Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 23 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.

- Abraham Lincoln, "Memory"

. . .

When Kagome awoke the next morning she found that the air had turned balmy in the night. Unfortunately the benevolent turn in the weather coupled with the sun climbing in the sky meant that she was sweating beneath the heavy fur, and to add injury to insult her muscles were so sore that she could feel them sliding grittily over one another with even the most simple of movements. Emitting a slight groan and feeling incredibly disgusting as her slimy skin brushed the inside of her clothes, she turned over and pressed her hands to the ground in an attempt to sit up.

She immediately regretted the attempt as sharp pain lanced through her palms and up her arms. She couldn't stifle the cry that escaped her as she went crashing to her forearms. What the -

Oh right. The baby.

Kagome rolled over on her back and kicked the heavy fur away - the muscles that usually laid so peacefully on the tops of her thighs screaming in protest - before bringing her hands to her face and inspecting the damage left by Machiko's teeth. Sure enough, across the lower part of her thumbs - the fleshy mound that shored up the valley of her palm against her fingers - were little crescent moons in blue, purple, and green. Flipping her hands over she saw the mark of Machiko's upper teeth overlapping the back of her hand, mirror images of each other. Quietly, Kagome wondered what had possessed her to offer her hand to the hime to bite down on, but in the heat of the moment it was probably the only thing she had.

Gingerly she pressed her fingers against the bruise on her right hand, hissing when the pain, sudden and aching like the blade of a dull knife, ignited again.

Ow, she thought sullenly. Then, because it didn't seem sufficient to simply think it, she said it out loud.


There. That made her feel slightly better. Kagome supposed that she should feel even better because the baby was healthy and alive, but she had apparently sacrificed her hands for it, and she had liked her hands. Sure, she bit the nails or sometimes cut them while she was chopping onions, and they were extremely resistant to learning how to draw and could never thread a needle, but that didn't mean they deserved this kind of abuse.

Might be time to trade them in for a new model, she mused.

Absentmindedly, Kagome wondered how one went about filing a claim for new hands from the universe; after all, surely the universe owed her something, what with her saving the world and all that one time. Really, it was all so very inconvenient.

And she was still tired, too. She huffed grouchily as she swung her arms forward, letting the momentum carry her into a sitting position, then bent her knees and rested her forehead against them, letting her newly technicolor hands rest on the ground at her sides. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about how hot she was, or how much she wanted to go home and how much she wanted to stay. She listened to her breath as it slid over her lips and into the hollow created by her folded body.


Kagome didn't even bother to look up. "Not now, Kouga," she said. "I'm not really in the mood to talk to anyone. I'm busy."

"You don't look busy," Kouga said. She could hear his feet shifting on the dirt and the dead grass and wondered what he was doing. Not that she had the energy to lift her head and find out.

"Well I am. I am very busy," she repeated.

"Doing what?"

Feeling sorry for myself, she thought, but out loud she answered, "I'm faxing this report." She hoped that was nonsensical enough to keep his brain occupied while she tried to sink back into an aching sleep, though knowing her luck she would fall over, or, at the very least, wake up with a sore neck. Though a sore neck would definitely complete her collection of sore body parts. Then she'd have the whole set.

Kouga didn't answer for a long minute, and Kagome thought she might have earned some peace and quiet for once. Sadly, t was not to be.

"Okay," he said dubiously, "but dog-breath said you might want a bath, and there's a hot spring a few miles away."

Kagome considered this, reflecting that she was so tired and sore that she probably would not have moved if the forest was on fire, nor even if there was a harem of sexy men - all with long, pretty hair, her mind supplied gratuitously - sprawled on a pile of money not ten feet away from her. But a bath... that might be worth dying for.

She lifted her head to see Kouga grinning down at her and she noticed the laugh lines around his eyes branched backwards over his temples, reaching almost to his hairline. In her breast, she felt a slow ache spread, but it was a familiar sensation now, and there didn't seem to be any point in dwelling on it. No one else seemed to do so, after all.

Kouga knelt down in front of her and gently took her wrists in his own hands before rising again.

"Ready?" he asked her.

She nodded, and he carefully pulled her into a standing position before lifting her into his arms and bolting into action.

Now that she had time to think about it, it seemed strange to be held by him again. Kagome reflected absently that at one point the pressure of his hands against the backs of her thighs and cradling her ribs would have made her feel... not aroused, but just a little more sensual than normal. Though of course that had been back when she was only fifteen and had never even been kissed by a boy - much less been held so intimately - but still. She no longer felt sensual, only comforted.

He looks like someone's father, she thought. I mean, he is, but he looks the part, too. That was probably it. Paternity wasn't very sexy, she supposed as she let her head fall against his shoulder, enjoying the feel of the wind in her hair.

She must have dozed off, for she felt her muscles - ow - jerk in surprise when Kouga skidded to a stop, and she blinked sleepily as he set her down. She thought she might just take another nap, but when her eyes alighted on the little pool of water before them, her torpor evaporated.

The spring wasn't large, but it was good enough. With a little cry of joy Kagome kicked off her shoes and peeled her tabi from her feet - they were so dirty that they had become stiff with sweat and the dust of the roads and mountains - before hobbling to a bush and casting a look back at the wolf, who grinned.

"Aw," he said, "you don't want me sticking around? You don't look that bad, you know."

