Disclaimer: Diabolus fecit, ut id facerem. (The Devil made me do it.)

Warnings: If you've read my PG-13 fics, you know I tend toward the upper end of the ratings system. This is a pretty hard R. Violence, death, dismemberment, sex, rough sex, more sex, non-con, INCEST, (not Sesshoumaru/Inuyasha or Sango/Kohaku, I promise) dark themes, coarse suggestive language. Everything but drug use, unless you count the drugs I was on when I wrote this. (Kidding, I swear!) But seriously. This should not be read by anyone under the age of 17. Or just take that last part out. This shouldn't be read by ANYONE. But I know you're gonna anyway, so have fun, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Note on characterization: Wow, you're really trusting me, reading a Midoriko/Sesshoumaru fic, considering the Mary-Sue possibilities in that one. Midoriko doesn't really have an official characterization, because she's only in one episode, and even in that, she doesn't get a line, what with being dead and all. So I thought on what it is to be a pure warrior, to be powerful, and kill, and not lose your heart. I also modeled her somewhat after Sango, though not very much. So Midoriko is probably very different in this fic than you're used to seeing her, but I actually was trying to be faithful to the story.

Sesshoumaru would be OOC, if he was in the time frame the main story takes place. But he is not, he's very young in this. So his character will make more and more sense as the story goes on. I know this is a long one, but try to bear with me.

On to Part One—


I entreat you

not with griefs and bitternesses to break my

spirit, O goddess;

I beg you

please don't hurt me, don't overcome my spirit,

goddess, with longing...

Cold sweat rushes down me,

trembling seizes me,

I am greener than grass,

to myself I seem

needing but little to die.

-Sappho

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She is angry again.

She was always unstoppable, anyway. When she loved, or grieved, or raged, it was always with all her heart. Sesshoumaru has had to redefine purity several times since he's known her. Once he saw her find demons over mangled human corpses, and her power made them pure, though it killed some of them. The survivors she killed anyway, in a blind rage, without remorse.

So now, when Midoriko is angry, he should be afraid. She is pounding her fists on his chest, past grasping words, but growling at him through her teeth, not a dog's growl, but a human one, that is half moaning howl. Sesshoumaru growls back at her, and his growl is not human, but it intimidates her about as much as a puppy would. If he were human, his bones would be cracking, as it is he will bruise. He does not resist, but he continues to answer her growl, if only to show that he understands.

There are two ways this can end, he knows. One has happened before. The other is that she kills him. So when her lips find his, hot and needy, she is giving him his life. He is grateful, and kisses back. She always goes too fast for him when she's like this, which is unexpected, considering he is young, and a demon. Caresses infuriate her, and when she does kiss, she's so rough he tastes blood, surprisingly, it's usually hers. She touches him only long enough to get him hard, and then she rides him, her shuddering growls transmuting into something no less furious, but full of primal satisfaction.

He suspects she would make the same sound if she chose to kill him instead.

Afterwards, she sleeps like a dead thing, so lost to the world that sometimes he tickles her feet, or piles objects on her, and she doesn't stir. He has to cover her if it is cold, or she won't wake until she's stiff and bluish. Once or twice, he has left her like that anyway, just to see her a little more vulnerable. If she knows it was intentional, she says nothing.

He waits for her this time, because this is as good a place as any other to sit and think. He wonders if she dreams intensely, or if she dreams at all. She never tells him, maybe it's because she dreams of him, he considers. But then, he never asks her directly.

When she wakes, she is sane and silent, she slips into his embrace, smelling like old tears and dried sweat and sex with him. She looks at his bruises as if wondering where he got them, and kisses them, very gently, the way only she can. His skin is marked with new red stripes, she sees them, but not the blood dried under her fingernails. He wears them like battle scars, like medals, like the brands given to criminals. The ones on his torso he can cover, a secret stinging in his skin under the front he presents the world, but the ones on his face, bled unchecked and dried, are for the world to see and condemn.

"Why?" she whispers. Her voice is still beautiful to him, but it's hoarse from screaming. "Every time, I try, but you always..."

His gaze eludes her. His soul eludes her. He isn't pure, he isn't nice, she can throw her legs around him and fuck him, but she can't make him hers.

