Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Out of Choices, Out of Time

As Miroku came to sit at the dining room of the massive home they were staying at, having just been advised by Tamoa that she would be serving dinner soon, he couldn't help but feel like a prisoner who had just been told to wash his neck and wait for execution.

How? How could things have gotten so bad between us? Miroku couldn't help but wonder, only marginally aware of other members of their group coming to join him at the table. I know that things haven't always been smooth between Sango and I, but...how can she do this to me?!

Shuddering as he thought of his plight, Miroku found himself flashing back to a short time earlier, when he had gone to meet with Sango at her request, his hopes high as he marched to the appointed spot. After all, the fact that she wished to meet in private meant he had a proper chance to work on amending their damaged relationship, an opportunity that had eluded him in recent times. And as the two of them had started talking, with the Demon Slayer giving voice to the pain she had harbored all this time, as well as her clear gratitude towards the monk, Miroku was certain that he could do it. That he could now woo the woman he loved away from his rival, and start moving towards a life that would one day have her as his bride.

But just as he was about to taste the sweet bliss of Sango's lips, the happiness that Miroku had been about to claim had been cruelly ripped away as their meeting quickly deteriorated. First by the Demon Slayer revealing that she didn't love Miroku, then by the revelation that she had seen through the lies he had told to tarnish Michiru's image in her eyes, and then that it was the Shikigami User she loved, despite his origins in another time. With each declaration Sango made and each argument Miroku made that she foiled, the monk's hopes were increasingly dashed.

Realizing that there was no chance of changing Sango's mind that day, and that his continued attempts to argue her out of it would likely only make things worse for him in the long run, Miroku had finally, reluctantly conceded to her wishes. Telling himself that there was still a good chance that the Demon Slayer's attempts at a steady relationship with a boy not of her time would eventually fall flat, leaving her more desolate and in need of a shoulder to cry on. That if he was watchful and patient, there was still a faint chance of seizing victory from the jaws of defeat.

But then Sango had demanded that he make a clear breast of his lies, that he actually admit that he was the one who had instigated the conflict between himself and Michiru, all in the hopes of framing him for it...

Shuddering at this, Miroku was brought back to the moment as he once again considered the consequences of Sango's demand of him, because no matter how he looked at it, no matter how he tried to work the various angles to his favor, find some loophole that he could exploit, the only real options he had under these circumstances were bad ones. If he did as Sango demanded and told the truth, then his own already somewhat checkered reputation would be damaged that much more. Whatever trust his friends and allies had in him would be effectively destroyed, making it all but impossible to pull any favor from them. His chances of amending his relationship with Sango would be all but non-existent, and he would be forever scrutinized by the others, wondering if he would turn on one of them if he felt it were somehow beneficial.

But if Miroku did nothing to clear Michiru, or if he tried another lie, then come the next morning, Sango would fight on the Shikigami User's behalf. Even worse, she would demand that the monk be dragged off to the mountains to face judgment at the hands of Daisuke and Koga. And given the tenuous situation he was in, Miroku could expect little in the way of support from the others. Kagome, perhaps Shippo would back the monk up, but InuYasha was Michiru's best friend, and Kaname his sister. Jiro was a Demon Slayer, and likely to support Sango, and given what happened when Miroku had availed himself of Azusa's fine posterior, there was no chance of him receiving any support from her. And if Sango made good on her vow, then Miroku would soon be a prisoner awaiting execution in the Wolf-Demon mountains.

However, there was one other option that Miroku had considered; instead of confessing or attempting further lies, he could simply leave the group during the night. Sango had made it clear that she wouldn't attempt to clear Michiru on her own until the next morning, which gave the monk the entire night to flee Tsuzumi Village and get as far away from them as he could. But at the same time, this was likely the worst option of them all. Not only would this be as good as an admission of guilt, but he would be on his own once more. And without the aid of his friends, he would be able to do little to nothing to defeat Naraku. The odds of him finding allies that would be willing to help in such an endeavor were slim to none; he and the others had travelled much of Japan in their search for Naraku, and had found few others who were either willing or powerful enough to combat the beast that was their bane. And so he would have no one to help him...and no one to come to his assistance in the event that his crimes should one day catch up with him.

If Sango means to do what she said, then my only real chance is to confess, Miroku thought mournfully as more people gathered for dinner. His eyes flitting up as a familiar figure appeared and sat at the table. And there's little doubt that she means it...

The normally tender face of Sango was sharp and rigid, made hard and dangerous by firmly controlled anger and sorrow. Powerful emotions that presently radiated from the Demon Slayer's eyes to be projected firmly and squarely at Miroku. Eyes that watched and waited with the patient intensity of a hawk, making it clear that she was waiting for him to make his move. That she would not tolerate any attempt to shirk the responsibility she was forcing upon him.

I never meant to hurt anyone! Sango, can't you understand how desperate I was?! Miroku silently implored her. You're the only woman I've ever had a chance to truly grow close to! The only one who ever showed any sign that she would be willing to accept me! And I was losing you! Lowering his eyes as he thought of the past, when Kuranosuke Takeda had announced his intent to sweep the Demon Slayer off his feet, how much it had hurt watching him try to win her and how grateful the monk had been when she had ultimately refused his advances. I just wanted to buy some more time! To - to make amends to you!

As Sango continued to glare at him, pausing only to glance at the others when they said something to her, Miroku groaned as he thought back to the past, to the things he could have done differently. He knew that he had not taken his relationship with the Demon Slayer very seriously over the course of their journey, for the simple reason that he had had no way of knowing if he would even survive it. As long as the Wind Tunnel curse was in effect, his life getting cut short had been a frighteningly real danger in his mind, and so he felt it unwise to try and move his relationship with her to the next step.

But I had a chance afterwards. When we thought Naraku was dead, Miroku reminded himself, only to subsequently remember that, at the time, he had thought it would be unwise to push things forward at that time. After all, Sango had taken it badly when Michiru had returned to his time, and she still had to tend to Kohaku, who had been slowly recovering from the torment of being under Naraku's thrall. Trying to rush things then would have likely made things worse, so he had been content to relax and enjoy the finer things in life. After all, with Naraku apparently dead and Miroku's lone rival for Sango's affections gone, he had felt that he had had plenty of time to make amends. And since he had been freed of his Wind Tunnel, he had had plenty of time to take things slowly with Sango.

Until Kagome had told Miroku of Michiru's impending return.

If only I'd known about that before! I could have made amends to her sooner! Taken things more seriously after Utsugi's death! Miroku couldn't help but think as he continued to stew over the past. If only Naraku had stayed dead, or Michiru hadn't come back! If...if only...!

As this chain of thought slowly sputtered out, Miroku let out a low, miserable sigh. For no matter how many times he thought about how unfair things were, it did nothing to change the reality of his present situation. That he was caught in a dilemma with no easy way out, and without any way of making things right between himself and Sango. No way of winning her back from the boy that had come from out of nowhere to steal her away from him.

"Is something wrong, Miroku?" came a female voice. One that Miroku initially found himself thinking was Sango, only to find that the Demon Slayer's mouth remained shut. Looking about in confusion, the monk soon realized Tamoa was looking at him in concern. "You look...upset about something."

Upset? Tamoa, that word does not even begin to capture the despair I now feel, Miroku woefully thought. What he said in response was, "I...carry a great burden. One that I'm afraid no one can help me with." As their hostess furrowed her brows in concern, he then asked, "Is there...something wrong?"

"Not exactly. But...InuYasha and Kagome haven't come back yet," Tamoa explained worriedly. "I've looked all over the house, but I've seen no sign of them."

"Come to think of it, I haven't seen them, either!" Shippo piped up, quickly looking about. "And where's Totosai? It's not like him to miss a meal!"

"Oh, Master Totosai? He went out for a bit. Said he'd be back soon, and that we were to start dinner without him." When several querulous looks were directed at her, she went on to add, "He seemed quite upset about something."

"Really?" Sango inquired, her eyes losing their hawk-like intensity as she looked up at Tamoa. "Did he say if something was wrong?"

"No. He just said that there was something he needed to do, and that he'd be back as quickly as possible," Tamoa answered. "He also had that strange sword you found with him. The Reikikaega."

"That's weird. I wonder why he'd do that?" Shippo wondered.

"Perhaps to experiment with it," Jiro suggested, drawing a few glances. "To get a better feel for its capabilities."

