Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 17 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"The important thing when you are going to do something brave is to have someone on hand to witness it." –Michael Howard

. . .

As they moved swiftly towards the tribe den Kagome considered the merits of leaping from a cliff herself, which would certainly be better than what awaited her at the end of this trip. She hadn't told Kouga's son that his father had once tried to convince her to set up a little cave with him and raise little half-wolf cubs, opting instead to laugh nervously and mention only that they had met before. Which was the understatement of the century. He'd given her an extremely dubious look for a long moment before Sesshoumaru intervened and announced their business was with the head of the tribe. Kagome was embarrassed and headed for certain emotional upheaval, and, all in all, it might just be better if she asked Sesshoumaru to drop her and get it all over with. In fact, she decided with the curious detachment of the truly terrified, I don't think I'd mind hanging around in a valley for thousands of years as a restless ghost. I bet it's pretty here in the spring, and if I got bored I could always spy on hot wolf-boys taking baths in the streams. That doesn't sound so bad.

Sesshoumaru had thrown her over his shoulder facing forward this time, perhaps in deference to her constantly wounded dignity. He'd looped his arm out and upward so her ribcage nestled in the crook, her right arm wound around his neck to rest her hand on his left shoulder, and her other hand gripping his triceps so hard she thought she might leave bruises. Still, it was more comfortable to rest on her ribs instead of her stomach, and she was half-laid against his angled body, so gravity seemed less pressing than it usually did. As a result of this happy change in circumstances she was in the ideal position to catch a very good view of the shapely thighs of the wolf youkai in front of her, the sight of which was probably leading her into such impure thoughts.

No, spending the rest of eternity watching them run around and getting sweaty and then possibly naked didn't seem bad at all. Except, knowing her luck, they'd all move to some other stupid mountain and she'd never see them again, and wouldn't she be sorry then? And did wolf youkai even take baths? She'd never noticed Ko – them smelling particularly fresh, but they weren't rank either. Her brow furrowed in concentration, worrying this bit of minutiae like a kitten with a piece of string. It was certainly better than thinking about the meeting ahead.

Except the meeting ahead wouldn't stop poking her insistently. She snuck a look sideways at Sesshoumaru in an attempt to discern what he thought of this situation, but he looked bored and distant as ever, so she looked away.

There really was nothing for it. She was going to have to see Kouga again.

And she wanted to see him. She really, truly did, but she wasn't certain that he would want to see her. She knew that when she saw him, older, not the young man she remembered, there was no telling what she would do. Sesshoumaru did not appear to age, but she had no idea about other youkai. Kouga could be an old, old man by now, bent and wizened, once-black hair snow white, like the hair she always liked and wouldn't trade for certain affection. She wondered if he was angry that she had left, that she had, in the end, chosen to leave him behind even though Inuyasha was no longer hers; or maybe not angry, but happy, because he obviously had a fine son and rank and all the things he wouldn't have had if he had taken her to be his "woman", as he always liked to say.

Horribly, his happiness would be worse than his anger or his sadness. Kagome wondered when she had become so selfish that she would prefer someone else's discomfort to spare her own feelings. It wasn't like she hadn't been heartbroken and humiliated before, after all; she'd had a lot of practice. She was a student of the fine art of misery, most of it self-inflicted. How utterly disheartening.

If only she could run, except then Sesshoumaru would probably come after her and that might prove to be even more embarrassing.


Without actually doing so, he gave her the distinct impression that he had rolled his eyes. "What is it now?" he asked, not bothering to turn his head to look at her. In his voice there was an undercurrent of annoyance, and something else sharp and unidentifiable, different from the usual dull boredom or edged sarcasm.

Kagome was too worried to take issue with his tone. "Do you know Kouga?" she asked. It suddenly seemed very important to know the answer as quickly as possible and bickering would only slow her down in that quest.

She watched in fascination as a muscle leapt in his jaw. "Yes," he said curtly. He still wouldn't look at her, and beneath the skin of his neck thick tendons jumped, sharply defined in the faded light of evening. Kagome blinked. He'd been angry before, but she didn't think she'd ever seen him so tense; even she didn't inspire this reaction in him. It slowly began to dawn on her that he was grinding his teeth with extreme prejudice, and the action seemed so out of character that it was oddly mesmerizing, as if she had caught him French braiding his hair, or possibly pirouetting in the early morning meadows like some sort of armored Baryshnikov.

The mental image caused a bubbly giggle that she couldn't stifle in time. The demon shot her a penetrating glare. "Is this situation amusing to you?" he asked sharply. "Because you don't appear to be in any sort of position to be laughing."

She froze. "Why do you say that?" she demanded, dragged out of her small and fascinating world and back into reality. "What makes you think that?"

Sesshoumaru sniffed disdainfully. "I have my ways of knowing," he said cryptically.

Kagome wasn't buying it.