"I don't believe in humans," he says, and means it. Not that he doesn't believe in their existence, but in their power. Humans are weak, and helpless, he could go through an entire village, and when he'd killed the last man, the blood from the first would still be warm on his hands. Where others see in Midoriko such power and determination and purity, he sees only a brash, emotionally incontinent girl who's good with a sword. She could kill him. But she can't change him.

She ties her armor on, deftly avoiding him. Sesshoumaru doesn't wear armor, he thinks he's too fast to need it, and that it gets in his way. His parents call him a young punk for this, but he is eleven years older than Midoriko, and she wears armor, though her reasons for it are different. She likes jumping straight into the fray recklessly, and if not for her armor, would be dead several times over. Sesshoumaru doesn't join her fight, she keeps him as her secret, though he can't hide her from his family, not scratched and bruised and covered in her scent like he is. But he does like to watch from afar, that ferocity, that courage which is stupid and brave and beautiful, her scent half masked by demon gore.

"I should," she says at length, "be able to make you believe. My power is truth."

He wonders how she says things like that with a straight face. Even in his short life, he is certain there are no constants in this world, except maybe that we will always make mistakes, and they are likely to be the same ones. So when he says, "The best weapon against truth is ignorance," he is mocking her. He thinks he already knows the truth. But then, isn't that what ignorance is?

A few dead leaves skitter along the ground, making Midoriko jump, though she stops her hand halfway to her sword. It's the weather, Sesshoumaru thinks, it has her on edge. It is late autumn, and it seems the world can't quite decide if it wants to hold on to summer a little longer, or plunge headfirst into winter. The trees reflect this, some are still green, wilting around the edges, while others surrendered their leaves at the first frost. Everyone else seems to think this gentle weather is a reprieve, but Midoriko likes the blinding blaze of heat, as well as the dead freeze, she likes to battle against the elements and win, coming out chapped and rough and victorious, because it's something no one else can stand, but she's stronger than them, so she has the advantage. Now she's waiting, which is her least favorite thing to do. Sesshoumaru couldn't care less about the weather, but he likes watching her, vicariously enjoying that passion for life that he shares, but never had anyone worth showing it to. Secretly, he thinks there's something loose about showing your feelings to anyone and everyone, not caring if there isn't even anyone there to see, but then, that's what he likes about her. She comes undone for him in ways he doesn't dare do himself, lets him inside her, acts as if there were no consequences.

"Where are you going?" he asks, managing to say it as if he was talking to the forest in general, though she knows that he is speaking exclusively to her.

"Off to die," she says cheerfully. It is a joke between them, if it can be called a joke. She is going to battle, regardless of whether she dies this time, the point is that she's sure she'll die in a battle eventually. All battles are one to her, an endless orgy of pain and blood and desperate exertion, every time she feels that thrill, she knows that someday, it will be the last thing she feels. So, fighting is like dying to her.

"Afterwards," he says, pulling her close enough for her to smell the blood on his face, wanting to kiss her while her lips are still soft, before winter really hits, wanting to maul her, show the bitch what it's like to be marked, for everyone to look at you and know you were possessed by another— Instead, he trembles a little with self control, which really, he is still learning, and hovers with his nose almost touching hers, looking down into her dark eyes.

She smiles, wide and pretty. When she's happy like this, even Sesshoumaru feels it, and feeling as conflicted as she should be, he smiles back at her. Of course, other men have noticed her smile, but they couldn't handle her, and she couldn't tolerate them. She almost tells him where to meet her, but he'll find her anyway. He always does.

A few hours later, Sesshoumaru's mood is deteriorating. His mother is rubbing various things on the injuries she can find, knowing full well that there are others he won't show her, and lecturing him on it extensively.

Sesshoumaru's mother is stunningly beautiful, terrifyingly powerful, and unfortunately insane. She was chosen for being the right sort of demon, and essentially regarded as breeding stock, however, after her first pregnancy, her husband avoided her company at all costs, and fathered no more children on her.

She is conflicted. She is angry that her life was never hers, that she was her father's bargaining chip, and then her husband's burden, changing hands like an inanimate object, and that everyone was surprised that she went mad in the absence of both choice and affection. At the same time, if she suffered the rules of the world, then it must have been for a good reason, and so that her suffering was not in vain, everyone else must follow the same rules. Especially Sesshoumaru.

