Everything is waves and stars

The universe is resting in my arms.

-Nina Gordon

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On the seventh day, Midoriko dies.

And Sesshoumaru gets a visit from his father.

"Wife!" he demands. "What have you done?"

She licks her lips, and says nothing.

"Sesshoumaru. What has she done?"

Sesshoumaru, lying on the futon with his back turned, curls in tighter. "Everything."

There is silence, a moment.

"Do you want me to kill her?" Sesshoumaru's father says at last.

"She wasn't always like this," Sesshoumaru says dazed, watching his fingers curl and uncurl, fitting perfectly into the four wounds on his palm. "You drove her mad. Now you say you'll kill her. I don't know what I want."

"Come with me, son."

"No."

"Do you want to stay here forever?"

Sesshoumaru turns to look at his father, slowly, his golden eyes filled with hate. He gets up, a graceful, calculated movement, watching his powerful father, and silent, broken mother. She is always silent when Father is around, Sesshoumaru thinks. It is a stark contrast from the woman who tortured and humiliated him over the past week.

Sesshoumaru's father grabs him by the arm like a child, and drags him out, walking so briskly that Sesshoumaru trips, trying to keep up. But his father holds him so firmly that he does not fall, Sesshoumaru thinks that even if he stopped moving his legs, their pace would not slow.

It is not until they enter the cave that Sesshoumaru works his way free of his father's iron grip. His father still makes him walk first, so that he is guarding the only exit.

When he sees what awaits him, Sesshoumaru says nothing. He does not cry, he does not fall to his knees and mourn what was taken from them. He does not blink, either. He just stares at her, as if he could take her inside him, and keep her safe.

"You never should have disobeyed me, son."

"You don't even know what you have destroyed," Sesshoumaru says, very fine tremors going through him, as if his skin was vibrating.

Something stirs, making both of them look, it is the three monks and the miko. Inu-taishou gestures to them, and they file out, with him between them and Sesshoumaru. Sesshoumaru watches them, not daring to make a move in front of his father, but memorizing their faces, their scents, the pattern of their breaths and footsteps. He will find them again.

"She was just a human girl," Inu-taishou says. "An animal. The fleeting spark that moves them, that they call a soul, it is nothing compared to our demon spirit. Humans do not feel pain, or love. You imagined these things into her, I had to stop your folly before you created any more wretched half-breeds."

"Just a girl," Sesshoumaru repeats. "An animal. Yet you needed all this to kill her? You knew of her power, you didn't dare face her yourself. You played on the petty ambitions of those traitorous humans, and countless inferior demons, all looking for power, because you knew you couldn't take her. I'm proud of her, Father."

"She lost. You lost. Don't forget that," his father says dangerously.

"No..." Sesshoumaru says, something strange coming over him. "I lost. But she—Where is her soul? She is newly dead, her wounds still bleed, but the creatures of the underworld do not haunt her. She is empty." He draws closer to her, riveted, climbs the ranks of demons, still sticky with blood, until he stands level with her. He touches her cheek affectionately, and lets his hand drop to the wound in her chest. "The ribs. This was made from within." He hesitates, and sees that the marks on her forehead are not wounds, they are too perfect. Unsure why, yet feeling it is the thing to do, he kisses them.

"You're disgusting," his father says scornfully. "It's hard to believe you're my son."

Sesshoumaru hears his father, but he hears another voice as well. "Protect her," it says.

"You have shown an inability to make your own choices," his father continues, "so I will make them for you. You will abandon this human charade, you will break off all contact with that whelp of yours, as well as any other villagers. If you defy me, she will be killed. You will be trained in the arts of war, and learn to be worthy of our heritage, because you are my sole heir. Do you understand me?"

Sesshoumaru looks into Midoriko's dead face, and feels a surge of envy. It would take a lot to kill him, he realizes, and his father would probably stop him. Besides, he has to somehow make sure Shinju is safe. He can't abandon her, and Midoriko is counting on him. "I understand you, Father. Now go away."

