Disclaimer: I do not own Inu Yasha.
The next few days passed as if Sango was in a daze. Her friends had remarked that she seemed distracted, but she had imputed it to everything she had gone through in the last few weeks. She had been under much stress and physical duress during her time spent at the castle, between her imprisonment and the battle she had participated in.
Sango had thus used the last weeks as an excuse for her "odd" behaviour. Thankfully, Kagome's inquiries had stopped after this explanation, the priestess wishing to respect her friend's pain by giving her space but lingering close by in case she was needed.
If only the miko knew. Those events were not the only ones weighing on her mind. Her sleep was disturbed by nightmares of her childhood, of nearly being raped in the castle, of nearly dying. There was no respite for her, no soothing loss of awareness one gets from sleeping.
And during the day, the memories resurfaced, sometimes nearly too real to discern from reality. She could not help but jump at the slightest sound, the barest touch. Only another thought haunted her mind: the end of this trip meant she would meet with a group of survivors from her village.
Her heart stuttered.
The thought was wild beyond her greatest dreams. She had thought for so long Kohaku and she had been the last. And now, years later, some of them were out there, living, breathing, maybe thriving even.
Had they reconstructed the village? Were they trying to resuscitate their trade? Had they recruited new people? Had some of the survivors married and had children? The questions swirled chaotically through her mind. Yet, she could not bear to ask them. As much as her desire to know more burned her, she wasn't ready to hear the answers. She was still simply trying to wrap her mind around the fact there were survivors, and that she would meet them.
It was obvious the others were watching her, waiting to see her reactions, pondering what she was thinking of in regards to this upcoming meeting. She knew they wondered, had heard their whispers, seen their concerned looks. Yet no one confronted her, not that she made it easy for anyone to speak to her. She easily avoided the others during the day, the fact that they were travelling swiftly making it impossible to hold long conversations. Kilala floated above Kagome, Inu Yasha, and Yuuto, out of hearing range. Miroku seemed to be half asleep most of the time. At night, when they camped, she volunteered to help with chores, made a show of resting or took care of her weapons. All of these activities provided her with the solitude she craved.
Inu Yasha watched her like a hawk, but said nothing, while Kagome gave her worried glances. Yuuto would stare at her when he thought she wasn't looking, obviously restraining himself from cornering her to continue their previous conversation. Shippou seemed to have taken her explanations at face value and carried on with the innocent joy of children. So far, everyone left her well alone, but for one.
Miroku still continued to lean against her as they travelled, which she did not begrudge him. He couldn't be expected to be back to one hundred percent yet. She could already discern some improvement though. He could go a longer time without having to lean against her back, and he seemed livelier with each passing day. This bode well. She was relieved he was healing so fast. It only went to show that he would recover completely. She could only hope he continued healing so quickly so that soon she would not have to endure his closeness.
She was uncomfortable with the things he made her feel; the butterflies in her stomach as he watched her warmly, the shivers on her skin as his breath caressed the nape of her neck, the heaviness in her body as his chest pressed against her back.
His ability to affect her was not new though; he had always been able to move her when he wished to. She had never been insensitive to his charm. Not the type of charm he liked to use with the mass of women he propositioned mind you, but the quiet warmth and teasing he turned sometimes towards her. He was protective towards her, always there with a smile and a helping hand.
Those were the things that made her scared. Maybe it was because of those things that, even though he disrespected her with his groping touches, she couldn't create a lasting distance between them. Even now, their last incident seemed far into her mind.
She had not lied to him when she told him she didn't think he respected her as a woman, even though he respected the warrior inside of her. The thought hurt, even if she was used to it by now.
As a child, her mother had told her bedtime stories about Midoriko, a strong warrior of a woman, half samurai, half miko. That warrior had been from another era though, one were women could fight alongside of men, and still be a mother and a wife. Times had changed with the advent of this new era. Things were not as such anymore. Women were expected to honour their husband, to be good wives and raise sons. This had been her fate, until she dishonoured her village. Then she had been taught to be a warrior, only that and nothing else.
