Her Heart's Desires

by

Nana

Epilogue II

The Dawn Flower

It took him a while to reach the gentle slope of a hill not far from the hut, but he knew she would be there. Where else, except on the slopes of a grassy refuge away from prying eyes?

He stopped when he came to the top and spotted her, sitting all alone below. How many times had he come across her this way? He from above, looking down at her, and she with her back to him, staring off into the horizon. And in between them was this chasm Miroku now thought was better off not crossed.

Now, as he looked down at her, Miroku felt the first stirrings of panic within him. This was not going to be any ordinary encounter with Sango, and he was going to consider himself lucky if he could get away from it all with just a slap on the face.

Once more, the voice of reason surged up to argue against what he was going to do. He had run away from these kinds of situations before, and he understood the importance of backing down when the need arose. It may not be right, but in most cases it served its purpose well. To avoid getting hurt by engaging in evasive maneuvers was to him a lesson of paramount importance.

Sango is strong--she will get over it, his mind whispered insistently. Compared to what she has gone through, this is certainly nothing…

Indeed, he would have followed what his reason dictated, had he not seen Sango shiver ever so slightly.

****

Sango shivered, and for the hundredth time considered giving in to logic and turning back to the hut. But she could not bear the thought of seeing him there. Not now, anyway. She knew it was stupid, as she would have no choice but to join the group when the sun rose, but here she was, and here she would remain, and nobody was going to make her budge an inch.

Besides, the cold was doing her good. It gave her something to think about aside from what happened.

She sighed shaliky. Well, if there was anything that could help salvage what remained of her pride was the fact that no tears were spilled. She was damned if she was going to show him tears.

But it's so unfair! She wailed inside. Whatever did she do to deserve this?

For some strange reason, a mental picture of the houshi with a smug expression on his face kept popping up in her mind, and Sango shuddered with humiliation.

Well, you can always kill him if he dares to pull a stunt like that in front of you, she thought, deriving comfort from the sudden flare of anger she felt. At least, it abated the misery somewhat.

Only, Sango knew that it was not his fault, as much as it was not hers. She was violated, yes, but when she thought about it, the houshi was also being held against his will.

She frowned as the thought sank in further. Why was she feeling so charitable? She was sure the priest must have enjoyed himself a little at her expense, so why would he complain? She doubted very much if being held against his will was what the priest was worrying about at that time…

She huffed silently, buoyed by the temporary comfort of righteous indignation. When the sun rose, she would feel sufficiently recovered to face him, and she was going to make sure he would have no opportunity to open this ridiculous subject. As far as she was concerned, this thing was dead and buried, and it was going to remain--

"Sango."

She jumped at the sound of his voice, and whipped around to see him standing just behind her. Her mind seemed to have frozen along with the rest of her body, because all of a sudden she could not think coherently.

For a moment, she considered giving into her instinct to get up and run for it, but that was too silly and overdramatic. Instead, she turned her head away, aware of the telltale flush suffusing her entire face.

She had not heard him approach at all! Frequently, his shakujou would herald his presence, but it seemed he didn't bring the staff with him now.

From behind her, she heard him say, "You must be cold. Why don't you come inside the hut?"

She did not say anything. Indeed, she felt as though her throat had seized up.

He waited a few minutes, and seeing she had made up her mind to be obstinate, drew a silent sigh.

Sango heard the whisper of cloth, and before she could register what the houshi was doing, felt the warm, rough length of his kesa settle on her shoulders. Miroku wrapped it securely around her, tucking the ends in under her unresisting arms. He then settled down next to her, an arm's reach away, not quite looking at her.

Sango stole a look at his serene face, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. He was so overwhelmingly near…she couldn't bear it. She had to get away, but her body was refusing to obey.

They remained that way for a long time, long after the moon had set, just as the first rays of dawn drew a rosy line on the far horizon of mountains.

Miroku was staring at the field below the slope, at the ugly, unruly patch of weeds that tangled into each other in wild disarray before them. It took some time for him to register what they were, and smiled a little as he recognized the plants, thinking vaguely that their presence here and their very implication were quite apt in describing the enigma that was the woman beside him.

He finally broke the silence.

"How did you know it wasn't me?"

Sango shot him a look full of misgiving, wondering how he could even think to ask. It was so obvious she wasn't going to answer THAT!

"…When it said that word."

Oops…

Miroku turned to her, not sure he understood.

What the hell…

"Aishteru," Sango finally said, and she felt proud of the fact she could hold his gaze unwaveringly. "When it said aishteru, I was sure."

It took the houshi a moment to respond to that.

"You did very well," said Miroku, simply.

Sango stared at him, surprised. Something in his voice caught her attention…no, it could not possibly be. How could she even think of saying she had heard disappointment in his carefully casual tone?

She had promised herself she wasn't going to say anything, but she did, and once she started, she found she could not stop; the torrent of words kept pouring out to make up for the tears that had been held back. Sango felt as though the overflowing dam inside her heart had finally broken, and she was powerless against the onslaught of her emotions. And yet, it left a feeling of being cleansed--it felt good to unburden herself at last to this person, the unwilling witness to it all.

