In some ways, the hardest part of the journey was after it ended, when it came down to that choice I'd feared for so very long. But in truth, he'd already decided. And I knew what that decision was. So what else could I do? I told him I loved him, and I left.

The first few months back in my own time were hell. Everything was so strange. The buildings were too close together and too tall. The air seemed foul, the water didn't taste right. The beds were too soft. There were mornings I woke up and could not remember where I was: why I couldn't hear Shippo breathing, Miroku snoring, and Kirara purring, or why I couldn't smell the woodsmoke of our burnt-out fire. I tried to compensate by going camping a lot, but it wasn't the same. It couldn't be.

Despite my remarkably poor attendance, I had managed to get into high school and out of it again with decent marks. I found myself drawn towards being a doctor, and soon studying for the pre-med program engaged most of my attention, so I didn't have much time to think about my friends anymore. I'm not sure when I decided to be a doctor. Some of it has to do with all the injured and sick people I couldn't help in the Warring Era. Some of it is the fact that I am, and always will be, a miko. But no one's here to teach me what that means, leaving me to sort of make it up. But the truest reason, and the most ironic one, is that I wanted to make Kikyo proud. Isn't that crazy? She tried to kill me, she hated me, she hated... him. But still. I wanted to show her that I understood what it meant to be the guardian of the Shikon no Tama, and that I had no intention of failing myself or her or us. She taught me most of what I know about being a miko.

Apart from being undead and dragging innocents to hell, of course.

On sunny afternoons, I'd take my books out underneath the God Tree to study. It hurt, because it always, always reminded me of him, but it eased my heart, too. Sometimes I'd read aloud quietly, the way I had five hundred and four years and six months ago. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes, the rustling of leaves sounded like the rustling of fire-rat fabric, and I could hear him.

"What is that crap?"

"Calculus."

"What?"

"Math: numbers and stuff."

"What the hell do you need to know that shit for?"

"I'm not sure myself, sometimes."

"Keh. Useless."

Of course, this is always when Sango or Miroku would tell him to shut up because I needed to concentrate, and he'd yell that if I didn't want to be interrupted I shouldn't fucking read aloud, and Miroku-or-Sango would point out that even when I didn't read aloud he would interrupt me to demand to know what I was reading, and Shippo would crawl into my lap to listen to the argument, eating a sucker, and at this point I had to open my eyes and wipe the tears off my math book because I could still hear the whole argument in my head and I would never hear it again.

Do I even need to tell you that for years, when I saw a loose red jacket out of the corner of my eye, my heart would stop? Or that I've tried dating, only to feel a grumpy hanyou glaring over my shoulder, sizing up the competition, even though he'd never admit that's what he was doing? I've gotten better: in the first few months, I cried at the sight of ramen. Most of the time, I just try not to think about it. Because what else can I do?

A small brazier smoked in front of the well, while Miroku looked over his spells and ritual set up once more. Petitions for mercy, for safe passage. One explanation specifically worded for their situation. Incense for focusing the mind and for pleasing whatever powers governed the well. His staff, just in case something went horribly wrong. One very grumpy demon hunter leaning against the well. Miroku eyed his wife, hoping she'd finally overcome her objections.

"Miroku, I just don't think this is going to work." Sango leaned over the edge to peer into the depths of the well. It looked quiescent, as it had for years. "I really don't think it's going to let you go to Kagome-chan's time just because you ask it nicely."

"What other options do we have? Either we try it, or we have to chase Inuyasha down and make him do it. Between the two, I think the well's more likely to listen first."

"I wish you'd let me come with."

Miroku sighed and got up from his kneeling position to take Sango's hands. "Love, we've been over this. It's dangerous enough for one of us to go. There's no guarantee that it'll let us both through. And if it took you and left me, I don't think I could stand it. Besides, the children need to grow up together. The baby needs to stay on this side."

Sango glared. "If you'd wait a few months, we could settle this fairly."

Miroku shook his head serenely. "No, you fight dirty." He grinned while the ringing in his head cleared. "That's my violent tajiya. It'll be all right. I swear. Whatever it takes, I'll come home." Sango stepped close for a kiss.

"You had better," Sango whispered against his mouth. "I don't know how I'm going to keep bearing your children when you're five hundred years in the future."

Miroku smiled down at the love of his life. "Do you really need to go over the procedure again?"

Sango grinned, shaking her head. "You'd better get going, houshi, before I decide to drop you in the well myself."

Kagome leaned back against the God Tree, watching the pattern of light and shadow dance in the leaves. Sometimes it's almost like being home. She shook her head. It's been four years; I've got to stop thinking of that time as home. She touched the jewel around her neck. Anger, fear, hatred... all these things taint the Shikon no Tama. Luckily sadness doesn't seem to affect it at all. Kagome closed her eyes, letting her thoughts drift. The warmth of the sun and the peace of the tree lulled her into a light doze, so she didn't see when the Shikon no Tama flared brightly and subsided. She didn't hear the door to the well slide open and then shut. And she dimly registered the quiet footsteps and the jingling of the staff, so it almost seemed part of the dream when a quiet, amused voice said, "Kagome, I was wondering if you would do me the honor of bearing my child?"

She smiled in her sleep. "No, silly. You know Sango would kill you."

"Ah, true. Besides, she's doing fairly well on her own."

"What are you talking about? You know you haven't had kids."

