Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah. (Translation: I'm broke, I mean no harm, so don't sue.)

Dedication: To my dad (even though he'll hopefully never read this).

Author's Note: I hate to say that I completely stole the concept for this story from Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! but that's essentially what I did. I'd like to think of this little story as more of an homage to those terrific works (beyond terrific, actually, both of them; can't recommend many readings more highly). Unfortunately, homage is probably too forgiving a word for this story and I just hope that neither author (if they knew) would be offended at my attempt to borrow their concepts a little. Seriously, if you come away with nothing else after reading this, come away with two great reading recommendations. In fact, screw this story and go out and read them now. You'll thank me later.

Mood Music: Tori Amos's "Winter."


To Be Proud

By Starzki

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

I don't know what I thought being dead would be like.

I never imagined this.

I am nowhere. I am nothing.

Sometimes I'm blind. Sometimes I'm deaf. After all, I no longer have eyes or ears.

But sometimes I can see. Sometimes I can hear.

I'm allowed to watch her sometimes. Sometimes, I can hear her prayers.

My lovely girl. My eldest. My firstborn.

My Sango.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, I fought today. I killed a worm demon. It was easy. I will always thank you and honor you for the training you gave me.

She had a good day today. I can always tell by her prayers. It's both a blessing and a curse to be able to hear them. When they are short and matter-of-fact, I know that she is happy, just reporting in to me to let me know she's well.

Days when she has fought and won battles make her happy. I think it is because she thinks that those are days when I would be most proud of her.

It is days like this that I wish only for a voice to let her know it would please me best to see her happy. That's all I want. It is my failure as a father that she thinks that she must continue fighting in order to honor me.

But I'm pleased that she is pleased.

She thinks she is one demon closer to her brother. I am not convinced that she is right.

I am not allowed to see Kohaku. Whatever power that sometimes gives me sight does not let me see my son. At least not yet. From what I have learned of him, I don't know whether to look forward to or dread the opportunity to watch him.

I can only follow Sango and, even then, only sporadically. There is no rhyme or reason to the small skits of her life that I am privy to, but when I am there, I am all there. There is no bird's-eye view. It is an all-eyes view. I can see and hear everything. I can also taste a little of everyone's emotions. Death brings an unusual empathy toward life. I can feel it pouring out of everyone I watch. My non-corporal presence absorbs the entire essence of the setting. When I can watch I am everywhere and everyone to a small degree.

I have watched her struggle and battle. I have watched her sleep. I have watched her talk and wander around with her new group of friends.

They are strange.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, I thought about you today as I was walking through some rice fields. I suddenly remembered a dinner from years ago. Nothing special happened at that dinner, but I remember, at the time, thinking that I was really happy and that I hoped I would remember that moment with you and Kohaku. I guess that I have. I miss him. I miss you. I swear to you that I will keep him here for as long as possible. I'm sorry to want to keep him from you . . . I just need him for a while longer. I'm sorry.

Sango is love. There is no other definition that could come closer to the truth for me.

Ever since she was little, Sango's presence could always fill the room. She was never loud and she wasn't big for her age, but whenever she was in the room, it always felt full. I realized it was her heart that was filling all the empty spaces around her.

Sango's heart is so huge it surrounds her and everyone else she encounters. She loves with an ease that is scary for a father to witness. I thought that loving so recklessly would only set her up for hurt.

But then, I had forgotten everything else that comes with having such a huge heart.

The heart is also the seat of courage. Sango's heart is so big not only because she can love so well but also because it made room for her bravery. My fearless girl will take on anything or anyone to protect those she has welcomed into her heart. Her little flaws, her stubbornness and her quick temper, are only symptoms of the strength of her heart defending itself.

A true source of pride in my abilities as a father would have been for teaching her how to use the resources of her heart so well. But I can't take that credit. I was always too reserved. I bit my tongue when I should have been telling her, telling her mother, telling Kohaku, exactly what they meant to me, how deeply I cared for them.

