This Moonlit Night

All was quiet except for the continuous chirping of the crickets and the crinkling leaves as the tall trees swayed, overhead. The forest was silent at this time of night, a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the daytime activities of its inhabitants. Here and there, a random critter darted through the tall grass, from hollow logs to tree roots, from swinging branches to dark burrows, from treetops to tree hollows.

The only other source of noise at such an hour was the muffled crunching of gravel under the feet of a weary traveler. She was a woman, confident in stature, and dressed in a demon exterminator's clothing. She carried a giant boomerang on her back and every once in a while, shifted the shoulder straps for better comfort.

For once, everything seems peaceful, thought Sango. The last major battle she and her friends had been in was some time ago. Seeing as things had quieted down since then, Sango had decided to take off from the rest of the group and visit her father and the rest of the village's grave.

The others had quickly agreed that it was high time they all took a break and so, Kagome and Inuyasha had gone to her time, Miroku had gone to visit his mentor, and Shippo had gone to stay with Kaede in the village.

Sango, herself, had set off for her own village with the setting sun on her face. It had been a while since her last trip alone and she welcomed the journey. The quiet of the night now gave her a chance to think and sort through her thoughts. With no demons or beseeching villagers harassing her, she felt quite contemplative at the moment.

Turning to make sure Kirara was keeping up with her; Sango remembered that she had sent her ahead to be able to travel at her own pace. The demon cat preferred to travel as fast as was possible and not waste any time when there were more important things to get done. Sango usually was of the same mind but this time, she had wanted to travel at a slower, human's pace. So Kirara had reluctantly left her partner and flown ahead.

Sango's thoughts reluctantly turned back to her younger brother, Kohaku. Life just seemed empty without someone to care for and to share a bond with. She understood that he preferred Naraku modifying his memories so he could forget his past deeds; really, she did. But it also made him forget her, and Sango's heart had been dully aching ever since. She missed him fiercely. He was, after all, her brother; her flesh and blood.

Sango looked up at the unusually bright moon in between the branches of the tall trees and sighed. She was becoming so lonely these days. Keeping all her emotions and desires to herself was painful but she knew that telling her friends would just lead to many wasted attempts to cheer her up. And Sango knew they weren't going to work. She was slowly slipping into a depression and nothing she, or anyone else, could do seemed to be able to stop it.

Sadly, she trudged on, forgetting her surroundings and focusing on her saddened mood.

Sango was suddenly shaken out of her reverie by a mischievous chuckle that seemed to say 'I found you'. She came to attention and swung her boomerang around and into her hand. Warily, she crouched lower to the ground and tried to peer through the canopy overhead, in the direction from which the voice had come from.

On a nearby, overhead branch, landed a graceful figure that, unperturbed by her stance, leaned against the tree trunk and regarded her. Sango's eyes narrowed in recognition. Those cold, blue eyes flashed in the darkness and his shining, black hair swished in its braid: There was no mistaking him.

It was Bankoutsu, ever arrogant and cool. Oh, how she despised him, for he was so self-assured, so confident- it infuriated her to no end. His large sword, Banryuu, was strapped to his back and he seemed not in the least interested in pulling it out. He chuckled again and leaped down to the ground, his face still hidden in the shadows.

Sango emitted a growl and prepared to swing her Hiraikotsu at him, not even sparing a moment for an insult. Here was a perfect chance to kill off a member of the Band of Seven, and she sure as hell was going to take it. So eager to finish him off, was she, and that she didn't even spare a thought to wonder what he was doing in the forest in the middle of the night.

"Why, hello there! I wasn't hoping to find you here," he said in a lilting voice, ignoring her stance.

She glared at him, frozen in her tracks; maybe she could spare him a precious moment or two, a last request, so to speak, before she took him down. Not that he deserved to be spoken to; Sango's hands tightened on her boomerang.

"What? I'm not good enough for you?" she replied her voice rising higher as her anger increased; she barely held back the tremble she could feel working its way from her shoulders down her body.

"Oh no, no," he replied, his voice laced with fake concern and amusement. "But where are you going at such a time of night? Don't you know it's dangerous to be out this late? Especially for such a defenseless girl like you."

