Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha.
Gradually, Sango's senses started to come to as she dragged herself out of the depths of a dreamless slumber. It felt like she was fighting to come to the surface of an angry tide, but her willpower managed to drag her to the shores of consciousness—slowly, that is.
Her sense of smell was the first to arise. The wonderful scent of some type of food being cooked wafted into her nostrils and her mouth watered for a taste. It had been so long since she had some real food that she couldn't identify what it was, but her stomach sure did agree with the aroma, for it had started to rumble.
Second was her sense of hearing. She heard voices in the distance; however, she was unable to identify any of them. Both sounded feminine, and it seemed like they were partaking in a hushed argument. It didn't pique her interest as much as getting some food did, though, so she focused on trying to get up.
The feeling of being encased in a soft material and laying on an even softer surface registered in Sango's mind the moment that she attempted to move from her current position. Being as comfortable as she was, she was reluctant to move, much less get up. She couldn't recall a time where she was this comfortable. Sadly, she knew that she needed the nutrients that food would provide.
Leisurely, she began to open her eyes, allowing them to adjust to the light of the room. Above her was the highest ceiling that she had ever seen, or maybe it had seemed that way because she wasn't locked in a dungeon.
Brown eyebrows furrowed in confusion as Sango sat up quick, causing her stomach to churn in the most unpleasant way. After taking some time to recover, it occurred to the woman that she indeed wasn't in Inuyasha's dungeon. She hadn't been woken by the sound of her master's footsteps and wasn't met with the stench of human filth. It took some time of racking her mind for answers, but eventually, she was able to recall the previous events that took place. It may have been silly that she had forgotten such a huge turn in her life, but it had happened too fast and seemed too surreal. Pulling back the pristine sheets that covered her body, Sango confirmed that she had indeed just escaped from Inuyasha, for she still wore her ragged clothes, minus the chains.
How long had she been unconscious? The last thing that she remembered was waking up after Naraku bit her, causing her hand to land on the mark on her hip. She shuddered from the memory of being bit, yet continued to try and remember what happened after that. Nothing other than waking up after the event came to mind, so she saved herself a headache and dropped the subject, choosing to let the euphoria of being almost free sink in.
Too lost in her temporary elation, Sango failed to realize that the conversation that she had previously heard had ceased. When she did notice that everything was too quiet, she immediately went on guard, cursing herself for being so careless. She never had any moments of peace, so why should it start now? Just because she wasn't Inuyasha's slave didn't mean that everything was all sunshine and rainbows.
Disliking the fact that she was in a vulnerable position, Sango struggled to get off of the cushiony pallet on the floor, grabbing onto the wall for support as what felt like pins shot through her legs. She may be practically defenseless from her lack of energy, but at least she would be able to run if the need arose. The only question was what was there to run from now?
"I see that you're finally up," a smooth voice commented in a low tone, startling Sango. Red eyes looked over the trembling woman on the other end of the room, and instantly Naraku felt the foreign feeling of regret as her fear permeated the room. He knew that she had lived a hard life, yet he still gave no warning as he entered the room. Frustrated with the changes occurring within him, Naraku turned to exit the room. "There is food in the other room."
Sango placed a hand on her frantic heart, willing it to stay within her chest. She was upset with herself for being so weak, and she was mad at Naraku for having experienced her weakness. Although she was grateful that he didn't comment on her jumpiness, she still was angry at him for even existing, and she decided to let him know this by the glare that she threw in his direction. Technically, he did save her, but by doing so, he cursed her to continue living her personal hell, causing her to hate him. She doubted that she would ever be able to forgive him for that.
Despite being wrapped in her thoughts of hatred, Sango didn't miss the fact that she was growing anxious with every step that Naraku took out of the room. Yes, she wanted to put as much distance between them as she could, but a part of her didn't want to be alone. Being alone meant that she was unprotected, and a piece of her would always fear Inuyasha coming back to claim her. Naraku promised to protect her and he couldn't do so if he wasn't around.
Swallowing her pride, she called out to the departing demon, telling him to wait. Sango shifted her weight on her feet nervously as the demon stopped and slowly turned toward her, a questioning look in his red eyes. Averting her gaze under what seemed like an intense stare, Sango murmured, "Can you take me to the food?" She waited for a response of harsh words or a form of physical punishment for making such a silly request, but when neither came, she looked up to meet the red gaze once more. When she was answered with a nod, she slowly separated herself from the wall and took careful steps toward the demon, all the while keeping an eye on him.
