Continuing Tales


A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 3 of 8

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

After weeks of feeling numb and utterly closed off from those around him, Miroku was astonished by the way his heart leapt at the sight of his friend. Happiness was a feeling he'd doubted he could ever feel again, but when Kagome walked through those gates, something very like it surged through his being. Frankly, he was relieved. Kisho had explained that Kagome was off somewhere on the slopes above the Shrine with his children, but the man's kind assurances had done little to drive away Miroku's sudden sense of dread. If there was one thing he knew about Kagome, it was her unique talent for finding trouble. It would be just like her to meet with some minor calamity at the very moment I turn up to make sure she's safe.

Miroku knew at a glance she was indeed all right. Three young children chattered around her, skipping in circles and tugging her along, and Kagome wore an expression of distracted bemusement. The most obvious change was in her attire; the odd clothes from her own era had been exchanged for those of a shrine priestess. More subtle was the young woman's altered demeanor. Though the flowing red and white uniform of a priestess made it hard to say for certain, Miroku thought she might be paler and thinner. Dark smudges under her eyes suggested troubled nights. Perhaps she has nightmares too? Kagome stopped short just inside the courtyard, her eyes darting quickly around the enclosure, and when she finally spotted the waiting monk, she looked dazed, as if uncertain whether to believe what she was seeing. She is surprised, but I wonder… Is this a pleasant surprise, or an unwelcome one?

Miroku was suddenly and unaccountably nervous. It hadn't occurred to him before this juncture that she might be quite content here, comfortable with her new life in this secluded mountain shrine. He'd wanted to believe that Kagome needed him, but suddenly his assumption seemed overly presumptuous. She might not want to see me at all… Miroku watched her attentively, anxious to know what her response would be to his unexpected arrival. Confusion shifted into astonishment as she gaped at him, and the monk felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Then, the unmistakable light of gladness dawned in her eyes, and before he could say a word, Miroku found himself with an armful of crying miko. If he hadn't been braced upon the shakujou in his other hand, he might have been tumbled by the force of her lunge.

Kagome hugged him fiercely, holding onto him as if he was a lifeline. I suppose I am in a way; I'm the only connection she has right now in this faraway place… the last link to a past we can never regain. She raised her head, eyes shining with tears and happiness, and Miroku couldn't help but smile back as she was reduced to babbling. Laughing and crying at once, she mumbled disjointed phrases, never quite completing her thoughts. "I felt… and then you… I didn't think… you're here!" The tumult of her emotions appeared to have addled her brain. Every time she pulled back to look into his face, she'd simply shake her head and dive back to hug him all the more tightly.

Miroku relished both the contact and the comfort of such an enthusiastic welcome. Kagome was breath of fresh air—bright, clean, warm. He dropped his chin to rest lightly on the crown of her head while patting her back, rubbing little circles between her shoulder blades. "There, there, Kagome-sama. I'm glad to see you too." Kagome snorted and thumped his shoulder with a fist.

Perhaps she hasn't really changed all that much. The girl from the future was still a bundle of emotions—acting and reacting without affectation, inhibition, or artifice. Miroku had always been amazed by her outspokenness. She was stubborn, opinionated, and often short-tempered, yet at the same time, Kagome possessed the ability to make friends at every turn, ignoring social and racial barriers that caused others to balk. To Kagome, people were just people. She drew others with her generous nature and straightforward acceptance; it's what had pulled their little group together in the first place. This young woman was very special.

Miroku gave a low chuckle as Kagome snuffled to a stop. How long has it been since I laughed? He waited patiently for her to collect herself enough to begin making sense. At this point, Kisho caught Miroku's eye. "You two have some catching up to do," observed the shrine keeper merrily as he began herding the gawking children towards the house. "We'll call when dinner is ready."

The monk nodded his thanks and turned back to the young woman still clinging tightly to him. She seemed to recollect herself and took a step back, her brilliant smile instantly making the whole long, wearying trip worthwhile. "Miroku-sama! How did you get here? How did you find me? I don't even know where I am! Sesshoumaru just dumped me here and left. How far are we from Kaede's?"

Her rapid-fire curiosity coaxed another smile onto the monk's lips. "Kagome-sama, slow down. Perhaps we should sit somewhere? I have questions for you as well."

She nodded enthusiastically, leading him over to a nearby bench. Once seated, Kagome simply stared at him, her fingers inching forward to take hold of his sleeve as if to make sure he wasn't an apparition. "I can't believe you're really here. I don't even know what to ask."

Miroku laughed outright. "You weren't having any problems a moment ago!" As she giggled softly with him, he cast a knowing glance over her appearance. "Well, you certainly look the part of the Shikon Miko."

Kagome looked down at her traditional miko garments, with their billowing white sleeves and the fall of red fabric beneath. Snorting in a most undignified way, she rolled her eyes. "You can imagine just how much I like these clothes. I don't have any choice though; apparently they're all the rage for feudal shrine maidens," she admitted, her voice tinged with sarcasm. Nodding towards the house she gave a helpless shrug. "I have to set a good example in front of the children, though, and it's not so bad since Umeko-sama wears the same thing." Miroku nodded sagely, knowing how much Kagome had struggled against her uncanny resemblance to Kikyo while trying to establish her individuality. "How did you get here?" she asked.

"I walked, Kagome-sama," the monk deadpanned.

"Yes, I know that. I mean, what made you decide to come? How did you know where to find me? That sort of thing," she explained.

"I see. Well, I applied to Sesshoumaru-sama for your whereabouts, as he seemed to be most likely to know."

Kagome squinted at Miroku thoughtfully. "Did you actually go to him, to his fortress in the Western Lands?"


"I was there for a little while; almost a week, I think, before Sesshoumaru-sama brought me here." Kagome tipped her head to one side. "Was it far from there—to get here, I mean?" Catching the puzzled look on Miroku's face, she explained. "Sesshoumaru-sama traveled so fast, I didn't get a really good look at where we were going. I don't actually know where I am."

Miroku could hear the note of frustration creeping into her tone, giving him a hint of how difficult it must have been for her to be stranded here. He nodded. "Ah, I understand. Yes, it was a rather long trip; it's been nearly two weeks since I left Sesshoumaru-sama's lands."

Kagome' jaw dropped, and then a wistful look came into her eyes. "Are we that far from home—from Kaede's hut, then?"

"It's not quite so far, but a return trip may actually take longer. The autumn rains will come soon, and the mud always did slow us down." Bittersweet memories flooded back to both of them at his quiet words, and the two sat silently, lost in remembrance.

