A Secret Santa gift for Starzki. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Sometimes she thought about what it would be like to have a normal girl's life. To worry about what your hair looked like in the morning, or how to get the kids to stop whining, or that the chickens escaped from their pen again. To have your mother-in-law nag you about your cooking or to be able to be with your husband, alone, at night.
Most women coveted her life when they heard of the freedom she held.
"You have no home?" one woman had asked incredulously, clutching the baby that Sango had just rescued from a firefly demon.
Yes. Firefly. As she had just discovered, a gas that they emitted when they "turned their lights on" was poisonous and deadly.
"Not anymore. It was decimated by an enormous band of youkai."
"How terrible. But what an exciting lifestyle! You travel from place to place with your friends… no responsibility, no ties to anyone, physical exercise…" Her eyes became glassy as she slipped into a daydream.
"I kill," Sango said coldly. "I kill youkai for a living. I have broken nearly every bone in my body, pulled muscles I didn't know existed, relinquished a life of safety and love… I'm just waiting for death."
The woman clutched her child tighter and stroked the hair of the young girl clinging to her leg. "Miss, those are not words for children's ears."
"My life is not fit for a child's mind."
Sometimes she resented her life. Craved a safe life, yearned for children of her own, wanted to sleep at night without having her weapon but a few feet away from her.
It hit her at odd times, this feeling, but tonight was one of them.
She and her companions had annihilated a group of pesky raccoon youkai that had been preying on a local village's livestock… and, more unusually, children. The grateful—and frightened—villagers had practically threatened them into staying in the village's inn for the night, run by the brother of the mayor.
"At least this'll be a nice change from the cold, wet ground," Kagome muttered aside to Sango, who nodded mutely.
Kagome didn't often complain about their daily routine, but she had profound reason for it lately. It seemed either the gods—or a group of mischievous demons?—decided to have some fun with the south of Japan and make rain fall for weeks on end.
"After a while, you get tired of waking up in a giant puddle of mud," added Kagome.
"Especially since it doesn't seem to bother Inuyasha at all," Sango said.
Kagome shrugged. "Well, he's got dog in him."
"Yeah." She halfheartedly glared at Miroku, her fiancé, who was flirting with the innkeeper's daughter. At the moment, she was too tired and wet to care.
Okay, so that was a lie.
Revision: at the moment she was too tired and wet to do anything about it.
They were loitering in the foyer of the inn, each standing in a miniature-sized lake as the rain water dripped off of them. Inuyasha and the innkeeper were deep in conversation—something about a lead on Naraku.
Honestly? Sango didn't really care about Naraku. She was sick of him dragging them to all ends of the earth,
The girl was smiling and nodding energetically, her rather fat hands flapping around as she giggled in a high pitched voice; Miroku was looking on with a smile on his face.
Sango looked on contemptuously, mentally comparing herself with the innkeeper's daughter. Better figure: Sango 1, Twit 0. Better complexion: Sango 0, Twit 1. Level of maturity: Sango 1, Twit -10.
"…by herself, isn't that right Sango?" Miroku said, turning to her.
"Uh." She snapped out of her mental tallying to find her companions, the innkeeper, and his daughter all looking at her expectantly. "Yes. That's right."
Inuyasha's eyebrows flew up. Kagome's lowered.
Miroku smiled. "Excellent. Come, Okira, I will escort you to the stables."
"Oh thank you," the plump peach gushed, her hands fluttering by her neck, "one never does know what can be lurking out there in the darkness!" She shuddered theatrically.
"My sentiments exactly," said Miroku, bowing to the innkeeper before leading the man's daughter out of the establishment without so much as a backward glance to Sango.
She tried to curb her annoyance, but really couldn't bring herself to do so at the time. Miroku had proposed to her, for god's sake. Or at least sort of had.
In a way.
"Your rooms are out that door," the innkeeper said, pointing in the opposite direction in which Miroku had gone. "The first two on the right. You're lucky tonight isn't very busy, otherwise I would've had no choice but to make you share one room."
