Waiting With You

'I shouldn't have grabbed her. I only wanted to distract her from her pain, nothing more… it seems I did nothing but make things worse.'

Miroku sighed, scuffling his feet and boyishly counting the puffs of dust rising from the ground. His head shot up as the source of a familiar youki sped by in a flash of silver and red, unerringly moving toward a silver-blue glow in the forest beyond.

'Then again, I guess I'm not the only baka in the group.'

Peering through the trees, just barely able to see the building in the muted light, Miroku leveled a glare at the lavish house. Of course they'd have to stop here, of all places… where the lord apparently had a long and accurate memory.

Or perhaps it was the lord's daughter, who'd apparently been enamored of him once he'd saved her from the wrath of a weasel youkai… and saved her father from the bitterness of his vassals, angry at his wealth in less-than-prosperous times…

Of course, the lord hadn't seen it that way. He'd seen it as base thievery! Miroku sighed again. 'I suppose not everybody can understand the workings of a man of the cloth…'

When Miroku led the group to the doorstep to "barter" lodgings, he'd thought the area looked somewhat familiar. Of course, he was a traveler, so this was not an uncommon occurrence.

'Perhaps I should keep a log of what spoils I liberate from an area. The years begin to blend together. Maybe Lady Kagome would be so kind as to bring one of her maps from her future world.'

The lord had studied Miroku very carefully when the group was presented to him, as though he were wary of something in particular. Before he could take his first steps toward an "exorcism," however, the puffy-faced girl had begun babbling about his battle with that youkai, begging his name and reminiscing aloud his previous visit, his "heroic rescue" and how he'd "stolen her heart."

The lord had not been happy – more upset over the other rewards Miroku had acquired than his daughter's heart. Most of the group had been lucky, though. Noting their weariness and the threat of bad weather on the horizon, the lord had eventually been willing to allow them a room, providing Miroku keep his distance from the building and they pay a nominal fee. It would have been more had they not eradicated a nuisance of a flock of crow youkai from the nearby woods.

'And not even a Shikon shard for our trouble.' Great. He was starting to sound like InuYasha. Could the day get worse?

That thought had barely flitted through his head before his fire began to sizzle and pop and the wood began to smoke…

The skies, which had held up until now, opened up into a torrential downpour in what seemed like only the blink of an eye. Before he could cover himself, his robes were soaked. Giving it up as a lost cause, Miroku huffed out a sigh; glaring frustratedly at the covered retreat his friends relaxed in.

Miroku's glare shifted to a wistful gaze as he barely made out Sango's beautiful form sprinting her way to the bathhouse, one of Kagome's modern "umbrellas" covering her head. She refused to look his way; she was angry at him again. He was unsure if her most recent acts of rage had been leveled due to his wandering hand or the lord's daughter's reaction to his presence. 'She didn't even know the entire story!'

No, Miroku couldn't fool himself; he couldn't blame Sango for her reaction – it was a mixture of a battle against Kohaku just a few days ago, his misconstrued attempts to lighten the mood and on top of all that, an unknown woman extolling the virtues of her promised husband? No, Miroku could play the role of ignorant playboy well, but he was well-aware what had pushed Sango's mood over the edge.

'She is nowhere near as comely as Sango,' Miroku thought ruefully. 'Nor as deadly, lean, powerful, strong… Why would Sango believe I would have anything to do with the lord's daughter? Compared to Sango, she's merely a child!'

Miroku scooted close to the pitiful remains of his fire, sitting on his remaining wood and attempting to keep it dry under his robes. He sighed, gazing into its depths as if he could divine the answer from the dying coals. Whether she felt violated by his actions or disappointed in the girl's reaction, he was tired of being rebuffed… even if he understood why. It was a mark of his current disposition that he didn't even feel compelled to spy on Sango, even knowing she was alone and relatively unarmed. His past was in the past; it was the present that mattered. Could she not see that he was cursed? He would be lucky to live out the year.

Almost the moment the thought flitted through his head, he felt infinitely guilty. Sango was going through almost the hardest time of all of them. Miroku couldn't lie, not even to himself: he feared for his life, but it was the lives of his friends that he was most concerned about. He didn't want to lose them to the abominable hole in his hand. Sango had a similar fear for Kohaku – what must it be like to seemingly lose her brother again and again to Naraku's hand? Miroku had had time to come to grips with his curse; Sango was able to regain faith in their quest, only to face her brother and the possibility that she'd never see him acting of his own thoughts and wishes time after time.

