By: Black Mage Dad
The leaves fell unusually early that year. Weeks before Autumn was actually due, the trees began to shed their pretty leaves of gold and scarlet and orange. The ground was littered in the fiery sheets and the trees, which, only weeks before, had stood majestic and tall, were now barren and dead.
"This is my favorite time of year!" an excited Shippou exclaimed, making a mad dash through the leaves and watching them launch up around him. Kagome laughed, sitting on a log outside Kaede's hut and watching the young kitsune play.
"Now, now, Shippou, don't get too carried away..." she teased. "If you get lost under there it'll take us hours to find you..."
Miroku was smirking as he pushed aside the cloth shielding the hut door and sat down beside the miko. "I keep waiting for a tree to just drop everything on his head,"
"Oh, that's nice..." Sango frowned. She was crouched on the path a few feet away, carefully polishing her Hiraikotsu. Miroku laughed sheepishly. He always seemed easily frightened by Sango.
"Hey, Inuyasha!" Kagome called. "Why don't you come down here and join us?!"
From the roof-top came a very uninterested "Feh,"
Sango looked up from her boomerang bone just long enough to shoot Inuyasha a curious stare. She couldn't exactly see him, but she caught a slight glimpse of his crimson haori.
"What's he doing up there...?"
"Oh, I dunno..." Kagome sighed. "Being Inuyasha, I guess..."
Miroku chuckled. "Guess those ears of his can hear us..."
"Damn straight!" came the aggravated reply.
Inuyasha didn't know how many ways he could get across the point that he wanted to be alone. Couldn't they ever just shut up and let him be?!!
"Chikuso..." the hanyou muttered bitterly to himself. "The smell is getting stronger...But not like it's coming closer...It's just...getting worse..."
Inuyasha was dreading the moment that news reached the village. Eventually, someone would find out...Kaede might sense the presence of a demon...Or the scent would cause a youkai rampage...Inuyasha blanched at the thought. A power struggle was going to come from this the likes of which Japan had never seen...
It was common knowledge amongst both youkai and humans that the death or incapacitation of a high-ranking demon caused quite an upset amongst the population of that particular youkai's territory. There would be chaos...
Inuyasha still remembered – though it was more like a fuzzy blob of color than a memory – the week that had followed his father, Inutaisho's, death. Not only had the Lord of the Western Lands been bested, but the demon ruler of one of the bordering territories by the name of Ryuukossei had been sealed away during the fight. The matter of Ryuukossei was difficult in that many a youkai lusted for his land (as he had no heirs to speak of) but were almost too terrified of him to try and take it. If he were to wake up – as he was not dead but merely under spell – he would slaughter the one that had taken his ranks instantly. But this still meant that the one that had sealed him – Inuyasha's father – would have claim over Ryuukossei's territory. And that was the issue at hand. Whoever took Inutaisho's place would have even more land than Inutaisho...
There was just one...little...problem...
Inutaisho did have an heir...A very young (too young, in most youkai's opinions) dog-demon named Sesshoumaru. To this day, that name struck fear into the hearts of thousands. A struggle had come up over the territory in which every kind of demon imaginable fought to take down Sesshoumaru and claim his land. For days and days and days, Inuyasha had snuggled in the protective arms of his human mother, Izayoi, listening to the screams that rang out over feudal Japan. For a full week, his half-brother did nothing but slaughter everything...It was the only way he could prove himself worthy of the title Lord of the Western Lands. Demons challenged him day and night, attempted to assassinate him every minute, piled on top of him and attempted to drag him down, only to find themselves reduced to pulp on Sesshoumaru's vicious claws. The reek of Sesshoumaru's Dokkasou poison choked the air for at least a month. The fight lasted for seven days and seven nights without pause. For exactly one-hundred-and-sixty-eight hours, there was nothing but the sounds of screaming and death as the sky burned crimson with the blood of a thousand youkai and the humans cowered in their huts.
And then, at dawn, it was silent...
Sesshoumaru had won at the price of thousands of innocent lives. But did he care? No, not at all...Or, at least if he did, he certainly didn't show it. For more than sixty years, he flaunted his new-found power across the west of Japan, roaming the forests and destroying all who dared to oppose him.
That was the first time Inuyasha realized what a monster his father had created. And he never forgot it...
