Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Weary Spirits

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha glared into the river he was standing in. His eyes peeled for even the slightest movement, the half-demon raised his hand, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

C’mon, c’mon already! InuYasha grumbled inwardly, waiting for the prey that he knew to be there. It’s not like I’ve got all day, you know! His sensitive ears filled with the natural sounds of the forest he was in, the birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves, the river flowing. His nose picking up the scents of plants and animals alike. He dismissed all of these things, except for the few, crucial bits of information he needed in his own hunt.

Finally, after what felt like forever, the half-demon caught a flash of movement. Just a shine of silver, but that was all he needed. Without hesitation, he brought his clawed hand down, swiping at his prey. "Gotcha!" InuYasha grinned in triumph as the fish flew up and out of the river, dangling helplessly in mid-air just long enough for him to snatch it.

The fish struggled in vain for a brief time, its scaled surface and desperate thrashing making it that much harder to hold on. But InuYasha had done this many, many times in the past, and had long since mastered the art of hunting down his own food. And within moments, the half-demon mercifully ended the fish’s struggle, and deposited it in the net he had brought with him into the woods that way. A net that already had a few other fish, as well as other things he had caught this morning.

Smiling with satisfaction as he studied the considerable bounty he had gathered, InuYasha marched out of the river. As soon as he felt dry earth beneath his feet, he carefully bound the opening, making sure that none of his hard work would slip free. "That should just about do it," the half-demon decided before giving a wry snort. "Now, if only Shippo would hurry and get back here, and maybe we could -!"

"Hey! Watch it, InuYasha!" came a smart-alecky voice. Turning about, InuYasha looked in the direction of the voice, and saw a familiar, pink blob floating into view. The transformed fox-demon’s rudimentary features were twisted with effort, a result of fighting both the wind that was carrying his scent away from the half-demon, as well as the net he was carrying. "Do you think it was easy, getting all this stuff?!"

Ignoring Shippo’s complaints as he usually did, the silver-maned warrior watched as his friend floated closer to the ground. "So, did you get everything?" InuYasha asked even as the fox-demon exploded in a puff of smoke, soon emerging in his own form.

"I think so," Shippo returned, grunting with effort as he slid his net off his shoulders. "It took a while, but I got as many nuts and berries as I could find."

"Let me see." Impatiently snatching up the bundled up net, InuYasha began studying its contents. Taking experimental sniffs, trying to ferret any smells of rot or poison, the half-demon eventually nodded in satisfaction. "Yeah, this should just about do it. Not bad, Shippo."

Nodding with a sense of satisfaction at this rare, left-handed compliment, Shippo watched as his friend returned the nuts and berries before taking hold of the much larger bundle of goods he had amassed. "Um, InuYasha, are you sure we needed to get that much?" the fox-demon wondered as the half-demon swung his burden over his shoulders, a bundle of hunted animals, as well as various fruits and vegetables, a bundle that massed even more than InuYasha himself.

"Hey, what’s with you, Shippo?" InuYasha growled, his usual temperament showing. "Michiru and Kaname are still exhausted, remember?" Thinking of the torments Michiru had been subjected to, as well as the amount of time and energy Kaname spent working with the sick and injured in the village, the half-demon felt his frustration grow that much more. "What, don’t you want them to get better?!"

"Of course do! But -!" Shaking his head as he took in the amassed bundle of edibles. "How do you expect them to eat all of that?! Even you can’t eat that much!"

Shooting his companion a glare, InuYasha retorted, "Look, I told you before! Some of this is for medicine, okay?" When Shippo rolled his eyes in disbelief, the half-demon added, "Besides, with everything that’s going on, we’re probably going to need as much food as we can get."

Securely gripping his bundle, InuYasha hefted it up, taking a moment to adjust his balance to compensate for it. The bundle wasn’t all that heavy for him, but it was enough to pull him off-balance if he moved the wrong way. "Say, InuYasha…" Shippo began slowly even as he stepped forward experimentally. "There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you about."

"Yeah? And what’s that?" InuYasha wondered dismissively. Not really focusing on anything but getting his precious cargo back to the village.

"It’s just…" Shippo fumbled out hesitantly. The look on his face betraying his uncertainty. "Michiru…he was telling the truth, wasn’t he?"

This got InuYasha’s attention. This caused the half-demon to turn his full focus on his friend, raising a quizzical eyebrow. "The truth? The truth about what?"

"You know…what happened with him and Miroku?" Shippo offered tentatively. "That big fight they had?"

As the little fox broke off, InuYasha felt a wave of irritation overtake him. "Why are you bringing that up now?!"

"Well, you see…" Shippo tried again, biting his own lip as he struggled to put his thoughts into words. "It’s like Michiru said, right? That Miroku used his Wind Tunnel, and Michiru had to…"

Once again, Shippo broke off. And once again, InuYasha felt his own ire increase. "I don’t believe this! You mean you only just figured that out?!" the half-demon demanded, standing up straighter so as to glare down on his now cowering companion. When his load of meat and vegetation threatened to pull him off his feet, the dog-eared warrior took a step back to compensate, and with an annoyed growl, once again hunched forward. "Of course it was Miroku’s fault! Isn’t that obvious?!"

"Hey, it’s not like that!" Shippo protested instantly, bouncing back a bit further away from the irate half-demon and his fists. "It’s just…I mean…"

For a time, InuYasha simply stood there, watching and waiting as his young friend hemmed and hawed, struggling to find the right words. Something that didn’t help the fact that waiting was something he had never been very good at. "Look, will you just spit it out already?!"

Knocked back somewhat by the force of the half-demon’s voice alone, Shippo looked up from him to the ground, and back again once or twice before he managed to find his voice. "Look, I…I just needed to talk about it, that’s all!" the little fox bellowed out in a voice much larger than InuYasha would have given him credit for. "I mean…this…he’s never done…anything like this, and…"

And again, Shippo’s capacity for words failed him. But this time, InuYasha wasn’t annoyed by this failure, simply because it was a situation he himself well understood. A situation he had struggled with many times, since the day Naraku had taken Kikyo’s guise and turned his love for her into hatred.

A friend of theirs, one of their fellow warriors and a long-time member of their group, had lied to them. Not only lied; he had consciously betrayed one of their own. Had threatened Michiru with deadly force, and for the sake of personal gain. And while InuYasha had talked with Michiru and Sango in the days since the battle, knew that Miroku had never intended to seriously harm the Shikigami User, he had still attacked Michiru, and had even framed him for his own misdeeds.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," InuYasha finally muttered in a voice that was barely above a whisper. His own words grossly inadequate of the task of conveying his feelings in this matter.

"And…we can’t just forget about this, right?" Shippo persisted, somewhat emboldened by the lessening of InuYasha’s outward anger. "So…what are we supposed to do? Just…pretend nothing happened, or…?"

This question gave rise to a conflict in InuYasha, one that he had been dealing with off and on in the days following the battle. A part of him wanted to take Miroku in both hands and shake the truth out of him, to force the monk to bow at Michiru’s feet and make him apologize for everything he had done before giving him a few lumps on the head to remind him not to pull such a trick ever again.