"That's wonderful," Kagome said, smiling. "Thank you, sir."
They hastily exchanged bows and hurried toward the door that would lead them to the rooms—a nice, warm, dry place to sleep.
"I am so tired," Shippo whined from his place in Kagome's arms. "I just want to sleep for ever and ever and ever and ever and—"
"I wish you would," said Inuyasha under his breath.
This earned him a sharp jab in the ribs from Kagome. "Be nice."
"I will if he will."
"Don't be so juvenile, Inuyasha."
"If you'd stop nagging me for one second—"
Sango tried valiantly to block out their bickering, which naturally only made their voices resound louder inside her head. Stroking Kirara, who was sleeping on her shoulder, she noted the rain dripping from the eaves of the building and thankfully thought again how nice it would be to sleep on a dry floor tonight.
They reached the first door on the right and slid it open.
Like a badly staged comedy performed at a festival, all three of their mouths dropped open. The room was tiny—about as small as Kaede's hut—with several leaks in the ceiling, and a damp and rotting wood floor.
"Maybe the next room will be drier?" Kagome said tentatively.
Inuyasha snorted and proved her wrong by practically throwing open the next room's door so hard it flew off its tracks and clattered onto the stone path that was lined around the inn.
"Great. This one's just as wet," Sango said.
"Go figure. The monk said that flirting with the innkeeper's daughter would get us a nicer room. If this is nice, I'd hate to see low-rate."
Sango glowered. "Oh, was that his excuse?"
"At least it's a room," said Kagome.
"I'm going for a walk," Sango said.
"Don't wander off too far," warned Inuyasha.
Sango balled her hands into fists but nodded. Had it been Miroku, she would have decked him for his facetiousness. But she knew Inuyasha was just being practical—with his nose, he could smell danger before any of the others could even being to sense it.
"Remember what happened last time," he added.
This time Sango really did throw him a punch, which of course he blocked easily.
"Oi! What gives?"
"I know you're not referring to that insane giant fish," she ground out, yanking back her hand from his tightened grasp. "Because if you were you would see large gaping differences between this situation and that one."
"Actually I just see one 'large gaping' similarity."
"Stop it, you guys, you're making a scene!" Kagome hissed.
"You're upset because Miroku is playing around again even though he's engaged to you. Anger dulls your senses. All I'm saying is, don't wander off too far in this state."
"You are a presumptuous—"
"Would you please just cut it out?" Kagome tried again. "Let's at least go into the room."
"You make it sound like he has a right to play around."
Inuyasha shrugged indifferently. "He's a male. And a monk. Which means he can pretty much do whatever he wants. And you know it."
A sudden anger flared up inside of her. She was wet. Tired. Hungry. Jealous of Kagome and Inuyasha's recent tenderness toward each other. And menstruating.
And this was the time Inuyasha chose to inform her that he thought it was Miroku's Right of Manhood to play around?
Then again, Inuyasha always had had marvelous timing.
"Including disrespect me, yeah? Well maybe he'd be better off without me dragging him down. Maybe he'd just be better off not engaged to me!"
"Is there a problem?" The innkeeper stuck his head through the doorway, his large mustache twitching impatiently. He was clearly not the type of man to idly stand by while the peace of his inn was being disturbed.
"No, sir," Kagome hastily assured him. "All is well, thank you."
He looked unsure and eyed Inuyasha and Sango suspiciously.
"Sorry," Sango muttered, dipping her head in deference to the older male.
Inuyasha grunted. "Everything's fine. We were talking about those hovels you call—"
The hanyou plummeted to the ground, to the great amusement of the innkeeper. His mustache twitched rhythmically as he laughed through his nose.
"My friend is sadly afflicted with narcolepsy," Kagome explained calmly. "Please excuse him. And thank you so much for the rooms, sir."