"That's possible, I suppose," Sango admitted. "But what about InuYasha and Kagome?"

There were puzzled looks all around at this, before Kaname hesitantly cleared her throat. "Well, uh..." she quietly spoke, trying not to strain her abraded throat. "I saw Kagome going someplace with InuYasha a while ago. But I don't know where."

Looking wearily about at the others, Michiru asked, "Do you think that...we should go look for them?"

Sango seemed to consider this for a time before nodding. "I'll go look," she told the Shikigami User. "It's probably nothing, though. They probably just got distracted with something, and...lost track of time." Glancing over at Tamoa, the Demon Slayer then asked, "You can go ahead and start serving, if you want."

"You're sure about that?" Tamoa wondered.

"Of course. It shouldn't take too long to find them," Sango assured her. "Knowing InuYasha, he's probably already on his way back, looking for dinner!"

"Yeah, that sounds like him!" Shippo agreed. "Just don't take too long! okay, Sango?"

"I won't. Promise," Sango assured them before moving to leave.

Once the Demon Slayer had departed, Tamoa lost no time in serving the rest of them dinner. Once this was done, the gentle housewife started towards Kaito's room with his dinner in hand. The old man still recovering from his exposure to the demonic blood that Naraku had sent against them. All the while Miroku continued to struggle with his internal dilemma.

I still can't believe this...there has to be some other way! Miroku thought feverishly, wracking his brain for something, anything that he could use to get himself out of this fix. I could say that I want to go visit Master Mushin, have him look at my Wind Tunnel...the others would be believe that... But even as he thought this, the monk found himself shaking his head. But there's no guarantee that Sango won't tell them what happened while I'm away. And even if I do something like that, it'll likely make her even angrier with me. She'll see it as a stall tactic. Letting his eyes fall into his lap, the monk was forced to admit, And she'd be right.

A montage of plans came and went through Miroku's mind, and each of them carried with them similar flaws. All of them fell into similar categories as the three basic outcomes that he had already determined were likely, with his confession still remaining his only chance to remain with the group, if not regaining Sango's favor. Blast it all...there simply has to be some other way! Something that I can do...something that...

As Miroku's chain of thought broke apart, he knew that he was running out of time. Because if he didn't think of something soon, he would be out of time, and out of hope.

As Sango made her way through Tsuzumi Village, glancing about at the people there, she found herself grateful that she had an excuse to get away from the others, if only for a brief time. To get away from everyone...and most importantly, Miroku.

When Sango had arranged to meet with Miroku, she knew what she was getting into. She knew precisely how hard it would be to deal with him. To tell him that she was in love with Michiru, to get him to clear the Kururugi boy's name. And no matter how necessary it was to do these things, she still felt as she was tearing out a piece of her own heart in doing them. The monk had long since become a very important part of her life, and his emotional support had been a vital part in her surviving and recovering from the disaster that had claimed her family, her home, her entire way of life. And as much as she needed to settle things between the two of them, as much as she wanted to be free of the burdens Miroku's ill deeds placed upon her, she knew that there was a considerable amount of good that she was tearing away in the process.

But it still had to be done. I'd made my choice; I couldn't just stand around and watch things get worse, Sango thought with a hint of sadness. I just...I just wish I hadn't had to go so far with Miroku...

Shaking her head slowly, Sango thought of the stricken look the monk had worn when she had resorted to what was essentially blackmail in order to force to him to confess his sins. As she thought back to that moment, she could barely believe that she herself had given voice to such cruel sentiments, had so thoroughly crushed someone she cared for so deeply. But even as she did so, she knew that Miroku was far from being blameless for what had happened.

He wasn't going to tell the truth, no matter what, Sango thought, focusing on that aspect of her confrontation with Miroku. Trying to focus on the things that inspired anger, not sadness or pain. When I asked him what really happened, he chose to lie again. Right to my face, even! And he refused to help clear Michiru's name, even after all the damage his lies have done! Letting out a heavy sigh, Sango felt her anger falter somewhat as she added, I had to force him to do this. I didn't have any other choice...

But even as she tried to force this reality into her mind, Sango knew that it wouldn't be enough to chase away her feelings of guilt and remorse. And she honestly doubted that anything could. So she did the only thing she could do; push aside these ugly realities, and focus on her search. I just hope Miroku does the right thing, she couldn't help but think as she meandered through the village. Because if he tries to get out of this, then...

Feeling her insides twisting at this thought, Sango again did her best to force her feelings to the side. For she knew what she had to do. For the good of her friends, her team, and for their war against Naraku. They couldn't afford to not trust each other. They couldn't afford to tolerate the kind of things Miroku had done for his own benefit. Not when their enemies were always on the lookout for any sort of vulnerability in their numbers. Something that could be used against them. All of which meant that such behaviors had to be dealt with in such a way that there was no risk of them being repeated.

Sango had to make it clear that there would be no further tolerance for Miroku's deceitful ways. And that meant that...

A flash of movement appeared in the corner of Sango's eye, catching her attention. Looking about, she watched as a figure wearing a familiar outfit staggered into full view. "Kagome?" the Demon Slayer started, only to gape in concern when she got a good look at her modern friend. "Kagome!" As the reborn priestess looked up in surprise, Sango rushed up to her side. "Kagome, what happened to you?!"

Kagome didn't say anything. She simply stood there and scowled as Sango glanced her over, growing more appalled by her condition. The modern priestess's legs were badly scratched up, and several large bruises were already appearing. Her minimal garment was covered in dirt and grime, and she was moving with a slight but definite limp. "What happened?" Sango asked again as she looked her friend in the face. "Kagome...?"

Again, Kagome didn't say anything. She just stood there, looking at Sango with a heavy scowl. A look of anger and disappointment that took the Demon Slayer by surprise. "Kagome...what is it?" the warrior woman quietly asked, growing more and more concerned and confused. "W-why don't you say something? What happened?"

Her questions met with nothing but angry silence, Sango continued to look at her friend in mounting confusion. Her insides twisting about until the sound of angry muttering pricked her ears. "Dammit...stupid Kagome...!" came the faint voice. Just loud enough for the Demon Slayer to make sense of the words. "...never listens...always thinks she's right and...!"

"InuYasha!" Sango called out as she looked in the direction the half-demon's voice was coming from. Only to once again be taken aback by her friend's appearance. "Huh...what the...?!"

"Hmm? Oh, hey, Sango," InuYasha crossly muttered as he dusted himself off. His movements stiff and filled with pain, pain that translated to winces and heavy scowls. Scowls that intensified when his eyes fell upon Kagome.

Taking note of the glare, Sango glanced from InuYasha to Kagome, who returned the glare in kind. Immediately, everything fell in place, leaving the Demon Slayer to groan despondently. "Oh, no, don't tell me you two got into another fight...!" As the two of them turned and glared at her, Sango felt her heart sinking even more. "And I'm guessing you sat InuYasha?"

"Hmph! What tipped you off?!" InuYasha muttered bitterly as he sent several twigs and brambles tumbling from his kimono.

Feeling a headache coming on, Sango placed her hand to her forehead as she looked at the modern girl with a sense of mounting dismay and disappointment. "You sat InuYasha when your throat was already bothering you?" she groaned wearily. "Kagome, what were you thinking?!"

"What makes you think she was thinking?" InuYasha coarsely demanded, earning a scalding look from the modern girl.

Of course, Sango thought, her headache worsening But she didn't say anything. Not even a tiny sound of protest escaped her lips. She's back one day, and she not only wears out her throat getting into a shouting contest with Kaname, but then she gets into fight with InuYasha. Pausing to groan and give a weary shake of her head, wondering what she could have possibly done to deserve having to deal with all of this, the Demon Slayer returned her focus to the modern priestess. "So...how bad is it? Can you even talk?"

Kagome just scowled that much more before finally shaking her head. While Sango groaned once again, InuYasha looked at the modern girl in astonishment. "What? You mean...you lost your voice?" Punctuating this query with a chortle, the half-demon gave them a look of delighted triumph. "Well, how about that, Kagome? Looks like karma's been working overtime lately!" Kagome responded to this by clenching her fists and scowling wrathfully at the silver-maned warrior, veins bulging from her forehead. But despite this, no sound escaped her lips, prompting InuYasha to grin that much more. "What was that?" he asked mockingly, cupping his hand to one of his ears and turning it towards her. "I can't heeear you!"

