Author's Note: I know, I think this will amass a lynch mob because this isn't "Ai no Koinu" Chapter 4b. ^_^;;; But this is why "Ai no Koinu" is taking so long to update. I originally was going to submit this to the latest Round Robin at Iridescent Dreams (write a story at least 8 chapters long about the end of the series), but illness in my immediate family has taken up all the time I was going to use during my break to work on this fic.. I haven't written much in a while. So I won't be done by deadline. But I have this half-written and the other chapters in fully-outlined form (unlike "Ai no Koinu" which is now going on inspiration and a rough plot outline only). Don't worry.. my other work WILL get finished!

For this story: I've been following the manga storyline which is quite a bit ahead of the anime, and so have had to modify some of my original ideas. This particular chapter was written BEFORE Chapter 292 came out (Takahashi-sama's scene with Sango and Miroku), so already this is parallel universe, so to speak.

If you've only been following the anime, there are plot spoilers here, but I've tried to interweave them so that if you don't know what is canon and what is not yet if you haven't been reading the manga. I just wanted to warn you. (Okay, Chapter 2 has spoilers for characters seen in the 4th opening, but anyway...)

Also, the only time I keep the original Japanese terms is when there isn't a really good English substitution (like Inu Yasha's tendency to call Miroku "bozu" (disrespectful term for a monk), or Sango calling him the much more respectful (and distant) houshi-sama. Regular names I left without their usual titles.

Rating: Overall: R - For violence, profanity, and sexual situations (NC-17 version will be posted at mediaminer when I get to that part)
This chapter: PG-13 - For Inu Yasha's penchant for naughty words.

Disclaimer: Inu Yasha and all the characters found in this story aren't mine.. they belong to Rumiko Takahashi. I am merely hypothesizing what *could* happen. If any of these things actually happen, I'd patently be amazed. So please don't sue me.. I'm just a poor, harmless fan whose only income from this is feedback.


Chapter 1

Roughly a mile outside of the gates that the travelers knew would open onto hell on earth, they sat quietly around the roaring campfire they had been able to strike up thanks to a couple small sticks of wood Kagome called "matches". Yet even the cheery blaze could not dispel the damp chill that had taken root in the very marrow of their bones.

Tomorrow would bring the culmination of their journey.. facing Naraku and destroying him once and for all.

Even Shippo was silent, curled up in Kagome's lap, the miko holding him against her protectively, her arms over his tiny shoulders. Sango was diligently polishing her Hiraikotsu, and Miroku was actually meditating, not trying to cop a feel of Sango for once. Inu Yasha was inspecting Tessaiga, looking for any sign of wear that could be a weakness in the coming fight.

Light flickered above their heads and Kagome looked up, feeling slightly proud. While it was true that the shield protecting them was half Miroku's, the other half was hers. Sustained by her own power.

She had grown so much the past few years, both in experience and spiritual prowess. She no longer needed the Shikon no Tama to augment her skills. She felt she could even take on Kikyou now.

Which a part of her dearly wished to do.

But then she vehemently threw the thought away. Was she such an awful person that she could harbor a grudge against someone who had died at the hands of a common enemy? Of course, Kikyou had been dead to begin with, but that was beside the point. The undead miko had been sent back to limbo once more, and was apparently going to stay there. Kagome knew she should have a big enough heart to add her rival to the list of people that killing Naraku would avenge, but the old pain of jealousy ate away at her.

Even though Kikyou was apparently gone for good, Kagome had noticed that at least some part of Inu Yasha remained loyal to his first love. Sometimes he would stare out into the distance, apparently lost in thought. "Probably still wondering if Kikyou is truly gone," Kagome mused to herself.

In the pulsing light from the fire, the girl from the future didn't even dare look at the male she loved, not wanting him to see all the conflicting emotions in her heart.

"Kagome," Shippo broke the silence.

"Yes, Shippo?"

