Disclaimer: I wrote this in the middle of the night after waking up with nightmares. So in other words, feel sorry for me, don't sue.


I.

Inuyasha holds the jewel in one hand, and the dead girl in the other. The arm around Kagome shakes badly, the one burdened with the jewel is at ease. He nuzzles into her hair, and wishes with all his heart.

II.

"There's something down there."

"Yeah, dummy, the cat!"

"Go in there then!"

Kagome stands silhouetted before the door in the well house. "I think…" she says slowly, "that I might get my uniform dirty." Kneeling, Kagome begins calling for the cat, drawing out his name, and making any other odd noises she can think of that might interest him.

Buuyo comes, smudged with dirt, looking at them curiously. Kagome pets him gingerly. "He's all yours, Souta, I really need to be on my way now, unless I want to take notes from the hallway."

Souta nods, not sure why he feels so relieved. "Stupid Buuyo," he says playfully.

III.

Inuyasha sleeps like the dead. Once Kaede swore she caught him smiling.

IV.

It is something between him and Buddha, that he is too ashamed to admit, yet he has prayed for it. More than sex, more than heirs, he wants someone to love, someone to love him, it doesn't matter who, a friend, somebody to fight by his side.

His prayers go unanswered. Though he is beginning to think that Buddha has a cruel sense of humor.

He got a dog, not sure why its small white ears felt right, but it is ill-tempered, and bites him often. He has tried to get rid of it several times, but short of killing it, the animal simply will not be parted from him.

So when he walks into town, it is with the infernal beast trying to eat his shoe, or possibly his foot. He shakes his leg miserably, watching as all the pretty girls skirt around them in fear, the insane beast foaming at the mouth and snarling. All those lovely missed opportunities… "Now look here," he says to the white mutt, "sit! You Inu-Yasha, sit! Sit sit sit!" The dog looks up at him in a less-than-friendly manner, spits out a broken piece of his shoe, and attacks the remains with relish.

"What did you call that dog?" a pretty young woman answers. Ahh, every cloud really does have a silver lining! Now if only he could talk to her without scaring her away.

"Inu-Yasha. He doesn't really have a name, but he acts like a demon dog, so it sort of stuck," Miroku says calmly as the creature snarls and sheds a cloud of white dog-hairs around him, clinging inconveniently to his dark clothes.

"I have a demon cat," the girl says, "and she's well mannered. I think that's just an ordinary dog."

"Madame, you only say that because you do not know him. I assure you, he is a vile fiend of the night, and most likely in the service of Naraku."

Ignoring that, the girl kneels down to get a better look at the dog. "Still, Inu-Yasha seems such an odd name. Why not 'Inu-Youkai,' or 'Inu-Mononoke,' or even 'Inu-Oni,' if he's that badly tempered?"

"I dunno," he says, scratching his head. "He just seemed like a Yasha, is all."

"Déjà vu," the girl says softly.

"Really though, I'm far more interested in your name."

The girl blushes. "Sango."

"And I am Miroku, it's so good to meet you, my dear. Would you like to bear my child?"

The girl blushes more. "Now?"

"Whenever is good for you, I aim to accommodate."

"Hey, Houshi-sama, what's wrong with your hand?"

Miroku blinks and looks down. His right hand is indeed acting strangely, reaching for her over the dog a bit below waist level, and seemingly having a spasm or seizure of some sort. He pulls it away with his left hand, and holds it against its will. "Ah, that curse," he says. "I'm on a journey to find a way to exorcise it."

"You just tried to grope me, didn't you?"

"If I say yes, will you hit me?"

"Yes."

"No, then!" Miroku says brightly.

Sango hits him.

"But you said—"

"I never said if I would hit you or not if you said no." With that, Sango turns and leaves him to his curse, his dog, and the remnants of his sandals.

Of course, walking away only makes him want her more. Sometimes he thinks he scares girls off just to see them walk away.

V.

She sees double. "Was I dead?"

"No," Naraku says, stroking her hair, "I'm afraid my servants buried you by mistake. I'm so sorry for this tragedy that has befallen you."

Sango's mouth is dry, she can't remember when she last drank. There are too many other memories she can't get past. "Kohaku," she says, trying to get up. Her breath quickens in pain, and in a whisper she says, "Father."

She follows his gaze outside to the new graves.