Kagome's face became flushed with rage, and metaphoric flames burned about her. But she remained utterly silent, leaving Sango to groan once again as her theory about the reborn priestess's condition was confirmed. "InuYasha, please. Not now," she grumbled half-heartedly. "And as for you, Kagome, I don't know what it was that got you so mad, or whose fault it was, and right now, I really don't care. But you should have known better to put more strain on your throat when you could barely even talk." The modern girl's eyes went wide with surprise, than narrowed as she jabbed her hands at InuYasha, and then gave the Demon Slayer a look of sharp annoyance. "As I said, I don't care who started it. Or what you two were even doing or anything like that. Right now, let's just head back to the house. Tamoa's got dinner ready for us, okay?"

"Hmph! Fine with me!" InuYasha declared with a broad grin, folding his arms behind his head. "I'm sure looking forward to dinner tonight!"

Frowning somewhat at the way InuYasha had made this statement, a frown that was deepened by the poisonous glare Kagome shot him in response, Sango let go a heavy sigh. Of all the days for this to happen, she fumed as she turned and made her way alongside her friends back to the house. I just hope that this doesn't make things even more difficult. I...huh?

Feeling the hairs on the back of her neck pricking up, Sango frowned and looked at her friends. InuYasha was focused on the road ahead, seemingly unconcerned with anything else. But Kagome was still flushed with rage. Rage that she was even the glaring at the Demon Slayer.

"Kagome...?" Sango murmured slowly as she studied the wrathful visage of her friend. "Wh-what is it...?"

Unsurprisingly, Kagome didn't say anything in response. Instead, she looked at Sango for a while longer before sniffing and looking straight ahead, stomping forward at a much faster pace. Before long, the modern girl had left the both of them behind, leaving the Demon Slayer to look at her in even greater confusion.

What's going on here...? Sango couldn't help but wonder as she followed her two friends.

What is going on with us?! Kagome demanded as she made her way into Kaito's home, her eyes firmly on the floor and her own feet. So unutterably furious that she didn't dare look up and risk meeting someone else's eyes. Knowing that it would only take the slightest provocation for the fury that now inundated her to be turned loose on someone other than the bastard responsible for the turmoil she was in. How could everything be falling apart, just like that?! How could Michiru wreck everything, just in a few days?!

This was the question that had been hounding Kagome ever since she witnessed the travesty of justice that had taken place between Miroku and Sango. For no matter how she looked at it, nothing made sense. How could Sango of all people believe that Miroku, a friend and ally that had proven his courage and self-sacrificing nature on many occasions even before the Demon Slayer had joined their small group, ever believe that he would risk killing another human being with his Wind Tunnel? How she could fall for the obvious lies that Michiru was spreading to taint Miroku's image? And how could she so willingly put Miroku in a position of having to choose between lending credence to those same lies, or facing a death sentence?

No matter how many times Kagome thought it through, it simply didn't add up. She and Miroku have been together for so long now! How could she ever think Miroku would try and kill Michiru, just like that?! she asked herself once again, only to snort loudly, the only sound she could make in response to this madness. Something crazy is going on here! Something -!

"Kagome!" came a familiar voice, one that startled the modern priestess from her thoughts for a brief moment, long enough for her to look up in surprise as she found herself looking into Tamoa's face. "Oh, my word...what on Earth happened to you?!"

Without even thinking about it, Kagome opened her mouth to give voice to her outrage, only to stop when nothing but a strangled croak escaped her lips. "Kagome?" Tamoa tried again, her features creasing with concern even as the modern girl brought her hand to her forehead. "Kagome, what's wrong?"

"Kagome?" came another, more youthful voice. Even as Kagome looked about in the voice's direction, Shippo emerged from around a nearby door, and immediately smiled happily. "Hey, Kagome's - huh?!" As he took in her disheveled condition, the little fox's eager grin shifted to a puzzled frown, and then finally a gape of astonished concern. "Kagome, what happened to you?!"

Kagome just barely stifled the urge to open her mouth again, but even as she wondered how she was going to explain away this mess, InuYasha's voice was heard. "What happened was that Kagome decided to wear out her throat while using these stupid Beads, that's that happened!" the half-demon announced as Kagome turned and scowled at him. He met this scowl with a cocky grin as he came up to her and added, "And now...her voice has gone on vacation! Without her, that is!"

Wishing as never before that she could piledrive the arrogant half-demon into the ground, Kagome could do nothing but glower that much more even as Tamoa asked, "You mean...she's lost her voice?!"

"Sure seems like it," InuYasha confirmed before shooting her a cocky grin. "Wouldn't you say so, Kagome?"

Feeling her fury skyrocketing, Kagome stared daggers at the half-demon, clenching her fists in impotent fury. While she was making a mental note to bury him in sits just as soon as her voice recovered, Shippo was squawking in dismay. "Aw, great! You mean you two were fighting again?!" the little fox groaned wearily. "I don't believe this! Kagome isn't back even one day, and you're already making her mad at you?!"

Almost instantly, InuYasha's grin fell in sudden anger. "Hey, wait a second! How come it's suddenly my fault?!"

"Because you're always doing something stupid to make Kagome mad at you!" Shippo hotly declared.

"Hey, watch it, Shippo!" InuYasha snarled disdainfully. "Kagome's not gonna be able to use these damn Beads for a good, long while, so you better keep that smart mouth of yours -!"

Unable to stomach how quick InuYasha was to take advantage of her present inability to keep him from being an idiot, Kagome did the only thing she could do. She positioned herself between the half-demon and Shippo and spread her arms out to the sides, pushing them apart. And while she couldn't speak, she was still able to shoot a poisonous glare at InuYasha that worked wonders in getting him to step back and shut up.

But that won't last! It never does! Kagome thought sourly. And I still have to do something to help Miroku, not to mention figure out how Michiru managed to con Sango like this! Heaving a deep breath that pained her abraded throat, she frowned and added, But first, I have to work out some way of communicating with everyone else!

Shooting one final glare at the people surrounding her, Kagome then turned and started towards the stairs. "Kagome?" Tamoa frowned worriedly. "Where are you going?"

Pausing to turn and wave aside Tamoa's concerns, Kagome hurriedly made her upstairs. Before long, she was inside the room where she was staying, where her backpack was. Let's see... the modern girl thought as she opened it up. I know it has to be in here somewhere...aha! With a slight smile of triumph, she fished out a pencil and spiral notepad. For the first time, I'm really glad I lug all these school supplies everywhere I go! I -!

"Kagome?" Sucking in a surprised breath at this unexpected voice, the reborn priestess looked about to see Tamoa standing at the door. "I'm sorry, but...what are you doing?"

Pausing to look at their gracious hostess, Kagome took a moment to heave a deep, cleansing breath before rising to her feet. Coming up to Tamoa, she then quickly wrote out something on the notepad and showed to her. "What the...?" Tamoa murmured as she read the message. "'Since I can't talk right now, I decided to get'...oh, of course!" Shaking her head in disbelief as she cut herself off, Tamoa smiled and studied the modern girl. "Well...that should help for now. But I do recommend not doing anything to strain your throat. Not for a long time!"

Yeah, I know! Kagome grumped inwardly as she nodded.

"Anyway, I'm sure Sango already told you, but dinner's ready," Tamoa explained to her. "I had just started serving when you got back."

Kagome's eyes went wide with surprise at this. Dinner's already served?! But that means...I don't have much time! In an instant, the modern priestess found herself flashing back to before, when Sango had laid out the timetable for her demands. I have to think of some way of getting Miroku out of this before it's too late! For him and Sango both!

With this in mind, Kagome frantically scribbled down a new message for Tamoa and held it out for her to read. "Let's see...'Could you bring me my dinner here? I think I'd rather eat alone tonight'," the hostess read aloud. Then she looked at Kagome for a moment before nodding. "Why...sure, of course! That'd be no problem!"

Letting out a low sigh, Kagome then quickly wrote out another message and showed it to Tamoa. "'Also, please tell Miroku that I'd like to see him as soon as possible'...alright. I'll tell him right away."

Smiling as a hint of relief made itself known, Kagome quickly wrote out her thanks. Now, all I have to do is figure some way out of this mess! And quickly, before poor Miroku's out of time!

