That Night in the Slayers' Village

They had traveled for little more than a day, riding on Kirara's back through the cool gusts of the morning and afternoon, then nearing the village in the fog and humidity that saturated the air around them by early evening. Miroku had insisted upon accompanying Sango to the Slayers' Village, and though she had protested the action violently for the past few days the taijiya had eventually given in. After all, a journey to the burial grounds of her entire family--entire village--was not one to make alone. At least, that was Miroku's reasoning.

Their weapons were still clean upon entering the deserted village, not having been used on any meddlesome youkai during their travels. The half moon had just risen above the dark horizon, casting a scintillating enamel on the earth below. Miroku stared profusely as the milky rays glanced off the demon-slayer's dark brown tresses, not wanting to take any of these exiguous moments alone with her for granted. His staff made curvilinear impressions in the dirt as the small party hiked through the village gate to meet the absent visage of a once vivacious village.

Miroku could feel the stygian emotions palpitating off of Sango, though her stance did not change as she stepped into the village in her purple and green kimono. She was rarely fazed; whether she was fearing for her survival or celebrating it had no effect on the power with which she flung her Hiraikotsu. His appreciative smile mutated into a scowl however, as he thought of how many of her memories this village must have held, the good ones interlacing with the bad at the sight of her family's home and their resting place. All but one of her dear family was here, Miroku thought. He shoved away the vision of Kohaku as soon as it surfaced; the boy's fate was a wretched one.

Thinking of wretched fates, Miroku ineluctably looked down at his palm that carried the onus of the kazaana, the dark purple glove and prayer beads disguising its odiousness. People felt sorry for him because of its inevitable significance upon his life, but they also venerated him for it in a way that no titles of Houshi-sama could bring about. They extolled him for his courage to carry a most gruesome death at his very side and constantly acquiesce to its existence. Miroku didn't necessarily believe he deserved this respect more than any other; Sango, for example. She had her own kazaana haunting her closer than at her hand; in her heart. It was the fate of seeing her family slaughtered before her very eyes, loosing a life to the esurience of demons. Her bravery was not unlike his, only she was not waiting for death; she had already met with him. He hoped with all his heart that Sango's curse would never swallow her whole--take her life. Though even as so much of her soul had been devoured by her dolor, she blessed the mortal world with her strong and courageous and beautiful heart.

Lost in his thoughts, Miroku stirred when he noticed that he was now standing a ways into the village. He blinked his cobalt eyes at two figures retreating into the darkness ahead of him. Sango had one hand propped up on a giant Kirara's soft side as the pair approached the tombs of the dead slayers. The monk watched somberly as they stopped, the demon-slayer slowly kneeling down before a burial plot. He found himself remembering when he had taken her father's armor from its temporary gravesite beyond the borders of Naraku's castle to be laid here alongside so many others. The fire-cat kept Sango company for a time, but soon left the motionless form of her friend and partner below as she jumped into the air in a flash of flame, soaring toward Midoriko's cave.

Miroku neared the slayer calmly, the sorrowful ambience around the taijiya tangible and thick. He rested his staff lightly on the ground as he fell to one knee beside her, resisting the temptation to touch her; he may have needed another minute to gain an iota of control over himself. He offered a prayer to give his itching hand time to steady, but that didn't work nearly as well as turning to look at her face; all the tears she had held back during the months she'd been away were flowing in silent rivers down her cheeks. Her countenance was so stoic, as if her sadness was overcome by resentment for the perpetually replayed emotion, balancing out into a listless, pale mask. Miroku thought she still looked beautiful through the waterfall of tears.

Placing his faith in the part of him that felt only concern and love for her, he reached his arm over and draped it around her comfortingly. She did not stiffen or shy away from him; she was just relieved when his hand did not travel any lower than her shoulder. Sango mourned over the single grave before her, and the monk lifted his eyes to stare ahead of him, absorbing the sight of a hundred small dirt hills. He started when he felt Sango move closer to him, as if for support, and was surprised when her stony face gave way and her small frame racked with painful sobs. Holding her tighter, he knew without her saying that she was grateful he'd come along.

