Chapter 28 - Rebirth

Dawn encroached on the village, lazy pink fingertips that stretched across the ice-crusted landscape, making a valiant attempt to brighten the day. There was the occasional tinkling impact of icicles being released from overburdened rooftops, and a frigid, blistering wind that blew in from the west, bringing swirling clouds of snow and ice that looked fit to try their hand at smothering the tiny village. It was painfully cold and the deep grey of the distant horizon whispered advance warning of a heavier snowstorm heading in their direction, but most of the village was still asleep and unaware, and those that were awake had far more pressing matters on their mind.

Most of the activity was centered around one small, clapboard house in particular. A young woman with long, dark hair could be seen scampering periodically from across the road, back and forth, each time pausing to comfort the brittle half-demon that was huddled on her doorstep, eyes fixated on his own doorway with an eerie, unwavering concentration. The young woman's monk husband could often be seen trying his own hand at reassuring said hanyou, piling outside with blankets, warm, steaming drinks, and vocal sympathy, for he had been through this sort of trauma twice before and recognized that look of helpless desperation.

But Inuyasha barely heard them. It had been a shitty day beyond comparison so far, and he found that oddly fitting. The sounds of Kagome's suffering was like a fist clenching at his heart, gleefully clawing at him, and he would resentfully eye Kaede whenever she would emerge for a moment from his home, as though holding her personally responsible for every wayward cry. And beyond all that, which was bad enough, he was experiencing his own discomfort, brought on by his prediction that this child would indeed turn him into some foolish, worthless klutz. Earlier that morning, when it had still been dark and tempestuous-looking outside, Kagome had suddenly pled for Kaede and he, in utter blank-minded panic, had tripped into the fire pit on his scramble toward the door. What made it far worse was he hadn't even realized he was on fire until Sango had delicately pointed out the fact.

And so now there he was, sickly listening to her agony, huddled outside on his best friends' porch with a charred foot, a restless energy, and a blizzard barreling in his direction. His ears were frozen, frosted by the whirling ice. And that wasn't even all of it. This baby...she really had to hold out. He didn't want her born on this day. Evil omens hung all over it and he didn't need Miroku's abilities in order to tell him that. It was predisposed to delivering evil. Inuyasha wasn't normally one to be especially superstitious, but this was something of which he was certain.

His fists clenched in distress at the sounds of pure discomfort that were coming from his house, fingers folding inward until claws punctured skin. He was about to go back in there...he was useless out here, might as well be useless in there. Sango had suggested that he move out of earshot, since she seemed to be expecting that, as things progressed, Kagome might take to the idea of him sharing her pain and start shrieking sit commands. Heh...that was fine with him. He just wanted to be useful, one way or another.

But just as he was certain the day could not become any more obviously cursed, his nose twitched, and he inhaled the scent of that damned mutt. Kagome had asked for Rin. Sure, no problem. She could have Rin. The only issue with that was that Rin was always accompanied by her ugly mongrel sidekick and Inuyasha really wasn't in the mood to see him. One comment, just one, and I'm laying that asshole out...

He turned his head and watched them approach, ears flicking in an attempt to rid them of that icy coating that had developed over the last several hours. Sesshoumaru was barely visible in all the whirling white, but Rin's dark hair stood out and Ashitera was unmistakable as she caught sight of him and tore down the snowy road as quickly as her short legs could run, hood falling back from her head to release a stream of black hair into the frigid air.

"Inuyashaaaaaaaaaaa!"

And he was certain this girl had somehow found a way to add three additional syllables to his name.

"Oi. Don't scream," he mumbled, eyeing her as she dove at him in an open-armed tackle. He extended his hands to catch her before her own momentum sent her pitching into the snow on the other side of him, awkwardly allowing the strangling hold she got on his neck as she welded herself to him, a clingy, shivering midget. "Kagome's not feeling well." His eyes slid over her head as the other two approached, and Inuyasha heard his own voice instantly challenging, "She's not gonna be born today."

"And what's wrong with today, Inuyasha?" Sesshoumaru asked, voice frigid enough to match the weather.

"Don't think I don't know. It spawned you...my kid's not gonna be cursed with sharing it with you."

"So you would rather your woman endure that agony for another full day? How kind of you," Sesshoumaru replied with lofty disdain.

Inuyasha's mouth opened at that point, looking as though he had not considered it that way, and the guilt it prompted made him want to lash back. For some reason, he wanted to start something with Sesshoumaru, would be nothing short of grateful for it. A smirk crossed his features and he began in a lazy, dangerous voice, "You know, Sesshoumaru, your mother had to---"

"Don't mention my mother, half-breed," came the immediate warning, whispery with malice as they both tensed. Rin, knowing what was coming, desperately intervened

"Inuyasha, what'd you do to your foot?" she quickly inquired, bending to inspect the burned appendage, which was half-buried in the snow. As expected, it brought his attention away from goading a fight out of Sesshoumaru, although he did not look particularly thrilled to divulge the explanation.

"I tripped over the fire. I was in a hurry, bastard, quit giving me that look!" Inuyasha barked as Sesshoumaru shook his head and averted his eyes.

"Whatsa bastard?" Ashitera inquired then, sounding overly loud to Inuyasha's ears as he whirled to stare at her face in open horror.

