Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 19 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"Among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice."
- Miguel de Cervantes

. . .

One day when he was still young, when he had the appearance of a ten-year-old boy, when he was treading water between that strange, dim-remembered time of childhood and that agonizing year when he grew so quickly he became crippled inside his skin, Sesshoumaru sat in the gardens beneath his mother's favorite mimosa tree and watched the servants' children playing.

Three girls - they looked seven or so by human standards - and two little boys, much younger, ran about the courtyard, skipping lightly over his mother's wild, overgrown flower beds, hiding from each other behind neglected trees damp with moss and heavy with unpruned foliage, laughing and shouting. Their exuberant babble drifted to his ears, and he found it soothing after the training his father had given him that morning.

A flock of birds, the flat thunder of wings, a few flashing white throats, and all feathers so black they caught the sun in glossy rainbows. Next to him his father gave a shout - his sign to begin - and in his hands the muscles jerked in anticipation as he launched himself into the air.

"Just the white ones!" his father called from below, sounding jovial. Sesshoumaru clenched his teeth and flexed his claws, and then he was in the middle of it, bright eyes and sharp beaks and each white throat he found he skewered on a claw, running straight through and out the other side. First there was the small resistance, the bubble before the skin burst, and then there was the swift cracking of tiny bones - and he could always feel the smooth feathers on his fingers, the feathers around the wound that slid so kindly, so traitorously across his hands - and then the blood. And always, always, the screaming; always the call of dying things scraping down the inside of his skull with a serrated edge.

He wished he could kill each and every one of them, just to make them stop.

He took down twenty-three in all, and the smell of blood was at once tantalizing and unremarkable. When he again touched the earth his father strolled over, lord of the world, and inspected the corpses that littered the ground.

"Not bad, not bad," he said finally. Sesshoumaru felt a faint smile threaten to break out on his normally solemn face, but his father was not finished yet. "Still, not good, either," he continued. "There were thirty-five."

Thirty-five! He had been so certain he had mastered this exercise. Disappointment crashed over him, heavy enough he physically wavered, and Sesshoumaru clenched his fists so hard in frustration that he broke his own skin. Fortunately his father had already taught him the tricks of keeping a face free of reaction, never showing weakness or pain, so he kept his claws embedded in his flesh to prevent his blood from spilling; he knew his father would smell it.

Sesshoumaru executed a curt bow and his father dismissed him. As he always did after training, he walked, calm and collected, from the dojo, or the expanse of grass behind it. He passed over the courtyard, down and across the little bridge - the one arching over the stream that ran through the estate - and into the garden at the back of the house, where he folded himself into the shade of the tree and closed his eyes. Always he breathed deeply, licked away what blood was still on his hands, and let his abused ears seek sounds that didn't scream.

It was a fresh, mid-spring day, and the smell of green growing plants on the breeze curled over the imaginary wounds on the inside of his head and lifted away the irritation. Schooling his face into a blank mask he slowly unclenched his hands to let the holes bleed and close without anyone else knowing. He watched as he healed, trying to regard the stinging sensation as merely a curiosity, but to his chagrin he discovered that he still didn't have complete control yet. His breath hissed through his teeth ever so slightly, and silently he cursed himself again. Any opponent formidable enough to inflict a wound would be powerful enough to hear his sibilant reaction, and would have the means to press his advantage home. That simply would not do.

Sesshoumaru stared at the grass and concentrated on his breathing - slow, even, regular, no pain or surprise, no hate or joy - and then pushed his claws into his palms again, again breaking the skin and drawing blood. This time, however, he kept his face - not still, because still implied control, and control meant that too much thought was going into it - but bland, full of affected boredom. It still stung, but this time he had no physical reaction when he uncurled his fingers once more and let himself heal.

He repeated this exercise two more times before he was satisfied that he had, for today at least, rid himself of adverse reaction. Leaning back against the rough bark of the tree, he brought his hand to his face and slowly licked the blood away from the right hand, and then the left. When he was satisfied that all traces of his ignominious reaction to moderate failure were erased from his skin, Sesshoumaru allowed his hands to drop into his lap as he closed his eyes and tried to think of nothing at all.

In the garden and in his head, Sesshoumaru let the leaves rustle, felt the light move over the land, and waited to hear the flap of butterfly wings against the sky.

He might have dozed off, or achieved his objective of complete void, but something at the edge of his consciousness shouted. A little voice, high and sharp, made its existence felt.

Sesshoumaru opened his eyes, and let them roam where they would, seeking the disturbance of his peace. It did not take long for him to pinpoint the source of his problems.

Down in the courtyard there was a small commotion among the children he had been gazing at only moments before, and Sesshoumaru lifted his head to see the children fighting over something. He could not discern, in the babble of high-pitched voices, what the argument was about, but it didn't really matter. Children quarreled quickly, and just as quickly decided the victor; in five minutes time, one way or another, the argument would be resolved and the garden would be restored to its former tranquility. The effort required to break up the fight was more than he wished to expend, so he sat back and watched the little drama unfold.

The girls, older and bigger, were trying to persuade the smaller boys to do something, though they were having none of it. The argument grew louder and louder until one of the girls - the tallest one, with bright orange hair braided down her back - stepped forward. Sesshoumaru shifted, interested to see what she was planning to do.

