Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha.
Written for GeoFount.
Seeing is believing.
Seeing is believing, and Sango knows this, knows and recognises this. It sinks in like a needle, the realisation of what she sees. It's deep and painful, but leaves little to no mark. Her knuckles whiten dangerously as her hands clutch and maul her exquisite clothes, her throat so tight for she has forgotten to breathe. His name freezes on her tongue.
She wants to believe her eyes are lying, that maybe the familiar face that stares back at her for only a moment, before losing contact, is just an apparition, but when he's only a stretch away, within arm's length, even Sango cannot resist. She wants to believe her eyes are lying; she also wants to believe the impossible. Her heart may know what it wants, but it doesn't want to pick.
It's drowning, suffocating in confliction.
Show me the truth, she says to herself as her eyes devour the sight of the man passing by, and all the while she's cringing at the expensive threads she's been forced to wear for years. Who are you?
The man disappears into the crowd.
In a raspy whisper Sango croaks out his name. Or rather, his title.
Sango starts folding her old taijiya garb back up; she's been staring at it for a good ten minutes and it's about time she put it back. An image of the last time she wore it has been dredged up, something memorable for all the wrong reasons. Sango closes her eyes from the trauma, but it never fades.
Doubt clouding her mind, Sango chews her lip and tucks the remains of her old life beneath her futon, just like always. She hasn't worn them or her plain green and pink outfit in years; it is forbidden, and it was all she could do to convince Takeda not to burn them. Rags, he called them, of no more use to her. Sango was his now. Only the finest silks for her.
Only a few steps away does Sango stop, glancing over her shoulder.
Sango speaks, but it's a mindless mumble, and she can't be certain it isn't all in her head. Rest in peace, she whispers.
And now the sky is in turmoil, and Sango feels the prickle of eyes upon her, peeling off her kimono in layers. The festival is crowded and the night games have started, so Sango cannot even begin to pinpoint where that gaze is coming from.
Sango looks for him everywhere. She never finds him.
Thunder booms, and jagged claw marks of lightning illuminate the sky. But as Sango looks around like a scared animal - though she hides it so, so well - it seems that no one else is perturbed by the weather that threatens to ruin the festival goings-on. As it's not the first time she's imagined such things, Sango struggles to brush it off.
For the remainder of the night she participates and fakes her glee, but secretly she's aching to pull the sticks from her intricately styled hair and shake it free, to shrug out of those stifling, itchy robes and slip back into her old skins.
"Cut your hair," Sango demands, not for the first time, but it's the first thing on her mind after -she cringes- after waking from that. Nightmares are no stranger to her.
Takeda doesn't; she's only his wife, after all. Each day he wears it up, but unlike when they first met, he now leaves much down so it cloaks his shoulders. The sight makes her apprehensive. It has for years. She can't keep her skin from crawling with disgust. It carves a pit into her stomach that is not easily placated.
Sango stares and blinks, once again disturbed by the sight. The resemblance grows year after year, and she finds it increasingly difficult not to simply take a blade to him at night. Passionate and broken, she'd bind and gag him, then entangle her hands with twists of his long black hair and yank painfully at his scalp, as if to rip the hairs out one by one, right before sawing it off in large hunks.
Then she would burn it.
Each time she runs this routine through her head, the scene grows in nastiness. Her runaway imagination almost shocks her with its pseudo-cruelty, but she always defends herself in the end.
It's all a delusion; she was there when the other was killed. Seeing is believing, after all.
Still, Sango has hopes that no matter what, her sanity can be salvaged…
…so long as his eyes stay the right color.
Now even in the halls of Takeda's castle Sango feels like she's constantly under watch. Unfamiliar guards pass by when no one's on duty, and she can barely resist the urge to turn around and smack them for staring at her from behind.
Sango shivers as another walks by, and this time she doesn't look back. She reaches her room and stays there until she falls asleep, alone. Takeda is entertaining guests, and he's long since given up forcing her to attend. Sango finds all of it boring.
She travels back home, back to a village that was never ravaged and destroyed by youkai hordes, never desecrated and reduced to rubble. A village where her family and fellow villagers are still alive. A village where her little brother's sins are gone, and on her back the skin is smooth and silky, devoid of gnarled and twisted flesh, results of poor healing. A village where everything is perfect and frozen in the past.
Her 'travels' are somewhat comforting, so long as they don't go awry.