Because of that, men looked at her differently. She was an oddity that deserved little respect but for her ability to fight - for some, only once she proved herself a good fighter. Otherwise, as a woman, she was only worthy of passing curiosity, disquiet, or even hostility. She had lived her life with such reactions, both as a young slayer in training, and as the last survivor of her village. Coming from Miroku though, the familiar reactions hurt. She had hoped he would be able to see something more in her
She didn't think his crass attempts at initiating some kind of physical contact were proof of anything else but lust. He was not the first one to somewhat covet her after all. Her uncle and Takeda Rikuto had taught her what to expect in that department.
For that reason, she didn't regret putting the monk into a submission hold. If she could fight, she would; she wouldn't be a victim again to touches she didn't want. She could protect herself now, and if he saw her as a warrior, maybe it was time for her to act as such towards him too, instead of just slapping him in the face as she usually did.
If she was honest with herself, there had been another reason for her recent more aggressive reactions. She had needed to destroy the intimacy that had been increasing between them. He had been too close, digging too deep within her heart.
It was dangerous. She couldn't fall for the monk.
Not only because he didn't see her as a woman of interest, but because having her sins erased by the daimio changed nothing.
Being a demon slayer was the honour and punishment she had been handed by her village. The honour had been to become one of the slayers. It was a highly respected vocation. The punishment had been to be confined to never knowing love, marrying, having children, honouring her family. She would never fulfil her role as a woman.
She was a slayer, condemned to be never more.
Sango closed her eyes for a moment, and shook her head. To think of such things was useless.
She poked at the fire with a stick.
She didn't wish to think anymore. All of her thoughts haunted her. She could only think of the monk, of meeting Yuuto's group, of dying, or of her past. At the very least, her apprehension at seeing her old friends would end tomorrow, as they were only a half day, or a day to the maximum, away from the slayers' camp. She let go of the stick and scooted to the spot she had chosen to sleep. Kilala awaited her in her transformed form. Sango smiled and lay down against her flank, thankful for the warmth the feline demon would provide her. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stop thinking.
Someone sat down next to her, troubling her peace. The young slayer kept her breathing slow and deep, hoping the person would take the hint and leave her alone. No such luck.
"I know you're not sleeping, Sango," a soft voice whispered gently. She opened her eyes and turned her gaze to the man sitting next to her and Kilala, holding back a sigh.
"Sango," Miroku whispered her name with a small smile, his eyes warm as he regarded her.
"It seems to be, that you have been avoiding me." The rings on his staff jingled gently as he turned his body to face her more fully. Tiredness tugged at the slayer, both physical and emotional. She only wanted to sleep, no matter what her dreams may bring. She didn't wish to have this conversation with the monk. She was so tired of the confusion and sorrow.
"I do not know what gave you that impression Houshi-sama, as we ride together every day on Kilala." Said neko purred gently and covered her mistress with her tail, providing her with more warmth. Sango smiled up at her friend before turning her gaze to the man next to her. She noticed that his smile had become brittle, and did not reach his eyes anymore. His hand flexed around his staff.
"That is a lie Sango." His gaze whipped at her heart, as it only mirrored pain and uncertainty, emotions that she understood all too well, for she also felt them. The only difference was that she understood why she acted as she did, while he didn't.
"I think you are confused, maybe from the tiredness." His stare darkened, his eyebrows lowering slightly. Annoyance? Anger? She wasn't sure, but the sudden tension in his body told her he was reaching the end of his rope.
"Why must you keep me at arm length, Sango?" She turned her back to him, snuggling against Kilala. She couldn't bear to look at him anymore, to see his feelings etched so plainly on his face and feel his gaze penetrating her shields. She needed the distance, if only to get a hold of herself once more.
Warm fingers brushed through her hair, making her jerk away. She tossed an accusatory gaze over her shoulder to the monk. He held his hand suspended above her head, fingers now clenched into a fist.
"I won't give up on you Sango," he breathed out, the words sharp, prickly enough to pierce her heart. She clenched her hands together and turned away in a cruel dismissal.
She heard him stand up and walk away from her. Unexpectedly, a small part of her rebelled, demanding that she does not let him leave, that she call after him.
She tamped down hard on it.
It was for the best, she reminded herself.
Miroku sat down under a tree, his gaze on the slayer resting a few feet away from him. He clenched his hand around his shaft, and then forced himself to relax. His emotions made the act nearly impossible. Anger, confusion and determination swirled together in his heart, making for a bumpy ride. The monk breathed in deeply, and let it out in a sigh.
