The only sign that he is awake is a twitch of the dog- ears atop his white head. Inuyasha slits one golden eye just open, using his hearing more than sight; the monk is far more likely to realize he is not the only one awake than the girls would be.

He had not been mistaken; a slight, hastily- stifled groan from Miroku was what had awakened him, and the houshi's pained stare at his sealed right hand reveals the cause. Inuyasha opens both eyes halfway, about to tell the other man to quit feeling sorry for himself and go back to sleep, when the monk places a quieting hand on the rings of his shaukujou, gets to his feet and pads all- but- silently over to the sleeping taijiya. With difficulty, Inuyasha keeps his growl to himself and stays still; something just doesn't feel right.

Miroku strokes the firecat's head, bringing her awake as he whispers, "Kirara, I need a favor."

She mews in question, tilting her head in concerned inquiry; he brings a finger to his lips and starts to rise with the neko following. The taijiya stirs slightly in her sleep, moving an arm over Kirara's empty spot; Miroku's expression cracks into agony for a moment and it is that which keeps Inuyasha frozen as the sukebe smooths back Sango's bangs and gently brushes his lips against her forehead.

Golden eyes snap shut as the monk takes an appraising look around the camp; satisfied that his companions are asleep he moves soundlessly into the woods. Inuyasha waits long enough to avoid detection before following, hoping that his youki is so familiar to the houshi that it won't register or, failing that, that Tessaiga will not allow his presence to be betrayed. Surely the mastery of youki the incredible fang displayed with attacks like the Kaze no Kizu and Bakurryuha extended to keeping its master's whereabouts low- key when he didn't want to be found.

Miroku stops when they're out of hearing range of the camp, in a spot where the trees are less dense than in the rest of the forest. "Inuyasha." he calls into the darkness.

Well, damn. The hanyou jumps down in front of his friend, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes. "What the hell are you doing out here, bouzu?"

Kirara transforms into her larger self; the fire surrounding her feet and tail give them somewhat spooky, flickering illumination. Inuyasha resembles his youkai half- brother far more in this dimness than in the brightness of day; the filthy state of his perpetually bare feet is indistinguishable from shadow, the red of his fire- rat clothes is darkened, and the worn state of Tessaiga is not evident... with his imposing posture he looks noble. His white hair shimmers, recalling moonlight; one impossibly cute dog ear twitches irritably. His golden eyes take the light and seem to give it back in a feral glow; his is an unnatural beauty.

If Inuyasha reflects the light Miroku absorbs it. The purple and black of his robes and his dark hair blend into the night surrounding them; he could easily disappear from sight if he wanted to. His shakujou and earrings glint, but it's his eyes Inuyasha notices. The violet usually seems lit from within; now, they have darkened more than he has ever seen them, and melt into the darkness.

Miroku reminds Inuyasha of Kikyou for a moment, and dread seizes him.

Miroku breaks the silence first. "I'm going to die." he says, and Inuyasha is rattled. Now it is the houshi who looks like something otherworldly, as though his mind is already crossing over and his body has only to follow.

Inuyasha has never been good at letting go.

"What kind of bullshit is that-"

"I'm going to die." the houshi repeats firmly, his tone flat and- there is no other word for it- dead. "The Kazaana has given me warning; I must leave now."

"Don't be stupid." Inuyasha scoffs, though his fear is obvious to one who's been travelling with him for so long, and gotten to know him better than any other man ever has. "Just go to the drunkard-"

"I am going to Mushin- sama's temple." Miroku interrupts again. "Trust me on this, Inuyasha. I was a child when the curse was passed to me; the years I lived without the Kazaana I can almost count on a single hand. I know it; and it is giving me a warning, the only one I will ever recieve. If I am to rest beside my father, I must leave now." His eyes blaze black fire; Inuyasha, fearless as he is, cannot move from their terrible connection. "You will not stop me." the houshi states, and those eyes confirm his words as nothing else can.

He gives his friend- and yes, Inuyasha is his friend, the best one he's ever had- a moment to absorb this, and when he speaks again, his voice is no longer steely and his eyes are no longer black. A dark, dark violet, and more sad, wise, old and tragic than belong in such a young face, but they are human again and Inuyasha can understand them. "Let the girls sleep in tomorrow morning," Miroku says, "Hachi will come to you when it's done." Inuyasha starts as Miroku claps a hand to his shoulder. "You're a good friend," the houshi says, "the best. Arigatou..."

Unable to say anything else, Miroku clenches his cursed hand into a fist, greedily swallows the pain provoked by the motion, and leaves on Kirara. Inuyasha can only watch them go; he stares into the night sky for a long time before becoming a blur of motion, running as fast as he can, getting as far away from the camp as he is able, before howls ring through the forest and trees come crashing down.

