Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Unexpected Confessions

Darkness. Darkness and gloom pervaded the tiny room Kanna sat in. The tiny candle that sat nearby was unable to chase it away completely, but the former incarnation didn't care about that. She didn't want to see the rest of the room. She didn't want to see anything, hear anything, or feel anything.

She only wanted...to be nothing again. To have nothing except her service to Naraku.

In the days since she had been struck the Reikikaega and had been robbed of her demonic powers, Kanna had been able to do little except quaver and whimper in terror. She was in the hands of Naraku's enemies, people who had no reason to care for her, and every reason to kill her. People she had fought and tried to kill on more than one occasion, and had done so without fear.

Now all Kanna knew was fear. Fear that sooner or later, InuYasha or someone else would pass through the door to her room and end her life as horribly as possible. Fear that they would forget about her, forget to give her the food she needed to survive. Fear that Naraku would launch his next attack, and that she would be killed in the midst of battle. Fear that Naraku would send an attack just to kill her. And these fears and more haunted her during her every waking moment, followed as she succumbed to sleep and turned it into a world of nightmares. Fear, always, always, fear...

How?! How can anyone live this way?! Kanna whimpered inwardly as she continued to tremble. How do they live with these...these feelings?! Sniffling loudly, she curled up even tighter, her kimono already heavily stained with her tears. Only to start when a sound was heard echoing through the halls. The sound of footsteps.

Stiffening up with even greater fear, Kanna turned her eyes to the door to her room, the only way in or out. She could tell that the footsteps were drawing closer, but she couldn't tell if the people making them would actually come there or not. All she could do was sit there, watching and waiting, sweat rolling down her face as she kept her eyes on the door.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of newfound terror, the footsteps stopped right outside, and a gentle rapping sound was heard. "Kanna?" came a familiar voice. "It's me, Sango."

Sango. The Demon Slayer that Kagura had entrusted Kanna to. The person who had defended her, kept InuYasha from hurting her when she brought the former incarnation to the village, to this house. Had protected her, comforted her, on her first night of being human, of having all these horrible emotions in her. At the sound of her voice, the trembling of the small girl's body eased somewhat.

"Listen, Kanna, I've brought you dinner," Sango continued, still speaking gently as possible. "Also, I've brought someone to see you. My friend, Kagome."

At this, Kanna sucked in a horrified gasp. Kagome, the strange girl from the other world, and Kikyo's reincarnation. A person whose soul was so great that even with her mirror and all her power, Kanna had been unable to contain it. And here she was now, utterly and completely powerless.

A strangled whimper escaping her lips, Kanna continued to huddle there as Sango continued, "Can we please come in, Kanna?"

Only slightly reassured by the Demon Slayer's voice and terrified of the possible consequences of refusing her, Kanna swallowed loudly to clear her throat before stammering out, "Y-y...y-y-yes..." This said, the former incarnation cringed even more, trying to worm as much of her form into the corner as she waited for the door to slide open...and potentially usher in her death.

The door did indeed slide open, revealing Sango in her usual kimono. True to her word, the warrior woman was carrying a tray laden with what Kanna could already tell was a warm, lunchtime meal. This gave the former incarnation a measure of relief; not only did she know that she hadn't been forgotten, but her physical needs will be taken care of for the immediate future. Starvation wasn't a danger anymore. Poison remained a minor fear, one amongst countless others, but at the same time, Kanna knew that she had to eat, sooner or later. In any case, Sango was the one delivering the food, and besides, she and the others certainly possessed the capability to kill her more swiftly and painfully than by poison.

Watching as the Demon Slayer approached, moving slowly, gently, a tender smile on her face as she came up to Kanna's side and bend down next to her, the newly human girl glanced up fearfully at the other human present. A human she knew to be much more violent and dangerous.

"Relax, Kanna, it's okay," Sango assured her, clearly sensing her dread. Glancing at the Demon Slayer, she took in her kindly smile as she added, "Kagome just wanted to check something out, that's all."

Furrowing her brows somewhat, Kanna turned back towards Kagome. After checking to make certain that she was not carrying her bow or arrows, she noticed that girl from the future was holding up the magic compass she now carried. Frowning at the artifact, Kagome dangled it in the air, looking from it to Kanna and back. Finally, after several seconds had passed, she let out a raspy sigh, shrugged and looked at Sango, shaking her head.

Nodding to this, Sango returned her attention to Kanna. "Okay, Kanna. Now, please, enjoy your lunch, and I'll be back to check on you a little later. Okay?"

"O-okay," Kanna replied in a tiny voice, one that betrayed every terror she felt as she looked back at Kagome. But the raven-haired priestess wasn't even looking at her right now; instead, she was replacing the compass, hiding it beneath her strange shirt before turning about to leave.

"Good. Now remember, if you need anything, just ask one of the guards," Sango told her gently. As Kanna nodded slowly to this, the Demon Slayer's expression brightened. "Oh, any by the way, I want you to know that Michiru is feeling much better today." Starting at this, the newly human girl blinked in surprise, something Sango easily picked up on. "He's starting moving about again, and he was even able to go outside today. So hopefully, it shouldn't be much longer until he's fully recovered."

As she processed this revelation, Kanna thought back to the last night of her existence as a demon. When she and Kagura had been deprived of their objects of power, immobilized and defeated without a fight by Michiru. As she had stood there, helplessly watching him and Sango, she had been certain that she had been about to die. But instead, the Shikigami User had argued in favor of sparing them both.

And he was recovering now. He would soon be well again. Which meant that there was a possibility that she would soon have two people actively advocating keeping her alive.

A sure of relief migrated to her face, allowing a weak smile to be seen through all of her fear. "G-good..." she sputtered out nervously, shaking her head somewhat in the form of a nod. "I-I...g-gl-glad."

Nodding in response, Sango replied, "So are the rest of us." This said, the Demon Slayer slowly rose up and started away, "I hope you enjoy your lunch." Nodding to this, Kanna watched as the two human girls departed, closing the door behind them. Leaving the former incarnation alone once more, to think about this latest visit.

Carefully picking up her chopsticks, Kanna gathered up a bit of rice and placed it in her mouth, some of her fear moving off to the side of her mind as she considered the actions of the two girls. Sango, as always, had been gentle and considerate, something she was truly grateful for, and was something that made her doubly anxious to make sure that she never fell out of the Demon Slayer's favor. As for Kagome, it didn't take much thought to realize what her primary concern was.

They're still not certain if I'm a...a human now. They're worried that I might become a demon again, Kanna thought, a twinge of a fiery emotion sparking in her mind, but it came and went too quickly for her to even think of articulating the sensation. In the wake of it, however, two separate thoughts occurred to her, along with two different emotional responses.

The first was disappointment that Kagome's compass had failed to detect any hint of demonic power in Kanna. Any indication that she would return to her former status, and be free of these accursed emotions and all the fear and human frailty that went with them. Just the thought of living out her life like this made her want to lie down and cry and never stop. But as disappointed as she was, she was also relieved at this proof. Because she knew that if her demon powers returned, her demise would follow shortly after.

Even when I was a demon, I had no special powers. Not without the mirror, and it's gone, Kanna thought, recalling the simple artifact that had been hers to command. So even if I were to change back...be a demon again...I'd be helpless. And then...!

This thought caused a lump to form in her throat, fresh tears spilling from her eyes. All the while Kanna wondered why this was happening to her.

"Well, that seems to settle it," Sango murmured as she and Kagome made their way downstairs. "The compass didn't pick up any demonic aura from Kanna, right?"

Kagome gave a slow shake of her head.

Nodding, Sango continued, "And it's been days since she lost her powers, so I think we can safely say there's no danger of her getting them back."

Kagome pressed her lips together before shrugging, arching an eyebrow.

Taking in her friend's expression, Sango gave a rueful smile. "I know, we should still be careful. But I don't think there's any immediate danger. After all, even if her powers do some back, there's not a lot she can do without her mirror."

Kagome simply frowned at this, folding her arms across her chest before grunting disbelievingly. Only to wince in pain, a ragged cough escaping her lips. "Errggh...!"

"Kagome, settle down! And don't try to talk!" Sango pleaded her friend, who was already massaging her abraded throat. Kagome shot her an irritated glare as the two of them continued downstairs. "You're just going to make your throat even worse if you do."

