Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Temper Tantrum

Three days passed after the group left the farmhouse, three days in which they continued their journey to the northern mountains. As they traveled, they ran into the occasional demon that saw fit to attack them, which they quickly dispatched. Nothing unusual, and certainly nothing that any of them couldn't handle.

During this time, Sango kept a close eye on the Kururugi twins, and in Kaname in particular. And while there had been no blatant signs of the crisis of confidence that Kagome had told them about, the Demon Slayer did find herself a bit concerned. The female twin was just a jumpier, a bit quicker to turn and look when she heard a noise, no matter how slight or innocent it might be. Of course, that by itself probably doesn't prove anything, Sango thought, recalling her own past back in the Demon Slayer village. She and many other Demon Slayers of her generation reacted in such a way after their first serious injuries received in battle. And in truth, a little heightened alertness was a good thing to have, especially for someone unfamiliar to this world and its inherent dangers. Still...

With this in mind, Sango began scanning her surroundings with greater scrutiny. She and the others were in the middle of a grassy field, one with several small hills and basins in it. And while it was a nice, quiet area for traveling, it was hardly ideal for a sparring session. Too many places where a person could trip or twist an ankle, or injure themselves in some other fashion. And though these things were all but inevitable in battle, they were to be avoided in a training situation. Especially when a real threat could be one step away. Still, the Demon Slayer resolved to keep her eyes open for something that would be better suited for a good training session.

After a few minutes more of traveling, the ground was coming to the top of the hill, and Sango sighted what she was looking for. "Hmm, this looks good.”

“Good for what, Sango?” Kagome wondered as the Demon Slayer studied the terrain ahead. The grassy field continued for some distance, and unlike before, there was no sign of rises or gullies. "What is it?"

Sango didn't answer right away. Instead, she turned and asked, "Kaname, how are you feeling today?"

"How am I feeling?" Kaname blankly repeated. After blinking a few times, she shrugged before answering, "Uh...I feel just fine. Why?"

"Remember what I told you? That it might be a good idea for you to get in some sparring practice before we reached the northern mountains?" Kaname nodded dumbly to this, at which Sango looked back towards the field before them. "Well, this area looks like a pretty good place for us to practice in. So I was thinking that we could take the day off from traveling, and we could all get some training in."

"Huh?" Shippo squeaked out, looking wide-eyed at the Demon Slayer. "We? You mean all of us?"

Sango nodded to this, explaining, "If we run into Naraku, we'll need to be in top form."

"Hey! I'm always in top form!" InuYasha growled, bristling at the unintended slight.

"I never said that you weren't," Sango told him gently, despite private thoughts the that half-demon's fighting style could use a great deal of refinement. "I'm just saying that it can't hurt for all of us to get some practice in." Snorting at this, InuYasha looked away as the Demon Slayer added, "Besides, Kagome, didn't you said that you had come new artifacts that you hadn't had the chance to try out yet?"

"That's right," Kagome confirmed, glancing back at her backpack. "I mean, I was able to give them a quick test back home, but I haven't been able to use them in a fight just yet."

"Then it might be a good idea to try them out now. That way, you'll know whether or not you'll be able to rely on them in battle." With that, Sango looked about at her friends, and explained, "I thought that we would have lunch, get some rest, and then this afternoon we could start practicing. How does that sound?"

A few moments passed as the rest of them glanced at each other. "Good thinking, Sango," Kagome quickly replied, as the Demon Slayer expected. "We could use a chance to sharpen our skills. Right, Michiru?"

"Yeah. It's like they say; practice makes perfect," Michiru agreed.

InuYasha looked between the two of them for a moment before finally shrugging. "Eh, why not? It has been kinda boring these past few days. I could sure use a bit of excitement!"

"I guess it can't hurt," Miroku chimed with a good deal less enthusiasm.

"Okay." Then Sango turned towards Kaname, who still hadn't said anything. "What about you? Feel up to it?"

Kaname didn't respond right away. Instead, the uncertain groan and worried look to her spoke her mind for her, further betraying the concerns she had until she took a deep breath and smiled. "Well...okay. Sure."

"Great," Sango replied, gently patting her shoulder before again looking down ahead. "Let's go eat there, next to those trees."

"Okay," Kagome agreed as she started down towards the point indicated. As soon as they got there, Michiru set up a small fire pit with his Shikigami magic, and Kagome started cooking a simple meal with tea to go with it.

Once they had eaten, Miroku said, "So, while we're resting, perhaps we should decide how we go about this sparring session."

"What do you mean, Miroku?" InuYasha wondered as he sat back and relaxed.

"Well, for starters, who would spar with who," Miroku explained in a reasonable manner. "Kagome's spiritual powers would make it extremely dangerous for her to attack either InuYasha or Shippo, even in a sparring match. Also, given Michiru and Kaname's relative lack of experience..."

"I was thinking that I could practice with Kaname," Sango explained before turning towards the Kururugi girl. "If you don't mind, that is."

"Oh, I don't mind. But...why would you want to spar with me?" Kaname asked with a worried frown.

"Because I already have an idea of what to expect," Sango explained. "After all, I worked with your brother when he was getting used to his powers, and I used to train some of the younger Demon Slayers, you know…before…” With that, Sango’s smile faltered slightly as Kaname gave her a look of sympathy.

“I know, Michiru told me what happened,” Kaname told her. “I really…well, that is…”

“No, I’m sorry for getting you down about it,” Sango smiled again, waving aside her sadness. “As for the rest, maybe Kagome and Shippo could practice with each other."

"Me?!" Shippo squeaked out, his eyes going wide with surprise.

Nodding gently, Sango explained, "I was thinking that you could use your fox magic doppelgangers as targets for Kagome's new artifacts. That way, we can see what they're capable of without you being in any real danger."

"Hey, that's a great idea!" Kagome smiled enthusiastically, clasping her hands together. "How about it, Shippo? Please!"

"Uh..." Shippo hesitated, clearly not at ease with the possibility of making himself a target. But as he continued to look into Kagome's enthusiastic face, his concerns were promptly forgotten. "Well...if it's to help you, Kagome, then okay! I'll do it!"

"Really?! Oh, great! Thank you!" Kagome gushed.

Smiling as Kagome went on happily, Sango returned to the matter at hand. "Let's see, that takes care of four of us," she decided before glancing at the remaining three, who were looking amongst themselves. "And...hmmm..."

The three males proceeded to look at each other, with Michiru looking rather uncertain. Sango wasn't surprised by this; he didn't like fighting to begin with, and the prospect of being faced by one of his friends certainly wouldn't sit well with him. Miroku didn't seem affected, but the Demon Slayer knew how skilled he was at keeping his emotions beneath the surface. As for InuYasha, he just folded his arms behind his head and grinned. "I have an idea. Why don't we let Michiru and Miroku go at it?" Then he looked at the monk out of the corner of his eyes and added, "Then after Michiru’s done kicking your rear, he can give me a decent fight!”

