Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Feelings of Love

As the wind rushed past Michiru's face, he couldn't help but think of all the times he had found himself in class, bored silly by a teacher's lecture. Wondering what it would be like if he could just slip out the window and fly free of the tedium. All the while imagining that it would be wonderful.

He had learned a lot of things during his first journey with InuYasha and the others. One of those things was that flying was every bit as wonderful as Michiru had envisioned it would be. Another was that when you flew with the woman you loved seated in front of you, it was not only more wonderful, but resulted in an abundance of temptation.

Today, Michiru was learning something else. That when you flew with a highly impatient wolf-demon who had no trouble giving voice to his impatience over the course of a day-long trip, that any amount of joy in these things was quickly drained away.

"Damn! Just how much longer until we get there?!" Koga demanded grumpily as he clung to Michiru's shoulders, glancing down warily at the ground below. "Are you sure Kirara can't fly any faster than this?!"

Struggling to suppress a groan, Michiru rolled his eyes as Sango glanced back at the wolf-demon. "Koga, I already told you that this as fast as we can go," she told him in a stern, yet pleasant tone. "And we're already a lot further than any of us would have made it on foot. Even you."

The wolf-demon groaned and looked down at the ground below, and despite himself, Michiru did the same. As had been the case since this morning, there was nothing below but crags of rock and wild forests that they both knew to be growing from exceedingly rough terrain. Meaning that Koga's swift feet would get him nowhere but plowed into the side of a boulder or tree in next to no time. "Yeah, I know, I know," the wolf-demon muttered with considerable bad grace. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it!"

We know you don't like it, Koga, Michiru thought in ill humor. You've been reminding us of that all day!

When they had started out that morning, Michiru had known that this would be a long trip. But at the same time, it had been his idea to go fetch the mushrooms, so it only made sense that he went to do so. Besides, it was an opportunity to get away from Miroku, to forget the disastrous sparring match he had had with the monk, as well as all the painful emotions that were associated with it. And perhaps best of all...it was a chance to smooth things over with Sango.

Despite the fact that Sango had announced that he would come with them, and had shown no signs of anger towards him over breakfast, Michiru couldn't help but feel shame over everything that had happened yesterday. While he felt he had been justifiably angry about what Miroku had said and done to him, Kagome had been right in that there had been no justification for his use of the deadly spells he had unleashed upon the monk. And as if that wasn't enough, there was still the matter of what had gone done between them in the hot spring.

I...I know it was an accident, but...I never even apologized for it, Michiru thought somberly. I mean, I know I said that I was sorry, but...that really doesn't make up for what happened. Heaving a weary sigh, the Shikigami User shook his head as he thought back to last night, when he had held Sango in his arms, enjoying the feel of his tender skin in his hands. The way his body reacted to her with him for a long time afterwards, taunting and tormenting him all at once. And it doesn't change the fact that...I enjoyed holding her like that, no matter how wrong it was...

These dour thoughts continued to plague Michiru throughout their trip. The only bright spot to this was that it distracted him from Koga's further complaints, at least long enough for them to come within sight of their destination. "There it is, Koga; Mount Houoh," Sango announced, a smile to her words as the sacred mountain came within view. "It won't be much longer now."

"Phew! Thank goodness!" Koga wearily muttered. "Don't get me wrong, Sango. I appreciate the short trip, but I think I'd just as soon keep my feet on the ground from now on."

Sango just laughed at this, a musical sound that helped alleviate Michiru's gloom. It was so rare to see the warrior woman being playful, or simply enjoying life, especially given the life she had been forced to lead. Which made such moments all the more special in his mind.

Buoyed by this, Michiru looked down at the base of the mountain, where Rindoh Village lay. As he studied the small town that was the gateway to Mount Houoh, he blushed as he recalled that it was this place that his first accidental encounter with Sango bathing had taken place. Feeling an edge of shame as he glanced at the woman that was the subject of these far from innocent thoughts, he instead focused on the mountain itself, which was home to the mystical Magatama Tree, as well as the spirit of the air that was its guardian. He thought of the time he and his friends had encountered Koga and the elderly Robai there, with the older wolf-demon making what could only be called a laughable attempt to kidnap the Shikigami User for the Shikon Jewel Shard he had been carrying. And he remembered finding the path that led from Mount Houoh down into the valley of the Hitogata Kakuju had brought to life, failed attempts at Utsugi's creation, as well Kururugi Village, the site of his own Kururugi Shrine.

Sighing as the past played back in his mind, Michiru was brought back to the present as Kirara surged forward. "We're almost there," Sango murmured as she surveyed the terrain ahead. "Now, as I remember, those mushrooms only grow on the higher reaches of the mountain."

"Yeah, they ain't like normal mushrooms," Koga remarked needlessly. "I don't why they grow where they do, but they prefer places like this sacred mountain."

"I guess it makes sense. The Magatama Tree is a sacred plant, so maybe other sacred plants can grow there as well," Michiru offered, feeling the strange, pure energy the mountain possessed. "Can Kirara land on those upper reaches, Sango? I mean...we don't have Shippo around to help give us a lift this time."

"Not a problem, Michiru," Sango replied with an easy smile. "There's a ledge near the path that leads to the Magatama Tree that's large enough for Kirara to land on." Affectionately stroking the two-tail's head, the Demon Slayer pointed and told her, "Over there, Kirara. Now take us down." Growling warmly in response, Kirara angled herself down towards the indicated point.

In less than a minute, the demonic cat landed on the ledge. "Ugh! Finally!" Koga groaned in relief as he slid off Kirara's back. "Damn, it sure feels good to have solid ground beneath my feet again!"

