Disclaimer: I don't own anything, but the idea for this chapter is still mine.
This story was originally supposed to be six chapters at most, but as I wrote it, I realised that not all the conflicts could be smoothly resolved in only six chapters. As I wrote out the plans for the final chapters, I realised that everything could only be answered within ten chapters rather than cramming it in the original number. There were quite a few points in this chapter which could have easily turned the overall theme into Romance (but this story wasn't meant for Romance!) so I constantly had to re-write dialogue and descriptions out.
I know I already thanked Bonzo the Fifth, but I feel I owe him another thank you, due to the fact that if it weren't for his suggestions halfway through the story, I would have missed a big plot element without even realising it. So thank you for your editing skills… I doubt the final chapters would have been as thorough without your help.
She sat on her tatami mat, gazing out the window. Her mind was still filled with the possibilities that were likely to happen for both choices, and the things that would never happen.
She had never had to make such a big decision before, and no one could help her. She had shut her brother out, because it was his concern that would lead him to doubt her sanity, doubt what she had been through and yet, in this time dimension, hadn't been through. He would think she was crazy.
Not that she could blame him. She herself hadn't believed it when it first happened two days ago.
Only two days ago. It seemed to her like it had happened a long time ago rather than just a couple of days. But that was probably because she had been so busy.
She had come to a decision. As regretful as she was about it, there was no other way to go about it. She had mentally crossed off the what-ifs and possibilities in her mind as she had gotten ready for bed. Now it was just a matter of waiting before the figure decided to show up.
The sky was now an expanse of navy blue, and the sounds of people heading back inside their huts for the night filled the quiet atmosphere. The fire was being put out; the orange glow was starting to fade away against the darkness of the night. She was staring out the window, wondering when she would receive the visit, when a thought struck her.
She was about to make her decision… without saying goodbye to him. Urgency swept over her.
She wanted to watch him grow up and become a handsome young man. She wanted to see him continue on a path he enjoyed and appreciated, not because it would enable him to gain status as to whatever he decided to become, but because she wanted to see him happy.
She got back up and headed over to his room, trying hard not to make any sound as she stepped over the floorboards and towards his room. She had to tap lightly, as his door was closed and waking up her father was the last thing she needed to happen.
"Come in," she heard her brother's voice whisper. She entered.
He looked almost pale in the dim moonlight of the room, the covers drawn up around his waist. His hands lay on his lap, and he looked a bit nervous, making the obvious attempt to avoid her gaze as she had done earlier. Clearly the unspoken tension between them earlier was still on her mind, as her expression was a mixture of hesitance and at the same time, determination.
"Ane-ue," he began, not knowing exactly what it was that he was about to say.
"I'm sorry about earlier," she said quietly. He looked back up at her and she could see that he was watching her out of the corner of her eye. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just frustrated, and I couldn't think clearly when you came. It wasn't right for me to let my frustration out on you."
"I'm sorry too," he replied, playing with the covers as he spoke. She turned to look at him, slight surprise etched across her features. "I should have respected your privacy, Ane-ue. But I wanted to ask you something."
She said nothing, only continued to wait for his question. Whatever it was, she would do her best to answer. It was the least she could do for him after everything she had tried so hard to shut him out from, even if he couldn't understand. She owed him this.
"Do you trust me?"
Her throat felt constricted at his question. To him, it sounded nothing but an honest question that only wanted a sincere answer, but to her, it was what she had nearly sacrificed for her own gain, even if it was for the right reason.
"Ane-ue, I thought about what you told me earlier, that I couldn't help you. I'm sorry," he said, staring back down at the blankets as if he thought she was about to yell at him. His fingers continued to fidget nervously as he wanted for her to reply.
"No, Kohaku, I'm sorry," she finally said, trying her best not to let her voice crack. She would not allow herself to cry in front of him. Not now.
"But Ane-ue, I was forcing you to -"
She shook her head, tears burning her eyes despite her best efforts to hold them back. "It wasn't your fault. You weren't forcing me to do anything - I was being - I was being - " Her hand rose to cover her mouth, to muffle the sound of the sobs rising in her throat.
I cannot do this. I cannot just hug him, tell him everything will be alright, and then leave.