"Why did you come?" Kagome eventually asked, some shyness in her tone.

Miroku shrugged helplessly, not sure how to convey the heavy, dark feelings that had driven him to seek her out. "I suppose I wanted to make sure you were all right." He looked away, swallowing heavily as Sango's and Inuyasha's pale, still faces flashed through his mind. After he'd gained control of his emotions again, he returned his gaze to Kagome. "I did make a promise, you know. I told Inuyasha that I would keep you safe, so I came to make sure."

At the sound of the hanyou's name, unspoken for so long, Kagome's breath hitched. Inuyasha… It had slipped so easily from Miroku's lips. No one in this place even knows his name. She had shared her sorrow with Umeko-sama, but never the specifics of her loss. After weeks and months of the absence of something so… small, hearing Inuyasha's name again was like a gift.

Kagome's hand slipped to her waistband, and Miroku wondered in passing about the soft chink he heard. Trying to reassure her, he gave a lopsided smirk which ended up trembling a little. Tears were welling up in her expressive eyes, so he hastily added, "Also, Kaede-sama was quite insistent." The monk tried to keep his tone casual, though he watched her face intently when he added, "She seemed to think you might need me; she thought you might be homesick." Kagome blinked, and dabbed at her eyes with a corner of her sleeve. Miroku continued cautiously, "You seem content here, Kagome-sama. I hope I did the right thing by coming… I had thought you might want to go home."

Kagome gasped softly, then murmured reverently to herself, "Home?" The longing in her eyes pierced his heart. That's right. She's been stuck here—out of place, out of time, separated from the one she loved by death and separated from those who love her by centuries. I should have come sooner. Miroku felt a swell of sympathy for the young woman, then was taken off guard for the second time that day by her enthusiastic embrace.

"I take it that is a 'yes', Kagome-sama?" he asked teasingly, placing one hand on her shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze.

"Oh, yes! I want to go home. Mama… Souta… Grandpa… I miss them so much!" she whispered into his chest, and then pulled back to regard him with worried eyes. "I just thought of something. Do you think they'll let me go? Sesshoumaru-sama put me here for safekeeping. Did he say I could go with you?"

Her hopeful expression tugged at his heart. "Sesshoumaru-sama merely said that you could go if Umeko-sama gave permission."

Kagome's mouth formed a little 'o', but before she could say anything further, the clatter of running feet announced the flurried arrival of three excited children and a triplicate summons to dinner. The couple rose, and Miroku bowed formally to each as Kagome introduced him to Taro, Michi, and Etsu. Finding themselves treated in such a grown-up fashion, the children stood a little straighter and returned his bows solemnly. Their courteous manners seemed to amuse Kagome, who tried to smother a laugh.

"Oh, you! You guys are so cute!" She dropped to her knees in front of the three, opening her arms for a group hug. The children piled into her, shrieking and giggling when her fingers turned to tickling, and Miroku looked on with a smile. They've obviously adopted Kagome as a kind of big sister, and her affection for them is equally plain. I'll bet she misses Shippo; she's always been like this with the kit as well—lavishing him with affection, playing nonsensical games, telling him stories. Miroku courteously reached to help Kagome back to her feet, and he held her hand for a moment, squeezing it as he murmured, "Shippo misses you very much."

The light that had been in Kagome's eyes immediately dimmed, and Miroku berated himself for stealing away her momentary enjoyment. "I've missed him too. He's all right, isn't he?" she asked, looking to him for reassurance.

"Yes, he's safe with Kaede-sama. I had a hard time persuading him to stay there while I came searching for you because he wanted to come along and be my youkai protector."

Kagome chuckled a little over that thought, but her eyes again turned sad. Her hand returned to caress something in the fold of her waistband, and the monk heard the faint sound again. This time he recognized it as the clack of beads. Inuyasha's necklace? Miroku almost hit himself over the head for saying the worst possible thing yet again. Think before you open your mouth again, baka, he chided himself. Inuyasha had always been her protector, and he sincerely doubted she wished for another. Once again, the monk winced over his presumption in telling Sesshoumaru that he'd be her protector from now on.

He glanced at the young woman surrounded by laughing children, her eyes very far away. It really is a comfort to have a familiar face to gaze into again. He watched the changes in her expression as a variety of emotions flickered through her eyes. I hadn't realized I knew her so well. She's easy to read. Kagome was lost in sad thoughts again, and Miroku, wanting to see more of the smile that had so recently lifted his heart, fell to thinking of amusing things to tell her.

Urged by the children, the small group moved toward the house, from which tempting smells originated. Noriko's voice carried from the kitchen door, beckoning the children to hurry, and the trio was off like a shot to wash up for the evening meal.

After dinner, Kagome helped bathe the children and settle them for the night. Miroku was invited to share a bottle of sake with Kisho, who prevailed upon him to tell some of the story of how he and Kagome had become friends. The shrine keeper was delighted by the monk's ability to spin a good tale, and when Umeko, Noriko and Kagome joined them later, the young miko was plied with questions until she reluctantly began to share details of their quest. Kisho did not disguise his wonder over their fantastical tale, and Miroku supposed it would sound a little strange to people who had never seen a youkai. Demons and hanyou, curses and transformations, battles and exorcisms, oni and imps… to them, these are only myths. According to Kagome, someday that's all they ever will be.

Noriko was enormously curious about the different varieties of youkai, and so he and Kagome described some of the more unusual demons they'd seen in their journeying. "Spider, panther, bat, moth…and of course my intended, Inuyasha, was a dog hanyou, and my kit Shippo is a fox youkai."

Umeko raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Your intended? Your kit, Kagome-sama?"

Miroku looked carefully at Kagome, who glanced at him for support before she hesitantly began to tell her host family all about the loyal, brave hanyou who had fought by her side and captured her heart and the kitsune child waiting for her back home. The shrine keepers were astonished that she had thought to marry a hanyou, and had practically adopted the little boy. She's never told them about Inuyasha or Shippo? Come to think of it, everything I've told them about our journey together has come as a surprise to them. Miroku pondered the ramifications of this little revelation. Kagome-sama hasn't talked about her past before now? She's kept everything inside?

Miroku knew it would be good for the girl to talk—needful, even, so when it was his turn to take up the tale again, he swallowed the lump in his throat and spoke of his lost fiancé, the lovely, fiery demon exterminator and the neko-youkai who been her constant companion. Before long, Kagome was telling Umeko all about the taijiya who had been like a sister to her; Miroku smiled sadly as he watched Kagome's face brighten over a description of Sango's dexterity with Hiraikotsu. At least these memories are good ones.

