“Sheesh, I can’t believe how completely overboard Michiru went!” Kagome grumbled as the group traveled that afternoon.
It had been some time since the sparring session gone bad had prompted her and the others to set out again. And in that time, Kagome had been reminded of one of the problems of traveling in the Feudal Era. Namely, that it was pretty much all done on foot. Or in Shippo's case, in the basket of her bicycle while munching on some candy. And while this tended to be fairly peaceful, as well as good exercise, it also meant that getting from one place to a another took a lot of time. And this gave her a lot of time to think. Particularly of things that she would rather not dwell on.
During Michiru's first journey with her and the others, Kagome had gotten to know the Shikigami User fairly well. Enough to know him as a quiet, reserved person who hardly ever got even the slightest bit angry, and preferred to settle things non-violently when possible. Nothing could have surprised her more than to see the enraged berserker he had allowed himself to become. Or more disappointed that all it had taken to make him forget himself was the slightest of goads from Miroku.
"And here I thought Michiru had more sense than that," Kagome muttered sourly as she glared at the male Kururugi twin who was walking a fair distance ahead of her, his sister at his side. "I can't believe he blew his top over something as stupid as that!"
"Yeah, I know," Shippo commented morosely around a mouthful of candy. "And I always thought InuYasha was scary when he got mad."
Nodding to this, Kagome let out a low sigh. "I guess it must be a guy thing," she decided with a roll of her eyes. "The instant they start fighting over a girl, they lose whatever common sense they might have and turn into dumb bricks."
"I just hope Michiru doesn't get as bad as InuYasha or Koga," Shippo commented as he swallowed his sweets.
As Kagome envisioned the possibility of having to deal with three jealous lunatics all at once and shuddering at it, a familiar voice was heard growling, "Hey, why don't you two talk even louder. I don't think they can hear you...back in Kaede's Village!"
"InuYasha!" Kagome started. As Shippo quickly dove out of sight, likely to avoid being given another lump to his head, the modern girl glowered at the half-demon coming up alongside of her. "What are you doing, sneaking up on me like that?!"
"I wasn't sneaking, I was just walking, okay?!" InuYasha sneered, making a point of looking away from her. "Anyway, why are you two going on about what happened back there for?! It's not like it's any big deal!"
"No big deal?!" Kagome gaped incredulously. "Miroku is so hurt that he can't even walk, and Sango...well, just look at her!" With that, she looked up at the head of the procession. Miroku was still lying down on Kirara's back, a short distance ahead of the Kururugi twins. As for Sango, she had long since taken the front position, making it clear without speaking that she wanted to be by herself for the time being. "Can't you tell how upset she about what happened to him?!"
"Hmph. Bet he's just faking," InuYasha muttered with a roll of his eyes.
"Faking?! He had a sword buried in his butt!" Kagome retorted incredulously.
"So?! It's not like it actually made the hole in wound up in!" Groaning as she silently admitted the accuracy of this disgusting point, Kagome averted her own eyes as InuYasha continued. "Besides, if you ask me, Miroku had it coming!" The raven-haired girl's mouth popped open at this, and she was about to protest the half-demon's comment when he raised an eyebrow at her. "Or did you actually enjoy having him feeling you up like that?"
Kagome's unspoken attempt at protest dried up in her throat at this, and turned into a heavy groan. "Well, that wouldn't have happened if Michiru hadn't lost his temper in the first place!" she finally declared, having failed to think of anything else to say. "As if we don't have enough trouble to deal with as it is!"
"Kagome, please!" Starting at this, Kagome looked about to see Kaname gazing imploringly at her. "Look, I know you're upset about...what happened, but..."
"Kaname, don't," Michiru broke in, pausing to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. "It's okay. I...Kagome has a right to be upset, and..."
"But she doesn't have the right to rag on you all day, bro!" Kaname countered, brushing off his hand and making her way up to Kagome and the others. "Look, I know Michiru might have gone a bit overboard back there, but he already said he was sorry!"
"I know, Kaname," Kagome told her, understanding the need to defend one's brother all too well. But then she looked at Michiru, and saw the genuine chagrin that he clearly felt. "And I do believe that you meant it when you said you were sorry. But that doesn't change the fact that you almost killed Miroku back there." Now the Kururugi boy's look of guilt was joined by a stung expression that translated through his entire body. "Now you may not have meant it, Michiru. But that doesn't change what you did."
"I know, Kagome," Michiru replied, no anger to his words. Simply a deep weariness.
“But…” Kaname seconded, looking back and forth between Kagome and Michiru. “But Miroku said some pretty out-of-line things, right? You can’t blame my bro for getting mad about that!”
"I'm not blaming him for that. It's how he reacted to what he said that I'm worried about," Kagome told him in a flat voice. "Look, I'm sorry, I realize you're not happy about what Miroku said back there. Neither am I, for that matter. But letting it get to you that way is only going to cause trouble, for all of us!" Then she gave Michiru a stern look, and added, "I know you apologized, Michiru. But just saying you're sorry doesn't make everything better,"
"But..." Michiru began, only to falter and let his eyes fall to the ground.
As Kagome stood there, studying the Kururugi boy, she couldn't help but regret the necessity of the situation. I know you're sorry, Michiru. I really am. But I have to do this, she thought somberly. I mean, sure, we've had out differences before, and sometimes we have arguments, even fights. But none of us has ever actually attacked another. And even if that was a sparring session, you still crossed a major line. And that's something we just can't afford to have happen again.
A heavy silence fell down upon them all, a silence that Kagome hoped would help drive in a very necessary point home for them. Until it was shattered by a loud, arrogant voice grumbling, "Ugh, would you give the holier-than-thou bit a rest, Kagome?! That's Miroku's bit!" Then as he started past her, he narrowed his eyes sharply and added, "Besides, we both know what your real problem with Michiru is! And it ain't got nothing to do with that stupid sparring session!"
"InuYasha!" Kagome shouted, aghast at his blasé reaction to a situation such as this.
"Real problem?" Michiru repeated blankly as the half-demon moved past him, stopping just on the other side of the Kururugi twins. "Wh-what do you mean?"
"Heh! Long story made short, Kagome's been insisting that Sango and Miroku belong together, that they should get married and have ten or twenty kids already!" InuYasha declared, glancing over his shoulder at the Shikigami User. "In fact, she was even saying that it would have been better if you never came back so you wouldn't get your heart broken. Or something stupid like that, anyway."
"She...!" Michiru gasped out, his tongue falling flat in his mouth as he whipped his head about to gaze disbelievingly at her. Every trace of guilt and shame forgotten as he worked his mouth and asked, "Kagome...is that...?"
"InuYasha, cut it out! That's not important!" Kagome shouted, unable to believe the half-demon's gall. All of all the times to bring that up, this was the absolute worst time. "Seriously, this has nothing to do with that!"
"Nothing to do with it?!" InuYasha repeated incredulously. "Like hell it doesn't! You were against me bringing messages back and forth between him and us, just because you didn't want to 'encourage him'! That Sango and Miroku were perfect for each other and that it would be better if he just forgot about her and all that!"
"What?!" both Kururugi twins exclaimed simultaneously before Michiru looked hard at her and asked, "Kagome...is this true?!"