Vaguely she heard her brother ask her if she was alright, but she was unable to answer for fear of crying. She just couldn't - not at a time like this. She needed to smile for him, to reassure him that things would be alright even if they would never be alright in the 'other' time, and tell him how much she loved him. She could not leave without knowing she had done the right thing, even if…
… even if they never remember.
She covered her face, trying futilely to hold back the emotional flood that had been rising in her all this time, but the tears spilled over her cheeks, and she looked away from the face that had haunted her dreams so many times in the past; the face that had murdered her friends in front of her. The boy that she would have to witness murdering innocents again, should she choose to return.
"Ane-ue…" She felt his hand on her shoulder, attempting to offer some sort of comfort. "Ane-ue… I'm sorry. Whatever I did… whatever is causing you so much pain lately… I'm sorry."
She didn't want to go back to the shell of an resurrected brother in the other time. She didn't want to see Kohaku's blank eyes, devoid of any emotion, staring at her. She couldn't stand to see him raising that scythe again to complete another slaughter of innocent villagers, just because Naraku ordered him to do so. She didn't want to have to fight him.
She wanted her brother back. It was as simple as that. Maybe it was impossible in the 'other' time, but not this one. In this one, she had the boy who was full of laughter and smiles, the innocent eyes that never gleamed with the crazed intent to kill for any purpose other than the one assigned to him.
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to leave. Maybe she was just being selfish.
"No, you didn't do anything," she said, directing her words at him, but at the same time, sounding more like she was talking to herself. "None of it was your fault."
None of it. I don't care what Naraku says. That boy is not my brother, and if I have to kill myself along with him to make sure the suffering ends, I will do it. I have to. There's no other way.
And maybe returning to the others would give her the chance to claim what she had been fighting for, for such a long time. Maybe it was better she returned to the others, to complete what she had set out on. She would have a much better chance of defeating Naraku if she went with the group.
Should he plan to come back and attempt to destroy the village once again, we have little defence. Perhaps… it's for the better.
Every time I turn around, memories from the past come back to haunt me. I don't think I can live like this for much longer. I can't just forget what happened, because I saw it happen right in front of me. Nothing can change that.
Perhaps… my original decision… is the correct one.
He sat there, and he waited. He had no idea what she was thinking about, because she had turned her face away in an attempt to hide her tears from him, but he could tell that from the trembling of her shoulders that she was still in some sort of pain. Something that he felt helpless for, not being able to do anything to help.
So when she finally turned to face him, her eyes shining with tears, he threw the covers aside and flung his arms around her, holding onto her yukata tightly. He could feel her shaking more than ever now, as she held him tightly to her bosom, just as she had done when he was only a small toddler. Her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke.
"I'm sorry Kohaku. I'm so sorry."
The minutes passed, and they sat there, simply holding each other, neither wanting to break from the embrace. However, the only one to truly feel the pain of separation would be Sango, and she thought she would never be able to let go. When she finally loosened her hold enough for him draw back, she felt a combination of fear and regret churn inside her stomach.
"It's okay," he said, drawing from her.
She moved off of his bed and went to the door, looking back at him for the last time.
This was the boy she wanted back. The boy she was looking at now still had that innocence in his eyes. He wore the gentle smile on his face, and the sound that filled his ears was not one of murderous intent achieved by a swift blade, but of laughter and peace. His hands had never used the scythe to kill a human being for the purpose of none other than being under Naraku's service, and he would never see blood stain his hands. This boy was her brother.
She gazed at him, firmly tucking that image away in her head, because it was the only thing that would keep her going, the only thing that would prevent her from wanting to claim suicide.
Kohaku. I love you, little brother. But no matter how many times I tell that to you, you won't remember anyway…
Nonetheless, the words slipped from her mouth faster than her attempt to contain them, to prevent any more regret. "I love you… Kohaku."
"It's going to be alright, Ane-ue," he said softly, giving her a small smile. Did he know? No, he didn't, but he could pretend; and as long as they had the knowledge that things worked out the way they were supposed to, it was enough for now.
No, it wasn't alright. But it would have to be for now, because he wouldn't remember anyway, and there was no turning back.
She left his room and walked back to her own room in a dazed walk, feeling a wave of disbelief settle over her mind.
I'm leaving everyone. Father, Kohaku…
The realisation directly hit her for the first time, and as she realised how she had reset her own fate, a sort of numbness swept over her, stopping her in her tracks just outside her room. She turned and looked back down the hallway at the door that led into Kohaku's room.