"Pardon, son?"

"You've taken everything else, let me be alone with my dead wife," he says bitterly.

"I didn't know you were married."

"Neither of us cared what other people thought. But together, we were husband and wife. Now leave us, unless you are afraid of a dead human."

To Sesshoumaru's surprise, his father leaves.

"Midoriko," Sesshoumaru says, as if they were sitting around at home, and everything was normal again, "we've both been through a lot, haven't we? I know you, so I know you're not that upset to be dead. You always acted like the rest of yourself was there, and you couldn't wait to be reunited with it. But I'm upset. You better not have given up easily, after all I did to keep you alive for so long." He glances at her severed arm, and scans around looking for the rest of it, but doesn't see it. Presumably it was eaten. He leans against her, she is cold, and getting hard, but he's gotten good at ignoring what he feels over the past week.

"I'm sorry. I know you fought hard. I just wish..." he trails off, knowing how useless it is to wish. He'd better stop that, or he'll become weak like his parents want. If you can't have it, don't wish for it. But he does wish. Unvoiced, unthought, he wishes.

"I remember when we first met. Actually, I'd been watching you for a while, did I tell you that? I don't know why. But even just watching you from afar seemed better to me than anything else I could be doing. I didn't know who you were, not really, you were always alone, and always killing demons. I made up a name for you, a new one every week or so, but none of them ever fit. I tried to imagine what you were like, what you'd been through in your life, what made you kill. I imagined us meeting, in my fantasies, you always tried to kill me, but then you fell in love with me.

"Then, after planning our meeting a dozen times over, you sneaked up on me. To this day, I don't know how you did it. I was completely off my guard, when I saw you, I thought I was going to die..." he trails off, feeling a heavy sleep pressing on him, it feels unnatural, but he's past caring, so he surrenders to it, secretly hoping never to wake up.

And there she is, like on the first day. Right down to the pimple on her left cheek, after all, she's only sixteen, though she holds her sword like an expert. And it's right to his chest, but he doesn't care, he's just happy to see her.

"You're beautiful," she says, astonished. "Are you a demon?"

And he's caught up in the memory now, so he does what he did then. "Yes," he says, in a terrified whisper. But he is looking at her unwavering, captivated by her.

She slides the sword up to his throat, so that she can come closer to him, holding him at the blade instead of the tip, without losing control of the situation.

"Are you a bad demon?" she asks almost wistfully.

"There's no other kind," he says, believing it.

She gives him that familiar look, half frown, half pout, and asks him, "Why be so honest with me?"

"It seems a better way to live."

"I agree," she says, and kisses him. It is an awkward kiss, both of them suddenly too conscious of the fact that they are touching, and unsure what to do next, but pleasant enough that they are willing to try it again.

When they pull apart, he is looking at her in bewilderment. "Do you kiss all the demons? Or just the pretty ones?"

"You're my first," she admits. He looks more confused than ever, so she says, "I was curious what it would be like to kiss you, so I tried it. You didn't seem to mind." Her sword now points at the ground, forgotten.

"I didn't mind anything you ever did, except the last one," Sesshoumaru says, suddenly very present.

Midoriko, sixteen year old Midoriko, who has mild acne, and has never been pregnant, looks up at him with her young, pretty face, and says, "I always thought I'd die, you know. I was ready for it. The pain, and whatever comes after, hell, godhood, reincarnation, even haunting everyone as a ghost forever, I was ready, I could take it. But I don't like this, Sesshoumaru. I don't want to fight forever. There has to be an end."

"It seems there is no escape for either of us," Sesshoumaru says, the full impact hitting him. They both have forever, apart, tortured.

"No escape," Midoriko says, "but this." She kisses him again, and it is very different from the kiss of a moment before, this one is tempered with experience and longing. She feels solid and real to him, but he notices that time is moving oddly, sometimes a lot of things seem to happen at once, and sometimes a small moment takes forever. This is one of the latter, a kiss that is not unusually long, but seems to fill a vast amount of time.