If anything, Sango was the one who taught me how to use my heart. I was an eager and willing student of hers in the proper ways to love those around me from the second she was born. I also think I have so much trouble moving on from this in-between place because I want so badly to keep learning from her. Right now, she is the only one left that can teach me how to be a good person. I need to keep watching so that I can take that which comes so naturally to her, her ability to use all of her heart, with me to whatever fate, whatever place awaits me.

I wasn't finished learning.

I'm not finished learning.

So I watch.

Even now, I'm able to learn just how much more I could have loved. I learn just how inadequate I was at letting those around me know what I really felt for them. It's as much a lie to withhold a truth as it is to disrespectfully tell an untruth to a person's face. I have been such a sinner in that regard.

To have fully understood her lessons in the importance of heart during my lifetime would have made braver and stronger. If only I had paid more attention to her while I was alive, I might still be living.

It is no mistake that she was able to survive. A heart as strong as hers will not so easily be stopped.

I would feel like a complete failure as a man, as a father, if I tallied everything that I failed to teach her. But I'm intensely proud to have known her. Sango is everything a person could be proud to know and have had in their lives. I hope the people that surround her now realize how special they are to even be acquainted with her.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, the day was long. I am tired. I am sorry that I can't say much to you tonight. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. Are you there? I miss you.

I'm not quite sure what to think about her taking up and traveling with demons.

I've known Kirara my entire life and don't worry about her. I think I may love and respect Kirara more than Sango, herself. I'm glad that I entrusted Sango's care to the fire cat demon so long ago. The sweet purity of their relationship could save the world if the living weren't so blind and ignorant to see how beings should treat one another.

The young fox demon did give me a brief pause, though. Sure, he's cute. He's a child. Grown fox demons are troublemakers. I've never exterminated one, personally, nor have I ever heard of a need to. Their mischief is too harmless to bring those they plague to demon-hunters. But I've heard they can be quite annoying.

I guess Shippou is a little different. Grief has made him too wise beyond his years, like my Sango. I think she recognizes that trait in him, too. Realizes that they share that same burden of outliving their kin.

She likes Shippou and I can't help but like what I've seen of him too. He has a warrior spirit, if not the constitution. He tries hard, which is more than I can say of some of the men who worked under me. Put that little fox's heart in any able-bodied exterminator and I would have been proud to lead them in any battle.

I have problems trusting the hanyou.

I have to confess it is my own prejudice about his demon lineage that makes me lack faith in him.

Death gives me a remarkable freedom with honesty.

If Inuyasha was fully human, I could not imagine a better match for Sango in battle or on a more personal level. He has a fighter's spirit and I know that he recognizes that spirit in her.

Inuyasha respects Sango. And from what I can tell, Inuyasha appears not to respect much in this world.

The hanyou is strong, maybe even stronger than my daughter, so it makes me proud that he sees the fight in her that I did have some small hand in developing in her youth.

Although I shouldn't, I take his respect of her as a positive reflection of me as a father.

I shouldn't care what a half-demon thinks. I shouldn't care what anyone thinks.

But Sango respects Inuyasha in turn. She likes him. She trusts him.

And from what I've seen of him, I should trust him as well.

Sango and Inuyasha have so much in common despite the vast differences in their upbringing. Sango was brought up in a loving family and community, deprived too young of her mother. But she was happy for most of her life and for that I do willingly take some credit.

Inuyasha, on the other hand, had no one. He also lost his mother too soon, but he was alone. It is hard for me to imagine how such similar souls emerged from such different backgrounds. From what I've seen, heard, felt, and otherwise sensed from Inuyasha, I like that he's with Sango on her journey, that he's a part of her life, even if he is partly a dangerous demon. They are so similar in nature that at times I find myself cheering for Inuyasha because he is so much like Sango.

In death, I've learned to be more accepting of the living. Here, I can see what I thought was evil was merely just different. So my distrust in him is incomplete. I don't lack as much faith in him as much as I would have if I were living. I guess that death does allow the soul to see some things more clearly.