You're almost out of time, Miroku! InuYasha thought, barely suppressing the urge to smirk as he entered the dining room and sat down at the table with the rest of the group. It won't be long before you have to 'fess up! That is, if you want to avoid being hauled off to the mountains and get what's coming to ya that way!

And it was painfully obvious that Miroku knew that his time was very nearly up. While those of the group already served were eating and drinking in their normal fashions, the monk was partaking of his meal far more slowly. Looking as if this were his last meal before he was to be carted off and executed. Which could very likely be the case.

Not that'd ever come to that, InuYasha thought as Sango sat down as well. Miroku's a jerk, but there's no way he'd be so stupid as to try and worm his way outta this one! Not after Sango laid down the law right on his head! Then he scowled at the monk that had caused so much trouble for his friend, and somberly added, At least...I sure as hell hope he's not stupid enough... As the half-demon thought this, he glanced at Miroku, and found himself scowling disgustedly. With a fair amount of that disgust aimed at himself.

Miroku had betrayed them, had set Michiru up to take the fall for his own crimes, all to discredit the Kururugi boy and to have a better chance of wooing Sango away from him. The damage he had done to the group was considerable, and the monk certainly deserved to be punished for his actions. But despite all of that, InuYasha honestly didn't want to see him killed. For while the half-demon disagreed with Kagome on many levels in this matter, the one thing he did agree with was that the monk had done considerable good while with their little group, and while he was not to be trusted while not in battle, in combat he had proven himself a valuable ally that had put himself on the line many times. And before this recent betrayal, InuYasha would never have imagined the monk ever committing such a foul deed.

Of course...when someone's making moves on someone special to you... InuYasha thought, recalling his own fury and actions whenever Koga or someone else would make moves on Kagome, or when she would happily flirt with another man, seeming to enjoy the half-demon's jealousy. But then he scowled, for while he did understand the driving force behind Miroku's actions, there was no way he could ignore them or forget the hurt he had caused Michiru and the rest of them. Still...it'd be better for everyone if he did the smart thing for once...

With this thought in mind, InuYasha returned his focus to the food before him, and started eating voraciously. The sooner dinner was done, the sooner Miroku would have to confess and this whole hideous experience would be over and done with. And as far as the half-demon was concerned, that couldn't possibly happen soon enough.

As the half-demon proceeded to chow down, barely noticing the others as they ate their own repasts, Tamoa entered the dining room. "Excuse me, Miroku?"

Starting at their hostess's voice, Miroku slowly looked up at her, seeming almost confused for a moment. "Oh, Tamoa..." he started in a slow manner. "Uh...what is it?"

"It's Kagome," Tamoa replied in a gentle fashion. "She told me she wanted to see you."

"She wants to...see me?" Miroku repeated, clearly perplexed. "But...why? And...for that matter, where is she?"

"And how can she tell you anything with her voice gone?" InuYasha asked even as he wondered what Kagome was up to.

Several eyes went wide in confusion, with Miroku clearly the most surprised. "Kagome's...lost her voice? How?"

"How else?" Shippo replied in a smart-alecky fashion. "InuYasha did something stupid to make her mad, and she sat him!"

As InuYasha glared at the little fox, intent on giving him a more thorough reminder that Kagome wouldn't be coming to his rescue for a good, long while, Tamoa went on to explain, "She wrote out what she wanted to say, and that she's going to be having dinner alone tonight. But she did tell me that she wanted to see you about something."

Cocking her head to the side, as if studying their hostess, Sango asked, "Did she say if there was something wrong?"

"No. Just that she wanted to see Miroku, that's all," Tamoa admitted.

Sango frowned somewhat at this, in a manner that InuYasha immediately recognized. The Demon Slayer was reacting to well-honed instinct, which was warning her that something was amiss. And as usual, her instincts are on the ball, the half-demon muttered inwardly. So, Kagome, you still can't admit that you were wrong about Miroku, and now you're trying to whip up another way to screw things up for Michiru and Sango!

Feeling a headache coming on and a slight snarl twisting his lips, InuYasha sat there, thinking evil thoughts about Kagome and wondering what he even saw in her as Miroku stood and replied, "I see. Well, then, I better check and see what she wants."

Nodding to this, Tamoa then added, "I was about to take Kagome her dinner. But...if you wanted to take it up to her instead, that would make things simpler."

"Of course," Miroku replied in an agreeable fashion, and with that, he started after their hostess. Apparently unaware of the fact that Sango's glare was presently drilling into his back.

Damn, this figures, InuYasha fumed, all sympathy for Miroku flying out of his mind. Kagome's got something in the works to save you from telling the truth, and of course you're gonna go for it, no matter who you wind up screwing over in the process! Then he glowered upstairs and added, And you, Kagome! You're so damned predictable it's almost pathetic! I just figured that you would probably pull something stupid like this! Then he allowed himself a slightly sadistic smile before adding, And it's a good thing I did, because if you think I'm gonna stand back and watch you push Michiru around anymore...you're in for one hell of a surprise!

With this in mind, InuYasha continued to attack his dinner. Plans of his own taking shape in his mind.

In Kagome's opinion, one of the worst things about not being able to talk was the silence.

When she was feeling down or confused or just wanted to get something out in the air, Kagome would always wind up talking to herself about whatever it was weighing on her mind. She always felt better after giving voice to these things, and she had never enjoyed it when things got too quiet, anyway. Something that had only grown more pronounced during her journeys in the Feudal Era; when things got too quiet, it generally meant that something bad was about to happen.

Like right now! Kagome thought as she paced about the interior of her room, waiting and worrying as she anticipated Miroku's arrival. C'mon, Miroku, hurry up! We don't have much time before everything's ruined!

As seconds torturously marched on by, giving Kagome's imagination more and more time to conjure up images of Miroku being carted away and mercilessly tortured and executed for a crime he could never have committed, a sound pricked at her ears. Looking up sharply, the modern priestess paused in her pacing, and focused on the sound. A sound she soon realized was that of approaching footsteps.

"Kagome?" came a welcome and familiar voice. One that was soon followed by Miroku poking his head in the door. "Kagome?"

Smiling brilliantly at the sight of her friend, Kagome found herself practically swooning with relief as she waved for Miroku to enter. Taking note of this, the monk smiled and came in. "I...brought you your dinner, as you can see," the monk announced as he hesitantly entered. Showing no signs of his usual carefree demeanor as he went on to say, "Now...Tamoa said that you...wanted to see me?"

Nodding frantically, Kagome made her way past the monk and looked out the door. Quickly sweeping the hallway, making absolutely certain that there would be no prying eyes or ears, she then slid the door shut. Once this was done, she came up alongside Miroku and, placing her hand on his back, guided him over to the center of the room. Looking somewhat perplexed, the monk allowed himself to be guided, watching as the modern girl sat down on the floor, gesturing for him to do the same.

Frowning somewhat, Miroku studied Kagome for a time before carefully setting down the meal he had brought up for her. "So...I heard Tamoa say that you...overexerted your voice," he began in a careful manner. "I...do you want me to help you in any way?"

Rolling her eyes at this latest reminder of her current disability, as well as again reminding herself to show InuYasha exactly what she thought about his making light of her, Kagome quickly brought forth the pencil and notepad she had retrieved. Quickly writing out a message, she then held it out for Miroku to see. "Oh? What...'No, it's not about that. But there is something I need to talk to you about'," Furrowing his brows somewhat at this, the monk then shrugged and asked, "Well, alright then. What is it?"

Turning the notepad about, Kagome frowned in consideration, trying to figure out how best to put it. For while she had intended no harm when she had been observing what she had hoped would result in Sango's confession of love, there was no doubt that Miroku would not appreciate the fact that she had essentially been spying on him. But at the same time, if she were to save him and show everyone that he was innocent, then she didn't have any choice. So she quickly wrote down what needed to be said, and showed it to him. "Huh...'First of all, Miroku, I have to apologize, but you see, I overheard your conversation with'..." the monk began, only for his eyes to go wide with surprise. "Kagome...you...you saw what happened? When Sango...?"

