Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

A Perfect Ending?

It's times like this I'm glad that I don't have a human body! InuYasha couldn't help but think as he and the others slowly approached the first beacon Kaname and Kagome had laid out for them. It's magical light a definite sign that their objective was finally within reach, and none too soon, by the look of things. I don't think I'd be able to stand getting exhausted as easily as they do all the time!

It wasn't that InuYasha had anything against his human friends and allies. On the contrary, he had nothing but the utmost respect for his fellow warriors, even if he didn't deem fit to openly express it for the most part. But at the same time, he didn't think he would be able to stomach the many limitations their mortal forms placed upon them.

Sango was clearly nearing her limits. The Demon Slayer had honed her body to the limits of human physical perfection, and had a great deal more strength and endurance than the average person, but the fact remained that she was still human, without the benefit of any special powers of her own. And while she didn't get tired very easily, she was still recovering from her earlier experience with the demonic grass, and that coupled with the prolonged effort of helping to clear the firebreak had left her breathing heavily, sometimes even using her Hiraikotsu as a walking stick as she endeavored to keep up.

As for Michiru, he wasn't far from his own limits, either. While he wasn't as weak as he once had been, and had clearly benefited from his training while apart from them, he still hadn't cultivated the physical power and stamina that Sango possessed. And though he had the magic of his Shikigami, the way he was mopping his brow was a clear sign that the many attack spells he had used that day were depleting his reserves.

As he watched his companions make their way forward, suffering from stiffness and possibly a few other physical ailments, InuYasha rested his sword on his shoulder and declared, "C'mon, you two! Hurry it up! We're almost there!"

"I know, InuYasha," Sango nodded, brushing aside an errant lock of her hair that was sending drops of sweat down her face. "I just need a moment, that's all."

Frowning as he studied the woman he loved, Michiru told her, "Sango, I really wish you would let me help you. I do know spells that would help you get your strength back, and...!"

"And deplete yours at the same time?" Sango asked, the tone of her voice making it clear what she thought of such an idea. When Michiru hesitated, his face betraying his frustration and exhaustion, the Demon Slayer gingerly approached him. "Look, I appreciate the thought," she told him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "But right now, the best thing you can do to help is to focus on getting the job done. We don't know how much longer we have until the fire gets this far."

"Yeah, and we definitely don't want to be here when that happens!" InuYasha told them somewhat impatiently. "So c'mon! We're almost there! See?" Jerking his thumb in the direction they were going, and more importantly, at the very first beacon placed by Kaname and Kagome. "I figure all we need is few more rounds of attacks, and the job will be done! So let's do it!"

Nodding, Sango turned back to Michiru and told him, "InuYasha's right. As soon as we're done, we'll have plenty of time to rest. So please, don't waste your magic on me, okay?"

Michiru just looked at the Demon Slayer for the longest time, he face saying that he didn't think that magic used for her benefit was a waste. But finally, he let out a tired breath, and replied, "Okay, Sango." And with that, the two of them started forward again, moving slowly and alongside each other.

Satisfied that his friends were again on the move, InuYasha turned and started forward as well, following the path of their most recent bombardment. His eyes trained on the growing amounts of debris that had so far survived, as well as the trees and other plants that still stood beyond it. Growling somewhat, he hefted the Tetsusaiga in both hands, feeling its powerful winds rippled about it. "Alright, let's do it! Wind Scar!"

Bringing the massive fang down to the ground, InuYasha watched as it released multiple bands of destructive power into the trees and bushes, shattering them instantly and blazing their trail ever closer to its conclusion. When the Wind Scar eventually subsided, he saw to his dissatisfaction that the force of the blast hadn't cleared quite as much ground as it had not that long ago.

Dammit...all those Wind Scars...! InuYasha growled inwardly, his grip on the Tetsusaiga tightening. I guess all this crap is tiring me out, too! Loathe to admit that he was reaching his own limits, the half-demon looked back at his human companions. "Alright, you're up!"

"Right," Sango nodded before turning towards their friend. "Say, Michiru, do you think you have enough energy left for another combo attack?"

His expression betraying his surprise, Michiru then nodded and smiled. "Uh, yeah, Sango! Sure!" he beamed happily. "Want to go with the Firebird Attack? We cleared out an entire length between beacons with that one?"

"Well...okay. If you feel up to it, that is," Sango replied. Michiru's response was to nod before reaching into his holster, drawing forth five cards. "Ready?"

"Ready!" Michiru assured her.

"Alright, then! Hiraikotsu!" Sango cried out, throwing her massive boomerang with all the strength she still possessed. As it spun about through the air, Michiru empowered the five cards and sent them flying after it. When the cards overtook the Hiraikotsu, they formed a pentagram around it. The magic circle glowing with blue fire, it exploded into brilliant flames that surrounded Sango's weapon, giving it the appearance of the legendary phoenix.

His brows knotted in concentration, Michiru guided the attack with his mind and magic, aiming the blazing boomerang directly towards the last beacon. As it encountered the trees and plants, it mowed them down effortlessly, virtually melting through them. "That's it...keeping going!" he got out from between clenched teeth. "Tear that stuff apart!" The Firebird responded to his desires, continuing to rip through everything it came into contact with, leaving a trail of half-burned, half-melted plants in its wake.

Watching the smoldering remains that littered the path ahead, Sango muttered, "InuYasha, you better take out what's left of the flames."

"Yeah, I know!" InuYasha growled response. It would do no good to go to all the trouble of blazing the firebreak if their efforts caused another fire to start right then and there. "Take that! Wind Scar!" Unleashing the power of the Tetsusaiga once more, the half-demon watched as the wave of the destruction followed in the path created by the Firebird, effortlessly shattering the burning remains of the plants it had destroyed. The enormous wind easily snuffed out whatever flames lingered, and when the blast had subsided, the half-demon was pleased to see that not even a spark remained.

However, as he continued to stand there, his pleasure increased when he saw that the flames weren't the only thing to have been cleared away by the force of the Wind Scar. The blast had also wiped out the last of the trees in their path, revealing the base of the light beacon that had guided them to this point.

For a long time, InuYasha simply stood there, unable to believe what he was seeing. After all the time and sweat and effort, it seemed almost impossible that they had finally achieved their goal. And yet, as he and the others continued to stand there and look, all their exhaustion slowly fell away before a rising surge of jubilation.

"Haha! We did it!" InuYasha grinned in triumph, hefting up the Tetsusaiga overhead as he turned towards his friends.

"We...we did it!" Michiru echoed his friend in a much weaker voice. As he turned towards Sango, the Demon Slayer didn't say anything to express her own celebration. She just stood there, smiling tiredly as the modern magician met her gaze. "We...we really pulled it off!"

"Yeah..." Sango nodded shakily. "We...we really...!" Chuckling weakly in her throat, she looked over at the boy next to her, before once again shaking her head.

Noting this, Michiru took several deep breaths before asking, "Uh, Sango...are - are you...?"