Scowling, she rolled up a stinking sock and threw it at him. He batted it away with a laugh.

"All right, all right," he said with the air of one who is granting a favor, "if you're that shy I'll go away. I'll be back though, so don't take too long."

"Sure, sure," she muttered from behind the bush, her sore hands already working the knot at her waist, eager to be rid of her hakama and her haori. She heard Kouga give a snort, but she didn't bother to answer it, and when she peeked back over the top of the bush, he was gone and she was alone.

Kagome heaved a sigh of relief and stripped her clothes off. She briefly regretted her lack of clothing changes as her current outfit had definitely seen better, cleaner days, but there wasn't any use griping about that. Dipping a toe into the warm water she found, to her delight, that it was the perfect temperature, and without further preamble eased herself as steadily as possible into the spring.

The water crept up over her sticky skin, and she could feel it lifting the muck and grime of her journey from her body. She would have to remember to thank Sesshoumaru for the suggestion -

She drew up short and frowned. With deliberate care she began to splash water over her shoulders and ran her hands over her abdomen to slough off the dirt, but her mind was beginning to poke her with a very uncomfortable thought.

Did he suggest this because I smell bad?

Damn inu-youkai! Kagome couldn't remember any other time when she had been so paranoid about her scent. Even when she was traveling with Inuyasha it didn't seem to be much of a problem, but now that she was hanging out with the youkai lord who was always white and pristine -

- a vision of Sesshoumaru, red and gray with bits of dragon in his hair flashed across her mind -

- unless he absolutely couldn't help it, she felt rather dull and dirty.

Angrily Kagome splashed her face with water and tried to scrub away her sudden inferiority complex. At least Inuyasha had taken the same relaxed attitude toward bathing that most people in this era did, but she wasn't positive Sesshoumaru could get dirty without a concerted effort. It seemed very unfair.

On the other hand, why did she care? There was probably some deep-seated psychological reason that made her want to be at least presentable around him; after all, everyone wanted to look pleasing to beautiful members of the opposite sex, didn't they? Even if they were childish, emotionally stunted jerks? Of course.

Stupid psyche, she thought. Stupid psyche with its stupid complexes and stupid, stupid subconscious and weird Freudian... things...

Setting her jaw in resolve, Kagome shoved this line of thought from her mind, for it was sure to lead only to places she didn't want to go. Sesshoumaru was just going to have to deal with the fact that she was a human being, and human beings collected dirt like rats collected bubonic plague.

Ew. Plague. And rats.

She really was tired. Kagome sighed as she ran her fingernails down the trough behind her ears, scooping out the dirt that had settled there, and wished for the five thousand six hundred and twenty-sixth time that her backpack hadn't been melted. She could really use the shampoo that she had packed. And the soap. And especially a new pair of panties. When she got home she would have to throw this pair out, not only because they were dirty, but also because she was sure that she would go into post-traumatic shock if she ever saw them again. Briefly Kagome envisioned herself opening up her dresser drawers, having a flashback, and then dropping into a catatonic coma - or convulsions, or whatever the symptoms of post-traumatic shock were - at the sight of her panties.

She giggled and began to rub her skin with the flat of her nails, scraping off the grime. When I get home, she thought, I'm never going to think of this whole debacle ever again. It couldn't possibly be good for my mental health.

Well, maybe she would remember Kouga, and she would remember Myouga. She was positive she would remember Sesshoumaru, and if she saw Miroku or San -

Kagome stilled beneath the water. She'd almost forgotten to ask Kouga about her friends! Stupid, stupid, she berated herself, how could you forget them?

I've been a little occupied, she guiltily snapped at her conscience. She was vaguely aware that holding conversations with herself was not the most sane of activities, but after recent events she felt a little crazy anyway.

It's not like I wanted to forget about them. I want to see them again.

I think.

It wouldn't be the same as it was with Kouga. This time she would be prepared for the fact that they had moved past her; they were her family here. They would be older, but they would still be themselves, like Kouga was still himself, even though he was more mature. It would be fine. There would be hugs, and kisses, and tears -

Troubled, Kagome finished scrubbing her skin before leaning back and dipping her hair in the water, running her fingers through it and finding only tangles. She winced, pulling at it for a full five minutes before she sighed with defeat - the universe didn't want her to have presentable hair, and she didn't have the energy to argue with the universe - and climbed out onto the dry grass.

She was a little chilly, but she was truly clean for the first time in weeks, and she sighed in grateful contentment as she slid back into her dry, sun-warmed clothes. As she tied her hakama back into place and ruefully pulled her stiff socks - which were probably permanently molded into the shape of her feet - over her toes, she heard Kouga's distant shout, warning her of his approach in case she should be indecent.

Kagome listened to his rapidly approaching feet and frowned. Now that she was finally fully awake, she was beginning to notice something slightly different about today.

Where's Sesshoumaru? She hadn't seen him upon waking, and this was the first day in almost two weeks that she had opened her eyes and not seen him. Did I really smell that bad? She sighed with annoyance, trying to ignore the little stab of pain at such a dismissal, when Kouga slid to a stop in front of her and grinned. For some reason, that made her hurt more.

"Hey there," he said, putting his hands on his hips and flashing his old, devilish grin, "ready to go back?"