"I'm...fine, Sango! I...grr...!" Kagome rasped out from between clenched teeth. "I swear...when I get my hands...on her...!" As the modern priestess winced in even greater pain, Sango sighed and placed her hand to her forehead.

Not that long ago, she had been sharing a peaceful, quiet afternoon outside with Michiru and Kirara, with Sango happily embracing that Shikigami User as he rested and recovered. But that afternoon had eventually been cut short when InuYasha had arrived to inform her that the shouting contest Kagome and Kaname had waged had finally ended with both girls essentially losing their voices before stomping away, with everyone there grateful that things had ended as well as they had. Then he had asked for Michiru to come back with him, announcing that he had blended something together to help the Kururugi boy regain his strength.

I know that's not the only reason InuYasha had wanted Michiru to come with him, Sango frowned, thinking back to the look on the half-demon's face, as well as the solemn, wary voice with which he had spoken. The Demon Slayer knew InuYasha well enough to know that something was bothering him, that he wanted to talk to Michiru about something. And it was likely that Michiru knew this as well, for after a quick look at Sango, a look she responded to with a smile and a nod, the Kururugi boy agreed to go with the half-demon.

After Michiru and InuYasha had left, Kirara again carrying Michiru, Sango had been left with little reason to stay outside. And more importantly, she had another matter that she needed to take care of. And so after her three companions had departed, the Demon Slayer had gone inside to find Tamoa and get Kanna's lunch. After that, she had soon run into Kagome, who was also on her way to see the former incarnation, to use the compass to determine whether or not there was any danger of her regaining of her demon form.

It's just as well that I ran into her now, Sango thought as she returned to the real world, glancing at Kagome out of the corner of her eyes. The horrible squabble between her and Kaname just one of the first of many cracks that she knew were appearing in their team, cracks that could and would eventually grow into fissures that would eventually prove ruinous for them, unless dealt with. It's only a matter of time before Naraku's able to launch another attack. And the jet...with all the demonic power that's inside of it now, it probably won't be long before more demons and perhaps even humans come looking for it, trying to claim it for themselves. And if we have to fight them while fighting each other...

Wincing at this, not needing all her experience as a Demon Slayer to know that this could only in disaster for herself and her friends, Sango sighed and looked at her friend. I've let this mess go on long enough. Besides, I've made my decision. There's no excuse for me to stand back and watch things get worse, she frowned unhappily. I have to settle things. Now.

Unfortunately, as much as Sango knew this had to be done, she also knew that it wouldn't be easy. Especially in light of the personalities of the people she was dealing with. Kagome was easily as stubborn and volatile as InuYasha, and Miroku...she didn't even want to think about him at the moment. But I still have to do this, the Demon Slayer reminded herself. Besides, maybe it won't be so hard. Then she quirked the corner of her lip and added, After all...at least Kagome won't be able to argue with me. Or anyone else for a while, for that matter!

With this in mind, Sango continued downstairs with her friend. When the two of them reached the ground floor, she smiled and murmured, "Come on, Kagome. Let's go to the dining room, and I'll go make you some tea. I know a good blend that will help your throat."

The reborn priestess responded to this with a grateful smile, followed by a polite nod. Satisfied by this, Sango led the way to the dining room, which was presently empty. The Demon Slayer was grateful for this; she would have a much easier time trying to talk to Kagome in private. "Now, why you sit back, and relax for a bit, okay?" she urged Kagome. "I'll be right back as soon as the tea is ready." Again, Kagome nodded, and without any sign of protest, she sat down at the table, a pleasant smile on her face.

So far, so good, Sango though, despite the fact that the truly difficult part was still ahead. Sighing and steeling herself for what was to come, the warrior woman made her way into the kitchen. After a moment's searching for the tea kettle, she then retrieved a bucket and started out for the river.

As the Demon Slayer made her through the bustling town that was Tsuzumi Village, watching as the people there went about their daily business, she found herself studying both them and the homes they lived in, the many buildings and businesses, and flashing back to her one, brief visit to the world that Kagome and the Kururugi twins came from. In a way...it really isn't all that different, Sango found herself thinking idly. It was bigger, brighter...and was probably a lot busier, too. But...not that different from this. Continuing to the river, Sango considered this for a time, and soon came to the conclusion that it wasn't all that surprising. People were people, no matter what century they lived in. They worked for their daily bread, had friends, families, loved ones, and needed a place to live and sleep.

With this thought in mind, Sango finally arrived at the river, and quickly gathered up the water she needed before making the trek back to the house. I have to admit, that's one thing about Michiru's world I didn't mind, she thought as she made her way to the kitchen. Not having to gather all the water for drinking and bathing...

Shaking her head at this, the question of whether or not she could truly adapt to that other world, even find a place in it, Sango sighed before filling a pot with water and setting it to boil. Now wasn't the time for considering where she would live in the future. She had much more immediate concerns to attend to before she could worry about such matters. Starting with gathering up the herbs and other ingredients needed for the tea.

Fortunately, Tamoa maintained a well-stocked kitchen, so it wasn't long before Sango found everything she needed. To considerable delight, she also found an ample supply of honey as well, which worked wonders for sore throats. By the time she had finished blending together everything she needed, the water had come to a boil. Perfect timing, Sango thought with an easy smile, pausing to carefully place the blended ingredients on top of the small filter that was the roof of the tea kettle. Then after slowly pouring the hot water into the kettle, she gathered up a couple cups on a tray along with the tea, and took them into the dining room.

"Here you go, Kagome," Sango announced, setting the tray down before her friend. As her friend watched with an easy smile, the Demon Slayer poured a cup of tea for each of them before handing one of them to her. "Now, be careful, okay? Because it's going to be a bit hot." Nodding to this, Kagome carefully picked up her cup, and blew gently over the surface before taking a cautious sip. "Listen, uh...Kagome?" Sango began, speaking carefully. Trying desperately to find the best words for this situation. "I know you're upset about Kaname did, okay? I know that. But...arguing with her about it isn't going to help anything."

Lowering her tea cup, Kagome narrowed her eyes at the Demon Slayer. "Now, what she did to you was wrong, but still, there are better ways of dealing with the situation," Sango went on, trying to be reasonable. To slowly build up to what she wanted to say. "Besides, with everything that's happened, we're in a very bad position. So we can't afford to start fighting each other."

Pausing to take a deeper draft of her tea, Kagome frowned and hoarsely answered, "Hey, that wasn't my fault! Kaname's...the one who started it!"

"It doesn't matter who started it, Kagome. What matters is that it shouldn't have happened! And we can't afford to let it happen again!" Sango returned, doing her best to keep her voice even. "As long as the jet is here, this village is in danger. And that means that we can't afford to be divided." As Kagome took another sip of her tea, the Demon Slayer sat back and tried a different tact. "Now, I'm going to talk to Kaname later, convince her not to play any more tricks. But I want you to put what happened this morning behind you. Okay?"

"You don't...have to worry about me, Sango," Kagome rasped in response, promptly taking another sip of her tea afterwards. "But I can't say the same for that brat!"

Wincing at this pained declaration, Sango paused to take a sip of her own tea. So far, this conversation simply wasn't going where she wanted it. "Kaname isn't a brat, Kagome. She may have gone about it the wrong way, but she was just sticking up for her brother," the Demon Slayer reminded her, trying to regain control of the situation. "Besides, she was right about one thing. You've been awfully harsh on Michiru."

"Harsh on -?!" Kagome very nearly shouted, only to be cut off when her throat gave out once more.

"That's right. Despite what you said before, he's not a troublemaker. He's been as much a part of this team as anyone else, and he's fought every bit as hard as you, InuYasha...any of us," Sango reminded Kagome as she took another deep, soothing sip of her tea. "Andhe was able to find out some more about where the jet came from, including the path that it followed getting here."

Rolling her eyes, Kagome took another sip before carefully answering, "I know that, Sango. But he's so jealous, it's ridiculous! Even...InuYasha is more mature than those two are!" Stung by this assessment, the Demon Slayer was about to counter this, but then Kagome grumbled, "Honestly, how you can defend him...after what he's done?!"

"Because he's still one of us," Sango returned determinedly. "And besides, Kagome -!"