It would be so easy, really, just to tell the Fate that she couldn't do this. It would be so easy to remain here and live out the rest of her life. Once again, tears filled her eyes and she bit her lip to keep the sobs from rising in her throat. Crying would not change anything.
Taking a shuddering breath, she wiped her eyes, and with an air of determination around her, she went back into her room. She didn't have long to wait; after a short period of time, the yellow light appeared in her room, and after it disappeared, the Fate stood in front of her, expression expectant.
"Have you made your decision?" she asked curtly.
Sango swallowed; her throat had gone dry at what she was about to say. "Yes."
"I've chosen - I've chosen to go back," she choked out. The Fate blinked, looking slightly confused.
"And why is that?" she asked slowly. "Did you not want this chance to fix things, to bring them back as they should have been in your perspective?"
It took all of her willpower to suppress the well of emotions that were threatening to burst out of her. "Because I realised something. Even if I do stay here, things will never be the same," she admitted quietly. "I've changed, I have the memories of what has already happened. You even said yourself that this place -" She waved a shaking hand around the room in a dismissive manner " - isn't real. It's just another realm you created to make me see what could have been. I understand that now. Plus, if I were to stay here, Naraku would just find another way to destroy my family and village. I have a much better chance of defence if I join my friends… and I miss them."
The figure was still for a moment as she took in the taijiya's words. "Is that your final decision?"
Sango nodded only once, her gaze never leaving the Fate's.
"Good. Tomorrow morning, you will return to your friends."
And the Fate disappeared in a familiar flash of yellow light.
"Sango! Come on, we have to get moving!" an impatient voice shouted at her.
The taijiya opened her eyes and sat up, immediately taking in her surroundings. It was the same place they had camped in the night before she had been brought back in time. The day looked to be a fairly pleasant one; the scenery consisted of trees, flowers and the sounds of birds chirping, and there were only a few fluffy, white clouds in the sky.
And Inuyasha, Kagome, Shippou and Miroku were packing up, getting ready to go. She didn't move.
"Hurry up, or I'll drag you out of that 'sleeping bag' myself!" the hanyou barked at her, oblivious to Kagome's reprimanding warnings. She shook her head, trying to recall where they had been heading without looking like some sort of stupid fool.
"Sango-chan, is there something wrong?" Kagome asked her. The taijiya shook her head again, attempting to clear it of all the things that had previously happened within the past two days. Almost mechanically she slid out of the sleeping bag and began rolling it up. Inuyasha, being the impatient hanyou he was, took it from her and quickly rolled it up into a somewhat messy bundle of material. Sango just knelt there, trying to get a grasp on things.
"Sango-chan?" Kagome repeated, gentling her voice a bit, sensing something was not right. "Are you okay?" If the taijiya was in one of her melancholy moods, she couldn't understand why. They hadn't had any recent confrontations with Kohaku, nor had they passed by her village.
This time Miroku took notice, as he finished packing up his own things. Placing his staff against a tree trunk for support, he approached her, kneeling down beside her. "Sango, we're getting ready to leave. You might want to hurry," he told her, lightly nudging her shoulder.
Inuyasha stared at her, as did Kagome and Shippou. Inuyasha opened his mouth to say something, but whatever he had been about to say didn't make it out of his mouth before Kagome took his sleeve. She scooped Shippou up into her arms, and headed off, trying to immerse them into some sort of conversation and give her friend and the monk a moment alone.
The monk just sat there next to her, wondering what on earth she could possibly be thinking about to make her act this way. It wasn't that she appeared to be sad or anything, not that he saw any reason that she should be, but that she was not quite there with the rest of them. Often he had seen her lost in thoughts, but right now, she seemed to be virtually unaware of anything else.
"Sango," he said, becoming uneasy at the extended silence. "Is there something wrong?"
"No…" she whispered. But she didn't elaborate like he thought she would, and it only worried him more. "Houshi-sama… could you ask that I be allowed to visit my village?"
"You want me to ask Inuyasha?" he asked, failing to hide his surprise. Normally he would ask her why she couldn't just ask him herself, but he sensed that there was more to this than what he was being told, so with a slightly puzzled look on his face but at the same time with the determination that this odd request would be explained later, he went.
