Steel and Salt
by Scribe Figaro

A submission for Aamalie's Mirosanta
And gift-fic for psycho_chick32
(Takes place directly after the incident of the Oni's Stomach, around Chapter 356 in the manga.)

Summary:
Miroku recovers from the injuries sustained with the group in the Oni's Stomach.
After awaking to Sango's vigil, the two decide to share some well-earned intimacy.
Canon, or close enough to it.
I don't like calling it a lime. More of a Mandarin orange. Perhaps even avocado.
Unless that implies something really obscene already. Then it is not.

There was the scent of ginger, strong and clean, the scent of rice and foods, medicines and balms. And there was music, haunting music.

The young woman watched over him, smiling, singing to herself, a sad song that rose and fell with her breath, and his heart beat its meter. There were words, though he could not discern them, as they lifted so softly from her lips, and very barely went any farther.

But he knew the theme. The woman there would protect him, and love him. She would stand watch over him when he was ill, and keep away the nightmares.

Miroku had so many nightmares.

The woman stopped singing, and smiled, leaning forward. He recognized the face, the face of the woman who had pulled him into her arms and protected him from the things that would cause him harm. The woman who had protected him with her own body, who encircled his head with her arms, who caressed his hair and whispered that everything would be alright, even through her tears.

She had placed her mask over his face, to shield him from the toxic air that surrounded them. It put the taste of metal on his tongue, and the salt of her sweat and her tears. It put the smell of purifying incense in his nose. Beyond the incense, he could smell her hair. Beyond the steel and salt, he could taste her mouth.

"I'm here, Miroku. Open your eyes."

Miroku opened his eyes.

Sango smiled, kneeling beside him, leaning close. He had forgotten how beautiful she was, as if his memory was incapable of properly recording her countenance, as he suspected no artist in the world was capable of capturing that which is Sango in a painting.

"What . . . what did you say?"

"I said, 'I'm here,' Houshi-sama," she said. "You've been dreaming so long, I didn't want you to forget which side of the dream you were on."

"Dreaming?" he said. "I can't remember . . . what happened?"

"You succumbed to poison, in the Oni's stomach," she said. "Inuyasha broke free, and we came here to Kaede's village. You've been out of it for days."

"Have you been here the whole time?"

Sango blushed. "Well, someone had to. And you're a nice guy to be around when you're unconscious and can't grope me."

Sango bit her lip after she said this. She had been worried for him.

Miroku cautiously took her hand.

"You don't have to worry about me so much. There are others who can care for me."

Sango slowly turned her hand over, intertwining her fingers with his.

"Don't talk that way."

"What way?"

"Like you think so little of me, that you would even suggest I could do something else when you're so ill." Her eyes wavered. "I've been worried sick about you for days, and you have the nerve to suggest I should have left you in the care of someone else?"

"You know I didn't mean it that way."

"Then what do you mean, Houshi-sama?"

"I mean . . ." He shook his head. "I don't know what I meant. I'm glad you're here. I'm glad I could see your face as soon as I awoke."

He brought her hand to his mouth, kissing it lightly.

"I'm glad you sang to me."

She pulled away her hand.

"Sang to you?"

"Am I mistaken? I thought I heard singing. Perhaps it was merely a dream."

"Just a dream," she said, but too quickly for him to believe her.

He smiled.

"Just a dream," he echoed.

Sango scratched her arm nervously, and only then Miroku realized she was not wearing her tekkou. He knew her to wear the gauntlets on her forearms at all times, taking them off only when bathing.

He realized why. Her forearms were covered in bandages.

"Sango."

"Eh?" She caught his glance, suddenly tucking her arms inside her sleeves.

"It's not as bad as it looks," she said. "Just a little burn from the shouki. Nothing more."

"Because of my foolishness," Miroku sighed. "Sango, I'm so sorry."

"I told you it wasn't that bad. It barely even hurts anymore."

He lowered his eyes.

"Houshi-sama."

She touched his cheek with her hand.

"Houshi-sama, you did the best you could."

"I thought I had him, Sango. I thought he had given me the perfect opportunity to use the Kazaana against him. I can't believe I could have been so foolish. It was his intent from the beginning to make me use the Kazaana and take in his hidden saimyoushou, so that I would be unable to protect you and Kagome. I fell for it so easily, Sango."

"Then you should be happy he has only fooled you once," she said.