"Yes, hanyou, why don't you provide the explanation? Given the circumstances of your own birth, I believe you are overly qualified," came that sneering voice, bringing the desire to dismantle his brother's face to the forefront of Inuyasha's mind once more.

Rin heaved a sigh as she rose from inspecting his foot, eyes lifting to his face, and Inuyasha remembered why he liked this girl. No osuwari! as Kagome would have provided, no harsh reprimand as Sango would have given, just a faintly pained smile as she requested, "Whatever you tell her, please remember to add that she is not allowed to say it." She then cast a look over her shoulder toward his house before adding, "Do you need me to do anything for you?"

"No, go help her," he grumbled, gesturing toward the house. "She's got Sango and Kaede, but she asked for you, too; said you wanted to be here. She was shrieking for 'Drugs' earlier, too, but I'm not sure what to do about that."

"Who's that?" Rin asked with a confused frown.

Inuyasha hunched his shoulders in open befuddlement, hands raising, clearly perplexed. "I don't have a clue."

At that, Rin nodded and pulled her coat more securely around her before turning to head across the road. She had only moved a few steps when his hesitant voice stopped her.

"Hey, Rin."

And she whirled around, blinking through the precipitation to find Inuyasha looking away, studying something in the snow as he mumbled, "Thanks for coming. I know it'll make her feel better."

"You're welcome, Inuyasha."

And as she disappeared into his house, Inuyasha felt that evil sneer fall back into place as he raised challenging eyes to his brother's face. "And happy birthday to you, moron. May this be one of the last you torture us with."

"Youkai do not have birthdays," Sesshoumaru idly corrected him.

"Heh...you're just saying that because you don't want to admit that you're about to start shriveling from old age. 400 years. Damn. Nice going, Ji-chan."

And that was when he got what he had been working for since the jerk had shown up. Wordlessly and with blurred swiftness, Sesshoumaru pulled Ashitera from Inuyasha's lap and leveled the hanyou off the step with a heavy fist. Blinking off the impact, Inuyasha got back to his feet, shoved back his sleeves, and turned to face Sesshoumaru once more, happy beyond words for the distraction. "Now we're getting somewhere..."


She supposed it was her own fault. She had dawdled over the last several months with all the preparations and things done to put her village into order and her mind at peace, before turning leadership over to Koron and leaving what had been her home for a century. Now she was paying for it. The weather had changed so suddenly and so drastically that she had been caught, and was working to trudge her way through the shin-deep snowdrifts as ice was hurtled into her face by unforgiving winds. And she could admit to eyeing the distant, grey horizon with some dread. There was more of it coming, worse from the looks of it, and she cursed herself for not waiting until spring.

But Zadi hadn't wanted to wait, not any longer; it was as though whatever was tugging at her on the inside had suddenly taken control and had pulled her away from that village. As soon as she had seen that they were set for the winter, she had wanted to leave, had all but run from the village, feeling totally free, untethered. She belonged completely to herself for the first time in as long as she could remember, and that self was hurtling toward him as fast as it could possibly manage.

Well, it had been until these accursed storms. Her fingers were aching, her nose was numb, her throat was sore, and she was rapidly losing feeling in her toes. She thought that she recognized where she was, but it was difficult to judge in this foul weather. And the closer she got to him, the more worried she was about what sort of reception she would receive. She had said no, and he had taken that and left. Perhaps he had dismissed her entirely. Maybe he had found someone else and moved on. He hadn't even explicitly stated that they would be together, just that she didn't have to remain where she was, didn't have to resign herself to growing old and accepting a normal human life. With every step she took, she became more paranoid. In her mind's eye, she saw herself fumbling her way to his front step only to have the door thrown open by the perfect youkai goddess that was Lien, asking Kanaye why a filthy, frozen human was lingering on his doorstep.

This was misery, and so her brain was providing appropriate thoughts to frame the day. Her numbed feet struck something hidden by the white powder and she stumbled, pitching forward into the snow and hissing a curse as she sunk into a drift that felt as though it was attempting to consume her, and her mind irritatedly accused it of sucking in other poor, unsuspecting travelers.

Starting to lose it, aren't ya, Zadi? she sighed to herself.

Lurching furiously back to her feet, she focused her eyes ahead of her, beyond the swirling precipitation, and began trudging forward. She made it another dozen steps before being betrayed by feet that could not see what they were trodding on, and so she found her world spiraling downward once more...but her momentum was halted by a sudden jerking motion and she was hauled back upright again, a larger arm entwining with hers as a very familiar voice heaved an exasperated sigh.

"You are truly pathetic. I can hear your teeth chattering, human"

"Ka---"

"I've been watching you for a while, but I figured I'd better intervene," Kanaye explained in a tone that suggested her own incompetence as an inferior being had pulled him away from something of vital importance. His eyes swerved toward the top of her head which was covered by a hood that blocked most of her face from his view. "So are you here to see me or to assassinate me?" he inquired conversationally, pulling her along the blistery, snowswept path, bare tree limbs swaying manically back and forth overhead.

"You're not funny," she complained, giving a sudden violent shiver.

"But one never knows with you, do they?" he countered in that same odd tone that left her wondering if he was making fun of her. Actually, given whose company she was in, she was confident he was making fun of her.

