Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Uncertainty Principles

As Kagome worked in the kitchen, preparing a simple breakfast for her friends, she sighed as she looked outside. The simple beauty that she saw doing nothing to stir her out of the emotional confusion and exhaustion that had plagued her in the three days that had passed after the nightmare with the demonic grass.

On one level, she felt as if she should have been happy. The firebreak had worked flawlessly in containing the accidental blaze, allowing to completely purge the demonic grass and the monsters it had spawned. In the days that had passed, neither Kagome nor the Kururugi twins had sensed even the slightest trace of the foul weed. But at the same time, she knew that their triumph had cost them both time and energy. Not only had they been delayed in reaching the northern mountains, but they had spend the past three days recuperating at the farmhouse, as well as making absolutely certain that no trace of demonic plants remained. Something which had not made InuYasha happy.

Sighing as she thought of some of the ways InuYasha had been venting that impatience, Kagome was brought back to the present by the sound of footsteps coming up behind her. "Good morning, Kagome," Kaname greeted her even as she turned to look. "Need any help with breakfast?"

"No, but...thanks, anyway," Kagome answered with a smile, heartened by the way the Kururugi girl had recovered, and over such a short period of time. Only a lingering paleness remained to show what she had been through. "So...how're you doing?"

Shrugging, Kaname made a thoughtful noise in her throat before answering, "Okay, I guess. Still a little stiff, but..."

"I know. It takes while to recover from...something like that," Kagome answered, thinking of the times she had suffered severe injury or illness over the course of their journey, such as the time she and the others had been tricked into eating some poisoned dumplings. Continuing to look at Kaname, the raven-haired girl frowned at the way she lowered her eyes. "Hey, is something wrong?"

Glancing up, Kaname met Kagome's eyes for a moment before flinching away. "Uh...I was just wondering..." she began, scuffing the toe of her shoe in the ground. "What...was it like for you? I mean, you first started coming here? To this world?"

Furrowing her brows somewhat, Kagome just looked at her for a while before answering, "Well...it was kinda scary at first. I mean, nothing was familiar, and there were all these demons..." Pausing to think about it for a moment, she then decided to be honest about and add, "And InuYasha...ugh! He was just such a jerk!"

"Huh?" Kaname frowned, clearly surprised by this. "Wh-what do you mean? I mean, he seems like a nice guy to me..."

"I'm not saying he isn't nice...when he feels like it," Kagome explained with a knowing smirk. "But back then...well...let's just say that he's not quite as obnoxious now as he was back then!" Smirking mostly to herself, she then sighed, thinking back to those days when InuYasha was still burdened with the rage that resulted of Kikyo's apparent betrayal. And while there were times she enjoyed bringing up the half-demon's various failings, if for no other reason than to knock him down a peg or three, it was obvious that now was not the time for such things. "And...well, it did get kinda lonely at times. At least until we met Shippo, Miroku, Sango...and a few others." Frowning somewhat, she cocked her head to the side as she studied the Kururugi girl. "Why? What is it?"

"I..." Kaname began, only to press her lips together and shake her head. "No. It's...I've just been...thinking about some stuff, and...there's something I'd like to talk about."

Not liking the sound of this, Kagome asked, "Really? What is it?"

Sounds of hesitation escaping her lips, Kaname lowered her eyes. "I...I guess I might as well say it," she murmured before looking back up. "I...Kagome...do you think I should go back home?"

"Wh...what?" Kagome gaped, taken aback by this question. Breakfast forgotten, she came up to Kaname and placed her hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong? Do you miss your parents, or...?"

"No, no, it's not that! I..." Words failing her, Kaname once again lowered her eyes to the floor. "I mean...well, yeah, I do miss them, but...that's not what this is about."

"Then what is it?" Kagome asked. When Kaname didn't answer, the raven-haired girl bent down somewhat in order to look her in the eyes. "C'mon, you can talk to me. What is it?"

Several moments passed before Kaname let go with a long, tired sigh. "I...Kagome, it's just...when I first came here, I...I really thought that I was ready for...for whatever happened. That I would really be able to help you out. Even when we found out that Naraku was...was alive, I figured that...if you were able to beat him when he had Utsugi's powers, then..." Again, the Shikigami User's voice failed her even as Kagome nodded her understanding. "But after what happened...I don't know. I..."

As Kaname trailed off shrugging, Kagome nodded in realization, now understanding what was plaguing her new friend; the very same thing that had frequently plagued her brother during his first journey with them. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Michiru was constantly worried that he might be slowing us down, especially when he was first learning about his powers, she thought, recalling those times together. "Kaname, please, don't worry about it," she told her aloud, speaking as earnestly as she knew how. "What happened wasn't your fault."