This was probably a thing he should not dwell upon. His first meeting with Sango involved her attempting to kill Inuyasha. Not long after, she attempted to trade Tessaiga for Kohaku's life, though it seemed she came to her senses at the last minute.

Still, there were some secrets he found too difficult to keep.

"I had hoped, after spending so much of my life seeking out Naraku, studying his tactics, and fighting him with my friends, I would not fall so easily to his tricks. After all, his deceptions worked on you only when you were unaware of what Naraku truly was."

"It's a dangerous thing, to think you are beyond his tricks, Houshi-sama."

"I have to be, Sango." He clenched his fist. I have to be, or I'm going to die.

"The Kazaana," she said. "How much longer?"

"I don't know." He sighed. "My father . . ."

He trailed off. He didn't want her to worry about this sort of thing.

"Houshi-sama, please tell me."

"The Kazaana consumed my grandfather shortly before his sixtieth birthday. It consumed my father shortly before his fortieth birthday."

"You are . . . nineteen years old, are you not?"

"Yes. I don't know for certain the Kazaana is so predictable, but I left Mushin's temple at the age of fifteen, on the belief I had no more than five years to find and kill Naraku."

"Then, a year . . .?"

"I could be quite wrong, Sango. My father was a good fighter, and a great man, but Mushin has told me that my spiritual abilities surpassed his many years ago. It's possible that has bought me much more time."

"A year," she said again.

He touched her cheek.

"Kagome has asked me many times why I waited so long to propose to you. I never answered the question, but it has a lot to do with the fact that seeing you cry cuts me to pieces."

She shook her head, tears dripping down Miroku's palm.

"You'd rather have me cry in private, about the baka Houshi-sama who seems to care for me, but refuses to let me close to him, who smiles and lies, who hides his pain from me, like he doesn't trust me?" She squeezed his hand. "Hurt me with truth, Houshi-sama. Tell me your fears, and make me worry for you. It is painful, but all my life I've suffered for the things I love, and I never regret it. The only thing I cannot bear is you suffering in silence, and treating me like something fragile."

She pressed her cheek to his chest, sighing as she felt his hand stroke her hair.

"The Kazaana – if it breaks loose of your seal . . . will you know?"

"My father excused himself from dinner before the Kazaana consumed him. If my fate is the same, then I suppose I would feel the seal begin to break. I might know as early as a few hours before it happened."

"Then you'll tell me," she said. He wasn't certain if it was a question or a demand.

"I don't think that would be wise. I intend to meditate, to prepare for death. That will be the one point in my life when I would rather be alone than with you. I hope you understand that."

Sango, who once cradled the arrow-pierced body of her brother in her arms, and in some sense died with him, understood. She would not dare to dictate to a man the way he should spend the last moments of his life. Death was an intimate act, after all, and she was not offended that Miroku would want it to be a private affair.

"I understand," she said. "And I don't intend to distract you from your preparations. There is just one thing I would need to do then. It shouldn't take more than an hour, though that mostly depends on you."

"Sango?"

He felt her tense up in his arms.

"That's why . . . it's important," she said. "It's important you tell me. So I can do this one thing. This very important thing."

"I never wanted you to bear a child of desperation," he said. "Though I'm sure you know my desires, I have kept them in check. Keeping my family line alive is important to me, but not so important that it is worth leaving you alone with a child."

"Even if I am a widow, I would be happy to bear a child. A child to whom I can speak lovingly about his father." She pressed her forehead against his chest. "Though I would rather postpone motherhood until well after Naraku is defeated, if this is not possible, I will make due. Unless you think I am a foolish woman, Houshi-sama, you know I would not say these things unless I have made a very careful decision."

"I know you are not foolish, Sango. I would never have asked to marry a foolish woman."

In one fluid movement she outstretched her legs and pressed her lower body against his, still keeping her face beside the heart that beat with intensity commensurate to her touch.

"Your proposal to me . . . why then? To ask me those things, did you do so on impulse, or was it something you planned?"

She rose and fell atop his chest, two thoughtful breaths, and he told her.

"In my mind, I have been thinking seriously about sharing a life with you, for a very long time. I suppose it was the incident at Hakurei-zan, where I nearly lost you, that I realized how important you are to me, and how difficult it would be for me to part with you after we defeated Naraku. Still, I kept my silence, as I feared sharing this dream with you would bring us dangerously close. Because you are a good person, and care so deeply for your companions, it is already terrible enough for me to be your friend. I worry how you might react if this Kazaana claims me before our journey is done. Bad enough for you to mourn a friend. I would not want you to have to mourn a husband to be." He brushed a finger along her cheek. "I couldn't bear to let these eyes shed tears for me."