And it was more or less on Kagome's word that she would be allowed to return to her village with a fierce warning to Inuyasha about using a certain command, but the taijiya soon found herself heading back to where it all started. Miroku joined her, telling her that he would come with her just in case. She disagreed at first, trying to convince himself as well as herself that she would be fine and did not need his presence nearby for anything, but deep down inside she knew she would be more fragile than ever once she was inside her village area. Perhaps she needed to come to back to reality, to convince herself that her village was destroyed, and within her mind, be destroyed beyond repair. Things would never be as they once were.
She and Miroku went back to the village. Kagome had said that it would be better if Shippou and Inuyasha stayed with her to give the other two some time alone for whatever it was that happened to be bothering her, and Miroku agreed. Whatever it was, hopefully she would trust him enough to tell him about it once they entered her village region. And if not… he would still respect her silence. After all, it wasn't like he deserved to be told every last detail. He just wanted to know, but he would not pressure her.
It took them the rest of the morning and half-way through the afternoon before they finally reached the area. Sango stepped inside her village, bracing herself for the impact although at the same time expecting it to overwhelm her like always.
She was right.
The sight of the collapsed huts, the damaged temple and the burned, scattered debris torn from the walls and roofs of the huts overwhelmed her senses, causing her to kneel down. She could vaguely hear the monk asking her something, but had no idea what it could have been. It was her home, but at the same time, it wasn't home. It couldn't be.
He had insisted on coming along, but she didn't want him to see the pain she was in. After several attempts at calling her name, he finally knelt down next to her to see if she was alright.
"Sango," he said quietly, not wanting to put any pressure on her but still concerned about her lack of response. "Did you want to say a few prayers to your father? I can wait right here if you want."
She didn't answer.
He grew more worried. Sango had always been melancholy after mention of her home or family, which was understandable, but she'd never blocked him out like this. Then again, he hadn't ever had the chance to accompany her on one of her more personal visits to the village, so he wasn't quite sure what to say.
"Sango? Would you prefer it if I left you alone?" He was starting to think that volunteering to keep her company probably hadn't been the best idea. She preferred to be alone in her grief. At least, that's what he assumed after the many times of watching her leave the group for a few minutes to compose herself after some sort of confrontation with her brother.
Just before he was about to abide by his own suggestion and leave her in her silence for a few minutes, she raised her face back up, her gaze steadily following the graves that lay stationed only a few feet away from the huts. There were a few tearstains on her face, although she had not made a sound, nor had she made any intention of moving closer to where the graves lay. Her hands were on her lap, clenched into fists and trembling.
"No…" Her voice was barely louder than a whisper and he put a hand on her shoulder to offer what reassurance he could. He felt so helpless seeing her like this; why couldn't he think of something to say? He had always been good when it came to words, but now, as he watched her, his mind was blank.
She seemed to come back to herself for a moment, raising her hand to her face and absentmindedly wiping the tears away, as if just realising she had been crying. "I'm sorry," she murmured, although he wasn't quite sure if she was apologising for the tears or for lack of acknowledgement. "I… this…" She had no idea what she was trying to say; her mind was fumbling for meaningless words to fill the silence between them.
"You don't need to be sorry," he said softly, observing her closely. He could sense that something had happened to her, but he wasn't quite sure if he wanted to know what she was thinking. All he knew was that she was in some sort of pain that he could not comprehend, and he wanted to help her. He just didn't know how to.
She got up, slowly approaching the graves. A wave of dizziness swept over her as she came closer to her father's grave, and the nausea rising within her was threatening to overwhelm her at the scene.
I was just here…
She reached out a trembling hand to touch the mound of dirt, to gently move her fingers along the petals of a flower that had been placed on the grave.
Father… I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for what happened. If only I had…
She withdrew her hand as Miroku knelt down beside her, watching her. His voice came out very quietly, so as not to disturb the sombre atmosphere. It sounded almost distant to her.
"Sango, did something happen?"
Did I make the right decision?
"Sango, was there something in specific that you wanted to do while you are here?"
Yes. I wanted to know if it really happened.
"I understand that you wanted some time alone, but Inuyasha, Kagome-sama, and Shippou cannot continue -"
"Did I even do the right thing?" Without warning, she turned and threw herself into his arms, sobs racking her body. He was too startled to respond at first, shock evident in his expression, but then instinct took over and he wrapped an arm around her.
