Disclaimer: InuYasha is the creative property of Rumiko Takahashi. Not mine.
Thank you to Varethane for beta reading this chapter for me.
InuYasha paced impatiently outside the hut, completely lost in his own thoughts. Kagome had tried to speak with him at one point, but he hadn't even bothered to acknowledge her, which surprised her greatly. She knew he was troubled about something, and that it had to do with Miroku's condition. The monk's wounds should be healed in a matter of days, if he had simply overdosed on shouki too soon after the near-fatal encounter with Naraku. But if that was true, InuYasha probably wouldn't show so much worry. He seemed to know something that neither she nor Sango did, and if it put the hanyou in such a state, it could only be bad.
Although her curiosity demanded that she ask InuYasha what he knew, part of her told her that Miroku had probably asked him to keep it a secret. And she might not like it, but she felt that Miroku probably had something in mind if he'd trusted the hanyou with some kind of secret.
She would ask him later. Kaede had appeared at the doorway, silently beckoning for whoever saw her to come into the hut. InuYasha was already halfway through the door as Kagome approached.
A light breeze blew through the small natural causeway of rock, spreading delicate wrinkles across the shadowed pond of groundwater that covered the floor of the stone tunnel. A pair of glittering red eyes glared down at the disrupted surface of the water as the eyes' owner's reflection was distorted by the ripples.
"That was too close," the figure muttered darkly, low voice resounding off the walls. "It would be unwise to underestimate the monk's abilities at this point." The air crackled for a moment as a scowl spread across the individual's pale, masculine face, and then calmed, a smile replacing the previous frown. "Although, I do believe he is running short on time. He'll have two choices left by then, but after that last display, I think his choice is clear. What do you think?"
The eyes were directed now at a small baby clutching a dark, round stone with a frustrated look on his face. Turning its attention to the figure, the infant seemed only more annoyed at having been consulted. He said nothing, however, and the first figure sighed.
"Ah well. You'll be a part of me again soon enough, though we should be ready for that foolish hanyou to charge after us here any day now. We're leaving."
The baby scowled once more, but didn't make any move to struggle against the tentacles that raised him and carried him out of the cave and into the moonlight. He had no choice in the matter regardless, since his other half – Naraku – had chosen to come reclaim him. Patience was a virtue; he would exact his own plans when the opportunity arose to overtake his stronger half.
Miroku was asleep on a pallet, a cool cloth on his forehead, chest bared. InuYasha frowned at the monk; he did not like the discolored streaks that covered the monk's chest in the least. Damned if he had to keep this a secret for long; it was pretty obvious that Miroku was in big trouble, and if silence would endanger him any more, then he wasn't going to keep it. He heard Kagome gasp behind him as she too entered the hut. He sighed – he had a feeling she would be asking questions later that he wasn't sure he could answer. For now, though, he hoped that Kaede could offer some alternate excuse as to why the monk looked so battered so he wouldn't have to be put on the spot.
"Those are…" Sango began quietly, with a haunted expression.
"They look like bruises," Kagome said somberly, "and they look like they have the same shape of the shouki wounds he bore before."
InuYasha cast a sharp glance at Kaede, who hadn't said a word since she'd called them into her familiar hut. Her wizened forehead bore worry lines in addition to the many creases she'd gained with age, and he didn't like the somber look on her face. Perhaps the monk had told her as well; at any rate, it was clear that only ill news could come of Miroku's condition at this point. He quietly sat down near the older miko, crossing his arms and stuffing his hands into his sleeves sullenly, knowing full well that he didn't deal well with anything out of his control.
"Kaede-sama, he will be alright… won't he?" Sango's voice trailed off at the end, betraying her doubt in the answer to her own question. The situation was obviously bothering her, and InuYasha could faintly pick up the tangy scent of her fear. He wrinkled his nose.
Kaede sighed, motioning for the two women to come close to sit, then cast a questioning glance to Kouga, who had silently entered the hut and now leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed and an indifferent air about him. The wolf youkai merely shook his head, maintaining silently that he would keep on watch by the door. Kaede nodded in acknowledgement before she turned to the others.
"How is he?" Sango asked quietly, her eyes never leaving Miroku's still body.
"I'm sure you can see by now that the Houshi-dono's injuries are indeed serious," the elderly miko said seriously, keeping her voice low. "He is sleeping now, but it did take me some time to get him to fully rest."