Of course…of course she should have wondered how in the world Hachi would so conveniently show up just like that. She didn't even know how the tanuki could be contacted! And how about Mushin-sama and the temple? And finally, there was the priest himself…

Through it all, Miroku listened, his face betraying nothing. Finally, he murmured," The Yumemeijin was interesting, because it could read what is inside the heart and draw its strength from there. But little does it know that its limitation lies in its power…"

"What do you mean?" Sango asked.

"It thought that controlling a person is as simple as being able to read the heart and manipulate dreams. It thought everything can be twisted to suit its designs. That was why it lost when it tried to outmaneuver you…simply because your heart's desires had been simple and pure. And no amount of malice the Yumemeijin could interject could ever taint them."

Miroku's look softened as he continued, "It cannot understand this aspect, you see. It had assumed immediately that it could manipulate you by using something it had read from your heart, corrupt you into making a mistake with me, make you sink deeper into your own shadows so that you can never find your way back."

"My shadows…" Sango said, almost inaudibly. "It had said it was a part of me-- it drew its strength from that side of me. I told that thing it could not possibly know me that well, because I myself don't know that part of me very much. I've tried so hard to control it, but I've always known it could lead to my downfall--I would give anything to destroy that part of myself."

"Because your shadows represent all the flaws of your person?" Miroku asked, gently.

She nodded, slowly.

"It thought so, too…it thought the dark side of a person was his undoing. What it didn't know, and what Sango does not realize," Miroku continued, "is that Sango would not have been the strong, brave, capable Sango before me now had it not been for her so-called shadows."

He paused as she abruptly turned her head away, and waited patiently as she collected herself. When she had sufficiently recovered, he went on, "It is man's fate to live a life of pain and unease. This much we cannot do anything about, but it is his challenge to rise above it all, and thus find the strength in his person."

Sango stared off into the sunrise, not sure if she could look at this man without breaking down. Because this was what she was afraid of in the houshi--he could be incredibly indecent at times, and yet at other times, can systematically bring down all her defenses in a few, softly spoken words.

These were the times which proved most trying to the woman in Sango, because she could not help but believe that this lecherous houshi understood her more than she would ever dare to admit. And to think she had long assumed that she could not count on his every word to be true.

Sometimes, she could almost fool herself into thinking he cared for her a little. In many ways she had to be thankful his treacherous hand had to get in the way and knock some sense into her.

But right now…right now was different. And Sango knew it. No matter how untrustworthy the priest was, she had realized that he would not take advantage of her when she was vulnerable.

It made her uncomfortable. She was used to the lech, but to have him here on his best behavior was something Sango had come to regard with more than faint alarm. And it was important for Sango to set the record straight with this guy, so she went ahead and told him what was bothering her.

"…It had felt so real, but you must not think it was true," she finished almost severely, her tone heavy with warning. "I will not have you think it was all true because it wasn't--"

Miroku smiled ruefully. "We will probably never know where the truth ended and where the falsehood began…although I would probably be lying if I said I was not flattered with how Sango responded to the situation."

He turned to savor her thunderstruck expression, his smile mischievous.

"You must forgive a man, Sango," echoed Miroku, "if he thinks he must thank you for saving his life.

"It's almost time." He rose to his feet and offered her a hand. "Come. I want to show you something," he said.

She took the proffered hand reluctantly, and followed close behind him as he led her to the patch of weeds before them.

"What are you going to do?" Sango asked suspiciously, not sure she liked the idea of wading knee-deep in a field of weeds.

"They're known as Yo-ake no Hana," he told her.

Sango blinked. "Dawn Flowers?" She repeated. "Why are they called that?"

Miroku smiled. "Watch," he said.

At the first rays of daybreak, Sango watched as bloom after bloom seemed to unfurl from the weeds right before her eyes. Before long, they were standing in a field of white, fragrant flowers.

"The flowers of this plant cannot survive with strong sunlight, yet the plant needs the early morning sun for its life cycle. The plant, therefore, only blooms during the early morning hours. A difficult thing, really, to catch it with its flowers out," explained Miroku.

For the first time in many days, Sango smiled, unable to mask her delight as her hands glided over the silky petals around her wonderingly. She gave the houshi an inquiring look.

He shrugged. "A field of flowers--I seem to remember it was one of your favorite memories," was all he said.

With that, Sango gave him a rare, soft smile. "Arigatou," she whispered.

A strange thing, this Dawn Flower, Miroku thought as he watched Sango, tenderly. Who would have known that for a few, short hours every day, a seemingly ungainly plant could blossom into a thing of beauty?

In all beings there lies within them a little bit of mystery, and Sango was no different. And to have him witness, however briefly, what lies within the woman was to Miroku a blessing sent surely from the Buddha himself.

Miroku shook his head, bemused. To what great deviser of stratagems does he owe this sudden turn of events? Certainly not Naraku. When Fate works to bring about a moment of understanding between two individuals, who was he to stand in its way?

After what happened, I cannot say I have come to know you completely, my dearest Sango…that is something which no mortal can ever claim with complete confidence. But to have been able to get a glimpse of what your heart fondly holds as its secret, is something one will carry with him for a lifetime. Too many things pass by in this world without getting noticed. Suffice it to say, you will not be one of them…I won't allow it…

Sango gazed back at the priest, her heart calmer than it had been for a long time.

In the end, there really was no need for words.

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Still pretty much a draft. Will try to polish it soon. Please R&R and tell me what you think. Thanks!