The battle wasn’t looking good. This puppet of Naraku’s was his biggest, strongest yet, and they’d all sustained injuries. As Inuyasha was flung once more against the base of the rock cliff by the many-tentacled monster, Sango felt the despair she’d kept at bay all day start to overpower her.
It had been nearly a week since their kiss, a week since they’d had any time alone together, a week since she’d been reliving it in her dreams only to jolt awake with empty arms and a burning heart. She would look, at those times, across their little camp to Inuyasha and find him watching her, and their gazes would lock for a long moment, until she forced herself to close her eyes and try to put him out of her head. But the sight of golden eyes, glowing in the darkness, was not easy to forget…
Sango was relatively sure she was in love with him, now. How could it be otherwise, when she could see nothing but him, hear nothing but him, think of nothing but him? His temper was no sweeter than hers in the intervening days, but when he yelled at her, she could only smile, for it seemed to her that “stupid girl” was his way of saying “sweetheart”, and “idiot” was just another word for “darling”.
Yes, it had to be love, because how could she feel so tender toward him when he acted like such a jerk so much? She saw all the nasty, dark, ugly bits of him and still, he filled her head and heart until she thought they might burst. It had begun to feel like a fever, and matters were not at all helped by the way he would watch her when the others slept, when it was just the two of them awake, awake but not daring to speak.
And so, they had gone into battle with Naraku’s latest puppet, not having spoken of their kiss or the feelings burdening their hearts. And now there might never be the chance, Sango feared, as something in Inuyasha’s body cracked from the force of being flung hard, repeatedly, against solid rock.
She’d flung Hiraikotsu many times, so many times her arms ached, with little damage to show for it—the puppet’s possessed body simply healed immediately. With so many of the demonic insects around, Miroku’s Kazaana was useless, and Kagome’s purifying arrows were being deflected and destroyed before they were even halfway to their targets.
It was beginning to look truly hopeless. Blood trickled slowly down Inuyasha’s chin, and his left arm was wrapped tightly around his waist as he struggled to leap and wield Tetsusaiga against the puppet. Desperately, Sango scrutinized their foe, searching for some way to defeat it.
“Kagome,” she whispered, “where is its shard?”
“Third tentacle to the right,” the girl answered, taking aim with her bow once more. “Why?”
“We all need to attack at once,” Sango replied, her conviction a little stronger with each word. “All of you—Kagome, Miroku, even Shippo—attack from the front with Inuyasha. Keep it distracted. I’ll sneak in the side on Kirara and try to cut the shard out. If I can, Inuyasha can kill it with Tetsusaiga.”
Wide-eyed, Kagome and Shippo agreed, but Miroku protested. “It’s too dangerous,” he said. “You could get killed.”
“Inuyasha is nearly dead as it is,” Sango snapped back. “And if he dies, the rest of us will follow shortly. If I die, at least he will survive. That’s what matters.”
Too late, she realized her slip. Miroku’s eyes sharpened. “He’ll make it, that’s what matters?” He huffed out a breath. “Now I know why you’ve been so resistant—“
Sango felt like screaming. “No, you moron,” she snapped. “I was unattracted to you not because I’m in love with Inuyasha, but because you’re a rude echhi with undisciplined hands.”
“You’re… in love with Inuyasha?” Kagome breathed, her mouth and eyes round with shock. “Sango, is this true?”
Sango felt like the world was shrinking to a pinprick, and forced herself to breathe deeply so she didn’t faint. This was the worst possible time for everyone to find out, and meanwhile Inuyasha was getting killed out there…
“There’s no time to discuss it,” she said. “Are you with me, or not? Because either way, I’m going in.”
Kagome blinked, but nodded firmly. “Yes, I’m in.”
“Me too!” Shippo chimed, and Miroku nodded as well, but slowly, his gaze never wavering from her face.
Sango dropped her trusty Hiraikotsu on the ground and drew her short hacking blades. Taking a deep breath, she tensed her legs to leap. “I’m sorry,” she murmured to Miroku, because it looked like he really was hurt and disappointed. Then she jumped onto Kirara and took off, and the others were cued to action.
All at once, the puppet was barraged with purifying arrows, disorienting illusions, and most fearful of all, the powerful wind-tunnel of Miroku’s Kazaana as he used it in short bursts, hoping to avoid the bulk of the insects. Inuyasha picked himself up from where he’d been flung once more and shook his head to try and clear it, because he was positive he couldn’t be seeing what he thought he was seeing.
Kagome, Miroku, and even Shippo were throwing everything they had at the puppet, and it had its tentacles full combating them. And there, to the side, Kirara was weaving through the long brown arms with a black-clad figure on her back. Glints of silver flashed in the sun, and he realized that Sango was chopping frantically at one of the tentacles.
One of Kagome’s arrows sliced a tentacle off; on its way back to reattach itself, it flew by Sango and smashed right into her, knocking her off Kirara’s back. Inuyasha felt, more than heard, himself scream her name before she reached out with one dagger and sank it deeply into a tentacle, halting her downward progress with a jolt as the blade found purchase in the pulpy flesh.
Kirara was soon there to take her up toward their goal once more, and then Sango was hacking again at the same spot. And still the others fought on. Inuyasha shook himself from his stupor and charged the puppet. He didn’t know what Sango was doing, but he was damned well going to help distract the puppet from it if he could.
Flinging himself into the fray, he slashed and cut until he thought his arm would fall off. Every breath was a fiery hell, and he knew he’d broken most of his ribs. But if Sango could fight on, so would he… she’d said he was strong, and brave, and he wouldn’t let her down, not if it killed him.
A cry of triumph drew his attention, and he dared a glance in her direction: she pumped her fist in the air. But before Kirara could fly her to safety, the puppet jolted in pain and rage and lashed at her with every tentacle it had. Her sound of joy turned into one of pain and shock as she and Kirara were brutally slammed to the ground. Then the tide of writhing brown arms slithered away, but Sango and the fire-cat did not move again.
“Sango…” Inuyasha moaned, torn between leaping to her side and destroying the puppet. Then he saw the faint glow in Sango’s hand that told him she’d gotten its shard; killing it was a mere formality now, so with one long sweep of Tetsusaiga, he sliced it down the middle. But he had no time to watch in satisfaction as it shuddered its last; he dropped the sword and bolted to Sango’s side. Face-down and half-covered by Kirara, he moved the cat and gently rolled her over.
She had a trail of blood trickling down her chin to match his, he saw, and her eyes were glazed. “Inuyasha,” she said, her voice a mere breath in the wind. “You are safe. Good.”
“You idiot,” he gasped as pain lanced through him when he held her more closely to him.
Inexplicably, she smiled, her teeth streaked with blood from her split lip. “Moron,” she said back to him, her voice tender, and passed out.
Inuyasha thought hard; injured, he’d not be able to go as fast as normal. It would take him twice as long to get back to Kaede’s village so the old miko could heal Sango. Two hours... he could endure the pain for two hours. Scooping her gingerly into his embrace, he tersely told his companions his destination and only winced a little as he leapt into the air.