Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Sango's Decision

"Hey, Kagome! Do you mind telling me where we're going already?!" InuYasha wondered with some of his typical attitude as she continued escorting him towards the outskirts of Tsuzumi Village. "Because it looks like we're almost out of places to go!"

Giving a mute chuckle to this, as much as she could without further offending her abraded throat, Kagome looked over her shoulder at the grumpy half-demon. "Take it easy," she told him, her voice barely above a murmur, all she could manage without much pain. "We're almost there." The half-demon gave a low, disbelieving snort at this, one that betrayed his impatience but that he also couldn't think of anything to say back to her.

"Almost where?" InuYasha demanded a bit more pointedly. "And what's this all about, anyway? What's got you so excited?"

Another chuckle escaped her lips, this one a bit louder and a bit more offensive to her throat. "You'll see soon enough!" Kagome simply replied, wanting to avoid any further conversation on this subject, and not simply because of her irritated throat. She wanted to avoid spoiling the special moment that the two of them would soon be witnessing.

Oh, I can't wait...! Kagome thought, bubbling with excitement as she thought back to before, and the implications of the conversation she had overheard. After all this time, all the false starts and craziness - and most of all, Michiru trying to screw everything up - Sango's finally going to...!

"Hey, what're you grinning about?" InuYasha wondered with a raised eyebrow, his words bringing her back to the moment.

Opening her mouth, Kagome was momentarily tempted to just blurt out what she had overheard earlier, as well as the reason for them coming there. But even as she felt this urge, she quickly forced it off to the side, because she knew quite well that when InuYasha realized what was going on, he wouldn't be happy, and would likely stomp off in disbelief. And after all his arguing about Michiru being the right guy for Sango when he's being such a jerk, it's just fitting that he should be here when she proves him wrong! Kagome she thought, already imagining that wonderful moment when the half-demon would be forced to eat his words. Something that wouldn't happen if he got impatient and stomped away. So he she simply told him, "It's a surprise."

"Hmph!" InuYasha snorted loudly, but making no attempt to shake off Kagome' hand. "I hate surprises!"

"Trust me, you'll get a kick out of this one!" Kagome impishly assured him. And if you try and screw things up, I'll personally bury you! she added, glancing at the Beads around his neck. And don't think that I won't, because I don't have to make the magic word loud for it to work!

Reminding herself to pick a spot close enough to the soon-to-be-happy couple so that they wouldn't miss a single word of this spectacular moment that had been so long in the making, but far enough away so that no one would notice if she had to smash InuYasha down once or twice, Kagome sighed longingly as they left the perimeter of Tsuzumi Village behind. This is going to be so perfect! she couldn't help but think as they continued around the sheer cliff face of the mountain near the village. It's just too bad that I couldn't bring that jerk Michiru here to see this for himself!

Sighing at this, Kagome knew that even if Michiru weren't so exhausted that he could barely move, she still wouldn't wanted to bring him there. With his Shikigami magic, there were just too many ways that he could screw up this perfect moment, and if he had managed to draw Sango's attention, then there was every chance that he might have been able to guilt her out of it, or at the very least destroy the fragile beauty of the Demon Slayer's confession of love.

Besides, it's not like I won't be able to show him for myself! Kagome grinned as she reached back to her backpack, feeling the video camera that was securely tucked away there. And as messed up as he is, Michiru won't be able to stop me when I play it back for my enjoyment!

Imagining the look of absolute horror this would result in and wondering if she should play it for him before Sango inevitably made the big announcement to the group as a whole, or later so as to rub the salt into his wounds, Kagome studied the path ahead before stepping off of it. "Here! This way!"

"Huh?!" InuYasha started, looking from Kagome to the path she was leaving. "Hey, what are you doing?!"

"Taking a shortcut!" Kagome replied enigmatically. "Now, c'mon!" Giving his hand a firm tug, she prompted the surely half-demon to follow. Knowing better than to protest, InuYasha grumbled beneath his breath as he followed the modern girl into the wooded area lining the path.

Moving carefully, making sure not to make too much noise as she made her way through the underbrush, Kagome paused to look back at InuYasha, holding her forefinger to her mouth. "And be quiet! We don't want anyone to hear us!"

"What are you talking about?! There's nobody around!" InuYasha protested, pausing to glare at his companion. "Who's gonna hear us all the way out here?!"

"Just do it, okay?" Kagome retorted, unwilling to waste time arguing. For even though she had started looking for InuYasha almost immediately after hearing of Sango and Miroku's intended rendezvous, it had taken her time to track the half-demon down. And while the monk had said that he would arrive within an hour, the modern girl wasn't willing to risk arriving too late.

I don't want to miss a single moment of this! Kagome thought, once again smiling as she thought of the perfect moment that was soon to come when the perfect couple of monk and Demon Slayer admitted their undying love for each other. Besides, we'll need time to get in position and everything! So I can't waste any time on InuYasha's bad attitude!

Fortunately enough, the half-demon wasn't in one of his more uncooperative moods. Giving a mild snort that she recognized as meaning that he didn't like it, but couldn't think of anything else to say about it, InuYasha continued to follow. He wasn't exactly silent, but he did make something of an effort to move with greater stealth. Deciding to be satisfied with what she could get, Kagome continued forward.

Eventually, after much stumbling out about in the fading light of day and some muted curses from InuYasha, the two of them clambered through the woods and underbrush, and soon reached a mountain wall. "So far, so good!" Kagome rasped just beneath her breath as she looked up at the solid rock.

"What's that supposed to mean?" InuYasha muttered lowly with a raised eyebrow.

"It means...that we're almost there," Kagome replied, speaking with more difficulty than she was happy with. Making a mental note to show Kaname what she thought about this, the modern priestess turned and started moving along the solid rock wall, knowing that it and the other section of the mountain bracketed the path that led to the cave entrance where Miroku and Sango would meet. So as long as they made sure to follow the mountain, there was no chance of them getting lost, and they would be about as far as they could be from anyone, reducing the chance of them being detected.

"Hmph! Almost there, huh?!" InuYasha grumbled irritably as they made their way forward. "Some shortcut! Where the hell are we even going, anyway?!"

"You'll see soon enough! Now...be quiet!" Kagome told him, holding up her finger to her mouth. Again, InuYasha snorted irritably, making a show of folding his arms across his chest. But he showed no signs that he intended to leave, and that was what mattered.

C'mon, keep going...! Kagome told herself, stepping carefully as she advanced. Despite everything, she could understand InuYasha's impatience, for this wasn't an easy route to traverse. Nor was it travelled swiftly or entirely silently. But despite the numerous exposed roots, vines, stones, and other assorted obstacles to be found, the two of them finally drew close to the cave's entrance.

As an errant breeze blew past them, sending a few leaves from the trees, InuYasha paused and frowned. Taking note of the fact that he was no longer moving forward, Kagome paused as well and looked back at him. "What is it?"

"It's Sango," InuYasha reported, sounding almost puzzled as he sniffed the air again, as if to confirm this assessment. "What's she doing out here?"

Sucked in a hushed breath, Kagome was momentarily fearful that the half-demon would become curious and move to investigate the Demon Slayer's presence. But even as this thought presented itself, another matter occurred to her. "Say, InuYasha? Can you tell if Sango's alone?"

"Can I tell if she's...?" InuYasha started, trailing off as he furrowed his brows. A few seconds passed as the two of them looked at other, with the half-demon finally shrugging and taking another sniff. "Yeah, she's by herself. So what?"

"Oh, perfect! Then we're not too late!" Kagome sighed, the pain of her abraded throat overwhelmed by a wave of relief. "Come on! Let's get into position!"

"Into -?!" InuYasha started again, only to shake his head in mounting perplexity. "Kagome, what's going on?! What are we even doing out here?!"

"I told you, it's a surprise!" Kagome told him before pressing forward. When the half-demon growled in his throat, a sure sign he was about to say something stupid, she narrowed his eyes at him. "Now, be quiet and behave yourself, InuYasha!" she told him as sternly as she could in her presently raspy voice. "We're almost there!"

A beat passed as InuYasha processed this before snorting and averting his gaze. "Dammit...like it would really kill you to tell me what this is all about..." he muttered wearily, giving no further protest before continuing to follow Kagome.

Now that she knew that Sango was still alone, Kagome proceeded with increased caution, making doubly certain not to do anything that would warn the ever-alert Demon Slayer of their approach. She constantly scanned the terrain ahead, looking both for brambles and other objects that would either trip them up or result in them betraying their presence, all the while trying to catch sight of their objective.

