Characters: Sango-centric; MirSan, Kohaku
Summary: Never again will he return home; Miroku, Sango, and the ghost between them.
"Sorrow is no longer the islands, but the sea."
-- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
She wrestled him free, begged for his life, kindled him again, and he never ever betrayed her, not until the final breath she hadn't prepared for and didn't see coming.
She found him by the riverside. She doesn't even bother to wash, so when she stumbles back into her ghost village, her skeleton home, Miroku thinks it is she who is mortally wounded.
"It's not mine," she says numbly.
He can't even speak, just hugs her gory body close. His relief is like water on her tongue, drowning her words.
"That demon must have been a fierce one," he finally says when he finds his voice.
And in a way, he is right.
She is five, and the air is thick with dying.
Scared and alone, she huddles behind the sturdy wooden walls of her home, but the strength of the timbers gives her no comfort. Inside the walls her mother splits and spills like rotted fruit.
Sango curls inward, crouching in shadow of the hut while all around the late afternoon sun gleams golden, and presses her little hands to her belly, as though that could stop the screams that slice through the air and hook ragged talons in her tender flesh, as though the created could knit the creator back together.
She breaks apart in the long shades of evening.
When her aunt finally finds her, Sango has dried her tears and splashed her face with cold water, because she doesn't cry, and she certainly doesn't cry over nothing, which is what her mother is now: nothing. Gone. Empty. No soft white hands, no gentle eyes, no giggles or gentle scoldings, no sweet smell, no cool fingers against a fever, no love to hold her up. Her mother is now nothing. Sango can tell it's nothing because there is a hole in her where her mother used to be, and nothing is what a hole is made of.
When they lay her new baby brother in her waiting, cradling arms, she feels something.
A kindling, a spark, a catch, and she is warm once more. Little brother, little warm something burns against the emptiness and chill. Little brother, little fire to guide her home.
Her ghost village is cold, and its high walls like the walls of a prison. For all she wanted to return there, she is not at home again.
Restless, she can't settle, and Miroku seems to take this well. They pack their few belongings and leave, to wander again. Her roots are naked and bare, her heart is as dust.
Sango drifts. Miroku strives to follow.
She is eight, and he is three. He is in the yard, patiently building little mounds of mud, and she is pulling the wings from a dragonfly in the shadow of her home. She wonders mistily if it cries.
She is meticulous, and the gauze of its wings crumbles in her hands, sticks to the whorled skin of her fingertips. Absently she wipes her hands on her skirt, and imagines one day slaying real dragons.
"Aneue," her little brother says, one of his favorite words, calling her to him.
Sango strolls in his direction, thinking with only token annoyance of the mess she will have to clean up after he has finished in the mud. She draws up along side him, and peers down.
He's captured a beetle. With his fat baby hands, he is trying to make a little mud house for it, but neither the mud nor the beetle are cooperating. "Aneue," he says again in frustration.
With care, she cups the beetle in her hands, keeps it still until its home is complete before handing it back to him.
Little Kohaku places it in its new sanctuary and beams.
They are far from her village now. Aimlessly wandering, they have met the sea, where they cannot go further. Listless beneath the mimosa tree, Sango watches the grey waves lap at the shore and cradles a heavy nothingness in her arms.
Miroku, so good at knowing when to hold his words, cannot seem to stop speaking.
"It wasn't your fault," he keeps saying, this hollow comfort screaming out between his muted phrases.
She wishes he would stop, but she cannot find her voice. It is shriveling in her throat, and she thirsts for something she cannot name. She wishes to slake the thirst. She wishes to sleep, and not wake up. She wishes to dissipate.
She wishes for the burden of guilt. Uselessness does not suit her.
She wishes for many things.
She is ten, and she doesn't feel as alive when they are apart. She can feel invigorated, full of excitement at the hunt, or content, but when she is with him, she smiles, grins, exults. Flowers, fish, foolish games.
"You are so serious," her father says to her when they train. She knows that. She thinks, sometimes, that the hole left behind by her mother sucked her joy from her, but she still laughs, so it isn't that. Rather, it moved to somewhere else.
Gentle Kohaku, sweet, kind Kohaku holds something in his hands, and he patches her holes with careless care. Despite the gravity of her nature, he effortlessly coaxes her into laughter.