There was only so much room in the village's atmosphere, and as full to the brim with lament and anguish as it was, their was no room for bitterness toward the one who had caused their pain. The pair did not dwell on Naraku, and Sango's mind only flitted back and forth between pleasant memories of her lost people.

After at least half an hour Miroku cleared his throat to speak, "I'll go and start a camp."

He stood up from his casual spot beside the taijiya, who remained on the ground, and wove through the dark structures reminiscent of homes until he found a small, relatively clear area. His staff jangled as he went about picking up articles that could pass as kindling and depositing them in the center of their traveling packs that Kirara had so obligingly transported. He eventually got a good fire going, and plopped himself down before it on his bedroll, his palms pressed to the ground behind him as he gazed up at the night sky and the clouds shining under the moonlight, shielding most of the stars from view. It was far from cold, though the light from the fire was a welcome thing in his opinion.

Miroku wasn't even near tired when the taijiya approached camp and took her seat, the moon having crossed half of the night sky already. Kirara was still away--they presumed at Midoriko's cave--visiting her former companion. Miroku looked across the fire at Sango's gracefully curving face, the streaks left by tears long having been deserted by moisture. He did not expect the taijiya to look happy, only to show the raw emotion she was no doubt feeling. He was waiting for her to speak first, prepared to provide what little consolation he could with his presence.

He removed his sandals after a time, only to swing his gaze up and away from the thatched thongs when Sango spoke.

"Houshi-sama, tomorrow...I was wondering if you would help me rebuild some of the huts near the west wall?"

Miroku nodded and smiled at her charmingly, "Indeed, I will gladly aid you in whatever way I can."

Miroku reflected on the condition of the huts. It would take more than just a day or even two days to repair those near the west wall; their many months of neglect made certain that the uninhabited village was in terrible need of reconstruction. Not that Miroku had any problem with staying here with Sango for more than a week; she was more than adequate company for him.

"Is something wrong with your feet?" Sango's voice brought him up out of his reverie.

He blinked at his bare soles poking out from beneath the deep violet robes, "Oh, nothing serious. My feet were hurting a bit." His eyes glinted mischievously as his thoughts turned salacious, "But if you are truly concerned for my welfare I wouldn't mind your delicate hands massaging--"

"Not on your life," Sango bit out with finality and a blush.

Miroku's shoulders sagged, "You cannot be angry with me Sango; I'm only a man, and every man needs a good foot rub sometimes--even InuYasha."

His comment dispelled her fury somewhat, reluctant curiosity taking its place, "InuYasha?"

Miroku nodded sapiently, "Well--not feet per se."

Sango's lips turned up in a roguish smile, "Are you making this up?"

"This I don't need to make up," Miroku replied truthfully, causing Sango's brow to quirk. "But I'm afraid I cannot describe the details to a lady such a yourse--"

A sandal was promptly removed from the taijiya's foot and poised for release at the monk's head, "Houshi..."

"Alright! Alright," Miroku hid a grin, happy that he had enabled her to forget her melancholy, if only temporarily. "Now, I'm not one to pry in private affairs--"

"I thought you said you weren't making this up?" Sango interrupted, placing both of her sandals before the fire, the light of the liquid heat painting her hair with warm hues as her eyes evinced laughter.

Miroku knew there was reason behind her aspersion, but he enjoyed feigning innocence so much more than admitting to his copious iniquities, "Do you think me such a reprobate?"

"Yes."

Miroku crossed his arms, "As I was saying, two days--no three days ago I had gone looking for InuYasha to ask his advice on a man to man matter."

Sango snorted, her stern eyes holding no doubt against that statement, "You have my permission to spare me those details, Houshi-sama."

Miroku grinned, "Well then, to make that long story short, I came upon our surly hanyou friend in a position that I did not quite expect."

He couldn't help but notice that Sango was listening raptly. And she calls me Hentai, He thought, though it wasn't scornful.

He continued, "It seems InuYasha was enjoying some stolen time with Kagome, or rather--some stolen time with Kagome's hands."

