Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 18 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

" Tomorrow night is nothing but one long sleepless wrestle with yesterday's omissions and regrets."
–William Faulkner

. . .

The skin beneath her eyes was papery and bruised, and her coloring was worrying - almost pasty. He could see her veins branching out in blue tributaries up her throat; just below the surface, her blood thrummed rhythmically, but was not as strong as he would have liked. Against the furs on which she had pillowed her head her long black hair was escaping from its binding, flyaway and feathery and spread lightly around her. She was still sleeping.

Sesshoumaru was feeling rather peeved with himself as he crouched next to her furry bed and tried to decide the best way to wake her, as every moment spent looking at her made him feel just that much more guilty for being forced to bring her into the land of the living again.

Silently, he cursed Akiyama and his roving... eye. If that damnable wolf hadn't decided to hie off for parts unknown, Sesshoumaru would still be asleep and wouldn't be in this annoying predicament. In fact, if he had kept his... hands to himself, neither of them would be here. Sesshoumaru's mouth twisted in annoyance. In the back of his head a small voice was pointing out that he didn't really have to be here anyway, and that it had been his own wanderlust - not to mention his damnable and inconvenient sense of honor - that put him in this position in the first place. Sesshoumaru ignored this, for fear of ruining his foul mood.

He frowned. She had almost always awoken on her own before, so there had never really been the need for him to meddle in her sleeping habits. Even if she slept a little past the time he wanted to be on their way, a sharply cleared throat had always taken care of that. It really was a pity that his failsafe method had failed.

Sesshoumaru stared at her while his toes grew numb from lack of circulation and tried to figure out a way around this problem. He'd thought about nudging her with his foot as he had that first morning they had spent together, but he recalled that she hadn't been terribly happy about that. Painstakingly following this thread of contemplation to its logical conclusion, he had also decided she would be quite unhappy with a sharp poke in the side, or a pinch on the arm. After all, he quite liked his fingers; they were terribly useful, and if they were purified off it would definitely be an inconvenience until he could grow new ones. In fact, now that he was thinking about it, he wasn't entirely certain that he could grow new ones if they were purified, which was definitely a reason to be cautious. Not for the first time in his life, Sesshoumaru wished that he hadn't delegated most of the more unpleasant tasks, such as waking servants, to Jaken. If only he were here now, Sesshoumaru thought, almost wistfully.

There was something on the edge of his hearing, though, niggling at his consciousness. Gradually Sesshoumaru became aware of the sound of very tiny snores emanating from beneath the top blanket. Gingerly, he slipped a finger beneath the edge of the fur, and scooped Myouga out.

"Gmplntz," Myouga said.

"Wake up," Sesshoumaru demanded. "I need you to suck some blood."

Groggily Myouga rubbed his little hands across his face. "My lord," he whined, "I can't wake up at this hour and in this cold at my time of life. Have you no respect for your elders?"

Sesshoumaru wondered if this was a trick question. "No," he said after a moment, operating on the assumption that any answer he gave an underling was the correct one.

Myouga made a despairing noise.

Sesshoumaru waited. When no further remarks seemed forthcoming he lifted the flea to his face for closer inspection, only to find that Myouga had drifted off again.

"Stop sleeping!" he barked. "I need you to wake Kagome."

"Wake her yourself," the flea mumbled, almost inaudibly.


"The same way you wake everyone else up," Myouga snapped.

"Smiting?" he said dubiously. This did not sound like the best advice.

"Never mind. Just shake her shoulder. Now let me sleep! It's cold out here."

Stifling a growl, Sesshoumaru shoved him back beneath the blanket. His companion was still dead to the world.

If only she didn't look so tired, and if only he didn't feel that it was his fault. He had pushed her very hard in the past few days. Briefly, he wished for Aun, though the dragon probably wouldn't be terribly useful in the cold anyway. There was nothing for it, he supposed. He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook it as gingerly as possible, while still as hard as he dared.

She did not seem to take to this.

"Mrr," she said, executing a complicated maneuver that resulted in her entire body - save her face from the nose up - morphing into a completely unrecognizable lump beneath the mound of furs. "Sleeping," she mumbled, the word muffled beneath layers of rank pelts.

Sesshoumaru knew he had not been the most virtuous demon - it really wasn't in the job description, after all - but he was almost positive he hadn't done anything to deserve this. He considered shaking her shoulder again, but there was no telling where it was under all those furs, and besides, he didn't want to accidentally grab something perilous.

He frowned and sighed. "Kagome," he said, gently touching the back of his fingers to her cheek. She felt even more fragile than she looked, parchment skin over porcelain bones, and he drew back, almost afraid he would break her, almost afraid to continue.

