Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

A Fairytale Fractured

As Kagome rushed through Kaito's home, her hands clenched as she made her way towards Michiru's room, she felt as if she was about to explode.

Things had been bad enough when she had left for home, with Michiru having attempted to blame Miroku for his own bad temper and jealous tantrums. After all, it had been easy for Kagome to see the transparent ploy for what it was, especially after his previous demonstration of his worsening temper and envy of Miroku's relationship with Sango, of how the two of them were clearly meant for each other. And when she had left, she had been certain that it had been only a matter of time before the rest of the group saw through it as well.

But when she had gotten back yesterday, not only had this not been the case, but everything else that happened that day had caused things to rapidly go from bad to unimaginably worse. Each disaster, each bit of evidence as to how much damage Michiru's lies had done, each setback Kagome had suffered in making everything right again had cracked her admittedly limited self-control that much more. With the revelation that Michiru and Sango were now sleeping together being the finishing blow.

This is completely insane! Kagome thought as she once again thought back to what Myoga and Kaname had said. Sango sleeping with that sneaky jerk?! Actually in bed with him?! It doesn't make any sense!

And the more she thought about it, the less sense it made. For while Sango was incredibly bold and brave on the battlefield, off of it she tended to be rather shy and sometimes had difficulty relating to others, of stepping outside her role as a Demon Slayer. Even her simple attempts to get closer to Miroku and deepen her relationship with him had left the warrior woman blushing shyly. Simply sharing an umbrella or holding hands with him were difficult matters for her. Even assuming that she did love Michiru that way, which was utterly ludicrous, there was absolutely no way she should be able to make the leap from the kind of attempts at romance she had made in the past to actually sharing a bed with the Shikigami User.

Which is just more proof that something's radically wrong here! Kagome declared inwardly as she marched forward, her features twisted with outrage and tears of anger and misery rolling down her cheeks. And when I find out how that little sneak pulled this off, I'm gonna...!

Her thoughts degrading, becoming less words and more images of the violence she now longed to unleash upon the Kururugi boy, Kagome clenched her fists and moved that much more quickly, until at last she caught sight of Michiru's room, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that Kirara was currently lying right in front of the door.

As soon as Kagome spotted the two-tail cat, she felt as if her heart had taken a crushing blow. For as bad as it had been to hear that Sango had gone as far to give physically give herself to the scheming liar responsible for all this, seeing her loyal companion right outside the door was all but confirmation of just how much damage Michiru had done.

Well, that's going to stop! Starting RIGHT NOW! Kagome snarled inwardly as she again started forward, determined to make Sango see sense, one way or another. I'm not gonna stand back and watch her wreck her life and Miroku's all for that lousy - huh?!

As Kagome started forward, Kirara took note of her approach and promptly leapt into the air. The reborn priestess was startled by this, but not half as startled as she was when the two-tail suddenly exploded into flames, transforming into her fighting form. Kirara?! Kagome thought, utterly incredulous as the demon cat shot her a glare. Several seconds passed as the two of them looked at each other before the saber-toothed feline again lay down in front of the door, never once looking away from the modern girl. Not making so much as a sound. Her posture making the two-tail's intent very clear; to make sure that Kagome did not get into Michiru's room.

Kirara...I...I don't believe this...! Kagome thought, her rage fading as her heart sank right through the floor. Why -?!

"Well, well, Kagome. Looks like Kirara also knows what everybody else has managed to figure out." Starting at the familiar voice of InuYasha, the modern girl let out a silent gasp even as she turned to see the half-demon standing behind her. He had his arms folded across his chest as he glowered disdainfully at her. "That it's Michiru Sango's in love with, not Miroku." Sucked in a pained breath at this, Kagome could only stand there as the half-demon narrowed his eyes, further annoyance creeping into his visage. "I'm not gonna waste my time, trying to tell you that he's innocent anymore. That's something you're gonna have to figure out on your own. But I'd hope that you at least have the brains to realize that you're wasting your time trying to match her up with Miroku."

Each word InuYasha said was like a fresh batch of sand being rubbed in Kagome's eyes. A feeling that was intensified when the half-demon went on to say, "So do yourself and everybody else a favor, and forget about all those stupid fairytale endings and people being made for each other and happily ever afters and all that other crap. All it is is a bunch of nonsense, and anybody who believes in it is an idiot."

Stung by this remark, Kagome felt her body shudder with unspent emotion as she turned away from the half-demon. You don't understand, InuYasha! she thought, her outrage quickly turning to abject misery. I have to believe that happily ever afters and true love are real! I have to believe that things like that are possible! she thought, her thought meandering to other aspects of her journeys in the Feudal Era. Because if I don't believe in them...then I'm not sure how I would be able to deal with this world, this journey...even you.

As another tear rolled down Kagome's cheek, she was brought back to the moment by the sound of a door sliding open. And her heart began to sink that much more.

Sango really didn't want to go anywhere that morning.

Consciously, she knew that she had to. After all, there was a still a great many things that needed to be done. She still needed to go see Tamoa so she could bring Kanna and Kohaku their respective breakfasts, they had to get to work on readying a shipment of supplies to be sent to the alliance, and that was only the beginning of the many tasks that lay ahead of their group. And then there was the training that was so much a part of Sango's daily routine, and she knew that she simply couldn't afford to lounge around.

But as the Demon Slayer sat there, Michiru resting somewhat against her as she assisted him in eating his breakfast, she found that she honestly didn't want to think of these things. And not simply because the one she loved was still needed assistance simply to take care of himself. But also because, even weakened by his many trials and tribulations of late, simply being close to the Shikigami User comforted Sango, giving her a much needed salve to her aching heart. A salve she had found herself longing for more and more in recent times.

In the past, when Sango had tried to find solace in Miroku's arms, such efforts were more often than not in vain, simply because she could never once let her emotional shields down. For every time she even attempted to do so, she found herself a victim of the monk's wandering hands and eyes, of his constant scheming and lechery. Everything that was wrong with him always ruining everything that was right with him.

But those shields were down now. They had been down since Sango had joined Michiru last night, just as they had been down when she had confessed her feelings for him, and when they had been out shopping the night of the attack. Each time without fear of the trust she gave him being abused, and each time that trust was rewarded by love and comfort. And after all the hardships she had been forced to endure, the many treacheries committed by Naraku and so much else, Sango desperately needed these things. She didn't want to be deprived of them, not even for a moment, let alone the time needed to carry out tasks she knew to be essential.

But...that doesn't change anything. I still have work to do, Sango thought as she held out chunk of rice in her chopsticks to Michiru, which he slowly took into his mouth. As he slowly chewed this morsel, he gave the Demon Slayer a weak smile and tightened his grip on her somewhat. Right after breakfast is done.

As Sango sighed, reminding herself yet again that she would have plenty of other opportunities to spend time with Michiru, chances to deepen her relationship with him and bask in the unconditional love and comfort he so willingly gave her, something pricked at her ear. Cocking her head to the side, the Demon Slayer frowned as she tried to determine what had gotten her attention. "Sango?" the Kururugi boy spoke, his brows somewhat furrowed as he looked at her, clearly aware that something was amiss. "Is something wrong...?"

"I hear footsteps," Sango reported as the sound finally grew close enough for her to identify. "They sound like they're coming this way."

As Michiru considered this, Sango frowned, sorely tempted to simply discard the matter as unimportant. After all, this was a house with many people currently dwelling in it, several of human were quite active when the mood took them to be so. The fact that someone was hurrying this way or that didn't necessarily mean there was some kind of emergency. And so she returned her attention to her love.

Until another sound caught her attention. The sound of a fire blazing into existence, then just as quickly being extinguished. The very sound Kirara made when transforming. And a sound that Michiru also heard, prompting him to frown. "Sango...I..."