Though he didn't put it into words, Michiru could certain understand how the wolf-demon felt. As wonderful as flying was, there was something reassuring about being able to stand on one's own feet. Of course, maybe Koga was worried about what might happen if he fell off, the Kururugi boy thought as Kirara reverted to her tinier self. Not that I blame him for that; it sure was a long way down!

Thankful that heights was one of the few things that he didn't get nervous about, Michiru watched as Sango took charge. "Hmm...I'd say we have a couple hours before the sun goes down," she decided, taking note of the sun's position in the sky. "That should give us enough time to search for the mushrooms, then get back down the mountain and reach the hut before it gets dark."

"The hut? Oh, right, that shack we were staying at when my old man was sick!" But even as he got the picture, Koga frowned and muttered, "Well, I guess it's okay. But I spotted several caves in that area that looked a lot sturdier. Not to mention drier!"

"Maybe," Sango chuckled, a gentle breeze whipping her hair about. "But the last time we were here, all those caves were already occupied. And I'm not in the mood to fight with a bunch of demons, just to get a good night's sleep!"

"Heh. You got a point there!" Koga grinned helplessly. "Anyway, we better not waste any time. So...I'll got this way, and you two can go looking that way!"

"Okay," Michiru decided, figuring that one direction was as good as another. "So...after we're done looking, where do we meet?"

"Why bother meeting anywhere? I'll just track you down once I'm done searching! So goodbye for now!" Without another word and not giving either Michiru or Sango a chance to protest, Koga turned about and shot out of sight, leaving behind only a cloud of dust.

Heaving a wear sigh, Sango shrugged and turned to Michiru. “Might as well start looking.”

“Might as well,” Michiru agreed before bending to Kirara and holding out his hand to her. “Come on, Kirara! You carried us all of this way; the least we can do is carry you around for awhile.” The notion certainly seemed to appeal to the two-tail, who happily allowed Michiru to pick her up and set her on his shoulder.

Shaking her head slowly, Sango murmured, "I don't think I'll get over how much Kirara likes you, Michiru. She's never allowed anyone but family to handle her like that." As was usual, Michiru quickly blushed at this, eliciting a chuckle from the Demon Slayer. "Okay, let's get going. The sooner we find those mushrooms, the better."

"Right," Michiru nodded, and with that the two of them set out in search of the medicinal fungus. Fortunately, plants such as mushrooms were a part of the power symbolized by his Wood Shikigami, and as a result, the Shikigami User could readily sense their locations, particularly in a place with so little plant life to begin with. So it wasn't long before they had half a dozen bundled up in Sango's furoshiki.

"Wow. That didn't take long," Sango beamed as she gently tied the furoshiki up, making sure that they were securely bound, but not so much as to cause any damage to them. "I thought for sure that Koga would have shown up before we were down."

"Uh, yeah," Michiru nodded, glancing back in the direction the wolf-demon had gone in. "Maybe he's having trouble finding them."

"It's possible," Sango conceded. "And I guess there's no point in trying to chase Koga down, so...I guess we should just wait here."

"Guess so," Michiru nodded, pausing to consider the situation. He briefly considered the possibility of sending a scout to locate Koga, to let him know that they had found the mushrooms, but then he rejected it. The scouts created by his Shikigami could only communicate with another Shikigami User, such as Kaname. He also considered righting a note on the card for the wolf-demon, before he realized that it was all too likely that Koga couldn't read.

No. We might as well just wait for him to back this way, Michiru thought, glancing towards Sango. Besides...this is as good a time as any to get a few things off my chest.

With that, Michiru took a step closer to the Demon Slayer, gulping before saying, "Um...Sango?”

“Yes? What is it, Michiru?” Sango asked, her chocolate-colored eyes astonishing him once again with her soulful beauty.

“I - uh,” Michiru stammered, his hormones not making it any easier to say what he had to say. "There's, uh...something I wanted to talk about." When Sango frowned slightly, he began scratching the back of his head. "Well, what I mean is, umm...I…just wanted to...apologize.”

“Apologize?" Sango blankly repeated. "For what?”

“You know," Michiru pressed on, painfully aware that his cheeks were burning brightly. "For...everything that happened yesterday."

Exhaling softly, Sango quickly waved Michiru's concerns aside. "Don't worry about that," she told him in an even voice. "To be honest, I've been tempted to do that sort of thing to Miroku myself."

"Uh, no. That's not what I meant." Then Michiru winced and shook his head. "Well, actually, I do, but...that's not the only thing I...wanted to talk about." Frowning in a quizzical manner, Sango simply stood there as the Kururugi boy thought back to the other matter. Of having his arms wrapped about Sango’s exquisite body, of her being pressed against him. "I wanted to tell you...how sorry about what happened at hot spring...I..."

"What?" Sango snorted, an embarrassed laugh escaping her lips. “Oh, come on! You were knocked into the spring during the fight! It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, I know, but still…” Michiru went on, the memory of his temptations prodding at his heart. “It’s just that…I’ve been angry at Miroku for all the things he’s done to you and other girls. Playing with your heart, spying on you." Frowning bitterly, he shook his head wearily before admitting, "Only, last night, when you were holding me…”

Sango turned to look at Michiru, seeming to intuit what was bothering him. “I see,” was all she said. “You’re upset…because you were tempted? That you…liked being held by me…that way?”

Ashamed, Michiru averted his eyes from Sango. “Maybe I’m not that different from him, after all.”

“You’re wrong, Michiru,” Sango stated, suddenly right in front of him as she took hold of his shoulders. Looking up in surprise, the Shikigami User stared deeply into the Demon Slayer's cherubic face. “There’s a big difference between being tempted and acting on those temptations. Miroku does virtually anything he’s tempted to do!" Her smile deepening, she raised her hand to his cheek. "But you…in all the time I’ve known you, never once have you yielded to your temptations. I know I can trust you to always to do what you feel is right.”

