Wow! Spoilery from Inu-Yasha 49+. If you don't know about Kohaku, Sango, or what happens with Inu-Yasha and Tetsusaiga, you're going to find out in this story. ^_^

This story was written due to my general 'blahness' with the constant focus on romance and the fact that most people forget that you know, Miroku and Sango are around as more then just matchmakers for Inu-Yasha and Kagome, or to be used for their own romantic subplots. It's been wildly neglected among fans and I'm terribly disappointed in it! So… Here it goes. A story that focuses on friendship and not romance for a change. One of two stories. Sango and Inu-Yasha bond. ^_^

The Value Of Empathy

Part One of the Friendship Duology

It was the third time Inu-Yasha had gone to the pond. I don't think he realized that I was awake, listening to him get up and move to the waters we slept beside, near the village that had been ravished by Gatenmaru's forces earlier in the day.

How many times would he do it? How many times would it take to get the blood off his hands, from beneath his claws? How many times would it take for him to finally let it go?

I sat up quietly; Kirara stirred at my side, letting out a tiny mew. She was awake. Her two tails bobbed, and then she bounded away toward the river. Only now did I realize that she vanished when Inu-Yasha did. Perhaps he found company in her presence.

Perhaps he might find some in mine. Would forgiveness and understanding make things any better for him? He was so distant, and oft times, yes, inhuman. He was, at his worst, the things I had been trained to hunt and kill without hesitation as an exterminator. At his best, he was a grumpy young man I had begun to consider as a brother. He had taught me more then I would care to admit in lessons of trust, loyalty, and duty.

I could not condone everything he did, but I could not abandon him now. He had done too many kindnesses to me. He saved Kohaku from my own hand. He had shown me the strength of my brother's heart, revealed the truth of his imprisonment. He gave me hope.

I stepped over Kagome's sleeping form, Shippou buried in her arms. Miroku leaned against a tree, his head bowed and his staff caught in his folded arms. None woke as I moved past them.

The five of us were such a motley crew. An exterminator and a priest might travel together, but with a hanyou, a kitsune, and a timelost girl? By all rights, Shippou and Inu-Yasha would be my prey, and Miroku could bind or banish either. Kagome was a trespasser in our country and time. But yet we did more then tolerate them; we loved and respected them.

The sounds of splashing in the distance lead me to Inu-Yasha; as I rounded a tree I could see him, knee deep in the water. He dunked his hands, over and over again, into the water, a frenzied washing as he rubbed them beneath the surface of the pond. A sound of frustration bubbled up from his throat; he couldn't get it off. It was still on his skin, taunting supernatural senses.

Kirara sat on the bank, her war-form imposing in the moonlight. She made no sound; she merely waited, a patient presence.

The splashing stopped, and Inu-Yasha sagged in the water. Clothing soaked, he simply leaned forward, hands on his knee. His long hair shone in the moonlight; falling over his shoulders, down across his back, like a blanket of snow.

It wouldn't come off. While he had gotten the blood and maybe even the stink off his hands, his mind's eye saw it caked under his claws. I'd seen it before, in my fellow exterminators. It was dangerous work; sometimes innocents were hurt or killed. the best let it make them a stronger hunter, more careful and determined. The weak fell to grief, madness and guilt ruining them as hunters and people both.

Inu-Yasha gave up. He straightened, shaking out his hair; droplets sprayed from the ends. For a moment, Miroku no longer centered over my heart. Inu- Yasha, when he was not aware of the eyes on him, could be a beautiful creature. His youkai blood blessed him with an exotic beauty that at this moment touched my heart… until he turned around.

He looked up toward Kirara, and I wanted to weep at the sight of him. My teeth fastened on my lip to keep from making a sound, as I watched him look so despondently to my long-time companion. He looked so bleak and lost; it was like someone had peeled the years away from his face and he was just a young, lost boy. A boy who had white hair and dog's ears, but still. A small boy.

He plowed through the water, his eyes dropping, and climbed onto the pond's bank.

I was privy to a rare moment of weakness, with this single friend who could not speak to anyone of his private grief. He looks a moment at Kirara, and she at him, before he put his arms around her furry neck and held on tightly.

I had never seen him hold another person in such a manner. Not even Kagome, who holds half his heart, and certainly not Kikyou. Could he not trust Kagome with this? If not, how could I expect him to trust me to understand? Only the mute Kirara, who could never betray his trust, was privy to this moment of complete vulnerability. He trusted us with so much; his moon- time, his life, but not with his grief or his hurt.