I'm glad that I was unable to pass on my prejudices to Sango. It would probably have proved fatal for her had she acted as I would have and not trusted the hanyou and gone on to fight Naraku alone.

My daughter, the only truly surviving demon hunter of our village, has no problem living her day-to-day life with demons.

Again, I have so much more that I have to learn from her that I feel that I must not move on until I know as much as my Sango.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, I'm sorry that I haven't talked to you in a while. We've been busy and I've been so tired. Kagome thinks that we're close to another jewel shard. I keep hoping it's Kohaku's. Then I can save him and have him back with me. Wouldn't that make you proud of me? Is this a prayer? Am I just being selfish? Is this a prayer? I just want him with me so badly. I know I could protect him if I only could keep hold of him. This is not a prayer. I'm sorry.

I have no hesitation when I state that I like Kagome.

It took a few different times of being able to watch over Sango and her group before I could finally piece together exactly who the strangely dressed girl was and what she was doing as a part of the group that so readily accepted my daughter.

I understand a little. She is not of our time. Their time.

Her heart is as nearly as big as Sango's and that makes me almost love her. No doubt, I would love like a daughter her if I had ever been able to meet her while living. I come as close to love as a dead person can as I watch her try to help heal Sango.

Kagome isn't a fighter, really, but she is brave, braver than I ever was. But her talent seems to be in faith.

I think Sango envies Kagome's life although Sango would never show it. Kagome hasn't survived anything close to the tragedy that Sango has and can love freely and openly. She can also surround herself with family and friends whenever she wants. But Sango has enveloped Kagome into her enormous heart in spite of any envy that she may feel.

I am more glad that Sango has met Kagome than I can express.

Sango never had any real girl friends to talk to. She was an oddity in our village. Girls didn't actively dislike her, but they never understood her desire to fight. They never shared their gossip or other girl talk with her, afraid it would spread to me or the other men and boys she fought along side of. As much as I liked that Sango didn't take part in that silliness, I felt as though she might need it as a part of any girl's childhood.

Kagome is a friend to Sango in every way that I could have hoped for. From what I have seen, they have their girl talk, but Kagome does not indulge in the malicious gossip that is so entertaining to some girls. Sango can go to Kagome with every thought and feeling that she is willing to admit to herself and Kagome is ready with unconditional support and love for Sango.

I am glad for Kagome's presence in my daughter's life. I wish that I had been able to meet her.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, I don't know. I just don't know. I . . . What am I supposed to want in my life? I know that I want what I had. But I know that I can't ever have that again. What is supposed to fill up that void in me? I feel so alone sometimes. I feel so selfish when I just want to stop fighting and maybe just get married or something. Also, whenever I feel sad and depressed without all of you, I feel guilty that I survived and I know I should be grateful for that. But when I am happy and content to be alive, I feel like I should be sad or in mourning to have lost everyone. Which is right? I'm so stuck. I want to move on and find a way to be happy, but I feel so dishonorable when I do. I know that I must avenge your deaths. But . . . I'm so confused. I don't think that anything I can do will make you happy, will make me happy. Can you send me some kind of sign? Anything? Am I doing right? I'm so confused and I need you. What should I want?

When she worries about her future, I know she's worried mostly about that lecherous monk because she imagines a future that involves him.

I don't like that monk.

Miroku.

If he's the Buddha of the future, I'm a former geisha.

I don't like him.

I'm bewildered and bothered that Sango does. I'm afraid that she more than likes him.

The first time I witnessed him put her hands on her in an entirely non-monk-like, non-just-friends, pure pervert manner, I nearly lost it.

I began, in earnest, to try and figure out a way to go back, to become a ghost or spirit that could possess some sentient being with terrible teeth and claws to rip that young man apart. I would have become some of the very things I used to hunt to teach Miroku to keep his hands to himself.

Again, I had underestimated Sango, because in the next instant, she had taken the very retribution that I had wanted for myself.

I was proud of her. That's my girl.

But she still liked him. Maybe more than liked him.

It was hard to understand. I began to watch the two of them closely whenever I was given the opportunity.

