She'd never known about his ace in the hole, never understood him from the beginning. Even years later, with the long moments of eternity staring her in the face like an accusation, Sango knew there never could have been any other outcome. They'd been fools; brave, heroic fools to think that someone like Naraku wouldn't have planned for it all along.
Sango leaned against the cool glass of the window and smiled. Five hundred years…she still missed him so much. The child he had been, not what he had become although his face still looked much the same. Sometimes she wondered if she'd made the right choice. If she'd been willing to make the sacrifice Naraku had demanded…how would things have been different?
Naraku had never intended to let either of them go, but to give him credit, he'd never intended to keep them apart.
She turned, as always feeling that little thrill of shock when she looked at him. It wasn't just that he was dressed in an immaculate suit. The long years had made her immune to the changes of time. She'd seen her country change, destroyed, rebuilt, reinvented just as she'd had to reinvent herself. She'd seen the years pass; the seasons roll by like minutes, forever encased by the glazed power of the one who owned them.
Kohaku approached, one hand going to caress his sister's cheek. The taint of his love was what had kept her going all this time. She closed his eyes as he drew near, tipping her head back as Kohaku moved to kiss her throat. No matter how many times they gave in to their desires, it never seemed to be enough to slake their need.
She whispered his name as she touched his dark hair, stroking it back from his face. Kohaku raised his eyes to meet hers. Love and devotion, impulses darkened by time and sin; she needed him to look at her. Under her fingers, his skin seemed chill as ever, the icy side of their companionship that had never really faded.
Sometimes she forgot that he had died, more than once, only to be brought back time after time by their master, their lover Naraku who possessed them both.
"It's time," he whispered, his hands on her hips as he held her tightly against him.
"Of course," she said, letting him take her hand and guide her away from the window.
The dinner had been tedious; as usual, Sango had little to say. Naraku liked her for display. Dressed as the perfect form of the elegant wife, she smiled and flirted demurely with his associates. They all praised him, Naraku known by a different name, a different face, but ever the puppet master. All while Kohaku stood near the door, his eyes behind dark glasses, playing the part of devoted bodyguard.
"Was it boring for you tonight, my dear?"
She met his eyes and let the perfect smile slip away from her face. Their guests had gone and she no longer had to hide behind her facade. Naraku saw the look in her eyes and smiled darkly as he took her hand.
"If you're tired," he said, his expression knowing, "we can retire early tonight."
Her shoulders stiffened, but she didn't resist as he guided her to the bedroom. She cast a glance over her shoulder at Kohaku, but he seemed oblivious, watching some inane drama on television. Her gaze sharpened as she watched a woman throw herself into a man's arms, accepting his proposal.
That was how it should be, that was what she didn't feel for Naraku.
That was what she did feel for her brother.
Naraku's cock felt heavy in her mouth, she loathed the taste of him but she knew better than to bite. His hand stroked her hair, the dark strands falling into her eyes as she knelt beside the bed. She looked up at his face, remembering how she used to feel, remembering what it was like to have hope.
They had been so close, so close to destroying him. The days ran into nights, battle after battle, it was no wonder she'd been exhausted. It had been her turn to keep watch so the others could sleep, except for Inuyasha, who never rested when in his human form.
"Your mind is elsewhere," Naraku murmured as he touched her. Sango didn't reply, letting her thoughts drift the way his hands drifted over her body. Sometimes he left them for years at a time and sometimes she pretended that he'd never return.
He always returned.
There was blood on her hands and she couldn't remember how it had gotten there. She trembled, then started to shake outright. This blood, waking in the deep dark of the forest's night, no moon, no stars, nothing around her but silence and…
Sango stared at the wall above the headboard, her eyes unfocused and blank. It was better not to think when she fucked him, better to pretend he was someone else, or she was someone else. Centuries ago, she used to feel something when she did this…raw, gnawing hatred. In time, he'd stolen even that from her as he'd already stolen so much.