Stiffly, she nodded. She thought she saw a flicker of concern in his face, but it was gone as soon as she had spotted it. With rough care Kouga strode over to her and scooped her up again before taking off down the little path back to the village.

Kagome leaned against his shoulder, feeling the coarse fur he wore prickle against her temple, and tried to quash the faint feeling of rejection that had settled over her heart. It was probably one of the most irrational emotions she had ever experienced, so in addition to the whisper-soft sensation of insecurity she was also angry with herself. What was wrong with her? She just hadn't seen him this morning - it wasn't like he'd cut her out of the will or something.

No, she probably felt this way because she would be leaving soon. Soon. She wanted to return home where women didn't have babies in crude huts and where soap was easily procured. Yet there were the things she would miss, the things she tried not to think about but did anyway. The things she missed were always with her, their bulk welling up beneath the ocean of thought, changing the tides.

There was a time when she would have entertained the fanciful idea of staying forever in the past, but there was so little left of the places and people who had meant so much to her that remaining would have become more of a half-life than the one she had in her own time. There was nothing left for her here except memories; she had discharged her duty, and there was no reason to stay, no reason to injure her heart any more than it already was. Yet spending her remaining time apart from the people she cared for seemed wasteful, as though she were standing on a cliff and merrily throwing each precious minute into the wind and watching as they whipped away, never to be found again.

She needed to ask Kouga now, or risk losing her last chance to see her friends, but when she tried to speak she found that she was almost caught and frozen in place. Why did her tongue lay heavy, like granite, in her mouth? It was so hard to move she was almost surprised that it didn't clack against her teeth.

"Kouga," she finally said. Her voice was grainy, and she tried to clear her throat.

"Hm?" he said, looking down at her, and there was definitely concern in his eyes. Her mouth twisted.

"Kouga, do you know what happened to..." She paused, as if delaying the question would mitigate whatever pain she might encounter in the answer. She thought that perhaps, if she didn't ask, then the deaths or illnesses or sorrows that were merely an abstract maybe at the moment would never solidify into a very real yes.

Kagome licked her lips, and took the step she dreaded to take. " you know what happened to Sango and Miroku? Do you know where Shippou is?"

In the world after the question, there seemed to be only silence.

She felt her heart freeze in its labor when she saw his face melt into pity.

"I am sorry Kagome," he said gently, as the blood drained from her head, "but I do not know where Shippou is."

She heard herself gasp with disappointment and Kouga suddenly looked pained. "But I do know what happened to the monk and the taiji-ya," he told her quickly.

She closed her eyes, not knowing if she wanted to know the answer. Miroku, grin and hand and wise fool and Sango, fiery and guarded and sister -

"They were married," Kouga said, and she let her breath out in a rush as something unwound in her stomach.

"Oh, god," she muttered, and Kagome suddenly felt warm. The blood had returned, was pricking her cheeks with color.

"I know that they settled down after a while in a village to the south of here, and they exterminated demons together for a living."

"Did they have children?" The question popped out of her mouth. "Are they still... still..."

The wolf slowed to a stop, and Kagome looked up to see that they had arrived back at the clearing. She hadn't even noticed. Turning her face back to his, she waited for him to hear the question she was asking.

As if she were breakable - and maybe she was - Kouga set her feet on the ground and helped her stand.

"They had many children," he said quietly, "and Sango is alive."

She heard what he didn't say, dangling from his voice like a half-amputated limb, and her vision became blurred, softening the world and obscuring the anxious sympathy that graced his features. Only when she blinked did she feel the feather-light fall of tears against her cheek.

But Miroku is gone, she finished.

It didn't seem right. One should never have to be without the other.

Kagome swallowed around the thick, spiny lump in her throat and clenched her fists so hard she thought she would draw blood; heedless of her injuries, she felt a ragged lance of pain shoot through her arms as the world melted again.

"Where can I find her?" she asked him. She blinked once more, clearing her eyes of tears so that she could see his face.

His jaw hardened. "Do you think that's wise - " he began.

Kagome whirled away from him, her heart strangled in her chest, and began to walk. Not to anywhere, but from him and his misplaced concern. Miroku was dead, and she needed some time alone to think before she went to see Sango. She stared at the ground and watched it move beneath her, wondering where she would end up as she passed into the forest. High above, the naked branches criss-crossing against each other cast sharp shadows on the ground, and the balmy air dried the tracks of her tears on her skin as Kagome tried to slip out from beneath the past that laid against her so heavily.

. . .

Myouga perched contentedly on his lord's shoulder, meditating as best he could and enjoying the lovely air for once. However, he was feeling vaguely worried about his master, who seemed to be rather preoccupied today, and even - and this was the strange part – slightly anxious. No one else would notice it, but Myouga could feel the tiny little electric jerks coursing down the demon lord's nerves to rest in his muscles in the form of minute twitches. It was almost putting him on edge.

The old flea sighed wearily and did his best to relax, despite his master's jumpiness.

For his part Sesshoumaru unconsciously balanced precariously on his narrow branch and wondered what was taking her so long to finish bathing. Dimly he remembered that the older Rin grew, the more time she spent grooming, but to the best of his knowledge she had never spent this long to complete what should be a simple task. Perhaps she was washing her clothes as well? Perhaps she lingered because she did not want to set out again so soon? Perhaps she drowned?

