A/N: This is a Sango/Kouga pairing, not many of those. For this piece I did something a little different. It's all from Kouga's point of view, in italics are his memories of what happened in the past. I also change tense, keeping it in present tense during the present, past tense during the past. You might find it a little jarring, but I wanted to see if it had the desired effect of making the "present" portions seem immediate and real and having the memories seem to be more in the past. You'll have to let me know if it worked or now.
He doesn't remember where he'd seen her face before and since he doesn't remember, he pushes the uneasy feeling away. He has other things to worry about, his pack, Naraku, a girl that can see jewel shards. Kouga isn't much on thinking and so he loves to live in the here and now. The past is only the past and the future is a bright place full of dreams. Here is real, here is now and he doesn't give the exterminator woman a second thought.
Until he sees her again, he should have known that it would begin to trouble him, to nag at him, something about the way her hair falls over her shoulder when she moves. That's when he starts to remember and that's when he knows where he's seen her before.
It had been a couple years earlier, before his father had died, before he'd even heard of a sacred jewel. Dark times, scary times for a young wolf just barely grown to adulthood. He'd stood behind his father then, walked behind him like a shadow, learning, always learning. And waiting for the day when it would be his turn to lead.
Kouga isn't shy and Kouga knows that the pretty girl with the jewel shards doesn't want to be his lover. But the stupid dog still sees him as a rival and that makes it all the more fun. Kagome is sweet and cute and she blushes when he tries to kiss her hands. But he loves the sound of Inuyasha's growl and no one notices the wicked twinkle in his dark blue eyes.
No one except for her, and she never says a thing.
He wonders about it and he wonders what she's told Kagome about him. There's no way to deny that they've met before and to give him credit, he never thinks of lying about it either. Kouga's not easily embarrassed, but the thought of what kind of things that girl might tell his Kagome…
He has to talk to her. That was the only way to be sure.
The pack was on the move, trying to evade the damned birds, trying to stay together and stay alive. His father said it was their right to move into human territories. Some of the elders disagreed with the pack leader and those elders had to leave. They went into the mountains and Kouga followed his father to the easier, more fertile lands to the south.
It's just the way of things, Kouga's father told him. The strong survive and the weak must starve. These creatures, humans they're called, are weaker than the wolves that haven't any choice. The pack had to eat, the pack had to survive and it's a slaughter when they clash. Blood wet the ground and Kouga didn't like the smell, but he didn't turn his face away. His father expected him to be strong, be an example and show no mercy to anyone who stands in his way.
He doesn't want Kagome to know about that, he likes that she thinks of him as a good person. The dog knows better of course, but a rival will say most anything. All he has to do is smile at her and Kagome dismisses Inuyasha's warnings as nothing more than jealousy, maybe even enjoys the mutt's possessive bluster as much as Kouga enjoys provoking it.
Kouga flirts shamelessly with the human girl, all the while the angry hanyou's eyes are on him. That he doesn't mind, he likes the rivalry. What he doesn't understand is why that exterminator never says a word. Is it possible that she's forgotten him? No, he can see it in her eyes; she remembers him just as well as he remembers her. She's taller now, her body filled out with a woman's curves. He remembers skinny legs and huge dark eyes filled with hatred.
He thought his father pushed too hard, pushed his men and pushed his son. Kouga listened to what the old man said but he had a bad feeling when his father called for them to attack this one particular village. Instead of running, the humans stayed to fight. And they had help, demon exterminators, brought in and hired from a far away village. This time, the wolves were the ones to be pushed.
It was a bloody fight and by the end, there were bodies of men and wolf demons lying on the ground. Kouga's father called for a retreat, bitterly aware that this day his wolves were outmatched. Even still, the fighting continued late into evening, deep into the forest, and by dawn, Kouga had lost track of his comrades and found himself alone.
He thinks of it now, as he hasn't thought of it since and again he wonders why she hasn't said a word. Late one night, he approaches the village, drawn close by an invisible line. His nose tells him that Kagome isn't here and that puzzles him. The girl has a strange smell, something he's never been able to lay a claw on, but right now he's glad that she's absent because it's not her that he needs to see.