"Yes, it was!" Kaname retorted with a greater strength. "I...I knew something was wrong out there, but I...I didn't even pay any attention to it! I was so busy fooling around and racing with Shippo that I didn't realize what had happened until that stuff had me down on the ground!" Her face twisted into a grimace of disgust, she shook her head slowly before adding, "I mean...my bro, he sensed the grass before it showed up. So I...I should've been able to...I should've..."

"That's not fair, Kaname," Kagome told her as she trailed off helplessly. "You can't compare yourself to your brother like that. Michiru, he's been here before. He's more used to this world than you, and even he almost got captured as well." Then she gave the Kururugi girl a smile and added, "Besides, even Sango didn't know about the demonic grass until she got attacked."

Nodding somewhat, Kaname answered, "Maybe, but...that still doesn't change the fact that...Sango, you and InuYasha...you could've died helping me. And I don't want that."

"Neither do we!" Kagome assured her with a wry curling to her lips. "Trust me, Kaname, I am completely opposed to dying!" When the Shikigami User failed to laugh, to show any sign of amusement, Kagome's own mirth subsided as she added, "But...Kaname, c'mon. The Fuedal Era is a dangerous place. You leaving wouldn't change that."

"I know, but...I can't help but think about what Myoga told us. That it might be Naraku behind what's going on in the mountains, and..." Pausing to heave a tired breath, Kaname looked squarely at the modern priestess. "Kagome...is it true? What my bro told me about Naraku? Is he really as powerful and horrible as he said?"

For a long time, Kagome considered the Shikigami User, trying to figure out the best way to answer her question. Lying to her clearly wasn't an option; the last thing they needed was for Kaname to be ill-prepared for the battle should they indeed encounter Naraku or one of his incarnations. Another possibility that occurred to her was that she might well encourage Kaname to return home. Despite her good intentions, the Kururugi girl was horribly inexperienced in the ways of this world, and even though she had proven herself in battle, there was still a great deal for her to learn, and painfully little time for her to do so.

She might have powers, but she doesn't have any experience, Kagome thought, recalling how she had felt when she and Kaname had first met, as well as her concerns about her joining them on their journey. But even as she considered this possibility, the raven-haired girl frowned in negation. But...no. If she goes back now, just because she's lost confidence in herself...

With that, Kagome thought back to early days of her journey, to times when she had wanted nothing more than to be rid of the Feudal Era and all the trouble it meant for her. Of when she had fallen back to her own world after an encounter with Yura of the Hair, or how she had been thrown back home by InuYasha, who had wanted to protect her from Naraku. And during those times, she kept thinking back to the world she had left behind, of the people she had met, and most of all, of the half-demon that meant so much to her. And while Kaname hadn't been with them long, it was obvious that she was already bonding with the small, ragtag group. Especially with...

Ugh! No, don't even think of that! Kagome frowned, recalling the sheer amount of time Kaname had spent with InuYasha, tending to his illness. Of how, in the days since the blaze, the half-demon had stayed close, keeping an eye on her, something she had not protested. She's just a little shaky after what happened to her! Who wouldn't be, after something like that?!

Sucking in a deep breath and releasing it, Kagome continued to look at the girl before her. "Look, I won't lie to you, Kaname. Naraku is the absolute worst of the worst. He's the most evil demon who's ever lived, and he's also one of the most powerful. And while Michiru might have told you a lot about him...well, just saying what a monster he is doesn't even come close to really capturing it." Giving this a moment to sink in, the modern priestess came up to her and placed both hands on her shoulders. "But c'mon! Don't be so hard on yourself! You've already come a long way!" Then she quirked a wry smirk and asked, "Besides, have you already forgotten? You were a big help to help to us when we were marking out the path of the firebreak! And you're saying that you want to leave us now?!"

"No, no! It's...it's not that I want to leave, Kagome!" Kaname immediately responded, waving both hands in protest. "Really! I - I...well, that is..." Her dismal expression fading, the Shikigami User actually looked quite sheepish as she gave a tiny smile and said, "The truth is...I...I've actually...I really have been...enjoying this. Being here...with all of you." Letting her gaze fall to the ground, she frowned slightly before adding, "Besides, after all the time I spent...not knowing what Michiru went through...feeling so...apart from him..."

"I see," Kagome nodded thoughtfully. Though she didn't know the full details, she had talked to both twins enough to know that Michiru's secretiveness had ultimately done more harm than good for them both. "But...if that's the case, then...?"