A noise of surprise escaped Michiru's lips as Miroku's own continence hardened. “Oh, come on, InuYasha! Can’t you give me even the slightest vote of confidence?” he asked in a mildly poisonous fashion. "I may not have any magic of my own, but that does not make me helpless. As you yourself should well know."

"Heh. Okay," InuYasha smirked loudly. "I’m confident Michiru will kick your sorry butt all over the place!”

"InuYasha..." Kagome grumbled, giving the half-demon a warning glance. Taking notice of it, the dog-eared warrior snorted lightly before looking away. "So, okay then...when do we start?"

This question required a moment's consideration for Sango to answer. It had been a short while since they had eaten, so they had had some time to digest their meal. Likely enough to avoid any cramping, especially if they kept the sparring fairly light and easy. Also, given that one of the major objectives was to help Kaname build her confidence, the more time she was given to sit and anticipate what might happen. And as she knew far too well, such anticipations tended to take real dangers and make them ten times worse in a person's mind. Detracting from the possibility of victory. "Might as well start now," Sango finally decided, rising to her feet. Only as one tiny problem occurred to her. "Oh..."

"What is it, Sango? Is something wrong?" Miroku asked.

"Now, it's...nothing major," Sango admitted in a sheepish fashion. "It's just...I just realized that it might be best if we didn't use real weapons for this. Only...we don't have any practice weapons." Frowning at her oversight, the Demon Slayer turned to look at the nearby trees. "Hmmm...I suppose I could use a branch for a weapon, or..."

"Oh, you don't have to worry about that, Sango," Michiru smiled as he got to his feet. Then he drew his enchanted blade of wood from his belt and held it's hilt out to her. "Here. You can borrow my sword, if you want."

"Why, thank you," Sango beamed, accepting the proffered weapon. Gripping it's hilt firmly, she hefted it up and studied it closely. It had a good weight for a wooden weapon, and while it might be a deadly weapon when wielded by a Shikigami User, in her hands, it's dull blade would result in little more than a nasty bruise if it struck human flesh. "This will do just fine. Ready, Kaname?"

"Uh...yeah. I guess so," Kaname replied hesitantly, and even more hesitantly got to her feet. Practically oozing nervousness, the Kururugi girl followed as Sango led the way out to the field, making sure to get a good distance away from their friends.

"Okay, then," Sango began, turning to study the modern girl standing before her. "First off, I want you to draw your sword."

"Oh. Okay," Kaname replied, doing as asked. She wasn't as nervous as she had been in her first battle, but as she took her weapon in both hands and prepared for battle, it was more clear than ever that Kagome had been right. That her new friend's confidence had taken a considerable blow.

Smiling despite herself, Sango remembered what it had been like for her after her first real injuries in battle. How hard it had been to fight down her own natural survival instincts in order to do what to be done, how difficult it had been to recover, to not let herself become a burden. To not feel like a detriment to her father when she rejoined him in battle. "Now, attack me."

Kaname's blue-grey eyes went wide at this. "Wh-what?!"

"I need to gauge your attack. To see where we stand, and how best to proceed," Sango explained, holding up her wooden blade. "Just come at me and strike as hard as you can with your sword."

"Uh..." Kaname frowned, glancing from her sword to Sango. "But...I thought I would be using my Shikigami to..."

"Yes, and you will," Sango assured her. "But there's more to fighting than magic. You have to develop your physical capabilities as well. Now, c'mon." When Kaname still hesitated, the woman warrior smiled for her benefit. "Don't worry about me. I've done this plenty of times. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's how to take an attack. Now go on."

Pressing her lips together, Kaname stood there, looking at Sango before finally saying, "Well...okay." Nodding in response, the warrior woman stood there and watched as the Shikigami User tensed up, her body language already making it clear that she was going to rush in for an attack. A moment later, she shot forward, showing no hesitation as she struck at Sango with a two-handed strike. Easily reading her motions, the Demon Slayer brought up her own blade to intercept it.

Hmmm...not bad, considering her lack of experience, Sango decided after a moment's evaluation. She's certainly better than Michiru was when we first started working together. Of course, considering that he's already been working to train with her, that would explain it. As this thought ran its course, she realized that Kaname was still standing there, keeping her blade pressed again Sango's own, the Demon Slayer smiled and told her, "Okay, now you can relax."

"So...did I do okay?" Kaname wondered as she pulled back, lowering her blade.

"It was pretty good, all things considered," Sango replied in all honesty. "By the way...have you had any martial arts training? Physical training? Anything like that?"

"Well, no martial arts, but my bro did insist that we start doing some exercises while we were training," Kaname explained, glancing over at where the group was. "We also stopped by this one place that offered free lessons on self-defense every now and again. He said it would probably come in handy when we finally came here."

"Really?" Sango responded, gratified by this revelation. She then turned towards the rest of the group and called out, "You didn't tell me about that!"

"Ah, yeah, well..." Michiru began, scratching the back of his head. "Sorry, but...with everything that was going on after we first got to this world, I...kinda...forgot."

Completely understanding how that could happen, Sango chuckled before telling him, "Well, either way, that was good thinking. That makes things a lot simpler for us." Noting the pleasured blush this caused to appear on Michiru's face, she laughed a bit more before returning her focus to Kaname. "Anyway, let's start by improving on your ability to react to a genuine threat."

"Okay," Kaname nodded, only to frown uncertainly. "Uh...how do we do that?"

"You told me before that you can...sense what's happening in your environment," Sango explained carefully, making certain to say nothing that might detract from her eventually goal. "Detect anything abnormal or unusual, anything that has to do with your Shikigami."

"Yes. Well, at least any of the Shikigami that are currently awake," Kaname corrected her.

"Right. So all we have to do is to help you be able to recognize something that's potentially hazardous, and be able to react to it." With that, Sango held up her sword and asked, "I know your Wood Shikigami is awake, so you should be able to sense this. Right?"

Nodding, Kaname answered, "Actually, it's easier to sense something like our swords because of the Shikigami magic in them."

"So it stands out from something like a normal plant or piece of wood, right?" Sango gathered. When Kaname again nodded, the Demon Slayer knew exactly what to do next. "Alright, then. I want you to keep your eyes on me, but at the same time, use your Shikigami to track the movements of this sword. Do you think you can do that?"

"Uh, sure! And...then what?" Kaname asked.

"Then I want you to block my sword if you feel it coming close to you," Sango instructed her carefully. "I'm not going to swing very hard; the whole point of this is to improve your ability to track and react to a possible threat. Okay?" Again, Kaname nodded. "Are you ready?"

A beat passed before Kaname replied, "Uh...yeah. As ready as I'll ever be...I guess."

Smiling despite herself, Sango replied, "Okay, then. Begin." Immediately, she raised her sword to the right of Kaname, only to shake her head when the modern girl shifted her eyes towards. "No. Don't look at it. Keep your eyes on me, remember? Use your Shikigami to track the sword."

"Oh, right, right! Sorry!" Kaname responded, her cheeks tingeing pink as she forced herself to lock eyes on Sango. Satisfied with this, the woman warrior continued to motion the sword about, moving it slowly, carefully to her side. Then she twisted it about to aim at the Kururugi girl's exposed legs, making sure to give her plenty of time to respond to it. Eventually, she was rewarded with a quick movement, and the feel of an impact running up her sword.