"You know they already have," she said. "And as you are not a foolish man, you know that you cannot make me feel or not feel things for you just by keeping me distant. You must know you cannot make me love another."

He cautiously sat up, and she raised herself on her hands, lying nearly across him. The look on his face was one she feared, eyes wide, face relaxed and smiling. He was begging for a slap, and would have received one, except that she knew her face held the same expression.

His hand touched her cheek. She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of his palm, the fingers that stroked upward, ran through her hair, around the edge of her ear, until the warmth of his hand broke contact. She opened her eyes as two fingers traced along her jawline, resting so lightly beneath her chin, coaxing her to tilt her head upward to him.

He leaned in, lips making slow, soft contact with hers.

Her mouth was just barely opened with an aborted gasp of astonishment, and she felt his tongue gently nudge hers, a contact more playful than aggressive, and quick to retreat. Something awoke in her, either sexual hunger or the instinctual taijiya response to an attack.

She needed to retaliate. To escalate. Here was prey. Wounded prey, perhaps. But that was his own bad luck.

Her hands were tight on his robes, his hair, as her mouth sought another drink from the passion of which a small taste could never satisfy. He responded as her legs propelled her weight into him, pushing him down to the hard floor, her leg hooking around his so that he could not escape.

His protest against her lips were soft, half-hearted, and quickly abandoned. As his lips moved against her, wetting the corners of her mouth, she drew his bottom lip between his and bit gently.

How often had she reviled men for their vile nature, for their tendency to turn the helm of their body over to their nether regions? How ironic this taijiya was so completely and so happily obeying the commands that issued forth from her twisting gut and fluttering chest?

Her senses were heightened, so she knew that Miroku moved with amazing speed, that his hands were moving over her body faster than she could register. One kneaded the flesh of her bottom as the other slid effortlessly between the folds of her yukata, snaking between the overlapping fold of her hadagi, and quickly claiming a breast.

That should have stopped her. She had grown somewhat used to his hand on her bottom, enough so that her striking him was no longer a reflex – indeed, she often spent a thoughtful second or half-second debating whether or not to allow him the touch, and though she invariably decided upon slapping him, it did not pass by her notice that she was doing so more out of habit than any actual annoyance. That is, Miroku's insistence made her grow used to his perverse caress, but she could not allow him to realize this.

But the few times he had groped her chest, she reacted immediately. It was more demeaning, she thought, as it was the sort of thing a man could do to a woman, but a woman could not do to a man. It was childish, and annoying.

But his hand did not stop her. His fingers traced gentle waving lines on the soft underside of her breast, his thumb carefully encircling the sensitive peak, and she found the sensation most pleasurable. She tried to hold it back, but a satisfied half-moan escaped from the back of her throat, eliciting a smile of satisfaction from Houshi-sama that she could not see but could feel against her own lips.

This encouraged him, as she hoped and feared it might, and he broke the kiss, brushing his lips against her cheek, seeking out the sensitive spots on her neck, filling her head with questions and confusion. How did he know? How did he know where to kiss, where to blow warm air, where to run warm, wet lines and spirals with his tongue, where to nip the skin gently with his teeth? For a fearful moment, she wondered if this was his standard routine for bedding women. But she was not naïve, and knew the things that aroused one woman would not arouse another. And she suspected she was unlike any woman Houshi-sama had known before. No, she decided, if this was scripted, it was a script written especially for her. She would have liked to think Houshi-sama's incessant groping was some sort of research to assist in preparing this evening, but that was probably giving him too much credit.

This evening. What did that entail? What was he intending to do? What was she intending to allow?

Somehow, he sensed her indecision. He paused his ministrations, resting his head on her shoulder, the shoulder from which her kosode had slipped off, and she felt him press the bridge of his nose against her clavicle, his nose touching the hollow of skin there, the breath against her skin slow but deep.

"There is a place, a special place, and though I have groped you many times, it is this one place even in my most perverse moments I would not dream of sullying with my foul touch. I want you to know – I want you to remember – that though we may have moments like this again – and I so sincerely hope we have moments like this again – that your body has always been a sacred thing to me, and though I may grope you, and infuriate you, I will never lose control of myself, and I will never threaten your sacred places."

He lifted his head, brushing his cheek against hers.