She used to be sickened by his touch and sickened by her own desires, but Sango wasn't the woman she'd been born to be. Instead she was the tainted puppet, the smiling mask or vengeful assassin. She used to hate it when he sent her out to kill alongside her brother. They worked so well as a team, it came natural.
Even after five hundred years, it still felt natural to be with Kohaku.
Her friends were dead, murdered. Shaking, she fell to the ground on a moonless night, trying to convince herself that it was only a bad dream. Kagome…Miroku…Shippou and even Kirara lay dead in pools of their own blood.
Gasping, she rode him harder, trying to block out the hated memories. Naraku squeezed her hips as she moved, his fingernails digging into her skin. She wasn't that woman anymore. That Sango was dead, had always been dead, killed when her own brother's blade sliced open her back.
Why hadn't she known? Kagome had told her once the scar was not so bad, but she'd never told her it was in the shape of a spider. Over the years it had hurt less and less and she'd thought the old injury had healed. In truth, the injury had been far too deep to ever heal, as if that cut had opened a gash in her soul as well as her flesh.
Naraku hissed, his breath like a snake's warning. She felt him surge inside her, throbbing angrily when he came. His seed was like fire inside her body, malignant as his miasma. At least he'd never wanted children. Naraku had no need for them, not when he could twist and warp life for his own purposes.
And then there was the fact that if he had impregnated her, she would have torn his offspring from her own womb with a knife.
She heard her name whispered by a horrified voice. Turning, she saw Inuyasha standing there, his dark eyes wide at the terrible crime. Accusation and grief were written all over his face and when she tried to crawl in his direction, he recoiled.
It wasn't me, she thought, tears slipping down her face for the thousandth time as she lay in Naraku's bed. Inuyasha, it wasn't me!
Typically, Naraku didn't care to stay with her after he'd used her body. Instead, he got out of bed and slipped on a robe, placing a chaste kiss on her forehead before leaving. Her father used to kiss her goodnight like that, and Sango's stomach lurched at the thought.
Wearily, she covered her face with her hands to hide the tears he already knew were there. She couldn't look at her brother, not with the memories still crawling like rats through her mind. He always came to her after Naraku. Always.
"I'm fine," she whispered, wishing it were the truth. Kohaku knew better, knew how to take the sting of Naraku from her heart. He was still the only one who could give her what she needed, what had kept her going through the long years of their enslavement. His voice…his touch. His love.
That love was still real, something that was given and never forced. Certainly Naraku loved them too…as a child might love its favorite toys. Sometimes the toys were broken, destroyed nearly, but like a puppeteer out of an ancient fairy tale…he knew how to make them dance again.
"Please," she said, reaching for Kohaku's face. He only smiled and kissed her, soft and deep, before sliding into bed beside her. It had been a lifetime, many lifetimes, since she'd had the strength to turn him away. Those were the times when Sango had still thought of him as her brother, only to find out that such things didn't matter anymore when they'd both been dead for so very long.
She wanted to warn him, she wanted to scream. But the blood on her hands was like a barrier around her, choking her words. So there was nothing she could have done, save but watch as Kohaku stepped from the shadows and buried his blade in the back of Inuyasha's skull.
Sango had learned to live with hatred and she'd learned to embrace the monster that held her captive. She'd learned to push the memories back until they grew dusty and dark in the cellars of her mind. Her body had learned to make love to her little brother like his touch was the one thing worth dying for…if she could have died.
Gasping, twisting in the musky bed, Sango let her brother's body give her the solace her heart would never feel. Pleasure could nullify guilt, at least for those long, hard moments when she crashed around him like the sea. Where Naraku could only take from her, Kohaku could only give. The perverted taint of what they'd become…had also become the only thing they had left.
If she could rip that hateful fragment from her scarred back, Kohaku's as well, she'd cast them both in to the pit of hell. Now that would be justice…that would be fair. As she'd betrayed those who had trusted her the most, it was only fitting that she'd seek to avenge them.
He left them there for the rest of the night. The boy with his thousand-yard stare and the girl who weeps into bloodied hands. He almost pities them, for all they've vexed him these long years. This sister and brother, killers both, now shared the bond of their defeat.