After his previous fight with the slayer at the village, when she had declared he didn't respect her, and had physically shown him she wouldn't tolerate further touches, he had thought their friendship might be damaged. Most importantly, he had thought any possibility of getting to know the young warrior better had been forever taken away from him. All of his efforts at approaching her and attempting repairs had been rebuffed.
He had come to feel affection towards the young demon slayer. She was his friend, but she could have been so much more. He could not be with her once, caress her and whisper sweet nothings to her, and not let himself crave more, maybe crave forever, with her. He couldn't want forever with any woman, especially not with one so innocent and having lost as much as Sango. His wind tunnel was ever present on his mind, his curse growing every day, until one day it might consume him. He couldn't take the risk of bringing her heart with him.
But on that day, after Megumi's marriage, when she had looked at him with soft eyes filled with old sadness and longing, and asked him if it was wrong to wish for love, his resolve had melted and he had reached out. Her cheek had been soft and warm in his palm. He had seen her hesitate and then move away, too haunted by something he didn't understand to take what he offered. And so he had hugged her and brushed his fingers into her hair, his heart heavy with the pain of her rejection, but also the sense of loneliness and sadness that clung to her skin. She had seemed so out of his reach at that moment, needing, wanting the same thing he did, but just as unwilling, or unable, to pursue it. They simply abstained from it in different ways. Contrary to Sango, who devoted herself to her vocation heart and soul, he reached out to women, never giving his heart, but finding comfort in their arms, and what they were willing to give him, if only for a few blessed moments.
It is only when she had been taken by the daimio's son to be imprisoned and that he had heard Sango tell her tale that he had understood. She had been taken as a child to the palace to be groomed to become the prince's. Her trust had been abused and she had defended herself, only to be punished for it, physically and emotionally. The worst punishment had been to condemn her to a life of loneliness and longing, never knowing love, but only an unfulfilled need for human connection. His tender feelings for her, and his protectiveness towards her had only increased knowing her story.
Because of what he had learned of the prince, he had also suspected the man might wish for revenge. His first warnings to stay away from the slayer had gone unheard by the spoiled heir. When he had seen the man going towards her cell, no matter how sick he was, he had known he needed to follow. Horror and anger had suffused him as he had found the prince atop of her, obviously in the middle of an attempt at forcing himself on her. He was only thankful he had been able to help her before he became too sick to be of much use.
Then, she had been the one to take care of him, feeding him, helping him move around, even helping him bathe. He had heard her crying for him, defending him when the guards came for them, and talking to him when he was semi conscious. After this, there had been no more doubts that she cared about him. Caring and friendship might not be love, but they formed a strong foundation for it, giving him hope for more.
When he finally had woken up from what now seemed like a long arduous dream, he had found her laying with him, head pillowed on his chest. His fingers twitched and warmth radiated in his chest as he remembered kissing the corner of her lips. It had been an innocent kiss, filled with affection and happiness, and one that had ended too soon, as she had pulled away from him like a frightened hare.
Since then, she had evaded him, making sure that he could never really talk to her, until, fed up with the ploy, he had cornered her as she went to sleep. Once more, the slayer had pretended that nothing was wrong, that they were friends, that she wasn't avoiding him. She had even jerked away from one friendly touch.
Miroku tilted his head back, looking at the stars. This time though, he wouldn't give up on her, on them, on what they could be. A mischievous but warm smile appeared on his lips as he tilted his head to watch Sango sleep.
Sango's breathing accelerated as she started hearing noises indicating people were camping close by. They were so close now. Soon they would come upon her old comrades. Her hands shook as she clenched Kilala's fur into her fists. She tightened her legs around the neko's flanks, trying to hide her nervousness. A warm hand squeezed her waist. She tensed at the touch, but it was gone before she could react.
She dismissed the act. It had been done as a way to comfort, not as an overture. Even if it had been an overture, she wouldn't have had the energy or the mind to retaliate. She was too nervous.
A man, who until then had been blending in with the canopy, dropped from a tree branch to land in front of them, katana at the ready. Inu Yasha skid to a halt, leaving a trail of dust in the air as Yuuto tried to rein in his horse. The animal squealed and reared back before settling down.
The man regarded them suspiciously, crouched into a defensive position. She was disappointed to find she didn't recognize him as part of her village; he had to be a new recruit.