Neither is content with just kissing, and in a glitch of time, they have unclothed each other, and the background has receded, blurred to unimportance. They try to cross the gap between them, which, even crushed and tangled in each other, they know is impossible.

"It took me three days last time," he says. "After our first kiss."

"We don't have that long," Midoriko says sadly, "or I would relive it all with you." She's still herself at sixteen, but he notices the four tiny marks are on her forehead again. He brushes his lips over them, absently.

"All these years," she says, "I was four people, and didn't know it. Aramitama, soul of courage and untamed strength,"

"I've seen that," Sesshoumaru says, feeling her muscled thighs.

"Sakimitama, soul of love and happiness."

"Like this?" he asks, tenderly.

"Exactly like this," she answers, crying.

"What else was inside you, all this time?"

"Nigimitama, soul of harmony and friendship, the heart." She smiles through her tears. "Not that life allowed me much harmony or friendship."

"You brought it to others, sometimes. What's the last one?"

"Kushimitama. Soul of power, mystery, and wisdom."

"So they were always fighting inside you?"

"No," she says distantly, "not fighting, I think they worked together a lot, but they always said different things, and confused me. Because I was like that, I cried a lot, but I think I was happy, too." They kiss for a long while, and at length she says, "I'll miss being happy."

Sesshoumaru knows that he will, too. He wonders, even in her arms, if he could ever be happy without her, but he can't imagine it. So he is almost reluctant to take the next moments, because once he does, they'll be gone, and there will never be anything worth feeling ever again.

They make love in silence, even Midoriko holding in her screams, selfishly, not wanting to release anything, but keep it all, hold it within themselves to look back on forever.

Afterwards, Sesshoumaru feels himself not falling asleep, but waking up. He fights it, knowing it to be in vain.

Midoriko lies there, watching him with her sad eyes, seeming old and young at once, and for the first time, there is no fight in her. When he thinks back on her later, this is how he remembers her most, and he feels so guilty for it.

He wakes up, covered in her cold blood, which is still dripping slowly.

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Sesshoumaru has goals. To watch over his daughter, without getting her killed. To kill his father's human accomplices, as a matter of revenge. To never be alone with his mother again. To not let his father win, not in the end.

To be strong. That's the clincher. Strength is at the heart of all his battles. And strength to him means not needing anything. Maybe it's too late for that. But it means being complete in solitude, never showing your heart.

He tries. But he slips sometimes. That's where his other goals come in.

Shinju doesn't understand. Her parents are gone, she's homeless and mistreated. Well, never mistreated for long. People who are cruel to her have a habit of dying, and she has alibis. Rumor spreads that there is a curse on any who mistreat her, which does earn her some kindness, however reluctant. Perhaps it has saved her life.

She doesn't know anything, but she suspects. She finds silver hairs sometimes, caught on branches, or on the sides of huts. When she holds them to her head for comparison, they are longer than hers.

But she still must grow up thinking she is named pearl because of her hair, and not because she was loved.

It doesn't take her long to find her mother. The cave seems welcoming to her, in her many small exiles. Her mother's body gives her a sort of morbid comfort, despite the reminder of her death, she thinks she can feel her presence, here. She talks to her mother sometimes, and fancies that her mother listens, cares, even answers, or wants to answer. The other kids mock her for this, but they would mock her anyway. Their parents encourage it.

Shinju is not the only one to visit Midoriko. Sesshoumaru comes sometimes, slipping in like the otherworldly thing he is, and saying nothing. He expects her to speak first. She never does. He sleeps there sometimes, but does not dream of her. He promises her revenge sometimes, and fancies she smiles, even though she hasn't moved since her death.