The kitsune child turned around in her lap so he could look up directly into her eyes. "What're ya gonna do when Naraku's gone?" His eyes were huge and shone with unshed tears.

Her heart twisted as she saw the look in his eyes. Shippo was like a brother.. no. Over the years, he had grown to be more like a son to her. And he obviously thought of her as the mother he'd lost. But she had to tell him the truth.

"Probably.. go back to my own time," she said quietly.

Shippo's bottom lip trembled, and he bit it to try and stifle a fit of tears, but he couldn't. He suddenly burst out crying, making Sango nearly drop her Hiraikotsu, Miroku's eyes instantly open, and Inu Yasha nick his thumb on Tessaiga's blade. "Wh.. why do you have to gooooooo?" he wailed.

Kagome knew everyone was staring at her, but she ignored it, her own tears spilling down her cheeks. "Sh.. Shippo-chan," she choked out and hugged him close. "I'm so sorry! But.. this isn't my time. If I stayed, history itself might be changed."

"Then I'll go with you!" the kit proclaimed.

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Silly Shippo. I'd love to take you with me, but you belong here. Perhaps you'll find some other kitsune youkai…"

"I don't wanna go with strangers! I wanna be with you!"

"Keh. You'd be better off here, brat. Youkai don't exist much in her time. Besides, there aren't any trees." Inu Yasha huffed and slid Tessaiga back into its sheath.

Kagome blinked at Inu Yasha. Was he actually trying to be understanding?

"I won't be around after we've got the Shikon no Tama to save your ass. If you went to her time, you'd grow up even wimpier than that damned wolf.."

"OSUWARI!" Kagome nearly screamed, her voice cracking on the last syllable.

And the hanyou slammed face first into the ground.

Kagome glared at Inu Yasha furiously, the lump in her throat now being caused by something more than sadness. She hugged Shippo painfully tight, but the kit didn't say anything as he sensed Kagome's distress.

A minute or so later, Inu Yasha brought his head up and returned Kagome's glare. "What the hell didja do that for, bitch?!"

Kagome put Shippo down and rose, coming to stand over Inu Yasha, her hands fisted on her hips. "Don't you ever insult Kouga-kun like that again. If not for him, Naraku would already have won!"

"Keh. He was just trying to show off!"

SLAP! The solid sound of Kagome's palm against Inu Yasha's cheek reverberated through the campsite as she knelt down to deal out the punishment.

"You.. you BASTARD!" the young miko hissed before getting back on her feet, spinning around and running away, remembering to put up her own personal shield just before she ran beyond the border of the one surrounding the campsite.

"Inu Yasha. That was certainly not wise," Miroku remarked, a bit of anger hardening his eyes.

"What WERE you thinking?!" Sango demanded.

Shippo just sat on the ground sniffling. He wanted to go after Kagome, but he couldn't shield.

Inu Yasha worked himself back into a sitting position. When he finally met his friends' gazes, they were shocked to see hopeless anguish in his gold eyes.

"What did that asshole have to die for her? I…" he lowered his head and mumbled, "I wanted to be the one to do that."

Miroku nodded in understanding, but Sango jumped to her feet, her Hiraikotsu clattering to the ground.

"You moron! Which do you think would make Kagome happier.. if you died for her, or if you lived for her?"

"Lived for her?" Inu Yasha was puzzled. "I don't get it."

The exterminator sighed in frustration. "You men.. 'kill' this, 'die' that. Do you really think the ultimate way you can prove your love for someone is to die for them?!"

Miroku looked at her, intrigued. Inu Yasha just blinked. "Ya mean.. it's not?"

"Of course it's not! Let me tell you something about girls. Both of you," she cast a look back at Miroku, then realized what she had just said and quickly looked away, a bright flush filling her cheeks. "We don't want you to die! We want you to live! If you die, we grieve and cannot think of you without pain. But if you live…"

"We can live by your side, correct?" Miroku broke in, his eyes boring into the exterminator's back.

