Disclaimer: Inuyasha belongs to Rumiko Takahashi.

Epilogue

Sango hesitated. She knew it was foolish: it had taken everything in her to get this far, and now she stood, just outside the door, unable to summon the courage to go in. She felt weighed down, both by the birth control tucked into the sleeve of her yukata and by her own words. Like it or not, she had turned down Miroku's proposition earlier. There was no guarantee that he would accept her presence now. Worst of all, she could not exactly blame him if he did no longer wanted to put up with her.

She was well aware that she had done precious little in the way of encouraging him to show his affection for her in the past. Surely even he had his limits. What if she had pushed him past those limits? What if, what if, what if... an endless barrage of depressing and painful scenarios played out in her head, and not even a hot bath, an unsteady resolution, and Kagome's enthusiastic reassurance had been enough to fully dispel them.

You're being a coward, she thought. And it was true. She was being a coward. Miroku was a patient man, and she knew, deep down, that he cared for her deeply. They would get past this bump in the road, somehow. All she had to do was take things one step at a time, and avoid getting too far ahead of herself.

After all, it was not as if she had not spent the night - entirely innocently - with Miroku before. And Miroku did not know about the birth control; Kagome had merely insisted that she take it as a precaution. If she only wanted to talk, or be near one another without going further, all she had to do was avoid mentioning that she had it.

Knowing that did little to quell the nervousness that rose in her belly.

Taking a deep breath and quashing her fears as best as she could, she stepped forward and slid the door open. Miroku glanced up at her, his gaze more curious than expectant.

It was dark in the room, the fire having apparently burned low long ago; Miroku was sitting near the back, as if he had been meditating. It was a small room, but the atmosphere was almost cozy. She felt suddenly like an intruder, an unwanted guest, and fought the urge to flee.

"Miroku?" she asked, hesitantly, almost stumbling over the unfamiliar syllables of his name.

"Yes, Sango?" He looked tired, resigned, and a little bit surprised. She couldn't blame him.

"I thought... I might stay with you tonight," she said. "If you don't mind, that is."

There was a long pause before he motioned for her to join him; she sat in front of him, curling her legs to one side and letting her hands rest in her lap, and found that it was suddenly hard to keep still.

As if sensing her agitation, he leaned forward and clasped her fidgeting hands in his. "Sango, if you're nervous or upset, you don't have to stay."

She pulled one hand away and held it up to silence him. "Stop." When he made no move to interrupt, she lowered her hand and continued, "Before I stay, we need to talk."

"I'm listening," he said, his tone careful.

She was determined not to let her nervousness stop her now, and plunged blindly ahead. "If I stay here with you tonight... and we do anything beyond just kissing," she faltered slightly but kept going, afraid she would lose her nerve, "there will be no other women, right?"

She knew it was the question he had been dreading from her all along, more so than any other: the requirement that he be loyal only to her before she would agree to be with him. It was the question she had feared for so long would be the deal breaker, the one thing that would truly tear them apart. Now, that fear had slipped away. It needed to be said, to be brought out into the open and confirmed, but she was no longer afraid of what the answer might be.

And as she scrutinized his face, waiting for an answer, she saw no signs that he was going to attempt to evade the question... only shock, followed by a quick succession of warring emotions that eventually gave way to his customary calm.

Finding his voice at least, he admonished, "As pleasant as that idea is, Sango, you know we cannot do that." As if fearing she might flee as she had the last time he turned her down, he rested a hand gently on her arm. "Hear me out, please."

She toyed uncomfortably with the sleeve of her yukata. This was the sink-or-swim moment. "I know what you are going to say," she said, her voice almost a whisper as uncertainty gripped her. "We cannot take the chance of bringing a child into the world, not now. And I... I understand that. I know that." She took a deep breath. "And... I would not be here if I did not accept that risk. And if Kagome had not given me something to prevent the conception of a child."

Understanding flashed through the monk's eyes, and something else, which might have been joy, or lust. She could never quite tell with him...

Still, the prolonged silence was worrying. She wanted desperately to know what he was thinking, and, more worryingly, was quickly losing her momentum and her nerve. Instead of giving herself time to focus and expand on her doubts, she asked, "Are you okay?"

He smiled at that. "I'm fine. Just... surprised."

