Disclaimer: I do not own the Inuyasha series or any of the characters.

Summary: The kazaana finally gets the better of Miroku; however, things don't go exactly as expected. There is a sacrifice to be made. One Shot.


Sacrifice

When the last of the attacking youkai had disappeared, Miroku returned the beads to their usual spot and flexed the fingers of his cursed hand as he looked around at his companions. No one seemed to have been injured, although considering how easily this battle had ended that really wasn't surprising. Apparently the group of lesser youkai were not affiliated with Naraku in any way, judging from the lack of saimyosho in the area, and they had simply wanted the jewel shards Kagome carried. The only reason Miroku had bothered using the kazaana was because the youkai were particularly fast and kept dodging Inuyasha's Tetsusaiga, Sango's Hiraikotsu, and Kagome's arrows.

"I coulda got them, you know," grumbled Inuyasha, prying Tetsusaiga out of the ground and putting it back in its sheath. He flopped down to the ground and leaned against a tree with his arms folded behind his head, scowling at Miroku.

Miroku suspected he was just irritated to have his fun taken away from him. Things had been pretty quiet recently, and the hanyou had been spoiling for a fight for days. Perhaps Miroku shouldn't have taken the efficient approach to the battle, as Inuyasha looked tempted to take out his frustrations on Miroku now instead.

"You could help tidy up the camp, you know, instead of just sitting there," Kagome scolded Inuyasha as she darted around trying to recover as many of her arrows as possible. "Especially since you were the one letting yourself get tossed into our stuff."

"I didn't let myself get thrown around," Inuyasha retorted, still making no move to help gather their scattered belongings. "In case you didn't notice, I was busy trying to protect everybody."

Miroku started gathering up the remains of their camp. Now that Inuyasha and Kagome had started in on each other, he was probably safe, especially if he looked busy. He dawdled a bit as he tried to herd the spilled contents of Kagome's yellow bag back together. Was that her undergarments dangling off that bush? He should probably go check.

Alas, thwarted! Sango got there first, eyes narrowed at him. How did she manage it? It was like she was starting to develop some sort of sixth sense that was honed specifically to catch him acting lecherous. He hadn't even moved towards the delightful little scrap of fabric yet! How on earth did she know?

Sighing, he turned around to continue his task, only to come face to face with an excited Shippou.

"Did you see? Did you see the one I got? Pretty good, huh? Guess it's a good thing I stay around to help, huh?"

Miroku made a mental note to have a word with Inuyasha concerning the bad habits he was teaching the young kitsune through example. For example, bragging. He pictured the conversation and quickly amended himself. He would have a word with Kagome instead and let her sort everything out. This plan seemed the least likely to end with his head being put through a tree.

Apparently, tuning out in the middle of Shippou's self-congratulation did not demonstrate appropriate enthusiasm, because Shippou gave up on him and turned to Kirara instead to relate the tale of how he had saved the day. Miroku could still feel Sango's eyes burning into the back of his head, so he turned his attention back to the argument Inuyasha and Kagome were enjoying in hopes that this entertainment would distract him until Sango forgot to be irritated with him.

The pain came without any warning. He doubled over, dropping his shakujo as his left hand gripped his right forearm. He rode out the pain, and when it ebbed a little he forced his spasming right hand open and examined his palm.

He could feel a breeze.

But it's covered and sealed up, part of his mind protested, trying to insist he was imagining it.

He wasn't. The pain spiked again, twice as bad as before, and this time he could not stay silent, the strangled "Nnrgh!" escaping his lips despite his best efforts. The breeze picked up, drawn towards the kazaana even through the cloth and beads. A cold feeling of fear slipped into his chest and wrapped icy fingers around his heart. Time had run out.

"Miroku?"

Wrenching his eyes away from his palm, he looked around wildly, suddenly remembering that he was not alone. Inuyasha, still seated by the tree, was no longer reclining but leaning forward instead, tense as a bowstring. Shippou regarded him warily from beside Kirara, who was suddenly growling in the back of her throat, her tails lashing with unease. Kagome had frozen mid-crouch in the act of picking up an arrow that now lay forgotten. Sango stood behind him with growing realization in her beautiful eyes. And he reflected that despite his irreverence, despite his resolve to face his end bravely, and despite his private musings that he could die quite happily picturing those gorgeous brown eyes, he had been fooling himself. His sense of humour would not help him here. He was afraid! He wasn't finished! He didn't want to cling to a memory of Sango's lovely gaze in his last moments when the real thing was right here in front of him! He didn't want to die!

A third wave of pain, far stronger than the first two, shook him from the panic that had frozen his limbs, and filled him with a new fear. They were too close! They'd be sucked in too!

"No!" he breathed.

He bolted, fist clenched as though that could stop the spread of the kazaana for just a little longer. He ran as he had never run before, stumbling in his haste, refusing to fall, all the while picturing the size of the crater left by his father's death, and how far away Mushin had held him back. Just a little further, and then he could be certain they'd be safe!

