Timeline: Post-series (hypotheses abound), post-Spring Snow. This does not seek to be a sequel to that piece, but takes its events into consideration. I like the thought of most of my fics taking place in the same continuum, because it gives me an opportunity to build upon my old ideas.
In the Background: Corsican Corridor by Kajiura Yuki (from the Noir OST)
He came with the north wind, one deep autumn night, into the secluded valley of his ancestors. The full moon hung in the sky like a shining bead of glass; that he arrived on the night when Lord Tsukiyomi bared his full glory to the world was no coincidence. He was deep in demon country, and despite his lineage, the half-blooded son of Inu no taishou preferred to walk such places when his youryoku was at its strongest, as far away from the dark of the moon and his hour of frailty as possible.
Eyes had been upon him the entire way, once he had passed the invisible walls that marked the borders of his father's old dominion. To a human, the subtle changes in the earth and wind brought only an uneasiness that steered their steps away from the forbidding region; the age-old sigils carved into stone and tree seemed incidental, but to a youkai they were unmistakable. The Great White Dogs ruled here, and others than their guests or lieges treaded this ground at their peril.
He made no attempt at secrecy: as peerless a hunter as he liked to think himself to be, those who watched his passage were unsurpassed in their vigilance. He let the blade of enchanted ivory at his side and the crimson of his fire-rat cloak declare his identity, for even those who had never before smelled his scent knew of the gifts from his father and mother, which he had born throughout his years of ignominy.
Inuyasha who once sought the Shikon no Tama was not a welcome guest in the wilds of Kyuushuu. The distaste his older sibling, the present Lord of the Western Lands held for him was recognised far and wide, and those among the nightfolk who had heartily disapproved of his late sire's union with the Lady Izayoi were numerous.
Naturally, those dissenters now avoided the Western Lands at large, for Lord Sesshoumaru suffered no cross words upon his choice of companion. Few were those of his retainers who had met the Lady Rin in person, but they spoke highly of her spirit and grace.
These tidings had played a no small part in the journey of Inuyasha into the territory of his forefathers. These, and the decades-old memories of his brother's part in the fight against the half-demon Naraku.
It was late autumn, the trees for the most part stripped of their foliage by the ephemeral hands of Aki-onna. In the sheltered valley open to the warm breath of the south, the wind of summer, the colours of fall still abided. The trees shifted in the light nighttime mist like the unnamed actors of Nou, the theatre of masks, their resplendent garb dark and silver in the icy moonglade, their leaves murmuring recitations of mysteries now lost to human tongues.
He stepped unconfronted to the gates of the house, and, finding no answer to his knocks, vaulted over them in one fluid leap. There was a slither of motion in the inner garden, but he paid it no mind. He did not dream of arriving undetected, but if the guards of the house had not the spine to openly face him, the shame was not his.
From the gate, he needed no guide. He allowed the memories to pour forth, and they whispered to him the paths through the maze of the house where he had spent his earliest years, where he had last known the love of a parent, where he had first learned what it was to be an outcast.
He could have shouted to summon the lord of the house. He had already borne a blade past his threshold. Instead, he walked in stillness, listening to the familiar patterns of echoes his footfalls called forth from the rafters, wondering how small the sprawling building now seemed.
His stride was that of a grown man now, no longer the blunderous bustle of a child. The faces of his precedessors scrutinised him from the walls, the banners of their lieges flaring in silent salutations. He held his head high beneath their appraisal.
Opening the sliding door marked with the crest of the inuyoukai tribe, he unceremoniously stepped into the innermost space of the house.
A semi-circle of candles in bowls of flawless white china illuminated the room, leaving most of the airy space in a soft twilight. The lone occupant of the study, bent over a scroll, looked at him with prominent disinterest. There was no visible transition of his gaze moving from the fluted characters to the figure of his visitor; the hooded amber eyes took in the other's shoulders tensing under his threadbare attire, the angle of his legs as he reflexively dipped into a battle-ready crouch.
For a stretching, crackling moment, they beheld each other. However, the lord of the house made no move to reach for the Toukijin, the dread sword of the ogre's fang, which shimmered with a palpable aura even while resting upon its rack, next to the seat of its sole, chosen master. The Fang of their father remained in its scabbard at his half-brother's side.