As the conversation carried on into the night, Miroku felt the knotted tangle of bitterness and regret inside his chest loosen up just a little bit. The pain was still there, but it was lessened somewhat in knowing it was shared. Maybe we both needed to talk.

"All right now, children. We need to see how well the two of you work together. Come, sit," Umeko invited as she briskly led the way into the main shrine. Miroku and Kagome exchanged a quick look and obediently knelt down on the indicated cushions, facing the old miko.

"What is it that you want us to do?" Kagome asked curiously.

"I want to see how your spiritual energies interact. I've explained your situation to Miroku-sama. If my suspicions are correct, your monk friend might just be a help to you, Kagome, but we need to see if the Shikon no Tama accepts him."

Kagome remained confused, and glanced over at Miroku. "Do you know what she's talking about?" she whispered quietly.

"Kagome-sama, you are the Shikon no Tama's protector. Your future path will be determined to a large degree by the Jewel," explained the monk calmly. "It is hoped that I can assist you in keeping it safe. However, if the Jewel decides you need to be protected from me, we won't get very far."

Though he spoke with utter seriousness, there was a teasing quality in the way he turned his phrases that reminded Kagome of the Miroku she had always known. Pleased by the lightness in his manner, she nodded and smiled. "I guess we should introduce you to the Jewel, then. Okay, Umeko-sama," she said, turning to face her mentor, "How does this work?"

Umeko's eyes sparkled with amusement as she listened in on the young couple's little interchange. Kagome obviously trusted Miroku's knowledge in spiritual matters. Good. Her confidence in him will only make this easier. Keeping her tone neutral, the older woman directed them both to close their eyes and enter a meditative state. "Calm yourself, Kagome. Then reach out towards Miroku through the Shikon no Tama."

Kagome did as she was told, relaxing into the now-familiar brightness that represented the Jewel of Four Soul's presence and felt both the surge of its power and the swell of her aura. Luminous pink, tinged with silvery white encompassed her inner eye. Stretching out from this center, she was immediately aware of Miroku by her side and Umeko across from her. Both were calm, and Kagome found their nearness steadying. It was so easy to rest there, contented and insulated.

"No, no, no. Kagome, you're not connecting properly!"

Kagome couldn't help but frown at the most unwelcome interruption to her peaceful reverie. Confused by Umeko's displeasure, she opened her eyes again. "What do you mean? That was really very… soothing. It wasn't right?"

Umeko tutted and shook her head. "No child. It's not enough for you to feel comfortable with Miroku-sama. You have to form a connection with him and his spiritual powers—ally yourself with him so that you can work together more effectively." The elder miko tapped her chin with a finger for a moment, brows furrowed in thought. "Let's try this. Turn to face one another."

In a few moments, the cushions had been rearranged, and monk and miko now knelt with knees nearly touching. Kagome looked up uncertainly into Miroku's face, and he offered the encouragement of a small smile before closing his eyes. Kagome followed his example, easily finding the jewel's power and noting the presence of her companions. This is nice. Once again, a grunt of dissatisfaction reached her ears, and Kagome opened her eyes and turned her head towards the frustrated Umeko.

"Child, you need to reach out to him," she repeated, waving a hand in Miroku's direction. "It's not enough to know he's there. You have to connect with him. Touch him." Umeko hesitated at her own words, then murmured to herself, "Yes… that might help. Miroku-sama, I think it would help if Kagome was in contact with you. Please, hold up your hands."

Kagome turned back to the monk, who raised both hands in front of him, palms towards her. The miko focused on the hands for a moment, struck by the nagging feeling that something was missing. Oh, right… no kanzaana. The gauntlet and prayer beads no longer needed, Kagome found herself facing two symmetrically bare hands. They were long-fingered and lightly callused. Tentatively, she reached her own hands up, brushing one thumb across the right palm before meeting his fingertips with her own. She met Miroku's eyes for a moment, and he winked at her.

Umeko cleared her throat. "All right you two, let's try this again. Kagome, you need to work a little harder. Focus on Miroku-sama and reach out to him through the Shikon no Tama. I want to see your auras…" she bobbled her hands in front of her helplessly, "…mix up a bit. Try to connect."

Determinedly, Kagome closed her eyes again. This time, she was much more aware of Miroku's presence. His aura eclipsed Umeko's in her mind's eye, so perhaps the contact was helping. How do I connect, though? Kagome struggled within herself trying to reach out, but pulled back uncertainly.

Softly, Umeko chided the girl. "Kagome, you are holding back. Miroku-sama, are you willing to let Kagome-sama touch you elsewhere? She's close."

"Mm-hmm," the monk hummed lightly, not even opening his eyes in his relaxed state.

Kagome turned slightly panicked eyes to her mentor. You want me to do what? Umeko held Kagome's gaze and repeated herself. "You are holding back, child. You two will be stronger together, if you can only find a way to combine your strengths. Open yourself up to him. You trust him, don't you?"

"Of course," Kagome said, looking into the serene face of her friend. His eyes were still closed, face softened in an attitude of complete relaxation. With his hair all tousled like that, Miroku looks pretty boyish. I forget he's just a few years older than me—twenty-one, twenty-two maybe?

"Then don't be afraid."

Kagome's eyes cut sharply back to Umeko at that remark; she huffed and closed her eyes, trying to settle back into a calm state. What am I afraid of? It's not that I'm afraid to touch him, and it's not as if he's likely to mind. Kagome blushed slightly, remembering how she'd thrown herself into his arms when he'd first arrived. It occurred to Kagome then that Miroku hadn't been his usual perverted self. The knowing look, the salacious smirk, the suggestive comment, the double entendre, the fleeting touch—all missing. He hasn't flirted once with Noriko or Umeko or me. Miroku was still easy-going, but not nearly as open. His calm had a somber quality now, tinged with sadness, pain, and regret. Grief had changed the monk, and his rare smiles had an ironic twist to them, as if doubting their right to exist.

I have known Miroku almost as long as I've known Inuyasha. True, he was always a little lecherous, but he's also proved to be thoughtful and level-headed, playing the peacemaker during disagreements. He's shown an uncommon depth of compassion. I've watched him pray over so many victims he buried—men, women, and children who fell to youkai attacks. Kagome shifted closer to Miroku, determined to find a way to connect with her friend, reaching out as Umeko instructed. Gently she nudged Miroku's hands aside, and he let them fall to his knees. Her own eyes closed, she placed her hands lightly on his chest, looking for a way in.

