Author’s Note: Huge thanks to my betas, houses (for daring to read a fic for a fandom she’s never even heard of, and still being able to offer good advice) and celeste for bringing up important issues and being really thorough.
This takes place fairly early in the series, prior to episode 50 I think. If you don’t watch Inuyasha, you won’t have any idea what the hell is going on. If you forge on regardless, well, I hope you enjoy it J
The sound of Sango’s hand connecting with Miroku’s cheek echoed off the trees, causing birds to scatter en masse from the overlooming branches, but that was not the primary cause of drama at that moment. No, the tension was due to the receding figures of both Kikyo and Kagome, each heading in an opposite direction from the red-clad figure in the middle of the clearing, his silver head bowed by heavy sorrow.
Once again, Kikyo, Inuyasha’s former love, had come to taunt and torment him; once again, Kagome had demanded (and not received) a declaration from the hanyou that his heart belonged only to her.
And in the middle of it all, Miroku had had the audacity to take advantage of Sango’s preoccupation with the scene before them to palm her backside. Her slap had been automatic, but it was clear that not only were the slaps ineffective in dissuading him from trying again all too soon, but his grin of delight gave her the worrying impression that he was really starting to enjoy them.
Sango closed her eyes, mentally counting to ten to keep herself from launching at the echhi monk and beating him senseless. She was furious, more so than she should have been, but how could she not be? Miroku’s wandering hand, Kagome’s distress at feeling like a cheap imitation of an original, and throughout it all, Inuyasha’s sorrow.
Had he not endured enough already? Sango’s heart wept for him, for the child that had been orphaned and abandoned, mistreated by his brother, despised by both youkai and human realms. He belonged nowhere, was wanted only by the single soul shared by the two mikos, and it appeared to Sango that even gentle Kagome saw him more as an achievement, proof she was just as good if not better than Kikyo, than as an actual person with feelings.
Kirara trotting at her heels, she strode away from Miroku, who still grinned witlessly at her whilst rubbing his pinkened cheek. Reaching Inuyasha, she reached out to pat his red sleeve. “Let’s go, Inuyasha,” she said, her eyes soft on his downturned face.
“Don’t touch me,” he snapped, golden eyes flashing. “I’ll decide when we go.”
A year ago, Sango might still have been hurt or offended by his abrasive ways. But she had long since learnt two things: firstly, neither hurt nor offense was likely to be mended by Inuyasha any time soon, so if she were expecting an apology she’d be waiting a long, long time; and secondly, that he behaved as he did to cover his heart, his tender and easily wounded heart. If he struck first, then it was more certain that he would not be struck himself.
And so she waited patiently, her eyes revealing nothing as he glared at her. “All right,” he said at last, every syllable grudging and reluctant. “Let’s go.”
They walked. Soon, Kagome returned from wherever she’d been indulging herself in yet another good cry over Inuyasha’s insensitivity, Shippo trailing adoringly behind her and glaring daggers at the hanyou. Still miffed, she refused to join Inuyasha and Sango at the head of the procession, preferring to walk beside Miroku to the rear.
It was not long before night fell, and with the shadows wrapping so closely around them, Sango felt an odd sort of intimacy spring up between her and her companion. “Inuyasha,” Sango said suddenly, “I don’t think less of you for not being able to choose between them.”
His head whipped toward her. “What the hell are you talking about?” he snarled, and even in the sliver of moonlight that managed to wend its way through the trees, his eyes were flashing in anger.
Sango wished fervently she’d been able to keep her mouth shut, but now that she’d begun, she had to finish… “I know that Kikyo wouldn’t have you unless you used the Shikon no Tama to become human… and I know that Kagome is disappointed in you for not choosing her.”
At her words, his ears drooped though his furious glare lost none of its intensity. “So?” he demanded. “What’s it to you?”
“You’re my friend, Inuyasha,” she said softly, forcing the words past stiff lips. Oh, why had she spoken in the first place? He would never accept any comfort from her; even now, she could sense the tension in his body, how he was straining to keep himself from leaping up into the canopy of trees, fleeing from this unwelcome conversation.
“I just wanted you to know that, even if they don’t like you as you are, I do. I think you’re plenty good enough as a hanyou instead of full demon or human, and if I were you, I wouldn’t want either of them, so I don’t blame you for not choosing!”
This last was said with a bit of spirit. Kikyo had utterly no personality except for her endless thirst for pointless and misdirected revenge, and Kagome… Sango loved her friend, but she had to admit, Kagome could be very whiny, and unrealistic, and clingy, and helpless…all things guaranteed to drive an energetic, not-possessing-much-patience creature like Inuyasha round the bend.
In fact, Sango was pretty sure she herself had strained his limited stores of patience, and braced herself for the explosion that was sure to follow. Thus, she was very surprised when, instead of shoving his face into hers and screaming, he threw back his head and laughed.
“I thought you were Kagome’s friend, too, Sango-chan,” he said, teasing her about the friends comment, and resumed walking before the girl, Miroku, and Shippo could catch them up.