Miroku vaguely wondered if this was why Kagome and InuYasha had such a hard time coming together. His thoughts strayed to the soul-carrying youkai that had led InuYasha away from their camp once more. Was Kagome crying? She gave everything she had to the hanyou, and every time they seemed to come closer, Kikyou's Shini-dama-chuu would beckon him away and leave him in a state of confusion for days. He didn't blame InuYasha for his feelings; Miroku though it must be hell to be torn between two women, literally the past and future, no matter what lewd commentary he'd made in passing.

He was unsure of how much time had passed, though he noted the rain had died down; it was obviously night and though the clouds hinted at giving way to clear skies, Miroku knew he'd have little luck restarting his fire.

Eventually, his attention was grabbed by the faintest sound of a shoji door slipping shut. Eyes unaccustomed to the darkness, he peered in vain toward the building, hoping his eyes would adjust quickly and let him find out just what or who was now headed his way.

'Perhaps Sango has come, and I may offer her an apology,' he hoped.

A dark-haired young woman stepped into the clearing as a beam of moonlight shone through the clouds above… he should have not been as surprised as he was to see Kagome standing there, a concerned look in her eyes.

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'I probably shouldn't have subdued him,' Kagome fretted, watching InuYasha out of the corner of his eye. 'He was only sticking up for Miroku… but he was offending the lord and could have gotten us kicked out!'

Kagome sighed as she poured the water for tea into a cup of instant noodles for the hanyou and set it by his feet. Nose in the air, he pointedly snubbed her, though a small smile crawled on her face as she noticed his ears still trained on her and she could see his nose working overtime, as though he feared she take the food away if he didn't act quickly. Once she'd stepped a sufficient distance away, a clawed hand reached out and snagged the cup.

InuYasha remained silent through the day, though she caught him sniffing the air every once in a while. A dull ache had appeared in her chest as evening fell; she sighed resignedly when she realized he had disappeared while she was bathing. The pitying looks from Sango and Shippou only confirmed her suspicions.

"It's your turn in the bathhouse, Sango," Kagome said, forcing a smile. "The water's great."

"Any sign of the lecher?" Sango asked dryly, eyeing Hiraikotsu speculatively. She was apparently still upset about earlier… Kagome was unsure what had set off the taijya's temper, but it was clear something had tipped the scales.

It seemed the entire group was on edge lately. Kagome was getting sick of it. It felt like the whole quest was the phrase "one step forward, two steps back" in action.

"I didn't see him," Kagome soothed, handing Sango the bag of soaps and motioning the young woman out the door. Tucking Shippou in with a snuggle and a kiss, she settled down to her worst enemy: math.

She had no clue how much time had passed before her eyes began to blur and the formulas began to bleed into one another in her head. The candles had all been blown out but the one nearest her; Sango had come back from her bath and settled down to sleep.

Seeing the food remaining, Kagome's heart went out to Miroku, who'd been sent away from the prospect of a warm dinner and a roof over his head for the night. He'd gone willingly enough, though she'd seen the wistful look on his face as he left, agreeing to meet them down the road the next day.

Seeing the rain had stopped for the moment, Kagome gathered some of their remaining meal, a towel, and an umbrella – just in case. Steeling her resolve, she slipped on her shoes and made her way to where she'd seen a fire flickering just beyond the tree-line on her quick run from the bathhouse to the room. As she grew closer, the clouds seemed to lighten up, and the full moon shone her way. She grinned, thinking how like a fairy tale it was.

He seemed surprised to see her, which morphed into gratitude as he saw the bowls of food she held. She handed them to him, setting down the umbrella and tutting over the soaked remains of his fire.

Miroku dug into the soup gratefully as Kagome snuck back to the house and dug out some wood from the pit under the walkway near the room they'd been given. With the use of her fire-sticks ('Matches,' Miroku corrected himself mentally), she had coaxed a small fire before he'd finished his meal.

Miroku watched as Kagome gazed around, taking note of her posture as she was reminded by the glow over the tree line why InuYasha had taken off. Her shoulders slumped as she sighed; then she shook her head and forced a smile, turning her attention back to the soaking monk. "Just a moment," she promised, running back into the room and coming back out with her backpack and sleeping bag.

"Shippou won't even miss it," she said as she noticed his appraising look. "He's curled up with Kirara. And you'll be more comfortable once you're warmed up."