But there was another part, a part that reminded him of his own less than laudable past. A part that reminded him of things that he had done that he would much rather forget. Even of things and desires and sins that were with him, even at that moment. The things he had done as a result of his predicament with Kikyo and Kagome, the sins committed by his full-demon self, and even smaller acts that resulted of his temper and his difficulty in dealing with other people. Something that was demonstrated by Shippo’s wariness around him, and while InuYasha didn’t mind giving the fox-demon a piece of his mind when he got too mouthy, he knew he was guilty of some of the things he wanted to condemn Miroku for.

And there was a final part to contend with, the part that weighed InuYasha down the most. The part that knew he still had a confession to make to the Kururugi twins. A part that was worn and weary from the battle as well, and the fears that he had yet to confront. A part that left unwilling to deal with anything more than what he already had to face as it was.

It was this last part, more than anything else, that caused InuYasha to turn away from his young friend. "We’ll deal with Miroku later. Right now, let’s just get back to the village, and -!"

Before the half-demon could complete his sentence, a piercing cry shattered the peace of the forest. "Aaaaaahhh!!!!" it sounded, causing both demons to look up in surprise. "Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!"

"Waaa!!" Shippo started, his eyes wide with surprise as he looked off in the distance. "Wh-what was that?!"

Hissing beneath his breath, InuYasha hesitated a moment before answering, "Sounds like we’ve got more trouble!" Without hesitation, he let his bundle fall to the ground and turned towards his companion. "Shippo, you stay here and keep an eye on this stuff! Don’t let anything happen to it! I’ll be right back!"

"Huh?! But – hey, wait -!" Shippo cried out in protest, but InuYasha had already launched himself into a headlong run. Trees blurred past him as he pushed himself for all the speed he could muster, having already oriented on the source of the cry. A cry that was soon repeated, over and over again.

Dammit! What the hell could be happening now?! InuYasha demanded inwardly even as he went from the woods to the tilled fields of Tsuzumi village. Charging past the various crops and vegetation, the silver-maned warrior took hold of the Tetsusaiga’s hilt, already bracing himself for trouble. The persistent cries growing closer with each step he took. Until the foliage began to change, and the radiant blue aura of the jet became visible through the field.

Completely unsurprised by this, InuYasha erupted into the small clearing surrounding the transmuted fighting machine. As soon as he did so, he caught sight of the source of the cries…only for his eyes to go wide with surprise, confusion, and finally, accompanied by a growl and veins bulging from his forehead, disgust.

Just a few meters away was Totosai, standing bowlegged with his arms raised up and his entire body shaking as he stared at the jet, screaming away like there was no tomorrow. Momo the bull was nearby, grazing contently on the vegetation, while Myoga pranced about on the aged blacksmith’s shoulder. "Totosai, please, calm yourself!" the flea-demon pleaded. "We should really get away from here! And quickly!"

"Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!" Totosai responded, his hands shaking wildly. "Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!"

"Totosai, will you please listen to me?!" Myoga tried again, hopping into Totosai’s ear. "This thing is potentially dangerous!"

"Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!" was Totosai’s answer. "Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!"

"Will you at least take a breath before you pass out?!" Myoga demanded with a growing sense of exasperation.

"Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Aaaa-!" Totosai screamed once more. Only to be cut off when InuYasha also lost patience with the blacksmith’s incessant cries, as well as the ringing in his ears that he was getting. And so chose a more direct method of getting him to stop; by stomping behind Tetsusaiga’s creator and bashing him over the head.

"Hey! What’s the big idea, screaming like that, old man?!" InuYasha demanded, staring daggers at the aged demon that was currently slumped over with his chin buried in the dirt. "From the way you were going off, I thought a demon was attacking!"

While Totosai was groaning, a large lump sprouting from the top of his head, Myoga was looking up at the one who had put an end to the blacksmith’s outcry. "Oh! Greetings, Master InuYasha!" the old flea greeted him, giving him a polite bow. He then cast a glance at the jet, and added, "I take it things have not been peaceful in my absence."

"Yeah, you could say that," InuYasha grumbled, his arms fold across his chest. Before anyone could say anything else, other figures appeared in the tiny clearing. Kagome appeared, followed shortly by Sango and Kirara. Then Miroku appeared from a different area, and soon Jiro and Azusa showed up.

"Hey, what’s going on?!" Azusa demanded while Jiro took a stance of readiness, his three-sectioned-staff held firmly in both hands. "What happened?! What was all that screaming about?!"

"Totosai?" Miroku commented, raising an eyebrow as the blacksmith finally recovered, sitting up and shaking his head free of the stars and comets currently populating it. "Was that you we heard?"

"Yeah, it was him," InuYasha grumbled, rolling his eyes at the monk. "Though why the old goat was getting so worked up, I -!"

"InuYasha!" Totosai broke in, causing them all to jump in surprise. Before the half-demon could do more than blink, the blacksmith flung himself at InuYasha, grabbing hold of his kimono. "Is that thing yours?!"

"What?!" InuYasha spat out, utterly perplexed by the sudden turnaround.

"Uh…" Kagome breathed, looking between the two demons and the glowing fighter. "Well, if you’re talking about the jet, then…" The reborn priestess hesitated when Totosai turned his fevered gaze towards her, but recovered momentarily and tilted her head in its direction. "Uh, yeah. I…guess you can say it’s ours."

"Give it to me!" Totosai begged with the same desperation a man dying of thirst would use in asking for a glass of water. "Please give it to me! I’ll do anything! Anything at all! I’ll -!"

"Hey, back off!" InuYasha growled before pushing the blacksmith away. "What’s gotten into you, anyway?!"

"Please!" Totosai whimpered pitifully. "You simply must let me have this! Please!!"

"But…why would you want the jet?" Sango wondered, cocking her head to the side as she studied the groveling sword maker. "What possible use could you…?"

"Because it’s pure! Utterly, absolutely pure!" Totosai cried out determinedly. "And the sheer amount of power seething within it! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life!!"

"Yeah, we noticed that part!" InuYasha grumbled disinterestedly.

"Can you imagine what I could do with material such as this?!" Totosai went on, mindless of InuYasha’s grousing. "If I could manage to temper it, I could make weapons the likes of which you’ve never seen! Weapons that could -!!

"What?" Jiro broke in, his features shadowed with confusion. "Are you saying that you want to melt the jet down? To use it for weapons?"

"Yes!" Totosai grinned. Holding up his hands as if he could grab the visions floating through his mind and hold them up to the group. "With this material, I could forge blades beyond your wildest dreams! I could enhance other weapons to the height of perfection! I could -!"

"Hey! First things first, old man!" InuYasha growled, completely out of patience as he grabbed hold of the blacksmith by the hem of his kimono. "Right now, we’ve got more important things to talk about!"

This caught the aged blacksmith’s attention. His already-huge eyes swelled that much more as he stared slack-jawed at InuYasha. "More important -?!" Totosai gasped out before gesturing at the jet with both hands. "More important than that?!"

"Yeah! This!" InuYasha growled. With his free hand, he grabbed hold of the sword dangling from his right hip, and drew it just enough to revealing its crackling aura of blue lightning.