When she came within six feet of Naraku, Sango stopped, waiting for him to lead the way. There was no way that she was getting any closer. Her previous experiences and current suspicions taught her to be cautious. In fact, she still couldn't figure out why a demon lord would take her under his care—after all, she had nothing to offer him.
It was when she refused to move another inch that the spider lord turned and led her out of the room. He didn't want Sango to step out of her comfort zone more than she already had, and although it was small, the fact that she even asked him for anything was a large step for her. He knew that she didn't trust him—and she probably wouldn't for quite some time—but it was a start. He found himself pleased with such a small feat.
Entering the dining area of his castle, he could hear Sango inhaling a large amount of air, probably taking in the scent of the food. With the way her stomach rumbled immediately after, he could tell that she was hungry. He briefly wondered how long it had been since she ate, followed by the question of how often humans need to eat to survive—the one human that he had allowed to accompany him took care of her own needs, rendering him ignorant about the human population, other than a simple human recipe.
Noticing that Sango had stopped when he stopped in front of the empty table, he cast a glance over his shoulder in her direction. He told himself that he was checking to see why she had paused, but a part of him wanted to see her, to assure himself that she was actually here with him and not some dream… or a cruel joke.
He stopped his thought process short, frowning at how easily he allowed himself to become distracted by her presence alone. This was not the time to be daydreaming when he should be taking care of Sango's needs—whatever they may be.
With the change of thoughts came the realization that the woman behind her had lived her whole life being told what she could and couldn't do, not to mention the fact that she naturally wouldn't trust seeming vulnerable in front of him by sitting while he remained standing. To show her that it was okay to sit at the table, he went to the other side of it and kneeled down in front of it, observing the way that she watched him like prey would watch a predator. When she made no move to sit at the table, he motioned for her to do so. "You don't need my permission to sit."
When the woman slowly knelt at the table at the far end of the table, Naraku found himself observing her mannerisms. Her eyes darted to and fro, watching for some unseen force to jump out and attack and her frail arms wrapped around her torso protectively, as if she could shield herself from the world. A scowl tugged at his features as he watched the woman before him. Inuyasha had done this to her, and he found himself hating the hanyou more than he had.
The feeling of eyes being on him caused Naraku to come out of his thoughts once more, and he looked up to be met with large childlike eyes. This wasn't the fierce woman who had stood up against him on several occasions, and he realized that this was how she was without any facades—then again, it's easy to put on a front when you're not in that person's territory. Her passive attitude irritated him, and he came to the conclusion that it just wouldn't do.
Focusing on her once more, he noticed that she hadn't averted her gaze, and he wondered why. It was then that he remembered that he was probably scowling, so he opted for a more inviting expression—at least a neutral one—though, he didn't know how well that went over considering that he wasn't the friendly type. It must have worked because Sango's eyes left his face to look around the room once more.
The silence aggravated Naraku to no end, but he didn't know how to break the ice. He wasn't one for holding a conversation, much less initiating them. It then occurred to him that he didn't know the first thing about having company, especially that of the human female sort. Why did he decide to shelter a human woman in the first place? He didn't know the first thing about taking care of a human. A humorless smirk touched his lips at the way the thought seemed like he had adopted a pet. In a way, she was like a pet, and the concept of it entertained him, he just wouldn't voice that aloud.
The partition that separated the dining area from the kitchen opened, revealing a woman holding a steaming bowl and a bowl, gaining Sango's attention. The woman had black hair that was held up in the back and adorned with feathers. Her eyes were red, and she had some make-up on her face. The woman glanced at Naraku once and proceeded to slowly approach Sango. Seeing as she didn't know the stranger, Sango scooted away from the woman, ready to run should the woman mean any harm. When the woman did nothing besides place a bowl, cup, and chopsticks in front of her, Sango let out a breath that she was unaware that she was holding. It wasn't until the woman started to depart that she allowed herself to relax to some degree.
Brown eyes cast downward into the large bowl, gazing at the stew like substance. The liquid was brown in color and colorful specks floated around in it. She could only guess what made up the stew, but she wasn't about to complain—it smelled delicious!
Being moments away from wolfing down the meal, Sango sent a mistrusting glance toward her new master. Food was never given to her so easily and in such a large serving. There had to be some trick behind this gracious gesture. Also, she noticed that he didn't have a bowl for himself. For all that she knew, her food could have been poisoned, or he could be taunting her with it, ready to punish her for eating it.
