Sango irritably turned her pillow over for the fourth time in the past hour. Tonight it was putting on a stunning display of its magical skill to be hard and soft in exactly the wrong places no matter which was it was arranged. Her neck and shoulders were stiff and sleep was all too elusive tonight, so her pillow was far more infuriating than usual. In a final fit of frustration she pushed it aside and contented herself to fold her arms behind her head, staring up at the clear, starry sky. Her aching shoulders protested the position, but she ignored the dull throbbing and tried to lose herself in the night sky.
After a few long moments she realized she was wide awake. She heaved a sigh and sat up, crossly thinking that it was impossible to try to drift off to sleep. Glancing around, it seemed that everyone else was out cold. A few feet away Kagome was snoring her tiny, girlish snore. Shippo was curled up in her arms like teddy bear. On the far side of Kagome lay Miroku, flat on his back with his limbs splayed like a dead raccoon and his mouth open wide enough attract nesting owls. Under normal circumstances she would have found the scene amusing, but at this point the only emotion the sight evoked from Sango was vague jealousy that they could sleep so easily.
Thinking that perhaps a short walk might cure her of her insomnia, Sango slid out of her bedroll and quietly stepped into her shoes. She'd been sleeping in her clothes, so only a cursory check to make sure everything was in place was necessary. After a brief hesitation she opted on the side of caution, picking up her katana and sliding it through her belt. The group had bedded down not far from a small lake, and Sango set off slowly in its general direction.
The night was comfortably warm, but the breeze was crisp enough to raise the hairs on the back of Sango's neck whenever it brushed over her. The sky was clear and the full moon provided more than adequate light, so her progress was swift. Although her well-honed senses detected no hint of demons, her training wouldn't allow her to completely relax and she took care to move quietly and carefully down the path. The trip was uneventful, however, the closest thing to a demonic encounter being an impressively sized raccoon, and within what seemed like a very few minutes she found herself at the lake.
Sango made her way down the bank, deeply breathing the cool, clean air blowing off the lake. The moonlight danced across the water, throwing waves of soft light onto the trees surrounding the lake. She stooped down and picked up a handful of stones, tossing them one by one into the lake and smiling to herself as each ripple sent the moonlight into a sparkling dance. Sango ran her hands through her hair and stretched her tired back, finally letting herself relax.
"Are you ever gonna sit down or were you planning on blocking the view all night?"
Sango nearly jumped out her skin, wheeling around to find Inuyasha perched on a log.
"Did I stutter? Either sit down or at least move. You're blockin' the view."
The familiar rage that came only from interacting with Inuyasha boiled up in her chest, but the serenity of the rest of the scene helped her keep it check. Sango glanced around for a place to sit and was genuinely taken aback when Inuyasha scooted over, albeit almost imperceptibly, to share the log. She settled down beside him, giving him as much distance as possible, and once again began to take in the lake and the lovely night. For his part, Inuyasha acknowledged her with the faintest of nods and did the same.
They sat together in silence for a long time, chirping crickets and the songs of night birds the only sounds. It wasn't unpleasant, although Inuyasha's company wasn't necessarily the most soothing thing in the world. Every so often she chanced a look at him, each time finding his eyes fixed on the lake, deep in thought. It didn't take much insight to understand that he wasn't actually seeing the lake. After a long while, Sango decided to call this a quasi-bonding experience with Inuyasha and head back to bed, but then he spoke.
"I'm only askin' you this because you're the only one around to ask right now, okay?"
She was so startled that he had actually said something that she wasn't sure how to respond.
"Okay?" Inuyasha demanded quietly.
"Okay…" she finally said, unsure where this was going.
"Do I love Kagome?"
"How can I tell you that, Inuyasha?" She asked, stunned.
"Because I don't know." He whispered. "Because I don't remember how it feels."
He was still looking at the lake so she couldn't read his face. His voice, though, was so matter-of-fact that she was almost certain it was a put on, that his calm was an illusion he was trying hard to maintain.