Befuddlement spreading across his face, Totosai looked down at the Reikikaega. When he failed to say anything to this, Myoga cleared his throat and murmured, "That’s the sword I told you about, Totosai. The one we found in the jet to begin with."

"Hmm? Oh, right! That!" Totosai muttered absently. Scratching the back of his head, he considered the sword for a time before finally saying, "Well, I guess I could take a look at it."

"You better do a lot more than just that, old man!" InuYasha growled before slamming the Reikikaega back fully into its sheath. "We’ve got a lot of questions we need answered, and the sooner, the better!"

"I’ll say!" Kagome declared as she looked about the field. "For example…what the heck happened to this field?!"

"Hmm?" Miroku frowned as he looked towards Kikyo’s reincarnation. "What do you mean, Kagome?"

"I mean this!" Kagome returned, gesturing at the rice stalks that formed the perimeter of the jet’s clearing. Stalks that towered over the entire group like trees, with huge ears of rice dangling overhead. "What exactly happened here, anyway?!"

A beat passed before Sango gasped, realization spreading across her face. "Oh, you mean the crops!" the Demon Slayer breathed, nodding her understanding. "Well, that’s what I was about to tell you. You see…it seems that the energy from the jet had some kind of…side effect on the plants here."

"A…side effect?" Kagome repeated slowly. Closing her eyes and making a face like she had just bitten into a wormy apple, the raven-haired girl than gave a vigorous shake of her head. "Look, I know you’ve all been through a lot. But could someone please tell me exactly what’s going on here?!"

"Yes, of course," Miroku told her gently. "I think we should probably return to Kaito’s home for now. It’ll give us a chance to relax a bit, and explain everything that’s been going on here. And at the same time, Totosai can examine the Reikikaega, and hopefully decipher some of its secrets." Then he gave Kagome one of his patented smiles, and added, "And besides, I’m sure we could all use a chance to relax, and perhaps have a bite to eat."

"Sounds good, Miroku," Kagome nodded. Then she gave him a weary smile and added, "Just so long as Tamoa goes easier on the spices."

"Hmm?" Jiro piped up with a slight frown.

"Long story," Kagome told him before he could ask any questions. "Anyway, let’s go back to the house for now, and get some rest."

"Right," InuYasha grumbled, remembering the bundle of food and medicinal ingredients he had left behind. "Look, I have to go get something, but I’ll meet the rest of you back at the house." Not giving anyone a chance to protest, the half-demon turned and left the way he had come. Unwilling and unable to deal with any further chaos at the moment.

"…and that’s pretty much it, Kagome," Miroku spoke, concluding a lengthy, detailed narrative as to everything that had occurred during the battle with Naraku’s forces.

Several minutes had passed since the group had left the jet behind. Time in which they had gathered in the dining room of Kaito’s large manor, listening as Tamoa was already busying herself preparing lunch for them all. Kagome was seated next to Miroku, listening intently as he told her the exact events of the battle, filling in the holes in the narrative told by Sango. Kaname, Shippo, Jiro, Azusa, Totosai and Hachi were all seated at the table, sipping from cups of tea.

"That’s amazing," Kagome murmured, shaking her head in astonishment. "And…you’re saying that it was the Reikikaega that caused all the crops to start growing like that?!"

"In a way," Miroku confirmed, pausing to take a sip from his own cup of tea. "When the jet became charged with all that demonic power, it began attracting other demons. And when they were drawn up to the jet, they too were absorbed, their demonic power purified by the Reikikaega."

"Yeah, I understand that part. It’s kind of like a black hole," Kagome decided with a slight frown. "But that still doesn’t explain why it would affect the crops that way."

"Actually, it does. You see, when the demons were absorbed by the jet, I suspect their bodies were somehow pulverized into dust," Miroku continued in his sage manner. "And in the process, their remains were purified, transmuted before they came raining down on the crops." Pausing to take a breath, the monk looked thoughtfully at Kagome for a time. "I suspect that this dust retained at least some of the energy contained in the jet. And it was this power that caused the crops to start growing so much. Especially those in close proximity to the jet itself."

"Yes, and it’s a good thing, too," Jiro chimed in. "All the fields were hit pretty hard by Ryuunosuke’s blood. If it weren’t for the dust, I don’t think they would have survived, let alone grown as much as they have."

"Sure. We’re really lucky," Azusa grumbled lightly. "I’m so looking forward to eating grass!"

"Amazing! Absolutely amazing!" Totosai chimed in, staring goggle-eyed at the monk. "If what you’re saying is true, then that thing has even more power concentrated within it than I dared imagine!" Clenching his aged hand, he grinned feverishly before saying, "To think of the things I could do with such material! I could…!"

Smiling helplessly as Totosai went on, muttering beneath his breath about weapons and the like, Kaname added, "Well, whatever caused it, I’m sure glad it happened! Because of these super-crops, we didn’t have any trouble buying the things we need!"

"Then…we got it?" Kagome gasped, a smile of disbelief slowly appearing on her face. "The food? Medicine? All of it?!"

"That’s right!" Jiro confirmed happily. "Koga’s already gone back to the mountains, to bring people here to transport everything back. He should be back either tomorrow or the day after," The corners of his lips curling up, the young Slayer sighed his contentment. "He doesn’t know about the crops yet, but when everyone finds out…"

"Indeed. This should go a long way to easing any lingering discontent among the Slayers and the wolf-demons," Miroku declared sagely. "And now that Hachi is back, we should be able to help expedite the transport of the supplies."

As soon as this was said, Hachi blanched, a drop of sweat appearing on his head before he pulled back from his cup and sprayed tea from his mouth. "Wha – m-me?!" the tanuki exclaimed, a look of patent misery on his face as he looked at Miroku. "B-but, master…you can’t possibly expect me to carry all that stuff by myself!!"

"Of course not, Hachi," Miroku replied in a soothing manner. "However, we can’t forget how bad their situation is. And the sooner we can get at least some of the supplies to the mountains, the better."

The tanuki looked ready to give further protest, but then he looked at Miroku’s adamant expression, and promptly deflated. "Yes, I guess you’re right," Hachi sighed weakly. "So…when do I have to leave, anyway?"

"Hmm…well, we still have to get the supplies ready for transport," Miroku muttered thoughtfully. "I’d say early tomorrow should be fine." Giving this a moment to sink in, with Hachi taking some comfort in the fact that he would not be needed any time sooner, the monk turned his attention elsewhere. "Also, I think it would be best if Jiro and Azusa were to accompany him," he went on, looking at the two he had mentioned. "Not only could you explain that further supplies would be forthcoming, but you could also aid in distributing the food and medicine to those most in need."

"Hmph! Fine by me!" Azusa growled officiously. "I’ve been hanging around with humans long enough as it is! I can’t wait to be back in the mountains where I belong!"

While a few of the others were giving the redhead looks that said that they would be equally glad when she departed from their midst, Kagome returned her focus to Miroku. "And what about Kanna?" she spoke, her words heavy with disbelief. "You’re absolutely certain that she’s human now?"

Shrugging slightly, Miroku answered, "We’ve checked on her every day, Kagome. There hasn’t been any indication of her powers returning, or of her spider-mark."