Kouga catches scent of her in the forest and follows the scent to the source. He finds her kneeling beside the river, washing out her bloodstained uniform and murmuring softly to herself. Crouching in the bushes, he watches her, making no sound, hardly breathing, but still she seems aware of his presence and finally stands up.
"Come out of there, you pervert," she calls in a harsh voice. "I know you're watching me!"
Surprised, but somewhat confused as to why she'd call him a pervert, Kouga emerges from the brush. The woman's eyes widen as she recognizes him and he meets her gaze readily, offering a half-hearted smile when he sees her mouth draw into a tight line.
Sango inhales deeply and lets out her breath in a long slow hiss.
It was an hour before dawn when he found her, injured and bleeding, alone. Sniffing carefully, he searched the air for her comrades, having realized that this could be a trap. But would humans use one of their own wounded comrades as bait? It wasn't something a wolf would do. Kouga would never risk one of his pack in such a way and when he found the human, somehow lost and separated from her kin, he wondered if he should just leave her to die.
He was young and curious, not having learned to be as wary as his father and crept closer to get a better look. The blood smell was strong in the air and he saw that there was a long gash down one leg. Kouga realized that if the bleeding isn't stopped, this human is going to die and soon. It's not his concern, she's not one of his, and he doesn't really care only…
She's just a kid, he realized, looking at that pale face, cheeks so white that he can count each freckle. Long dark eyelashes twitch like butterfly wings as the unconscious girl breathes heavily, in pain, and a tear slowly slipped from the corner of her eye and down her nose. It sparkled for just a moment at the tip before falling to the soft earth and disappearing from his sight.
"So you do remember me," Kouga murmurs almost to himself. She doesn't answer at first, glancing away from him and then down at her feet. He smiles faintly, moves closer. "I had wondered."
Sango smiles in return, but he can't help but notice it doesn't touch her eyes. "I didn't think you'd recognized me," she answers. "I decided that it was better that way for the both of us."
He grins at that and stops when he sees her hand drop towards her katana. Kouga looks into her eyes and sees the hidden pain, and the way her shoulders are tight with bitterness. Slowly he raised both his hands to show her that he means no harm, wondering if she'll believe him this time.
"I heard about what happened to your kin," he said softly.
Her hand moves away from her weapon and Sango raises her palm to her forehead, looking suddenly weary. "Why are you here?" she asks. "If you're looking for Kagome, she's not here."
"I didn't come to talk to Kagome," Kouga replies. "I just wanted to know…"
"Why I haven't told her?" Sango shrugs and sighs, turning away from him and kneeling on the ground. She begins to gather her things, bits of armor, the tight fitting black clothing that is the uniform and symbol of her profession. "I don't know why I haven't told them," she muses, casting a shy look over her shoulder at the waiting wolf.
There was a knife against his throat. Kouga stared down at the young girl, his hands still on her leg. Her pale face shiny with sweat, pain trembling in her eyes and lips. Blood was still dripping between his fingers from where he'd been applying pressure to stop the bleeding. He'd just torn a strip from her clothing, thinking to use it to bind the wound, when she'd suddenly come awake.
"Don't touch me," the girl hissed, her arm shaking a little, making the point of the knife jump against his throat. "I'll kill you."
"You'll bleed to death, kid," he whispered, watching her eyes. What a fool he was, getting caught like this by a human. All because he'd had an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, of pity maybe, because she was so young. He'd seen too many young wolves die, friends of his, and it didn't make him feel better to let a girl die alone in the forest.
Her breath was coming in short pants of pain now, he realized that she barely had the strength to hold the blade; she'd never be able to use it. She seemed to realize it at the same time, and made a desperate lunge at him. Kouga twisted to the side, but the edge of her knife still caught the skin of his cheek.
"You little bitch!"
Sango's fingers trace where her blade had scratched him years ago. "It didn't scar," she murmurs. "I'm glad."
"Are you?" Kouga has to smile at that. "You were so scared, and I was only trying to save your life. You didn't believe me."
Her smile is faint and fleeting, replaced by her customary seriousness. "You were a demon," she says simply. "Why would a demon want to save my life? I still don't understand it, you should have left me to die."
Kouga's cheeks darken just a bit, embarrassed because she's right. He'd killed humans in battle before that; he'd killed humans for sport after it. It was their way, he was a wolf, and he would have been mortified if any of his pack had known at the time what he'd done.
