AN: All right, with the huge success of Future Lovin', here's a new MxS that I actually wrote _before_ FL. Just never posted it. I think this is actually the better of the two stories, but I'll let you guys decide. All right, enjoy!

Bonding Time Part 1

Miroku stretched his arms out along the edge of the hot spring and rolled his head back until he had a clear view of the sky. There was nothing better than sitting in steaming water in the middle of nowhere with no one around, especially now that it was over.

Everything, the quest, the constant fear, the danger, it was over, all over. Naraku was dead, and he and Sango had taken leave of their companions to hunt youkai. Well... Sango was hunting youkai; he was just along for the ride. He glanced at his right hand. The rosary and glove still covered it. A strange dread filled his chest whenever he considered removing them.

"Houshi-sama," Sango asked from behind him, "do you want me to wash your robes?"

Miroku peered at her upside-down. She was wearing her yukata and carrying her exterminator outfit, which had gotten bloody during their fight with a locust youkai earlier. She looked amazingly "domestic," almost like she would be just as happy cooking and cleaning for a family as she was hunting youkai.

He nodded in answer, an odd motion when one was leaning backwards, and watched her pick up his discarded clothing and head to the opposite side of the spring. Scrubbing the clothes did not take that long; and, after laying them out to dry, Sango returned to his end.

Miroku grinned impishly at her. "You going to come in before we leave?"

"I was waiting for you to finish."

"My clothes are wet," he returned, grin widening.

Sango's hand flew to her mouth, and she looked, horrified, towards the soaked robes. "I didn't even think." She turned accusing eyes on him. "You set me up!"

"No, you offered. I take opportunities where I can find them."

Sango turned away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, then, I simply won't bathe today."

"Come on, Sango," coaxed Miroku. "This is the only hot spring for days. Besides, you're tired. We've run into half a dozen youkai in the past week. You need to relax for awhile."

Sango's resolve wavered. He was right, and the hot spring did look inviting, warm water to soothe sore muscles, a naked, perverted monk just waiting for an opportunity to grope her...

"NO!" She stomped towards their camp set further back in the woods.

"Sango," Miroku's voice floated to her, "please! I won't look! Hell, I won't even try to grope you or touch you in any way for that matter! Come in, you need to relax, or you won't be any good in a fight!"

Sango bit her lip. If he was willing to concede on that point... and he _was_ naked. She shook her head violently. She did _not_ just think that. "All right." Slowly, she ventured back and reached to untie her sash. "No peeking," she reminded her sudden alert audience.

Dutifully and very reluctantly, Miroku glanced away and raised his hand to block his eyes. (Not that he wouldn't have peeked though his fingers. He would have had Sango not noticed that it was his right hand.)

The taija-ya paused with half of her sash removed. "Why are you still wearing the beads?"

Miroku thrust his hand into the water to hide it. "Quit stalling."

Sango planted her hands on her hips, an interesting picture Miroku absently noted since her yukata wasn't exactly tied tightly closed anymore. "Tell me why. It's not still there, is it?" Worry tinged her voice.

Sango's question brought Miroku's mind from his pleasant daydream back to reality. He mumbled something.

"What?"

"I said, 'I don't know!'" he growled.

Sango recoiled in surprise. "You haven't looked?" At his head shake, she exclaimed, "Why not? You've been waiting so long to get rid of it, and now you have an emotional attachment to the rosary?"

Miroku glared at her. "Just get undressed."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why haven't you checked, and why do you want me naked so badly?"

"I don't want you naked! I want you well-rested! You need-"

"I need to know why you haven't gotten rid of the rosary!" she yelled.

It was Miroku's turn to be surprised. He opened his mouth to answer, and then shut it with an audible click. "I won't answer."

Sango chewed on her lip. She would not pass up the chance of a hot spring, but she would not back down from her position. A solution presented itself, but she winced. Even though it was demeaning, she would do it. "Tell me, and I'll let you watch me get undressed."

Miroku's eyebrows quirked. "Really?"

Sango nodded. "Yeah, so why?"

Miroku squirmed uncomfortably like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I'm... afraid." He continued before Sango could inquire, "What if it's not gone? What if killing Naraku did nothing to the Kaze ana? What if I'm still going to die soon?" His voice trembled. "I don't want to know my death sentence still exists."

Sango knelt beside his head. "It could be gone. In fact, it probably is. You need to look."

Miroku lifted his gloved hand out of the water and waved it near her. "You do it. You look."

Sango grasped his hand firmly and tugged at the rosary.

Miroku tried to pull his hand away. "Don't bend over it like that. You'll get sucked in."

"Better that than listening to you whine about your death all the time," she snapped. One final tug, and the beads were gone. Sango smiled. "See? Nothing to worry about." She trailed her fingers along his palm.