"Ex.. exactly," Sango burst out, trying to hide the true emotions that were making her so vehement in her objections.

"Feh! Not in Kagome's case!"


"LEMME FINISH, OKAY?!" he roared, making even the brave Sango shrink back a bit. "It'd be better for Kagome if I died, 'cause even if I live though this, I can't be sure whether Kikyou still exists somewhere or not! The last two times I thought she was dead, she miraculously came back, so I have to keep waiting until I know without any doubt that she is at peace. I'd rather…" he looked away, his voice growing quiet. "I'd rather let Kagome mourn and get over it than pine away for the rest of her life."

Sango was shocked. "You.. you know…"

"Yeah, I know she.. loves me," he stumbled over the last two words. "More than Kikyou ever did." His head went down and his shoulders shook, but Sango and Miroku could see that his eyes were closed and on his lips was a pain-filled smirk. "And what sucks is that I…"

"Save those words for Kagome," Miroku interrupted.

"Nah, I can't tell her. If I did, it'd only hurt her more, and I'm supposed to protect her from that!"

Sango frowned. "Then why did you keep going back to Kikyou, even to the point of trying to end your relationship with Kagome?"

"That was two years ago! I was confused, okay?" Inu Yasha yelled. "I couldn't fully accept that Kikyou was nothing but a reanimated corpse. I kept trying to believe she was alive! And.. even though it isn't my fault she died, I still feel guilty. She was my first love, and kinda hard to forget. I've changed, Miroku. I'm not the guy I used to be."

Inu Yasha snickered. "I see it clearer now. Kikyou wanted to tame me, turn me into something she wanted me to be. Kagome has changed me. Through this," he thumped a hand over his heart. "But it's different. Kagome doesn't want me to change who I am. She supports me, and somehow she helps me be a better person, sappy as that sounds. But I can't let her know. Not now."

"And if you knew for certain that Kikyou had been put to rest?" Sango posed.

"The problem would be solved," Miroku replied.

Inu Yasha nodded in acknowledgement. "I can't give Kagome any promises until I know that my debt to Kikyou has been cleared." He looked at his two traveling companions, his eyes full of pain. "If only I knew of a way to do it."

Sango sat down and drew her knees up to her chest, a slightly guilty look on her face. "I think I might have an idea of how to do it. Kagome let something slip one time while we were bathing."

Inu Yasha pounced, landing in front of her and peering at her so that their faces were only inches apart. "Tell me!" he demanded.

Still feeling badly about keeping such information a secret for so long, the exterminator started slowly. "There were some medicinal herbs growing on the bank of the hot spring, and she said the smell was making her nervous. I asked her why, and she told me that she sometimes dreamed of being suspended in a pool, surrounded by that kind of scent, her heart and mind screaming with pain. So much pain, she tried to use her shield spell to protect herself. But she didn't know why or how."

"And when Sango told me about it, I suggested she ask Kaede, just in case it was a repressed memory."

"You, too, Miroku?!" the half demon growled, turning burning golden eyes on the monk.

Miroku glared at his friend. "We did not want to give you any false hope. But now, there is very little to lose."

Inu Yasha turned his attention from one human to the other, fighting to reign in his temper. Finally, he took a deep breath, then gritted out, "What did the old hag say?"

Sango continued the tale. "She told us what she knew about Kikyou's resurrection. According to her, there was a barrier around Kagome's body when you found her. But when you called Kikyou's name, the shielding spell was all but torn down. Kaede believes that it was because you called to her that Kikyou responded."

Inu Yasha grit his teeth and punched the ground so hard it shook slightly. "Shit. Everything comes back to me, doesn't it?" He growled. "But why? Why wouldn't she want to come out? I know she hates me! I would've thought she'd WANT to have a new body so she could have her revenge!"