"What ways?" she wanted to know. The panic she had been trying to stave off with thoughts of naked wolf-boys was swelling beneath her breast now. It didn't seem very big at the moment, but Kagome knew better. Sure, it started with just a swell in the ocean, but a thousand miles later it was "dozens injured" and "property damage" and some sort of journalistic award for whichever photographer was lucky enough to capture the tidal wave of the century, and she was definitely going to start panicking unless she got answers. Just how much did Sesshoumaru know, anyway? He knew Kouga, so he might know their connection, and for some reason that thought was sharply uncomfortable. It sat in her brain, a little stinging urchin of extreme self-doubt.

"What ways?" she wheedled.

Sesshoumaru refused to answer. He looked, for lack of a better word, determinedly irritated. His lips had thinned just slightly, his brows were drawn down in consternation, and he looked straight ahead, as though anticipating a future full of necessary and tedious excitement. It was slightly unnerving. Kagome felt the fear stir again.

She cleared her throat in what was no doubt a deeply misguided attempt to remind him of her existence. He still said nothing.

"Um," she said.

Sesshoumaru stared straight ahead.

"I say," Kagome remarked lightly, "what ways?"

Sesshoumaru ignored her.

Short of wiggling out of his grasp and stripping naked to get his attention she was all out of ideas. Well, except for one idea that seemed suicidal, but, reasoning that he would probably not kill her in front of the three wolves, she decided to go for it.

Deliberately, Kagome reached over and poked him hard on his temple. "You know it's rude to ignore a question," she informed him petulantly.

For the first time since they had begun to follow the wolves, Sesshoumaru turned to look at her. He blinked, looking slightly dazed.

"What?" he said.

"Are you going to answer my question or not?" she demanded.

He didn't seem to be listening to her, but was instead studying her face with what probably passed for astonishment. "Did you just poke me in the head?" he asked, voice brimming with incredulity, as if no one had ever poked him in the head before in his life. Actually, that was probably true. Kagome felt vaguely proud to be the first - a dubious honor to be sure, but one that was no doubt rarely bestowed. Fear must be clouding her judgement.

"I did. What are you going to do about it?" she asked.

He opened his mouth to reply.

"Keeping in mind," she reminded him sharply, "that you promised not to kill me."

He closed his mouth in order to twist it in mighty displeasure. "Did I promise not to injure you?" he asked after a moment.

Kagome quickly went over the terms of their bargain and was nastily surprised to suddenly find a rather large and scary loophole. Perhaps he didn't really remember the terms of their agreement? One could always hope, right? "Er, yes," she lied quickly. "Yes, you did."

Golden eyes narrowed, and Kagome felt her heart slow to a horrified stop.

"You know, I rather think I didn't," he said. He tightened his grip around her.

With cold horror, Kagome watched as he lifted his other arm. The long sleeve fell back in slow motion, revealing his striped wrist and clawed fingers, and he reached for her, face satisfied, manner leisurely, as if he would take his time to dismantle her, and he would enjoy it –

Sesshoumaru's hand brushed her cheek, and her breath abandoned her lungs.

Then he flicked her ear.

For half a second, she was too shocked to do anything but watch as he turned his attention back to the way ahead, his extremely self-satisfied expression projecting a smugness that could have been felt through a brick wall. Then the stinging hit her.

"Ow," she said reproachfully. "That hurt, you jerk!"

"Then my objective is achieved," he answered.

"No, that really hurt!" Her own hand flew to her ear, and was relieved when her fingers failed to find a wetness there. Still.

"I don't think this is really fair," she complained.

"Whyever not, miko? Did you not grievously injure my person? Am I not allowed to respond in kind?"

Her little balled fist hit his breastplate in frustration, and for half a heartbeat his feet seemed to falter on the sliding gravel that flew beneath them, but she was too peeved to care. "First," she said, "the only thing I injured was your precious dignity, and second, you have claws. I don't have claws! You have an unfair advantage."

Sesshoumaru appeared to contemplate this declaration for a moment before giving a curt nod. "Yes," he agreed. "It appears I do." He did not seem to be very abashed at the thought.

Stupid, stupid demons with their stupid, stupid claws and stupid, stupid dirty tactics, Kagome griped mentally. She turned away from him and stuck her nose in the air as well as she could when the natural position of her head should have been in his armpit. "And you still haven't answered my question," she announced to the world at large.

On the wind, the sound of sniggering reached her ears.

Great, she thought. Now the wolves are laughing at me. This is the most humiliating day ever, even that time in kindergarten when my panties fell down around my ankles in the middle of class, and it's going to get WORSE –

She heard Sesshoumaru give an exasperated sigh, and then his hand was on her jaw, insistently turning her toward him. It wasn't violent or painful, but she might as well have been struggling against steel. With his arm he rolled her slightly inward, so that she had to brace herself against his armored chest while he patiently maneuvered her so that her head was drawn in front of him, her ear level with his lips.

Kagome felt he was taking entirely too many liberties with her person, but couldn't find her voice to say so.

Which, in the end, was probably good, as Sesshoumaru opened his mouth and spoke low, so only she could hear.

"I know Kouga," he began, breath warm in the cold air, "but we are not fond of each other. Were it not for the mutually beneficial treaty we have, I would probably kill him."