But now Inuyasha wondered what would happen. It seemed an even bigger mess would come of this. He could smell it on the air, the horrible, stifling reek of blood. His brother's blood...
He didn't know whathad happened to Sesshoumaru, only that it had been bad...Really bad...Inuyasha had caught the scent earlier that morning. It was what had finally awoken him. But it seemed like nothing. He thought perhaps Sesshoumaru had gotten into a fight with some random youkai and gotten himself slashed. Nothing to write home about...
But by noon, Inuyasha could smell it as if the blood had spilled itself out over the entire forest. He was very in tune with his brother's smell, as it was somewhat similar to his own...
And he had a bad feeling Sesshoumaru might be dead...
It wasn't that Inuyasha cared. He hated Sesshoumaru with a passion matched only by Sesshoumaru's loathing of him...But he didn't want to think about the aftermath. The youkai knew of Inuyasha's existence. He was the heir to the land, wasn't he? Half-breed or not, he was still the last of Inutaisho's sons. But no demon would want a hanyou ruling their land...They would come for him and put Kagome in unnecessary danger...They could even kill her just to get to him...
"Gah, I wouldn't stand for it!!" Inuyasha cried.
"You wouldn't stand for what?" Inuyasha blinked and glared over the roof at Miroku, who was gazing back at him mildly. "Talking to yourself now, eh, Inuyasha? That's not a good sign..."
"Stuff it!" Inuyasha snapped. "I don't need some damn monk telling me my signs! I know my signs!!"
Miroku opened his mouth to reply when suddenly Kagome yelped. Inuyasha gasped, quickly forgetting his argument with the monk.
Inuyasha leapt off the roof and sprung towards the miko before his feet had even hit the ground.
"Kagome, what's wrong, what happened, I – "
"It's alright," Kagome waved the worried hanyou away. She was clutching something furry in her arms. "It's just Shippou...Something freaked him out and he flew into me..."
Sango hurriedly abandoned her Hiraikotsu to see what was wrong. When she spotted the shivering fox-tail in Kagome's arms, she immediately kneeled down beside them.
"Wow, something must have spooked him bad..."
"Shippou-chan," Kagome whispered. "Shippou-chan, what's wrong...? What did you see...?"
Shippou was sniffling into Kagome's uniform. "I...I was playing in the...in the leaves...And something came running out of the bushes and...and...it was all covered in blood!! It scared me!!" Shippou looked ready to burst into tears.
Inuyasha whipped his head in the direction of the trees, face etched with worry. Don't tell me it's started already...
"C'mon, we'd better go investigate," Miroku frowned, staring into the autumnal forest. "It could be a wounded animal...Which could lead us to bigger problems..."
Inuyasha snarled. "It's probably some dirty youkai here to make a feast of the cattle!!" Ignoring Kagome's cries of "Inuyasha, wait!" the young hanyou bolted into the trees. Miroku ran after him, clutching his staff.
"We'd better follow them," Sango suggested, retrieving the Hiraikotsu. Kagome nodded.
"Shippou-chan, maybe you should st – "
"N-no...! I wanna know what it was...!"
"Well, alright..." Kagome sounded doubtful but she rose carefully to allow Shippou to scurry onto her shoulder. Then they followed...
The trees seemed much more ominous now with the impending danger ahead. Suddenly, the beautiful leaves that littered the ground looked dead and shattered crisply beneath their feet. The trees looked twisted and gnarled, slowly releasing their leaves upon the crew as they crept carefully through the forest.
"Inuyasha, do you smell anything?" Sango queried.
He did, but he was reluctant to say what. "Blood..." the hanyou sighed. "Blood and...a human..."
The others glanced at him nervously but didn't speak.
"Kagome, do you hear that?" Miroku whispered suddenly. Kagome nodded.
"Yeah...Someone's – "
" – crying," Inuyasha finished, lip curling into a snarl. "I don't like this..."
And then they spotted her, half-buried in the leaves and drenched in blood.
Sango gasped. "It's a little girl!!"
The group came to a skidding halt, sending a flurry of yellow leaves flying up around them. Kagome was at the child's side immediately.
"Kagome, no!" Miroku cried. "She could be cursed or possessed!"
"No!" Kagome yelled. "I know this girl!!"