"What happened to your hair?" she questioned, forgetting the cold for a moment as she reached out, uninvited, and grasped a handful of the silky strands, letting them fall through her fingers. They were shorter now, just sweeping past his shoulders in an ethereal, silvery fall, and she noticed he was covered by a fine layer of snow, as though he had been outside for a while.

"Ah, it is a tedious story," he claimed. "Let's just say it is the result of a rather nasty little fight, one that allowed me to add two more humans to my graveyard. Actually, I was in the process of burying a third when I noticed you were nearby."

"What'd the third one do?" she questioned sickly, feeling unnerved by the fact that he would bother with such a thing as a burial.

"He was paid to exterminate me, but what made it truly funny was that he tried those sutras first. These people have no concept of what they are coming to fight," he stated, sounding disappointed, as though they were wayward children who had not been properly minded.

"Why...do you bury them?"

He blinked his amber eyes at that, as though considering, then answered, "They do start to smell after a while, and considering how often this happens, they would begin to pile up. Besides, I find it oddly relaxing."

"That's...scary."

"Undoubtedly," he agreed.

She was disconcerted to hear what her arrival had interrupted, but that quickly faded with the elation that was him being there at all, and she suddenly did not know what to say. She closed her eyes then, allowed him to lead her like some blind woman, recognizing how very tired she was; she had not slept well the night before for obvious reasons, had been afraid to do little more than cat nap. Every appendage was aching from the cold, but those feelings returned, reminding her of why she had come, the ones that succeeded in making her miserable and happy beyond expression, all depending on his words, his expressions, what feelings he was able to conjure, and fumble with, and express in some bizarre fashion. It bothered her that he had that much power, and she wondered if he knew; that longing for him had pulled her away from everything else, her entire foundation.

Kanaye watched with some interest as the woman turned suddenly and flung herself at him, forcing him back a step in surprise as her arms wrapped around his neck, whatever words she was saying muffled by the fact that her face was buried against him. He frowned and shook his head at the assault, uncomprehending. "My point in true form," he sighed his defeat. "What're the hysterics about?"

"I'm not hysterical," came the mumbled statement.

"What sort of horrible trip was this, woman?" he asked, tone suggesting he was about to start laughing at her.

"I'm just so glad to see you."

"If you say so," he answered, uncovering her hair so that it was let loose in a dark wave that whipped about in the chilly wind. Her head lifted so that she could look at him, and he smirked faintly, one clawed hand slipping into the heavy coat she was wearing, coming to rest at her back, the other threading itself into her hair until it was cupping her head, and then he pulled her in, a full-bodied embrace, joltingly warm.

She instantly felt the beginnings of it, that present youki that ignited her extra sense, reaching for it, craving and addictive, and there was a sudden resurgence of warmth that made her forget that the temperature was anything but comfortable. She melted, that tingling feeling sweeping through her body, her limbs, until the cold, gnawing ache was gone.

"Leech," he murmured the accusation. She instantly pulled back at that and he smiled benignly. "But it's not like I wasn't offering..."


Light-footed and with a growing, frozen wind at her back, Sashe crossed the thin, frozen river, not particularly bothered by the unforgiving day. It was not obvious...there was no drastic shift in terrain other than the journey across the sea, but she could feel when she was home. This was why she had never been able to stay with her mother in China for very long. She did not belong there. She could blend in well. She could certainly behave as though she belonged, as though she was glad to be there, but, always, something in her would tug her back toward Japan, and, finally feeling that she was ready, she heeded its call.

She reached the other side of the frozen strip of water and listened to the wind as it began to howl, growing in force until snow was being driven into her back in sheets. It was hindering her sense of smell. She was barely in Sesshoumaru's territory, but she could admit that part of her expected him to show up any moment, pointed finger directing her back to China. She found herself somewhat amused at that expectation. But, then again, he seemed to have so much more to distract him these days, and even if he was coming, she would certainly have little advance warning in this weather.

Tired of fighting it, she turned toward the looming hillside, set on searching out some sort of temporary shelter. She was in no hurry, really. She was just satisfied with being back in her homeland. This return always prompted her with memories she held very dear to her...and many that were not quite as happy, but worth keeping all the same. She slipped in amongst some skeletal, ice-coated trees, allowing them to shield her from some of that biting wind, and it was then that her senses snapped a warning to her brain, one it fumbled to recognize a split instant before...

And then there he was, causing her to startle slightly as a massive brown figure simply appeared and fell into step with her, sun-streaked bronze hair whipping about in the remains of the wind that rushed through the treecover, and she could not help but smile faintly. You warned me, Shinya...

"You're a bit far from home, aren't you, Furu-sama?" she inquired lightly, turning to glance up at him as she walked. The trees, dead as they looked from winter's grasp, felt strangely alive, home to squirrels and other animals that were cowering inside, claiming warmth, their subtle heartbeats reaching her ears as though the trees themselves had each developed a pulse.

"Hmm...am I?" he murmured, sounding distracted, as though it had not occurred to him.

"Sesshoumaru will not be happy about you being here..."

"Ah, yes. Well, as delightful as His Highness is, I tend not to worry about pleasing him overly much." His warm eyes swerved toward her, and he added, "You don't seem very surprised to see me."

