Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha and neither intend nor expect any profit from this work other than the pleasure of writing and sharing it.

Summary: What decisions do you make when time is running out? Angst/Romance. Miroku/Kagome. Rated for language and mature themes.

Author's Note: This story is posting in parts, but the entire thing is already written out in rough. I'll be posting the chapters as I find time to get each of them polished.


by Elementary Magpie

Chapter 1

Later, he thought, it had been too obvious. How many times was Naraku going to try that old divide-and-conquer trick before he realized that it wouldn't work? Just often enough until it did, as it turned out. He should have guessed.

They were such simple diversions. Kikyo's soul catchers, floating north, and Inuyasha was gone, return date unspecified. A verbal message passed from pilgrim to peddler to farmer to him: Mushin had fallen sick, and needed the aid of his old student.

And that, Miroku realized just too late, was where he should have suspected something was wrong. Because when would Mushin ever, ever think of him when he wasn't directly in his line of sight? When had he ever? But it felt so damn good to be … wanted, so Miroku left, copping a farewell feel on Sango's luscious behind and grinning cheerfully at Kagome's copious medical instructions as he started out. They would be fine without Inuyasha, without him. They always were, in the village.

And it was only as he climbed the final slope to the shrine, crater-pocked clearing just coming into view through the trees, that doubt began to claw its way through his sense of security. It was only as he climbed the temple steps with a puzzled and healthy Mushin emerging from the door above that he began to understand. Before he began to remember, as he should have, miles ago, hours. That Naraku hated women, but he also loved them. So the girls and the old priestess could go quickly. Men he just hated. For men he held grudges. So, Kikyo bribed somehow to continue her ongoing dance with the hanyou, and an inebriated peddler met with a shape-shifted golem and sent monk-ward. Because in the end, Inuyasha and Miroku were the ones who had to suffer.

And when that cold knowledge finally slid to the front of his mind, he stopped in the middle of the temple stairs, and turned, and ran, Mushin forgotten. Ran, trying not to be too late, hoping not to be too late. Ran the far too many miles until his body's pain became an agony indistinguishable from grief, knowing that there wouldn't be quite enough time. Because this was Naraku, who liked the dramatic irony of Just Too Late.

Which was also the demon's mistake, just a little bit. Because he didn't send the tree crashing down into Kaede's hut until Miroku crested the hill just above town. He made sure that Miroku was just close enough to watch as the building shattered and collapsed from the impact, just close enough to arrive gasping in the village before the dust clouds even had time to settle on the ruin.

As Miroku sank to his knees just too late before the pile of shattered wood and thatch that had become home, the villagers came to him, crying that Lady Kaede had been inside with the demon slayer and the demon child and the strange foreign girl. And suddenly he refused, he fucking refused to let Naraku win. "Dig them out!" he cried to the gawkers, crawling to the ruin and beginning to drag away bits of rubble. Because no. No. They could not be gone. No one else.

So he dug, hands bare and bleeding, skin and glove alike shredding on the splinters, but he didn't dare use the kazaana for fear of pulling the women in with the rubble. And so it was his bare hand that grabbed Sango's bare hand and felt it already growing cold. And as he shifted pieces of Kaede's cottage off of her broken body and checked for a pulse he already knew he wouldn't find, that cold spread from her hand to his heart. I won't cry. Because he had never cried, not since that very first day when the kazaana had taken his father. And he didn't cry as he and the villagers in turn uncovered Kaede and the little fox demon, crushed and scalded together by the remains of the fire. Lover, mother, son, in a different karma. And he didn't cry because in the end this was just another repetition of the kazaana's very first lesson: Alone. And he should have known.

But he kept digging, because not everyone was accounted for, and in the end the only way to rise above reality is to know it first. He kept digging, so busy not crying that it took him a moment or two to realize when he found her that Kagome was warm. Kagome was still alive. Just barely, and not for long. Even as he tore his outer robe to make bandages to staunch the blood pouring from those terrible wounds in her side, he knew they were beyond his power to heal. But suddenly there was more that he could do than dig, and not cry. Because Kagome was alive, and as long as she was alive, there was something saved in the balance. As long as she was alive, there was a future. As long as she was alive, Naraku hadn't won.

He could never heal these injuries, but maybe he could take her to someone who could. He remembered the amazing remedies that Kagome had brought back from her own time, and the wonder tales she told of "modern medicine." If he could get her to the Well, Miroku thought, get her through the Well to her own time, perhaps there she could be saved. With a determined stagger, he gathered her in his arms and stood, turning towards the forest path.

And stopped, dry eyes frozen on Sango's body being laid out by the villagers next to those of Kaede and Shippo. Because this was Naraku. Naraku, who had resurrected Kohaku in order to torment Sango. Miroku couldn't leave Sango to that. Knew she would ask him … it felt like a promise he had already made to her. But Kagome was still bleeding, bleeding, and when the blood all ran out Naraku would have taken them all and Miroku couldn't….