"That's no excuse!" Kagome groaned, wincing and placing her hand to her throat. Pausing just long enough to take a quick sip of her tea, she continued, "We can't overlook what he did, Sango!" Then she made a face and narrowed her eyes sharply at the Demon Slayer before lowly muttered, "You said that we can't afford to be fighting amongst ourselves? Well, in case you've forgotten, Michiru's already started two fights with that lousy temper of his!" Snorting loudly, she held up her teacup, muttering, "And if he really was 'one of us', than he'd be willing to apologize for what he did! But no!"

As Kagome paused to take another sip of her teeth, Sango opened her mouth to take advantage of the opening provided by her worn throat. But instead, she felt herself deflating as she realized that it was no use. It was clear that, not only was Kagome still completely convinced of Michiru's guilt, but that her sore throat hadn't made her any less argumentative. And the madder she gets, the less likely it is that I'll be able to convince her of the truth, the warrior woman thought sadly. But I have to do something. I can't let her keep attacking Michiru and Kaname the way she has been, And there's no way she'd accept it if I were to tell her that I was in love with Michiru!

Watching as the raven-haired girl downed the rest of her tea before proceeding to pour herself another cup, Sango quickly considered the situation. Unless she was able to convince Kagome that Miroku was the guilty party, not Michiru, then there was no way she could be open with her relationship with the Kururugi, not without risking another disastrous split in the team. And with her so willing to accept whatever Miroku says, there's no telling what he could convince her to do, Sango thought unhappily. So I have to convince her. Have to convince her that Miroku was the one responsible for what happened, not the other way around.

As Sango looked at Kagome, she considered what to do next. With the modern priestess in such a foul mood, she would likely refute any negative opinion of Miroku, even if Sango were the one to voice it. And she doubted that she would be willing to listen to InuYasha or Shippo, let alone relative strangers such as Jiro and Azusa. Which left the Demon Slayer with just one option.

"Look, Kagome...just do me a favor and think about it, alright?" Sango told her, not at all looking forward to what she had do to, but seeing no way around it. "We need to be able to stick together. Understand?" The modern girl let out a low grunt before finally nodding half-heartedly. "Okay. Will you be fine if I leave you alone for a while?" This time, a puzzled sound was heard, followed Kagome cocking her head to the side and frowning slightly. "There's...something I have to take care of, if that's alright."

"Huh? Oh, sure. Of course!" Kagome hoarsely answered, taking another sip of her tea. "So...what is it? Do you need any help?"

"No, no, that's okay. It's...something I need to take care of myself," Sango explained somewhat wearily. Not looking forward to doing what needed to be done. "Why don't you sit back and enjoy your tea? I'm...probably going to busy for a while."

Nodding to this, Kagome simply sat there and watched as Sango departed. Already steeling herself for what she had to do...

After Sango left, Kagome sighed and took a deep of her tea. Feeling it soothe her abraded throat, she paused and shook her head grumpily. Harsh on Michiru...I can't believe Sango is actually standing up for that jerk! she fumed grouchily. He's so jealous of Miroku that he almost winds up killing him twice, and she's telling me that I have to be making nice with the Terror Twins?!

Downing another mouthful of tea before moving to refill her cup, Kagome sighed as she glanced in the direction Sango disappeared in, her ire fading somewhat as the pain in her throat was soothed. And as it did, she frowned, and found herself understanding where the Demon Slayer was coming from. Of the entire group, she was the only one who had spent her entire life training to be a warrior, who had grown up learning to work with her fellow Slayers, to understand battle tactics and knowing the value of working together. And these were lessons that were of absolute necessity to her and her people that, unlike Daisuke and his Slayers, were people completely bereft of magical or spiritual powers. All they had to depend on were their weapons, their skills...and each other.

But...even so, she's being way too forgiving, Kagome fumed, the source of her annoyance jabbing into her once again. I swear, if InuYasha hadn't gotten in my face that one time, I'd have straightened that jerk out but good after his first little temper tantrum! Sniffing loudly at this, the modern girl took another sip. If I hadn't had to go back home, I bet I could've gotten him to 'fess up already!

Making a point to track down Michiru and finally get him to admit his guilt once her throat had recovered, Kagome took another deep sip of her tea, only to start at the sound of approaching footprints. Wondering if it was Sango returning already, she looked up and saw Tamoa approaching. "Oh, hello, Kagome," the lady of the house began, clearly in a better mood than she was in during the shouting match. "How's your throat feeling? any better?"

"Uh...a bit," Kagome relied as carefully as she could, her throat protesting even this minor use. "Sango...she made me some tea, and..."

"I noticed," Tamoa commented, taking an experimental sniff. "Well, she makes good tea, that's for certain." Then she gave Kagome a somewhat sterner smile before adding, "Just be careful not to get into another argument any time soon, and you should be good as new in no time."

Making a face at this, Kagome brought her hand to her face. Why does everybody act like that was all my fault?! she wondered sourly, wishing that she was dealing with someone she could yell at, and that her throat was in good enough condition for it. Kaname was the one who started it! Why blame me?!

Looking forward to being able to give Kaname exactly what she deserved for this, Kagome found all her ire quickly suspended when Tamoa asked, "By the way, have you seen Miroku anywhere?" Making a quizzical noise, the modern girl quickly shook her head. "Sango was asking where he is, but I haven't seen him since lunch." Unsure if the resident matriarch wasn't making a subtle remark about her complicity in that argument, Kagome answered with a shrug. "Well, if you happen to run into him, please let him know that Sango's looking for him, will you?"

Answering with a bright, cooperative nod, Kagome watched as Tamoa started away before pressing her lips together in thought. That's strange. Why didn't Sango tell me that she was going to go looking for Miroku? the raven-haired girl thought perplexedly. I mean, if she needed his help with something, then she would have just said so, wouldn't she? Even as this thought completed itself, Kagome gasped in realization. Unless...whatever it is she wanted to see him about was something she wanted to keep private! Something really important!

With this thought, Kagome was beset by two separate, completely opposite urges. On the one hand, Sango was a friend, one of the best she had ever had, and if whatever it was she wanted Miroku for was sensitive enough that she didn't want to talk about it, then the right thing for her to do would be to respect her friend's privacy. But at the same time, the fact that it was Miroku she needed made her so infernally curious that just thinking about it was making her imagine all manner of possibilities.

Now, settle down, Kagome! she wound up sternly telling herself. Whatever it is Sango has to do with Miroku, it's none of your business! Heaving a deep breath, she cocked her head to the side and added, Besides, it might not be any big deal! Maybe she just needs his help with something around the village! But even as she thought this, Kagome knew that she didn't really believe it to be the case. Whatever Sango had gone to see Miroku about, it was important. The fact that she had the details to herself was proof of that. And if it's that important, then she won't want anybody butting into her business! So if she sees you snooping around, the only thing that will happen is Sango getting mad at you, Kagome!

Focusing on this thought and the image of Sango being mad, an experience that was rarely seen and even more rarely survived, Kagome took them both and rammed them squarely into her conscious mind. And with that, she continued to sit at the table, sipping at her tea, feeling it soothing her worn throat until it was finally done. At which point she set her cup down on the table, and smiled. Then I guess I'll just have to make sure that she doesn't see me! And with that, she practically leapt to her feet and made her way to the streets of Tsuzumi. Now, let's see...if I were Miroku, where would I be?

The first possibilities to occur to Kagome was that Miroku might be doing more of his fake fortunetelling. But as soon as she thought that, she found herself hoping that wasn't the case. Not only would be that be a surefire way to ruin a golden opportunity to finally mend his relationship with the Demon Slayer, especially after the blatant displays of stupidity put on by Michiru, but it also meant that Kagome would probably not find out what it was that Sango wanted to talk to him about. The same applied to the possibilities of him spying on girls at the river or in a public bathhouse.

So, what could he be doing? Where would he go? Kagome thought, glancing this and that. He's no carpenter, so he really wouldn't been helping with the repairs. So...oh, of course! He's probably checking on the people! With so many people hurt during the last battle, he'd be helping make sure they were getting better! With this in mind, the modern priestess set forth, intent on finding the monk.

This quickly turned out to be easier said than done. Despite the efforts of both her friends and the local militia, the people of Tsuzumi Village had suffered considerably as a result of Naraku's assault. The booming city existed in a state of barely controlled chaos with people working to harvest the bountiful crops that the pure energy of the jet had graced them with, repairing damaged buildings and continuing the construction of others. And on top of that, she quickly learned that there were several buildings be used as shelters for the sick and wounded, and despite the fact that some of the people had recovered since the battle, quite a few more had not. And the shelters were crowded with people going this way and that, doing their best to tend to those in need.