His claws twitched involuntarily. Sesshoumaru frowned and lifted them to his face, scowling as he inspected them with a critical eye, as if he could discern the reason why they seemed to be developing a mind of their own lately. Nothing seemed amiss, so he laid them back in his lap. He kept an eye on them, though. Just in case they tried anything funny.

Where was she?

"Oi," came the voice of Kouga from beneath him. Sesshoumaru considered for a moment and then decided that he was not feeling particularly diplomatic this morning. He declined to answer. Maybe if he pretended that he couldn't hear Kouga, Kouga would think the same thing.

There was a pause. "Oi!" the wolf said, slightly louder this time, impatience edging through the sound.

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes.

For a moment he thought the wolf was going to go away and leave him in peace, but then he felt something begin to poke him insistently in the leg. He was almost afraid to find out what it was. Opening his eyes again, he leaned over and turned his scowl on Kouga, who was grinning and apparently having a wonderful time poking him with the scabbard of his sword. Sesshoumaru did not find this nearly as amusing as Kouga apparently did.

"That," he informed the wolf as haughtily as possible, "is entirely unnecessary."

"Just wanted to know if you were awake or not," Kouga replied, unfazed. Carelessly he slid his sword back into place.

"And now that you have this information, what are you going to do with it?" Sesshoumaru asked.

Kouga grinned again, though Sesshoumaru thought it looked a little strained. "I'm going to talk to you. But not very much!" he said quickly when the youkai lord closed his eyes in a mute plea to the heavens.

"Very well," Sesshoumaru said, hoping this would not take long. They had a journey to begin.

"Kagome's upset."

Sesshoumaru shifted his position and closed his eyes again. "That is none of my concern," he informed the wolf. And it was none of his concern, though he couldn't help but feel that he was lying.

Kouga seemed to think so as well, because the jaded snort he gave was so loud Sesshoumaru thought it a wonder his empty head did not collapse in on itself. Thankfully he did not further deign to comment on his disbelief. "She wants to see her old friends before she goes home, so it does concern you," he said instead.

Her old companions? Ah, the monk and the huntress. Sesshoumaru was silent, turning this new gem of information over in his mind.

Kouga cleared his throat. "Only one of them is still alive that I know of. She told me she still wanted to see her, and I said that might not be a good idea, and she got all... female on me."

Sesshoumaru cracked an eye. He was not sure what "getting female" might entail as Kagome was certainly one already, but it probably had something to do with the strange transgressions men always seemed to make and involved storming off in a whirlwind of wounded emotions. That was definitely typical female behavior. He had not seen her exhibit it before, but it stood to reason that she would do so occasionally.

He watched as Kouga's face became slightly tinged with red, clearly embarrassed, before frowning. "So," he said, squaring his shoulders, and Sesshoumaru could see him mentally brushing off the slight guilt he no doubt felt, "you should go talk to her about it. You're the one hanging around so she doesn't get hurt and all, so you'll have to go with her." With that announcement the wolf turned and stalked away.

Inwardly, Sesshoumaru sighed. On the one hand this was yet another detour, but on the other hand he didn't think he was ready to go back to the House of the Moon to immerse himself once more in the stultifying work that still waited for him there, and that had no doubt multiplied in his absence. For the briefest of moments he felt a flash of nostalgia for the time when he was still gathering his power to him in order to take back the lands left to him after his father's death. It hadn't been more than half a year after Naraku had been defeated when he had once again tied himself to the land, and freedom was the price he paid for power. It was not surprising that his father had found the same restrictions so onerous that he had been forced to leave for extended periods of time to preserve his sanity. Thinking back to his childhood Sesshoumaru remembered that his father did, occasionally, venture out under the auspices of 'maintenance' of the land; now that he was lord in his father's stead, he understood why.

Would it hurt to be gone for a few more days? But he had probably been gone too long already, he realized almost guiltily; the moon had cycled twice since he had left.

With a huff of annoyance Sesshoumaru tried to decide what to do. Unfortunately, after a few minutes he felt a headache begin to form, so in lieu of deciding the proper course of action he instead decided that he would simply act as a true lord of the land should act and foist the job off onto someone else.

Sesshoumaru lifted his hand. "Myouga," he said sharply, pleased that he had finally thought of a way to force the flea into some modicum of usefulness.

Myouga jumped, eyes snapping open. He was not used to having slept so much and he felt like his head was full of cobwebs, but at the sound of Sesshoumaru's voice he felt the dust blow away and his heart sink. He hadn't been squashed yet today, but that could easily change.

Fervently he hoped that Sesshoumaru had forgotten all about that as he hopped down to rest in Sesshoumaru's outstretched palm and cleared his throat.

"Yes, milord?" he said, trying to keep the little quiver out of his voice.

His old heart nearly stopped when the demon scowled down at him, but that feeling was quickly banished with what he said next.

"Go home," Sesshoumaru said.

There was a pause as Myouga readjusted his internal trajectory to accommodate this sudden but cryptic change in fortune. When it became apparent that Sesshoumaru was not going to clarify his command, he shuffled uncomfortably. "Erm," Myouga ventured. "Why?"

The scowl deepened. "I have been away for too long, and I will be even longer. Go see to things, and make sure all is ready for my return," he said imperiously before turning his face away from the old retainer and staring off into space, a clear dismissal.