Sango was about to respond when Miroku placed a hand on her shoulder. The exterminator jumped slightly, not having seen him move to stand closer behind her. When she looked back, she saw his eyes were filled with reproach.

"I believe the answer may be plain enough for even me to understand," he said. "Back then, you had already started falling in love with Kagome.. proving that your love for her was true enough to withstand even reincarnation. She still had you." The monk's eyes went cold. "But when she was drawn out of Kagome, Kagome's pure heart remained inside her body, and the part of the soul that was Kikyou was trapped in a body created with evil intent. The proof that Kagome still held onto her heart was that when Kaede called out to you as if you were in danger, Kagome stopped Kikyou. She's stood against anyone who would harm you several times since then, so it makes sense. But now Kikyou is so twisted with bitterness…"

"That she wants me dead. Either in hell, or walking about soullessly with her," Inu Yasha ground out.

"Exactly," Miroku said.

There were a few moments of silence before Inu Yasha stood, his face blank, but his eyes full of determination. "Miroku. Can you cast one of those shield things around me?"

The monk looked surprised. "I don't see why not."

"Good. There's someone I've gotta talk to."

Miroku called up his powers and cloaked Inu Yasha in the protective spell. When the golden glow had faded, he said, "Finished." As the hanyou turned to bound away, Miroku added one more wish. "Good luck."

Inu Yasha looked back over his shoulder and gave the monk a jaunty smile. "Thanks, bozu." With that, he sprang into the trees.

Sango's eyes lit upon Shippo, who was curled up fast asleep against Kirara's side, having obviously cried himself to sleep.

"Poor Shippo," she said. "I think Kagome leaving will affect him most of all."

Miroku swallowed, not trusting himself to speak as he bolstered his courage.

Sango looked back, unsure if he had heard her or not. She found Miroku staring at her, a strange intensity in his eyes. The exterminator shifted to face him. "Have I got something on my face?" she asked, her head cocked slightly to one side.

Realizing that he had been caught, Miroku wished he could simply bury his head in the dirt and not look at her. Instead, words he had only meant to say to himself tumbled from his lips. "No. There is nothing wrong with your face," he told her. "In fact, it's quite beautiful."

Sango blushed, her eyes growing wide. "Eh?!"

Miroku didn't trust himself to speak any more, but his eyes kept burning, warm as banked embers.

Forcing the color from her cheeks, Sango leaned forward and placed the back of her hand on Miroku's forehead. "Are you feeling all right, houshi-sama?" she asked, trying to keep things light, slightly scared of the intensity in his eyes.

Again, Miroku mentally cursed as his words, normally cunning and multilayered, came out in a rush of honesty. "No, Sango, I am not. I feel sweaty and feverish. But I believe it is caused by an affliction that has been ailing me for some time."

Sango's attitude changed from uncertainty to worry. "Is the Air Void worsening all of a sudden?"

The monk suddenly found the ground to be a most fascinating thing. Instead of replying, he softly asked another question. "May I ask a favor of you, Sango?"

The exterminator eyed him skeptically. "Depends on what it is."

Miroku took a deep breath. It was now or never. His head shot back up and he looked Sango firmly in the eye. "You said earlier that it makes girls happier when the man who loves them lives rather than dies. If I live for you.. will you live by my side?"

Sango blinked. "I don't think I understand…" She was cut off as Miroku firmly placed his hands on her shoulders. He leaned forward, so close that she could feel his warm breath against her skin.

"Will you be my wife, Sango?"

The exterminator blinked a few times before bursting out laughing. Miroku pulled away, hurt plainly showing on his face.


"You've got it all wrong, houshi-sama!" she chortled. "You're getting rusty! Isn't it supposed to be," she clasped his hands between hers dramatically and her eyes took on a starry-eyed, mock serious expression. "Sango," she lowered her voice to try and imitate Miroku. "Will you bear my child?"