This was only the second time he had ever seen her cry. The first time was when she'd learnt that Naraku had tricked her into stealing Inuyasha's Tetssusaiga, and when she found out the truth, had finally allowed herself to mourn for the loss of her loved ones, seeking comfort and desperate hope in Kagome's arms.
So he sat there, simply holding her and stroking her hair, listening to her cry. He had never taken an opportunity to really offer much, if any, reassurance; to actually sit down with her and talk to her about her goals for the future. He had never bothered to find out much about her aside from the fact she wanted to avenge her family and village by hunting down the despicable bastard. The woman in his arms was the vulnerable side of Sango, the part of her he did not truly understand, nor had he ever taken much of an opportunity to see. She seemed so fragile and alone in his arms, and he tightened his hold. When he spoke, his voice was gentle.
"I'm sorry for everything, Sango." The words were genuine, not the false allure he used on most village girls soon after he met them. He said the words with pure honesty, for the first time realizing just how much pain she hid from the group. He was also just realizing how much he cared for her, how he did not want her to have to suffer any longer. However, there was no way he could cease her suffering; it was up to all of them.
After a few long moments, her crying diminished to sniffles, and she simply lay there in the comforting embrace of his arms, embarrassed for acting like this in front of him.
"I'm sorry," she finally apologized, her voice slightly hoarse as she wiped her face. "I didn't mean…"
"It's perfectly alright," he said, smiling down at her even though she had not actually looked up at him yet. "I'm sure you needed to do that. Sometimes it helps to let out the pain, Sango, before it builds up and overwhelms us."
"But you didn't deserve -"
He drew back from her so he could see her face, momentarily lifting her chin with a finger so she would meet his gaze. "Sango, it's alright." She opened her mouth, perhaps to contradict him, but his gaze was filled with understanding for her sorrow and that was enough to silence her.
She closed her mouth, her gaze travelling back down to the ground.
He got to his feet and extended a hand to her. "There's something I would like to know, and talking about it… here would not be the ideal location. Let's go sit on the steps." She took the offer, and they headed over to the front porch of the building that had once housed a certain jewel. They sat down, although the monk was careful not to touch her in any way that would pressure her into talking. All he said was her name to get her attention, and she looked back at him, her eyes still a bit red from crying.
"I'm a bit confused as to why you wanted to come back here all of a sudden," he said, frowning slightly. "I know that the topic of your family and village is not exactly a happy one, but is there something else going on? Ever since you woke up this morning, you've been acting a bit differently. I don't understand."
She sighed, looking away again. Her gaze travelled past the graves to observe the rubble that used to be huts, past the dead animals to where a bunch of destroyed carts lay amidst the rubble. "I doubt that you would believe me even if I tried to explain. I don't even know if I can accept what happened. It happened so quickly… it could have been a dream. It felt real, but… I just…"
His hand searched out hers and grasped it gently even as her gaze connected with his. "Sango… whatever happened, I will try and do my best to help."
"I don't know if - I don't know if… " She stopped, struggling to gather her thoughts so she could try and give him some sort of explanation, any sort of the vaguest explanation as to why she was so emotional. She knew he was confused and she could not blame him, but she was not sure if she understood.
Did it really happen? Did I just destroy the final chance I had to be with my blood kin again?
Her throat tightened; the words would not come. Miroku frowned and shifted closer to her. He wanted so badly to hold her, to tell her everything would be alright, but he couldn't. The taijiya needed her personal space, and he was not going to take a chance and intrude on it while she was vulnerable like this at the risk of her trust.
"Sango… maybe we should talk about this another time. I don't want to pressure -"
"You're not," she whispered, turning to face him. Unshed tears were still in her eyes, but she was not about to let them fall. He gazed back at her, trying to comprehend the mixture of regret and longing that he saw.
She wanted to hold onto him, to wrap her arms around him and feel the security and comfort of having something to grasp, something to anchor herself with so that she wouldn't succumb to the tragedy that had befallen her village.
Mainly she just wanted someone to trust, someone to depend on when she neared the brink of losing it all, of giving up entirely.
The only person she could really trust as a friend was Miroku, yet at the same time, he was the last person she wanted to trust or needed to confide. Kagome had proved her friendship a long time ago, but something was different with the monk, something she could not quite place. And it was times like this when she wondered if he truly did care about her.
Because that was what she needed most of all.