Myouga shifted again. He had not heard his lord's voice with such sharp edges since they had left home; it was strange to hear it again. He looked up, wondering what Sesshoumaru was thinking.

Sesshoumaru shot a look at him out of the corner of his eye, and Myouga jumped into action; he did not get as old as he was without some instinct for survival. "Of course, milord!" he said, "I shall depart right away!"

The flea turned and crouched, preparing to jump when Sesshoumaru's voice arrested him again.

"And Myouga - "

Here comes the squishing. I knew he hadn't forgotten, Myouga thought morosely before turning.

There was a slight twitch on Sesshoumaru's lips. " - don't mess everything up," he finished.

"Hmph!" Myouga exclaimed in relief, pretending to be offended. "I would never!" He turned and hopped away, not returning his lord's smile until he was well into the forest.

He wondered if Sesshoumaru knew how much had he looked like his father in that moment.

. . .


Kagome opened her eyes and stared at the tree across from her.

It was a nice tree, and she was willing to bet the tree she was sitting on was also nice, but that didn't change the fact that their roots were bruising her in places entirely unmentionable; it had almost been enough to make her turn back to the campsite until she remembered that she was sulking.

She was mad at Kouga for questioning her impulse to go to Sango. He was a jerk. A sensible, caring jerk, who only wanted the best for her.

What a jerk.

Now it seemed he'd sent an even bigger jerk - one who couldn't even say good morning to her - to drag her back, so Kagome refused to turn around and acknowledge him. Sulking seemed so much more effective. What she was hoping to accomplish by it was a complete mystery, but damned if it wasn't working.

Kagome crossed her arms and sniffed. She was feeling depressed, and Sesshoumaru had not helped any by avoiding her and telling her that she stank, so she was feeling miffed at him as well. He was so rude.

"Kagome," he said again.

She wished he would stop saying her name. It was so considerate of him to call her by her name rather than by 'miko' that she felt petty and mean when she ignored him.

What a jerk.

She turned. "Yes?" she said as icily as she could. It must have been a passable attempt because she thought she saw his eyes widen just a fraction. He didn't answer for a moment, appearing to size her up.

Sesshoumaru stared at her and almost took a step back at the tone of her voice. He had seen her angry, upset, happy, tired, frightened, and content, but he had never seen her be cold. It was just so… well, like him, and if there was one thing in the world that she was not like, it was himself. Her behavior was entirely incongruous and it made him nervous, though he'd rather endure her annoying mood-swings than let her see his confusion.

He kept his customary boredom on his face as he answered. "We will be leaving soon for your companion's village," he told her calmly. "You should say your goodbyes as we will not be returning here."

As he spoke he watched her face, and was astonished to find her frowning even more, her lower lip trembling dangerously as though she were about to cry.

Females, he thought with slight guilt and much exasperation. Wasn't this what she had wanted?

For her part, Kagome was having the unpleasant experience of executing a complete one-eighty in mood despite considerable momentum. Okay, that was unexpected, she thought, off-balance and, she suspected, slightly overwrought. That was... was...

She didn't know what it was. She had been working herself into a miserable froth for almost a quarter of an hour now and she had been hoping to take it out on someone, yet now her circumstances had changed completely and all her melancholy anger was wasted. The petty part of her did feel slightly cheated, but really she was just ashamed.

"We're going to see Sango?" she said, deflating, strangely sad. For a moment she wondered why he would go out of his way like this - after all, the quest was over - but in the end decided that it would probably be unwise to ask lest he explore his motives and reconsider.

He only nodded, but it was good enough for her. Briefly, doubt flashed across her mind, but she quickly banished it; after all, was this not the only thing she had really wanted to do since she had leapt into the past to follow a fairytale?

This was the one selfish desire in which she had allowed herself to indulge, and suddenly it was hers for the taking.

He was already walking away. Painfully she rose to her feet, and, turning, she followed him, watching his long, silvery hair sway beneath the grasping shadows of the trees.

When they arrived back in the clearing, Kouga was already there, looking apologetic.

"I'm sorry - " he began, but she cut him off.

"It's all right. I just..." Kagome paused. Why is it so hard to speak today? "Um... I just have to say goodbye," she finished.

"Oh really?" he replied, raising an eyebrow, straining to be lighthearted. "You didn't say goodbye last time. Are you sure?"

Kagome just sighed, suddenly feeling tired again. Kouga took the hint.

He cleared his throat. "Akiyama's gone hunting, but would you like to say goodbye to Machiko?" he asked gently.

Say goodbye to her? she thought quietly. That's not a bad idea. I wonder how she's doing.

Mutely she nodded her head in assent as she turned to walk the short distance to the hut where the hime - the girl who had brought her back here and made her strange journey possible - rested and recovered from her ordeal. As she wove through the trees, Kagome hoped that she wouldn't come back to find Sesshoumaru and Kouga fighting again, though the thought was enough to put a small but welcome smile on her lips.

The hut was quiet and cozy when she entered, so different from the way it had been last night. When her eyes found Machiko Kagome blushed a little, noticing the baby suckling at her breast, but she quickly squashed her embarrassment. The reaction seemed almost archaic, as if a great deal of time had passed between yesterday and today though in truth it hadn't even been twenty-four hours since Machiko had gone into labor. Kagome smiled at the girl and paced quietly across the floor to settle down next to the bed where the two rested.