"It is atrocious manners to wear a sword in another's house. Or have you perhaps come to challenge me?"
Inuyasha straightened, releasing a held breath. "Relax, Sesshoumaru. I'm not looking for a fight." He consciously let his shoulders drop into a slack position, but held himself erect. "Unless you wanna give me one."
"You are at the seat of my power." His brother laid his fine-boned hands upon his knees, otherwise motionless in his meditative seiza. "Why should I fight you now, when, had I wished you dead, you would have been slain a dozen times before you came into my sight?"
"Your guards're slacking, then. Some other reason for the long face when I walked in your door?"
The brushstroke line of Sesshoumaru's mouth hardened before he continued. "My vassals are rightly loath to stain these halls with the blood of their old masters. They might rage at your temerity to walk them, but they still balk at the thought of spilling inuyoukai blood here. Only barbarous humans slay their kin within their own homes - not that a mongrel would comprehend the rigours of our laws."
"Right. A lecture. I'd prefer the fight, if you don't mind. We can take it outside if you can't stomach the thought of your guts on oyaji's floor." Inuyasha crossed his arms over his chest.
The placid flames of the candles splashed in a current of air.
Five beads of blood glistered upon Inuyasha's throat. The talons of his brother's hand smoked with malachite venom.
"Your heritage has kept you alive this far for one reason only. If chichiue's blood is drawn in this house, this Sesshoumaru will be the one to do it." Their shadows blurred upon the walls as the candles fluttered low before the furnace-glow of Sesshoumaru's swelling youki.
"Do you understand me, Inuyasha?"
A chimeric flash of blue streaks tinted the hanyou's cheeks as he forced his clenched claws back at his sides. Sesshoumaru's aura abated; instead of whisking his bloodied claws clean, he stepped back and reached for a fold of cloth from among his writing tools for the purpose.
"Answer the question."
Inuyasha shot him a smouldering look. The ruby drops at his neck melted into the red of his coat as he wiped at them with his sleeve. Sesshoumaru waited. The Toukijin pulsated upon its resting place, echoing the ire of its master.
"Yes." The word dripped with poison as bitter as that which had clouded at Inuyasha's throat mere heartbeats ago.
"Now that we are clear on that, what is it that you want?" Sesshoumaru fell back into a sitting position.
Inuyasha stood rigid, the ball of his thumb circling the cap of his sword's hilt. "Where's everybody? The house's quiet as a damn tomb."
"I have sent them away. If that is all you wanted to know, you could have simply listened to the rumours." To Inuyasha's ears, the last sentence held a dash of ambiguity.
"Maybe I wanted to know for myself," Inuyasha retorted. "There's another grave under the cherry tree."
The balefulness of his brother's glare nearly sent the hanyou staggering backwards.
"You dared -"
Inuyasha held on to what dignity he had remaining, meeting the youkai lord's temper without faltering. "My mother is there, as you well know, brother. Though I s'pose it isn't you who's been keeping the gravestone clear."
Sesshoumaru's gaze moved past his brother, to the paintings adorning the wall panels, delicate greys and golds accentuated by the creamy, translucent sheen of the paper upon which the pictures spun in serene suggestions of motion. Although the decorations had been made by youkai hands one and all, the entire concept was a human one.
"It was her. She... found the spot pleasant, and tended to it. This Sesshoumaru saw no harm in it."
"I'd say thanks, but I guess I'll have to go back to the garden for that, huh?"
His brother only nodded, a movement so minute that it took the eyes of a demon to even perceive it.
"That's really... conscientious of you, Sesshoumaru. From what I remember, my almighty brother would've either gobbled her up when she was still young and toothsome, or -"
"Inuyasha - if you are not man enough to take your own life and wish for me to end it for you, just say it. I tire of this obtuse drivel." Sesshoumaru leaned back to the fraying scroll he had been inspecting.
"Whoa, our lordship is touchy these days..." Inuyasha drawled out.
"You are quite a bit more talkative than I recall. It is a pity that the quality of your conversation does not begin to approach its quantity."
"It happens," Inuyasha said, ignoring the insult for the present. "Humans are quite big on it, you know. Change. Making things better. You don't have to look at the same shit all your life."
Sesshoumaru's silence was swiftly acquiring the pointedness of a battalion of archers targeting the half-demon. Quite possibly with arrows of purification.