"You make everything sound dirtier than it is," Sango muttered abrasively. "What were they doing?"

"I do not like to speak of Kagome in any way that is unbefitting of the maiden she is but--" His voice lowered an octave, "She was rubbing his ears like one would a puppy."

Sango's face heated up, and he could almost see the mental picture she had pieced together in her mind. Miroku himself had actually gotten caught by the pair for failing to stifle his laugh as he eavesdropped, and it appeared Sango was having the same problem.

"You're not serious!" She managed between giggles.

"I'm sure InuYasha dearly wishes that I were not," Miroku said with minor satisfaction at the feat of successfully embarrassing his friend, even if it was at Kagome's expense.

"I have a hard time imagining InuYasha doing anything like that. I mean, I know he and Kagome care for each other--"

"All of Musashi knows they care for each other," Miroku chipped in.

Sango cocked her head, "I don't understand why they're still so shy after so long. It's been made obvious on so many occasions that they're in love."

"I must agree with you there, but might I remind you that InuYasha is not exactly synonymous with mature."

Sango sighed, "I'm glad we're not like them."

Miroku's head snapped up as her words permeated him, and he stared at Sango with wide eyes. The taijiya seemed not to notice what she had said until it was too late. After a quick glance up at him across the flames she averted her rosy face. Miroku could hardly believe she had let such a thing slip, but then a much more unsettling notion implanted itself firmly into his mind.

"Are we, Sango?"

He had the distinct impression that she was getting uncomfortable, but she managed to meet his gaze all the same, "Of course not, I mean--well, it's not as if we're given much of an opportunity." Her face was getting redder by the second, "We're always fighting battles and hunting for jewel shards and Naraku. It's not exactly what you'd call a normal existence..."

As Sango tried to steer the conversation back down a safer road, a single word, 'opportunity', bounced around inside his skull, and he let his eyes bore into hers until her words died away.

"We've been companions for some time now, Sango. Nearly as long as InuYasha and Kagome," He remarked implicitly.

"Well...," She floundered. "I guess there are worse things obstructing InuYasha and Kagome's relationship. I can hardly stomach the whole Kikyou issue; it's so hard on Kagome."

And there is no undead excuse walking around for us to blame our lack of a romantic relationship on. "Perhaps we aren't so different from our friends in dealing with our feelings," He said quietly, but she heard him nonetheless.

"Houshi-sama...," Sango's gaze fluttered away from his, but he paid no mind. He would look into her eyes one way or another.

"I remember that day when Kuranosuke proposed to you," He pronounced the King's name invidiously. "I really was afraid of the possibility that you might accept."

The redness in her face stubbornly refused to abate, "Did you actually think that I would have?"

Miroku blinked at her, only slightly aware of a pick up in the speed of his heart beat, "I suppose, in hindsight, his chances seem slimmer. He had the right to try, of course. Mortal men are hopeless in the face of a beautiful woman."

"You mean helpless, not hopeless," She corrected almost automatically, then her jaw dropped slightly as she realized what Miroku had said.

"Yes, my mistake. I should trust you to know; for the past couple of years that I've spent in your presence I'm sure you've gotten to know the meaning of the word quite well."

He enjoyed the pink tinge that dusted her cheeks as she stared at him, but his glee turned to dismay at the frown line that creased her brow, "Is that all I am to you? Just another woman to look at and drool over like a dog?"

He was shaken to his core at her accusation, "No, Sango. Never."

She didn't seem propitiated as she crossed her arms over her chest. Miroku sighed.

"It is so much more than your beauty, dear Sango, that endears me to you. It is your unparalleled strength, your infinite wisdom, your graceful--"

"Please," She cut him off in a strangled voice. "Don't--don't say anymore."

He spied her blushing face over the fire, and was surprised when she suddenly raised her chin to meet his eyes directly.

"Why--" She swallowed. "Wouldn't you rather have a woman that needs your protection?" She asked him, remembering that even in the Slayers' Village the boys her age were afraid of her growing up. The Houshi though...

Miroku smiled easily, "I have never really been concurrent with InuYasha in such respects as needing a woman or women to defend. Your ability to protect yourself is what I most cherish about you."