He does find the monks. Sitting around a campfire, unsuspecting, alive. He slaughters them, just like the animals his father would say they are. The first one he decapitates, on his way to the second one, who he pushes into the fire, reaching the third, the leader. He slices him from throat to groin, and lets him bleed, as the screams of the burning one die out. That leaves only the girl.

She is wearing the usual miko garb, which is like Midoriko's. There however, the similarity ends. She is weak, her scent repulses him, and her pretty face is marred with her cowardly expression. She has no idea what it really means to fight to the death, what you invoke when you kill someone. He is ashamed for this girl.

"Please," she begs, "They made me do it, it was all Daichi's idea, I had no say in anything, I was just—"

"Their slave?" Sesshoumaru offers.

"Yes," she breathes, closing her eyes in gratitude.

"Did you like being their slave? Having no say in anything?" And he knows she gave them everything she had, he can smell it on her.

"No," she says bitterly, "but what kind of choice did I have? They had power, the more power than I could hope for, I was just lucky enough to have enough of a shadow of a miko's power to make them accept me. I didn't have anything against your wife, but I had to save myself by any means I could. You don't know what it's like, to have so few choices." A pause. "Are you going to kill me?"

"It's what I came here to do," Sesshoumaru says, the blood still dripping off his hands.

"Take two lives with one blow," she says, with some satisfaction. She wasn't pleased about being pregnant when she found out, but hopes it may save her life, now.

"You think I will show you mercy, so that the child of that scum can live? If anything, it is more of a reason to kill you."

"No," she says steadily, "I think you will show me mercy, so that you do not become the sort of man who kills a helpless pregnant woman in cold blood."

Sesshoumaru wants her dead. In his mind, she deserves to die. But he does not want to be the one to kill her. His karma is already too heavy. He knows that whichever choice he makes he will regret it, that there is simply no winning with this one.

He walks away. And he does regret it, for a very long time. Perhaps he is harder on other people, later, to make up for it. People who deserve it less. There is no such thing as a good deed.

Shinju grows up. This is perhaps the most final thing in Sesshoumaru's life, knowing that his child has grown up, and he has missed a great deal of it. Even more than life, this can never be reclaimed.

She has very little spiritual power. It seems that the energies of her parents have cancelled out in her. She has neither the sheer strength of purity of her mother, nor the demon might of her father. What she does have is intelligence, and a great deal of brute strength. Without guidance, she uses both unwisely. Trouble seems to follow her. She leaves the village for a while, but is treated worse in other places, where people don't even fear her, so she comes back.

However, her heritage brings her more than intolerance and fear. Sesshoumaru's heart goes out to her when he hears her howl.

Her dog-demon blood claims her heart twice a year. She goes into heat.

Hated or not, she has little trouble finding partners when the need arises. Samurai snatched off their horses, teenage boys full of curiosity, old men who see little but her smooth young skin, she takes all of them, and feels used and violated afterwards.

But she still loves her children. She has many of them, one every year or two, she gives them the names of precious jewels, but forgets them often, or calls one name when she means another. The children confuse her further by naming the ever-faithful firecat Kirara, (mica) and fake offence when she calls a child that by accident.

And Midoriko? Well, she becomes legend. People say bad things at first, but Shinju tells the truth to her children, embellished some by love and memory, and it is their version that prevails over time.

Sesshoumaru stops watching over his family, after a while. He sees his Shinju getting older, telling her laughing children that she should have just named them after numbers, and saved herself the confusion, and realizes that there is nothing he can do for them anymore. Their world is not his. He fights the impulse to just show up in the midst of them, and be greeted with hugs and tears by Shinju, who he is sure would recognize him after all these years, resists it because he knows his father has not forgotten. He would bring death to these people. So he leaves them to their world, and he thinks his father hasn't won yet.

He has learned of a jewel. The more he hears, the more he thinks he knows where it came from. He pursues it at first, but then he starts to hear stories of what it does to demons. How it changes them beyond repair, makes them senseless and ugly. He knows then that it isn't Midoriko, only her strength perverted. It changes hands, coming to increasingly powerful demons, glowing red with their hate and tortured hopes.

