Continuing Tales

The Wind and the Mountain

A InuYasha Story
by Mearasama

Part 38 of 60

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Kagome was sitting in the sun room late that afternoon reading the letter that InuYasha had brought back from her mother. It was the tenth time she read it…at least. Smiling, she held the precious paper to her chest and thought back to the happy visit shared with her friends.

Rounding the curve after her run in with the bears, she saw InuYasha bounding toward her. She started running and before she knew it, he had grabbed her up in his arms and swung her around a few times before placing her back on her feet. He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent before pulling back and looking in her eyes. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. Did you see my family? Are they okay?" she asked hurriedly, desperation and excitement coloring her tone as she gripped his haori fiercely with both hands.

"Yeah, they're fine. They were pretty worried about ya though," he answered with a frown. InuYasha had looked past her and scowled. Sesshomaru stood a few feet away, stoic as ever, while he watched the interaction.

"Did ya have to bring him?" InuYasha's lip curled scornfully at his older brother.

"Don't start. I could only come if he brought me, so be nice," she answered quietly, "For my sake, please."

InuYasha only nodded before grabbing her hand and started toward the camp. In a flash, Sesshomaru pulled Kagome out of his reach, breaking them apart. InuYasha stared in shock as the taiyoukai guided Kagome the rest of the way, a hand steering her at the elbow. She smiled apologetically over her shoulder as they passed, but didn't pull away from his hold.

As they entered the campsite, a squeal rent the air. Sesshomaru tensed, his posture taking a defensive stance and stepping closer to Kagome. Sango ran across the campsite, the two women embracing as Sango nearly knocked Kagome over had it not been for Sesshomaru's strong arm that shot out to stop their fall before withdrawing to allow the two women their reunion. They chatted excitedly, oblivious to the tension that was mounting in the clearing. InuYasha stared at his brother with an accusatory look while Sesshomaru returned it with indifference. Miroku finally approached Kagome, waiting for her to turn her attention away from Sango. A quick embrace was cut short at the low growl and deadly look that Miroku caught from the imposing taiyoukai. He withdrew immediately, but was clearly happy to see his beloved friend regardless of the obvious warning. They peppered Kagome with questions, sharing in the joy that filled the small campsite. No matter what had passed between them to this point, they always found celebration in their friendship, which was forged in the heat of battle and strengthened during times of quiet respite. Solace could always be found in each others presence, and this moment was no different.

Shippo attached himself to Kagome, crying and hugging her tightly. She cradled him while she caught up with everyone, sharing the latest events with a bubbly enthusiasm that was infectious.

Kagome turned, looking around until she saw InuYasha propped against a tree apart from the group with a scowl pointed at Sesshomaru. "InuYasha, stop glaring and tell me what my family's been up to while I've been gone."

He pushed away from the tree casting one last annoyed look at Sesshomaru who stayed along the perimeter, an obvious outcast in the presence of friends. InuYasha settled next to Kagome and pulled a letter from his haori. Handing it over, he murmured, "Your mom gave me this and promise I'd give it to you."

Her eyes lit up as she grabbed the letter anxiously. Clutching it like it might disappear, she closed her eyes as a smile as bright as the sun filled her face. InuYasha glanced at his brother curiously as his ears picked up an oddly hitched breath that only a youkai would hear. He was watching her with a look of fascination that seemed to bleed through his apathetic facade. The softness around his eyes seemed unfamiliar on a face that was often frozen in disinterest. The minute the taiyoukai's eyes were drawn back to his brother, the familiar bronze chill returned but the damage was done. Frowning, InuYasha stood stiffly, eyes reluctantly fixed on his brother with a considering expression.

Shaking himself mentally, InuYasha walked to a tree on the other side of the camp. He pulled a green backpack from behind a large oak and brought it back to Kagome. She scrambled to her feet as he approached, anticipation lighting her eyes like a child on Christmas morning. "Your mom also sent this."

She took it and kneeled down, opening the zipper at the top. This time it was Kagome's squeal that pierced the sensitive ears of her youkai friends. Her delight was evident as she sorted through the items her mom had lovingly packed. Fresh clothes and shoes, new books, pens, paper, bathing supplies and a couple odds and ends to help pass time including a bag of water balloons, a box of markers and a thick book of brain teasers were littering the ground in moments.

Shippo's eyes were glued to the markers, the yearning to use them written plainly on his small face. Kagome laughed as she opened the box and gave him half. "Here Shippo, half for you and the rest go to Rin."