"I...I'm alright. Just..." Sucking fresh lungfuls of air, Sango frowned before forcing herself up into a standing position. "Hmm..." She glanced about the air once, then twice, before finally asking, "Michiru...are you sure you don't sense any demonic plants around here? No grass or...anything?"

Frowning his confusion, Michiru looked like he was about to say something, but then closed his eyes in concentration. "Hmm...no. No, I'm not sensing anything nearby," he finally reported, opening his eyes again an jerking his thumb back towards the enclosed section of the forest. "The closest demonic plants are...ten, maybe twenty meters that way."

"You're sure? You're absolutely positive about that?" Sango persisted, to which Michiru nodded again. "You're not picking up any signs that...they might be moving this way or anything like that?"

"Sango, I'm sure!" Michiru told her, clearly baffled by her questions.

This was something that InuYasha was feeling as well. "What are you talking about, Sango?! I already told you that the plant monsters I saw were all rooted in place! They weren't going anywhere!" he reminded her in a sharp, annoyed voice. "And it's not like the damned grass could have given them legs after we got Kaname away from it!"

Sango nodded to this. "I know, I know. It's just..."

"Just what?" Michiru wondered, coming up to stand in front of her. "Sango, what is it?"

"I...I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but..." Again, the Demon Slayer shook her head before finally saying, "It just feels...too easy to me!"

A snort of laughter escaped InuYasha's lips at this. "Wha- easy?! You call what we did easy?!"

"You know what I mean, InuYasha!" Sango protested, giddy with exhaustion. "We...we completed the firebreak...and nothing went wrong?! No monster demons coming out of nowhere?! No sign of the fire burning out of control?! No sign of the plant monsters we saw or any demonic grass?!" Chuckling despite herself, the Demon Slayer shook her head in seeming disbelief. "I - I - maybe I'm making more of it than I should, but...how often has this happened?! Where everything goes...this perfectly?!"

InuYasha opened his mouth to protest, but before he did, the woman warrior's words registered with him, and he found that she did indeed have a point. So many times he and the others had wandered into a situation that should have been simplicity itself, and rapidly turned into anything but. It didn't seem to matter how innocuously things started out, by the time everything was said and done, the entire group was mired in a tremendous mess that required a great deal of quick-thinking and good amount of luck in order to extract themselves from it.

And now, after so much had already gone wrong this day, after very nearly losing two teammates to the demonic grass and winding up facing hideous plant monsters and a raging inferno, they had successfully established the firebreak without incident? They had come up with a strategy that had not only worked flawlessly, but had managed to execute it without running into any additional resistance?

While InuYasha was wondering if reality as he knew it had ceased to exist, Michiru let out a low gusting sigh before saying, "Hey...I won't complain about it if you won't!"

Sango's response to this was to laugh even more, something that left InuYasha even more surprised. But as he continued to watch his human friends stand there, shuddering with both exhaustion and mirth, he realized that they had pushed themselves even further than he had realized, and as a result were giddy with exhaustion. "Yeah, well..." he began slowly, not wanting to spoil this moment bu feeling it necessary, nonetheless, "we won't know that for sure until we get back to the farmhouse...and see if this firebreak actually does what it's supposed to do."

Her laughter subsiding, Sango managed to nod. "Y-you're right, InuYasha. I...I don't know what I..." As the Demon Slayer trailed off, she stood up straighter and frowned. "Hey...what happened to my Hiraikotsu? It should've come back here by now!"

"Huh?" Michiru started as he came back to his senses. "Oh...you're right." Straightening himself out, he narrowed his blue-grey eyes as he looked towards where the last beacon still shown. "Huh...I guess when InuYasha hit the Firebird with his Wind Scar, it must've destroyed the cards and..."

"And sent it crashing down there someplace," InuYasha concluded with a definite frown. Turning back to the others, he saw that Sango was about to say something. Intuiting what she was going to say, he held out his hand to her. "Eh, don't worry. I'll go get it."

A protest upon her lips, Sango instead sighed and answered, "Thanks. I'd appreciate it."

Yeah, I'll bet. Just like you'll appreciate getting back to the farmhouse and getting a good night's sleep! InuYasha decided before turning and darting forward. Despite the fact that his own body was wearied by this day's activities, the half-demon decided that inviting trouble now was a mistake he'd rather not make, especially since everything seemed to be going just a touch too smoothly for everybody's taste. And leaving his friends alone when for any real amount of time, despite the fact that neither them nor he sensed any potential threat, was basically asking for trouble. The sooner we get out of this damned forest, the better we'll all like it!

With this thought in mind, the silver-maned warrior soon arrived at the location of the beacon. Averting his eyes from the brilliant light, InuYasha began looking about, searching for Sango's lost weapon. After a few moment's searching, he spotted a patch of shattered trees just past the beacon, the broken wood still smoldering. "Ha! There you are!" he grinned triumphantly before making his way over to the decimated trees. As soon as he did, he saw his objective lying a short distance away, half-buried in the ground.

Heh. Looks like it got tossed here after the Wind Scar hit it, InuYasha decided as he looked about the trees and plants before him. There was nothing to indicate that the demonic grass had spread this far, no signs of any mutated plants. Nothing to say that he had to do anything more than simply walk in, grab the Hiraikotsu, and walk back to the others.

Too easy. Despite everything, InuYasha couldn't help but think it was just too easy.

But even as he thought this, he knew that standing around, waiting for something bad to happen was an open invitation for some jerk of a god or something to take notice and decide to have some fun at his expense. So after a moment's hesitation, InuYasha started past the broken trunks, keeping alert for the telltale sting of something tearing into his feet. This awareness lending speed to his actions, he soon arrived at the Hirakotsu's side, and with a grunt of effort, hefted the massive boomerang up and slung it on his back. "There!" he growled as he started back out. "Now to get back to the others before something really does go wrong!"

Making his way past the broken trees, still on the alert for any sign of the foul weed that had caused so much trouble that day, InuYasha was about to emerge into the clearing when something large fell down in front of him. "Auggh!" he cried out in surprise, practically falling over in surprise. "What in the -?!"

"InuYasha!" came a bright, familiar voice. "So there you are!"

"Kagome?" InuYasha frowned, taking a step forward and narrowing his eyes at the shape. Sure enough, it was Kagome and Kaname, still riding on Kirara's back. Blinking a few times in surprise, the half-demon momentarily wondered why he hadn't scented their approach before recalling that his nose was presently worthless. Suddenly annoyed, the half-demon reacted on impulse and shot his annoyance right at the two girls. "Dammit, what are you doing here?!"

Though Kaname looked somewhat surprised by his reaction, Kagome just smiled and took it in stride. "Looking for you, of course!" she told him in a mock-scolding fashion that wasn't quite as mock as InuYasha would have preferred. "We ran into Michiru and Sango, and they pointed us in your direction." The half-demon opened his mouth to ask another question, but Kagome was quick to anticipate him. Before he could even get out a single syllable, she informed him, "And in case you were wondering why we were looking for you, we were checking out the fire, and it's spreading fast!"

