There has never been much pleading involved in Sango's life but the word slipped from her lips. The word was bereft of the hesitation she usually guided her actions with. There was no hesitation when it came to Kohaku, never had been.
Bruised and bloody and broken, she cradles her brother's limp body and feels the slick nectar of his life seep between her knees. Her own blood mixes with that of her kin's, curling like her ashen fingertips around his vital fluid.
The battle had been poorly planned. One miscalculated piece of information had befallen them. Naraku was supposed to be weak, at the time of his month where he lost his youkai powers.
They had been wrong.
Off to the side, Miroku is recovering from too many bees and Shippo crawls across the pieces of Kikyo's shattered vessel. Inuyasha's unconscious and Kagome's counting backwards to hold her sanity in place. The pink jewel rests in the miko's palm but Sango is unconcerned right now. In her arms lies her own fragmented jewel and across her heart slices the responsibility she was inadequate to perform.
She raises her head just enough to get him into her sight and blinks several times to clear her vision, noticing for the first time that she's crying.
He isn't paying any attention to her and his white form dances before her eyes, though he moves not a muscle from his spot hovering over another figure lying motionless on the stone floor. The demon king hadn't been quick enough to save the little girl and Naraku's miasma had done the rest. He is unable to revive her.
"Please." Sango's breath hisses in her mouth, her broken ribs poking her insides to unbelievable amounts of pain. "Please."
Sesshoumaru raises his head.
For one glorious moment, Sango believes Tenseiga will be swept in her direction and everything will be restored and okay again. But Sesshoumaru's clawed hand falls from the hilt of the heavenly sword and he disappears without a word.
Sango collapses onto the body of her brother.
It is days later before she rises. She's shaken and incoherent, flogging through the thick mud of her brain to try and understand. She tries to remember and her memories are a tumbling hurricane of flashes and sanguine images. Kikyo and Rin and Kirara and Kohaku…
She notices with a jolt Miroku sleeping nearby and she wakes him by prodding him with her foot.
He blinks red eyes in a face too pale and smiles at her. "Good morning, Sango."
His voice is barely a croak and through the thin blanket she can feel his raging fever.
"Houshi-sama?" She ignores the throbbing pain in her abdomen to turn over. "What is wrong?"
He grins without humor. "It is nothing, Sango."
"You are burning up."
He closes his eyes tiredly and his face adopts the look he wore whenever he talked about the Kazaana. "A side effect of the bee's poison. I haven't fully recovered it from it yet."
She pauses a moment, afraid, but plunges ahead. "Are you going to die?"
"Oh no, dear Sango. I only need a few more days rest."
"Where are Kagome-chan and Inuyasha?"
Miroku closes his eyes. The smile disappears.
"Dead," he says.
"The jewel took them."
She can't understand and she doesn't believe him so he explains.
"Kagome-sama made a selfish wish," Miroku says. "Inuyasha and Shippo were too close and the flame of the jewel got them as well."
"What was Kagome-chan's wish?" Sango wants to know.
Miroku doesn't answer for a long moment. "She wished for Kohaku to live again."
Sango's too empty and too tired to cry anymore so she lays in silence and refuses to ask anymore question.
The next day she meets the owners of the inn and they treat her wounds. They do not touch Miroku. Sango's upset but Miroku tells her not to worry and he kisses the tears away when she sobs. His lips tremble against her forehead and Sango shakes further into her guilt.
The day after that Miroku tells her that the jewel disappeared along with Kagome and that they had accomplished what they had set out to do. Sango accuses him of being callous. Miroku asks her if she'll still bear his child. She ignores him the rest of the day, hating him and everything else, but mostly herself.
The day after that Sango discovers Miroku lied to her and his lips are cold and hollow against her own. She never would have imagined her first kiss would come from a dead man.
She is always the only one that survives. She had been the only one to live through the attack of her brother at the castle and she had been the only survivor of her village.
In this year, she is the only one to survive the curse of the Shikon jewel.
An old man had told her once, after her mother had died and she was too young to understand the workings of life and death, that the survivors had to survive themselves. She didn't know what he meant then but now she thinks she does.
Delirious with fever and heartbreak, she tries to reason it out with Kagome and Miroku, but they refuse to listen to her anymore. In the night, she is restless and twitches under her sheet, battling it out with long-tentacled demons possessing Inuyasha's face.
Occasionally she finds herself petting thin air. She wakes up with tears on her cheeks and soon her face is raw from scrubbing them away.
Weeks go by and slowly she recovers. She adapts and remembers, pulls in to herself all the tragedy and anguish of friends and family that have perished around her.
The taijiya spirit in her stirs.
She remembers a white figure who denied her everything she held dear. If he had but used Tenseiga, all of them would have been saved.
She directs her self-hate outside and inside she vows revenge.
he spends weeks recovering. The owners of the inn invite her to stay with them but she refuses.
Her katana is at her waist and her body is enclosed once more in her taijiya uniform. She's off to slay a demon.
She doesn't forget to leave flowers on Miroku's grave before departing.
She travels on foot, on her own, a lone taijiya without a home. She knows her quarry will not be easily found, but she is a hunter and she is patient and slow.