She let it rest, giving way to an almost awkward silence. A thought nagged at her. "You still haven't answered my question."

"Sango, you're the only woman for me." His response, free of his customary guile, took her by surprise. For a moment she was speechless, unable to form a coherent thought. Had he really said what she thought she had just heard? It seemed impossible.

She had not realized just how close they were until he reached up and caressed her face. She leaned into the touch and sighed.

"I didn't think I'd live to see the day when you would come to me willingly," he murmured, a hint of wonder in his voice, "Or at least not pull away from my touch."

The comment took her aback for a moment. Had she really made him feel so hopeless? And yet he had never faltered in his pursuit of her. Gotten sidetracked, perhaps, or distracted, but never faltered.

"Sango." She startled badly at the sound of his voice; Miroku only smiled. His hand now cupped her face, the thumb brushing gently over her lips. The intensity of his gaze made her heart beat fast. Her tongue darted out of her mouth, almost of its own accord, to wet suddenly dry lips.

His eyes narrowed for a moment, and then he leaned forward, closing the distance between them and pressing his lips to hers. She nearly melted into the kiss, her fears momentarily forgotten amidst an embrace that was both reassuring and nerve-wracking. As he moved to deepen the kiss, she gave into the advance far more willingly than she would have liked to admit, relishing the heated movement of his lips and tongue against hers.

Time and space fell away, and for a long while her world seemed to consist only of the two of them. She threw herself into the kiss with reckless abandon, gratefully letting her doubts and fears slip away. There would be time for that later. For the moment, at least, they had this, and this connection was stronger than all the evil that threatened them. If only it could be like this forever...

The hand that had been against her face slipped back to support the nape of her neck, then snuck down further, cupping her butt and urging her hips against his. Sango snapped back to reality, Kagome's stern warning about proper use of the birth control echoing suddenly - and jarringly - in her ears.

For a moment she felt terribly disoriented. How had she ended up leaning so far backward, with Miroku nearly on top of her? Her arms were looped around his neck, her hands tangled in his hair, holding him close; her legs were coiled almost painfully beneath her to accommodate Miroku's sudden presence on top of her. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm her racing heart.

Miroku watched her carefully, a faint smirk on his face. "Is something wrong?"

He was already pulling away, settling back where he had been sitting before, and giving her space to regain her composure. Awkwardly, she tried to explain. "No, it's not that. Uhm... well, the thing Kagome gave me... it's for you, actually."

He quirked a brow. "For me?"

She fumbled for a moment, then withdrew the small package from her sleeve and handed it to him. He took it from her without a word, inspecting it curiously. It looked innocuous enough; if she had not already known what it was from Kagome's explanation, she would never have guessed its true purpose.

"There are instructions," she pointed out.

By the time he finished reading the package, he could not quite keep the grin off his face. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

She squared her shoulders and met his gaze, determined not to back down. "Are you?"

"Oh yes." He looked, she thought, almost predatory. "Come here," he said, moving toward the pallet along the side wall. She let him take her hand and followed silently, her heart beating fast as he pulled her down with him and urged her into his lap. She moved carefully, easing her legs over his and around his waist, feeling a rush of expectant heat flow through her.

The yukata went taut around her thighs, preventing her from getting closer. Frustrated, she squirmed and hiked the robe up until she could straddle his hips better. He pulled her into a kiss, holding her close against him with a hand on the small of her back. The other hand traced a lazy path up her side before coming to rest against her breast.

Shuddering, having forgotten to breathe and finding herself suddenly very aware of his excitement, of the hard, hot length of him that was pressed between them, she broke away from the kiss.

"Sango... I -"

Before he could regain his composure enough to go on, she interjected, "I trust you." Three words that were, she realized, long overdue. Three words that changed everything forever. It was out in the open. She couldn't take it back. And even if she could, she didn't want to. For good measure, she added, "I don't want any more doubts."

The hand that had been against her breast dipped lower. He deftly untied the belt holding her yukata closed, letting it hang open. She felt a flash of self-consciousness at finding herself suddenly exposed, even though he gave no sign that he wanted her to remove the garment completely; the realization that Miroku was already working at his own clothing made her flush a deeper shade of red, but did not stop her from reaching to help him, pushing dark fabric out of the way once his robe had been untied.