Just as InuYasha was considering telling Kikyo's reincarnation what he thought about this little interruption, her words registered with him, at which point his anger was forgotten. "It's spreading?!" the half-demon demanded, his body tensing as Kagome nodded. "Have you told Miroku and Shippo about that?!"

"Yes. We...we found them first, and told them to get back to the farmhouse as soon as they had finished cleaning up the firebreak," Kaname told him. "Listen, I...the fire hasn't gotten down here yet, but...I don't think we have much time!"

As fouled up as his nose was, InuYasha couldn't tell one way or the other. However, he knew that his human friends wouldn't lie about something like that. "Alright! We better got get back to Michiru and Sango!" Not bothering to wait and see if the girls agreed with him, the half-demon started past them.

Handling Hiraikotsu's weight with relative ease, InuYasha rushed down the path. Now that he was aware of the presence of Kirara and the girls, his keen ears were able to track them as they started after him. All the while his eyes were glued to the two friends ahead, exhausted and ill-equipped to fight. For until he had gotten them to the relative safety of the farmhouse, he wasn't willing to take any chances.

"Hey, InuYasha!" Michiru called out as he approached. Then he leaned to his side and added, "I see Kaname and Kagome found you without any trouble."

"Yeah, they found me. And they told me about how the fire's coming closer," InuYasha retorted before gently returning the Hiraikotsu to its owner. "Listen, the rest of you better get out of here now."

"Huh -?" Kaname squeaked in dismay. "But what about you?!"

"Don't worry about me!" InuYasha retorted quickly. "I'm going stay here until Miroku and Shippo have taken care of their end of this job. Just to make sure they don't run into any trouble!"

"But...!" Kaname began, her features creasing with mounting concern.

"I'll be fine. It's not like I'm going waltzing through a forest fire here!" InuYasha countered, understanding Kaname's wariness, especially after everything she had been through. "I'm just gonna stick around long enough to make sure that nothing happens, okay?" Then he stepped back and scrutinized these few, precious people that he dared to call his friends. "And besides, the sooner you get out of here, the better. I don't think any of you is in any shape to deal with anything else right now."

Unsurprisingly, Kaname remained unhappy about this. As for the others, the silver-maned warrior watched as they looked amongst themselves, their faces reflecting their thoughts. Sango, Kagome, even Michiru were experienced enough in the ways of the Feudal Era to know that, not only was there great danger present, but that InuYasha was capable of braving it with greater ease than a human could. And that with his Fire-Rat fur kimono, he was effectively impervious to flame. "Alright. Just be careful, okay," Sango finally told him, her voice low and serious. "But just make sure that they see you coming. If Miroku has his Wind Tunnel open..."

"Not a problem. My nose might be out of commission, but my ears still work just fine," InuYasha told her under no uncertain terms. "Besides, I can spend some time clearing out more the firebreak. Just to be on the safe side."

"But - no, wait!" Kaname broke in, looking wildly about at the others. "We can't leave you all here by yourself!"

"Relax! I'm not gonna be here all that long!" InuYasha assured her, readily understanding why she wouldn't like the idea of any of them being left alone in this forest where danger was lurking underneath the very ground they stood upon. "And it's not like I'm going anywhere near where that damned grass is! All I'm doing is making sure that nothing goes wrong, okay?"

"Kaname, InuYasha's right," Michiru informed her. When his sister opened her mouth to protest, he smiled and added, "Besides, it's not like we're going to be leaving him behind! We're just getting some distance from here while we wait for Miroku and Shippo to finish up."

Again, Kaname looked ready to say something to this. But then her sibling's words registered with her, and her concern changed to surprise. "Oh," was all she could say as she glanced about at her friends. "Oh," she said again as she slumped forward, a drop of sweat rolling down her face. "Uh...sorry...I didn't mean..."

"Hey, we know what you meant! It's okay!" Kagome replied, shooting a compassionate smile at the Kururugi girl before returning her attention to InuYasha. "Just do us all a favor and try to be careful for once, okay?"

Acting out of pure, conditioned reflex, InuYasha gave a loud snort at this. "Since when do demons give us the chance to be careful? Now go on! Get going!"

"Okay, okay! Sheesh, you don't have to be so rude!" Kagome retorted snidely while the rest of them made less caustic remarks to the same effect even as Kirara came down next to Michiru and Sango. The two exhausted warriors, moving with some difficulty, required a bit of assistance from InuYasha and the others in order to mount the two-tailed cat.

Taking a few steps back, InuYasha watched as Kirara slowly lifted into the air, flying cautiously to make sure that none of her human passengers lost their seating. Content that they would be as safe as they could be, at least for the time being, the half-demon drew Tetsusaiga from its sheathe. "Alright, then," he muttered, studying the part of the firebreak that was closest to the beacon, the portion he knew to be the narrowest. If there was anywhere that the fire was going to be able bridge the gap to the rest of the forest, it would be there. "Time to clear us some more room to work with! Wind Scar!!"

Groaning heavily as he resealed his accursed Wind Tunnel, Miroku clenched his fist shut, his left hand about his right wrist. "So far, so good!" Shippo decided, giving a large flap of his wings as he propelled himself forward. "How are you holding up, Miroku?"

Not well, Miroku thought wearily, his right forearm trembling somewhat. Never in his life had he ever been forced to use his Wind Tunnel so rapidly and repeatedly, and even though he wasn't drawing a great deal into it, the effort was more telling then he would have liked. "I'm fine, for now," was what he actually said to his young friend. "This area looks pretty well cleared out. Let's proceed to the next section."

"Okay!" Shippo replied in good cheer, and with that, the transformed fox-demon flew forward. Leaving Miroku little to do but dangle from his claws while surveying the rest of the forest. As near as the monk could tell, the firebreak itself was very nearly complete. He could still hear the distinct sound of the Wind Scar being unleashed a short distance away, but the sounds of destruction were less intense than before, and with a greater amount of time between blasts. Furthermore, he could see faint clouds of dust rising up from a fairly short distance ahead.

"Looks like InuYasha and the others are just about done with their part," Miroku commented, his voice heavy with relief. "And just in time, too."

"Yeah! The fire's really getting worse!" Shippo commented mildly, a drop of sweat rolling down his face as he glanced in the blaze's direction. "I'm just glad the break's working!"

Yes. So far, at least, Miroku added inwardly. For as much as the monk was pleased that everything appeared to be going smoothly, there was a part of him that couldn't help but fear that it wouldn't last. As if something terrible was just waiting to come out of nowhere and fall right down upon their heads.

But as quickly as he thought this, Miroku then quickly shook his head. No. No use in inviting trouble. Things will either work fine...or they won't, he told himself, hoping for the latter. And even if they don't, then we'll deal with it then. And with this thought, the monk returned his attention to the task at hand. Looking down at the ground below, he watched for any lingering debris or dust, anything that could carry a spark. To his relief, he didn't see anything in the immediate area, but as Shippo continued to fly forward, he knew that this wouldn't last.