I felt immediately as I saw his shoulders shake once, that I was invading a private moment he had not chosen to share with any of us. I turned my back to the scene, hiding among the shadows between the trees. He did not weep, at least not that I could hear. The only sound that reached my ears was a gentle rumble from Kirara, as she had bent her head to nuzzle his.

A few minutes later, I reached up to one of the tree's branches, and snapped it off. It was a sound to alert him to my approach, giving him a few moments to compose himself.

I glanced just beyond the tree to see him hastily wipe at his face, before dropping down into his usual 'sulk' position: legs folded beneath him, hands tucked into the voluminous sleeves of his firerat hair haori.

I stepped around the trees once he was 'in position' as it were, and began my slow walk through the shrubbery toward him. He did not speak to me or I to him until I had taken up a seat beside him on the grass.

"You don't have to pretend you care," he said with typical sullenness. "Aren't I the type of youkai you'd hunt now?"

Perhaps he sought a judge, or even a jury and an executioner. I looked to him from the corner of my eyes; he stared straight ahead over the water. He could not, or would not, meet my gaze.

"I cannot hunt you, Inu-Yasha," I offered as an answer after careful thought. "You have taught me too much, and saved me so much pain. No matter what you have done, I cannot condemn you."

His eyes narrowed, but still he did not look at me. "Do you think I need your comfort?" He snarled, lip curling to reveal a single, gleaming fang. "I don't! I don't care about what happened."

Inu-Yasha is a terrible liar.

"You do care," I corrected him gently. Gods know why I had to push him so hard, but I could not allow himself to fester so. He is our soul, while Kagome is our heart. "Or you would have left me slay Kohaku."

He did not have an immediate, angry answer for that. He simply fell silent, as he was wont to do.

We sat there in silence for a time, quiet and unhappy. Kirara to one side of him, me to the other, as if we'd boxed him in. And perhaps, in the end, that's what he needed. After all, Inu-Yasha does nothing unless prodded or coaxed to it.

"You were stupid," he finally said. "I couldn't let you just kill him. It'd be like me trying to kill Kikyou. It'd kill us both."

Kikyou. Kohaku. I wondered at the parallels, in the pair of us. He and Kikyou, Kohaku and I. Two people trapped by the people we love, who are already dead.

Already dead.

The pang of dread appeared fresh in my heart but I could not burden him with my pain when his was fresh and new. I was not here for my bleeding heart, but his.

Swallowing my hurt, I glanced to him. It took great effort to say, "You saved me from something terrible and foolish. I should have had more trust in my brother."

He shrugged noncommittally.

Again the silence swallowed us up; I reached to touch Kirara's back, draw some of the comfort she had shared with him to my own troubled heart. She glanced at me, and then at him with crimson eyes, before standing up. Fires that burned nothing flared, and she was small again, twitching her two tails before mewing softly. However, she didn't claim my lap; it was Inu- Yasha's she hopped into, curling her tails so they covered her nose and closing her eyes.

He reached down and brushed his fingers over her back, before letting his palm rest on the curve of her spine.

"Why aren't you afraid of me?" he finally asked.

"Because Inu-Yasha is Inu-Yasha," I said after pondering my answer. "No matter what lurks in his blood, he will always be Inu-Yasha. Even if he becomes youkai, he is still Inu-Yasha."

He did not answer me for some time, but when he looked up from Kirara, there was a new look to his eyes; a hardness, certainly, but it was not him closing himself off – rather, he looked as if he had found new purpose.

"Na," he said softly. "Then I guess you're right." After a moment, before allowing his eyes to cut to me. His expression kept that seriousness, and he nodded once. It was as close to a 'thank you' as I would get from the stubborn boy

I gave him a small smile, warmed by the fact that while he was suffering, he was still strong. "You're welcome, Inu-Yasha."

The silence that welcomed us after that was a more companionable thing; he was still tense and I was still worried, but it didn't seem so terrible anymore. He knew what we all knew.

Inu-Yasha was Inu-Yasha. No matter what, that would never change.

I left him not long afterwards with only a nod and a good night. I woke the next morning to find Kirara had returned to nest by my head, and Inu-Yasha was no where to be found. Kagome fretted automatically, but Miroku and I exchanged a glance. He knew more then he ever let on, that houshi, and gently explained that Inu-Yasha had been suffering, but perhaps now was not the time to pursue him.

I agreed. After all, Inu-Yasha was Inu-Yasha, and if I gauged him right, he was going to try and make sure that would never change, daiyoukai blood or not.