Kagome gasped, but he continued as though she had been silent. "As for how I know you might be in a rather more uncomfortable position than we had originally anticipated, any fool could see that you are anxious. I do not know your relationship to the wolf, but I advise you to calm yourself, lest you give anything away that you do not wish to."

She worked her jaw in his grasp, looking for her voice, finding it. "Like what?" she asked, almost fearful. What else could she give away with just a glance, or a nervous gesture?

"I'm sure I do not know," he sniffed, voice rising to its normal level. Abruptly he released her chin and repositioned her in his grasp, clearly done with whatever he had to say. She tightened her grip on his shoulder, suddenly off balance and stunned into silence.

Ahead of her, she saw Kouga's son turn back around, and she realized that he had been watching their exchange. Kagome wondered if he had heard anyway, despite precautions. She was dismayed to find herself crossing her fingers and hoping against hope that Kouga would not recognize her.

She was silent for the remainder of the journey. Around them the shadows grew deeper and deeper, until night drew its long fingers over them, shielding them from the light; the air grew sharply colder, seeping into her clothing, biting against her cheeks, and drawing little tears from her eyes to be lost in the wind, in her hair, to be found no more.

Kagome felt very alone. She flexed her grip against the line of muscle in Sesshoumaru's shoulder, just to reassure herself that he was still there, still solid, hadn't disappeared. Against her back, she felt a corresponding twitch in his fingers, and then they were soaring over a valley lit with campfires, descending into the wolf camp.

. . .

Myouga let his old bones thaw out in the warmth of the fire and tried to ignore the crackling tension in the air around him. In his experience, which was long and rather more expansive than he would have liked, tension was either eventually cracked or relaxed, and there was no use getting worked up over something that would go away given enough time, especially when it had nothing to do with him. He sighed and held his four hands to the flames as behind him Kagome stared at the dirt and Sesshoumaru waited impatiently for Kouga to make his appearance.

Across from their little entourage, Kouga's son, whose name, it turned out, was Akiyama, stared at them with an expression that straddled the border between suspicion and curiosity. He hadn't spoken more than three words since they'd arrived. Even Myouga, who liked to think that he was notoriously magnanimous, thought this rather rude, and he hoped his master was distracting himself sufficiently enough to refrain from correcting their host's behavior in a possibly very bloody way.

In some ways, the flea reflected morosely, it was an unfortunate thing to run into Kouga's clan. Certainly the hime and her son would be saved, but he found that thought cold comfort when his own life suddenly seemed to be in rather more peril than it had been when he went to sleep. Heated words would probably be exchanged at some point, and then there was the possibility of fighting, and danger, and, all things considered, he wished the fire hadn't warmed him enough to wake him. At least he would have been well rested in his last hours if he had been allowed to continue snoring. Alas, it did not seem meant to be. Very few things that involved not fighting seemed fated. Why couldn't a good meal or a peaceful retirement ever be fated? he thought. Myouga speculated gloomily as to what sort of sin he had committed to invoke this sort of karmic retribution. Whatever it had been, he was definitely thoroughly sorry.

He looked over his shoulder at his master and Kagome and gave a sigh of resignation. Sesshoumaru had pulled his customary combat facade out of his mental closet, brushed it off, and donned it as though it were enchanted armor. Even though he was seated, his shoulders hunched slightly, and though his hands were folded in his sleeves, one was left with the uncomfortable knowledge that they definitely didn't have to stay there. His expression was dark; not enough to be insulting, but definitely enough to indicate that it would no doubt turn thunderous at the slightest provocation.

As for Kagome, she was staring at the ground, her hands resting on her knees; beside her, her satchel, quiver, and bow were laid with care. She would have been a perfect portrait of humility and modesty if she hadn't looked so miserable. Her entire body bowed inward, as though she wanted to shrink into her clothes and disappear.

They were, all things considered, an odd pair, as if the natural levels of their emotions had been knocked out of balance, and now Kagome held all their worry and Sesshoumaru bristled with their combined fury. The effect was that of a very prickly opponent who nevertheless was always on the verge of soppy tears. It was unsettling.

Myouga turned back to the fire and rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them, and wished he and his master had never left the House of the Moon. At the very least he would have a warm, soft bed...

There was almost no warning. There was only the scraping of many bodies rising to a standing position - behind him he heard Kagome scramble to her feet - and then suddenly Kouga loomed out of the darkness, slinking from the shadows to come to rest against the light. Behind him, Kagome made a strangled noise in her throat.

Dizziness threatened to over take her, and she was suddenly very, very tired. Her eyelids fluttered as though insisting upon sleep. In her bones, she felt things weigh heavy and dark across her body, things she thought she had dealt with already. Irrationally, a spark of anger flared.

She had imagined Sango and Miroku as an old couple. She had tried to wrap her mind around Shippou as an adult. She had envisioned any number of possibilities for Kouga, but all her preparation paled against the sudden shock of seeing him in front of her.