"Miko-sama," Machiko said, returning the smile, though she was clearly tired. She seemed so different from the flighty idiot Kagome had met two weeks ago.

"How are you?" Kagome asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the little boy sucking lustily at his mother's breast. Almost envious of the infant, she wondered when the last time she had ever felt that kind of enthusiasm had been. She couldn't quite remember.

"I am doing well," the hime replied, drawing Kagome's eyes away from her son and to her face. Kagome found herself rocked by the strange depth she saw there and looked away.

"Where's - um. Where's Yukiko?" she asked stiffly.

She could hear the smile in Machiko's voice. "I think she is in the village bullying someone into giving us fresh blankets."

A faint, slightly regretful smile tugged at the corners of Kagome's mouth as she thought of this before Machiko broke the quiet, causing her to meet the hime's eyes.

"I cannot thank you enough," she said.

Kagome hesitated, and then shook her head. "There's no need to thank me," she told the girl. "It was my duty."

The girl looked away and was quiet for a moment before she replied. "Aki - Akiyama - " she seemed to stumble over the unfamiliar name, Kagome noted distantly " - told me that you and youkai-sama journeyed far to help me. That surely was not your intention."

No. Not really. Though now that she was thinking on it she was entirely uncertain as to whether or not she would do it over again. There were things she would not have gained if she had not undertaken the task. Shifting uncomfortably Kagome looked down at her hands and noticed that she was unconsciously rubbing her thumbs over her scars.

I will never see her again, she thought, trying to make it real.

I will never know if they will be happy. I will never find out what happens after this. I will never be able to come back.

I will carry these scars all my life.

Kagome was silent for a long moment, letting her fingertips trail lightly over the newly tight, textured skin, and bit her lip.

"It was my happy obligation," she finally said. "I could not do otherwise."

A small hand darted across her lap and grabbed her fingers as though to still the restlessness, and Kagome looked up into wide, sympathetic eyes - dark and kind and suddenly wiser than her own.

The hime smiled sweetly.

"You'll be all right," she said, as if she knew.

Kagome thought she might cry.

Then Machiko released her hands and went back to tending her son, softly stroking his tiny ears with one slender finger. If she hadn't seen the infant actually come into the world, Kagome would have never believed that a girl so petite could give birth to such a large child.

The hime sighed. "Please tell youkai-sama that I am sorry. I can only say that I have not been myself."

For a moment Kagome was lost, until she remembered that Sesshoumaru had reluctantly mentioned an... incident. She nodded weakly. "Um..." she said, "I will tell him, but can I ask why?" It sounded inane, but she couldn't think of anything else to say.

The hime didn't answer, just stared at the baby in her arms. Then she said, voice so low that Kagome had to lean in to hear her, "If you thought you were going to die, you would not have wanted to be unloved either."

Kagome looked away from her in shame, regretting all the uncharitable thoughts she had ever had. "All right," she replied quietly.

Machiko just smiled again, still fondling her son's furry ears.

There didn't seem to be anything else to say, so Kagome rose and dusted imaginary debris from her hakama before looking at the hime, wrapped inside the maternal world made only from herself and her son.

"Farewell," Machiko said, not looking up.

"Farewell," Kagome replied softly, and exited.

Kouga was sitting on a fallen log and staring at nothing in particular when she returned, and didn't seem to notice her approach. Sesshoumaru was nowhere to be seen, presumably finding some convenient excuse - or, knowing him, wandering away without explanation - to give them some privacy.

Kouga did not acknowledge her presence. After a moment Kagome coughed softly, nervously, to catch his wayward attention.

Kouga's head snapped up and he looked at her for a second, eyes wide and startled as though he did not recognize her, before his face - the one that she did and did not remember - melted into a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You leaving?" he asked, and Kagome fancied she could hear the words beneath the words, the ones that went unspoken, the ones that everyone heard but never acknowledged.

You are leaving. It was the same as the question, but it meant so much more. It was a fact. There was a heavy knowledge in it, an endlessness, a neverness that could not be expressed in speech.

Her heart hurt. "Yeah," she answered shakily.


She saw him swallow as he slowly stood and walked over to her. He stopped only a hands breadth away and looked down into her face, searchingly. Kagome wondered if, in the curve of her features, he could see all her forgotten secrets, buried so deep she could not remember they even existed, and if he could, she wondered if he would tell her all the secrets she had kept even from herself.

A shadow passed beneath his eyes and was gone.

"Have a good journey," he said, the loyal, caring friend.

Be happy.

"I will."

I will try.

Then he put his arms around her, warm and strong and safe, and she buried her face against his shoulder as he laid his cheek against the top of her head.

"I'll miss you. Wish you could have stuck around longer," he said, and she heard his voice rumble through her, dragging behind it the tiny impotent anger and the enormous aching regret of forever.

This was not long enough.

"I'll miss you, too," she said, her words muffled as she spoke around the knot in her throat, "but I have to go, I guess."

It would never have been long enough to satisfy.

"I guess so." The end.

And this is how it is.

Dimly, Kagome wondered why she wasn't crying even though her eyes burned and she couldn't breathe from the weight of it all. Clenching her teeth, she hugged him fiercely, as if she could impress him forever on herself, so she could carry him with her, so that she would never be lonely again.