Nodding to this, Kagome quickly wrote down her response and showed it to Miroku. "'I'm sorry. It's a long story'," the monk read. "Yes, I'm sure it is, Kagome. Hmm...'But the fact is I know that Sango is trying to force you to take the blame for what Michiru did. And I want to help you'." Pressing his lips together, Miroku considered this for a time before sighing wearily. "I see," he got out, his voice wan and exhausted. "I appreciate this, Kagome, but if you really did see what happened, then you must realize that I am in a terrible predicament. And I honestly don't see how you or anyone else could help me out of it."

Understanding her friend's pessimism, Kagome wrote her response. "'Sango said that she wouldn't act against you until tomorrow. So if you were to leave tonight, then...'," Looking from her message, Miroku frowned and replied, "Kagome, I already considered that. But even if I were to sneak away while everyone was asleep, that would not stop Sango from decrying me. And I would have no allies, no one to turn to. I'd be on my own against Naraku, and..."

Knowing full well that Miroku was correct in that regard, Kagome wrote her response to this. "Huh...'I just need to you get away for a while! Maybe you could go see Mushin, have him look at your Wind Tunnel. And while you're doing that, it'll give me the time I need to clean things up...'." Trailing off into a distinctive frown, the monk sighed woefully before saying, "Kagome, while I do appreciate your concern, I just don't see how you can help me here. You can't even talk, let alone defend me. And if I were to depart so suddenly, it would only serve to make me look even more guilty. I..."

Realizing the monk's point, Kagome hurriedly wrote down her response to this and showed it to him. "'But you can't just stay here and let yourself get crucified for something you didn't do'...but Kagome, what other choice do I have?"

Again, Kagome began writing, but she took her time this time. She wanted to make sure that her plan made sense, less her friend wrongly incriminate himself out of desperation. "Oh...'Look, all you have to do is get away for a little while. Just a few days while I clear this up. I'll confront Sango, tell her that I happened to overhear her. Get her to drop this crazy idea of hers, and...'" His voice trailing off, Miroku sighed before saying, "I really don't think that would work so well. Sango is..." Again, the monk's voice trailed off, this time as a strange expression furrowed his brow. "Wait. Kagome, I heard Shippo say that you wore out your voice sitting InuYasha. Does that mean that...InuYasha was there with you when you were watching us?"

Blinking a few times, Kagome eventually nodded her confirmation.

His eyes widening somewhat, Miroku studied the modern girl for a time before sighing. "Kagome, I thank you. Both for your faith in me, and your willingness to help me in my hour of need." Then the monk shook his head slowly, smiling sadly as he said, "But I can't do this. In fact, what you've told me has just made it clearer that my only option here...is to confess."

Stricken by this statement, Kagome found her mouth opening and closing at random before she finally regained herself. Then she quickly scribbled a single word on her notepad: 'Why?'

"It's as you've said, Kagome. InuYasha was present when you overheard everything. Which means he certainly is aware of the ultimatum Sango gave me," Miroku explained. "And while I don't doubt your sincerity in wanting to help me, I'd also have to imagine that InuYasha would be equally interested in making certain Sango's demands are met."

Kagome opened her mouth to protest, forgetting for a moment that she couldn't talk, only for it to snap shut again when she realized that Miroku was right. InuYasha was there, and Michiru was his best friend. Worst yet, the half-demon had been clearly suckered into believing the Kururugi boy's lies, just like Sango had been. And the instant she made a move to try and defend the monk, InuYasha would quickly move to thwart it. And without my voice, I can't even sit him or anything to set him straight! she realized with mounting horror. But...I can't let it end like this!

With this in mind, Kagome again started writing, which Miroku read. "'But there has to be something we can do. I can't stand back and watch you get destroyed like this!'...Kagome, right here and now, I'm afraid that there is nothing else we can do. My only options are to confess, or face judgment at the hands of the alliance. And we both know that I dare not risk facing wolf-demon justice." Cringing at the thought of what would happen then, Kagome was about to write something else when Miroku placed his hands on her own. "I'm sorry, but...this group has been through a lot these past few days. Few, if any, of the people here believe in my innocence, and I dare not tempt their wrath. Especially since InuYasha knows what Sango has planned."

Sucking in a horrified breath, Kagome felt her hands balling up into fists, her nails digging into her flesh. Something that got even worse when Miroku added, "I thank you for your faith and your friendship, Kagome. But the fact remains that..I have no choice in this matter. And trying to get out of this situation will only make it worse for us all." Heaving a deep, weary breath, the monk slowly rose to his feet. "Excuse me, but...I had better get back downstairs. Sango will likely become more suspicious the longer I am away, and I can't afford that." Her mouth hanging open, Kagome watched as Miroku made his way over to the door, pausing to look at her and explain, "I'm sorry, but...sometimes, there are no options. And this is one of those times."

With that, Miroku exited the room, sliding the door behind him. Leaving Kagome alone, to stare at the door in horrified disbelief. Just before she let her eyes fall and brought her fist down upon the floor.

This is all my fault! Kagome thought, unable to believe this was happening. I never should have brought InuYasha with me...! Shaking her head, thinking back to how certain that she would be witnessing a perfect example of true love triumphing over all odds, and how she had wanted to share it with the hot-headed half-demon, to show him that true love was real. I could have just shown it to him with the recording later! And now I've lost my voice, and -!

"Well, well, whattaya know?" came a familiar voice. One that startled Kagome out of her pained musings and prompted her to look up and see InuYasha perched just outside of the window. "I guess Miroku has more brains than I thought." Looking to meet the modern girl's eyes, the half-demon added, "Of course, I guess even a rat knows when he's in a trap and can't get out!"

Her eyes going wide with realization, Kagome shot up to her feet, opening her mouth to give the half-demon a good shouting...only to have her heart sink once more when no sound came out. "Huh? What was that?" InuYasha smirked, placing a hand to his ear. "Speak up, Kagome! I can't hear a thing you say!"

Wanting nothing more than bury the arrogant half-demon in sits, Kagome forced herself to throttle down her frustration, and instead looked down at the notepad in her hands. Practically tearing the paper as she wrote, she scrawled down a message and showed it to InuYasha. "Huh...'How dare you sneak around, spying on me like this?'...Great, Kagome. So not only are you being an total pain in the ass, but you're being a hypocritical pain in the ass," the dog-eared half-demon muttered in a sour manner.

Stung by this remark, Kagome felt veins bulging from her forehead as she wrote out another message for him. "'What are you doing here, anyway?' Isn't it obvious? When Tamoa told Miroku that you wanted to see him, it was pretty clear that you were up to something." Pausing to study her, InuYasha then snorted loudly before slipping into the room itself. "You know, you really are something, Kagome. No matter how much evidence gets put right in front of your face, you just keep sticking to your little delusions about Sango and Miroku being the perfect couple. In spite of the fact that Sango already said she's in love with Michiru, that Miroku's about the biggest con I've ever met, and the fact that everybody else knows that Miroku's guilty as hell, you still keep blaming Michiru for everything." Giving her the most condescending smile she had ever seen, InuYasha then went on to add, "I guess it's nice, being able to live in your own little fantasy world the way you do."

Her body tensing with barely constrained frustration, Kagome felt an entire wave of furious insults building up, waiting to be unleashed. Only to be again thwarted by her inoperative vocal chords. Leaving her to once again turn to her notepad and pencil to express herself. "Oh, and what's this...? 'The only reason Sango said that is because she's being suckered! And I don't care what anybody says, there's no way that Miroku would ever try to kill one of us, and that's final!'" Rolling his eyes at this message, InuYasha then sneered, "Yeah, a real paragon of virtue, honor, and honesty. That's our Miroku, alright!"

Clenching her fists in pure outrage, Kagome wanted nothing more than to erase the smug look from InuYasha's face. Something made even worse when he went on to say, "Look, I agree that Miroku wouldn't kill one of us. But that doesn't mean he's not above setting someone up to be framed! And if you had half a brain in the swelled head of yours, you'd be able to figure out that that's exactly what's happened here!" Then he smirked and added, "But then, you're not exactly known for common sense and logic, huh, Kagome? You just say whatever you want, and you expect us all to listen and accept whatever stupidity you shoot at us. You haven't even been here for days, and you think you know everything that's going on!"

I don't believe this! How can he say something like this?! Kagome fumed hatefully. Of all the stupid, arrogant - InuYasha, if I still had my voice, I'd send you into the Earth's core for that!