In retrospect, Kagome would be both amazed and annoyed at how quickly she and Michiru had reversed roles. In the span of a few seconds, he had gone from swimming in his own guilt to looking at her in horrified disbelief. While the reborn priestess, once in the position of stern disciplinarian, was now subject to two furious glares, as well as an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. "That was before Naraku showed up, okay?!" she countered, barely thinking as she defended her own decisions. "I was just trying to do what I thought was best, okay?!"
"What's best?!" Michiru spat out, the anger he had displayed earlier sparking in his eyes again. "Kagome...how can you decide what's best for me?!"
"I...I just didn't want you to get hurt, that's all!" Kagome returned, completely on the defensive. "Look, Sango and Miroku...they've been together for a while now. And...well, you have to be honest with yourself, Michiru! You can't expect her to give up that for someone she barely even knows!"
Michiru just stood there, blinking incredulously at her, before his features slowly hardened. "Maybe you should try letting Sango decide that for herself," he muttered before turning and stomping away. Angry clouds rising up from him as he moved to catch up with Miroku and Sango, who had continued forward while the rest of them had become embroiled in their discussion.
"Michiru!" Kagome called out, but even as she did so, she realized that it was no good. Throwing up her hands in disgust, she turned her glare and her new frustration on the one responsible for it. "Thanks a lot, InuYasha! I really needed that!"
"Heh! I'll say!" InuYasha grinned in that smug, self-satisfied manner of his that she found so utterly infuriating. "Serves you right for beating down on Michiru like that!"
Trying her best to keep her cool, as well as ignore the temptation of smashing the half-demon down into the ground, Kagome folded her arms across her chest and muttered, "Look, this had absolutely nothing to do with Sango and Miroku. I was just concerned about what happened before, and I wanted to make sure that it did not happen again!"
"That's fine, Kagome, but my bro feels bad enough about what happened without being raked over the coals about it," Kaname pointed out.
"That's for sure!" InuYasha muttered as he started forward, with Kaname quick to follow. Grunting at this, Kagome made a mental note to sit the half right into the ground the next time he gave her any kind of grief as she started after them, already intent on clearing the air between all of them. But before she could say another word, InuYasha grumbled, "And as for hooking Sango up with Miroku...I don’t have a clue what Sango could ever see in that pervert.”
“InuYasha!!” Kagome replied in a shocked manner.
"I know," Kaname agreed with a nod. "I'd get pretty sick of having to watch my own butt, just to make sure he didn't have his hands on it."
"Tell me about it!" InuYasha smirked in response. "She'd have to be a real chump to fall for that lecher! Especially with someone like your brother around!”
Grunting her irritation, Kagome moved to catch up with them. "Look, can we not go into this right now?!"
"Hey, you're the one that started this!" InuYasha sneered.
"As if! You're the one who brought Sango into this!" When InuYasha snorted at this, Kagome looked down into the basket. "Isn't that right, Shippo?"
"Well, yeah," Shippo answered somewhat uncertainly.
"See?" Kagome started, glaring pointedly at InuYasha. "It's not like I'm out to get Michiru or anything like that!"
“This from a person who’s been trying to get him to give up on Sango so she can get her together with Miroku?” InuYasha asked snidely.
“It's not like that! I never said I didn't want Michiru to come back or anything!" Kagome insisted with a mounting level of annoyance. "And as for Sango and Miroku, I was just trying to help them get over their differences! I thought it would be nice if they could get together and everything! Besides, I kind of feel sorry for Miroku. He’s not that bad a guy, right?”
Snorting, InuYasha smirked and commented, “Sure, if you’re into womanizing con-artists!”
Kagome growled deep in her throat at this. As she wondered not for the first time what exactly it would take to pound some reason into InuYasha's thick skull, Shippo piped up and asked, "Hey, what's Michiru looking at?"
"Huh?" InuYasha frowned before turning to look at their friend. Sure enough, the Kururugi boy was
was slowing down, his eyes narrowing as he looked and left and right, as if searching for something. "Hey, Michiru!" The Shikigami User started and looked about as the three of them approached him. "What's the matter? Is something up?"
"Uh...not exactly." The Michiru gestured for his sister to join him. "Look over there, sis."
"Over there?" Kaname frowned as Michiru pointed towards a section of forest stretching out below them. "Okay, but...what am I supposed to be seeing?"
"Not seeing, Kaname! Sensing," Michiru explained as she came up alongside of him. "From over there. Can you sense what I am?"
That said, Kaname furrowed her brow in concentration. Before long, her eyes had popped open again, wide with amazement. “Oh, wow!!”
“What is it?” Shippo yelped nervously around the lollipop in his mouth.
“Is it a demon?” Kagome asked.
“Or Naraku?!” InuYasha demanded.
“No!” Kaname answered, her face splitting with a wide grin. “It’s a hot spring!!”
As these words registered with her, Kagome immediately forgot about what had happened earlier at the sparring session, about Michiru's guilt, and most of all, about the argument that InuYasha had started about Miroku and Sango. “Really? Are you sure?!”
"Definitely," Michiru nodded before returning his focus to the unseen hot spring. "I think it's about...oh, ten, fifteen minutes away from here."
"Great!" Kagome beamed, thoughts of a nice, long, relaxing soak in a hot spring dancing in her mind. “Sooo…just how hot is this hot spring, anyway?”
Shrugging, Michiru frowned. “Sorry, but it’s tough to tell from far away. All I can really tell you is that there is a spring, and it’s definitely not a cold one. That’s about all.”
“Does it matter?” Kaname wondered. “Even if it is a little on the cool side, I can definitely fix that!”
“Good point!” Kagome admitted before starting away from. "Hang on! I'll go tell Sango and Miroku about this! Looks like we've found our campsite for tonight!"
"Ahhh..." Sango sighed contentedly, stretching out as she allowed herself to sink even deeper into the pleasantly hot water that she and the other girls were immersed in. "Now this is just what I needed!"
"Boy, I'll say! The temperature is just perfect!" Kagome chimed in from where she rested a short distance away, a dreamy smile on her own face. "And thanks again for heating the spring up for us, Kaname! "
"Hey, I was glad to do it. Besides, this is my first time in a natural hot spring," Kaname informed them. She was about to say something else when a slight rustle was heard from the bushes surrounding the rim of the spring. Glancing up at them, she called out, "Hey! Is that you, bro!"
"Uh, yeah," Michiru responded from somewhere above. "Sorry to disturb you. I didn't mean to."
"You weren't disturbing us," Sango gently assured him. "But...what are you doing up there?"
"Well, I...I just thought I'd try something new. From the book of Shikigami spells my dad gave us," Michiru explained as he moved about the perimeter of the spring, staying just out of sight. "I was looking through it, and I found a spell to create a barrier to ward off demons."
"Huh? Oh, right! I remember seeing something about that when I looked through it the last time!" But even as she said this, Kaname frowned in confusion. "But...why are you doing something like that? We've already got you keeping watch!"
"Yeah, and we've got Sango down here as well," Kagome added, glancing over at the rocks upon which the Demon Slayer had placed her Hiraikotsu.
"Yeah, I know. But...I just thought it would be good practice, that's all," Michiru explained in a hesitant fashion. "Besides, I...I really can't...keep an eye on you. If you...know what I mean."
Practically seeing Michiru blush as he spoke, Sango chuckled and told him, "Alright, then. Just be sure to let us know when you're ready to set up the barrier."
"Okay," Michiru replied easily, and with the continued his labors.
Shaking her head at just how shy Michiru could be, Sango sighed and glanced over at Kagome. "You know, I was a bit surprised when you asked Michiru to watch out for us," the Demon Slayer commented, keeping her voice even. "Considering how upset you were with him earlier."