The first time she catches sight of him is on a mountain top. He is tall and beautiful and alone, and she yells out his name.
He stops for a moment and Sango imagines that he's surprised by her sudden appearance. She unsheathes her sword but by the time she looks again, he's gone.
The second time is only a few days later at the river at dawn, and this time he turns fully around to look at her. He disappears again without a whisper and Sango resumes her stalking.
Days turn into weeks and weeks into months, months into years. Winter comes and goes, spring passes, summer comes and falls away.
Through valleys and forests and mountains does Sango continue her hunting. Again and again does she glimpse the demon king and each time she thinks he has him. She waits for him to charge, waits for him to grow weary of her and end her miserable existence. But each time he falls into the cracks of the world and vanishes.
He gives her only glimpses and she likes to picture how he's going to die. She discusses it with her imaginary friends around the campfire at night and in the gray dusky morning she rests on her back thinking about him.
She runs into Kaede again. The ancient miko is bent double with age and her one good eye is white with blindness.
Sango's heart puckers but she sits a while in her company. She tells her the story of the Shikon, unraveling the sash buried underneath her bosom for all the world to see.
Keade tells her the curse of the jewel was something that could not be avoided. Sango doesn't believe her but she let's the old woman have her convictions. It's all she has now anyway.
When Sango rises to leave, Kaede asks where she is going.
Sango tells her and Kaede frowns. "Why do you follow him?" she demands, her voice a whiny plea. "Why do you continue to pursue him? You know revenge will do nothing for you."
"Because," says Sango. In her breast, revulsion blooms. "Because," she says again, "he is the only stable thing left in my life now."
Again and again she finds him and he brushes by her, a meteor without a landing, and fades into the foliage, leaving her to find him once more.
Once she catches him right after he's felled a giant youkai. Another time he is standing in moonlight and Sango was forced to pause in awe at such a sight. Another time it's by the fallen mountain and another time it's by the Bone Eater's Well.
Around and around they go and on Sango's brain tramples the demon king, far away and impossible to grasp.
She can't remember how many times she's seen him now. Older, but still fit and robust, she sits down and tries to count them out, but there's too many and she loses count after 438.
She hasn't touched him yet, not once. He teases her with the bait then pulls away at the last moment. He hasn't killed her, never even struck her. He denies her the sweet release of revenge and death, tricks her into believing that at last she'll be saved then rips salvation out of her hands with a cold mockery. It's nothing but a game for him.
Around her the world changes and Sango avoids towns more and more. It is not the same place she knew when she was young and happy, nor the place she knew when she was too old to fit inside her youthful skin and the scar of her brother stretched across her back and heart.
She is getting tired.
Time after time, and one mistake, one faulty step in the middle of a snowstorm on a mountain - the demon king a faint figure in the swirling snow ahead of her - and she lands herself inside a ravine. The fall splinters her leg in half and her hip and ribs break.
She grits her teeth and tries to move but she knows it's futile.
She is finished and she is happy. The end has finally come to her and she gives up, subsides her fate to the hands of the elements, relinquishes herself to join her lost companions at last.
And then, he comes for her. He lands gracefully and silently and he looks the same as he did all those years ago; except this time there's no little girl at his feet, nor a little toad behind him. He's alone.
Sango shifts on the cold stone. He's so close. With one strike she could kill him, take him with her, fulfill her task. But she's too weak and too mangled. She bares her teeth. "Why?" she demands.
He doesn't flinch. His eyes are as hard as the ambers they represent and he stares down at her. He's beautiful and cold and unfriendly, and something sparks in Sango's abdomen. He says nothing.
"You knew I was hunting you."
"Yes," he confirms. His voice hasn't changed at all.
"Then why?" she demands again and her volume rises in desperation. "Why didn't you ever kill me?"
"Because," he says slowly, and he speaks as though he's practiced and rehearsed this answer for a long time, "we are the same…you and I. We are always the ones that somehow survive. We are the one's that are forced to carry on when everyone else has faded into death. The survivors."
Sango grins into her own gore. That was going to change.
Her heart struggles and flutters behind her breastbone and with each beat more of her life flows onto the floor. Relief pools into her and she smiles for the first time in years. She's going to die at last.
A heavenly light floods her fading vision and a glorious humming pounds against her eardrums. She wanted him to do that years ago.
"I hate you," she says.
"I know," he says.
Tenseiga slices above her head and Sango is restored to life once more.
Their slick-sweat bodies press tightly against each other and he moves above her. Inside his tortuous embrace she curls, hates him for what he's done and what he continues to do to her.
Her fingernails scratch across the pale flesh of his back. She digs inside him, tears open his skin to bring out what she's been denied, pull out the young boy she's lost long ago.
She feels Sesshoumaru's claws sear through her own back, searching for a little girl he's loved and lost.
He splits her open down the middle and her blood stains the ground.
She's going to die and then he's going to revive her. She knows this and she also knows that this is the way it's always going to be. At the end of the world and beyond she's going to be there, and the demon king is going to be her only companion.
She's going to live forever.
She's always been a survivor.