Miroku shivered and jerked away. "Um... thanks for looking," he murmured, heat rising in his cheeks.

Sango giggled at his reaction and stood. She sobered though as she reached to undo the rest of her clothing. "My turn, I guess."

Miroku looked away.

Sango's brow furrowed. "I told you that you could watch."

"I don't take advantage."

"What?"

"It was stupid of me to agree to that condition. Just get undressed and come in. I'm not looking."

"Oh," Sango replied, feeling relieved yet disappointed. It was not something she'd openly admit, but stripping for the monk had been an occasional dream she had had. Her yukata fell to the ground around her feet, and she slipped into the water beside Miroku.

True to his word, the monk kept his gaze locked to anything but Sango. Eventually the demon huntress relaxed enough to close her eyes. She must have dozed off because before she knew it, Miroku, now clothed in his nearly dry robes, was shaking her shoulder.

"Sango," he said urgently, "a tanuki just stole our packs and weapons."

Sango bolted upright. "What?!"

Miroku wordlessly handed her her yukata and ducked through the underbrush in search of the tanuki. Sango donned her clothing and chased after Miroku. She caught up to him in a clearing where he had the tanuki backed up against a tree.

The raccoon was practically buried beneath Hiraikotsu and the massive backpack Kagome had lent them. Miroku demanded the return of their possessions, but the tanuki simply glared.

Sango stomped forward, and he dropped the pack and raised his hand. A golden glow appeared around his fingers and around Sango's and Miroku's wrists. The light solidified at their wrists into a pair of bracelets, a delicate golden chain connecting them.

The tanuki winked and picked up the backpack. "Have fun," he bade them as he whirled away and disappeared into the forest's shadows.

Sango tried to go after him, but was yanked back towards Miroku by the chain. The monk fingered it. It was small and looked fragile, but no amount of pressure he applied to it bent the links. He moved to the cuff on his wrist, but it proved even stronger. "We're stuck," he announced.

"No," Sango denied. "We can't be stuck. Here, let me see."

After several minutes of tugging, she also had to admit defeat. Resigned, the two returned to their camp, a process which took longer than normal due to their having to adjust to each other's stides and Sango's discomfort in walking so close to the monk.

Immediately upon their return, Sango sank to her knees, Miroku having no choice but to do the same, and began to gather sticks. Luckily, they did not have to venture beyond their camp's perimeter to find enough kindling for a fire.

With the flames dancing in front of them, Sango tried pulling the links apart again, and then attempted to slip her hand out of the cuff. Neither worked. Finally, she gave up and laid back, her arm stretched towards Miroku. "You taking first watch?"

Miroku nodded, and Sango closed her eyes, hoping that it would all be a bad dream when she woke.

*****

It wasn't. Miroku's fussing with the bonds shook her awake, and for a long while, the two sat silently, watching the fire burn itself out. Neither one made a move to re-ignite it. Sango eventually noticed Miroku's head dropping to his chest and sat the remainder of the night alone.

Dawn came too quickly. With hardly a word, they set off along the path of the previous night in an attempt to track the tanuki. They followed his trail steadily until twilight when it ended... at last night's camp.

Not a word had been spoken all day, not even during their brief pauses to eat and rest. Sango broke the silence with a yell and punched a nearby tree with her right fist... which dragged Miroku's left hand along with it. As a result, the back of his hand slammed into the tree, and he cursed.

"Damn it, Sango! Quit being childish!" He cradled his injured hand.

Sango spun around and poked him in the chest. "Childish? Why would I have any need to be childish? Our supplies and weapons are gone! Why? Because you were too busy ogling me to watch-"

"Ogling? I was not ogling! And even if I was, which I wasn't, it was only because you were flaunting-"

"Flaunting?" Sang screeched.

"Yes, flaunting." Miroku's voice took on a high pitch, "'Oh, Miroku, look at me while I get undressed.' That's flaunting."

"I was- That was- I did that because-"

"You were flaunting," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Why would I need to flaunt around you? You were ogling," she retorted.

Miroku snorted. "Ha, as if you have anything that deserves to be ogled!" As soon as it left his mouth, he winced. Bad choice of words, houshi.

The blood drained from Sango's face and swiftly returned a moment later as her hand sped towards his face. Miroku saw the slap coming and closed his eyes, not bothering to move.

Crack! Miroku's head spun. Damn, she had a powerful slap. His cheek still burning from the slap's force, he set a hand on her shoulder. "Sango, I'm sorry."

Sango did not answer. She averted her face and stomped over to a tree, Miroku following obediently. Sango made a point of ignoring him as she sat against the trunk and stared straight ahead. Miroku apologized several times, all rebuffed, before exhaustion sneaked up on him and sent him into an uneasy sleep.