He didn't even have the decency to look shocking. He just looked fine. Older, but not haggard. There were lines on his face, but they were laugh-lines, not worry-lines, and his long black hair - still caught in it's customary que - was shot through with grey. He'd lost the headband, which, all things considered, was probably a good thing, and he seemed to have acquired more muscles from somewhere, but other than that he was him: middle-aged and healthy and sending echoes of nostalgia through the suddenly quiet confines of her head.

Then, as it dawned on her that he was really there in the flickering light of the flame, her reaction to him was so sudden and so fierce she felt her knees tremble and threaten to buckle beneath her. At her sides her fingers itched to touch him, to hug him, to reassure herself that he - maybe no one else, but he - was alive and happy and whole, had not walked down that long road into the darkness she could not reach, had not gone where she could not follow. He was here.

Her heart tangled around itself painfully. Oh, she had missed him.

Dimly, she was aware of a heavy silence, of many people who had stopped breathing at the same time. Everyone seemed to be gazing at the two of them with rapturous, bated breath, as though they were just characters in a play.

She watched in slow motion as his face melted easily into a scowl.

Fabulous, she thought. For lack of anything better to do, she gave him her best watery, apologetic smile, as if that could make up for anything.

His mouth twisted. Then he raised his arm to point at her accusingly.

"You," he said, voice half-strangled, tension in every line of his body. She had seen that stance so many times, but always when he faced an enemy. He had never, ever used it against herself, and for a second Kagome felt her stomach drop out of her body. Next to her Sesshoumaru twitched, the precusor to a movement that may or may not have been deadly. She never found out.

"You," Kouga said again, shaking his judgmental finger, suddenly looking, bizarrely, like an exasperated parent, "have some explaining to do. Later." Then he folded his arms and turned to address Sesshoumaru.

"State your business," he barked. And that seemed to be that.

Kagome felt ever so slightly cheated. She opened her mouth to say something, but Sesshoumaru had stepped forward and slightly in front of her, as though blocking her from sight could block her from thoughts as well, and she shut it again as he spoke smoothly into the silence.

"Your whelp," he announced, and Kagome thought he might be taking a little too much pleasure in this, "has sired a hanyou son."

The dimly lit darkness beyond the central fire erupted in activity. All around her, Kagome heard shuffling feet and frantic whispers, and in front of her Akiyama's face slowly drained of all color. For a moment, she felt sorry for him. Somewhere outside the circle of light, there was an eruption of laughter; she could only imagine what it sounded like to the young man who seemed in danger of fainting face down in the fire. She saw heads turn and bodies leap to their feet and take off, presumably to spread the news.

In fact, the only two demons who weren't acting shocked or amused were Sesshoumaru and Kouga himself. The demon lord looked as bland as ever, though probably only, Kagome suspected, through force of will. Kouga simply glared at him, and only a twitch of muscle in his neck belied his shock and irritation.

After a few more bursts of unkind laughter and a great deal of snickering and hushed whispers the surrounding tribe began to settle down, eager to enjoy the rest of the show. Kouga waited patiently, probably collecting his thoughts behind his stormy face. When all was finally quiet again, he spoke. He didn't even look at his son, instead keeping his eyes trained on Sesshoumaru's blank face.

"Akiyama," he said imperiously, "is this true?"

The blood which had so recently abandoned his face returned with a vengeance. Kagome watched with amazement as he suddenly glowed so red she worried he might burst a blood vessel. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out, so he closed it again. Beneath the skin of his throat, his Adam's apple bobbed as he tried to regain his voice.

Kouga did not seem inclined to wait. "Well?" he snapped.

Akiyama jerked as though slapped. "Maybe!" he managed to squeak.

A little flurry of sniggering drifted across the circle of light, and the young wolf's lips thinned in fury.

Kouga had shut his eyes. Very slowly, he raised one large, calloused hand to his forehead and began to rub his temples with his middle finger and his thumb, as though trying to soothe the situation out of his brain.

"And Sesshoumaru? What are you doing here, telling me this?" Kouga asked, not opening his eyes.

Sesshoumaru executed an elegant shrug, and turned to look over his shoulder at Kagome. She couldn't see the expression on his face, but she had no doubt he wanted her to take it from here.

She opened her mouth to speak, and was shocked to find that her voice came out calm and clear. "The hime who is carrying his son gave us his description," she said. "There is little doubt."

Kouga didn't look at her, and she felt her heart twinge, just a little. "And now that you have brought us this news, what do you expect us to do about it?" he asked.

Kagome darted a nervous glance at her companion, but he seemed to have switched his brain off in that highly irritating way of his, and was staring into the middle distance over Kouga's shoulder. She dragged her gaze back to Kouga's face, obscured by the hand that was still slowly massaging his temples. "She needs the medicine required to carry her through labor, or she and her son will die."

A smile seemed to be tugging at his lips. "Tell me, Kagome - " she felt faint " - how do you know it is a boy if he has not yet been born?"

Awkward! Kagome thought. There was a flash of something wistful in her chest, and she wondered exactly when Kouga had become so perceptive. The brash and oblivious wolf prince she had known seemed to have run away, run somewhere else from which he could never return, and left this steady, deliberate man in his place.