Sango walks from the well, balancing two pails of water hanging from a yoke over her shoulders. Waving feebly at a young child staring up at her, she continues on her way, taking no notice of the darkening sky. Then the thunder begins to rumble and groan. A glance around shows everyone scattering like rats fleeing a sinking ship. The earth trembles and she loses her balance under the weight of the water. Like a limp doll, she slips and crumples to the ground amidst spilled pails, gasping and frantic and barelyundercontrol. Only then does Sango look up.
As if a face were appearing through the clouds with all but the eyes obscured, a set of large eyes is peering down at her with red pupils.
A chill runs down her back, and Sango is frozen, unable to rise, to turn tail and run. Then giant clawed hands made of wavy black hair begin spiraling and twisting down from out of nowhere with lightning speed, headed straight for her.
Sango doesn't even have time to scream by the time they tighten around her throat.
And then suddenly the visions dancing in her head are violently shattered apart, like a heavy stone taken to a mirror. Glittering shards of her dreamworld sprinkle everywhere. Sango gasps as she breathes in anew, then shrieks.
Someone is shaking her shoulder, and Sango continues shrieking, shuddering herself awake as she further entangles herself in her bedclothes. A warm hand quickly covers her mouth and forcibly clamps her jaws shut, leaving her muffled and whimpering until the shadows part enough for her to see who else is in the room.
"Shhhh, Sango, it's me," he calls out softly, wrestling with her gently because she's writhing and convulsing in a violent and frightening manner. It's still very dark, but for once the sight of him soothes her into submission. His eyes, his eyes, they aren't red, so run the thoughts in her head. His voice is calm and familiar, like a balm…
…and yet he sounds almost foreign.
Sango breathes heavily through her nose, and he moves his hand, replacing it along her jawbone in a kind gesture. "Sango, are you okay?" he asks, stroking along her cheek and then the corner of her lips.
His fingers are uncharacteristically rough at the tips.
"I'm fine," she lies.
"Sango," he goes on, "we have to leave." His voice becomes low and urgent, almost desperate. Sango bristles. "Immediately."
He silences her immediately, finger upon her lips. "There are thieves in the house. We must escape. Take your most precious belongings, grab them quickly and then we leave. They can have my riches," he whispers with an uncharacteristic snort, "but they cannot have our lives."
Sango doesn't have time to blink let alone argue before he has her on her feet, and soon she is stumbling around in the dark for her valuables. There is no time to ask, and even afterward, her skin is crawling too much for her to question the logistics of thieves.
All she gathers are her old clothes and her sword. Nothing else is left.
When they stalk quietly through the castle, Sango can't help but notice the little things. His posture, his attitude, his nature, even which shoulder he's thrown most of his hair over. How he's walking behind her instead of-
But Sango immediately stops that train of thought. That route is a dangerous one, and she knows it. When under stress, people don't always act like themselves. Sango knows this from experience.
She'll just have to keep from letting her guard down.
Once outside Sango begins walking down the path he points out to her, clutching her things tightly to her chest. It takes a few moments to realise the crunching of leaves beneath her feet should be much louder, much more signifying that two are trudging along instead of-
Sango pauses, and the leaves stop. She resumes and then stops; so do the leaves. She listens for a moment, then turns around, her eyes widening. Even in the darkness of night she can tell that she is alone.
A few moments later the sound of jangling metal rings can barely be heard behind her as it battles against the wind. Sango cautiously turns, heart in her throat. She nearly drops her things.
There's no time for asking questions, let alone answering them.
"Where…" But Sango receives an answer before she can even finish croaking out the question.
"Hatchi." Confusion spreads over her features, prompting his elaboration: "That was not your husband, but Hatchi. I had him bring you out here."
"…Why?" And all this time she's yearning to grab and hold him close. Anything to prove that seeing is believing, that the one before her is… is…
One hand is on the shakujou, while the other, the gloved one, he clenches in on itself empty-fisted. "Because you were miserable."
There is a parable, he says almost urgently, that Sango should know. The parable of the rich man and the burning house. He explains how a rich man once lived with all of his sons in a large house with only one door. One night a fire broke out and soon the walls were aflame, but deep inside the house the rich man's sons were too engrossed in their games to listen to their father try to explain the danger they were in. In order to save them, he says, the rich man told them that if they went outside to beyond the gate they would find rare goat carts. At hearing this, his sons stopped their games and scrambled their way through the burning house to beyond the outer gate. But there were no such goat carts.
Sango feels it doesn't quite apply, but she has no time to respond. He's got her by the waist and they've broke into a run. She can barely keep up, and soon they're running so fast she wonders how he can see so well in the dark.