"Hey, it's no big deal," Kagome shrugged in response. "You know how InuYasha gets about this sort of thing, and Miroku's too injured to keep watch." Then she quirked the corner of her lip and added, "Not that we'd want him to, anyway."
"That's for sure," Sango muttered, rolling her eyes at this.
"I guess that would be like asking a wolf to guard a flock of sheep," Kaname commented with a rueful smile.
"Pretty much." Several seconds of silence passed before Kagome sighed and gently murmured, "Besides...I dunno. Maybe I was a bit too hard on him before." Then she made a face and hissed out, "Just don't tell him I said that, okay?"
Kaname's mouth popped open at this, and it was obvious that she didn't understand why Kagome had said this. But Sango couldn't help but chuckle at this demand, as well as understand why it was made. The modern priestess had made it clear on many occasions that she was not willing to accept any backtalk from anyone, human, demon, or otherwise. She also had an equally low tolerances for any excuses made for the failings of others, with only Shippo or similarly cute creatures being the exceptions. As such, she wouldn't tolerate Michiru thinking he was off her hook until she finally decided to make it official.
However, Sango also knew that Michiru's sister wasn't likely to accept that. So deciding to distract their newest friend from this matter, the Demon Slayer gently cleared her throat. "By the way, Kaname? There's something I've been wanting to ask you."
"Really?" Seeming to consider this for a moment, Kaname then shrugged and responded, “Sure, go right ahead.”
“Why did you decide to come with us on this journey?” Sango asked, genuinely curious. “When you first came here with Michiru, you and he thought that...well, it wouldn't exactly be safe, but at the time, you thought that Naraku was dead, right?" Kaname responded with a quick nod of her head. "So you must have known how dangerous Naraku and his incarnations are, but...you chose to stay here."
"Now, don't get the wrong idea! We're really glad you decided to come with us!" Kagome cut in, clearly intent on preventing any seeds of insecurity from being sown. "But...Sango does have a point. If you knew how bad this could be...what made you decide to come with us?"
Pressing her lips together, Kaname turned towards Kagome and began, "Well, you already know part of the reason, Kagome. Remember? I wanted to be able to do some good with my powers, to be able to protect people. And...well, I have to be honest. I really wanted to be with my brother." Lowering her eyes somewhat, the Kururugi girl shifted about nervously before going on to say, "I mean...after the Doll Festival, it was pretty obvious that Michiru had changed somehow. That something major had happened to him. But at the same time, I noticed that he was acting differently."
"Differently?" Sango frowned, uncertain what her friend meant.
"Yeah. He'd spend a lot of time, cooped up in his room. He'd sneak out in the middle of the night, and..." Her voice trembling, Kaname broke off and shook her head sadly. "I mean...before then, we spent a lot of time together. Going out to movies, playing video games, or just talking to each other. But...more and more, it felt like I was dealing with a total stranger." Pressing her lips together, the Kururugi girl let out a low sigh before smiling sadly. "I...it might seem strange, but..."
"No. It's not strange at all, Kaname," Sango assured her, knowing all too well what the Shikigami User had gone through. The feeling of being disconnected from a loved one, of looking into his face and seeing nothing familiar about him. Of feeling like there was a mammoth gulf between you and him, and having no idea of how to bridge it. "You were worried about him. It's perfectly natural."
A sad smile spreading across her face, Kaname replied, "Thanks, Sango." Heaving a deep breath, she sat up straighter and visibly composed herself. "Now, don't get me wrong, I don't blame my bro for doing any of that stuff. In fact, if I...if I'd been in his place, I'd probably have done the same things," she admitted in a bashful manner. "But...after going through all of that, and then us being together again with practicing and all that...I just...didn't want to lose him again." The Shikigami User frowned, then shrugged and added, "Well, not lose him, but...well..."
"It's okay, Kaname. I understand," Kagome told her as Sango nodded. "I feel the same way after I've been away from home for a while. All I want to do when I get back is just sit back, relax, and just...enjoy being with my family."
Nodding to this, Kaname shrugged and added, "Also...and maybe it seems stupid, what with how strong he is now, but...when I thought about Michiru fighting things like Naraku..." Giving a slow shake of her head, the Kururugi girl frowned and added, "When I thought of all that, I couldn't help but be scared that he might get hurt, or...or worse."
"I understand," Sango murmured, knowing all too well what Kaname was talking about. Recalling when she was a young girl in the Demon Slayer village, too young for battle, watching as her father and loved ones went off. The sleepless nights and worrisome days that came for her while waiting for them to come home, all the while wondering if they ever would. "It's only natural that you be worried about your brother."
"Thanks, Sango," Kaname smiled wanly. "So anyway, yeah, I...I knew that this was going to be dangerous, but at the same time...it just felt like something I had to do." Then her smile became a brighter, more tender one as she added, "Besides, we're all together, right? So I'm not really worried about it."
"Even after what happened with the demonic grass?" Kagome commented. "That wasn't exactly our finest moment, remember?"
Even as Sango was wondering what Kagome was thinking, bringing up that particular nightmare, Kaname's face darkened somewhat, but then she recovered and told them, "I know, but...I'm okay. InuYasha saved me, and...I'm okay now. So...I have to think that...as long as we stick together...it'll be alright."
Her mouth popping slightly open, Sango studied the Shikigami User for a time before looking over at Kagome. "She’s Michiru’s sister, alright."
"Sure is," Kagome giggled. "Still, I'd be careful not to let him hear you say all that!"
"Huh? Why not?" Kaname wondered, furrowing her brows.
"Let's just say it's not the kind of thing I'd let my brother hear me saying," Kagome commented with a wry smile. "I know Sota would tease me for the rest of my life with that sort of thing!"
Chuckling in response, Kaname shook her head and told her, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that, Kagome. I know how to deal with him!" Then she looked up in the general direction they had last seen the bushes rustling and called out, "Hey, bro! Is everything alright up there?”
“All’s clear from what I can see,” came Michiru’s voice in response. “No demons near here, except for our friends.”
“That’s good,” Kaname stated, but then her lips quirked with mischief. “Say, are you sure you’re not peeking at us, bro?”
“Wh-what?!” Michiru yelped. “W-why would I be spying on my sister?”
“Who said anything about me?” Kaname asked innocently. “But Sango’s down here, and she’s not wearing a single thing!" Cocking her head to the side, her already impish smile became outright dangerous. "Aren’t you the least bit tempted?”
Stunned by this sudden shift in Kaname's demeanor, Sango blushed madly and hissed, “What are you doing?!!”
“N-no, of course not!!” Michiru countered, sounding as embarrassed as Sango felt.
“Oh, so you don't want to look at her?” Kaname teased with increasing levels of mischief.
“That’s not what I meant!!” Michiru protested fiercely. “I just…I’m no Peeping Tom! I’d never spy on San – on a girl bathing!!”
“Are you sure?” Kaname continued, smiling all the while.
“Aw, gimme a break, sis!!” Michiru countered, and Kagome and the others could almost see him turning redder than a tomato. “I-I…I have too much respect for – for all of you to try and get a few cheap thrills like that!!”
“Well, okay! Just making sure!” Kaname finishing, grinning so wide that her smile threatened to become larger than her face.
Scowling as the Kururugi settled back down, Kagome told her, “Okay, teasing is one thing, but that was just a little too much, Kaname."