Sango awoke with the sun in her eyes, the thousand thousandth morning of her endless bitter days. Naraku has already left them again, a business trip to some unknown destination. They aren't necessary for this act of his drama, and he has Kohaku drive him to the airport without so much as a word of farewell.
It was Kohaku's return that roused her from sleep. As always, his presence was like a heartbeat's echo in her chest. She felt him when he parked the car in the secluded garage, knew it was his finger that pressed for the elevator. When the doors slid soundlessly open, his footsteps were like a drum between her ears until his key slipped inside the lock.
They've belonged to him for so long that Sango no longer thinks of escape when Naraku leaves them. He never really does leave them, like Kohaku's love, his power taints everything around her. She can smell decay in the air, looks to her own white flesh as if expecting to see the rot.
The first time she tried to kill herself, Naraku showed her what a fool she was. Her own throat slit, her blood like festive ribbons across her chest, she'd had to watch as Kohaku paid for her mistake. Just because he wouldn't let them die didn't mean he wouldn't make them suffer.
Without death to seduce them, suffering became eternity, endless night encased within darkness, the quiet corpse beneath the shroud.
Curling up beside her brother, Sango thought about eternity. Her fingers laced with his, just like they had when they'd been children. For the sake of sanity, she doesn't think about the happy times. She's afraid that even those pure memories will become darkened and corroded, the past forever spoiled like milk left in the sun.
"Look," Kohaku whispered, pointing at the television.
His cool lips touched her forehead as she watched the flickering screen. Some news story about an ancient shrine. Sango frowned, sitting up straighter. It was almost familiar, the way those steps led up to the sky. If she were standing at the top of those steps, she might turn around, see a small village nestled against the curve of the hill and then…
"This shrine has been maintained by the Higurashi family for generations," a pretty woman reported, smiling as she gestured at the neatly kept grounds. "And for our next segment, we will take you to Kyoto to visit…"
"Kohaku, that's it," Sango murmured, leaning into his shoulder. There was a time when she would have leapt around the room in joy, or shouted with happiness. Even that had been swept away from her and now she barely managed a smile as she caressed her brother's cheek.
"We will find Kagome."
"Isn't she dead?" Kohaku asked, his quiet voice sounding nearly lifeless. He shifted to rest his cheek against her breast, over a heart that no longer beat of its own will. Her fingers twisted in his hair and Sango smiled.
"Not now," she whispered. "Not yet. We can warn her, Kohaku. If we can talk to Kagome…she'll change everything. They don't have to die."
Sango tipped his face up, brushing his lips with her own. How long since she'd tasted warmth on his lips, how long since she'd seen a sparkle in his eyes? Tenderly, she stroked the hair back from his forehead, like a sister who'd soothe away her little brother's fears.
"Naraku doesn't have to win."
Nervous now, Sango felt more alive than she had in decades. Perhaps centuries, but she now felt the tiniest tremble in her knees, a bare shiver in her backbone. She was terrified…and it had been forever since she'd tasted fear.
"This is the shrine," Kohaku said, his voice matter of fact. "Aren't you going up to see her?"
She swallowed and looked down at the bouquet she'd bought on a whim. Gorgeous white lilies, pure and simple as a young girl's heart, they seemed to mock her tainted soul. Sango felt out of place, standing here beside the car in the early morning sunlight while ordinary people were getting their day started.
To distract herself, she turned and looked at her reflection in the car's tinted window. A beautiful woman, sophisticated in a dark plum dress, her hair falling over her shoulder in a shining mass. How would Kagome ever believe that she was Sango, the same girl who'd wielded Hiraikotsu and fallen in love with a doomed monk?
She hadn't thought it out, not at all. If they were a day too early, Kagome would never believe them. What if they were a year too late, and up those stairs a mother was mourning for the daughter who'd never come home?
"I should have called first," she muttered, her fingers tightening on the delicate green stems. The smell of crushed flowers was heavy in her nose, the sweetness of the blooms decaying swiftly. Kohaku touched her arm, deftly rescued the helpless flowers from her tainted indecision.