"Yeah, so -" Inuyasha shifted his weight, well knowing that Sesshoumaru sensed his fidgeting. This was strange. The entire setup was strange. The only normal aspect of this encounter had been the moment when his brother had threatened his life. That Sesshoumaru had refrained from carrying out the threat had been only the first oddity. Then again, thus far, everything that had transpired supported his suspicions concerning his standoffish sibling - a human lifetime spent with a woman the very icon of empathy was good for various things.
He closed his eyes tightly for a moment. Whatever else he did, he would not shed tears in front of his brother. Not with a dozen Kagomes letting him know that emotions were an acceptable and desirable part of life.
Again he looped back to her even when steadfastly trying to keep his thoughts away. With an effort, he focused upon Sesshoumaru.
"You - never thought of giving her a longer life? Keeping her with you?"
"Go." Sesshoumaru, who would slay his nemesis and then lie with his beloved without his countenance changing, let his eyes slant into crescents of gold within the gloom of his wrath. "Go before I decorate my walls with your innards."
Inuyasha did not stay to wonder whether this was the last warning he would receive.
The two graves stood side by side beneath the crooked trunk of the oldest cherry tree in the vale. The limbs of it arched into elaborate gnarls against the dark, dark indigo of the sky, like the withered hands of an crone lifted into a dance with the spirit, if not the grace of a supple maiden.
The older marker was a rough, weather-worn oval stone. It had been his height as he had last lingered by it, sobbing the grief of a not yet adolescent boy against it in the quiet hours before morning.
He had been gone before dawn, the night when they had buried his mother.
The other gravestone was of pale granite, smoothed perhaps by claws into a similar egg shape. The mausoleums of taiyoukai were twisting labyrinths defended by both sworn guardians and wards that would bring death, madness or worse to any foolish enough to attempt breaching the sanctity of the tomb. In comparison, the two graves seemed infinitely plain. Yet, whereas his father's resting place had only induced a wariness in Inuyasha on the two occasions he had visited it, this site, sheltering the ashes of two women who had left their kin to live with the twilight folk in their realms, brought a sense of peace upon him.
Inuyasha brushed fallen leaves from the unmarked stone beneath which Lady Izayoi had been placed with little ceremony after her death.
"Hello, mother." He crouched beside the stone. "Sorry I took so long."
He chuckled ruefully. "I guess I was kinda busy surviving, at first. Didn't really know how to do it. Not that it was your fault.
"Then Kagome turned up, and things went a little crazy. For a good while." He stopped, pondering how to continue. In spite of having lived a good portion of his life at a shrine, he had little idea how to address the dead. When he went to see Miroku, a stick of incense and a jug of sake were the only things he usually brought, but the words always flowed well enough. Sango was as hearty as ever, the kids were good and raucuous, he missed the damned swindler of a monk... Simple, everyday things, but he knew Miroku appreciated the news. It was very uncomplicated, in the end.
Armed with this sentiment, he went on. "I-I always thought I'd bring her to see you. She wanted to come. But there was always a shitl - so much to do. Somehow it was pretty hectic for most of the time, with the shrine and Sango's kids and everything. And, well, this being smack dab in the middle of Sesshoumaru's territory, it became kind of complicated...
"She does burn incense for you, too. We've... tried to be there, for all those who aren't in the shrine grove. I hope you understand."
He moved his free hand upon the other stone, pallid in the moonlight. "But I hear... and see... that you've been in good hands." He drew a folded piece of paper from inside his coat, where he had sheltered it for the whole of his journey. Snapping off a length of the blue string at the cuff of his sleeve, he tied the prayer strip on a branch of the cherry tree. "That's from Kagome. Take your time, it's a bit lengthy. She can get pretty long-winded when I'm not watching her."
Squatting down again, Inuyasha ran a finger along a shallow gouge in the surface of the gravestone of Lady Rin. "Thanks. I'm in your debt." He had never known this woman, had only seen her as a little girl tagging along his brother when the youkai lord had still ranged his territory more freely. However, she had cared for the memory of his mother when he himself had been far away. It counted for quite a bit.
"There are... certain rituals that can lengthen a human's lifespan." Inuyasha did not turn his head at the voice of his brother. Neither did he drop his hand from the gravestone.
"However, they will invariably result in the loss of... human characteristics, sometimes over time, sometimes immediately."