“Well...maybe a little,” Kaname replied, her smile becoming wistful. “But the two of us have been teasing and playing with each other for what feels like forever."
“I understand,” Sango thinking of some of the antics that had gone on in Demon Slayer village. “Still, please don’t do that to Michiru anymore. He’s been through a lot for us.”
“Besides, one of these days, you’ll find a guy you really like, Kaname,” Kagome smirked. “You wouldn’t want to be teased about it, would you?”
“Yeah...I guess you’re right about that,” Kaname admitted after a moment's thought. “By the way, while we’re on the subject of thoughtless tricks...there's something I've been wanting to apologize for, Sango.”
The Demon Slayer’s expression became blank at this. “Huh? For what?”
“Remember on the day we first met?” Kaname asked, her mirth forgotten as she proceeded carefully. “When I played that trick on Miroku? You were so upset, and…well, I just wanted to apologize for that.”
At this, Sango gasped in realization. "Oh, that," she murmured as she flashed back to that day. Sinking further down beneath the surface of the hot spring, the warrior woman sighed before adding, "It's no big deal, Kaname. Besides...it wasn't you I was upset with."
“Oh?” Kaname squeaked in surprise. “Then at Miroku?”
“Well, him, yes…but mainly myself,” Sango told them, and when the other two just looked at her quizzically, she sighed and went on. “When you and I first met...I was trying to deal with Naraku's return, with...with losing Kohaku again." Feeling these memories weighing down upon her like a mountain the Demon Slayer's frown became harder as she continued. "And to top it off, Miroku had been pulling one of his usual tricks on me."
"Oh," Kaname groaned with a heavy grimace. "You mean he..."
"Yeah," Sango nodded, an entire world of meaning in that single word. "Anyway, I was tired and angry and fed up, and...the last thing I needed right then was to have to deal with him." Heaving a low sigh, she thought back to precious moment shortly after that. "And then when I...saw Michiru again, I…I forgot about everything else. I was just so happy to see him again, and all I wanted to do was hold him, to make sure he was really back.” Then she shook her head remorsefully, her memories becoming a cruel dagger in her side. “And then I remembered Miroku was there, and I…"
"Sango..." Kagome murmured, concern and compassion gleaming from her eyes.
"I mean...we never said anything, and...it's not like we've actually..." Sango got out, her cheeks tingeing as she tried to give voice to this sensitive subject. But ultimately, words failed her, simply because that words that could possibly capture the turbulent and often confusing nature of her relationship with the lecherous monk didn't even exist. So she sighed in defeat and went on to say, "But still, I...I felt terrible. Like I'd betrayed him." This confession left Sango's throat feeling abraded, like she had just come down with a nasty cold of some kind. Certainly feeling feverish, the warrior woman did her best to quash her emotions and get out the rest. "And then when you pretended to agree to bear his child, and then when he acted like he would actually –!”
With that, Sango clamped her mouth shut, unable to speak any further. However, the tumultuous emotion in her eyes spoke worlds for her. “I’m sorry, Sango,” Kaname insisted, looking even more mournful. “I really am. If I’d just known…”
“No, it’s okay,” Sango told her, not wanting her friend to feel needless guilt. “I guess it was kind of a wakeup call for me, but still, I had hoped that I was more to him than, you know, just another pretty girl to flirt with.”
“What are you talking about, Sango?" Kagome immediately protested. "Of course you are!!”
“You really think so?” Sango wondered, sounding more tired than she was happy with. “Lately, I haven’t been so sure of that." With this confession out into the open, the Demon Slayer looked up towards the bushes, and spoke in a more hushed manner. "Besides…there’s still Michiru…and…”
There was silence for a time, a silence that Kaname eventually broke. “Sango, how do you feel about my brother?”
“What?” Sango started, fresh heat flooding to her cheeks. “W-why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking about something he told me, about when he met Kikyo,” Kaname gently explained. “He was feeling really down about you and Miroku, and she told him that he should stop feeling sorry for himself and be true to his feelings.”
“His feelings?” Sango wondered.
“Because that’s who you really are,” Kaname went on. “Once you figure out how you feel and who you love, then it’ll be alright. Nobody here will hold it against you, not Miroku and certainly not my brother!”
Glancing in Kaname's direction, Kagome sighed and nodded. “She’s right, Sango. Besides, you won’t do anybody any good by being so hard on yourself about how you feel.”
Meanwhile, a relatively short distance away, Michiru was sitting with his back to the base of tree, his sword held in his hands at the ready. Wishing that his weapon was of use against the foe that he was currently facing.
Michiru had a healthy dislike for Peeping Toms and people who exploited women in general, treating them as objects of pleasure or things to played with and abused on a whim. He didn't go in for the kind of girly magazines that some of the guys at school enjoyed. And he had a great deal of respect for Sango and the other girls. All of which made it that much frustrating the fact that Kaname's teasing notion of spying on the woman he loved had sparked memories of the past, when he had accidently spotted the Demon Slayer taking a bath.
It had been one of their days off, and as was growing to be more and more common for him, Michiru had chosen to spend his time with Sango. When the warrior woman had decided to spend her time getting some laundry done, he had been quick to offer to help. And while Sango had told him that she could take care of it on her own, she did tell him that he could help her carry the kimonos. And so the Kururugi boy had spent some time, doing some exercises and talking with the others, and once he felt enough time had gone by, he had gone to the river to look for Sango...only to see something that had stuck in his mind ever since.
Turning red as this moment returned to him, Michiru couldn't help but picture Sango as she had been when he had happened upon. Her immaculate skin, shiny hair, perfect breasts and flawlessly toned muscles, all somehow accentuated by the water flowing about. And while this accident was something he was ashamed of, and had resulted in her crying out in horror and him very nearly winding up a target for her Hiraikotsu, the glimpse he had gotten of her still tantalized certain aspects of his imagination, something that he hated himself for.
She's so close...too close... Michiru found himself thinking, knowing all too well that it would be so very easy to get another glimpse of paradise. Something a part of him dearly wanted. While the conscious part of him that was fully aware of the difference between right and wrong was hating himself for even possessing a baser portion of himself that would even consider this. Damn...I need to something...something to get my mind off of Sango before I go nuts!
The instant he thought this, fate responded with a vengeance. "Uh-oh! Michiru!" Kagome cried out, startling him from his thoughts. "Get InuYasha and Miroku! I'm sensing shards of the Sacred Jewel! And they're coming right this way!"
"What?!" Michiru yelped, immediately jumping to his feet. Shaking himself to full alertness, he took his sword in both hands and started looking in all directions, opening his mind to the sensory perceptions of the Shikigami. The instant he did so, he sensed a distortion in the wind, almost like an immensely powerful, immensely compact wind storm. And it was rapidly closing in on them. "Oh, no!"
Caught between the impulse to go for his friends and the need to stand and defend the girls, Michiru hesitated for several seconds. Just long enough for a cyclone to boom into the wooded area, swirling towards the hot spring. Crying out in dismay, the Shikigami User was then stunned when the miniature tornado exploded and dissipated, a figure erupting from it.
“Hey, hey, Kagome – yeee-ooouuuch!!” the figured cried out as he leapt towards the spring, a joyous voice turning to agony as he slammed headfirst into the protective barrier Michiru had created.