As the miko brushed away the leaves, they saw that the child was sitting up and crying softly. They took in her long black hair – one small ponytail dangling from the side of her head – and tiny kimono.
"It's that girl that follows Sesshoumaru around!" Miroku gasped.
"What could have happened to her?" Sango wondered aloud. Inuyasha felt that sinking feeling in his stomach. Had the youkai come for Sesshoumaru and wounded the little girl in the process...?
The child hiccupped as Kagome began searching her body for wounds. The little girl didn't say a word, still remembering how Kagome had protected her once before at Naraku's fortress. Kagome seemed confused.
"Guys...She's completely unharmed..."
Inuyasha stared down at the girl, golden eyes narrowed. The truth came to him as a slap in the face.
"That's not.her blood..." he murmured slowly. Kagome looked up at the hanyou curiously.
"What? Then whose is it...?"
"Take a guess..."
"Not Sesshoumaru!" Miroku exclaimed. Inuyasha nodded gravely.
"The smell of Sesshoumaru's blood has been in the air all day...Something must have happened to him..."
The little girl let out a faint sob.
The group gaped at her in awe. Inuyasha was so taken aback that he actually stumbled.
Tears were pouring down the young girl's face. Kagome hoisted the sobbing youth up onto her lap, trying gently to quiet the poor thing.
"Inuyasha, don't shout! Can't you tell she's distraught?!!"
"She's insane, that's what she is!" the hanyou argued. "Help Sesshoumaru?!! Why in the name of all things stable would I want to do that?!!"
"He...has a point..." Sango admitted, lowering her boomerang bone down into the leaves and scratching her head.
"S-Sesshoumaru-s-sama...w-was just t-trying to protect me!" the girl wailed, a fresh wave of tears spilling down her cheeks. "And n-now he's all t-torn up and...and he t-told me to go...go to the village...b-because he couldn't p-protect me anymore!!"
"That's not the only problem we're going to have," Miroku pointed out. "Inuyasha, if I'm correct, Sesshoumaru controlled quite a bit of land?"
"Keh, not as stupid as you look, eh, Miroku?" Inuyasha smirked wryly. "Yeah, he did, as a matter of fact. And as soon as he's vulnerable or kicks the bucket, they're gonna feast on the bastard and – "
" – and come straight for you," Miroku looked very concerned. Kagome gasped.
"Inuyasha, is this true?!!"
"Yeah, well, it's not like I'm going to let them get to me..."
Shippou looked terrified. "M-my dad told me about the time Sesshoumaru took power...He said it was the largest demon massacre in over five-hundred years! And all over some measly territory!"
"Measly isn't quite the right word," Sango cut in. "More like 'pointless,'"
The little girl was choking on her tears. Kagome was rocking her back and forth, trying to calm the youth.
Inuyasha frowned, sniffing the air. "I don't think the youkai know about this yet. I'm gonna beat them to it..."
"Inuyasha, you're not going over there?!" Sango gasped.
"I want to see Sesshoumaru...I want him to see what it feels like to be weaker than somebody else..."
"Inuyasha...!" Kagome warned. "This is no time to be acting on immature little grudges!"
"This isn't about that!" Inuyasha snapped. "I just...I just want to see what happened. And besides, he might as well know the girl is safe..."
The child looked up at him tearfully. For a moment, a flash of sadness crossed the hanyou's face.
"It's the least I can do for her..." Inuyasha whispered. "I'm just going to let the fool know she's in good hands. You guys can follow me if you want, but I'm going on ahead..."
And before any of them could stop him, Inuyasha had lunged into the trees and was gone...
Inuyasha didn't have to try very hard to find his brother. The smell of blood became more and more nauseating as he leapt from tree to tree. Eventually, he found a small clearing in the forest, littered with the beautiful, fiery Autumn leaves. Inuyasha made a light landing on the forest-floor and took in the sight of the once-great Sesshoumaru.
He looked as if he had been through some kind of Hell...Sesshoumaru was lying on his back in the middle of the clearing, the leaves that piled up around him sticky and thick with blood. His clothes were tattered shreds that lay about him, exposing his bloodied midriff. That alone was enough to make Inuyasha reel. Sesshoumaru's stomach was torn open, exposing...more than Inuyasha ever wanted to see in his life. The proud youkai's chest looked like some cat's scratching post. Sesshoumaru's hair, stained crimson, was pooled up around him. His face and one arm were shredded, his legs gnawed on. It was the most horrible thing Inuyasha would ever see in his life...
