Alone again.

It didn't mean the same thing it used to. Once upon a time she had chased Alone like a stag through the forrest, striving for one more moment in its presence, like a lover unwilling to say goodbye. Now she had no choice. Alone was where she lived. It followed her like a hungry dog, eyes never leaving her face. Even in the midst of people she called her friends she remained withdrawn, alone.

Sango cast a glance over her shoulder back through the trees. Darkness was hanging off the branches like fringe and the wind shushed the night birds as it filtered through the trees. She sighed, feeling the weight of grief and weariness settle down on her chest. Her steps were soundless against the path as she slipped further and further into the forrest.

Alone... that word haunted her like the ghost she should have been. Finding a close to comfortable tree to lean against, she drew her knees up to her chest and stared out at the darkened wood.

Mmmmmm. Night. like... well kind of like comfort. Almost like a way to hide from all the reasons she was always alone. For the others, for Kagome and the monk, night meant rest and being able to take a break from searching and being on constant alert for youkai. For Inuyasha and herself, it meant catching a few hour's sleep while the other kept the watch. They were more alike than he'd ever admit. Both warriors, loners by nature, both startled by how much they had come to cherish the people they traveled with, both unable to let go of their pasts. She chuckled a gruff low sound of bitterness and shook her head. He would though, even if they never caught up to Naraku, he'd let go and finally say something to Kagome. She'd stay in Senko Jedai or he'd go back to her time and they'd live. Together. Just like things ought to be.

She glanced back in the direction of their camp. The glow of the fire was still visible, settled low at the base of the trees. It was nice not to be worried about for a moment. The monk worried. About too many things. But mostly he worried about her and about all that went unspoken between them. He worried about what would happen if they couldn't kill Naraku. He worried what would happen to her if they failed. She would die probably. If she had anything to say about it, she would. But that was the warrior in her. It was impossible to think that failure meant anything but death. You try till you win or till you die, that was the way it was.

She couldn't blame him, not really. Not once she had caught a piece of what actually lingered in the monk's eyes when he asked her for the thousandth time if she was alright. They were filled with all that would happen if the curse was not lifted, if... if everything remained unspoken until there was nothing left of either of them.

The heavy scent of earth and night air swept down the path. Sango leaned her head back against the trunk of the tree an closed her eyes. She was tired, she needed sleep. Her eyes slowly opened again and she heaved a weary sigh. not that she had gotten much of that in the last... eternity.

Dark things haunted her dreams. Pictures of her past became distorted in her unconscious mind. People did things that they were not supposed to. Even her friends had become a part of the hell that raged in the mind. Shadows hid in the corners of her eye, faceless people that she ought to know passed by again and again. Ones she loved, her family, her friends mutated into dark hideous beings that had fates far worse than death in store for her and for each other. Fear ran rampant through her mind when she closed her eyes now, like formaldehyde, preserving every feeling of horror and pain in the utmost clarity. No, she could not sleep.

She narrowed her eyes into the forrest, hearing something move. Instantly muscles tensed, breathing quieted and her hand found the handle of Hirokotsu sitting next to her. She waited. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Nothing. She relaxed with a semi sarcastic grin. Nothing like a possible youkai attack to bring you back to the real world. Not that anything they could do would really phase her now. Not after... all that had happened. No. Terror was now reserved solely for the realm of her imagination.

She rose, silently and made her way back the way she had come. She wasn't due to relieve Inu Yasha at watch for another several hours, but she had been unworried about for a while, and now that the monk and Kagome were probably asleep, there wasn't much difference between sitting out there and sitting in camp. She smiled. It wasn't that she didn't like them, on the contrary, they were the best friends she had ever known. But they... somehow it seemed like Kagome didn't really know how much damage their pasts had done to them all. Miroku, he understood, but there was always the part that went unspoken. That little bit of nothing was the most dangerous thing in the world. If they let it, it could kill both of them.

He had enough to worry about all on his own without worrying about her as well. He didn't need another source of pain in his life.

She stopped as she neared the ring of light cast by the fire, not quite ready to relinquish her solitude. And yet... it didn't really matter did it. it's not like she had a choice. alone never left her now, even in the company of the others. There were only two figures in the pool of fire light; Inuyasha was probably watching from the trees. A dim light radiated from the embers of the fire, casting both eerily in shadows. Tension from the monk's forearm, clenched against his chest, leached up into his face leaving it twisted in a grimace. Across the clearing, Kagome's face rested in the hollow of her sleeping bag, the light showing one side of her face red and rendering the other invisible, nonexistent, as though it had been...

She blinked and mentally shook herself. That was too much. Dreaming could not be helped, but what her mind did while conscious, she still had some measure of control over. Glancing again into the ring of light, she saw them both asleep. The Monk's face no longer contorted, Kagome's hidden from view by a hand curled around the edge of a sleeping bag in an effort to make the ground a little less uncomfortable. They were safer here than they were in her imagination. She could protect them from all that the real world could procure, but there was nothing she could do to keep them safe from what happened in her own mind. She stood watching them for a while, enjoying the the freedom she felt, knowing that as long as she was aware, she could protect them.

