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An awkward silence descended when Kagome and Sango finally crept back to camp. Inuyasha took one look at Kagome, promptly flushed bright red, and then refused to even look at either of the women. For his part, Miroku remained where he was. His eyes were closed, as if he was deep in meditation. As if he was entirely innocent, and not the least bit fazed by what had happened at the hot spring earlier.

Sango narrowed her eyes to glare at him, but when this earned no response she decided it wasn't worth it and followed Kagome toward the fire. She made a point of sitting as far away from Miroku as she could get without sitting directly across from him, but he gave no sign of noticing that she was even there at all. She glared for a moment longer.

Let him pretend innocence if he wanted. She knew what had happened, just as he did. And she was taking no more chances this night.

"Kirara," she murmured.

At the sound of her name, the cat got up from where she had been resting by the fire and came to see what Sango wanted. Sango pulled her close, hugging the small form to her chest and whispering, "Kirara, will you keep watch tonight?"

Later on, as she lay with Kirara curled protectively around her, Sango could not sleep. No matter how she tried, she could not seem to stop her thoughts from racing wildly. She should have been able to rest easily, knowing that for the moment at least, everything was at peace. Miroku's kazaana was mended, if not healed, and Naraku's minions had been defeated. They had a chance to breathe and rest for a bit.

And yet she could not. They were victorious, but it had been a close thing. Too close. And after...

Sango squeezed her eyes shut and willed her mind to calm before outrage could ruin any chance of sleep, to no avail. She just couldn't stop thinking about how determined she had felt when she had found out Miroku's life was in danger, or how she and Inuyasha and Kagome had put themselves on the line against unbeatable odds to save him. Or how he'd repaid her efforts by groping her and spying on her while she bathed.

She could not deny that he had deceived her on purpose back at the temple, just for a chance to feel her up. She felt her face grow warm just thinking of it. She had fallen for the ruse so easily...

And in spite of herself, she wanted very much to think that the spying at the hot spring had not been intentional. She had even said as much to Kagome, pointing out that he and Inuyasha had only showed up after the ruckus with the monkey, but now that she thought about it, she wondered if she should have just kept her mouth shut. Inuyasha, at least, had seemed genuinely embarrassed afterward. But not Miroku. He had seemed suspiciously calm, calm enough to make her think he might simply have been waiting for an opportunity that would allow him to appear blameless while still sneaking a peek.

Tired of this line of thinking and wishing she could just get some rest, she sighed and opened her eyes. Maybe if she talked with Kagome for a little while, she would feel better. But Kagome was facing away from her, wrapped up in her sleeping bag so that Sango could not tell if she was awake or not. Rather than disturb her, Sango turned her gaze to their other companions.

Inuyasha had taken to the trees as soon as he thought the girls were sleeping, and now there was no sign of him at all. And Miroku... the monk was staring into the fire, or perhaps past it to where Kagome and Sango were resting.

For a moment that surprised her, but of course he was awake. He had spent most of the day sleeping, after all. Too bad talking to him would do her no good at all.

Lest he catch her looking at him and mistake her intentions, she turned onto her side and buried her cheek against Kirara's warm fur. She felt her anger finally begin to fade, but it left a lingering sadness in its wake.

How many times, before, had she and Kirara slept together like this on the road? She couldn't remember. And those times seemed impossibly distant now, anyway. Now, Kirara was all she had left of that life. Of home.

And she missed home very, very much. She missed her father and her brother, and everyone else from the village that was now dead and gone. She longed for the days when she went hunting with her friends and family, or on her own, and had a home to return to when the battle was done. She missed seeing the excitement on everyone's faces as they gathered round to see what she and the other slayers had brought back with them...

She fought against tears for what was no longer and would never be again. She would not allow Miroku to see her so vulnerable, but it was hard to keep the sadness at bay at night, when everyone else was asleep and the darkness pressed in around her, bringing the worst of her memories with it.

Despite her efforts, her mind flitted back to that horrible night, the night her family had died and her world had shattered. She had lost everyone... and today she had almost lost Miroku, too. He's always irritating me, she thought, but I can't stand the thought of losing even him.

She had to open her eyes and look around the camp again in order to calm herself. Her companions might be sleeping, but they were still there. They were still alive; she wasn't entirely alone. Kirara was still with her, and she had Inuyasha to guard her back and Kagome and Shippou to lend a sympathetic ear... but reminding herself of that did little to quell the loneliness in her heart. They had been traveling and working together for a little while now, but in the dark and quiet of the night Sango could admit, if only to herself, that she still did not truly feel like a part of the group.

She tried to fit in... and she was terrified of losing them, when they had taken her in after everything she had done, but she still felt like an outsider. So far, Inuyasha seldom allowed her to join him in battle, and then only if she forced the issue. It was obvious that the monk did not respect her as a warrior or as a woman. And Kagome...

She would miss Kagome if they were ever to part ways. Sango had gotten along well enough with the other girls in her village, but Kagome was the closest thing she had ever had to a female friend.

She felt a little guilty for having been irritated by the other girl's cheerful talkativeness in the past, realizing now that it was Kagome's support and good cheer that had kept her afloat when she might otherwise have drowned under the weight of her grief and despair. It was Kagome that had ensured her a place in the group so that she did not have to bear the pain alone, who was always there to check if she was doing all right, or to share in her indignation at Miroku's antics. And it was Kagome, she could see clearly now, that had bound all of them together in the first place.

But now that she had truly become aware of it, she had to wonder if that would be enough. The next time Naraku tried to drive them apart, would they pull together and make it through, as they had this time... or would they fall apart?

Seeing for the first time just how precariously balanced their little group was, she was afraid to find out.