"It wasn't your fault," he tells her. "You were all tricked."

"I want to go home." Her voice trembles, but she means it. She needs to be around the people she grew up with, and lick her wounds.

"I'm sorry," he says, his hand opening around a tiny red jewel.

VI.

Miroku counts his money, trying to decide if he should splurge on new shoes or not. It wouldn't look good to be hobbling about barefoot, at this rate no one will ever bear his brats. "Inu-Yasha, what a bad dog, to make me decide between shoes and geishas!" he scolds halfheartedly. The dog gives him a self-satisfied look, with the desiccated remains of a sandal hanging from his mouth.

"Miroku, right?" a girl says.

Miroku turns, surprised. "Oh," he says, "you're that girl from before, Sango, isn't it?" He feels proud of himself for recognizing her, as she looks completely different now. Her black armored outfit is quite… informative, like nothing ordinary girls wear. Her hair is pulled back high, and sails out behind her like a banner. She doesn't answer him, though, and walks resolutely towards him, an indeterminable object the size of a kayak slung over her shoulder.

Inu-Yasha runs. For the first time, Miroku feels a twinge of worry. "Sango, Sango, are you all right?" he asks uncertainly. Looking past her, he sees a figure in a white pelt with a baboon mask, and doesn't know what to make of it.

Sango advances. Her expression is something even Miroku isn't used to. Plenty of women have gotten annoyed with him, but this is pure hatred. She swings Hiraikotsu, Miroku realizing too late that it's a weapon. He blocks with his staff, but the staff snaps in half, and Hiraikotsu hits him in the shoulder. He falls back, crushed under the weapon. As she draws her sword, he realizes dully that she picked that heavy thing up with one hand.

"What are you doing?" he asks desperately. There has to be a reason for her rage. He pushes Hiraikotsu up as a shield, and uses it to deflect her sword.

"Getting revenge," she says through gritted teeth. She pulls Hiraikotsu away from him, and uses it to knock his legs out from under him. She stabs at him, but he rolls away quickly, and grabbing the top end of his broken staff, holds her from behind, the staff across her arms. She kicks at him brutally, but he holds on to her for dear life. The rings on his staff jingle with their every movement. Even in the struggle, Miroku notices something wet against his chest. Looking down, he sees that her she's bleeding, and there's blood all down his front. Taking advantage of his distraction, Sango triggers the concealed blade on her forearm, and swings it into Miroku's thigh, near the hip. His grip loosens enough for her to turn and kick away from him.

Miroku staggers back, wide-eyed.

Sango falters. It's too easy.

"Naraku," she calls back, "How come he's not fighting back? How could someone this weak have really done all that?"

Naraku. So that's who the man in the pelt is. Without hesitation, Miroku slips off the beads. Naraku makes no attempt to escape, but stands there, enormous insects hovering around him. Miroku takes them all in, and only when it's too late does he realize why Naraku wasn't afraid. He falls, sweating.

"Naraku!" Sango calls out, grief in her voice. She wheels on Miroku. "What did you do? What evil power is this?" Lifting Hiraikotsu, she swings it into Miroku mercilessly. He falls limp on the ground, unresisting. She picks up her sword.

Looking up at her, Miroku knows he is going to die. Always the way, isn't it? Underestimate a pretty girl, and end up full of holes. He wonders what Naraku did to her, remembering the blood on her back, the grief in her voice, the rage in her eyes. She is like a completely different person from the one he met only a few days before. He wonders if anyone will ever see that girl again.

The sword falls, biting into his chest, yet restrained. "Tell me why," Sango says. "Before I kill you, tell me why you did all those things."

Poison blurring the details, Miroku thinks Sango is the prettiest woman he's ever seen. He'd rather die in silence with her, but he humors her, since she needs answers so badly. "What things?"

"Working with demons. Killing everyone in my village."

"Oh," he says. "Do you really think I did all that?"

Sango hesitates, her weight thrown into the sword, her will holding it back. She isn't even sure she needs to kill him, it seems whatever he did to Naraku took a lot out of him. He is weak and trembling and hot beneath her, and she remembers that he hasn't struck her once, he isn't even defending himself now. More than anything, she doesn't want to be tricked, doesn't want to be used by whoever killed everyone she loved. The red jewel burns fiercely in her back, goading her to rage, but against what?