“You really mean that, Sango?” Michiru asked, his heart lightening a bit as it fluttered from sheer proximity to the woman of his dreams.

“Really. You’re an honest soul, Michiru." Then she gave him a lopsided grin and added, "Maybe a little too honest for your own good, though.” Giggling at this rare bit of human, Sango stepped back from him. "Anyway, if that's settled, why don't we sit back and relax while - erg!"

Starting at this sound of pain, Michiru forgotten everything else as he came up to her. “Sango, what’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine,” Sango hurriedly answered as she shifted onto her right leg. A movement that prompted Michiru to look at her other leg, revealing the source of her discomfort. Her left ankle was red and swollen, and while it wasn't very bad, it was definitely enough to cause her trouble.

“Sango, why didn’t you tell me your ankle was like that?!” Michiru asked as she leaned up against the mountain, taking the weight off of her effected leg. “Oh, man, you must’ve twisted it when you caught me last night!”

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing!” Sango insisted. “I’ve lived through worse, or have you forgotten?”

“Sango, please! You’re not doing yourself or anybody else any good by just toughing out your pain when you don’t have to!” Michiru insisted, getting down on one knee in order to examine her ankle. “Now, you sit down while I make an icepack for you.”

“With what?” Sango laughed as she sat down, her ankle paining her even more than Michiru had thought at first. As she did so, Kirara came over to her and nuzzled at her hand, obviously concerned as well.

“With this,” Michiru told her as he brought forth his handkerchief. Then he invoked the power of his Water Shikigami and channeled it into the cloth, quickly dampening it. Satisfied with the result, he then glanced up at Sango and told her, "Now, hold very still, okay?"

"Okay, but...why don't you just use your healing magic?" Sango wondered as she held out her affected ankle.

"I will, but I have to do something about this swelling," Michiru explained somberly. "My healing spells work great on stuff like cuts and bruises and all that, but I don't know any that will work on things like sprains or broken bones." Nodding her understanding, Sango sat and watched as the Kururugi boy proceeded to wrap his handkerchief around her ankle. Once that was done, he then channeled the power of his Ice Shikigami into it. Almost instantly, the water became chill, just cold enough to freeze without being so cold as to cause further problems. "There. And now that that's done...Great River Blessing!"

"Wow," Sango breathed as she felt the effects of both the cold compress and the healing magic. "You've gotten really gotten a lot better at this.”

"Thanks," Michiru nodded before glancing back at the injury. “Sango...why didn’t you tell anyone about your injury before? We could have taken care of it before we even came here!"

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing,” Sango insisted. “All I need is some rest, and it’ll be all better.”

“Stop saying it’s nothing!” Michiru told her, a hint of anger in his voice. “You’re always doing this, keeping things to yourself, not letting us know when you’re having a problem, or suffering or anything!”

“But -!” Sango tried again.

“You don’t have to do this, Sango! You don’t have to carry the weight of your problems alone,” Michiru persisted, his eyes narrowing. “Didn’t you tell me before that we’re a team? Because there are times you don’t act like it!”

“And just what is that supposed to mean?" Sango countered, getting angry herself now. "You’re the one who kept running off and doing things on his own! Or have you forgotten when you decided that Utsugi was your problem alone?!"”

Stunned by the sharp manner in which Sango spoke, Michiru lowered his eyes as an awkward moment of silence fell down upon them both. “I guess you’re right. I did that more than once,” he admitted ruefully, thinking back to the incident in question. Of how, after apparently defeating Naraku on Asagiri Island, he felt that he had no right to ask the others to go with him to track down Utsugi. That the Shikigami Master was Michiru's responsibility, his problem, and that now that the others were free to do whatever they want, he couldn't involve them anymore. And as a result, he had very nearly been killed in a solo battle against a demon that had once been part of Naraku's body. “And it was the wrong thing for me to do. I know that." Then Michiru frowned and drew himself closer to the Demon Slayer. "Just as it’s wrong for you have to bear the burdens of your problems on your own. Like you told me back then, Sango, you don’t have to go it alone.”

Settling down as her sudden anger subsided, Sango looked soulfully at Michiru. “That doesn’t mean I have the right to complain about every little thing.”

“Your injury isn’t a little thing, and neither are your feelings,” Michiru informed her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “You always worry about us, but never once do you worry about yourself! You just keep plowing ahead like you haven’t a problem in the world.”

“Michiru…” Sango whispered, her eyes moistening.

“Sango, it’s okay for you to cry once in a while,” Michiru told her with an encouraging smile. “You should be able to laugh and cry and feel whatever you’re feeling. Everybody, me, InuYasha, Kagome, all of us, we all know you and want you to be happy!" Placing his hand on her own, he gave it a gentle squeeze and added, "Please...you don’t have to hide your pain from us.”

There was silence again as the two of them looked at each other, and before Michiru’s eyes, Sango’s own gaze warmed as she smiled. “To think that there was time that I…I didn’t even know you existed," she murmured, her voice low and sad and happy all at once. "Now...I can’t imagine being without you.”

“I feel the same way,” Michiru confessed as they looked at each other, the emotions between them slowly intensifying. Without either of them realizing what was happening, their faces slowly drew closer.

“Michiru…” Sango murmured, fear and adoration showing in equal amounts. Placing her hands on his shoulders, but instead of stopping him, she instead pulled herself towards him. Before either of them knew what had happened, their lips were brushing against each other in a tender kiss.

