4-6-5: Made a couple minor revisions, and bumped up the rating just to be on the safe side. My thanks to those who have reviewed!
Disclaimer: Not my characters.
Inuyasha sat cross-legged outside the doorway of Kaede's hut, idly drumming his clawed fingers on the ground and swatting the occasional mosquito. He was growing impatient. It had been several hours since he had returned from the latest skirmish with Naraku's underlings, carrying an unconscious Miroku on his back. The houshi had drawn many saimyoushou into his kazaana, and their poison had affected him immediately. On arriving back at Kaede's, the old miko had ordered Inuyasha to lay Miroku down on a futon, them promptly shooed him out the door in a tone of voice that allowed no argument. Inuyasha had been sitting there since. And he had come to the conclusion that this was taking entirely too long.
He was awfully pale… I hope he's okay. Keh, of course he's okay! It's not like the bouzu's never been poisoned before! But he doesn't normally pass out right away like that…
Although Inuyasha would be loath to admit it to anyone but himself, he was worried. He and Miroku had fought countless battles side by side, and had risked their lives for each other on several occasions. They had come to rely on each other. Though the hanyou balked at the idea of relying on a 'weak' human for backup, it was true. They were a team. And… they were friends, or at least something like friends, as far as he could tell. Friendship was a relatively foreign concept to Inuyasha; he had always been alone, shunned by both humans and youkai. But he supposed that was what their relationship must be.
Just as he was beginning to contemplate barging back in and giving Kaede a piece of his mind for making him wait outside, his ears perked at the sound of approaching footsteps. Inuyasha hurriedly stood as Kaede exited the hut, looking somewhat drawn.
"How is he?" Inuyasha tried to keep the worry from his voice, but the words came out in a rush.
The miko sighed. "Houshi-dono will live. However, his condition is worse this time than I have seen it in the past, and it will take him some time to recover. He is trying to rest now."
"So can I see him, or do I have to sit around out here all night?"
"You may see him. However, he is in considerable pain, and may not be very talkative. I am going to collect some more herbs; I will return shortly."
"Fine, whatever." With that, Inuyasha pushed aside the bamboo screen and entered the hut.
The inside of the hut was cool and dark, and smelled strongly of medicinal herbs. Miroku lay on his side at the far end of the room, his back to the door, a thin grey blanket draped over his still form. His outer robes had been folded and placed neatly in a corner, and a basin of water sat half-full near his head. Inuyasha quietly stepped over it as he came around to the houshi's other side, lowering himself to the floor to kneel beside him.
Though not as pale as earlier, Miroku still looked very ill. His face was damp with perspiration, and his hair, unbound, stuck to his skin in places. His breathing sounded slightly laboured, though it was slow and even. Inuyasha also noticed that, although Miroku had appeared still from across the room, he was actually trembling slightly. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut in a pained expression, but they soon slid open as he became aware of another's presence. Unfocused indigo eyes eventually locked onto a pair of concerned golden ones. With a gasp, Miroku shifted suddenly as if to sit up, but Inuyasha restrained him with a firm hand on his shoulder.
Miroku made a noise that resembled a raspy sigh, then carefully rolled onto his back so he could better see the hanyou's face above him.
"Inu... yasha..." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Are... are you all right?"
A part of Inuyasha wanted to smack his friend upside the head for asking such a stupid question when he himself had almost died. Later, maybe. "Keh, of course I am! Worry about yourself for once, you idiot," he spat, though without any real anger in his voice.
Miroku's brows drew together in a confused expression. "Hm? I'm fine," he mumbled, sounding half asleep.
"No, you're not."
"You nearly died, bouzu! And I had everything under control, y'know!" Inuyasha really was beginning to feel angry now. "What did you think you were..."
"It doesn't matter." Miroku's words, though barely audible, cut Inuyasha's tirade short. There was a deep silence as the hanyou regarded the houshi, somewhat baffled.
"Huh? What doesn't matter?" he finally asked, his voice now calm.