At this insult to her skill, Sango snarled and swung her weapon at him, hard.

With lightning speed, he jumped over the boomerang and it struck the trees behind him, cutting through them as though they weren't even there. The boomerang returned to Sango's hand with a snap and she turned to where Bankoutsu had landed, closer to her and clearly entertained by her antics.

Within warning, he darted forward and grabbed her wrist, the one that was holding the weapon, and twisted it, loosening her hold on the boomerang. Sango dived to the ground, jerking out of his grip, and swung her leg around, aiming for his knee joint.

Again, Bankoutsu jumped into the air and over her attack; Sango missed him by mere inches, each infuriating inch increasing her rage. He surprised her by pulling out a dagger from his sleeve and flicked it over his shoulder. Sango quickly grabbed her boomerang and blocked the attack. She heard his chuckle before she even lowered her shield.

"Ah, so you think you can beat me with your inferior talents, is it?" He asked lazily before pulling two more daggers, one in each hand and coming at her again.

With a swift and powerful kick, he kicked away Sango's boomerang and prepared to stab her. But he had forgotten that he wasn't the only one with backup weapons. Sango drew a small sword and blocked both of his daggers easily.

Sango was ready for him this time. With her building rage, she began to drive him back, delivering blows that he barely blocked with his daggers. As she continued to attack, Bankoutsu's eyes narrowed and he unexpectedly hooked his foot behind hers in sudden inspiration, making her lose her balance. Sango did the only thing she could: she used the leg that he had a hold of and twisted it to make him lose his balance and fall. Unfortunately, she didn't count on him to continue his descent on top of her.

They hit the ground with Bankoutsu's hands on either side of her shoulders and his face unnervingly close to hers. Sango, startled by this new position, emitted another growl and kicked him, propelling him over her head. He landed on his feet and gave a mischievous smirk in her direction.

"Seems you have ulterior motives in mind, don't you?" He suggested with a raised eyebrow.

"Seems you hit your head too hard on the ground!" She responded angrily and threw another punch at him.

This attack, Bankoutsu was ready for. He grabbed her fist in one hand and in another sudden thought, used his other to slap her flat-handedly across her face. It didn't cause her too much pain, but it left a deep red mark, resulting in Sango giving a hiss of outrage. She swung her sword at him with as much power as she could muster with one her attention on her burning cheek. Bankoutsu blocked it with his daggers, and pushed her back against the tree trunk just behind her.

Sango felt her back hit the tree and gave a grunt of pain. Bankoutsu tried to pin her arms to stop her struggling but she resisted, which ended up in them wrestling into a deadlock, with her still trapped under him.

Finally, he decided how to remedy the situation and with another accusing raise of his eyebrows, as if to imply that all of this was her fault, he jumped back and took off into the trees. Not about to be outrun, Sango took off after him, skirting through the trees and watching his form just ahead.

Eventually, Sango saw him leap down toward a moonlit clearing in the forest and followed without hesitation. She landed to find that Bankoutsu had disappeared in the tall grass and that she was utterly unprepared for an attack, not being able to see him.

Not about to back down in the mood she was in, Sango crouched low in the grass and tried to see through the dense greenery anyway. Silently and slowly, she crept forward once she was sure he wasn't hiding right in front of her. But Sango forgot to watch her back in her eagerness, and so she wasn't prepared for his next attack.

With a leap from his hidden spot on the grass, Bankoutsu landed behind her and with two quick thrusts of his hands, he pushed her knee joints forward; Sango collapsed on the ground, on her back, with a surprised cry. She hadn't expected him to circle behind her; she hadn't expected him to render her weak so fast and easy- actually, she hadn't expected much from him, at all.

Bankoutsu effectively pinned her down with his arms and legs, preventing her from regaining her strength and attacking him. Sango struggled against his restraint before, suddenly, unbidden by her, thoughts of his closeness and how they were touching entered Sango's mind.