The instant they came together, Michiru felt his mind explode into a wave of sweet cherry blossoms, erasing all the fear and anxiety that he might have felt and replacing it with joy and pleasure. A perfect moment that was broken all too quickly as Sango pulled away. Leaving them hovering there, looking at each other, and giving him a perfect view of the warrior woman's eyes. Eyes that were filled with emotion, with all the pain and hope and joy she had ever felt. But Michiru was given only a brief time to consider these things before they pulled together again, kissing each other more deeply.

Oh, Sango...! Michiru thought as he wrapped his arms about her frame, delighting as she returned the gesture. Moan of joy and deep pleasure tearing free of them both. savoring the moment until the need for oxygen forced them to separate once more. Sango, I...I...!

"Hey, you two!" came Koga's voice, shattering the moment and startling them both into looking about just in time to see the wolf-demon blow into view, kicking up a massive cloud of dust upon arriving. “Di you find any – huh? What happened?”

Upon realizing that they had company, the two humans glanced at each other, realizing both their proximity and how they must have looked to the wolf-demon, and blushed furiously as they tumbled apart. "Oh, Koga!" Sango greeted him, her voice somewhat shaken as she attempted to recover. "Uh...I..."

"Um...good timing, Koga!" Michiru fumbled out, trying to think of a graceful way out of this. "We - we found some mushrooms, but, uh…Sango, she...well, look!”

"Yeah, I'm looking. And that ankle looks like it's in pretty bad shape," Koga stated as he came up and examined Sango’s leg. “I don’t think she should be walking on it for a while.”

“I agree,” Michiru stated, pulling himself together as he got to his feet. “Let’s go, Kirara!” The two-tail chirped cutely before exploding into flames, emerging in her fighting form with a proud roar. "Okay, Sango. Just, uh...let me help you up, and..."

"No, that's fine," Sango told him, her voice hard and even, betraying none of the emotion that had just flashed between them as she struggled to get to her feet. "It's just a little sprain. I can move just fine on my - urg!"

“Oh, no! No walking for you!” Koga told her, and without any warning, he placed his hands on Sango's waist and effortlessly lifted her into the air. "That last thing we need is for you to go and make that thing worse!"

"Koga's right, Sango. You just rest and let us take care of you," Michiru told her as Koga placed the Demon Slayer on Kirara’s back.

"But..." Sango began, her cheeks coloring again. But then she lowered her eyes and glanced at her afflicted leg. "Alright. Thanks, you two."

"No problem," Michiru smiled before glancing over at Koga, momentarily envying the wolf-demon’s physical strength. The elemental magic of his Shikigami was fantastic, no doubt about that, but there was something to be said about brute-force muscle. "Anyway, let's get back to the hut so we can rest for the night."

"Yeah, and have something to eat!" Koga chimed in.

"Whew...that was good, Koga," Sango smiled, beaming her appreciation at the wolf-demon. "Thanks for making dinner for us."

"Hey, no problem! Not after you managed to find all those mushrooms for my old man!" Koga grinned easily as he sat back against the hut's wall, folding his arms behind his head. "Besides, there's some good hunting on this mountain."

"Uh, yeah," Michiru nodded as he finished his own meal, consisting of rabbits that had been freshly hunted down by the wolf-demon. "You...did good, Koga."

Koga just responded with a cocky grin, while Sango smiled and shook her head, recalling how the Kururugi boy had reacted when he had first seen their 'dinner'. It had only been a short time since they had arrived at the hut, time which Michiru had spent making sure that Sango was comfortable and tending to her needs. She had just finished telling the good-natured boy that she was alright for what felt like over a dozen times when Koga had arrived, dangling several carcasses from his hand and declaring that dinner was served.

Not that I can blame him. Obviously, the wolf-demons aren't as familiar with cooking their food as we are, Sango thought, for while Koga had proven capable of preparing excellent mushroom soup, she knew that cooking wasn't the norm for them. Besides...they are...were cute. Sighing at this, recalling the times when Kohaku would protest hunting for their food, she sighed and glanced over at the Kururugi boy. Still...I'm glad Michiru was able to convince him to go along with it this time! I don't think I could have dealt with raw meat on top of everything else.

At this, Sango raised her eyes to the ceiling, trying very hard not to think about 'everything else', and failing altogether. I...I still can't believe I did that...! she thought, recalling that moment between herself and Michiru. That moment where every shield she had carefully constructed around her heart had fallen, her control of her emotions failed completely. I can't believe that I...that I actually...!

Gulping loudly, Sango felt her cheeks burning at the memory, the sensations she had felt then so close to her that she could almost feel Michiru's lips upon her own. His arms wrapped about her, and her arms about him. The warmth and love that he was so eager to share with her. Things that she wanted to let him share. No. No, I can't be thinking about that! Sango fretted, giving a nervous shake of her head. I...this isn't the right time! I...!

Again, the Demon Slayer swallowed, forcing herself to look away from Michiru. Her cheeks flushing ever more deeply, Sango struggled to think of something to distract herself from that moment. To distance herself from it until she could deal with it on an intellectual level, and not be swayed with emotion. But...what could I do? she wondered, pressing her lips together in frustration. Normally, she would vent such emotional uncertainty through physical exertion, but thanks to her ankle, that was not an option. Which meant that the best, if not only way she could do, was to talk about something.

The only question was...what could she talk about?

Any discussion of the modern world Michiru came from was out, at least with Koga present. The last thing they wanted was to spread knowledge that he was from another time, and Sango couldn't think of anything else that she could talk about with the Kururugi boy, at least not without risking bringing up things that she most certainly did not want to discuss. And as for Koga...what could I talk about with him? the Demon Slayer fretted. All I know about him is that he wanders around, looking for Naraku! What good does that do me?

Even as she thought this, however, Sango was struck by divine inspiration. There was something that she could safely talk about with the wolf-demon. "Koga," she began, trying to sound natural as she started speaking, "there's something I've been meaning to ask you?"