Miroku winced and looked away. He deserved that, considering how many women he had asked that question, especially within Sango's hearing. It was as if every sin he'd ever committed was coming back to haunt him. The one time he was being serious, the lady of his true heart thought he was being insincere; that he didn't see her as a living, breathing woman, but just a brood mare. What could he do to prove his sincerity?

Then it came to him.

His eyes still averted, he softly told her, "It would give me great honor if you did bear my child someday. However, it does not have to be right away."

"Eh?!" Sango's eyes grew wide and Miroku finally had the courage to meet and look deeply into them.

"I am serious, Sango. I truly wish for you to become my bride. Heir or no heir.. living by your side would be enough."

Sango finally realized that she was still grasping the monk's hands, and she dropped them quickly, fisting her own on the tops of her thighs. After a few moments of staring at her lap, she rose, letting the silence drag on.

Miroku's heart sank. Did this mean she was rejecting him?

But she did not walk away. She merely lifted her arms, then bent them so that her fingers worked something at the nape of her neck. Miroku could almost see a strap of some kind come loose before Sango deftly caught the ends. Bringing her hands around in front, she pulled something out of her yukata and exterminator's bodysuit. He only got a glimpse of it before she concealed it in her right hand.

The exterminator knelt back down, then bowed, her forehead nearly touching the ground, her hands palms down on either side, the right cupped over her treasure.

"If you are truly serious, Houshi Miroku," she said, her voice trembling, "then take this as a symbol of my acceptance." Sango lifted her hand, still concealing what she held, and extended it.

Miroku briefly wondered it if was all a joke and she had a pouch of itching powder or something of that sort in her hand. Yet if he did not accept, she would never know he had speaking the truth.

With a bit of hesitancy, he held out his hands.

Sango lifted her head just enough to see through her bangs, and placed the gift in the monk's hands.

What he now held took Miroku's breath away. It was an obviously expensive tortoiseshell pendant with a delicate painting of a crane under a cherry tree on one side. Two halves were sealed together, giving it extra thickness. He moved his hand and heard a faint sound. He put it up to his ear and shook it gently, producing the same whispery grating sound. Then the scent caught his nose.

"Pine needles," Sango explained. She sat up straight, but kept her eyes cast down. Tortoiseshell for long life.. and a large family," she blushed prettily. "A crane for devotion, cherry blossoms for happiness, and pine for prosperity. It's my dowry.. an old custom of my clan."

Miroku's eyes grew warm as he took in the significance of the gift. "Thank you," he told her softly and proceeded to tie it around his own neck. The scent of pine and Sango, making him smile as his pulse began to race even faster. "My people, too, have a custom."

Sango looked up, her curiosity piqued, braving the ardent stare the monk was giving her. "What?"

Miroku fisted his sealed hand and took a plain band of sanded and finished wood from some hidden pocket in a fold of his robes. With extreme care, he let his right thumb hold the material covering his air void in place as he used the fourth and middle fingers of his other hand to lift the engraved gold ring up and off his middle finger. He held both rings in one hand for a moment before using the thumb and index of the same hand to slide the much more plain ring into place, securing the ends of the cloth again. Once he was done, he took the gold ring in his right hand.

"This ring was my mother's. It has been passed down from mother to son for generations. My grandmother gave this to my father, and my father bestowed it on my mother when she agreed to wed him, and she wore it until the day she died.. when she gave it to me." The pain of losing his parents escaped his normally rigid control and Sango felt an answering tug in her heart.

"We both have lost our families," she thought. "But we can rebuild. Together."

Miroku brought her out of her reverie by asking her, "Will you accept this ring?"

Sango didn't trust herself to speak.. she let her eyes answer for her as she nodded. "Mm-hm."