Save the life of a demon exterminator? An enemy? His father would have been ashamed.
"I misjudged you then," the woman says quietly, her voice low and reaching his ears like the faintest music. "I haven't told them because…I didn't want to misjudge you again."
His smile cracks, a faint glimmer of amusement reaching his eyes. "Afraid I'm still not to be trusted?"
"No," Sango murmurs, coming closer to him. He doesn't understand, why is she looking at him with such endless eyes? He notices the blush to her full lips, just like he can count the freckles on her nose. Her intentions are a mystery, but he doesn't sense any deceptions and is surprised beyond surprising when the exterminator woman presses her lips against his in a sweet, unhurried kiss.
"I'm more afraid I can't trust myself."
She'd made it hard for him, made it worse for herself and the wolf had to tie her hands behind her back to keep her from hitting him. She was weaker than him, but he needed both hands free to do this and no matter what he tried to say, the girl was just too scared to listen.
"Let go of me!"
"Shut up!" he yelled, tearing her clothing into strips. He's not gentle as he binds her wound, knowing that it hurts her but she won't stop fighting. Again he wondered why he bothered when he should have left her to die. He should have killed her himself if he'd been any kind of real wolf, but again, she's just a kid. He's not that much older than her, but he still remembered what it felt like to be so scared that you can't think.
"There," he said, pleased with a job well done. "Stupid brat, can't you see I'm trying to help you?"
"I don't need a demon's help," she muttered, her nose in the dirt.
"Then you're a fool," he snapped. Now she won't bleed to death but Kouga realized, uncomfortably, that he couldn't leave her either. She was defenseless and he didn't go through the trouble of saving her life now to let her die at the hands of whatever demon or beast finds her next.
The girl shrieked when he picked her up, kicking and squirming desperately. Kouga ignored her protests and began to run.
"I didn't trust you then," Sango says as she breaks her kiss. "And I don't suppose I should trust you now."
"I still don't get it," Kouga mutters, unable to help himself as he brushes a strand of hair away from her eyes. "I don't understand why you're keeping it a secret."
Sango smiles a little sadly as she pulls away. "Aren't you in love with Kagome?"
"I…yes," he answers, sounding more hesitant than he's ever sounded before. He did love Kagome, wasn't that why he kept following after her, making her smile and blush, hoping that one day she'd see him as more than her friend? But Sango's kiss was still sweet on his lips and for a moment, the world shifted and he saw her, the girl who had grown into a woman and was confused.
He stopped at the edge of the forest, not far from where the battle had taken place. It's dangerous here, they're still searching for her and he hears a name called out over and over. Her arms tightened around his neck as he knelt on the ground, easing her off his back with as much gentleness as his haste can afford.
"They're looking for you, kid," he whispered over her head. "Listen, just give me a few minutes before you yell out for them. I'm not interested in another fight today."
"Why should I do that?" the girl demanded, her voice low but the stubbornness set into her jaw. "Why did you help me? You're a demon, it's my duty to exterminate your kind and protect my people."
"You're still a kid," Kouga answered. "Maybe I just felt sorry for you."
She was silent, staring down at the ground and twisting blades of grass between her fingers. "Maybe," she said, sounding unsure of herself for the first time, "the next time I see you I'll have to treat you like my enemy. You might have made a mistake in saving me, wolf."
There's a twinkle in her eyes and she reaches down and picks up Hiraikotsu. He watches her, admiring her strength, the lean grace of her. Sango doesn't project the sweetness of Kagome, or her innocence. And she's not in love with a selfish mutt either, but a wolf understands the difference between a kiss and a promise. She keeps her silence because there's people counting on them both and anything he thought he might have seen in her smile or felt in her kiss was just going to have to wait.
If he was a fool…
"Why should you care if I'm in love with Kagome?" Kouga demands, his hand reaching out to grasp her arm. Sango shrugs off his hold with ease, a bitter twist to her mouth now, resolution in her eyes.
"I don't care," she says, denying it without much success. She swings her weapon around, holding it like a shield between them. "Why should I care if you're in love with her, she doesn't think of you that way and you know it."
He's always known it. Did she think he was a complete idiot? Hell, maybe he was, chasing after a short skirt and a sweet smile that belonged on a girl just a bit too young for him anyway.