InuYasha glanced worriedly at his friend, but quickly covered the expression with a scowl once he realized that Kagome was gauging his reactions. He hated being so transparent when it came to her, and by now she must have figured out that he knew something she didn't.
"The Houshi-dono asked me to relay a message to you, though I regret to do this myself," Kaede continued. "He asked that you continue on without him, as he does not wish to burden you or hold you back while you go after Naraku."
Sango frowned at the relayed words.
"That's just like the bouzu," InuYasha grunted. He glared down at the monk, anger boiling up inside of him the longer he stared at the deep markings. The scent of Miroku's blood wasn't helping his mood, either.
"Are you sure we can't do anything to help him?" Kagome asked. "I could try to find some medicine in my time…"
"That's alright, Kagome," Kaede replied. "The best thing for him to do is to rest."
No, InuYasha thought morosely, the best thing for him is if we kill that bastard Naraku.
"He's still running a fever," Sango noted quietly, her fingertips gently brushing against Miroku's forehead. InuYasha hadn't even noticed her move to the monk's side. The worry etched into her expression was enough to make the hanyou feel destructive. With an exasperated grunt, he rose to his feet and stomped out of the hut, ignoring the questioning stares aimed at his back.
Once outside, he wandered to the outskirts of the forest nearby. The situation was making him scared for his friend's life, and for the emotional well-being of his female companions because of it. Fear – especially his own – made him furious, and was only aggravated by his helplessness in this case. He was enraged. Something had to give, or he felt as though he would lose control. With a snarl, he struck out at the nearest tree with a tightly-clenched fist, ignoring the pain of the impact and the splinters digging into the skin on his knuckles. Though he could hear Kagome approaching, he still couldn't stop himself. He pulled his self-injured hand back and delivered another angry blow to the tree, the bark of the trunk shuddering and groaning from the blow.
"InuYasha…" she breathed worriedly from behind his back. He stared at the ground, silvery bangs obscured all but his gritted teeth.
"I'm going to fucking kill Naraku," he whispered hoarsely, feeling his own muscles shaking from intense anger.
Behind him, Kagome remained silent, and neither of them moved for a few moments. He couldn't bear to look at her lest she release the strong emotion boiling from within. He heard her sigh shakily and approach, then felt a warm palm upon his back, and then – more surprisingly – her gentle arms circling his waist to embrace him from behind. He could feel the outline of her face pressed against his back, through his haori. In her arms, he could feel the tension slowly bleed from his muscles.
"I… I don't want him to die, InuYasha," she said quietly, her voice shaking with upset. The salty tang of her tears stung his sensitive nose. "It isn't fair."
"No, it's not," InuYasha agreed, loosening her arms just long enough for him to turn around and face her. This time, he pulled her tightly into his chest. "We'll find and kill Naraku before that happens. I… I promise."
She nodded against his chest, and he could hear her muffled sigh. For the moment, he reveled in the quiet understanding between the two, knowing that it would soon be broken with questions. Not that he would blame her, however; he would want to know if something was up, were their positions reversed. It didn't make hiding the truth any easier. And it especially didn't ease his strong desire to slowly dismember Naraku at the next chance he got. If InuYasha had anything to say about that, that next chance would come as soon as they confirmed that the old hag could take care of Miroku long enough for him to find the bastard. With no Naraku, there was no curse… and with no curse, Miroku would be cured.
At least, that was what he hoped.
Sango brushed sweat-matted bangs back lightly from Miroku's pale forehead, removing the damp cloth before placing the back of her hand momentarily across his brow. With a soundless sigh of relief, she noted that his fever was nearly gone. The ugly purple-black markings still worried her, though. She had been left alone with the ailing monk after InuYasha stormed out, followed by Kagome, and shortly after by Kouga. Kaede, seeming to sense her desire to have a few moments alone with Miroku, had pulled Shippou along and had gone to fetch more herbs, for all the good those would do. She wished she could do something to help him, but even her various elixirs and potions seemed useless against injuries that wouldn't even surface. Her inability to help him hurt a lot; she hated seeing the usually strong young man in such a vulnerable condition. It hurt even more that she felt like it was her own fault in this case.
