Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha.

A/N: Written for tragicamente at iyflashfic.

Spoiler Warning:
Spoilers for Manga Ch 448: Wounds of Shouki.

The Barriers We Make

Kagome stared into space in the darkness, listening to the snores of her sleeping friends all around her. Shippo rested peacefully nestled in her sleeping bag. Koga dozed on the opposite side of the fire. Not far away, as though wanting to keep an eye on him, Inuyasha slept sitting up leaning against the trunk of a tree. Only Kagome seemed immune to the exhausting events of the day.

Miroku, in an effort to stop Naraku once and for all, had opened up his Wind Tunnel against him, absorbing a dangerous amount of Naraku's deadly shouki in the process. Now Kikyo was tending to his wounds in a cabin, purifying the shouki. She'd been in there for hours. Sango and Kohaku were in there too. Of course Sango wanted to be near Miroku's side and Kohaku wished to be with her.

'How sad,' Kagome thought, 'That Sango and Kohaku reunited under such horrible circumstances.'

Miroku had acted so brave and heroic for Sango's sake. He wanted to kill Naraku himself so that Kohaku's Shikon shard—and life—wouldn't have to be compromised. Kagome pictured Miroku's determined, bloodied face in the battle, the pain he suffered all for the woman he loved. She couldn't help but think it romantic of him, putting himself in danger on behalf of Sango.

Thank goodness Kikyo was there to purify the shouki. Without her, Miroku would surely die…

-

Miroku's eyes fluttered as Kikyo hovered over him, absorbing the shouki from the wound on his shoulder.

"Kagome…" he murmured.

"No." Kikyo raised an eyebrow slightly. "It's me."

Miroku opened his eyes fully, starting to take in his surroundings. "Where's Sango?"

Kikyo gestured to the corner where Kohaku lay resting against Sango's shoulder. "Sleeping. Which you should be doing too."

Miroku considered Kikyo's solemn expression anxiously. "Kikyo. Did you save me…?"

She looked grim. "I was able to purify the shouki completely…"

Miroku should have been relieved then, but he wasn't. He could feel within himself that something was wrong. Kikyo's next words didn't surprise him.

"However, I have something else to tell you…"

-

Kagome heard a rustle and squinted in the darkness to see Kikyo walking out of the cabin slowly, as though her energy had been sapped. To Kagome's astonishment, Kikyo addressed her softly.

"Kagome, I see you're awake. Would you look after Miroku for me, then? I… must rest."

"O-of course," Kagome stuttered, removing herself from the sleeping bag carefully so as not to wake Shippo.

Kikyo disappeared into the darkness. Before Kagome entered the cabin, she looked back and caught sight of Inuyasha—not as asleep as she had thought—following after Kikyo with concern.

She watched him go, ignoring the pain in her heart. Of course he would be worried about Kikyo after she had absorbed all that shouki. Of course he should go see if she was okay. Of course Kagome shouldn't be jealous or selfish at a time like this. Of course… That's what she kept telling herself anyway.

-

Miroku tried to rest, eyes closed, but knew he would get no more sleep that night. Kikyo had confirmed what he'd already guessed: There were wounds within him too deep to heal. The Wind Tunnel would consume him soon. Now he just had to come to terms with it privately. Sango could never know; he could never put that burden on her.

A soft noise interrupted Miroku's thoughts. Someone had entered the room. He could tell by the lightness of the footsteps that it was Kagome. With a gentle thud, he heard her sit down next to him.

Suddenly he felt slender fingers lightly caressing his shoulder, and he blinked reflexively at the touch.

"Miroku!" Kagome withdrew her hand quickly, looking abashed. "Sorry, I thought you were asleep."

"I'm sorry my being awake stopped you." Miroku gave her a weak smile to indicate he was joking, putting up a barrier like he always did. "You were just checking my wound." He paused and added thoughtfully, "Your hands feel softer than Kikyo's. She took off, huh?"

Kagome replied diplomatically, staring at her feet. "She needed a break. I'm sure working all night must have exhausted her."

"And I assume Inuyasha 'needed a break' as well?"

Kagome looked at him. "How did you know?"

Miroku furrowed his brow with concern. "From the look on your face. Want to talk about it? I can't sleep anyway."

