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darkest before the dawn

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Kagome fills her lungs with springtime. The breeze in her hair is sweet with the smell of fresh grass and sunlight, leaves a golden aftertaste on her tongue. Standing here now, she can scarcely believe there was ever a time when being in this era meant bracing herself for battles. When her days here consisted of shard-hunting and aimless travels and Naraku’s plots—it all feels so distant now. Like an old piece of clothing that she outgrew and shrugged off. Now, there is only this slow and languid peace, this syrupy blueness that spills heady across the heavens. The hill slopes gently downwards, overlooking the velvet outline of the village that has become her new home.

It’s like... She closes her eyes, basking in the ruby darkness beneath her eyelids. It’s like a beautiful dream.

“It was a beautiful dream, wasn’t it?”

Her eyes snap open. Footsteps in the grass. She turns around. Who—

“...Kikyo?”

It can’t be—but it is. It’s the same stoic face, the same slow stride, the same unbound hair swirling around her hips. The same eyes, shuttered like the sun behind an overcast sky. The same Kikyo whose body crumbled in Inuyasha’s arms all those years ago. Kagome’s heart quickens as she approaches, gliding across the grass, a ghost given flesh.

But Kikyo doesn’t acknowledge her. Doesn’t even glance in her direction. Something in the way she moves brings to mind the days when souls shone at her heels, the days when her eyes smoldered with an aimless malice and her unearthly presence would send goosebumps racing up the backs of Kagome’s arms. Her hakama rustle around her legs, as violently red as the wound that killed her, as she assumes a perch upon the hill’s crest. She tilts her head down to peer upon the village nestled in the valley, shadows fringing her lashes. Sunlight beats against the lovely white planes of her face. And she is breathlessly beautiful, as she always has been. Even (always) in death.

“It was my dream, before it was yours.” A sudden wind gusts by, and ebony hair goes spinning against the cerulean sky. Reaching for something it can never touch. “To stand where you’re standing right now. To live here, happily. With Inuyasha.”

“...I know,” says Kagome, softly, because she does.

Lashes flutter closed, butterfly-wing delicate. Kikyo tilts her face to the sky. Like a sun-starved flower craving light. “So then... why are you living my dream?”

Frost blooms in Kagome’s stomach, a slow and burning cold. Winter encroaching upon a beautiful spring.

When Kikyo opens her eyes again, there is a newfound wetness in them. “It’s... It’s not fair.”

Color fades from the sky, a ripple of clouds seeping in slow from the horizon. The heavens fold in on themselves like abandoned hope. With a shudder, the village fades from view, dissolving into the land as though it never was. Or was never meant to be. Grass goes brittle underfoot, yellow and faded and dead. The next breeze doesn’t tickle cheeks like the affection of a coy lover—it’s cold and heavy as a farewell kiss. Like the pit in your throat when you realize the fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending, after all.

“You have everything I ever wanted. And the worst part is, you deserve it. Maybe more than I did.” The wetness spills over. Petals bowing beneath the weight of raindrops. Kikyo turns to face her, eyes misty, breath hitching. “So tell me, Kagome—are you happy?”


Kagome wakes to the weight of a hand on her shoulder.

The wall that greets her stickily-opened eyes features midnight gloom and three long diagonal slashes as testament to that one time a grasshopper got into the hut. Darkness echoes in the corners, simmering with the cool touch of early autumn. Goosebumps pepper her left arm where the sleeve of her sleeping kimono got rolled up in the middle of the night. Her cheek is freezing from spending time pressed against the cold floor. A blanket is half-tangled around her waist. Only her legs are still on the futon, while everything else is sprawled elsewhere. She hauls herself upright and immediately spits out a lock of hair that somehow ended up in her mouth. The back of her throat feels thick.

“Oi, Kagome.” Inuyasha’s eyes burn gold against the shadows, brows knit with worry. He has his weight braced against his arm, half sitting up. His gaze lacks the bleariness of someone who’s only just woken up. “You okay?”

Oh. She must have woken him up. And as she twists around to face him, she realizes that the wetness in her eyes isn’t just remnant sleep. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

He frowns, unconvinced. Not that she can blame him—her voice sounds absolutely wrecked. If there was an award for least convincing ways to say “fine”, she would at least make it to the top ten, if not outright win the prize.

“I was j-just dreaming,” she insists, only to wince at the hitch in her breath. Dammit.

The weight of his hand leaves her shoulder but the worry doesn’t ease from his face. “What the hell about?”