"Oh? What's that?" Koga wondered, raising an eyebrow at her.

"It's about you and Daisuke," Sango continued, her voice evening out as she focused on this topic of conversation. "You mentioned that you've known each for a while, but...how'd you ever meet each other?"

The corner of his lip curling up, Koga returned, "Heh, that's kind of a long story. It all started shortly after Kagura first showed up." The wolf-demon opened his mouth to continue, but then he made an uncertain noise in his throat and asked, "Uh...they did tell you about that one, right, Michiru?"

"Uh...I don't think so," Michiru helplessly responded before glancing over at Sango. "Um..."

"No. Sorry, Michiru, but...we didn't think it was important." Then Sango sighed heavily and added, "Besides...that's not the kind of thing we wanted to talk about."

A grim shadow appearing on his face, Koga nodded slowly before turning towards Michiru. "Well, long story made short, Naraku tricked almost every member of my tribe into going after his Sacred Jewel Shards...just before he had Kagura kill them." The Shikigami User sucked in a horrified gasp, and Sango could almost see the pain of that night of horrors still living in the wolf-demon's eyes. "Yeah...and when I went after them, she made it look like InuYasha was the one who did it."

"What?" Michiru gasped, his face sagging with this revelation. "Then...but wait a minute! What about those wolves who live near Ayame Village? Aren't they part of your tribe?"

"Not exactly," Koga muttered in a somewhat distasteful manner. "I...it's like with packs of wolves. They're all wolves, but they operate separately. So it's the same deal with wolf-demons. We're more-or-less the same tribe, but we're all splintered into different packs." Michiru gave a quick nod of his head at this. "Anyway, Naraku did it, hoping that he could get us to kill each other, all so he could get his claws on the Sacred Jewel Shard in my legs. Get the big picture?"

Again, Michiru nodded. "Yeah...it sure sounds like something Naraku would do."

"Anyway, after that, me, Ginta, Hakkaku...we started searching everywhere for Naraku. To make him pay for what he did," Koga continued, forcing aside some of his earlier grimness. "So one day, we and our wolves were wandering around in a pretty piece of swampland. Ginta had sniffed out some pretty nasty demonic stenches, so I decided to get a whiff myself, and see if any of them belonged to Naraku." The wolf-demon paused then, as if to somehow relive that moment from his past. "I don't know how long we wound up wandering around in that filthy hole. All I know is that if I'd wanted to find a place with a lot of nasty demons, I'd come to the right place."

"But no Naraku, huh?" Michiru gathered.

"Hmph. Not so much as a whiff of him," Koga muttered sourly. "And trust me, there's no way I'd ever forget that stench!"

Recalling all the times that InuYasha had complained about the scent of Naraku and his incarnations, Sango decided to take the wolf-demon's word for it. "So that's where you met Daisuke?"

"Yeah, but I didn't know he was there right away. That place was so rancid that I could barely smell the demons there, let alone a human!" Chuckling at this mild bit of humor, Koga sighed before moving onto the next part. "Anyway, we'd been in there for a while, long enough to get attacked by a few bug and snake-demons who thought that we'd be easy pickings. And I was getting really sick of the stench in there, and I was about to give it up as a bad job when we heard this damned shrieking!" Shuddering at this, the alpha wolf quickly rubbed his arms before muttering, "Damn! Just thinking about it makes my fur stand on end!"

Frowning slightly, Sango cocked her head to the side and asked, "Well, what was it? A demon, or something else?"

"Heh! Make that demons!" Koga grimaced in disgust. "We'd wandered right into the favorite hiding place of a bunch of nukekubi!"

"Nukekubi?" Michiru frowned even as Sango hissed in disgust. "I've heard of those. Aren't they demons that look human, but when the sun goes down..."

"They detach their heads from their bodies and go looking for some easy meat? That's them, alright!" Koga grumbled. "Before we even knew what had happened, we were surrounded by dozens of the damned heads!"

Groaning in horror at that scenario, Sango thought back to the few times she had been forced to deal with nukekubi. By day, they masqueraded as ordinary humans, and since they didn't give off any demonic aura while attached to their bodies, it was almost impossible to ferret them out except when they were on the prowl. Their preferred prey were humans, and while they were not very dangerous individually, in a swarm, they were fast, mobile, and very deadly. "So what happened next?"

"What do you think happened?! The things came right at us!" Koga declared with an edge of irritation. "What happened next...it was completely crazy! The three of us were kicking and punching at the blasted heads, but every time we managed to hit one, two or three more were coming in for a bite!" Drawing up his hand, he made a fist before banging it on the floor. "I did pretty okay, thanks to my Jewel Shards, but I still wound up with several heads getting their teeth in me! And Ginta and Hakkaku..."

Seeing the distress in Koga's voice, Sango nodded somberly as Michiru asked, "But...wait, I've always heard that the best way to deal with nukekubi was to find their bodies and destroy them before their heads could rejoin them."

"That's right, but that wouldn't kill them right away, Michiru," Sango informed him, having had more experience with the creatures than she cared to think about. "They'd only die when the sun came out. Nukekubi can't survive exposure to light without their bodies."

"Yeah, and we still had hours before the sun came up, so that wouldn't do us a whole lot of good!" Koga snarled. "Besides, even if that woulda worked, the only way I could've done it was to leave Ginta Hakkaku behind to be eaten by the things! And there's no way I'd ever do that!"

"Okay, okay! I'm sorry!" Michiru cried out, holding out his hands in surrender. "I never meant that..."