"Thanks, Kagome!" he shouted as he scampered over to his small bag where he packed them carefully along with the rest of his drawing supplies that she had given him over the years.

Pulling a bottle of shampoo from the bag, she popped the lid and inhaled the scent. The smell of roses and vanilla was something she savored, excited to try it out during her next bath. She closed the lid and dropped it into the bag contentedly. With a deep sigh, she put her hands on her knee with closed eyes, giving thanks to her mom's caring thoughtfulness. Straightening, she wrapped her arms around InuYasha, overwhelmed with gratitude not only that her family knew she was okay, but at the gifts that her mother sent back as a physical embodiment and message of love to her daughter. After a moment, she leaned back with watery eyes to meet his steadily, "Thank you for bringing a little piece of home back with you. I didn't know how much I missed it until now."

"Keh, it wasn't a big deal or anything," InuYasha answered gruffly. His customary tough mask fell back into place at the show of heartfelt emotion.

She grabbed his hand and squeezed. "I mean it InuYasha. It makes me feel so much better." She had barely gotten the words out before Sesshomaru approached suddenly. He grabbed the backpack off the ground and pulled Kagome's hand out of InuYasha's.

"Time to go," his voice was soft but firm as he turned toward the path that led toward the House of the Moon.

"Already? Sesshomaru?" he stopped and met her questioning gaze, "At least let me say goodbye."

He released her hand with a nod, watching her keenly as she made her rounds, embracing Sango, Miroku and Shippo. When she made it to InuYasha, they hugged briefly but pulled apart almost instantly. Kagome could feel Sesshomaru's tenseness every time she got near his brother. She didn't really understand the reason, but every time he was tense, she could feel her own emotions slide in that direction.

When she finally turned back to join Sesshomaru, she watched him visibly relax with every step that widened the space between them. She watched him curiously but he only raised a brow, reminding her how much that particular action drove her crazy. Holding her hand out to take the bag, he pulled it away from her grasp quickly. His voice seemed to rumble through her, "I'll carry it."

Kagome smiled at the bag that lay by her feet. And he had carried it. All the way to the sun room only after asking where she planned on spending the afternoon. If Kagome hadn't already known he was a heartless killer that shed more blood than any other youkai in existence, she might have almost thought him a nice guy for that peculiar action.

She chuckled at the thought. No, Sesshomaru was definitely not nice. 'He only carried it because he thought I was too weak to lug back on my own,' she thought cynically.

Sesshomaru sat in his study, a treaty dangling from a limp hand. The words were only blurry shapes as he replayed the last few hours in his mind. The miko had been so happy at the simple mention of her home and family. It made him realize how much she missed her previous life while she stayed in the West. The spark in her eyes had held him transfixed while she studied the bizarre items that InuYasha had brought back from her homeland. He had been surprised at his sudden jealously toward the hanyou for giving her such trivial items that held so much value. It was the reason that he carried the bag back to the castle. Some alien part of him wanted to touch that happiness. The closest reference he could draw to her unabashed joy was the satisfaction of killing a worthy opponent in battle.

Somehow, he suspected that her emotions ran much deeper than his. He shut off his emotions long ago when his father chose a new family over the one he already had. It was the day the great Inu no Taisho died to protect his human lover, leaving only chaos and ruin to overshadow all else in his eldest son's memory.

His eyes narrowed, shifting uncomfortably as he recalled the surprise he felt at the fact that he didn't like either the monk or his filthy half-brother touching Kagome. Knowing he didn't want to explore this train of thought, he grasped at the closest logical excuse that zipped through his rapid fire mind. It must be because she resided under his roof and therefore belonged to him, just like the furniture and possessions scattered throughout the rooms. There was no way that he carried any trait of his father other than in appearance. But just like any taiyoukai, especially Inu Youkai, he didn't like others to touch what was considered his.

Yes, that was it.

He refocused on the treaty in his hands. The breeze shifted slightly through the window and the faintest trace of lotus and sunshine wafted over him. It almost felt like a caress beckoning his inner beast with the promise of solace and comfort. He lifted his sleeve and inhaled curiously. The gentle scent filled his nostrils. With the many times they had touched this afternoon, it should be no surprise to find traces of her scent lingering on his clothing. His inner beast seemed quelled by the scent, quieting to a peaceful hum instead of the raging turmoil that usually required firm control.