"I was warned that I might encounter you at some point on the way back," she admitted, frigid wind combing through her hair like icy fingertips. "Shinya mentioned that you've practically been living in her backyard for the past few months."

"Yes, trying to pull out of her exactly where you were or when you'd be coming back. That girl," he exhaled in a pained sigh. "Getting information out of her is as productive as repeatedly poking a sharp stick into your eye. She's so sweet and soft-spoken and well-mannered, at first I was certain she couldn't be Kanaye's---"

Sashe smiled, knowing what was coming, and she watched as Furu's hands extended as though he still couldn't believe what he saw.

"---but have you seen that child fight? Holy hell, I think that's the scariest thing I've ever seen."

Sashe grinned at his disbelief. Her sister was deceptively delicate-looking and mild-mannered for a youkai, took after their mother in that regard, but unlike Lien, Shinya had been exposed to Kanaye's brutal training regimen, had taken to it, absorbed it, and she was more than adept at defending herself because of it. Sashe, too, had received similar training, but had been far less interested, and because of that she had lingering weaknesses that her father consistently tried to get her to correct. "Did she humiliate you, Furu-sama?"

He shook his head. "No, no...she had a problem with one of your dad's old 'friends'. A big, ugly, troll-looking guy, nearly my size. But don't worry...he'll never have a shot at her or Kanaye again. I was completely pointless, she had him handled, but I think I earned points from your father just for being there. It'll help, certainly, for when I tell him that you intend to accept my offer and become my mate."

"When you tell him what?" she exclaimed incredulously, large golden eyes blinking as her forward progress halted and she turned to face him fully. The cold wind slid past like a knife as he stopped as well, turned to stare at her with humorous eyes. They were beautiful, really, she decided absently, a gold-flecked brown and they radiated indulgence, kindness, as though he was certain of his place and was trying to help her find hers.

"Oh, that's right, I haven't convinced you yet, have I?" he stated, as though it had been a simple oversight. "Well, we can do this in whatever order you feel comfortable with, Sashe."

Sashe's head spun with the rapid shift in conversation, and it shook of its own accord, pulling her back to the moment. "Furu-sama---"

"You can feel free to drop that bulky title," he offered.

"Furu," she amended, choosing her words carefully. "I---I'm really not ready. You see, I don't choose very well, that much has been made obvious, and I think I need some time to---"

"You're not choosing this time. You were chosen," he broke in bluntly.

You do have the most jarring way of speaking, don't you? she mused. "I appreciate that, but let's be realistic. You---"

"Yes, let's," he agreed with a wide smile that captured his entire boyish face. He lowered his voice then, as though speaking something confidential and meant only for her ears. "I made a deal with your sister, you know."

"A...a deal?" You left that part out, Shinya...

"Yes. After months of working on her, I finally got her to agree to tell me when you would be coming back and by what route. In exchange for that, I am to take you to stay with her. But I would like to form my own deal with you."

"Yes?" she asked, feeling disconcerted and wondering for the hundredth time exactly what had prompted this youkai to form such a fascination with her. It had been so sudden, so unprovoked, though she could admit to feeling a slight, happy flutter when each of Shinya's letters would arrive with additional complaints about his pestering, his interfering, and the fact that he seemed unable to let up or leave her sight for more than a few days at a time, constantly badgering for details.

"I'd like permission to come see you," Furu requested seriously.

"You're persistent, aren't you?" she murmured, looking away from him as she turned to trudge through the snow once more. He easily fell into step with her and she found herself focusing on the shadow he was casting ahead of them, noticing that her own shadow was blending with his until it was difficult to differentiate between them, and she realized that that was because he was walking so closely with her, arm brushing just past hers with each step.

"Exasperatingly so, according to your sister," he admitted with a lazy grin. "But, then again, I will admit that I enjoy antagonizing her just for its own sake. She's adorable, but I prefer the elder sister..."

Blushing slightly at that, Sashe tried to force out a stern tone, but found that she only sounded apologetic as she said, "Get my father's permission...and you have mine."

He exhaled a heavy sigh at that, head angling to eye her warningly. "That is certain to end badly."

"I have tried to hide relationships from him before," she explained ruefully. "That is what always ends badly. Maybe he won't react so violently if he feels like he has some measure of control."

"Ah, I see," he replied with an understanding nod. "I will certainly do my best. And I'll bring Shinya with me for backup. If anyone is capable of kicking Kanaye's ass, I think it might just be that girl. Scary, I'm telling you..."


He was certain that if she crept any closer to that fire she was going to be set ablaze, so close he could smell her skin heating. Appearing blissful and content after having dethawed, Zadi sat very still, eyes closed, flames licking quietly as background noise, hueing her skin different shades of gold. Kanaye sat and eyed her, feeling akin to someone who has acquired a new puppy and is unsure of what bad habits it will display throughout the house. Her head turned and she leveled him with an intent gaze, blue eyes scouring his soul, or what was left of it...

There was a faint scurrying motion and Zeshu came ambling into the room. Wordlessly, he extended furred hands, offering a cup of something that steamed, and Zadi accepted it, thanking him, but caught onto the openly resentful look he shot at her. Then, silently, he fled just as quickly as he arrived, Kanaye's head turning to watch the chubby youkai with vague interest as he passed.

"Hmm...he always thinks of strange things like that."