After visiting three such shelters with no sign of the wayward monk, Kagome was on her way to the fourth, already worrying that she might well have been wrong. I swear, if Miroku's pulling some scam or something when he could be with Sango, I will personally -! Kagome thought, only to cut herself off when she finally came within view of the fourth shelter, and more importantly, the object of her search. Ah, there you are! she thought, filled with relief as she watched Miroku exit the shelter, a weary but satisfied look on his face. I knew you'd be doing something to help, and not just...huh?

It was then that Kagome realized that she wasn't the only one to have found Miroku. Following close behind the monk as he strode from the shelter was Sango, who also looked pleased. Oh, no! She's already here! the modern priestess fretted unhappily. I better get out of sight before they see me...and get in close so I can hear what they're talking about! With this in mind, Kagome quickly looked left and right, looking for both a convenient hiding place and an alternative route that would bring her closer to her friends.

To her considerable relief, she spotted a convenient space off to her left, and hurriedly made for it. As soon as she had the building between her and her friends, Kagome paused to peek back out at them. Fortunately, they didn't appear to have spotted her; they were still talking amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world. Good! Kagome thought, grateful that everything had gone off without a hitch thus far. Now, if only they'll stay that way for just a little while longer...!

Not wasting any time, Kagome made her way down to what basically amounted to a back alley, being careful to avoid the various workers and people that were making use of it as well. Dodging people, large pieces of wood, and a host of other things, she periodically glanced up between the buildings, searching for any signs of her friends, or that she was getting closer to them.

" - glad that everyone's doing better," Sango's voice came, just barely rising above the background noise. "So how much longer do you think it will be before...?"

"It's hard to say," Miroku answered as Kagome kept going, wanting to get in close enough so as to better hear what was being said. "After all, there are several people with broken bones and other injuries, and I'm afraid that they will require a longer time to heal." There was a pause in which Kagome could practically hear the monk thinking before he added, "When we send Jiro and Azusa back with some of the supplies, perhaps we could arrange for the Demon Slayers to send some skilled healers here."

"That's an idea, but a lot of their healers have been pushing themselves as hard as they can," Sango gently protested. "He might not be able to send anyone here, at least not for a while."

"Still, it's something to consider," Miroku replied, not missing a beat. "The healers here are also stretched thin, and in any case, it would be an excellent gesture of good will. One that would help people look upon the alliance with greater favor."

A beat passed before Sango replied, "Well, I guess it couldn't hurt to mention that." Carefully creeping forward, Kagome finally reached the corner of the building and peaked out around it. Then she caught sight of her two friends, standing there before each other, with the Demon Slayer nodding and replying, "I'll ask Jiro to tell Daisuke what's going on here when he goes back tomorrow, and that the people here could use some assistance with the healing, and maybe with the repairs here as well."

"Good idea," Miroku nodded. Then he shot Sango his best winning smile and asked, "Now, then Sango, you...said that there was something you wanted to talk to me about? A matter of some importance?"

Her heart skipping a beat in her excitement, Kagome craned her neck forward to get a better look as Sango answered, "Yes, that's right. But..."

"But what?" Miroku asked, his smile faltering somewhat. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no! It's...nothing like that," Sango answered nervously. "It's just...I'd rather...talk about it in private."

In private? Kagome replied, her mind going blank for a moment. Wait, but does that mean -?! Momentarily panicking, the modern girl recoiled somewhat, but them realized that Sango wasn't talking about her. the Demon Slayer had her back turned, and her gaze was focused on Miroku. So then...

"You see...what I have to say to you..." Sango began, slowly, carefully putting Kagome's suspicions into words. "It's something that I've been meaning to tell you for a while now, Miroku. And...if it's all the same to you, I'd rather talk about it when we have more...privacy." Pausing to take a deep breath, the Demon Slayer stepped closer. "Can you meet me later? After you're done here?"

"Why...of course. Certainly," Miroku answered after a moment's thought. "Where would you like to meet?"

"Outside of the village," Sango promptly answered. "Remember? Where Koga and Azusa were waiting for us when we first got here?" Miroku nodded in response. "I'll be waiting for you outside the cave entrance. So...please...once you're done here, could you please come there? Alone?"

Nodding once again, Miroku answered, "Certainly, Sango. I should be there...within an hour at the latest."

"Thank you. I appreciate this," Sango told him earnestly. "I'll see you then."

Without another word, the Demon Slayer turned to depart, forcing Kagome to quietly retreat somewhat, to make sure that she wasn't seen. Giving Sango a few seconds to get out of sight, the raven-haired girl poked her head again, just enough to see Miroku standing there, a smile of absolute bliss on his face.

But...wait...does that mean that...? Kagome thought as she quickly considered everything that was said. As she added it all together, a blissful smile split her face, prompting her to clench her fists in triumph. Yes! This must be it! Sango's finally going to tell him how she truly feels about him!

Barely able to suppress the urge to jump and cry out in delight and relief, Kagome quietly started away, making sure that Miroku remained unaware of her presence. With the way that Sango was doting on Michiru, asking me to go easy on him, I was starting to worry that - ! she thought, only to shake her head as that particular nightmare faded away. But - oh, what was I so worried about, anyway! Miroku and Sango are made for each other! It's just that simple! Sighing deeply, Kagome found herself once again picturing the inevitable wedding that was soon to take place between her friends. An image she sweetened by throwing in a broken, hotheaded jerk who never even had a chance with a woman such as Sango, stewing and crying in the background. I can't wait to see it for real! After everything he's been pulling on Miroku, it'll serve him right when Sango finally tells him off!

Jumping forward and spinning with delight in mid-air, Kagome brought her hands together upon landing. Oh, I can't wait until they make the announcement! In fact -! At that moment, the reborn priestess was struck by an even better idea. Why wait? If they're going to be meeting near the cave, then there are plenty of places to hide and watch as Sango finally admits her love! As this thought ran its course, the smile on Kagome's face took on a slightly more devious caste. Enough places for two people to hide, actually, she thought, knowing just how to make this situation even more perfect. And I know exactly who to bring...

"Whew...that about does it," InuYasha declared, mopping his brow as he surveyed his handiwork. "How about you, Shunsuke? How're you doing?"

"To be honest...it's coming slowly," Shunsuke admitted, prompting a snort of laughter from the half-demon. "With all the game you brought in, it's going to take a while to cure and smoke all this meat." Shaking his head slowly, the man of the house they were staying eyed the half-demon and stated, "I still don't understand why you decided to bring in so much!"

"Hey, it's like I've been saying! The more Michiru and Kaname get to eat, the sooner they'll get better!" InuYasha decreed, almost daring Shunsuke to challenge this statement.

Unsurprisingly, he did. "Well, that maybe, but...they can't possibly eat all of that!" Shunsuke countered, gesturing at the numerous animals and fish that InuYasha had just finished skinning. "They would need at least a week to eat all of that!"

"Hey, if you think that, then you haven't seen them packing it away lately!" InuYasha told him confidently. "Using their Shikigami takes a lot out of them, in case you haven't noticed!"

"I can't argue with you there, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a limit to how much food they can fit in their stomachs at one time!" Shunsuke reminded him.

"And besides, if they don't want some of it, then I'm sure they'll give it to you and your family or whatever." This said, InuYasha decided to make it clear that he considered this debate over by asking, "By the way, how's your old man doing?"

"Father?" Shunsuke replied before giving a weary shrug. "He's doing better, but it will be a while before he's feeling better. That blood...there were a couple of times when I thought he wouldn't make it. And even now, he can barely get out of bed."

Nodding, InuYasha thought back to that night of horrors, as well as the effect the demon blood had on the people of the village. "Well, in that case, why don't you take one of the boars and a couple rabbits up for him? Maybe that'll make him feel better."

Opening his mouth in apparent protest, Shunsuke then sighed in apparent defeat. "Alright, then," he finally answered. "Anyway, how are the twins doing? Any better?"

"Eh, some," InuYasha replied, some of his good mood fading as he thought about the two dear friends he had. "Michiru's still exhausted, and Kaname...well, she sure managed to mess up her throat. I'm amazed she can even talk!"

"After all that screaming and yelling? I'd have to agree with you," Shunsuke remarked, shaking his head in amazement. "I'm just glad that all they did was scream!"