"Good. Very good, Kaname," Sango told her, pleased with this minor breakthrough. "Now, I'm going to be moving about. Do your best to keep track of me with your eyes, and the sword with your Shikigami."

"Okay," Kaname answered, her voice a little less tense as the two of them proceeded. Sango started out moving in a slow circle around her, making sure that she was easy to follow. As she did so, she took occasional swipes with the wooden sword, all of them easily blocked. Heartened by this, the Demon Slayer slowly increased the speed and frequency of her attacks, making certain not to increase the level of difficulty too quickly.

As Kaname became more adept at intercepting the myriad attacks, Sango added more variety to her foot motions. As she did so, a couple of her swings managed to connect before the Shikigami User could block them. To her relief, this failed to discourage Kaname; instead, she kept on trying, and soon enough, she was blocking Sango's strikes as effortlessly as before.

"Very good, Kaname. I think that'll do for now," Sango decided after several minutes of practicing. "You've gotten pretty good at tracking things with your Shikigami, so you should be able to manage it in battle."

"Thanks, Sango," Kaname replied cheerily, without a trace of her prior jitteriness. "I...I really appreciate this."

Sango have her a nod and a smile before pointing out, "Now, keep in mind that we still have a lot of work to do. So while we're traveling, I want you to experiment with your Shikigami. Do your best to be aware of your surroundings, and don't be afraid to let us know if you sense anything."

"Sure," Kaname answered before shrugging in a sheepish fashion. "Actually, I've been...kinda doing that already. I haven't actually noticed anything weird, but..."

"That's fine. Just do your best and keep practicing," Sango advised her. Content that they were done, and that more importantly, Kaname had taken a solid step forward, she turned to the others and said, "Kagome? Shippo? Why don't you two go next?"

"Oh, noooo...!" Michiru chuckled, his sides aching as he watched the training session between Kagome and Shippo.

"Grrrr...I don't see what you think is so funny about this!" InuYasha growled. His mood not improved by the fact that Michiru wasn't the only one laughing. Or more importantly, by the cause of their mirth.

Kagome and Shippo had proceeded with their sparring match exactly as Sango had suggested, with the little fox using his magic to produce duplicates for the modern priestess to use as targets. And so Kagome had put several artifacts given her by Wyvern to the test, such as the Drum of Heaven and Earth, which when struck created a noise that was mind-numbingly horrendous to demons, as proven when InuYasha, Shippo, and Kirara all curled up in balls, covering their ears. Another artifact was the Gourd of Revelations, which broke any illusion spell. This and several artifacts were put to the test, dispersing many of Shippo's clones...all of which were in the form of InuYasha.

At that very moment, an exact duplicate of the half-demon was caught up in the coils of a golden dragon, struggling futilely to escape from his predicament. Something that Kagome was taking a great of enjoyment in. "So, what do you think, InuYasha?" the raven-haired girl playfully asked, holding up the rod of gold that gave her control of the dragon. "Think this will work on the real thing?"

"Not a chance in hell!" InuYasha snarled irritably, veins bulging from his forehead. "Dammit, Shippo! Why'd you have to go and make those fake yous into fake mes?!"

"To provide Kagome with a bigger target!" Shippo explained, giving the half-demon a smug look. "Besides, I thought it might help if I gave her targets that she'd enjoy blowing up!"

"Then why didn't you make them look like Naraku?! Or Kagura?! Or Sesshomaru?!" InuYasha demanded incredulously. Unfortunately, his growing ire only served to make the situation seem that much humorous to Michiru and the others, who were hard-pressed to keep their various snickers and chortles from giving way to outright guffawing. "Oh, sure! Keep laughing!" Shaking his head in disgust, the half-demon made a show of sticking his nose into the air before adding, "Hmph! Nice to know my friends think me being humiliated is so damn funny!"

Struggling to regain control of himself, Michiru shook his head before saying, "S-sorry, InuYasha! But this - is - is just so (snicker) so ridiculous!"

"Yeah! It's (snort) it's - sorry!" Kaname got out, finally planting her hand over her mouth before even more laughs escaped from it.

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha hunched his shoulders, several veins bulging from his forehead. Noticing this, Miroku quickly ceased laughing, cleared his throat, and called out, "Say, Kagome? If you've tested out all of your artifacts, perhaps it might be a good idea to call it a day. I'm sure that the both of you must be fatigued."

"Hey, I'm not tired! I could do this all day!" Kagome replied, still smiling wickedly. She looked like she was about to say something else, but then she glanced over at InuYasha, and apparently noticed the plumes of smoke rising up from his ears. "Although...I guess I could do with a break." Punctuating this statement with a giggle, she look back to the golden dragon. The metallic beast immediately released the InuYasha clone, which exploded in a puff of smoke. Then it flew back towards its mistress, shrinking in size before wrapping about the rod she had used to control it. "No doubt about it, this stuff is gonna come in handy," the modern priestess declared as she placed the golden statuette in her backpack. "C'mon, Shippo!"

"Right! Coming, Kagome!" Shippo responded, quickly falling in line behind her.

"Hmph! About time!" InuYasha growled less than gracefully as he glared at the others, stilling whatever snickers were left in them.

I guess I can't blame him for being mad about this. If it were me, I probably wouldn't think it was very funny, either, Michiru admitted, suffering a twinge of guilt. Then, aloud he said, "I guess it's our turn, huh, Miroku?"

"It would certainly seem so," Miroku agreed, rising to his feet. As Michiru did the same, the monk went over to the side of the woman they both held dear. "So, Sango, any advice on how we should proceed?"

Casting an annoyed look at the monk, Sango answered, "No. Just...go about it however you want."

With a nod, Miroku answered, "Very well then. But before we start...care to wish me luck?"

A scowl darkened Sango's face at this, a scowl that deepened when Miroku lowered his face right before hers. "Sure. I'll wish you luck. Lots of luck," the Demon Slayer grumbled, glaring at him out of the corner of her eyes. "Now hurry up and get started."

Frowning at the way Miroku sweat-dropped, laughing nervously as he quickly backed away from the warrior woman, Michiru made his way out onto the field, making a point of not looking at the monk. So, they've been together for a long time, huh? he thought, recalling his conversation with Kagome from a few days ago. They care for each other?

On one level, Michiru knew that Kagome had been right about this. He had seen the evidence of Miroku and Sango's relationship, such as when the Demon Slayer had been worried for him back at Princess Oboro's mansion, or how concerned she had been when the monk had fallen ill. But at the same time, despite this knowledge (or perhaps because of it), he was having a harder time accepting the situation between them. At how the monk could render Sango so angry and hurt, and all without the slightest hint of remorse. All to sate his perverse lust.

Despite himself, Michiru paused to look back at the two of them, and watched as Miroku slowly approached him, leaving Sango sitting with a dark scowl on her face, one behind which much anger and frustration could be seen seething. "Well, then, Michiru," the monk began as he came up alongside of him. "Are you ready?"