"Eh, forget it, kid. I know you didn't mean anything by it," Koga grumbled, dismissing Michiru's concerns with a wave of his hand. "Anyway, things were looking pretty bad, when this huge blast of blue fire came out of nowhere! Completely fried three or four of the things, and send the others scooting back in a big hurry!"

"Blue fire?" Michiru repeated blankly.

"Daisuke once defeated a huge ogre, one that was capable of breathing fire," Sango quickly explained. "Some time afterwards, he had its skull and ribcage fused together to form a powerful flame-throwing weapon." Then another thought occurred to her, prompting her to ask, "But...what was Daisuke doing there?"

"Looking for the nukekubi!" Koga declared. "Turned out a nearby village had been having problems with them, so they hired him to take 'em down! So he wound up tracking 'em to the swamp, just in time to, uh...help us deal with them."

Sango nodded thoughtfully before commenting, "Still, it must have been a tough fight."

"Heh. You ain't kidding! No matter what we did, those damned things just wouldn't back off!" Koga explained. "It wasn't until we managed to kill those stupid heads that we found out that we were practically on top of a cave where they left their bodies!"

"Which would explain why they attacked a bunch of demons," Sango quickly realized. "They were trying to protect their hiding place."

"Yeah. Though why the other demons there left them alone is beyond me," Koga admitted with a shrug. "Maybe the nukekubi let them have the scraps they didn't like." Shrugging in such a way to make it clear that he didn't care one way or the other, the wolf-demon went on to say, "Anyway, after it was all over, Ginta and Hakkaku were pretty messed up, so Daisuke patched them up. We got to talking, and...well, ever since then, I'd stop by their fort to see if he'd heard anything interesting, and just to check up on him."

"I see," Sango nodded. "I have to admit to being surprised, Koga. You've always struck me as being more of a lone wolf. No offense."

"Heh, that's okay. I prefer to work that way myself, most of the time." As soon as this was said, Koga narrowed his eyes and told them, "But I don't forget it when somebody saves my life. And besides, there aren't too many people out there that I'd consider to be a friend. Especially with...well..."

Again, Sango nodded. "And even fewer people you'd choose to ally yourself with."

"Yeah. Ain't that the truth," Koga muttered in a sad sort of way. Snorting lightly, the wolf-demon proceeded to stretch out. "Well, I don't know about you two, but I'm planning on getting some shuteye time in! The sooner we get off this mountain and back with the others, the better!" Then he curled his lip in a cocky manner and added, "Besides, it's been way too long since I've spent some time with Kagome! And I'm planning on making up for lost time!"

"Right," Sango commented, trying not to visibly react to this statement. "Well, in that case...good night, you two."

"Yeah, back at ya," Koga returned as he curled up on the floor.

"Okay. Good night, Koga," Michiru told him. Then he looked over at Sango, and smiled warmly. "Good night, Sango."

"Good night," Sango replied. Hoping that sleep would find her quickly.

Two hours later, Sango was still wide awake. The cook fire had burned down to embers, and the forest surrounding the hut blocked out any light the stars and moon might have cast. Michiru, Koga, and even Kirara had long since fallen asleep, leaving the Demon Slayer the only one awake, alone and lost in the dark. And in more ways than one.

Over the course of those hours, Sango had been able to take her experience with Michiru and push to the side, at least enough for her to stop reacting to it solely on an emotional level. And as she did so, she found herself confronted with an even greater dilemma.

Michiru was more than a friend to her now. If there was any possible doubt of this left, that blissful moment of embracing and kissing him would have completely decimated that. He was someone truly precious to Sango, someone that she couldn't imagine being without anymore. A person so precious to her, that she had once been prepared to take her own brother's life, in order to protect his.

Looking over her memories of the Shikigami User, Sango found herself thinking of the times she had spent with him. Times that, no matter how good or bad, took on a greater glow now, with everything that had happened from her first encounter with him in Kaede's Village, to the times spent with him on their days off, to the day of Utsugi's death and his subsequent return to the modern world, and quite possibly most heartening, the day he had found his way back into this time.

Even in the beginning, Michiru had always been quick to show kindness to everyone around him, no matter how difficult the situation was. And when Kagura had come to capture him, using Kohaku to lure him into a trap, he had not only found a way to save both himself and the young Demon Slayer, but he had comforted her over her inability to attack her ensorcelled sibling, and didn't find her at fault. He had worked hard with her to develop his strength, to train himself to be a boon, not a burden to them, and although he wasn't very strong at first, he had been quick to pick up the basics of physical combat. And it had been more than just physical strength that the Shikigami User had developed; the power of his Shikigami had flourished with each new spell he learned, and each new spirit familiar that had awoken.

And the two of them had done more than simply train with each other. On their days off, Sango and Michiru had done other things, such as talk with each other, relax in a field of flowers, and even fly on Kirara just for the sake of flying. In almost no time at all, she had grown comfortable with him, and felt completely at ease with having him around, something which was rare for her.

Then again, maybe that's not so surprising, Sango decided as she thought back to another of their days off, one that didn't go so smoothly. It had started innocently enough; she had decided to do some laundry, and unsurprisingly, he had offered to assist her. She had demurred, but told him that he could help her carry her kimonos later on, all the while making a point of not mentioning the other thing that she was planning on doing. Since she knew that Miroku was going to be occupied for the foreseeable future with his own plans for the day, she decided to take a bath as well.

She didn't know why she had kept it a secret. Maybe she had been afraid that Michiru might take advantage of the situation. Maybe she was worried that he might mention that she was bathing to Miroku in passing. Or perhaps she had simply become so accustomed to keeping her bath times a secret that she didn't even think about it. But no matter the reason, she had neglected to inform the Kururugi boy of her full plans. And had ultimately come to regret it when he had arrived sooner than she had planned.