Miroku is outgoing, charismatic, persuasive, the most likely to speak up with words of wisdom or caution or sense. He's a good listener, a fierce fighter, an honorable man. With Sango he showed warmth, fidelity, sensuality, affection; I was always a little jealous that Sango had a man who was unafraid to speak of his feelings. Where Inuyasha felt more comfortable letting his actions speak for him, Miroku seemed equally adept with word and deed… much to Sango's fury. A mental picture of Hiraikotsu coming down on Miroku's head had Kagome wincing in sympathy even as she smiled at the familiarity of the scene. She ached to relive such a moment with her friends again, even if it meant Inuyasha being 'sat' and Miroku getting slapped. Slowly, Kagome raised one hand, letting her fingertips brush Miroku's cheek, which had so often sported a reddened handprint.

With that touch, the connection was finally made. It was as if the aura she'd been contentedly sitting next to suddenly swirled up around her, engulfing her and filling her senses. This is Miroku. Rich violet, like his eyes and his robes, was sparked here and there with flashes of golden light, like his earrings and the finial on his shakujou. Darkness tinged his aura in a manner that reminded Kagome of the void that had pierced his palm for so long. I wonder if it is leftover from the curse he was born with, or if it is because of his sorrow.

Miroku's aura felt quiet and dark, warm and weighty. Where the Shikon no Tama was silvered pink and feminine in its shifting opalescence, Miroku was controlled, confident, and very masculine. Kagome could feel her own power glissading through her spirit, swirling with an unrestrained and unfocused wildness. In a rhythmic counterpoint, Miroku's aura pulsed with a steady assurance, firmly contained. As if accepting what she found within her friend as something trustworthy and needful, the Shikon no Tama's glow brightened and expanded, encompassing the pair.

Kagome explored all that Miroku had willingly opened up to her. She rose up on her knees, bringing herself nearer to him. She ran the thumb of her left hand down his breastbone until her fingers fanned out over his heart. Pressing firmly, she let go of the last vestiges of caution, relinquishing her own guarded heart for him to explore. She let him see her wounds, her feelings, her hopes. I trust him.

After a few minutes, Kagome heard Umeko calling her back. Slowly she untangled herself from the inner world she'd been exploring. Opening her eyes, she blinked. Miroku sat very still, closer to Kagome then she remembered him at the start. Did I move? Or did he? Her right hand still lightly cupped his jaw, and her left remained in place on his chest; she could feel his heartbeat under her palm. There was a cautiousness in Miroku's gaze, as if uncertain what to make of their positions. He seemed to be gauging her reaction. He looks like Inuyasha did whenever he was worried about getting sat for something. Responding to the silent plea for reassurance in his eyes, Kagome's face blossomed into an open smile. She dropped her hands and turned to Umeko, eyes sparkling. "We did it!"

Umeko hummed to herself speculatively, then announced, "The Jewel seems to think you'll get along fine with each other."

Miroku's years of training and meditation had taught him restraint, at least in spiritual matters. His inner landscape was a familiar retreat, ordered and calm. He hardly knew what to expect by allowing Kagome entrance into that place of sanctuary. The monk's first impressions of Kagome's inner workings were of constant motion, scattered thoughts, and emotional impulses. As the miko attempted to connect with his aura, Miroku held himself still, trying to sift through the tumult. The magnitude of power which lay untapped in the depths of this one girl's soul was mind-boggling. The pink haze that glimmered around him was blindingly pure. It danced around him in little eddies—untrained, untamed, and uninhibited. Faced with the swirling torrent of the Shikon no Tama's power, the monk was both impressed and slightly intimidated.

Despite the frenetic energy of Kagome's aura, Miroku was pleased to find it completely untainted by her personal sorrow. The girl had a tenacious sense of loyalty and honor, and Miroku knew she would do the right thing, no matter what her personal feelings might be. The energies that touched and teased at his senses were innocent, whimsical, and feminine—a reflection of Kagome's own sweetness.

She struggled with establishing a connection, and it wasn't until the monk felt a touch on his face that Kagome finally gained entrance. Miroku could feel the inquisitiveness of her tentative mental touch, and he welcomed her in, allowing her to explore. Holding himself in check, Miroku permitted her to take the lead as she invaded his hidden places with frank curiosity. The intimacy of the action was not lost on the monk, and his heartbeat quickened as she knit her essence so closely to his. Miroku knew the moment Kagome cast aside her hesitancy and trusted him with equal vulnerability. Gingerly, he returned her inner touch, attentive to the Jewel's reaction to his presence.

Casting about, Miroku realized that most of the aura surrounding him came from the Shikon no Tama and not from the girl before him. Curious, he sought out that piece which would be simply Kagome. Sure enough, in the midst of all the shimmering pinkness, he detected a faint… smudge. Bending his concentration, Miroku pursued this small variation in the patterns around him. He eased alongside a place near the miko's very heart, exploring gently. Kagome-sama isn't even pink, he noted with some surprise. The aura he touched was a soft, silvery gray. It wasn't bright or colorful or flashy, but the same warm tint as her eyes. In the midst of all the sparkle of the Shikon no Tama, Kagome's presence was steady, though Miroku gained impressions of sadness and loneliness. In her heart of hearts, Kagome seemed just a little lost.

I wonder how many will overlook this Kagome because they only see the Shikon Miko, Miroku thought with a measure of pity. He knew that it was this silvery strength at the center that made the purity of the Jewel possible, yet it was overlooked for the showier displays of the Jewel. The monk could identify. It wasn't that all that long ago he had struggled to prove to himself that he was more than the kanzaana he bore. He had often been 'the monk with the cursed hand,' when he would much rather have been just Miroku. The void had defined him, just as the Shikon no Tama defined Kagome. Yet it didn't. It shouldn't.

The longing and lostness in Kagome's innermost thoughts demanded a response from Miroku. A surge of protectiveness compelled the monk to deepen their connection. This is something I can do for her. Softly, Miroku drew his aura around the silvered presence of his friend, lending her some of his own strength and serenity. Almost immediately, the spinning energies around them slowed. She's so responsive. Miroku heard Umeko-sama calling them back. As he withdrew, he noticed that Kagome's aura had shifted slightly. It was no longer completely colorless, for the silvery grey was shot through with gleaming lavender threads and sparked with bits of purple. The monk was momentarily gratified to have left a mark on her in this way. At least, until he realized the utterly personal nature of what he'd just done. Would she resent that moment of rapport? Will she realize what I did? Discomfited at the thought, Miroku paled. Did I just grope her aura?