Sesshoumaru lives, doing the minimum for his father to avoid his wrath, and avoiding his mother at all costs. After a long time, his father kills her. It was not unexpected, but what Sesshoumaru did not see coming was his own reaction. He saw his mother as being the same as him, kept helpless and deprived of love until they went mad and died. He resents his father deeply, despite the respect he grudgingly gave him over the years. And his mother, who he hated for what she did, he cried for. It was the last time he ever cried.

The Inu-taishou himself, however, does not stay without love for long. His interest is piqued by a pretty, meek little human girl. He spends time with her, seduces her, and, in a final blow to Sesshoumaru, marries her. Sesshoumaru knows that his father likes to feel needed, strong, likes to isolate people and make them depend on him. But he is furious with his father not just for that, but for taking a human bride after everything he had done to Midoriko.

Touga goes through a kind of second childhood with Izayoi, his human bride. She makes him feel young and vital, and surprisingly, guilty. For the first time, he understands what he has taken from his son. For Sesshoumaru, it is too little, too late, and he does not forgive his father, even when he dies in an act of repentance, saving Izayoi and their hanyou son.

It is Sesshoumaru's only victory, and it is empty.

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Before he died, Touga made two swords, to try to right the wrongs of his life. One, a killing sword, to cut back anything that might threaten the new future he was making. The other, a sort of apology for Sesshoumaru, a sword that could bring back the dead. But Midoriko is too long gone, and her soul crystallized with the souls of too many demons. The sword is useless, it is an insult, and he hates it.

Still, he keeps it in his sash, out of some hope he won't even admit to himself.

His father tells him some day he may find a use for it. Sesshoumaru glares at him, his silence saying everything.

Now that his father is dead, Sesshoumaru wonders, in a detached sort of way, if he is free.

But deep down, he suspects it has been too long for him. His descendants are proud taijiya, forgetting the demon blood in them, which shows itself only in uncommon strength. He realizes that he should fear them, but doesn't.

They reclaim the jewel at last, which is their matriarch, though they don't fully know that. Like him, Midoriko is tainted, they are both altered by the cruelty of time, both of them are now too evil to be touched. It saddens him, as much as anything does these days. After several hundred years, he has learned to accept a lot.

The jewel is given to a miko in a distant village. She protects the jewel, heals it, respects it. She does the same to Sesshoumaru's half-brother. Sesshoumaru watches with a sort of longing, but is not really surprised when their love falls apart, and his half-brother ends up sealed to a sacred tree, with the miko dead.

"That's just the way the world works," Sesshoumaru tells his unfortunate sibling, who as usual, doesn't answer. He pulls dead leaves from his brother's hair, which has become matted and unkempt. Not that it was ever particularly kempt to begin with.

What really impressed him was that the miko managed to take the jewel out of the world. Without knowing her, he is oddly grateful to her for this. And thinking that Inuyasha must have been some wretch to kill her. What kind of man turns on his mate that way, and such a kind, strong, spiritually beautiful woman, no less? He turns from Inuyasha in disgust, and does not come back.

Despite his impressive age, Kikyou has taught him things. That it is possible to heal, and find happiness, that there can be an end to suffering, and that in the end, some jerk always comes along and starts the death and pain all over again.

When a new miko comes along, and frees Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru has been thinking. His hands play on Tenseiga's hilt, and he wants to fulfil his name. He's through with hope and life, and wants to embody death now, there's a finality in that that's almost kind. So, with a glance at the minion he's barely noticed for a great many years, he sets off to claim his sword, the one that should have been his, and beat his father's mind games once and for all.

But that's not all. The jewel is back in the world. It creeps on the edge of his consciousness, like a steady pain goading him to madness.

Inuyasha, despite his understandable bitterness, is all about life now, conveniently forgetting, Sesshoumaru thinks, the first miko, who he killed. Now he's all protection and righteousness and butterflies, thinking well of the father he never knew.