She stirred sad memories.

Gritting his teeth he decided he had quite enough of this and angrily squashed his guilt and reservations. Without stopping to think lest he hesitate, he slid a hand beneath the entire mound of furs and threw them off.

"Aaaaeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnngggg!" Kagome cried, shooting straight up and pulling the most piteous face he'd seen in a long time. She hugged her own shoulders, fingers clawing the thick fabric of her haori, eyes still squeezed closed. "Holy god, it's cold!"

This wasn't helping to assuage his guilt. "Wake up," he snapped, standing up and stalking a few feet toward the front of the cave. After a moment he glanced back over his shoulder.

She was blindly groping for the furs by her feet. "There are better ways to wake me up!" she whined. "That was just mean."

"I tried," he informed her. "You were not receptive."

Kagome wanted to cry. She was cold and it was early and she was hungry and he was a jerk and the universe was just not going her way, and hadn't been for the past four weeks and all she wanted was a hot meal, a hot bath, and a foot massage. From a really hot guy. With no shirt on. And pretty hair. Unfortunately nothing seemed to be forthcoming. Even the most accessible of her three needs was out of her reach; she doubted Sesshoumaru had ever given anyone a foot massage in his life, and she severely doubted he would buck the trend just for her.

His hair isn't that great anyway, she lied grouchily to herself. Out loud she said, "What did I ever do to deserve this? Really?" When it became apparent that no one was going to answer her, she scrubbed the sleep from her eyes and blearily looked around to find her blankets several feet away and Sesshoumaru with his back to her, arms folded and feet planted firmly on the ground, looking decidedly grouchy himself. Kagome tried to amend her tone.

"Not to, you know, bother you, but why do I have to be up this early?" she asked. "I thought we were going to just stay here for a few days until Akiyama gets back." She shifted to her knees and reached for a fur to pull around her.

Behind her the demon snorted. "It appears that he will not be returning," he announced. "Blame him."

The edge in his voice scraped across her still fuzzy brain. "What?" she said flatly. His tone woke her up more than the cold ever could. Her searching fingers found a fur, and she sat back, drawing it over her shoulders as she turned to confront his back and his very-not-pretty-hair, taking a deep breath that did nothing to calm her. "Please tell me you did not just say what I think you said, because if you said what you said I'm going to cry."

After he had worked this out in his head Sesshoumaru felt a little curl of panic at his options. On the one hand, lying would just make her more upset when she found out the truth; on the other, he hated crying. He didn't know how anyone could ever handle a crying female, and the only one he'd ever been able to make any headway with had been Rin.

Rin, he thought, and deep in his mind the sound of her echoed.

And then Sesshoumaru blinked as something in his chest clenched sharply, like a fist crumpling a piece of paper, suddenly ambushed by memory, waylaid by a name. His fingers twitched, and he swallowed hard around the sharp-edged lump that had appeared at the base of his throat.

Wasn't I through with this? he wondered distantly. The question burned across his brain, dark and bright. He closed his eyes and thought to dissipate.

Kagome rubbed her numb fingers together and blew into her hands in what was proving to be a futile attempt to warm them. Idly she wondered if she'd ever be warm again, because she was almost certain the freezing weather had changed the chemical composition of her bones in some way, so that they felt like icicles instead of calcified... whatever they were. She slid an envious glance at Sesshoumaru, who didn't seem to feel the bite, or if he did, he didn't react. Maybe he'd share the secret with her. "Sesshoumaru, do - " she began.

"Do not cry," he said suddenly, cutting her off.

His voice caused something to flip over in her stomach, caused the light of the rising sun to turn heavy and painful, caused the shadows to creep forward. "What?" Kagome asked, inanely, startled, her question flying out of her head. "What?"

For a moment he was silent, and bizarrely she felt as though she were standing on the edge of the sky, about to topple off and tumble forever into the stars.

Then, slowly, he turned and looked at her over his shoulder, and the expression on his face tugged at something deep and shadowy, low in her breast. For a moment, Kagome was back in the firelight with him when he was a wandering king without a kingdom, she a priestess without a shrine, and each shrouded in their own private grief. She suddenly remembered where she was, and whom she was with, and why they were the only ones left behind in the cavernous places of things lost and never found again, the places filled only with the presence of absence.