His skin was marred by old scars... and newer bruises, dark and ugly purplish reminders of their constant struggle for survival. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight. She pulled away, already missing the close contact but needing a better look.

She needed to see what her foolishness had wrought. She needed to see it, accept it, and vow to do better in the future...

"Don't," he whispered.

"Huh?"

"Don't feel guilty," he continued, slipping behind her and out of sight. And then his hands were against her waist, the sensitive skin there shivering of its own accord at the unexpected caress, urging her back to rest against him, her back to his front. He looped his arms loosely around her, his hands brushing lightly against her hips.

"What are you talking about?" she managed, barely.

He slipped the robe off one of her shoulders and pressed a wet kiss to her suddenly bare flesh. "Don't feel guilty about the bruises. There are other things I'd much rather you stare at." She heard him only as if through a haze; she was caught up in the feel of his legs, strong and warm, on each side of her hips. His hands distracted her, moving to cup her breasts, his fingers expertly teasing the nipples to hard nubs. He pressed another kiss, and another and another, along the line of her shoulder until he found a particularly sensitive spot, which he laved with his tongue until she trembled in his arms.

An insistent heat was growing between her legs, demanding her attention - or his, it did not matter so long as the need for contact was met. She squirmed just a little, her hands fisting amidst the fabric of her loosened yukata. His legs, pressed close enough against her to keep her legs from falling open, tightened around hers for a heartbeat before relaxing again. She realized then, slowly, that he was teasing her: deliberately confining her, prolonging the moment, gauging her reactions.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time," he confessed, a heated whisper against her ear. She let out a shuddering breath that was half sigh, half moan as his hand slid down her belly to the heated, needy place between her legs.

She moved her hips greedily against his hand. It was clumsy, instinctive, but gratifying. His fingers, slick with her juices, slid deftly amidst her folds, working with her movements and wringing a climax from her almost before she knew it.

She slumped against him as the waves of pleasure subsided, breathing hard and feeling remarkably boneless and relaxed. "You should let go more often," he teased, resting his chin on her shoulder.

"I can't," she said, quietly. She had spent most of the last several months fighting for her life or worrying about her brother or Miroku. Even when they did have some down time, there were her weapons, which needed care, and her poisons to restock, and the chores Kaede needed help with. She could find a million excuses not to engage in such self-indulgent behavior, and, she was beginning to realize, Miroku would happily make her forget each and every one of them, if only she would let him. And he was making that idea a very tempting one, indeed.

"Once or twice is better than never," he pointed out. She did not want to ask how he knew so much about her private habits, or if he was merely guessing, and the idea slipped away anyway as he began to move his hand again, using a finger to gently toy with her clit.

"You would say that, wouldn't you?"

"It's good advice."

"For me, or for you?"

He did something wonderful with his hand that made her hips buck against him and tore a moan from her throat. When he spoke, she could practically hear the grin in his voice. "Consider it... mutually beneficial."

She did not respond then, was instead overcome by the sensations of his hand against her as he dipped first one and then two fingers inside her at the same time. She barely noticed when he moved to sit beside her instead of behind her.

She was well on her way to losing herself in his touch for a second time when he suddenly stopped.

The words "don't stop" died on her lips. She cracked open her eyes, almost afraid to see what the problem was; Miroku had a slightly amused expression on his face, and was holding the birth control package in the hand that was not otherwise occupied. "Help me with this?" he asked, "Unless you'd rather I stop and take care of it myself..."

Thoroughly distracted, and a bit irritated at the interruption, it took her a moment to process what he was saying. When she had finally made sense of it, she reached over and snatched the package from him. He laughed quietly, an intoxicating, husky sound, as she tore fiercely into the packaging and removed the device inside.

His fingers were moving again, teasing, distracting. She reached awkwardly for him, hindered by half-lidded eyes and the dim light as much as the pulsing pleasure between her legs, finally found his length and closed her hand around it. It was warm, and broader than she had expected, the skin silky soft over a hardness that only grew more rigid as her fingers wrapped around it. She dragged her hand up to the tip, eliciting a sound that was half gasp, half choke.