"No," she says softly, pulling the sword away.

"I've been hunting Naraku for a long time," he says, "you're not the first person to be hurt by him."

"Did you kill him?"

Miroku tightens his fist around the hole he knows is there. "No. That was only a puppet."

They are silent a long moment. Miroku's sight is slipping away, he clings to it, wanting to see this beautiful woman a little longer, wanting to die with her image burned in his retinas. It's the delirium making him think that way, and he knows it, but that doesn't matter anymore. In the coming blackness, something red shines.

"Sango," he says quietly.

"Yes?" She is holding a vigil for him, waiting for him to die like everyone else.

"There's something evil in you."

For a moment she says nothing. Then, "I know."

VII.

The old woman shakes her head. "Terrible, terrible. What is this world coming to? Entire villages slaughtered, young people with their whole lives ahead of them dying, and poor old women made to fight the forces of evil. It's a sign of the times I tell you, lucky I won't be around too much longer." She hesitates. "Though even I might last longer than this poor fellow."

"Please," Sango says, her voice gone hoarse. "I need him to wake up."

"You carried him all this way?" the old woman asks.

"Yes."

"And that weapon, too? As badly wounded as you are?"

"Yes."

The woman looks at her suspiciously a moment, then sighs. "Ah, youth, how I miss it. If you two weren't at death's door, you'd probably be able to do amazing things with those young bodies, if you catch my drift…" Sango doesn't smile, or even blush. Those things seem worlds away, along with her memories, and the pain her body should be in. Now there is only the heat of the jewel, and the negligible weight of the man in her arms.

"Just tell me where I can get medicine," Sango says resolutely.

VIII.

The sun is setting, the man is dying, and Sango's grip is slipping, she holds Miroku to her chest, but his bare feet trail on the ground. The white dog follows them, always at a distance, refusing to be useful.

Sango sees a hut, amidst a field of unusual herbs. In the field, not too far from her, a group of people are stoning a demon. At first Sango thinks it is an intruder and is inclined to help them, but the demon's behavior is off. He doesn't fight back, but cringes, wanting to stand his ground, retreating in pieces, and always towards the hut. And he is scarred.

Sango walks fearlessly into the midst of them, not fully realizing how she looks, in her armor and drenched with blood. She puts Miroku down and drags her hand across her face, leaving a bloody smear. She isn't in pain, but she has the vague idea that pain or not, there will reach a point when her body will just stop working. She thinks that she is near that point now.

"Look, it's more of Jinenji's victims!" someone shouts.

"Yeah, I always knew he was a monster, look, she's only a girl!"

"Let's get him!"

Sango draws her sword, since she doubts that at the moment she can hold Hiraikotsu well enough to look threatening. "Go away," she says to them in the croak that remains of her voice. Inu-Yasha growls behind her, though she reflects that he's probably growling at Miroku, and not the villagers. At any rate, it is effective, and the villagers retreat, shouting taunts, calling her Jinenji's whore, and daring her do come after them, once they feel they are far away enough from her to be safe.

Jinenji looks more frightened than the villagers were, but there is curiosity and worry in his gentle eyes as well. He kneels in order to see them better.

"Help him," Sango says. She doesn't pass out or collapse, but stands there, as if Hiraikotsu's weight were pinning her in place. She seems to be in a trance after that, barely responding to anything. When Jinenji carries her to his hut she doesn't object, nor does she resist as his mother carefully undresses her to examine her wounds. There is a dark mark on her back, which seems to be spreading. Nothing Jinenji puts on it has any effect.

IX.

"I wish I had more money to give you," Miroku says.

"Don't worry about it, dear, what kind of people would we be if we only helped dying people for the money?" Jinenji's mother says comfortingly.

"How is she?" Miroku says softly to Jinenji."

"Bad," Jinenji says, refusing to look up from his mortar and pestle. "I would feel better if she was at least in pain. If you're wounded and it doesn't hurt, you have worse problems than the wounds. There's something seriously wrong with her, it's like part of her's already dead."

Jinenji's words ringing in his mind, Miroku goes to see her. Sango sits in a borrowed kimono that she has not bothered to fasten, it hangs open, showing the crisp white bandages beneath. "Sango," he says softly, hoping that this time she'll hear him. He thinks he knows what the problem is, thinks he saw it in a dream after they fought, thinks that whoever's controlling fate is exceptionally cruel, to show him a thing like that, and not let him remember when he needs it.