Warily, Miroku opened his eyes. Kagome-sama had not yet come back to herself, and her face was still suffused with the Shikon no Tama's radiance. She doesn't look upset. In fact, she looks quite peaceful. Kagome had leaned in towards him, balancing herself with the hand she had pressed to his chest. Her face was tipped up slightly, and she was close enough that he could feel the warmth of her breath tickling his throat. Miroku held very still, awaiting Kagome's reaction.

When the warm grey eyes opened to meet his and smiled, he breathed a sigh of relief. She seemed blissfully unaware of the familiarity with which he'd handled her aura; he supposed she lacked the training to understand just why she felt so invigorated by their contact. In fact, Kagome-sama seemed completely unfazed by the intimacy of what they'd just experienced. At least she can keep a level head about this. I'm not quite sure how to define my own feelings at the moment.

When their practice session was brought to a close, Kagome headed toward the house in search of her small entourage. Miroku was left with Umeko, and he searched her eyes apprehensively. Umeko-sama's not so ignorant. She'll know what I did. His uncertainty eased considerably when she didn't berate him either. Instead, Umeko-sama patted his shoulder and gave him an approving look. "Do not worry, Miroku-sama. You did the right thing today. Kagome-sama needed the strength you lent her. I do not think she would balk at any… liberties you may have taken in giving it." The monk nodded slowly, and the older woman continued cryptically. "You can help Kagome-sama in ways she does not understand yet. Though Kagome-sama is the one who wields the power, you hold the key to unlocking its full potential."

Morning light slanted across the stone pavement of Yamataku Shrine's enclosure. The mountain air was clear and chill, though the sun's steady climb held the promise of warmth. Miroku ambled slowly across the courtyard, admiring the view before settling on the clean-swept stones under the low-spreading branches of a mimosa tree. Sitting cross-legged, he began fishing through the interior pockets of his robes. From within one fold of fabric, he withdrew a compact bundle encased in soft leather wrappings. Untying the braided cord and unrolling the parcel, Miroku removed the items within, neatly laying them out upon the pavement—a small knife, its point guarded by a worn sheath, an assortment of brushes, short-handled to stow away easily, and an ink stick, diminished by frequent use to little more than a nub. The largest item in Miroku's packet was a darkly stained block of wood. It was old, edges nicked with irregular gashes, and the fine grain was polished smooth by years of handling. The wood lay upon the dark slate of an inkstone, which closely matched its dimensions. Sandwiched between the two was a small stack of neatly trimmed slips of paper—Miroku's sacred sutras.

Next, the monk removed a tightly rolled scroll of paper and a small flask from another inner pocket. The tools of his trade arrayed before him, he set about his quiet work. He weighed down the unrolled edge of the paper with the heavy piece of carved slate to prevent it from curling back on itself. Using the wooden block as a template, Miroku lined it up and used the knife to make quick, clean cuts, efficient after long years of practice. As the rectangular strips of paper were created one after another, he added them to the supply being flattened under the inkstone.

Miroku allowed his mind to wander as his hands went about their business, breathing in time to the movements of his fingers. The routine was soothing, allowing him to slip into an almost meditative state. His thoughts drifted to the previous day's events with Kagome and the Shikon no Tama. I've never been that close to anyone before. While their auras had twined together, he'd received mingled impressions of her curiosity, trust, affection, and sympathy. A strange sensation, indeed; by far the most intimate in my experience. I wonder what she saw within me?

Kagome's powers were magnified by the Shikon no Tama, extending her spiritual abilities far beyond those of any other human. I wonder if she realizes? Probably not. Anyone with any sensitivity to the undercurrents of auras would be able to feel the strength housed in the young woman. In her own way, Kagome is just as powerful as Sesshoumaru-sama, but where the taiyoukai's youki was dark and fierce, Kagome's soul sparkled with light. Miroku had watched her purify shards time and again with a mere touch. Now, with the completion of the jewel and Kagome's integration with it as its protector, that ability had been intensified, multiplied, and perfected. I wonder if she knows that when she taps into the Shikon no Tama, she glows. Her very skin is suffused by the iridescence of the Jewel, as if it's a part of her body again.

As if thoughts of her had drawn her to him, Kagome walked into the courtyard, young Taro close on her heels, a quiver on her back and a bow in her hands. Seeing the monk, she diverted her steps and approached him, smiling in greeting. Miroku acknowledged her before addressing the boy with calculated gravity, "Good morning, young master Taro. Are you here to assist Kagome-sama with her archery?"

The lad answered with equal seriousness, "Yes, Miroku-sama. I help her every day." Eyeing the assortment of tools laid out before the monk, he asked curiously, "Are you going to write a letter?"

"I am preparing sutras for the journey ahead. We do not know what we might encounter once we begin our travels and I wish to be ready for every eventuality."

The boy was eyeing the narrow strips of paper skeptically. "What do they do?"

"They can do many things," the monk assured him, "depending on what is written on them."

"Like what?" the boy persisted.

"Well now, I can use them to ward our campsites each night. Should Kagome-sama and I encounter unfriendly youkai along our way, the sutras will prevent them from seeing us."

Taro's eyes grew round at the mention of youkai. "What else can they do?" he asked, interest caught by the prospect of danger.

"Hmm. I can seal things, exorcise things, purify things. Some sutras carry blessings and prayers for good fortune."

"All that from a piece of paper?"

"A piece of paper in the right hands can be formidable indeed."

Kagome called Taro away then, ready to put her own spiritual skills through their paces on the other side of the courtyard. Miroku watched as Kagome set herself to flaring arrows and firing them at the tree chosen as her target. Turning his attention back to his sutras, the monk tucked away the remaining scroll of paper and began to prepare his ink. Setting the inkstone in front of him, Miroku unwrapped the ink stick and began the slow, circular movements against the slate that would release a fine powder of the pigment.

Miroku's choice in ink was one of the little luxuries he allowed himself in his wandering lifestyle. The sticks he selected were of the highest quality—finely textured, dark, and smooth, and rather than basic black, Miroku's ink had been given a subtle tint. Indigo was kneaded into the carbon base, giving it a bluish cast, which appealed to him very much. This particular ink stick had also been scented. As friction released its fragrance into the air, the monk savored the sweet, spicy scent. I wonder what they used to perfume it? Essential oils or perhaps powdered herbs. Incense, maybe?

Adding water sparingly and loading his brush with the lustrous ink, Miroku set about the ancient art of calligraphy. Soon he was completely absorbed, the world beyond his sweeping motions fading away. He crafted each letter as he had been taught—a little pressure to widen this stroke, easing gently and lifting to taper the next. His own words came back to him as he worked. A piece of paper in the right hands can be formidable… but so can a brush. There was power in words—it flowed from the monk just as ink flowed from the tip of his brush The very act of writing infused the sutras with their sacred purpose. With each turn of the kanji his spell was captured, fixed to paper with his prayers.