"The kappas told me," she grits out, "about you and your little slut."

"Father killed all the kappas," Sesshoumaru says lazily, having given up on shooing her away.

"Well then it was their ghosts," she insists.

"Maybe it was the scratches down my back that you're currently cleaning," Sesshoumaru suggests, stifling a yawn.

"Little hellcat," his mother mutters angrily. "She's not one of the good women, like me. No, no, she's the evil kind, comes from women raped by oni, always stalking for nice young sons from good families to pervert. I saw her last night, she was smiling, with blood on her hands, and teeth like a fish, in my room, not letting either of us sleep, messing up your perfect skin with her disgusting septic human nails, why couldn't you get a girl like me, a nice girl," and on, and on, and on.

Actually, Midoriko does remind him of his mother in some ways. It scares him a little. But both of them would hurt him if he mentioned it, so he says nothing, which is something he's become very good at.

"I have something for her!" Sesshoumaru's mother exclaims, frighteningly cheerful all of a sudden. "A little present. I found it just lying around, and I thought of her," she says, growling a little in the last word.

Sesshoumaru looks up warily. "I don't think she wants your dead kappas, they're getting rank."

"As if I'd give them to her! Honestly, when was the last time your father ever did something for me? I'm keeping those. No, what I have for her is alive."

"Is it a tapeworm?"

"Good guess, but no."

"Hmm. One of those things that summons a hundred mononoke?"

"Silly, those aren't alive."

"I hope it isn't one of those demon crows, because she got three last week."

"I'll throw mine out then, darn. But that's not what I was going to give her this time."

Sesshoumaru throws his arms up in surrender. "I give up, Mother, what is it?"

Giggling, she uncovers a small cage, and withdraws a two-tailed firecat by the scruff of the neck, hissing and spitting like a mountain lion, and trying to shred everything in sight with its needle-sharp claws. "Isn't it just perfect? It's like her twin!"

Sesshoumaru smiles wryly, shaking his head. "Oh, Mother. I'll take it to her, I'm sure she'll love it."

"You'd better not set it free, now," Mother warns.

But Sesshoumaru knows better than to invoke her wrath. "I'll tell her it's from you."

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The wind is a wonderful thing. One day, when he is much, much older, Sesshoumaru will meet the wind, and be disappointed. The wind speaks to him, like his mother's voices, heating his blood with Midoriko's scent. It tells him that she's hurt, but happy, that she hasn't bathed since her battle, and that she is receptive. Aroused, he lets the bit of cloth holding the struggling firecat slip to the ground, not realizing until he hears the soft thud, and then it's too late.

Midoriko didn't have a chance. She shouldn't have, anyway. The firecat transforms into a huge form for fighting, and runs with every bit of pent up rage for her, her paws sparking on the grass, leaving a singed scent in the air, with little spirals of smoke rising. So when Midoriko screams, the beast's claws in her before Sesshoumaru can reach her, he thinks Mother has finally succeeded. But then he sees her shine.

He says he doesn't believe in humans. He means it. But whenever he sees this, he is afraid. He wants to look away, go back to pretending she is just a girl, but he is captivated. It's too late for the cat now, she is already changing, her soul raped and claimed by this girl who thinks she's pure, forever a shadow of what she was. Sesshoumaru feels for the firecat, not because he cared for the dumb beast, but because he would be her, there but for the grace of he knows not what.

The beast is purring. It is happy, that's the part that bewilders him. Was not only its heart taken from it, but the capacity to realize what it lost? Would he be happy, if she purged him? Would he want to be?

"Mother sends her regards," he says to her, acting like he didn't just see her almost die, acting like he doesn't care. He's a terrible actor, and he really never got much better.

The firecat nudges Midoriko, and she strokes it, idly, letting the undecided winter-summer air nip at her open wounds. "Do you love me, Sesshoumaru?"

"No." No apology, no remorse. Just 'no.'

"Does your mother know that?"

"I would assume so," he says, watching her carefully. She's not apt to talk about love, and he likes it that way. If she already treats him like this, he can't imagine what being loved by her would be like. That he might return that love is something he doesn't even consider.

"Then I don't know what she's so afraid of. It's not like we're getting married or anything."