For a moment, Kagome was tempted to point out that there was still the possibility that they were being deceived. After all, how many times had Naraku deceived them in the past, even faking his own death in order to achieve some hidden agenda? But then she frowned, for she knew Miroku and the others well enough to be aware that they would be on the lookout for just such a trick. If they were presently satisfied that she was of no threat to them, then that certainly had to count for something.

Nodding thoughtfully as she considered these matters, Kagome finally said, "Okay. But…maybe I should check her out with the compass. Just to be sure."

"I understand. I was actually going to suggest that myself," Miroku informed her. "But that can wait for now. I’m sure you could use some time to rest." Just as Kagome was about to counter this suggestion, to say that she could run a quick check on the girl without any problem, the monk added, "And in any case, we’re still having a hard time dealing with her."

"What do you mean?" Kagome asked. "What, has she tried to escape?"

"On the contrary," Miroku told her solemnly. "She won’t even come out of her room on her own. We’ve had to bring her all her meals, as well as escort her outside when she…well, you know." Kagome gave a wry smile as she nodded to this. "And even then, the only one of us she will have anything to do with is Sango."

"That’s right!" Shippo agreed, drawing Kagome’s gaze. "Whenever anyone else goes in her room, she curls up in the corner and won’t move a muscle!"

"It’s not surprising, actually. After all, this is the first time Kanna’s ever had to deal with emotions of her own," Miroku murmured sympathetically. "And we can’t forget that, until a short time ago, we were her enemies. It will be some time before she’s able to open up to the rest of us."

"I believe that," Kagome agreed. "But…if that’s the case, then why isn’t she afraid of Sango as well?"

"We’re not sure," Miroku admitted. "It could be because she protected Kanna during the battle. Or maybe because Sango was the one Kagura left Kanna with to begin with. No one else was there with them, except for Kohaku." Shrugging helplessly, the monk concluded by saying, "I know it might seem like much, but those are the only possibilities I can think of."

Considering this for a moment, Kagome finally nodded. "I guess that makes sense," she decided after a time. Then she looked down at the monk’s hand, the one that was bound by sacred beads. "And what about your Wind Tunnel? Has it recovered yet?"

Holding up his hand in contemplation, Miroku eventually shook his head. "Not really," he murmured. "I’m not sure whether it’s because Ryuunosuke’s poison, or because the jet absorbed so much demonic power from it, but…my Wind Tunnel barely has any power at all now."

"Really?" Kagome gaped, caught between concern and elation at these words.

As if somehow knowing exactly how she felt, Miroku gave his cursed hand a rueful look. "It’s rather ironic, actually. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted nothing more than to be rid of this curse. But now, with its power at such a low ebb…" A weary sigh escaping his lips, the monk lowered his gaze. "I have to admit, I’m a bit worried about how useful I will be in the future."

Taken aback by this grim declaration, Kagome snorted a bit of laughter. "Now, don’t be ridiculous!" she told him, beaming gently at him. "I mean, c’mon! Think of all the things that you’ve done for us! You know more about demons than any of us, you know how to set up barriers, create sutras…all kinds of things! That’s not going to go away, just because your Wind Tunnel isn’t working anymore!"

Slowly, Miroku looked back up, and eventually met Kagome’s gaze once more. "I…appreciate your vote of confidence, Kagome."

"Yeah, I’m sure you do," Azusa shot from where she was sitting. When the two of them looked in her direction, they were greeted with an expression of patent disgust. "Too bad you haven’t done anything to deserve it, you disgusting lecher!"

Before either of them could say anything to this, they were distracted from Azusa’s snotty attitude by the appearance of three other members of their group. "Michiru, you really shouldn’t be moving around," Sango murmured, her arm under the Shikigami User’s right shoulder as she assisted him. On his other side, Kirara was in her normal form, looking up in concern at the male Kururugi twin as he staggered forward. "You should be back in bed, resting."

Frowning as she watched the two of the approach the table, Kagome felt a surge of annoyance when she saw just how close Michiru and Sango, his arm wrapped about her side as she gave him the support he needed in order to stay upright. However, before the reborn priestess could do more than grunt her disapproval, the Kururugi boy got close enough for her to get a better look at his face. Causing Kagome to gasp as all protest fell from her mind.

Oh, my… Kagome breathed inwardly, staggered by how gaunt Michiru looked. His skin was far too pale, and even with the assistance of Sango, he was worn from the effort of simply walking. I…I know Miroku told me about everything that happened to him, she thought, recalling the tales of him being possessed, poisoned, and pushed beyond his limits by the need of the situation. But…I didn’t really realize how badly he’d been hurt…!

Even as Kagome wrestled with the reality of the Michiru’s situation, she watched as he and Sango made their way to the table. "I know, Sango, but…I’ve been resting for days now," he protested weakly. "I’ve barely been out of my room, let alone downstairs, or…!"

"And you should stay in your room!" Sango informed him determinedly as they came to sit at the table. When Michiru groaned in response, the Demon Slayer placed her free hand under his chin and turned his head to look at her. "Look, I know you don’t like being cooped up like that, but you’re still too weak to be moving around! You’re just going to make yourself worse if you push yourself!"

Shifting about as he made himself comfortable, Michiru then turned to give Sango a tender smile. "It’s okay, Sango. Really, I’ll be fine in no time," he told her with such conviction that even Kagome believed him. And then he leaned in closer, placing his hand to her cheek. "Besides…being with you is the best medicine I could ever have."

This instantly torpedoed any sympathy Kagome might have felt for the Shikigami User. A situation made that much worse when Sango smiled as well, a gentle blush coloring her cheeks. I don’t believe this! Don’t tell me she’s still not over him! she fumed inwardly, glaring sheer death at Michiru. A glare that he somehow failed to notice. And look at him! He’s just eating this up!

While Kagome was wondering how Sango could feel any attraction for someone so hot-headed, immature, and jealous, Michiru looked away from the Demon Slayer long enough to catch sight of one of their other visitors. "Hello, Totosai. It’s…good to see you again."

"Hmm?" Totosai started, drawn from his own thoughts with a start. For a few seconds, he stared uncomprehendingly at the boy that had addressed him, but soon recovered and answered, "Ah! It’s you! I heard that you were back amongst the others." Then he frowned somewhat and gave him a closer look. "Though I do remember you looking a good deal better the last time we met!"

"Yeah, I know," Michiru groaned, wincing at some ache or pain twinged for his attention. Suppressing a grunt of discomfort, he leaned forward and looked at his sister. "Have you met my sister?"

"Your sister?" Totosai replied blankly. Then Kaname leaned forward and gave him a friendly wave, at which the demonic blacksmith gasped, "Oh, yes! Of course! She introduced herself the moment I got here!" Muttering absently, he then turned his eyes towards the Kururugi sister. "Um…nice to meet you again."

"It’s nice to meet you, too. My bro has told me all about you," Kaname smiled nicely. "By the way, is it true what he said? That you made the Tetsusaiga from InuYasha’s father’s fang?"

"Why, yes! Indeed I did!" Totosai agreed, taking a sip of his tea. "One of the two swords I made for the great InuTaisho. And they took quite a bit of doing to craft, of that you can be sure!"

Shaking her head, Kaname returned, "I’ll bet! But that really is amazing."