She restrained from launching herself into his arms. Maybe the reason being that her constant grief so close, she wanted to be closer to someone, to feel the comfort of not being alone despite showing her vulnerability. Her father might think of her as being weak, but she didn't care. She wanted to reach across what little space there was between them and hold on and never let go.
She tried to form a sentence, but failed. How could she possibly explain what she was still struggling to comprehend herself? How could she try and explain to him? He would think she was crazy. After all, time travel didn't really exist. Then again, maybe she was crazy, and the grief was starting to affect her mind. Maybe it was all just a dream.
During her thought processes, the monk had shifted close enough so that she was nearly in his lap. His hand had freed itself from her gentle clutch only to move around her shoulders and slowly, gradually pull her against him so that her upper body was practically leaning against his chest. His other hand had found her other hand and was gently stroking it, as if to reassure her. Instinctively, she knew she should have been angry for him doing such a thing without notice, but at the same time, she just could not bring herself to move away.
"Thank you," she murmured, grateful that he did not question about her lack of proper response.
Thank you for being here.
He didn't reply at first, rubbing her shoulders in a soothing way. They sat there for an extended period of time, neither wishing to withdraw from the embrace. The silence eventually calmed her, and after what might have been anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, she sat back up, her strength renewed.
"I guess I do owe you an explanation," she said, managing a faint smile. "I must have startled you when I… when I launched at you, back near the graves." The hurt from seeing her family dead lingered deep in her heart, but it was easier to accept now.
He raised a hand to intervene. "No, Sango, you don't owe me anything."
"Well, I can understand it if you're confused and want some answers," she said. "Maybe I should explain things to you. At least, I can try and explain as best I can."
She proceeded to tell him everything; from the moment she walked into her village and saw everyone alive again to the chain of events that led her to realize what a decision she still had to make. Upon reaching the part when she had to say goodbye to Kohaku, her voice lowered until it was barely audible to him, and she had to look away.
"I guess a part of me had come to the conclusion that either way I chose, I would gain something and lose something. Even if I remained there, I could never really be myself. I mean, I was still Sango, but I've changed. I've seen things that affected me too much to just forget," she said quietly.
"I know what you mean," he said, watching her.
"I went to say goodbye to Kohaku, and that's when I realised that there wasn't really a choice," she continued on, her voice starting to tremble just slightly. "If I were to remain there, Naraku would still be out there, and there wasn't much of a defence in the village." She looked down, her voice soft yet firm at the same time. "At least if I'm here, I have a better chance of tracking him down, and I'm still with people who care about me… regardless of whether or not they show me that." Before he had a chance to say anything to that last statement, she looked back up at him, her voice becoming more audible. "Did you believe me when I said that I went back in time?"
He looked at her, then finally spoke, choosing his words carefully. "I trust your word, Sango. I'm just not sure if I can accept the idea of… 'time-travelling'. I know you would not lie to me, at least not if you could help it. We've been companions for long enough now that you should not have to resort to lying, especially to people who do care about you, but forgive me… I'm having a bit of trouble processing the fact that you were sent back in time to fix what happened."
"I know. I can barely believe it myself, and it happened to me."
They were both quiet for a long moment, then she voiced her thoughts. "I mean, I can remember it so vividly. The way Kohaku smiled at me, the gentle tone of his voice when he called me Ane-ue, not the emotionless tone he uses to speak when he is under the control of Naraku. He hugged me, and I could feel warmth in him, the love and admiration channelling from his arms, the way he held onto me. He didn't understand, but he suspected, and that made it nearly impossible for me to turn away. I didn't want to have to confront him again in the shell of a brother I once loved as my sibling before he was killed, but I knew that if I returned, I would have to."
"Sango, we will do our best to see that his fate is not death," Miroku said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I promise you that whatever happens, I will do whatever it takes to get your brother back for you." The next words came before he was ready to say them, but his voice remained strong even if he was shaking on the inside. This was the closest he had ever to confessing how much he cared about the taijiya, and he was a bit afraid that she would suspect his feelings for her had begun to change over the past few months. "I will always be here for you if you need me."
She stared at him for a minute, clearly not expecting to hear what he had just said. Apparently she was at a loss for what to say in response to such a statement. "I… Houshi-sama, I…" But she couldn't think of anything else to say. The words hung in the atmosphere between them, and they were both waiting for the other to say something first, anything to cover the shocked and slightly awkward silence. Finally, Sango managed to think up a response.