"Of course not," Sesshoumaru says softly, creeping closer to her.

"Not like..." she pauses, as Sesshoumaru kisses her, and it is one of their more tender kisses, since she lets him lead. He moves down, most of her armor is already off, in anticipation; he peels her clothes off, very careful of her wounds, pulls her breasts together and kisses them.

"...we intended to stay together." He slides his mouth over her nipple, pulling her clothes all the way off, which seems unfair to her, since he is fully clothed. She'll have to remedy that. The firecat watches them, harmless. She can still feel a piece of its soul in her, and not the nice piece. Oddly, instead of making her furious, it causes a contrary reaction, making her pensive. Sesshoumaru's hands slide down to her hips, feeling the corded muscles tense under her soft shape, digging in to keep their balance, because they are becoming dizzy, might fall any second, even this weak half-hearted wind would be enough.

He kisses her bruises, some are too tender to be touched, even so lightly, but she doesn't flinch. She doesn't care that this hurts, or that feels good, even when he nuzzles in between her legs and it feels wonderful, she thinks it's all the more cruel. These things are to feel, and not to keep. She wonders that she even cares, she never worried about these things before, when she woke up every day certain she would die, and welcoming it. She wishes that she could shine her light through him, make him hers, and not worth having. But she never can. She is not pure when it comes to him.

So at the end of the day, she is naked before him.

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He knows it before she does. The change in the makeup of her blood that speaks of life. And he knows it means a choice, one he does not want to make.

She still uses him. Makes him into her strength, her searing pleasure, her relaxation, recreation, release from what everyone else thinks she is. Gives him every feeling she knows how, and takes no less. And he lets her.

But lately her heart is skipping beats, and she knows. She has skipped her period. She actually tries to delude herself for a few days, it's late, I'm irregular, even though she hasn't skipped since she was thirteen, maybe I'm sick, or not eating well, or injured, even... But she knows. There is one, very obvious reason for her not to menstruate.

And he has been acting differently. So she suspects he does not need to be told. But she decides to tell him anyway, because she needs to talk about it.

There isn't a way to break it nicely, or make it less awkward. Or if there is, she doesn't want to bother. She plunges headfirst, like it is any other battle. "Sesshoumaru, I think I'm pregnant. No, I don't think, I am pregnant."

His eyes betray nothing. They wouldn't dare to. "Congratulations."

"Congratulations? What if I don't want to be pregnant!" she says incredulously. She's almost too surprised to be mad at him. Almost.

"Now you're surprised?" he asks, and he is mocking her again, although she thinks it isn't really him, but his family imprinted on him. "I assumed you wanted a baby, considering all the sex you wanted."

Oh, she thinks, that wasn't fair. "I thought I was going to die, and I wanted you, that was all. You know I don't think about the future. And—and anyway! I wasn't the only one having all that sex, I should be congratulating you, father."

He looks at her as sternly as he can, and then loses all semblance of seriousness, and breaks out laughing. It sounds evil to both of them.

"What's so funny, Sesshoumaru," she says dejectedly. "You haven't won yet, you know."

"It's not that," he says, suddenly very young and mercurial and present, and the man she secretly fell in love with under all that stuffiness. "But you won't be able to hide this anymore."

Midoriko analyzes that a long moment. If he's that happy about everyone knowing about them, it means—"Sesshoumaru, you're staying with me?"

"I've known about this," he admits, "but it doesn't matter. My parents don't rule me, and your village certainly doesn't. I'm not ashamed of what we do."

"So what now," she asks, feeling drained. She wonders if he will marry her, and wonders more how she even feels about that. She likes him, but hates commitment. It feels like a trap to her, and she is claustrophobic. Then again, just being pregnant feels like a trap, and either way, she can't go back to the way things were. The idea of a baby isn't all bad. She certainly isn't afraid of pain.

"Well," he says slowly, "have you thought of any names?"

She smiles weakly, the first weak thing he ever saw her do. Which reminds him that she is human, and all the bad things that means. That the child will be her child, but never truly his, because he cannot claim it. That she will get old and die, or maybe just die, knowing Midoriko. The thought of her old seems impossible to him, but he makes himself picture it, her hunched and shrunken and tottering around, and him, the exact same age, bouncing his grandchild on his knee, while his own child, older than him now, watches. That's if their child can even pass for human. The alternative is a shunned dog-creature that will bring shame on both of them.