Pausing to consider what would have happened if Kagome had decided to break out her artifacts and Kaname had started casting spells, InuYasha shuddered and nodded. "Yeah, no kidding," he muttered, deciding that if she had gone to that extreme, Shunsuke and his family would be out an entire house. "Sill, I'm surprised. I didn't think anybody could yell like Kagome can! I didn't think Kaname had it in her!"

"Well, I'd say she does," Shunsuke remarked needlessly. "So, while I'm curing and smoking all of this," he began, again gesturing at the ample supply left to be taken care of, "I trust you'll be tending to the twins?"

"Yeah," InuYasha declared somberly, unable to put any more emotion into his statement. "Anyway, I...thanks for helping out with all this. I really do appreciate...well, you know."

Giving the half-demon a sympathetic smile, Shunsuke nodded. "After everything you and your friends have done for us?" he replied, sounding almost amused. "Believe me, I'm glad to help anyway I can."

Blinking at this, InuYasha cleared his throat. "Yeah, well," he started, still unused to praise or acceptance from humans, especially from relative strangers, "anyway, I'll...I'll see you later." Not waiting for Shunsuke to say anything to this, InuYasha started away, his thought already on the twins...and the heavy burden that he carried within his heart.

I have to tell them, InuYasha thought somberly as he made his way through the house, thinking of the monster was lurking inside of him. A monster that had very nearly slipped free the night of the battle, that Michiru had seen with his own eyes. A monster that wouldn't see the Kururugi twins as friends or allies or anything if it ever managed to rip its way free of its prison within him and escape into the real world. A monster that would see them only as easy meat. I can't keep this a secret anymore. Michiru and Kaname...they're in as much danger from this thing as the others. And if I wind up transforming again, they...they need to be ready...

Letting out a heavy breath as InuYasha thought back to all the nightmares that he had suffered, terrors that had been spawned from that one day of horror in which his hands had been irrevocably stained with blood, he couldn't help but think of two of the best friends he had ever had. Unable to defend themselves from the bloodthirsty abomination that lived within him, waiting for the moment when the Tetsusaiga fell from his hands. When it was again free to kill.

Shuddering at the images inspired by those memories, those sleepless nights of abject horror, InuYasha forced himself to keep moving towards their room, his every sense keened and on the alert for any prying eyes or ears that might be present. It was bad enough that he was probably about to lose two dear friends of which he had all too few of. He didn't want his hideous, hateful secret leaking out to everyone else in the village.

Fortunately, as InuYasha made his way up towards the room that was his destination, his keen ears and sensitive nose detected nothing. No unfamiliar scents, no sounds to indicate a potential spy. Nothing but two warm, familiar scents, as well as the muted voices of two caring, compassionate people that had long since proven themselves as valuable allies and trusted friends.

As InuYasha drew closer to their room, the sensations he associated with the Kururugi twins growing stronger, he couldn't help but slow down, shaking his head woefully. A part of him asking if this was truly necessary, if he really did have to tell them the truth about his inner monster. He had so few friends in the world, so few people he could count on, that cared about him, especially compared to the number of people, humans and demons alike, that cursed and loathed him just for being born a half-demon. People he had known and had in his life for only a relatively short period of time, compared to the many, many agonizing years of solitude he had endured, with no one and nothing but the clothes on the back. Spending every waking moment afraid for his life in a world filled with two separate races that would gladly see him dead.

I don't want to lose them, InuYasha thought, something that seemed to be more and more an inevitable outcome as he turned towards the wall and slammed his forehead into it. Dammit, I...I just don't want to lose anybody else! Punctuating this thought by limply smashing his fist into the wall as well, he shook his head as he wrestled with his torment.

He was afraid. As much as InuYasha hated to admit it, there was no getting around the fact that right now, he was scared as he had been when he been nothing more than a little boy, running scared through the woods, desperately trying to avoid becoming the next meal for some demon. And he felt as if that little boy he had once been was crying out in despair, telling him not to do this. Not to push away two of the best friends he had ever had. One of whom was more of a brother to him than his own blood, and the other...

As his thoughts broke down, InuYasha clenched his fist and forced himself back up and away from the wall. For as much as he wished he could listen to the little voice inside of him, the one that wanted him to forget his responsibilities and enjoy his friends for as long as he could, he knew that wasn't an option, simply because they were his friends. They deserved to know the truth, the risks they were taking in being in his presence...and how to defend themselves from him, if worst came to the worst.

They deserve to know, InuYasha thought, his fists clenched and his claws digging into his palms. They have to. Heaving one heavy breath after another, striving to dispel his fears and his doubts, the half-demon forced himself to turn away from the wall and start forward again. Towards the room where two familiar voices were heard in idle conversation.

Glad that Michiru was apparently wake, meaning that he wouldn't be forced to wake him up or be tempted with a possible excuse to put this off any longer, InuYasha in front of the door for a short time before hesitantly knocking on the wall beside it. "Uh...Michiru? Kaname?"

"InuYasha!" came a happy, though somewhat hoarse voice from inside. A second later, the door slid open, revealing Kaname standing on the other side. "Hi! What are you doing here?"

"I hope it's not to bring us more of that liver drink of his," Michiru groaned anemically from his bed. A quick glance at the Kururugi boy revealed that his face was turning a nasty shade of grey at this. "No offense...I think that stuff is what people had in mind when they say that...the cure is worse than the disease."

Despite the heavy emotional burden that was weighing down on him, InuYasha couldn't help but smile at his friend. "Yeah, I know, it don't taste too good, but it sure is good for you." While Michiru responded with a half-hearted smile and a roll of his eyes, the half-demon turned to Kaname and asked, "And how about you? Your throat feeling any better yet?"

Nodding, Kaname answered, "I just spent several minutes using Soothing Green Wood. It's still a bit tender, but..."

"Well, you sure sound better," InuYasha decided, grateful for this. "Just do me a favor and don't get into any arguments with Kagome any time soon." Then he made a face and added, "Besides, it wouldn't do you any good to argue with her, anyway! In case you haven't noticed, Kagome doesn't exactly bother listening once she's done laying the blame!"

"That's for sure!" Kaname crossly muttered, folding her arms across her chest for added emphasis. "I still can't believe she can blame my bro when Miroku's being such a creep!"

"Feh! You better get used to it!" InuYasha retorted with a roll of his eyes. "Shippo makes a brat of himself, so naturally, I get blamed for picking on him! Miroku's being a creep, and she blames Michiru! It's just how she does things!"

"InuYasha, please," Michiru muttered tiredly. He looked as if he was going to say something else on the subject, but instead he sighed and shook his head, as if tired of the whole thing. When he looked back up at the half-demon, he frowned slightly before asking, "Say...where's the Reikikaega? Did you give it Totosai?"

Pausing to glance down at his right hip, where the enigmatic blade had once hung, InuYasha then looked back at his friend and nodded. "Yeah, the old fart's looking at it right now." Then he scowled and added, "But whether or not he can actually come up with something useful about it..."

Nodding as InuYasha shrugged helplessly, Michiru responded, "Well...I sure hope he can come up with at least a few answers."

"So do I," Kaname added with an encouraging smile.

Even as InuYasha took in and enjoying the kindly expressions and words offered him by the Kururugi twins, he realized that it was now time. He had tended to them, brought them their health drinks, gathered and helped prepare food for their immediate needs, and had done even more. Everything except saying what truly needed to be said. And as he already told himself, there was no use in putting it off any longer. So he quickly looked up about, sniffing the air and keening his sensitive ears, making absolutely certain that the walls had no unwanted eyes or ears. As soon as he was satisfied that they were effectively alone, he cast one more glance at the two twins so that he could remember them as they were at that moment, utterly and completely ignorant at the malignancy within him, before heaving a deep breath and beginning, "Anyway, you two...there's something that I...need to talk to you about."

Alerted by the tone of his voice, the twins frowned worriedly, with Michiru commenting, "That...sounds pretty serious."

"It is," InuYasha confirmed. Glancing back at the still-open doorway, he shuddered, suddenly feeling terribly exposed. "Say, uh...why don't we close up, okay? What I've got to say, it's...it's kinda sensitive."

Quickly glancing at each other, the twins seemed to consider this request before Kaname turned back to him and nodded. "Sure," the Kururugi girl told him before moving off to his side and allowing InuYasha to move past her. That done, she moved to the door and carefully closed it. "So, uh...why don't you sit down, relax a bit."