Kouga was still waiting. "There are ways of telling," she invented quickly, snatching an evasive page from Sesshoumaru's book.

"What kind of ways?" Kouga wanted to know.

"That's between me and her," Kagome said, endeavoring to imply that this was a female matter, not to be discussed in mixed company. The less people who knew about the stories, the better.

"Hmm," he replied thoughtfully.

Kagome remembered just in time to not bite her lip in worry, lest she give something away.

Kouga was stone still for a long moment. Then, as if he had reached a decision, he turned to his son and folded his arms across his chest. Kagome tried not to stare at the muscle rippling beneath his tanned skin and wondered in consternation when she had become such a horny schoolgirl.

"My son," Kouga declared loudly, "you depart tomorrow to fetch the herbs needed."

Akiyama leapt to his feet, leaning forward, palms turned upwards in supplication. "But - "

"But what?" Kouga asked dangerously.

The boy appeared to regain his head and straightened. "This is not my fault, father," he said as loudly as he could.

In the flickering firelight, the sardonic twist of Kouga's mouth seemed menacing. "Yes?" he said, drawing the word out.

Kagome felt like her brain was broken. If Kouga had been a woman, he would have been the spitting image of her mother when she was deeply displeased with something one of her progeny had done. It was almost funny. Almost.

Akiyama's head dropped and he crossed his arms as he mumbled something that only his father could hear.

Kouga snorted. "That is of no consequence. This is still your responsibility." He looked intensely amused.

Akiyama, on the other hand, was not happy. Angrily he spun on his heels and stalked off into the crowd, who parted for him.

"Tomorrow morning!" his father shouted after him. "When the sun rises."

What sounded like a grumbled assent came back, and then the whole tribe was howling with laughter around them. Kagome failed to see the humor in the situation, but apparently the wolves found the whole thing hilarious beyond belief.

When they had finally settled down Kouga turned and looked at his visitors again, as though sizing them up. Kagome tried not to shift nervously under his gaze; Sesshoumaru did not appear to care.

After a moment Kouga appeared to reach a decision. He turned his back on them and cupped his hands around his mouth.

"Listen up, you mangy mutts!" he yelled. "These two are our guests, so behave! For a change."

In the darkness beyond the fire, the wolves howled and catcalled, and Kagome felt very, very exposed. Unconsciously she took a step toward Sesshoumaru.

Kouga dropped his hands and waved at someone in the crowd, who stepped forward into the light. Kagome had been hoping it was Ginta or Hakkaku, but the face that was illuminated was unfamiliar. She tried to keep her disappointment from bubbling to the surface.

"Set them up," she heard him command. "Bottom of the top cave. Get some skins for the girl, too." Then he walked off into the darkness, leaving her stung and upset.

The unfamiliar wolf looked at them and flashed a predatory grin as he sauntered in their direction. He waved a hand at Kagome's belongings. "Get those if you want to keep them," he said lazily. Kagome hastened to shoulder her backpack and her quiver. She kept her bow in her hand; she was horribly uncomfortable suddenly, in the middle of this tribe who didn't seem to know her. The wolf had already walked off, and Sesshoumaru was pacing, measured and even behind him, his shining hair the only thing she could see to follow. Tripping over her own feet she hurried after them.

A second later she felt tiny feet on her collarbone, and Myouga laid a hand against her neck.

"Kagome-sama?" he said, sounding worried.

Kagome didn't answer, merely ducked her head and gritted her teeth, willing herself not to cry as she moved through the dark. Around her she could feel the hot breath of the wolves, and she kept her eyes on Sesshoumaru's feet so she wouldn't look up and see them leering.

It all suddenly seemed so pointless - her hope, her effort, her love. She was in the company of strangers. She was where she'd wanted to be, but someone had turned off the lights, and the world around her was suddenly sinister, unkind, drawn in dangerous angles that would cut her if she wandered too close.

She had found a wolf named Kouga, but the young man she had known no longer lived inside his skin, and she had been foolish to think that it would have been any other way.

. . .

Someone was shaking her shoulder. Kagome cracked her sleep-bleared eyes to find a wolf peering down at her and grinning toothily. She squeaked in alarm, but he just chuckled.

"Kouga says he wants to see you," he told her in low tones.

Her heart leapt in her chest. "How long have I been asleep?" she asked, disoriented, confused.

In her haori she heard an irritated sigh, and she watched guiltily as Myouga hopped down and into the furs, finally fed up with her. She opened her mouth to apologize to him when to her right, near the moonlight-lined mouth of the cave, she heard a snort. She turned her head to see Sesshoumaru sitting against the wall, eyes closed. "Not long," he said, not bothering to look at her. "I was enjoying the peace."

Kagome had never wished so fervently for a subduing rosary as at that moment as she heard the wolf who had woken her snigger with amusement. She ground her teeth in frustration as she turned to him. "All right," she said. "Where is he?"