When she drew back and punched the smallest boy across the mouth Sesshoumaru frowned. That didn't seem terribly fair, but then again fights rarely were. Not to mention it seemed just a little out of kilter to witness a female standing up to a male and knocking him down, no matter how much smaller he was than she. Briefly he considered putting a stop to the scuffle, but his father had taught him a very painful lesson when he was younger about violence against females who were not attacking him, and at any rate the boy needed to stand up for himself. There wouldn't always be arbiters in the shadows to save him from crazy females with a fight in their eyes.

The boy went sprawling against the pavement, a pained cry escaping his mouth. The girl who had hit him looked horrified, but then the boy's companion ran into her full force, knocking her against a tree. She screeched and shoved him away, which was a miscalculation on her part as the boy took a large fistful of her hair with him. She shrieked again and lashed out with a foot, catching him in the leg and knocking him to the ground as the first boy stood and launched himself at one of the other girls. Sesshoumaru smelled blood, and his frown melted into a scowl. The situation had possibly deteriorated to the point of intervention, even though he wasn't in the mood to break up a fight that he had no part in.

He was still debating whether or not to pull the children apart when someone made the decision for him.

Sesshoumaru's eyes widened as a shoji screen slid open to reveal his mother. She paused, took in the scene before her, and then strode down the steps and into the garden, a whirlwind of silver hair and indigo kimonos and just as wild as ever.

"Takara-sama!" The exclamation drew his attention away from the woman sweeping into the fray to the source of the voice. Behind her, he saw a bevy of court ladies and maids-in-waiting clustered around the screen frame and peering out as their mistress jumped into the task in front of her, as she did with every task. He turned back and watched his mother in action.

With the practiced fingers of a woman who had been the eldest of ten children, his mother stepped neatly into the scuffle and separated the combatants, expertly avoiding whirling limbs and crooked fingers tipped with tiny claws, picking each of them up and separating them with ease. The activity level died almost immediately upon her interference; recognizing her, the fighters stared up with wide eyes and open mouths, and, in one instance, a very bloody nose.

His mother brushed off their scrutiny the way she brushed off almost everything that neither pleased nor displeased her, ignoring their gawking faces as she squinted down at each one, assessing the damage they had sustained. When she was done, she straightened to her full height and beckoned to the maids clustered in the doorway.

Sesshoumaru had always admired the way his mother bent the world around herself, as though she were an actress on a stage. Despite her lack of beauty, she still projected a glamour that overrode the freckles and the wide mouth and small eyes, and she drew everything into herself. The phenomenon he was witnessing now he had seen many times: as though the maids suddenly found themselves actors instead of spectators, they physically shook themselves - this always involved rapid blinking for some reason - and bustled out onto the stage, suddenly eager to take part in the magnificent play they had awoken to find themselves in. They took the children away, clucking and scolding, and he saw his mother hide a smile behind her long sleeve, as though enjoying a private joke.

Within the minute the garden was cleared, and she ascended the steps again. However, instead of returning inside his mother shooed everyone else back into the house before sliding the screen closed again and turning to look straight at her son.

Sesshoumaru had thought she was ignorant of his presence. He quirked an eyebrow, puzzled, and didn't move as she strode toward him with a determined look on her face, which was so different from her normal grin that he was too confused to react when she stopped in front of him and smacked him smartly across the face.

He didn't betray any pain, just looked at her, perplexed. She made a frustrated noise and threw her hands in the air. "I hate it when you do that," she informed him.

He still did not understand. "Do what?" he wanted to know.

She shook her head. "When you don't react." Without ceremony, she sat swiftly on the ground in what was probably a controlled fall, but looked like a sudden collapse. She slumped in front of him and stared off to his right in that peculiar way she had whenever something had upset her.

"But that's what I'm training to do," he said, even more confused, and now worried that she was angry with him.

She sighed. "I know," she told him. "It just makes you look so much older."

He sniffed. "I am older," he told her, then paused. "And that did hurt," he added resentfully. "What was that for?"

"Hmm?" she looked up, the curls and loops of her hair framing her face and falling over each other in the slight breeze. "Oh, that was for not intervening in the fight."

"I didn't know that was my responsibility."

She gave him a sharp look, as though she suspected he was being disingenuous on purpose. When she apparently discerned that his confusion was authentic she shook her head, lips thinning. "Don't you listen to anything your father teaches you?" she demanded.

"Of course I do!" he said defensively.

"Then what is the correct action of a lord upon witnessing iniquity amongst his subjects?"

Sesshoumaru wanted to kick himself. "To rectify it," he replied.

"Exactly. Would you like to tell me why you chose to allow that display of barbarism in my garden instead of intervening and putting a stop to it?"

Sesshoumaru sighed. "Because a man never raises a hand to a woman unless she is an enemy," he told her. Across the back of his mind the angry face of his father floated, and he remembered the feel of claws digging into his cheeks as he was lifted from the ground and thrown into the side of the storehouse, in punishment for slapping a female cousin in retaliation for a sleight he could not remember. He remembered the lesson, though.

In front of him her eyes softened, and the line of tension in her neck that he had not noticed until then melted away. "I see," she said. "But what about the boy? He was weak - why did you not help him?"