Most of her thoughts are left in the dust, along with Takeda's castle. One of the few that can catch up is tugging at her: where did Hatchi go, and where has he been for all this time?
They travel throughout the night, and when day breaks he sleeps.
Sango is home again. She watches the sunrise, Kohaku limp by her side, his head upon her shoulder. The scent of dirt and blood is thick in the air, he's cloaked and covered with it - just the scent, though, for his clothes and skin and hair look clean. Faced forward, Sango is sobbing and trembling in place because she can't figure out why.
His smile is wrong.
Sango tries not to let a frown cross her features, tries not to let anything bother her. It's only a couple more days' time before they should reach-
"-the village. I know it's been years and things have changed-"
Seeing is believing, but as Sango looks at her twenty-six year old body in passing while he talks, then steals glances at him - and the years have been far too kind to him, she thinks - she wonders if there's more to it than that.
His smile isn't all that seems wrong. It is now, as they travel together under the guise of night that she begins to notice them, one by one. They are little things, minor things which seem only slightly off, slightly not right, but Sango is almost certain she isn't imagining them.
Sango begins to wonders if she really knew him as well as she thought she did.
The sudden touch of a hand upon her rear does little to elevate her faith, and when she slaps him and glares it's all half-hearted. She barely glimpses the slight flicker that surrounds him immediately thereafter, as he rubs his cheek.
Standing upon a hill darkened by sunset, Sango is young again, a young taijiya on a mission, and Takeda Kuranosuke towers over her. Her hands are in his, and though she's never met him before, joy bubbles within her. His eyes aren't red.
The way he walks, the way he talks, the way he says her name.
Seeing is believing, and so Sango demands further proof, roughly pressing him to the ground and tugging at his monk's robes, a hard stare upon her face.
Who are you? her mind begs, but "You asked me to bear your child," she hisses, and he is stunned and motionless beneath her.
Why do you still wear that glove? her mind asks, but "Why did you wait so long?" she half-accuses. Where did you go? Why did you leave me? "Where have you been?" And he can barely string together a sentence, let alone properly answer.
Sango wants answers. But Sango is greedy and asks too much without assessing the consequences of receiving everything she asks for. Instead of explanations, she gets half-muddled words and hands becoming far too friendly with those thighs of hers that straddle his waist. But even Sango has learned to accept what she receives.
Sango has demanded further proof that he is still the same lecherous monk who battled against Naraku with her. The same one who could not save Kirara, but saved her when Hiraikotsu shattered. Just a little bit of proof and her sanity can be salvaged.
Where are the others? Sango wonders as she finally allows his hands beneath her clothes. They seem almost reluctant, but her own hands are already removing his. But he doesn't answer. He can't read minds, only bodies.
The feel of him inside her is like a missing key finally turning up. She clings to him, squirming upon his lap, kissing his shoulder, nails leaving trails along their backs. Her chest heaves in time with his thrusts, and she squeezes in time as well. She hasn't felt this energetic, raw, or primal in years. She sighs and screams silently because it feels too good to be true, and when she comes, she can't help but feel sorry for her husband.
But Sango feels no regret. It's just enough proof she needs for now.
Sango returns home, and she looks for him but doesn't find him anywhere.
What she was once able to ignore with enough effort applied, has become unstable and out of control.
Up until now she's been able to brush aside most of his quirks, but they've been burgeoning from almost nothing into detectable patterns.
He says it's out of habit that he continues wearing the glove, but her eyes narrow in response. It's been ten years.
He says Kaede has passed on, Inuyasha and Shippou are nowhere to be found but presumably alive, and that Sango was there when Kagome faded away and 'returned'. But she knows too well that word of mouth cannot always be trusted. Her memories flicker back to Naraku's trickery, then return covered in scars never fully healed.
He says, he says, he says-
Her eyes narrow in suspicion. Then where is the tanuki, and where is the aging monk Mushin, she asks. But even as he falters in trying to answer, what she's more interested in knowing is why he still looks like he hasn't aged a day.
And why hasn't he attempted to swindle anyone or flirt with women they've met along the way, she asks, clenched fists turning the skin white. But even as he falters in trying to answer, she'd rather know why he's no longer the calm, cool, and collected little lecher she once knew. What could have changed him? What could have destroyed him? What could have taken up ten years of his life and made him abandon her?
What what what, Sango wants to know, and she makes this increasingly clear with every menacing step closer that she takes.