A scowl of his own furrowing his brow, Michiru glanced from Sango to the monk. "You shouldn't do that, Miroku."

"Hmm?" Miroku frowned, looking genuinely confused. "Do what?"

"You shouldn't play with Sango like that," Michiru clarified, his voice low and heavy. "What were you trying to do just now? Get a quick kiss out of her? Or something else?"

"Oh, now, Michiru, you're imagining things," Miroku told him, waving aside the Shikigami User's questions like they were nothing. "I just asked her to wish me luck. Nothing more."

"You mean the same way you 'just' wanted to keep her company the last time you made a play for her?" Michiru wondered a bit more sharply. "Why do you keep doing that, anyway?! You know how much it hurts!"

Miroku considered this for a moment before answering, "True, but some things in life are worth a certain amount of pain. And a moment with her is..."

"That's not what I meant!" Michiru broke in, turning to confront Miroku face to face. "You know what I'm talking about! How you'd go off to flirt with a bunch of pretty girls, or spy on them while they’re bathing, or touch them without their permission? You know how Sango feels about that! Especially when she's the one you're doing it to!" Heaving a sigh at this, thinking back to that night when the Demon Slayer had sent the monk flying through the wall of the farmhouse, as well as how upset she had been afterwards, the Kururugi boy shook his head in slow disdain. "Why do you do that, Miroku? Because it seems to me that, if you had any real feelings for her, you’d stop! So why not?”

"Heh! Now there's a good question!" InuYasha chimed in from the sidelines.

While Kagome was admonishing the half-demon, Miroku gave the Shikigami User his usual look of feigned innocence. “I understand what you’re saying, Michiru, as well as respect your feelings. However, there are certain things that you fail to comprehend.”

“Like what?” Michiru replied, annoyed at Miroku’s carefree attitude.

“You must remember that I am a monk in service to Buddha. As such, I view my role is to set people on the path that nature intends for them; to find spouses, to settle down and start a family together,” Miroku started, his voice one of sage wisdom. “Thus, my role as a monk is to comfort the lonely hearts of single women across the land.”

"And how does spying on them and groping them comfort their lonely hearts?" Michiru demanded with a greater amount of heat. Realizing that he was letting his emotions gain greater ground on him than he should, he took a deep breath before proceeding. "Look, I'm sorry, but...let's be honest here. We both know that this has nothing to do with you being a monk." Shooting Miroku as fierce a glare as he was capable of, the Shikigami User went on to add, "The only thing you're doing is making lame excuses for going around, playing around with as many women as you please.”

“Come now, Michiru! Surely you don’t really believe that of me!” Miroku replied disbelievingly. “Now, I understand that you are upset, but you really shouldn’t let that cloud your judgment.”

“You’re right, Miroku, I am upset,” Michiru admitted. “I...I know that Sango has...feelings for you, but...the way you treat her, it's...it's unforgiveable."

"Michiru, stop," Sango called out to him. Jumping somewhat at her voice, he looked to see her standing up and looking forlornly at him. "Please, it's okay. You don't have to say anything!"

"But...!" Michiru began numbly, gesturing at the monk. Only for his arm to fall flat to his side, leaving him feeling like a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

"No, no. Sango, please. Let him go on." Again surprised, Michiru turned to see Miroku with a thoughtful look on his face. "I would like to hear what he has to say." The monk then glanced back at her and added, "Besides, we should be able to discuss whatever's bothering us. After all, we are a team, aren't we?"

Now Michiru was completely off-balance. Of all the things he would have expected Miroku to say at this point, this certainly hadn't been one of them. "You...what?"

"Go on. Say whatever it is that you have to say," Miroku instructed him in a carefree manner. "No matter what you might think, I am a monk. And helping people cope with whatever problems they might have is...one of my duties."

The moment Miroku made mention of his role as a monk, Michiru felt an edge of annoyance, as well as suspicion. In the Kururugi boy's experience, about the only time Miroku ever made a point of mentioning that he was a monk was when he wanted something in particular. But at the same time, he couldn't imagine what that something might be. The only thing that could result of Michiru opening up was a discussion regarding Miroku's myriad flaws, which was exactly what he would have thought that the monk would wish to avoid.

However, even as these things occurred to him, Michiru continued to look at Miroku's smiling, carefree face. And as he did so, he realized that he most certainly wanted to give voice to his grievances.

"Miroku..." he began slowly, carefully. Trying not to say anything that he would come to regret. "You know how I feel about Sango. Heck, she...she's one of the reasons I worked so hard to come back here." A wad of bile formed in his throat, forcing Michiru to loudly swallow. His cheeks burning, he then glanced over at the woman that had found her way into his heart, and saw her looking at them both. Her expression solemn, her emotions mostly buried, except for the spark of sadness that was visible in her eyes. "That's right. I mean...I knew I could visit InuYasha and Kagome back home...and the rest of you...I missed you, and this world as well." Sniffing loudly, he smiled sadly at her before adding, "But Sango...I love you. And after everything that's happened, the time we've been apart...nothing has changed that. And when I was working to return to this world...I knew more than anything...that I wanted to see you again."

"Michiru..." Sango breathed, so softly that Michiru could barely even hear her.

"I...I wanted to be here. To share in your lives...and your life, Sango," Michiru went on, his emotions gaining greater strength with each passing second as he turned back to Miroku. "I want to be there for her, in the good times and bad." Pausing, he took a long, deep breath, and narrowed his eyes at the monk. "But then you go and play these games, and hurt her even more than she’s already been hurt…and I can't stand that, Miroku. She doesn't deserve it."

A thoughtful noise sounding in his throat, Miroku seemed to consider Michiru for a time before asking, "So…are you saying that she’d be happier with you, rather than me?”

Thrown by this sudden change in subject, Michiru blushed furiously. “Th-that’s not what I’m saying!!”

“Really?” Miroku wondered, cocking his head at the boy. “Because that certainly seems to be where you’re going with this.”

Gritting his teeth, Michiru glared at the world’s most perverted monk as he struggled to regain himself. “Look, Miroku. I'm not trying to say who Sango would be better off with or any of that. That's...that's something she has to decide for herself." He then paused to look at the group, his gaze focusing first on Sango, then on Kagome. "And if she does...want to be with you...then I'll accept that." Not wanting to see how either girl reacted to this, he turned back to the monk and told him, "But either way...I still want her to be happy. And we both know that having you grope at her and that sort of thing does not make her happy! So...why do you keep doing it if you really care for her?"

"Hmm...I suppose that is a reasonable question, given your perspective," Miroku decided after a moment's contemplation. "And in truth, there are a few reasons. Starting with, of course, my...decided appreciation for the female form."

"Heh. You don't say!" InuYasha snorted from the sidelines.

Glancing over InuYasha, Miroku loudly cleared his throat before continuing. "That being said, however, that is only a small part of why I do what I do."

"Oh, I can't wait to hear this one!" Shippo commented, somehow conveying the rolling of his eyes with his voice alone.