When they had first met in that warm circle they had been tethered together by the thinnest of shining threads, by the accidents of circumstance. Now that thread was thick and fast, binding them together, made not only of grief but of debt and companionship and words voiced in firelight that they both remembered but never spoke of. With that terrible, dark look in his eyes it was as if he had followed that thread from himself to her, and slipped beneath her skin into the place where sadness lived. Or perhaps it was she who had slipped into him; perhaps they were the same.

Then she blinked, and the shadows skittered away. He turned back to the entrance.

"Do not cry," he repeated. "I dislike tears."

Kagome thought of Inuyasha, who hated tears as well, and nodded. "S - sorry," she said. "It was just a joke."

He was silent for a moment before she heard him laugh low and sharp. "In any case," he said, "I would not blame you. The frustration of the situation is enough to make anyone cry."

They were back to light words now, and she wondered if they would ever speak heavily again. Biting her lip, Kagome physically shook herself before replying. "Even you?" she asked, aiming for coy and succeeding passably well.


"You said anyone," she pointed out as she struggled to stand and began to stomp life into her feet.

"Miko, I am not just anyone," he reminded her.

"Right, I forgot for a moment," she replied, grinning as she stepped up next to him. "You're Sesshoumaru-sama."

"And you'd do well to remember that, miko-sama."

She sniffled as they walked to the front of the cave and stared down at the hubbub beneath them, leaving the sharp darkness behind. "I'll try. Now, what are we doing today?"

Next to her, Sesshoumaru sighed. "No doubt we will find out soon enough," he said, unfurling a long clawed finger to point at the main campfire, where most of the wolves were milling around. "Our host has asked that we attend."

Kagome felt her stomach sink. "This will not end well, will it?" she asked.

Sesshoumaru looked down the mountainside and into a future that was becoming more and more complicated with each passing day. "That I doubt," he answered.

"I thought so."

. . .

By the fire, Kagome huddled in furs while Myouga huddled in her clothes and translated the barks and growls for her, as the whole tribe - the real wolves as well as the youkai - seemed to have gathered around, and the guttural, animal vocalizations were the common tongue for everyone but her. She felt very in the dark, and Sesshoumaru sat next to her and glowered unhelpfully at the flames in front of him, either listening intently to the conversation around them or ignoring it completely. It was difficult to tell with him. Kagome concentrated on her sleepy translator.

"They are still arguing over who will go and bring the prince back," Myouga yawned. "It seems no one wants to leave the mountain in wintertime and go alone."

"Why not?"

"Wolves hunt in packs - they aren't solitary animals. It's almost impossible for one of them to bring down the prey they need to stay alive," Myouga supplied.

Kagome considered this. "So... why can't a large group of them go?"

Myouga shrugged. "Probably because they like it here and don't want to travel. And the mountains are more dangerous in the winter as well."

"They are?" Kagome asked. She supposed it made sense, but she had passed across them safely enough. "I did all right."

Next to her, Sesshoumaru grunted.

"Er," the flea said. "There are many more youkai, as well as wild animals, in the mountains during the winter, and most half-mad with hunger. The wolves like to fight, but not that much. It is not a matter of passage, but of prowess."


"Battle," Myouga supplied. "You were well-protected."

Sesshoumaru grunted again as if to dismiss the notion that he was protecting her, despite the fact that her protection was supposedly the whole reason he was putting himself through such hassle. Kagome wondered if he would ever discharge his debt, or if he would hang around her forever, and to her ambivalent surprise she couldn't decide which of these options she preferred. She sighed. This is what I get for being so friendly: emotionally attached. Great.

She clenched her jaw. It wasn't that she hadn't been somewhat attached before, but it had been an abstract attachment to memory, to the idea of Sesshoumaru, rather than any real attachment to him as a person. Youkai. Whatever. The point was that the idea was a thing relegated to times past, whereas long, heated discussions and quiet, shared grief were very real and suddenly very visceral. He was, if not a friend, then a cared-for comrade. She wished him well in a way that was very immediate, instead of a concern broadly covered by her general tender nature. Kagome wasn't certain she liked this development.

And in a way that was sad as well - she remembered that there was a time when she opened her heart to anyone, but somehow the door had become more and more difficult to fling wide, sealed by scars and blocked with memories. Yet he had his foot wedged in it, so to speak, and had been able to lever it open. She wondered how far he had walked inside, and if it was too late to turn him back. Too late meant that even if she could, she would not want to.

Kagome shook herself - thinking of that at this juncture would probably only lead to angst, and that would not be productive. She gazed moodily into the flames as the wolves barked and snarled and growled and whined around her, arguing amongst themselves.