"I know. I heard it, too," Sango confirmed, her entire body tensing with concern and annoyance. If Kirara was nearby and transformed, then whatever was going on wasn't some minor annoyance. And thus it wasn't anything she could justify ignoring or putting off. And so, with deep reluctance, the warrior woman looked at the one she loved. "I better check it out, Michiru. Will you be alright?"

A beat passed before Michiru nodded. "Of course," was all he said, all he really needed to say.

Nodding her response, Sango carefully helped Michiru lie back down again before standing. As she did so, she could hear someone talking outside. And while the voice wasn't loud enough for her to make out any words, she could still sense the emotion it carried. It was low, angry, and rife with disdain. A voice that simply screamed trouble. Wondering what could have possibly happened now and not sure if she even wanted to know, the Demon Slayer made her way to the door and slid it open. Only to freeze in confusion at what she saw.

The first thing Sango noticed was Kirara, who was indeed in her fighting form. The two-tailed was presently lying right at the front of the door, obstructing any passage in or out. Before the Demon Slayer could wonder why her companion has positioned herself so, she realized that InuYasha and Kagome were also present. The half-demon was scowling in a far more menacing fashion then was normal for him, and as for Kagome...

What the...?! Sango wondered, starting at the expression worn by the modern girl, one so utterly dismal and upset that it hurt her just to see it. It was as if every shade of anger and misery and depression that could possibly be experienced by humanity was presently mired together in her face. Leaving the Demon Slayer to wonder what could possibly have happened to leave her friend so upset, until she finally asked, "InuYasha...what's going on? What are you and Kagome -?"

"Feh! You can thank Myoga for this one, Sango," InuYasha announced in a scornful manner. When the Demon Slayer furrowed her brow in confusion, the half-demon added, "He dropped by here a while ago and spotted you and Michiru while you were asleep." Giving this a moment to sink, the dog-eared warrior gave Kagome a heavy glare which seemed to make her wither up a bit more. "Anyway, he mentioned seeing something, so Kagome got him to cough up what he saw."

Realizing exactly what Myoga had seen, Sango sighed, for she now understood why her friend was now so upset. I should have known this was coming, the Demon Slayer thought wearily, feeling as if slabs of solid rock were settling down upon her shoulders. There's no way I could have kept my relationship with Michiru a secret forever, but...I was hoping to at least deal with Miroku before everyone else found out about it.

But wishing didn't change what happened, Sango knew, nor did it change the situation she was now confronted with. Kagome had learned of her relationship with Michiru all while convinced that the Shikigami User was responsible for all of the group's recent problems, as well as placing the blame for these things on Miroku. Which explained the expression the modern priestess wore; she was doubtlessly angered and disappointed that Sango would 'abandon' Miroku in favor of sleeping with the person who had 'framed' the monk. "What else did he say?" the Demon Slayer wondered, wanting to find out just how much damage had been done. "I...he didn't...?"

With a loud snort, InuYasha replied, "No, he mentioned that you were dressed and all that." Then he cast another glance at Kagome. "Not that that seems to matter to some people..."

This gave Sango a measure of relief. As bad as this situation clearly was, at least she didn't have to worry about Myoga having blown what he had seen completely out of proportion. Still, I have to deal with this, she thought as Kagome darted a glance around the Demon Slayer. The modern priestess's eyes narrowing, her features filling with greater hatred and misery, prompting Sango to look back and realize that it was the sight of Michiru that triggered these things. Even if I can't convince Kagome of the truth, I can't let things continue the way they have.

With this thought in mind, Sango heaved a deep breath before looking down at her family's companion. "Kirara...could you please move a little?" she asked, prompting the two-tail to look up from Kagome. "I have to get by, please."

Growling in an affirmative manner, Kirara rose up to her feet, moving just enough to allow Sango to pass. Once she had gotten past, Sango watched the two-tail long enough to see her once again take up station in front of the room and Michiru before turning her attention to the others. "I'm sorry, you two. I...I guess we - I should have told you about this sooner. But with everything that was happening, I just didn't think that the timing was right for that." Feeling her insides knot up uncertainly, the Demon Slayer glanced back at Michiru, looking him in the face. A moment passed before he nodded his understanding, at which Sango again focused on the others. "Now...you both know that I...I have feelings for Michiru and Miroku both. And...for a long time now...even before Michiru came back...I've been trying to come to terms with those feelings."

A lump of bile forming in her throat, Sango was forced to swallow before she continued her narrative. Pausing to try and consider how best to phrase what she was feeling, the warrior woman eventually got out, "I also know that both of them have...feelings for me as well. So I've done a lot of thinking, you two. Thinking about...which of them I truly loved. That I wanted to be with. And..." Again, she glanced back at the boy she had spent the night with. The weakened magician that had done so much for her, given her so much love already. "As you can already tell...I've decided who that person is."

InuYasha responded to this with a wry smile. But as for Kagome, the mercurial amalgamation of her darker emotions intensified, leaving the modern girl to shake her head in slow, barely controlled disapproval. Wincing at this, Sango looked sorrowfully at her friend. "Now, Kagome, I knowyou were hoping that I would choose to be with Miroku. I know how long you've been trying to encourage us to be together, and the truth is, I do care for him a great deal. He's a good person at heart, and he does have many good qualities." Giving this a moment to sink in, the Demon Slayer moved closer to her friend. "But, Kagome, Miroku also has many bad qualities as well. His lying and scheming, his lechery and perversion, the scams he runs, his fake fortunetelling and all of that? I've always had problems with those parts of him, and sharing his life would mean living with all of those things, accepting them. And...I just can't do that."

Though it should have been impossible, Kagome's expression became that much more upset and angered. Her hands clenched into fists, and she seemed to quake with outrage. "Now...I know you blame Michiru for what's been happening. And I might not be able to prove to you that he's innocent, but I know that he was telling the truth about what happened. I know because I believe in him. And now, I'm asking you to please believe in me, and at least try to accept my decision," Sango pleaded of her. "Michiru is an honest soul. He's kind and brave, and he's done so much for us, for me. And I...I've come to realize that...I've been falling in love with him for a very long time now. Even during his first journey with us." Pausing to think back to the many things she had experienced during that time, the thoughts and feelings and everything else that had happened between herself and Michiru, Sango then went on to say. "I'm sorry if you don't approve, Kagome, but I've made my decision. I love Michiru. And just as importantly, he's someone I can live with, and I do want to live with him. To be with him, to -"

Sango never saw it coming.

One moment, Kagome had just been standing there, glaring at the Demon Slayer with such intensity that Sango had had no choice to meet her gaze. The next, Sango perceived a blur coming at her, followed by her being sent reeling backwards by a stinging blow to her face. Stumbling back a few steps, the warrior woman quickly recovered from the blow even as she brought her hand to the stinging welt that was now growing on her face.

Kagome had slapped her.

All around Sango, the others present reacted. Michiru let out a sound of dismay, attempting to rise up to join Sango. An attempt that was soon thwarted by his still-weakened body. Kirara rose up on her haunches and glared at Kagome. The two-tail didn't make any sounds, but the way her lips tightened near her large fangs made it clear what she thought of this act of aggression. As for InuYasha, the half-demon reacted immediately after the Demon Slayer was struck, quickly grabbing Kagome by her wrists and forcing them up into the air.

"Dammit, Kagome! That's always the way with you, isn't it?!" InuYasha snarled dangerously, giving the modern girl a quick shake. "The instant somebody dares to disagree with you, you belt them or sit them or do whatever you can to make their lives miserable!" When Kagome turned her head to meet the half-demon's glaring eyes, he added, "So what? Smashing me ain't enough for you?! Now you're going after Sango?!" Releasing one of her wrists, he then took hold of the Beads of Subjugation about his neck. "What next?! Are you gonna make some more of these damned Beads for the rest of us, just to keep us in line?! To make absolutely certain that nobody can do anything you don't -?!"