Without a word the wolf rose and strode toward the mouth of the cave, and she scrambled to her feet to follow him. She must have drifted off as soon as she'd laid the furs over herself. Odd, that. She'd been certain she would have stayed awake long enough to cry herself to sleep. At the mouth they passed Sesshoumaru, who made no move, and then they were outside in the crisp night once more, the moonlight gilding the mountains in silver. The wolf turned on the little path and began to climb. With trepidation she followed. She glanced back once over her shoulder, but Sesshoumaru was still as death. He didn't even open his eyes to watch her go. Lips thinning, she shifted her attention to the path ahead.

It wasn't a hard climb and took about twenty minutes, but to her already exhausted body it seemed to be the equivalent of laying down on railroad tracks and waiting for the four-fifteen. And then the four-thirty, just for good measure. Wearily Kagome watched the ground pass by beneath her feet and pitied herself, since it seemed no one else was going to do it. By the time they reached the mouth of another cave, warmly lit with firelight, she was too tired to be apprehensive, and too miserable to speak. She followed her guide inside, eyes seeking Kouga's false, familiar form.

There appeared to be a complete lack of any Kouga-shaped objects in the cave, and Kagome felt a tickle of anxiety as she turned toward her toothy companion. "Where - ?" she began.

He jerked his head toward the back, shrouded in shadows. "Up there," he said.

"You're not going to show me where?" she asked.

The wolf shrugged, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. "He wants to see you alone," he said mildly, but she still heard the crass suggestion in his voice. "It's not that far."

Kagome was reaching her limit. She didn't even bother to respond, simply stepped around the fire and slowly picked her way into the darkness as beneath her feet the mountain rock gently sloped upwards.

I hope, she thought with feeling, that I don't fall asleep before I get there. She stumbled a little and put her hand out, falling against the stone. Taking a deep, calming breath she continued upward in the winding passage, glad to have the wall to guide her as she walked into blackness.

The tunnel twisted and turned, seeming to curl in on itself, and she almost stopped twice to sink to the floor and wait for someone to find her, but she kept going. It seemed easier than stopping.

And then there was blue light ahead of her. Kagome forced herself to pick up her pace. She turned one more corner, and she was walking up into the night sky.

He was standing at the edge of the cliff, hands on his hips, staring out on his domain. He did not turn when she emerged, so she stopped about two meters behind him, not knowing what to do next. She could see, just over the edge, the smoky fires below dying out as his comrades bedded down for the night. A light breeze lifted the long fall of hair down his back, gently, before setting it down again, against the bare skin of his shoulders and catching just a little on his armor. Kagome wanted to fix it, but her hands would not move. The space and silence stretched out between them, and time left her behind.

I couldn't reach him if I tried, she thought numbly.

As if he had heard her thoughts, she heard a snort. "Well, Kagome?" Kouga demanded, turning his head to stare at her over his shoulder. In the moonlight, his blue eyes glinted. "Finally decided to come back and be my woman, eh?"

Then he grinned.

The world wavered, and Kagome hit her knees, face buried in her hands, the tight lines of loss suddenly snipped with a smile. She felt herself break.

Then his warm, rough hands were on her wrists, but she couldn't see him through her torrent of tears. They felt exactly the way they had so many years ago, when he'd grasped her fingers in his own and declared his devotion, and then she threw her arms around his neck, forehead pressed against the thick line of muscle at his throat, and sobbed.

She'd cried like this only once before, and it hurt just as much this time as it had then. Her lungs jerked painfully inside her body as her tears coursed hot, then cold, over her cheeks, and she cried so hard it wasn't like weeping or sobbing at all, but something almost primal, almost tangible, rubbing ragged edges against her throat, clawing through her chest with talons so sharp her flesh knit back together the moment it had been cut. There was a high, keening noise in her ears, and it took her a moment to realize it was her own voice.

Kouga didn't seem to mind. Through the thick fabric of her haori, she felt his warm, rough hands smoothing soothing circles on her back, as if he were comforting a child. The gesture only made her cry harder, until he gave up and just put his arms around her and waited for her to calm.

After about five minutes Kagome finally pulled away, scrubbing at her face with her sleeve, burning with embarrassment. "Sorry - " she mumbled. "Sorry - "

"Here," he interrupted. "Stop that." He caught her wrists again and forced her hands to her lap before bringing his fingers to her face and gently catching her tears, lifting them from her skin as if he had to remove them carefully, lest they stain her. "There," he said when he was done. "All better."

Even though nothing was all better, she just nodded.

He smiled again. "I guess you missed me," he remarked sardonically, and because she didn't want to cry any more, she forced herself to laugh.

"Yes," she said, sniffling, speaking around the heartbroken smile on her face. "I missed you."

He nodded, as if he understood, and maybe he did. "I missed you, too," he said. He rose to his feet and held his hands out. When she took them, he helped her up before laying a gentle hand on her back and drawing near. "Come over here. There's a great view."

A foot away from the edge they stopped and he gestured for her to sit, which she did tiredly. Kouga withdrew, keeping his hands to himself in a way that she wouldn't have expected, but then again, maturity did that.

He lowered himself down next to her while she stared into the silvery valley filled with blue shadows, and let the quiet grow around them, like something living, like a wound repairing. She fancied that if she didn't break it, the silence would seal them in, and she could stay there, and not have to think about anything but the night, or feel anything but bittersweet comfort.