Finally, after a seeming eternity, Kagome spotted a patch of pink and purple set amongst the green of the woods. Colors that she immediately recognized. "We're almost there!" she announced in a hushed voice. Waving for InuYasha to do as she did, the modern priestess got down on her hands and knees and continued forward, using the bushes for cover. "C'mon!"

Growling in his throat, InuYasha muttered something unintelligible, and knowing him, completely unfit for her ears. But he still didn't protest as she pressed forward, being careful as they traveled. Every so often, Kagome would peek up above the bushes, both to see how much further they had to go in order to get a clean view of the magical moment to come, and to make sure that they remained outside of Sango's line of sight. As long as we can keep her from spotting us until Miroku arrives, we'll be fine! she thought as she continued onwards, her heart pounding with anticipation of the magical moment to come. Once things get going, they'll both be too busy falling into each others' arms to notice us!

"Hey, Kagome?!" InuYasha muttered crossly, still speaking too softly to be heard at a distance, but more than loudly enough to make it clear how much he was not enjoying himself. "Would you mind telling me why we're -?!"

"Shhh! Be quiet!" Kagome hissed, unwilling to take a chance, not when they were so close. "We need to get a bit closer! I want to have a good view of this!"

"A good view of what?!" InuYasha demanded with mounting annoyance. "What are we doing here?! And why the hell are we sneaking around like this?!" When Kagome didn't answer, the half-demon moved in closer and asked, "Hey, are we spying on Sango?! Is that it?!"

Her impatience sounding in her throat, Kagome shot a killing glare at the immature half-demon. "InuYasha, either you be quiet, or I'll say 'the word' twenty times! Got it?!"

Sucking in a hushed breath, InuYasha looked as if he were going to ask if she meant this. But then Kagome narrowed her eyes, and the half-demon deflated. "Dammit," he muttered before starting forward again. "Always with this stupid necklace...!"

Barely paying attention to InuYasha as he muttered about all the things he would do if he didn't have to contend with the Beads of Subjugation, Kagome shook her head with mild amusement as she continued forward. As much as the half-demon complained about the necklace, she considered the magical rosary to be proof of the bond that existed between them. And though he'd never admit it, I'm sure he feels the same way, she thought, recalling the one time the half-demon had been bereft of the sacred beads. If he weren't such a jerk all the time, I wouldn't even have to use them!

Wondering when InuYasha would finally decide to grow up and start being a bit more mature, Kagome continued to creep forward amidst the bushes, until at last she peeked up and was satisfied. Perfect! she thought as she surveyed the scene before her. She had a clear view of Sango and the area she was standing in, there were very few trees in the area, so even if she and Miroku started moving about, it was unlikely that there would be anything to block the view. And because of the shadows from the mountains, even if they look this way, they won't be able to see us unless we stand up from behind the bushes!

"This will be just perfect," Kagome voiced aloud as she shifted about, making herself comfortable as she could as seated herself on the rough ground. "Now all we have to do is wait a while, and..."

"And would you mind telling me what exactly we're waiting for?" InuYasha growled wearily, as if he weren't expecting an answer but felt like voicing his impatience anyway. "What's Sango doing here?! And why are we spying on her?!"

"It's like I told you; it's a surprise," Kagome murmured with a smile and a playful wink. Unsurprisingly, this did nothing to improve the surly half-demon's mood, but it at the very least it kept him quiet. Realizing that he would have to wait for his answers, InuYasha proceeded to seat himself, muttering the entire time as the modern priestess retrieved the video camera.

The next couple minutes passed slowly, with Kagome spending that time going over the camera, making absolutely certain that everything was ready. Battery charge, available memory, the condition of the lens, all these and more were checked, double-checked, then checked again. InuYasha passed his time by sitting around with his head in his palm, sulking in silence as only he knew how to do. As she was busy setting up the small, but efficient tripod she'd brought with her, the raven-haired girl glanced at him, and considered the possibility of engaging him in conversation, at least enough to occupy the time. But even as she thought that, Kagome frowned, because even though they were a distance away, she still didn't want to risk doing anything that would alert Sango that she had company. Besides, I'm not sure how much conversation my throat can take, she silently admitted, massaging her worn throat. I swear, I'm going to get that miserable little pain-in-the-neck brat for -!

"Huh?" InuYasha started, his earlier annoyance forgotten as he sniffed at the air. Turning to ask what had garnered his attention, Kagome opened her mouth, but was cut off when the half-demon grumbled, "What's he doing here?!"

"He?!" Kagome repeated, almost forgetting to whisper in her excitement.

"It's Miroku," InuYasha explained in a voice rife with distaste. "What's that scheming lech doing here?" Shaking his head slowly, the half-demon started to rise up, growling, "If he's thinking of getting on Sango's case now, I'm gonna -!"

"No!" Kagome started, only her worn throat keeping her voice from reflecting her excitement. Grabbing hold of InuYasha's wrist, she quickly yanked him back down. The half-demon opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get word one past his lips, she added, "Sango asked him to come here!"

At this, InuYasha's eyes went wide as his tongue fell flat in his mouth, his attempt at protest deteriorating into an incoherent noise echoing in his throat. "Sango - asked him to -?!" he sputtered out, too shocked to be loud enough to be heard at a distance. Then his eyes narrowed sharply before he asked, "Wait a second...how do you know that?!"

"Because I heard Sango ask him to met her here!" Kagome brightly smiled even as she prepared to immortalize this precious, magical moment. "She had something special she wanted to talk to him about!"

"Something special?" InuYasha repeated blankly. Then he visibly winced before groaning and looking away. "Aw, don't tell me you think she's gonna tell him she's in love with him or something like that?!"

"Well, of course she is! Why else would she have asked him to come out...unless she wanted to be alone with him?" Kagome smirked, the thought alone giving her goosebumps.

Curling his lip in disgust, InuYasha grumbled, "And that's why you dragged me out here?!" Rolling his eyes as if asking what he could have possibly done to deserve this, the half-demon muttered, "Did she even say what it was she wanted to talk about?!"

"Well, no, but c'mon, what else could it be?" Kagome asked as she adjusted the camera to compensate for the dwindling levels of light. "She said it was something she's been meaning to tell him for a long time, and that she wanted to say it in private, so..."

"So in other words, you don't have a clue what she really wants to talk about, do you?" InuYasha growled disdainfully. Shaking his head once again, he then muttered, "I don't believe this. I let you haul me all the way out here just because of your deluded fantasies!"

"Hey! There's nothing deluded about true love!" Kagome snorted back, once again aghast at just how rude and immature InuYasha could be. "Look, Miroku and Sango are made for each other! It's as simple as that!"

A beat passed as InuYasha glowered at Kagome. "It's that so?"

Making a sound of confirmation, Kagome set the camera in place atop the tripod. "Yes, that's so! It's what's known as true love, InuYasha! Haven't you ever heard of it?"

"Yeah, but the last time I checked, 'true love' and 'happily ever afters' only show up in fairytales. Like the one you've deluded yourself into thinking you're living in!" InuYasha snorted back. "And it's only in a fairytale that any girl would be stupid enough to fall for a filthy, lying, backstabbing lecher like Miroku!"

Stung by this cold remark, as well the fact that InuYasha was still too dense to see the kind of lies Michiru had suckered him into taking as gospel, Kagome was sorely tempted to give the half-demon both barrels for his caustic remark. But not only was she physically incapable of this, but she knew that to get into an argument with InuYasha would be to risk ruining the perfectly romantic moment that they were about to witness. So instead, she gave a loud sniff and countered, "Well, we'll just see about that!"

"Yeah, we will!" InuYasha shot back, his nose wrinkled with disgust. "And I'm going to enjoy the look on your face when you find out just how wrong you are!"

Not as much as I'll enjoy it when you're the one eating his words! Kagome thought as a familiar figure came into view. With no more time to lose, she switched the camera on, and watched a fairytale ending come to life before her very eyes.

Pausing just long enough to watch Kagome start recording, InuYasha rolled his eyes and wondered once again just how such an arrogant, overbearing, stubborn, naive little twit could possibly be Kikyo's reincarnation. He was sorely tempted to say something to that effect, but it was at that moment that Miroku strode the path, smiling as he approached the Demon Slayer. And after a moment's consideration, InuYasha decided it would be best to wait in silence as Sango set the record straight as to whom she loved once and for all.

And it'll serve you right, too! InuYasha thought sourly, thinking back to a short time ago, when two kind souls had offered him forgiveness and understanding the likes of which he could never have expected being shown. One a good friend who had stuck by him during the best and worst of times, a confidant and kindred spirit who had faced similar difficulties of the heart, and the other a kindly, gentle person, who knew the torment the half-demon had been forced to live through better than possibly anyone else ever could. After the way you've been treating Michiru and Kaname, I can't wait to see your stupid little fantasy world come crashing down right on your empty head!