They were all under pressure, and they all escaped from it in different ways. Sango liked to stay up and watch while they slept, finally able to be with them without feeling like she had to solve all the problems that seemed to be following them around like flies around a stench. When they were asleep, problems could wait 'till morning, their needs became more simple. Protection. That was nearly everything, and it was something that she could provide. Some thing tangible that she could contribute.

Feeling something behind her, she spun off the train of thought she was on and around to find herself face to face with Inuyasha. He looked at her for a moment, eyes shadowed beneath his hair and in the dark. He didn't say anything, though Sango thought he would have had quite a few choice words for her if she had been Kagome. She gave him a half smile at that thought and his gaze dropped to the ground.

"Ought to get moving early tomorrow." It was a statement looking for a response, not the usual decisive command.

"North. To that village near the foothills." She heard her own voice say affirmation to the directive. It was good to talk not about something life and death for a moment. It was good not to talk about why she had been standing there, watching the others sleep or why she had wandered away.

"mmhhg." He grunted. But is was a amiable grunt. The kind meant to say something instead of nothing at all. he seemed to understand. maybe not understand what she felt, she wouldn't wish that on anyone, but maybe he understood what she needed. To be treated like a normal useful person in spite of everything, to just get on with what had to be done without all the questions in regard to her well being, all the worrying, all the pressure. May be he felt something like that too. Perhaps that was what drew him to Kagome in the first place.

She had known nothing of any hanyou before meeting Inuyasha, so she knew no other way to treat him than like a person. She was free from all the stigmas attached to the idea of a half-breed and she didn't care at all what people thought about him. Even she and Miroku couldn't say that they had never been affected by the cultural demands surrounding the situation. In the beginning, they both had. They had both looked at him and seen a hanyou, a half demon, the despised. Sango blamed her upbringing for that one. A demon slayer's life was not molded around precepts of tolerance for youkai in any form, even half youkai.

Her sarcastic chuckle cut across the silence. What her village would do if they could see her now... Who would have thought that someone like her would end up tracking down the hundred thousand pieces of the Shikon with an inu-hanyou, not to mention a monk, a kitsune, and a human girl from another place in time. It all seemed sort of surreal. The same sort of vertigo she had felt when she had to come to grips with the deaths of everyone she had cared about. Vertigo left a wasteland of emotionlessness in her, indeed, she hadn't felt much of anything for a while after she found out that Inuyasha wasn't responsible and her hatred of him had subsided. But emptiness was a better option than being completely incapacitated by emotions, at least she could get things done.

Inuyasha dug his toe in the dirt. Silence drifted between them, but it wasn't the uncomfortable silence that needed to be filled to avert disaster. It was the kind of silence that required nothing from you, it merely happened because the people involved have said what they meant to and do not care to say anything that is not worth while. A cold wind ran over the clearing, rustling the edges of the Monk's robes and Kagome's sleeping bag. Probably running down off the mountains. Soon it would be winter. She glanced at Inuyasha. Winter meant less trips between times. It meant less Kagome.

"I smell snow." He said quietly, scuffing his foot on the ground again. He feels as lost without her as she did when Kohaku died. The empty that just ate everything else so that there was only empty left to fill up the huge space inside you. She smiled a small smile. Recognition. They understood each other.

"Me too." she said, catching his eye. They were deep and clouded. Of course she could see through the angry tough mask he wore, but under that there was a web of hiding places and walls of defense. It could take years to fathom it all. She knew exactly how long. She possessed a web just as tangled as his.

Inuyasha stared at her for a moment and cocked his head to one side in a very dog-like manner.

"Sleep, Hunter-Sama. The day is coming quickly."

She started at the rhetoric. He only used it when he was sure that the others wouldn't hear. Showing respect meant that the respected one could hurt you. But he did respect her. She had proven herself to be wise and faithful. She could see in his eyes that he trusted her in a different way that the others. She was a secret keeper, an honor-bearer. She knew what it was like to die in the darkest part of your soul, and she knew what it was like to live on though you wish you wouldn't. She knew what it was to be prepared to die a a moment's notice should the need arise. She was used to the lives of others depending upon her reactions.

"Watch easy, my friend. May the morning come soon."

The response hung in the silence and they nodded to each other, Inuyasha bounding into the trees, Sango making her way slowly to a tree near the edge of the ring of light cast by the dying embers. She glanced once over the clearing to assure herself that the others were still sleeping. Her eyes lingered on Kagome's face for a moment. She shouldn't be so hard on her. It was not her fault that she had been born to an easy life. And there was a lot of pressure on her too, now that the shard had broken. She was glad that the girl was here, glad that they were friends now. It was good to have people to care about again.

Miroku sighed as he slept and she remembered that tomorrow would mark a year since they had all began their journey together. Perhaps all that went unsaid, would not remain unsaid forever. Maybe someday the hurt would stop and Naraku would be dead, which would help with the hurting, and the delicate balance that they lived their lives in would steady out. Hope. Something she hadn't really thought about in a long time danced slowly like a candle in the back of her mind. A smile faded across her face as she leaned back and closed her eyes. Maybe sleep would come just a little easier tonight.