Sesshoumaru would have looked absolutely and positively dead if not for the slight rise and fall of his mangled chest and the fact that his golden eyes were open and staring up into the trees.
Inuyasha stepped up slowly beside the dog-demon, trying – and failing – to maintain a cocky expression on his face.
"Well, well...If it isn't Lord Sesshoumaru...You look like you've been run over by an ogre..."
Sesshoumaru's glazed eyes swiveled onto his younger brother for a moment before retreating back to the trees. He didn't even grace the hanyou with a response. Inuyasha sighed.
"We found your girl...Well, alright, she sorta found us...It was a mutual effort...She's safe. 'My wench' is taking care of her..."
Sesshoumaru's eyelids flickered as if he had caught the hidden barb in the comment. However, he still refused to speak. He seemed to be deep in thought. Feeling awkward, Inuyasha brushed away some leaves and sat down on the ground a few paces away from his dying half-brother.
"You're not even going to ask for the Tetsusaiga...?"
Sesshoumaru didn't say a word.
"...Or if I'm going to take over the land...?"
"You're not even going to ask if I'll take good care of your little brat?!"
Nothing. Inuyasha cocked his head in confusion.
"Well, alright...If that's the way you want it to be...I'll just be going...I'm anticipating the big brawl that's going to come out of this...I don't know what in all the Hells happened to you, but there's going to be some major shit because of it..."
The hanyou rose to leave, brushing the dried leaves off his pants. But he hadn't taken even two steps before Sesshoumaru's voice cut the peaceful silence.
Inuyasha turned and stared. "...What?"
"Her name is Rin, you disgusting half-breed..." Sesshoumaru's eyes were now locked on Inuyasha's, and he was growling slightly with rage. Inuyasha didn't say a word. Now he was the one who couldn't seem to talk...
"She doesn't deserve this..." Sesshoumaru hissed. "Rin doesn't deserve to live with you and your idiot companions...!"
Inuyasha was stunned. Sesshoumaru never showed any emotion. Ever. Yet here he was, absolutely seething with fury...Inuyasha sighed and sat down beside Sesshoumaru again.
"Would you rather that, or would you rather she was alone out there, waiting for the youkai to come and get her?"
Sesshoumaru glared and turned his face away from Inuyasha in disgust.
"...I wish I could live long enough to watch those creatures tear you limb from limb..."
"Yeah, like I'm gonna let that happen..." Inuyasha rolled his eyes. Still, memories of Sesshoumaru's ascension to power made him feel cold all over. If Sesshoumaru had had to put up with that, what would Inuyasha have to suffer through? Was he strong enough? Or, more importantly, was he capable of murder like his brother was?
Sesshoumaru gazed coldly into the trees, his emotionless shell restored. "You have the Tetsusaiga...It is probably the one ray of hope you you are a half-breed and built for failure..."
Sesshoumaru lay very still. He seemed fascinated by the leaves that drifted as golden petals from the trees. Inuyasha knew what he was thinking...
"You're mad because you died without claiming the Tetsusaiga, aren't you?"
"...It should have been mine...Father was a fool..."
"Well, you've got the Toukijin," Inuyasha argued. "It's even more powerful than my sword!"
"...It should have been mine..." Sesshoumaru repeated. "The Fang belonged to me..."
"But you got a fang!" Inuyasha snapped. "You've got the Tenseiga, a wonderful, wonderful sword! I don't see why you can't just have that little toad-freak of yours heal you with it..."
Sesshoumaru's face twitched and he gave Inuyasha one of those very faint "what are you, stupid?" looks.
"...That sword is only compatible with me...Just as I cannot touch the Tetsusaiga without a human arm, none can wield the Tenseiga effectively unless they are an extremely powerful demon such as myself..."
Inuyasha smirked. "That rules Jaken out, then..."
"Aw, c'mon Sesshoumaru...!" Inuyasha whined. "What happened to you?!!"