Thanking the heavens that he had decided to create that spell, Michiru rushed over to where the figure had crashed down to the ground. Uncertain how long the intruder would remain vulnerable, the Kururugi boy came at him, sword raised overhead...only to suddenly drop his jaw in shock. “Koga?!” Michiru gaped in surprise, staring at the groaning wolf-demon in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
“Huh?" Koga burst, looking at the Shikigami User with his own measure of surprise. “Michiru, is that you?!" Shaking his head free of the stars and comets clouding it, the wolf-demon quickly recovered and rose to his feet. "Hey, long time, no see!”
“It’s great to see you again as well!” Michiru grinned, his fears instantly forgotten as Koga got to his feet. The wolf-demon looked exactly as he had before; patches of animal furs about his body, dressed in some armor with a sword at his hip, his black hair pulled back into a long ponytail. “What the heck are you doing here, though?”
“Well, I picked up Kagome’s scent, and followed it here! What else?” Koga answered. Michiru smiled, recalling his prior run-ins with the wolf-demon. The first time had been when Utsugi had been impersonating Michiru, slaying many wolf-demons in order to lead Michiru into a trap. Koga had wanted to kill Michiru in revenge for this, but Michiru later learned that Koga had just been stopping in to help these members of his tribe because of the problems they had had. Most of the time, Koga was prowling the area with two of his friends and several wolves searching for Naraku, who had arranged the slaughter of many of his people in an attempt to lay claim to the Shikon Jewel Shards imbedded in Koga’s legs.
“So, uh...what’s the deal with this barrier, huh?” Koga asked nonchalantly, gesturing at the protective shield with his thumb.
"Oh, that?" Michiru got out, his cheeks coloring with his chagrin. “Uh, I’m afraid I set it up, Koga.”
“Oh, you did, did you?” Koga growled, his voice tingeing with annoyance. “Was it for any particular reason, or just for kicks?”
“Well, the girls are down in the hot spring, taking a bath,” Michiru explained, pointing down towards the hot spring. “I just didn’t want any demons attacking them, that’s all!”
“Oh!!” Koga replied, relaxing as his annoyance disappeared. “Well, that explains it! We definitely want to keep Kagome safe!” Then he smiled that much dangerously as he looked past Michiru. "It's good to know that at least someone's looking out for my girl!"
Suffering a bad feeling, Michiru turned and looked in the same direction as Koga, and winced when he saw InuYasha appear. “I thought I recognized that stench,” the half-demon growled even as he took hold of the Tetsusaiga's hilt. “What the hell are you doing here, you scrawny wolf?!”
“Well, it seems you haven’t matured any, you little mutt!” Koga sniped dismissively before eyeing the hot spring. “I just have something I need to talk about with Kagome. It doesn't have anything to do with you!”
“Like hell it doesn't!” InuYasha snarled, bringing forth his mammoth fang of destruction. "Now get the hell out of here before I -!"
"InuYasha, sit!" came Kagome's voice, giving the half-demon just enough time for his eyes to expand in surprise before the Beads of Subjugation sent him down into the ground.
Groaning in dismay as his friend groaned in pain, Michiru glanced in the general direction of the hot spring. "Uh...you heard that, Kagome?"
"I heard enough," Kagome responded in casual fashion, as if this were nothing more than business as usual for her. “Koga, I’m sorry, but if you wait a bit, I’ll be right out."
“Naw, that’s okay, Kagome! You take all the time you want!” Koga replied in a smooth manner. “I’ll just hang around up here, and –!”
“Koga!” came another voice. Turning about, Michiru watched as Ginta and Hakkaku appeared. As was usual, the two wolf-demons were completely out-of-breath from having to chase Koga down.
“What kept you two?” Koga demanded, as if unclear as to why his friends couldn’t keep up with his own Jewel Shard-powered legs. “Say, Michiru, since you’re here…there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
“Huh? Oh, okay…” Michiru stammered, unsure as to what Koga wanted.
A few minutes later, InuYasha had recovered from being sat and Shippo had taken over guard duties for Michiru. Leaving the Shikigami User free to escort the wolf-demons to their camping grounds, where Miroku was resting, and prepare some cups of noodles for them.
"I really appreciate this, you sharing your supplies with us," Koga commented, unable to hide his humiliation at being forced to accept such charity. "We haven't found so much as a flock of sheep or a boar to eat lately!"
"It's no problem, Koga," Michiru commented, smiling easily as he handed out their servings. "But if you want to find some wild boars, I do know the perfect place for it someplace south of here."
"Really? You? Hunting wild boars?!" Koga grinned, raising an eyebrow at the Shikigami User. "Now there's a surprise!"
Chuckling at this, Michiru thought back to the circumstances behind that particular hunt. Of how he had wound up being with Sesshomaru's tiny group for a short time, and wound up having to rescue Rin from Naraku's castle. "It's a long story. Now why don't you relax and eat?"
"I don't know why you're bothering to feed these scrawny wolves," InuYasha sneered nastily, not even bothering to hide his contempt for the wolf-demons in general and Koga in particular. “If they were really hungry, they've have just raided a human village!"
“Are you kidding me? No way!!” Hakkaku, the wolf-demon with a white mohawk stated firmly as he accepted his noodles.
Ginta, the wolf-demon with a black stripe down the center of his gray hair, nodded in agreement as he took his own noodles. “That’s right. We wouldn’t want Kagome mad at us.”
“Besides, that’s in the past, little mutt. Hey, these are pretty good!!” Koga stated emphatically, sampling the noodles. “Look, we always thought of humans as prey, no different from a boar or rabbits or whatever. It wasn’t until I met Kagome and the rest of you that I…that I realized that humans could be brave and strong, that a lot of them weren’t that different from us. That some, especially like Kagome, are really worth protecting.”
“You’ve really grown up, Koga,” Miroku stated, hints of pain still penetrating his voice. “A pity that can’t be said for everybody present.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” InuYasha snarled, looking ready to give the monk even more pain.
“Anyway, Koga, you said there was something you wanted to ask me about?” Michiru asked, focusing on the alpha wolf.
“Yeah, and since we're waiting for Kagome...” Koga muttered, glancing towards the hot spring before sucking down some more noodles. “It's like this, Michiru. You...you’re from another country, right? Like Kagome?”
“Well, yeah…” Michiru fumbled. He didn’t like lying to a friend, but since Koga didn’t know about the Bone-Eater’s Well, he didn’t want to spread the secret around. "You could say that."
“So…you would know about some of the other countries and peoples out there. Probably seen and heard of some weird stuff while traveling?” Koga went on.
Growling disgustedly in his through, InuYasha demanded, “Get to the point, already!”
“Well...it's like this," Ginta hesitantly explained. "We were doing some exploring near the coast, and we saw strange ships anchored nearby, as well as some smaller boats that came ashore.”
“Yeah, and there were several humans wearing strange clothes, and carrying these weird sticks!” Hakkaku went on. “While we were watching, a wild boar started going crazy in the village!”
“Right, and one of the strangers pointed his stick at it, and -!” Ginta cut in.
“Boom! There was a blast of fire and smoke coming out of the stick, and the boar dropped to the ground, just like that!” Koga concluded, bringing his hand down for emphasis.
“Are you serious?” InuYasha growled.
“I’ve never heard of a weapon like that before,” Miroku mused in a low voice.
“Neither have I, and I’ve seen some pretty strange stuff!” Koga assured them. “Well, we decided not to stick around, just in case. Besides, the noise from that stick really hurt my ears!" Shuddering at the thought of it, the wolf-demon than focused on Michiru. "But, anyway, I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of anything like that?”
