DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. I just like to mess with their heads and put them in compromising situations… hehehe.

With Or Without You

By: Lara Winner

Through the storm we reach the shore
You gave it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you

With or without you
I can't live
With or without you

-U2 "With or Without You"

Naraku is dead.

Three simple words and yet when they dance across my mind my stomach drops in a mixture of fear and elation. This time it is real. This is not a fantasy or a dream.

There have been a thousand different ways I imagined this moment. I told myself over and over that we would overcome. I chanted the hopeful mantra in my head, whispered it in my dreams, prayed to the very gods that it would be so because I could not give into the nameless fear that threatened to consume me if I dared to doubt. Every time I would begin to falter I forced myself to think of this moment when the weight of my revenge was lifted off of my shoulders and I could finally breathe. I was supposed to feel such intense relief but instead… I'm nervous, shaken and still frightened at how close we came being defeated.

I can not believe this is how our quest comes to an end.

For too long the very hope of victory has haunted my dreams creating vibrant images of what I thought would be. This final encounter with Naraku was the pinnacle, the very defining moment of the last three years of my life and as I watched it unfold before me I was…

Numb.

Yes, that is the only way I can describe the void I felt. I had expected tears, feelings of happiness, a feeling of revitalization but actually I felt nothing. Standing over the ashes that was once Naraku, the very bane of my existence, I had never felt emptier inside.

I should have been ashamed. There I stood nearly wishing this creature were still alive so I could drive hiraikotsu through his skull. I was not satisfied by his death. I wanted to kill him again… and again and again. Damn tetsusaiga! I wanted to kill Naraku! I needed to kill him…

I am aware, in the back of my thoughts, that I could never deny Inuyasha his vengeance. We have all suffered so much because of Naraku but Inuyasha even more so. He had his right to make the killing blow. But I suppose we all did. This moment has been long over due for all of us. And yet I feel as if we have lost.

I can remember when I was a little girl my father telling me that to be a true warrior one must be willing to sacrifice all for the sake of honor. I had always understood my father's meaning because there has been so much I have sacrificed to see Naraku destroyed. By the hardest I understand the choice Miroku made and the risk he felt compelled to take for my sake. I even understand why Inuyasha sacrifices his humanity and teeters precariously on the edge of his self-control willing to turn himself into a monster if need be. In the end, beneath all the heartache and pain, we did it to accomplished the impossible because there was nothing else left beyond that one shining goal.

This quest had become our lives.

Now it is over.

I've had hours to reflect on this and to question what is left now that my purpose is fulfilled. Naraku has been annihilated along with Hokudoushi. My vengeance is complete.

I've also walked away from this with a true gift. Kohaku is alive… and for that I owe Sesshomaru. Why he felt compelled to revive Kohaku I will never know and I was not going to ask for fear he would change his mind.

As the reality of Naraku's demise took effect the numbness I felt began to recede. In its place came the worry and anxiety that I've been enduring since. There is so much to consider now, things I could not ponder before because it may have been in vain. It is not only my future that I must contemplate but Kohaku's as well. That poor boy has been through so much. I shudder to think of what he's has suffered and I know that time may not alleviate the shadows that darken his eyes.

I want only to do what is best for him and yet I do not know what that is.

As I gaze out into the sunset from Kaede's porch, I let these thoughts fill my mind. With Kohaku safe in the care of Kaede-sama and resting peacefully with the herbs she gave him I can take a moment to gather my concerns and sort them out from the jumble they have become. Perhaps with this moment to breathe I can placate some of my overwhelming fears.

The most prominent is Miroku's disappearance.

I'm not sure when he wondered off but it didn't take me long to realize his absence. I guess he's doing the same thing I am now that the kazaana has healed. With his life spared and the future laid out before him I'm willing to wager he's as terrified as I am. When you've spent your life dying, living is the hard part.

My heart aches as I think of the strain put on Miroku in the last few weeks. Time was running out and he was preparing for his death, and so was I. The agitation just under his pleasant exterior was plain to see. I wanted to comfort him in some way, to do something to see him happy for what time he had left. But what could I do when he very subtly kept me at a distance?

I'm not blind, I know Houshi-sama cares deeply for me. Yet there has always been an ocean of sorrow between us that could not be breached. Our quest, his curse, the uncertain future… all of it had a way reminding us that the road we traveled could only lead to heartache. Still I love him.

But what part can Miroku play in my future? Kohaku will demand my attention and I am prepared to go through hell and back to heal most, if not all, the emotional damage Naraku has caused him. I'm sure the process will be slow and in the end I may not be able to help him. Could I expect Miroku to stay by my side through that?

And what of my village? I do have a deeply rooted desire to rebuild what I can so that the memory of my people will not be forgotten. I wish to train a new generation of taiji-a to keep the old ways alive into the future. But that will take years, maybe even a lifetime. Would Miroku settle for that life?

A part of me wishes it could be so but that is only the hope a woman in love. In truth I know it is not possible. Miroku has the heart of a restless spirit. It is his nature to travel and search for knowledge and the occasional pretty face. Miroku told me once that he'd been traveling on his own since he was twelve years old. He said that something kept urging to roam and that he just couldn't seem to entertain the though of settling down permanently.