"Is the food not appealing?" Naraku asked, quirking an eyebrow at the glare that he received in response. This woman—she didn't make sense. A few moments ago, her stomach was growling with hunger—at least that is what he assumed—and now she was reluctant to eat. He had spent some time remembering and gathering the ingredients that his former human companion had often used for her meals, and then had them prepared with the exact precision that the human had used. He would be highly annoyed if Sango didn't appreciate the meal.
"Why didn't you get any?" Sango tried to discreetly see if this was a trap. If so, then she wouldn't just walk into it. She had made that mistake plenty of times in the past.
Amusement flashed through red eyes for a split second before turning impassive, and the telltale signs of a smirk played along the edges of the spider lord's mouth. He had thought that she wasn't eating because of something seriously being wrong, not because she was suspicious of him. "Demons don't indulge in human diets."
The answer must have seemed logical to Sango because she turned her gaze back to the meal. "So… this is mine?" She had to make sure that he wasn't going to get angry at her for eating.
Naraku merely nodded. Once again, her passive attitude had soured his mood considerably. He would have preferred if she would have yelled at him than this. He briefly wondered what she would be like had she not been captured by Inuyasha and if there was any possible way to fix the damage that the dog had done.
A sigh reached Naraku's ears, capturing his immediate attention. The sight the greeted him would have been considered adorable if he allowed such words into his thought processes. A barely suppressed chuckle escaped his lips, and he stood from his spot, making his way over to Sango. Seeing as she was too engrossed in pouting and trying to stab at the solid pieces of food that floated around the stew with the chopsticks, she wasn't aware of his presence until he gently grabbed her wrist.
Immediately, he heard—no, felt— the erratic thumping of the heart that belonged to the woman that he had physical contact with. It penetrated him deeply, and he wanted nothing more than to embrace this woman, stealing her fears with his vice like grip. He could practically taste the fear that was now saturating the air, but she needed to learn that he truly meant her no harm. He tried his best to ignore the frantic heartbeat and stilled breath of the girl, knowing that he had to do this. "Here, you hold the chopsticks like this," he spoke in the most polite way while positioning the sticks in her fingers the correct way. Her hand trembled from the contact, but eventually, she was able to hold them. He then showed her the proper way to handle food with them. After a few seconds when he was sure that she had gotten the basic concept, he stepped back, watching with amazement by how quickly she learned. Perhaps this wasn't the first time she had used them.
After a few moments, he could tell that she had completely forgotten about him. It was in the way that her shoulders relaxed and how she ate like the food was the greatest that she'd ever had—and perhaps it was. He was pleased to see that his efforts were not for naught.
Some minutes had passed when Sango stood from her spot at the table, clearly finished with her meal. Her stomach was full, and she was definitely satiated. She reveled in the warmth that had spread throughout her body, and a ghost of a smile touched her lips. The smile didn't last; however, when she remembered that Naraku was still in the room. Even though he had yet to harm her, she still couldn't trust him—after all, demons are known for their trickery.
"There is more if you're still hungry," Naraku offered, studying how malnourished the woman was. Her pale skin gained a fraction of color, and he could tell that she was slowly gaining some energy. It wasn't enough to say that she was healthy, but it was a start.
Sango blinked several times, trying to access if she had heard the demon correctly. Never before had she been offered seconds for any meal, and they never came in large servings either. This was too good to be true. If she wasn't so full, she would have accepted. Shaking her head, she declined.
Naraku narrowed his eyes slightly at the fact that she was being so passive before correcting himself. Luckily for him, she didn't seem to notice, as she stood in the same spot with the same expression of confusion. "Very well."
Turning on his heel, Naraku headed toward the hallway, allowing Sango to decide if she wanted to follow or not. She needed to know that every decision didn't need to be made for her. The sound of soft footsteps following him told him that she had took the hint, and he was pleased again by her quick learning. Also, he took note of the soft footfalls, and he noted that she was light on her feet—with a little training, she would be able to sneak up on demons.
After walking through what seemed like a maze, Naraku came to a stop before a set of closed sliding doors. Turning, he noticed that Sango was regarding him with questioning eyes, and a small sigh escaped his lips. "If you have a question, you only need to ask."
"Where are we?" She looked around the bare room that she was in once before gazing at the large doors behind Naraku. Something big was behind those doors, and she was anxious to know what it was.
Wanting to teach her that she was allowed to take the initiative, Naraku stepped aside. "Open it and see." He didn't miss the small changes in Sango's demeanor to show that she was hesitant, but if he wanted her to learn to trust him, then he had to let her see for herself that he wasn't out to harm her.