"I'm...I'm just worried, that's all," Kaname answered hesitantly. "Kagome...I really screwed up back there, and...if we do wind up running into Naraku, and I make another mistake like that..." Stifling the urge to once again reassure her friend, knowing that it would do no good, the modern priestess simply stood there, waiting and listening as she asked, "I don't want to go back, but...if you and the others...if you think it would be best..."

"If we think what would be best?" Jolted by this unexpected voice, Kaname whirled about, allowing Kagome to see a gruff half-demon standing behind her. "What're you two talking about?"

"I-InuYasha!" Kaname squeaked out, her cheeks coloring somewhat as she took a step back from him. "Wh-wh...when did you...?"

"Eh, I was just doing looking around, seeing if I could us some more food or whatever," InuYasha replied in a dismissive fashion. Then he folded his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes at the both of them. "Now, would you two mind telling me what it was you were talking about? Because it sure sounded as if you were talking about heading back to the crazy world of yours!"

Gulping loudly, Kaname turned even redder as she fumbled out, "Well, uh...you see..."

"It's not like that, InuYasha," Kagome broke in, hoping to defuse the situation before he got the wrong idea. As quickly as she could, she gave him the gist of their conversation. "Anyway, Kaname was worried that we might want her to go back, that's all."

"What?! What gave you that crazy idea?!" InuYasha demanded in a mix of annoyance and shock. "So you got caught by a few damn weeds! Stuff like that happens!"

Blinking a few times in surprise, Kaname opened and closed her mouth a few times before asking, "It...it does?"

"Of course it does! Hell, we've run into all kinds of crazy demons and monsters and whatever! It's not like this is anything new for us!" InuYasha growled incredulously. "Damn! Just because you have a bit of bad luck doesn't mean we want to kick you out!"

Again, Kaname required a few moments to process this before responding. "Oh, I...I'm sorry," was what she eventually said, seeming to shrink somewhat before their very eyes. "I mean...I was just...worried, that's all. I...I've already slowed you down so much, and..."

Groaning his disbelief, InuYasha rolled his eyes before retorting, "Hey, you aren't slowing us down! So you got a little messed up! Big deal! It happens!" Shaking his head somewhat, the half-demon glanced over at Kagome and commented, "Honestly, you act just like Michiru did back when he first came!"

"Huh?" Kaname squeaked out, her face filled with surprise. "Wh-what...really?"

"It's true," Kagome agreed, thinking of all the times Michiru had berated himself for not being strong enough, or how he acted like he was holding everyone else back. "So, c'mon. No one wants you to leave, alright?"

Glancing back and forth between the two of them, Kaname seemed to consider this for a time before a wan smile curled her lips. "Well...if you're sure..."

"We're sure, so relax already!" InuYasha told her, his voice an odd mix of impatience and caring. Something that Kagome could understand quite easily. "Now, c'mon! Let's have breakfast so we can get moving already! We've got a lotta ground to make up here!"

"Right!" Kaname smiled, this time with greater feeling. "And...thanks, you two. Really."

"Hey, what're you thanking us for? It's not like we did anything," InuYasha wondered, back to his usual clueless self. While Kagome was wondering how he could go from being so helpful to being so dense in the span of a few seconds, the half-demon turned and asked, "So, when's breakfast going to be ready?"

"I just need a few more minutes, that's all." Then Kagome frowned somewhat and glanced past the others into the living room. "By the way...where are the others?"

InuYasha shrugged before replying, "Eh, Sango went for a quick workout. Said she wanted to work out of the kinks or something like that. As for Michiru and Miroku...eh, I guess they aren't back yet."

Nodding somewhat, Kagome paused when she noticed the perplexed look on Kaname's face. "Remember? When we decided that we would be heading out today, they volunteered to do one last check of the forest. You know, to make sure there's no sign that demonic grass might grow back?" When the Kururugi girl's face turned to one of realization, the modern priestess asked, "But what about Shippo? Did he go with them?"

"Naw. Last I saw him, he was playing around someplace," InuYasha muttered in a more dismissive fashion.

"Well, we better go get them. The sooner we eat and get away from here, the better I'll feel," Kagome decided, something that had the others making sounds of agreement. Several seconds passed, after which her brows furrowed in annoyance. "Um...so why don't you go get them?"

"Hmm? Oh, right! Sorry!" Kaname piped up before darting out the door.

