Disclaimer: I'm only borrowing, and I promise to put everything back when I've finished.
"You are my dearest friend. You know I would give my life for you."
A humorless smile touched the monk's lips. But what kind of friend was I to have ever asked such a thing of you?
The baby in his arms stirred, and a familiar pair of violet eyes blinked drowsily at the monk.
"Ah, good morning," he said to the infant, his smile growing warmer. "I trust you slept well. I know I certainly didn't." But I suppose I can't begrudge him that, considering what he will face later. I'll just have to give him what peace I can, for however long I am able.
It's the least I can do, after bringing him into this cursed world.
The monk brought his hand up to the baby's cheek, the sealing glove contrasting sharply against the purity of the child's pale skin. The purple fabric caught the baby's eyes, and he moved his head in an effort to get a better look.
Already curious about the world around you, eh? You'll be a clever one, Miroku.
Reaching out his chubby arms, the infant made a clumsy grab for his father's hand. Tiny fingers brushed against the rosary that held the glove in place.
The monk pulled his hand away with a sigh. "No, little one. It is my hope that these beads will not be meant for you." For I have left all my hopes to you. I have lost the will to keep any for myself.
The baby gazed up inquiringly with those violet eyes, his mother's eyes, the eyes of the woman who had died bringing him into the world.
She died to give me this gift of hope. He should have felt sad. Or angry. He should have felt something, yet his heart was vacant as a starless night. His mind was starting to grow numb, perhaps subconsciously to prevent any thoughts, pleasant or otherwise, from surfacing. He felt empty.
Like a void.
And still the child tried to touch the fascinating bit of color that hovered above him, the tantalizing rosary dangling just beyond his reach.
"Awfully determined, aren't you?" the monk commented idly, pulling his hand further from the baby's reach. "I suppose you can blame me for that. It runs in the family."
"For a man who's so determined to have a son, you don't exactly seem like an ideal father figure."
The memory of those teasing eyes echoed faintly in the depths of the probing gaze that now traveled about the room. Am I to see her gaze for the rest of my life? Will a mere glance from my son ever serve to remind me of the price his mother had to pay?
This curse runs deeper than I could have ever imagined.
He could already hear Naraku's smug laughter reverberating in the back of his mind.
A strange noise interrupted the grim thought – for no reason in particular, the baby was cooing softly, happily oblivious to what was going through his father's mind.
"Let me do this for you. Let me give you this gift, before it's too late."
"But it's not too late. If my father's lifespan is any indication, I could have another decade before me."
"So you'll just wait until the last year? You'll die while your son is still an infant, you'll let him live in ignorance? You'll let him live without knowing his father?"
The monk squeezed his eyes shut against her barrage of questions he didn't want to answer. "I can't ask you to do this."
"You've asked plenty of other women," she challenged. "Why can't you ask your friend?"
Still he could not meet her defiant gaze, until finally she approached him and grasped his arms firmly. "I don't want you to go on living without some bit of hope. Let me give you that hope."
He shook his head slowly. "You're still young. You have the chance to marry and be happy. If I let you do this for me, your family would never forgive me."
She smiled gently, her eyes shining. "It doesn't matter what they think. And I would rather spend my life in dishonor than to know that I refused to help someone I cherish. You are my dearest friend. You know I would give my life for you."
To give me hope… The monk ran his fingers across the downy tuft of hair atop the baby's head. Miroku's breathing slowed as his eyelids began to droop, and soon he was sound asleep. His father pressed a fingertip into the infant's right palm, and the tiny fingers closed reflexively around his.
I wonder… what chance is there that this hand of yours will remain whole? He still had time. He would continue fighting for the sake of his child. But if it was his fate to be consumed by his curse, he would accept it.
I'm sorry, my friend. I have grown weary of prayers for redemption.
"Maitreya is the Buddha of the future," he whispered to the sleeping babe, "the savior to come, the one who will bring deliverance."
I pass on all my hopes to you, Maitreya – Miroku.
Her husband had already gone into the temple, but she lingered outside, gazing down at the grave marker sitting lonely amidst the gently swaying grass. She clutched the blue prayer beads to her chest, feeling a sense of serenity come over her. Perhaps it was simply the tranquility of the secluded mountain temple. Or perhaps it was the absence of the gnawing fear that had come upon her the first time she had glimpsed the grave of her beloved's father.
She looked behind her to see Miroku approaching. When he reached her, he wrapped his arm around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. Their gazes settled on the grassy crater.
"What was he like?" she asked softly.
"Wise. Strong. Sad."
She set her arm atop his, stroking the back of his hand, which she had never glimpsed until recently. It was paler than the rest of his skin, but in time the sun would remedy that. Soon there would be no outward evidence that this hand had ever needed to be sealed.
"I'm sure he would've been proud," she whispered.
"He had resigned himself to his fate. All he wanted was for me to live when he could not." Sango felt his smile against her neck, and could faintly hear his gentle murmur: "It was not in vain, Father."
Author's Ramblings: "Maitreya," or "Buddha of the Future," is the Sanskrit form of the name Miroku. Maitreya is a messiah-like figure revered in some Buddhist sects. (Information from autumney . net / iy / index . html)
There are countless stories out there involving Inu-papa, but hardly anything for Houshi-papa. And so, I wrote my own interpretation. If it seems like there wasn't a romantic relationship between Miroku's parents, it was intentional. It has absolutely no basis in canon, but I thought it was a nice idea. If it seems like there was a romantic interest between them… oh well, my bad. Either way works.
Also, there's a very obvious Tolkien reference that snuck its way in there, involving a quote from which I ended up drawing a wee bit of inspiration: Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim. If you've never read the Lord of the Rings, feel free to disregard this. If you have read LotR and don't recognize that quote… well, shame on you.
Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Edited January 20, 2005: Many thanks go out to Cyan I'd, Rhiannon, and Midoriko-sama at the Green Tea forums for their beta suggestions, and to DelKaidin and Ithilwen for their wonderful comments.