Miroku gently took her left hand in his and slipped the ring on her own middle finger. "I'm sorry it's a bit big…"

"Don't worry about it," Sango told him. "I'll fix it in the morning," she smiled at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

Her expression did him in. He hadn't yet let go of her fingers, so his grip tightened and he quickly but gently pulled her forward. Her upper body toppled toward him and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, using his other hand to hook her knees and literally pull her into his lap. There he held her, one hand curled around her shoulders, the other wrapped around her knees.

"H.. houshi-sa…"

Miroku freed his left arm and placed a finger on her lips. "Miroku. Just Miroku. Please?"

Sango had stiffened at first when she found herself in the monk's arms, expecting him to take advantage of her nearness to caress her breasts or backside, but as he corrected her with no sign of falling back on his usual lecherous ways, she relaxed, her eyes wide with surprise. "Hai.. Miroku," she murmured, her lips moving against his silencing finger.

The softness and warmth of the flesh moving under his finger heightened the knot of tension in his abdomen and the butterflies in his stomach. His lips were jealous of his hand. If only he dared.. but as it was, he had been already stepped beyond the boundaries of propriety by pulling her into his arms like he that. If he kept pushing his luck now, he might lose her.

It was Sango who took hold of his wrist and moved his hand so that his fingers splayed against her cheek and his thumb brushed her lower lip. She snuggled into his fingers slightly, looking at him with eyes that were more open than they had been since the tragedy first started.

She looked surprisingly vulnerable.

All Miroku could do was stare and fight the urge to do more than just caress those tender lips with his fingers.

Sango gave a slight smile and murmured, "Idiot," her free hand leaving Miroku's wrist.. she wasn't going to think about her other hand.. to reach up and rest against the back of his head.

"S.. Sango…" Could this be real? Could she truly be..?

The pressure on his skull was all the confirmation he needed as Sango pulled his head down to hers. Miroku slid his thumb out of the way, only to replace it with his lips capturing hers.

No words were needed as all the pain, longing, and desire that both of them had suffered for so long was shared and thereby absolved. Understanding flowered as their hearts beat in rhythm, savoring the intimate contact.

"I'm home," they both thought.

After an all-too-short eternity, they parted, but only their lips. Sango remained securely in the arms of her husband-to-be.

"Much as I hate to say it," Miroku said, regret in every tone of his arousal-deepened voice, "we should probably try and sleep now."

Sango nodded. "We need to save our strength for tomorrow," she agreed.

Some of the old lecherous sparkle came back into the monk's eyes. "But afterwards…" he trailed off suggestively.

He really didn't expect a reply, so he was doubly surprised when Sango finished, "We can start creating that child you've been so desperate for."

"I can't believe you just said that."

"Frankly, neither can I," the exterminator replied, a hint of laughter in her voice.

With the help of his staff, the monk rose to his feet, bringing Sango with him by the arm around her shoulders. Once they were both upright, Miroku carefully hooked his arm and staff under Sango's knees again and ceremoniously carried her over to the mossy spot he had chosen for his bed that night.. one he would now share. The lady in his arms made no protest as he knelt, then lay down, keeping her close the entire time.

When they had settled, Sango lay with her face still nestled against Miroku's chest, his chin resting atop her head and his arms around her, hands chastely resting over her back. They were almost asleep when a cry came from deep within the forest, but whether it was one of pain or pleasure, they couldn't tell.

Sango tried to snuggle in even closer, willing the bleakness she felt at the coming of the dawn to subside. "I just wish…" she gulped and went on, "things could work out this well for Kagome and Inu Yasha."

Miroku nodded, holding her more and more tightly until he felt his arms would break.. or she would. "I know. I wish the same. I truly wish the same."

And with that final proof that their hearts were in accord, the lovers drifted off the sleep, pushing aside the demands the next day would bring until after the sun had risen.


Final word: Yay! Fluffy sap! Gotta love it! ^_^ The next update will take a little while, but I promise you'll enjoy it. A little action and angst to balance out this chapter, hehe.

Of course, if you liked it (or saw ways to make it better), please review! :) Writers live for reviews, believe you me!