"Nah," he says gruffly, still stinging from the truth. "I'm not that stupid."
Her expression is melting, her guard sliding down and Sango slowly lowers her weapon to face him. "Being in love isn't stupid," she says, her voice thick. "Not stupid at all."
They had caught him before he'd made it out of the forest, heading for the long, green plains of the south and safety of his pack. Kouga growled deep in his chest as they beat him, using sticks and their fists, kicking him hard enough to break the ribs of a mortal. He was tougher than that, his ribs didn't break but they sure hurt like hell.
"Damn filthy wolf youkai," one of the humans snarled, reaching down to grab him by the hair. "You know how many people you killed today in that village? Twenty? Thirty?" A fist crashed into his mouth and Kouga bared his fangs.
"Not enough," he said, his eyes lighting with manic rage. "I shoulda killed one more just to shut your fucking hole!"
"Kill the bastard," one of the other men shouted, lobbing a rock at the wolf's head.
"No, make him suffer like we have," another cried, coming forward with a sharp knife. "They attack us for no reason, let's make him regret it!"
Kouga spat blood on the ground, twisting his bound wrists behind his back. If he could just break free, he'd teach them all a thing or two about regret. Humans, gods, he hated the site of them. He was already kicking himself for sparing that girl in the forest, for staying around in this area when the pack had moved off without him. He was a fool…
"Enough," a deep voice said. Kouga looked up to see a tall man with an ornate mask over his nose and mouth. The man's eyes were cold, but not filled with hatred. "We exterminators do not torture youkai and neither do we allow those who've paid us for our protection to do such."
"A lot of time has passed," she whispers, turning her face away when he strokes her cheek. She doesn't fight when he pulls her close, lays her head on his shoulder like she's needed a place to rest for a very long time. The girl, no, the woman is warm in his arms and he wants her, but he's half afraid of what it could lead to.
He breathes her name into her hair, reaches out with a finger to tip her chin up. Looking into those eyes, he smiles as if it might salve away her regret. "Don't think," he murmurs. "Kiss me again."
"Why?" she asks, closing her eyes so he can't see the sadness. "So you can pretend I'm Kagome?"
"No," he answers roughly, tugging her body against his until he can't tell where he begins or she ends. "So you can stop pretending that you don't hurt."
Anger flashes in her eyes at that and Sango digs her fingers into his arms. "You bastard, I should…"
His kiss stops her cold, nothing like the sweet and tender brush of lips from before. This time it's Kouga taking her by surprise, noticing that Sango doesn't try to shove away from him. Her lips open under his, a soft moan in his mouth that nearly drives him over the brink. Their teeth clash, lips bruise and suddenly they're both tumbling towards the dark edge of desire and need.
The humans grumbled as the exterminator sent them away, the man standing over Kouga's prone form like a promise and a threat. The wolf twisted against the ropes, got his legs under him so he could sit up. He smelled blood on the human, the blood of many wolves and Kouga wasn't grateful for his rescue.
"Why'd you send them off?" he demanded, still fighting with his bonds. The man looked down at him, a glint of anger in his eyes now that was matched by Kouga's own contempt. "Don't expect me to thank you for it!"
"I don't expect anything from you," the man muttered, reaching up to pull the mask away from his face. "It has nothing to do with you, like I said, we don't torture and we don't allow it. But if I'd told them that you were the son of the pack leader that attacked their village, I don't think I could have held them back."
Kouga stared at him in shock. "How do you know about that?" he asked suspiciously. "You think you're gonna get some kinda ransom out of my old man? You're wasting your fucking time, human."
"And you're a foul-mouthed brat," the man answered. Kouga bit back a yelp of pain when the human seized by his long hair and yanked him to his feet. His legs were still wobbly and he might have fallen over but the man's strong arm kept him steady. "And you're a demon that I've sworn to kill. In letting you go now, I'm breaking an oath to destroy your kind whenever you attack humans."
She's soft, her skin smooth and firm, delicious. Kouga wonders why she gives herself to him now, why she seems to want him. He doesn't mean to be rough, but he can't stand waiting for her. Her mouth is hungry for his, her hands insistent as she pulls his hair, rakes his shoulders with her short, blunt nails. Growling, the fire burning in his body like she the only water to quench him, he tears off what's left of her clothing and pins her to the nearest tree.