Sure enough, as the two of them rounded the bend, they were confronted by the lingering debris of many shattered trees and plants strewn about, as well as plenty of organic dust just waiting to spread the flames. Dust the was currently being added to by a temperamental half-demon, who was presently firing off another Wind Scar into the section of forest that they had worked so hard to isolate. "There's InuYasha!" Shippo announced as they flew closer. Then he paused and glanced about, before he added with a frown, "But...where's Michiru and Sango?"

Momentarily concerned by their absence, Miroku again glanced about the area. "I don't see them down there," he finally admitted, suffering a moment of concern. His feeling of foreboding returning, the monk quickly glanced about a further radius, before finally sighting something just above the horizon. "Look, over there. Isn't that Kirara?"

"Hmm? Oh, yeah, I see her now!" Shippo cried out. "But...what's she doing over there?"

"I don't know. But perhaps InuYasha does," Miroku decided after a moment's thought. "Shippo? Take us in closer."

Shippo hesitated a moment before answering, "Okay. I just hope that nothing's gone wrong!" Feeling this as much as the fox-demon, Miroku contented himself to simply hang from his claws as they slid into an easy descent towards the half-demon. "Hey! InuYasha!"

Looking up at the fox-demon's cry, InuYasha glanced about for a moment before locking his gaze on them. "So there you are! It's about time you two got here! The break's done, in case you haven't noticed?!"

"Now don't be like that, InuYasha. We've been working hard, in case you've forgotten," Miroku told him in a polite, yet scolding fashion. "And yes, we did notice that break appears to be complete. However, what we didn't notice was Sango or Michiru anywhere nearby."

"I had 'em take off a few minutes ago," InuYasha immediately retorted. He then went on to explain how the modern girls had arrived on Kirara, warning of the approaching fire, as well as Michiru and Sango's exhaustion. "With the fire coming, I figured it'd be better to have them all someplace else." Then the half-demon narrowed his eyes and asked, "What, didn't you see them?"

"We saw them, and indeed, Kagome and Kaname warned us of the spreading fire before," Miroku confirmed. "I merely wanted to make certain that nothing...unexpected had happened"

"Feh. Nothing so far, but you never know," InuYasha grumbled, making it clear that he, too, expected things to take a turn for the worst. "Anyway, I figured I'd stick around, widen the break a bit. At least you came to get your job done."

Knowing this as InuYasha's way of voicing his own hidden concerns, Miroku nodded before once again taking hold of the beads binding the curse that had taken both his father and grandfather. "In that case, I suggest you better clear of here so I can do so." The silver-maned warrior gave a slight nod to this before sheathing the Tetsusaiga and dashing out into the woods. "Good. Now take us up, Shippo, so we can finish this!"

"Right! Here we go! Up, up, and away!" Shippo replied with a hint of cheer. Giving powerful flaps of his wings, the transformed fox-demon lifted them up higher above the cleared section of the forest. He continued to gain altitude, until at last they were about as high as they had been earlier. "You ready, Miroku?"

Making a sound of confirmation, Miroku added, "Just like before, Shippo. One sweep along this section, and then we come back for another run to pick up anything we missed the first time." Shippo's response was to nod and then start flying forward. "Get ready! I'm opening the Wind Tunnel!" This time, any response the fox-demon might have made was drowned out as the monk opened his right hand, tearing aside the beads wrapped around it, unsealing the all-consuming void.

Grunting at the renewed strain placed upon his body, Miroku clenched his right forearm as tightly as he could, making sure that his aim didn't wander as Shippo flew across the final section of the firebreak. Every bit of small debris and dust was quickly sucked into the void, until at last the two of them came to the end of the new section. Making sure to play his Wind Tunnel about, knowing that there was a good chance that some of the debris created from the clearing this portion might have spilled into the earliest section, Miroku continued to work even as Shippo banked into a turn, coming about for the second sweep.

Beads of sweat rolling down his face, exhaustion causing him to tremble, all Miroku could do was hold on, glancing up to the far end of this section. Grimacing at the distance still left to go, he fought the urge to reseal the Wind Tunnel, and instead continued to absorb every possible scrap that could ruin the firebreak. C'mon, c'mon...you just need to hold out for a little while longer...! he told himself as the end of this mission slowly drew closer. You just need to...just a bit more...and then you can rest!

Despite being a monk, Miroku wasn't one often given to prayer. But in the moment, he was seriously considering praying that nothing went wrong just now. Because there was plenty of things that certainly could go wrong in a situation like this, and all of them would likely result in him and Shippo meeting Buddha a great deal sooner than either of them cared for.

While he struggled with both his Wind Tunnel and an imagination that was busily conjuring up all those horrid worst-case scenarios, Miroku had his eyes very nearly squeezed shut. So much so that he could hardly even see through the forceful winds and the debris that they were drawing in. All he could really do was clamp down on his own mounting exhaustion.

Which was why he very nearly missed it when Shippo called out, "That's it! We're done, Miroku!"

His eyes flying open at this, Miroku looked about in surprise. "What?!"

"I said, we're done! You can close it up now!" Shippo responded, almost shouting his response. "What's the matter, anyway? Did you get something in your ears?"

"Uh, no! I...!" Miroku replied as he numbly replaced the beads about his forearm, glancing about at his surroundings. To his considerable surprise, he realized that his young friend was correct. Somehow, they had already completed both runs, and in a time far shorter than the monk had expected. Of course, such arduous times do seem much longer when you're actually living through them.

As the Wind Tunnel's effect completely faded, Shippo commented, "Well, it looks like we got everything! Time to head back to the farmhouse, right?" Miroku didn't answer right away. Instead, he looked down at the section he and Shippo had just worked to clear. As near as he could tell, the Wind Tunnel had handily disposed of all the remaining detritus, leaving absolutely nothing that could carry a spark. The firebreak was complete at last. InuYasha and the others had retreated from it, were safe and sound. They were free to return to the farmhouse for a well-deserved night of rest.

And not one thing had gone wrong thus far. No evil demons attacking, no sudden, unexpected monsters. None of the things that were so common in their efforts to fight down a terrible menace. Despite everything that had happened today, the only people hurt were Sango and Kaname, and they were very nearly recovered. The situation had been resolved just about as perfectly as they were capable of doing so.

So why do I still feel like I'm waiting for Naraku to come along and ruin everything for us again? Miroku couldn't help but wonder.

I feel I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, Kagome thought as she worked in the kitchen. Right on my head!

Two hours had passed since the completion of the firebreak, two hours in which she and the others had retreated to the farmhouse. Almost as soon as they were inside, virtually all the human members of their group had gladly collapsed to the floor, and within seconds were asleep. Leaving only Kagome, InuYasha, Shippo and Kirara to keep watch for any trouble, such as the fire that was still spreading in the sectioned off portion of the forest.

Which might explain why I feel this way, Kagome decided, pausing to glance out one of the windows. Since they had left the forest, the incidental blaze caused by the Kururugi twins had spread madly, so much so that she could see tongues of scarlet destruction rising up even from where she was. I just hope the firebreak does its job. Because if it fails, I don't know what else we can do! This thought in mind, she sighed and glanced back into the main room, where most of her friends still lay asleep. Assuming we can do anything, that is...