They sprout together, her broken heart healing itself around him.
Her little brother, to protect and keep safe. Little brother. Her one and only.
Miroku stumbles, cannot find the roadlessness her feet tread so surely. They curl up at night, and when they make love he places his hand across the scar on her back, shielding it from the air, warming it, knowing it, learning it.
She can feel him begging entrance, but the wound he wants to know is hidden behind her breast. She thinks that even could she bring her heart out and let him know her wound that she would not.
He has not done anything to deserve that.
She had lived for vengeance, but then he was back, back from the shadow, pulled from the other side of the night sky, alive, imprisoned, enslaved. He was as clay in the web of the spider, silken strands jerking his limbs in nimble puppetry, but iniquity – that she could avenge. That she could banish.
It was his neverness that she couldn't fix. And when the neverness lifted, reprieve granted, there was once again something.
Now Sango realizes that Kohaku's resurrection was her own.
And what does it mean, now that he is dead?
"Why do you stay?" she asks Miroku again and again.
They've never said the word love. She isn't sure love is what she feels anyway, but she does know she wants to stay with him.
She thinks maybe that in each breaking she loses some of the pieces, so there is less to make her whole again the next time around. She shattered and healed around a little baby, and then again around a teenaged boy. And then she shattered again.
There aren't enough pieces of her left this time. She cannot heal around a man.
His hands smooth over her sharp, poorly fitted corners, catch and dip into the gaps, as though he could hold them together.
She wants to keep her shape for him so that he won't shatter either, but it's hard, so hard. She cracks easily. Miroku places his warm lips – warm – reverently upon her, gently kissing the fractures, the hairline faults, as though that would undo the breaking.
He is not careful enough. Or too careful. Another piece goes missing.
When she dies, her spirit will travel back the way they came, looking for itself in the tall golden grasses, beneath the dappled trees, in the shade of the caves.
"Why do you stay?" she says, again and again, hoping –
He does not weep, never weeps. But he trembles at her question.
"Sango," he whispers, eye-bright.
She's losing it.
She is twenty and he is over. Sango traces the lines of memory into his blackness, into the darkness he has become, but the memories never come out again. He is always a boy in her mind. He would be fifteen, but he is just a boy now, arrested, aborted. He will always be a boy. Only the living age.
Miroku no longer asks her to bear his child, even in bitter, ironic jest. She is barren.
Her heart is a desert, her womb withered. Desiccated, her dry fingers grasp at his robes, and she wonders if she will suck the life from him if she kisses him too deeply.
He devours her mouth, heedless of the danger.
He lays his head in the valley between her breasts, and listens to her desert heart pump sand. He doesn't know if he stays there, he will be consumed.
Sango lets him rest.
They wander, looking for the answers to all their bleeding questions.
She is older, and she dreams.
He is late for dinner, and she is tracing the path to the stream, where he went to wash up. It is autumn, and the maple leaves are turning red.
Kohaku is turning white.
She can't even scream. She is dry of voice, dry of tears, and the only noise is the horrid squelching as her cold, dry hands struggle to hold him together, to push him back inside himself, to make this not be happening, but it's not enough, she's not enough.
He'd managed two gashes with his kusarigama, and he didn't scream. His sins are smoke on the wind, he is shriven of all his wrongdoings.
His slick body slips through her fingers, and then she is cradling him, as she did so many years ago, the same hands that held him in the beginning hold him in the end.
The warmth in him is dying. Sango watches the light in his eyes fade.
His lips move, passing no sound, and she leans in to him, into the growing darkness, to hear his last word, but there is none.
The flame flutters and is gone.
"I'm cold," she says, caught in Miroku's limbs, there and not there all at once.
"I know," he tells her, wrapping her against him, binding her fragile frame to him, pouring his warmth into her body, shoring her up, filling her, and still she dissipates.
He is left grasping at smoke and fog, feels his own fingers begin to fade.
He feels hollow, empty, as though something disappeared when he wasn't looking. Miroku feels the beginning of a long fall, and he is slipping down, shivering. "I'm cold, too," he whispers.
For the first time in always, Sango smiles up at him.
"I know," she says.