A/N: Wrote this one shot for a community contest on LJ...won first place! I squee!
She crouched in the dark forest, huddled under her brilliant red cloak. The ground was damp under her thighs, it had been raining steadily for the past two days. In her arms, the infant whimpered, his small cries sounding now and then like a baby animal's whines. Izayoi comforted her son, soothing him with whispers while she waited for the rain to end.
She had never been alone in her life. From her earliest memories, she had been treasured by her family. Her mother and father doted on her, her cousins and aunts and uncles all brought her gifts of the finest silks, exotic carved toys, rich cosmetics. She had never been alone, without a parent, without a nurse, without a guard. Her father was rich and she was his only daughter.
Izayoi had been awaiting the date of her marriage, not too long in the future. A handsome young son of a well respected merchant, two families of power tying themselves closer. She had been raised to be a docile and sweet young lady. But instead of that safe and happy life, she had chosen a wild demon lord as her lover.
They had met in the woods, when she'd been a fool and young enough to believe in magic. She had found it certainly, in the hands of a man who had plucked her from an ordinary life like a maiden would pluck a flower. She withered under his touch and gave up in that very first meeting.
When her belly had swelled and no amount of binding would hide her condition, she'd begged him to take her away. He'd only smiled and asked that she be patient, it was safer for her to remain with her family. He was always at war. She was no youkai woman who could fight with claws and steel. She was only a soft child herself.
And her family had been appalled. For the first time her father had beaten her, lashing her until the red blood seeped from livid marks, as he demanded over and over the name of the man that had defiled her, ruined his daughter and made her a whore. When she finally screamed out the name of her child's sire, her father had stopped hitting her only to sink to the ground and curse her viciously while tears ran down his cheeks.
And still he left her with them, abandoned her to the family that had once loved her and now reviled her, spitting on the floor where she walked and whispering about how she had probably spread her legs for a host of demons. Izayoi kept her eyes turned demurely to the floor and no one ever saw the way her fists clenched in her sleeves.
Now that family was dead, they had turned against her at the last, when she was heavy with child. She had known he'd come for her, nothing would have stopped him. Death itself wouldn't stop him from coming for her. In a way, Izayoi herself had longed for death as an escape from them all. The loved ones who now hated her, the future that was so uncertain. Even the father of her child frightened her for she did not know him, nor understand him. Her lover was a ghost, visiting her on moon drenched nights, teaching her to ache with his passion until Izayoi felt that death itself would be a relief and a blessing.
But death had been waiting for her lover. He was a mystery to her still, she had never gotten to know him very well. He saved her life, saved her son, and perished himself, leaving them alone. She had never been alone before.
Izayoi was cold, but she curled herself around her son in an effort to keep him warm. Alone, without friends or resources, his future looked bleak. His appearance would mark him as half demon and she couldn't expect any sympathy from humans. They would most likely kill her baby on sight and then kill her for daring to get a youkai's child.
Their lives would be brief, but she determined to love her son as much as she could. Even if they starved in the wilderness or were murdered by bandits, she would fight to protect him, save him, with all of a mother's love and determination.
He'd been watching the woman for a few days now, trying to figure her out. His practical youkai nature told him that her survival was impeded by the infant. Better to drown the half breed in a stream, his analytical mind advised. Still the woman continued to stumble in the forest, eating whatever she could find as her clothing grew ragged and the brat in her arms continued to scream.
It hurt his ears. He honestly considered doing her a kindness by dispatching the noisy wretch. Certainly, as mother of the pup she would find it difficult to destroy it. Sesshoumaru could not comprehend why she'd risk her own survival by clinging to a hanyou infant. Alone, she might even have a chance, she might find a place for herself among humans. Maybe find a man who would take her in, providing he didn't mind that she had already been breached.
The woman, girl really, tripped over a fallen branch and hit the ground hard. She managed to turn herself aside so as not to crush her child, but he heard her gasp and cry out in pain. She made strange sounds, hitching and coughing to herself like a sick animal, while water came from her eyes. He felt a certain disgusted fascination at the sight, she was so weak and so alone, easy prey for anyone, demon or human to take.
The little hanyou screamed mercilessly as the crying female tried to comfort him. Sesshoumaru wondered why she didn't pick herself up out of the mud, wondering if humans were always so dirty. This was the first time he'd ever watched a human for any amount of time. He already knew they were easy to kill.
Ah, so she was injured, he thought as he observed the girl trying to move herself to a drier spot of ground. Left ankle injured, possibly broken, perhaps just twisted. She wouldn't be able to search for food or find water like this. She also wouldn't be able to run if something found her, something that searched for soft flesh and didn't mind taking its time to devour a woman. He might even watch it happen, providing he didn't get bored with her suffering and merely leave.
"Hush, little one," the woman said as she cradled her baby. Sesshoumaru wondered if the pup could understand her speech, he rather doubted it. An inuyoukai mother probably would have given him a quick shake to make him stop his crying or abandoned him until he exhausted himself. Privately, Sesshoumaru doubted this soft creature could do such a thing. He could already tell that she was no match for a child of his father's nature.