"InuYasha, please!" Sango pleaded, growing more and more upset. For while she understood the half-demon's ire, the way he was expressing it wasn't helping matters in the slightest, or making it easier for her to say what needed to be said. "I can handle this, so please...let Kagome go. Please?"

The half-demon scowled intensely at this, his expression making it clear what he thought of the wisdom of this. "Fine. Suit yourself," InuYasha finally muttered, relinquishing his grip on Kagome's other wrist. "Just don't expect her to listen to anything you say. Her ears don't seem to work too well once her head is set in stone."

Watching as Kagome again glanced at InuYasha, her expression more of sorrow than anger now, Sango sighed and gathered herself up to speak again. "Thank you," she spoke, nodding at the half-demon before focusing on the bombastic school girl. "Kagome, I know you think that I'm making a mistake here. But the fact remains that this is my life. My choice to make," Sango explained in a firm, yet gentle manner. "I can't change your mind about that, but I'm asking you as a friend to please respect my decision, and -!"

"InuYasha! Kagome!" came a raised, youthful voice, followed almost immediately by the sound of scampering on the wooden floor. Looking about, Sango and the others watched as Shippo bolted towards them, moving about on all fours before coming to a halt in the middle of the small group. "Y-you're not gonna believe this!" he declared, quickly looking from one person to the next. "It's Miroku, he - Sango, what happened to you?!

Starting at the sudden shift in topics, Sango frowned before comprehension hit her. "What, you mean this?" she asked, gesturing at the stinging welt Kagome had inflicted upon her. "It's nothing, Shippo. Now what -?"

"It sure looks like something to me!" Shippo declared, still focusing on the hand-shaped mark on Sango's face. "What happened?! Did InuYasha slap you?"

"Wha- hey, wait a second!" InuYasha cried out, his eyes widening in outrage. "Why the hell do you think it was me?!"

"Why not?! You're always beating me up when you get mad!" Shippo declared in a voice of righteous indignation.

While Sango was considering her response to this, she became aware of InuYasha glowered wrathfully at the little fox. But before she could say anything to defuse the situation, Michiru called out, "No, Shippo. InuYasha...he didn't hurt Sango."

"Huh?!" Shippo started, his eyes bulging as he looked over towards where Michiru lay. "But - wait a second! If it wasn't InuYasha...then..."

Watching as the fox-demon's eyes slowly wandered towards Kagome, Sango cleared her throat. "Never mind that, Shippo. It's nothing, really," the woman warrior broke in, not wanting for feelings to be hurt because of her. "Now, what was it you wanted to tell us? It sounded pretty important."

"Uh - oh, right!" Shippo piped up, clearly forgetting the chain of thought his mind had forged. "Miroku told me to bring you all down to the dining room! He wants us all to hear his confession!"

The instant these words were heard, Sango thought that her eyes would bulge right out of her head. Shippo became the focus of her entire world as she very nearly fell to her knees in stunned astonishment. "He -!" the Demon Slayer started, almost unwilling to believe that she had heard what she had heard. To hope that the hideous, agonizing dilemma she had been confronted with last night had been dealt with, just as easily as that. "Miroku said -!"

"He confessed!" Shippo cried out in what could almost be called relief. "He admitted that he used his Wind Tunnel to try and scare Michiru so that he wouldn't become your boyfriend!"

The instant this was said, Sango staggered backwards in astonishment, and she soon realized that she wasn't the only one dumbstruck by this declaration. Kagome's face went wide with abject horror before sagging in despair, while InuYasha's eyes also went wide with shock. "He -!" Michiru started, prompting the warrior woman to look back and see her love sitting almost bolt-upright, his exhaustion momentarily forgotten in his shock. "Shippo, are you - he really -?!"

"That's right!" Shippo nodded hurriedly, bouncing over to where Michiru lay. "He wants us all to come down so he can confess to everyone what really happened and properly apologize and all that!"

These words seemed to bring Michiru's exhaustion back to him in force; the Kururugi boy wavered helplessly, very nearly falling over in shock. But somehow, he managed to stay more-or-less upright, and gave Shippo a bright smile of relief and delight. "He...then he's admitted that I - I didn't -!"

"Yeah, really!" Shippo declared with a look of joy. "But like I said, he wants us all to come down so he can apologize and all that!"

"Then we better get downstairs right away!" Sango declared, smiling broadly herself. Barely able to believe this was actually happening.

"I'll say!" InuYasha grinned as he marched past Kagome and towards the Shikigami User. "C'mon, Michiru. Let me help you up."

"Boy, this sure is a relief!" Shippo declared as InuYasha entered and Kirara took up station next to Michiru, making it clear that she wanted to help as well. "Maybe now, things will finally start getting back to normal!"

Though she found herself smiling at the little fox's enthusiasm, Sango knew that things wouldn't be so simple. Something that was driven home when she turned about and looked at Kagome, and although the modern priestess was remained incapable of speech, her expression and body language said everything for her. Every shade of anger, frustration, sorrow and despair was to be seen in her face, while her body gave the impression of her being torn between collapsing to the floor, running off in misery, or acting with even greater violence than she had before.

No, Shippo. Things won't be back to normal. Not just yet...and possibly not ever, Sango somberly thought. But despite knowing how difficult things would be in the times to come, she finally had a sense of hope. But maybe now...we can finally start making things better again.

I...I don't believe this...! Michiru thought as he made his way downstairs, supported on one side by Sango, with InuYasha on the other. Kirara was following a short distance behind, once again in her more normal form, with Shippo right behind. Miroku, he's...he's actually going to...!

His train of thought faded at this, overwhelmed by Michiru's sense of disbelief. When Miroku had first given his altered version of their disastrous confrontation, he had lied so smoothly, so convincingly, that the Kururugi boy could easily understand how Kagome and potentially anyone else would have been fooled by his silver tongue. In his eyes, it had been nothing short of a minor miracle that Sango and InuYasha had seen through the monk's deceit so effortlessly, and he had been grateful for the faith his sister had in him. But even so, Michiru knew that Miroku's lies had damaged his reputation. The way Kagome had subsequently treated him was proof enough of that.

Not to mention the way she's acting now, Michiru thought unhappily as he glanced back up the stairs at the last person in the small procession. Kikyo's reincarnation was moving with deliberate slowness, her face a quagmire of such utter outrage and despair that the Shikigami User could hardly bear to look at it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though, he found himself admitting, thinking of all the things Kagome had done to facilitate Sango and Miroku becoming a couple. As well as how thoroughly convinced she had been of Michiru's guilt, and the spewing of venom she had subjected him to regarding his alleged misdeeds. Hearing about Miroku confessing...she must've been pretty shocked by that.

Realizing what a gross understatement this was even as he thought it, Michiru returned his focus to what was in front of him. For while he was still hurt and angered by Miroku's lies, the damage they had done, as well as the emotional toll his scheming and lecherous antics had taken on Sango, the fact that he had apparently admitted that he was the guilty party was both a major shock...and cause for hope. Hope that things might finally get better for him, and the rest of the group.

I just hope it's not another trick or lie, Michiru thought, pressing his lips together in a sour fashion at the ugly turn his thoughts had taken. Unfortunately, it was a turn that he couldn't avoid, simply because of Miroku's long, ugly history of dishonesty. Something that was dramatically reinforced by the fact that the monk had put Michiru in this predicament in the first place. Because of it is...

As this thought sounded in his mind, Michiru sighed, simply because he really didn't want to think about would happen if this was some sort of scam. Because if it were, than no matter what happened next, he was certain that it would be extremely ugly, and possibly even more damaging for the small group.