After a while, Kouga cleared his throat. "I can't help but notice - " he began.

She didn't have to hear the rest of the sentence to know what he wanted to say. "That I'm still young?" she finished for him, slanting her gaze from the corner of her eye. He turned to her, grinned and nodded.

Kagome sighed. "You remember... you remember our last conversation? In front of the well?"

The sun was just turning the sky grey between the trees, and in her nose the milky smell of things growing curled sweetly, but she wasn't in any position to appreciate it.

"I'm going home," she said, and the struggle to keep her tears hidden away was almost too much to bear.

He didn't seem to be buying it, and that made it worse, because a little part of her didn't want him to. "You should stay with me," he said.

"I can't. I can't. This isn't the right time. I don't belong here."

"What do you mean? You belong here with me."

She looked away, into the depths of the well, before turning back to him. "Please. Just go," she begged. "It's hard enough to leave without you staring after me."

His blue eyes narrowed. "You didn't tell anyone you were going, did you?" he accused.

"Please! I can't say goodbye!"

"Why not?"

She just shook her head, unable to draw her feelings into her mouth and voice them out loud.

He studied her for another moment before taking a step back. "All right," he said. "If this is what you want."

She laughed, so bitterly that it wasn't a laugh at all but a lament, a mourning cry, and then she turned away from him so she wouldn't see him leave. She heard his feet shift on the tender grass, and she wished, treacherously, traitorously, that he would grab her and run. Then he was gone in a gust of wind, and she was alone again.

"Of course I remember it," he said. "That was the last time I saw you. Well, until today, that is," he amended.

She took a shuddering breath. "Well, my home is on the other side of that well."

Kouga looked at her blankly.

She didn't care. "I'm from... well, now I think it's about 400 years in the future... probably more."

"That doesn't explain - " he began.

Kagome shook her head. "I know. But only six years have passed for me," she said. "I don't know why the well chose to let me out here and now, but I guess destiny isn't done with me yet." In her throat, she felt her sadness buzz and bloom into a bitter chuckle.

Kouga turned back and looked at the moon over his valley. "All right," he said at last. "I think I understand."

"Then you're ahead of me," Kagome muttered.

Kouga just shrugged. "Well, I've seen a lot of strange things," he said magnanimously. "Not the least of which is finding you traveling with mutt-face's brother." He let the question hang in the air.

Kagome snorted. "I'm not quite sure how that happened either. One day I was sick and tired and probably in danger of dying, and the next he'd decided I wasn't able to take care of myself."

A puzzled expression crept across his face. "But if you were in danger of dying, then you probably can't - " he began. Kagome shot a glare in his direction.

"I don't need you to rub it in," she said.

Kouga coughed and changed tactics. "He's not... not exactly known for being chari - " he started to say.

"Well," Kagome said, cutting him off, "I did... perform a service for him at one point."

"A service?"

She stuck her nose in the air. "A very valuable service that I cannot discuss with you. And before you ask, no, it wasn't anything perverted, so wipe that smirk off your face."

"What smirk?" Kouga said guiltily, mashing his traitorous muscles into a puzzled expression through a valiant display of willpower. "I'm not smirking."

"Hmph," she said. "I'm sure you're not."

Kouga, sensing dangerous territory, decided to leave well enough alone.

After a few moments Kagome cleared her throat, turning to finally confront the enormous, unspoken thing between them. "You have... a fine son," she said haltingly.

Kouga snorted, and she saw his mouth twist sardonically. "Thank you. That's kinder than he deserves."

"Well, I don't know," she replied diplomatically, "the hime is quite pretty."

Kouga merely raised an eyebrow.

When it was obvious he wasn't going to say anything else, she took a deep breath. "Where... where is..." Her tongue stuttered to a stop. Why is it, she thought, that when I need it the most, my verbal diarrhea turns into verbal constipation? This isn't fair!

Kouga took pity on her. "His mother?" he said kindly.

Kagome nodded, blushing.

He smiled. "She passed away a few years ago."

Kagome felt her heart go numb and cold. "Oh!" she gasped, turning toward him, hands on her mouth, kicking herself inside her head. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to..." she trailed off before swallowing hard. "I'm sorry," she said again.

"Mm," Kouga said thoughtfully. "Don't be. She was a good woman, and she died well."

Kagome turned back to the valley. "I wish I could have met her," she said softly.

A little half-smile bloomed on his features. "Kayoko would have liked you," he replied. "And in other circumstances, I'm sure Akiyama would feel the same way."

Kagome squirmed. "I did sort of ruin his plans, didn't I?" she said sadly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he said again. "To tell you the truth I was worried he wouldn't produce any grandchildren. He never showed much, ah, interest."

She giggled. "Well," she reassured him, "you'll have a fine grandson soon."

Kouga grinned, and in the darkness, his teeth were white as stars.

"I'm glad your journey brought you to me," he said, and just like that she was struck with vertigo.