As Kagome looked at her friends, she knew that their present condition was likely another cause of her somber mood. The long day's work had drained them badly, even those of demonic blood, and if the firebreak failed, there was no way any of them would have the strength required to do something about it. And as much as Kagome hated thinking about, in that event, they would be forced to evacuate to a different location. And traveling in the condition they were currently in would be a veritable invitation for further disaster.

Pressing her lips together at this unfortunate realization, Kagome heaved a tired sigh before turning and leaving the kitchen. "InuYasha?"

A beat passed before the half-demon looked up at her from where he sat on the floor. "Huh? What is it?" he asked, a hopeful look on his face. "Is dinner ready yet? I'm starvin' here!"

Momentarily tempted to call him on his eternal predilection with food, Kagome instead sighed and answered, "Almost. Just a few more minutes; it took a while to boil all that water." Apparently satisfied with this answer, InuYasha returned his attention to the friends that were presently asleep. "Listen, there's...there's something we need to talk about."

"Hmm? What's that?" InuYasha wondered.

"Look, I...I was just thinking...what will we do if the firebreak doesn't work?" Kagome finally got out. "We're so close to the forest, and...well..."

Letting out a growl that was more tired and irritable than genuinely nasty, InuYasha then retorted, "What are you talking about here?! This whole thing was your idea, remember?!"

"I know, I know. And...well, I'm not saying that you and the others...I mean, I know we all worked really hard on this, to make it work," Kagome assured him even as nagging seeds of doubt stabbed at her from the inside. Turning to glance out the door, at the flames that were presently rising up to the sky, she then returned her gaze to InuYasha and explained, "It's just...I'm still worried. I mean...what if something happens, and...?"

InuYasha just sat there for a time, staring at the modern girl. For a while, Kagome returned that gaze, wondering if he was even paying attention to her or taking what she said seriously. Just as she was about to open her mouth and tell him to say something, he lowered his gaze and frowned. "I know," he muttered beneath his breath. "Guess the only thing we can really do right now is just...keep an eye on it, and...I dunno. Maybe we could have Kirara and Shippo check things out later?"

Kagome immediately frowned at this before turning to glance at the demons mentioned, who were also sound asleep. Kirara was nestled up right next to Sango, pressed against the Demon Slayer's body, while Shippo had came to rest squarely between both of the Kururugi twins. Both of them looking so comfortable that she didn't even want to think of waking them up, especially after the efforts they had put forth themselves. But even as she thought this, she also realized that InuYasha had a valid point. They were the ones best suited to monitor the fire and ascertain whether or not the firebreak was working, something which they absolutely had to do.

"Well...yeah, I guess," Kagome reluctantly answered. "But...I'd like to let them rest for a while longer. They've earned that, and a good meal."

"Hmph. No arguments there," InuYasha nodded, glancing over at them. "Besides, if the firebreak doesn't work...well, I don't think it'll be hard to notice."

Getting a bad feeling that the half-demon was right about that, Kagome nodded before replying, "I better get back, keep an eye on the food." With that, she turned and made her way back to the kitchen. All of her friends had worked hard that day, pushing themselves to the limits. The very least she could do for them was be ready to tend to their needs, to help them recover from their exertions...and hopefully be ready for whatever came next.

I just wish I was able to give them some real food, and not just more instant noodles! Kagome grimaced as she worked. I mean, at least I was able to throw in some meat and vegetables I still had left, but...ugh! I swear, if another rat shows up here, looking for a free meal, the only thing it's going to be eating is the business end of one of my arrows!

Smiling as her mind conjured up such an image, Kagome sighed before returning to her work. Glancing over at the small timer she had set out, she saw that she had about a minute to go before they were ready for consumption, so she spent that time checking other things, such as the tea she had preparing for the rest of them, amongst other things. By the time she was done making her various preparations, the timer was sounding for her attention. "Oh!" she gasped, jumping up a few inches in response to the mild beeping. Turning to look at the timer, Kagome let out a low sigh before going over to turn it off. "Whew...guess I'm more on edge than I thought..." Shaking her head, mildly disgusted with her own display of nerves, the raven-haired girl paused to let out a low sigh before looking out into the living room. "InuYasha, could you do me a favor and get everybody up? Dinner's ready."

"Right, I heard," InuYasha responded, already getting to his feet and moving over to Michiru's side.

Watching as the half-demon shook his human friend's shoulder, Kagome again sighed. Under ideal circumstances, she would have much rather have let him and everyone else sleep, to get up whenever they were ready and eat then. But at the same time, she knew that these were not ideal circumstances. That while sleep would help them recover, they also needed to eat, to keep their energy up. Just in case that proverbial boom she was expecting was in fact lowered.

Setting herself to the task of getting ready to serve everyone their meal, the modern priestess listened as her friends were slowly roused from their sleep. Miroku and Sango, being accustomed to the realities of the Feudal Era and both light sleepers by nature, were the first to rise up. Kirara got up shortly after, stretching out and yawning in a typically feline fashion. With a bit of prodding, Michiru was soon awake as well, followed closely by Shippo. "Hey...is that food I smell?"

"Sure is. And if you don't get moving, we're gonna start eating without you," InuYasha told him in a manner Kagome knew quite well, the one that left you wondering if he was serious or not. Then he bent down and took the last one still asleep by her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. "C'mon, Kaname! Dinner's ready!"

A weary groan issued from Kaname's lips. Shifting about with a frown, she curled up a bit before answering, "Oh...just five more minutes..."

Despite everything, Kagome couldn't help but laugh at this. The Kururugi girl sounded a lot like Sota did in the morning. And as she moved to glance into the living room, she found that she wasn't the only amused by Kaname's response. "Sorry, but I don't think you'd appreciate eating cold ramen," Michiru told her. "Now, please, just get up for a bit, okay?"

"Ergh...aw, do I have to go to school today...?" Kaname groaned in protest before curling up even more. Resulting in even more laughter from Kagome, as well as the others.

"Oh, dear. Sounds like she's dreaming," Miroku commented needlessly.

"More like a nightmare, from the sound of it," Kagome chimed in between escaping giggles. "Not that I blame her!"

"Me neither," Sango muttered in a more serious voice. "Not after everything she's been through today."

"Yeah, well, she's not going to get any better unless she gets something into her stomach," InuYasha commented gruffly. Then he gave Kaname a stronger shaking before telling her, "Hey, c'mon, Kaname! Wake up already!"

Once again, Kaname groaned in protest, even shaking her head. But InuYasha would have nothing of it, and gave her another shaking, causing her to open her eyes. "Huh?" the Kururugi girl got out, wincing as the low light of the fire penetrated her eyes. "Oh, what the...InuYasha? What are...?"

"Sorry to wake you, sis, but...dinner's ready, and..." Michiru explained, giving her a helpless shrug.