Nodding pleasantly at this, Totosai then turned towards Michiru. "Yes, she’s your sister. Got the same manners and all," he muttered. Then he gave Kaname a sly look. "Though, with any luck, I’ll soon be able to craft weapons that will exceed even the Tetsusaiga and Tenseiga!"

"Exceed the…?" Michiru started, immediately puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"Why, that thing in the field!" Totosai exclaimed excitedly, delight in his eyes as he once again lost himself in thought. "If I can just get a hold of even a little piece of it, I could craft weapons that would dazzle your minds! Weapons that would…!"

"And here he goes again…" Azusa grumbled, putting her hands to her ears. "Doesn’t this old goat ever shut up?"

Ignoring the urge to say something similar about the she-wolf, Kagome focused on the blacksmith. "Totosai, we already told you. Right now, we need you to examine the Reikikaega!"

"Yes, yes! I know, Kagome! And I will! I’ll start right after I’m done eating, in fact!" Totosai muttered. "After all, I want to know more about that sword as well! A weapon that could concentrate such demonic power, rendering it so utterly pure…it truly is astonishing!" Flashing Kagome a crooked grin, the old man then shook his head. "I know, I know! I’ve been going on about that quite a bit, haven’t I? But when I think of the weapons I could craft from that metal bird of yours, I can’t help but get excited! The possibilities, the potential of such material…it’s virtually without limit!"

While Azusa was groaning once more, and even some of the others tiring of the old blacksmith’s ramblings, Michiru was frowning in a thoughtful manner. "Totosai…could you make any kind of weapon from the jet?"

Sitting up straighter and giving Michiru a look, the aged demon returned, "Of course I can! This is Totosai you’re talking to!" Snorting as if the question were a form of insult, he went on to say, "I could craft any form of blade or weapon that you care to imagine from it! Anything at all!"

"Anything?" Michiru repeated, to which Totosai nodded again. "Maybe even…a boomerang?"

"Absolutely! The making of such a thing would be child’s play for me!" Totosai went on. Then he gave the boy an annoyed look, and added, "Of course, I’d have to convince InuYasha to let me have it first. And then I’d have to temper it, and…"

"Michiru…" Sango started, frowning slightly at the boy. But before she could speak further, Tamoa appeared from the kitchen with a large tray of food in hand.

"Lunch is ready, everyone!" Tamoa announced with a motherly air. "Sorry to take so long, but with everything that’s been happening…"

"That’s okay, Tamoa. We understand," Kagome returned, grateful for the distraction. "Do you need any help with that?"

"No, but thank you, my dear," Tamoa replied as she moved to serve everyone. Chuckling warmly, she added, "If anyone in this house needs help, it’s Shunsuke."

"Your husband?" Miroku asked with a raised eyebrow. "Why? Is he having trouble with repairs?"

"More like trouble with helping your half-demon friend," Tamoa explained, chuckling beneath her breath. "You should have seen the things he brought back from the woods today! Dozens of fish, rabbits, a couple wild boars! Not to mention a few other things I didn’t even recognize!" Still laughing at this, the lady of the house continued to serve her guests. "And when he came in here with the whole pile, asking if there was someplace he could go to clean them all up, my husband took him around back and offered to help him! I swear, it’ll be hours before they’re done with the whole thing!"

"Really?" Kagome gaped.

"That’s not surprising," Totosai muttered with ill humor. "When InuYasha’s involved, things do tend to get more complicated, rather than less!"

"Why did he do that?" Michiru wondered tiredly. "Don’t we have plenty of food around?"

"More than plenty," Tamoa informed them. "But apparently, your friend was worried about you and your sister. When he came back here, he said something about putting some things together to help you feel better."

This statement caught everyone there by surprise. Michiru and Kaname both looked up sharply at their hostess, while Miroku, Sango, and Shippo all found their jaws decorating the floor. As for Kagome, she looked sharply at Tamoa before asking, "He said…what?"

Tamoa shrugged before answering, "Well, actually what he said was something like ‘The more Michiru and Kaname get to eat, the sooner they’ll get better.’ And he also muttered something about there being nothing better than liver to help someone who’s feeling sick. But…well, I’m sure you understand."

"Yeah! We understand too well!" Shippo groaned, quickly covering up his nose. "So InuYasha’s going to make more of that nasty liver drink of his?! I think I’d rather be sick!"

Shooting Michiru a sympathetic look, Sango informed him, "Maybe you should have stayed in bed after all."

While both Kururugis were considering the apprehension demonstrated by the others, Kagome was frowning intently. The last time she had seen InuYasha demonstrate this level of concern for someone had been the one time she had been severely ill. Sick enough that she had been forced to return to the modern world in order to tend to her health. During this time, InuYasha had gone all over the place, gathering food and medicinal ingredients to treat her ailments, amongst other things. And now, he was doing it for Michiru and Kaname.

On the one hand, Kagome found herself glad that InuYasha was taking an active part to help the group during their downtime. Usually, he was so lazy and unreliable during such peaceful times, and was almost impossible to motivate to do something without a little help from the Beads of Subjugation. And she had to admit, from everything she had been told, about both Michiru’s ordeal and the way Kaname had been working overtime in order to help heal the sick and injured, that they certainly deserved such treatment.

But on the other hand, however, there was something about the fact that InuYasha was giving such special treatment to someone else that nettled her. Kagome knew that InuYasha got along fairly well with people other than herself, and she had been delighted when she saw how openly he had taken Michiru as his friend. But the idea that someone else would warrant such treatment from him…

And here we go again, Kagome frowned, another nasty element to her dilemma rearing its ugly head. Recalling just how many times she had experienced such feelings whenever Kikyo reappeared in their lives. A constant reminder that there was another part of InuYasha’s life that she was not privy to. That there was another person that would always be a part of their relationship. Something that was made all the more complicated by the fact that, as impossible as it seemed at times, they were actually the same person. That they shared the same soul.

Struggling to put these nasty doubts and concerns out of her mind and someplace where she wouldn’t have to deal with them, at least for a time, Kagome almost jumped out of her skin when Tamoa presented a plate of food down before her. "And there you go, Kagome."

"Uh, thanks," Kagome returned, watching as the gentle homemaker smiled as she went on to serve the others. Then she looked down at the meal presented to her, and gave it a suspicious look. There was no sign of the excessive spices that had caused her the worst heartburn of her entire life. She then took an experimental sniff of her meal. Again, there was not even a trace of spice.

After several seconds of studying, Kagome finally decided to risk a taste. Picking up her chopsticks, she gathered up a bit of meat between them, and carefully slid it between her lips, making sure to taste the sample before releasing it.

To her relief, Kagome tasted nothing but meat and some sauce that had been used to braise it. Chewing it carefully, she didn’t detect any sign of her mouth being set ablaze from within like it had last time. Satisfied with this experiment, she went on to sample one of the vegetables on her plate. Like the meat, it was free of spices.

I guess Mom was right, Kagome decided as she began eating in earnest. It was probably just an accident. Tamoa must’ve knocked something spicy into my lunch while she was working, and…

"…and there you go, Hachi," Tamoa announced with a hint of satisfaction as she set down the last plate. "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better see how Kohaku and Kanna are doing."