"It doesn't... matter," Miroku repeated, then winced as a spasm of pain took hold. It passed quickly though, and he drew a shaky breath and continued. "Better me than you. You have... a chance..."
"A chance at what?" Inuyasha interrupted. "What are you talking about?"
Miroku, tired and in pain, was not feeling his usual tactful self. He decided to just cut to the chase. "I'm going to die anyway."
Inuyasha opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again. His face took on an uncharacteristically thoughtful look, and he was quiet for a few moments before leaning back against the wall with a sigh.
"Ah, so that's what it is. I get it now."
Inuyasha leaned forward again so Miroku could see him. "I've wondered about that. All this time... You're always throwing yourself into danger, getting injured and poisoned and whatever..."
"And you're one to talk?"
"Shut up." Inuyasha glared down at Miroku before continuing. "You act like you've got a death wish sometimes, and here I thought you were just stupid, but... you really don't care, do you? Whether you live or not..."
There was a long pause, in which Miroku looked away, composing his thoughts. When he looked back, he shook his head. "No, that's not true. I... I want to live. But..." He glanced at his cursed hand, resting on his chest. "I won't. I feel that I won't."
"Well, I feel that you're an idiot!" Inuyasha shot back. He was losing his patience with the melancholy houshi. "Of course you're gonna die if you keep acting like you're trying to! At this rate, the kazaana won't have a chance to suck you in, 'cause you'll have gotten yourself killed way before then!"
Inuyasha rose suddenly, almost tipping the water basin as he did so, and proceeded to storm out. There's no reasoning with him when he's in one of his 'everyone feel sorry for me' moods! Why am I even trying? However, he only got halfway across the room before a pained moan stopped him in his tracks.
The houshi moaned again, coughed, and held his hand to the side of his head, wincing. Inuyasha hesitated, slightly annoyed that his dramatic exit had been cut short, but found that he wasn't really angry anymore. He backtracked.
"Hey, Miroku, you okay?"
Miroku opened one eye, then closed it again. "Just dizzy..."
Inuyasha scrutinized his friend, and resigned himself to the fact that he couldn't just leave him alone like this. With an annoyed grunt, he sat back down beside the futon and reached for the cloth that was draped over the side of the basin. Soaking it in the cool water for a moment, he then wrung it out, folded it, and placed it on Miroku's forehead.
"Hmm. Thank you," Miroku murmured.
"Keh. Now don't say I never do anything for you." Inuyasha crossed his arms and put on his best grumpy expression.
"I... never said that."
They sat in silence for several minutes, each thinking their own thoughts. Inuyasha stared at the floor, while Miroku stared at his cursed right hand. It was Inuyasha who spoke again first.
The houshi looked up and waited for him to continue.
"Stop worrying about your stupid hand. I've told you before, we're gonna kill Naraku. So cut it out."
Miroku sighed and looked away. "I know... I know you'll kill him. I'm not concerned about that. It's a matter of... killing him in time. The chances of that... are not good, frankly."
"What're you talking about? You've got a few years left, right?"
Silence. Miroku did not meet his gaze.
"Bouzu..." Inuyasha growled the word low in his throat.
The hanyou's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What? What do you mean, 'no'?" he hissed.
"If you've been hiding something from us..." Inuyasha's voice rose, and his hands clenched into fists.
Miroku winced visibly, uncomfortable with the tension that suddenly pervaded the room. "Inuyasha..."
"...I swear that curse'll be the least of your worries!"
"Inuyasha, calm yourself!" Miroku's voice, which had until this point been very weak, was suddenly strong and commanding, and his fever-glazed eyes became piercingly clear. Inuyasha actually backed away a bit, startled into silence. The transformation was short-lived, however. Miroku exhaled shakily, squeezing his eyes shut as a wave of pain hit him, then smiled wearily at the hanyou once it had passed. "That's better. Thank you."
"Miroku..." Inuyasha leaned over his friend. "Just how long do you have?" Although he made a conscious effort to keep his voice calm, it carried undertones of warning. He hasn't been honest with us, and he'd better start now!