Sesshoumaru didn't make a sound. For a moment he fell terribly silent, and Inuyasha feared he was dead. Then the youkai took a breath and whispered one word:
Inuyasha gasped. "You're kidding?!! Naraku had the guts to make a move against you?!!"
"No...He dared to make a move against Rin..." Sesshoumaru hissed, grimacing in pain. "He...snuck up on her...and grabbed her from the bushes using that rat...Kohaku..."
Inuyasha went pale. "You didn't...kill Kohaku, did you?!"
"...The boy is fine...Because I went straight for Naraku...I was so angry about Rin that I didn't think...And I slashed the beast...releasing the miasma into the air...Once I was paralyzed and down...he tore me to ribbons with his tentacles...and allowed both Kohaku and Kagura to shred me into bits...Kohaku freed Rin...But left me for dead . . ."
Inuyasha was silent. That had to be the dirtiest, lowest scheme Naraku had ever concocted. Tricking Kikyou and himself was one thing, but kidnapping an innocent little child and then sending a whole team in to slaughter her guardian was a crime deserving of nothing less than death. Naraku had definitely reached a new low...
Sesshoumaru closed his eyes wearily, exhaustion finally setting in. "Naraku...knew about the chaos...my death...would cause...the bastard..."
Inuyasha watched his half brother out of the corner of one eye. He'd never heard Sesshoumaru talk this freely. For a moment, Inuyasha wondered if Sesshoumaru had purposely stayed alive just long enough to have this conversation with him.
"I'll protect Rin..." the hanyou assured his brother softly. "I promise. I'm...I'm sorry...about what happened to you..."
Sesshoumaru's eyes snapped open and he stared at Inuyasha as if the hanyou had sprouted a third dog-ear.
"I don't...want your pity..."
"Then don't take it," Inuyasha shrugged. "I just hope you feel the way I do...That petty squabbling isn't worth a lonely death..."
Sesshoumaru closed his eyes again, turning his face away from his saddened half-brother. "...I have always lived a lonely life...And I like it that way..."
"Then why'd you pick up the girl?" Inuyasha queried dryly. "I know you didn't let Rin follow you around for your health..."
Sesshoumaru moaned in pain. It looked like the end was nigh...
"She...f-follows me...and I simply...allow her...to do so..."
Inuyasha didn't feel like arguing. What was the point?
"I-Inuyasha...I don't...have a will..."
The hanyou looked up dazedly. "So...?"
"...leave everything to you..." A trickle of blood rolled from the side of Sesshoumaru's mouth. He was gasping for breath, clenching a clawed fist into the leaves. Inuyasha stared.
"You would trust me with that . . .?"
Sesshoumaru let out a small cry of pain. "I still think you're a...s-stupid hanyou...But...nobody left...for me...to trust...don't...don't have...living mother...Father...h-hated...me..."
Inuyasha's face creased with frustration. "Father did not hate you, Sesshoumaru. He gave the Tetsusaiga to protect me, and Tenseiga so that you could protect others...He believed in your strength, not mine..."
Sesshoumaru coughed, blood gushing up from his mouth. Inuyasha tried not to look away, but his stomach was tightening.
Inuyasha nodded. "I will..."
Inuyasha nearly jumped at being addressed by something other than "half-breed."
"N...no matter what h-happens...you're s-still my little brother..."
Inuyasha couldn't believe what he was hearing. Kind words from Sesshoumaru?!! Was that even possible?!! Maybe the taiyoukai was delirious from the pain. But Inuyasha had a horrible feeling that Sesshoumaru was frightened of his death and angry with the world. Inuyasha was the only one that had come for him...Even that jackass, Jaken, hadn't come looking for his fallen master...
"Arigatou, Sesshoumaru...I'll always be your 'little' brother..."
Sesshoumaru smiled faintly. It was the first time Inuyasha had ever seen him smile.
"...Death...taught me...about life...In the end...only humans...and half-humans...ever loved me..."
Inuyasha didn't know what to say. Sesshoumaru was calming slightly. He was no longer struggling to breathe, he was simply getting quiet, as if he were falling asleep. That faint smirk was fading as well. Inuyasha fought back his tears.
"This never happened, right, Sesshoumaru?"
But Sesshoumaru didn't respond. He was staring up at the towering trees, clenching some of the honey-colored leaves in a fist.