"Actually, we have. Two, and the third is coming, we think."

I'm not dreaming. Kagome's eyes snapped open.

Miroku was sitting next to her, gazing up at the leaves. "Your home is lovely, Kagome. And it's funny; the tree doesn't look that much tall- oof!" He looked down at her, clinging onto his waist for dear life. "If I'd known you felt that way, I would've said something before you left." A muffled sob emerged, and Miroku hugged her. "Shhhh, Kagome, it's all right."

"I wanted to go home," Kagome sobbed. "I thought I'd never see any of you again."

Miroku settled back against the tree, rocking her slightly. "I'm sorry, Kagome. I should've come sooner." He waited quietly while the sobs subsided. He stroked her hair gently. "Are you all right?"

Kagome half-laughed, pulling back, smearing tears away from her eyes. "Sorry. I guess I've been under more stress than I thought." She froze. "Is everybody all right? You didn't come through to tell me-"

"No, no, nothing like that," Miroku said quickly.

"How did you get here, anyway? I thought the only person who could come through was-" her throat closed.

Miroku waited, but she didn't say Inuyasha's name. He sighed. This might actually be difficult. "As Sango puts it, I 'asked nicely.' But I wasn't sure the spell would work, and even if it did work, I wasn't sure that I would be able to find you and return."

Kagome stared at him in awe. "You jumped through without knowing you could get back? That's the most reckless thing you've ever done in all the years I've known you."

Miroku shook his head. "No, the most reckless thing I've ever done was explaining what I was thinking of doing to a pregnant professional demon hunter who gets more violent when she's expecting. Compared to that, actually doing it was nothing."

Kagome laughed. "Sango still beats you, does she?"

"My life is a constant cycle of abuse," Miroku said warmly. His smile faded. "But, Kagome, I told it that the only reason I was trying to get through was because the one who was meant to wouldn't."

Wouldn't. Not can't. The color drained from Kagome's face. "He's alive?"

"You thought he was dead?"

She shook her head. "Come inside," Kagome said, as she started for the house. "I'll make you some tea."

It took a while to get settled in the kitchen; though Miroku heroically tried to focus on the task he'd come for, it was very hard to ignore all the wonderfully strange things in Kagome's house. Kagome finally made him sit at the table after he almost burned himself playing with the stove. "I can't believe you have three kids."

Miroku pulled his attention away from the refrigerator and grinned, deciding to play along with her for now. "I can't believe it either. Sometimes I hear Sango telling Kirara that she must have been insane."

Kagome sat down across from him. "How is everybody?"

"Shippo lives with us, of course; he's gotten a lot bigger, but he still feels more comfortable around us than other youkai. Sometimes I worry about what that means for him in the future, but as Sango says, we don't need to borrow trouble.

Sango's well, although she's a little annoyed at being pregnant again. She doesn't mind it so much in the early months when she can still go out hunting, but at a certain point, it's just not practical, and then the only targets for her temper are... well, me."

Kagome frowned. "Hunting? Are things still that dangerous?"

"No, the days of insanely powerful youkai are mostly past. Occasionally we get some real rogues, but it's quiet for the most part. Especially around the forest. Youkai never go near it." He looked at her directly, and she flushed and looked away.

"You didn't tell me about your kids."

"Miho is three and Kohaku is almost two. We were going to name Miho Kagome, but Shippo insisted that when you came back it would just be too confusing."

Kagome almost smiled, staring at her tea. "When I came back, huh?"

"He drew a lot of pictures for you the first few months after you left. He's still got them, I think." He paused. "Everybody's been waiting, in some way."

"I can't go back, Miroku." Kagome pushed back from the table, hugging herself as if she'd become deathly cold.

"Can't go back? All you have to do is jump in the well."

"Didn't you ever wonder why I left?"

"No." He held up a hand as Kagome swooped down on him. "I knew it had something to do with Inuyasha. The details are what I don't know."

"He said I was killing him."

Miroku's eyebrows shot up.

Kagome sighed and sat down again. "He'd decided to go with Kikyo, you know? After everything was finished. And she wanted to take him to hell. But I'd said that I'd stay with him. So..."

"You tried to go to hell with them." Miroku sat back in his chair. "You accused me of being reckless?"

Kagome shrugged and sipped her tea. "He wouldn't let me."

"I should think not."

"He said... that he didn't know what to do... he'd promised Kikyo, but he couldn't let me go with... he said he didn't know what to do, that it was killing him... I told him I loved him... and I left. I thought that he'd done it. How could I go back after that? All these years, I thought he was dead." Kagome threw her cup across the room; Miroku ducked calmly, used to violent outbursts. "I thought he was dead! Sometimes I couldn't breathe at night because it hurt so much! If only I'd done something, said something... if I hadn't just let him go... But I did! What else could I do?" She looked up, tears pouring down her face. "I miss him, Miroku. Every day. It never stops."

"I'm still not sure why you're not going back."

"Because if I do, and it hurts more, I think I'll die."

Miroku knelt in front of Kagome's chair, looking up at her. "Kagome. The only way to resolve this is to go back. Sango and I will help you get through this, even if we have to seal Inuyasha into a hut so you can sit him whenever you like. Anything."

Kagome laughed, wiping tears away. "Do you think he misses me?"

"I think it's safe to say yes." Miroku tugged on her hand. "Pack some things and let's go."