"Huh? No, wait! I meant InuYasha!" Kagome cried out in protest, but it was already too late. Kaname had already left the farmhouse, running as fast as she could. "Ugh...great..." Shaking her head and resolving to make certain that the people she was speaking to knew that they were the ones being addressed, she looked over at the half-demon, "Look, could you keep an eye on her? Make sure she doesn't run into any trouble?" A slight growl of frustration escaped InuYasha's lips at this, followed by his typical scowl. But finally, the half-demon turned about, and with considerable bad grace, left to follow the Shikigami User.

Shaking her head at this, Kagome sighed before returning to making breakfast. "Yup, he's still a jerk..."

Fortunately for everyone, the day went fairly smoothly. InuYasha and Kaname quickly tracked down both Sango and Shippo, and Michiru and Miroku soon returned to the farmhouse to report that there was no sign of demonic grass. Content that they had saved much of the forest and had done as well as they could in this situation, the group enjoyed a nice breakfast before once again starting north once more.

To Kagome's considerable relief, the weather that day was perfect for traveling. Blue skies, a few puffy white clouds, gentle breezes were their companions that day, and even better, there was hardly any demons to be seen anywhere. All of which meant that they could travel in peace, and when they found a small grove of trees along the way, they decided to stop there for lunch and to rest their fatigued bodies.

Watching as the others settled down to relax and give their meal a chance to digest before moving on, Kagome frowned somewhat as she glanced in Kaname's direction. The Kururugi girl had seemed cheerful enough so far, and had made no further mention of the discussion they had had earlier that day. But at the same time, Kagome couldn't help but be worried. On the one hand, she still felt that Kaname staying with the group was certainly the best choice, and not only for her own sake. In her mind, it was only a matter of time before they finally encountered either Naraku or one or more of his incarnations, and when they did, they would need all the power they could muster. And if there was anything she had learned about the Shikigami power wielded by the Kururugi family, it was that it was extremely formidable. Something that was driven home by their encounters with Utsugi.

But at the same time, it was clear that Kaname was having a crisis of confidence as a result of not only being captured by the demonic grass, but also having her powers subverted to make the monsters they had encountered. And while that had been dealt with for the moment, it would be disastrous if she started to doubt herself when things started getting dangerous.

Especially after having dealing with Michiru and his insecurities, Kagome thought, recalling some of the situations that had come about as a result of the Kururugi boy going off on his own for one reason or another. And if Kaname starts doing crazy stuff like that... Not even wanting to think about the potential catastrophes that could result of such a thing, she frowned and considered what could be done about it.

Well...Michiru made a lot of mistakes because he wasn't familiar with this world. And me... Wincing somewhat, Kagome thought back to some of the messes she had gotten involved with back when she started coming to the Feudal Era, with the shattering of the Sacred Jewel being the crowning moment of failure for her. Which had ultimately prompted her to work towards sharpening her archery skills, lest something like that happen again. It's like Sango said before; Kaname's skilled with her Shikigami, but she's not used to conditions here in the Feudal Era. So once we get her used to things here...

As this train of thought trailed off, Kagome nodded to herself before looking about at the others. Kaname was sitting right next to the tree, looking a bit more relaxed than she had this morning, but not so much that Kagome's concerns were alleviated. Miroku was seated in a position that was a more relaxed version of his usual meditation stance, while InuYasha was lounging in the boughs of a tree. Sango was relaxing with Kirara, while Michiru and Shippo were chatting amongst themselves. "Say, Michiru," Kagome began, deciding to start on the male twin, "could you help me with something?"

"Huh?" Michiru started as he glanced her way. A few noises of hesitation escaped his lips as he looked between her and the little fox-demon. "Uh...right now?" When Kagome nodded, the Shikigami User shrugged before saying, “Well, actually, I just agreed to help Shippo with his training.”

"Yeah, Kagome!" Shippo chimed in, a large stick in his hand. Then he frowned somewhat and added, "I mean, it's not like I really need it, but..."

Chuckling at this minor bit of bravado, Kagome waved aside Shippo's concerns. "Don't worry, this won't take long," she assured them both. "I just need a couple minutes, that's all."

Again, Michiru issued sounds of uncertainty before glancing down at Shippo, who responded in kind. After a few moments looking at each other, the little fox finally shrugged and answered, "Well, okay then." Then he glanced up at the Kururugi boy and asked, "You'll be right back as soon you're done helping Kagome, right?"

"Right, of course," Michiru answered pleasantly.

As Michiru started towards her, Kagome then turned to the other person she needed. "Say, Sango, if you don't mind, could you come as well?"

"Hmm? Well, sure," Sango responded easily. Rising to her feet, the Demon Slayer brushed herself off before asking, "So, what do you need help with?"