-

Sango knows something is wrong the moment she wakes up.

Someone is sobbing nearby; wrenching her eyes open, pushing herself upright, she recognizes Miroku's tanuki friend.

Hachi, she recalls, the one who mistakenly told them Mushin was dying.

Inuyasha is snarling at the demon and slaps him, attempting to calm him down but only sending him into further hysterics. Unnoticed, Sango reaches into her extermination uniform and carefully extracts a clamshell container, taking a pinch into her palm and blowing it into the tanuki's face.

He sobers, hiccuping and still crying. "What's wrong?" Sango asks, though she thinks she knows.

Houshi- sama is not in the camp.

"M- Mir- Miro- Miroku- no- danna," he stutters under Inuyasha's furious gaze, "is- is-"

"The Kazaana, Sango." the hanyou interrupts brusquely, the anger in his eyes simmering down to worry as he carefully watches her face. "It started hurting in the middle of the night; he said it was a warning, that it was about to kill him."

"And it did!" wails Hachi, his tears regaining their force. Kirara keens before rubbing against her mistress' legs, jumping to her shoulder and winding around her the girl's shoulders and neck, in constant contact.

Sango is stunned. "Houshi- sama... is..."

More sobs come from her right; she knows Shippo is awake, and has heard. She can imagine Kagome- chan's face, crying silently as she clutches Shippo to her, watching her back in concern so sincere it hurts her own heart. That... that is like Kagome- chan... always so empathetic...

"No." Sango whispers.

Hachi's tears and Inuyasha's low growl as he grinds his teeth (hard enough that, had he been human, they would have broken), bring it home to her as no words ever could.

She has to get away from their eyes. If she doesn't have to look at them, she can believe it's not true, that someday she'll still bear him ten, even twenty children... little children with violet eyes...

A choked sound rips its way from her throat and Sango turns to run, but her arms are caught by the half- demon behind her. Kagome murmurs his name in gentle admonishment, but Inuyasha shakes his head at her; the sooner she faces this, the sooner she accepts it, the easier it will be and the sooner she can start living again.

Inuyasha is livid. How dare the bouzu? Didn't he know that things like this made him look bad, that it would tear the rest of them apart before they could pull together again? Didn't he know that things would never be the same? Didn't he realize that he was going to make Kagome cry, that this could destroy Sango?

Of course he did. That's why he had reminded Inuyasha of Kikyou last night; he'd known, and had to accept it.

Inuyasha fights the urge to throw up.

Sango has regained her control, and her voice is steely as it had been when they'd first met and she, more than half- dead already, tried to kill him. "Release me."

He loosens his grip on her cautiously, and Sango viciously breaks his hold. The ferocity in her eyes as she whirls on Hachi backs the tanuki up a foot before he trips himself, crying out in fear of her and doing his best not to faint.

"You will take me to him." Sango commands, and Hachi screams out, "HAI!"

-

There are two craters where before, there was only one. Mushin is in the middle of the new one, putting up a small, simple stone marker much like the one in the other depression. His shoulders are slumped, and he is older.

He reeks of sake.

Inuyasha pinches his nose and grumbles; Shippo starts crying again. Kirara mews, Hachi bows his head and tries to hold himself together, and Kagome watches Sango.

The taijiya's posture is unnaturally straight and stiff; she carries herself with military precision and thinks only in cold, logical steps, blocking emotion entirely. She cracks slightly when she sees the new hole, but will not break.

"Oshou- sama," she says.

He hiccups and looks at her blearily. "Come inside, then," he says after a moment of frozen silence, "he left something for each of you."

They follow him inside, downcast except for Inuyasha who is still furious.

Mushin goes into one of the temple's smaller rooms. The scent is years old but pervasive, and Inuyasha inhales deeply. This must have been Miroku's room.

The drunkard priest goes to a small box, draws a key from his robes, and unlocks it, handing a different item to each of them, accompanied by small scrolls.

Sango makes a choked noise and runs from the temple.

"Sango- chan…!" Kagome protests, reaching a hand after her friend, but Mushin shakes his head.

"Let her go. Everyone accepts death and deals with grief differently."

Tears prickle at her eyes; it sounds like something Miroku- sama would say. They fall when she glances down at her note.

He'd written it in hentaigana.

-

A/N: Something that's been sitting on my computer for a long time; I've made attempts to write a better, more conclusive ending but was never satisfied with anything I came up with, so I'm just going to go ahead and post it. You can decide for yourselves what Miroku left them.