If I had only been more capable… if I hadn't been so reckless, he wouldn't have had to use his kazaana, she thought, the guilt hardening into a painful lump in her chest.
She sighed again as she dipped the cloth back into cold water, leaning over the monk's chest briefly to move his unruly bangs from his forehead so she could replace the cold compress. Halfway through the motion, she halted as she felt a familiar sensation on her backside, fingers massaging into the flesh. She glared down at the monk's face only to find a small self-satisfied smirk toying at the corners of his pale lips.
"Houshi-sama…" she warned in a low voice, clenching a fist, though there really was no venom behind her tone. She couldn't bring herself to hit him, as much as pride demanded it of her.
"How… could I resist such… a temptation?" he said quietly as he slowly opened his eyes. The smirk remained in place; though it lost its playful edge as Sango saw the usually bright sparkle in his eyes was dull with pain and a deep sense of resignation.
It… it really hurt.
He was watching her worriedly, the smirk long gone, and abruptly Sango realized that she could feel hot tears running down her cheeks. She turned away and wiped at them furiously, but they wouldn't stop. He shouldn't have to see her like this, not when he had his own health to worry about. She couldn't stop them, though, no matter what she did – it hurt so much to see him hiding his own pain.
"Sango…" She heard a rustle of cloth and a quiet hiss, and she turned back to the monk, who was trying to push himself into a sitting position with a grimace.
"Houshi-sama!" she cried, pushing him back down. "Lie back down – you'll only aggravate your injuries!"
He complied with a resigned sigh, but the worried look didn't fade entirely. "You shouldn't worry yourself so much over me," he said quietly, reaching up to brush his fingertips against her cheek. "I'll be fine after I rest."
"Stop it!" she snapped suddenly, and his hand retracted as if stung. "You aren't 'fine' by any means, Houshi-sama. You almost got yourself killed in that last fight, and after you promised me you wouldn't use your kazaana!"
"I… I'm sorry," he whispered, looking away sheepishly. "I just couldn't stand seeing you hurt and being too… helpless to stop it."
"Now you know how I feel!" she exclaimed, feeling her voice shaking. The tears hadn't stopped flowing yet, either.
"I didn't want you to worry…" Miroku tried to reply feebly.
She groaned. "You think I'm not worried now? Look at yourself! Of course I have reason to be worried; you need to stop being so concerned about how we feel, and take care of your own needs once in a while! I'm not a child, Houshi-sama – so please stop treating me like one!"
For a moment, an uncomfortable silence stifled the air between the two in the hut, broken only by her poorly stifled sniffles. She couldn't bear to look at him in this state, and she felt a little guilty for snapping at him, no matter how much he deserved it. But slowly, his hand once more found its way to her face, calloused palm cupping her cheek and bringing her eyes to his solemn face.
"I… I really am sorry," he said apologetically, brushing her tears aside with his thumb. "I sincerely didn't want to see you hurt, but it looks like I really am a fool for thinking that this wasn't going to hurt you as well."
She sniffled as she watched him try to offer her support in his eyes. Deep down, she did know why he always tried to hide things from her. It was horribly noble of him, but at the same time he was right; he truly was a fool. How could he protect her if he was dead? How could he…
With a choked sob, she threw herself down and buried her face into his chest. She felt him relax as his hand came around to her back and held her close.
"I… I'm scared, Miroku," she cried. "I don't want to lose you."
Miroku's embrace tightened around her. She could hear his heart pounding under her ear, and she realized that he was scared, too. It was both calming and horribly frightening, but as she stayed still against him, his heartbeat calmed. Moments flitted by as they drew on each other's feeble comfort, and Sango's sobs finally subsided. When he finally broke the silence, his voice rumbled in his chest comfortingly.
"I promise," he said quietly, voice thick with emotion. "I promise that I will survive this to the best of my abilities, so that we can build a home and grow old together." She tried to sit up and look at his face while he spoke, but he tightened his grip and wouldn't let her. "Will you trust me to keep that promise?"
It was hard, seeing him in the state he was currently in, to accept, but it didn't stop a glimmer of hope from bubbling up in her chest. With a tight nod, she relented. She had to believe in him; she only hoped her added support would be enough to help keep him alive.
Miroku looked up tiredly, peering around the dark tresses of the sleeping taijiya pressed against his chest. The elderly miko nodded knowingly as she came alongside him with her basket of freshly-gathered herbs. The strong scent stung his nose some.