With this in mind, InuYasha sat back and folded his arms across his chest, and contented himself to sit back and watch the show. "Hello, Sango," Miroku spoke up, looking every bit the penitent monk as he approached. "It's good to see you."

"I'm glad you made it," Sango replied in a solemn voice.

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long," Miroku went on apologetically. "There are still many people recovering from the battle, and...well, I couldn't leave until I my duties to them were taken care of."

"Of course, I understand," Sango replied, barely even moving as Miroku approached. "Anyway, it's just as well." Shrugging somewhat, the Demon Slayer hesitated before adding, "The truth is...I needed some time to myself."

"Oh?" Miroku replied, frowning somewhat in concern. "Why? Is something wrong?"

"No, not exactly." Sango answered, still speaking in the same low voice. "I was just...thinking."

His eyes narrowing somewhat, Miroku moved even closer to the Demon Slayer. "About what, Sango?"

Heaving a deep, weary sigh, Sango answered, "So many things." Turning about, the warrior woman looked up at the sky, which was even then shifting to a collage of reds, oranges, as well as other, darker shades. "My brother, my family...my life the way it was...and what happened afterwards."

A moment passed in silence, one that left InuYasha frowning somewhat. The way Sango was speaking certainly didn't make it sound like she was going to tell Miroku off, or anything even close to that effect. "I see," the monk gently intoned, coming up alongside of her. "I guess it's only natural to be thinking such things, now that you have Kohaku back."

"Maybe," Sango told him in a fragile voice. "Miroku...you know what happened to me, Kohaku, and the others. On the night of the massacre?"

"Of course I do," Miroku replied in a tender fashion. "We all know about that, Sango."

"I was just thinking about that night," Sango continued, a sadness to her words that could not be missed. "The people at Naraku's castle...they were human, you know. They had no idea that the master they served..." The emotions she was trying to give voice too much for her, the Demon Slayer swallowed a lump of bile in her throat before speaking again. "They thought that I...that I had died like the others. And since they...they thought it would be best to have us buried in the garden."

InuYasha hissed at this, even as Kagome sucked in a horrified breath. But before either of them could say anything, Miroku put their reactions into words by asking, "They...buried you...alive?!" When Sango didn't respond to this, the monk shuddered visibly before going on to say, "I...I don't know what to say. I mean..." Shaking his head slowly, he turned to look more directly into her face. "You...you never mentioned this. I mean, you told us about Naraku's trap, and the others...being buried...so why didn't you...?"

"It's something I don't like thinking about, Miroku," Sango explained, her voice growing smaller. "You know how Naraku used that demon to take control of Kohaku's body...made him kill Father and one of my friends. I saw the web leading to him...the spider-demon disguised as the lord's father. I tried to get to him, to break Kohaku free of his control..."

"And that's when Kohaku...attacked you?" Miroku inquired, being aware of that part of Sango's story.

"That right. The lord...the demon...he had his archers shoot Kohaku down. Right before my eyes," Sango explained, her voice trembling beneath the burden of her pain. "I...I went to him...I wanted to help him...to..." Sniffling loudly, the Demon Slayer brought her hand to her heart. "He...he knew he was about to die, Miroku. He was scared and he just wanted me...to be there for him at the end." Swallowing loudly, she then looked up at the monk. "The last thing I remember is laying down next to him, telling him that I'd be there...just before the archers...shot me as well."

Listening to the pain in Sango's voice, InuYasha felt his teeth clenching with absolute hatred for the monstrosity that would so gladly inflict such misery, all for the pleasure of it. He was peripherally aware of tears welling up in Kagome's eyes, her precious camera forgotten for the moment. "Sango..." Miroku tried again, speaking somewhat uncertainly. "I...I don't know what to tell you."

"The next thing I knew...I could feel the cool earth...all around me..." Sango went on, speaking almost automatically. "When I opened my eyes...and saw nothing...could barely breathe." Shuddering with the intensity of her own emotions, the woman warrior who always seemed so strong shook in the breeze like a delicate flower. "And for a while, Miroku...I was tempted to just lie there...and accept it."

"What?" Miroku gasped, his voice low with shock and horror. "But...Sango...why would you...?"

"Because I'd failed, Miroku. Father was dead, and so was my brother...I'd failed them both," Sango explained in a tortured voice. "At that moment, all I wanted was to die as well, to be with them, with mother..." A moment passed, then she sucked in a determined breath, her voice hardening once more. "But then I remembered...the demon. The monster that had made Kohaku a killer. He was still out there." Looking back at Miroku, the warrior woman went on to say, "When I remembered that...I knew that I couldn't lie down and die. Not with that murderer still out there. So I dug my way out...and that's when the young lord of the castle saw me."

"Young lord," Miroku repeated, his voice taking on a note of suspicion. "Don't you mean...Naraku?"

"It may have been. I still don't know. Not for sure, anyway," Sango admitted almost immediately. "When he saw me, he had his best healers tend to my wounds, and...well, you know what happened after that." Pressing her lips together, the Demon Slayer turned to face the monk full on. "Miroku...when I found out...about what happened at the fort...I felt like I was dead inside. Like I still belonged in that shallow grave."

"Don't you say that, Sango!" Miroku told her with an unexpected heat. "Please, don't." Placing his hand on her shoulder, the monk looked her deeply in the eyes. "I've lived with the possibility of death every day of my life. I've watched helplessly while people with everything to live for threw away their lives for the most trivial reasons. The thought that you, with all that you have to live for -!"

"I know that, Miroku!" Sango broke in, her voice strong, yet worn at the same time. As if she had had this particular discussion in her mind several times before now. "But back then, I felt as if I had nothing. My home, my family and friends...all of them, gone. And you and the others...you were all strangers to me. And having to deal with the truth about Naraku, not to mention Kagome's time-traveling..." Shaking her head as words once again failed her, the Demon Slayer could ultimately say nothing except, "It was all just too much for me."

Frowning somewhat, Miroku studied the Demon Slayer for a time before saying, "That's understandable, Sango. I know I felt similarly surprised when I learned the truth of Kagome's origins."

"I can imagine," Sango replied with a slight nod. "But even so, for a very long time, the only thing I wanted, that I really cared about...was finding Naraku and avenging my people. I never really bothered to think beyond that."

"Why not?" Miroku asked worriedly.

"Because, to be honest...I never really expected I'd survive the battle against him," Sango admitted somberly. "Even after I learned that...Kohaku was still alive...I really didn't think that I'd have a future beyond Naraku's defeat. My home was gone. My family..." Again shrugging as words failed her, the woman warrior simply stood there, as if considering what to say next. "It took me a long time to even think that...I could really have a future, Miroku. That I could have a life...have something more than just revenge."

A moment passed before Miroku nodded his understanding. "I understand what you mean. It's very hard to keep hope alive, especially when faced with an enemy such as Naraku." Then the monk flashed one of his infamously naughty smiles and added, "Still, I'm glad you that you did find that hope, Sango."

Nodding, Sango sighed before admitting, "Well, I have you and all the others to thank for that." Cocking her head to the side, she gave a weak smile. "InuYasha, Kagome, Shippo..." Then she focused her eyes on the monk and told him, "But you most of all, Miroku."

It took several seconds for InuYasha to process the import of what Sango said, and when he did, a look of pure disgust twisted about his face. "What?!" the half-demon hissed in disbelief. "What's she mean, him most of all?!"

"She means because she loves him, of course!" Kagome told him, her worn voice holding more than a hint of triumph. When InuYasha glanced her way, the raven-haired girl looked up and shot him a triumphant wink. "It's like I've been telling you! She has hope because she knows she has a future with him!"

InuYasha opened his mouth to protest this. But before he could voice to a single word, Miroku responded, "Me, Sango?"

"Yes, you," Sango quickly assured him. "Don't get me wrong, Miroku. InuYasha and the others...they've all been wonderful, and in different ways. I honestly don't think that I could have gotten to where I am without all of them here with us." But then she let her eyes fall to the ground before adding, "But I owe you a great deal, Miroku. You helped me so much. You made me feel...wanted. Welcome here with everyone. You made me feel like...I had a purpose with all of you that went beyond being a Demon Slayer." Shaking her head slowly, the Demon Slayer's eyes moistened as she admitted, "You don't know how much that meant to me. Having people in my life...a place where I felt I belonged again."