Oblivious to his companion's musings, Sesshoumaru heaved an inward sigh. It was bad enough that he had to deal with his own tedious matters of rule; that he was now forced - out of politeness and acknowledgment of treaty - to listen to someone else's tedious affairs seemed distinctly unjust. That his companion would probably be asked to participate in said affairs seemed even more so, since this meant that, by proxy, he would be asked to meddle as well. Sesshoumaru generally liked to keep himself out of such things in deference to both fairness to all allies and his own distaste of unnecessary effort. It wasn't that he was lazy, per se; he wasn't. He was just efficient with his energy, and it had carried him far.

Whereas Kagome spent energy every which way. They were always stopping in a village - even if she didn't need shelter for the night - and doing this or that small task for the inhabitants, or, in the case of that stupid boar, extremely large tasks for which she never asked payment except in the most meager of terms. What was even worse was that he suspected she would be carrying on exactly the same way if he weren't there, which would be dangerous and unnecessary and practically guaranteed that he couldn't leave her alone for more than five minutes before she was getting herself neck-deep in other people's problems. She was the most tiring thing since... ever. He wondered how his idiot half-brother had handled it.

A commotion pulled him out of his moody reverie. Behind Kouga a wolf and youkai snarled and then leapt for each other's throat, clearly in disagreement over something that no doubt wouldn't be worth the bloody effort. He saw Kouga roll his eyes wearily before wading in and pulling them apart, holding the wolf by the scruff of his neck, and his underling by his greasy hair. Sesshoumaru wrinkled his nose, discreetly as possible, in mild distaste.

At the very least, he thought, he could have presentable henchmen. He sniffed. It probably came from hanging around in dark caves all the time. When you couldn't see anyone else, it didn't matter what they looked like. Standards were bound to be lax. Feeling almost smug, Sesshoumaru picked an imaginary piece of detritus from the sleeve of his kimono and released it to the wind.

Kagome watched Kouga with distinct admiration. He looked so grown-up - and she had to keep reminding herself that he looked grown-up because he was, in fact, grown-up - so commanding and secure in his role. She felt proud of him, even though she had nothing to do with his force of presence or strength of leadership. Perhaps she just felt proud to know him; privileged to be the friend of such a good person. Who wouldn't, after all? Kagome was aware that she was mooning ever so slightly, but she decided that it didn't really matter - no one cared, and there was no harm in admiring a friend.

From the corner of his eye, Sesshoumaru watched her watch the wolf break up the fight, and felt rather peeved. If she was aroused by displays of force, he could do it much better than that, and had demonstrated as such many times in front of her; there was no cause for her to become flustered over inferior strength.

Not, he thought, that I care what she thinks, but honestly. It's as though she prefers straw to silk. No taste at all.

Unconsciously, he stuffed his hands inside the sleeves of his kimono with rather more petulant force than was strictly necessary.

Kagome watched as Kouga snarled at both of them, saying something unintelligible in the language of yips and growls.

"He says that he's going to decide once and for all who will go fetch his son," Myouga translated. "He says he's sick of the fighting."

Kouga threw each of them in opposite directions - quite impressive, she thought, smiling - before walking back to the fire, folding his legs beneath him, and sitting down. With great gravity, he lifted his arms in the air, palms out, and waited for the hubbub around him to die down.

After a gradually less and less cluttered minute, the camp was silent enough for him to speak. Kagome watched as he opened his mouth and howled a series of sliding tones that made her shiver a little bit. It always seemed just a little bit wild, a little more untamed, to hear inhuman voices come from human throats. Well, human-looking throats, anyway. She waited for the translation.

"Oh," said Myouga from beneath her collar. "That's... surprising."

Kagome frowned, suddenly apprehensive. "What is?" she whispered.

"Well, he says... he says that he'll go fetch Akiyama himself, and he'll take a few reliable comrades with him," Myouga told her.

"Why is that surprising?" she asked, puzzled.

She felt him give a very tiny shrug before he answered her. "Because he's the tribe leader, and it's not common for the leader to leave his post, especially during the winter. The tribe will be under his second-in-command, and that usually leads to unrest. Wolves fight among themselves all the time for ranking, so without a strong hand in charge things can get pretty chaotic. Still, it's better to stay here than go out into the mountains, so I don't think anyone will be complaining much. Kouga-sama is a strong headsman, and courageous to go through the mountains in winter, so no one will want to be on his bad side when he gets back."

Kagome just nodded in response. Not for the first time, she wished that she had studied more under Kaede - or any other miko, frankly - as her knowledge of youkai was still sorely lacking. Miroku had always been the one who knew that sort of thing. She frowned until Kouga caught her attention by suddenly speaking in the human tongue.