Sesshomaru shook his head to clear the peculiar thoughts, ruthlessly forcing his mind to the parchment in his hand. Of course, when the great Lord of the Western Lands was observed smelling his sleeve several times over the course of the evening, the other members of the household found his behavior rather our of character as well.

Kagome couldn't sleep. She rolled over for the millionth time and huffed angrily. Giving up, she finally sat up and found Hoshi in her usual spot at the window. The ageless housekeeper turned violet eyes to the young miko with raised brows.

"What's wrong Kagome?"

Her brow was creased as something tugged at her mind, willing it to focus as it danced along the shadows of her memories. Memories were often mixed with horror and pain, needing to be avoided at all cost. This one however, pulled with a strength that she could barely resist, making her feel that it would only grow until it consumed her. "I don't know. It feels like a great shadow coming to swallow me, calling my name and promising…"

When the young woman trailed off, Hoshi prodded gently, "Promising what, Kagome?"

"I can't explain. It's like it's trying to speak to me, but there's something keeping it just beyond my reach. Like it's promising me peace…finally." The young miko raised dark eyes to Hoshi, the torment and confusion showing plainly for the first time in many months. Hoshi scanned the area with her own aura and felt nothing. She could only frown back at the woman.

"Does it feel malevolent?"

Kagome's gaze faded as she concentrated on it for a few minutes before finally answering curiously, "No, it seems only anxious and sad."

"Focus on it a little longer. See if you can't find the intention without letting it get too close."

Kagome's gaze refocused on Hoshi, worry clouding her features. "Do you think it's something that's not only in my mind? Something in my memory maybe?"

Hoshi stood and made her way to Kagome's side. She looked down with a placid expression, belying the concern that was just under the surface. "Perhaps. But we can't know unless you seek the answer. Don't be afraid. I'll be right here to help if this ends up being something unwelcome." She smiled, but Kagome noticed it didn't quite reach her eyes.

Kagome waited a moment, breathing deeply until finally pulling all of her courage around her like a cloak. "Okay. What do I do if it tries to hurt me?"

"Just call my name and I'll be here. Don't worry, there'll be dire consequences if you're harmed on my watch."

Kagome's confusion at her words amused the housekeeper. The young were so clueless at times and her old soul found endless delight in the refreshing innocence. She grabbed the miko's hand and squeezed comfortingly, holding her gaze patiently until Kagome finally closed her eyes and began searching out the shadows of her mind. Her aura ebbed and flowed as she encountered and fled memories that took advantage of her vulnerable mind. Hoshi smiled as she felt Sesshomaru's own youki flare on the other side of the castle in response to Kagome's restlessness. 'Clueless and stubborn.'

Kagome stiffened and drew in a quick breath. Hoshi closed her eyes and read the woman's aura with precision, feeling no threat anywhere near her either physically, or in her mind. She relaxed and opened her eyes, allowing Kagome the privacy to sort through this emerging memory on her own terms. She waited patiently as a myriad of emotions played across her features and beads of sweat gathered along her brow. Finally, the young woman seemed to be pulled out of the memory quickly, her raspy breath coming from the bottom of her lungs as she hunched over. Hoshi felt the memory pass between their joined hands and in a moment knew what had been calling so impatiently to the young woman. The timing was less than perfect, but Hoshi had foreseen this outcome many months before even meeting the young miko. She sighed irritably.

"Well Kagome?" she asked, not wanting to let the miko know that she already knew everything she was about to be told. It would only upset the woman further, regardless of the fact that she knew the housekeeper possessed spiritual powers.

Kagome recovered and raised sad eyes to Hoshi, the fragile melancholy tugging at the housekeeper's steely heart. She couldn't help but want to make this beautiful young woman feel safe and happy. 'No wonder so many have fallen for her,' she thought with wonder. 'He is lost.'

"Can you tell me more about the Crown of Chikara? Tell me everything you know, even the stuff that you already told me."

Hoshi let out a deep breath and stood, pulling Kagome with her. "Well, if I'm going to get into all that, I think we need a nice pot of tea and some snacks. Let's go."