"I hope it's a boy," Midoriko says. "I like boy's names better. All the strong-sounding kanji are for boy's names."

"Either way, it'll probably have my eyes," Sesshoumaru says, edging up to what he's worried about.

"You have pretty eyes," she says, resting her head on his chest.

"Maybe it'll have more than just my eyes."

She gets his drift. "Don't sell me short. This is my baby."

"You don't understand," he says, starting to get worried. "I'm not just any demon. Father warned me..." he closes his eyes, and bites his tongue. She might not even survive the pregnancy, from what his father told him. He tells himself again and again that he doesn't care. But not being a very good actor, he doesn't believe himself.

She chooses to ignore this. It's no different from any other battle, and it's not the outcome that's important to her, but how much she gets to feel before it's over. "I like 'Sesshoumaru.' Not for the baby, of course, since it's taken, but I like your name."

"You would." Of course she likes it, he thinks, it's the circle of life and death, it's all the extremes that she so loves. Sesshoumaru is proud of his name. But he doesn't like it.

She slides up to kiss him, it is fierce like it always is with her, but the passion behind it is different; she's actually trying to be gentle. She wants to share her joy of staying together, wants physical reassurance that he's here, and wants her, and that she's still a sexual figure, not some abstraction of motherhood.

Making love should be a team effort, but Sesshoumaru always thought that with Midoriko, they are on opposing sides. Even kissing is a minor battle, full of seduction and distraction and ambush, he is careless and his fangs score her lip, the guilt throws him off his guard, and she captures his bottom lip coyly, winning the battle, but not the war.

Later, people will condemn them for what they're doing, something that at the time has nothing to do with anyone but each other. Midoriko is determined not to be stripped first this time, and Sesshoumaru's clothes take the brunt of her frustration; he knows they'll have to be replaced, now, but it's not as if he could have stopped her. She's the thing he can't replace. He's actually stunned when that hits him, that he doesn't want to be without her, and it hits him stronger because he's been resisting it, so it's like a dam breaking. She is merciless, and uses the moment to her advantage, winning their contest and straddling him. He makes a little surprised sound, which only seems to encourage her. She's still partially clothed, her blood-streaked hair falling over her shoulders like a mantle, the sky is dark and looming, and only when he sees the flurries drifting down does he realize that it's supposed to be cold, though the snow does little to quench their heat.

That evening, the snow crunches under their feet surreally in the clear cold twilight, as they walk into her village, hand in hand.

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They say she cannot be pure. They know nothing, Sesshoumaru thinks, of her purity, they have not felt her love, though they will see the depths of her hate. As the child grows within Midoriko, he sees her grow more feral, and what could be more pure, he wonders, than motherhood, with the fierce love and devotion it brings.

But it's odd that he's the only one who believes in her, because the only time she is not pure is when it comes to him. He takes away her singularity of purpose, makes her love and hate and fear and want, none of these being evils in their own right, but together, they are muddled, and she is powerless and raging in his arms.

And she's angry again.

Rumors pass from hut to hut, whispering of the once-great miko warrior, who laid with a demon and is tainted with his seed, she shouldn't be allowed to stay, goodness no, it might bring bad luck upon them all! The cocky men and their kept women all nod their heads and agree, disregarding the number of times she has saved all their lives. If anything, that plays against her, just goes to show that she wasn't normal, and anyone who doesn't want to be normal, is a threat.

They say worse things than that about Sesshoumaru, things that make twelve year old maidens squeak in terror and hide behind anything that's handy when he comes strolling by. It only confirms his belief that most humans are quite insignificant and stupid.

Midoriko's heard it all, because no one seems to have mastered the art of whispering, and can never say it quite softly enough that she can't hear them. She's furious at them, and not too pleased with Sesshoumaru either, for not caring enough, and she's afraid of being out in the wilderness alone, pregnant, and terrified that Sesshoumaru will just get fed up and leave her, so she leaves as many marks as possible, until he is covered in many tiny crescents, miniature versions of the one on his brow, digging her nails in as if to make sure he doesn't get up and leave in the middle of sex, as if this was a likely possibility.