As Kagome thought increasingly violent thoughts about the insolent half-demon, InuYasha's grin just kept growing ever broader. "You know, I think this is the first time I've ever been able to have it out with you like this. It sure as hell is great being able to tell you exactly what I think without you using these damned Beads to stop me. Always shutting me up when I'm trying to tell you something that you don't want to listen to, just so you can force your opinion down my throat."

Enjoy it while you can, you stupid jerk! Kagome swore internally. Because as soon as I get my voice back, I'm gonna make you pay for this! Big time!

"And since you can't push me around right now, I think I'll make good use of this little opportunity to set you straight on a few things," InuYasha declared, his smile fading to be replaced by a look of stern, controlled anger. "First of all, it doesn't matter what you think; Sango and Michiru are very much in love with each other. Secondly, I'm glad that they've both found someone they can be happy with. Because after all the hell Sango's gone through, she deserves someone who can make her happy, instead of always scamming girls or trying to feel her up and stuff like that! And after everything Michiru's done for us, I know he sure as hell deserves somebody like Sango, and that he'd never decide to hurt her or anything like that! Third, Miroku's had all kinds of chances to have a relationship with Sango, and he's managed to ruin every last one of them! And as far as I'm concerned, he's already proven that he doesn't love her the same way Michiru does. And fourth, I am damn tired of you treating Michiru and Kaname the way you have been lately. They've been fighting as hard as the rest of us, doing everything they can to help us, and all you can do is point fingers at them and treat them like they're Naraku's incarnations or something!"

And what do you expect?! Michiru set Miroku up and Kaname poisoned me, and you want me to be nice to those pain-in-the-neck brats?! Kagome screeched inwardly.

"Now, you listen to me, and you better listen good! Because since I know you're too stupid to be able to know the truth, even when its staring you right in the face, I'm sure you're already trying to think up some way of stopping Miroku from confessing or getting Michiru in trouble or something like that!" InuYasha declared with steadily increasing anger. "Well, I'm telling you right now that you better stay out of this, Kagome! Because it's long since past time that lecher owned up for what he did, and if you know what's good for you, you'll do us all a favor and let him do it!"

Her anger driven to new heights by both the arrogance with which InuYasha was speaking and her inability to show him who was boss, Kagome glared at the notepad that was now her only means of communicating and hurriedly scribbled her next message. "Hmph. 'Forget it! I'm not gonna stand back and watch Miroku ruin his life for that stupid jerk! I don't care what I have to do, I'm...'" the half-demon read, only to trail off and look back at the reborn priestess. "Y'know, I kinda figured that'd be your attitude. Especially after that tantrum your threw back there. You just can't accept the fact that you were wrong, and now you're looking for ways to make things even worse for everyone." To Kagome's immense surprise, InuYasha then smiled at her. And it wasn't a nice smile. "But you're still gonna sit back and let Miroku confess." As Kagome started to write that she most certainly would not let this travesty of justice go unchallenged, InuYasha drew something out of the folds of his kimono. "Not unless you want me to show this to Sango!"

As Kagome looked at the object in question, her pencil and notepad fell from her hands, followed shortly by her jaw clattering to the floor, and her eyes bulging in horror.

It was the digital camera Wyvern had given her. The same one she had set up to record Sango and Miroku's encounter, and had subsequently left it behind in her sudden fury.

"After I managed to get moving again, I noticed that you'd left this behind," InuYasha said, clearly reveling in this situation. "I guess you were so pissed off over everything, you completely forgot to pack this thing up as well." As Kagome stared at the camera, the half-demon held it up to eye it closely, turning it this way and that. "Now, I may not understand how this or most anything from that crazy world of yours works, but I do know that it recorded everything that it saw and heard. And that the only ones who ever handle this thing are you and Shippo. So if I were to show Sango this thing's memories, it wouldn't take much to make her believe that you were out there. Spying on her while she was giving Miroku what-for!"

Kagome felt the half-demon's words hit her with the force of a lightning bolt. She immediately realized that InuYasha was right, and more importantly, she knew how furious Sango would be over such an intrusion. But...! the modern girl thought as she slowly forced herself to look away from the camera to the floor. Hurriedly gathering up the notepad and pencil, she then hurriedly wrote down her response.

"'But if you do that, then Sango will know you were there! You'd be in trouble, too!'" After reading this, InuYasha shrugged and smirked that much more. "And when Sango asks what I was doing there, I'll tell her it was because you were using these damned Beads to get me where you wanted me! And since Sango knows just how much you love to push me around, it won't be me she'll be mad at!"

Another lightning bolt struck Kagome, this time with greater force. She knew that InuYasha was correct; the fact that she had set up the camera to record Sango's rendezvous was proof that Kagome's eavesdropping was no mere accident, that she had set out to spy on her friends. And the instant the Demon Slayer learned this, any chance Kagome had of reasoning with her and making her see the truth would be gone.

Without another thought, Kagome hurriedly scribbled out another message for the half-demon. "'Give it back, InuYasha! It's mine, and I want it back! Right NOW!'," InuYasha read in a querulous tone. Pausing to study the reborn priestess, he smirked and replied, "Sure, I'll give it back, Kagome! After Miroku does what Sango wants and clears Michiru!"

Kagome responded to that with another hastily scrawled message. "Huh...'This is blackmail, you arrogant...'," InuYasha read, only to narrow his eyes irritably. "Damn, Kagome, if you're gonna be talking to us this way, do something about that chicken scratch you call handwriting! It gets worse every time I see it!" The modern priestess issued a silent screech of fury at this as InuYasha studied her. "Yeah, Kagome, it's blackmail! And you know something? I don't care! I wouldn't even have to be doing this if you weren't so stupid! The same way Sango wouldn't be doing what she's doing if Miroku had a shred of honesty in him!" Then the half-demon leaned in closer to glare at her right in the eyes. "But guess what? You are that stupid, Miroku's still a lecher and a con-man, and you ain't getting this thing back until he confesses his sins!"

All reason flying from Kagome's mind at this latest act of insolence, she let her notepad and pencil fall to the floor as she grabbed for the camera. InuYasha responded to this by yanking it out of her reach. She tried for another grab, but the half-demon just snorted and held the camera up as high above his head as he could. "Feh! Like that's gonna - ow!" he sneered, only to be cut off as Kagome stomped on his foot with all her strength. Something that was more annoying than painful for the half-demon, but it was sufficient to make him lose his focus, and more importantly, lower the camera so that Kagome could snatch it from his grasp.

Got it! Kagome thought with a surge of triumph. Now to destroy the memory card before he -!

A hissed growl and a whoosh of movement was the only warning Kagome had before she felt a hand on her shoulder, and another about her wrists. Her eyes going wide, she suddenly found herself spun about and slammed forcefully into the nearest wall. A silent cry of sudden pain escaped her lips as she found herself being drilled by InuYasha's furious gaze.

"Dammit...that's always the way with you, isn't it, Kagome?!" InuYasha snarled as he viciously tore the camera from her hands. As she tried in vain to recover it, the half-demon moved it out of reach while keeping her pinned to the wall. "I make a mistake, you get mad and start sitting me. I do something you don't like, and you attack me! You get mad about something you don't like, and you take it out me! You don't get your way, and you go outta your way to make things difficult for everyone else, just like the spoiled brat you are!" Snorting loudly, he narrowed his eyes in harsh disdain before adding, "And I'll just bet that this is the part where you run on back home and leave us all in the lurch! Am I right?!" Squirming about furiously at the half-demon's accusations, Kagome sucked in a surprised breath when he suddenly released her and stepped back from her. "Well, go right ahead! I'm tired of trying to force some sense into that stupid head of yours! Run on back home, if that's what you want!" Letting out another heavy snort, the half-demon started towards the window, only to pause and glare back at her. "I'm just glad that I have some friends who won't just skip out on me, just because things get a little tough!"

That said, the impertinent InuYasha leapt back out the window he had entered through. Leaving Kagome to stare disbelievingly at it. No...this can't be... she thought with a sense of mounting horror, leaving her anger to seep out of her like she was a leaky tire. Miroku's life is going to be ruined, and there's nothing I can do! I...I...!

Her thoughts deteriorating, Kagome slid down against the wall, the weight of everything that had happened that day like that of the world upon her shoulders. This...this is all my fault! If only I'd never brought InuYasha with me...and what's with him, anyway?! How can he treat me this way?! Her rage started to build again, only to sputter out almost as quickly. Right, of course. Michiru's his friend, and InuYasha believes he's totally innocent. But...we've never been like this before! We've had our arguments, but...not like this!