Sango kept her position in the air, looking for the man's partner. Slayers worked in teams. While this man was confronting them, his partner was hidden and covering his back. By now she was convinced the whole camp knew they were there. They would have been alerted by this same hidden man. Yuuto approached slowly and dismounted near the other man. He approached him and spoke quietly. Kagome slid down Inu Yasha's back and stepped next to him. The man turned and left, prompting Yuuto to signal for them to follow. Sango indicated for Kilala to approach the ground so they may dismount also before following suite. The neko transformed and climbed on her shoulder, glad for the reprieve.
As they entered the camp, her senses went into overload. She couldn't take in enough of the sights, sounds and scents. Her head swivelled left and right, trying to catch the eyes of the men working on their weapons, training or doing chores. Were they all there? All of her old companions?
Sango suddenly stopped in her tracks, her boomerang falling down heavily on the grass. The muffled thud prompted everyone to stop and turn their gaze towards the slayer, who stared ahead mutedly.
Green eyes clashed with mahogany ones.
A man also stopped all movements.
"Sango." The breeze carried the softly spoken word, filled with surprise and yearning. The slayer swallowed with difficulties and blinked. Tears prickled at her eyes.
"Akio," she breathed out in return, the word chocked, nearly mangled. Nothing could have prepared her for the feelings invading her. Suddenly, a large form barrelled against hers. She felt arms wrap themselves around her like bands of steel, and automatically embraced the male form against her similarly. The young woman buried her nose in the neck of the warrior holding her, breathing in his scent. The smell, so familiar, brought back a flurry of memories and emotions. She was dimly aware of her feet leaving the ground, but only tightened her arms around the man's neck, gripping the collar of his slayer uniform tightly in her fingers, the knuckles turning white from the strain.
"Sango, Sango, Sango," the man whispered in her hair as he breathed her in, holding on tight and long. Finally, he let her slide down his body slowly, still keeping his arms around her. A loud chocked laughed escaped his lips. She blinked dazedly, trying to regain her footing but finding her knees weak.
"Akio," she breathed out once more, her mind too dazed to make proper sentences, or even ask the questions that plagued her.
Warm hands ran over her back, arms and shoulders quickly, as if the man in front of her could scarcely believe she was real. She understood the sensation all too well. Even though Yuuto had told her he was alive, seeing him in person was a shock in itself.
Scarred palms ran over her cheeks and tilted her head back, until she stared back into warm green eyes. The gaze was intense, filled with conflicting emotions.
"I can't believe you're alive," he said hoarsely, searching her eyes. She covered his hands with hers in answers, finally curling her fingers around his to lower their joined hands, which she cradled to her chest.
"I can't believe you're alive either," she replied with a small teary smile. The man laughed joyfully and detangled his hands from her grip to wrap his arms around her waist and swing her around. Sango let out a small sound of surprise, but started laughing nonetheless, sniffling back her tears.
She saw Akio look over her shoulder curiously and turned to her previously forgotten friends. He kept an arm wrapped around her shoulders, tucking her against his side gently. The young man had gotten taller through the years, and she now fit perfectly under his arm, the top of her shoulders barely reaching his armpit.
Sango found Inu Yasha looking on with a smirk, while Kagome smiled nervously, her gaze darting from Sango to Miroku quickly. The monk stared on, a small frozen smile drawn on his lips. The back of Sango's neck prickled. She moved away from the arm encircling her shoulders slowly, trying not to be too obvious. She made a show of looking around as an excuse, but was too aware of the tension in the air to be able to process anything she saw.
Sango bit her lip, and turned her gaze back to her friends. Her gaze clashed with Miroku's. Yet, he merely stared back, giving nothing. She turned her gaze back to Akio who was bent down to pet a purring Kilala, which was seemingly happy to see the male slayer.
The other slayer that had been with Yuuto stepped forwards to approach Akio, talking to him in hushed tones. The happiness on Akio's face quickly vanished, replaced with worry and anger. He nodded to the slayer and turned towards the group.
"Make yourself at ease within the camp. Eat. Rest. I will come back to see you later." His eyes strayed to Sango as he said the last words, untold emotions flashing briefly in his gaze. Nodding to them, he turned and hurried away.
Sango watched him go, her chest tight as she regarded her childhood friend, the first and only one she had had when she had started her training, the first male that wasn't her father or brother that she had trusted, the one male friend that had nearly become so much more.