Lulled by the peaceful setting, Miroku's focus narrowed to such a degree that he did not notice at first when the sharp thwack of arrows ceased. He started and straightened when he suddenly felt someone looking over his shoulder. Taro stood there, leaning against the tree trunk and watching the monk intently. Meeting his eyes, the boy said shyly, "You have very nice writing, Miroku-sama."

"Why thank you, young master Taro." Plucking up one last slip of paper, Miroku pulled his brush across the inkstone and began forming a series of graceful characters. Blowing on it gently, he turned back to the boy. "Here, you may have this one. I don't see any ominous clouds looming overhead, but I'm sure a few added blessings wouldn't be amiss."

A muffled noise drew Miroku's attention to the side, where Kagome looked on, one hand firmly clamped over her mouth as she tried to contain her laughter. My little joke wasn't lost on her. Winking cheekily, Miroku savored the welcome sense of camaraderie as Kagome shook her head and gave him an understanding smile.

"If you two wish to be on your way before the snow flies, we need to see just what can be done by combining your spiritual powers," began Umeko as they entered the quiet sanctuary of the shrine. "Miroku-sama, I need you to take a more active role this time. Kagome-sama has considerable power at her disposal, but you benefit from greater experience and control. I believe that you can help her harness the Shikon no Tama's strength."

Miroku nodded his understanding and settled down in front of Kagome, their knees touching. He noted that Kagome's eyes were sparkling brightly with anticipation. I wonder what will happen this time?

"May I?" she asked, holding her hands out towards him.

"As you wish, Kagome-sama," complied Miroku, with just a hint of his old incorrigibility.

Placing one hand on Miroku's chest, Kagome slipped into a meditative state. Her breathing slowed, and she relaxed. Odd, that being this close to Miroku isn't more embarrassing. Completely at ease with the action, Kagome raised her hand until her fingers brush his cheek. Umeko spoke in a low voice, directing the pair. "Your auras are combining nicely. Now, Kagome-sama, try to hold onto Miroku-sama's presence and reach out with your senses."

Brows drew together, creating a tiny furrow, as Kagome tried to do as she was told. I've done this before. No problem. Feeling strangely sheltered by her proximity to Miroku, she began reaching out. Cautiously at first, she made her connection with Miroku, casting looping bands of her aura around his and drawing it close. Using him as her anchor, she steadied herself before directing her mind outwards. The Shikon no Tama thrummed and glowed as she tapped into its vast resources; power washed off of her, spilling in every direction and Kagome's senses expanded with it. She quickly found Kisho and Noriko, chatting at the table in the kitchen at the house. Michi and Etsu were off in the outbuildings, hunting eggs; Taro was a little further afield, leading goats up into the high pastures. All were vividly depicted in her mind's eye.

Just outside her awareness, Umeko intervened again, this time gently urging Miroku to lend his support, and she felt his aura shift and adjust as he tested her extension. After a long pause, Kagome started slightly as she felt something brush her hairline. Warm fingertips settled lightly on either side of her face, the pads of his thumbs smoothing across her cheekbones. Kagome relaxed into his touch, leaning forward to reinforce the connection.

She was taken aback when Miroku's aura, which had always been so passive thus far, asserted itself. Kagome accepted his firm handling, curious to see what would happen as Miroku's steady presence began shaping her own aura to suit his purposes. Deftly, he gathered up the energies which had been allowed to flow so freely and pulled the power together like many strands, weaving them together in a simple pattern. Urging her onward, even as he anchored her, Kagome felt her awareness nudged outward again.

This time, her awareness stretched forward much more swiftly, and only in one direction. She mentally soared, moving with preternatural speed between trees and over precipices. In one breathless plunge she skimmed down the mountain face, catching fleeting impressions of wildlife along her path—small, harmless creatures. With a rush, Kagome found herself surrounded by strange auras, and she gasped as she realized that they must be touching the village at the base of the mountain. So far! Myriad emotions hit her as the Shikon no Tama sifted efficiently through the town, systematically searching out any hint of danger. Discerning no threats in the immediate vicinity, Kagome felt herself ushered back to the Shrine; the entire process took mere moments.

When Kagome opened her eyes, Miroku was already studying her intently. "Wow," she murmured a little breathlessly. The monk's eyes lit up with a mixture of pride and pleasure as she flashed him a look of open admiration, then turned to Umeko. "That was amazing! I could see so much further… so much more clearly. Miroku-sama sort of… focused everything for me." She swung back to Miroku, bright-eyed with excitement. "Can we do that again?"

Umeko quickly interrupted. "Patience; perhaps after a rest, child." The older miko turned to the monk curiously. "Did you see anything, Miroku-sama?"

For a moment, Miroku struggled for words to explain what he'd experienced. "No… no, Umeko-sama. I didn't see anything; rather, there was a greater affinity to Kagome-sama's feelings. Mostly, I steered her in the right direction, guiding her path."

Umeko seemed pleased. "Kagome-sama, Miroku-sama can help you in the areas that you still lack mastery. His experience and focus can help you direct the Shikon no Tama's power to its greatest advantage. You are stronger together, that much is certain. I'm confident you could withstand almost any attack if you stand side by side." The old miko reached over and patted Kagome's shoulder affectionately. "After today's demonstration, one thing is certain; I don't believe anything will be catching you unawares!"

"I can go then?" Kagome asked hopefully.

"Not so hasty, child. The two of you do work very well together. However, I think it's important that Kagome-sama learn to draw from Miroku-sama's focus without maintaining a physical connection. Should you come under attack, it might prove rather inconvenient."

Kagome blinked. "That's a very good point." She squirmed a little impatiently on her cushion, grumbling. "Just when I figured out how to connect with Miroku-sama, I have to figure out how to disconnect from him."

Umeko just smiled serenely. "We'll just keep practicing until you get it right." Practice they did, for an entire week, before the elder miko determined they were ready for the next phase of Kagome's training.

Kisho pointed along the line of mountains to the west of the shrine. "If you follow the path down on this side, you'll reach the limits of the barrier in just two days. The other paths that lead out would take anywhere from three days to a week to bring you into unprotected land."

Miroku scanned the proposed route with a critical eye. "It's very steep."

"Yes, it is," Umeko joined in. "However, by this road, you and Kagome-sama can be back inside a week. Just don't go far beyond my reach; the barrier will buffer you, and give you an escape route should matters get out of hand. In a way, I'll be at your back."