"I don't want to be your lover, Sango. I wanted this thing from many women, but never from you. I want to be your husband. I want you to know how precious you are to me, so precious that I would gladly forgo the pleasant things, the sexual things that I so often desired from other women, just to be by your side. You are the only one so worthwhile to me, and I know that you are the first and last woman I shall ever love. But it's not enough to tell you this. I must show you this, by quelling my sexual desire, by showing you I can not only be monogamous, but celibate as well."

"It is difficult, Houshi-sama, is it not?" she whispered in his ear. "Because you are a complete pervert?"

A soft burst of warm air lifted her hair, a quick laugh he tried to hide.

"It is most difficult. But it is well worth it, if my dedication brings Sango even the slightest bit of happiness."

"I don't want to be your lover either, Houshi-sama. I want to be your wife. But I expect we will both live long, and have many days of happiness. Why not borrow one of those days, and live it now?"

She felt his hands gently stroke her lower back.

"There are of course some things we cannot do," she said, softly. "But if you have in mind some gentle things, I am your wife for this moment. I place my body in your hands, in trust that you may bring me pleasure. And I would gladly do the same for you."

She cautiously took his right hand in her own.

"For this evening, and only this evening, until a moment like this comes again, I give this hand permission. Permission to touch me in the places Houshi-sama would not otherwise touch."

"And this hand?" he asked softly, brushing the knuckles of his left hand against her cheek.

"That hand as well."

He leaned forward, kissing her, speaking quick words between each kiss.

"And this mouth, Sango? These lips? This tongue?"

She shivered, murmuring her assents into his mouth as he pressed his chest against her, lowering her to the floor, his right hand supporting her back and his left hand slowly ascending her leg.

Her breathing quickened; his left hand worked her clothes off her shoulders, then cupped a naked breast, then teased the nipple between his fingers, and all the while he slowly, so slowly, his right hand rolled up her skirts – her ankle-length mobakama and kosode, and then her knee-length hadagi, raising them up above the black kyahan that covered her lower legs, his fingers stroking her naked knees, and naked thighs, and when she arched her back he used both hands to push her clothes and underclothes past her buttocks and bunch them at her waist.

Her hands caressed his, slipping into the sleeves of his robes, stroking the muscles of his arms, and he smiled.

"Please show me, Sango," he whispered, stroking one hand along her thigh, and between her knees.

The blush across her cheeks spoke of her embarrassment, that she would spread her legs so obscenely, inviting someone to stare at – or even touch! - the place between, but the firm intent in her eyes, and her inquisitively-arched eyebrows, spoke of her challenge. Let's see what you can do, Houshi-sama.

She did not realize how incredibly wet she was until he touched her, and his fingers slipped effortlessly between slickened labia, gently spreading her flesh, moving upward to rub her clitoris, and moving downward to slip one finger inside her, slowly and carefully and not very deep at first, and each action made her moan in anticipation of the next.

He brought his lips to hers, kisses of thanksgiving, she suspected, and he said to her, "It would make no difference if it were not the case, because I love you and would serve you no matter what. But nothing I could have imagined – and believe me, Sango, I have done a lot of imagining – nothing could be more beautiful than what you have shown me."

Her arms pulled him close, her mouth planting kisses along his neck.

"You are the most beautiful woman I know," he said, "and I think you should also know your womanhood is magnificent."

She could not help but laugh, but he persisted anyway.

"I am transfixed," he said, and he slipped out of her arms and moved down her body.

"And so I cannot resist," he said, and she felt his hands slip under her buttocks, and when she felt something delightfully warm and wet between her legs she gasped in shock at the realization it was Houshi-sama's tongue.

A shout of protest, that this was too much, too soon, died in her throat as he drew her clitoris into his mouth and she surrendered to Houshi-sama's judgement. He had kissed her mouth so skillfully, but kissing her between her legs was where he proved himself a master at the craft. He worked slowly, and then fast, and then slow again, teasing her, making her grasp his head between her hands, and she held his face there, and moved her hips against him. Something inside her tightened, a coiled-up spring she felt in her toes, in her legs, in her thighs, and between her legs she was paper accepting the ink-strokes of a master calligrapher.

When she was nearly there, she pushed him away, sitting up, because she wanted to see his face, she wanted him to see her face, when the time came. He was surprised, and she tasted his surprise, which did nothing to break the oncoming wave of pleasure that was quickly advancing. His surprise was enough that nearly a half-second passed where his hands were suspended midair, in confusion, and she could not tolerate this, immediately taking his slick left hand and pressing it between her legs.