"I'll explain on the way," Kagome replied elusively, not wanting to go into it while they were still in earshot of Kaname. Discussing plans to raise somebody's self-confidence where that somebody could hear you didn't seem like the best of ideas to her.

Fortunately enough, Sango had no reason to protest, and neither did Michiru. So as one, the two of them glanced at each other before coming behind Kagome, allowing her to lead the way. Keeping on the alert for any demons, the raven-haired girl led them deeper into the grove, and began explaining. "Look, I'm sorry you two," she started, turning to look at them both. "But...the fact is, I've got something I need to talk to you about."

"What is it?" Sango wondered.

"Is something wrong, Kagome?" Michiru asked with a slight frown. "No offense, but...you seem kind of worried about something."

"That's because I am," Kagome admitted, nodding as she focused on Michiru. "And...I'm afraid it's Kaname I'm worried about."

The Kururugi boy issued a noise of surprise at this, then glanced over at Sango. "Kaname?" Michiru got out, his features twisting with concern. "Wh-what do you mean?"

Heaving a deep breath, Kagome then proceeded to recount the conversation she had had with both Kaname and InuYasha. Michiru and Sango both gave looks of surprise upon learning that the Kururugi girl was worried that she would be asked to return to the modern world, then followed with sounds of relief when InuYasha convinced her that she was wanted in this time. "But I'm still worried about her, and...then I remembered something you said, Sango. About helping her get used to battle conditions, that sort of thing?"

"That's right. I was planning on scouting out someplace where we could get in some sparring," Sango confirmed with an uneasy frown. "But...she really thought that...we might not want her around anymore?"

"I know. And that has me worried," Kagome went on. "And that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, Michiru."

"Me?" Michiru frowned, pointing at himself.

"Remember what we told you? How Kaname freaked out after we rescued her?" When Michiru nodded, Kagome frowned folded her arms in front of her. "Now, I could be wrong, but...she didn't seem to get upset until she found out about the plant creatures that the grass made. And after she did..."

"Then that's when she attacked them? And started that part of the forest on fire?" Sango gathered.

Nodding, Kagome returned her focus to Michiru. "I'm not sure how or why, but...something about that scared her. And...well, I was hoping that you might have an idea why that is."

After pausing to scratch the back of his head, Michiru frowned before saying, "Well...I dunno. I'm not sure I should talk about this. Not without talking it over with my sis first." A quizzical noise sounding her throat, Kagome raised an eyebrow at the Shikigami User, who gave a helpless shrug in response. "It's...it's kinda personal, and..."

His insides shifting somewhat as he trailed off, Kagome gently began, "Michiru, I understand you not wanting to talk about something like that, but I'm really worried here. And if there's something up with her, then we need to do something to help her with it."

It was clear that Michiru wasn't reassured by this. If anything, he seemed even more concerned. Lowering his gaze to ground, his eyes narrowed with worry until Sango came up beside him. "You don't have to say anything specific, Michiru," she told him, smiling gently as he looked up to meet her gaze. "Just tell us enough so that we can help her."

Several seconds passed as Michiru just stood there, looking into Sango's eyes. And while Kagome was still convinced that his heart was only leading him to heartbreak, she couldn't deny that right now, that same heart was making it much easier for the Demon Slayer to simply melt away his fears and concerns, until at last he sighed in surrender. "Well...I can't tell you everything...but..." Both of them nodded their understanding, leaving him to sigh once more. "The thing is...Kaname, she's...well...she's scared of losing control of her powers."

"Losing control?" Kagome repeated, only to gasp sharply in realization. "Wait...so that's why she freaked out? Because the grass took control of her powers?" Michiru gave a quick nod to this, and Kagome's mind began to whirl more quickly. All of a sudden, much of the Kururugi girl's behaviors made more sense. Her intense guilt over the awakening of the Ice Shikigami, as well as her violent response to the creatures that had stolen her control from her again. But even as these realizations hit home, another problem occurred to her. "But...why would she be scared of something like that?"

Again, Michiru's throat clenched, and for a moment, Kagome was convinced that he would refuse to answer. But as before, his eyes found Sango's eyes, and all the tension and some of the concern fled him. "She...had a rough time of it...when her powers first appeared," he eventually confessed. Then, with greater intensity, he added, "And later on, when I fully awoke her Shikigami...I kinda messed it up."

"Messed it up?" Sango repeated.

"Yeah. I...used too much power to awaken her Shikigami," Michiru explained, visibly caught between guilt and shame as he explained what happened that night. "So, not only did I wake up the same Shikigami that were active in me, they all started running about and attacking each other. And it...to me a while to settle them down again."