"Uh, thanks," InuYasha responded, watching as Kaname made her way over to her brother's side and seated herself next to him. Pausing to take another breath, to keep himself as steady and composed as was possible, the half-demon slowly seated himself next to the door. Making sure to keep a distance from the twins.

This was something that didn't go unnoticed by either of the Kururugis, who again glanced at each other before Michiru asked, "So...what is it that you want to talk about?"

Swallowing to keep his throat clear, InuYasha again clenched his fists before taking the plunge. "It...it has to do with something that happened...the night of the battle," he began, his tongue seemingly thick and unwieldy as he spoke. "Uh...you remember when I was falling and you were trying to catch me with the jet?"

"I don't think I'll be forgetting that night anytime soon," Michiru conceded, a slight tremor running through at this. "Why do you ask?"

"Because...of what happened up there. Before I...stuck that thing with the Reikikaega," InuYasha explained, struggling to keep talking. "I...you saw my...my face, right?"

A moment passed as Michiru and InuYasha looked at each other, the boy's blue-grey eyes meeting the half-demon's slitted, yellow irises. "Oh," the Kururugi boy finally replied. "I see."

Shaking his head, InuYasha sighed before muttering, "No...you really don't."

A quizzical sound escaping Kaname's lips, she looked between the two of them before asking, "Bro, InuYasha...what are you talking about?"

Michiru opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, InuYasha held up his hand. He didn't want to risk a single interruption. Anything that would give his doubts and innermost terrors a chance to reassert themselves. "Er...it's...like this," he started, well aware that he was at the point of no return. "I'm...half-demon. You two know that, right?" The twins both nodded to this. "And...well, you've both seen that...at certain times...I turn completely human." Once again, the twins nodded. "Well...you see...there are times when...it goes the other way."

"Goes the other way?" Kaname repeated blankly.

Michiru, however, quickly picked up on the meaning. "So...there are also times when you become a full demon?"

"That's right. Only...it doesn't work the same way," InuYasha confessed, his whole body shifting about nervously. His stomach twisting about as if he had eaten something spoiled. "You see...this transformation is triggered by...extreme danger. Like...I'm about to die, or, or...something like that." Again swallowing a fresh wad of bile in his throat, the half-demon could practically see his full-blooded self laughing at him from within as he explained, "That's what...causes the demon to...come out."

"So...that's what was happening that night?" Michiru gathered, his voice somewhat uncertain. "You were transforming because...you thought you were going to die?"

"Well...that's usually what does it. I mean, that night...I mean, I had all that power from the Reikikaega pouring into me, and..." InuYasha explained, only for his capacity for words to fail in the face of his great need. "You see...the Tetsusaiga...my old man had it made so that it would keep me from transforming." The two twins didn't say anything, they simply paused to look at each other again, something that InuYasha was grateful for. He didn't want to be interrupted, not when his confession was yet to be complete. "What I mean is...when the demon comes out...I can't control it. At all." Shuddering in memory of the atrocities committed by his bestial other, the half-demon held up his hands and looked at them. Somehow still able to smell the stink of blood on them. Human blood. "When that thing shows up, all it wants to do...is kill."

"InuYasha..." Kaname murmured softly.

"I mean...it doesn't matter who or what that thing kills! It doesn't care!" InuYasha blurted out, the emotions of the moment and the horrors still living in his memory getting on top of him. "It could be demons, humans, anything!" Screwing his eyes shut, he trembled as the blood of the past returned to haunt him. "I...this band of bandits...they were raiding this village, killing everybody in sight. Their boss...their demon boss...he had me and Miroku trapped, I'd lost the Tetsusaiga, and..." Sucking in a pained gasp, opening his eyes and still seeing the aftermath of that nightmare. "The next thing I knew, I was waking up on the ground. The people of the village...they were all...looking at me." Swallowing again, feeling as if he was in his human form with all its strong, human emotions swirling about him. "And the bandits...I was covered in their blood. It was...all over me. Everywhere..."

Nodding slowly, Michiru sighed. "I'm so sorry, InuYasha. I..."

"Sorry?!" InuYasha started, his despair mixing with a bit of his usual demonic ire. "Michiru, don't you understand what I'm telling you?! I killed those people!" Throwing up his arms, the half-demon shot to his feet, his body crackling with the intensity of the moment. "Sure, they were a bunch of bandits! But I still killed them! And I enjoyed it!" His eyes watering as the grief and shame and misery of that moment came back to him. "I don't know why the Tetsusaiga couldn't stop me from changing before! I really don't know! All I know is that the next time I change...you two could be the ones to feel that thing's claws, and...!"

There it was. The half-demon's hidden shame, laid out for Michiru and Kaname to see. Leaving InuYasha to do nothing but stand there and wait. Wait for them to recoil in disgust and fear. Wait for them to reject him entirely.

That didn't happen. Instead, Michiru frowned sadly while Kaname asked, "Then...are you saying that...you want us to leave?"

Starting at this, his overworked mind throw into shock by this simple question, InuYasha shook his head and answered, "No, of course I don't want you to leave! You're my friends, dammit!" Holding his hands, his claws arched in frustration with no way to vent it, he added, "But...that thing...if it ever got loose again, it could kill the both of you without even a second thought! And I...I thought I had it handled! I thought that with the Tetsusaiga and everything, that wouldn't happen! But now -!"

Again, his tongue fell flat in his mouth as InuYasha looked at the twins. Watching and standing there as Michiru sadly nodded and answered, "I see."

"What? Th-that's all you have to say?!" InuYasha demanded incredulously, unable to fathom what was going on there. There was no fear, no hatred, none of the things he had envisioned. The twins didn't even look remotely surprised by what he had told them. "Don't you get it, you two?! If I transform again, I could kill the both of you! Don't you understand that?!"

"Yes, we understand!" Kaname promptly answered, her ragged voice filled with determination. "We do understand, InuYasha," she murmured gently before turning to her brother. "But...well, you see..."

Following Kaname's gaze, InuYasha watched and waited as Michiru turned and looked at him. The half-demon's entire world becoming the boy's blue-grey eyes as he said, "The thing is, InuYasha...we already knew."

The entire house seemed to fall silent in the wake of these words. A pin could be heard as InuYasha stood there, his mind absolutely blank as he stood there, staring incredulously at the two of them. "Y...you knew?" he sputtered out, to which Michiru and Kaname both nodded nervously. "W-w-wait a minute..." the half-demon tried again, a tsunami of intense emotion rushing in to fill the void resulting of his being dumbstruck. "You knew, you knew..." he sputtered out, waving his hands before him before finally blurting out, "W-w-wh-wh-what do you mean, YOU KNEW?!!!?!"

"Well...we didn't actually know. Not for sure, that is!" Kaname quickly explained, her weak voice sounding even more torn. "More like...we suspected."

"But HOW?!!?!" InuYasha demanded, completely blown away before another idea occurred to him. "Hey, wait...did Kagome tell you about this?!"

"No, no! I-it wasn't her!" Kaname vowed, holding up her hands in negation.

"We just...figured it out on our own," Michiru concluded, his own weary voice torn.

Slowly looking from one twin to the other, InuYasha opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to find the right words to say before finally sagging forward. "You...figured it..." he fumbled out, his mind an absolute blank. "But...how...?"

A beat passed as the twins again glanced at each other. Then Michiru heaved a deep breath and asked, "Do you remember what happened back in our time? When Ryokage attacked the civic center? And how you started transforming?"

Too shaken to really think about it, InuYasha nodded. "Well, yeah, but - that was because of Ryokage! And - well I thought that - I mean -!"

"I know that, InuYasha. And...well, I just assumed that it was a one-time thing," Michiru explained nervously. "But...later on, when I was training Kaname...telling her stories about the Feudal Era, I also mentioned the battle with Ryokage. And then she asked me something."

Turning towards Kaname, InuYasha simply stood there, watching in stupefied silence as she nervously shrugged and said, "I asked him...how did Kagome know that the Tetsusaiga would turn you back to normal?"

The instant this question was asked, InuYasha found himself flashing back to that hideous battle, after Ryokage had fled, leaving the half-demon struggling mightily to restrain his inner beast. To keep it from lashing out the ones he loved. He saw Michiru standing a short distance away, looking at him in fear, without any idea of what to do. Until Kagome had cried out to him, told him to give the half-demon the Tetsusaiga...