Silently agreeing with the fox-demon even as Kagome determinedly shushed him, Michiru simply stood there as Miroku began his explanation. "Another part of it has to do with the grim nature our travels tend to revolve around. Think about it; every single day, we are searching for a monstrosity that has very nearly killed us all on more than one occasional. Every time we get close to Naraku, we are laying our lives on the line, just for the chance to get close enough to slay him. Then there are the many other dangers and difficulties we face, day after day, night after night."

"I know that, Miroku. But does that have to do with anything?" Michiru demanded impatiently.

"Quite a bit, actually," Miroku told him, never once losing that tone of sage wisdom. "Allowing ourselves to dwell on such matter would only be self-destructive. So, obviously, it helps to have something or someone distract our minds from such negativity."

"Hmm, yeah, I guess that..." Michiru began, only to slump forward somewhat when the meaning of the monk's words fell squarely upon his head. "Wait a sec...are you saying you do this sort of thing...just to keep our minds off the danger?!"

"Well, not just your minds, of course," Miroku replied to the tune of the groans of dismay issuing from the others. "I admit that such activities do wonders for my own personal stress levels."

"Now that I can believe!" InuYasha sniped from the sidelines.

"And, of course, there is another reason for it," Miroku continued while Kagome was admonishing the half-demon. "A deep, philosophical reason."

Several seconds passed before Michiru warily responded, "I'm probably gonna regret asking this, but...what's that?"

"That life is far too short to allow yourself to live a life filled with regrets." His smile faltering somewhat, Miroku glanced down at his right hand before adding, "I know that quite well, Michiru. And that's why I do my best to live my life to the fullest. So that when I finally do leave this plain of existence, I won't have anything to feel sorrow over."

Reminded of the curse his friend bore, Michiru's ire subsided somewhat. "I see. I..." Then something clicked in his mind, and his initial sympathy promptly went flying right out the window. "Wait...so...what you're saying is...that you don't want to die knowing that you might have missed a chance...to feel up a girl?! Is that it?!"

"Oh, not just that, of course," Miroku quickly assured him. "Everything I do, from procuring us the finest lodgings to earning us large funds is intended to help us live as comfortably as we can. After all, life is simply too short to spend all of our time sleeping in the woods, foraging for the least of our needs."

His brows furrowing as his ire gained greater ground, Michiru then asked, "And what about the way you treat Sango and other women? Are you saying that you don't regret that?"

"Of course not," Miroku told him, not missing a beat. "After all, there's nothing to regret about faithfully carrying out my sacred duty as a monk."

"Your sacred duty as a..." Michiru repeated, only to shake his head in disgust and disbelief. “You mean...you actually expect me to believe that pile of garbage you spouted before?!"

“There’s nothing dishonest with what I said!” Miroku countered, looking somewhat offended. “It is my duty as a monk, nothing more and nothing less.”

"Where does he get this stuff, anyway?" Kaname asked in a somewhat disturbed manner.

"Hmph! Ya got me!" InuYasha responded with a derisive chuckle.

Casting a glance at his detractors, Miroku then returned his full attention to Michiru. "Well, if that's all, why don't we get on with our sparring?" Jolted by these words, the Kururugi boy made a noise of surprise as he focused on the monk. "After all, we still have a long way to go before we reach the mountains. And we also want to find a decent place to make camp before it gets dark."

"Huh?" Michiru started, off-balance from the sudden shift in topic. As such, he required several seconds to recover and say, "Uh...okay. Sure." But even as the two of them took positions and prepared to spar, the Shikigami User wasn't thinking of the sparring session or the need to find a proper campsite. His thoughts were solely on the conversation he had just had. A conversation that was already burning within him.

He doesn't care. He doesn't mind at all that he's been hurting Sango all the time, Michiru thought as he went over the monk's words. Miroku just enjoys playing with women, just to get a cheap thrill. It doesn't even have to be Sango. And he just keeps justifying it. Making excuses, saying it's his sacred duty...

This chain of thought kept twisting and turning through Michiru's mind, gaining greater strength and power with every step of the way. Cascading into memories of Sango commenting about how Miroku had asked a ten-year-old girl to bear his child, to the times he had too advantage of the Demon Slayer, all without the slightest thought of how it affected her. How much it hurt her. And as it did, it sent a terrible surge of anger burning through him, causing him to clench his sword that much harder as he drew it from his belt. His blade trembling with dangerous emotion and an even more dangerous power...

"I don't believe this..." InuYasha muttered sourly as he watched two of his allies square off, weapons at the ready. "Just when I think he can't sink any lower, he goes ahead and breaks out the shovel!"

"He sure can lay it on, can't he?" Shippo commented in a derisive fashion that made it clear he wasn't asking a question.

"Yeah, really," Kaname groaned, shaking her head at the monk. "What on earth makes him think we'd actually buy any of that stuff, anyway?"

"Hmph! Who knows?" InuYasha growled as he flopped down on his side, supporting his head with his hand as Michiru and Miroku began their sparring session. The monk made the first move, rushing the Shikigami User with his staff held at the ready.

To the half-demon's surprise, Michiru didn't respond right away. Instead, he looked almost surprised at the charge, and lagged a few seconds in raising his sword in his defense. Those few seconds cost him as Miroku closed the distance between them, and effortlessly got past the delayed defense to smack Michiru over the head.

"Ahh!" Michiru cried out, jumping back from the monk. Though he placed one hand to his injury, he was now more alert, and held up his sword at the ready. But even as he did so, Miroku once again closed in on him, and with an easy swipe of his staff, knocked the wooden blade from his hand.

Growling irritably as the enchanted sword tumbled through the air before landing in the grass, InuYasha watched as Miroku whipped the headpiece of his staff into Michiru's face, the tip of it mere inches away from his nose. "What's the matter, Michiru?" the monk asked in an even tone. "I thought you would have been able to parry that attack."

Yeah, and so did I! InuYasha thought derisively as he scrutinized the Shikigami User.

"I...I..." Michiru sputtered out before shaking his head. "Sorry."

"No need to be sorry," Miroku told him in an agreeable manner. "I suppose it's my fault. After all, you're not as used to hand-to-hand combat as some of us." A beat passed, then the monk glanced over at where the wooden blade had fallen. "Come on. Let's try that again. And this time, why don't you make the first assault?"

"Uh...oh...okay," Michiru replied before somberly going to retrieve his weapon. Pausing to glance over at the rest of them, he picked up the wooden blade and took it both hands. "Okay, Miroku."

"Whenever you're ready," Miroku responded, the both of them assuming a battle-ready stance.

Heaving a deep breath, Michiru drew back his blade, magical power erupting from the sword, causing the myriad inscriptions on it to light up. "Alright, then...Shikigami attack!" With that, he swung the wooden blade, unleashing a barrage of fireballs at the monk.

A barrage that was effortlessly dodged as Miroku quickly sidestepped it, letting it pass by as he darted forward at high speed. Sucking in a quick breath, Michiru held his sword up, readying to block as he invoked his Wind Shikigami. "Binding Blue Sky!" he called out, his spirit familiar flying towards the monk, transforming into streamers of enchanted wind. Audibly snorting, the monk raised his right hand to his face, making a gesture InuYasha knew from experience to be related to the channeling of spiritual power. A moment later, Miroku's entire body lit up just as he collided with the Shikigami User's spell.