"Now," he announced, "we must choose a party to go northward and fetch the necessary medicine."

There was a discontented stirring, and Kagome could only imagine the consternation the rest of the tribe would feel over going further north into the mountains.

"We must choose our strongest and most experienced envoys to negotiate the difficult passage - " here Kagome heard Sesshoumaru laugh one of his low, humorless laughs, as though he was just now seeing a joke that wasn't funny at all " - the envoys we most trust."

He lowered his hands, and to her rather unsurprised dismay gestured towards Sesshoumaru and her. "Sesshoumaru-sama, Kagome-sama," he said, and the appended honorific on her name startled her a little bit, "I would like to ask you to make the journey."

Kagome bit her lip. She'd suspected something like this would come up, and she wanted to help. She had thought about Machiko in tiny little thoughts over the past few days, thinking of how horrible it would be to die alone and take her own child with her, and the idea had tugged her heart enough that the mission she had undertaken had assumed a little more weight than that of duty. On the other hand, she wasn't strong, and had no idea how to go about procuring the medicine needed.

Sesshoumaru watched as Kagome stood and bowed her head, and groaned inwardly. She was going to accept the charge and they were going to have to go north and he didn't want to -

"I am very sorry, Kouga-k - sama," she stumbled over his honorific, clearly unused to it. "But we cannot accept this mission. I am neither strong, nor experienced, and after all, I am only in Sesshoumaru-sama's charge."

Sesshoumaru pressed a claw into the palm of his hand in order to keep his eyebrows from shooting up in surprise.

"And as it is not his duty to attend to my obligations," she continued, "we cannot do this." She bowed again before lowering herself to the ground. Sesshoumaru found himself grudgingly impressed, and shifted his eyes back to their host.

Kouga was smiling indulgently, as though he had already anticipated this eventuality. Sesshoumaru found that worrying.

"Kagome-sama," he began warmly, "you are much stronger than you perceive yourself to be - " to Sesshoumaru's increasing irritation Kagome blushed prettily at this assurance " - so there is no reason for you to decline this mission. I trust you. You are both strong. And after all..."

Kouga shifted his gaze to Sesshoumaru, and the youkai lord suddenly felt a cold dread seize his stomach. He wouldn't DARE mention that, in front of everyone...

No, he wouldn't. He was bluffing, hoping that Sesshoumaru would panic and cave into his wishes. Sesshoumaru's eyebrows drew down into a thunderous glare. He wouldn't dare, and I will not be manipulated, he thought.

He lifted his chin arrogantly to let Kouga know he was not to be trifled with.

His heart dropped through his stomach when Kouga gave him a small, apologetic smile, and opened his mouth to continue. "After all," Kouga repeated, shifting his eyes to Kagome, "Sesshoumaru-sama knows the challenges and will rise to meet them, as he is, in fact, experienced in gathering this sort of medicine."

Sesshoumaru couldn't bite back the snarl that clawed through his throat, and he heard faint snickering in the surrounding throng.

Kagome felt slightly faint, and extremely befuddled, and not slightly disturbed by the cruel sound that had escaped her companion. She didn't dare look at him.

What... the... hell... she thought, very, very deliberately. She repeated the phrase in her head, as if keeping her mind occupied with it was the only way she would be able to avoid contemplating the meaning of Kouga's words.

For his part, Kouga continued as if he had not just cavalierly impugned Sesshoumaru's honor. "And of course," he said loudly, "Sesshoumaru-sama is a valued ally. I could not ask anyone else to go, for I trust no one else as much as my fellow lord." And he bowed low toward them, a small, triumphant smile on his face.

Sesshoumaru growled. Trapped. Kouga had just stripped away all his honorable exits - he was, in spite of himself, the ideal candidate, and he had just been handed the deepest trust of the tribe. He couldn't refuse without losing face or damaging the alliance between them. And the reason? It was just that much more insurance against claiming the baby's life in payment for Rin's - a death to pay for her first death, and letting it stay dead to pay for her second, when the wolf tribe didn't lift a finger against the usurpers despite alliances to his House. He could understand why they did not, but it was still a matter of honor, and a personal matter as well. And now he couldn't kill the child, even if he could get around Kagome.

And I can't kill that revolting, bastard wolf, he thought furiously.

Kouga coughed. "Of course, if you wish for Kagome-sama to stay with me, I could keep her sa - "

Sesshoumaru snarled again before shutting his mouth in order to grind his teeth together and contemplate soothing thoughts of butchery.

As if she were dreaming, Kagome watched Kouga straighten and smile at her with wickedly pointed teeth. "Thank you," he said, "for accepting this mission. We will have your provisions ready by noon."