It’s still fresh in her mind. How the blue sky went gray and the breeze turned biting and the cold bloomed in her belly. How the light fell over Kikyo’s face—the way that is splintered across the breakage in her eyes, wetness spilling over dark lashes, the tremble in her breath— And just thinking about it makes the thickness in Kagome’s throat tremor, has a tightness rising up in her chest like a swelling tide. Kikyo standing on the hill, like a displaced angel, all porcelain pieces broken in some terrible Fall. Forlorn and forsaken by the very dream she chased. Asking Kagome why, why you, why do you get this, it’s not fair, why, why, why

Uh oh. Here it comes.

Inuyasha acts before she can, sits up fully and has his arms around her just as the first sob breaks free. With the most undignified of noises, she falls forward and all but breaks against him. Becomes this helpless wretch that curls up to his chest like a lost child. One that’s probably going to leave giant globs of snot all over his hadajuban. Great.

“I’m s-sorry,” she blubbers, fisting the fabric around his shoulders. “Thi-is is s-so stup-pid. I’m s-sorry—”

“S’okay. I gotcha.”

Back when they first met, she would have never imagined him capable of such gentleness. That hands as rough and claw-tipped as his would ever hold her like this, tender, as though she were a miracle given physical form. The Inuyasha that she woke from a half-century’s slumber would have panicked and yelled at her until they were both screaming and crimson-faced. But this Inuyasha has far more patience, and he says nothing—just traces slow and comforting circles on her lower back while she sobs like an idiot into his clothes. She finds herself sinking into the warmth of his skin, the solidness of his chest, until the tension finally begins to ease from behind her ribs. Finally, after a minute or two of making a complete fool of herself, she manages to smooth the hiccups out of her breath.

New worry has taken over his face when she pulls away, wiping at her face with the back of her wrist. She sniffles and offers him a watery smile for his trouble. “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”

That has his mouth thinning into a grim line. “...you wanna talk about it?”

Not really... But I guess I should anyways.

With a sigh, she leans her forehead against the solid curve of his shoulder. “It... It was about Kikyo.”

He doesn’t flinch, but she can feel the intensity deepen in his gaze. “Oh.”

“She was saying—” She breathes in deeply, but it just seems to get stuck in her throat. A bobbing bubble of guilt. “She was saying that, that I’m exactly where she always wanted to be. With you, and all. That it was her dream first, but... but I was living it.”

“Kagome.”

“And—And she’s not wrong.” The words escape in a rush. Like they always wanted to leave and were just looking for the right moment to make a break for it. “I mean—if Naraku hadn’t intervened, you would be here with her instead.”

Though she didn’t exactly expect him to agree, feeling the vibration of the doubtful noise he makes is still a surprise. “I guess...? It’d be pretty different.”

Blinking, she draws back to look up at him. Nothing in his expression indicates teasing—the amber in his eyes has settled into something that reminds her, perhaps irrationally, of prehistoric bugs trapped in ancient tree sap. The frozen fossils that were caught not in the throes of resistance, but in moments of tranquil stillness, as if realizing they could not fight their era’s end. As if they somehow understood, with an innate and blood-deep knowledge, that they must end so a new age could begin. There’s that same quiet acceptance in his gaze now, a solemn acknowledgment of one era’s end and a silent appreciation for the future.

And she’s... not quite sure how to feel about that. Letting Kikyo find rest in the past had always been something she secretly hoped for, sure, but now it just... It feels like an injustice, somehow.

“It wouldn’t be that different, would it?” she wonders.

“Keh. Definitely.” The hand that had been braced against the small of her back slides up to rest tenderly on the space between her shoulder blades. “For one, I’d be human all the time, which would suck. And Kikyo wouldn’t be doin’ any miko trainin’ like you are. And that’s all assumin’ the Jewel didn’t blow my face off first.”

“...that’s not really how the Jewel worked—”

She’s interrupted by the rasp of fabric as he shifts closer, forehead brushing against hers and a fang poking out from his smirk. “But ya get what I’m sayin’, right?”

Of course she does. It had become clear long ago that he had always put her first—that most of her skepticism was rooted in doubt and insecurity, more than any fault on his part. He made his mistakes of course, because who doesn’t? But those mistakes never detracted from the truth, the sentiment that lay tucked deep in the folds of his heart. Now, she knows how he felt even in the days when when Kikyo’s ghost was a physical thing that shackled his feet with what-could-have-been and made his steps clumsy despite their earnestness. And at the end of the day, he would choose her again and again and again, as many times as he needs to. So it is ridiculous, for her to be doubting herself now of all times. The past is even further behind him than it was before, the dust settled and the watercolor sunset they rode into at the end of their story has already given way to a beautiful new tomorrow. But...