She stopped struggling and stunned, looked up into his face. His usually smirking expression was there, but something about it was different. He seemed more vulnerable, right then. More...confused? The normally self-assured and cocky Bankoutsu was wavering, but why, Sango didn't know. With a shudder, she forcefully reminded herself that this was her enemy, and their fight was just that, a fight.

She narrowed her eyes and tried to lift her limbs, but to no avail; Bankoutsu had her effectively trapped. So, she began edging her hand toward her hair, in which she had hidden a small dagger, disguised as an ornament; one of her last resorts. Sango mentally cursed for having to use a weapon she'd thought she'd never have to. Meanwhile, Bankoutsu was trying to rile her up again while she was stuck under him.

"Well, I guess you weren't as strong as you thought then, eh?" He smirked. When this comment had no effect, he tried again.

"So, will we have to be stuck like this all night? With you pinned here, under me? Honestly, I could almost think you did all this on purpose!" He asked her, pleased with him self when he saw her reaction. "My, my, Sango, you must really want me. I must admit I'm flattered."

Bankoutsu felt great satisfaction in seeing the demon exterminator's angry expression; he'd been waiting for it all night. But- along with the frustration, something else surfaced on Sango's face, and it wasn't what he had been expecting. Oh no, Bankoutsu hadn't been expecting it at all.

To Sango's horror, she could feel herself blush; a warm, pink flush that started at her neck and didn't stop until it reached her forehead. She swallowed nervously. Before Bankoutsu could comment on that as well, her hand reached her head and she twisted the dagger out of her hair, jerking her arm loose from his grip. With a blind slash at him, she felt his hold loosen and managed to twist out of it entirely.

Sango jumped up and turned to see a tear along Bankoutsu's front. It seemed that she had only managed to cut his clothes, exposing his pale, muscled chest underneath. She swallowed hard; normally this would not have affected her in the slightest. It wasn't like she'd never seen a man with his shirt off before, but something was happening tonight. Sango could feel the devious blush beneath her skin rising again, but was spared, when Bankoutsu caught her attention with his rapid arm movement.

To her bewildered eyes, Bankoutsu continued the tear on his tunic and managed to rip his whole shirt off with a smooth motion. He stood there; his pale skin illuminated by the moonlight, and caught her eye, a wolfish grin on his lips.

She finally managed to fight down whatever emotion was trying to surface and put on a cynical expression, a trademark of her exterminator upbringing. She crossed her arms and regarded him as he did her, their fight temporarily forgotten. Neither said a word, just stood staring, trying to read one another, and figure out what devilry was causing the weird happenings between them.

Sango didn't know what he was thinking as he continued to watch her but she knew that something was happening to her feelings, though she couldn't understand what. It felt as if a giant hand had gripped her emotions, squeezing them until she'd lost all connection; the loss was disconcerting and Sango felt strange without them.

She shook her head, trying to clear up her muddled mind. Sango would have normally tried to think things through, but thinking was proving to be a bad idea at this point, so she latched on to the one thing she knew was true: they were going to finish this fight, if only to have some sort of finality this night.

Sango ran forward toward Bankoutsu with her dagger clutched in her hand. Shaken out of his thoughts, he spun around and kicked the weapon from her hand. He had come to his own conclusions in the short break they'd had: all that remained was for him to win this battle, so he could get on his way.

With a sharp intake of breath, she tried to jab her elbow into his shoulder but he caught her arm in a surprisingly soft but firm grip, and then grabbed her with his other arm.

Before Sango knew what was happening, his arm glided down along her body to her waist and he pressed her toward him, her face coming closer to his. She only had time for a gasp before he twisted and used her momentum to fling her back into the grass.

The wind chose this moment to start up again, and her long, black hair flared up through the grass and gave away her position to him. Sango swore under her breath and scanned the ground quickly for her missing hair tie; then, she heard him chuckle again in that arrogant way of his.

"Looking for this?" Bankoutsu leaped and landed gracefully in front of her, one foot coming up to delicately lift her chin so she could see the red tie dangling from his fingertips.

Sango hissed in response and swiped at the foot touching her, simultaneously rising to her full height and cursing inwardly when she came up a couple of centimeters short. He smirked down at her and curled his fingers are the hair tie, watching her expression grow ever more irked as the only thing keeping her hair out of her face was taken away.