"I don't think he likes me," Zadi confided ruefully, taking a sip of the steaming concoction and wondering a moment later if that might have been a bad idea.

"You tried to kill me," Kanaye carelessly reminded her. "He probably didn't enjoy the prospect of losing his happy home. He'd have ended up splitting time with Jaken, fumbling over who gets to stroke Sesshoumaru's ego."

"So...he's either angry about my attacking you...or he's worried that I have replaced him as your ego-stroker?" she asked with incredulous humor, certain that there was nothing as exhausting as interpreting demon behavior, and the rampant jealousy and conceit that motivated them.

"You are free to stroke anything you like," Kanaye offered without shame, eyes captured by a feral gleam brought on by the firelight. "I can assure you that he has not been extended that same invitation."

She felt her face redden and averted her eyes at that. "The things you say. Honestly, I am certain your mother did not teach you to speak that way."

"As she has been dead for over six hundred years, I do not seek her approval."

"That's a shame. You could use a mother more than anyone I've ever met," Zadi teased, glancing back at him with gentle humor. "Abhorrent manners, constant vulgarity, an embarrassing vocabulary. Not to mention the homicidal tendencies..."

"I had her. I also had Sesshoumaru's mother. Neither of them was able to mold me according to their liking."

"Sesshoumaru's mother?"

"Seiya. She was the epitome of the perfect female youkai. Flawless," he answered, and she heard something change in his voice, warming and hinting at...regret? "Inutaisho and I chose the wrong women. It ended badly, all of it, as you can see." He seemed to come back then and fixed her with a serious stare. "If he comes looking for you, I'm going to gut him."

"He? Koron?" Zadi murmured in confusion, then seemed to catch onto the faint jealousy that provoked the words and she smiled. "I think that's meant to be...sweet...in a demented way."

"No, what's sweet is that you think I'm joking," came the low response.

"He's very friendly, Kanaye. He---"

"Then he'll make friends easily in hell, won't he?"

She rose to her feet then in a graceful motion, flames playing off of her shiny dark hair, and he said nothing as she walked toward him, knelt in front of him, rested her arms on his legs. "No need to be jealous."

"Why would I be jealous of a corpse?"

"Kanaye..."

"Hmm?" his eyes darkened resentfully then, and he muttered. "You are you, and I am me. Separate. Don't think this is something it's not."

"I think you adore me," she slowly accused, resting on each word, a playful smile tugging at her lips.

"Thinking is not your strong suit. Ah, and don't think that separation will be a physical one. I fully intend to wear you out."

She laughed at that, gaze lifting from his face to glance around the warmly-lit room. It was neat and clean, but it gave off the same feel as the rest of the house, sprawling, large, uninhabited. This was Kanaye's shelter, not his home, and she found that incredibly sad for some reason. She turned back to him then, watched his perfect face, which stared back at her with an equal intensity as she said, "I think you'll be surprised at how little I need. As things stand, I am happy. Love does curious things, raises some expectations, lowers others, makes even the most murderous and unrelenting of fiends seem perfect beyond description."

His eyes fell to her fingers, which were twined across his knees, her head falling to rest on them, and he found himself speaking before he understood what he was trying to say. "Love does not exist. It is a word used by weaker creatures to define those feelings of giddiness for which they have no other term. Love descends into hatred as easily as any other emotion, if not more easily. The only real emotion is hatred. And, because of that, its opposite. A true bond, one that is unbreakable, is formed when one realizes that hatred for an individual is impossible. Sashe...Shinya...there is nothing they could do to cause me to hate them. Devotion cannot be any truer than that."

He watched as her eyes blinked, that depthless blue resting on him once more as she lifted her head and said, "I think, in a strange way, that's a beautiful thing to say."

"I cannot hate you," he suddenly whispered, voice agitated, as though despising the words and himself for saying them. They appeared to take her aback, and she froze, expression wondering.

"Kanaye..."

"I have tried," he said, shaking his head as though relaying a mental defeat that was as sound as any physical one could be. "You are a human, and that should be enough. You tried to end my life, the basest of betrayals. And still...I can summon nothing darker for you than mild exasperation," he admitted, and his face lightened a bit, less angry and more uncomprehending, as though expecting the reason to be written on her face.

And, as he watched the mixture of surprise and inexplicable happiness that crossed her features at those words, he supposed it was.


The faint sunlight that had broken through the grey day was bouncing off of the ice, illuminating that exhausting child and her incessant play. Ashitera had taken to repeatedly clambering up the low, snow-packed hill, coat and hair caked with frozen white, then hurtling herself back down said hill to fling herself out onto the shimmery, solid river, sliding in a whirling bundle of gleeful shrieking and giggles. Then, picking herself back up, she would run to do it again.

From the bank, Sesshoumaru eyed her with vague interest. He had already tested the ice. If it could hold him, it could certainly hold her, and there was no sign or sound of cracking, so he allowed himself to tune the child out. He had acquired the pleasant ability to filter her out of his hearing when he wanted nothing more than the solitude of listening to his own ideas instead of every random, passing thought that came from her mouth. She was getting better, certainly. After eight months with him, she had picked up on some of his moods and habits and adjusted accordingly. And he had had to do his own share of that on her behalf, without question.