Kagome followed her expectantly as they made their way quietly though the house. Only Hoshi could feel the one that followed at a discreet distance, concealing his presence in a high level stealth tactic. Hoshi smiled at his sneaky behavior. 'Why not just be open in your curiosity toward the young woman?' she thought amusedly. It was obvious to the entire household. In fact, it was becoming the constant chatter of the servants as they quietly speculated as to what Kagome's true role was in the castle and what the future of that role might be. The servant's fear had long since subsided at the miko's quiet and gentle nature. They did not necessarily care about her, but they respected that her immense power was never turned toward them. More importantly, they saw their lord's interest in her as a sign of her uniqueness and strength, which to the sorceress's surprise was considered a strategic effort in fortifying the Western Land's defenses. Lord Sesshomaru was the envy of the nobles of the other provinces who saw this move as an adaptation to the growing influence and population of humans. Making a human as powerful and respected as a miko an ally was considered a smart strategy by any account, even among youkai that considered humans as nothing more than food. It was too bad that Sesshomaru was preoccupied with a race to beat his father's shadow to realize any of this.

They settled in the kitchen at a low table, sipping tea and munching on sweet bread. Hoshi told the tale of the Crown again, detailing its creation, power and demise. Kagome remained silent the entire time, absorbing the information as it was relayed to her. When Hoshi finished, Kagome set her cup down and chewed her bottom lip, a habit that only appeared when she was deep in thought. Hoshi had noticed it more and more in her training sessions with Sesshomaru as she constantly sought ways to outsmart him and land a blow. It never came, but her tenacity was something that even a hardened soul like Sesshomaru had come to respect.

"So, the miko souls that are in the Crown are trapped forever?" Kagome's quiet voice finally broke the stillness of the room.

"In theory," Hoshi edged. She waited for the question that would eventually come when Kagome finally put two and two together.

"In theory? What does that mean?"

"The Crown contains souls, yes, but it's not a device that absorbs them. Leiko didn't wish to destroy the mikos. Instead, she wanted to use them like she felt Hideaki used her. She wanted all that she thought had wronged her to suffer for eternity." Hoshi's own voice was tinged with sadness and what appeared to be embarrassment.

Ironic laughter bubbled in her chest. Leave it to her to be plagued by two powerful weapons that trapped souls for eternity. "Is there a way to release the souls so that they can move on?" Kagome hedged carefully.

"I believe so. My sister never revealed any specific method to undo the magic of the Crown, but I'm quite sure that I would be able to find a way if given enough time," Hoshi answered. She treaded cautiously, unsure of how Kagome would feel about her next comment. "It might require an unselfish act."

Kagome looked up from the table with surprise. Her hand unconsciously found the Jewel at her neck. Understanding bloomed in her eyes as she held Hoshi's gaze. "InuYasha wants to use the Jewel to become a full demon," she spoke quietly, her voice small in the darkness of the early morning hours. "I told him that I'd help if he still wanted it after we found all the shards."

Hoshi nodded at the words. She allowed the woman before her to work her way through the tempest of emotions that swirled with impending change.

Kagome mused wistfully, "She asked me to help her move on. Told me that she was ready to go to hell and that she wouldn't take InuYasha with her."

Hoshi didn't ask what she was talking about, having seen this conversation in Kagome's mind only a short time ago. She let the woman continue, not wanting to distract her from a decision that would affect all of their fates.

A single tear slid down Kagome's cheek as her heart choked on the knowledge that her brain had come to accept long ago. This decision was one that would ultimately destroy her role in this world. She would no longer have the distinction of being the miko that traveled with InuYasha, but instead the girl that sacrificed the beloved life that she had cherished. Though she had readjusted her expectations of InuYasha's feelings long ago, she still had his friendship and love. Even if that love was only given to her by default. Kagome railed internally at the fact that it came down to her own choice that would ultimately rip this life away.

She blew out a shuttered breath and refocused on Hoshi who sat with concern and understanding. Nodding curtly at the other woman she stood, bowing slightly. "I'm going back to my room for some sleep. I don't think Sesshomaru will be cool with me falling asleep during training this morning," She left before Hoshi could respond.

The housekeeper closed her eyes and waited patiently. He appeared after a few moments, leaning against the door frame with arms tucked neatly in his sleeves.

"What was that about?" His golden eyes held barely concealed restraint. Hoshi knew that he could smell her tears and sadness in the air. She learned long ago that dogs were always apprehensive when exposed to human emotions like those that Kagome was struggling with presently.

"Kagome must make a decision that will be rather unpleasant for her."

His eyes narrowed on the sorceress. "And what would that be?"

"Her fate."

He growled at his old friend, "Do not speak in riddles to me."

Hoshi smiled, her white teeth flashing in the dim light. "I'm not speaking in riddles. She'll have to choose her fate and the consequences will affect us all."