Kaname blinked a few more times before her eyes sparked with comprehension. "Oh. Oh, right, I..." she mumbled, slowly forcing herself into a seated position, bringing her hand to her forehead as she did. "Yeah, uh...Kagome said she'd be..." She gave another weary sigh before glancing out the door, at the darkness that lay beyond. "What...is this even the same day...?"

"Afraid so," Kagome answered, giving the modern sorceress a look of pure sympathy. She had been where Kaname was several times in the past, especially in the earlier days of her journeys. Exhausted from battle, her mind dazed and confused, and too tired to even speak intelligently. "Come on. Why don't you have something to eat, and then you can get back to sleep, okay?"

Frowning somewhat, Kaname just looked at Kagome for a time before answering, "You know, if it weren't for the fact that I'm starving...I'd probably just keel over and go back to sleep right now."

"I know you feel," Sango told her earnestly, smiling in a way that said that she was probably feeling much the same way. "But you need to keep your strength up, and..." As Kaname nodded her understanding, the Demon Slayer turned towards InuYasha. "So, has anything happened?"

"Not really. We haven't seen any sign of the fire spreading, but..." Concluding with a shrug, Kagome watched as the rest of them expressed their understanding with their faces. "Anyway, we better eat before the food gets cold. Or any more rats show up!"

"Boy, I'll say!" Shippo chimed in, and with that, Kagome set to work. Before long, everyone there was feeding their respective faces, and for once, InuYasha wasn't the only one to forego his table manners, at least to a degree.

As they ate, Kagome frowned before saying, "Uh, Sango? There's something I wanted to talk to you about."

The Demon Slayer caught the tone with which Kagome spoke, prompting a look of concern to flash across her face. "What is it?"

Heaving a deep breath, Kagome then proceeded to explain her concerns about the firebreak to the others. "Now, I know how hard you all worked on this, but...I just thought we should make sure that nothing happens. So I was wondering...would it be okay if one of us went with Kirara a little later, just to be on the safe side?"

"Well...you're right. We should make sure that nothing happens, but..." Frowning somewhat, Sango then turned to her feline friend, who was presently eat out of a can of tuna. "What about you, Kirara? Would you mind going out a bit later?" The two-tail looked up at the woman warrior, and gave a tiny mew. Nodding, Sango then looked back up at Kagome and answered, "That'll be fine, just so long as she can finish her dinner, first."

"Not a problem," Kagome replied easily before looking over at Shippo. Earlier, InuYasha had suggested sending the little fox out as well, but as she looked at him eating away, she sighed wearily. It was bad enough that they were sending Kirara out again after so exhausting a day. Sending the youngest member of their group out as well seemed like a cruel punishment to her. So after a moment's thought, she looked about at InuYasha. "Listen, uh...will you and the others be alright if I went out with Kirara?"

A noise of surprise slipped out from between a mouthful of noodles before InuYasha was able to swallow and answer, "Well, sure? Why not?" A beat passed before he cocked his head to the side and asked, "But...hey, you sure you feel up to that?"

Nodding, Kagome added, "I'll be fine. Besides, I'd feel a lot better if all of you were to get a bit more rest."

His features hardening somewhat, InuYasha seemed to consider this for a time before shrugging. "Well, fine, if that's what you want." Satisfied by this, Kagome stood and went to get her own meal.

As she did so, Kagome heard Kaname speak up. "Say, uh, InuYasha?" the Kururugi girl began. "Listen, I...I just wanted to say thank you."

Again a surprised noise slipped out of InuYasha's mouth, this one more intense than the one prior. Too surprised to swallow, the half-demon garbled out, "Huh? Thank me for what?"

This time it was Kaname's turn to look surprised. "Well, you know! For...saving my life."

"Huh? Oh, yeah!" Taking the time to swallow, InuYasha looked at her for a moment before answering, "Well...you don't have to make a big deal out of it. I mean..."

"I know that," Kaname answered, speaking even more gently. "But I...I just wanted to say thank you. That's all." InuYasha just continued to sit there, blinking his surprise as she shrugged and went on to say, "I know I should have said it earlier, but...with everything that was happening..."

"H-hey, you don't have to explain anything!" InuYasha returned, a slight tremor to his voice that made Kagome frown. "Seriously, I...look, you were tired and..." He then gave a short exhale before shaking his head. "Anyway, you...you didn't have to do anything, or...!"

"Yes, I did!" Kaname responded, her voice a bit firmer but no less gentle. "InuYasha, you risked your life to save me! And...that might not mean anything to you, but..."

Not liking the way this conversation was going, Kagome glanced out of the kitchen. She liked it even less as she watched InuYasha issue a hesitant groan before looking away from Kaname. "I - I never said it didn't mean anything to me!" he protested, and while it might have been an effect of the fire, the raven-haired girl could have sworn she saw a slight trace of pink color his cheeks. "It's just- you were in trouble, and I saved you! It doesn't get any simpler than that!"

"I know," Kaname confirmed, lowering her eyes to the ground. A definite blush of her own appearing. "But...still...I just wanted to say...thank you."

"Uh..." InuYasha hesitated, the impact of those two little words clear on his face. He worked his jaw, his mouth opening and closing as uncertain noises escaped his lips. Until at last he managed to glance over at her and say, "You...you're welcome."

The instant this was said, Kagome felt her jaw crash right down to the floor. What?! she cried out in her own mind. InuYasha's...actually being polite?! No rude comebacks or anything like that?! He actually said 'you're welcome'?!?!!

Feeling as if the world had just ground to a halt, Kagome just stood there in shock, staring mindlessly at the half-demon for what felt like forever. But it certainly didn't take forever to pick up on the fact that someone was looking at him. "Huh?" he started, any trace of embarrassment rapidly fading as his normal attitude returned. "What? What are you looking at me like that for?"

"Eh..." Kagome stalled, caught between a series of warring impulses. The first and foremost amongst them was to ask InuYasha what he thought he was doing, and maybe even give him a sit for good measure. But this was countered by the knowledge that the half-demon hadn't actually been doing anything. He'd just been making conversation that seemed to have taken a turn for the awkward, something made that much more likely by the fact that he had always had difficulty dealing with others, especially when being thanked for something.

The next urge was one that Kagome hated feeling, and was immediately ashamed of; envy. It wasn't the kind of jealously she experienced whenever Kikyo reappeared, but it was certainly there. But this was countered as well, because Kaname was only trying to offer thanks for InuYasha saving her, which was perfectly natural. The Kururugi girl wasn't making any moves, or doing something suspicious.

And yet, despite it all, Kagome couldn't help but suffer one final sensation. One spawned by the memory of how Michiru and Sango had slowly, naturally, innocently grown closer to each other. And that if it could happen with one Kururugi twin, then...

No. No, I'm...I'm not even going to go there! Kagome growled fiercely within her own mind. Kaname, she - she hasn't done anything, and... Her thought trailed off, leaving her to simply stand there, wrestling with things in her heart she wished she could tear out with her own hands, until at last she sighed and answered, "It's nothing. Really." Then she turned and asked, "Hey, Kirara, are you ready?" The two-tail mewed cutely, and without hesitation rose up and started out the door. "Okay. We'll be back as soon as we can."