He thinks he remembers red, but of course that was blood. He's seen too much blood.

X.

The villagers burn down the hut. They lay waste to the fields. Miroku protects only Sango, and feels terrible about it. Jinenji and his poor old mother don't deserve this. But he is still limping and half-blind, and Sango whimpers if he is not near her. She needs protecting.

So Jinenji and his mother are chased off of their rightful land. Miroku puts his arms around Sango, his wretch of a dog trying to tear a chunk off his robes. Together they watch the blaze.

"I want to go home," Sango says. It is the first time she has spoken without being asked a question since they came here.

"Where is home?" Miroku asks in a near-monotone.

"I think that I still know the way," she says. Holding his hand, she sets out walking slowly.

Miroku walks with her.

XI.

The place Sango takes him is not the village where he first met her. It is higher in the mountains, walled and fortified, and utterly destroyed. Death hangs in the streets, lurks in the huts, weighs in the air, choking them. Corpse after rotten corpse lies out in the open, faces shriveled in a grimace of pain. And that's just the ones still intact and recognizable, they are always tripping over bones, and parts of people, things that used to be people, making them recoil in horror and say a word of respect.

Sango's house is empty. She refuses to leave it.

Miroku stands in the doorway, and promises to bury them all.

He tries, too. He scrapes at the hard ground with his failing strength, favoring his right hand. He tries to piece together the bits, guessing that this must be her arm, this must be her child, trying to bury them all accordingly. He is weakened, and stops to rest often. He tries not to do it in view of Sango's house.

When one night he does not return, Sango comes looking for him, and finds him in a half dug grave. She picks him up as if he weighed nothing, and brings him back. The next day he continues as if nothing had happened.

She lays flowers on the graves, and weaves the same flowers in her hair. "We are connected," she says to the piles of dirt, and she trembles as he prays for them, trembles but never cries. There is something holding her back, something solid and tangible, a red speck in the corner of his eye, an optical illusion Miroku sees in his damaged eyes as her turns away from her. Not that he turns from her often.

XII.

"We have to leave this place," he tells her urgently. He thinks he's seen ghosts here. And he thinks she's becoming one of them.

"No," she says, sitting on the grave with all the flowers dying in full bloom, like the grave, like the flower. "My place is here."

He grabs her around the waist and pulls her from the graves, and she screams, pulling up clods of dirt and wailing like a child. The flowers fall from her hair in their struggle, and end up trampled, but slowly he pulls her to the edge of town.

The moment they step out through the forbidding outer wall, Sango calms down, and stands up straight. She walks with Miroku without a fight.

"We'll find someone, a priestess maybe, someone who can help you," he says. "We're gonna make it."

XIII.

"If you want me to help you, you have to tell me everything."

Sango hesitates. "I can leave if you like," Miroku says.

"No, stay," Sango says gently. "I want to hear your thoughts on it too."

They sit in front of the fire in Kaede's hut. People all over had directed them to her, speaking of her powerful older sister Kikyou who had rid the world of the Shikon jewel. Sango remembered that story, so this is who they came to.

"A messenger told us that a spider demon attacked our lord Kagewaki Hitomi, and my father brought me, as well as the best of our taijiya to fight it. He also brought my little brother Kohaku. It was his first mission.

"I'm not sure when, but Kohaku changed. I turned around, and it wasn't him. It wasn't my brother. He killed everyone without remorse. His eyes were red like a demon's. There was no sign that he'd ever known any of us. My father, my friends, even our cat Kirara, he'd fallen asleep hugging her so many times, how could he…. He killed them all. I thought he'd killed me too." Sango pauses. It seems to be like the rest of her injuries, she isn't conscious of pain, but if pushed too far, she would just shut down.

"Maybe it wasn't really your brother," Miroku offers. "The Naraku in the stories I heard is a shapeshifter."

"Do you feel well enough to continue?" Kaede asks gently.

Sango shakes her head, but continues anyway. "I really don't remember much of what happened next. It got cold and dark for a while. I struggled…. Kagewaki Hitomi was there, though he might have been Naraku, I don't know. He was telling me about a dangerous monk—I think that was you, Miroku—telling me about what happened to my village, that everyone was dead there, too. I never hated anyone so much in my life, then. I was so blinded by that I—I think I let him do something bad."

