The lightening was probably the thing that woke her up. She was such a light sleeper, having trained herself to be so in case danger arose. She wanted to be ready in a moment's notice and not caught unaware. Even after all the years of training – so many years – she still hadn't kicked the habit.

She was partly thankful to be jolted from slumber. The dreams were not good ones and they taunted her with her life. Showed her how bad of a hunter she was by not finding the problem before so many people died.

Kohaku...

The familiar crushed feeling encased her and tears burned her eyes. She swept a quick look around the small hut, making sure she had not wakened anyone. They were also light sleepers, but she didn't want to burden them with her problems. They were not theirs to bear, not theirs to solve. Though – she realized – they tried to help more than she would ever allow anyone to try.

Thunder rang loud outside. A little bit of rain managed to fall in from the small, open gaps near the roof. She looked to them when another flash of light illuminated the room.

The storm came fast and unrelenting. Of course, Miroku pulled his tried and true 'demon extermination' and gave them a place to sleep tonight, even if it wasn't much. It was out of the storm and that's all they needed. Dull eyes stared at the hands in her lap. Her sarong was used as a blanket – one of its many uses – though right now she felt a chill deep in her bones that wouldn't go away. The chill of fear... Fear of wondering how to fix her troubles, how to get her life back to what it was, how to conquer the evil facing them all.

How to save Kohaku...

Eyes squeezed shut. It seems her soul would break before she gained an answer to that question. How could she save someone from himself – aside from taking the shard out of his back to end his servitude and terror? Fists clenched, the ring of her taijya outfit shifting uncomfortably. It pinched, but she let pain come, trying to find an out to everything that seemed to pile up. So long it seemed she had to deal with this. She aged so many years in so few months and there was no real way to get back to the girl she had been before her life was thrown upside down.

Naraku...kisama...

Her face scrunched up. Her body shook a little at the need to break down. She would not allow herself to cry now – not with everyone in the room. She would not drag them into this...not more than they already had.

Standing as silently as possible, she quickly wrapped the sarong around her waist and tied it. Not caring, she headed for the bamboo flap and shoved it aside, escaping into the safety of the rain to hide her tears.

In the aftermath, a pair of eyes peeked at the empty space. They opened fully and a wisp of a sigh sounded. Careful not to wake another of the light sleepers, dark eyes speared a solemn glance at the bamboo screen. It flapped in the wind and being tossed aside mere seconds ago. He looked to the ground, hands clenching in his robes. His chest ached with emotions he could sense radiating off her. It made his heart hurt, but how could he ask her what was wrong when she left so no one could see?

She always held this in and that had to change. She would not last long if she did not let go of all the anguish, the frustration, and the loneliness.

With a deep breath for strength, he stood as silently as she and cast a look to the floor. Even, gold eyes met his. They looked to the screen briefly before meeting his again. He nodded and they fell closed again without a word from his companion. Looking to the screen, ears ringing from a particular loud boom of thunder, he called upon the strength inside and pushed aside the screen to follow.

It was much colder outside than inside. Why hadn't she known that when she woke up? All the layers of kimono were not going to help her from getting sick by being pelted with freezing rain. The thought ran through her head for a bit and was discarded. What did she care? Freezing rain and wind were the last things she should have to worry about. She was a hunter, trained to be strong, this shouldn't bother her.

There were plenty of other things that took that space already.

Arms hugged her waist even tighter as she bent over, forehead resting on her knees. She gained about two dozen paces past the hut before loosing the will to stand. She fought this so much, it just used up too much strength. This weakness was going to catch up with her eventually.

Her body shook with sobs and cold. The mass of hair weighed her back down, bangs stuck to her forehead. The tufts of hair over her ears dripped with water and tickled her skin. She wanted to brush them away, but couldn't get the will to make her arms move.

All she could do was huddle against herself and cry.

All this was watched on the porch of the hut. His heart bled, though he couldn't see her face. He could see the pain radiating from her without help from his intuition and wanted nothing more than to calm her. His jaw clenched, eyes looking to the rain hitting the grass. He never wanted to pry in her life when she didn't want him to. He never wanted to pressure her into doing something she never wanted to do...even if it was for her own good.

But he couldn't stand to see her like this.

The barest sound of footsteps over the rattling of rain reached her ears. She ceased to move and a little panic seared her. Her eyes peeked open and snuck a glance over bangs, finding the blowing, torn edges of an all too familiar kimono. Her head buried in her knees, hiding her vision from him. Maybe if she pretended not to've seen, he would go away and leave her be. No...he knew she was smarter and more observant than that. She should've been able to know he was outside and looking at her – probably the whole thing – had grief not kept her busy.

Not one word came from above, but she didn't expect any. He was waiting, waiting for her to move and unfold enough to sit up and look at him. She just couldn't do that, for fear of giving away everything with her eyes and exposing her demons. She didn't want to shame herself that way by being so obvious.