Inuyasha felt his muscles going taut, and his finger clenched upon the stone. His gaze fell to the dead leaves clustering on the ground. "What about the sword? The Tenseiga?"
"The Tenseiga restores life, as you have witnessed. It does not prolong it. It will not revive a body that has died of old age." The vegetation rustled as Sesshoumaru trod closer; his movements were too casual to hint at an impending attack, but Inuyasha did not relax. It was not his brother's presence that made him want to wreak the scenery in a blind fit of rage.
"You tried, huh?" Inuyasha's laugh had a macabre tint to it.
Sesshoumaru's silence was answer enough.
"Sango told me to say thanks, by the way. She still doesn't quite get why you helped her, but..."
"This Sesshoumaru did it neither on your, nor the taijiya's, nor the brat's behalf. Rin wished it, and the Tenseiga wished it."
Inuyasha chuckled again, dryly. "And it took you half a century to admit that?"
"I am not in the habit of divulging my motives to you, am I?" The full-blooded dog-demon stopped a step behind his brother.
Inuyasha rose and turned, unable to help the smirk that split the strain on his face. "Well fuck me, was that a damn sorry try at a joke? Who are you and where's my prick of a brother?"
"It was a statement of fact. Tell the taijiya woman to ask Kohaku about Rin, Inuyasha. You might learn something enlightening."
Amazement overtook defeat. Inuyasha stared at his brother with wide eyes. "You are not serious. You cannot fucking be serious."
"Rin never forgot that Kohaku had protected her. It was her wish to nurture that bond."
Inuyasha grabbed the tree for support, still helplessly pointing at Sesshoumaru as if waiting for the youkai lord to call his bluff. "So - that's why Kohaku always took on those commissions in the south -"
"In part, yes," Sesshoumaru replied. "Once he became a taijiya, the arrangements were simple enough."
"And just how did your damned dignity weather the fact that your - your surrogate daughter was - friends? - with a demon hunter? Benten's tits, if word of this ever got out -"
"It did not. Discretion is also power, although I do not expect you to appreciate the idea."
"Holy gods, Sesshoumaru! You aided and abetted the relationship of a -"
"Of a boy who had the courage to fight against an undefeatable foe, and Rin. Do you need me to spell it out for you, or are you still illiterate? I could use women's letters, if it helped matters."
Inuyasha simply shook with soundless laughter for a long while. The cherry tree seemed to tremble in mute sympathy, the prayer strip fastened to its branch bobbing gently.
Sesshoumaru traced the piece of paper with the smooth side of a talon, almost inquisitively. "Did you bring this? It has the scent of your woman."
The transformation in the hanyou rivalled the best battle moves of his brother in its quickness. He became ramrod straight, his demeanour shadowed by wordless sorrow.
"She wrote it for my mother. Because she couldn't come." He averted his gaze.
"It is a long way from Honshuu," Sesshoumaru said.
"She's getting old. She's still... a lot healthier than you'd expect, but..." Inuyasha sought coherent shapes in the mists the night had draped over the valley, just to do something with his burning eyes.
"We don't know how much longer. She probably won't last the winter." It took him more courage to utter the words than facing a dragon in battle ever had. Shit, he might just as well have gone to his knees and begged.
"She knows that you came here?" Sesshoumaru's tone rose into a clear question.
"Of course! What the fuck do you take me for?" Inuyasha snapped, still not turning towards his brother. He could hardly trust his voice; he had no confidence in his countenance holding.
"Does she also know your reasons for coming - all of them?"
Now, Inuyasha veered at Sesshoumaru with a gasp. "What do you mean?"
"You are not that moronic, my brother. What have you been asking me, over and over?" A hint of iron, blood-bright, unyielding, resounded in Sesshoumaru's voice. Inuyasha subconsciusly bristled at the threat rising in the other.
"What the hell are you getting at, Sesshoumaru?"
The impact of a closed fist on his jaw flung Inuyasha far into the fronds of the riverbank, his body rebounding slightly as it struck the dew-damp ground. He was on his feet in a flash, with a snarl of unfettered fury. Suddenly he was the ostracised younger brother again, but this time his spleen at his older sibling was far from impotent.
Sesshoumaru stood, statuesque, his aura bursting forth in icy waves. He was not angry, but something far, far more poignant.