"But I - " she began.

Next to her, Sesshoumaru shot to his feet, turned smartly, and stalked off through the pack who parted before him like a snickering Red Sea.

"Um..." she trailed off, lost, confused, and beginning to get angry. Around her there seemed to be a general consensus that the meeting was over, and the crowd was rapidly dispersing, leaving her alone by the fire and staring at Kouga, who appeared to be avoiding her gaze.

"Myouga?" she muttered. "What was that all about?"

There was no answer, and when she checked beneath her collar she found that he had disappeared, just like he always used to do when the going got tough.

It seemed to her that the universe was taking unfair advantage of her normally genial nature. Very steadily Kagome gathered her furs around herself, stood, and then stomped her foot and tried not to scream in frustration. She closed her eyes and tried to think.

I'm going to kick someone. Probably Kouga. In the shins - no, in the family jewels, so that he will never again bedevil the world with his annoying progeny. I'm going to venture out into the mountains that I now know are full of hunger-crazed youkai and ravenous animals, and head north where it's cold, and what the HELL did he mean by experience? Kagome took a deep breath. I've been vaulted into a parallel universe, and I didn't even notice.


Kagome opened her eyes and glared murderously at Kouga, who had the decency to look abashed before giving her a sheepish grin.

"I - " he began.

"What," she cut him off, "the hell was that all about?"

"Er - "

"You just volunteered me to go get killed when I said I couldn't do it!"

"You see - "

"And you insulted Sesshoumaru! What the hell?" She stopped and took another deep breath, well aware that she was tired and cranky and not prepared for this.

"Kagome!" Kouga managed. "I'm sorry. I had to."

Kagome gave him a look. "Had to," she said. "Really."

"Yes, really."

"You want to tell me why?"

He looked down at the ground, which Kagome did not take to be a good sign.

"Well?" she demanded after a moment.

The wolf took a deep breath and raised his eyes, rueful expression on his face. "Forgive me, Kagome. I had to say those things and... well, I had to force Sesshoumaru's hand."

"Why, and how did you just do that?"

He sighed. "I effectively gave him the trust of the tribe to discharge this duty. He cannot refuse, deliberately fail, or otherwise harm my future grandson without breaking our alliance now."

Kagome shut her eyes very tightly until she saw stars, then opened them again. "Do I want to know why he would do that?"


"For what?"

His mouth twisted. "I'd rather not say," he said defensively.

He doesn't want me to think less of him, she thought miserably. "You know what? I don't want to know," she said quickly. "If he has to kill a baby to make you pay for something, I don't want to know what that payment is for, because you must have done something terrible."

Kouga rubbed his neck, looking faintly ashamed. "Well, he's free to kill him later. I'm just buying him time. With luck, Sesshoumaru won't be bothered to try and extract payment for another fifty years. By that time the kid'll have a fighting chance."

Kagome felt slightly betrayed, and very alone again, lost in affairs that she didn't understand. "Okay. All right. Now, would you like to tell me why Sesshoumaru is so, um, experienced?" For some reason she felt nauseous.

Kouga rocked back on his heels and looked up at the sky. "I don't think," he said slowly, "that it is my place to tell you that."

"Why not?" she almost yelled.

"That's Sesshoumaru's business," he hastened to placate her. "It's his to tell."

"And you just told everyone of it."

"I had to. I'm sorry."

And he really did look sorry. In fact, he looked almost miserable. "I'm sorry I had to drag you into this," he continued, "but Sesshoumaru will not allow you to stay behind with me or the tribe."

Doesn't trust you, I'll bet. Kagome clenched her teeth. "Right," she replied bitterly. "No problem."

He winced. "But on the upside, you probably won't come to any harm," he said, brightly brittle.

"Probably," she muttered. She turned to stare at the flames in front of her, wondering why she felt as if Sesshoumaru had lied to her. It wasn't as if he was obligated to tell her everything about himself, or anything, even. He had a right to his secrets, even when they were as large as this one seemed to be.

Ass, she thought.

Next to her, Kouga cleared his throat.

"All right," she cut off whatever he had been about to say. "I'm going to go get my things, and I'll take your stupid provisions. But when I get back from getting this medicine, I'm going to kick you. Where it hurts."

The wolf gave a resigned sigh. "Fair enough."

. . .

It turned out that the wolves were big fans of dried meat. And dried meat. With a side of dried meat. Kagome wished for a salad, but at least it was better than dry noodles day in and day out, and she was almost certain that she'd lost ten pounds on the journey here - it probably wouldn't hurt to gain some of that back.