His brow furrowed as he tried to recall his thoughts. "Because a boy should learn to be strong, and pain tempers the soul," he said finally.

"I see," she said again. He watched as she brought her kimono-clad hands to her face, as though hiding a smile from him. She appeared to be thinking.

"Sesshoumaru," she said after a moment, "how old was that boy?"

He shrugged, unsure as to where she was taking this train of thought. "He looked young - perhaps half my age," he hazarded. Youkai ages were so difficult to pinpoint - he himself looked like a human being would look at ten years, but he was far, far older than that. The boy was not nearly as strong nor as pure as he, so he might have been ten years old, twenty years, even fifty years, or he might have been as old as he appeared - around five or so. Either way, he was clearly young.

His mother was nodding. "So he was a child?" she said.

This seemed like a trick question. "...yes?" he ventured.

She giggled at his hesitation. "And the girl, she was a child as well?"

"They were all children."

"They are all weak," she said.

Sesshoumaru opened his mouth to protest that the weak needed to learn to be strong or perish, but she raised a hand. "Ah!" she said. "Tell me, son: when a child is hurt, who suffers the most because of it?"

He was about to answer, "the child," but sensed a trap and thought better of it. He tried to think back to the times when he was much younger and could still cry at minor injuries. He would fall, or hit something too hard, scrape his knee or his hand, and then there was the cut and the wail, and then his mother was always there, drying his tears and holding him close, smelling anxious and protective and warm -

His mouth twisted. "Its mother suffers the most," he replied.

"And a mother is always...?"

He saw the point she was making. "A female."

"Right!" she smiled at him. "A female. So, by not protecting children, you are actually hurting...?"

Sesshoumaru sighed. This lordship thing seemed to get more and more complicated every day. "A woman."

"Which a man does not do, unless she's an enemy," his mother filled in the last parts herself. "So it is your duty to protect children not because they are weak - though that is also a perfectly acceptable reason - but because the pain they suffer spreads to those you should never injure, even if the injury is through neglect."

"I can't protect all children," he protested.

She snorted. "Well. no one expects you to. You do the task in front of you, not all the tasks in the world, because not even you can do that, no matter how fast or strong you are."

Something must have flashed across his face then, because she frowned. "What's wrong?"

Sesshoumaru thought of his failure that morning. "I'm not fast anyway," he said.

"Is this about your training today? With the birds?"

He nodded, wondering how she knew. He watched her face break into her grin, her fangs appearing eerily white in the shade of the tree. "Your father told me about it. He said your progress is wonderful."

"But not perfect," he replied.

Her grin faded a little, and she looked almost disappointed before she slid her eyes away from his and out across the garden. "No," she said, "not perfect. But nothing is."

"Well, I can try," he said, trying to erase the sadness that had settled across her face.

It seemed to work, as she turned to him and grinned again. "Yes, you can," she replied. "And now let's go inside and have lunch. Breaking up fights makes me famished."

Sesshoumaru smiled one of his rare smiles that he reserved for her, and they went in the house together.

. . .

Sesshoumaru looked sixteen when his mother died.

The illness had been a long one, one that they could all smell but none could cure, so her family stood helplessly by as she wasted away, deteriorated before their eyes, and was gone in one turn of the seasons, disappearing into the fluttering fold between summer and autumn. They burned her until nothing of her remained behind; there was no memorial, nothing to mark her existence, nothing to say, here, she was here. As though she had stepped out through a window and into a mist she faded from view; only the wave of her wild silver hair and the soft swell of an indigo sleeve could be seen as she fell away into the world, and then they, too, were gone, as if they had never been.

Though this was the first grief his heart had ever known, Sesshoumaru did not cry. He did not speak either; it felt as if her death had dropped into him, sending out a ripple, a swell, a wave that washed over his mind and swept it clean of words. He had nothing to say.

Nothing, that is, until he found out about Izayoi.

It was just rumors at first, trickling in only two weeks after his mother had passed out of the land of the living: the Inu no Taisho had a lover.

At first Sesshoumaru brushed these rumors aside in imitation of his mother's nonchalance, but they grew more insistent, increasingly detailed: she was young, she was a hime, she was human. She had long black hair, a small, sweet face, demure bearing - everything his mother had not been.

And then more. The Inu no Taisho loved her. He had first taken her to bed when Lady Takara had fallen ill.

She was pregnant.

When he finally confronted his father, it was the last time he saw him alive.

His father was preparing for battle, strapping on his armor, readying his sword, tying his hair in his customary style, and Sesshoumaru stood behind him, watching him prepare.

"Is it true?" he demanded, and he reflected that his father had taught him well in one way at least: his voice betrayed no emotion. He wasn't even certain he felt anything at all.

Before him, his father's hands stilled as he tightened the straps that held his armor in place, as though thinking, and Sesshoumaru didn't have to hear his quiet yes to know the answer. And it turned out he wasn't as mature as he thought he was, because his youki flared and a snarl curled his lips as he turned to leave.

"My son."

Sesshoumaru stopped, though he did not turn around.

"I am going to fight; there is a challenge against me," his father said, and his once rich voice fell flat upon the floor. He didn't have to say why - the rumors were true, so his weakness was plain as sunlight. She was vulnerable, expendable, and his father was devoted to her, this thing so brief and frail. Anyone who would allow himself to love a perfect pawn, a thing so easily turned into a wound, was weak, and weak leaders are not leaders for long.