Kaede stays calm. "What did he do?"

Sango closes her eyes. "He touched my wound, and I…"

The silence holds a moment, and then there is a sound like the sky being torn apart. A good part of the roof of the hut caves in, and two demons hover over the top impossibly. One is a grotesque lizard-like creature, the other looks like a young man, his long braid falling over his shoulder as he peers in.

In an instant, Sango is on her feet, facing them. Miroku stands beside her, but Kaede pulls him aside urgently. "Listen," she hisses in his ear, "I think that demon tried to make something like the Shikon no Tama. And I think it's in your friend, he must have put it in one of her wounds." Miroku swallows, remembering the spreading mark on Sango's back.

"Pretty girlie," Manten says gleefully, "I bet if I used her in a potion, I could grow hair on my hairs!"

"As you like, Manten," Hiten says, "I just want one little thing from her first, then the rest is yours."

"Understand," Kaede grinds out, "it must be destroyed. It is evil, and will taint anything it touches. It should be more fragile than the original, hitting it with a rock should suffice. Do it quickly!"

Sango takes stock of the situation. "If you want me, you have to catch me," she says, running, looking over her shoulder to make sure that they're following her. She can see that they're very dangerous demons, and wants to get them away from the village before fighting them. Cursing, Miroku takes off after her.

XIV.

He is surprised at how easily his fingers slide through her half-healed flesh, which has become scabbed and lumpy and discolored from the jewel's influence. Sango doesn't react in pain the way a human should, but looks around at him curiously, as if to ask him casually why he stuck his fingers in her back. Manten doesn't seem to understand what he's doing either, but Hiten does. He lets out a yell just as Miroku's fingers scrape against the jewel.

Then, time stops.

Sight is fully restored to Miroku, and he sees things with painful clarity. Manten's sparse threads of hair, and the fox pelts around his waist, an adult and a kit, seemingly snuggled together, and very dead. A boy with white hair is pinned to the tree behind him, with an arrow through his heart. Though his eyes are closed, Miroku feels that the strange boy is watching him accusingly, telling him not to do something. But then there's Sango, hairs caught in her mouth that he wants to sweep away, warm around his fingers, frozen in time, looking at him with slight confusion, and complete trust.

He sees that the mark on Sango's back has spread to the shape of a spider. And with the jewel's clarity, he knows that it's too late for her.

He understands, of course. The jewel is not really the Shikon jewel, it is a tainted counterfeit, everything it touches will be infected by its evil. It's something to destroy, not to use.

But he's foolish, and hopeful. He creates a tainted world with the tainted jewel, makes his wish, hopes that his intentions will overcome the nature of the jewel, that it will come out all right in the end.

It has to. He promised Sango that they would make it.

As the jewel's vision leaves him, all he sees is red.

XV.

"I wish that Kagome had stayed in her own time," Inuyasha says into Kagome's hair. The jewel vanishes, and his breath hitches a moment, but nothing happens.

"Why," he says, "why, it accepted the jewel, it's gone, why is she still here? Why is she still…." He can't say the rest. It isn't real, he made sure of that, bent reality to protect her. He curls around her, broken, thinking that he will hold her forever, and when the stench fades, children will come to stare at the hanyou cradling a pile of bones, until even his life is gone, and he will call her name, in that world of souls it will be one name, for all the women he's ever loved. "Why?" he whispers.

Miroku sees only red. It's blood, of course, Kagome's blood, her blood that he bought his happiness with. He looks at Sango, she's crying, but she's alive, she's alive and able to cry, and he wants to go over to her and kiss her and make love to her, and tell her how happy he is that they made it.

Instead, he walks over to Inuyasha, and listens to the hanyou keen, moaning the same word again and again, "Why, why, why?" He cries for her, and Miroku finds himself crying too, and wanting to die from shame, and wanting to live more, and even more ashamed of that.

"I used the jewel, I used it for her, why didn't it change anything?" Inuyasha says, clutching Miroku's arm.

Miroku can't look his friend in the eye, so he looks at his feet, wondering idly where his shoes went, and says, "Maybe the jewel couldn't change it because it was fate."

-END-