"I didn't think about it at the time," Michiru admitted as InuYasha lost himself in that moment. "But...later, when Kaname and I started talking about it, we...we realized that the only way that Kagome could know that the Tetsusaiga would bring you back..."

"Was if something like that had happened before," Kaname concluded, sounding every bit as nervous as her brother. "And...well, if the Tetsusaiga had that kind of power, then...well, if it had been made to suppress you demon powers, then..."

As Kaname trailed off into a shrug, InuYasha felt like their reasoning was forming a cage about him. Trapping him in the inescapable jaws of truth. "But...if you knew about this...this entire time..." the half-demon began, his voice nothing more than a whisper now, "why...why didn't you say anything about it...before?"

"Because we weren't sure. Not totally," Kaname explained worriedly. "And...we didn't want to go around, accusing people of anything..."

"And besides, if we were right about this, then...then I knew you must've had a good reason for not telling us," Michiru assured him.

A good reason. Michiru and Kaname hadn't confronted InuYasha about his lies by omission because they felt he must have had a good reason for not telling them that a monster lurked inside of him. A killer that lived within his very blood. "You...knew about this," the half-demon sputtered out, his voice failing beneath the weight of his guilt and shame. "You knew, and...you still came here. With us...with me...?"

"Of course we did," Kaname assured him gently. "My brother was coming, and...I couldn't just stay behind."

"Besides, you're our friend, InuYasha," Michiru assured him with a gentle smile. "Whatever was going on with you, that didn't change anything for me." Then he quirked his lip and added, "I mean...you know how I feel about a lot of the people here - especially Sango - but even so...you're my best friend. Of course I'd come with you."

"That's right," Kaname seconded with a tiny nod and a kindly look. "I feel the same way. No matter what this thing is you're dealing with...you're still my friend, too. Really."

Friend. These two were calling him friend. He had lied to them, kept the truth from them, put them both at risk because he was scared of what they would think of him, and they still called him friend. Still showed no fear or disgust. They still...

Overwhelmed by mounting shame and guilt and disbelief, InuYasha turned on his heels and slammed the door wide open before throwing himself into a breakneck dash down the hall. Tears fighting their way up to roll down his cheeks as he tried to outrace the overwhelming flood of emotion that he felt like he was drowning in.

"InuYasha, wait!" Michiru cried out, desperately trying to rise up from his bed and stop his anguished friend as he dashed into the hall. But his attempt was quickly defeated when his exhausted human body fell back down upon the soft cot, already wearied by this simple effort...and the intense emotions that were still flowing freely in their room.

"Don't worry, bro!" Kaname called out, already on her feet. "I'll go after him."

"Huh?" Michiru started, a protest already on his lips. But before he could give voice to so much as a sound, his twin sister was already gone, running as fast as she could as she pursued their friend.

Staring helplessly at the empty space where his friend and sister had once been, Michiru could do nothing but let his head fall back down upon his pillow. "I'm sorry, InuYasha," he murmured gently as he stared helplessly at the ceiling. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about this when we first came back. I'm sorry...for everything."

How?! How can you be so forgiving?! InuYasha demanded as he crouched down on his knees just outside the home they were staying at. Bashing his head against the wall surrounding the feudal estate, trying to drive away the overwhelming emotions that flooded his consciousness, along with the two kindly faces that still looked at him, even now. I've been lying to you this entire time, and you don't even say anything?!

It was inconceivable. It flew right in the face of year upon year of loneliness and isolation, of being hated just for existing. Even Kagome, Shippo, Miroku, Sango, all of them had been horrified by the revelation of the hateful beast that lurked within InuYasha, and each of them had required time to come to terms with it, to decide to stay at his side. To continue being his friend.

But there had been no coming to terms with Michiru and Kaname. One had only known him for about three months, the other knew nothing but stories told her before she first came to this world, and both had trusted him implicitly. They weren't afraid of the him, they didn't hate him for not admitting this truth to them sooner. All they did was look at him with caring and compassion, despite everything.

But I don't deserve it! InuYasha shrieked inwardly, again slamming his head into the wall. Don't you understand that I'm a murderer?! A killer?! Don't you understand that?!

Punctuating these mental cries of torment with additional strikes to his stupid, worthless head, InuYasha about to bash it again when a voice cried out. "InuYasha, stop it!" came Kaname's voice, prompting him to look up at her as she darted towards him. "You're hurting yourself!"

"I deserve it!" InuYasha roared, caught between anger and despair. Never before hating himself as he did at that moment. His features twisting with self-loathing and grief, he brought his hands to his face, his claws digging into his forehead.

"No, you don't! And stop that!" Kaname told him, coming to bend down next to him. "Look, you're bleeding all over the place!" Placing her hand to his cheek, she gently pulled him so that he was looking her in the eyes. Eyes that held nothing but gentleness and compassion. "Here, let me heal that -!"

Tearing free of her hands, InuYasha snarled, "Don't bother!"

Unwilling to let anyone see him give way to his emotions, InuYasha quickly whipped into a sitting position, folding his arms and legs as he screwed his eyes shut, desperate to rein in his out-of-control emotions. As he did so, Kaname murmured, "I'm sorry. I...I know that we should've told you about this, but..."

"What are you apologizing for?!" InuYasha demanded, unable to help himself as he turned and looked back at her. "Dammit, I'm the one who screwed up! I should've told you two about this a long time ago! I...I should've...!"

"No, please, InuYasha! It's okay!" Kaname insisted as words once again failed the half-demon. "We...I know this couldn't have been easy for you. I...!"

"What the hell kind of excuse is that?!" InuYasha snapped back, more at himself then Kaname. "I...I should've trusted you. Dammit, I...I should've told you, I..."

Practically feeling her eyes on him, the half-demon continued to sit there as Kaname gently murmured, "Please, InuYasha, don't do this to yourself. I know how hard it must be for you, going through all this. How...how hard it must've been to tell us..."

Snorting in a broken way as she trailed off, InuYasha retorted, "How could you possibly know what I'm going through?!" Turning back to look her in the face, he screwed up his face in shame and muttered, "I...I should've...I'm a danger to you, don't you get that?!"

"I do get it. And believe it or not, InuYasha...I do know what you're going through." Rolling his eyes and making a despairing sound in his throat, the half-demon turned to look at Kaname, only to be frozen by both the pain in her eyes, and her voice as she told him, "I've been there."

Though the shock InuYasha felt at these words wasn't as severe as the one he had experienced only a short time ago, he was still taken aback. "You..." he fumbled out, slowly shaking his head. "You can't possibly know what this is like. You..."

"Yes, I can," Kaname assured him, her voice so gentle and dulcet that InuYasha could scarcely believe that it had once matched Kagome in a shouting match. And there was something else in it, too. A sadness that caught InuYasha's attention, prompting him to sit there without protest, to simply look at her as she asked, "Michiru, he...I know he told you about what happened the night my powers...woke up." Leaning in a bit closer, the Kururugi girl added, "But...he didn't tell you everything."

"Wh-what do you mean?" InuYasha numbly, almost afraid to find out what she was talking about.

"Something...happened that night," Kaname went on, her voice faltering beneath the weight of her own words. "Something that...we've never told anyone. That I...I made Michiru promise not to tell anyone, because...I didn't know how to handle it." His mouth popping slightly open, the half-demon continued to crouch there, watching as the Kururugi girl swallowed loudly, her own eyes watering as she began, "Now...you know about how we...ran into the those creeps? How my bro kept...most of them busy...so I could run away?" InuYasha gave a quick nod to this. "Well, while he was stalling most of them, two more kept after me. And they...they finally managed to catch up..."

"I know," InuYasha told her, recalling the night of his revelation. The anger that had burned through him when he had learned that his closest friend had been fighting for his life and the life of his sister when he had been relaxing in the comfort of Kagome's home. "He told about...what they were going to do to you."

Nodding, clearly relieved that she wouldn't have to relive that part of her nightmare, Kaname continued, "Well, anyway...my bro showed up, and he managed to take down one of the creeps. But...not the other one. He...he had his foot on my back, so...my bro couldn't get him without hurting me, and..." Swallowing once again, the Shikigami User shook her head, a tear of fear and shame rolling down her cheek. "When he saw Michiru using his magic, he picked me up off the ground, and..." Again, her voice failed her, forcing Kaname to suck in a deep breath. "He had his arm around my neck, and the way he was holding me...I thought for sure he was going to break it. And he kept telling my bro that if he didn't go away, then he'd kill me. Shove his knife right into my heart."