Miroku rehearsed the plan again. "Two days to the barrier's edge, two days to lure youkai into a confrontation to test Kagome-sama's abilities as a protector, and two days back."

"Well, you'd better count on three days back up. It's a steep climb," Umeko conceded. "If this little trial goes well, I'll give my assent, and Kagome can return home with you," the older miko promised.

Miroku cast a glance towards the rising sun, which wasn't yet far over the horizon. "Is Kagome-sama nearly ready?"

"Noriko is loading her down with supplies," laughed Kisho. "Which reminds me, I have some things for you as well." Miroku followed the shrine keeper back towards the house, where a small pile of necessities awaited them. "You won't have to worry about camping out on the way down. By the end of the day, you'll reach a small stone hut. It's been there for generations, and we keep it in good repair. Once you reach the end of the trail, though, you'll be in pretty wild country."

Miroku was still thanking Kisho for the advice and provisions when Kagome came hurrying out of the house, laden down with Noriko's bundle of travel rations. "I'm ready," she said a little breathlessly.

Kagome had strapped a quiver and bow onto her back alongside Tetsusaiga, and Miroku quirked an eyebrow at his first sight in many months of the familiarly tattered sword hilt. He sorely missed his hanyou friend's gruff manner and rough words. With a little pang of remembered grief, Miroku nodded to the youkai blade. "Sesshoumaru-sama let you keep that?"

"It's not his to take," she replied archly.

"I'll bet he loved that,"Miroku grinned She smirked back.

The downhill trek was pleasant enough. The path was narrow, but clearly marked as it switched back on itself in its steep descent. Miroku led the way, and was pleased when there were still a couple hours of daylight left to them as they came to a halt in front of the small stone house Kisho had described, tucked against the cliff face alongside the trail. Kagome cooed over its quaint setting and made a fuss over the spring that flowed out from the rocks right next to it. The house was provided with plenty of dry kindling, and with water close at hand, it didn't take long to settle in for the night. Noriko's provisions were shared out, and the monk and miko waited for sunset. Once their dinner had been cleared away and the blankets spread on either side of the fire pit, Miroku suggested a little practice. "Shall we see what you can reach from here?"

Kagome agreed eagerly and settled herself comfortably across the fire from him. Miroku felt her meditative touch and helped her to focus, launching her senses outward for a little reconnoitering. The impressions he received back from her varied wildly from elation and curiosity to frustration and fear. When Kagome finally opened her eyes, they were troubled. "What has you worried, Kagome-sama?" asked a concerned monk.

The miko furrowed her brows, "I thought I felt something, but it wouldn't hold still." She used her hands to mimic a close pursuit. "Whatever it was, it ran ahead of me, always just beyond my reach."

Miroku considered this information. "Just because it was shy doesn't necessarily make it a threat. Most youkai would avoid the touch of your aura."

"True," conceded Kagome, as she plucked at the edge of her sleeve with nervous fingers. "It felt bad, though—malicious."

Miroku considered Kagome's unsettled state, and searched his mind for something to smooth the worry from her brow. "That's good then, Kagome-sama." When she looked up at him, surprised, he gave a reassuring smile. "We are looking for something 'malicious'. At least you will not have to search far in order to practice your abilities as the Shikon no Tama's protector."

"I don't know what to do, though—once we encounter the youkai, I mean," explained Kagome with a helpless shrug.

"I've been giving that some thought," said the monk thoughtfully. "You know how we focus your direction when we search for threats?" At Kagome's nod he continued. "What if we could focus a burst of purification in the same way? Direct it, but without an arrow." He used his hands to emulate the action he had in mind. "I could help you funnel your power like so, but you'd need to give it the push yourself, I think."

She nodded slowly, "That might work; we can certainly try, Miroku-sama." Kagome smiled, albeit a little weakly, and lay down to get some rest.

The monk sat quietly against the wall, thinking. During the last week of practice with Umeko-sama, they'd concentrated on stretching Kagome's reach and helping her to focus her powers. She'd improved by leaps and bounds, and he was impressed by her determination and dedication. She's a fast learner. Kagome-sama could now reach out to Miroku from opposite ends of the Shrine compound, borrowing from his strength and using him to anchor herself from a comfortable distance. It was still easier when they were physically closer, but at least they would be prepared should they ever find themselves in another battle.

Miroku glanced over at the sleeping woman. She lay curled on one side, a fist tucked under her chin. He knew that the other hand, the one hidden beneath her pillow, was wrapped tightly around Inuyasha's necklace. The monk gave one of his small, ironic smiles. It's hard to explain the nature of our friendship, even now. She loved Inuyasha; he loved Sango. Yet somehow, they needed each other as well. Kagome was such a complex creature—spirited and sweet, strong and sad. Miroku really was proud of how she'd risen to the challenge that lay before them. Still, if he was honest, he kind of wished she hadn't caught on so quickly. I know it's vital that Kagome becomes stronger. I just don't want her to stop needing me. He missed the pressure of her hand on his chest, the contact and the connectedness of their first several encounters. Oh, he could still feel her aura brush against his own at a distance, but it wasn't the same heady fusion he experienced when they touched.

Miroku frequently caught himself… and his hands… moving towards Kagome. He grimaced at the memories of all the trouble his wandering hands had led him into. It's not the same—I don't want to grope Kagome. She might take it the wrong way, though, if I keep finding excuses to touch her. Reluctant to impose himself on the young woman, he'd restrained those impulses. As much as he wanted the comfort her nearness provided, Miroku refused to initiate any touches. She trusted him—he felt it in her aura—and Kagome's trust was precious to him. The last thing he wanted to do was endanger the connection they'd forged by appearing to fall into old habits. With a sigh, the monk laid a few more sticks on the fire and settled down to get some rest.

By midafternoon the next day, the pair reached the base of the mountain, and the change in terrain was abrupt. Rather than the rolling foothills Miroku had traversed when approaching the Shrine from the south, they faced a short drop through a canyon that opened out onto a broad plain. Miroku could feel the edge of the barrier just a few steps beyond where they stood. In a moment, they would be outside Yamataku's protective reach. "Ready, Kagome-sama?"

The miko straightened her shoulders and gave a brisk nod. "Ready as I'll ever be, Miroku-sama."

They moved a scant half-hour's walk beyond the spiritual barrier and began to set up a rough camp within the sheltering circle of a couple dozen scrubby trees. Kagome was distracted enough that Miroku noticed. "What is it, Kagome-sama?"

The miko glanced over her shoulder reflexively. "There's something just on the edge of my senses, but I can't find it. It keeps moving." She lifted pleading eyes to Miroku. "It makes me nervous."