Sesshoumaru waited as his father took a deep breath and ruined all.

"If I should not return, you have an obligation."

"I do not."

"You do!" His father never raised his voice in anger, and in his skin, Sesshoumaru shuddered.

"You do," his father said again, quietly. "Your brother. You cannot let him die."

For a long moment Sesshoumaru said nothing, could not find the words, could not dredge his voice from the depths of his chest. What words could tell his father of the depth of his betrayal, of how little his traitorous actions deserved recognition? What words could convey the end of his affection?

Finally he opened his mouth.

"I can."

Sesshoumaru left, and never promised his father that he would see to his new child. When his father died against Ryuukotsusei in the cold of the coming winter, Sesshoumaru wondered how difficult it had been to choose between his child and the people who depended on his strength. Perhaps he didn't choose; perhaps he thought he would survive.

Perhaps he thought his son would grant his last request.

When he heard his father was dead, Sesshoumaru left the House of the Moon to find his father's mistress and kill her.

It was not difficult to find her - every species loves to gossip, loves to know what is going on, and so he found himself before a castle one dark night, listening to the cries of the sentries as they tried to determine who he was. He did not answer their queries, merely leapt over the walls and listened to their calls grow to shrieks of surprise and alarm. The youkai, they yelled, and he knew they thought he was his father, the one who had defiled their princess.

But who cared what humans thought, after all? He landed inside the gates and strolled up the steps to the house, turning only once to slice arrows out of the air. They fell around his feet and he turned and continued into the grand mansion before him.

The floors were slick, and all around was the stench of fear and despair, the smell of humans who fear death, and he stalked from room to room, following the faint scent of a pregnant female, not even bothering to kill those who tried to block his path.

He found her in a dark room, sequestered away from everyone. She had no maidservants with her, and only the light of the moon from the window illuminated her form.

The rumors had been right - she was nothing like his mother, nothing like the love of his father's life who had been so easily abandoned. She crouched on the floor, frozen in fear, her hands circling round her swollen belly protectively, as though she could soothe the baby inside her, as though she could save him with only her love.

She was weeping, large, silent tears, and the bright white smell of her terror cut sharply through her motherly scent.

"Please," she begged, curled around the child that would kill her if something was not done soon. "Please, spare us. Spare him!"

He ached to kill her. She was an enemy. She was a stain. She had defiled the purity of his house, the tranquility of his family.

He couldn't stop staring at her hands, her fingers without claws, gentle and trembling as they moved over her child, hidden in her body, the child that would be entombed soon enough. He looked up into her large, pleading eyes, glossy with tears, and he felt a stab of searing blue pain lance through his chest.

Mothers and children, he thought distantly, his mind buckling beneath him, tipping him over, betraying him. Children and women. He wondered if his mother had meant this when she had taught him that duty.

Growling, he turned and leapt from the window into the snow, fingers bare of the blood he sought.

He made the journey. It was the same sort of journey that all who sired hanyou children and wished them to live went through: the long trek, the fight, and the bargaining.

So Sesshoumaru went south and south again, over the islands, into their caves. He fought and defeated the blind fireworm at the final pass, touched down on the shores of the underground lake, took tea with the youkai who tended the plants of the deep and dark that would save the hime and her half-breed son.

"It is not your child?" the old, wizened youkai asked, stroking his strange, mossy beard and pinning Sesshoumaru with a fishy glare.

"It is my father's. The child is my half-brother."

"You don't seem too happy about that."

"I am not."

The youkai pursed his enormous lips. "You could let them die," he said.

"I could."

Sesshoumaru did not waver beneath the heavy gaze. Finally the youkai nodded. "I see. Very well."

"What is your price?"

Giving a sharp laugh as he turned away, the old youkai simply shook his head and would not answer. An hour later Sesshoumaru found himself outside in the sunlight, a package of weeds and mushrooms in his hands and a miserable anger curdling sour on his tongue. He almost threw the parcel in the ocean.

He did not, though. He returned, once again leaping over the walls in the dead of winter to the tune of frightened guards and moving through the house like a sinister star, pale and shining, dark and cruel.

She was dying, with two maidservants tending her. Her attendants cowered in the corner as he entered the room and gazed down at her wavering form. He listened as her labored breathing filled the room, and when she turned to look at him, her luminous dark eyes were just sad voids in her painfully thin face. Her child was killing her, and she was killing him in turn. They would die together.

Sesshoumaru tossed the package at one of the maidservants, who shrieked when it hit the back of the upraised hands that shielded her face. It dropped to the ground, making a damp sound as it bounced twice on the floor before coming to a standstill.

"Boil that," he ordered. "Make her drink it. Be ready for the birth."

He turned to the window by which he had left when last he'd been there, but a choking sound stopped him.

"S... sess..."

He looked over his shoulder. She was trying to sit up, and one of the maids was holding her down. When she saw that he had turned, she ceased her struggles, falling back.

"Sesshoumaru," she said. She knew his name, and he had to fight to keep his lip from curling into a warning growl. She was oblivious to his disgust.

"Thank you." Her voice was edged in a grateful sob. "Thank you."

He left, and never told her he would kill her son.

. . .