At least she was warmer, now. The heavy fur cape they'd given her kept the wind out, and a few discarded soft boots - lined with fur - now swaddled her feet, so the bite of winter was reduced somewhat. On the other hand, it was getting colder and colder, and they'd only traveled for a day.

They hadn't spoken more than ten words to each other, either. Sesshoumaru was still fuming, and she had let him stew; she wasn't entirely sure that she trusted him to not rip her heart out if she broached a touchy subject anyway, so she'd kept her head down and tried to ignore the roiling in her stomach that only seemed to get worse the tighter she locked her words away. She wished Myouga hadn't run away - she really could have used someone to talk to, or to make peace between the two of them. As it was, the day passed slowly, and she watched the ground pass by beneath her feet as the silence between them grew louder than speaking ever could.

Now her feet felt as though they were about to snap off. The sun was going down, and it had begun to snow, though instead of the flurries she had seen in the lowlands it now stung her cheeks as the wind whipped over her face. She found it difficult to keep her eyes open, so she squinted down at the ground and kept her eyes on Sesshoumaru's tracks in the fading light.

When I get home, she thought, I'm going to invest in one of those little scooters, so I never have to walk anywhere again. And it will have a seat warmer, even if I have to set fire to it to make it warm.

"Here," came his voice from in front of her. The word was so abrupt and unexpected that Kagome's head snapped up and she pinched a nerve in her neck.

"Ooooh," she hissed, massaging it. She glanced at her companion, only to find that he wasn't there.

"Sesshoumaru?" she called, voice almost lost in the wind, and she felt the sudden edge of panic.

To her infinite relief, his head appeared from behind a sharply turned rock. "There's a cave here," he said blandly. "If you do not want to die, I suggest getting inside."

In the privacy of her head, Kagome gave a shriek of frustration before stumbling forward and around the corner, where she almost collided with him.

"What - ?" she began before lowering her eyes to the narrow, waist-high crack at his feet. "Oh no," she groaned.

"Quiet," he snapped. "It is not as small as it looks. Now get in, or I will go first and you can stay out here."

Biting her lip, Kagome unshouldered her backpack before crouching down. She squeezed through, squirming her way inside.

It was roomier inside, but not by much. There wasn't room to stand up, but it was deeper than she thought it would be. Grunting, she pulled her backpack through the narrow opening and moved to the back, sliding down the wall to sit with her knees drawn up to her chin. She set her backpack down on the top of her feet. There wasn't much space for anything else, and Kagome wondered with increasing dismay how she was going to sleep as she watched Sesshoumaru perform a series of impressive acrobatics in order to fit through the entrance before sliding down the opposite wall himself. His armor scraped against the rock until he came to a stop, left knee - the side closest to the crack in the mountainside - folded up, left hand propped against it, effectively shielding most of the little cave from the opening.

The cave was so small that he was almost touching her; there couldn't have been more than a foot between them. Kagome bit her lip miserably and stared at her knees in the uncomfortable silence.

Sesshoumaru heard her swallow hard before she opened her mouth to speak. "Thank you," she said, voice small and flat in the close confines of the cave. Outside in the night, the icy wind howled through the mountains.

"For what?" he asked. He felt tired, almost weary, and he couldn't put his finger on why. Perhaps today had just been too draining, and he certainly hadn't had enough sleep the night before. Perhaps the cold was beginning to get to him.

She shifted. "For... sitting near the entrance," she finished.

He grunted in response. In a little while the cave would be warm from their combined body heat, and he could stand to have one side colder than the other if it meant he was able to sleep out of the way of the elements.

She was silent for a while before she rustled a bit. He heard a small whining noise and then something entered his field of vision. He looked down.

It was a blanket of fur, obviously one of the ones she had slept on in the wolf camp. He glanced at her, raising a brow quizzically.

Kagome blushed. "In case you get cold," she squeaked. She watched as he shifted his eyes back to the blanket, as though contemplating the idea, before lifting it from her hand, shaking it out, and draping it against his left side.

"Thank you," she heard him mutter. She just nodded before reaching into her backpack again and withdrawing her squashed sleeping bag. She could sit against the fur cloak and drape the sleeping back over herself, she reasoned. That way she would be warm enough to catch a few hours of slumber, even if she was forced to sleep in a sitting position. Kagome arranged it over her knees and pulled it up to her shoulders before letting her head fall back against the wall and closing her eyes.