While Sango had been relaxing in the river, she had heard the light crunch of grass being stepped on. Instinctually reacting, the Demon Slayer had whipped about just as Michiru had looked in her direction. The two of them had locked gazes, totally frozen for a total of three or four seconds before reality kicked in. And as it had happened in the hot spring, the instant the reality of Sango's state of undress had registered with them, both of them had turned red as Sango started screaming and attempting to conceal herself.

Although initially angry at the intrusion, Sango had been quickly forced to admit that she had no one to blame for this situation but herself. And while embarrassing, something good did come of it; she learned that she could trust Michiru to be discreet. As soon as he realized the situation, Michiru was quick to heed her request that he look away, and as she kept a close eye on him, she saw that he showed no intent of returning his eyes to her while they had a short conversation. He had been so nervous and embarrassed that his entire body seemed to be shaking. And as he finally departed, Sango knew that she was dealing with a kind and considerate person, one that she could trust.

Unlike Miroku, Sango groaned inwardly, thinking of the many, many times she'd caught him spying on her, all in the name of a cheap thrill. But the instant she thought of the monk, she regretted it, for he was a very real part of her dilemma.

When she had first met Miroku, she had been caught up in one of Naraku's many schemes to kill InuYasha and claim the Sacred Jewel Shards Kagome was carrying. As a result, it wasn't until she had recovered enough to start traveling again that she started to get to know him. However, there was no doubt that, at first, she was far from impressed by his moral fiber.

She had still been hurting terribly from the loss of both her home and her family, and was extremely uncertain about traveling with InuYasha and the others. Miroku had began making a persuasive argument that Sango would have the best chance of taking her revenge on Naraku by traveling with them, simply because he would come after their Jewel Shards again, sooner or later. He had been consoling and very sympathetic...all the while stroking her legs. Later on, while she and the others had been battling a water sprite usurping the power of a water goddess, Miroku had found Sango stunned and on the brink of unconsciousness. She had come to full awareness just as he been trying to take advantage of the situation and kiss her, something she rewarded him with by giving him the first of many slaps on the face. Later on, when she and Miroku had gone to rescue the true water goddess, who had been shrunken with the loss of her sacred trident, he had made it painfully clear that he had no problem with the idea of assailing her with his perverted ways. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, he had taken advantage of the headman of the village that had been threatened by the false water god, and blackmailed him into giving up many bundles of silk and other valuables. After that one adventure, Sango had decided that the monk was a necessary evil to be tolerated until Naraku was destroyed.

But over time, Sango's attitude towards Miroku had slowly, inexorably changed. She was still considerably displeased by his lecherous and scheming ways, but she had become more impressed with his courage on the battlefield, and even being willing to sacrifice himself to save the rest of the group. Also, when the remains of her family had been found beneath the former location of Naraku's castle, he had been quick to retrieve them, and find a proper place to lay them to rest. And above all, with all the losses Sango had suffered, she had needed someone to be there for her. InuYasha had a good heart, but was so clumsy when it came to human emotions and social niceties, she didn't feel certain in confiding in him. Kagome was also a good person, but was so radically different from her in that she came from a different world. Also, she hadn't suffered loss like Sango had. And while the Demon Slayer hoped that such she continued to escape such tragedy, there were still some things that the reborn priestess didn't understand. And Shippo, he was a child who sometimes understood less then Kagome. As a result, Miroku was the one she had the most in common with, and the one she had the easiest time relating to.

That is, until Michiru had arrived.

On the surface, it seemed that Sango had absolutely nothing in common with the Kururugi boy, and thus nothing to bond over with him. She was a Demon Slayer from the Feudal Era who relied solely on skills hard-won through many years of training, he was a magician from the modern world who had no idea of his full potential, let alone how to obtain it. But as she spent time with Michiru, she soon learned that she had more in common in with him than she had imagined. They had both joined the group because they had been alone with nowhere else to go, courtesy of the fact that Michiru had been unable to use the Bone-Eater's Well to return to his world. They both wanted to protect those that were dear to them, they were both shy and sometimes had trouble dealing with others.

And then there was something else; the incident that had taken place on Asagiri Island. Of that moment when, after being so severely injured that she could no longer move, Sanog had been forced to lay on the ground and watch as Michiru had gone forth to confront Utsugi and Kagura before they happened upon her. Either one of them alone could have crushed him, and he had shown no fear. No hesitation in deciding to defend her.

I still can't believe it, Sango thought, recalling what had happened afterwards, when their enemies had been driven away from Kikyo. When Michiru had helped her recover from her injuries, and had held her in his arms. Not only was he a very compassionate young man, but he had also proven himself to be a very brave and loyal one. I guess...any woman would be attracted to him after something like that. But then the Demon Slayer frowned unhappily, and added, I just wish that...that was all there was to it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. Michiru was an ideal young man from just about every angle, but at the same time, there was no getting around the fact that he wasn't of Sango's world, and she not of his. If she were to declare her love for him, what then. In which world would they live? Could she adapt to the modern age, or he to the Feudal era? As much as Sango wished otherwise, she didn't have the answers to these questions.

In Miroku's case, those issues didn't exist. The Feudal Era was home to them both, and so such agonizing decisions weren't a factor. Unfortunately, she had many other problems with the monk. Despite his nobility on the battlefield, when he was needed, nothing changed the reality of who he was on a day-to-day basis; a scheming lech who was always trying to think of some way to win himself both material wealth and beautiful women. Hardly the ideal man to have for a husband, let alone as someone to raise a family with.

And that's another problem, Sango frowned unhappily. For while she couldn't imagine doing so any time soon, especially with Naraku at large, she truly did want to settle down and have a family of her own. Children whom she could raise and teach all the ways of the Demon Slayers, children she could hold in her arms and love and cuddle and tell stories to.

