Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha, etc. This story is for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: Specters of the past bring forth questions for the future. Can she save his soul, or will he wander forever in darkness?
A/N: So I sit down to finally update 'The Price of Vengeance', and what do I do but start a whole new story with a whole new alternate pairing. (Boy, do I love those!) And as I'm on a big Sango kick right now, and as I read some really great 'SanBan' stories, well…voila!
It was time to make a decision.
Sango sighed, knowing that the inevitable had come, much as she had tried to avoid it.
"Miroku, I…" She stopped, not knowing what to say as his hands folded over hers. The prayer-beads were hard knots through the thin silk covering that protected her hands. He wore them still, out of habit rather than necessity. With Naraku's death, the Wind Tunnel had disappeared from the monk's palm, and with it the cursed death that had claimed two generations of his line.
"Sango." His expression was grave, his deep blue eyes earnest. He was a handsome man, a strong man, a man she could respect and even admire. Once upon a time, her heart would have been fluttering inside her chest, her stomach knotting in uneasy anticipation at the firm clasp of her fingers in his, the singular look of loving concern in his beautiful blue eyes.
But not now.
Her hands trembled, as if in nervous question. She was nervous, for she did not want to lose him, his friendship and his kindness. He was important to her, but not in the way he might have expected. Her earlier ideals of girlish romance and blossom-tinged dreams had changed as she grew into womanhood. She had loved him, once, and had yearned to feel his strong hands gripping hers so gently yet firmly as he was now doing. How could she not have loved him? His tenderness, his understanding, and yes, even his surprising reassurance that she, who had never considered herself even remotely pretty, was beautiful in his eyes.
"We…once we made a pledge between us…" Miroku's fingers tightened on hers as Sango dropped her gaze from his. She had known this would come, had known it for some time, and grown uneasy under the speculative looks Inuyasha and Kagome sent their way. Now that Naraku was dead, there was no true need for them to delay declaring their love for one another. But Sango had come up with one excuse or another, not the least of which was that Naraku, just before his death, had shattered the nearly completed Shikon no Tama into hundreds of tiny pieces, which were scattered once more across the face of Japan. And so they had continued their journeys together, seeking out evidence of the Jewel shards flung vicariously across their roving path.
"Miroku…" Sango tried to interrupt him, wary of the path this conversation would take. She did not want to hurt him…
"Sango, I must confess to you, that I…" Miroku's thumb softly caressed the underside of her palm, making her shiver, but not with desire, but with the thought of the pain she might cause him. Stirring restlessly, she tried once more to speak, but his clasp tightened on her fingers, asking her silently to listen. His blue eyes were deeply serious as he stared into hers.
"Once we pledged one another, and I thought that once the curse of the Kazaana was lifted from my hand by Naraku's death, I would be more than happy to settle down with you by my side, as my wife. I could dream of no other future than for you to be the one, the only one, to bear my children. I wanted that, more than anything."
Sango bit her lip, bending her head, unable to meet his earnest gaze. Miroku released one of his hands to touch her cheek briefly, a fluttering caress that brought a sheen of tearful regret to her eyes.
"I am sorry, Sango-san." His voice was heavy with remorse. Her eyes widened in surprise as his next words shocked her into silence. "But I cannot see that future for us now."
"Miroku?" Raising her eyes, she searched his with question.
"I am sorry." Miroku said, pained regret coloring his words. "You deserve so much more than I can give you. Loyalty, and honor…commitment…"
Sango smiled crookedly, the tears brushing her brown eyes into a cinnamon hue. Commitment. It was ever the question between them, whether or not the roving-eyed houshi would ever be able to settle for one and one woman only.
"Houshi-sama…" She clasped his hand in hers, heart-warmed that he would feel such remorse for what she herself had been guilty of. "Miroku…I have been feeling the same, and did not know how to tell you the truth. I did not want to hurt you…"
Amusement flickered in the deep blue eyes. "We have been acting like Inuyasha and Kagome, unwilling to admit our true feelings."
Which was not as true now as it had been in the past. Kikyou had passed on to the next world, taking Naraku with her into hell, as had been her intention all along. Inuyasha had mourned for her, and deeply, but he was now freed of the miko's memory, free to love Kagome as he had never been while Kikyou walked the earth as one undead and undying.
"There has always been honesty between us, Sango. And---respect." Miroku touched her cheek again in a feather-light caress, sweeping a stray lock of black hair behind her ear that had slithered free from her loose ponytail. "I would not have hurt you for the world."
"Would you accept my friendship then, Miroku, if not my love?" Sango asked quietly.
"Of course." The monk raised her hand to kiss her knuckles with a gleam of mischief in his blue eyes. "Would you then be willing to bear my---"
Sango snatched back her hand as if burned. Standing up, she put a good three feet between them. Giving him a dark look, she muttered under her breath in impotent frustration. "Of all the…"
"How could I help myself, Sango-san?" Miroku stood up, his blue eyes twinkling. "Your very beauty requires me to ask if you would consider bearing my---"
"Don't kid yourself." Sango could not help but laugh at his wounded expression. How could she have ever worried that their friendship, based on mutual respect and a shared history of both the pleasant and the pain-filled, would not survive the loss of youthful first love between them?