The old man nodded his head and disappeared back into the large main room, with one last amused look at the spread-eagle Inuyasha.
"Damn it, woman, do you know how humiliating that is?"
"Yeah, actually, and that's why I do it. Because you humiliate us all the time. Couldn't you control your temper once in a while?"
"And why do you keep making up these ridiculous illnesses for me? Does it even look like I have this… this Gnarly Leprosy?"
"Yeah, sometimes, when you're yelling at me like that," she snapped. "Come on—I'll help you up."
"I can get up by myself!" He struggled to his feet against the aftereffects of the spell.
Kagome wordlessly positioned herself near him so he could lean against her leg while getting up. Neither mentioned the encounter, which gave Sango a pang deep in her stomach. They were so in love and although nobody ever talked about it, everybody knew.
Sometimes she wished people would know about her and Miroku.
Kagome tried to disguise a large yawn, but failed miserably. "Come on. We should get some sleep before tomorrow. We've got an early and big day ahead of us, if what the innkeeper says is true."
Apparently there were rumors of a particularly nasty warlord in the next town just to the south—over one hundred killings of soldiers for "insubordination" in a week, and secret nighttime disappearances into a nearby forest. This didn't sound too out of the ordinary, just another power-hungry and particularly vicious leader. But when the woman who'd given them healing herbs in payment for ridding the town of the youkai mentioned that this warlord never seemed to sustain a wound for more than a few hours… the story reeked of Naraku's dirty work and Inuyasha had pronounced the situation worthy of investigation.
Kagome gave Sango a pointed look. "You especially need some sleep. You're overworked and tired."
"But I'm not delirious. Have you ever thought about how Miroku and I would actually live as a couple?"
"Probably about the same as now."
"Sure," Inuyasha agreed. "Lots of groping and slapping. You'll push out a few kids, have a nice little garden in the back, go to ceremonies at the shrines, cook dinner, and serve him at night."
Kagome elbowed Inuyasha hard. "You are so crude sometimes."
"Sometimes I wonder if it could work," Sango said, ignoring Inuyasha's comment. "My taijya lifestyle wouldn't exactly mesh with his monk's life. Can you imagine me living in a monastery? Leaving early each morning to go exterminate demons and then returning at night to cook his dinner wouldn't exactly leave time for making house, raising children, or keeping house. I don't do domestic. I'm not that kind of girl"
"Well if you really are thinking of breaking your engagement with Miroku, you'd be hard pressed to find another man with that attitude," snorted Inuyasha.
He was ready for her this time and clapped a hand over her mouth before she could finish, his other arm snaking around her waist so she was completely trapped within her arms. "I don't think so, wench. And I was only saying the truth."
Kagome glared at him, but the effect was somewhat diminished by the blush that had spread across her cheeks.
"I'm going for a walk," Sango said disgustedly.
They didn't hear her.
Sango was half expecting to run into Miroku and the fat innkeeper's daughter in a secret tryst of some kind, so when she smashed into Miroku—quite literally—on her warpath, she wasn't in the least surprised. It was nearly the new moon—just a couple of days before Inuyasha's human night—so at night it was basically like walking in an opaque cloud.
Like Inuyasha had said: dangerous.
So, when she smashed into a large moving object, she automatically jumped backwards into her fighting stance. "Who's there?" she commanded.
"Sango? What are you doing out here?"
"Taking a walk," she answered.
"I am a taijya," she said stiffly. "I can take care of myself."
She could almost see him shrugging. "I know this. But all the same, we should be getting back to the inn. It's foolish to be out here alone and vulnerable."
Miroku and his cool logic. "Then you must be the vulnerable one because I certainly know what I'm doing."
"What's the matter with you, Sango?" He took her arm and started steering her back in the direction that she came. "You weren't mad about me taking the innkeeper's daughter to the stables, were you?"
"No." She jerked her arm out of his grasp. "What makes you think that?"
"Because you always get this way when I even so much as interact with another female."