To Michiru's surprise, the streams of wind flowed off of Miroku's form harmlessly, like water off of a duck's back. "Wh-what the -?!" he sputtered out, his surprise giving the monk more than enough time to again close the distance between them. This time, Miroku didn't settle for knocking away his opponent's sword; instead, he delivered a full-fledged strike to the boy's stomach.

"Michiru!" Kaname cried out as the rest of them made various sounds of dismay and shock as the Kururugi boy doubled over, all the air cruelly driven from his lungs. Stunned by the force of the blow, he could do nothing but stagger backwards, groaning his pain.

As his opponent tried to recover, Miroku frowned heavily. "What are you doing, Michiru? You know that I'm capable of dispersing weak spells like Binding Blue Sky," the monk scolded him, making no movements to help the injured boy. "If you don't start taking this seriously, you're going to get hurt."

"Miroku, that's enough," Sango broke in, her voice heavy with disapproval. "Michiru, it's okay. You don't have to do this. You can stop any time!"

"No!" Michiru sharply retorted, holding up his hand to the Demon Slayer. "No..." he said again, this time in a gentler voice, giving a slow shake of his head. "I'm...I'm alright, Sango. I can do this."

"Are you sure?" Miroku asked in a pointed manner. "Michiru, if we're going to do this, then you have to treat me as you would any other enemy. You have to start attacking me. "

That's for sure! InuYasha growled inwardly as he studied the two of them. That sword attack he used...he wasn't even trying to hit Miroku, when he knows that it wouldn't hurt him that much!

As this thought ran its course, Kagome gave voice to its implications by asking, "Sango, when you and Michiru trained together...did he ever use his spells against you?"

"No. Not even his weaker spells," Sango responded, giving them a worried look before returning her focus to the match. "And...well, all we really did was working on building his strength and stamina. We weren't actually fighting!"

Which went a long way towards explaining why he was so hesitant now in InuYasha's mind. Michiru didn't like fighting as a matter of course, preferring to talk to someone rather than battle them. Furthermore, he already knew the destructive potential of his Shikigami, as well as the amount of damage some of his more powerful spells could cause someone, especially an ordinary human. But Miroku's tough enough to handle a few nasty spells, the half-demon reminded himself, recalling the one-and-only time he and the monk had actually squared off, Miroku even able to parry the Tetsusaiga with his staff. Besides, after being such a jerk before, he could use a quick kick in the butt!

Contemplating the kind of damage that he would like to inflict upon the monk if he had been in Michiru's place, InuYasha growled lowly as his friend recovered and looked Miroku in the face. "Look, I can understand you not wanting to hurt any of us. But believe me when I say that I want you to attack me," Miroku declared earnestly, gesturing at himself. "We need to be at our best when the time comes to confront Naraku. And that means that I need you to push me to my limits as well. Something that won't happen if you keep hesitating like that."

"But..." Michiru frowned worriedly, his face filled with conflict.

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure I can handle whatever you throw at me," Miroku told him, bending down to give Michiru a reassuring pat on his shoulder. Smiling broadly the monk moved to look the boy in the face, and whispered something. Whispered it so softly that InuYasha, even with his sensitive ears, barely caught it.

"I need to be...if I'm going to be able to protect Sango."

Startled by this, InuYasha could only lie there, wondering if he had actually heard what he thought he did. As he did so, Michiru continued to stand there, staring slack-jawed at the monk. "Wh-what...?"

"After all, we both know she needs a strong man who can be with her at all times," Miroku continued, still whispering. "Not some little boy who came here on a lark, acting on a simple crush."

Michiru blinked a few times at this before all confusion and uncertainty fled from his visage. "Hey, now, wait just a - ouch!" he began, only to be cut off when Miroku smacked him over the head with his staff.

"I have no doubt that you're trying, Michiru. But as I told you, you have to treat this exercise as if it were a real battle. Otherwise, there's no point in continuing," Miroku told him, speaking normally. Acting as if he had not said the things he had just said as he moved away from the Kururugi boy and once again took a battle ready stance. "Now, again. Come at me whenever you're ready."

"Why, of all the -!" InuYasha snarled, rising up to a crouched position with his fist at the ready. "Just who does that scheming lech think he is, anyway?!"

"Huh?" Kagome started, looking blankly at the half-demon. "What's the matter, InuYasha?"

Whipping about to face the reborn priestess, InuYasha was about to ask her what she meant by that. But a moment later he realized that she didn't know what had just transpired between Michiru and Miroku. The monk had spoken so softly as to not be audible to anyone but him. Even Shippo was clearly oblivious to the slight that had just been handed Michiru. As he realized this, the half-demon harrumphed loudly before folding his arms across his chest. "Never mind!"

But even as Kagome gave him a quizzical look before finally shrugging and returning her eyes to the two combatants, InuYasha continued to fume. Dammit, Miroku! You actually have the nerve to say something like that?! the silver-maned warrior thought furiously. Glancing over at his friend, he shook his head furiously. It's just too bad that it's not me out there! I'd be more than happy to give you exactly what you...huh? His chain of thought trailed off when his nose pricked up at something. A scent that he knew very, very well, having become acquainted with it over more years of pain and ridicule and battle than he really cared to think about.

The scent of anger and hatred.

At this realization, InuYasha sat up and leaned forward, his every sense focused on what was happening before him. And as he did, he saw Michiru visibly trembling, his features tightening with fury. The light of his already-glowing sword intensified, energy gushing from it as he stood up straight, his entire body tensing. Oh, yes! the half-demon grinned as his friend looked at Miroku with eyes slitted with a sharp, sudden rage. Oh, yes! Pease, please...go for it! Teach that jerk a lesson he won't forget!

Hoping against hoping, InuYasha continued to watch as Michiru sucked in a long, deep breath, before saying, "Alright...if that's the way you want it, then...Prominence of Flame!"

"What?!" Kagome squawked in surprise as Michiru swung his sword, releasing a blazing stream of destruction squarely at Miroku, with the monk dodging only by the narrowest of margins. "Hey, be careful! You could have hit him!"

Unsurprisingly, and to InuYasha's considerable enjoyment, Michiru didn't seem to hear Kagome's admonition. Instead, he immediately charged his sword for another assault. "Now! Blue Sky Blades!"

Gasping in shock as Michiru sent a series of vicious blades of wind shooting forth at Miroku, Kagome cried out, "What do you think you're doing, Michiru?!"

"Hey, what's the big deal?!" InuYasha demanded even as the monk nimbly evaded the strike. "It's not like he actually hit him! And besides, Miroku's the one who told him to treat this like an actual battle!"

"Hey, I know, but seriously!" Kagome protested as Michiru launched into another devastating attack. "Those spells he's using are completely over the top!"

“No kidding!” Shippo chimed in as Miroku barely avoided a Thunder Break. "What got Michiru so mad, anyway?! All Miroku did was bop him over the head!"