Not knowing what to do, Sango mentally debated on whether or not she should listen. A part of her wanted to open it if only to avoid any repercussions for disobeying. The other part of her didn't want to be the first to open the door. Who knew what could be on the other side? The fact that Naraku didn't want to open it could only mean something bad… or was it?
With a breath of courage, Sango made up her mind and slowly advanced toward the door. The temperature increased with every step that she took, causing her mind to run through many different possibilities. When all of them seemed silly, she extended a shaky hand, laying it on the door. Brown eyes flicked over to the amused looking demon, and a scowl found its way to Sango's face. That bastard was enjoying this. Unwilling to let him bask in her fear any longer, she forced the sliding doors apart, gasping at the sight before her.
Smoke arose from the large area filled with water. The sun in the sky played through the steam, creating a sight that Sango had never seen before. Looking around, Sango realized that Naraku's castle was built around a hot spring, and he even left it outdoors instead of having it roofed in with the rest of the castle.
A rose hue appeared on the young woman's cheeks from the temperature, and she found herself taking an unconscious step forward. She would give anything to be able to soak in the spring before her. There wasn't a recollection available where she was able to have a hot bath, and she couldn't wait to have one. When she was Inuyasha's slave, only the high class people of the castle were allowed to have a hot bath—servants and slaves were forced to bath in a pitifully small, cold river.
Upon seeing the way that Sango's eyes glistened with excitement from the sight of the bath, Naraku smirked. This was… good. Sango seemed to be happy, and one couldn't help but feel the emotions radiating off of her. Emotions—the mere thought of them made Naraku shudder, and he realized that he had been in this woman's presence for far too long, again. Needing to escape from the subtle deterioration that he was going through, he said, "I will have Kagura bring you some fresh clothing, enjoy your bath."
Sango turned in time to see the curtain of wavy, black hair depart with the sliding doors closing behind him. She tilted her head in confusion at first until the information sunk in. Naraku had brought her here so that she may indulge in a much needed hot bath, and he wasn't going to invade her privacy to ensure that she wouldn't run away. After several moments of trying to figure out if this was a trick or not, she finally came to herself. This wasn't a trick, at least not a straightforward one, and she should hurry up and get in before the demon changed his mind.
After stripping off what was left of her tattered attire, Sango discarded it on the stone and made her way over the hot springs. Sitting on the edge, she stuck one foot in as a tester and almost recoiled from the temperature—it was hotter than she had expected. Trying again, she stuck her right foot in the water again, except she left it in this time. The cuts on her feet burned, but it wasn't enough to make her react. She found out soon that the temperature was tolerable and stuck her left foot in. She sat like this for some time, kicking her feet lightly in the water, feeling the soothing qualities that the water contained.
It wasn't until she was completely comfortable that she decided that she wasn't going to get clean just by sitting on the edge—sometimes one had to just jump in if they wanted to get the intended results. Apparently, her life had been like that recently. She didn't know that she was going to successfully get away from Inuyasha, nor did she know that she was going to end up with Naraku. Despite the heat, she shuddered from a cold chill just by thinking about him. There was something about the spider lord that just wasn't right. Nobody did something for nothing, so why was he allowing her all of these luxuries. It just didn't make sense.
Plugging her nose, she pushed herself off of the edge, fully immersing herself into the heated water. The water cleared away all of the fogginess in her mind. All at once, a tirade of thoughts flooded through her mind and Sango found herself unable to control them. They were full of doubts and what ifs. What if Naraku's ulterior motive was worse than living with Inuyasha? What if she hadn't of run away? What if she would have died a couple of nights ago?
Breaking the surface of the water had the opposite effect of jumping in. All of her thoughts stopped as if the weight of her now soaked hair pushed them away, and she was left with a resolution. What ifs didn't matter. Hell, nothing mattered except for regaining her dignity through vengeance and finding her younger brother.
A wry smile played at her lips. She would be okay. She may not particularly like the fact that the future wasn't laid out before her on a golden platter, but she knew that she would survive. She now had someone to live for other than herself, and even though she lost the will to fight for herself, she wouldn't stop fighting for this other person. She couldn't.
Her resolution came to an abrupt halt when something shifted in Sango's peripheral, causing her to dunk her upper body under the water and wrap her arms around herself, hoping to hide her body from whatever she had seen. When she was sure that all but her head was concealed, she turned her head, and her eyes were met with red ones.
In a situation such as this one, she did the first thing that came to mind—she screamed.
A/N: Thank you for your lovely reviews, they are much appreciated! Please review, I'm dying to know your thoughts about this chapter!