"Thank you, Houshi-sama," she whispered. "That means - that means a lot to me."
"Sango," he began after a few minutes of silence, his tone sounding a bit cautious, "I know you would not lie to me, but I'm wondering about what you said. You went back in time, and not once did you actually leave us, for any amount of time. How is that possible?"
He wanted to believe what she was saying, that she really had gone back in time. Even if he did not want to accept what she was telling him; if he was able to refuse from hearing her words, the pain and regret in the depth of her gaze convinced him of the honesty of her words. However, he still wanted to know.
"The Fate told me that time had frozen back in this… this dimension," she said, waving a dismissive gesture at the surrounding area of her village without really glancing at it. "She told me that I could choose between this time and the other time, the one where my blood kin was still alive. She said that if I chose to return to you - to the group - this time would continue off from the day I had been transported to the other time. You wouldn't notice any difference because to you, nothing actually happened," she explained.
"Is that why I can't seem to recall you leaving to go anywhere?" he asked, starting to understand what she was saying.
"Yes. You would not remember, but I would because it happened to me. I can remember everything; from the day I left to the day I chose to come back," she said, shifting her gaze to the ground.
He still looked a bit confused, as he was probably still trying to accept the concept of her words, but did not question her any further. "I'm glad you decided to return to us," he said after a moment in a quiet tone, catching her attention. She raised her gaze to meet his.
They sat there, simply looking at each other, then Sango stood up and extended a hand to the monk. "We should join the others, Houshi-sama," she said, attempting to regain her more casual demeanour, the one she used on a regular basis when she spoke to him with the rest of the group nearby. "After all, I did not plan this visit, and I'm sure Inuyasha is becoming very irritated."
He took the offer, standing up and glanced over at the grave, then back at her, keeping his tone light. "Are you sure there isn't anything you still wish to do? Perhaps…?" He let the sentence trail off, allowing her to think about what he was suggesting without having to voice it so he would not make the memories seem any more painful than they already were to her.
She took a deep breath and attempting a faint smile. "No. Another time would be better. I think I just needed to…" She paused for a moment, thinking of how best to say it. "… absorb the truth of what happened, that maybe fate wanted it to be this way."
"The pain will probably always be there," he said softly, gently leading her towards the gate. He stopped as she tugged her hand out of his grasp, taking a wistful look at the graves that lay not so far from the remains of her destroyed home. "But over time it will get easier. Believe me, I know what it is like to lose a loved one. At first you feel as though you cannot possibly go on, but somehow you manage to continue, and every time you decide to get back up and keep going, your resolve is strengthened and you have the courage to make it through another day. That is why our weakness as being human can become some of our greatest strengths. It is our weaknesses that challenge us to overcome the obstacles in life and only makes our determination stronger so we can overcome those obstacles. As a result, that brings out the better person in each of us."
The taijiya stared at him for a moment, then a small smile graced her features as she looked back at the graves. "I know," she said simply. "I know." His words were not necessarily meant directly for her, but they brought a sense of comfort to her, and she was grateful for what he had said.
The two left the village area, each getting lost in their own thoughts about what might have happened if things had not gone the way they had. Tragedy would never be an easy thing for either of them; they had already lost so much, but through challenges and self-realisation, they would become even stronger despite such loss. Mainly Sango.
Time may not have given her a choice, as each had its own gain and loss, but it had shown her another possibility in what seemed to be a fated decision.
Perhaps she could learn to cherish what fate had decided to give her, rather than what she was about to lose or what she had already lost.
Perhaps time was the answer after all.
Finished typing - January 6th, 2006
Final edit and posted – January 19th, 2006
No sequel. This chapter already exceeded its original expectations, and it was more successful than I thought it would ever be. For those of you that reviewed: thank you for doing so and know that you have kept motivating me to write more, to be make this story the best it could possibly be; for those that didn't: I hope you still enjoyed reading it. There were times (specifically in Chapter 8) when I wasn't sure what on earth I could do to keep the story flowing, while keeping in mind how the characters would be affected by the chain of events that happened without altering their personalities. There were also some background issues which caused me to backtrack my original plan and go, 'Uh oh, this isn't working!'.
Nevertheless, I kept going, although not without help, and the end of this story is the result of that. So thank you for sticking by me.
- Iggy, Essence of Angst