“It sounds like a gun…” Michiru mused, thinking furiously. Trying to dredge up everything he had learned in his history classes. Yeah, this is the Feudal Era, so the timing could be right…this is when guns first came to Japan… After several seconds of thought, he spoke aloud again. “Those ships you saw might have been trader ships, or exploration vessels. I’m not sure where from, though.”
“Is that so? And the stick…what did you call it? A…gun?” Koga repeated blankly.
As Michiru was confronted by similar blank expressions worn by the others, he gulped and tried to explain. “Well, it uses powder that explodes to fire off small pieces of metal at high speed. Sort of like an arrow, only a lot faster and more accurate.”
“I’ve never even heard of anything like that,” Hakkaku murmured in an amazed voice.
“And it’s a mortal weapon?” Ginta asked disbelievingly.
When Michiru nodded, Koga furrowed his brows. “Just one more thing; how dangerous are these weapons?”
Shrugging, Michiru replied, “I’m…not sure.” Which was true; the guns Koga and his friends would have seen were five hundred years obsolete by the standards of the Kururugi boy’s century, and he had no way of knowing how effective they were. “If you’re wondering if they could hurt demons…I have read stories about using mystic metal in guns to destroy demons, but I’m not sure if they’re real or not.”
“Are you serious?!” InuYasha demanded.
“If you’re right, and these things start getting around, there could be some big trouble for us and other tribes of demons,” Koga decided, looking very unhappy. “It just means that I’m right about this.”
“Right about what?” Michiru wondered.
Koga opened his mouth to explain, only to silenced by Shippo shouting, “Miroku! Cut that out!!!!”
"Huh?!" Michiru squeaked, stunned by this cry of dismay. "Wait a minute?! Miroku?!" Immediately, he looked towards the monk, wondering what was going on. Only for his jaw to plummet to the ground when he saw nothing but grass where Miroku had been.
“What the -?!” Koga started, only to have his features twist in outrage. “Why, that dirty monk! He must be spying on my Kagome!!” Snarling, the wolf-demon leapt to his feet and dashed off in the direction of the hot spring. While InuYasha was bowled over by Koga, Michiru jumped up and gave chase.
As the Kururugi boy ran, plodding in comparison to the wolf-demon alpha, he heard two pained shouts, followed by the sound of something crashing into the bushes. "Koga!" Michiru cried out as he reached the clearing, where he saw Miroku lying on the ground, massaging his pained posterior, while Koga was plastered against the barrier he had created. After a moment's thought, Michiru realized that Koga must have tried to bash Miroku in the face, but at the moment he’d tried to punch the monk, Miroku’s injury caused him to fall over, allowing Koga to fly past. As a result, Koga was stuck being sizzled by magical lightning, until at last he collapsed to the ground, clouds of steam rising up from him.
Looking from the fried wolf-demon to the pained monk, Michiru frowned, suddenly annoyed as he marched up to him. "I don't believe this, Miroku!" he grumbled as he grabbed him by the hem of his kimono and hauled him up to his feet. “When will you ever learn to leave the girls alone?!”
As Michiru glared down at the monk, suspecting that he already knew the answer to this question, a loud crashing sound was heard behind him. "Heh! So you got him, huh?!" InuYasha grinned as he leapt overhead. "I swear, we can't take our eyes off of you for a -!"
"AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!" came Kagome's shrill voice. Jumping at this, Michiru looked towards the hot spring, and realized that InuYasha was just high enough to be visible from down there. Wincing as he realized what was about to happen, the Kururugi had only enough time to grimace before he heard the words, "InuYasha, you pervert!! SIT!!”
"Wha-?!" InuYasha cried out as the Beads of Subjugation lit up. Just before the half-demon crashed down upon the monk's head, Michiru shoved him away, and instead InuYasha smashed down into the
rocky outcropping that Michiru and Miroku were on, splitting it in two. As a result, the monk was tossed aside while the Shikigami User was sent flying straight into empty space.
"Michiru!" Sango shouted as the Kururugi boy cried out in dismay. Anticipating a very rough landing, Michiru screwed his eyes shut and waited for the end. Only to open them again when two strong, slender arms wrapped about him, slowing him down as he fell into the hot spring. Gasping as water was sent splashing on him, the Kururugi boy soon found himself on his feet, with Sango holding him tight. “Michiru! Are you alright?”
“Uh, yeah, Sango!” Michiru breathed in relief, looking into Sango’s face as he stabilized himself physically and emotionally. Instinctively returning her embrace as he shook his head clear.
“Thank goodness,” Sango sighed, smiling a smile that would melt even the stoniest of hearts. Leaving him helpless to do anything but smile stupidly in the face of her beauty, and return her embrace. To feel her warm, tender skin in his hands, and...
Huh?! Michiru paused, realizing what he had just thought. His eyes going wide, he felt his hands nervously playing about warm, damp skin. Then, with a gulp and a flow of blood that turned his face so red it looked ready to explode, he glanced down and saw two large, soft, firm mounds pressed squarely into his chest. Oh, no...
Even as he was going through this, the fact that she was bare of clothing struck Sango as well. At which point she blushed furiously as well, screaming as she dived beneath the water while Michiru staggered backwards, his nose exploding with blood. “You idiot!!" the Demon Slayer howled, wrapping her arms around her chest as she turned her front away from him. "Get out of here! Now!!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!” Michiru yelped in dismay, staggering out of the hot spring, doing his best to avoid looking at the other two girls. His eyes mostly shut, he scrambled up the side of the spring, ignoring the bumps and bruises he suffered in the process. It was only when he reached the top of the incline that he came to a halt, panting loudly as he fell down on his chest.
Oh...oh, wow... Michiru couldn't help but think, blood still trickling from his nose as he lay there.
Oh...oh, I don't believe this...! Sango thought, her own heart pounding in her ears. I...I know Michiru didn't mean anything, but still...!
Mortified by the experience of being held so close, so tightly, without anything between her and a man, Sango remained huddled in the hot spring, trying to sort out what happened. Until a familiar voice was heard saying, “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be jealous of you, Michiru.”
"Huh?!" Kagome gasped as she, Sango, and Kaname turned to look towards the source. And saw Miroku, unnoticed by everyone else, glancing over at Michiru before returning his attention to the ladies below. When he did, his gaze was met by three separate and distinct expressions of outrage.
"Why, you...!" Sango growled, still embarrassed by her close encounter with Michiru.
"Ugh...!" Kagome groaned as he dived down for cover.
"AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!" Kaname shrieked, curling her arms about her as a pentagram spun into existence at her feet. “Miroku, you pervert!! Dry up and DIE!!”
"What?! No, please!" Miroku cried out, waving his hands in protest, but it was already too late. Kaname's Fire Shikigami lunged into the air and came crashing down on his head. When the flames cleared a moment later, his entire body was scorched and clouds of smoke were rising up from him.
Shaking her head in disgust at the errant monk as he fell over, Sango groaned and rose from the water. "Come on," she began, gesturing for the others to follow. "Let's get dressed before he had a chance to recover."
"Good idea," Kaname agreed, falling in behind Sango. Then she glanced back at Kagome and asked, "By the way...you don't think that I went overboard there, do you?"
Snorting loudly, Kagome shook her head and answered, "If you hadn't done that, then Miroku would have had to answer to me."