Despite everything, all the guilt and shame and intense emotion he had been inundated by that evening, InuYasha felt a snarl twisting about his lips. Disgust for anybody who would do something like that to someone as gentle as the girl before him. "What...?!"

"And that's...when my Shikigami woke up," Kaname informed him, her voice heavy with grief. "One minute, I could feel his knife on my face. Then...I blanked out for a moment, and the next thing I know, this...this thing of fire was coming out of me." Realizing that she was describing her Fire Shikigami, InuYasha looked raptly at her as she sniffled loudly. "The guy holding me...he let me go and started running. And me...I didn't know what was happening, or that that thing was really a part of me or where it come from, or - or anything." Pausing to breathe deeply, to cleanse her throat and her mind, she then told him. "All I could do is stand there and watch...as it roasted him alive."

The instant these words were said, InuYasha was once again blown away. He was sent reeling into memories of the past, seeing himself back when he had been at the Kururugi Shrine with Kagome, and how he had decided to check in both the twins, and had seen the haunted, tortured look on Kaname's face. "Then...that's why...?" he sputtered out before his conscious mind kicked in and told him that admitting that he had been eavesdropping on them might not be such a good idea. "I - I mean...that's why you were so upset about what happened with the demonic grass? Because...?"

Nodding, Kaname pressed her lips together and answered, "My bro said that...he was able to save that guy's life, and...I really wish I could believe that. But..." Closing her eyes as the memories became too much for her to bare, the Kururugi girl brought her hand to her face, wiping away the grief that was rolling down her cheeks. "I saw him, InuYasha. He was just lying that, his skin, everything...it had all been burnt away! There's no way he could have survived that! And even if he did, then...!"

InuYasha knew exactly what she meant. He found himself flashing back to Onigumo, the human who was at the heart of Naraku's being. The bandit that had given himself up to be remade into a demon, because his human body was scorched into utter uselessness. Even if Kaname's attacker had somehow survived her spell, then he would never fully recover from it.

And even if he was a bastard and a thief...even if she didn't have control of her Shikigami...nothing's going to change the fact that it was her power that was responsible for what happened... InuYasha realized. And with this realization came something else. A new understanding of the girl crouched before him, the guilt she carried with her, and her fear of losing control.

"Then...you do understand," InuYasha murmured, barely able to believe what he was saying himself. Feeling guilty and confused and many other things as he continued to look at her.

"I do," Kaname answered, nodding sadly. "And my bro...he understands, too." Sniffling once again, she somehow managed to curl her lips into a tiny smile before cupping his cheek in her hand. "So...I'm sorry we didn't say anything before, InuYasha. But...we do understand how hard this is for you. And we do want to stay here...with you and everyone else."

"Kaname..." InuYasha gasped out, unable to do anything but look into her eyes, eyes that were filled with compassion and understanding. His mouth opened once, but closed with him saying anything. There were no words capable of expressing what he was feeling in his heart. He opened his mouth again, but there were still no words. Nothing that could convey the enormity of what he wanted to tell her. And so, trapped between the overwhelming emotion that demanded expression and words that simply failed to do so, InuYasha did the only thing he could do.

He reached forward...and hugged Kaname.

A startled gasp escaped Kaname's lips as InuYasha wrapped his arms about her, holding her as tightly as he dared. "I-InuYasha!" she squeaked out as she hung there in his arms, his head upon her shoulder, holding her. Wanting to keep this special person close to him. To never, ever let her go. And after a long time of simply hanging in his arms, her heart pounding furiously, Kaname sighed and slowly, gently returned his embrace.

I don't deserve this, InuYasha couldn't help but think as the two of them clung to each other. I don't deserve you, or your brother, or...

"InuYasha!" called out a raspy, worn voice. One that startled him, bringing him back to the moment. "InuYasha...where are you?"

Reluctantly pulling away from Kaname, the half-demon frowned as he looked in the direction the voice had come from. "What is it?" she quietly asked. "Is something wrong?"

"It's Kagome," InuYasha replied, narrowing his eyes somewhat. "I just heard her voice."

"Really?" Kaname replied, looking even more confused. "I don't hear anything."

"You wouldn't. Her voice is pretty faint," InuYasha reported before curling his lip wryly. "Guess her throat's still bugging her."

"InuYasha!" Kagome rasped again, her weakened voice coming closer.

"I heard her that time. I..." Kaname began, only to trail off as she turned and looked at InuYasha. The half-demon meeting her gaze, the two of them then looked down at themselves. Still holding each other fairly closely. Then they looked up at each other, and seemingly as one, realized exactly what would happen if Kagome caught them embracing each other.

With that realization, the two of them quickly fell from each other, falling back to the ground. "Aw, dammit!" InuYasha spat out, looking from Kaname to the direction he had heard Kagome's voice from. The sound of approaching footsteps telling him that he only had a very short time before the Kikyo's reincarnation saw him with her least favorite girl, and subsequently 'sat' him enough times to bury him forever. "Uh - um - Kaname, I - uh -!"

Nodding shakily, Kaname quickly scrambled to her feet. "Right. No way she'd ever be understanding about this!" she muttered, quickly glancing in the direction of their encroaching doom. Then she looked at the half-demon, and quickly knelt down in front of him. "Here. Great River Blessing!"

"What are you doing?!" InuYasha demanded as a pentagram spun into existence at her feet, releasing her Water Shikigami. "If she sees you -!"

"Just taking care of one little thing!" Kaname explained even as her healing magic washed over him, alleviating aches and pains...as well as the minor headache he suffered. "I don't want Kagome wondering why you're bleeding!" Blinking his surprise, the half-demon simply sat there, belatedly realizing that one of the things he was feeling was something warm and wet fading from his forehead. Something he hadn't noticed in his determination to drown out the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

As Kaname's spell ran its course, she smiled and once again cupped her hand to his cheek. "There you go! And don't forget, InuYasha," she murmured, drawing in even closer to him. "I'm here because I want to be." And with that, she leaned in even closer...and planted a quick, gentle kiss to his forehead.

His mouth popping open in surprise, InuYasha just sat there in stupefied shock. His eyes wide with astonishment, he watched as Kaname backed away, giggling giddily before darting away. "Swift Blue Sky!" she invoked, the magic of her Wind Shikigami surrounding her in its magic, allowing her to leap up over the surrounding wall of the house, and was then out of sight.

A few seconds passed as InuYasha continued to look in the direction she had disappeared in, automatically

rising to his feet. As his conscious mind struggled to process everything that had just happened, he was startled from his thoughts when he heard Kagome declare in a raspy, satisfied voice, "So there you are...InuYasha!"

"Huh?!" InuYasha started, whipping about to face her. The modern priestess was approaching, her foul mood apparently forgotten as she seemed to bounce up to him. Something that she wouldn't be doing if she had seen or heard Kaname. "Uh, Kagome...what are you doing out here?"

"I was about to..." Kagome started, only to have her voice break up into a series of small coughs and fitful wheezes. Bringing her hand to her throat, she swallowed, wincing as she did so before continuing. "To ask you...the same thing."

Struggling to not glance in the direction Kaname had disappeared in, InuYasha folded his arms behind his head and replied, "Eh, nothing much. Just...wanted some peace and quiet, that's all." A beat passed as he studied Kagome before asking, "So, uh...I see your...throat's still bugging you. You want something for it, or...?"

Waving his question aside, Kagome took hold of his wrist. "Forget about my throat! Now c'mon!"

"Huh?!" InuYasha squawked as she started back the way she had came, pulling him along. "H-hey, wait a second! Where're we going?!"

"There's something...I want to show you!" Kagome grinned teasingly. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but then she winced in pain, and instead gave an especially firm tug on the half-demon's arm. Practically falling over his own feet, InuYasha quickened his pace. He didn't know what it was that Kagome wanted, but he wasn't in the mood to be sent crashing into the ground, and he was still too emotionally unsettled by everything that had just happened to offer any real protest, anyway.

However, as Kagome persisted in tugging him along, InuYasha did glance back towards he and Kaname had been. Feeling her slender body in his arms, her lips upon his forehead...and the things she had told him reverberating in his heart...

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