“I am, Inuyasha-kun,” she replied, unable to hide a smile. Inuyasha in a playful mood was rare, and she was determined to take advantage of it. “But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to her faults, any more than I’m blind to yours.”
He huffed out a breath, his golden gaze intent on the dim trail before them, and was silent a long moment. “Sometimes I feel like all there are, are faults,” he murmured, his tone wistful, and Sango wondered at the last time anyone had complimented him instead of criticizing. She decided that she would wage a one-woman war on improving his self-esteem, and there was no time like the present to start.
“Inuyasha, that’s not true,” she contradicted. “You have plenty of virtues, more than anyone else I know!”
He turned to stare at her again, this time in surprise. “Wait, this is me we’re talking about?” he clarified, frankly disbelieving.
Sango laughed. “Yes, you,” she confirmed. “Should I list all the good things about you, since you seem unaware of them?” Dumbly, he nodded. Feeling bold at his good mood, she tucked her hand companionably into the crook of his elbow, ignoring how he stared down at it in shock, and tugged him forward once more.
“Well,” she began, “first of all, you’re strong.”
“Of course I’m strong,” he grumbled. “I’m a hanyou, you stupid girl.”
She punched his arm lightly with her free hand. “No, I mean emotionally strong,” she said. “You’ve been through so much, and you just keep going, no matter what. And not only that, but you’ve helped the rest of us be strong, too. All the times I could have given in to despair because of Kohaku, and you never let me pity myself. You’ve kept me going, Inuyasha.”
She looked intently at him, just now realizing how much she meant it. He refused to return her gaze, steadfastly staring at the ground in the distance, but a faint darkening of his cheeks told her he was not unaffected by her praise.
“Then there’s the fact of how smart you are,” she continued.
He snorted. “Hah,” he said flatly. “I hardly know anything. I’ve never been to school, can barely read or write.”
Sango frowned. “There’s more to intelligence than book-learning,” she told him sternly. “You never seem to go into battle with any sort of plan, and yet always win. That takes quickness of mind, Inuyasha.”
This time he actively looked away from her, studying the trees to his left as if longing once more to get away. Sango tucked her hand more securely under his arm; if he tried it, he’d be taking her with him.
“You’re brave,” she said. “The bravest person I’ve ever met. There have been times that I was so scared I thought I’d wet myself, and you charged right in. Some people think that’s stupid, but I know better. You have more courage than anyone else I know. It goes along with the strength thing—to have been treated as you have, and still be able to go on… that’s courageous in the extreme.”
“I was scared those times, too,” he said, his voice barely audible. The slanting shadows fell over them, and Sango knew that without his superb vision they’d have no chance of staying on the path. “I’m scared a lot.”
“Courage isn’t being fearless,” Sango told him, her voice nearly a whisper. “Courage is being afraid, and doing it anyway. Like you do, every day.” Though she could barely see him, she stared at his profile, taking in the spiky bangs and straight nose and dark eyebrows. “And,” she continued with a sort of desperate humour, trying to lighten the heavy mood, “you’re cute, too.”
His head snapped round to face her once more. “What?” he demanded, his voice harsh and cranky like usual. “I’m not cute, you idiot.”
“Yes, you are,” she insisted. “Your ears are the cutest things ever, and the rest of you is…“ She stopped suddenly, before she could embarrass herself thoroughly. The truth was, she thought Inuyasha was the best-looking man she’d ever seen, with his long sweep of silver hair and eyes of liquid gold. She’d seen him shirtless many times, and naked once (by accident) and each time was seared into her memory, little moments that had sent a ping of awareness through her in a way that Miroku only ever dreamed of being the cause of.
Inuyasha went very still. “The rest of me is what?” he asked, but she ducked her head, cheeks flaming. He put his clawed finger under her chin, forcing it up so he could look at her. “Is what, Sango-chan?”
Clouds overhead shifted at that moment, and moonlight streamed over them, lighting his face with unearthly glow. His eyes were molten amber, and Sango felt like a tiny insect caught in them. “Is beautiful,” she breathed before she could catch herself.
He said nothing, just stared into her upturned face with something akin to wonder on his own, until Shippo bounded around the bend in the path that had kept them out of sight of the rest of their group.
“What’s going on, Inuyasha, Sango-chan?” he asked, little face creased in suspicion at their proximity.
“Nothing that a nosy little pest like you needs to know about,” Inuyasha snarled, aiming a fist at the kitsune as he detached himself from Sango, but Shippo danced nimbly out of the way, shouting to Kagome that Inuyasha was being mean again. Sango felt the loss of his warmth beside her keenly, felt untethered and aimless, and stuffed her arms into her sleeves, hugging herself as she kept walking.
She stared blindly at Inuyasha’s bare feet as he strode purposefully a dozen steps ahead of her, and wondered what in heaven’s name she’d just done. So intent was she on her musing that she failed to notice how he turned to look at her, his face quizzical and still a little awed.