Sesshomaru grunted at her answer, sifting through the veiled information but finding little to grasp ahold of. "What will she decide?" his curiosity winning out over better judgment. To his annoyance, the more he learned about the miko, the more he wanted to know.

Hoshi suppressed another smile. She could feel his aggravation and knew that it was not her vague responses, but the interest that he felt in the raven haired beauty. She took pity on him as he began to shift impatiently in the doorframe. Deciding to end her humorous torture of him, she sighed heavily. Even she knew there was a threshold to his well-honed patience.

"She'll choose her place in this world." Hoshi stood gracefully, the pattern of her kimono shifted from a soft purple to a pure white, the little crescents seemed pearlescent in the dim light of the kitchen revealing her pensive mood. "Whether it's a life with InuYasha, or another yet altogether, is entirely up to her."

Sesshomaru didn't answer, only nodded curtly and started back through the hallways to his own room. As he passed by the miko's room, he reached out with his senses and felt her despair. An image of her cocoa brown eyes sparkling with happiness and affection smiling up at InuYasha flashed through his mind. His own eyes narrowed at an uncomfortable burning that clawed his chest for a brief moment. Shaking it off, he walked briskly to his rooms. When sleep finally came, visions of ebony hair, musical laughs and lotus petals danced through his dreams.

Sesshomaru was uncommonly easy on Kagome the following morning during training. His eyes watched her carefully, movements slower than any previous morning. Narrowing golden orbs, he noticed her attention slip away again as her eyes dulled, watering slightly before she seemed to shake herself back to the present. Normally he would simply take advantage and teach her a lesson by landing restrained blows to grab her attention back to the task at hand. Instead, he observed her bizarre behavior with equal parts curiosity and hesitance. Human emotions were usually an annoyance to his hyper sensitive senses, however, the miko had such intense fluctuations that he was caught off guard such a tiny woman could withstand the extreme highs and lows.

Frowning, he wondered when he had become so concerned about her unpredictable sensibilities. Since the evening in the garden and her stories about her father, he had found himself strangely interested beyond her amusingly odd dialect, clothing and mannerisms. He stilled at the thought and realized that she was actually interesting to him. 'When did that happen?' he thought angrily.

His eyes refocused on Kagome and realized she had stopped as well, wariness creeping through the sadness that had settled so heavily across her aura. She watched him silently, her shinai up but not in a position to do much good. Her heart was obviously in another place, which irritated the taiyoukai greatly a moment before he tamped it down with practiced ease. "We will end here."

She only nodded before bowing respectfully. Walking past him, he heard a murmured thank you as she collected her belongings. He watched her leave and caught Hoshi's questioning glance before she turned and followed Kagome.

He stared after the women for a few heartbeats. Turning a hard stare at Hiraiku, he raised a brow at his captain and spoke menacingly, "Shall we spar?"

Hiraiku grinned at his master. "Yes sir!" he exclaimed as he jumped to his feet and grabbed his heavy axe. It had been too long since Sesshomaru and he had sparred properly. He could see in his lord's eyes that this was going to be a rather brutal few hours as frustration seeped openly from his tense shoulders. Hiraiku grinned at the prospect of facing an unrestrained taiyoukai.

Something drew Sesshomaru into the gardens later that afternoon. The sun had begun a slow descent into the west, casting a golden glow onto his lands. The breeze lifted his hair lightly to dance on its soft wings as he meandered along the carefully manicured landscapes, making note to have Hoshi give praise to the head gardener for his skillful work. The scent of lotus brushed past, wrapping around him warmly in the late summer sun. His eyelids drifted low at the comfort he felt in that moment until another scent rose, darker and earthy. It was a scent that he had come to despise over the weeks that his unwanted guests remained, quickly encroaching on what was considered respectful. The softest trace of rose and vanilla reached him and he realized that the lotus was not from the lake at the bottom of the garden. He moved quickly, cutting across the grass to a path that led down to the sparkling water at the base of the expansive garden. He kept to the tree line, moving with stealth as he suppressed his scent and youki.

The miko was slowly edging back toward the path, Sora stalking her with a look that mixed hatred and interest in a frightening combination. Sesshomaru silently dared him to touch the miko, hoping for a reason to kill the unpleasant youkai. He listened as Sora's deep voice resonated across the clearing, hoping he would finally reveal his true intentions for being in the West. The wind was in Sesshomaru's favor but it also brought the distressed scent of the miko, spiking his anger higher.