“Humph! That ain't all he did!" InuYasha sneered, watching in sadistic amusement as Michiru launched another powerful spell at the monk. "Besides, it’d serve that dirty monk right! Going on about his ‘sacred duty’! What a pile of crap!”

"InuYasha!" Kagome howled, and it looked like she was about to say something else. But then she thought better of it, and instead continued to watch the sparing session. Which was quickly turning into an outright slaughter.

Dammit! Michiru thought hatefully as another of his spells missed it's mark.

Ever since he had begun his assault, Miroku had not been able to make another attack of his own. Instead, the monk had been completely on the defensive, too busy running away to launch his own counterattack. But that didn't make Michiru feel the list bit better; instead, all it did was make him that much angrier.

A little boy with a crush?! Michiru thought, that slight once again stabbing into him. After all the things you've done to Sango, the way you've treated her, you actually have the gall to say that to me?! I'm gonna make you eat those words!

Which wouldn't be easy, as the Shikigami User knew. Whatever flaws he might have had, Miroku remained a seasoned warrior, and he hadn't survived the numerous battles he had taken part in by making himself an easy target. Something this sparring session had proven, with the monk having already dodged numerous powerful attacks. And that's another thing, Michiru realized sourly as he looked at the scorched earth that was the result of another of his failed attack. Even as angered as he was by Miroku's barbed comments, the needless destruction was irksome to him. Besides, the last thing we need is another forest fire!

Wincing at the memory of that nightmare, Michiru paused to glower at his opponent. Who was not only no worse for wear, but still wore that same superior look he had had when he called him nothing more than a kid with a crush. Okay, Miroku. It's time to show you what this 'kid' can do. And I think I just thought of the perfect way to do that!

"What's the matter, Michiru?" Miroku asked even as the Kururugi boy planned his next move. "Are you getting tired?"

"No, but you're gonna be!" Michiru assured him as he called forth the power of his Shikigami. “Oh, towering green wood, send forth your steely embrace! Green Wood Snare!”

The moment the Wood Shikigami appeared, Miroku tensed to dodge whatever attack was forthcoming. Michiru could see his eyes shifting from side to side, and he was certain he was well aware of his environment, waiting for the slightest indicator as to where the next attack would come from. Which made it that much more satisfying when his eyes went wide at a slight rumbling in the ground, one that was soon followed by a series of vines erupting from the earth. Crying out in surprise, Miroku jumped backwards, but he was already surrounded. "Auugh! What is this?!" he demanded as the vines wrapped about him. "More demonic grass?!"

"Not exactly. But I did base my spell on it!" Michiru announced, taking a sadistic pleasure in the monk's helplessness. "Now, let's see how well you dodge this! Great River Cascade!" With this, he pointed his sword at Miroku, the Water Shikigami causing streams of moisture to gather at the tip of the wooden blade before being released as a spiral wave that smashed into Miroku head-on. The monk cried out dismay as the torrential blow struck, snapping restraining vines and sending him sputtering across the ground to end up in a sodden heap.

"There!" Michiru declared with a definite sense of satisfaction. "Let's see you talk tough -!"

"Michiru! What are you doing!" Jumping at this howl of outrage, the Kururugi boy very nearly fell over in shock before he managed to regain himself. As soon as he recovered, he turned to see Kagome marching up to him, glowering furiously at him. "Honestly! What is the matter with you?!"

Stunned by both the fact of her outburst and her angry glare, Michiru stood there dumbly, looking at her in stupefied shock before saying, "Huh?"

"What are you thinking, go all-out like that?!" Kagome demanded, placing her hands to her hips. "What were you doing, trying to get Miroku killed?!"

"Hey, give it a rest, Kagome!" InuYasha growled as he and the others came up behind her. "Miroku asked for this! And in more ways than one!"

"He asked to be pummeled by one of his friends?! Yeah, right!" Kagome sneered before turning her attention back to Michiru. "What were you thinking, going off like that?!"

His mouth popping open in surprise, Michiru just stood there, looking incredulously at his accuser. "Wha - but he - what are you -?!"

"Yeah, Michiru!" Shippo piped up. When the Shikigami User met the fox-demon's gaze, he saw that, while he wasn't as upset as Kagome, he was far from happy. "Those spells were really dangerous! Why'd you do that?!"

"He...but I -!" Michiru tried again, unable to understand the angry glares shot at him.

"Ugh! Never mind!" Kagome finally sneered before stomping away. "Let's go see if Miroku's alright!"

Stunned by this treatment, Michiru again tried to sputter out something in his defense, but could only stand there and watch as Shippo followed Kagome. Kaname and Sango stood there for several moments, giving him solemn looks of disappointment before joining them. Leaving him to stand alone, looking at the only one who remained with him. "InuYasha...what the...?!"

"They don't know the whole story, Michiru," the half-demon stated firmly, shooting a killing glare at them. "But don't you worry; they'll find out soon enough. Now c'mon." Gesturing for him to follow, InuYasha then started after the others.

Numbly following his friend, Michiru glanced this way and that at the meadow that had just been reduced to a shambles of its former self. Okay, I...I know I used some pretty powerful spells back there, the Kururugi boy admitted to himself, frowning at the destruction he had caused. But I...I never actually hit him. I wouldn't have...and b-besides, after what he said, and...oh, no...! His eyes going wide with horror, Michiru realized exactly what InuYasha had meant. They...they never heard him! He was whispering so quietly that they never heard what he said! They really think I simply lost it!

As the horror of this scenario struck home, along with the realization that the others might not have been entirely incorrect in their assessment, Michiru followed along with the others to where Miroku had ended up. "Miroku, are you okay?" Sango asked in a hushed, concerned voice. One that made the Kururugi boy burn at once with envy and shame. "Miroku?"

“Do you think he’s alright?” Shippo asked nervously.

Kagome and the other girls responded to this inquiry by looking at Michiru, who shrank from their gazes. “Definitely!" he told them, despite being a bit worried himself. "I mean, I didn’t hit him that hard…did I?”

Snorting at this, Kagome then bent down next to the monk and placed her ear against his chest. “Well, he’s still breathing.”

“Yeah, and his pulse seems normal,” Sango noted, kneeling as well so as to place her hand upon Miroku’s neck. “So why – aaaaaugh!!

"Sango! What is it?!" Michiru asked, only to have his question answered a moment later when he saw a familiar hand playing about the Demon Slayer's posterior. Then he noticed that Kagome had turned ashen, her eyes going wide as her own buttocks became Miroku's playthings.

"Yup, he's just fine!" Kagome gritted, staring daggers at the monk who had been playing possum.

"Not for long, though!" Sango growled. As one, both girls raised their fists up even as Michiru's shame again turned to anger, and he raised his sword up, turning it about in his hands to drive its point down into Miroku's stomach. But before any of them could carry out their intended acts of violence, the monk quickly rolled to the side, leaving their fists to impact in the ground where his head had just been. Before either of them could react, Miroku bowled over Sango's pinning her beneath him. And in the process, spoiling Michiru's aim.