"Well…" she began, choosing her words carefully. "You loved Kikyo. Do you feel the same way about Kagome as you felt about her?"
"Kikyo." Inuyasha repeated blankly, the name echoing in the darkness. "Sango, when Kikyo shot me, when I was pinned to the Sacred Tree…I was dead, I was dead but I was dreaming. Dreaming for longer than you've been alive. Do you have any idea what I dreamt of for so long?"
Sango traced her foot along the ground, not sure what to say. After a long pause, she answered him.
"Yes," he began slowly, "Of Kikyo's throat, of tearing it out. Of running my claws through her skin, feeling her blood gushing between my fingers…"
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye just in time see her inch away from him. His gaze shifted back to the lake and he continued.
"How could I have really loved her if I wanted to kill her? If I judge how I feel about Kagome by that standard, will I want to kill her the first time she does something to betray me?"
Sango knew she needed to say something now, but wasn't sure what.
"But you've had the chance to kill Kikyo since then, and you haven't."
His voice trailed away, and Sango shifted uncomfortably, wondering if it was okay to leave. She wasn't sure what, but something kept her in place. As they sat in silence, she studied Inuyasha's face. It was hard to tell because of the moonlight pouring off the lake, but it looked almost as if there were glistening trails running down his face. Had he been crying?
"Would you kill Kohaku?" Inuyasha asked at last.
For the briefest of instants, Sango's hand itched to slap him for bringing her little brother into this, but instead she surprised herself by answering.
"Yes," she said, "if it came to that, I'd kill him. I'd kill him to set him free from Naraku and from everything Naraku has made him do."
"And you love him?"
"More than anything else in the world." She said without any doubt or hesitation.
Inuyasha shut his eyes, a smiling to himself in a decidedly unhappy way.
"They even smell the same, you know that?"
"What?" Sango asked, perplexed by the sudden digression.
"Kagome and Kikyo." Inuyasha replied. "They smell exactly the same. I guess you wouldn't notice that. To me, because of what I…to me that's a big deal. For the longest time I even expected Kagome to act like Kikyo because they smelled alike."
"Inuyasha…" Sango began, even though she had no idea how she intended to finish the sentence.
"They feel the same way, too. When I hold them, I mean. They're so much alike, different incarnations of the same spirit. I don't know if what I feel when I look at Kagome is just a remnant of what I felt for Kikyo. I haven't figured out yet what part of Kagome I care for, if it's the part that makes her Kagome or if it's the part that's leftover from Kikyo."
"You've gone to the future to bring Kagome back when she was gone." Sango said.
"That's true, but I've also seen Kikyo so many times that the rest of you never knew about." Inuyasha sighed. "That sounds really bad. I miss Kagome when she's gone but I also take any chance I can to see Kikyo again…"
Another silence fell between them, and Sango found herself fiddling girlishly with her hair in a way she despised. Inuyasha sighed and shook his head as if trying to rattle his gloomy thoughts out of his ears. Unable to find the will to get up and walk away, but desperate to change the subject, Sango was the first to speak.
"When I was a little girl they used to say there was a kappa in this lake…" She began, intending to tell a meandering story until such a time as she could make her escape.
Inuyasha chuckled, and the chuckle eventually grew into out and out laughter. Sango gave him a confused look, unprepared for this change of demeanor. He caught her questioning look and composed himself enough to explain.
"Isn't that the perfect metaphor for life, Sango? It all looks so beautiful on the surface, but deep down there's a horrible little monster waiting to suck your liver out your ass."
Something about Inuyasha's succinct explanation of the nature of the universe struck her as funny, and a smile slowly crept across Sango's face. Inuyasha met her smile with one of his own and then pantomimed a kappa performing its disgusting eating habit, complete with crossed eyes, waggling tongue, and the wettest, most disgusting slurping noises she'd heard since the last time she watched Miroku eat. Sango laughed aloud, her voice squeaking in delight, which sent Inuyasha into his own fit of laughter. They laughed together for a long time, and by the time they'd finished they didn't even realize that they were sitting shoulder to shoulder.