Feeling herself sink lower and lower, both physically and emotionally, Kagome wrapped her arms about her legs and pulled them in close. He's...he's just upset. He thinks Michiru's innocent, and...that I'm attacking him. So...yeah, of course he'd be mad! I mean, if someone were saying bad things about my friends, I'd be really mad, too! As this thought sank into the pit of her stomach, she found herself biting her lips and frowning. But...it's not the same thing! Michiru framed Miroku because he didn't want to admit he messed up! He's the one causing trouble here! Him and that sister of his! They're the troublemakers here! Then, with the air of a collapsing balloon, she added, I mean...they have to be, right?

Time slowly crawled on by as Kagome wrestled with her thoughts. As such, her dinner had gone cold before she even thought of having it. Nor could she even taste it in the state she was in.

Something was very wrong. Sango could sense it.

As the Demon Slayer sat at the dinner table, her own meal all but finished, she found herself surveying her friends and fellow warriors with a sense of unease. Most of them were behaving as they usually did in a situation like this, or at least how she would have expected them to; Shippo had finished his own dinner, and was currently laying back on the floor with his stomach bulging somewhat, Jiro was politely finishing his own repast while Azusa, her own meal long done, was sitting a short distance away, trying not to look at the rest of them. Kaname was eating carefully, trying not to worsen her already abraded throat, and Michiru was eating even more slowly, still too weak to move very much, and eating only with assistance from his sister.

Sango wished that Michiru was up in his room, still resting. She wished that she could be at his side, helping him partake in the nourishment he needed. But at the same time, she knew that she couldn't afford any level of distraction. Especially since the rest of the group was acting in ways that made her concerned.

Miroku was upset, on edge. That much she expected, given the situation, but since he had returned from Kagome's room, his mood had shifted, becoming even more downcast. As if he had lost his will to continue fighting.

But why? What could have happened up there? Why did Kagome want to see him? Sango wondered edgily. Only to frown and add, For that matter...what is going on with Kagome? And InuYasha?

This particular question was especially disconcerting for the Demon Slayer. She had seen InuYasha and Kagome have arguments in the past, more times than she cared to count. And she had learned to tell when the argument had been something relatively harmless, and when they were something a lot more serious. And given their recent behaviors, she knew that whatever had happened between the two of them unfortunately fell into the latter category.

But what could it have been? Sango wondered, glancing over at InuYasha. He had seemed pretty much like himself when she had met him earlier, if a bit too pleased for having just been sat. But when Miroku had been told that Kagome had wanted to see the monk, she had seen the look on the half-demon's face, the way his expression darkened into an angry scowl. This and the way he had wolfed down his dinner and suddenly departed were warning signs in her mind. With the dark cloud that had followed him back when he had returned all but confirmation that something was very much wrong.

What could have happened? Sango again wondered as she looked over at the dog-eared warrior, who was presently seated outside of the dining room, having positioned himself where he could observe everything and everyone there. The expression on his face making it clear that not a thing that happened in there went unnoticed, and the angry scowl that twisted his features betraying the deep anger and frustration that he presently felt. He was mad before, but not this angry! Something had to have happened after he left! But what?

Glancing about at her friends, Sango carefully pondered the matter. Given the timing of InuYasha's departure, it was safe to conclude that it was somehow in response to Miroku going up to see Kagome, which in turn explained where he had gone. But it didn't answer the question of why the half-demon had gone to see the modern girl at all, and what had happened during that time. And more importantly, what could have happened between the two of them to leave InuYasha in such a foul mood.

And if InuYasha's like this, I don't even want to think about what Kagome's going to be like! Sango thought despondently. And with them acting this way, there's no way to tell how they'd react to Miroku's confession.

This was a troubling thought for Sango. For as much as she needed for Miroku to finally make amends and clear Michiru, she knew that his confession would result in an initial backlash of outrage from those the monk had deceived. That much was unavoidable, but at the same time, she didn't want that backlash to rage out of control, and possibly result in the Miroku being badly hurt. Or perhaps even worse.

Maybe...I should talk to Miroku...put it off for a day... As soon as this thought appeared in Sango's mind, she scowled and mentally shook her head. No. If I put it off now, I'll be putting it off forever. His lies have divided us, left us vulnerable. No matter what happens, this has to be settled before anything else can happen.

With this thought in mind, Sango analyzed the situation from various angles, and found no flaws in her thinking. The rifts that had been fostered by Miroku's deception had to be mended, something that would be best accomplished by his confession. And the only real way to ensure he confessed was to have something she could use to force him into doing so, which meant the threat of facing judgment at the hands of the alliance. And with Jiro and Azusa set to return to the wolf-demon mountains tomorrow with supplies, that left her with but a small window of opportunity to force Miroku into doing what was necessary.

There could be no delays. Michiru's good name and the integrity of their group depended on that.

Which means all that I can do is watch and wait, Sango knew, heaving a deep breath as she forced her fears and concerns to the side, mustering the discipline that was required of a Demon Slayer. Knowing that watching and waiting was amongst the hardest things a person in her position could do. That she still had to deal with the possibility that Miroku would...

"Well...it seems like everybody's just about finished," came a voice that startled Sango back to the present. After a few moments, she realized that Miroku was the one that had spoken, and focused on him. The monk was still seated at his place at the table, having finished his repast. Pausing to sweep the table, making certain that the others were indeed done with their own dinners, he then cleared his throat before rising to his feet. "In which case...everybody, if you would please give me your attention, there's something that I wish to say."

As everybody there turned and looked at the monk, Sango let out a low sigh of relief even as Shippo asked, "What is it, Miroku?"

"For some time now, something has been weighing heavily upon me. A burden of guilt that I must relieve myself of," Miroku said, speaking as sagely and piously as only he knew how.

"What is it?" Tamoa asked, even as her husband looked on.

Turning towards their hosts, Miroku hesitated before replying, "It is a personal matter, one that I need to settle with my friends and allies here." Smiling in thoughtful manner, the monk then went on to say, "I'm sorry, but...given the nature of this matter. I would feel more comfortable in telling it to the others in privacy. I hope you understand."

"Of course," Shunsuke nodded, already rising to his feet. "We'll clear the room, and..."

"No, that won't be necessary," Miroku replied, waving his hand in negation. "As I said, what I have to say is extremely sensitive. And while I do trust your discretion...well, I must be honest. I would much prefer to speak of this where this no chance of anybody even accidentally overhearing it." Then he returned his attention to the group proper. "If there's problem, I would like for us all to adjourn to a more...remote location."

"Sure," Sango immediately spoke up, not at all concerned where the monk made his confession, or even how he embellished it in his favor. Just so long as it was made. "We could go to where we first found the jet. That's far enough from here."

"Hmph! Go right ahead!" Azusa grumbled, sticking her nose up into the air. "I'm staying right here!"

Though not surprised by this reaction, Sango found herself frowning in dismay. "Azusa...whatever Miuroku wants to say, it sounds like it's pretty important. I think we should go and see what it is."

"Forget it!" Azusa snapped back, fixing Sango with a hateful glare. "There's no way I'm going anywhere with that stupid pervert! Not a chance!"

Sucking in a tiny breath, Sango considered how to respond to this. Only to look up in surprise when InuYasha sneered, "Aw, what's the matter, you whiny little bitch? Are you scared of the big, bad human?"

In an instant, the she-wolf's face fell in shock, only to twist a moment later into an expression of consummate outrage. "What was that?!" Azusa snarled as she leapt to her feet and snarled at InuYasha. "Are you calling me a coward, is that it?!"

"Why not? You sure act like one most of the time!" InuYasha shot back. "Afraid that Miroku will sneak up behind you and -?"

"InuYasha, please! There's no need to act this way! And Azusa's many things, but she's no coward!" Jiro protested. "Azusa, I'm sure it's no big deal. If you want to stay here, then -"

"Hey! I don't need you defending me! Got that?!" Azusa growled irritably, glancing back at Jiro just long enough to still his tongue. "And as for you, albino mutt, I'm not afraid of anything! Especially not some pale, scrawny, scheming lech of a monk!"