Letting out a low whistle, Kagome then shook her head in sympathy. "Wow. No wonder she panicked."

Nodding somberly, Michiru let out a weary sigh before shrugging. "After that, we got to work on training her. And...well, it's not the kind of thing we talked about a lot, but..." Pausing to draw himself up, he glanced over at Sango before adding, "This is why she worked so hard. With her training and everything."

"To make sure that she never lost control of her powers again," Sango murmured understandingly before glancing over at Kagome. A world of meaning in her eyes that the modern girl instantly understood.

"Looks like we'll need more than a few rounds of sparring to help her," Kagome as she turned to pace. "If losing control is what she's afraid of, then...then how do we help her get over that?"

"Well...there are certain spells in my dad's book that might help, but...they're all pretty advanced," Michiru admitted with a hint of shame. "And...well, I'd rather not try anything really fancy until I know for sure how to make it work."

As Kagome nodded thoughtfully to this, Sango frowned and said, "This isn't the kind of thing that you can solve with magic, Michiru. Kaname needs to learn how to believe in herself again. And that's going to take time." Glancing between the other two, the woman warrior let a tiny scrap of the pain that she kept pent up inside of her peek out from behind her eyes. A reminder that she herself knew what it was like to lose control of aspects of your life, to be violated and have something important taken from you.

As Kagome winced at this reminder, Michiru frowned pensively before asking, "Then, uh...then what do we do?"

"For now, we do what we planned. We help Kaname with her training, with getting her used to battle...and this world in general." Then Sango's features tightened. It wasn't much, but it was enough to make it clear to the both of them that what she was about to say was highly important. "But at the same time, we have to be careful not to push her too hard. If she starts trying to do too much, too fast, she'll eventually make a mistake."

"What makes you say that?" Kagome wondered.

A small, sad smile ghosting her lips, Sango answered, "Because...Kaname's not the only who's felt like she needs to prove something to herself."

Yeah, I know, Kagome thought, turning her eyes towards Michiru. But before she could say anything to that effect, she once again found her eyes drawn to Sango, and that sad smile of hers.

"Right now, the best thing we can is take it easy on her," Sango continued before Kagome could process that enigmatic expression of hers. "We'll help her sharpen her skills, but we won't push her too far. We don't want to take the chance of breaking her self-confidence before we have a chance to build it."

"Well...okay," Kagome answered after a moment's thought. "That sounds good, but Sango! What if it is Naraku behind whatever's going in the mountains?"

"We don't know that for sure, Kagome. All we know is that something's happening there. That doesn't necessarily mean it's Naraku," Sango responded in a level fashion. "Until we know for sure what it is we're dealing with, I think the best thing to do is to take things slowly, and try to prepare ourselves for whatever happens next." The warrior woman than turned her eyes to Michiru and smiled. "And that means helping Kaname believe in herself...by letting her know that we believe in her."

As Michiru met Sango's gaze, slowly but surely, his look of concern and wariness fell away from him, and was replaced by a shy, tender smile. "I...I think you're right, Sango," he finally told her. "Let's just take things one step at a time for right now."

As she watched the two of them interact, Kagome couldn't help but feel somewhat torn. While she was grateful for Sango's voice of reason, as well as helping Michiru with this, the way he was looking at her just then said bad things in her mind. Great. She's just helping us a friend, so of course he reads way too much into it, she thought sourly. Typical guy. And that's another problem I'm going to have to deal with...

Making a mental note to spend some time with Miroku and give him a swift kick right where he lived for letting his hormones get him back on Sango's bad side, Kagome cleared her throat before the present situation got more out of control. "Listen, no offense you two, but I think we better get back. We told the others that this wouldn't take long, and..."

"Hmm? Oh, right," Sango nodded as she returned to the present. "And we don't the others to know what we were talking about. At least...not right now."

"Uh, yeah. That's right," Michiru nodded as he came back to his senses. Then he stiffened up, freezing in mid-step. "Uh...wait."

"Hmm? Wait what?" Kagome frowned with a spark of irritation. "C'mon, what is it?"

Groaning in hesitation, Michiru explained, "Uh, it's just...if we're not going to tell the others about what we just talked about...then what are we going to tell them?"

"What do you mean, what are we going to - ohhh..." Kagome trailed off as she realized what he was talking about. "Right..."

"You did bring us out here, saying that you needed help with something," Sango chimed in, rather chagrined. "So...I guess we have to come up with something you need help with."