Then Kouga drew back slowly and Kagome released her hold on him with such reluctance that she almost didn't realize how close he was until he tangled one hand in her hair and softly pressed his lips to her cheek.

Kagome closed her eyes.

"Goodbye," he whispered in her ear.

"Goodbye," she echoed back.

Then Kouga turned, his tail swishing behind him, and walked into the woods.

She watched him go.

When Sesshoumaru strolled back into the campsite after what he felt was a decent interval for a farewell, he found her perched on a log, the heavy fur that she used as a blanket slung over her shoulder, and smiling brightly. The sight brought him to a halt. He blinked.

"Ready to go?" she chirped.

Sesshoumaru blinked again before inhaling surreptitiously, not trusting her face.

Sure enough, she was tinged with the scent of sadness that smelled like grey skies and dying trees; it made him ache a little to draw it in. She was hiding the emptiness after the goodbye beneath her smile, as if erasing it from her face would erase it from her mind as well.

Sesshoumaru knew the value of hiding. She did not want to be seen, and he was not going to force her to unmask herself.

He nodded in response to her question before turning and kneeling. She climbed onto his back - he thought she felt hollow - and he tossed his hair over her before tensing and taking to the air.

She was quiet for a long time as they flew low over the land, though with each breath she drew - her mouth was so close to his throat that he could feel, very faintly, each exhalation - the smell of her sorrow lessened a bit more, and after a while he allowed himself to relax into her normal scent as it grew larger and larger. It was maybe an hour from sundown when the sadness was almost banished, and she was enough of herself to speak.

"Where's Myouga?" she asked. He couldn't see her face, but he knew she was frowning a little, only the slightest of creases in her brow and a puzzled look in her eyes. It was one of her more amusing expressions.

"I sent him back to the House of the Moon," he told her.

"Oh," she said softly. "I didn't get to say goodbye."

Sesshoumaru felt a flash of guilt - he should have thought of that - but he didn't know what to say.

Then she took a deep breath and shifted against him. He heard the sound of her clothes catching on his armor before she cleared her throat.

"So... your home really is called the House of the Moon?" she asked, sounding slightly incredulous, skipping over her regret.

He was mildly miffed. "Yes," he replied. "It is our ancestral home."

She shifted again. "I thought it was burned," she said quietly.

"It has been burned several times. I have rebuilt it twice, and it burned once under my reign," he informed her, only a little stiffly.

"Oh," she said.

Kagome settled again and wondered why in the world the fairytale she had read would get the name of his home right, but would get practically everything else wrong. It was as though someone had found the records of the real story, but felt that what had really happened didn't have enough pizzazz, so they spiced it up and switched it around and hey, presto, a story that only vaguely resembled actual events. Just like most of history. It was so annoying.

She sighed a little. "So why did you send him home?" she wondered. Maybe Kouga was right. Maybe it was better to not say goodbye.

Beneath her hands he shrugged slightly. "I have been away for a while. I decided to send him back to make sure things were in order for my return."

"Oh," she said again. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" he asked, seemingly genuinely puzzled.

"Um... for keeping you from your duties?"

She heard him laugh, sharp and humorless. "I assure you, it is not a burden to be kept from them."

Even though he couldn't see her, Kagome grinned. She let her chin fall to his shoulder and watched the landscape for a while, until she remembered something.

"By the way," her voice came from over his shoulder, snapping him out of the vague reverie into which he had fallen, "I'm quite angry with you. Just so you know."

This did not sound promising. "Indeed?" he asked warily. "Why is that?"

"You didn't see me this morning," she said, letting herself settle a little lower on his back, away from him. She had forgotten her hurt in the greater sadness of farewell, but now that they were on the road again it had come back to her and she was feeling rather peevish about it. She had thought it was just a byproduct of saying goodbye, but now that she was thinking of it again it felt even worse. It was difficult to describe why her feelings were hurt so badly, but it had something to do with trust. Kagome thought if she were forced to explain she would describe it as akin to the feeling that she would get were she to wake up, at age fifteen in the Sengoku Jidai, and find Inuyasha gone. It left her naked and alone.

Reflecting that he surely did not deserve this, Sesshoumaru frowned. "I was unaware that I was supposed to," he replied.

Well. Now that she thought about it that way, he'd never signed a contract. Damn!

Kagome scowled, tripping gracefully into her next grievance. "And you can tell me if I stink," she added, peeking over his shoulder again, though she did not look at him, instead opting to study the terribly interesting trees that were passing by beneath their feet.

Sesshoumaru waited, hoping she would clarify this statement, but she was silent.

He cast about. "You do not?" he finally replied. He sounded uncertain.

"Well I don't now," she told him. "But thanks for the suggestion of a bath. It was appreciated."

She did not sound very appreciative to him. "Rest assured that when your odor is offensive, I will let you know," he informed her. "The suggestion was merely for your comfort."

There was a pause. "My comfort?" she asked as though she had not heard him.

He frowned. "I am not in the habit of repeating myself."

There was a long silence.

"Oh," she finally said. "Thank you."

Sesshoumaru declined to answer, feeling a headache begin to bloom behind his eyes.