Wincing somewhat at Kanna’s mentioning, and recalling the astonishment she had felt when she had been shown the former incarnation, told of how she had come to be among them, Kagome was broken from her thoughts when Hachi spoke up. "Um, excuse me? Tamoa?"

"Yes? What is it?" Tamoa responded. "Is something wrong?"

"Well…not exactly," Hachi grimaced nervously, looking from the hostess to his repast and back. "It’s just that…why’d you put so much spice on my lunch?"

"Hmm?" Kagome got out around a mouthful of food, her eyes going wide as she looked up at both the tanuki and their hostess.

Heedless of Kagome’s gaze, Tamoa answered, "Well…I’m sorry, but I thought you liked that kind of thing."

"Are you kidding?! I can’t stand spicy food!" Hachi declared with a bit more ire to his words. "Why would you think that I like this stuff, anyway?!"

"Uh…well, before you and Kagome left, I watched Kaname when she made lunch for you, and she poured quite a bit of spice on it," Tamoa explained helplessly. Gesturing at the Kururugi girl, who was currently wearing a grin of humiliation as she tried to make herself look as small as possible, she went on to say, "When I asked her about it, she said that it wouldn’t be a problem."

"Huh?" Hachi replied even as Kagome slowly turned to glare at Kaname. "But…my lunch wasn’t spicy at all! It was Kagome’s that…!" Before he could say another word, the tanuki’s eyes went wide with realization. "Oh…"

His face falling in dismay, Michiru looked over at Kaname. "You didn’t…"

Following Michiru’s example, everyone in the room turned to gaze at Kaname. The female Kururugi met each and every one of their gazes, drops of sweat rolling down her head. "Uh-oh," she got out between her clenched teeth. "Busted!"

"So that’s it! You’re the one who slipped me that junk!" Kagome growled, throwing down her chopsticks before shooting to her feet. "I guess I should’ve guessed that! Only someone as hotheaded and immature as you are would pull a stunt like that!"

"What?!" Kaname returned, her eyes and mouth round with anger as she stood to look Kagome directly in the eye. "Hey! Who do you think you are, calling me that?!"

"Oh, gee, I don’t know! Maybe the person who spent a whole day sick in bed because your toxic lunch gave me the worst case of heartburn I’ve ever had in my entire life!" Kagome returned, staring daggers at the Kururugi girl.

"Well, I’m the one who was sick and tired of you treating my bro like dirt!" Kaname declared. "So I think that makes us even!"

"Hey! He’s the one who wouldn’t take responsibility for his mistakes!" Kagome countered, her eyes narrowing sharply as she leaned in closer to the Shikigami User. "He went and blew up on Miroku, and then he tried to put all the blame for it on him! So what else am I supposed to think?!"

"Are you kidding?!" Kaname snorted, caught between a laugh and a growl. "You mean you still think Miroku told the truth about that?!

Standing up straighter, her hands folded before her and her nose in the air, Kagome returned, "Miroku might have his faults, but one thing’s for sure. And that’s that he would never put any of our lives at risk for his own satisfaction!"

"Is that so, huh?!" Kaname countered, leaning over the table and staring daggers at the reborn priestess.

"Yes, that’s so!" Kagome sniped, just meeting Kaname’s glare. "Because, unlike some people I could mention, Miroku is reliable, mature, and most importantly, he doesn’t get mad at people just because he doesn’t get his way!"

Wincing at this declaration, Michiru lowered his gaze somewhat. All too aware of just whom Kagome meant when she said ‘some people’. Noticing this, Sango placed her hand on his shoulder while Shippo looked up at the two girls. "Um, Kagome! Wait, I -!"

"All Michiru’s done since he’s shown up again is cause trouble!" Kagome declared, not allowing any opportunity for interruption. "Attacking Miroku, lying to us…!" Then she directed her gaze at the male Kururugi twin, and declared, "Honestly, I’m starting to wish you’d never come back!"

"What?!" Kaname squawked, severely stung by this comment. A condition made worse when Michiru sagged beneath the weight of this barb. "I don’t believe this! How can you stand there and say something like that?!"

"Because we’ve got enough trouble dealing with Naraku without having to deal with Michiru and his little tantrums!" Kagome gritted, locking gazes with Kaname. "And just for the record, that’s another thing you have in common with that brother of yours!"

"Yeah, right! You’re one to talk!" Kaname sneered, standing back and looking down on Michiru’s detractor. "Look at you! Acting all high and mighty! You’re always right, and everyone else is always wrong!"

"I never said that!" Kagome retorted instantly.

"No, but you sure act like it!" Kaname snorted.

Growling deep in her throat, her hands balling up into fists, Kagome shot back, "And you and your brother act like a pair of self-centered, spoiled brats!" Leaning back again, the reborn priestess looked away and declared, "Honestly, Sango, how can you even – huh?!"

Watching as Kagome’s face went from one of outrage to surprise, Kaname and the others followed her eyes. Only to mirror her expression when they realized that Michiru was gone, along with Sango and Kirara.

"Huh?" Shippo squeaked out as he studied the empty space at the table. "Hey, where’d they go?!"

"They must’ve left while you girls were arguing," Tamoa murmured unhappily. Then she directed a scornful look at both Kagome and Kaname, and declared, "The two of you should be ashamed of yourselves, carrying on like that!"

"What?" Kagome got out, looking much like a little girl with her hand caught in the cookie jar. Flushed with embarrassment and unspent anger, she then jabbed her finger in Kaname’s face. "But…she’s the one who started it!"

"Huh?!" Kaname gasped. "Hey, what do you mean, I started it?!"

"You’re the one who tried to poison me!" Kagome reminded her.

"Oh, please!" Kaname snorted. "You’re the one who -!"

"And here we go again…" Jiro groaned even as the rest of the group made similar sounds of dismay. As the girls once again got wrapped up in their argument, everyone else present decided to follow Michiru and Sango’s example, and slowly departed the dining room.

"I’m really sorry about that, Sango," Michiru groaned wearily. "I mean…I didn’t know that Kaname…"

"It’s not your fault," Sango returned, placing her hand on his arm as they moved further away from Kaito’s house. Michiru currently astride a transformed Kirara, the two-tailed cat growling in a comforting manner as the three of them made their way through the village, paying no attention to the continuing efforts to rebuild the shattered buildings, the tending of the wounded, as well as harvesting the mammoth crops that now abounded in the village.

Letting a weary breath escape his lips, Michiru looked off in the distance. "I can’t believe that Kagome still thinks that I…" he started, lying more than sitting on Kirara’s back, his arms securely wrapped about her. "Then again…I guess I can’t blame her for thinking that. I mean…"

"Michiru, please," Sango pleaded, growing more and more distraught as she looked up at him. At the suffering he so visibly wore.

When Kagome and Kaname had started fighting, with the modern priestess spitting venom at Michiru, Sango had watched helplessly as he had collapsed beneath the weight of their friend’s accusations. Days of recovery disappearing before her very eyes. But when she had looked up at Kagome, wanting nothing more than to set her straight, to tell her the truth of that day’s events, all she could do was sit there, and watch her and Michiru’s sister exchange insults with ever-increasing rage. Until finally, she decided against trying to say anything, and instead, with Kirara’s help, she had spirited Michiru away without anyone noticing.