I always wondered what drove him. Was it only the curse? Or was it the freedom of following wherever the day may take him?

Knowing him as I do now it is amazing that he remained with us through this journey. I know he must have felt he need to leave, to go his own way in his own time. I also wonder what made him stay.

Who knows what will become of our little family now? I'm sure Kagome will want to return to her own home now that the Shikon no Tama is complete. If Inuyasha has an ounce of common sense he will tell her how he feels before she is gone but… I fear they are a mirror image of Miroku and I. There is no happy ending. Even being victorious we still remain defeated.

Blinking against the sudden wetness in my eyes, I make my way down the steps and toward the fields. The evening sky is the most beautiful shade indigo of that fades into the last hues of orange and gold. But where the sun is fading the sky is crimson, as if it were bleeding right along with my heart. I smile ruefully at my own dire musings.

It wasn't supposed to hurt. When the end came it should have been filled with joy, not with more pain. It makes me wonder if any of us ever had a chance to find the happiness we crave. At what point the does the struggle end? Will there ever be a time to enjoy the simple fact that we are alive?

I stand on the crest of the hill, turning the question over in my mind for a long time yet I can not grasp an answer. Then suddenly from the forest to my left I catch the familiar jingle of Miroku's staff. I make no move to alert him to my presence knowing that if he seeks my company he will join me. It's not long before he spies me and it's a small comfort when he doesn't hesitate to come my way.

A stilled silence settles about us as Miroku comes up beside me. There is much that needs to be said and even more that probably should not. It keeps us quiet, but even silence can not last. After a few moments he turns to me with a crooked smile.

"How is Kohaku?"

"Asleep." I reply, hugging my arms about my chest as the evening air picks up a mild chill in the growing darkness. "Kaede's watching over him. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts."

Miroku nods in understanding facing the sunset once again. Through the corner of my eye I see his smile widen. "I'm proud of you."

My gaze jerks to his profile and I swallow hard. "For what?"

This time he laughs but it's an easy tone that I'm not sure I've heard in his voice before. He casts me as side glance, one that suggests I should already know why, but he gives me an answer none the less. "Because you did not give up, even when it seemed there was no end in sight."

I can feel the urge to cry burning my throat trying to choke me but I manage to laugh ruefully. "This doesn't seem real. To say it is finally over…"

As words fail me Miroku reaches over and takes my hand in his own. His fingers lace through mine as his grip tightens in reassurance. I know he understands what I can not put into words. It has always been that way with us. We are like two halves of the same whole with an unspoken bond that keeps us in perfect symmetry. I have never experienced this with another person.

Gods how I love him for it.

This love is too precious a thing to be forgotten. It is too consuming to be overlooked. It is as if I'm adrift in a sea of emotion and there is no shore in sight. The intensity of it frightens me.

I want- no, need to know what will become of us.

At this the tears I've been valiantly keeping at bay blur my vision. There is no us, at least in the terms my heart longs for. In all the years I've been at his side not once has Miroku acknowledged the love we could share. It is true that he cares for me, and perhaps in his own way he does love me. Yet love has so many meanings and interpretations. It is not the same for everyone.

I wonder if he would call this love?

The question is hovering on the edge of my tongue just waiting to be asked. Dare I cross that line and lay bare all that lies between us? It could do more harm than good. To give a name to the reason we turn to each other in our moments of doubt would make it binding and tangible. After which it could never be made light of again.

But what would be worse, to know how he feels or to always be left wondering. I don't think I could bear it if he walks away. Even after bracing myself for it and making it painfully clear to my heart that he has no reason to stay, I know a part of my soul will die without him. I hate this weakness but I am helpless to escape it. Loving him leaves me no other option.

I've cried a river of tears since my role in this journey began and as the warm, salty drops make paths down my face, I suspect I'll cry an ocean more. Swallowing back the wracking sobs that threaten to erupt, I pull my hand out his hold and hastily scrub at my eyes. If I'm to hold my own then I need to pull myself together.

"Sango…"

Miroku is watching me with a measure of concern as he tilts my chin so I am forced to meet his gaze. His eyes are as blue as the sky on a cloudless day. You can always read Miroku by his eyes. When he's happy they sparkle with mischief. When he laughs they glitter with amusement. When he's angry they flash dangerously. And sometimes when he looks at me they darken mysteriously, reminding of the night's shadows. Those are the eyes I could loose myself in.

But right now Miroku's eyes are liquid pools of cerulean and they convey his worry better then any words ever could. Vaguely I wonder if he can read me as easily. He must be able to, because ever so lightly he runs his fingertips along my jaw as he gives me a sad smile.

"Don't do this to yourself. It's time to let the pain go. There's no reason to hold on to it. You finally have everything you wanted."

"No… not everything." I breathe before I can stop myself. I can feel the last of my defenses crumbling as my heart wrenches painfully. I spoke of my deepest feelings once and I don't have the courage to do so again. But I know this is the moment of truth. I have to say something, anything that will make him see….