"If it's before she goes into the well," he said in a reasonable tone, "then we aren't too late. You will just explain and…"
"She'll think we're crazy," Sango bit out, wiping a tear from her cheek before it could fall. "She'll call the police, or she won't listen to us. If…if Naraku finds out we came here…"
Kohaku pressed a finger to her lips. "If we change everything, perhaps there will be no Naraku. You said that Kagome brought the sacred jewel, that she broke it with her arrow. If she never breaks that jewel, won't we become free, sister?"
If jewel had never shattered, if this shard had never been placed in her back, or Kohaku's back… If they'd been allowed to live as normal brother and sister, if Naraku hadn't twisted their love, tainted it with his poison…
She blinked. For a long moment, Sango saw everything she'd done and everything she'd become over the long centuries of despair. Fate could not be so random; perhaps this was how it was meant to be forever.
"We're still here," she said, her fists resting on the glossy fender of the car. "Doesn't that mean we failed?"
"Doesn't that mean we have to try?"
Her body felt heavy, any moment she might melt in this poisonous sunshine. Wearily, Sango dragged the words up from the pit that had become her belly. "I'm afraid to face her, Kohaku," she whispered. "I can't forget that I killed her, that I killed Inuyasha." She was breaking. "I killed Miroku and I loved him. Even Shippou who was a child, and Kirara who had known me all my life."
"Sister," he murmured, seeing her come apart.
"I don't know what to do," she sobbed; letting him hold her, comfort her as he'd comforted her all these years. "I just know I can't go up those stairs. Not yet."
"Then I will." Sango looked up at her brother, her eyes blurring from her tears. For a moment, he looked like the little child he'd been, that same tender innocence and that same shy smile. He was a boy again, when he loved Sango. All the corruption of Naraku's power hadn't been able to erode his love for her.
Then he kissed her as no brother should kiss his older sister, their lips parting and his tongue pressing deeply. "I'll go up and ask," he said, slipping his sunglasses on as he cradled her lilies in the crook of his arm. "If she hasn't gone down the well yet, we still have a chance."
She watched him climb the stairs, a certain taint of grief lodged deep in her throat. The truth was, he had always been the brave one. She would have withered from her despair if he hadn't been at her side. Or worse, she would have become like Naraku, cruel and powerful, without that hint of the past in Kohaku.
Even in their darkest moments, he had remained pure. Living out of love for her, obeying Naraku because it meant that they'd be together. Kohaku didn't see the past in terms of her failure, or of her betrayal. He only saw his sister, his lover, and the one thing precious that all of Naraku's evil could never taint.
Perhaps their life together was not wicked or corrupt. Perhaps this was how they were supposed to be, as if only the strange road they'd traveled could have brought them to this door. He was never meant to be just her brother, not anymore than she was only his sister. The bond of their blood had fallen to dust between the centuries, but their love…remained forever.
She heard the first gunshot and immediately stared at the sky, searching for thunder. Then another shot, then another followed by a wailing scream. And the scream cut the air like a sword slicing into bone and sudden nausea gripped her.
"No," she whispered, sinking to her knees. At the top of the stairs, Kohaku appeared. She watched him as he slowly descended, his face like a statue's, unmoving and unmoved. Sango found herself counting the seconds like steps; one falling after another, until her little brother came to help her to her feet.
She smelled the gunpowder when he embraced her, leaning into her for a soft kiss. Her expression looked like gratitude and the chill touch of his hand on her cheek was what she needed most to feel.
"Kagome won't be going down the well," Kohaku whispered in her ear. His finger traced the scar on her back and she knew that the tiny shard had…disappeared.
"How much time do we have left?" she asked, afraid to let go of him for even a moment. His arms were tight around her. "A day…an hour?"
Kohaku pressed his lips to Sango's hair, his eyes closed. "A minute…maybe forever," he murmured. Without the taint of Naraku's power to sustain them, without the corruption of a broken jewel, they might disappear a moment.
Or they might live forever.
There was really no way to know.