I should have said something to her right there. Told her the truth! Sango moaned inwardly, wondering why she hadn’t done so. But even as she did, she realized that she already knew the answers to that question.

The first answer was that she knew that trying to explain everything to Kagome just then would have been an exercise in futility. For while the modern priestess could be quite reasonable while she was calm, she was very nearly impossible to deal with when she got mad and started arguing. Even InuYasha at his most irate could only keep up with the volley of insults she slung at him, at least until she tired of the whole thing and sent him crashing down with a ‘sit’ command.

The second part of her reason was the very simple fact that Sango had often felt somewhat intimidated by Kagome. Not only did she wield a spiritual power that could smite even the most powerful of demons, as well an awareness of the world around her that the Demon Slayer knew she would never possess, but she was also nearly impossible to intimidate. Sango had watched Kagome walk into situations that would make most humans and even quite a few demons tremble, even making a horde of panther-demons part way for her by means of a scornful look, as well as an insult or two. To her mind, anyone with these abilities was not someone to be trifled with.

The third answer was that Sango had learned the hard way that provoking Kagome excessively was extremely counterproductive. For whenever InuYasha managed to do that, the reborn priestess would return to her own time, at least long enough for her to calm down and work out whatever grievances she had on her own. And without her abilities, the rest of the group would be unable to track down the Jewel Shards, and they would lack one of their more powerful members in dealing with other demons. Something they couldn’t afford, especially now.

But even as Sango worked through these reasons, she found herself confronted by the biggest, most shameful reason of them all. For the simple fact of the matter of it was that, when she saw her friends fighting tooth and nail like that, she realized that she wanted nothing to do with it. More importantly, she couldn’t stand to involve herself in such an argument. Everything that had happened as of late, everything from Michiru being possessed to the Hiraikotsu being destroyed, had taken their toll. And while Sango was loathe to admit it, she was still at the limits of her emotional endurance.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t let things go on this way, Sango frowned. Her responsibility to her friends, as well as Michiru, demanded that she correct the situation as quickly as possible. I can’t let Michiru keep getting blamed for what happened. I have to talk to Kagome, clear things up with her. Nodding to herself, the Demon Slayer’s frown deepened as another face appeared in her mind. And she’s not the only one I have to settle things with…

As she lost herself in these thoughts, a gentle voice stirred her back to the real world. "Sango?" Michiru murmured, his weary, blue-grey eyes sparking with concern for her. "Is something wrong?"

"Hmm?" Sango returned, momentarily confused. But when she saw the way Michiru was looking at her, she gave him her best smile and waved his concerns away. "Oh, no! It’s nothing, really!" Feeling somewhat abashed at the way she had let her thoughts wander, she decided to change the subject. "Look…I think it would be best to go someplace quiet. At least until things settle down."

Blinking a few times, Michiru eventually nodded. "Yeah, I think so to," he answered. Looking about the area, he soon pointed towards a tree surrounded with flowers. "How about over there? At least we’ll be shaded from the sun."

Looking towards the indicated tree, Sango soon smiled in agreement. "Looks good to me," she decided. "Let’s go, Kirara!" Growling her assent, the two-tail shifted course, and the three of them soon were beneath the large tree’s widespread branches, surrounded by the wonderful fragrance of the flowers.

Immediately satisfied with this location, Sango turned her attention towards her beloved. "Here, Michiru. Let me help you get off," she told him, not giving him a chance to protest as she wrapped her arms about his torso. Without protest, Michiru accepted the Demon Slayer’s embrace, and with some difficulty, slid off of Kirara’s back. When he came to the ground, he staggered forward, still lacking the strength to adequately support himself, and very nearly bowled the warrior woman over in the process. "Whoa! Careful!" Sango cautioned, catching herself before she lost her balance.

"Sorry," Michiru groaned, his cheeks coloring as he was forced to rely on Sango in order to keep his footing.

"That’s okay," Sango assured him. A slow blush of her own appearing, she turned towards the tree that had attracted their attention. "Here. We better sit down before something like that happens again."

"Uh, right. Good idea," Michiru conceded with a hint of humiliation. And so, with Sango supporting him and Kirara moving alongside of him, ready to catch him if he fell over, the still-recovering Shikigami User walked to the tree. And they continued to assist him as he sat down, issuing a groan of relief mixed with the various aches and pains he was suffering.

"Are you comfortable?" Sango asked him as she sat down at his side, her tender hands playing about his stiff shoulders.

"Yeah," Michiru nodded, smiling his contentment as he looked his beloved in the eyes. "Thanks for helping me, Sango." When he heard a light growl behind him, the Shikigami User turned and looked at their two-tailed companion, still in her fighting form as she lay down next to them. "Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you, Kirara." Michiru told her, placing his hand between her ears and gently scratching there. "Thank you."

Satisfied with Michiru’s gratitude, as well as the head-scratching she was getting, Kirara purred happily as she snuggled up to her friends. "I’m sorry to put you to so much trouble, Sango," the Kururugi boy told her, as content as he could be with his beloved lying next to him, all her attention on him and him alone. "But…"

"It’s okay," Sango assured him. Then she gave him a wry smile and added, "Though I did say that you should have stayed in your room." Gratified when this succeeded in getting a wan chuckle out of Michiru, the Demon Slayer looked at him more intently. "So…are you feeling any better yet?"

"Eh…a little, I guess," Michiru muttered, his dissatisfaction with his rate of recovery clear to her. "It’s just…"

Even as he trailed off, Sango frowned, knowing full well what her beloved was going through. Recalling the days when she had fought InuYasha and the others in battle. Of the days she had spent after, virtually helpless to do anything as she slowly recovered from the injuries she had suffered as a result of Naraku’s treachery. Days in which she had wrestled with both the deaths of everyone she held dear…and the utter helplessness of not being able to move, let alone fight.

"I understand," Sango murmured gently. "Still, you’re not going to get better if you push yourself too hard."

"I know, I know," Michiru answered sheepishly. "But…I just couldn’t stand being trapped in there any longer! I…I was starting to feel like the walls were closing in on me." Sango snorted a laugh, being familiar with that sensation as well. "Besides…being out here…maybe I’m crazy, but…I feel better out here."

Cocking her head to the side, Sango raised an eyebrow as she studied her beloved. "Really?"

"Yeah," Michiru nodded, looking up at the tree that shaded them. His eyes wandering from the leaves that were swaying in the wind, to the sun beaming down between them, then to the river that was flowing nearby, and then to the earth upon which they rested. "I dunno…maybe it’s because I’m…closer to nature out here?"

Taking a moment to consider this, Sango soon admitted that this made sense. The power of Michiru’s Shikigami came from the forces of nature. It was possible that nature itself might lend him its strength in helping him recover. Especially after a battle as horrendous as this last one was. "Maybe," she eventually conceded before giving him a wry smile. "Though I still think it would have been easier if you’d stayed in your room."

The corner of his lip curling up, Michiru responded, "Well, I might have, if I’d known about Kaname’s little trick!" Laughing at his own joke, he was soon joined when Sango chuckled, drawing herself closer to him. And when the laughter faded, it left in its wake a peace and contentment, one that was echoed by the sounds of village, and Kirara’s purring.