"Asleep?" she whispered. Miroku nodded. "Are you sure you're comfortable like that?"
This time, Miroku smirked. "Let her be," he whispered. "I'll be fine."
Kaede cast him a skeptical look, but then shrugged. "How do you feel?"
"A little better than before," he whispered honestly. The pain along the marks seemed to have dulled some, and his stomach had finally settled down to a point that he thought he might be able to manage eating a little something.
"That's good to hear," she replied, her eyes softening in relief. A short pause, and then solemnly, "Have you told her yet?"
Miroku cast a sharp glance at Sango's face, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw she was still asleep. She must have tired herself out while Miroku had been unconscious, and he didn't have the heart to force her to wake up and move. When he looked back at Kaede, he flinched at the scowl he found etched in her wizened face.
"That's not fair to her," she scolded, not for the first time.
He sighed again. "I know," he whispered. "But…"
"Mirokuuu!" a high-pitched squeal came from through the bamboo door flap. The childish voice was immediately followed by a chestnut streak as the young kitsune youkai scampered into the hut excitedly. "You're awake!"
Miroku held back a curse as he felt Sango stir under his arm. The moment was broken; as soon as she woke, she would most likely become embarrassed and blame it on him. With a sigh, he shot Shippou a baleful glare. The kitsune seemed to ignore him as he bounded up to the pallet, eyes bright with relief and excitement.
"I'm so glad you're okay! We were all so worried that you weren't going to wake up after that last time with your fever and all, especially Sango 'cause she didn't sleep at all when you—"
Kaede – much to Miroku's relief – shushed the babbling youkai with a quiet hiss, and nodded in Sango's direction. Shippou's mouth formed a small "o," then he offered a sheepish grin and a muttered apology. But when he realized that Sango was nestled against Miroku in her sleep, the grin turned mischievous.
"Don't even think about it," Kaede admonished in a whisper. "Let her sleep; the gods know she needs it."
Shippou's expression fell and he muttered another apology. And with a glare from Miroku, he scowled and added, "Fine, I won't bring it up again. It's just that… Ack! Never mind!" He rubbed his small pointed ear where Kaede had tweaked it. "I won't say a word!"
"Good," Kaede said with a smile. Miroku shot her a grateful glance, to which she nodded. "Now if you wouldn't mind fetching some water, I will start getting supper ready."
Shippou grunted as he took the water bucket out of the hut with him, seeming rather annoyed at having his mischief thwarted. Miroku couldn't have been more grateful, though he knew he should start rousing Sango before the others arrived…
"InuYasha, I might be able to find something at home that will at least make him feel more comfortable…"
"I said, no. We don't have time to wait on you – we should just go after Naraku now while he's weak."
"You can wait half an hour while I make a quick run back to my house. I know exactly where the medicine cabinet is, thank you very much."
"There's no such thing as a quick run back to your house."
Miroku grimaced. Though the standoff between the pair was incredibly amusing, it would inevitably end badly – probably with hurt feelings and soured tempers. Sango pointedly ignored the squabble as she polished the Hiraikotsu with added attention. Kouga seemed rather interested in the conversation, though InuYasha seemed more irritated at his presence than usual. Perhaps it was because the wolf youkai had never been to Kagome's 'homeland,' and was curious to see what kind of a place she came from.
"I said no, damn it! We're leaving now!"
At any rate, the argument was going nowhere. Both InuYasha and Kagome were equally stubborn, especially when dealing with… well, each other.
"I promise, it'll take me no time at all!"
"Don't make me say it!"
"Kagome-sama…" he tried again, though he recoiled when she shot her venomous glare at him. "I, uh… I'll be fine with Kaede-sama's care. InuYasha is right – you should go after Naraku while he is weakened."
"See? Even the bouzu agrees with me," said Inuyasha, smirking with his impending victory. "We're only wasting time by waiting."
Kagome scowled, but then sighed. "I was only trying to help, but I guess I don't really have a say here." The last comment was blatantly directed at InuYasha, but he ignored her as he grinned triumphantly. "Well, then, when do you want to leave?"
"We should leave now," InuYasha replied. "We can make it several ri from here by the time we have to stop and make camp."
"Do you even know where we're going?" Kagome shot back.