I guess there's no point in worrying about it, Michiru thought somberly as they reached the first floor. All I can do is hope for the best...and prepare for the worst. With this in mind, he contented himself to wait and see what happened next, and continued towards the dining room with the others' assistance.

When they arrived, the first thing Michiru did was glance about the dining room, hoping to get a feel for the current situation. The first thing he noticed was his sister Kaname, who had a Cheshire grin plastered all over her face. Totosai was seated nearby, looking somewhat confused, rather tired, but not especially concerned. Jiro has an air of concern about him, while Azusa looked more annoyed and bored than anything else. Hachi wore an expression of solemn disappointment as he studied his master, while Myoga's tiny features were impossible for Michiru to read. And as for Miroku himself...

"There you are, Michiru. I've been expecting you, as well as the others," the monk greeted him, smiling in a pleasant, content manner as the Shikigami User was escorted into the dining room. "What about Kagome? I she with you?"

"Feh! You don't have to worry about Kagome. She was right behind us, last time I checked," InuYasha declared in a mocking, triumphant manner. Aiding Michiru forward, the half-demon and Sango carefully eased the Shikigami User to the table and aided him in sitting down. "Now, Shippo told us that you had something that you needed to get off your chest. Is that right, Miroku?"

"Indeed it is, InuYasha," Miroku confirmed with a polite bow of his head. "I have something that I wish to say to Michiru, as well as the rest of you. Something which I had hoped to say to you all last night before we were...interrupted."

"Then what are you waiting for?" InuYasha wondered pointedly as he sat down at the table as well. "Go ahead and say it! I'm sure we're all ears!"

"Just as soon as Kagome is here as well," Miroku assured the half-demon with a gently raised hand. "If it's all the same to you, InuYasha, I feel it would be best if you were all to hear this at once."

Something wasn't right, Michiru quickly realized. The way Miroku was speaking, the smile he wore...these were not the expressions of a man intent on confessing his sins. They were all flat, without feeling to them, almost broken. But why? he wondered, furrowing his brows in consideration. This wasn't the voice of Miroku attempting another con; he always placed plenty of emotion into his deceitful words, all the better to make them that much more convincing for his listeners. Did something happen, or -?

"Well, you don't have to wait any longer, Miroku. Because here she is now!" InuYasha grinned that much deeply. As Michiru considered his friend, equally concerned by his presently overly cheerful manner as he was by Miroku's listlessness, the half-demon turned and looked out the door into the hall. "C'mon, Kagome! We're all waiting for you!"

As Michiru followed his friend's gaze, he found himself looking at Kagome. And found that the modern girl was looking even more broken than before when he had seen her upstairs. She moved like she was of the walking dead, like she was on the verge of collapse.

Until their eyes met.

Michiru looked into Kagome's brown eyes, and she looked into his blue-grey eyes, and as their eyes met, her visage flared with hatred. Sheer, unadulterated loathing, far more intense than the looks of disgust Kagome had given him since his confrontation with Miroku. So intense as to send a chill shooting down the Kururugi boy's spine just before she looked away, scowling heavily as she made her way over to a corner of the room.

"What's the matter, Kagome? Go ahead and have a seat!" InuYasha told her in what could only be described as a taunting manner. Something that swiftly earned him a hateful scowl as well. "You might as well make yourself comfortable!"

"Please, leave Kagome be, InuYasha," Miroku instructed him, still using that same hollowed out voice. "She's here now. That's all that matters."

Something was definitely wrong. Michiru was certain of that now. For while he could understand InuYasha taking pleasure in Kagome essentially being proven wrong in her accusations by Miroku's confession, the half-demon seemed far too pleased with the situation. The Kururugi boy would have expected him to be angry and impatient, wanting for Miroku to give voice to his confession and get it over with. Instead, he seemed to be savoring the moment, like it was a victory he had already won and was just waiting for it to be made official.

"Eh...I guess so. As long as she's here to listen to you confess your sins," InuYasha finally decided, something in the way he said these words lending even greater credence to Michiru's concerns. "So go right ahead, Miroku. We're all waiting to hear what you have to say!"

"Very well," Miroku replied almost instantly, once again returning Michiru's focus to the present. "As I started to tell you all last night, I carry a burden of guilt that I must relieve myself of. And. perhaps more importantly, a great wrong which I must make amends for." This said, the monk then focused on the Kururugi boy, and after a moment's hesitation, added, "And that is my putting your life in danger, Michiru, as well as causing you to take the blame for my mistakes."

Blinking somewhat in surprise at this, at how easily Miroku had come out and said it, Michiru was considering exactly how to respond to this when InuYasha gave the monk a nasty smirk. "Aw, don't stop there, Miroku! I'm sure you have more to say than just that." Then the half-demon glowered in a more familiar fashion before saying, "C'mon, out with it. Tell us all exactly what you did."

"I...intend to, InuYasha," Miroku replied, his voice cracking somewhat. Showing more emotion just then that Michiru had seen from him that morning. "You must excuse my...hesitation here. This...isn't easy for me to say." Heaving a deep breath, the monk scanned the others present before again speaking. "On the day we discovered the jet, I engaged Michiru in a sparring match, and as you all know, it eventually went out of control. And when I was asked about what prompted this happened, I told you all that Michiru had escalated his attacks upon me to the point when I had had no choice but to use my Wind Tunnel to defend myself against them."

Pressing his lips together unhappily as he thought back to the events of that day, Michiru found himself warily awaiting the monk's next words. A more suspicious part of him on the alert for another twist of his words, another knife to be lodged squarely in the Shikigami User's back. "But that was not the truth," Miroku eventually admitted. "In fact, I lied about my reasons for wanting another sparring session with you."

Michiru didn't say anything to this. He simply sat there, furrowing his brows somewhat at the monk. "Really?" Kaname spoke, her grin fading somewhat as she studied Miroku like he was something she wanted to avoid stepping in. "So why'd you do it?"

"To buy myself a bit more time," Miroku admitted solemnly. "I could see that you and Sango were getting closer, and much more quickly than I had anticipated. I wanted to...discourage you from pursuing her. At least long enough so that I could attempt to...make amends to her. Show her how I truly felt about her."

Narrowing his eyes in annoyance, Michiru studied the monk for a time. "So...what? You were hoping that...knocking me around a bit would convince me to...give up on Sango?"

"No," Miroku quickly responded, showing a bit of genuine regret. "Just that it would discourage you from actively pursuing a relationship with her. At least long enough for me to try and...mend our relationship."

Several seconds passed as Michiru considered this statement. On the one hand, he found himself honestly believing that Miroku was telling the truth about this, or at least part of it. He recalled the results of their first sparring match, the disappointment and sorrow Sango had shown as a result of Michiru losing his temper, as well as Kagome's scorn and anger. And so Miroku had set the stage for another such disaster, knowing that something like that would certainly not have done the Shikigami User's reputation any favors. But even as he satisfied himself that this was likely at least half of the truth, Michiru scowled and countered, "Well, if you had wanted a chance to make things better with Sango...maybe you should have been doing that...and not spending your time...playing fortuneteller for the village girls..."

Another chill ran down Michiru's spine as he could practically feel the hateful glare this earned him from Kagome. "Heh! He's got a point there!" InuYasha chuckled deviously even as Sango let out a low sigh, looking more disappointed than annoyed at this revelation. "You wouldn't have had to buy any time if you didn't waste so much of it on every pretty girl in sight!"

"That's for sure!" Kaname chimed in with a knowing smirk.