"Do you want to strengthen our connection and try searching again?" Miroku invited.

"Would you mind?" asked a relieved Kagome.

"Not at all," assured the monk, trying to sound nonchalant.

Kagome settled in front of the monk before the campfire. Miroku held back his sigh of contentment as Kagome-sama's hand covered his heart with a firm pressure. When her other gently cupped his cheek, Miroku focused on relaxing, allowing his hands to fall loose across his knees. After an empty pursuit of shadows, which flitted along the edges of her awareness even with Miroku's assistance, Kagome finally gave up. Darkness had descended, and the fire needed tending. "We can try again in the morning. You rest, Kagome-sama. I'll keep watch for a while." Still edgy, but exhausted, Kagome curled under a blanket and tried to get some sleep.

The attack came not long after the moon had set. Miroku was alerted by the darting of strange youki at the limits of his range, which grew bolder and crept nearer with every pass. By the time he'd shaken Kagome awake, the rustling in the trees around them was certain evidence that they were surrounded. Red eyes gleamed in the dark night, peering down at them from among the branches of the trees. I'm glad it's something we can handle, this first time. Miroku dismissed the chances of their enemy confidently, knowing Kagome easily outclassed them.

Kagome, still disoriented from her interrupted sleep, had an entirely different reaction. Alerted to the presence of a threat by the Jewel, and engulfed in the darkness of a moonless night, surrounded by red-eyed youkai, which bobbed and weaved at the level of the treetops… Kagome snapped. "Snakes? Snakes!" She scrambled to her feet, then crouched down to get away from the youkai that were closing in. With every word, her voice became more shrill with panic. "The snakes! The snakes! Inuyasha, no!"

Miroku instantly understood. The situation was reminiscent of the night Sango and Inuyasha had died—eerily so. No wonder she's so unnerved. Miroku suppressed his own shudder. He grabbed the miko's shoulder with his free hand and pulled her around to face him. "Kagome-sama? Kagome-sama! They're not snakes. It's not the snakes."

Kagome clung hysterically to Miroku, crying and mumbling disjointedly. Groaning, the monk erected a barrier with his shakujou so he could give the frantic woman his full attention. I've got to get through to her. "Kagome-sama, concentrate. Can't you feel them? They're not snakes. Listen to me… please, Kagome-sama."

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and rested his chin on top of her head, keeping his words and voice as soothing as he could manage. "I have a barrier up around us. You're safe, Kagome-sama. I'll protect you. Trust me… you're safe." Miroku tried every reassuring gesture he could think of; patting her back, smoothing her hair, squeezing her shoulders. When none of that seemed to reach her, in desperation he settled his aura around hers, enfolding her as he had done once before, hoping it would calm her and make her feel secure. Gradually the miko quieted, taking deep shuddering breaths.

Miroku continued gently holding her within his arms and his aura. "Not snakes. Crows. It's a flock of carrion crows." Patiently, the monk talked through what she would need to do. "I have an idea. Do you trust me, Kagome-sama?" Kagome nodded, her head still burrowed against his chest. "Listen carefully. We're going to throw up a barrier using your powers instead of mine, then I want you to give it a push. I'll help you, so follow my lead." Kagome took a deep breath and nodded again.

"All right. Here we go." Miroku pulled Kagome tightly to him with both his arms, letting both the shakujou and his barrier drop. Shielding her with his body, he heard the rush of wings as the flock of crows launched themselves toward them. Miroku felt the power of the Shikon no Tama rising up in Kagome; he caught the energy and wove it into a new barrier. The first few carrion crows who reached it were purified instantly, the others pulling back to circle menacingly overhead. Miroku then drew out more of the Shikon Miko's power, and with a firm push from his own aura, helped her launch an attack. The shield they'd formed moved upwards and outwards in a blinding wave that ripped through the flock in one dramatic rush.

Their campsite was suddenly still; not a single youkai remained. After a few moments of utter silence, a hesitant cricket resumed its night song. In his arms, Kagome-sama began to cry again. "I'm sorry, Miroku-sama. I'm so sorry."

Miroku rocked the young woman gently against him as the damp patch on his chest grew steadily. "It's okay, Kagome-sama. Remember that's why we are here… so we can practice against real youkai attacks."

"I thought it was happening all over again. I was so scared," Kagome whimpered.

Miroku sighed. "I know… this night was very like that accursed one. It's okay to be scared, Kagome-sama, but let's focus on the fact that you successfully protected the Shikon no Tama. I'm sure Inuyasha and Sango would be very proud of you."

Kagome gave a snuffling laugh as she wiped her nose. "More like the Shikon no Tama protected me."

"You make good partners, then," returned the monk lightly.

"You make a good partner, Miroku-sama. You're the one who knew what to do."

"I will always do everything in my power to protect you, Kagome-sama. It seems I've promised to do so to several people already—Inuyasha, Shippo, Sesshoumaru-sama, Umeko-sama. You may as well hang onto that promise as well."

Wearily, Kagome looked around their sparse camp. "Can we go back behind the barrier for the rest of the night, Miroku-sama?"

"Of course." Gathering their few belongings, he led her back towards safety.

The next day, the two travelers ventured back onto the plain, hoping to draw yet another youkai attack. At Miroku's suggestion, Kagome sent the Shikon's powerful aura out in all directions, broadcasting its presence. Before long, they'd captured the attention of a drove of boar youkai. Miroku, keeping a cool head, suggested Kagome-sama try using an arrow first. The miko complied, and one flaming arrow flew true, purifying not only the youkai it struck but two neighboring ones as well. Next in their little experiment, Miroku prompted her to try a weaponless burst of power, this time without maintaining contact with him. It took a little time for Kagome to figure out how to call up the burst of purifying energy, but a nudge from Miroku's power proved sufficient impetus. Even though they stood several paces apart, the monk helped direct the force of the Shikon's bursts, picking off their attackers with ruthless accuracy.

Kagome-sama confidence grew, and by the end she was beside herself with excitement over their accomplishment. "We did it! We did it!" She gave a couple of undignified hops before throwing her arms around Miroku. Bemused, even pleased, he allowed himself the luxury of pulling her close. He smiled down at her when she leaned back to look up into his face with shining eyes. "Now I can go home!"

Miroku's smile grew brittle as reality asserted itself. That's right, she's going home. She's leaving. The monk gently disentangled himself from the miko and urged her back towards their camp. "We'd best get a good night's rest, Kagome-sama. We have a long, uphill climb tomorrow."


A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 3 of 8

<< Previous     Home     Next >>