"I do not!"
"I don't! It's only when you start flirting and sweet-talking and asking them to bear your children that a get a little jealous. But forgive me. I suppose it shouldn't be upsetting at all for a girl to hear her fiancé asking another woman to have his kids."
"If you were thinking rationally, you would recall that I haven't asked that question to anyone in months. And any flirting I do is only to help our group out."
"Like tonight?" she said scathingly. "We were already going to stay in the room free of charge. So what did flirting with the innkeeper's daughter accomplish?"
He sighed and took her arm again, once again leading her toward the faint lights of inn. "She needed and escort to the stables."
"That's all?" Sango said sarcastically.
"Yes, Sango, that really is all," he replied angrily. "But since you've already made up your mind that I'm still the same dirty, lecherous, conniving man I was when you first met me, it's pointless to try and convince you otherwise."
"So you're saying you're different."
This time it was Miroku that stopped walking. "Yes. And you know it."
"I thought I did."
There was a moment of silence. Then he said sadly, "I thought you did too."
Sango bit her lip. She could see a faint outline of Miroku in the dark; at the moment, she didn't quite want to.
"You're crying, aren't you."
"No," she said.
"Yes, you are. Or at least trying not to."
"I'm not," she said, even as a tear rolled down her cheek.
He sighed. "Sango. What's this all about? Really."
"I don't know. I don't."
"Is this about me?"
"Us in the future? Getting married? Naraku? Kohaku? Just give me something to work with, please."
"What if we do get married?" she blurted. "What would our life be like? Would it even work out? What if we turn out miserable and don't love each other after all?"
He let out a long, slow breath. "Sango-chan, I can't promise you anything. I can't promise you happy endings. You have to decide if you love me and if you want to marry me."
"And give up my taijya career."
"And give up your taijya career," he added.
There was silence again. Then Sango said in a small voice, "Houshi-sama… do you love me?"
"I thought I told you that already. By that river a few months ago."
"I think it was more like 'I care for you more than any other girl.'"
"So there you go."
"That's not the same thing. And you know it."
"I am not in a position to speak those words at the present time," he said frostily.
"Why? Because of your kazaana? Is that it?"
"Yes." Cold. "That is it exactly."
"Because you need to ask every woman you come across to bear you a child in case it devours you? You can't say 'I love you' because then that would obligate you to be faithful to one woman?"
"Because if the kazaana ever did absorb me, I wouldn't want to leave a lovesick, grieving woman behind!" he exploded. "You know the pain of loss better than anyone, Sango, just as I do. Think about what would happen if I told you I loved you and we were happy and then… and then I died. Is that what you want? Is it?"
"I'm sorry you can't see my point of view, but this is what I think about every day. This is why I watch my words so carefully. This is why I try to let you know how I feel in nearly everything I do… but I guess you haven't notice."
"You… you're actions… houshi-sama, sometimes I don't understand you at all."
"Sometimes I thought you did." He walked away angrily from her, his faint shadow disappearing as he stalked toward the inn.
"And I guess I thought wrong," he added, this time his words only slightly louder than a whisper.
Sango stood rooted to the spot in shock. That didn't go as planned.
She massaged her temples with her hands. He loved her? Or didn't? Did he want to be engaged? Or didn't he?
She thought she did.
She didn't know what she wanted.
No. She did.
She wanted to be with Miroku.
She came to her senses a few minutes later. (Was it a few minutes? How much time had passed?) She needed to get back to the inn. It was dark. And dangerous.
And she needed Miroku.
Needed to see him.
Needed to be with him.
She hadn't walked six steps when she crashed into a large figure again. Habit overtook her again and she fell back into warrior stance. "Who's—?"
"Me. Again." He still sounded angry.
Sango sagged with relief. "Houshi-sama."
"Come on. We need to get back to the inn."
"Yeah." She fell into step with him as the lanterns of the inn grew brighter. "You came back for me?"