Even if she was already.

When her head moved up enough to see, she found his position changed. He kneeled in front of her, still patiently waiting. Her heart mended a little at that. He annoyed her at times with his behavior, but these were the moments that made her love him even more. She was not embarrassed to think that, as she had loved him for the longest time. Perhaps that mental administration was responsible for the grip around her torso to lax enough as she pushed her body upward. Thankful it was raining so hard, she met his eyes for an instant and quickly looked away at seeing such caring and concern.

A flash of lightening showed quite clearly the red tinge to her eyes and his throat clogged. Swallowing at seeing her like this was painful. He wanted to do something rather than sit here, but he didn't want her to slap him for thinking the wrong thing. What he wanted to do was hold her with no implications or strings attached. He wanted to lend comfort and tell her in the only way he knew how that it would be okay - if not now, then someday.

"Houshi-sama?" Her voice sounded so heartbroken, though she tried to cover it.

Hands left his sleeves on their own violation as one moved and, before he could help himself, brushed against the frigid chill of her cheek. The temperature of her skin worried him over her health. Shocked eyes blinked at his brashness, but he bypassed it. "Sango..." He murmured, leaning forward a little. He held her gaze, trying to tell her how much he worried and loved her with his eyes.

She slowly crumpled. Her eyes produced more tears that blended with the rain and her head dropped. Bangs hid them as she tried to swallow.

She wanted to give in so much. He was right here and she knew he wouldn't try anything while she was vulnerable. He never tried to take advantage of her when she was unable to defend herself. She tried to stubbornly cling to her pride as a last resort. She didn't want to get him too attached, or get too attached to him. She had enough broken pieces to pick up to have her heart broken again. There was enough to deal with.

But she just couldn't help it with the out mere inches from her. She was tired of battling this, emotionally and mentally. He had proven himself time and time again in little ways – in times like these – and she knew she could lean on him. He wouldn't tell anyone what was going on and she was safe with him. "H – houshi...-sama..." She broken whispered. Her body flung itself at him, clutching the sleeves of his robes. Her head buried itself against soaked cloth and she felt bad for bringing him out here just because of her.

His heart skipped a beat at feeling her pressed against him, but arms went around her without thought. They pressed her even closer, brow twitching at feeling her body shiver. Whether by the cold or emotion he didn't know. Though equally soaked, he tried to lend her some body heat to keep her from getting worse. His chin rested on the top of her head, feeling the softness of her hair soaked with rain. Her body soon shook more from sobs than rain and his brow furrowed in concern. He speared the ground a solemn glance, unable to do anything except hold her and let her cry.

He wished there was something he could say to take it all away or to take it to himself so she didn't have to deal with it, but words would not come to him. None of the wisdom granted by Buddha could prepare him for the troubles of a vulnerable young woman...one whom he loved more than life itself.

A hand stopped next to his chin and slowly stroked her hair. His other innocently pressed flat against her back.

She could sense his helplessness, but also the overflow of emotion. She could feel his love and it helped to fill some of the void that plagued her. A hand rose and stopped next to her face. Her head peeked out and stared into the darkness, eyes blankly staring at the rain.

She stayed compliant in his arms, feeling complete. There had never been a time when she could feel this way, but with him, she could. She was his, as he was hers. They belonged this way, showing affection in the only way they could. This was one of the reasons she loved him. His ability to be there in any situation never ceased to amaze her. His strength was great, but she knew it wasn't indefinite. There were times when she longed to comfort him as he was doing now, and hoped there would be a time when he needed to lean on her as much as she leaned on him.

She never managed to say anything past his name, but that didn't matter. It never did. He knew her problems by traveling together for so long. He knew her.

He could almost see the monsters shrink back inside and his worry ebbed a little. A gentle touch was all she needed and he was honored to provide it. He would do anything to help her, even if it meant his life. He would be there any time she needed him, whether she knew it or not. He never tired of being there for her, as his love fueled the need. He wanted to make it so she never hurt in any way again, just as he knew she would do for him.

He knew that...and loved her even more because of that. Someday, when things were safe, he would find a way to tell her exactly how much she meant to him and hoped it was enough. He would spend the rest of his life showing her if – or when - Naraku was defeated. When that day would arrive, he didn't know. But he vowed then and there, after they were together, he would remember this promise and hold himself true to it. He would not let her hurt like this ever again.

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M/S angst and fluff...no better combination! Inspiration for this comes from two sources. A pic from an awesome webpage dedicated to M/S (title of both fic and pic) - kns / gallery / strength.html - (of course, no spaces), and Lionel Richie's 'Hello'. I was surfing that page when the song came on AOL radio and inspiration hit hard. I dl'd the song for the romantic, sad feel it gave, and basically stared at the pic out of the corner of my eye. The webpage is / kns / main.html for those who want to check it out...very kewl layout and talent.