Sango had begun finding her lap very interesting at the word 'cherish', but she looked back up at him, her dark eyes shining, after he grew silent. He seized his chance to tell her what he'd wanted to for so long.

"You know that I care for you, Sango. I would have no woman that wasn't you."

She stared at him for a few seconds, then suddenly her jaw hardened. "Do you expect me to believe that?" She spat acerbically.

Miroku's face fell, Why does it always come back around to that?

With the moment shattered, he decided to salvage what little of his character that was still visible in her eyes, and stepped over to their traveling pack to get Sango's bedroll out. She watched as he carefully smoothed the soft mat out on the dirt beside her, her face softening as he administered his help in a gentlemanly way.

He glanced at her, only to stop what he was doing and look back intently when he saw her staring at him.

Her gaze was tender with a desperate edge, "Did you mean what you said? When you said that--that you thought me beautiful."

He gave her a genuine smile, humbled that Buddha would show him such favor, "How could I not?" He could almost hear her heart jump at the words. If only his own were a bit quieter...

He spoke the truth. Her unforgettable presence had ever been the only thing that had made him forget about the cursed hole in his hand. Never had he expected to be blessed with the friendship of a goddess such as she, much less to fall on the receiving end of her most priceless affections.

A sad lightlessness took the place of what had been an enamored countenance only seconds ago as Sango turned her head away from him, "I wasn't born to be beautiful. It was never meant to be that way. Beauty won't allow me to defeat Naraku, to avenge my family, to save my brother."

Miroku took her slender chin in his hand, gazing down upon her face as he slowly closed the distance between them, "My Sango...you're beautiful when you're fighting, beautiful when you're chasing after vengeance, and especially when you're rescuing those you care about."

He stared into her eyes, closer to her than he'd ever been. He was waiting for her to slap him away, to yell at him, to leave him dangling off of a precipice of desire for her, but the sting against his cheek never came.

In fact, slapping him was the last thing on Sango's numbed mind as the Houshi held her chin in his cursed hand. The cold prayer beads caressed her face lightly, and her feelings for him amplified, bubbling up in a wellspring of suppressed emotion, transforming into something foreign that she'd never imagined she could undergo. She tingled down to her very essence. It was as if she had walked in on one of her dreams, the dreams she had never dared to believe in.

His face was so incredibly close to hers; he felt the heat of her flushed skin on his own as he neared her, his eyes never wavering. A gentle breath escaped her as her own eyes began to fall closed.

"Houshi-sama," She whispered, a hair's breadth separating their lips, but the utterance made the monk stop.

"Why must you call me that, Sango?" He questioned just as quietly.

She blinked, her heart beating like a heard of stallions thundering across a plain, "M--Miroku."

His name on her lips was the most beautiful thing of things. That was the last coherent thought that passed through his mind before his arm came around her waist and his lips descended onto hers. Their bodies came together willingly, and their dream became reality as they both sank into the mundane cloth of Sango's bedroll, no longer simply allies or friends, but lovers too.

The way they clawed at each other's clothing belied every day they had spent denying their true feelings. How the demon-slayer's fingers ran through his loosened hair gave voice to how much she longed to be close to him as she repeated his name over and over again, and the monk's gentle kisses and reverent touches spoke how much he truly loved this woman.

- - - -

Deep within Midoriko's cave, Kirara lay at the foot of the macabre statue that was the birthplace of the Shikon no Tama. Frozen in time, the evil youkai that failed to destroy the legendary miko's body would not give up the endeavor to defeat her soul.

The fire-neko peeked from beneath an eyelid with one vermeil pupil, ears twitching as they picked up the cries of passion that echoed through the night and reverberated off of the petrous cave walls, only to be replaced by yet more moans when the sounds melted into the air.

Kirara seemed to smile as she readjusted her position at the base of Midoriko's monument, giant tails flicking as she found herself a more comfortable position to sleep in. Her breathing gave way to a contented purr, and she drifted off to slumber land, the sonance of her two dear companions' ecstasy fading away as dawn broke.