Withering somewhat as InuYasha and Kaname continued to chuckle, Miroku became visibly more upset when Shippo and Azusa started snickering as well. "While I'm glad that you find my foibles and misfortune so amusing, I would like to be able to continue my story," the monk muttered sourly. "So, if you please...?"

"Sure, go right ahead...you lecherous excuse for a monk," InuYasha snickered nastily.

Narrowing his eyes somewhat at this, as well the second quick round of snickers this earned him, Miroku paused to take another deep breath before continuing. "However...I must admit that I...wasn't expecting for Michiru to be quite so skilled at combat. At least, without the use of his Shikigami. So when you were able to get the advantage, I wasn't sure what to do." Then the monk narrowed his eyes and added, "And given where you hit me with your sword, I was having a good deal of difficulty in thinking afterwards."

"Where he...hit you?" Sango frowned before glancing over at the Shikigami User. "Michiru...?"

"Oh...sorry. I, uh...I guess I forgot to mention that," Michiru replied, feeling his cheeks burn as he recalled what happened. Lowering his gaze somewhat, he gave Sango a sheepish look before admitting, "I...um...I kinda used Kaname's version of sit..."

This statement had Kaname give him a look of surprised confusion. "My version of sit? Bro, what are you -?" A moment later, the Kururugi girl cut herself off as realization shown in her eyes, paving the way for a devious smirk. "Oh, right! That!"

"Yeah...that," Michiru admitted with somewhat less enthusiasm.

A beat passed before InuYasha also got it, prompting a guffaw to tear free of his lips. "Oh, I get it! You hit Miroku where it would do the most good, huh?!" Giving a powerful laugh, the half--demon chortled and snickered for some time before finally giving the monk a look. "Well, I guess you won't be fathering any children any time soon! Right, Miroku?"

As InuYasha broke down in another fit of laughter, the others there realized exactly what Michiru had done. Sango made a sound of realization before rolling her eyes somewhat while Kirara seemed to manage a feline smirk. Shippo just broke out in laughter while Azusa snickered nastily. A few muted chuckles tumbled free of Jiro's lips, Totosai simply seemed to ignore the whole thing, and Hachi brought his paws to his face and clamped his mouth shut, allowing only a few smothered chortles to slip free. Again, Kagome was the only one who was not amused, and instead glared her disdain at Michiru.

As for Miroku, he simply sat there, his expression growing more and more wearied by these displays of amusement at his expense. "Excuse me. I realize that I have committed a grievous crime against one of our own, and fully expect to be punished for it," the monk sagely intoned. "But could you postpone my penance at least until after I have finished confessing my sins?"

"C'mon, everyone," Michiru intoned wearily. Unlike the others, he found nothing about that disastrous confrontation the slightest bit funny, and only wanted this confession to be done and out in the open as soon as possible. Swiveling his gaze about at the others, the Kururugi boy watched and waited as the others eventually settled down somewhat. When they finally did so, he again focused on the monk. "Alright, Miroku. So...what happened next?"

At this, the monk hesitated somewhat, shifting about somewhat at this. "The rest...well, in all honesty, there's nothing else for me to say," Miroku finally answered. "Everything else that happened...happened exactly as you said it."

As these words settled upon the group, Michiru found himself leveling a scowl at the monk. "I know what I said, Miroku. I know what I told everyone. But now...now I want you to tell them exactly what happened." Giving this a moment to sink in, the Shikigami User took a moment to look over at Sango before continuing. "I want you to look me right in the eyes, Miroku, and tell me in your own words what happened next. No lies, nothing left out. Nothing...but the truth."

A dangerous silence fell upon the small group as the two of them looked at each other. Miroku was clearly fidgety, uncomfortable, but Michiru couldn't have cared less. After everything that had happened, everything he had suffered as a result of the monk's lies, he needed to hear the truth out of him. He wanted to hear him tell them exactly what happened, to have his name cleared beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Michiru wanted this nightmare to be over. And now that that possibility was finally before him, he wasn't going to let Miroku off the hook until he gave him exactly what he wanted.

"Very well then, Michiru," Miroku eventually intoned, his voice going just a bit flatter. "If that's what you wish." Michiru nodded, making it perfectly clear that that was exactly what he wanted, at which the monk again heaved a deep breath. "After you...struck that blow, I...was angry. I hate to admit it, but yes, I was angry. I was in pain, and seeing you standing over me like that...after that, I could no longer really think. All I could think about was that I was losing Sango. I had tried to mend my ways, to...restrain certain impulses of mine, but had ultimately been unsuccessful in these efforts. And all I could think of was that I...I wanted things back to the way they were before you had arrived." Miroku's visage hardened somewhat, some of the anger he had just been talking about seeping into his features. "I wanted you to go away. To just...let me have this chance at happiness while I could still have it. So I did the only thing I could think of doing." A beat passed as the monk looked heavily at Michiru, before he at last said, "I used my Wind Tunnel. I used it in the hopes of scaring you, getting you to back away from Sango."

A low moan escaped Hachi's lips at this, and Jiro scowled his disdain at the monk. Kagome's rage visibly magnified as she glared that rage right into Michiru's back. But as for the Kururugi boy, he wished that he had recovered more of his strength, for at that moment, he wanted to celebrate. He wanted to jump about and cry his delight from the top of his lungs.

It was over. Miroku had admitted that he had been the guilty party, that it had been who had escalated their sparring session to a potential death battle. That he had been the guilty party in all of this, not Michiru.

So delighted was he, that Michiru very nearly forgot about the other aspect of Miroku's deceit. Something that he was promptly reminded of when InuYasha commented, "And when that didn't work, you decided to frame Michiru for everything. You figured that making him look bad would work just as well as getting him to leave. Isn't that right?"

A beat passed before Miroku nodded. "That's right. It was the only thing I could think of." Leaning forward, the monk stared into Michiru's eyes, giving a slow shake of his head. "You don't know how fortunate you are, Michiru. You have all the blessings of nature at your command, you have your entire life ahead of you without any curse of death to worry about. You could very easily have had any woman you wanted, whether here or back...where you come from." Sitting back, the monk gave a heavy sigh. "As for myself...I know I'm a flawed man. And that my various weaknesses make me a difficult person for some to deal with."

"And that, everyone, is the understatement of the year!" Kaname declared with a knowing grin. Something that garnered a laugh from the others.

"So you can understand why I would...not want to lose someone who accepted me as I am," Miroku went on, his voice fading somewhat at this.

"Hmph! Too little, too late, I'd say!" InuYasha chortled, ignoring the glare he got from Kagome as a result.

Doing his best to ignore this, Michiru continued to focus on the monk for a time. "What about the Wind Tunnel, Miroku?" he asked, thinking back to the moment of betrayal. The one aspect of this sordid affair that remained unsettled in his mind. "When you opened it up...if I hadn't been able to anchor myself..."

"Then I would have closed it before you reached its threshold," Miroku prompted assured him. Still speaking in that empty voice. "I was trying to force you to concede defeat, Michiru. Not take your life."

"But could you have closed it in time?" Michiru persisted, wanting to be certain. To know how far gone things were. To be certain that there was still a line that Miroku would not cross. "Were you certain that you wouldn't have...?"

"Absolutely," Miroku nodded. "I've lived with this curse all my life, Michiru. I know exactly how it operates, and have had to learn how best to use it in a wide variety of situations." Then the monk allowed the corner of his lip to curl up. "In fact, there was one time when I was forced to use my Wind Tunnel on a young lady in order to save her life."

This statement took Michiru by surprise, and not just because he could still sense no falsehood to the monk's words. "Save someone's life?" Shippo repeated blankly. "How could you save someone by sucking them into -?"