I often forget how beautiful Sango is. Beauty was not a focus in our family. Yes, Sango's mother was beautiful, herself, but I fell in love with her and married her because of who she was, not how she looked. Beauty was incidental. It wasn't a negative thing, but it wasn't a positive thing, either. Sango learned to make herself presentable but was discouraged from spending any time or energy on her looks, worrying about beauty. Our faces and bodies were regarded in terms of function rather than form. So long as everything worked properly from the inside, the outsides were acceptable, too.

Miroku reminds me often of how beautiful she is in his open appraisals of her. While his forwardness angers me, I see nothing but honesty in his assessments of her physical appearance. Sango is a woman who should be told how beautiful she is by a man who loves her. And Miroku is somewhat redeemed in my judgment in that he seems to appreciate more than her physical qualities. He seems to understand her and is drawn to her personality and spirit. But for the longest time, I could not figure out what made her seem to like him in return.

After much study, I think I've begun to realize why he is so able to draw her in.

It is because he scares her a little bit. My fearless Sango-- who has never been thrown off balance or frightened of anything in her life-- is afraid of him.

She isn't afraid for her physical safety around him. She could easily take him in any fight, I'm confident. But she's still unused to the type of person that he is and that is what is disconcerting to her. He surprises her with his thoughts and actions, both the bad ones and the good ones.

Sango was never teased or baited as a child. It was not in my or her mother's natures to do so. Anyone else who was tempted to treat her lightly feared what I may have done if they had tried. People were always respectful to Sango, her needs, her personal space.

This young man was different. I could feel his respect for her emanating from his being, but he took a playful, nearly sadistic (or masochistic) joy in getting under her skin and keeping her on her toes. His skills in life and in battle are so different than those cultivated in our village.

He could stand his own in battle not only with his strength and skill, which I will admit that he does indeed have. He also fights with his intellect and his power over words and uses both to avoid fighting whenever possible.

Sango and I come from people of action and few words. Miroku is more words than everyone Sango had ever met before.

He is so different from her that it scares her a little. Unfortunately for me, it also intrigues her a lot.

I wish I could say I hate the monk. But he has been too useful in their battles, too able to cheer her out of her dark moods, too steadfast in his loyalty and respect toward my daughter for me to hate him.

But I don't like him.

Maybe it is because Sango does. Maybe because she even more than likes him.

I fear this will take some getting used to.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, I'm too weak to do this. It's too much. I don't want to die, but I'm too scared to keep living in such grief. What will happen to me if I lose more? If I lose Kohaku? Or the friends I've grown so close to? I fear I will be sucked into my own grief; that my heart with collapse and become a black hole of a wind tunnel that Miroku bears that I will not survive. I want to kill Naraku. I want him erased from all memory and time. I want him so dead that he never existed. I want it so badly that my skin crawls. I'll never have true justice, though, will I? I can't make things what they were. What use am I to you? You must be so disappointed in me.

Sango is crying.

I am allowed to witness this. In a way, I can even taste her tears, her grief is so palpable to me. I've been allowed to watch her all day. It was a very hard day to have to witness. It must have been even worse to live through.

It started out ordinarily enough from what I have come to expect from her new routines. Then, as Sango and her friends were nearing a village, a strange child ran up to them and beseeched their help. A demon was destroying this young girl's village and she had been sent to find willing allies to assist them in their struggles.

Ironically, this village was not too far from the village where Sango was born and raised. It used to fall under our protection because demons wouldn't dare cause trouble so close to an entire population of slayers. This young girl's village had no defenses because it had not ever needed them.

So much harm came from my failure to anticipate the trickery associated with the sacred jewel. I should have known better. I should have been better. I have so much to regret.

My lovely Sango jumped at the chance to once again protect the village that neighbored ours. So did the rest, though the hanyou needed light convincing.

They were too late to save anyone.

The raptor demon had gone berserk. It destroyed homes, livestock, and human lives in a fit of pique that was unusual for even the most powerful of demons.