"I couldn't let you walk alone in the dark."
She couldn't' help the next words that popped out of her mouth. She was still in argumentation mode. "And that's why you ran off into the darkness and left me all alone."
He grabbed her arm again, his hands ice cold.
"No," he said.
But that wasn't his voice.
"That is why he ran off into the darkness and left you alone."
Sango's foot shot up toward the stranger's groin completely out of instinct. Inside, she was frozen.
Swifter than she could comprehend, the attacker blocked her kick and threw her too the ground. "Sorry, Taijya-sama. Your tricks are useless against powers such as mine. I thought you knew that."
To be awakened in an unfamiliar place is one of the most disconcerting feelings ever experienced. This brief feeling of discomfort is usually followed by an intense rush of memories flooding back—and then the standard burst of cursing, crying, laughing, or—worst case scenario—reaming out of the naked person laying a few inches away.
This experience was commonplace in the generations of tajiya. Stories were handed down from generation to generation, along with the standard procedure of questioning.
1. Reach for your weapon. 2. Assess the situation. 3. Don't panic.
Sango was panicking.
Her weapon wasn't beside her. She was clearly laying in the middle of a forest clearing, not unlike the places she and her companions often slept during their search for Naraku, but she was the only one there.
Hiraikotsu was missing.
Kirara was conspicuously absent.
And her companions were nowhere to be seen.
She sat up hastily, smoothing out her sleep-rumpled clothing and running fingers through her tousled hair, groping for the customary ribbon she wore on the end.
There weren't even dents in the ground near her, meaning her companions hadn't even slept with her. They weren't here.
But she was.
And she had no recollection of how she'd gotten here.
She was trying to organize the thoughts and questions swirling around in her mind when her fingers suddenly hit plain air.
Trembling, she resumed the combing of her hair, a feeling of horror rising up inside of her.
Her hair barely fell below her shoulders.
Her hands flew up to her head, now frantically running through her newly shorn hair.
It was at least a foot shorter!
Someone had cut off her hair during the night.
She was alone in an unknown forest clearing and someone had cut off her hair while she was sleeping, because she was damn well sure that it hadn't been her doing.
Sango scrambled to her feet, her muscles tensing into a warrior's stance. She had to find her way out of here. She had to—to—
A searing pain within her stomach sent her doubled over onto the ground. She felt that familiar warm flow seeping through her fingers. Trying not to gag, she felt over her stomach with her hand, searching for—for—
There it was.
Grasping it firmly, she pulled out the dagger that had pierced her stomach and let it fall from her fingers to the ground.
Get out of here.
She couldn't move. With all her might she was willing her limbs to move, to run, to take her away from this place where fear slithered through every pore of the trees and rocks that surrounded her, but she was frozen.
Poison. There was some kind of poison in the dagger.
Oh, god. I'm going to die. I'm never going to see Kohaku again, never going to kill that bastard Naraku, never going to be married to Miroku, the man of my dreams.
As her eyesight began to fade, the last conscious thought she had was: I would've bore his children…
"Wake up, love."
A sliver of light crept into her vision. No… no, it must still be the dream. It was too late for light.
Soft fingers caressed her cheek. "Was it the dream again? The flashback?"
Miroku. A wave of relief washed over her and she stretched her arms upward to pull her husband down towards her. "Yeah."
He planted gentle kisses over her face. "It's okay. I'm here. You're safe. I love you. The children are safe. I love you."
She pulled him tighter, hugging him close, so that his head rested in the curve of her shoulder—their normal comfort position, but reversed: him on top.
Sango gently stroked the back of his neck, running her fingers through his messy hair, breathing in his scent.
"I thought I'd lost you," she breathed. "Again."
"No," he said, grabbing her earlobe with his teeth. "I'm here." He shifted upward so that he was hovering above her. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. That one was really vivid."
"You could taste the fear?"
What a pair we are, she thought wryly. We relate so well because we both know what horror feels like.