"And me," Sango muttered deep in her throat. Evil thoughts about the monk floating through her mind as she retrieved her Hiraikotsu and her clothes.
Shortly after the hot spring fiasco, when the girls had finished drying themselves off and getting dressed, the entire group met around the campfire. Again, Miroku was lying on his stomach with eveil glares being cast at him. Michiru and Sango were unable to meet each other's eyes, and everybody was a picture of tension.
Damn lech! You sure had that coming! InuYasha fumed irritably, barely paying attention to the con artist who passed himself off as a monk. Why do we even put up with you?! Even as this thought ran its course, the silver-maned warrior glared at the source of the stench flooding his nose. Of course, I could ask the same thing about you, scrawny wolf! If it weren't for Kagome saying you could stick around, I'd boot your mangy tail clear over the moon!
Wondering what it was that made Kagome so stupid sometimes, InuYasha sat and fumed as Koga began buttering her up. "It's good to see you again, Kagome. I have to say, it's a miracle, us bumping into you like this."
"It's good to see you, too," Kagome replied. When InuYasha snorted in disgust, she shot him a look but said nothing. "So, what is it you wanted to talk to us about?"
Koga didn't answer right away. Instead, he sat there for a time, groaning in his throat, before finally admitting, "I...I guess there's no getting around it, Kagome. We...that is, I...I really need your help."
His ears pricking up at this, InuYasha turned and gazed at the scrawny wolf, unable to believe what he had just heard. "What's that?!" he demanded, eyes bulging in surprise. "Did you just admit that you need my help for something?!"
"Not on your life, mutt!" Koga snarled, displaying his typical arrogant, idiotic attitude. "I never said anything about you! I just need Kagome's help!" His features twisted in a snarl, the wolf-demon glanced about at the others before settled down. "That is...I need you...and the rest of your human friends."
"Huh?" Kagome got out as the other humans there looked about themselves, making similar sounds of surprise. "Wh-what do you mean, Koga."
"It's...a long story," Koga replied in an evasive manner. "I’m sure you people have noticed the strong demon power coming from the mountains.”
There was an assortment of nods of agreement, at which Miroku added, “Yes. We thought it might be Naraku, so we decided to investigate."
Koga snorted unhappily at this. “Man, I wish! It’d be a lot simpler!”
“Are you saying you know what this demon power is?” InuYasha sneered.
“If it’s not Naraku, then what is it?” Sango asked.
Koga sighed at this point, shaking his head miserably. “Well, since I vowed never to kill another human for food, I’ve fallen out of favor with a lot of the tribe. Oh, they’ll ask me for my help when they’re in trouble, and I’ll help them, but they won’t listen to a word I say otherwise." Growling his frustration, he then looked up at the mountains in question. "Anyway, the northern mountains are the home of many of my people, and things have been pretty bad up there lately.”
“How so?” Kagome wondered.
“Well, they asked me to help them straighten things out up there, unify the tribe, but I’ve been butting heads with this one jerk named Toma. He’s got a major attitude, and he’s trying to become the new leader of the wolf-demons,” Koga informed them, pausing a moment to sort out his thoughts. “Anyway, he’s got a lot of followers, and they’ve got their own ideas about how to strengthen the forces of our people.”
“Does this have something to do with why there has been so much unrest in that area lately?” Miroku asked.
Koga nodded at this. “They’ve been gathering all of these monster demons, trying to train them to obey us," he muttered, his eyes narrowing with disgust. "The damn things have already slaughtered fifty of our people and I don’t know how many wolves!”
“That’s so awful,” Kaname breathed even as InuYasha growled in his throat. No matter his opinion of the wolf-demons, there was no getting around the absolute evil of such a thing.
“Yeah. The only thing that idiot understands is brute strength!” Koga sniped, shooting InuYasha a look that spoke his opinion of the half-demon. “He figures that we can just terrorize the other tribes and human villages into surrendering, and we can get anything we want from them without a fight!”
“Isn’t there anything you can do, Koga?” Michiru asked worriedly.
“Well, I’ve been proposing an alliance with this nearby settlement,” Koga told them uncomfortably. “The people there are incredibly strong fighters, and I know that there’s a lot we can offer each other." Then he groaned and shrugged before adding, "But...there’s just one little problem…”
When Koga stalled, Ginta looked at them and continued. “The village in question is a human village.”
“Yeah, a village of Demon Slayers!” Hakkaku added to everybody’s shock.
Once again, InuYasha was certain that he had heard wrong. “Demons allying with Demon Slayers?!” he jeered, wondering how exactly so many rocks had found their way between Koga's ears. “Trust an idiot wolf like you to come up with that one!!”
“I’m serious! It’s the best possible solution for all of us!!” Koga insisted.
At this point, Kagome turned to their own resident Demon Slayer and asked, “Sango, do you know of a Demon Slayer village in that area?
“It’d have to be the one run by Daisuke,” Sango told them after a moment’s thought. “He’s pretty solid, and he’s gathered a lot of talent there, everything from Slayers like me to people with spiritual powers.”
“That’s the one!” Koga confirmed. "Him and me, we go back a ways!"
“Still, it seems pretty strange to me,” Shippo commented. “Why team up with a village of Demon Slayers?”
“Well, I got the idea from all of you,” Koga informed them, much to their surprise. “I mean, think about it! Five of you are human, and yet there aren’t that many demons that have the power to stand up to you. You don’t have the physical strength and endurance of our people, but at the same time you’ve trained in ways to compensate for that. Kagome and Miroku, you two have intense spiritual powers, Michiru and Kaname have their Shikigami magic, and Sango is very skilled with her weapons." After looking from each human to the next as he spoke of them, the scrawny wolf sighed and again lowered his gaze. "Don’t get me wrong, us wolf-demons have our strength, speed, and all that other stuff, but…that’s not enough anymore. Not if we want to survive, to grow stronger.”
“Hence this alliance,” Miroku intuited.
“That’s right!” Koga confirmed, clenching his fist. “The Slayers know a lot of things that we don’t, like making their own weapons, special ways of fighting, keeping food fresh longer then we can, and all kinds of different medicines and potions. But the tribe has greater numbers, and can help protect them if they need. Besides, humans can do things we can’t do, and we can do things humans can’t! Together, we’ll be much stronger than we are separately!”
“That still doesn’t explain why you need our help!” InuYasha snarled crossly.
“Well, the old chief of that region, he wants proof that certain humans can be strong, that this is the better choice,” Koga answered hesitantly. “The problem is, Daisuke won’t send any of his people with me to meet with him. He won’t risk losing any of them in a trap.”
“Doesn’t he trust you?” Kagome asked.
“Well, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. If we hadn’t run into each other a while back, I don’t think either of us would be alive. In fact…that’s part of the reason I came up with this alliance,” Koga confessed. “But he knows how little influence I have right now, and the kind of situation I’ve got in the mountains. He won’t send anybody into a situation that out of control.”
“That’s Daisuke, alright,” Sango confirmed. “He’s never been one for just walking into a situation when he doesn’t know all the details.”
“I know it’s asking you a lot, but if I can show you to the chief and everybody else, I know it’ll prove Toma and his lackeys wrong!” Koga declared. “So, Kagome, everybody, we really need your help.”
“As if we have time to waste on a bunch of scrawny wolves!” InuYasha sneered, making a show of folding his arms across his chest and looking away. “In case you’ve forgotten, we still have to hunt down Naraku!”