Miroku's eyes grew grave. "Do not kid yourself, either, Sango. You are truly beautiful."
Feeling light of heart, Sango decided to ignore the lie and tease him out of this too-serious mood. "In the eyes of a hentai, all women are beautiful."
"You don't comprehend your own---" Miroku insisted.
Sango grew serious. "Leave it, houshi-sama. It has never bothered me, that I am not one who could be considered beautiful. I am a taijiya, a warrior. I could never make a fine ornament to hang off a man's arm, I am too independent for that---and I take pride in it."
Hearing the warning etched in her voice, Miroku allowed the matter to drop---for now. With a sweeping bow, he extended his arm. "Well, then. Would you consider being an ornament long enough for me to escort you back to our current camp?"
Sango could not resist laughing at his gallantry. Smacking him lightly on the arm, she sauntered on ahead, her heart freer than it had been in a long time. Miroku followed, his smile soft, if his eyes were sad at the loss of what could not have been…
His shoulders twitched.
The monk was staring hard at him. Again.
Letting out a gusty sigh, he deliberately put down his saucer of rice wine, having drained the last of it. Wiping stray drops off his mouth, he closed his eyes, one hand fisted on his hip where he sat on the bench, one knee negligently leaning against the comforting weight of his companion.
The monk continued to watch him.
His shoulders were twitching again, damn it. Stretching with a deliberately casual motion, he finally stood up. One hand crept to the familiar hilt of his sword. He really should take some time out tonight and go over the surface with a whet stone---although the edge was always sharp enough to do the job. He grinned slightly at the thought. Still, his sword was his life, and he liked to keep it in good condition.
He tossed a few coins on the bench beside the empty saucer. The groveling innkeep would be by to sweep it up under his dusty robes. The sake hadn't been all that great, but it had quenched his thirst, which is why he had stopped at this humble inn. Peering up at the hazy clouds that were slowly encroaching across the pale blue sky, he noted the direction and slight dampness to the light breeze. Looked like rain would fall before night chose to do so.
Shrugging, he sauntered off, certain that the staring monk would eventually follow. They always did, hoping to purify him. How generous they were. Striding quickly into the thick woodlands that surrounded the small village, he wondered when, and if, the monk would catch up to him.
But this one was quick, for an old man. Inevitably, he was gasping and out of breath when he finally shouted across the small clearing that separated the two of them.
"You there! Stop!"
Should he? He mused the thought over a bit, his stride slowing until he finally stopped. Very well. The decision had been made by his feet.
"You are not of this world!"
He sighed again. Could they never come up with anything better to say? It was as if every single one of them read from the same bad script from the same bad play.
Slowly turning around, he regarded the old man, who was dressed in the dusty rags of a traveling priest. Even his reed hat was fraying around the edges. Rather pathetic, really. One would think a holy man could find ways to earn a little money to keep himself up.
The old man wheezed, still trying to catch his breath, even as he stepped forward, the rings on his staff tinkling faintly in the rising wind. The rain clouds were coming closer. He would not make shelter before they hit. Best to get this over with quickly, so that he could continue. He didn't care if he, himself, got wet, but he didn't like his sword getting rusty in the damp. Never a good thing, that.
"I can help you, put you to rest. You wander the earth---" The old man wheezed.
Which was perfectly true. He did wander, too restless to stay long in any one place.
"---the walking undead. I can free you, save you. Let me…" The old man grasped a few paltry bits of paper in his gnarled hand. There was fancy symbols across them, calligraphy and prayers.
Like sacred sutras would ever work on someone like him.
"What makes you think that I'm not perfectly happy with the way things are, monk?" He asked, though he didn't really have to. He always got the same reaction---surprise, if not shock, and a growing conviction on their part that they knew what was best for him, and would do it no matter what protests he might have about it. The monks in this familiarly, oft-times repetitively bad play never deviated from their roles.
"I will free you, and send your spirit back into the afterlife where it belongs!" The old man's bellow was pretty impressive, considering how much he had been panting from his run to catch up with him.
With a sigh, he stripped the silken sheath from his beloved companion. The purple silk slithered to the ground with a faint whisper, loud in the sudden silence of the clearing. The wind sprang up, almost icy in its touch, though cold was something this body could never feel now. Useful, that.
"Know peace in the afterlife, my son!" The monk threw the fancy sutras at him with all his might, his black eyes earnest with the convictions of his faith.
What gods were there to help anyone? He had never seen evidence of them, in this world or the next.
Smiling faintly, he slashed his giant sword twice through the air, neatly shredding the trivial wisps of pandering paper into tiny bits that danced away on the rising wind, slowly spinning into maddening eddies as the grey-clouded sky ominously darkened. He could feel the first icy drops touch his cheek as the monk gasped, his black eyes wide with fear.
"You are a devil!" The monk shrunk back, away from him.
They never changed, and neither would he.
Hefting his beloved Banryuu in one hand, Bankotsu slashed once more…
A/N: Please let me know if this is OOC or just wank. I always accept constructive criticism, and thanks in advance for any help!