"On the contrary, I think I know quite well how it must have been for you," Miroku admitted almost instantly. "I may have told you this before, but I also had reservations about joining InuYasha and the others."

Nodding slowly, Sango guessed, "Because of the Wind Tunnel?"

"Exactly," Miroku admitted, pausing to glance down at his accursed hand. "It was difficult for me to accept the idea of having companions, simply because I know firsthand how dangerous this curse can be. All it would take is one act of carelessness..." Letting out a low sigh, the monk again met Sango's eyes. "It took quite a bit of persuading from Kagome before I was willing to accept taking such a chance."

"Feh! Yeah, right! You actually expect her to fall for that?!" InuYasha sneered lowly, unable to believe his ears. "And if you're so scared about that Wind Tunnel sucking someone in, then how come you're always introducing that hand to some girl's butt?!"

"InuYasha, be quiet!" Kagome hissed, shooting a killing glare at him. "I want to hear this!" Then she smiled impishly and added, "It looks like we're getting to the good part!"

"I can understand that," Sango agreed, unknowingly cutting InuYasha off. "But...anyway, Miroku...you've been so kind to me, and I owe you so much." Turning away from him, the Demon Slayer practically gave the monk a free shot at her posterior as she continued to speak. "You helped me bury my father...you've saved my life more times than I count...I can't even begin to thank you for...everything you've done."

"And you don't have to, Sango," Miroku assured her, slowly approaching her from behind. "What I did for you, I did because I wanted to do. Because you needed me."

Nodding to this, Sango murmured, "I know...but still..."

"I don't believe I'm hearing this!" InuYasha growled, his disgust and disbelief mounting with each passing second. "How can you be so sweet on that creep after everything he's done?!"

"You mean after being sweet and kind and forgiving, despite almost getting killed by a certain hotheaded jerk?" Kagome broke in, speaking in sickeningly sweet voice that stung InuYasha right in the back.

Turning and fixing a poisonous glare on Kagome, InuYasha snarled, "So you're still buying that load Miroku pushed on us about everything being all Michiru's fault?!"

"Of course I am! And do you know why?" Kagome retorted with a mocking smile, her voice showing more strain to it. "Because it just happens to be the truth!"

"The truth?! From that shameless bastard?!" InuYasha snarled with growing fury. "He lies like he breathes! He's a swindler, a con-man, a hypocrite, and -!"

"Shh!" Kagome hissed, placing her finger before her lips. "Not so loud! They'll hear you!"

"So what?! Let 'em!" With that, InuYasha began to get to his feet, muttering, "In fact, I'm going over there and talk some sense into Sango right now!"

"You take one step, and I'll say 'the word' so many times, you won't see daylight for at least a week!" Kagome vowed, the tone in her voice freezing him in place. Turning to glare at her, InuYasha watched as she smiled in smug, gloating triumph before gesturing for him to sit down. "Now sit down and relax! After all...how many times do you get to see a real live fairytale ending, huh?"

Gritting his teeth, InuYasha was sorely tempted to call her bluff. He had taken her 'sits' before, and he had no doubt that he would be on the receiving end of them in the future. And as much as he hated them, he knew that if Kagome were to make good on her threat, that it would likely cause the kind of commotion that she didn't want, resulting both the ruining of this 'magical moment' she was so enjoying, as well as putting her on the hot seat with both Sango and Miroku.

But at the same time, InuYasha knew that wouldn't avert the situation going on before him. If Sango truly had made her choice, and that choice was Miroku, then there was nothing he or Michiru could do to change that. All he would be doing would be making it known to Sango that she was being spied on in when she had wanted this to be a private meeting with the monk. And as much as the half-demon didn't care to think of such things, he knew that Miroku's earlier actions had already created friction amongst them. The last thing he needed was to make things even worse by further damaging the trust they had in each other.

Even if some of us never actually did anything to earn that trust, InuYasha fumed as he looked at the scheming traitor that was presently poised to win everything he had wanted, and everything he didn't deserve. Aw, dammit...!

"Fine," InuYasha muttered sourly as he sat back down. "I guess if Sango's so damn blind and stupid to fall for that sleaze, then she deserves what she gets!"

Chuckling beneath her breath, Kagome muttered, "There! That's a good boy!" Trembling with anger at the way she spoke, acting as if he were her pet, InuYasha clenched his teeth as the raven-haired girl smiled and continued, "Oh, this is so exciting! Maybe we'll even get to see their first kiss!"

His stomach twisting at the thought of this, InuYasha sat and watched as Sango continued. "- wanted you to understand...that I owe you more than I'll ever be able to say," the Demon Slayer went on. "You helped give me back my life, my hopes...my future, Miroku."

"It was pleasure to be of service, Sango," Miroku smiled, drawing in closer to her.

"Aw, isn't this sweet? Don't they make the perfect couple?" Kagome smirked as the two of them looked at each other. "But that's no surprise, right? After all, Miroku's just the kind of guy Sango needs. Mature, intelligent, reliable." Then she glanced at InuYasha out of the corner of her eye before adding, "Unlike someone else I can mention..."

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha muttered, "One of these days, you're going to be wrong, Kagome! And right now, my only wish is that I get to be there to see the look on your face when that happens!"

"Well, wishes can come true, InuYasha! Especially when true love is involved!" Kagome smirked, lining up the camera more precisely as Miroku brought his lips closer to Sango's. "Here it comes! Oh, I can't wait to see them on their wedding day!"

Quaking at this latest barb, InuYasha screwed his eyes shut. Unwilling to see any more of this travesty of justice. I can't believe this! How can you fall for that scheming, manipulative -?!

"Don't," came Sango's voice, her tone different from before. Lower, sharper...angrier. Things that prompted InuYasha to open his eyes and watch as the Demon Slayer placed her hand to Miroku's chest, and gently push him away. "Please, don't touch me, Miroku." Shaking her head slowly, Sango carefully stepped away from him. "I can take a lot of things right now...but not that."

Blinking a few times in surprise, Miroku let out a slight gasp before saying, "I...I'm sorry, Sango. It's just...with everything you said, I..." A moment passed before the monk straightened out. "Was I...moving too fast for you?"

"You don't understand, Miroku. Not that I blame you for that." Swallowing loudly, Sango met the monk's eyes, her voice even and clear as she replied. "I told you all of that because I wanted you to know just how much I appreciate everything you've done for me...and how hard it is for me to say what I have to tell you now."

"Huh?" Kagome got out, moving away from her camera as InuYasha leaned in closer, his anger fading. "What's she mean by that?"

"What are you talking about, Sango?" Miroku asked, stepping closer, only to stop when Sango retreated a few steps herself. "Sango...?"

"Miroku...I owe you more than I can tell you. You helped me live and be able to love," Sango confessed, her eyes watering as she spoke. "But the truth is...that I don't love you."

A moment passed in perfect silence, a silence when Miroku and Kagome simultaneously got out, "Huh?!"

Lowering her eyes in response, Sango continued, "At least...not in the way that you'd want me to." Heaving a few deep breaths, the Demon Slayer again fixed her gaze on the monk, but this time, her eyes were hard and strong. Determined in a way as befit a warrior. "Miroku, I asked you out here before there's are some things that I need to deal with. Matters I need to settle with you."

Gazing quizzically at the Demon Slayer, Miroku hesitated before asking, "Uh...like what?"

"First, there's a question I need to ask you," Sango told him in a stern manner. "This is very important, Miroku, so I need you to be upfront with me. Do you understand?" After a moment's hesitation, the monk nodded. "Alright then. I want you to tell me what happened the day we found the jet. When you were fighting Michiru."

"Wha...?" Kagome frowned, her brow furrowed with confusion. "Why's she asking about that?"

Sorely tempted to tell Kagome why Sango would ask about that, InuYasha instead sat back and watched the drama unfolding before him. "Huh?" Miroku started, pulling back somewhat. After a few seconds, he finally shrugged and answered, "But...Sango, I already told you -"

"I know what you told me, Miroku," Sango retorted, her voice a low and dangerous thing. "Now, I want you to tell me exactly what happened." A beat passed as the Demon glared hard at the monk. "It's just the two of us here, Miroku. No one else to hear us. And I'm telling you to tell me what happened. No lies, no exaggerations, nothing left out. Nothing...but the truth."

Silence fell in the wake of Sango's words, a silence that was finally pierced when Miroku cleared his throat. "Well...if that's what you wish, Sango, but...there's really nothing else to tell you," the monk eventually said. "I was angry with Michiru about his...attraction to you, so we decided to adjourn to a remote area so that we could try and settle things in...physical manner." Shrugging somewhat, he added, "In retrospect, a regrettable decision, but -"

"Just tell me what happened, Miroku," Sango broke in with weary impatience.