InuYasha glared at her, finally realizing that she was still resisting in her own way. Miroku coughed, trying not to laugh, but his laughter quickly turned to horror as he tasted something coppery in the back of his mouth. Quickly, to cover it up, he covered his mouth with his hand and hastily sipped on the tea he had been given with some rather disgusting herbal concoction earlier in the evening.
"We can head back to where we fought him last, and then I can track his scent from there," InuYasha replied tersely. "He has a pretty distinctive smell."
"It's been days since we were there last, dog-shit," Kouga contributed. "He may have a unique smell, but it's probably faded by now."
"And that is exactly why we should leave now, you dumb wolf," InuYasha growled back. "I'm not stupid, you know."
Kouga frowned a bit as he sniffed the air as if to test it. "Oi, monk, you alright?" he asked suddenly.
Miroku choked briefly on his tea, then managed to swallow it and forced a smile. "Fine," he replied hoarsely. "I just swallowed my tea wrong, that's all."
Kouga raised an eyebrow, and Miroku felt his ears grow hot as everyone turned their attention to him. With a weak smile, he waved them off and assured them that he was fine, though he felt rather alarmed by the nasty feeling in his chest. It was as if something large and sticky was stuck in his throat, but he couldn't quite get it out.
InuYasha looked skeptically at the monk before stating, "Let's go. The sooner we find Naraku and kill him, the better."
He already knew, Miroku noted as he caught InuYasha's intense stare. That's why he was so anxious to leave…
The wolf was already on his way out of the hut, and Kagome shot one furious glare at the hanyou before she looked at Miroku apologetically. He smiled and nodded in acknowledgement, letting her know that she had no need to be sorry for anything. She picked up her backpack, and then also slipped out of the hut, followed closely by Shippou.
"You be careful, Bouzu," InuYasha warned on his way out. "You'd better be alive when we come back, you got that?"
Before Miroku could reply, the hanyou was already out the door. Sango sighed as she picked up her weapon, then looked down with a torn expression at Miroku. He could tell that she would much rather stay with him than leave him in his current state, but he knew that it wouldn't really do him any good. This was a battle he alone had to fight.
"Go, Sango," he said quietly. "I won't take back my promise."
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she nodded. "I won't forgive you if you break it, either," she replied softly. And then she too was gone.
Miroku sighed, now that he was left alone with Kaede in the hut. The elderly miko shot him a wary glance, and he knew what question was coming. This time, he couldn't suppress the nasty cough that rose in his throat before she could ask. She quickly brought an empty wooden bucket to him, and he spat out the nasty thing that had been lingering in his throat for far too long.
"Ugh," he managed, taking another sip of tea to try to cut the taste from his mouth. He refused to look.
Kaede looked at him seriously. "Houshi-dono…"
"I know," he replied quietly.
"Drink more of this tea; it may be just a remnant from before," she suggested.
Miroku frowned. "I suppose it doesn't matter much." Kaede remained silent, and he sighed again. He was doing that a lot lately. If he was to keep up such a pessimist's perspective on the whole ordeal, perhaps he wasn't fit to keep the promise he made to Sango. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "I guess I'm just feeling like I'm hiding from my own problem… and it's making me feel guilty to have them –" he indicated the hut door, "taking my revenge for me."
"You've done enough, Houshi-dono," Kaede said gently. "Just let them. You've got enough on your hands; time is short."
Miroku stared down into the tea cup with a dark expression. As much as he would like to accept Kaede's comfort, he had a horrible feeling that he was fighting a battle he could never win, especially given that the issue had just been neatly removed from his hands. Kaede must have understood him, for when she broke the silence again, she gave him a serious look.
"Let it go, monk. You're going to have to trust them."
Let it go, he repeated. As if it's that easy.
But he would fight anyway, since he had made a promise. Several, in fact. And as long as his friends were fighting for him, he was sure he could fight his own battles as well. All the same, it didn't keep him from hoping fervently that they hurried. He was selfish, in the end – selfish and stubborn. That was one thing that Naraku would never be able to break him of.
.end chapter 2.
I would like once again to thank Varethane for beta reading this for me. She did an awesome job, and I only wish I'd had a better chapter to send her in the first place. Present mistakes are my own and not hers.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed this so far! As always, comments and feedback are much appreciated.