"No, no. I didn't pull her into the Wind Tunnel," Miroku promptly explained with a wave of his uncursed hand. "You see, a large demon happened to be attacking her at the time. I was too far away to get between her and the beast, and I wasn't sure if my sutras would be effective enough to stop it before it could kill her. So I used the Wind Tunnel to pull her away from the beast before she could be hurt." As Shippo made a noise of comprehension, the monk returned his focus to Michiru. "But the point is, I wouldn't have used my Wind Tunnel unless I was totally confident in my ability to keep you from being pulled in. It was never my intent to kill you."

"No. Just to make him look like an even bigger bastard than you are," InuYasha declared in a no-nonsense manner.

"That...is true. I don't deny it," Miroku reluctantly confessed. "When I realized how it would look if you were all to find out what really happened...I also realized that that was likely my...last chance." Looking over at Sango, the lecherous holy man's expression became that much more despondent. "But ultimately...it was my undoing. I see that...very clearly now."

"Yeah. And I'm sure Myoga's little report earlier had absolutely nothing to do with that," Kaname smirked in a knowing manner. Again setting off giggles and snorts among the others, and earning her another poisonous glare from Kagome.

Waiting for the others to settle down, Michiru considered the monk, wondering what exactly to say next. Only to be spared that duty when Sango focused on him. "Miroku...thank you," she told him in a gentle, controlled manner. "Thank you for...telling the truth about all of this. I realize how hard this must have been for you."

"You don't have to thank me, Sango," Miroku told her wearily, the gentle manner in which she spoke causing a slight smile to appear on his face. "For in truth, your obvious faith in Michiru and his innocence was part of what...spurred me to confess." Then his smile failed as he glanced at the Kururugi boy. "You...never lost faith in him. Did you?"

"No. I didn't," Sango replied, her smile deepening as she turned her gaze to Michiru. Who was more than happy to return it was a quiet, joyous smile. "And I never will."

As he basked in the warmth of Sango's love, Michiru found himself wishing that this moment would linger on. Not even the cold, hateful burning he felt as a result of Kagome's glare could ruin this moment for him. But that moment was soon brought to an abrupt end when InuYasha leaned in towards the monk. "Yeah. We all pretty much knew who the liar and sneak around here was. It's not like that's any big secret." Completely ignoring the scathing glare Kagome gave him, InuYasha cocked his head to the side and snarled, "But you see, we're used to you being a lech and a con-man, Miroku. But what you did to Michiru...that was an all new low for you. So tell me something; why we should we trust you after you tried to use that damned hand of yours on Michiru?!"

"You shouldn't," Miroku immediately replied, leaving Michiru somewhat surprised. "I realize that what I have done is a breach of your trust, and I will do whatever I have to do in order to earn it back. And I shall start now, by formally apologizing to each and every one of you."

Now the Kururugi boy was especially surprised. He had seen Miroku after his schemes had been exposed on a couple of occasions, and every time this had happened, the disgrace in service to Buddha had always been quick to rationalize every act of deceit and lechery he committed, blaming his cursed hands for his inability to resist fondling women, explaining away his cons and scams as ugly necessities to finance their journey to find and defeat Naraku. Never once losing the air of a pure and pious monk. The idea of him actually apologizing for any of his misdeeds left Michiru momentarily stunned, uncertain if he had heard the monk correctly.

"First and foremost, Michiru, I wish to apologize to you," Miroku began, leaving the Shikigami User even more dumbstruck. "Not only for intentionally placing in you danger, but for actively working to damage your good name." Then the monk turned towards the female Kururugi and continued. "Kaname, I am genuinely sorry for the things that I have done to your family." Then he focused on the Demon Slayer, his eyes lingering on her for a time before he said, "Sango, I truly regret my attempts to manipulate this situation, and...hurt someone you so...obviously love." He paused as the woman warrior smiled a sad little smile before glancing about at the others present. "And as for the rest of you, I am deeply regretful for what I did, and the danger my actions put you all in. And I wish to say that...I truly do hope that...this will help put an end to whatever conflicts you all might have had as a result of my actions."

I hope so, too, Michiru thought wearily, darting a glance over at Kagome. Noting with some dismay that the Kikyo's reincarnation was looking even more irate. But I get the feeling that it won't be that simple...

Wondering why exactly Kagome was still so infuriated, and making a note to speak with her about it at some point, Michiru was brought back to the moment when InuYasha snorted. "Oh, sure. It's really easy for you to just say you're sorry and act like everything will be all better now," the half-demon sneered derisively. "But just you saying something doesn't make it true, Miroku. So you better be able to back up that big mouth of yours!"

Looking at his friend, Michiru sighed, wondering what - if anything - he should say to this. On the one hand, he wanted this mess to be over and put in the past, preferably as quickly as possible. And given that Miroku had saved his life last night, he was certainly willing to let it all go at that. But at the same time, he knew that InuYasha had a valid point. Miroku's silver tongue was legendary in their little group, and getting the monk out of scrapes that would have most people occupying a jail cells was one of the things that it did best.

Even as Michiru found himself agreeing that it would take much more than simple words to repair the bonds of trust the monk's deceptions had sundered, Miroku again surprised him by saying, "I never expected that you would take my word at face value. Not after everything that's happened." Pausing to take a deep breath, the monk glanced about at the people around him before going on to say, "And rest assured, I am willing to do whatever it takes to make restitution to each and every one of you."

"Whatever it takes, huh?" InuYasha repeated, to which Miroku quickly nodded. "So basically, anything we want you to do, you're gonna do it? Is that what you're saying?"

Michiru found himself frowning somewhat at the half-demon's response. Given the situation, he would have expected InuYasha to sneer disbelievingly at the monk's vow. Instead, he was readily accepting Miroku's declaration, and judging by the smirk he wore, with the same enthusiasm with which he accepted a cup of ramen noodles. "Anything...within reason, InuYasha," Miroku replied, seeming to realize that something was not quite right here as well. "That is, I won't assassinate anyone on your behalf, or commit any wrongdoing for you."

"But anything else is all good. Is that about right?" InuYasha asked with an ever more devious look. One that was now getting the attention of Sango and a few others. "Like, say...if I wanted to whack you over you the head a couple dozen times...you'd let me. Is that right?"

"That...is correct," Miroku replied to the tune of a nervous gulp. "My...crimes against you all were...most severe. So of course, I would expect the penalties for my...misguided ways to be...equally severe."

Michiru wasn't sure if he liked the way this was going. Nor was his concerns assuaged when InuYasha grinned devilishly, rubbing his hands together in ill-disguised glee. "In that case...I'm going to have to spend some time, coming up with a severe enough punishment for you...!" the half-demon smirked, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he focused them on Miroku. "Oh, this is gonna be fun...!"

While Miroku was paling a couple shades, making it clear that he did not share InuYasha's enthusiasm in this regard, Sango glanced about at the rest of the group. The way she frowned and furrowed her brows at the half-demon making it clear that she also was confused and just a bit concerned about his present behavior. But even as she was visibly considering what to say, Kaname gave Michiru a look. "You know, InuYasha, I think we should let my bro be the first to give Miroku his just desserts," the Kururugi girl declared with an extraordinarily impish smile. "After all, since he's the one that almost got killed and everything..."

Michiru's eyes popped open at this, and went even wider when InuYasha looked at him and nodded thoughtfully. "Heh! You've got a point there, Kaname," the half-demon soon agreed. "So what do you say, Michiru? Got any ideas on how to pay Miroku back?"