"Well well well. You're alive." The slayer tensed. She recognized that voice, the low taunting tones of it. She knew it would be accompanied by a sneer.
The slayer turned around to face her interlocutor.
Kenta regarded her with his usual contempt. The years hadn't changed his attitude towards her person one bit. Physically though, the man had changed, but as she had expected, becoming bigger and wider, more imposing. She regarded him coolly.
"Didn't that wimp you called a brother go crazy and kill you?" A small smile appeared on his lips as she flinched at the words. Hurt was quickly replaced by anger and Sango clenched her fists at her sides. The man had no right to say such a thing about Kohaku. As she opened her mouth to respond, she noticed his gaze was now on Kagome, regarding the young priestess with interest. By the way he was looking at the young woman's bare legs, the interest wasn't innocent either. She wasn't sure the man was aware of the low growling noise coming from the hanyou next to the miko. She saw when Kenta noticed the threatening noise, as a scowl now appeared once more on his face. The hanyou regarded him meanly, a snarl on his lips. The slayer's hand moved towards the katana at his belt. Sango shifted her stance, readying herself to interfere.
Before anyone could move, however, a hand clamped down on Kenta's arm, forcing it down.
"Stop, Kenta," Yuuto said harshly, tightening his fingers around his fellow slayer's arm. The bigger man turned his head to glare at him menacingly. He glanced meaningfully at the hand on his arm before returning his look to Yuuto. The man released him slowly, and put his hands up in a show of peace. Kenta threw him a look of disgust that he then turned on all of them, before turning away.
They all watched him go tensely. She noticed that Yuuto did not turn his back to the man until he was well and truly gone from sight. He then regarded them solemnly.
"I apologize for Kenta. He is..." He trailed off, as if searching for the right words to describe the burly slayer. Sango nodded. The man had always been surly and prejudiced, especially towards demons and women. He was also domineering. His attitude came clearly through his behaviour towards others, especially those he judged inferior to him. It would seem he still saw Yuuto as inferior also.
"How did he know?" Sango cut the tense silence.
"When we came back from our mission, we found the village destroyed, and filled with graves." Yuuto stared at the ground, arms crossed, obviously lost in memories.
"We went looking for explanations, talked to some farmers that lived nearby. They told us that the group that had gone to the castle had been slaughtered and buried, that a boy had gone insane and slaughtered his group." He shook his head and finally looked up. She saw pain in his eyes, and was reminded at once that she was not alone in having lost so much. She hadn't thought for a second what it would be like for the others to learn that she was alive. Like they did for her, chances were she represented a hope long buried.
Shame made her look away.
She had been avoiding the man for much of their travelling time, when he might have been needing to talk about his own pain and simply ask questions about other possible survivors, or the deceased she had buried. She only recalled now that his cousin had been part of the slaying group Kohaku had slaughtered while being controlled by Naraku. She also recalled finding his mother mangled body at the village and putting it into the ground. Sango bit on her lower lip.
"He also reported that there were rumors of a horde of demons using the opportunity of two big teams gone at the same time to invade the village and slaughter everyone." She was his eyes become glazed over, as if he was lost in the past. Yuuto closed his eyes, and Sango saw a muscle jump in his cheek. He opened his eyes after a few second and tilted his head towards a group of men eating.
"You guys should eat. I need to report to Akio what happened." Without further ado, he left.
A pang of hurt made Sango flinch. On some level, not being invited to that meeting was a painful reminder that she wasn't one of them, even though they came from the same village. She didn't know if the exclusion was simply an oversight, or an intentional act meant to send a message. She dismissed the feeling. She wasn't part of the command chain in this new group, no matter how much part of heart yearned for it. Her gaze turned towards the group that she did belong to. They all watched her, Inu Yasha with interest, Kagome with concern, Shippou with curiosity, and Miroku...
Miroku stared at her unwaveringly.
Hello everyone. I know it has been a while. Things have been crazy busy, and my muse went walkabout, so I have been struggling to write this chapter. You can thank Gotye feat Kimbra with the song "Somebody that I used to know" for making me finish this chapter. Hearing it suffused me with the necessary inspiration.
My muse is still MIA, but I'll do my best to continue this. I will say I have firm intention of finishing this fic though, no doubt about it. It'll probably be my only Inu Yasha fanfic, so I'll try to make it a good one!