“I haven’t forgotten anything of the sort!!” Koga countered heatedly. “That bastard slaughtered my comrades! But I just can’t ignore my people when that sick freak Toma is getting them killed!!”
“Of course you can’t,” Kagome stepped in soothingly, cutting InuYasha off mid-reply. “We’d be happy to help you.”
“Are you serious?!” InuYasha growled, his hand on Tetsusaiga’s hilt.
“Of course she’s serious! We all are!” Michiru joined in.
“Same here!” Kaname agreed.
“I know I’m going,” Sango smiled coolly. “After all, we Demon Slayers have a reputation to uphold.”
“C’mon!!” InuYasha protested, unable to believe this display of sheer stupidity. “What about Naraku?”
“InuYasha, the fact remains that we still have no idea as to where Naraku is,” Miroku pointed out. “We might as well as help Koga as anything else.”
“Look at it this way, mutt-boy! If things go sour, then you’ll get to pound on Toma and all of his scrawny wolves!” Koga smirked. “His attitude makes you look calm, thoughtful, and mature by comparison!”
“You’re kidding me!!” Shippo gaped, his mouth and eyes opening wider than seemed physically possible. “Then I just have to see this Toma guy!”
While InuYasha was struggling to stifle the temptation to beat Shippo within an inch of his life, Michiru spoke up. “Hey, Koga, is Robai going to be there as well?”
“The old man?” Koga asked blankly. “Well, yeah, he’s been keeping an eye on things up there lately. Why?”
“Well, I just thought we should pick up some of those mushrooms he needs for his cough,” Michiru answered in offhand manner.
A friendly grin appeared on Koga's face at this. “Hey, you remembered!” Then he stopped, his smile turning upside as he muttered, “Well, the only problem with that idea is that the only place even close to nearby where those mushrooms grow is Mount Houoh.”
“That’s at least a week traveling on foot!” InuYasha snarled, wondering just how much worse this night could get. “Bad enough you want to go to this den of scrawny wolves, but you want to spend seven days going in the wrong direction?!”
“Yes, but it’ll be just a day if we fly there,” Sango pointed out. “Even Koga can’t move as fast overland as Kirara can in the air.”
“But –!” InuYasha barked, only to groan in defeat as he took in the faces arrayed against him. It was obvious that, not only were they all sold on the thought of helping a bunch of moron demons too stupid to think for themselves, but Sango was perfectly willing to help retrieve a bunch of stupid mushrooms. “Fine, whatever!" he snarled with incredibly bad grace. "Have it your way!!”
“Okay, then how about we do it this way?" Sango began with an easy smile. "Koga, you, Michiru, and I can start out for Mount Houoh first thing tomorrow. We’ll search out the mushrooms, spend the night at that old hut there, and then get a fresh start the next day.
"Sounds good to me!" Koga grinned, while InuYasha was silently agreeing. At least he would be rid of the worst of the scrawny wolves for a time. But even as he was thanking his lucky stars for this bit of good news, the idiot asked, "But...don't you need me to help show you the way?"
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that!" Kagome smiled, waving aside his concerns. "We'll have Ginta and Hakkaku to help us with that." Then she chuckled lightly and added, "Besides, I think we'll have an easier time keeping up with them than you. No offense, Koga."
The scrawny wolf looked blankly at Kagome before laughing himself. "Yeah, I guess you're right about that," Koga finally admitted. "Alright, it's decided. Just be sure to keep a close eye on Kagome while I'm gone, you two! Because if anything happens to her..."
"Hey, you don't have to worry about a thing, Koga!" Ginta responded nervously.
"That's right!" Hakkaku chimed in. "We won't let anything happen to sis!"
Nodding to this, Sango sighed and declared, "Alright, then. If there're no objections, then we better get some rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”
Yeah, I'll bet, InuYasha thought sourly, already rising up and hoping to find someplace to rest where he'll be upwind of the stench of wolves. But even as he did so, he looked back at the Demon Slayer, and realized something.
Sango had asked for Michiru to join her on this endeavor. She could likely have asked anyone to come with her, any member of their group, and she had specifically stated that she and Michiru would be going. And while there was the possibility that she had decided this simply because he had been the one to suggest retrieving the mushrooms, there was something else. Something in her scent that suggested that might not be her only reason.
And I sure didn't hear Michiru complaining, InuYasha thought as he glanced back at his friend. Maybe he wants to get away from Miroku as much as I do from Koga! Not that I can blame him!
Later that night, while his human friends slept, InuYasha sat and rested at the base of a tree. Making sure to keep a close eye on his friends, as well as for any potential threats. Bandits and demons were all too commonplace in the darkness of night, and neither would hesitate to take their lives while they slept. Something he had learned the hard way over the course of his life. He had spent so many years of his young life on the run from demons that were bigger, stronger, or simply more numerous than he was, all of whom would gladly slaughter him for the human blood flowing through his veins. And after so many nights spent in such a sleepless manner, it was a habit that was not easily forgotten.
As InuYasha watched, still recalling the pain of the past, a footstep pricked at his sensitive ears. Snorting in momentary alarm, his body tensing for action, he looked about for the source of the noise, only to relax when he saw who it was. “Oh. Hey, Kaname," he muttered as she drew up to him, a look of concern on her face. "Hey, is something wrong? You really should get to sleep.”
“I’m sorry. I just thought…well, you don’t mind if I keep you company, do you?” Kaname asked somewhat nervously.
InuYasha just stared at the human girl for a time. “Well, sure, that’s fine by me. But why?”
“I...I just wanted to talk,” Kaname told InuYasha as she came up to him. Sitting down next to the half-demon, she then snuggled close to him. “You work so hard, trying to keep us all safe, despite everything. I thought I should, you know, thank you for that.”
Snorting, InuYasha smiled at Kaname. “Hey, don’t make a big deal out of it, okay?”
“Still, thanks,” Kaname whispered. She was quiet for a moment, but then spoke up once more. “I know why you’re in such a hurry to find Naraku.”
“What, besides the fact that I’m gonna kill that bastard and get revenge for everybody he’s killed?” InuYasha stated wryly.
“Well, yes, but you’re also worried,” Kaname stated. “You’re worried about those he might hurt before we can stop him.” InuYasha didn’t have anything to say to that, so he snorted and said nothing. “You know, I think my brother was very lucky to have met all of you, and so am I.”
“Are you sure about that?” InuYasha chided. “When we fight Naraku, you might wind up changing your tune!”
“I am sure,” Kaname asserted. “You’re all such wonderful people, and my brother…he was able to find somebody to love, and I’m sure she loves him as well.”
“You noticed that, huh?” InuYasha smirked, thinking of how the two of them would be sharing a lot of company in the days to come.
“Of course,” Kaname smiled. “Who knows? Maybe I'll be as lucky as he is...some day.” With that, the Shikigami User fell asleep, clinging to InuYasha’s kimono.
Smiling despite himself, InuYasha just looked at her for a long time, smelling the many feelings and sensations rising up from her. "Oh, you..." he murmured, shaking his head with weary affection. "Why couldn't you just say that you're worried about your brother?" Snorting a chuckle, he glanced in the direction he knew one of Michiru's future traveling companions lay in. "Not that I blame you for that." Sighing at the girl who look so content to be next him, the half-demon sat back and relaxed. "But you don't have to worried," he told her earnestly. "I'm not going to let anything happen to him. Or you. Never again..."