing himself for the worst. And he really wasn’t sure which would be the hardest for him – not having Kagome around at all, knowing he could never see her again, or having her near him every day but never being allowed to be more than her protector, and maybe a friend to her. He had seriously considered asking her to seal him to the tree again so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. When he finally snapped out of his stupor, he realized that she had taken his silence as rejection, and fled back through the well. Left alone with his very confused thoughts, he leapt back up into the tree.
Kagome landed at the bottom of the well in her era. When her feet touched the ground, she collapsed to the dirt at the bottom of the ancient structure and began to cry. She didn’t know what to do. The more she thought about it, the more she thought that maybe neither the wish nor the choice was hers to make. Her grandfather kept mentioning what happened when humans or youkai tried to make a wish on the Shikon no Tama – but what would happen if someone who was neither tried to make one? Things hadn’t gone well for Naraku when he used it, but his wish certainly wasn’t unselfish and pure. And he wasn’t exactly a true hanyou, either. Sitting back against the wall, she began to reconsider the possibilities.
Everything revolved around InuYasha. When she fell through the well, the first thing she had done to change things in the past was to break the seal on the hanyou. InuYasha had been put into an enchanted sleep and Kikyou killed because of Naraku and the Shikon no Tama. InuYasha was true hanyou with a youkai father and human mother. He was both, and he was neither. He had died and had to be revived because of her. If Sesshomaru had not been there with Tenseiga, she would have tried to revive him with the Sacred Jewel without a second thought. He was everything to her. However, she still felt like that wasn’t enough – something was missing. He was clearly afraid to be with her in his world – would he seriously consider possibly coming to hers?
As Kagome shifted, she had not even realized she’d begun to draw patterns in the earth. Something shiny caught her eye, and she brushed the soil away to reveal a gold locket. She sucked in her breath and her hands shook as she pried the trinket loose. Using her shirt, she carefully wiped the oval shape clean. “I don’t believe it. I haven’t seen this since we had to move here,” she said to herself. “I thought it was gone for good.”
After cleaning the piece of jewelry as best she could, including blowing on it to dislodge some of the dirt that was packed into the crevices, she decided to find a brush to use on it before trying to open it. Grasping it carefully in her hand, she began to climb the rope ladder that led to the top of the structure. Once out of the well and the house that protected it, she ran across the grounds and into the house.
InuYasha had finally come to his senses, and decided to go after Kagome. Maybe he did have another choice, one he had not considered before. After listening to Kagome, he was starting to realize that while Sango and Miroku may have meant well, they really should not have voiced such a strong position in a decision that really did not affect them directly. He couldn’t let Kagome go on believing that he hated her and that he didn’t want her around any more. In attempting to distance himself from her, all he had accomplished was to make them both miserable. Jumping out of the tree, he ran straight for the well and bounded in.
In a flash, he was on the roof outside of Kagome’s window. He looked inside to see her examining something small as she sat on her bed. The hanyou silently opened her window and slipped inside. She looked up and gave him a small, sad smile.
“What is that?” he asked, afraid of upsetting her again but curious.
Kagome patted the bed next to her, indicating that she wanted him to sit there. “I lost this as a child, not long after Souta was born. I found it in the well again this afternoon. I hadn’t seen it in years.” She cupped the locket, which was now open, in her hand so that he could look at it. “See, this is Mama and my father. The other side is me with Souta.”
“Your… your father?” InuYasha asked.
Kagome nodded. “He was killed in an accident not long after this was taken. We were forced to move to the shrine – Mama, Souta and me. I was so upset. At first I blamed myself, thinking I was the reason he was taken away – that I’d done something to be punished, and then I blamed him for getting himself killed. I thought I’d lost the locket. I looked for it for days, hoping it would turn up. I’d given up a long time ago. By the time I realized that he loved us and didn’t want to die, it was too late. I couldn’t find it. I must have completely blocked it out of my mind that I threw it in the well and wished for him to come back to us. All I wanted was for our family to be whole again.”
“I know what you mean,” InuYasha whispered.
Kagome placed her hand over his. “InuYasha, you don’t have to be alone any more. Mama loves you and Souta adores you. You could stay here with us. You’ve helped Jii-chan around the shrine in the past when you were here. It wouldn’t be easy, but we could make it work – if you wanted to. If… if… if you… if you only wanted to be friends, I could accept that. It would be hard for me, but I’d rather know you were happy and healthy rather than worry about you in the past if I couldn’t see you any more. Please say you’ll at least think about it.”
“All… all… all right,” he answered. He didn’t add that he’d been thinking the same thing – that he rather know she was safe and happy, even if it meant he couldn’t be with her. “If you’re certain…”
The miko nodded. “I am. And something else – I want you to think about what your wish on the jewel will be. I’ve finally reached a decision that you should be the one to make the wish on the Shikon no Tama.”