"Okay. Just take care of yourself," Michiru told her, a sentiment which the others seconded in one way or another. Leaving Kagome with little to do but cast one more look at them, at InuYasha and Kaname, and sigh before exiting the farmhouse.

Sometimes...I really hate myself, Kagome grumbled inwardly, fuming at the foul thoughts niggling at her.

As Miroku watched Kagome and Kirara depart, he found himself frowning in thought. It was clear that she was upset about something, but at the same time, he wasn't exactly sure what it was. For while the two of them were almost painfully easy to read for the most part, he was too tired and focused on his nagging hunger to be able to focus on it.

I certainly hope the break holds, Miroku thought, glancing out into the night, it's darkness lessened by the hazy red glow of the flames. It would be a shame for the entire forest to be destroyed. And... As soon as his mind started down this path of thought, the monk sighed and lowered his head. No. I can't let myself be distracted by what might be. All we can do right now is wait and hope...and be ready, in case of the worst.

With this thought in mind, Miroku set about enjoying what remained of his meal. As he did so, Sango sighed and set aside her own plate. "I'm done," she announced in a mild fashion before getting to her feet, something that was more of a struggle than normal. "I'm gonna go out for a bit, okay?"

"Go out?!" InuYasha growled lowly. "What do you mean, go out? Where are you going?"

"I just thought I sit outside. Maybe keep a lookout," Sango told them, using that same tone of voice. A voice that Miroku recognized, and realized exactly what it meant.

Whatever it was that had been bothering Sango before was still with her, even now, after everything that happened. That itself didn't surprise Miroku; the warrior woman was constant internalizing things, keeping them buried and out of sight of everyone as she tried to deal with them on her own. And when such a thing was bothering her, she preferred to distance herself from the others, often making up reasons for her to be somewhere else, off by herself.

"Lookout?" Shippo wondered as Miroku considered the situation.

Nodding, Sango sighed and shrugged. "I thought it might be best to have someone keep an eye out, at least for a while," she explained, glancing out into the night. "If any predators or demons spot that fire, they might come looking for some easy meat."

"Really?" Michiru frowned, glancing over at his sister, his concern evident. "You mean there might have been something else in there?"

"Not necessarily in the forest," Miroku corrected him. "There are plenty of wandering demons out there, some of them moving in packs that would gladly take advantage of any helpless prey."

Kaname and Shippo issued noises of distress, both of them realizing just how vulnerable they were just then. "Yeah, good point," InuYasha muttered gruffly, plainly annoyed that he didn't think of this himself. "Here, I'll go keep an eye out."

"No, that's okay, InuYasha," Sango responded easily with a wave of her hand. "To be honest, I'd feel better if I did something to keep busy."

InuYasha considered this for a moment, but ultimately shrugged as if he didn't care, one way or the other. Michiru, on the other, frowned and asked, "I don't know, Sango. I don't think you should be alone out there, and..."

"Don't worry. I'll be right outside the house," Sango assured him. "You all get some rest, okay?"

"Uh..." Michiru began, clearly uncertain as to what to say. Giving Sango the chance she needed to exit the farmhouse before anyone could issue further protest. "Well...okay."

Glancing in the direction of the Shikigami User, Miroku was barely able to keep the smile in his mind from migrating to his face. While it was obvious how Michiru felt about Sango, he simply didn't have the experience with woman that the monk did. He didn't know exactly when it was best to let her be alone...or to recognize an opportunity to press his advantage. And that was exactly what had been placed within Miroku's reach; an opportunity, and it was one that he would not pass up.

Making sure not to hurry, to let slip even the slightest indication that he had anything planned, Miroku continued to sit there and eat, all the while remaining aware of the others and what they were doing. Shippo and Kaname had finished their food and were already drifting back to sleep, InuYasha was also done, and was currently lying on the ground. But he wasn't asleep; the monk was certain of that much. Despite his energetic nature, the half-demon had proven quite capable of lying perfectly still, even giving the impression of being asleep, while remaining perfectly aware of everything going on around him.

As for Michiru, it was clear that he was concerned about Sango. Like Miroku, he had undoubtedly realized that something was bothering her, and wanted to do something to help her. But he wasn't as experienced with dealing with such situation, and thus didn't know what to do. And in all likelihood, would remain where he was unless he felt there was something he could do to make her feel better. And given his lack of self-confidence, that was unlikely. And even better, he doubted that the modern magician would make a move to interfere with him unless he felt that he had sufficient reason to.

And besides, it's late, Sango's tired, and thus more likely to talk about whatever it is that's bothering her. And who better to listen to her than a monk trained in helping people deal with their woes? Miroku thought as he slowly finished his meal. True, there was a strong likelihood that he wouldn't be able to win Sango completely over that night, but even the longest journey began with a single step, and he was about to take that first step right now.

With this thought in mind, Miroku rose up from his seat and took his dirty dishes to the kitchen. Placing them on the counter, he then started towards the door, eager to take his first step. "Uh, Miroku...?" Michiru began, and though the monk wasn't facing him, he could still hear the frown in his voice. "Where are you going?"

Knowing that there was no real point in covering up his destination, Miroku turned and gave the Kururugi boy his best smile. "Well, I thought it might be wise for someone to join Sango outside," he told him. "As you said, it isn't a good idea for her, or any of the rest of us, to be alone right now."

"But...but she said that..." Michiru protested, his face caught between concern and suspicion.

Before Michiru could complete his hesitant statement or Miroku could say something to head him off, InuYasha snorted loudly. "I wouldn't bug Sango if I were you, Miroku," the half-demon commented, not even bothering to move an inch. "It's pretty obvious that she doesn't want anybody bothering her."

Pausing at this, Miroku just looked at the prone warrior for a time before lowering his gaze. It would seem that InuYasha is more attentive to other peoples' moods than he would let us know, he decided somewhat ruefully. Wondering if the half-demon kept this a secret in order to trick people into underestimating him, or if he just didn't want to be bothered with certain aspects of humanity, the monk decided to ponder this another time and answered, "It's been my experience that such times are in someone needs a friend the most."

Not giving either of them a chance to protest, Miroku exited the farmhouse. "Hmph. Have it your way," was all InuYasha said, though he somehow managed to add 'But you'll be sorry' without actually adding it. Dismissing this from his mind, the monk glanced about the area, and in moments, sighted Sango. True to her word, the Demon Slayer hadn't gone far, and was presently sitting a short distance from the farmhouse, looking towards the flames rising up from the forest. Her arms folded on her knees in a pose that Miroku well knew to mean that she was deep in thought.

Despite knowing that Sango would pick up on his approach, Miroku did his best to move quietly towards her. He was about halfway to her when she asked, "What are you doing, Miroku?"

Noting that she didn't bother to look in his direction, Miroku paused before answering, "I just wanted to see how you're doing, that's all."