Kagome sat quietly in the dark and tried to glue the pieces of her brain back together. She wasn't doing very well. Entirely aside from the sudden sadness that woke in her breast at the sound of Inuyasha's name, a great deal of difficulty stemmed from all her past experiences. For almost two minutes she tried to take this new bit of information and jam it in between the other bits she knew, but it just wasn't fitting properly. In fact, there didn't even seem to be any room for it anywhere in her list of Sesshoumaru's attributes. She had cruel, bloodthirsty, remorseless, merciless, sadistic, weirdly honorable, not entirely poor conversationalist, decent company, fondness for little girls - which, given one's perspective, could be either completely consistent with the other aspects of his personality or merely a benign anomaly - wants to kill Akiyama's infant son, tried to kill me, saved me, fought with us, and hated his brother and wanted him dead. At the very least, the last one was in direct opposition to his declaration that he had saved Inuyasha and his mother from certain death, and she did not possess the mental agility necessary for the acrobatics required to fit all both bits of information in her head at once.

Sesshoumaru was silent. She shifted in the warm blackness of the cave.

"Um," she said.

He didn't move. Kagome took this as, if not encouraging, then at least sign that was not discouraging. She decided to go for it. "Er, keeping in mind that I am most definitely not calling you a liar," she ventured, "I don't believe you."

Sesshoumaru shifted. "That is calling me a liar, and why not?" he asked. Kagome strained to hear an edge of malice in his voice, but he just sounded tired.

"Well, you did try to kill Inuyasha a lot, for starters," she pointed out.

"That is not inconsistent with my actions."

"Yes, it is."

"How so?"

"Because if you wanted him dead, you would have just let him and his mother die," she pointed out, trying to ignore the nagging suspicion that she was failing to grasp a basic and fundamental concept. Perhaps Sesshoumaru simply showed his affection by putting his entire hand through one's stomach. Maybe removing one's liver was just his way of saying it's good to see you, what a fine day, care for some sake? Oh, my mistake. Let's have tea instead. Maybe Inuyasha had been into that sort of thing, and Sesshoumaru was only kindly acquiescing to his wishes, although thinking about that just brought up all sorts of issues that were probably best left untouched. Kagome shoved the thought out of her brain and waited for him to answer.

After a moment, she heard him sigh. "I was not trained to kill women and children; when the time came, I could not," he said tersely. "That is all you need to know."

Kagome frowned. "You tried to kill me," she pointed out helpfully. "And Kouga said you wanted to kill his baby grandson, an action which, I might add, I do not approve of at all. And you didn't even have to kill them - you could have just not done anything."

"I did try to kill you," he agreed, tackling her first assertion, "but at the time you were an enemy."

"So you can kill women if they're enemies?"

"Yes, though I have relaxed my standards since my youth."

Kagome did not find this comforting. "You mean, you have less of a problem killing women now?"

There was a rustle of clothing which might have been a shrug. "Since sparing Inuyasha and his mother brought down an excess of troubles on me - an excess that could have been at least stemmed if I killed him, even later in life - I have decided that strict adherence to that aspect of my training might, in certain circumstances, be overlooked. I have also learned that a direct attack is not necessary for one to be considered an enemy."

He spoke of killing so blandly, as if it were something he didn't have to think about. Which he didn't. He was a demon. Kagome felt cold, and burrowed deeper underneath her blanket. "So if you had to do it again, would you have let them die?" she asked, her voice small even in the confines of the cave.

He took almost a full minute to answer, and she thought he was going to ignore her question until he gave a slight cough. "It is pointless to speculate on that," he said carefully. "Though I will admit that life would have been a good deal less exciting had I allowed them to perish."

Ha! she thought. That's good enough for me. But... "I still don't get it. You didn't even have to do anything - you wouldn't have been directly responsible for their deaths if you hadn't gone," she insisted.

He snorted softly. "That is incorrect. Failure to act honorably is just as grievous as acting dishonorably."

A small part of her secretly suspected that this explanation was not the entirety of his reasons for acting the way he did. She thought of his little girl. "You still don't like killing women and children, do you?" she asked, though it was more of a small revelation that only needed confirmation than a question.

He granted it. "Not really," he said. "I try to avoid it whenever possible."

"Then why do you want to kill the baby?"

She heard him sigh. "Because Kouga owes me a life."


"That is really not any of your business."

Kagome bit her lip, chastised. "I'm sorry. It just seems... I don't know, would you have really killed the baby if Kouga hadn't forced you to take this mission?"

"Do you think I wouldn't?" he asked after a moment, and he seemed genuinely curious.

She wondered what he was waiting for her to say. She wondered if a life hung on her words. She wondered why she thought he cared about her opinion on the matter. With trepidation she cleared her throat. "I think you wouldn't," she announced. "You wouldn't kill a baby." With a jolt of surprise, she found that she was telling the truth.

He seemed amused. "And why do you think that?"

Kagome sniffed. "Because you are honorable, in your own way. Because I think that when the time came again, you would find that it's beneath you to kill an infant."

"Perhaps," he said, and she thought she heard a note of sadness in his voice, though what that note would be ringing for, assuming it was there at all, was impossible to tell.

Sadness. Something tugged at her heart. "Do you like children?" she wondered out loud.

"I do not mind them terribly much."