Sesshoumaru, while not completely against the idea, did not go there with the intention of killing his brother. But he fights with the ferocity of one who has seen hell, who thinks nothing of pain, like someone who is already dead, and therefore, fears nothing, and has no mercy for the dying.

Inuyasha thinks he is fighting for his life. Perhaps this is justified, perhaps not. He slices through Sesshoumaru's left arm, and drives him away from his father's tomb.

Sesshoumaru accepts this without complaint, or even resentment. He accepted possibilities like this before going into battle. He fought anyway because he didn't really care. This wound is the shallowest, and troubles him little. He looks at the oozing stump, and should feel horror, repulsion, anything, but nothing comes. Without bothering to bandage it, he continues. On through time, on through life, just like the jewel, without hope of escape.

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One day he finds a girl.

Or more accurately, she finds him. He is sullen and defeated, but vaguely he can remember when his daughter was that size. And then his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren—no. He won't go down memory lane, not today. So she is just a girl, human through and through.

She offers him things he doesn't need. Food, water, herself. He is too strong to consider any of them. He is a solitary jewel, fighting inner demons for eternity. But then she does something that makes him remember his heart.

She dies.

There are marks on her pretty little corpse that were not made by wolves. Like Midoriko, like Shinju, she is an orphan, was an orphan, he corrects, she is nothing but wolf leftovers, now.

He hasn't forgiven his father. He still refuses to understand him. But his father is dead, and he's won anyway, so Sesshoumaru draws Tenseiga, feeling confused yet determined. This isn't about him, or his parents, or his redemption, or even about Midoriko, this is just about one little girl that was killed by wolves. He brings the child back, and she doesn't know what kind of world he's brought her into, or what pain he bears, but she follows him willingly just the same, giving her trust the way only a child can.

So the days pass easier. He feels almost alive, sometimes, other times, he thinks the problem is life, life is what he wants to get away from. The jewel is shattered, light touching it in places kept secret for hundreds of years, pieces of Midoriko's soul influenced by many agendas and desires, and he feels some of that hope and confusion. Different wills seem to be working inside him, but he takes his time with them, he has nothing if not time.

One day he meets the wind. She is passionate and impulsive, but she is a slave to her evil father, like he was for so many years. He feels some sympathy towards her, but at the same time, is not at all eager to go down that road again. Her problems are hers and hers alone, he will not be dragged into them.

She offers him a shard of the Shikon jewel. His heart races, seeing this disrespectful young punk, not knowing what the jewel is, or the price that was paid for it, but seeing it only as power. The only power she is ever likely to have. He declines politely, or what passes for polite with him. He doubts this girl will know the difference anyway.

He doesn't watch to see what happens to her.

But the sight of the jewel sparks something in him.

So that night, he meets a girl.

She is sixteen, forever. And she is eleven years younger than him. "Do you regret it?" she asks.

"Not taking the shard?"

She laughs, it is inappropriate, but he enjoys it. "No, silly. Us."

He thinks a moment, and chooses his words carefully. "I don't think it's possible to regret something you never had a choice in."

"Should I be offended?" she asks, her voice lilting.

"No," he says sullenly. Neither says anything for a moment, then he asks, "What makes you so cheerful?"

"Oh, I'm not cheerful," she says, "I'm not much of anything. It's over for us, you know?" She still sounds cheerful. "But being with you again, it's nice."

"It is," Sesshoumaru admits coldly.

Midoriko pulls him gently to the ground with her, which looks and feels like grass, but smells like a cave. She leans up against him gently. Sesshoumaru puts his arm around her, knowing that it's a dream, but it's a good dream, and in a way, this might really be Midoriko. They say nothing, it seems that words have become moot, and events are past their control.

Death takes much, but life gives precious little, even if it lasts forever. Even a dream is something, if you've lived long enough to be a legend.