The wind moaned against the mountain, but it slowly began to warm inside their little haven. After about fifteen minutes or so Kagome cracked an eye to study Sesshoumaru. He had rested his head against the wall and was gazing over his arm to the world outside, but instead of looking bored or blank, she thought he looked almost resigned. There was a certain slant of the brow, a certain sad lowering of his eyelids, as though he was looking forward to the future, and it held toil without reward. Or maybe he was bored. The light was almost gone, and it was difficult to discern his expression. She was probably just projecting her own weary resignation onto him.

She thought it had been very unfair of Kouga to trap him like this.

Kagome shifted in her seat, wiggling down against the soft-skin underside of the cloak, and tried to decide which of her questions she wanted to ask him first before deciding to start small and then work upwards.

"Sesshoumaru?" she said.

He didn't answer, merely slid his eyes away from the cave entrance to her face, a move calculated, no doubt, to discourage unpleasant questions.

Well, she thought, he knows it's coming. She cleared her throat. "Um," she began, then stopped.

"Yes?" he prompted after a moment. Kagome swallowed.

"Where - where do you think Myouga went?" There. That's not offensive or prying, she thought. Baby-steps.

Sesshoumaru snorted. "He's getting fat off the wolves," he said. "Which is just as well. He would probably die in this."

Her heart dropped - there was no chance he would join them, then, and she felt his absence keenly. "He would?" she asked, hoping against hope that this was not the case. She wasn't entirely certain she wanted to remain with Sesshoumaru alone.

"He was already useless," Sesshoumaru said blandly. "He would have frozen completely, even in your clothes."

Kagome bit her lip and felt a tweak of tears high in her nose, but it didn't progress any further, for which she was grateful.

She sighed, lining up her words again. "I was also wondering..." - Sesshoumaru's eyebrows drew down slightly, in a suspicious frown - "Um... wondering what... we'll have to do. To find the herbs we need," she finished lamely, the real question she wanted to ask still leaden beneath her tongue.

Across from her, Sesshoumaru let a small sigh escape between his lips. "Arduous journey, trial by fire, tedious negotiation," he said tersely. "At least, that's the way these things usually seem to work."

Kagome was not at all certain she liked the sound of this. Arduous journey was already covered, and tedious negotiation didn't sound so bad, but trial by fire made her stomach flip and turn, and in her hands the blood seemed to retreat, leaving her fingers cold and numb. She took a shuddering breath.

"Do not worry," Sesshoumaru said suddenly, and she looked up, but now it was so dark she couldn't see his features any longer, only his dim outline. She swallowed hard.

Now that she couldn't see his face, it suddenly seemed easier, though that was like saying the ground was softer than rock.

She shifted her gaze back to where she knew her own knees were, and gathered her courage.


There was a pause, and then she heard him shift against the wall. "Yes?" he said quietly.

Kagome closed her eyes, and stepped off the precipice and into uncharted territory.

"What did Kouga mean when he said you had experience?" she asked, and she felt vaguely proud that her voice shook only a little.

Silence. Then, "He didn't tell you himself?"

Mutely, she shook her head before realizing that he might not be able to see her. "No," she said, voice cracking only a little. "He said it was your business to tell if you wanted."

Sesshoumaru was silent. In her chest her heart beat heavily, and she licked her lips and hoped for something that she couldn't even put a name to. In the dark warmth of the cave she waited for him to answer, and listened to the wild wind in the valley below.

He knew she would ask. She would be... well, very not her to let it slide, and really, it had been so long ago, and her heart was so tender that it didn't seem to matter to tell her. The way he had contributed to the weakness of his house wouldn't matter to her the way it mattered to other youkai. She was human.

In the secret spaces of his head, a small voice whispered that she would even like him more for it.

The tension was horrible, and twice she opened her mouth to take it back, but twice no sound came out, so she waited in agony, wondering if he was going to injure her in a rage, or never speak to her again, or something, and then he shifted against the wall and spoke.

"I have done this before," he said, and his voice was so low she had to strain to hear it over the howling of the wind, "but the child in question was not my own."

She let out the breath she had been holding and felt something unclench in her chest. She was oddly relieved, as though she had been granted a reprieve. After a moment Kagome licked her lips, suddenly very, very curious.

"Whose was it?" she asked, and she was surprised to find her voice shaking along with her hands, and dimly she realized she was filled with adrenaline. She clenched her fists and strained to hear his voice.

For a long moment, he didn't answer, and then she heard him sigh in the darkness, and she felt the sound curl across her heart.

"It was my father's," he said, words grey and heavy, empty and tumbling down, over and over, into the space between them, and the implication made her breath catch in her throat.

"I made the journey for Inuyasha and his mother."

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 18 of 42

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