"Right," Kagome groaned. Glancing this way and that between the two of them, she gave a nervous chuckle before finally asking, "So...do you two have any ideas?"

Again, Michiru and Sango glanced at each other. "Uh..." the Demon Slayer began, glancing about at the trees. "I guess we could try...collecting herbs?"

"I guess that's as good an excuse as any," Michiru decided after a moment's thought. "I mean, you mentioned that you wanted to find some herbs and such before we ran into the demonic grass, right?"

As Sango nodded to this, Kagome quickly considered this idea. "I guess that works. So...okay. Let's split up and go looking for some herbs." Then she gave them a wry smile and added, "Let's just be careful and try to avoid running into any more demonic grass! I've had enough of that stuff to last me a lifetime!"

Giving a wan smile, Sango replied, "I remember saying something like that, too. The last time I had to deal with it!" A beat passed, and the other two started chuckling in response. "C'mon. Let's get to work."

Right, Kagome thought as the three of them separated. And later on, I can get to work on...something else as well.

Later that day, as Michiru lay beneath the boughs of a tree, he couldn't help but think about certain aspects of traveling in the Feudal. Things that he had almost forgotten during the three months he had spent in the modern world after returning from his first adventure. Both good and bad. On the one hand, there was something very nice and peaceful about being able to rest out in the open, with the cool, clean air and the brilliant night sky, with the lingering embers of the their campfire providing warmth. It was only away from the modern cities that a person was able to truly appreciate the stars, and be free of the noise of traffic and other negative factors. But on the other hand...

Ugh...I don't think I'll ever get used to sleeping on the ground! Michiru groaned as he shifted about, trying to make himself comfortable. For while the grassy meadow they had found looked like an ideal camping site, with a few trees to provide shelter in the event of a storm, there were more than a few sticks and stones in the lumpy earth to cause discomfort. And then there are all the bugs and snakes...!

While Michiru tried not to think of the various creepy-crawlies that would love to leave him scratching a large, red welt or worse, he was surprised by the sound of approaching footsteps. "Can't sleep, I see."

"Huh? Oh, Kagome," Michiru responded as he sat up to meet her gaze. Noting the wry smile she worse, he sighed before answering, "Yeah...I guess it has been a while since I did this."

"Yeah, I know how you feel. I don't care what InuYasha says; there's no substitute for a nice, warm, soft bed." As Michiru chuckled, nodding his agreement, Kagome sighed and sat down next to him. "I don't suppose you'd mind some company?"

"Of course not," Michiru replied, positioning himself to sit more comfortably. "I don't think I'm going to be able to get any sleep any time soon." Then he glanced over at the rest of their group, all of whom were sleeping quite soundly. Even his sister Kaname, who was curled up in a ball on her side. "Sometimes, I wonder how they do it."

Nodding to this, Kagome sat there in silence for a time, as if considering what to say next. "By the way, thanks again for studying with me tonight," she finally told him. "That one algebra problem was driving me nuts."

"It's no problem, Kagome," Michiru replied with a casual shrug. "We all figured that we'd have an easier time keeping up with school working together, remember?"

Nodding to this, Kagome then cocked her head to the side. "Speaking of school...don't you ever worry about falling behind in class back home?” When Michiru made a quizzical sound in his throat, she shrugged and added, "I mean...even with everything going on here, we still have to think about our own lives back home, right?"

“A little, I guess," Michiru answered. "Still, it doesn’t seem so important, especially compared to stopping Naraku. After all, if we don't defeat him, then we probably won’t even have a future!”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Kagome admitted. “But fate of the world or not, you and Kaname better keep up with your studies! Remember what your father told you!”

“Oh, I remember!” Michiru grinned in good humor, thinking of that day when he had learned of his father's abilities. "Trust me, I'm not going to be getting on dad's bad side any time soon. Not after what he did to InuYasha!"

"Whew. Don't remind me!" Kagome groaned, tossing her head back at this with a low, rueful chuckle. Shaking his head at this, at the memory of InuYasha been sent flying by his father's Shikigami spell, Michiru sat back a bit, again almost lying on the ground. "Anyway, Michiru...there's something that I've been wanting to talk to you about."

"Hmm. Really?" When Kagome nodded, Michiru frowned and glanced towards where his sister lay. "Does it have to do with...you know, what we were talking about before?"

"Hmm?" Kagome frowned, then gasped in surprise before waving her hands in negation. "Uh, no, no! It's nothing like that!" A moment later, she lowered her hands and her eyes face before admitting, "But...well, it is important."

Not liking the sound of this, Michiru leaned in closer to the raven-haired girl. "What is it, Kagome? Is something wrong?"