"Uh...yes, of course," Miroku replied nervously. "Anyway, we started out fighting with basic, physical techniques. However, as the combat became more heated, Michiru began invoking power magical attacks. As a result, I was forced to use my Wind Tunnel to block his attacks." Pausing to take a deep breath, the monk lowered his gaze before admitting, "To my surprise, he was able to use his Sealed Blue Sky to deactivate my Wind Tunnel, at which he resumed his assault. Shortly after which, one of his blasts uncovered the jet." Holding up his free hand, Miroku concluded, "The rest, you know."

"I see," Sango nodded thoughtfully. "You know, the day after that all happened, I confronted Michiru in private. I asked him to tell me his side of the story. And you know what? He said a lot of the things that you just said. But there are two major differences between your stories." Folding her arms across her chest, the Demon Slayer narrowed her eyes intently at the monk. "The first that, in his version, you were the one who escalated the fight by using your Wind Tunnel. That you told him that he should go back home and find another woman, and that you wouldn't shut the Wind Tunnel down unless he agreed to leave us. " Then, with her features twisting with disgust and loathing, she added, "And the second difference is...I believe Michiru's story. Not yours."

"What?!" Kagome spat out, only her worn throat keeping her from being loud enough to be heard. "How can she possibly believe a pack of lies like that?!"

"I dunno. Though I suppose it's possibly because...it's the truth?" InuYasha grinned, enjoying this bit of turnabout.

Kagome turned and glared at him, and InuYasha certain that he was about to smashed face-first into the ground when Miroku spoke up. "What?" the monk got out, turning ashen as InuYasha and Kagome focused on him once more. "You...you really think that he -?"

"I don't think, Miroku. I know," Sango hissed vehemently. When the monk opened his mouth to protest, she held up her finger in warning. "And don't you dare try and say otherwise! I've known you too long and listened to too many of your lies to be fooled that easily."

"But...how can you just blindly take his word...over mine?" Miroku wondered, utterly incredulous. "Sango, please, just let me -!"

"No, Miroku! I'm not going to waste my time listening to you try and shift the blame or make up another story or any of that!" Sango growled menacingly. "I already knew coming here which of you was telling the truth that day! The only reason I asked you to tell me what happened was because I wanted to give you the chance to admit the truth!"

"But, Sango, I -!" Miroku tried again.

"No! Don't try it, Miroku! Don't even try it!" Drawing back from the monk, Sango slowly shook her head in disgust. "You know, when I came here, I honestly thought that you might find it in yourself to admit that you were the one responsible. That when it was down to just the two of us, all by ourselves, you could admit what really happened." Again the Demon Slayer shook her head, looking at the monk as if he were something to be scraped off the bottom of her sandal. "But I guess I should've known that wouldn't be the case. After all, when it comes to a choice between the truth and lying, lying is almost always your first and only choice!"

"What?! But how can you -?!" Miroku blurted out.

"Oh, please! You and your fake fortunetelling?! Your fake exorcisms to get free room and board?! Everything about you is a fake, Miroku! And I'm sick of it!" Sango shouted, practically bowling over the monk with her voice alone. "I'm sick of all of it, Miroku! I can't deal with the lies and the games you keep playing! Maybe I could have dealt with them in the past, but not now! Not anymore!" As Miroku stood there, visibly trying to recover from the verbal onslaught he had been subjected to. At the same time, Sango heaved several deep breaths, her outburst having taken its toll on her as well. As a result, she needed several seconds to recover going on to say, "Now...I know why you wanted Michiru to go back, Miroku. I know that you were hoping that...if he left, then things could go back to the way they were before. That you were hoping that I...would love you in that way." Shaking her head once more, the warrior woman's voice took on a hint of sadness as she told him, "And...I'm sorry, Miroku. But the truth is, what I feel for you isn't the kind of love that would...allow for the kind of relationship you were hoping for. It's not the sort of thing that would...lead to being married, or...or anything like that."

As Sango once again strived to regain her emotional strength, Kagome shook her head in disbelief. "Wh-what she's saying?! Of course she...she loves him! It's obvious that's...!"

"Feh! Yeah, right! The only person that's obvious to is you, Kagome!" InuYasha muttered, grinning as he rolled his eyes satirically. "And that's only because you don't see anything you don't want to!"

Again, Kagome made it clear through her glare alone that she was sorely tempted to pile drive him into the ground. But before she could get a single 'sit' out, Miroku's voice was heard. "I...I see," the monk hesitated, a frown of pure reluctance on his face. "Then...what about Michiru? Do you...feel that way...about him?"

Once more, all eyes were on Sango as she nodded. "Yes," she admitted, her voice low with sadness and something that might almost have been fear. "I...I love him." A single tear falling from her eye, she took a shaky breath and smiled nervously. "I love him so much that...it scares me! I mean...I've never felt like this before, Miroku! Not about anyone!" Shaking her head as even more tears appeared, the normally unshakable warrior woman trembled in the wake of her own feelings. "Not my father or mother...not Kohaku and Kirara...nothing like this. Not ever."

"But...Sango, he's...he's not of this world! He has no real place in it!" Miroku protested in an almost desperate fashion. "How can you have a relationship with someone like that?!"

"I don't know, Miroku! But I have to at least try to make it work!" Sango instantly countered. "I have to, because I know that if I don't, that I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life!" Then she furrowed her brows and added, "Besides, Michiru was open and honest to me about his feelings! I owe him that much!"

"I...but Sango...this is all so sudden!" Miroku countered. "We...we've known each other for so long! We've been through so much together! H-how can you just...abandon all of that?"

"It's because I've known you all this time that I know that I have to!" Sango told him defiantly. "I know you, Miroku. I know everything that's good about you...and everything that isn't. And I know that there is a great deal about you that I simply can't live with!" The monk opened his mouth to say something, but the Demon Slayer held out her hand to him. "And don't try to tell me that that will change or get better, because I know that it won't! You've already proven that much!"

"I've proven -?!" Miroku sputtered out, gesturing at himself.

"That's right. You've proven," Sango firmly stated. "After that battle with Naraku when Utsugi died, I honestly thought that you might start changing for the better. After all, you were free of the Wind Tunnel. You had your whole life ahead of you. You had every chance in the world to start something. To build a relationship with me that didn't revolve around you groping my butt or treating me like your personal plaything." Giving a mild snort, she placed her hands to her hips and glared dangerously at the monk. "But no. Instead, it was always the same old thing. The same lies and lechery, the same con games you always play. Doing whatever you could to smooth talk some pretty girl. Just. Like. Always."

"Aw, no!" Kagome groaned, bringing her hand to her forehead. "I knew that stuff would come back to haunt him!"

As InuYasha quietly chortled his agreement, Miroku shook his head mournfully. "Oh, Sango, you can't take that sort of thing seriously!" he told her pleadingly. "It's all just talk! It's harmless!"

"Really? And what about the things you tell me, Miroku?! Is that 'all talk' as well! Because you sure say it all the same way!" Sango shouted, her pain shifting to anger. "Every pretty girl you try to pick up, you say the same kind of lines as you do with me, you use the same tone of voice!"

"No, of course not!" Miroku protested, holding up his hands in a placating manner. "You, Sango...you're special, and...!"

"How?! How am I special?! How am I different, Miroku?!" Sango shrilled, tears of genuine pain flowing down her cheeks. "Because all your lines sound exactly the same, no matter who you're telling them too! So how am I different?! Where do the lies end and the love begin?! Tell me, Miroku! Because I honestly can't tell anymore!" Her face creasing with misery, she shook her head once more before adding, "I'm starting to wonder if I ever could."

"Sango..." Miroku tried again, only for his mouth to fall shut. The monk at a loss for words for the first time in what was likely to be a very long time.

"And that's why I have to give what I have with Michiru a chance. A real chance!" Sango told him in a flat voice. "Because I know that I can trust him not to play games with my heart. I know he won't violate my privacy, or betray my trust in him! I know I can ask him something, and he'll give me an honest answer!"

"You barely even know him!" Miroku countered, his voice a rawer, more anguished and angry thing. "You've only known him for a few months, Sango! How can you be so certain, so...so trusting?!"

"Because he's already had every chance to abuse my trust, Miroku. And he never did," Sango countered immediately. "But there's something even more important than that. Something that I...I wasn't even sure about until recently." Heaving a deep breath, the Demon Slayer stood even straighter, the anger and fear fading from her expression. She became the picture of the warrior that had been the death of many demons on the field of battle. "On the night the village was attacked, Michiru and I...we went out together. Just the two of us. All by ourselves."