Two of his fingers slipped inside her, very deep inside her, and he gestured 'come hither' and she came hither, and when she came, she broke the kiss, pressed her face to his shoulder and bit, bit through the robes, through his skin, and she hoped the material muffled her satisfaction, and the way she said "Houshi-sama!" with a drawn-out "ou" that went from moan to scream and back again, and the way she said it again, like a prayer, and the way she said it several more times, like a mantra.

For several minutes, she was completely helpless, unable to move, unable to think. Her body barely registered Miroku rearranging her clothes, pushing her skirts back down her legs, pulling her kosode back onto her shoulders, stroking her hair to comb out the tangles made by her writhing on the floor.

She felt his arousal against her back, though she believed he pulled her into his lap in such a way to attempt to hide such a thing. In the back of her mind, she felt the need to pleasure him as he pleasured her, but the contentment still moved throughout her, a wave that started at the tips of her toes and slid all the way up to her neck and back again, and she wanted to feel every moment of it.

She was nearly ready to apologize, or at least show that she was not unaware of his discomfort and selflessness, but as she opened her mouth to speak he murmured something in her ear.

"Seek not in the wide world to find a place to live, but where you chance to rest, call that your home."

She blinked, a feeling of warmth came to her as he tugged at the thread of her memory.

"Monarchs may keep their palaces of jade," she said, "for in a leafy cottage two can sleep." She laughed softly. "Genji Monogatari. You've read it?"

"I spent most of my childhood reading Chinese texts and sutras, but I managed to get some lighter reading in when Mushin was too drunk to supervise my education. Which was, I recall, rather often. I remember admiring Genji's dedication."

"My mother had nine chapters, which she handed down to me when I was still too young to read," she said. "They were a gift to my great-great-grandparents, from a noblewoman, and my mother treasured them. I read them several times, and always wanted to find more of the story, but I was never successful."

"I've only found three or four. I think there are at least fifty, but there may be only a few people in the world who have the entire collection."

"The book is still in the hall of records, in the village. I haven't thought about it until now. I hope they weren't too badly damaged in the attack. I wish I had thought to check that the last time we were there."

"A small outbuilding, near the shrine, with cubbyholes, and about twenty or thirty scrolls," Miroku said.

"That's it."

"I noticed them when we swept the village for survivors, and failing to find any, buried and prayed for the rest. I did not have time to inspect anything, but they seemed in good condition from what I saw."

She brushed her cheek against his shoulder.

"I'm glad," she said. "Later, when Naraku is no more, we can go there and retrieve them."

"And bring them where, Sango?"

"To our new home, wherever that will be."

"Wherever we choose to have children together," he said.

She turned to him, kissing him softly.

"You know, Houshi-sama, as wonderful as that was, my satisfaction is not complete yet."

"Oh?"

Her hands slipped inside his robes and found him hard.

"How could I be satisfied knowing that I haven't yet brought you the same pleasure that you have given to me?"

She spread open his robes, laying kisses down his naked chest, working her way to the tented white loincloth and slipping his erection out of it. She couldn't say to him the things she wanted to, as the words were not there, and she could not play the part of someone who was so familiar with men that she could compliment him in the way she would have liked. But it was warm and firm and pleasing to look at, and to touch. She wondered if he had ever thought of her, or looked at her, and become hard as he was now. When, and how often? On the few times she had caught him spying on her bathing? On the many times she had not caught him? Did he sometimes pleasure himself when he thought of her? Did he know she sometimes pleasured herself when she thought of him?

"Sango," he whispered, "it's not necessary..."

She stroked his length, and he moaned softly.

"It seems quite necessary to me, Houshi-sama," she smirked.

She slid down his body, and kissed his thigh.

"Don't be afraid to tell me what to do," she said. She hoped her enthusiasm was a sufficient substitute for experience, and this was indeed the case. The proof was in the tasting, as they say.

It was not the last day they would borrow a day of married life and live it in the now. It was not the last time that they would lie together, and do all the things except the one thing. Before they could do the one thing, many trials remained. There would be iron and blood; there would be sweat and tears. But beyond the steel and salt, there was a man and a woman, two parts of a whole, the intimacy, the promise, and the life they shared. Amidst days of horror were hours of pleasure, given selflessly, accepted graciously. Amidst countless attempts to strike down Naraku, there was the future, and the family they would make.

THE END