"And we also know the joy of living," he reminded her.
"Did I speak aloud?" she said, alarmed.
"No. I just know what you're thinking. Remember?"
"Yeah." She tilted her head upwards, knowing he was going to kiss her.
He did, slowly and gently, letting her savor the taste of his lips. "You look beautiful this morning."
"You sound sexy."
She knew he was grinning, that rougish smile of his. "You bet. I look it too."
"I know." Even though she couldn't see him, she knew. "The kids are okay?"
"They're right over there, Sango," he said a little impatiently. "They're fine."
"All right. Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
He laid back down beside her, pulling her close so that their bodies spooned together. She sighed as he rubbed his hands all over her, from her neck to her breasts, down her stomach, over her legs. It was her comfort ritual.
"You know," she said, "it's times like these that I don't mind it at all."
"Hm? Times like what, baby?"
"This. Laying in our bed, in our own house, with our children in the other room, both of us alive and well."
"And whole," he said. He was stroking her with his former kazaana hand. There was a slight scar, a perfect brown circle, like a birthmark.
That day when Sango had woken up in the forest was the day of Naraku's destruction. To everyone's surprise—and dismay—it was Kohaku who had defeated the mutated, evilly twisted hanyou. In one of his pits of despair, he had carved out his own jewel shard, and with the skills Kikyou had taught him during their brief time together, tried to purify the jewel.
It hadn't worked, but the attempt did weaken Naraku, so much that he had stalked Sango, poisoned her with a carefully thrown dagger, and planned to inhabit her body. This, obviously, would allow him to kill the rest of the companions and save himself from being obliterated with the purification of the jewel.
Yet by a fluke, just after Sango had pulled the dagger from her stomach, Kirara had tracked her down by scent, with Miroku close behind. Without even stopping to think, Miroku had ripped off the cloth from his hand and sucked the weakened, defenseless form of Naraku into his vortex of wind.
This rash act nearly killed him.
No one had known how the kazaana would react when confronted with its maker. To his horror, it had begun to grow even larger, spanning to almost the palm of his hand.
Kagome and Inuyasha were still back at the inn, asleep. And he couldn't even die next to his Sango, because she might be sucked into the damnable vortex as well.
Then, miraculously, Kagome woke up back in the inn. Not even she was able to understand it, but somehow the Shikon no Tama had appeared in her hand, whole, completed, glowing faintly in the nighttime.
Frightened, she had nudged Inuyasha awake with her foot (since both her hands were occupied). He was as perplexed as she, and suggested a ridiculous number of courses they could take (including swallowing the jewel again, since that was where it had originated in the first place), but eventually she had held it in her hands, closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could on purifying it.
She hadn't known if it worked or not—and she had no idea that she had just saved the life of Miroku, who with the purification of the jewel, had watched his wind tunnel bizarrely stop growing and start shrinking.
Once it had disappeared completely, he ran faster than he thought possible to Sango's side, hoisted her onto Kirara and flew her back to the village, where they at once sought the help of the local medicine woman.
The herb the woman shoved down a writhing Sango's throat stopped the poison from killing her—but it hadn't worked fast enough to prevent the blindness.
"Do you ever regret marrying me?" Miroku asked her.
She turned her head to look at him. Or rather, look in his general direction. It used to make him furious toward Naraku—the medicine woman—Kagome—himself—that she couldn't stare back into his eyes.
But in a way, she was.
"No. Not at all."
"Not at all?"
"Oh." He shrugged. "I only thought…"
She smiled. "I have a house. I have children. I have a simple, peaceful, life. Miroku—I sleep at night. Hiraikotsu is hanging on the wall of the living room."
"Is that all?" he said, pretending to be affronted. "I thought you loved me."
Sango laughed and tilted her head upward to kiss him over and over. "I do. I thought you knew that."
"Remind me again."
Her smile was mischievous and sexy and full of promise. "Okay."