Standing on the edge, Kagome peered dizzily down into the valley between them, where a thousand unsaid words flowed, the river of the thoughts that freeze into regret. Maybe and perhaps and I might have and I think and you could have and I should have and if only if only if only if -

In the moment between the heartbeat and the breath Kagome thought, very quietly, that she could have loved him. Perhaps, given enough time. She could have loved him after she patched her broken heart. Maybe. In another life, she could have loved him, and she wondered if he knew that, and if she should tell him.

Then he was hugging her close. He smelled of moss and wild things, and the moment passed. "It's good to talk to you, Kagome," he said. "Thanks for coming up here to see me."

Her chin was on his shoulder, and she the scratchy softness of the fur he wore rubbed over the underside of her jaw. "I didn't know I had a choice," she remarked, watery and amused.

He chuckled, and she felt the rumble against her own skin. "You should go back and go to bed," he told her gently. "You're exhausted."

Kagome sniffled again and drew back. "All right," she said. "I'll see you in the morning then?"

The grin on his face was old and familiar and beautiful. "Do I ever pass up a chance to see you?" he asked.

She gave a sharp, spontaneous, and messy snort. Wiping her nose, Kagome shook her head.

"That's right," Kouga declared. "Now go get some sleep, woman!"

She nodded, not trusting her voice. She rose and walked tiredly back to the opening of the cave, turning only at the entrance to smile at him. "Good night, Kouga-kun," she said.

"Good night, Kagome."

Kagome turned and began the journey back to bed.

Kouga waited for a few moments, just to make sure she was gone, and then stood and crossed his arms.

"You can come out now," he said sharply.

"I do not need you to tell me when I can and cannot do something," Sesshoumaru said from behind him. There was a rustle of silk and the demon lord brushed past, toward the cave.

"Don't trust me, eh?"


Kouga smirked. "So what are you doing with my Kagome?" he asked.

Sesshoumaru stopped. He appeared to consider the question, then turned and walked back to the cliff edge, where he stared into the valley below.

The wolf prince rolled his eyes in exasperation. So it was going to be one of those conversations. Very well, he knew how to play the game...

He stepped up next to his tenuous ally and stared into the abyss as well. "You going to answer me?"

"It is not any of your business," Sesshoumaru said coldly.

"Sure it is. Kagome is a friend of mine."


Kouga frowned. "Look, I don't know what you're doing with her, but if she comes to any harm, I swear I'll kill you. And you'd better keep your dirty dog hands to yourself, unless you fancy being minus a set of balls."

"First," Sesshoumaru snapped, annoyed, "as long as she is with me and I have an interest in keeping her alive, she will not be harmed. Second, I will put my hands where I wish."

"You will, will you?"

"I will."

"I don't blame you, of course. She does have beautiful - "

"Not there."

"I'll bet."

Sesshoumaru cracked his knuckles. Kouga smirked.

"I still owe you a death," Sesshoumaru said nonchalantly, as though talking about the weather.

"I know."

"Do not think it will not be your grandson."

The wolf laughed. "Kagome would never let you."

Sesshoumaru glared into the valley and said nothing.

"You know it, too," Kouga said. "And you wouldn't because that would hurt her, and you don't want to see her in pain, right?"

Sesshoumaru sniffed. "She did perform a great service to me," he said haughtily. "It would be uncouth to repay her in torment."

"Whatever," Kouga said. "Just... don't be such an ass, okay? Even Kagome can only take so much."

Sesshoumaru said nothing. After a moment the wolf stretched and yawned, theatrically marking the end of their conversation. "Well," he announced, "I'm off to bed. You're welcome to hang around up here in the cold, but I'd suggest getting back before she finds out you're gone." With that, Kouga turned and wandered into the cave, leaving Sesshoumaru on the edge of the cliff.

He stared into the valley for another minute before snorting softly. "Keep my hands to myself," he muttered before leaping away.

He arrived back in the nick of time; his clothes barely had time to settle before Kagome rounded the bend and clumped wearily down the rest of the trail.

She stepped over his legs on the way back to her bed. "Lazy," she muttered as she passed him. He listened as she crawled under the furs and snuggled down, and within moments she was asleep.

Sesshoumaru allowed himself to relax. He really was tired; he was glad for the chance to rest. Behind his closed eyes, he slipped away.

He was even more grateful for the sleep when he was awoken bright and early the next morning by the hue and cry of many wolves pitching a fit, and found the scowling face of his reluctant host above him.

"Wakey, wakey," Kouga announced. "We have problems."

"Are they my problems?" Sesshoumaru asked, feigning boredom.

"They will be."

Sesshoumaru didn't like the sound of that. "What?"

The wolf heaved an exasperated sigh. "You'd better wake Kagome. My inconstant son has decided he does not like being a man."

It was too early in the morning for this. "What?" he said again.

Very slowly Kouga rubbed a hand across his face. "He's disappeared. Someone else will have to go fetch the medicine."

Foreboding hooked its cold fingers through his throat. "Who?" Sesshoumaru demanded.

In the light of the rising sun, Kouga flashed a predatory grin.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 17 of 42

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