"Go back, you unforgivable fool. Turn this very heartbeat and scamper back as quickly as your scrawny legs will carry you, or I will forget that you and I are of the same father." Almost casually, the taiyoukai cut through his brother's swipe to parry him and hauled Inuyasha off of his feet by the front of his coat.
"She will go when it is her time, and you will not know it beforehand. If you attempt to make her stay, you will only destroy all that she is. Either grieve for the death of a human, or live with a mangled monster." The dark amber of their father's gaze, only a misty memory on the edges of his awareness, glowered at Inuyasha from Sesshoumaru's face.
Sesshoumaru set his half-brother down on his feet with a near shudder, leaving Inuyasha staring at him with a countenance gradually lit by a realisation.
"So it's true. What they say." Inuyasha's voice came in fragments.
"'They' say many things, Inuyasha." Sesshoumaru turned sideways, his eyes upon Rin's grave.
"You loved her." Inuyasha spoke with conviction now, under the distinct impression that he had already angered his brother as thoroughly as was possible, which as a morsel of information was quite liberating. For his tongue, in any case.
Sesshoumaru only bent slightly over the gravestone, brushing his fingers over the top of it. He was a white wraith in the moonglow, colourless, snowy, ethereal. "If you love her, you will spend what time she has left with her."
Inuyasha grew grave. She had smiled, and embraced him, and waved from the door of their hut until he had been only a speck among the trees. That was what she always did these days. Adamantly, she refused to be a burden, even when he told her that he could slow his pace for her. Of course, in the end, it was she who got her way. Even with her hair grey and her hands shaking, her eyes were as clear as the day she had burst from the forest, the centipede demon hot at her heels - and her will as unbreakable.
What would Kagome say if she ever learned the most closely guarded reason for his journey to the grave of his mother, in the lands of his father, in the house in which his brother now reigned?
What would she say? What would he say to her?
Deep inside, he had known that there could be no way. If there had been one, his father would have known it. His mother would not have waned away, to remain lovely and vigorous only in the memories of her orphaned son. Rin would not have aged; Kagome's life would not have diminished, day by day.
Yet, he had come, harbouring a secret hope that there was, after all, something he could do. Something Sesshoumaru might do.
"And never speak of this conversation. We may think ourselves the lords of all beneath the bridge of heaven, but there are boundaries that bar us as well." Sesshoumaru's mane of hair was a silver halo around his head, concealing his face.
Inuyasha snorted. "Damn, here I was thinking I really was too old for the big brother lectures. And save the death threats. I think the third time just about took the edge off them."
Sesshoumaru remained silent. Inuyasha squared his shoulders and braced himself. There was one more thing he still needed to do, and he would do it himself, no matter how queasy the thought made him. The moon was an unblinking eye in the cloudless sky, and he locked his own upon it, sending it a breathless prayer that he might be as unflinching.
He sank his claws into his right eye. The salt of his own blood and tears glided freely down his cheeks, the eye socket a white-hot core that pulsed agony into his entire head. Wet - soft - slippery - and then he yanked his hand away, doubling over with the pain even as he held a perfect ebony pearl lightly between thumb and forefinger.
Do not crush it do not break it shit it hurts - He rocked himself back and forth, mumbling the cautionary litany under his breath. His face was a mask of wetness as he finally rose, one eye cinched shut, and presented the glowing black sphere to the gravestone of his mother.
"Here - ofukurou. Keep this for me. It's from the old man. I don't think - I need it anymore. Got enough in this world - to worry about." Scooping away a handful of the moist dark earth, Inuyasha placed the gate to his father's tomb beneath the time-worn grave marker. He patted the soil closed above the pearl, sealing off its nearly subliminal hum of power.
Fully aware that Sesshoumaru was watching him, however unnoticeably, Inuyasha dried the tears and blood from his face, shook himself and started off across the dew-dappled grass.
It was not a request. The hanyou halted to look back over his shoulder, mild interest in his one seeing eye.
"What is your intention as concerns this house? You did not return when you had chosen a mate." Sesshoumaru had turned fully in his direction, although he still stood almost protectively by the pale gravestone.
Inuyasha scoffed, biting back a whimper at the pain that he knew would continue for hours. The eyes were a tender spot of the body, full of delicate little parts that took damnably long to mend. "You can keep it for all I care. I'm going back to Musashi."