"No, I mean… What is there to say at this point? Inuyasha and Kikyo are… Inuyasha and Kikyo. I can't come between them."

Miroku grew grave. "You feel like you're butting in."

"Yeah…"

"You feel like you're in the way."

"Yeah…"

"You feel like you'll always come in second place."

"Miroku," Kagome whispered, astounded, "How do you know exactly how I feel so well?"

Miroku smirked sadly. "Because I feel exactly the same way." He nodded towards Sango and Kohaku sleeping in the corner.

Kagome opened her mouth in surprise. "You mean… You think Sango cares more about Kohaku than you?"

"I'll confess something to you, Kagome… What I did today wasn't just for Sango's sake. It was for my own. If Sango didn't have to worry about Kohaku's life, then we could be…" his voice trailed off wistfully.

"Closer," Kagome finished his sentence for him.

"How did you know?"

"Because," it was Kagome's turn to smile mournfully, "I know exactly what you mean…"

"Kikyo?"

"Yeah."

Miroku considered it thoughtfully. "If Kikyo weren't around, you and Inuyasha wouldn't have that barrier between you."

Kagome laughed ruefully. "I must be the most selfish person in the world."

"No you're not, Kagome." Miroku stared at her straight-faced. "I've never met anyone as selfless as you. I'm the selfish one."

Kagome shook her head slightly. "Miroku… It's an act."

"What?"

"You may act like all you care about are your own needs, the way you flirt with women, but when it comes down to it, you're always there for Sango. You put Sango first. I wish… I wish me and Inuyasha had what you two have."

"Kagome…" Miroku started.

"Hm?"

"Inuyasha's a damn fool."

"What?"

Miroku had a hard look on his face. "You put up with so much because of him, Kagome. You're kind, and caring, and brave and… beautiful. Any man would be lucky to have you."

Kagome gawked at him. Did he realize what he was saying?

"Kagome, if… If I had never met Sango…" he began.

This was too much. Kagome couldn't hear it anymore. "Miroku, stop. Don't… You shouldn't say that."

"I know…" he paused, eyes darting anxiously to the Wind Tunnel. "But I have to."

"What are you talking about?"

"I would… I would regret it if I never said it. It's a precarious battle we're in. We never know… what will happen to one of us."

Kagome blanched. "Don't be morbid, not when you were just hurt so badly. We're lucky Kikyo was here to save you."

"You could have purified the shouki just as well, couldn't you?"

Kagome stared at her feet again. "Well, I… I don't know."

The two of them stayed silent for a few moments, Kagome not daring to meet Miroku in the eyes.

He rubbed his shoulder achingly. "Kagome, would you check my shoulder for me again? Kikyo was getting tired. I just… want to be sure."

"All… all right."

Gingerly, Kagome reached her hand out and brushed Miroku's shoulder. She leaned in close to him to examine the wound. Nothing but smooth skin beneath her fingertips.

"Miroku… it's fine. You're all healed."

"That's what I thought." He placed his hand on Kagome's and stared into her eyes.

"Miroku, I… can't." Kagome wondered over what she was saying. What was she even saying no to?

"I know. Me either," he answered softly, clutching her hand tighter. "We're the type of people who put up barriers, Kagome." He glanced meaningfully at Sango. "We like to put other people's happiness before our own. It's our nature."

"Miroku…" Kagome whispered, heart pounding. "Do you ever wonder… what it would be like… to take down the barriers?"

Miroku closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Yes."

Suddenly they heard Sango turn in her sleep uncomfortably. Kagome yanked her hand away from Miroku abruptly. Sango started to blink awake.

"Kagome…" she murmured, "What are you doing here?"

"S-Sango, I was just—"

"Oh, Kagome," Sango eased Kohaku off her shoulder. "You're so sweet. Looking after Miroku for me when you should be the one getting your sleep. I'll take over for you." She smiled warmly and went over to her.

"Of course." Kagome got up and Sango sat down in her place.

As Kagome walked out the door, she glanced back at Miroku lying there on the floor with his eyes closed. For a moment he opened his eyes slightly and caught her gaze. They shared a meaningful look before Kagome turned away and stepped outside.

She could still feel his eyes on her long throughout the night.