Kagome closed her eyes and thought of Inuyasha; less than a decade separated them, but he was still in her heart. Faded now, drifting into the background, but always, always there.

The demon next to her was almost fifty years from the place where he had been dismantled. Even though she tried to choose her words carefully, when they came out they felt wrong, as though they filled her mouth with angles that were difficult to speak around, that pierced her tongue and made it impossible to talk without pain.

"Do you - do you still miss her?"

He was silent for a long time, and when he did speak, his voice sounded almost rusty, as though the words he used to speak of her had corroded with neglect. "At the strangest times," he said, and he sounded both far away from her, and so close he might as well have been beneath her skin.

She was silent, and he seemed to be waiting. Then, "Why do you ask?" he said softly.

She shook her head, swallowing around the lump in her throat, wondering the same thing herself, wondering why she had to bring it up. "I was just wondering if it went away eventually." Her voice didn't crack.

Sesshoumaru remembered her grief when they had first spoken alone, the tears that he smelled but that failed to fall. "You still think of them," he said.

The air inside the little cave suddenly seemed heavy with their thoughts, and Kagome had trouble sucking enough into her lungs to respond.

"Almost every day," she replied finally, voice strangled.

She heard him breathing slowly as he turned this over in his head. "You yourself said that it felt like forever," he told her finally. "And our griefs are different."

She gave a watery laugh. "Did I say that?"

"You don't remember?"

She shook her head. "Maybe if I did I wouldn't be so sad," she told him. "It seemed to have worked for you."

"You do not act sad," he said. With a jolt she realized that she didn't, for the most part. The burden of lost love - it was there, but it did not bow her shoulders; it lived in her heart, but it did not anchor it. Feeling strangely light, she wondered when she had shed her mourning.

He rustled in the silence. "Tell me, miko," he said, "if you had it to do again, would you?"

She swallowed and closed her eyes. She thought of the fairytale happiness she had been able to give her love and her former self. She thought of the friends she had gathered to her, who were now only ghosts clutched to her heart. She thought of things lost and gained, irreparable, irrevocable, irreplaceable.

"I think so," she said finally. "And you?"

Sesshoumaru knew what she was asking. Almost unconsciously his hand drifted to the hilt of Tenseiga, and he remembered what it felt like to erase the damage done.

"I think so as well," he said, very quietly, and the memory of how he had looked in the firelight at their first meeting drifted across her mind.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't mean to bring that up."

He rustled again, and the tension seemed to snap; she could breathe again.

"Do not worry about it," he murmured. "You should try to sleep."

She just nodded and turned away from him. She stared into the blackness, and in her chest she felt an ache that for a moment she could not identify, but after a second of puzzlement she suddenly realized what it was.

Kagome felt helpless. She had stirred his sadnesses, called up his despair, and now she had no way to comfort him, to obscure those things again. She had done it once - or maybe she had stirred them just enough that he had been galvanized into action by the pain - but she wasn't certain she could comfort him with only words, and the wrong words could ruin everything. It would be so much easier if she could touch him. The impulse to embrace him caused her arms to tense involuntarily, but she quickly squashed the inclination, as in a flash she realized that she wished also that he would hold her and soothe away the lingering pain. She needed to be embraced. Kagome tried to suppress the blush that spread across her face, though she was not certain why she was embarrassed.

I keep hoping I'm strong enough, she thought. I keep hoping I won't need anyone again.

But she still wanted to need someone, and that knowledge left her full of an emptiness that she knew might never be erased.

Kagome curled around her aching heart and closed her eyes.

She was sinking into sleep. Sesshoumaru listened to her settle further in and wondered why they had slipped back into things so dark he'd thought to keep them from everyone, had thought to lock them away forever.

He wondered if she was right about the baby, about him, and it was almost painful to realize that he hoped she was.

Sesshoumaru ran a hand over his face, as though he could wipe away his small revelations. She was confusing him again, and this time not with her strange words and constant chatter, but with her sparse and simple words that called up things forgotten, turned them over, let them settle again in a different pattern. Would he have let them die, if he had his life to do over? Would he have given all of this up for something unknown? Would he do it the same way again?

He truly did not know.

In his chest he felt a curl of exhilaration drift up, like smoke, and he thought, very quietly, that if he had chosen differently he would not have known Rin, would not have reached his peace with his father's decision, would not have understood how dear his life was had he not lost it all and gained it back again. Would not be strong. Would not be sitting in a cave on a desolate mountain, listening to this strange, frustrating priestess sink into sleep. Would not, at this moment, find himself strangely content.

Of course, tomorrow they would venture back out into the cold, and he would remember why he was in a bad mood, but now it didn't seem as burdensome as he had believed. Right now, he was warm, almost comfortable, and, most importantly, purposeful. He had things to do: pay his debts, fulfill his obligations, return home, rule, lead, reign.

He wondered if she knew the enormity of what she had given him.

In the darkness, Sesshoumaru closed his eyes, listened to the rhythm of Kagome's breath, and sank into stillness.

. . .

Sesshoumaru had to admit that changing his mind about carrying her had its advantages. For one, they were going far faster than they would have ever managed with her on foot. For another, choosing to carry her on his back was both less tiring for him, and more dignified for her. Not to mention the priceless look on her face when he had swept his hair to the side and offered his back to her.