He sighed. He had thought he understood her, though looking back, he was uncertain as to why he would think such a ridiculous thing, but then again she might, perhaps, be feeling a little stressed today. Either way, it didn't matter, as he seemed to have said the proper thing to defuse the situation. He tried to refocus on the task at hand.

"So how long before we reach them?" she asked lightly, suddenly.

He seized upon the distraction and calculated in his head for a moment before answering. "We'll stop for the night, and we'll reach the village by tomorrow evening."

"Okay," she said, settling against him again, though he heard the brittle undertone in her voice. He wondered why she should want to make herself so unhappy.

He did not ask. Instead they flew onwards, toward the final stop of their long, strange journey, each of them drifting in their own silent thoughts.

. . .

The sun was near setting, and Kagome glanced anxiously at the horizon, searching for the village where Sango lived. Her stomach was tying itself in knots - it burned like it had been washed in acid - and she hadn't eaten anything except a few sips of water for fear that she would revisit it later.

Her companion had been mostly silent today, answering her in monosyllabic grunts except when she asked him what the hell was wrong with him, which he didn't answer at all. It bugged her to no end.

On the other hand, she had awoken that morning beneath a tree and he had been sitting next to her, propped against the trunk, so she didn't complain too much and left him to his own thoughts. He deserved a little peace and quiet after spending over a month in her company, and she was happy to give him whatever space he needed since it seemed that was the only thing she could do for him.

Sesshoumaru felt her hands involuntarily convulse on his shoulders for the thousandth time and ground his teeth. Her anxiety - curling in his nose like sharp, orange stalagmites creeping over her normal scent - was making him anxious, and her happy front was making him moody as hell. Even worse, she was impossible to block from his nose, and therefore his mind; at least when he was nervous, he had the self-control to negate it, but he could do nothing about her.

He wondered why he had agreed to do this again; at the moment, even paperwork seemed preferable to her infectious apprehension.

When he smelled the cooking fires of a village up ahead Sesshoumaru allowed himself to growl in relief. The sun was sinking down, and high above clouds were shifting restlessly around the sky; he estimated that they would be at the home of her former companion by sunset.

Kagome, for her part, was feeling the first ticklings of fear, and the more the sun descended in the sky the more she wanted to bite something. Her own hand would have been ideal, but it was still injured, and biting Sesshoumaru was out of the question since he bit back, so in the end she settled for chewing viciously on her lower lip, training her entire mind on the mildly disgusting task of scraping off the chapped skin. She frowned as she fell into a pattern, rhythmically working her lip through her teeth.

"We will be there soon."

Startled out of her reverie Kagome bit down a little too hard.

"Ow!" she said. Another injury. "Damn," she said out loud, "as if I didn't have enough wrong with me."

She heard Sesshoumaru snicker at that. Shooting a glare at him that he could not see, she moodily sucked her lip into her mouth and waited for the bleeding to stop.

After a moment she released it, and he could feel her gearing up her courage.

"Where is her house?" she finally asked.

Sesshoumaru didn't answer for a second, and she was on the verge of asking him again when he made an indeterminate noise in the back of his throat. She could not discern its meaning, but forgot about it as he began to speak.

"Her house is the northernmost dwelling," he told her. "The wolf informed me that she remained a taiji-ya for years, so her home is shored against the forest where the most youkai live."

"Oh," Kagome said softly. "I didn't think she'd continue doing that."

Sesshoumaru raised a brow. "Why did you not?" he asked her. "I suspect that it is a rather lucrative occupation."

Her fingers twitched again. "I don't know," she replied. "I just thought that she might not... want to continue. After all the youkai she met that were - " she was about to say that were good, but she realized at the last second that it was a silly thing to say, " - that were not entirely evil."

He appeared to think for a moment.

"Hm," he said. "Perhaps."

"You don't seem very uncomfortable with the idea," Kagome told him, almost disapprovingly.

"You would prefer that I be uncomfortable?"

"No, I - "

"Taiji-ya do not frighten me," he said.

"I know," she replied quickly, worried that she had offended him.

"And I do not begrudge your companion her profession."

She found that curious. "Why not? She's killed a lot of youkai," Kagome said.

He did not reply immediately, so she stared down at the rich silk of his kimono beneath her fingers, and very lightly she traced over the seams of his collar, waiting for him to speak, trying to puzzle the answer for herself.

For a long, quiet moment, he said nothing, and she realized the reason a fraction of a second before he spoke.

"Yes. She has killed many youkai," he said distantly, and she didn't need to hear the rest to know what it was.

And I have killed many humans, he said to her with the words beneath the words.

It was strange to remember that, but what was even stranger was the dawning realization that it didn't seem to matter much any more. Perhaps that was a side-effect of outliving everyone - life became less.

She hoped not.

"There," he said, cutting a swathe through her sad contemplation, and she looked up from his shoulder to see a village at the edge of the forest beneath them.

Her heart sped up, though whether it was in panic or in excitement she couldn't say. Kagome felt stomach turn over, and she suddenly found it hard to breathe.

"You'll go with me?" she asked. Suddenly, it seemed so important to have him there, so important to be able to see his unchanged face. She needed him to anchor her to the earth, reassure her that she was real.

He didn't look at her. "Yes," he said quietly.

Then they were sinking further, skimming over the tops of the trees, and Kagome swallowed her heart as they touched down on the edge of the forest beneath the darkening sky.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 23 of 42

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