"I hate them," she swears in the deluge of climax, clenching and tangling her fists in his long hair, going rigid and snapping and kicking like an animal, "they'll die for me, I'll make them die," and Sesshoumaru realizes that it is the thought of their deaths, and not him, that ultimately pushed her over the edge this time, and he finds that so erotic that he climaxes as well, seeing her drenched in their gore, a killer like him.

He feels guilty for that, later. Neither of them ever speaks of that time again.

And lately, she just sits by her window, glaring out with the stubbornness and smoldering rage of a prisoner, forgotten but never forgetting. Sometimes she strokes the yet nameless firecat, who is ever by her side. She softens slightly when he come to her and kisses her, she nibbles his ears, her mouth painfully hot after coming in from the driving snow. She would be out in that snow, but he holds her back, entreating her not to die today, for the sake of the child. She misses the whisper of death on her skin, chased away by the strange new life growing inside her.

Death, it seems, misses her as well. It comes in the shape of an angry mob, who burn her simple hut, and want to burn her, too. The firecat fears no flames, and snarls menacingly. Midoriko grips her sword resolutely and stares them down, their fire still bright and cruel in her eyes. She has spilled blood before, and guts, and brains, and every conceivable form of gore, so she cannot offer an empty threat. Either she kills them, and she knows how ugly that will be, or she leaves. But they are shivering in the cutting cold that she lets enter her without a fight. They are weak, and ordinary, and most have children, no less an innocent than the one she carries. She knows them. Saved them so many times. Life will go on, for them, if she walks out into the cold. She feels foolish for ever wanting them dead, turns, and trudges away.

And then she hears that sickening sound. The one she loves. Tearing through living flesh, a death rattle, screams, scuffling, all in an instant. She whirls around, and is sprayed with warm blood. Sesshoumaru is there, looking like winter incarnate, hunched over his prey, his tangled hair whipping around him, up to his elbows in blood. The corners of his mouth are firm, but he is uncertain. It seemed so simple at the moment, defend his Midoriko, what else could he do? But he is realizing she chose to spare them. He trembles a bit, and not with cold, trying to meet her eyes, and see if she is looking at a monster.

She pants, mired in the snow, gasps of warm breath rising around her, dripping with the blood of the people she thought she'd spared. Sesshoumaru seems to be smiling, but it's not a human smile, it's that dog grimace, which she is learning means he is afraid. She wants to say, 'You killed them!' or something really obvious like that, but it's too late for that, they've gone past words, so she struggles towards him, having to guess where her feet are, because they've gone numb, but trusting that they're still attached, she perseveres.

His eyes are wide open with shock, and the pupils retracted to dots, making his face look more wild than usual. It's not killing which bothers him, and that's the problem. She tries to take his hands, to comfort him, and reassure herself that they are still his hands, whose fingers she'd suckled on happier days, but he recoils suddenly.

"No, you can't," he says, his wild eyes looking into hers sincerely. "It's—they're poison." She swallows, seeing that the blood on his hands is burning away, soon he will be clean, but not really. So she just holds him tightly, binding his arms to his body, encircling him, and he holds his dripping hands out gingerly, and closes his eyes, finally feeling like he can breathe. A few scorching tears slip down Midoriko's face, and she suspects they stole all her warmth, because they are the only heat she feels.

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"It seems," Sesshoumaru says calmly, "that we are both dispossessed."

He almost didn't make it to her in time. If his family had kept him much longer, she would have been frozen into the landscape until the thaw.

He turns it over in his mind. He had entered the great hall, built on the bones of his ancestors, dating back to times when petty kings and fearless leaders lay unburied for the ravens to pick at, no better of than the rest of their pitiful race, and the demons were gods. It did not intimidate him, though, it was his birthright. Or it had been, at any rate.

His mother is ranting about him, every rumor whispered by villagers, magnified by the tanukis and the kitsune, and anything else that liked to tell and improve a good story. His father is regal and haggard, massaging the space between his eyebrows, and already quite decided.

Sesshoumaru is their only child. Their heir, their pride, their hope. He thought himself immune to any rules because of this. How wrong he was.

"Father," Sesshoumaru says, breaking the first rule of combat by making the first move. He wouldn't be so careless with anyone else. But before his father, he can't help but feel like a child.