Why did it take him ten years to come for her?
And with the way he's retreating, frantic and anxious and unable to explain himself, Sango is worried he'll take off again.
She begins running, and the chase is on. Only a short distance away she loses him in the forest. She can hear the rings of his shakujou jangling somewhere far off, and she follows suit. The trees begin to look familiar. While running down a path overgrown with creepers that give her the shivers - they remind her of Illusory Death - she trips over herself, trips and falls, and then lands roughly and continues to slip down a hill, crying out his name and unable to stop herself as she rolls like a battered stone down a slope on its way to the river.
Sango's hit bottom. She knows because she's stopped moving. The grass covering the concave carved into the hill stares back at her. The curve of the sunken area where she lies is slowly sending her chills.
From up along the edge of the concave, he says, "I'm sorry," but Sango barely hears him at first. She curls up, all drawn up into herself, then shuts her eyes and begins to sob. The footsteps approaching cautiously behind her are the only other thing she hears. The jangling is gone. "I'm sorry. Please, Sango…"
She feels a hand upon her shoulder, but when she turns to grab at it, her hand pauses inches away from his from shock.
His hands have claws.
Behind her crouches a distraught young man with fox legs, a fox tail, and rusty red hair tied up in a high ponytail.
Seeing is believing…
…and Sango has him pinned to the concave wall in an instant.
Sango won't move from the depression in the earth, angry and sobbing. She tries to push him away if he comes close, but still he stays, usually along the edge somewhere. The middle tends to be her favorite spot. He wonders if maybe it's because that's where he was when it happened. The point of consumption. Every few hours he tries to lure her out with food, but she claims she's not hungry. She shies away from his touch, cringes if he tries to hold her, so he simply sighs and watches over her from afar. She's only human; she can't stay in that depression forever.
It's night when she finally crawls to the edge and whispers in a cracked voice, "Why did you trick me?"
He looks at her, then sends his gaze to the ground. "Remember that parable I told you?" She says nothing, so he goes on: "The rich man lied to his sons because there was no other way to get them from one place to another."
She coughs and glares at him, a horrified look on her face. "I don't care about any stupid parables, Shippou." It almost sounds like she's spitting when she says his name. "I just, I- I can't believe I let myself- and I- and you- and, and we-" She stops and looks almost sick, and turns her head away, bringing her knees up to her chest. A light shudder rushes through her frame. He hopes it's more from the slightly nippy, cool night air, but knows better than that.
When he speaks, his voice is soft. "You and I are the only ones left. I've been on my own since Kaede died a few years ago, and she was the last one to see Inuyasha. We think he went north. He's…" Sango looks at him when he doesn't continue. "I think he's going to wait for Kagome, wait for the centuries to pass. The well doesn't work, and, at the very least, he wants to see her again." There is a long pause, and then he asks, "Do you hate me too much for this to ever forgive me?"
She's quiet for a moment, and he wonders if she is even able to answer him anytime soon, or if she's too broken to decide. He brings a finger up to one pointed ear and scratches a tiny itch, all the while flicking nervous glances between her conflicted expression and the grass along the edge.
She still hasn't spoken, and she's started to stare at the ground. "I missed you, Sango. Back when it was all of us together, we were a family. Now, we're the only ones left. I, I-" But he can barely finish his sentence because of the mistake he'd made. "It just took me a long time to find you. I was lonely, and you were miserable, and I wanted to make you hap-"
Sango's knocked the wind out of him in mid-word. One quick, swift punch to the gut, and then she's launching herself forward into his lap, renewing her tears. His face falls when he hears her cry out, in between her sobs, "Houshi-sama." She draws it out long, then repeats it over and over like a mantra. He tries to hold her, but she only sobs harder.
Seeing is believing, and he doesn't blame her for wanting to keep her eyes shut.
When her tears dry up Sango still doesn't want to look at him. It's only when she hears the jangling of rings that she's willing to open her eyes. Eyes red and itchy, she gives him a sad smile, kisses him, and croaks, "I'm sorry." She digs her fingers into the familiar robes with a long, despondent sigh.
Seeing is believing, even if it's all a delusion; she was there when the others were killed, and she only briefly remembers seeing him wander off and never return.
Still, as Sango sits here with the one who looks like him but is not, she holds the hope that no matter what, her sanity can be salvaged…
…so long as his eyes stay the right color.
Because, after all, seeing is believing, and if she keeps believing, she can pretend that he is the real him.