"Yeeeeeooouuccch!!!!" Miroku cried out, as the wooden sword that had once been aimed at his stomach wound up buried halfway in the monk's rump.

Jumping back as he watched the monk flailed about on the ground, his sword protruding from his butt like a perverse tail, Michiru's anger fled him, leaving him with the dread certainty that once again, everyone's anger would fall squarely upon him. But instead, the gazes of his friends landed on Miroku, with Shippo exclaiming, "Whoa, talk about karma! Miroku always got his kicks from the end, and now he’s getting it in the end!!”

Struggling not to chuckle at this declaration, Michiru hung back and watched as InuYasha made his way over to Miroku. "Well, now," the half-demon began, his manner making it clear that he was contemplating something not very nice. “Well, what should I do with you?”

“I would certainly – ugh! – hope that – erg! – you would lend me – oof! – your assistance!” Miroku whimpered as he struggled to pull the sword out of the hole it had worked itself into.

"Sure, no problem!" InuYasha grinned, taking hold of the sword. He then pulled it out in one swift yank that left Miroku howling even more loudly than before. "And now that that's taken care of..." Without warning, he kicked Miroku over, sending him landing on his injured posterior. As he cried out in protest, the half-demon bent down and grabbed him by the front of his kimono. "I think you owe Michiru an apology!"

"InuYasha! What do you think you're doing?!" Kagome demanded harshly. "And what are you talking about?! Michiru's the one who should be apologizing, not -!"

"No, it's...it's okay, Kagome," Miroku broke in, waving aside her concerns. While she and the others stared at the monk, he sighed and focused his gaze on the half-demon. "I take it, then, that you heard what I said."

"Oh, yeah, I heard, alright!" InuYasha growled menacingly.

"Huh? What are you talking about?!" Shippo wondered, looking between Miroku and InuYasha. "Heard what?"

Sighing loudly, Miroku turned to the others and explained, "You see, I decided that, since Michiru was having difficulty fighting effectively against me, that it might help if I provided him with...some incentive."

"Incentive?!" InuYasha growled, dragging Miroku up off the ground. "Calling Michiru a stupid kid with a crush who doesn't stand a chance with Sango because she already has you?! That's incentive?!"

The mouths of all three of the resident females popped open at this, with Kaname crying out, "What?!"

"Miroku!" Sango shouted.

"Is that true?" Kagome demanded in a slightly gentler but no less scolding tone.

"Uh, yes. And, I do apologize for it, Michiru. As well as for...striking you on the head," Miroku went on as he looked over at the Kururugi boy. "But it was obvious that you weren't willing to fight me as if I were an enemy. So I needed to do something to goad you into action."

"Well, you certainly managed that!" Kagome declared with a roll of her eyes.

Heaving a weary sigh, Sango looked down at the monk for a time before declaring, "Well, I guess that's enough sparring for one day." Letting out a low sigh, the Demon Slayer turned towards her faithful companion. "Kirara? Can you help us carry Miroku?" The two-tail chirped cutely before exploding into a ball of flame, soon emerging in her fighting form. "Thank you. InuYasha?"

Looking up at the Demon Slayer, InuYasha hesitated before realizing what it was she wanted. When he did, he growled deep in his throat before glaring at the monk. "You're getting off way too easy, you know that?!" he muttered as he lifted Miroku up and helped him onto Kirara's back, setting him so he was lying on his stomach. "Honestly, why do we put up with you?!"

"Hmm...I can't imagine," Miroku responded as Sango came up them. "So...what now?"

"We start towards the mountains. And while we're doing that, we keep an eye out for a place to set up camp for tonight," Sango decided in a level manner. "I don't we'll be able to get much distance, not with you in your condition."

"Uh...yeah," Michiru spoke up, rubbing the back of his head at this. "I'm...I'm sorry, I..."

"That's okay, Michiru. Forget it," Sango assured him giving a sad smile. "Let's get our things together and get going. And hope we can find a sheltered spot to rest before nightfall."

Before Michiru could say anything to this, Sango turned and started away, with Kirara and Miroku at her side. As he stood there watching them, Kagome came up to him and said, "I guess I can understand you getting mad now. But what Miroku did doesn't justify you losing your temper like that."

"I..." Michiru began, trying to think of something to say to this. Only to deflate before her glare, letting his gaze fall to his own feet. "I'm sorry. I..."

"It's okay. Just so long as it doesn't happen again," Kagome told him, her voice softening a degree. "Now, c'mon. Let's get going."

As Kagome started away from him, the others that remained approached Michiru. "Bro?" Kaname began, placing her hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright?"

Glancing about at his friends, Michiru sighed and answered, "Yeah...I guess so." But even as he did this, he couldn't help but look at Sango as she escorted Miroku and Kirara. A pit of guilt and suspicion opening up in his stomach. Fueling hateful flames that had not been quite extinguished...

Life was often filled with pain. That was a reality that Miroku had accepted a long time ago. But at the same time, he had learned that some pains were worth it. Even though his posterior was sore, and he was certain that he would have a few bruises to show for this day's activities sooner or later, the exquisite sensation of both Sango and Kagome's posteriors in his hands alone made it well worth it.

And that's the least of what I gained this day, Miroku thought, smiling inwardly where no one could see it.

In the wake of his disastrous attempt to get back in Sango's good graces, Miroku had made another important discovery; that his desire for the better things in life, such as beautiful women, was almost impossible to restrain. He was so unused to even trying to contain it the point that it was no longer possible. When he consciously tried to restrain himself, his unconscious would simply satisfy his vices without his consent. All of which meant that any attempt to restrain these impulses, even if it were to improve his standing with Sango, were already doomed to failure.

With this revelation, Miroku had struggled these past few days, trying to reason some other way to win Sango. To turn her eyes firmly away from Michiru. But it hadn't been until the Shikigami User had started speaking out against him and his treatment of women that that way had become clear to him.

Miroku had been with Sango, with all of the group for them to know him extremely well. His virtues and vices alike. As a result, there was virtually nothing left about him and his nature that they could learn that would worsen his chances with the Demon Slayer.

But Michiru...that was a different story. He had only been with the group for roughly three months during his first time with them. And while he had proven himself to be a good person, brave and virtuous in many regards, he was far from perfect. He had flaws, such his rash judgments, his low self-esteem, his need to push himself to compensate for any self-perceived failing, tending to worry excessively about any given thing, and not thinking before acting. And while these on their own were not critical flaws, his protests against Miroku's actions had led the monk to realize that he had other flaws. Flaws that were inherent to a man in love with a woman.

Anger and jealousy. Anger at anyone that they feel is mistreating the one they love, and jealousy of anyone who might steal that love away. Things Miroku had seen in Michiru's eyes as he spoken out against his womanizing ways. Things that he knew that the Shikigami User would normally keep bottled up inside of him. Unless he was sufficiently provoked.

Everyone here already knows what's worst about me, Michiru, Miroku thought as he watched Sango work to gather up both her and his belongings. And since you're so eager to remind them of these things...it's only fair that I make them aware of what's worst about you...

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