"Inu-taishou," his father says gravely. Sesshoumaru understands what is being taken from him. I am not your father, it said, I am only Inu-taishou. The last Inu-taishou.

Sesshoumaru can't make himself spit out his father's title. "Father," he says insistently, "she's—she's just a girl. Only a girl. That's all." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself. Neither of them believes him.

"You must kill the little tramp, and prove your loyalty to your people!" his mother demands. Sesshoumaru looks desperately for help from his father, and finds none. This hall, this home, built on the bones of his ancestors, that he thought would last forever, seems to be crumbling around him. He turns to leave.

"No!" his mother hisses. "You won't go back to her, I won't let you! You will be my son!"

But this time, his father holds her back. "Let him go. Perhaps some day he will be worthy to be our heir again. Until that time, he is dead to us. We shall not hear his cries for help, or hinder him in his course of destruction. Our son is a traitor. We have no son." His voice is the sound of pieces clicking into place, fate taking its course, something unavertable that you should have known was coming all along.

When he saw Midoriko about to be taken from him too, he lost it. Lost everything, pride, control, mercy, sentience, everything that was his, but not her.

So they sit like small human royalty, in the village's best house, with Midoriko wrapped in blankets, staring into a roaring fire so steadily, Sesshoumaru fears for her sight.

He's seen the ugliness of his people, and of hers. He's seen himself, a monster in her eyes, and he's seen every side of her, the shining pride, the insatiable fury, and everything else, because she alone in this world has nothing to hide. She bares herself, daring the world to challenge her. And they, all vile beasts, had the gall to condemn her, say that she embodies all their petty flaws, using her as their scapegoat so they can go back to pretending that they're pure.

She won't kill them, but she's done with them. It's not the hot rage that makes her growl in strange ecstasies, but a cold one, creeping up on her with iron claws like winter's frost, hardening her against them. They wanted a world without her. She will show them what that is like. Give them the pain they were so willing to give her. Her child kicks, hard, and she is proud. They treated her like nothing for so many years. An orphan with no status, bringing out the cruelties in the most innocuous citizens. When she was finally twelve years old and beautiful, suddenly she had something the beasts wanted. That's when she learned she was strong. Yet, forgivingly, she turned her power to their aid, slaying demon after demon to save them, and finding purpose in this. But now they've told her to choose between defending them, and having a family. Fine. She's already chosen.

Most of the weaker demons hibernate through winter, so her choice is not put to the test until the thaw. Her icy resolution remains, however. She doesn't feel sorry for people because they die, though she does feel pity that they did not welcome death. People come to her door begging, but she does nothing until only a quarter of the population remains. The idea of having the demons kill them to the last appeals to her, but they are no longer the people she bore a grudge against. These people have seen death, felt their own mortality through bitter wounds and the blood of their kin. They are purged, seeing things in halftones of life and death. In other words, they have become like her. She accepts this, as the only form of apology that is valid to her. So, very pregnant, she fits her armor carefully, and prepares for battle again.

"I'm coming with you," Sesshoumaru says, loyal as the firecat that is already at her heels.

"But I'm just defending these humans."

"I don't care. This is your battle. I want to share it."

So, for the first time, they fight together on the same side. The days ahead are long and unpleasant, the snow lies in hard melting heaps, the world is soaking wet, and cold on their raw skin, even the trees are soft with the water that is everywhere, the only colors are the bleak dead things, and the decrepit snow, their sense of smell is flooded with smoke, but underneath all that, there's something fresh and wonderful, something green unfurling beneath the sodden miserable earth.

Yet the three of them, Midoriko, Sesshoumaru, and the firecat, define themselves by a harsher reality than everyone else, daily slaughtering droves of starving, mindless demons. And the remainder of the villagers bring them gifts, not to appease someone more powerful, but as a recognition of the life they have given them.

Life is hard, Midoriko knows, falling face first in the gravel, and life is pain; she clenches her jaw, feeling the grit crunch, but it is life, that makes it worth feeling, and it makes dying worthwhile, too. She has fallen curled up, to protect her child; a hand helps her to her feet, she would know without looking that it's Sesshoumaru, no one else ever helps her.

She has not been the easiest person to love, but he has stood by her. Together, they face the demons.


(Too late to turn back. On to Part Two.)