"Looooook!" came the shrill demand, and his eyes lazily swerved toward her again as she performed yet another graceless sprawl, spiraling past his field of vision in a brown and black blur.

He withheld a resigned sigh. This was boredom in truest form. His ears repeatedly searched for Rin's returning footsteps, certain that she should be finished soon. He'd heard the squalling cry of an infant earlier, and assumed the miko had been put out of her misery, barring the likelihood that it was some other human villager's brat. They certainly bred like rabbits, these humans...

He looked out over the frosted treetops, eyeing the oncoming storm. It was going to hit around nightfall, not too far away, and so he was about to go retrieve Rin and physically remove her from the village, as he certainly did not want to be stuck in this place overnight. As it was, he had been there the majority of the day, seated near the river, allowing Ashitera to pester him. Heavy snowflakes swirled around him, tornadic, warning him of what he already knew was coming. It didn't bother him very much; he liked winter, mostly because it brought a sense of solitude and peace to everything. Things burrowed and hibernated and rested. He supposed it suited him to have been born on such a day. Cold, uncomfortable for humans, and quite inconvenient, he mused with malicious humor, recalling Inuyasha's bout of fist-shaking in his direction from earlier in the day.

The hanyou had not gotten his wish. That girl had been born today after all, and he could admit to taking some vindictive pleasure in that

He blinked slowly as a childish face suddenly peered into his, grinning manically; and she dropped down into the snow next to him, tucking her feet under her legs.

"Will you play with me?"

"Play what?" he questioned warily.

She seemed thoughtful for a moment, considering, then chirped, "I see something...green."

"No, you don't," he answered wryly, eyes scouring the landscape, which was coated by hues of white and blue and bare brown. He realized she had been trying to trick him then, because she answered with one of those hysterical giggles.

"Hmm...," she said, going serious suddenly, fingers clasping themselves in her lap as her eyes slid slyly toward him. "I see something...pointy."

He repressed another sigh. A truly monotonous day... "Tenseiga?" he questioned absently.

"Nope!"

"These?" he asked, half-heartedly lifting his hand so that the claws were visible.

"No," she answered with a confident shake of her head, and he could tell she was on the fit of exploding into another giggling fit.

"What then?" he asked, the question coming out as suffering and worn to his own hearing.

"Your ears!" she cackled, dissolving into the snow amidst shrieking laughter and he graced her with a look of overly-dignified exasperation before turning to stare out over the frozen landscape once more. It was then that he picked them up, those welcome footsteps, and the relief was immeasurable. He glanced over his shoulder, watching as Rin made her way toward them, arms folded against the heavy chill, wearing a bright smile that became even more noticeable when Ashitera scrambled to her feet and ran to greet her, hand wrapping into hand as the child chattered away about her day of snow play.

"Well, she's here. Congratulations, Oji-san," Rin sighed as she sat down beside him, grinning at the expression that crossed his face, as close to a sarcastic eye-rolling as he was ever going to provide. Ashitera flopped down beside her, nearly in Rin's lap, and gave a sudden shiver, as though just becoming aware of the lowering temperatures.

"Can I see her?" Ashitera asked hopefully.

"Not yet. Maybe before we leave. But Kagome asked for Sesshoumaru to come see her first."

"Why?" came the surprised question, sounding as perplexed as he felt. He hadn't intended to see the child at all, and could not fathom precisely why the miko would even ask for such a thing. He found it all tedious and uninteresting; would not have even been there at all if not for Rin's request.

"I'm not sure," Rin replied, trying to warm Ashitera's cold fingers in her own. "She seemed...bothered by something. The baby is perfectly healthy, beautiful. But she asked me to see if you would come."

"Inuyasha's her dad!" Ashitera exclaimed, as though grasping the concept. "He'll be good at it."

"An overly-charitable creature, aren't you?" Sesshoumaru questioned her, and he blinked as the child all but pitched herself across Rin, legs clambering until she was situated firmly between them, eyeing him with eyes that fairly glowed unswerving loyalty.

"But not as good at it as you," she swore sincerely.

"Is that so?" he murmured the question, uncertain of what to say as Rin turned a bright, triumphant smile on him, and he wondered what that was about.

"Yes, you're mine, right?" the girl insisted.

"Your...what?"

"Father," she chirped the word, appearing expectant.

Ah, discomfort. "Am I?" he returned stiffly, and she nodded vigorously as though daring him to argue otherwise. His face melded into a frown as he considered what to say, finally answering with a gruff reprimand. "It is impolite to ask a question when you already know the answer."

Rin suddenly looked away, and he knew it was because she was trying to keep from showing that she was laughing at him. He rose then, summoning his dignity. No one had ever been as successful at putting him off-balance as this peculiar child, and he all but fled from them, the girl sing-songing that new paternal title after him with admonishments to come back soon. He stormed into the village proper, prompting one human to drop an armload of firewood in terrorized surprise. Seized by a mood he could not name, he stalked down the road, eyes narrowing as the hanyou emerged from his house, clawed finger swinging around to point in his direction, and Sesshoumaru gifted the boy with continued use of the hand, instead of following his first instinct, which was to detach it entirely.

"Don't say anything I'll have to kill you for," Inuyasha warned.

"Why would you give me the motivation?" Sesshoumaru muttered acidly in return, sweeping past the confrontational half-demon and into the house.