Suddenly finding himself on the spot and liking the situation less and less, Michiru was spared the necessity of an immediate response when Sango broke in. "Uh, excuse me, you two? Before we...get into that...there's something I'd like to say." Glancing up at the Demon Slayer, the Shikigami User and the others watched as she gathered herself up to say, "I realize that we've all had our difficulties recently, and like Miroku said, what he did has caused us all a great deal of trouble. And as a result, there have been disagreements and good deal of fighting amongst ourselves." Giving this a chance to sink in, she then focused on the monk for a time. "Again, I want to thank you for coming clean on what really happened, Miroku. But at the same time, I realize that...it will not be easy for everyone here to accept what happened, and put it behind us." Then Sango leaned back, and swept the room with her gaze. "But we do have to put it behind us. We can't afford to be fighting Naraku and each other at the same time." Glancing over at the monk, the warrior woman then went on to say, "Now, Miroku has offered to make amends for what he's done, and I believe we should accept that offer, and leave it at that. Because the sooner we leave what happened behind us, the better it will be for all of us."

"You want to leave it behind you?" Azusa repeated in a jeering manner. "In that case, you should probably leave him behind you as well!" Jabbing her thumb at the errant monk, the she-wolf grinned wickedly. "I've seen some pretty lame humans before, but that filthy pervert tops them all!"

"Don't tempt us," InuYasha commented with a smirk.

"That's not an option for us, Azusa. We can't afford to be shy even one of us in battle. Not when it comes to Naraku," Sango declared. "And even if it were, we wouldn't do it. We've all been through too much together as it is. We won't simply abandon one of our own." Then she gave Miroku another glance before adding, "Not this time, anyway." Miroku seemed to jump at this, the meaning of Sango's words hanging dangerously over his head as the Demon Slayer went on to say, "We'll talk about it later. Right now, what's important is that we have too much to do for us to let what happened tear us apart. So we have to be able to work together, despite everything, or all we'll be doing is giving Naraku the advantage."

"Hey, we know that, Sango. We're not exactly stupid here!" InuYasha huffily declared. Then he gave Michiru a look and asked, "So...you got any ideas on how to pay Miroku back?"

Wincing as he was once again put on the spot, Michiru considered the matter. "That's...something I'm going to have think about, InuYasha," he finally decided, hoping to forestall any further discussions of the matter. "Right now, we have other stuff we have to deal with."

"Agreed," Miroku broke in, glancing over at InuYasha. "In fact, you'll be interested to hear that Totosai has completed his experimentations with the Reikikaega." Not giving anyone a chance to speak up, he then asked, "Isn't that right, Totosai?"

"Hmm?" A beat passed as everyone turned towards the aged blacksmith, only to emit myriad noises of surprise as they watched him open his bleary eyes and look blankly about. "Wh-what...are you speaking to me?"

Michiru's mouth popped open in surprise as InuYasha glared dangerously at the aged demon. "Dammit, old man!" he growled disbelievingly. "You mean you were asleep all this time?!"

"Huh - no, of course not!" Totosai indignantly retorted. "I was...just resting my eyes, that's all." Straightening himself, the elderly demon glanced about at the others. "Now, uh...what were you all talking about?"

Plumes of steam seemed to appear from InuYasha's ears at this, and the volatile half-demon glowered dangerously at the old man. "Uh, wait!" Kaname piped up, realizing just how close InuYasha was to exploding. "InuYasha, relax! It's not any big deal!"

"Besides, if you beat Totosai up, he won't be able to tell us about the Reikikaega!" Shippo hurriedly protested.

"Then...it's true?" Michiru asked, his curiosity immediately piqued. "You've...figured out the Reikikaega?"

"Well, yes. For the most part, anyway," Totosai hurriedly confirmed, a nervous sweat rolling down the side of his head as he glanced at the irate half-demon. "In fact, I was planning on telling you all about it right after breakfast!"

"Well, it's after breakfast now," Michiru commented, thinking of the lovely meal he had shared with Sango, as well as glancing over at the woman he loved. "And right now, I'm more interested in learning about the Reikikaega than figuring out what to do with Miroku."

"So am I, for that matter," Sango decided, clearly relieved to be able to get away from that particular subject for the moment. "So...do you want to tell us here, or -?"

"No!" Totosai yelped, holding up his hands in negation. "No...not here. Not when there's any chance of someone overhearing what I have to say." Pressing his lips together, he scanned the faces around him before declaring, "I...strongly suggest that we adjourn to a different location. Someplace a bit more...private."

"Fine by me, old man. We can deal with Miroku later," InuYasha declared somewhat irritably. "And after everything you've put us through, you better believe that I want to hear this." Then he looked over at Sango and suggested, "How about we go to the entrance to that cave where the gold was? As long as we're careful, we shouldn't have to worry about anybody snooping around."

"That sounds good," Kaname nodded. "In fact, I can set up a soundproof barrier to make sure that nobody can hear what we're talking about."

"Really?" Totosai asked, his aged eyes immediately focusing on the Kururugi girl. "Well, that would be ideal, young lady. I would certainly appreciate that."

"Fine. Let's get going, then," InuYasha decided, rising up to his feet. Pausing just long enough to spear Miroku with another glare, the half-demon then focused on Michiru. "Would you like some help?"

Michiru hesitated, opening his mouth to respond, only to be cut off when he felt something warm and furry rubbing up against his forearm. Promptly looking down, he saw Kirara rubbing her face against him before looking up and giving him a gentle mew. "Uh...thanks, InuYasha," Michiru answered, glancing between the two-tail and the half-demon and back again. "But...I think Kirara just offered to give me a lift."

"For that matter, so do I," InuYasha agreed, grinning at the two-tail. "Still, you might need some help getting on her back."

"Agreed," Sango declared as she moved up alongside of Michiru.

As the Kururugi boy allowed himself to be lifted up to his feet, InuYasha declared, "Oh, and by the way, Michiru, Jiro has some good news for you." Making a quizzical sound in his throat, Michiru narrowed his eyes somewhat as the half-demon grinned. "According to him, there might be a way the other Demon Slayers can help you get your strength back."

"Really?!" Sango smiled, reflecting the surprise and delight Michiru felt.

"That's right," Jiro confirmed as InuYasha and Sango eased Michiru towards the door, with Kirara leading the way. "Haruna and the others have dealt with Shikigami Users who've overused their powers in the past. And now that you've gotten a bit better, they should be able to speed up your recovery. And since Azusa and I are supposed to return to the mountains today, anyway..."

"Which is what we were supposed to be getting ready to do right now," Azusa pointedly remarked in her usual snippy manner. "Or did you conveniently manage to forget about that?"

"I haven't forgotten anything," Jiro promptly protested. "But it shouldn't take too long for Totosai to tell us what he's found out. And all the trouble we had last night, I'd rather not leave until I know how the Reikikaega can do...what it does." The she-wolf made a nasty face at this, prompting the Demon Slayer to cock his head to the side and ask, "Don't you want to know as well?"

The sour look on Azusa's face immediately told them everything they wanted to know. It was clear that the impatient wolf-demon was eager to return home, both to be back in familiar surroundings and to help her people. But at the same time, the way she was forced to keep her face straight made it clear that she truly was curious about whatever it was that Totosai had found. Something that was likely inspired at least in part by last night's disastrous battle, as well as what had caused it in the first place.

"Anyway, Kagome already got most of what we need in place, remember?" Kaname chimed in. Michiru made a face at this, and gave his sibling a confounded look, to which she responded with, "Kagome talked with Densuke earlier today, and he's got everything in place for us. As soon as we're ready to go, we can just stop by the main warehouse, and the people there will help us load Hachi up to go to the mountains."

"Really?" Glad to hear that that part of their mission was going well, Michiru turned towards the priestess. "That's great, Kagome. Thank...you..."

Visibly puzzled by the way Michiru trailed off, Sango turned back towards Kagome. And went rigid for a moment when she saw the ugly, vicious, utterly poisonous expression the modern priestess was wearing. Her eyes narrowed and angry, like she was just waiting for the slightest of excuses to explode. Eyes that were trained on Michiru and the cluster assisting him, as if she didn't know who to be maddest at.