"...leaves fall...from the tops of trees...and die... r-returning...next year...more beautiful...than before...so...unlike us..."
Inuyasha frowned, scooting in closer to his dying brother. "What do you mean?"
Sesshoumaru closed his eyes slowly, breathing in the scent of Autumn.
"...leaves...return...but we..." the youkai began to cough violently, shivering from a phantom wind.
"...days of my hall...have ended..."
And he went limp.
Inuyasha stared at Sesshoumaru's dead body for what seemed like a million years. For a moment he was just confused. Sesshoumaru...dead...? The thought had never occurred to the hanyou that his older brother could actually die. Granted, he'd always been out to murder the youkai. But now that he was actually gone, it felt so...
Inuyasha heard the sound of crunching leaves and spotted the rest of the group, plus Rin, bounding into the clearing. They stopped upon spotting Sesshoumaru's unmoving form. Kagome gasped immediately.
Inuyasha nodded slowly. The others looked stunned. Kagome was holding Rin tightly to her chest but Rin began to scramble to get away. Kagome gently put the girl down and watched as Rin raced over to her master's fallen body and threw herself over his chest.
"No!! No, Sesshoumaru-sama is not dead!! Sesshoumaru-sama would never leave Rin alone!!"
She was crying hysterically. No one knew what to say. Inuyasha was lost in thought. He remembered the one time he'd thought Sesshoumaru was dead. He'd used Kaze no Kizu upon him and watched as the youkai vanished into an oblivion. But Sesshoumaru hadn't died...Tenseiga had protected him...
Inuyasha smirked to himself. Our old man...What a cunning bastard...He knew we would try to kill each other, Sesshoumaru...So he made the perfect plan. He gave you a sword that couldn't kill me, but would protect you so that I couldn't kill you. What a clever old fool he was...
"Wait a minute..." Inuyasha climbed slowly to his feet. Much to the surprise of the others, he grabbed Rin carefully under the arms and dragged her off the corpse. She cried to be put down, but Inuyasha carried her off to the other side of the clearing.
"...Trust me..." Inuyasha whispered. Rin stared up at the hanyou in confusion but didn't make a move to run back. Inuyasha returned slowly to his brother, eyes narrowed with determination.
Our swords are one and the same...He thought wildly to himself. Sesshoumaru's sword and my sword react with each other...They can't fight one another because they're the same sword...His sword can't cut me, and if I cut him with mine, his sword defends him...That can only mean one thing...
In one swift motion, Inuyasha withdrew the Tetsusaiga. He stood over Sesshoumaru's body, clenching Tetsusaiga's hilt with nerves. Then, with a cry, he slashed the blade along the bloodied corpse. The others screamed in shock but Inuyasha ignored them. Rin cried out from afar.
But Inuyasha's blade never made contact...A burst of light exploded from Sesshoumaru's body, repelling the fang back and knocking it out of Inuyasha's hands. As he had expected, a black glow washed over Sesshoumaru's form, emanating from the sword – Tenseiga – sheathed at his hip. Inuyasha shielded his eyes, waiting.
Then the glow receded...Nothing remained but some sunken, blood-stained grass...Sesshoumaru had vanished...Just like before...
The others raced around Inuyasha looking terrified.
"Inuyasha, what did you do?!!" Sango cried. Inuyasha didn't say a word, just glanced at Rin.
"Tenseiga protected him and transported his renewed body somewhere safer...Rin must go find him now..."
"But Inuyasha – " Kagome's eyes were wide. But Inuyasha shook his head, turning to address Rin at the clearing's edge.
"When the leaves of Autumn fall...They return next spring...more beautiful than they were before..."
Rin gulped. "Do you mean...?"
Inuyasha nodded. "Go find your lord..."
They watched the little girl racing through the trees. The leaves flurried up around her in golden sheets. The others were slightly confused, but decided not to ask. Inuyasha wouldn't have told them anyways...All he knew was, next time he saw his brother, things would be back to the way they were. The youkai would pretend none of it had ever happened...Frankly, Inuyasha wouldn't have wanted it any other way...
The leaves might return again come Spring, but they would never change their ways...
A/N: Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this little fic. Granted, it was a little peculiar (and lousy) but I hope it was a good read nonetheless. Please review!