He wanted this overwith and quickly. The stench of these humans was in everything around him, creeping over him like a physical substance. And this place reeked of his brother, which was even worse. The fire had been allowed to burn low, making the distraction of the home's inhabitants obvious. But the place was still overly warm, likely due to all the activity, and he paced his way through the vaguely familiar dwelling, finally stopping to shove his way past a half-open door. The demon slayer was there, bent over the miko who was propped up, wrapped infant tucked in her arms, hair in tangled disarray and looking ridiculously joyful, as though she had accomplished something that had never been done properly before.

"What?" he demanded without preamble, bringing the two cooing women out of their delirium.

Sango's head snapped upward, expression falling into something that rebuked him for his tone. "Those are some positive vibes you're putting out there, Sesshoumaru."

"Shouldn't you be expelling yet another of your own at any moment, taijiya?" he sneered back. "That appears to be your specialty these days."

Sango heaved a sigh, eyes rolling toward the ceiling as she stepped away from her friend. "You're such a sweetheart. Rin's one lucky girl," she told him, each word dripping with insincerity. "I'm going to go make Inuyasha eat something, Kagome-chan. I'll be back in a little bit."

"Why are you so moody?" Kagome questioned, as Sango graced Sesshoumaru with a last dirty look before slipping out of the room. "Today is a happy day."

"Really? Frigid cold and shrieking agony fit your description of a pleasant day? I suppose one must learn to settle for excruciating mediocrity if they decide to spend their life with Inuyasha."

Kagome shook her head lightly at that, eyes falling to the newborn. "We've named her Miya."

"Fascinating."

A bemused smile worked its way across her lips at his sarcasm. Normally, she would rise to his baiting but there was something about today that made her certain she could forgive him for anything. It was that type of contentment. And then her thoughts returned to why she had asked for him, and her eyes fell to the sleeping baby, gaze sweeping across rosy cheeks and delicate eyelashes. "Will you do something for me?" she murmured.

"You allowed my brother to procreate. It will be a long time before you are allowed to ask for favors."

Her eyes crept up to his face once more. "I just want you to look at her."

"She's healthy," he answered, unmoved, sight roving about the quaint little room, clearly unimpressed, making no movement to step further inside. "I can tell you that from here."

"Please?" came the repeated request, and that effervescent happiness faded some, making Kagome look suddenly very tired.

Three quick strides, along with a desire to vacate the village entirely, brought him to her bedside and he watched expectantly as Kagome folded back the yellow blanket, exposing a perfectly normal baby, face relaxed into easy slumber, wispy tendrils of dark brown hair, one fist closed and resting against a chubby cheek.

He peered down at the child, momentarily forgetting the woman entirely as something struck him as... It was a strange feeling, unnerving, like he was recognizing something, as though he already knew this girl and everything she was going to be. Blanking his expression, he watched as the baby's eyes suddenly opened, a clear, unmistakable amber, and her sight locked on him with an intensity that no newborn should have.

"You see it, too?"

He blinked, said nothing as the child's mouth turned upward into a smile and issued a soft squeal, still intently watching him, fists waving outward in a wild motion. He looked away and straightened, taking a few measured steps backward, as though to distance himself once more.

"I see that...the Shikon no Tama, existing in its original form or not...keeps finding its way back to you," he said haltingly.

"Should I be afraid?" she whispered, and for a moment, she did indeed look that.

"Afraid of what? Enjoy what you have," he answered calmly, moving back toward the door, still feeling faintly disconcerted. "And be grateful that she took after you."

Kagome blinked wide brown eyes. "Are you complimenting me?" she asked with open amusement.

"Not intentionally," came the swift answer as he moved to leave, but he was halted, his back still to her, as she called him by name again.

"Sesshoumaru...even if you deny it, I know that she and I are here because of you. I won't say more than that, but I want you to know that I know and that I'm grateful," she said with quiet sincerity, and he turned to look at her again, expression empty and unwelcoming as she continued, fumbling for the words as she spoke, as though searching for the right ones. "And...it's comforting to know that you're watching everything, that you're good at it. You work very hard to make sure everything stays as it is, stable, unchanging. I don't think most people in the west recognize all of what you do, but I do, and Inuyasha does as well, even if he would never say it."

"Kagome...," came the lowly murmured name, and she was surprised at its rare use, met that impassive stare. "I once told you that I need no validation for my actions. That still holds true."

She supposed that was as close to a 'you're welcome' as he was capable of and she smiled brightly once more, glancing down at the bundled Miya as she added, "Happy birthday to Oji-san as well, eh?"

"It's hers now. She can have it," he muttered, barely audible, and she looked up in time to watch as he left the room, obviously making some unwelcome comment to his brother on the way out, because there was a barked responding curse that made Kagome wince, and then the perfect, serene silence of a winter night's descent.


Wow, can't believe I actually made it through this thing. XD A few things, though...I've changed Sesshoumaru's age a bit, although most people probably won't even remember that I mentioned his age at all unless they actually remember from "Reflected Past", but as I am revising I'll change his age in "RP", too. Why? Bleh...long story...continuity...issues...uninteresting, but I'm vaguely obsessive compulsive with this thing. P Also, Sesshoumaru's visit to see Miya may seem a little confusing to those who haven't read "Reflected Past" and, especially, its epilogue, but I thought it would be just as weird not to do it, since...again...continuity.