"Are you certain?" she'd asked, hesitating, clearly hoping that he was.

"Do you enjoy the mountains so much that you wish to linger here longer than necessary?" he'd replied.


"Very well. This will allow the greatest amount of haste. Let us depart."

Not bothering to ask him again she'd gripped his shoulders and he'd looped his arms beneath her knees, hoisting her against his sides and avoiding his weapons. When he was satisfied she was secure, he'd leapt away, taking a small amount of satisfaction in her quick intake of breath at his speed.

So the decision was a good one for a number of reasons. On the other hand, this meant she could prattle directly in his ear.

Her awe and gratitude had, unfortunately, quickly waned. "Are we there yet?" she asked for the fiftieth time, clearly believing that asking would speed his steps, when all it did was prompt him to silently revisit his earlier threats to toss her into the void below them, though now that she had decided he wasn't a creature entirely without honor those threats would most likely have little effect. He sighed mentally, weighing his options.

He could throw her back over his shoulder. He could tear off a strip of his kimono and stuff it in her mouth. He could bash his head repeatedly against a rock until he lost his hearing.

Or he could always ask her.

"Are we there yet?" she said. For some reason he heard a smile in her voice. He ignored it.

"No. Do not ask me that again."

She harumphed, displeased, and the puff of warm air she sent across his ear caused a shiver to skitter down his spine, pattering over his skin with tiny paws. His grip on her legs tightened reflexively, as though to still her, which only earned him another gasp before she tripped into her next question. "Ah - um, why not?" she demanded, a little breathlessly.

He thought the answer was obvious. "Because it is annoying," he replied.

On his shoulders, her hands twitched. "Yes, but it's also annoying to not know how long it will take to get there. Like, are we going to have to spend another night in a cave, or what?"

He shrugged. "Most likely."

She made a frustrated noise. "Is it really that far?"

Kagome watched as he turned his head to glance back at her his lips twitching slightly. "I am uncertain," he said finally before turning back to their path.

She groaned inwardly. Did the inability to ask for directions cross species or something? She was ready to get there, do whatever trial by fire they had to do - though, she suspected, it would mostly be his job to prove their worth - grab the medicine and go home. "Why don't you know?" she demanded.

It was his turn to make a frustrated noise at her. "Because the directions are never terribly detailed," he replied snippily. "Did you not wonder why there weren't more hanyou?"

She had to admit that she really hadn't. Kagome felt as though she had forgotten to study for a test. "Er," she hazarded. "Cultural prejudice?"

Sesshoumaru was not entirely certain what she meant by that, but as it didn't sound like, 'because it's really damn difficult to save the child and the mother,' he shook his head. "Because it is dangerous to ensure their survival, and they are not useful, nor are they desirable."

She appeared to digest this for a moment. "You mean," she said, sounding horrified, "they just let their children and their lovers die?"

She really was so sentimental. "For the most part, yes, though the more sociable animals - like the wolves - tend to at least attempt to save any unwanted progeny. To not do so goes against their nature."

"Then why aren't there more wolf hanyous?" she asked.

"Most likely because the wolves tend to avoid getting themselves into such a predicament," he replied, "because they would then feel obligated to walk into the jaws of near-certain death for a child that would do nothing for them or their line."

Kagome felt a trickle of unease. "Wait, what?" she demanded.

Sesshoumaru frowned. "What?" he replied.

Fortunately, she clarified. "Did you say near-certain death? Because I don't recall signing on for near-certain death," she told him. Unconsciously she tightened her grip on him, as though she could shield herself from the unknown terrors ahead by hiding behind him. Which, he supposed, was essentially the plan.

"You are forgetting who I am," he reminded her. "I will certainly not die, especially not for that bastard wolf and his careless son." Still, though he did not necessarily want to admit it, he did feel a little prickle of pride knowing that of all the wolves none of them were strong enough to make this journey, whereas it was merely another diversion for him.

He sighed. Sometimes it was so difficult being the best.

Kagome was still not convinced. "Well, you may not die, but I'm really not that good at not dying," she told him. "I'm all squishy and easily hurt."

He sniffed at this assessment. "Despite your obvious disadvantages, you appear to have managed well enough so far," he replied blandly.

Kagome blinked at his words. Was that a compliment? she wondered. If it had been, it was extremely back-handed, so she said nothing, uncertain of how he had meant his statement. Instead, she rested her chin on his shoulder and tried to swallow the anxiety that had become stuck in her throat.

For a while neither of them spoke, and she watched the barren landscape whisk by them while suppressing the urge to bury her face in his hair. Purely, she insisted to herself, for practical reasons. My cheeks are going to fall off. At least Sesshoumaru was warm - she could feel the heat of his body through his thick kimono - so her fingers were not faring as badly as her face.

Still. "How will you know when we're there?" she asked.

"I suspect that we will find out rather quickly," he said.

Kagome didn't like the sound of that. "What were the directions they gave you?"

He shrugged. "Head north toward the tallest mountain I can find. I am assuming at some point we will discover the trial we have to surmount."

"What is the trial?" she asked, voice wavering.

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes briefly in irritation. "Depends," he sighed. "Sometimes it is a puzzle, but usually it is a fight."