The vile thing stood heaving and dripping sweat, blood, and saliva in the epicenter of his destruction. It was insane, even by demon standards. This made him unpredictable, which was dangerous. But his madness was also a weakness.

Sango and her friends fought the demon with valor. Sango did well by my teachings and again I was reminded that I did do some things right in my life.

Inuyasha was the one eventually successful in putting the putrid thing out of its misery.

Sadly, the damage had been done.

The young girl, nearly forgotten during the fight, drew their attention with her wails of grief. She stood next to her destroyed house. She pulled and tugged at what remained of her family in the futile attempt to wake them.

Everyone felt for the girl but I could actually hear Sango's heart breaking. Sango was the only one who truly understood everything that the young girl would have to endure as the sole survivor of her clan. But even Sango could not be a comfort for the girl.

I wanted some kind of physical form so that I may be able to comfort Sango as she heard her own tragic circumstance being echoed in the young girl's wails.

Sango stood solidly and unmoving amongst the wreckage, death, and newborn grief. As her eyes stubbornly filled with tears that she even more stubbornly refused to shed, Miroku softly came up behind Sango and reached out and took her hand.

Neither Sango nor Miroku said anything. There was really nothing to say. I'm not completely certain that Sango even registered that Miroku was silently offering her a little comfort, he was so quiet about it. His look was intense as I could feel him radiate support. I know he hoped what little he could give would be enough for her. I think that maybe it was.

Sango's eyes dried and her own sorrow subsided to the extent where she could function normally again. Miroku dropped her hand and moved away from her with my sudden gratitude that he was in her life.

Sango and her friends spent the rest of the day searching for and finding another village and family to take in the orphaned girl. Then, they went on their way once more.

They stopped for the night and settled into restless sleep.

Sango cries.

And she prays.

And I am deaf to all but her anguished entreaties.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Father, when I was young, I used to wonder what I would do if you were no longer with me as you were. I wondered how I would live if you died or were injured in such a way that you didn't recognize me. I hated that you were a slayer because it made me so scared that I would lose you. When I would wonder what my life would be like without you, I would upset and scare myself so greatly that I would begin to cry. I hated any life that I could imagine that didn't include you. I vowed to become an even better slayer so that I could protect you so that you could be with me until I was ready to let you go. I guess I failed. And I wasn't ready to be without you. I'm still not ready. I had so much more to learn from you that it's not fair. Who would have guessed that the reality of life without you would be so much worse than my most terrified, scared imaginings? I still feel your love, though. I've never questioned that you loved us. I know more than I know the sun will rise tomorrow that it is your love I am feeling right now. I'm too unworthy of it, though. I let you die. I let that bastard take him away. I couldn't help that girl. What good is all that wonderful training you gave me if I have to bear witness to so much tragedy that I could have been able to prevent, but didn't? I'm so tired of this life. Are you . . . Are you . . . Never mind. Father, I swear to you now that someday I will become a daughter that you could be proud of.

Did I fail her? She's more than I ever would have wished for. Why doesn't she realize that?

I did teach her to stand on her own, though. I can be proud of myself for that.

She survives.

I didn't. And I still regret all the things I didn't do or say to make those I loved realize how much they meant to me. I will have those regrets for all eternity, I think.

Even if I'm never allowed to see Kohaku or Sango in their lives or in the afterlife again, I still have the same wish for both of them.

I wish them to lead lives that make them happy. Nothing would honor my time with them more than to have been somewhat responsible for two good, honest, happy people that enliven the world with their presence. I hope they will realize this before sadness and anger change them too much from the wonderful children I knew.

I want nothing more than that as my legacy.

END.


AN: According to Aino-kaachan's website, Around the Campfire: " 'Miroku' is the Japanese form of the Sanskrit Maitreya (Buddha of the Future)." I just thought that Sango's dad would probably find his name troublingly ironic. ;-P

This was my little ode to Sango. Too sappy?

Now go read Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and this will have been time well spent. Really. Shoo! To the library or bookstore with you!

(Originally posted 6-10-05. Re-edited and reposted 6-12-05)