Miroku cringed, but not from pain this time. He had wanted to keep this from the others for as long as he could, but he supposed now that he should've known they'd catch on. Despite Inuyasha's... density, shall we say, he had his moments of perceptiveness. It was time to come clean. He forced himself to meet the hanyou's angry gaze.
"I can't say exactly, but... if the kazaana continues to expand at this rate... roughly four or five months."
"What?" Inuyasha pounded a fist against the floor, golden eyes flaming. "Why the hell didn't you say anything? What do you think you're doing, bouzu? Every time you go and get yourself almost killed, we've gotta wait around for you to recover, and that's just eating up time! Time you don't have! You..." He stopped before spitting out whatever obscene insult he'd had in mind, as realization suddenly set in. He's dying. He's dying soon. His face softened abruptly. "Four or five months?" he whispered, incredulous.
Miroku nodded sadly, seemingly unmoved by the hanyou's angry rant. "You see now... there's little hope for me." He turned away slightly and closed his eyes, his breathing evening out a minute later as he began to drift into slumber.
Inuyasha stared at him, mouth agape. That's... that's it? He's only got a few months to beat Naraku, avenge his family, save his own life... and that's his reaction? Nodding and falling asleep? Doesn't he even care anymore?
"Hmm." The monk shifted, but didn't open his eyes.
"Don't you dare fall asleep, bouzu; I'm not finished with you yet!" Inuyasha grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him, and Miroku snapped back into full wakefulness.
"Inuyasha... please..." he sighed, his voice pleading, "I'm tired, and cold, and it hurts to breathe. Can this not wait?"
"No, it can't!" Their gazes locked, until Miroku finally nodded in resignation. He just didn't have the strength to properly argue with an irate half-demon at the moment.
"Fine," he conceded, "but must you yell so?"
Inuyasha's eyes flashed. "Keh! You've totally given up on us and you expect me not to yell at you? To just let you lie there and wallow in self-pity? What do you take me for?"
"Given up..." Miroku repeated the words softly, as if testing how they sounded, then shook his head suddenly. "No, Inuyasha. I told you already... I know you'll defeat him. I haven't given up on you or the others. Not at all."
"But you've given up on yourself." Inuyasha spoke the words in a whisper, his gaze piercing. Miroku looked away. When he finally answered, his voice was barely audible.
"I suppose I have."
Inuyasha leaned back against the wall, and Miroku turned slightly to face him, drawing a breath before continuing.
"Please understand, Inuyasha. I'm... I'm tired." He clenched his right hand tightly. "I'm tired of fighting this."
Inuyasha listened, his expression unreadable. Miroku was generally one of the optimists of their group, and he had never heard the houshi sound so... defeated. It was unsettling, to say the least. He chose his next words with care.
"You're tired... I can understand that," he said softly, "I get tired of fighting all the time, too. All my life, I've had to fight for everything. And I fought alone. I was always alone, no help from anyone, until I ran into you guys. I think... it's easier now."
Miroku smiled wistfully. "We're... not so different, are we? I fought alone, too... maybe I still am..."
"No, you're not. You're not fighting alone anymore, you just act like it sometimes!" Inuyasha leaned in closer to Miroku, and his face took on a determined expression. "Listen to me. If you want to give up on yourself, you go right ahead. But don't expect the rest of us to. 'Cause we're fighting for your life too, y'know. Having you die from some stupid saimyoushou would make me look bad, idiot! And as long as I'm around, even if you don't feel like fighting anymore, you'd damn well better pretend like you do! Got it?"
Miroku swallowed, his gaze not leaving the hanyou's even as Inuyasha sat back against the wall again. Then he smiled. Not his usual sad half-smile, but a real one. "Fair enough," he chuckled.
Inuyasha returned the smile, his fangs glinting. "We'll beat him, Miroku. We'll beat Naraku. And 'we' includes you. Just you watch."
Miroku nodded, closing his eyes and letting sleep claim him at last. I'll hold you to that, Inuyasha.
Sitting outside the hut, her ear pressed against the wall, Kaede smiled to herself. Yes, houshi-dono would indeed live.