Miroku set the bowl on the ground, only realizing then that he'd been shivering. 'No wonder,' he thought ruefully, peeling his soaked sleeves from his skin, 'I'm soaked to the bone.'

Kagome made her way closer to Miroku, unzipping the sleeping bag before suddenly looking at his lap and snickering. Miroku blinked, looking down curiously before an unexpected blush stole up his cheeks. He hadn't paid much attention to the wood he was sitting on in a vain attempt to keep it dry; a branch stuck up between his legs, creating a small tent with his sopping robes.

"Is that a stick, houshi-sama?" She forced through her chuckles, eyes glittering merrily, "or are you just happy to see me?"

Miroku's jaw dropped as his cheeks flushed brighter. Kagome was always surprising him with her comments; apparently women were more forward in her time, but he'd never quite heard her say something like that before!

He scrabbled in his lap to rearrange his robs; a snap made it clear he had broken the branch off in his haste. The noise sent Kagome into even louder gales of laughter… Miroku shifted uncomfortably, wincing as he caught her obvious thoughts. 'A woman is evil,' he thought mutinously, 'if she can find humor in that sort of situation!'

Kagome muffled her laughter at the un-amused look on Miroku's face; forcing herself to calm, she motioned to his robes. "Go ahead; take 'em off. They'll never dry at this rate."

Miroku blinked, obviously astonished. A lecherous grin slowly made its way across his face. "You know, it's not every day a beautiful woman tells me to-"

"I didn't say get naked," Kagome cut him off, eyes narrowed but a smile still on her face. "Let your kesa dry first. Then we'll wrap you in my sleeping bag and let your kosode dry, too." She tossed another log on the fire before moving to drape the purple cloth over some rearranged pieces of wood.

"Are you worried about him?" Miroku couldn't help but ask as he caught Kagome looking over her shoulder toward where blue light still shone.

Kagome bit her lip, and then shook her head. "Nah. I've been thinking about it, and what will happen… will happen, you know?" She sighed, ringing out the wettest corner of the kesa. "I mean, I can't imagine he's… you know," she blushed, looking over her shoulder as thought afraid InuYasha would appear at any moment. "She's dead," she finally hissed, stomping her foot to underscore the point. She let out a muffled shriek as her foot collided with a small stone, tipping her backwards and directly into Miroku's arms.

Kagome's eyes shut as she gasped from the near-fall, though she couldn't help but look at him in confusion when he snickered.

"Why, Kagome-sama, I believe you're falling for me!"

The miko stood, brandishing a dry look at Miroku as she wiped some of the rainwater from his damp kosode off her pajama pants. "I'd almost agree, houshi-sama, but it wouldn't be very far to fall, now, would it?"

Miroku chuckled. "Because you're already halfway there?" He was surprisingly pleased to realize Kagome was willing to match him in a battle of wits… it seemed everybody was on edge lately, and it was starting to get him down. Even Kagome's aura was tinged with something… uncomfortable. Sorrow? No, it wasn't that deep. More like a deep-seated loneliness.

It was a feeling he understood well enough.

"In your dreams, you lech!" Kagome offered back, scowling as she realized his catch had not only damped her pants, but the back of her shirt as well. She crouched, hoping the fire would help it dry – it was cold outside!

Her attention had been drawn away, so she missed his mischievous smirk. "My dreams, you say? You wish for me to share? A pair of luscious-"

Kagome waved her hands in a cutting motion, the glare on her face belied by the twinkle in her eye. "I don't need to know what you dream about, houshi-sama, to know what you want."

"Ah? And what is it you think I want?" Miroku challenged, less playful, more curious and… and something else Kagome couldn't quite put her finger on.

Kagome's mouth flapped open and shut a few times; obviously, he'd caught her off-guard. Then she looked at him… really looked. For a moment, Miroku thought she was gazing completely through him. She moved to stand behind him, kneading his shoulders softly through his kosode. "You're tense," she said quietly, and Miroku was completely thrown off by her change of topic. "Then again, we all are, aren't we?"

Miroku forced a noise of assent through his partially open mouth, followed up by a groan as she kneaded a particularly tightly knotted muscle. "Really, you should relax more," she chided gently. "I'd be able to work more if you could take the kosode off, but-"

Miroku threw a playful smirk over his shoulders and began shrugging the fabric off her shoulders, taking pleasure in the way heat stole up Kagome's cheeks before she clapped her hands to her face.