"Wh- wait a second!" Kagome gasped, her mouth hanging open in shock. "Is she saying...they were on a date?!" Aghast at this, she turned to InuYasha and demanded, "They went out on a date?! When did that happen?!"

"The night of the attack, Kagome! What, weren't you listening?" InuYasha grinned. "Now why don't you be quiet? Sit back and see how love works in real life?"

While Kagome was left struck speechless, Miroku asked, "So...you went out together. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything, Miroku. And do you know why?" Sango asked, her words filled with meaning. When Miroku failed to grasp that meaning, she stepped closer to him and declared, "Because the entire time I was with Michiru...I wasn't afraid."

"Afraid?" Miroku repeated, his expression blank and confused. "Afraid of what?"

"Afraid to turn my back on him, only to look around and see him staring at another woman. Afraid that he would...take off to feel up a passing girl or make a play for her," Sango explained, her bitter voice ample proof that she had experienced these things in the past. "He was with me the entire time, Miroku. And I was completely at ease with him. I was relaxed, at peace." Her emotions once again shaking her voice somewhat, the woman warrior hammered her next words into Miroku like they were the nails in his coffin. "My guard was down the entire time, and I wasn't the least bit uncomfortable, or worried. I was happy with him. Happier than I've been in a very, very long time."

"Oh, Sango, what are you doing?!" Kagome moaned despondently. "Are you blind?! That little jerk framed Miroku to make him look bad! How can you possibly fall for someone like that?!"

"Why the hell would Michiru bother trying to make Miroku look bad?" InuYasha asked, not even bothering to keep the snigger from his voice. "It's not like the pervert needs the help!"

Before Kagome could say anything, Miroku brought his hands to his face. "I don't believe this, Sango..." he moaned, sliding them down from across his eyes. "You're basing you decision...on a single night with...?"

"No, Miroku. I'm basing it on all the time I've spent with Michiru, as well as the time I've spent with you. Along with my feelings for him, and my understanding of the both of you. And you might not like it, but it's still my decision to make," Sango declared forcefully. "I'm sorry, but Miroku. But that's it. I won't be your plaything anymore."

"But..." Miroku told her weakly. "I..." the monk tried again, only for his head to fall forward, misery spilling from his eyes. "I...if that's...what you really want, then..." Forcing himself to meet the Demon Slayer's gaze once more, he wobbled about on his feet for a moment before asking, "Will...that be all?"

Groaning in dismay, Kagome clenched her fists before her. "No, Miroku! Don't let it end like this!" she protested, her sore throat once again thwarting her attempt at a yell. "Stand up for yourself! Show her that you're the real man of her dreams!"

"Hmph! More like her nightmares!" InuYasha snorted, earning yet another accusatory glare.

"No, Miroku. That will not be all," Sango announced, much to everybody's surprise. "There's one more thing that we have to settle."

"What do you mean?" Miroku asked, his voice a hollow shell of its former self. "What else could you possibly have to say to me...?"

"Plenty, Miroku. Because it wasn't just Michiru or me when you hurt with your lies," Sango informed him in a dangerous voice. "It was all of us. The entire group as a whole."

"What do you mean...?" Miroku asked wearily.

"What I mean is that you divided us, Miroku! Because of what you did, we were fighting against each other! We didn't trust each other!" Sango went on with greater force. "And if it weren't for the fact that InuYasha and I saw though your deception, we might well have still been fighting amongst ourselves when Kagura and the rest of Naraku's forces showed up! And if that had happened, then all of us and everyone in Tsuzumi Village would likely be dead right now!" Furrowing her brow, the warrior woman glared her disdain at the monk. "We got very lucky last time, Miroku! We almost lost that battle as it was, and if it hadn't been for us coming together when we did, we wouldn't have had a chance!" Giving this a moment to sink in, Sango watched as Miroku lifted his desperate eyes to meet her own. "But the damage you did, it hasn't healed, Miroku. Kagome is still convinced that Michiru's responsible for what happened before, and your lies have cost you whatever trust InuYasha and the others once had in you! Because of what you did, we're no longer a real team, and the longer this goes on, the worse things are going to get for all of us!"

"And...what would you have me do, Sango?" Miroku asked weakly.

"The truth, Miroku. The truth is the only thing that can set things right again," Sango explained to him. "That's why, tonight, after dinner, you are going to gather everyone together. All of us, including Jiro and Azusa. You will announce that you have something important to discuss with all us." Pausing for a moment, the Demon Slayer seemed to consider her next words. "If you want for us to meet in private, then that's fine, Miroku. Tamoa, Shunsuke, and the others, they don't need to hear this. And if InuYasha or anyone else complains or doesn't want to come along, I'll insist upon it." The warrior woman then shot the monk a glare of pure, deadly cold. "And once you've done that, you will explain to everyone what really happened between you and Michiru. That you're the one who threatened him! That you lied to them all, all because you hoped that I'd abandon him and go back to you!"

His eyes going wide, Miroku held up his free hand and waved it in a negative manner. "No, no, wait, Sango...!"

"And once you're done telling them all this, you will apologize to each and every one of them." Sango went on, completely ignoring the monk's plea. "You'll apologize to InuYasha and the others for deceiving them, you'll apologize to Kagome for manipulating her, and most of all, you are going to apologize to Michiru. Because no matter what it is you were planning on doing, Miroku, you could have killed him, and you know that!" Sucking in an angry breath, the Demon Slayer then declared, "And once you have done all that, you will do whatever is necessary to make amends to them! If they want you to get down on your hands and knees, you do that! If they want you to run errands, you do that! If InuYasha wants to beat you over the head for what you did, then you're going to let him! Whatever it takes to get them to forgive you, you will do!"

"Sango, please, I can't -!" Miroku tried again.

"You! Will! Do this, Miroku!" Sango howled, very nearly sending InuYasha and Kagome toppling backwards. "You will do this! Because if you don't tell the others what really happened, if you refuse to clear Michiru and clean up the mess that you made, then tomorrow morning, I will! I will tell them exactly what you did! And I promise you right here and now, Miroku, if I have to do that, if I have to explain to everyone that you framed one of us for your own crimes, then the very next thing that I will do is demand that you be taken back to the mountains to face charges of treason to the alliance!"

The silence that fell in the wake of the outraged Demon Slayer's words was nothing short of deafening, drowning out the sound of Kagome's jaw clattering to the ground. A sound that InuYasha would have been certain was echoed by his own jaw, if not for the fact that he had been shocked beyond the capability of rational thought. A condition shared by Miroku, who was staggering away from Sango in horror. "You..." he sputtered out, numbly shaking his head in disbelief. "Sango, you can't possible mean...!"

"I mean it, Miroku! Every. Single. Word of it," Sango told him in a voice rife with menace. "You will either help fix the mess you made, or I'll see that you pay dearly for it!"

"But - treason?! To the alliance?!" Miroku protested, utterly aghast. "Sango, I'm not even part of this alliance! How can I be charged with -?!"

"Because as a member of the group tasked with securing food and medicine vital to the alliance's survival, you are effectively a representative of that alliance, charged with doing everything you can to help the people represented within it," Sango explained, speaking slowly and clearly, making sure that there was no room for misinterpretation. "And when Daisuke finds out that you framed another such representative, and thus jeopardizing both the Demon Slayers and the wolf-demons, I promise you that he will not take it lightly!" Then she cocked her head to the side and added, "And when he and Koga start talking about how your actions very nearly doomed us and the alliance, I'd be willing to bet that he won't be in the mood to take it lightly, either."

"Sango, no! I mean...!" Miroku sputtered out, turning a sickly pale. "Wh-what about the wolf-demons?! If they thought that a human had...!"

"I'm well aware the kind of reaction that they might have," Sango assured him. "But I'm sure Daisuke will find a way of handling the situation in a discreet manner."

"Discreet?! Sango, are you kidding?!" Miroku cried out, placing his free hand over his chest. "This would be a death sentence for me! Don't you care about that?!"

"Of course I care!" Sango shrieked, once again flattening her voyeuristic audience. "Do you really think I want to do this, Miroku?! I told you what you mean to me!" Left panting by this outburst, the warrior woman looked as if she might fall over before she finally managed to recover. "But I can't let you destroy this team, Miroku! And unless you make amends and earn back the others' trust, then you are a danger to all of us!" Still wearied by her initial outburst, the Demon Slayer clenched her fists and paused to recover her breath. "That fight between Kagome and Kaname, that's only the beginning of what's going to happen to us all unless you make this right. What you've done will have us all at each other's throats, and don't you try and tell me that Naraku wouldn't try to take advantage of it, because we both know better!"