In terms of potential fathers, Michiru seemed to be the superior choice. He was kind, patient, knowledgeable, and had few if any vices. Certainly not the kind of person who would set a bad example. Miroku, on the other hand, Sango could see setting nothing but bad examples. Teaching her children the fine art of rationalization, of coming off as a sincere and penitent monk while scheming to fleece the people they were supposed to be helping of their wealth, and how to spy on women bathing without being caught.

But even as Sango thought this, the issue of the two different worlds came into play again. How could she raise children effectively torn between two separate times, two completely different ways of life? On the one hand, Michiru's world benefitted from superior medicine and far fewer demons, but on the other, it was a world with its own dangers, and from she could understand, much knowledge that would benefit a family had been lost over the centuries.

And that led Sango to yet another problem, one that skewed things sharply in favor of Michiru. Namely, the kind of children each possible love would be likely to give her.

From everything she had learned, Miroku's foibles seemed to have been passed down from one generation to another. Despite the immense threat posed by the celestial maiden Kaguya, the monk's father had chosen to seal her away instead of sucking her into his Wind Tunnel, apparently because she was too beautiful to destroy. And the whole reason his family was cursed with the Wind Tunnel was because his grandfather had been led into a trap by Naraku, who had taken the form of a beautiful woman.

And then there was the Wind Tunnel itself. The generational curse was connected to Naraku, and had faded when they had traveled to the other world, the world their enemy wasn't in, so it seemed likely that killing him would abolish the curse. But the fact remained that Naraku remained a tricky enemy who had faked his death more than once in the past, and had always come back, bringing the Wind Tunnel back with him. And as much as Sango didn't want to think about it, there was always the chance that Naraku would find a way to make the curse permanent, surviving after his death.

Which means that, even under the best conditions, I'd be likely to have children that are as lecherous and deceitful as Miroku is, Sango grimaced, shuddering at the thought of dealing with such children. Children that would go around, feeling up every pretty girl they could and stealing whenever they could get away with it. And every time they failed to get away with such behavior, the Demon Slayer knew that the justified anger and distrust of any friends and neighbors they had would fall squarely upon her. And in the worst case, they would wind up with Wind Tunnels of their own. Which means...!

At this, Sango imagined the consequences of this. For while the Wind Tunnel was an extraordinarily powerful as a weapon, it was every bit as dangerous to the person who was cursed with it. A single cut to the side of the Wind Tunnel could cause to grow and devour its wielder, as had happened to Ruri, a malicious demonic woman who had copied Miroku's Wind Tunnel and had ultimately been devoured by it. And even if that didn't happen, there was no escaping the fact that, unless abated, the Wind Tunnel would consume any who was cursed with it. So, if I were to marry Miroku, and have children with him, the best I could hope for would be a bunch of little lechers, she thought grimly. And at worse...I'll be perpetuating the Wind Tunnel curse to a whole new generation. Condemning my own children to die horribly.

Swallowing loudly at this, Sango sighed as she considered the other possibility; children sired by Michiru. And as she did so, her fears were slowly chased away. Even assuming that they took after their father, she couldn't see anything truly bad happening as a result. A bunch of quiet, shy, well-mannered, and loving children like Michiru and Kaname would be welcome in any family. And then there was another factor. One that made Sango's heart skip a beat, just thinking of the possibilities.

The power that was apparently carried from generation to generation in the Kururugi family. The power of the Shikigami.

My children...Shikigami Users...! Sango thought, barely able to handle the magnitude of such a thing. Children that were as wonderfully gifted and powerful as Michiru was, with magical powers that would enable them to defend themselves from any evil. Potentially becoming as power as Utsugi himself had once been, so powerful as to be able to stand up against Naraku himself.

On one level, Sango knew there was potential danger in such power. Power could corrupt so easily, even those that had the best of intentions. And there would be those who would see such awesome magic as a power that they could bend to their will, just as Naraku had attempted to do with Utsugi. But at the same time, from what she had learned, the power only awoke when needed. It wasn't something that was active at birth. And thus there would be time to teach such children the right path, to help them learn to use such power for good, not evil.

Besides, there aren't many people like Naraku who could steal such power for themselves, Sango knew. So if I were to choose Michiru...I'd certainly have loving children...and maybe even powerful magicians who could protect themselves from just about any evil.

This was certainly a weighty argument in favor of Michiru, in addition to her own feelings for him. But even so, Sango knew there was one more factor that she had to consider. Namely the welfare of their team as a whole.

She knew that there were problems building up between Michiru and Miroku. Some of it was due to jealousy, some of it was because of Michiru's disdain for Miroku's lecherous ways. But either way, Sango feared that these problems would grow worse as time went on. And on that level, it seemed that simply choosing one of them and putting an end to the situation would be the best way to go. But even if she did that, she knew that whichever of the two men she did not choose would be badly hurt. And in that case, such a choice could result in bitterness, resentment of the others. And on top of that, it's obvious that Kagome's been hoping that I'd hook up with Miroku. And InuYasha...Michiru's his best friend. If I were to choose Miroku, I know he wouldn't take that well.

All of which meant just one thing in Sango's mind. If she did nothing, the problems between Michiru and Miroku would worsen, possibly spreading to the rest of the group. And if she chose, then she might fragment the team, something that they simply couldn't afford.

Damned if I do and damned if I don't, Sango fretted, unable to think of a better way of putting her situation. The key word here being 'damned'. Heaving a weary sigh, the Demon Slayer shook her head and closed her eyes. It's too much for me, at least right now.

Hoping against hope that divine inspiration would strike, Sango struggled to fall asleep. Two special people warring for her heart from the inside, leaving her stranded without any idea what to do.

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