"Stop it!" she ordered, "I didn't say 'get naked', if you didn't hear me the first time, and I certainly didn't mean it!"

Miroku stood and laid his kosode over yet more of the wood Kagome had brought over. He turned and realized Kagome still had her hands over her eyes, shaking her head. Grinning at the girl's obvious discomfiture, he reached out and peeled her fingers away… actually laughing outright as he realized her eyes were clenched shut.

"Kagome," he murmured, "You can open your eyes; it's fine." At her sound of adamant denial, he elaborated, "I'm wearing hakama. Why do you think I'm always so hot?" He wondered at the choking noise Kagome made before she finally peeked at him, sighing a bit as she realized she wasn't seeing any… parts she didn't wish to.

Miroku chuckled as he noticed Kagome eyeing his chest, drawing her attention and laughing outright at the way her face flushed even brighter. 'Is that healthy, for a woman's face to get that red?'

Finally back under control (for the most part – Kagome had never been so happy Miroku didn't have InuYasha's sensitive hearing, with the way her heart was thundering in her chest), she began working his shoulders again. A groan had her cheeks flaring red yet again – it'd be just her luck if InuYasha came back now…

Time seemed to stand still for Miroku as Kagome systematically worked out each kink, every bit of tension from his upper back and shoulders. Eventually, though, he began to shiver and she tugged the sleeping bag up, tucking it under his hair and patting it around him. "You carry so much weight," she murmured, leaning on his back sleepily and draping her arms around his neck.

He knew what she was referring to, oblique as the comment was, and freed a hand to place over hers. "As do you. With such… battle-happy companions, we do not have the luxury of taking out tension with such physical exertion." He frowned, realizing how cold her hands were, and pulled her around to sit in front of him. In a manner quite reminiscent of InuYasha, he wrapped her in the folds of the thick blanket and tugged her back against him.

Even he was surprised, though, when she willingly leaned back against him, head in the crook of his shoulder. Looking down, he realized her eyes were trained on the section of forest where both knew InuYasha and Kikyou were meeting.

"Stop it." She tilted her head back to look up at him questioningly. "'What will be, will be,' remember? Stop torturing yourself," he insisted.

Her eyes narrowed. "You're one to talk. You know you hoped I was Sango when I came out here. I saw the look on your face."

Miroku couldn't think of a suitable comeback. She was right, after all. Silence echoed – a thick, painful silence, filled with words unsaid. Finally, "Why do you wait?"

"Hmmm?"

"Why do you wait for him when he leaves?" This was something he suddenly needed an answer to. He needed to understand. "You know he is drawn to her, will be drawn to her until she passes on… and even then, he may choose to go with her. So why?"

Kagome let out a mirthless chuckle – a sound Miroku hoped never to hear from her again. "Why do you wait? Why do you watch Sango torment herself? Why do you grope her after she faces Kohaku?"

"Because I -"

"Exactly."

The two sat as silence smothered them again. Kagome was being much too solemn; she was the spark of light in their group, Miroku had always thought. If that light went out… he grabbed her chin suddenly, forcing her to look at him… and kissed her.

Kagome gasped and he took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. In just seconds, she melted against him, returning his affections with a fervor that would have astonished him if he had been thinking about anything besides how great it was to feel wanted, needed…

The two broke away, panting lightly. Miroku's eyes sparkled as she raised her hand to her lips. "What was that for?"

"Wait with me."

Kagome cocked her head. "What?"

"Wait with me. We're both waiting… for things that may not come to pass." He cursed himself as Kagome's eyes darkened, and he ran a hand through her hair to distract her. "We cannot lose hope; until that day comes, wait with me."

Kagome turned, rising on her knees to look him in the eye. A beat later and she nodded, pressing her lips back against his. "I'll be right here with you," she promised against his mouth, before a much more pleasant silence against descended on the clearing.

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The sky began to lighten and Miroku awoke Kagome. With a pat to her ass (he was thrilled to get a playful glare), he sent her back to the room, reminding her to bathe before InuYasha returned. No doubt he'd be suspicious if she smelled too much like him, even if the worst they had done was kiss.

As for Miroku – he headed to a nearby river. The colder, the better.

They knew they'd go their separate ways. They were each in love - with somebody else. They were the lovers, not the fighters, and needed more emotional support than physical. Their happily-ever-afters would come in time; until then, they'd lean on each other.

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Disclaimer: I do not own InuYasha or any other characters from the anime/manga. They all belong to Rumiko Takahashi.