Wearily, the woman started to push back her ragged and dirty clothing, exposing breasts round and full of milk. Sesshoumaru stared hard at her as she fed the child, growling a bit in the back of his throat before he caught himself. Suddenly he wanted to go in there and tear the baby away from her. Not his pup, in spite of being human she was female and the instinct was strong to make her bear his young instead.
Her breath caught in the back of her throat when he showed himself, almost glowing in the gloom of the wet forest. The same pale hair, the same golden eyes, for a moment she thought that he had returned from the grave to rescue her once again. Then she blinked and saw that it wasn't him after all. This person looked enough like him to be his brother.
Or his son.
"Who are you?" she asked, wonder in her voice.
He didn't smile at her, but she could still see the fangs behind his lips when he spoke. "Sesshoumaru. Son of your pup's father."
Izayoi swallowed hard, something about his manner made her wish that she could crawl away from him. Unlike his father, this young demon's eyes were hard and cold, suddenly she knew that those eyes had been watching her. She'd felt their touch on her skin, felt them pull at her hair. It made her shiver, realizing that he'd probably seen her relieving herself, trying to deal with her body as it adjusted to its postpartum state.
"Have you come to take my baby away?" she asked, her heart pounding. This was what she'd been dreading the most, she knew her lover had been a very powerful demon. It made sense that his people would consider a human woman to be unworthy of raising his son. The youkai in front of her spoke of that without saying a word. How could she expect to measure up to such perfection?
"I do not want your baby," he said, looking offended at the idea. "It is a half demon, a worthless hanyou."
She felt a chill run up her spine at his words and brought a corner of her red robe over her shoulder to cover her son's face and protect him from those cold eyes. Yes, she was indeed a fool. Her human blood would taint the child, he would be no prince among his own people, only an outcast. That was all she had for her son, a future of rejection and scorn. Unending loneliness. Just like her own.
"Have you come to kill me then?" Izayoi bowed her head over the baby and tried not to be afraid. If he was going to kill her, she didn't have a chance to save herself. All she could hope for was that it would be quick.
"No." His tone was cool and almost lazy and she looked up at him. His face was unreadable and she reflected that it made him seem very different from his father.
"Then what do you want?"
For the first time he smiled at her. "I want to understand."
He was coming to understand her more each day. He wondered if she thought he had saved her out of kindness, some distracted compassion for his father's child. She would indeed be foolish to assume such things about him. No, the girl was not a fool, he knew that she was also beginning to understand him. He could tell in the way she never completely met his eyes, the way she'd make sure that she was always between him and her pup. She didn't trust him, but she was dependent upon him and that had to sting.
The pup was growing fast, only a few months old and already crawling around on the floor and barking ecstatically at everything within sight. She had her hands full just watching over such a child, Sesshoumaru mused.
He had found a small hut for her to live in and provided for her. There was a human village not far away, but for now he'd asked her to not seek them out. He simply brought her what she needed and she never asked questions. That puzzled him, she should ask questions, she should be demanding to know his intentions. But she didn't and he reflected that perhaps it was her passive nature that had attracted his father.
"Why you?" he asked her one evening. She had made a small supper for herself and offered him some out of a simple desire for company. Sesshoumaru had only turned his eyes away from her offering with contempt. Izayoi accepted his contempt, the same way she accepted his assistance. Passively, without questions or rebuttal, without accusations or anger.
"I do not know, Sesshoumaru-sama."
He frowned, driven to one of his rare expressions by her vexing way of not answering anything he wanted to know. "Do you think he loved you?" the young demon asked, a faint sneer in his voice.
"I do not know, Sesshoumaru-sama."
"He didn't," the young lord said lazily, leaning at his ease against her wall. "My father didn't love you or your child, so if that's what you've been telling yourself, I urge you to give up such notions. My father was not a man who loved."
"Nor," he continued, letting more of his annoyance seep into his voice, "did he find you irresistible for your female charms. As a human, you might even be considered lovely, but compared to youkai women, you are but a pale shadow with no substance. Hardly worth his attention."
She didn't answer his insults, only continued to stroke her baby's ears. The little pup was curled contentedly in her lap, snoring softly against her leg. "I know," she said at last. "I cannot answer your questions, Sesshoumaru-sama, because I do not know for myself. All I can tell you is that he came to me once a month, always on the first night of the full moon and stayed with me until dawn."
"And your child?" he asked sarcastically. He was really annoyed with her if he was letting it show, his self control was usually much better than that. He liked to be an enigma himself, he liked to have those around him always wondering about his mood, about his temper. Then like lightning he would strike, always having the upper hand.
"He never spoke of the child, or what he wanted for him," Izayoi said, setting her sleeping baby to rest in a bundle of blankets. She got up and came to Sesshoumaru's side, kneeling and keeping her eyes demurely on the floor. "The only thing he ever told me was what to name the baby. Inuyasha."
"Stupid name," Sesshoumaru muttered under his breath. He did not understand his father, never had. Why seek out a simple mortal when he had the most beautiful youkai females fighting to gain his favor? Why, of all the ridiculous things, sire a half breed on that human wench? Was it a failure on his part? Had his father suddenly felt the need to have another heir, a half human one at that?