And then his forward momentum suddenly stopped as he was tackled from behind and wrestled to the ground. His left hand was pried away from his right wrist while he sprawled, momentarily stunned.

"Got him!"

And then he was struggling, fighting like a wild thing to escape, because couldn't they see? Didn't they understand? His time was up and they were going to be killed along with him!

"Hold him still!"

"Grab his arm!"

His right arm was seized and stretched out away from his body, and Kagome's voice was chanting reinforcements on the seal that wouldn't hold for long, and he didn't even know where she'd learned such a thing, while Sango was practically sitting on him as he thrashed, words spilling incoherently from his mouth in protest, in denial, begging, sobbing — trying to explain why they had to run, run, run away! And Inuyasha was standing over him, and Miroku met his eyes and realized what was about to happen just a split second before the hanyou swung the untransformed Tetsusaiga down hard.

He must have blacked out for a moment, because it felt like he only blinked and suddenly he was being dragged backwards by hands under his arms. The wind sucked at his limbs and clothing and for a moment that was the only thing he felt and he feared that they were all going to be killed. But the powerful implosion did not take them with it, and then Miroku knew he was still alive because the pain came back.

And he'd thought the kazaana had hurt.

He screamed, shamelessly, until he felt as though his throat might tear, and this pain was almost a relief because it distracted him briefly from the agony that throbbed in his wrist and seemed to race up his arm to drill into his brain. For a seemingly endless amount of time he existed in a world where there was only pain, and he couldn't remember where he was or why he was here or even his own name.

He came back to himself a bit, the pain so thick he felt as though he was merely floating on top of it. He found himself propped up against someone with strong, slim arms encircling his torso from behind. Looking down, he focused dazedly on the hands pressing against his chest. Ah, Sango. He felt the body behind him hitch, felt moisture fall against the back of his neck, and felt her breath shuddering in his left ear. Why is she crying?

Another wave of pain, and pressure, and he turned to his right to see Kagome, bloodied and frazzled, her voice low and gentle as she talked constantly. He wasn't sure what she was saying to him, but listening to her was soothing despite the undertone of anxiety. He watched her, distantly amused — the way she moved reminded him of a small bird, so quick and abrupt. Then he focused on the object of her attention, as she wound long bandages round and round as tightly as she could pull them.

He really wasn't sure what he was looking at for a moment, amidst the blood that coated Kagome's hands near his blood-soaked robes against the blood-slicked grass and blood blood blood everywhere somuchblood… There was an arm, with a blood-drenched sleeve on it, but it wasn't his arm because his arm had a hand on the end of it, so this one wasn't his, even though it hurt him like a thousand hot irons. He stared for a moment in mild fascination, until a hand lifted off of his chest and crossed his line of sight, settling on his right cheek and turning his face away.

He didn't resist, letting his gaze drift in this new direction, the warm palm nice against his face. His eyes fell upon Shippou, who was standing near his left knee with his arms around Kirara's furry neck, looking traumatized and frightened. Miroku felt a frown of concern crease his brow a little. Why wasn't anyone except Kirara comforting the kit? After a few moments where his brain tried sluggishly to sort out commands, he lifted his left arm and reached out towards the little fox-child, who suddenly stumbled forward and started bawling into his robes against his side. Miroku let his left hand drop onto the sobbing child's head and rest there limply, too exhausted by this motion to move it any further.

All the times he had lain awake in dread as he imagined the kazaana growing beyond control, never once had he pictured this. If the certainty with which his friends had tackled him was any indication, they had discussed this very situation before, had been planning all along to deal with it this way. Funny, lying here surrounded by a group of people who had apparently been scheming for some time to cut his hand off — his hand! Oh gods, his hand! — he had never felt so protected, so cared for, so loved.

The pain was lessening again, which was a shame because it was coming back down to a pitch that he could actually feel. Darkness was lapping at the edges of his vision, and sleep sounded like heaven.

Bare feet stepped into his line of sight, and he let his head roll back lethargically to rest on the shoulder behind him so that he could look up higher than the ground. Inuyasha stood, wiping the Tetsusaiga's blade on his sleeve before sheathing it, his face scowling. Inuyasha had a whole array of scowls for every occasion, which amused Miroku to no end. Right now he was wearing the worried-scowl. Miroku met his eyes and looked placidly at him, too weary and disoriented to feel grateful or relieved or angry, or anything at all beyond mild interest.

Before he passed out, he heard Inuyasha say, "Idiot Bouzu! Did you really think we'd just let you die?"

::Owari::


A/N: Maybe this wouldn't work. But I've never seen anything to the contrary (and I looked), and I've never seen anyone try this idea before. So I choose to believe it could work. If I'm wrong, call it artistic license. I'm being as accurate as I realistically can. And I rather like this idea.