"I don't have you."

The entire world comes to a screeching halt as I watch him carefully. My confession hangs in the air between us waiting for his response. Of all the reactions I expected I was more than a little surprised when his head tilted to the side in a thoughtful manner. "What makes you say that?"

Unsure of how to answer such a heavily loaded question, I fix my gaze on his chin and laugh self-consciously. "You can't possibly mean to stay. You're free of the kazaana. You can leave at any ti-"

The slow smirk spreading across Miroku's face was faulty warning so I was unprepared when he brought his lips down to mine in a feather light kiss that instantly silenced my nervous rambling. To say I was startled would have been an understatement. Everything inside of me shut down and all I could do was stare at him wide-eyed as he leaned back sporting a triumphant grin.

"I wouldn't dream of leaving you." he confesses with a twinkle in his eye, "We would not do well without each other."

I can still feel his lips against mine and it's incredibly difficult to focus beyond the lingering sensation. "Miroku…?"

With a dip of his head he leans his brow against my own and sighs. "You sound surprised."

Shell-shocked would be more like it. "What exactly are you telling me?"

"Sango," All traces of humor fade as his eyes lock with mine conveying a strange vulnerability that is echoed in his soft voice. "I don't think I can live without you. I wouldn't know where to begin."

Blushing, my heart skips a beat but he's not finished.

"For the first time in my life I know where I need to be. Before I met you I never allowed myself to become attached to a person. I suppose why it happened so easily with you is that we are similar, perhaps too alike in some ways, but even then you understand me when no one else does. Because of that I need you. It's only one of the many reasons I love you."

"You love… me?" I parrot momentarily stupefied.

"How could I not?" he laughs softly, "You have bewitched me with your smile, humbled me with your kindness, charmed me with your wit, entranced me with your voice, seduced me with your," he grins wickedly, "tempting body and utterly fascinated me with your fiery spirit."

I must say, the man has a way with words. My cheeks are hot and I'm more than a little at odds with such compliments. Not that I mind knowing he feels this way, in fact I don't think my heart could beat any faster if it tried, but I know he's speaking the truth because I see adoration glowing in his eyes.

And its all for me.

So when faced with love in all its poetic glory I did what any tongue-tied girl would do. I leaned up and kissed him for all I was worth. If I couldn't say the words then I would settle for showing him exactly how his declaration made me feel.

My hands fisted onto Miroku's robes pulling him as close as I possibly could. Dimly I wondered if my kiss was too clumsy and inexperienced but I couldn't hold the thought as a wave of tingling warmth spread throughout my body threatening to buckle my knees. One of Miroku's arms had slipped around my waist and it was the only thing keeping me from sinking to the ground.

I was lost in the moment and it seemed as close as we were it wasn't close enough. My lips parted under his demanding assault and I tentatively followed his lead. My head was spinning, my heart was pounding and I held onto him for dear life afraid that if I let go I would drown it sensations I was experiencing.

Then came the rude awakening back to reality.

"Feh! We turn our backs on you two for five minutes and your all over each other!" Inuyasha cried impatiently from a few feet away.

I jerked out of my daze like ice water had been poured down my spine. Taking a step back from Miroku I blushed guiltily turning a thousand shades of red.

Miroku laughed completely at ease. "Well that was nice while it lasted."

At that moment Kagome arrived with a sheepish smile on her face. My jaw almost dropped when Inuyasha casually slid his arm around her shoulder and pulled her against his side as if it were a common action. Then something else caught my attention. Kagome's cheeks were flushed and lips looked a little swollen…

I couldn't stop the knowing smile that spread across my face. It was Kagome-chan's turn to blush.

Inuyasha leveled Miroku and I with a disapproving glare. "There's a thing called privacy. Can't you people wait till you're alone?"

"We were alone." Miroku countered jovially. "Until you interrupted."

"Well what else was I supposed to do when you're standing out here sucking face?"

"You could have come back later Inuyasha."

"Not a chance bouzo. I have better things to do then wait for you stop feeling Sango up."

The bantering changed course when Kagome stifled a laugh. "Like corner me by Goshinbu tree?"

Inuyasha's face instantly turned the shade of a beet. "I did not bitch!"

"Yes you did."

As Kagome and Inuyasha began yet another squabble I leaned into Miroku and sighed when his arms tightened about my waist. It was then that I realized most of the anxiety that had plagued me was soothed away. Many problems still existed but I now knew I wouldn't be facing them alone. With that knowledge tucked away in my heart these obstacles were not nearly as daunting as before.

There was no telling what the future would hold but it made all the difference in the world to know that we had found our happy ending.

At least for this journey.

A.N. – Well I hope this was a satisfactory ending to such an angst filled fic arc. This is actually a second attempt at this last installment. The original I started writing had both Miroku and Kagome dying. But thankfully it wasn't flowing easily so I put the story aside for a bit and when I came back to it this is the result.

I hope you enjoyed this fic. Thank you for reading and for the wonderful reviews. *hugs* Until next time…