"So...you want me to...confess to this...?" Miroku fumbled out, looking all but broken.

"Yes, I do. You have to do this. You're the only one who can make things right again," Sango stated firmly. "I've already tried talking sense into Kagome, but she completely ignored everything I said! She's convinced that Michiru's the guilty one here, not you!"

There was a pause as Miroku considered this. "Really?" he asked, a bit of life returning to his eyes. "And...the fact that she believes in me that way...doesn't that suggest that maybe...?"

"Don't even try it, Miroku. You and I both know how Kagome is!" Sango irritably declared. "Once she decides that she's right about something, it's almost impossible to convince her otherwise! It's like talking to a stone wall! She just goes on and on, defending her position, no matter how ludicrous it is!"

"What?!" Kagome started, her worn throat once again preventing her from giving proper voice to her outrage. "Did she just - how can she say something like that about me?!"

"Because...she's right?" InuYasha grinned, punctuating his statement with a snicker.

An irritated squeal escaped Kagome's lips as Sango continued, "Besides, it's no secret that she's been hoping that the two of us would wind up together someday, Miroku. And if I try to tell her about what I've decided right now, then there's no way Kagome will accept it!" Her eyes narrowed with additional intensity as she added, "Not unless you clear Michiru's name...and accept the consequences of your actions."

The fresh spark fading from Miroku's eyes, he numbly responded, "So...you not only want me to take the blame for him...you want me to convince Kagome of my guilt...so she'll accept your decision to be with Michiru?"

"Yes, Miroku. And believe me, I don't like having to do this, but I honestly couldn't think of any other way of convincing her!" Sango retorted, her voice trembling somewhat. "She won't listen to me, or InuYasha, or anyone else. You're the only one who might be able to convince her of the truth!" Heaving a deep breath, the Demon Slayer added, "And your confession, your honest admission of guilt, might be the only thing that could convince InuYasha and the others to trust in you again. Meaning that you're the only one who can make right what you've done."

"And either I do that, or...?" Miroku sputtered, utterly aghast. When Sango nodded, the monk looked this way and that, acting much like a caged rat, desperately searching for some avenue of escape. "But...Sango..." he fearfully got out. "Suppose I don't do as you ask?! How will my facing charges of treason help you...?"

"It won't. It won't help any of us," Sango admitted in a trembling voice. "But I know you, Miroku. And like I said before, when faced with a bad situation, you almost always try to lie your way out of it!" Then her face wrinkled with disgust and determination. "But you won't be lying your way out of this. You either help repair the damage you've caused, or you pay for it outright! There isn't going to be another option, no other way out for you! And don't think for a moment that I won't be able to convince the others to go along with this. Because right now, you're not very popular with any of us except for Kagome!" Her lips quivering somewhat with her barely controlled anger and grief, the Demon Slayer clasped her hands before her. "Now, I don't want to have to do this, Miroku, but if it's a choice between that and letting what you did ruin everything that we've worked for...then I'm sorry, but that's no choice at all."

"I...I don't believe this..." Miroku murmured, tears running down his cheeks. "Sango...why? After...everything we've been through...you're willing to do this...to me?" His head rolling to the side, the monk looked much like a beggar on the verge of starvation. "Don't you...trust me? At all?"

There was a long, low silence as Sango's gaze fell to the ground. "That's the hardest part about all this," she finally said, shaking her head slowly as she forced herself to look him in the face. "Miroku, don't you understand?! I'd trust you with my life!" Then she let her head tilt to the side as an expression of indescribable sadness spread across her face. "What I can't trust you with...is my heart." Her eyes falling almost closed, the Demon Slayer started forward, speaking again once she was alongside the monk. "I'm sorry, Miroku. But that's the way it is, and that's the way it has to be."

With that, Sango started down the path that led back to Tsuzumi Village. Leaving Miroku to slowly, weakly turn to watch her, his legs wobbling pitifully before finally giving out, leaving the monk to fall to his knees, staring after the departing warrior, tears running down his face.

As InuYasha smirked, grateful that Miroku would finally be getting what was coming to him, a distraught voice brought him back to the present. "What?!" Kagome cried out, her head slumped forward and her mouth hanging limply open as she looked about, trying to figure out how her fantasy world had come crashing down like a house of cards. "But - when - where - who - why - huh?!"

Taking in the utterly ridiculous expression gracing Kagome's face, InuYasha grinned, several snickers creeping out from between his teeth. Snickers that sooner turned to chortles, which quickly graduated to an outright guffawing. "Well, well, Kagome! I guess you were right!" the half-demon laughed, his face one big grin as he looked out towards the decimated monk. "Sometimes wishes really do come true!" He punctuated this declaration by succumbing to a fit of laughter, one that sent him tumbling to the side. Before long, the burden of emotion he was giving voice to caused his sides to ache, prompting him to wrap his arms about his sides. And he kept on laughing as he rolled about on the ground, his mirth gaining greater and greater strength with each passing second.

Just when InuYasha thought that he could well pass out from sheer laughter, his jollity was cut short when a feeling of pure dread washed across his body, followed by a low, menacing growl. His eyes going wide at this, the half-demon looked up, and found himself gazing at Kagome. Kikyo's reincarnation was standing over him, wreathed in metaphorical fire that was a lot less metaphorical than he was happy with. Her fists were clenched at her sides, and her entire body was trembling with violence as her eyes bulged with pure outrage.

His heart sinking into his toes, InuYasha groaned as he realized what was going through Kagome's mind. "Oh, no, no no! Don't you even - this is not my - I had nothin' to do with this, okay?!" he cried out, hoping against hope that her sore throat would keep her from doing something stupid long enough to give him a chance to talk his way out of this fix. "I didn't even know Sango was gonna be here! You're the one who dragged me all the way out here, remember?!" Kagome didn't say anything, but she was still growling, still glaring pure death at him. "I mean...you heard her! Nobody was twisting her arm or making her say any of that stuff!" When she still failed to respond, InuYasha's annoyance gradually began to shift to anger, prompting him to sit up and glare at her. "Look, just because you were wrong about Miroku, that don't mean that you can just -!"

"InuYasha!" Kagome rasped, a vein bulging from her forehead at the word 'wrong'. Groaning as he realized that he had sealed his own doom, all the half-demon had time to do was hope that her weakened voice would translate into a weakened slamming into the ground before she shouted, "Shut up and sit!"

It quickly turned out that the Beads of Subjugation weren't at all impaired by Kagome's sore throat. If anything, they seemed even more vicious in their action of smashing him down with considerable pain. And they continued to do so as Kagome continued to shout, "Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sitsitsitsitsitsitsit! Sit! Si-!"

At that moment, Kagome's barrage of 'sits' degenerated into a spat of pained coughs and wheezes, one that caused her to double over, putting her hand to her throat. "Arrgh!" she groaned, her eyes going wide with surprise, the modern girl grimaced irritably at the half-demon. "Stupid InuYasha...!" she rasped out, just barely audible as she marched past him and started back the way they had come.

His entire body wracked with pain, InuYasha slowly forced his head up, his every bone and vertebrae protesting as he glared at the modern girl. "Okay, Kagome!" he muttered to the tune of several cartilage snapping and popping, "Now I wish that you'd get a taste of your own damn medicine!"

To InuYasha's astonishment, his wish was immediately granted.

Even as Kagome was stomping her way past a tree, she was suddenly sent crashing to the ground. A strangled cry of pain, followed by a low moan echoed up from her point of impact, leaving InuYasha to just sit there, staring in astonishment.

"O-kaay...that was creepy," InuYasha muttered, his eyes bulging with astonishment. For a long while, he gave serious consideration to making another wish and seeing if it would come through, too. But then he ultimately decided that now might not be the time to tempt fate.

Especially with all the bad karma I've got! InuYasha thought as he slowly made his way up to his feet, brushing off the lingering dirt on his kimono. Then he glanced over at Miroku, who was looked to be catatonic as he continued to rest on his knees. Still, it's nice to see that sometimes karma hits the right guy once in a while!

Unknown to InuYasha, it wasn't because of his wish that Kagome had been sent tumbling, or at least not directly. The prime physical cause for her sudden spill was a gnarled tree root sticking out of the ground that she had been too upset to notice as she had tried to escape the scene of what should have been the sweetest, most tender admission of true love, and had instead been twisted into a nightmare.