"A fight?" Against his shoulders, he felt her hands quiver as if in anxiety. He frowned as he glanced down at his feet, negotiating a particularly difficult run of footing.

"Yes. For example, I defeated a fire-worm when I made the journey, though there are many different creatures it could be, though the wolves were not certain which creature guarded the way to their medicine woman."

"Uh-huh," she said.

His frown deepened. Now that he thought of it, there might have been a little too much hemming and hawing over that particular detail. Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes and began to list, as much for himself as for her, the sentries they might be forced to fight.

"Worm, fire-cat, elemental - usually storm or fire, but occasionally wind or water - spider, eagle, crow, kitsune - "

"Dragon," she said.

"Yes, dragons, too, though probably not - "

"No," she said urgently. "Dragon." She pointed.

He nearly stumbled as he looked up, following her direction. They were moving fast across steeply sloped mountainside, in the direction of the junction of two peaks, through which he could see the summit they had been heading for. But that wasn't what caught his eye.

Slowly detaching itself from the little valley between the peaks was the enormous white head of a dragon. He watched as it snaked upwards into the sky, nearly as tall as the mountains that cradled it. Sesshoumaru huffed in annoyance.

"Yes, dragon," he said wearily. It must have felt him approaching. Well, it wasn't as though he hadn't defeated many dragons in the course of his life; they tended to be a nuisance, but nothing that he could not dispatch with moderate expediency.

Heaving a sigh, Sesshoumaru leapt out from the mountainside, in the direction of the valley. His passenger emitted a tiny squeak, though of fear or surprise he could not tell. It wasn't important at any rate. In less than a minute he touched down behind an outcropping of snow-covered boulders, bracing awkwardly against the slope as he let the miko jump down from his back. She scrabbled in the snow for purchase, hissing at the cold.

"Stay here," he commanded. "This will not take long."

She just nodded, teeth chattering.

And then he leapt away again, drawing Toukijin from its resting place at his hip, and at the base of his spine his muscles curled over themselves, sliding into place, well-practiced, near-perfect, and all along his back he felt the weight of his sword, slumbering in his hand, and in his chest he felt his heart pulling him upwards into battle.

Sesshoumaru smiled faintly as he touched down directly in front of his foe, felt the coils of his power drawing back, down and under, beneath, and then -

He sprang.

The dragon turned its head and gazed at him lazily with one great blue eye, waiting for him to come within striking distance. Sesshoumaru listened to the cold whistle of the wind past his face, smelled the sharp scent of the snow. Just as languidly, he brought Toukijin up to the opposite shoulder for one swift crosswise slice. All around was silent as he glided through the air, each of them waiting for the opportune moment.

His mind was shutting down, into the curious blankness of battle. Instinctively he held back, even as he grew closer and closer, and watched, detached, as the dragon loomed blinding white against the grey sky. They gazed at each other, opponents in the pretrembling of a battle about to burst.

Then dragon belched a cloud of white smoke so large it spread out against the flanking summits, down and up, blooming. Sesshoumaru watched as it thickened, obscuring his enemy.

His eyes narrowed, the steady beat of his heart faltering fractionally before he brought Toukijin down in one sharp stroke - muscles, sliding cleanly, a good cut - sending its cutting pressure into the cloud, clearing a path. Without hesitation he darted forward and up, into the blinding fog as it silently crashed down around him.

For one endless moment, there was nothing but the whiteness that bound him, disoriented him, and then he felt his skin begin to burn and bubble, his lungs suddenly filled with splinters, throat pierced with poisonous claws so vile he might have cried out if he could have drawn the breath to do so. Immediately he changed course, shooting high up into the air, above the venomous fog and into the clear sky. He coughed, tasted blood, ground his teeth as he somersaulted backwards in midair, away, away.

At the edge of his mind, he could hear the snow hissing, and beneath the snow the mountainside sizzled and melted beneath a poison so strong it wounded even him.

Damn, he thought angrily. He darted forward again, this time slashing quickly, clearing the fog ahead of him just enough to swoop through, but within seconds the air buoyed the poisonous cloud up and inwards, burning him again, forcing him up and away, back down into the valley where he had begun, watching with frustration as it billowed ever outwards like a toxic avalanche.

He would have to take damage. There was no way around it. Swiftly he launched himself in the air, as high as he could go, so far that he could see the dragon curled indolently in its nest, watching him with mild interest. This time, he would be prepared, would be able to clear enough poison away to strike; if the strike was true, it would end this.

He shot downwards, only to meet another rising venomous mist. He strove, blinded, choked, forward, forward, slash - his target eluded him.

Bastard! he growled silently, once again tumbling backwards out of harm's way, his flesh stinging where it healed in the icy air, clothing smoking at the edges. He reached safety within the blink of an eye, scowling, mind racing, wildly searching for the way through. He tensed for another charge, brought a hand up to his mouth, began to wipe away the blood -


The world slowed to a crawl.

His heart stuttered as he pivoted, moving as though through water. Blades of ice through his stomach, he sought out her crimson clothing in the whiteness of the mountainside, found her - there - at the edge of the avalanche, jackknifed, bared his teeth, plummeted - no - hand outstretched, striving, closer, closer, there, closer closer closer almost -

Kagome screamed again as the cloud crested, crashed, and swallowed her whole.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 19 of 42

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