But...why?! What is she still mad about?! Michiru wondered, finding himself increasingly confused. I figured that she'd probably be mad after Miroku confessed, but why is she glaring at us?! Why -?!

"Still, it might be a good idea to see how that's going," Sango admitted, snapping Michiru from his thoughts. "If you don't mind, I'd like to stop by the main warehouse, and make certain that everything's ready. I want to be able to go just as soon as Totosai's told us what he's learned."

InuYasha nodded to this, but Michiru frowned in confusion. "You want to be able to go?" the Kururugi boy wondered. "Sango...are you saying that...you're going back to the mountains with them?"

Turning to look at Michiru, the Demon Slayer gave him one of her rare, wondrous smiles. "Only if you're going with them," she explained, moving in to place a tender kiss on his cheek. As the Kururugi boy looked wonderingly at Sango, she added, "Well, Jiro did say that they could help you get better, right?"

"Well...yeah..." Michiru replied dumbly.

"At least, I don't see how it would hurt to try," Jiro quickly elaborated.

"Neither do I, for that matter," Sango admitted as they made their way outside. "So, what do you say, Michiru? Are you willing to give it a try?"

It took only a few moments for Michiru to consider the matter. In his current condition, he was nothing more than a burden for the rest of the group. He couldn't even move unassisted, let alone conjure his Shikigami yet. If they were to come under attack again, then he would be worse than useless to the others; he would be a load of dead weight, a potential target for any enemy, just as he had been last night. "Yeah...I guess. I really don't have much choice," the Shikigami User finally decided. "All I'm doing right now is...slowing you all down." But then Michiru frowned. "But what about you, Sango? They might need you here, and..."

"I don't think I'd be much use to anyone right now. And if I go with you, Daisuke and the others could help me rebuild Hiraikotsu," Sango explained in a tender manner. When Michiru opened his mouth to protest this, she held up her hand and explained, "Now, I know you wanted Totosai to use the jet to make me a new one, but it will probably take time for him to do it. And that's time we can't afford to waste."

"But...what about Kohaku? And Kanna?" Michiru wondered nervously. Only to pause when the warrior woman's eyes popped open at their mention. "Sango? What the -?!"

"Oh, my - I almost forgot! I still have to get them their breakfasts!" Sango yelped, already darting backwards. Deprived of her support, Michiru toppled off-balance, crying out in dismay as his weakened legs buckled beneath him. Even as InuYasha was tightening his grip on him, the Demon Slayer let out another cry of concern before returning to his side. "Oh, sorry!" she got out as she wrapped her arms about the Kururugi boy. Looking towards him, then inside the house and back again, Sango muttered something just beneath her breath before focusing on the half-demon. "Uh, InuYasha? Could you -?"

"Don't worry. I've got him," InuYasha nodded with one of his typically cocky grins. "You just hurry up and take care of those two, okay?"

"Okay, thank you! I'll catch up as soon as I can!" After nodding her gratitude, Sango moved in and placed a loving kiss squarely on Michiru's lips before darting back inside.

Stunned by both the sudden turnaround and the full force of that kiss, Michiru could do little save for hang limply in InuYasha's arms. "You know...maybe I should go with them back to the mountains," the Shikigami User admitted in a dazed manner. "I think I could a bit of a break."

"Yeah, I'm sure!" InuYasha smirked even as Kirara transformed and placed herself before them. "And some alone time with Sango with nobody around to mess it up!"

Feeling his cheeks burn somewhat at this, Michiru found that he couldn't deny his friend's words. And who knows? he thought wearily, recalling Kagome's poisonous glare. Maybe things will finally start getting back to normal before we get back...

It was all over. Everything was ruined. Everything.

That was the only thing Kagome could think as she stood in the center of the now empty dining room, utterly and completely decimated. That it was all ruined. The perfect love and happy ending she had hoped for and worked to facilitate had been shattered. Miroku had taken the blame for Michiru, and Sango had given herself to the Kururugi on a silver platter. The monk would be taking whatever sadistic punishments InuYasha and the twins could come up with, and the warrior woman whom was one of her closest friends would destroy her own life for a relationship that couldn't possibly work.

As all her fantasies and dreams of Miroku and Sango's wedding and the happy life the two deserved with each other crumbled apart like sodden paper, tears of abject misery rolled down Kagome's face. Leaving her still as a statue, but one whose base was breaking apart beneath her, leaving her on the verge of collapse.

"Kagome?" came a voice, one that she distantly recognized. Requiring a moment to recover enough for it, the modern priestess looked about to see Miroku standing a short distance behind her. "Kagome, listen. We really should be going now. Whatever it is that Totosai has learned about the Reikikaega, we need to hear."

Kagome didn't care about the Reikikaega, or Totosai, or anything else at that moment. All she could do was look at Miroku for a long, painful time, tears still rolling down her cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak, only to once again be reminded that she had no voice. And so she did the only thing she could do; she once again pulled out her notepad and pencil, wrote a single word on it, and showed it to Miroku.


Pausing to study that single word, Miroku straightened himself to look the modern girl in the eye. "Why did I confess, Kagome?" he asked, to which she nodded. "Because...it was already too late for me. Sango...she's in love with Michiru now, and..."

Stung by this statement, Kagome hurriedly scribbled down her response to this. "'You didn't have to confess! All we had to do was wait until Jiro and Azusa had left, and...' And it would have done nothing but make things worse," Miroku read and responded, his features falling in sorrow. "What I have - had with Sango...it's over, Kagome. It may well have been over for some time now. And any attempt by me to try and force her away from him would have served only to destroy what little feeling she has left for me."

Again, Kagome wrote a response to this. "'But it won't work between them! There's no way anything between them could ever last! And Sango's going to wreck herself trying to make it last! Don't you care about...' Kagome, of course I care about Sango! She's the one of the few women I've ever met that I've cared for in body and in spirit." A sad smile crossed Miroku's face at this. "And that's why I decided that...it was bad enough that I had lost her love. I didn't want to make her hate me as well, Kagome. And she would have hated me, if I had tried to get out of this." Fresh tears spilling forth across her face, the modern girl tried to write something more, only for the monk to place his hand on the notepad. "I'm sorry, Kagome. But...no matter how we feel about it, all we can do is let Michiru and Sango's relationship run its course. For better...or for worse."

Yanking the pad free, Kagome quickly wrote, 'But you're innocent! You shouldn't have to do this!'

Pausing to read these words, Miroku let out a low sigh. And for a long time, he simply stood there, his eyes moistening as he studied the modern girl. "I am many things, Kagome. But I am not an innocent. I doubt that I ever was." As Kagome let the notepad fall to her side, the monk's gaze fell to the floor. "In fact...I..."

"Oh! Excuse me!" Starting at this, both Miroku and Kagome looked up to see Sango darting into the living room, looking harried and hurried. "Listen, Miroku? Do you know if Tamoa made breakfast for Kohaku and Kanna yet?"

"I...no, I don't think so," Miroku eventually admitted. "I think she's still up with Kaito and Shunsuke."

Letting out a mild sigh, Sango nodded. "I see. Well, I better see about making something for them. And I need to see how Kanna's doing, and if she needs to...go outside," the Demon Slayer decided. The monk issued a mild chuckle at this, to which Sango replied, "Anyway, Miroku, could you help me get breakfast ready for them?"

"Certainly," Miroku answered almost immediately. "However, I - Kagome -!"

Kagome didn't hear what Miroku said next. She was too busy running out of the house, trying to outrace all the pain and anguish and turmoil that was now running rampant within her. She didn't care where she wound up, just so long as she was away from Miroku and Sango and the ruination of a perfect love.

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