"I'm fine, Miroku," Sango told him in a simple manner. Then she turned to look at him, and gave him a sad little smile. "Why don't you got inside and get some rest? It's been a long day."

"Yes, it has," Miroku conceded, continuing his approach. "But I would say that you were in the one in need of rest. Considering that you're the one who was attacked by demonic grass, and not I." Sango's smile faded in an instant, her gaze faltering somewhat as the monk came to sit next to her. "If you'd like, I could take over for you out here."

Giving a quick shake of her head, Sango replied, "No, that's okay. You go ahead. I'll be just fine. I...just need some time to myself, that's all."

Mentally pouncing on this admission, that it was more than just duty that had Sango out there at night, Miroku cocked his head to the side and looked at her, taking in her beauty that shown so clearly, even in the dark and behind a veil of sadness. "Sango...I know that you and I...we've had our differences at times, but...I would hope that you trust me."

Clearly surprised by this particular thrust, Sango frowned and gave him a querulous look. "Wh...what's that supposed to mean? Of course I trust you. And everyone else in our group as well."

"Really? Really and truly?" Miroku wondered, leaning forward to look deeper into her eyes. She looked like she was about to nod, but then she pressed her lips together before looking away. "Because it's obvious to me that something's troubling you. And I'd say that it's equally obvious to the others as well."

"Well, then, why is that you're the only out here?" Sango wondered, her voice free of anger. The only thing tingeing her words was a deep, weary sadness.

"I can't answer that; only they can," Miroku replied expertly. "Just as you're the only one who can or can't say what it is that's worrying you." Sango didn't answer right away. Instead, she hesitated for a moment before looking away again. "Sango..."

"Miroku, please. It's been a long day for us, for all of us. And even if everything goes right with the firebreak, we're going to need time to recover from everything that's happened today," Sango pointed out, once again burying herself in the role of the warrior. The same to role she used to keep all of her pain and torment at bay. "Anything else, that can wait for now. Okay?"

Miroku just sat there for a time before letting out a low, gusty sigh. Once again, Sango had managed to shut him out, to keep whatever was truly bothering her bottled up inside, safely out of sight. And there was no way he could persist in his questions without unduly upsetting her, leaving him without any further recourse for that night. "Alright, then," Miroku finally spoke, determined to salvage something from this night. "But...please...when you do feel like talking about it...please remember that I'm willing to listen to you. No matter what it is you have to say."

Letting out a low sigh, Sango glanced down at the ground before looking back up at him. "Al-alright," she finally replied, seeming to glow. His heart pounding with delight at this success, Miroku smiled as she added, "Anyway, you better - hmmm?!"

Stunned as Sango's thoughtful expression turned to one of shock and revulsion, Miroku frowned as he tried to figure what had happened. She's almost acting like - but that's not possible! I didn't -! But even as he thought this, he felt one of his hands squeeze down upon something warm, soft, and resilient, at which point his jaw plummeted. No - it's not - but I never - I wasn't even trying to grab her buttocks! I didn't even -!

While Miroku was trying to figure how exactly his hand wound up massaging Sango's posterior without him even having to think about doing so, another, more perilous situation was unfolding before him. Sango's face was flush with anger and humiliation, and was becoming more twisted with rage with each passing second. "Mir-o-ku...!" she snarled from between clenched teeth. With one quick motion, she grabbed hold of his outstretched arm by the wrist, clenching it so hard that he cried out in pain. "How...dare you -!"

"No, wait!" Miroku pleaded, despite knowing that it was already too late. Watching as Sango stood, the metaphoric flames surrounding her far more intense than those consuming the forest, the monk was dumbstruck by what had had happened. He had spent so much time, not just this day, but in the past several trying as best as he could to think of some way to repair the damage to his relationship with her, to make sure she didn't drift even further away from. He had thought and planned and did everything he could to arrange for a perfect moment between them, and all of his hard work and effort had just been blown into oblivion, not by a mistake of his own part, but his uncontrollable desire for Sango's succulent posterior.

"Look, I wasn't trying to - I didn't actually mean to -!" Miroku pleaded, waving his hands desperately about as Sango bent down and picked him by the nape of his kimono. "It was an accident, really! I wasn't even thinking about it! I -!"

"You're right, Miroku! You weren't thinking!" Sango howled, dragging him up off the ground. Crying out incoherent pleas for mercy and reason, Miroku was hefted up over the warrior woman's head before she threw him back towards the farmhouse with all her strength. Sending him plunging headfirst into one of the walls...and then right through it!

"Auugggh!!" Michiru cried out as Miroku came crashing through the simple walls, stopping about halfway through with everything below his chest still on the other side of the wall. Leaving him stuck with his arms pinned, and his feet dangling just a few inches off the ground.

"Uh - what the -?!" Shippo howled as he and Kaname were jolted awake, twin expressions of shock and disbelief on their faces as they took in the entrapped monk.

Blinking a few times to clear the sleep from her eyes, Kaname frowned and asked, "Miroku...what are you doing?! What happened?!"

"Oh, nothing much." Wincing at the smug fashion in which this was said, Miroku looked over at InuYasha, who was presently lying on the floor, his head propped up in his hand, and a wicked grin revealing his fangs. "Just Miroku making another grab for Sango's ass, that's all."

Miroku opened his mouth to protest this, but before he could utter so much as a word, three looks of blatant disapproval were leveled at him. "Ugh, I don't believe this!" Shippo grumbled sourly, flopping back on his back in disbelief. "You can't give it a rest for one night?!"

"You oughta be ashamed of yourself, Miroku! How can you go and do something like that to her?!" Kaname demanded, an angry scowl marking her face as she shook her head. "And I used to think my bro was exaggerating when he told me all those stories about you!"

"Yeah, well...now you know I'm not," Michiru muttered with a roll of his eyes. "Listen, sis, I think I better check and see how Sango's doing."

"Right, good idea," Kaname replied, watching as Michiru got up and exited. then she turned and speared Miroku with a glare. "Honestly, I don't understand why any girl would have anything to do with you, anyway!"

"Heh! I know what you mean, Kaname!" InuYasha grinned, like this was all one big joke and Miroku was the punchline.

As Miroku looked into the faces of his friends, trapped in the wall, he sighed and let his head flop down. I knew that something horrible was going to happen... he thought woefully, though he could never have imagined that it would be something like this. Not only was his relationship with Sango in greater peril than ever before, but he had successfully given Michiru a valuable opening to make his way further into the warrior woman's heart. And to add insult to injury, he was currently trapped in the wall, his dignity was shot, and his friends were showing little interest in extricating him from this predicament.

And as horrible as all these things were, the thing that left Miroku truly sighing in dismay was the fact that he was still experiencing those oh-so-sweet sensations that contact with Sango's body brought him. And despite his situation, his body was quite content, and felt that it was well worth the consequences.

Sometimes, I wish my grandfather was more of a traditional monk, Miroku thought wearily before setting about trying to free himself from his current predicament.

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