Sora leaned forward sneering, "Tell me, does the Lord of the West get an extra benefit for giving you a place in his house?" his eyes locked on Kagome's neck where the Jewel was tucked beneath her haori.

She stepped back, anger flaring in her tone and aura, "Just what are you getting at?"

"Oh come now. A youkai only keeps a human around for a handful of reasons," his eyes traveled the length of her body appraisingly.

Kagome stepped away quickly, stumbling slightly but catching herself before falling. She drew herself up indignantly. "Of course not! Sesshomaru would never look at a human that way. Besides, I'm not that kind of woman, regardless of how good looking he might be!" she huffed angrily. Turning, she began walking to the path that led away from the lake. In a blink, Sora was in front of her, blocking the way with his tall frame.

Sesshomaru had been seething at the youkai's threatening aura and words, distracted for a minute by Kagome's shouted declaration. When the youkai jumped in front of her, his hand found Tokijin, yanking his mind back to the scene in front of him. Sora's next words brought the anger from a simmer to a blood boiling crescendo.

"Considering his lineage, it's not such a stretch to question your presence in this house," Kagome's audible gasp was drowned out by the youkai's evil laughter.

Sora reached out and ran a finger down Kagome's cheek. She jerked away but he grabbed her hand before she could put any distance between them. The suppression bangles caught the light and Sesshomaru suddenly realized how vulnerable she truly was. The other youkai's words made Sesshomaru's eyes bleed red in the shadows of the fading sun.

"Well… when the taiyoukai tires of you," he hooked a finger under the chain at Kagome's neck and tugged the Jewel free from beneath her clothing, "perhaps you'll consider a new consort." He leaned closer to her, his lips mere inches from her temple. "I'm sure that we could come up with a mutually beneficial situation, considering your predilection for youkai males." Pulling back, he dropped the Jewel and brushed a clawed finger through the hair at her temple. "Though I'm not Inu, I'm sure I could more than satisfy your needs."

A muffled sound of fury erupted from the little miko and she swung a closed fist at the youkai. He caught her deftly and spun her around, trapping her hands against her front, his own body curled around her as his face lowered to her ear. She struggled with all the moves that Sesshomaru had taught her, but was restrained by the bangles that locked her powers firmly inside her body. The youkai was about to say something when a flash of white filled her vision.

Cold steel whizzed above her head as the tip of Tokijin was held steady against Sora's forehead. It had happened so fast that she was sure that Sora had not seen it coming. She looked up into Sesshomaru's eyes and shrunk back at the venom that spewed from the crimson depths. She had only seen this level of anger from him a few other times. It took her a moment to realize that it was not directed at her, but instead the one that held her cruelly.

"Lord Sesshomaru. I'm happy you've arrived. The miko just attacked me. I believe that you should perhaps expel her from your home before she purifies the entire household."

"Release her immediately," his voice sent chills down Kagome's back.

Sora held a moment longer, his grip intentionally crushing Kagome's delicate skin before he shoved her harshly toward Sesshomaru, "As you wish."

She hit Sesshomaru with such force that it knocked the wind from her lungs. She gripped his haori in both hands while stars danced along her vision, gasping for breath. A steely band locked around her waist as he lifted her slightly and walked to a nearby rock. He leaned her against the cold stone and turned back to the path, putting himself between her and the other youkai. Sora was long gone but they could still hear his laughter on the breeze.

Turning back, he found her rubbing a hand across her face tiredly. The sleeves had fallen away from her wrists and he sheathed Tokijin quickly to grab them in both of his. Her bones were like fine china, skin petal soft under his battle worn hands. He kneeled and pulled them forward to examine both, furious at what he saw. Bruises were developing on her pale skin, Sora's handprints marring the delicate texture with violence. He took a deep breath as he turned her wrists over. Looking up into her eyes, he was taken aback at the wounded expression that pooled in the chocolate depths.

"Are you hurt?" he asked gently, afraid she would break apart at any minute.

"No," her voice reminded him of snowflakes, soft and fragile as it floated through the air.

He dropped her hands and waited. When she finally raised her head, he saw the remnants of Sora's innuendo haunt the normally cheerful expression. What she failed to realize is that even a low level youkai could sense her purity.

"His words were designed to offend you," he offered, not really sure why he felt the need to comfort her anxiety.