All right, so all done with this one. I need to finish up revising "Reflected Past" and then I'll figure out what I'm doing and who will be involved. )

Thanks to Wethril for reading through all this stuff! What a chore. XD

To the Reviewers:

Sioned: A kidney? rotflmao! I appreciate that and I'll keep it in mind. XD

Taiyoukai Lady: Hmm...yes, I think that sums him up nicely. ;) He wasn't exactly "turned away", though...her old loyalty won out over new loyalty, but as you can see, that changed. XD I won't be reincarnating Rin, though. I'm considering doing something with her later on to help that short lifespan, but I'm not sure if I even want to do that. Seems like it'd be taking the easy way out. But as far as my story goes, he's definitely sticking with her...there were a million reasons why he made the decision he did concerning the North. I'd say his biggest motivation was the unspoken one, which is, after everything that happened, he didn't end up taking everything from Ashitera. He said he owed her nothing...and then turned right around and made that decision. Ambivalent Sesshy. ;)

Ghost140: Oh, I know...not everyone can be a lazy slacker student like I've been this summer. I have been absolutely pointless...but it's been really, really fun. XD And...'deal' is finalized. ;)

Cat: Thanks very much! I'm considering it, yes...I've got two ideas I shift back and forth between. Short sequel (dealing with the same characters), or longer prequel (dealing with Inutaisho, then Sesshoumaru growing up, etc.). I also can't decide on the tone...well, the prequel would be pretty dark in some areas, that's unavoidable...Sesshoumaru's mother's death, and Kanaye going homicidal on the human population. Kinda ugly. o.O Sequel...I'm tempted to do something truly horrible in that. I'm really very mean to these people. P Can't help it...love drama...

New Fan: Well, she doesn't end up changing his mind...it just sort of accidentally happens at some point, at least according to the "Reflected Past" epilogue. XD As for Ashitera...I don't know, really. But I set it up like that just in case. ;) Zadi and Kanaye...lol...I sort of left them semi-completed. He's still not willing to admit that he "loves" her...probably doesn't even know if he does or not...but he "can't hate" her, and for someone who is able to do that so easily with everyone else, it's a start. D

Ashes of the Star Phoenix: Ah, thank you! D Nothing helps improve one's writing skills like fanfiction...lol. I've got lots of improving to do...hopefully practice will help.

Ourania: rotfl! Sorry...yeah, they came out kind of quick. I agree...and Zadi understood that. It just took a friend to beat her over the head before she figured out that she's done enough, she's not enslaved to those people. ;) As for Kanaye's life...lol...I appreciate that, but it would be so OC I don't even think it'd fit into the "Inuyasha" category. ;) If I do end up doing another one, he'll be in them either way, though...either as the more Homicidal!Kanaye or the LessHomicidal!Kanaye, depending on timeline. o.O

Nova Alexandria: lol...thanks! They're fun to write. D

Denisa/Anca/Vivi: Hiya! Sure...you don't have to ask permission to send an e-mail...lol. Wow...well, since manga is a Japanese comic, are you trying to get it published in Japan...? As for helping...well, I'm about to start back to school and I've barely had time to finish this story up, so I probably won't have time to take on another project on top of these stories, but I wish you luck. )

Sugarbox: Yeah, I figured I could mess with him a little bit...get him to where he's slightly less self-centered, at least where one other person is concerned, but I didn't want to change his interactions with others overly much. Like you said...it's just with Rin. D Hmm...Furu and Sashe. That's being debated. I added a little more on to them at the end of this one, just so that part of things wouldn't be left hanging so badly, but whether I add them into the next one, I'm not sure yet. As for Kanaye...fofl...yes, he enjoys making people miserable...and I enjoy trying to find ways to get him to humiliate people. Seriously, there has to be something wrong with me. XD Names...well, they're very random. Some were picked because of their meaning (Miya's name, for instance, which means "sacred house" fit the whole Shikon no Tama thing...Eizan's, when run through Kalabarians, brought up stuff like "mental tension" and "frustration"), others were picked just because I liked the name (Shinya), some were created randomly from various other words (Ashitera, Sashe). So...basically, no rhyme or reason. ) Actually, just ran some of the other names through and got this for Kanaye (which I chose because it means "zealous one"), but this cracked me up:

"If you could express only the constructive qualities and

restrain the negative qualities of your nature, you would

always be good company. These contrasting qualities

make it difficult for people to understand you and can

lead to friction in your personal life. You are deep,

philosophical, and refined, but your extremely sensitive

nature causes you to become depressed over any

real or imagined slight."

Scary. XD

Witch of Darkness: Thank you! Yeah, I just can't imagine Inuyasha, as mentally immature as he often is, handling this sort of situation with much decorum...lol. And, yes, thoughts are solidifying...I'm just not certain which thoughts to bake first. XD

Sasori: "Zadi/Kanaye lovin'"...lol...I call it more love on her side, and rabid animal lust on his side, but, hey, whatever makes 'em happy. XD

Himani: Thank you! Yeah, waiting for updates is annoying...but on the other side of that, the "author" needs time to get it to sound all right. It's hard to crank them out too fast and still get them to sound halfway decent. XD And I love him, too. D