"The halls of his father are not fit for Inuyasha?"
"Look - why the hell would I want this?" The hanyou spread his arms at the deep veranda hemming the garden side of the house, at the outer walls standing vigil over their encounter. "It's pretty and opulent, good for you, but I'll take Kagome's home hearth and a dozen goddamn grand-nephews hanging off my sleeve over it any day." Inuyasha chortled. "Take it easy, I'm not gonna kick you out."
"This Sesshoumaru would have battled you for the privilege."
"You'd try and bust my ass because you thought I breathed wrong."
"Only if you breathed wrong at a grand gathering of the taiyoukai, in which such matters are a crucial element of protocol. If my actions were as chaotic as yours, I would never have held the title of a Lord for this long." As he spoke, Sesshoumaru began to walk, gently, like a man at leisure to enjoy the moonlight upon his stroll, back towards the house.
Inuyasha allowed the night breeze to bear his words to his retreating brother. "Then mind the Hollyhock Shogunate, Sesshoumaru. They bring change. They bring peace - but I'm sure my brother has already seen this, in his wisdom."
"Return to the world you chose, Inuyasha. Go back to your woman." The words fell upon his ears soft as the sighing of the cherry trees. "And remember that this house is here, sheltering the realm of the White Dogs until its time draws to an end."
Inuyasha turned his course away from that place then, and crossed the arduous distance back to the coastal village in which he had dwelled for the last forty turns of the seasons. He held his beloved in his arms long into the night, reciting to her his journey to the house of his birth, and the discoveries he had made about his brother. Kagome listened to him raptly, as she always did, but if she guessed at the things he left unsaid, she did not speak of it.
Lord Sesshoumaru, last full-blooded heir to the White Dogs, lived long in seclusion, even after the unifying of the human states. The Shogunate ended the century of civil warfare - and a large proportion of the suffering and strife, which birthed dark emotions of the heart. The lesser youkai, thriving on fear and grief, were the first to feel the effects of this calm. In time, their more powerful cousins had no choice but to admit the inevitable.
There never was an open war between demon and mortal man, but instead a gradual, relentless taming of the wilderness where the nightfolk had their courts. Quite a few youkai sages concluded that the mixing of the blood of the White Dogs, one of the noblest taiyoukai lineages, had done much to precipitate the decline of demon reign throughout the islands.
They were the lords of wild and dark places, and the light of peace in human kingdoms doused much of their might. They were forgotten by human scriveners and spun into children's tales and the songs of poets and madmen; but wherever humans and youkai had touched with kindness instead of hatred, grains of truth were preserved throughout the long course of Time into the darkness of days yet to come.
Aki-onna: a female kami (nature spirit) of the season of autumn
Benten: one of the seven Shinto gods of luck, and the only goddess among them
chichiue: an archaic, respectful way of referring to one's own father
inuyoukai: dog demon
Kyuushuu: the southernmost of Japan's four main islands; the general consensus in the IY fandom is that "The Western Lands" refers to this island
Musashi: the han (feudal province ruled by a daimyou) in which Kaede's village lies; the geographical area around today's Tokyo
ofukurou: a rude, colloquial way of saying "mother"
oyaji: a rude, colloquial way of saying "father"
seiza: a kneeling sitting position
taijiya: hunter, exterminator; in essence, one who does taiji (extermination) for a living
taiyoukai: great demon
Tsukiyomi: the Japanese god of the moon, born from the left eye of Izanagi
youryoku: approximately, "demon powers"; it is my understanding that whereas youki refers to a demon aura in IY series lore, youroku more specifically means the concrete ways in which a youkai's power manifests; however, the terms are largely interchangeable
Notes: The title of - and inspiration for - this story was found in Magyar Posse's album, Kings of Time, predictably. The idea that the fire-rat fur coat was given to Inuyasha by his mother was shamelessly stolen from Queen's story My Gift to You. I humbly apologise.
"The Hollyhock Shogunate": The family crest of the Tokugawa clan is three inward-facing leaves of the awoi plant, which is a species of hollyhock. This moniker was born from my imagination of a youkai historian's record, and is not an authentic appellation. The warlords who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate ended the Era of the Warring States (1467-1568) and established a central government, which brought a nationwide peace at the end of the 16th century.