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say, bitch!" InuYasha smirked in a dismissive manner. Pausing to consider her, he finally shrugged and said, "Oh, well. I guess if you want to stick around here, then it's no big deal. It's not like we actually need you along."

Sango was about to protest this, only for her tongue to fall flat in her mouth when she saw Azusa trembling with impending violence. Everybody there was watching and waiting in silence, wondering what the bombastic she-wolf would do. Until at last she snorted loudly and swung away from InuYasha. "Fine! Whatever! I'll go!" she declared, folding her arms before her chest and sticking her nose into the air. "But if it looks like he's even trying to grab my ass, then he's gonna be decorating this stupid village! In pieces!"

After a moment, InuYasha seemed to shrug before saying, "Whatever." Then he turned his gaze towards Michiru and Kaname. "What about you two? Feel up for a little hike?"

Blinking a few times, Michiru and Kaname exchanged glances before the Kururugi girl quietly answered, "Well...I'm okay with that. But..."

As Kaname turned her gaze to her twin, Sango smiled gently. "Don't worry. I'm sure Kirara would be happy to help Michiru." Then she looked down at her side, where her two-tailed companion sat quietly. "Right, Kirara?" The demon cat replied with an affirmative mew, prompting a larger smile from Sango. "See? So what do you say, Michiru?"

Pressing his lips together, Michiru glanced over at Miroku, his eyes narrowing in consideration. After studying the monk's expression for several seconds, he finally sighed and responded. "Well...okay. I guess...if it's that important..."

"It is, trust me," Miroku assured him. "Well, then...shall we be off?"

"Wait a minute! What about Kagome?" Shippo piped up. "Do you want her to come, too?"

"Yes, of course. In fact, I was going to go upstairs and request Kagome's presence right now." Then Miroku looked at Sango and asked, "If that's all right?"

Sango was initially surprised by this decision. Given the situation, she would have thought that Miroku would have been far more reluctant to carry out the duty she had forced upon him, quickly exploiting any excuse to worm his way out of it. But after a moment's thought, she decided that it made sense. She had gone out of her way to leave Miroku with no way out of telling the truth. So he likely wanted to discharge his onerous duty as quickly as possible. Besides, the way Kagome's been acting, I wouldn't mind not having to asking her to come along, she thought. Then, aloud, she said, "Okay. That'll be fine, Miroku." The monk nodded to this, and then started out of the kitchen. Leaving the Demon Slayer to look at her friends and decide, "While we're waiting, Michiru, would you like me and Kirara to help you outside?" When the Kururugi boy looked up in confusion, Sango smiled somberly before adding, "I get the feeling that it might take Miroku a little while to coax Kagome downstairs. She seemed like she was in a pretty bad mood, and..."

As Sango trailed off, Michiru sighed and nodded. "Okay," he finally replied in a self-depreciating manner. "I hate to admit it, but...I guess it'll be a while before I can get around on my own again."

Nodding her understanding, Sango rose to her feet. "That's okay. I know how it feels, waiting to get better," she admitted as she made her way over to his side. Bending down next to him, she offered Michiru her hand. Despite still being worn from everything that had happened, he smiled for her benefit, and readily accepted it. Her cheeks coloring somewhat at the feel of his warmth, Sango carefully helped him rise to his feet. The two of them then made their way outside, Michiru moving with a good deal of difficulty as Kirara followed at a polite distance. Once outside the manor, Kirara transformed into her fighting form, lying down for Michiru to mount her.

With some assistance from Sango, Michiru was able to climb on the two-tail's back with a measure of difficulty. "Ugh...thanks, Sango," the Kururugi boy said appreciatively. "I'm sorry to be...such a burden. I..."

"You're not a burden, Michiru. And none of this is your fault," Sango quickly assured him. She was about to say something more, but then she found herself looking at him, into his kindly blue-grey eyes, and the only thing that came out of her lips was a sigh of weariness and unspoken affection. "Just...don't worry. It'll be alright," she assured him. Adding in her mind, It'll all be over soon. I promise.

Even as she thought this, the sound of approaching footsteps caught Sango's attention. Looking up from Michiru, she turned and to her surprise, saw Miroku approaching with Kagome following him. "Are you two about ready?" Miroku wondered in a flat, quiet voice. One that did not quite conceal the despondency he clearly felt at seeing her with another man.

"Oh," Sango got out. All she could say in the face of being rendered dumbstruck. She had imagined that convincing Kagome to come along when it was clear she wanted to be along would be a lengthy task accomplished only with considerable difficulty. But even as she thought this, she decided that she wasn't going to complain about being wrong. Especially as the rest of the group slowly filtered out of the manor. "Well...thank you, Miroku." Then she gestured for him to take the lead, saying, "Lead the way."

Nodding to this, Miroku replied, "Very well."

As Miroku started forward, Sango watched as Kirara slowly rose to her feet, moving carefully to avoid jostling Michiru unduly. When the two-tail was finally standing, the Demon Slayer came up alongside them, placing a steadying hand on the Shikigami User's shoulder. "Okay, Kirara," she spoke, "let's go." A gentle, growling purr was Kirara's response as she started forward, moving with the precision and caution that she knew was required with her weary rider.

As the unlikely procession followed Miroku toward the place where the jet was discovered, Sango did her best to ignore Azusa's complaining and Jiro's efforts to keep her calm. She tuned out the dismal expression on Kagome's face, as well as Shippo's idle wonderings as to what this was all about. She did her best to disregard everything except that it would be over, that Miroku's deception would finally undone. And while there would undoubtedly be repercussions, the group as a whole would soon be able to begin the healing process to recover from the damage he had done to them.

And I won't have to make good on my threat to him, Sango thought, her relief at that all but palpable. No, it...it wasn't a threat. It was a promise. A promise that I won't have to keep.

Grateful that she wouldn't have to destroy the life of a man who, despite everything, had been a good and needed friend when she had needed him, Sango continued along with the rest of the group. Until at last they reached the clearing where they had found the metal bird, the area where Miroku had set in motion his efforts to frame Michiru. As the Demon Slayer found herself thinking that it was actually rather appropriate that the monk's confession take place there, Miroku cleared his throat. "Everyone, if you would please gather around?" the monk spoke as he turned to face him. "Please, make yourselves comfortable. What I have to say shouldn't take long."

"It better not, you diseased monk!" Azusa sneered nastily. "What the hell could be so important that you would drag us all the way out here, anyway?!"

"A matter of trust, Azusa. And of a guilty conscience," Miroku explained, speaking as sagely as Sango had ever heard him. As he turned to face the others, he pressed his lips together, as if looking for the best way to say what had to be said. "This...isn't easy for me to say. However..."

Suddenly, a voice filled with pure terror pierced the night, stifling Miroku's voice and prompting everybody to look about. "Aaaaaahhh!!!!" the voice cried out, this time louder and more shrill. "Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!"

The moment broken, everybody's attention now on the voice, Sango could only groan and sag in dismay. Oh, no! What could be happening now?!

Dammit! InuYasha swore inwardly, unable to believe this happening. This just figures! We're finally getting that damned pervert to confess, so of course, we wind up with another crisis on our hands! As if this stupid day hadn't been long enough already!

As InuYasha went to curse whatever deity had arranged for such a miserable coincidence, Jiro wondered, "That voice...it sounded like Totosai."

"It did to me, too," Kaname admitted.

"Great! Wonderful! Like this day wasn't bad enough as it is!" Azusa complained vigorously. "So what's that damned dumb old goat doing this time?!"

Sharing Azusa's sentiment, InuYasha snarled, "I don't know, but -!"

"Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!" came further shrieks of horror, followed shortly by Totosai himself, carrying the sheathed Reikikaega. The aged blacksmith was running far faster than a demon his age had any right to, his already swollen eyes bulging even further than usual as he approached. "InuYasha!! Help me!!!!"

"Dammit, old man!" InuYasha snarled as Totosai darted up to them. Already in a foul mood, he grabbed the blacksmith by his kimono and lifted him up to look him squarely in the eyes. "I don't know what you're doing here, but you better have a really good excuse for barging in on us like this!"

InuYasha was soon answered, but not by Totosai. Instead, the sound of trees being ripped from the ground was heard, followed by a chorus of shrill, hungry roars.

As the others there stared in astonishment at the horror that had appeared in the clearing, Shippo cried out and said, "Uh...I think that qualifies!"

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.