"Well...not exactly," Kagome began with a hint of uncertainty. "But...I am worried that something could go wrong." Taken aback by this, Michiru frowned as his friend continued to look at him, looking as if she were trying to say something that she really didn't want to, but felt she had to, nonetheless. "Listen, uh...there's no easy way for me to say this, but...it's...about Sango."

"Sango?" Michiru repeated blankly. "What's she have to do with this?"

Again, Kagome hesitated, her features tense with concern. "Look, I know that you...that you care about her, but...you have to face facts. She's from a different world than you are!"

Stung somewhat by this, Michiru retorted, "Yeah, and InuYasha's from a different world than you!"

"I know. And I'm not saying that what you're feeling is wrong or anything like that!" Kagome protested, speaking as gently as Michiru had ever heard her. "But that's why I'm worried. Because I know how hard it can be to be with someone in a situation like that." Then she paused, her face tensing before she added, "Especially when they have feelings...for someone else."

Opening his mouth to speak, Michiru paused to consider what she was saying. "Yeah...I think I know what you mean," he finally admitted as he glanced over at where the woman he loved still slept. As well as the monk that he considered to be a friend, but at the same time, frowned at for his womanizing ways. "And...well, yeah...it hasn't been easy, sometimes."

"I know," Kagome murmured, following his gaze. Her voice making it clear that she was thinking of how much it hurt for her whenever Kikyo reappeared, along with the feelings InuYasha still had for her. "And I do understand that you want to be with her. But still, you realize that...Miroku and Sango, they've been together for a long time now. They have a lot of history together." Grating at the mention of the two of them being 'together', Michiru eventually managed a nod. "And...I admit that Miroku has his faults, but...they do care for each other."

Again, Michiru nodded, the meaning behind this conversation slowly becoming clear. "I know. And...I'm not trying to force Sango into anything. I...I just want to be with her."

"I know. The same way that I want to be with InuYasha." Then Kagome gave him a sad look, as if she had just thought of something painful. "But...well, I have to admit that I...I've done a few things I'm not proud of. And sometimes...after seeing them together...I just couldn't take it."

"Couldn't take it?" Michiru repeated.

Kagome nodded slowly to this. "Yeah. And...well, I guess there's no point in covering it up. One time, it got so bad that...I just went home."

"Went home?!" Michiru gasped with greater incredulity. "You mean...you left the group, and...?

"Yeah. And it's like I said; it's not something I'm proud of," Kagome confessed. "Now, the reason I'm talking to you about this is because I care. And because I don't want you making the same kind of mistakes that I made."

Too late for that, Kagome, Michiru frowned, thinking back to when he and the others first journeyed to Minamo Village. His feelings for Sango had been rising to the surface for a long time prior to that, but it had been there that he had become fully aware of just how deeply they ran. And how much it hurt when they had been used against him by a foul demon named Mahoro that had the power to take on the appearance of the person it's victims cared for the most. When he had first encountered the foul monstrosity, it had been in the form of the woman he loved, and had told him that she was in love with him, rather than Miroku. Burgeoned by these false sentiments, Michiru was easily tricked into confessing his feelings for Sango, just before the cruel demon revealed itself as the hideous monstrosity it was. Even now, the Shikigami User burned with anger for the thing that so delighted in duping and hurting people in that fashion just before it spirited them away to be devoured at its leisure...and shame over the fact that it had been Miroku who had saved him.

As these thoughts ran their course, Michiru once again looked up at his friend. "I...I appreciate that, Kagome. But...I can't lie to myself, either. I can't fight how I feel about her."

"I know. And I'm not telling you to do that," Kagome assured him. "I'm just trying to say that...I'm sure she does care about you. But that you shouldn't take it badly if she doesn't care about you in...that way." With this said, the next several second passed in silence, leaving the two of them to glance at other occasionally before the reborn priestess finally said, "Anyway...that's all I've got to say."

"Alright," Michiru replied, unsure of what else he could say in the face of all this. Except for, "Good night."

"Good night, Michiru. Sleep tight," Kagome replied before standing.

Hmph. Right. Like I'll actually be able to sleep after all of that, Michiru thought ruefully as he lay back down on the ground. Already, much of what the two of them had talked about was rattling about in his mind, bringing back doubts and concerns that had been almost forgotten in the wake of his reunion with Sango, at being so eagerly embraced by her. What would I do if...everything that's happened...she still chose to be with Miroku?

Michiru had no answers. And possibly worse, no peace as he closed his eyes to pursue a night's sleep. Sleep that eluded him for a painfully long time.

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