“What?” the hanyou exclaimed. “You know I don’t want it any more!”
“Exactly – you don’t want it. I’ve been thinking about what Jii-chan has said. He won’t give me any real information, but he keeps telling me that neither human nor youkai can really use the jewel. So I’ve decided that it must be you. I’m afraid the well will seal when the jewel is purified, so we need to be on the right side of the well. If you want me to stay here, and you return to the past, then that is what we’ll need to do. If you want me to stay in your era with you, I will – or you can stay here with me. But InuYasha, for once, will you think about what you want instead of what everyone says that you should do? You died to keep Naraku from killing me when I was helpless. If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.” Kagome fell silent and stared at the locket in the palm of her hand. She was surprised when she felt him squeeze her hand in return.
“Kagome, what do you want?” he asked, very softly. “If you had to choose, I mean.”
She finally looked up to meet his eyes. “I don’t know. It’s been killing me. More than anything, I wanted to be with you. And it’s so hard to know what to do. Do I belong here, in the world where I was raised? Or should I go back to your era and learn to be a miko and help Kaede? I love Sango like a sister, and Miroku almost like my brother, but I love Mama, Souta, and Jii-chan, too. Was I meant to help set things right and stay, or to disappear again like I was never there? Will the well close, or will it stay open? There are just so many variables. What about you? What do you want?”
She had pulled the completed jewel out from under her blouse and was absent-mindedly rolling it through her fingers. InuYasha looked at it, and she pulled the chain over her head and placed it in his hand. “See, it still stays white, even with you holding it.”
“Probably because you’re right here with me,” he commented as he studied it. “It’s like the season at the edge of winter – neither warm nor cold but can change in an instant depending on the conditions. It’s hard to believe something so small contains so much power and has caused so much trouble. If I were to make a wish, I think it would be for you to have the life that would make you happy so that Midoriko’s soul could be released and she could be at peace along with the souls of all of the youkai that were trapped with her. That’s what I would wish for.”
InuYasha and Kagome’s eyes grew wide as the Shikon no Tama suddenly started to glow. The jewel became brighter and brighter until it exploded, and it seemed like a hundred globes of light filled the room and swam around them.
Kagome reached out to touch one. “It’s so warm – like Kikyou’s soul was when she passed on. InuYasha, you must have purified the jewel and set all of these souls free.”
“I… I… I’m sorry, Kagome. I didn’t mean to… not until you were ready.” InuYasha stared in wonder at the brilliance of the spheres.
“InuYasha…” Kagome was so close and still holding his hand. “I’m so sorry if you’re trapped here with me. I wanted you to be happy, too.”
“I… I will be, if I can be with you,” he answered as he closed the distance between them and softly kissed her. “I… I… I… what you said before… me, too.”
The largest globe of light hovered around them, circling the couple until they were both watching it. ‘You have set us free. InuYasha, you were willing to give up everything in order for Kagome to be happy. May you both have a long and prosperous life together on both sides of the well.’
They watched as the illuminated balls floated through the window and walls. Moving to the window and opening it, they stood and gazed at the spheres as they ascended and then disappeared.
“Was that Midoriko that spoke to us?” Kagome asked when the last of the lights had vanished.
The hanyou slowly nodded. “Keh, I think so. Did she say what I think she did?”
“Yeah. What did she mean, InuYasha? That you were willing to give up everything for me to be happy?” Kagome prodded.
InuYasha sighed and looked at the floor. “I wanted you to be happy, even if it meant completely forgetting about me and moving on with your life. More than anything, I wanted you to be safe even if I could no longer be with you.”
“InuYasha…” she whispered as she moved to him and wrapped her arms around him. “I’ll only be happy if you are with me. That was the only thing I was certain about if I had to choose.”
He embraced her and held her tightly. “Do you think the well is still open? It sounded like it might be…”
“If it isn’t, will you be okay?” Kagome asked.
The hanyou cocked his head and looked at her. “There’s always something heavy around here for me to move, isn’t there? I’ll manage. Do you want to go test the well and see if it works?”
Kagome turned loose of his hand and went over to her desk. Tugging the drawer open, she pulled out a box and took the top off of it, revealing a shriveled up tail of some sort. Shaking her head, she said, “No, first I want to thank Jii-chan for this dragon tail. He gave it to me when I graduated and said it would bring me happiness. It’s the first thing he’s ever given me that actually worked.”
Hand in hand, they went to find Jii-chan and her mother to let them know that their adventures with the Shikon no Tama were finally over, and for whatever else might be in store for them, they’d be doing it together.