But even in such a peaceful setting, there were some things that couldn’t remain unsaid. And as Sango lay beneath the tree’s shade, something Michiru had said before began to nag at her. "Michiru…when you were talking to Totosai…you asked him if he could make a boomerang from the jet," she began uncertainly. "Why’d you do that?"

"Why?" Michiru asked, clearly puzzled by this question.

"Because we might still need the jet, remember?" Sango pointed out. "We still have to find out where it came from, and we might need it for other things as well."

"But we already have everything that was in the jet’s recorder," Michiru protested. Then, with a rather somber look, he added, "Besides, with everything that’s happened to it, I don’t think I’ll be to even get inside of it, let alone fly it again."

"Maybe," Sango conceded, still concerned. "But, still, we don’t need to use it for that. I could go back to my village, use the things there to rebuild Hiraikotsu."

"Well, yeah," Michiru conceded. "But…well…"

Not liking the way Michiru hesitated, Sango prompted him. "What is it, Michiru?"

"It’s just…no offense, Sango, but…Hiraikotsu…" Michiru began, shifting about uncomfortably. Her unease mounting, Sango nodded to him, trying to get him to say whatever it was he wished to say. "I mean…don’t get me wrong, but…it’s just…"

"Just what?" Feeling herself growing annoyed by his hemming and hawing, Sango exhaled sharply as she looked him in the eye. "Michiru, please! Whatever it is that you have to say, just say it!" When the Shikigami User responded by lowering his eyes, his lips pressed pensively together, the warrior woman placed her hand to his cheek, and forced him to once again meet her gaze. "Trust me, you won’t hurt me by being honest. Just…say whatever it is you have to say."

Michiru didn’t say anything at first. He just lay there, looking into the Demon Slayer’s eyes, emotions swirling about in his own. Emotions that were all mired together, and impossible to distinguish. Sango found herself losing herself in his gaze, and let out a gasp when his eyes fell once more. "I’m sorry, but…I just don’t think that…another Hiraikotsu would be good enough," he finally confessed. "I mean…I know how important it was to you, but…it seems like things are getting more dangerous. For everyone."

"I know that, Michiru," Sango whispered, craning her head to better look at him.

"Naraku…he almost destroyed us last time. He could have wiped out the village and everyone in it. He…" Words once again failed Michiru, leaving him able to do little but bite his own lip. When his eyes closed, Sango could practically see through to his mind. See that he was thinking back to that battle, that he was once again seeing all of its horrors. "You...you were almost killed, Sango. You and everyone else. And all because I…I could have…"

"No, Michiru," Sango broke in, already knowing where he was going with this. Once again familiar with the emotions he was feeling. "If this is about what that mask did…!"

"I could’ve killed you, Sango!" Michiru spat out, leaning forward and folding his arms on his knees. "That…that thing that clamped onto me…I couldn’t do a thing to stop it! It did everything it could to try and kill you, and it -!"

"And it failed!" Sango countered, knowing that simply saying this wouldn’t be enough. It could never be enough to wipe away the guilt of attacking the people you loved and cared for. Knew, and yet she still had to try. "You fought that thing, Michiru! You’re every bit as responsible for stopping that thing as the rest of us were."

"But…I still hurt you. I attacked my sis, Shippo, InuYasha…that thing could have killed you all, and I wasn’t able to stop it," Michiru murmured, his voice afire with pain and guilt. "I know that it was the mask, Sango. But that doesn’t change the fact that things are getting more dangerous. Naraku…he isn’t going to stop until he gets us. Me and Kaname both."

"He won’t get you, Michiru! Either of you!" Sango vowed, placing her hand on his shoulder. "I don’t care what I have to do. I won’t let him take you."

Looking over his shoulder, Michiru smiled wearily before once again looking forward. "But I do care, Sango. I…I care about all of you," he murmured, his voice betraying his emotions. His guilt, fear, and shame. "I nearly killed you, Sango. Mask or not, it was my power that almost destroyed you all. And I…I can’t forget that." Heaving a deep breath, a breath that betrayed all the tears that had not been shed, the emotional wounds that hadn’t even begun to heal, the Shikigami User sat up and once again looked her in the eyes. "And that’s why…I want you to have a more powerful weapon, Sango. Because if…if this ever happens again, then…"

Taking hold of Michiru by his shoulders, Sango glared at him. No smiles, no softness. She was all business, all warrior when she told him, "It won’t happen again, Michiru. We beat Naraku this time, just like every other time we’ve fought him. And we’ll do it again." It was only then that the Demon Slayer allowed her warrior’s exterior to slip away as she drew herself closer to Michiru. "And no matter what happens, Naraku will never do this to you again. I promise he won’t."

"But…Sango, I -!" Michiru began again, only to be cut off by Kirara growling loudly. Which was the only warning either he or Sango got before the two-tail reared up, her forepaws in the air above them. Gasping in surprise, the two of them could only watch as Kirara fell down upon Michiru, pressing him down into Sango’s lap.

"Kirara!" Sango gaped, shocked by her companion’s behavior. Her mouth opening and closing on its own, the Demon Slayer tried to recover her wits, at least enough to give the two-tail a good scolding. However, it wasn’t long before Sango’s astonishment and annoyance changed into amusement as she watched Kirara begin licking Michiru’s face, purring even more loudly than before.

"Hey, c’mon - Kirara – cut it – out!" Michiru got out as the two-tail’s raspy tongue brushed past his mouth, over and over again.

Chuckling deep in her throat, Sango looked down into Michiru’s face. "See?" she began, watching as Michiru laughed helplessly beneath the onslaught of Kirara’s licks. "Kirara doesn’t blame you for what happened, either."

"Uh, yeah! I – noticed!" Michiru cried out. Raising his hands in surrender, he stopped the two-tail before she could give him another lick. "Okay, okay, Kirara! I get the idea!"

I sure hope so, Sango thought warmly as she shifted about, making herself more comfortable as she looked down into her beloved’s face. "I understand how you feel, Michiru," she told him gently, a world of meaning in each word she spoke. "Trust me, I do understand. But, please don’t worry about me, or anything else." Seeing the confused look that appeared at this, the Demon Slayer leaned forward, drawing closer to him. "Right now, the most important thing is for you to get your strength back. So just try and relax, and let us take care of things for a while." Placing her hand beneath his chin, Sango sighed, trying to keep the tears that wanted to escape her eyes contained. "Everything’s going to be alright. You’ll see."

Sango had no idea whether or not her words would have the intended effect. In fact, dealing with people was a difficult thing for her times, and there had been plenty of occasions when she had found herself wishing that her skill with people was at least half as good as her combat abilities. So she watched, and waited, studying Michiru’s face. And was eventually rewarded when he smiled at her, and said, "I love you, Sango."

Taken by surprise by these three, simple little words, Sango gasped, her entire body going rigid. But that lasted for just a moment, and then her smile returned. Her entire body relaxed once more. And all her worries and concerns fled her for a time. Leaving her able to look the Shikigami User in the eye and tell him, with all her heart, "I love you, too, Michiru."

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