How?! How could this have happened?! Kagome wondered as she slowly struggled to get back to her feet, using the tree responsible for her spill as a handhold. How could Sango have done something like this to Miroku?! Actually threaten him with a death sentence if he doesn't confess to a crime he didn't even commit?! Has everyone gone insane while I was gone?! Is that it?!

Wincing in pain as she pulled herself back up to her feet, Kagome glanced down at her bare legs. Though she couldn't see any real injuries in the poor light, she was certain that they would be badly bruised by the next day. But at the same time, the condition of her legs was the least of her concerns.

What's happening to us? Kagome couldn't help but wonder as she gingerly, carefully started forward again. Wincing in pain with every step she took back down the way she had come. Miroku and Sango were always so in love...and now she's selling him out to protect that jerk Michiru?! And InuYasha, he's being so protective of him and that brat Kaname, paying so much attention to them...! Wincing as this thought stirred up even uglier implications, the modern priestess hissed in pain as tears welled up in her eyes. Ever since they came here, things have just been getting worse and worse! And now Michiru's playing Sango like a violin, using her to rip us all apart, and who knows what Kaname's up to...!

Finding herself longing for the past, for the simpler days when it had just been the five of them against Naraku and all his evil, Kagome continued forward. Only to cry out as her right leg nearly gave out beneath her.

Except that she hadn't cried out.

It took several seconds, but as Kagome recovered from the sharp blast of pain, her eyes went wide she realized that she hadn't heard anything, despite knowing that she had opened her mouth. A dread chill of suspicion running up and down her spine, the reborn priestess straightened herself out and brought her hand to her throat. No...i-it can't be...! she thought, swallowing despite the pain it caused her. Don't tell me that...!

Unwilling to complete this dread thought, Kagome swallowed once again before trying to speak. When she opened her mouth, all that came out was a strangled croak. Her eyes going wide with horror, she almost fell over again. My voice...! she thought as she once again tried to speak. With the only result being yet another feeble croak. No, no, no...nooooo!

Trying one more time to speak, and hearing nothing even remotely intelligible, Kagome found herself wanting nothing more than to scream and rant and rage. To grab someone by the neck and break every bone in his or her body. I've lost my voice! she screamed hatefully within the confines of her own mind. This can't be happening to me!

But even as she thought this, Kagome knew that it was. Meaning that, as of that moment, there was no way she could verbally defend Miroku against the multitude of attackers bent on destroying him, or try and correct the horrible mistakes that Sango was making. I can't even stop InuYasha from beating up Shippo like this! she shrieked inwardly, aghast at the fact that the half-demon was now free to do whatever he pleased, while she was completely powerless to stop him from engaging in his typical idiocy. Oh, I can't believe this! This is a nightmare!

But Kagome knew that it wasn't, that it was quite real. And as such, all she could do was bring her hands to her head, her fingernails digging into the scalp. Blast it all, Michiru! she cried out inwardly, her teeth clenched with hatred as she visualize the boy that had so easily destroyed the happy group her team had once been. I don't know how you pulled this off, but I do know that I'm going to the bottom of this! By the time I'm done with you, you'll be lucky if Sango doesn't rip your heart out!

"Hmmm...most curious! Most curious indeed!"

"What are you talking about, Master Totosai?" asked the human woman known as Tamoa as she came up alongside of him.

"Oh!" the aged blacksmith started, practically jumping out of his skin at Tamoa's approach. "Whew...sorry, my dear! You gave me something of a start."

"I'm sorry about that. I just wanted to bring you some fresh tea and some cakes," Tamoa explained as she lowered the tray she was carrying.

"Ah, I see! Thank you!" Totosai replied, smiling as he took in a sniff of the delicious fare she had brought for him. "It's not often that I'm blessed with the company of such a charming hostess!"

"You're welcome," Tamoa answered, her cheeks coloring slightly at the praise being lavished on her. Bending down to refill his cup, the lady of the house asked, "So what is it you were talking about, Master Totosai?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes!" Totosai replied after a moment's thought. "I was talking about this sword that InuYasha and the others found."

"Oh, yes, the one from the metal bird," Tamoa mused as she took in the crystalline blade of the Reikikaega. "So how goes your study of it?"

"In a word? Slowly," Totosai confessed with a tinge of humiliation. "You see, my dear, this sword appears to be composed of a material very similar to that which that bird you mentioned is now made of. Except in this case, the energy of the blade is even purer than that of the bird!" Shaking his head in amazement, the old blacksmith carefully cradled the humming sword for Tamoa to get a better look at it. "Why, it's aura barely has any demonic taint to it at all! And yet I know that it was forged from the fang of a demon!"

"That does seem strange," Tamoa admitted after a moment's consideration. "Are you saying that it was made from a weak demon's fang?"

"Weak?! Trust me, my dear, there is absolutely nothing weak about this sword!" Totosai assured, giving the hilt a gentle thump for emphasis. "On the contrary, this blade is positively seething with power! But at the same time, it's pure in a way that I've never seen in a demonic aura!" Frowning lopsidedly, the elderly demon tilted the blade off to one side. "And then there's the matter of these odd markings on the blade itself."

"What about them?" Tamoa wondered.

"Well, you see here?" Totosai spoke, gesturing at the surface of the blade. "These markings are all patterned in a very precise manner. Some very fine craftsmanship...and you'll note that, where the lines are running next to each other, they are perfectly parallel to one another! Not even the slightest deviation!"

Nodding slowly as she studied the markings in question, Tamoa eventually decided, "It must have taken a great deal of precision to make them."

"Yes, and that leads me to wonder why they would do something like that," Totosai muttered thoughtfully as he narrowed his bulbous eyes at the mysterious blade. "And what kind of tools could have accomplished such a feat?! To etch such fine, thin markings would have taken something far more precise than anything I've ever seen or used!"

"Well, I'll have to take your word for that," Tamoa told him before standing back up. "Right now, I have to check in on that boy Kohaku, and then get started on dinner."

"Oh, yes, yes, of course," Totosai muttered absently. "Go right ahead, my dear," he told her, waving gently at her as he returned his focus to the Reikikaega's crystalline blade. "I suspect I have a long night ahead of me."

"Yes, I imagine," Tamoa nodded before turning to leave.

As the human matriarch departed, Totosai held up the Reikikaega, scrutinizing it with all the many years of experience he had in the way of the forge. "Where did you come from?" he wondered, observing the flow of power in the quartz-like blade. "What kind of master smith forged you? What are your secrets?"

The Reikikaega didn't answer, at least not in words. But that was alright; Totosai had not been expecting a verbal response, nor did he require one. For he had worked with swords and other weapons long enough to know that they each spoke in their own unique language, and they all had their own story to tell. It was just a matter of knowing where to look, and learning to understand what they were trying to say.

Still, you are certainly the most unusual sword I've ever come across, Totosai decided as he studied the sword's blade, all the way from where it met the guard to the needle-like tip at the end. A sword that can somehow transform demonic auras, convert a demon to a human...how is it you are capable of all of that?

Continuing to hum electrically in his hands, the Reikikaega shown dazzlingly, it's transparent blade almost daring Totosai to peer more closely, to see if he could see the secrets within it's very structure. And this proved to be a challenge that the aged demon simply couldn't refuse. Let's see now...I know these markings are somehow capable of channeling the aura of whatever demon or spell the sword cuts through...but how is that accomplished? And who could have the knowledge needed to accomplish such a feat? Making a thoughtful noise in his throat, Totosai shifted the blade about, focusing on the tip of the blade. And look here! All the many different markings all seem to intersect here, as well as at the base! But why?

Unable to answer this question at the moment, Totosai instead shifted his focus to the core of the blade, which was the hardest part of the crystalline structure to see through, with markings seeming to run right through it. This...shaft or whatever it is must be the main conduit for the sword's power, or for conducting whatever other energies it absorbs and channels, the aged blacksmith thought. But the structure of it... Pressing his lips together, he narrowed his eyes as he peered that much closely, trying to take in the flow of the energies within the blade. And the way the power flows through it...it - it's almost as if...!

As his chain of thought trailed off, Totosai's eyes and mouth fell open. "No...!" he gasped, almost letting the Reikikaega fall to the ground. "I-it can't be...or can it?" Utterly aghast at what he was considering, the aged demon shot up to his feet and clasped the hilt of the sword in both hands. "Oh, my goodness...if I'm right about this...!"

Looking wildly about, his ancient heart pumping far faster than it had any right to, Totosai started out of the room. "I - I...I have to test this...I...have to make sure!" he decreed, too stunned to even think straight. "Because if I'm right...this sword is even more powerful than I would have ever imagined!"

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