Heat rose to her cheeks at his admission to overhearing their conversation. "Well, it worked." She took a deep breath and turned toward the lake. The orange hues from the setting sun cast her in warm tones, turning her dark eyes a lighter shade. She wrapped her arms around her body and let the silence stretch.

"Why were you here alone?" Sesshomaru finally broke the stillness, his voice harsher than before.

She shrugged slightly, "I don't know. Hoshi's been so busy lately, and I want to be outside as much as possible before it gets cold again." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, "Besides, I know soon enough I won't be able to roam your gardens. I better enjoy them while I can."

He regarded her a moment as a feeling he didn't quite understand twisted his stomach. He stood abruptly, "So you've reached a decision?"

Kagome turned her head to look at him. "I see that Hoshi's told you everything," she said sharply, fire sparking in her eyes at the knowledge.

"This is my castle. I'm privy to all information that affects it and its occupants," he replied drolly.

"Of course," she mumbled turning back to the lake. Her fingers rolled the Jewel between her fingers absently while she considered her options.

He waited, content to let the silence fill the space around them. She surprised him with her softly spoken words. "What would you do?"

"A youkai has no business counseling a miko and vice versa."

She smiled at him. "You're probably right. It's just that you seem like someone who makes good decisions." Her eyes watered slightly as she spoke, "I don't have the best track record and it'll be really bad for everyone if I make the wrong choice."

He was taken aback by her wisdom. The little miko had lived for so few years, but seemed to consider her actions with the same gravity that he exercised himself. She was indeed surprising. Coming forward, he settled near the bank of the lake in the same spot that she and Rin had recently occupied. He felt her hesitate behind him, surprise and confusion easy to read.

He turned his head and looked at the ground beside him. "Will you be standing there all evening or sit down?"

She started at his terse question but quickly settled next to him, scooting to keep several inches between them.

When she finally stilled, he continued, "Asking a youkai whether he would make a selfless choice will get you an obvious answer," he tucked his hands in his sleeves and closed his eyes, letting her nearness and the intoxicating scent of lotus fill his nose. Forcing the distraction to the back of his mind, he ruthlessly refocused on her intriguing question. "You should make your decision based on what you desire."

She laughed humorously. "If I only think about myself then we're all in big trouble. I might as well have given the Jewel to InuYasha long ago."

"That's not a good decision," he answered her coldly.

"And that's your own desire," she laughed at his obvious displeasure at the thought of InuYasha becoming a full demon. Her face dropped, the mirth draining from her eyes again and he stopped himself from shifting in discomfort.

"No, I have to make this decision for the sake of others, or make no decision at all and carry the burden of the Jewel forever." Her sadness seemed to add weight to the air around them, dimming the emerging stars above.

He frowned at her words, "Holding onto the Jewel will keep you in danger."

She turned to him with a tormented expression that cracked against him like a whip. "Keeping the Jewel will mean that I'll be in battles to protect it for the rest of my life. The other option is to give up everything that I've come to love. I lose no matter what I do!"

Her words burned against him as he realized that she was talking about her life with InuYasha. He blamed the anger that bubbled up inside on the fact that his half-brother was once again causing problems in his life. He wanted to walk away from her at that moment, disgusted that she felt such torment for the loss of a hanyou. It was a waste in his mind. It was then that she seemed to sag under the weight of her own emotions, her head bowed low as her hair fell to obscure her face. He was about to leave when the smell of salt tinged the air around them. The tears anchored him to the spot.

"You asked me what I would do." She raised her head at his deep voice, not quite looking him in the face, "I would make a decision that kept my honor intact." He stood up and pulled her to her feet. Looking down on her, he added quietly, "The only way to lose your honor is by throwing it away yourself."

They walked back in silence. Sesshomaru delivered her to her room and a waiting Hoshi. The housekeeper seemed unperturbed at the miko's absence. Sesshomaru raised a brow at her from the doorway but the sorceress only smiled broadly at him while she welcomed Kagome into the room.

After he left, Kagome turned to Hoshi. Determination set her jaw and straightened her spine. "I've made my choice."

Hoshi's brows lifted. She came forward to sit on the low bed with Kagome and took a hand in her own.

"Well, that's good news," she answered honestly. "What have you decided?"

Kagome smiled sadly at the other woman. Steeling herself against the coming pain, she let the answer tumble out before what little courage she had left could vanish with the setting sun.

The Wind and the Mountain

A InuYasha Story
by Mearasama

Part 38 of 60

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