In her mind’s eye, she can see Kikyo’s last moments. The soiled white of her robes, laying limp in Inuyasha’s arms. Matted hair and misty eyes, cracks on her throat weeping miasmic vapors. Kagome had done everything she could—and it still wasn’t enough. Yes, her soul was saved in the end, but if there was a chance Kikyo could have kept living, wouldn’t she have wanted that instead?

“You have everything I ever wanted. And the worst part is, you deserve it. Maybe more than I did.”

Kagome bites her lip.

“Hey.” Suddenly serious, Inuyasha cups her face in both hands and tilts her gaze up to meet his eyes. They shine through the shadows. A sort of soft and tender glow that seeps into her skin, melts into a honey-bright warmth that starts in the pit of her stomach and grows from there. “Look, I’m always gonna regret the way things ended with Kikyo, ‘cause it fucking sucked. But I don’t regret that they did end. Okay? ‘Cause otherwise, I wouldn’t’ve met you.”

Her chest tightens, trying to offset the warmth. She lowers her eyes. “I know, but...”

But he doesn’t let her, forces her gaze back into his with a soft determination. “Dammit, no ‘but’s, woman! What happened in the past doesn’t matter, ‘cause you an’ me were supposed to meet and wind up together. End of story. You hear me?”

At once, the pressure loosens. The warmth unfurls until it has spread to the back of her ribs, fans itself over her lungs and her heartbeat, until the moment is as golden as the flecks in his irises. “You really think so?”

“Kagome,” he starts slowly, calloused fingers pressed to her temples, eyes shining into hers, “I got stuck to a tree for fifty years, and it fucking sucked. So whaddya think it says when I tell ya ‘it was all worth it’?”

“Inuyasha...” For its finale, the warmth crawls its way up to her face. Not just in the places where his palms press against her cheeks, but higher still. It settles into the backs of her eyes. Spreads mist over her vision. Oh no.

Inuyasha exhales through his nose, somewhere between fond and exasperated. “Gonna cry again, aren’tya?”

As if on cue, the the tears spill over, striping fresh and salty-hot down her cheeks. With a groan, she buries her face back into his chest. He snorts, more from amusement than derision, and doesn’t complain about the new wet patch she’s going to leave on his hadajuban—right next to the first one, no less—as he starts one-handedly rubbing circles on her back.

“Sorry,” she mumbles.

“Told you. S’okay.”

It’s easier for her to regain her composure this time, maybe because she’s not all-out sobbing or because the old guilt isn’t thick enough to choke on. Still, she feels raw by the time it’s over, as though she’s been sandpapered from the inside out. Her eyes itch, her sinuses ache, and her throat is sore. There’s a good chance the dehydration will give her a headache later, too. Yay.

The weight of his hand smooths over her hair. “You okay now?”

Sighing, she turns to rest her cheek against the dip in his clavicle. Wordlessly, Inuyasha rests his chin upon her scalp, lets the weight of it offer comfort. Not for the first time, it amazes her how she can tuck her head into the curve of his throat and it can fit so neatly, so perfectly. Maybe he was onto something when he said they were meant to be, because why else would they fit together like this, two pieces coming together to form a greater whole? “Yeah. I think so.”

“Good.”

Kagome closes her eyes. The dream feels like gossamer at her fingertips, now. Too flimsy to hurt her, easily torn if she pulls on it too hard. She wonders what Kikyo would have said, if Kagome hadn’t woken up when she did. For all the sorrow in her eyes, she didn’t seem to have any bitterness, and Kagome doesn’t recall hearing any resentment when she asked her questions. And hadn’t Kikyo said something about deserving this?

“I think,” she begins, tentatively, “I just feel a little guilty sometimes. Even when I probably shouldn’t.”

“Yeah.” His exhale ghosts over her scalp. “Me too.”

She places a hand over the solidness of his chest, feels the warmth in his skin through tear-dampened fabric. His heart beats strong and sure beneath her palm, as though reminding her that yes, this is real. That at the end of the day, despite everything, they’re both still alive.

“But...” Kagome glances up at him. “I am happy, though.”

Inuyasha says nothing, but the corner of his lip curls.

It isn’t easy, to keep living after the dead have been buried. There are going to be days when the guilt leaves a heavy weight, when the “what-if”s will linger like cobwebs. It isn’t pain free. And to find happiness on top of that, even less so.

But it isn’t selfish, either.