Frantic, he laid Kagome down and ran to his fiancé's body, pulling out ofuda as he ran. Skidding to his knees to chant prayers, he stuffed the protective charms into her mouth, her nostrils, twined them in her stiffening fingers. Repeated the procedure with Shippo and Kaede, and stood, looking again for Kagome. It had to be enough. Please. Because Kagome was still bleeding and he had to go.

"Honored Monk," asked an aged farmer from where he'd knelt weeping next to the feet of the old miko Miroku knew he had been sweet on for decades. "What are you doing to our Lady Priestess?'

"Burn them," he screamed, frantic. "Burn them now just as I've prepared their bodies and then bury them with these charms." He thrust more ofuda into the gaping man's hands and repeated, "Burn them with the charms! If you don't do this they will rise as demons and haunt you!" Not quite a lie. And he turned away, snatching up Kagome and beginning to run towards the forest. Please.

"Where are you going? Where is Inuyasha?" called another villager.

"Taking Lady Kagome to the Bone Eater's Well. Tell Inuyasha when he returns that I took her through it," he shouted over his shoulder, trying not to stumble as he ran. Kagome was too limp a weight in his arms to get a good hold on, and awkward for her small size, all dangling legs. Perhaps Inuyasha would return in time to meet them on the path and take over the carrying faster than his body had left in it to go. Please.

What met them a quarter of the way along the path to the Bone Eater's Well was not Inuyasha.

Mantis demons. Three.

Naraku was not done yet.

Put her down monk, soothed a deep voice on the rising wind. Put her down and you may leave to live another day.

But it didn't matter, because he was not letting Naraku have Kagome too. Not. Living another day was irrelevant. Screaming wordless defiance into the wind he knelt, propping Kagome against his left shoulder so that he could release the beads and loose the kazaana.

They hurt going down, the mantis demons did, but eventually they all vanished into his personal abyss and he pulled the beads tight around his palm. It hurt, but Kagome was still breathing, and there was enough left in him to pick her up and keep running.

Until another mantis triumvirate rounded the path in front of them. And another after that. Eventually he lost count, because he wasn't really paying attention. After each little battle his hand hurt worse than before, but he wasn't really paying attention. The capacity of his brain had shrunk to getting Kagome to the well before she bled out of time. To cursing Inuyasha for corpse-hunting when the living girl who adored him needed his superhuman strength and speed. To keeping his own exhausted human body moving forward, step by step, to battling Inuyasha's girl the last few yards to the Well.

By the time he got there, his hand was throbbing worse than a head wound from Hiraikotsu when Sango's proprieties were offended. No. Don't think about Sango. So he didn't pay attention, because they had made it to the Well, and Kagome could go home to her healers at last.

Miroku paused at the edge. How was he to get Kagome through it? Just throw her in? She still had the shards around her neck, but what if magic didn't work when she was unconscious? She would land hard enough on the well floor to kill her in this condition. He knew that from experience, having surreptitiously tried the well's powers out of curiosity one evening when everyone was elsewhere. For the same reason, he knew that he couldn't take her through himself. Perhaps if he jumped in with her in his arms, the magic would get enough of a boost to push her to her own time, leaving him behind. Then he could climb back out of the well and wait for Inuyasha to let him know where she was, return to the village to bury Sango, Kaede, and Shippo as safely as possible. Yes.

But wait, hadn't Kagome said that the well in her time was encased in some sort of building? What if her people didn't see that she had returned? She would bleed to death at the bottom of the well and it all would have been futile. Perhaps…yes: the dramatic effects he had been experimenting with last year. He quickly pulled out another ofuda and tucked it into the neck of Kagome's blouse, muttering prayers as he did so. If this worked, her arrival in her own time would be accompanied by a shower of fire and a burst of sound that could be heard even through the walls of a well house.

It was the best he could do. Behind him the wind was rising again with the arrival of some new creature of Naraku's. Time enough to deal with them when she was safe on the other side. Gathering Kagome more securely in his arms, he jumped.

And landed on the well floor, Kagome still in his arms. But even as he tried to quell his panic that the escape route hadn't worked, he became conscious of a change of light, a change of smell…. His ofuda exploded deafeningly in his ear, flashing upwards to reveal smooth stone walls, adorned not with the familiar ivy but instead with a rope ladder ascending up to the well mouth. Above, the sunset sky had been replaced by a shadowy paneled ceiling.

The well had brought them through to her time. Both of them. And Kagome was still alive. Cradling her more securely against one shoulder, Miroku reached out, grabbed the rope, and began to climb.