"Yes," she hisses in his ear. "Now," she demands as he frantically searches for her, muttering curses under his breath at the god awful complication of human garments. Her soft laughter encourages him, guiding his fingers with her own to part the layers of cloth, baring her legs, her hips, her thighs to his hungry touch. Now he's groaning with desire, trying her, finding her tight and difficult to breach and when she suddenly gasps in his ear, he realizes that she's untouched.
"Sango?" he asks, turning her face towards his. "Did I hurt you, I didn't know…" She bites his lip hard enough to draw blood and then turns away to bury her face against his shoulder.
"Don't talk," she says, her voice as rough as his. Her long legs tighten around him, her fingers tangling in his hair, pulling him against her with breathless cries. He buries himself deep and forgets the wonders and the whys, focusing only on this moment, this here, and the rising pace of a woman's heartbeat.
They make love for the rest of the afternoon, until Kouga realizes that she's exhausted. Then he's content to just hold her and watch the sky turn gold and red with sunset, then violet, then darkest blue, and then at last fading into darkness with the trees whispering secrets above his head.
"Then why?" Kouga grunted. His eyes followed the man's hand as he produced a small dagger seemingly out of thin air. Kouga didn't move when that blade came close to his skin and then he felt the ropes on his wrists fall away. The man pushed him hard, putting distance between them as Kouga snarled.
"Don't be stupid," the man murmured, watching as an angry young demon fought the instinct to attack the same man who'd just freed him. "Be on your way, young wolf. Tell your pack to stay out of these parts, next time I'll have to hunt you all down instead of letting you retreat."
"Cocky bastard," Kouga said, rubbing his wrists. "I'd like to see you try it."
The man turned to go and then stopped, staring off into the forest. "Just so you know," he said quietly. "She is my daughter. I…thank you, for her life. I did not raise my child to expect compassion from a demon, but I thank you for it, just the same."
Kouga reaches out to toy with her hair, watching as Sango starts to dress. She's quiet in the early morning dawn, barely even looking at him as she slowly makes ready to leave. He props his head on his hand and smiles when she finally looks down at him.
"So what now?" he asks.
"What do you mean, what now?" she answers quietly.
Kouga shrugs, rolls on his back and grins contentedly. "It's gonna be difficult for us to see each other without your friends finding out," he says at last. "Course I don't give a damn what anybody says, I'll kick Ginta and Hakkaku's asses if they can't keep their mouths shut about us."
Her gaze is unreadable, a strange set to her jaw and shoulders as she stands over him. "I don't know why you'd tell your comrades about this," she murmurs. "I'm not going to tell anyone."
"Yeah, I know," he grins, getting to his feet. He reaches for her, surprised when she eludes his hands and puts space between them. "I'm not gonna go bragging," he says, misunderstanding. "But they might get suspicious anyway. When we meet the next time, I'll…"
"There's not going to be a next time, Kouga." The finality in her voice brings him up short. Her face is expressionless with shadows in her eyes. He doesn't understand because he had thought, she had said…
"If this is about Kagome," he said harshly.
"No." And then Sango smiles at him, her face peaceful again. Slowly, she reaches out her hand and strokes a wolf's cheek. "I should have said, there won't be a next time soon," she tells him gently. "I should have said, there won't be a next time until…until…"
He understands her suddenly and his hand grips hers. "When Naraku is gone," he promises her. "When your oath to your family is fulfilled, when the dead can rest in peace."
"When our friends can be safe," Sango answers passionately, letting him take her in his arms. "When there's no shards, no jewel…"
Kouga sees the tears in her eyes and gently kisses her lips. "When there's no reason for fighting and no more secrets need to be kept."
"Except one," she murmurs. "Except that once I was treated kindly by a demon."
"And I was spared by a slayer," he whispered. She nods, pushing away from him suddenly and runs into the forest, Hiraikotsu bouncing over her shoulder.
"I won't forget!" her voice reaches him over the wind that's teasing the leaves.
He grins at that, touching his mouth because he can still feel her lips and their warmth. The taste is sweet, like promises of the future, like memories of the past.
Like a secret shared between enemies, and a dream between lovers.