Her hands shaking slightly, she rolled the strange material down his shaft until it formed a sheath - the strange barrier Kagome swore would prevent the creation of a child. Sango did not have time to wonder about that, because no sooner had she withdrawn her hands, than Miroku was urging her back onto the mat and beneath him. She did not even mind that he had stopped working his hand between her legs; she opened herself to him eagerly, sighed as he settled over her and captured her mouth in a kiss.

He waited a moment longer, and then shifted, sinking his length into her slowly, deeply. It was enough to make her gasp. Miroku seemed at a loss for words. He shuddered, tried to speak once, and found his voice on the second try. "You're okay?"

"Yes," she breathed.

He moved, then, and she moved with him. They found a rhythm together, slow at first and then, deeper, faster, needier. Curtained by Miroku's robe, Sango felt safe, intimate. She held him closer, meeting each of his movements and wanting the closeness and certainty of this moment to never fade.

And then he was stiffening over her, reaching his own peak. She watched, fascinated, as he came tumbling down from it... taut strain giving way to deep relaxation and contentment. Such a powerful reaction... because of her. It was a heady thought.

Miroku smiled at her before he pulled away, and laughed when she averted her eyes, fresh color seeping into her cheeks; it would seem her shyness amused him. Her body had responded so easily to that smile, once again growing warm and eager with desire... but he was already gone, tying his robe shut and seeing to the fire. Uncomfortably, and feeling suddenly modest, she fidgeted with her own clothing and ultimately climbed under the blanket.

It took her a moment longer to realize that he was simply disposing of the birth control; he returned to her side as soon as he was done. He was still smiling, a grin that only grew larger as he realized she was watching him; for once he seemed genuinely carefree. She felt a surge of joy in her heart to see him so happy, after all they had been through, though he quickly sobered.

He slipped back under the blanket beside her, wrapping an arm around her and gathering her against him. Sighing happily, he said, "I must find a way to thank Kagome for such a wonderful gift." Somewhat ruefully, he added, "Someday we won't need such precautions."

"Mm," Sango murmured sleepily, resting her head on his shoulder.

"We'll destroy Naraku," he continued. "And we'll live our lives together, and have many, many children..."

"Yes," she agreed, lifting her head to look at him and give a wry grin. "Now that this is settled, I'm not going to let you weasel out of it that easily."

He chuckled softly. "I didn't think you would."

She let it rest at that, and they lapsed into comfortable silence. For now, at least, fear and uncertainty had been replaced by quiet contentment and newly solidified faith in each other, and that their shared quest would not be in vain, not so long as they both lived. There would be time, later, for worries and fears to creep back in... tomorrow, maybe, but not tonight.

Tomorrow, they would head out and continue the journey to find Naraku.

Tomorrow, together.

ooooo

Morning found Sango sitting on the temple porch, polishing Hiraikotsu. Beside her lay her sword, polished and gleaming in the early morning light, and Kohaku's chain scythe. The chain was coiled neatly, the blade resting on top.

Miroku slipped out of the temple and came to sit beside her. "It's early yet," he said, "did you sleep at all?"

"A little," she admitted. She had been restless, her mind filled with thoughts of the future, and the past. It was as if a haze had lifted, and she could finally see clearly. What she had been lacking all along was faith. Faith in herself, and in her friends. She wondered if she had only trusted them more, if she had just trusted herself more, if all of this could have been avoided.

Noticing her melancholy demeanor, Miroku teased, "Wait, was it that bad?"

Sango flushed with embarrassment. It hadn't been bad at all, but she did not have the courage to tell him so directly. Instead she shook her head and managed a quiet, "no."

"Care to do it again?" he asked, a little of his customary lechery sneaking into his voice.

"Not just yet," she said, hesitating, wondering how he might react to such a response. "I'm a little sore..."

Surprised: "I hurt you."

"No... it's more like... I've used muscles I didn't know I had."

He smiled, and sighed. "Ah, well. Can you blame me for trying?"

Giggling a little in spite of herself, Sango had to admit, "No, not really."

She let him pull her close beside him, Hiraikotsu sprawled across both their laps, and leaned in to rest her head against his shoulder... and did not pull away even as she heard the sounds of their friends stirring within the temple.

Let them see... see that their trial by fire had only strengthened their bond, that things had changed and, this time, the change was for the better.

ooooo

Note: It's finally done (and edited)! Many thanks to those who have read, reviewed, and otherwise supported me through this endeavor.