"Now, now," he chided mockingly. "That's no way to treat an old friend."

"What friend?" Sango gave a snort. "The only thing here that could remotely be called my friend would be that tree trunk over there. And that's because my Hiraikotsu's embedded in it!" –She narrowed her eyes—"You're no friend of mine."

Bankoutsu's smile fell abruptly, and it sent a shiver down her back; her own reaction threw her off guard. As such, she didn't register his swift punch until the forest tilted and she found herself on her back, his face inches from hers again.

Sango didn't know what to think; her senses had suddenly decided to work overtime and the only thing keeping her mind together was the panic that Bankoutsu was about to attack and she was outmaneuvered.

To hell with it all, she flippantly answered herself, her rebellious nature overcoming the panic she should have. She stared defiantly back at Bankoutsu, daring him to say something else infuriating. Just you try, Bankoutsu. Just give me a reason to blast your smart ass right over Mount Hakurai.

"Beautiful-" the word escaped his lips and reached her ears; it took a moment for Sango to realize where it had come from. She stared at him as her breath came in ragged gasps, all thoughts of escape abruptly forgotten.

"What did you—," Sango cut herself off as he flexed his arms on either side of her head and pushed off, standing up and releasing her.

"Bankou—," she started again.

"Well, seems you're more than I thought you'd be," he interrupted her, his voice light-hearted and airy as he turned away. Sango couldn't find it in her to raise her fist or voice at that moment; she just stood there and watched the droplets of sweat glide down his back. "Although, to survive so long against someone like me"—he turned back and grinned at her, his white teeth gleaming—"Well, that takes talent."

She crossed her arms and clicked her tongue, regaining some of her wit. "I'm sure it does." When he didn't say anything else, she rolled her eyes and crossed over the field to retrieve her boomerang. Remarkably, she had her back to Bankoutsu the entire time, and he had ample opportunity to strike—yet he didn't. And she could have feigned her way into striking back as well—but she didn't. Somehow, in a short time, they'd fallen into a truce of sorts.

A breeze swept her loose hair again, and Sango twirled it around her hand, trying to keep it out of her eyes. Something cool touched that hand and Sango was surprised to find her hair unwound and pulled back, out of her face. She jerked in surprise. "Bankou—?"

"I do believe that this belongs to you," he stood behind her, running his hands through her hair while she tried not to shiver. It was over all too soon, and while she mentally berated herself for actually caring, he stood back and admired his work. Sango raised her own hands to feel her hair and was surprised to feel her bangs plaited into tiny braids that fed into the neat ponytail that the rest of her hair had been gathered into.

"Thank you," she turned around to look at him, stunned. "Where did you learn how to do that?"

He grinned, it bordering on a smirk, but Sango found she wasn't as bothered by it as she normally would be.

"When you come back to life and go through it a second time, you find that some things become quite useful. Besides," he gave her a disparaging look. "I've got my own hair to take care of." He flipped his own braid for good measure.

Sango looked away from his gaze in half embarrassment and half amusement, trying to pull herself together. What was she doing? She didn't know. What wasn't Bankoutsu lying at her feet, dead? Sango didn't know how to answer that one either.

"I—," he tried again, reaching out to her with one arm. She turned away and made a wall between them using her boomerang, her heart pounding unnaturally loud to her. They stood like that for a moment before he turned on his heel, and leaped upwards into the nearest tree in one sweeping movement, leaving Sango to stare after him with a slight grin on her face.

"Maybe there is hope for you, after all," she murmured to herself, her words reaching him anyway. Somewhere far above her in the greenery, Bankoutsu smiled and gave her one last glance before leaving.

One thought would continue to play in her mind until she would finally reach her destination in the morning, and even after that: He called me beautiful.

Note: This is now the FOURTH version of this one shot. I thank those of you who've taken the time to give me a review that I could actually use. It's much appreciated, and I'd love it if you guys would continue. This fic is dedicated to Ninjaanne, because without her challenge, none of this would exist.