"Only once did he tell me about you, that he had a son," Izayoi said thoughtfully. He looked at her, his eyes glowing slightly in the firelight. She met his gaze for the first time, calmly, without any expectations of how he should react. "He told me he was proud of you."
Sudden anger filled him. "You lie," he hissed. "My father would never speak of me to you. Nor would he ever say he was proud."
"Shouldn't he be proud of his son?" the girl asked innocently. It had been a typically brief conversation. She had asked his lover if he had any other children. The demon lord had answered that he had a son that carried his pride whether he cared to or not. At the time, it hadn't made much sense to Izayoi, having no siblings of her own. But she could remember when she'd had parents and had never doubted their love for her. Until they had found out about her lover, and shame had fallen upon her family. Her father swore he couldn't look his friends in the eye; her mother only wept and refused to leave her rooms. It still hurt terribly.
A single tear slipped down her cheek without her realizing it. Sesshoumaru noticed though and leaned close to touch the salty water with a cool fingertip.
"Why is it you humans cry?"
"Why is it that demons do not?"
She felt like she was beginning to understand him. Izayoi spent her days caring for her child, grateful for the protection that she was being offered. She could understand that it wasn't because of honor, or a sense of duty to his father that made Sesshoumaru watch over her. He was curious, she was a living mystery to him and in order to understand his father, he had chosen to first understand her.
"Your family turned on you."
It was the first time that he'd spoken to her in days, although she'd seen his shadow at dawn and at dusk to make sure she was still there. She wondered what he'd do if she tried to go to the village. She wondered what she'd do when he finally grew bored and simply killed her.
Her fate hung tangible in the silences of her small hut, her solitary meals, her isolation. The only sunlight in her days was found in the eyes of her son, a happy, round puppy of a boy, who snuggled against her in the night and reminded her that she was a not a whore, that she was not an easy woman. She had just been moved by a beautiful creature and once having touched that flame, she could not pull her hands away no matter how it burned.
How could something as beautiful as her baby ever be considered to be wrong?
"Do you miss your father?" she asked one night as she bathed her son. Sesshoumaru stood silently in the corner of her hut, he rarely sat down. She had never seen him sleep. His eyes followed her hands as she rinsed and dried her squirming, chattering son. He made small barking noises sometimes, imitating her human speech and he made her laugh when his ears twitched at every birdsong.
"No," he said quietly. Izayoi looked up at him. She hadn't expected an answer, most of the time she spoke to hear her own voice. Other than Inuyasha, she had no one else to talk to and somehow, when Sesshoumaru was with her, the silences seemed even harder to endure.
Then one night she awoke to him sitting beside her, staring at her in that unearthly, inhuman way of his and she turned to face him. "You must hate me," she whispered.
She waited for a moment, gathering courage to speak of what had been troubling her. It was the real reason that Sesshoumaru had been watching her, waiting for her to do something, be something. Anything, as long as it gave him some clue why his father had considered her and the baby to be worth dying for.
"It's my fault he's dead. You haven't said so, but I see it in your eyes when you look at me."
Sesshoumaru shifted in the darkness and she saw a pale hand reach toward her, touch her hair as she lay quietly next to him. "It is your fault. He is dead because he considered you to be worth sacrificing himself for. I do not understand it."
The cool hand trailed over her face until it rested on her neck. She felt the slightest pressure of his claws, his touch growing heavier until she caught her breath and knew he was about to tear her throat out. Then he paused, obviously considering doing just that. "Should I kill you, Izayoi?"
Her pulse hammered against his fingertips and she closed her eyes. "Do you want to kill me? You could have done that the first time you saw me. I have been wondering when you would finally do it. All I ask is that you don't kill my baby, my Inuyasha. Please."
"Why should I do anything you ask?" he whispered.
"Because I loved your father," she answered, tears leaking from beneath closed lids.
The hand withdrew and they sat in silence, a demon and a mortal girl. One sat with the power of life and death between his claws, unsure of which way to turn the fates. The other lie quietly, passively, waiting as she always did for another to define her future. Perhaps it was because she spoke the truth, perhaps it was because he was every bit as lonely for the man he had known as father. In any case, he did not know that he understood what she meant when she said she loved his father.
Was it possible that was the reason he had protected her? Not because of his own youkai feelings, but because of her human ones. Had his father felt a mortal girl's love and been moved by it? Could he feel love as well?
He didn't want to alarm her, but he needed to know. He needed to understand it, in a way that he hadn't come to define. It consumed him, it drove him back to this place again and again. It made him provide for her and the pup, as his father might have done. It made him watch over her jealously, guard her safety and security. Perhaps with understanding, he could move on and forget about her and the half breed that his father had thought worthy of sacrifice.
Sesshoumaru knew she understood him when he started to remove his clothing, quietly setting the armor aside with a small rustle of silk and metal. Her breathing increased, but she did not speak when he lie down next to her on the futon. Under his fingertips, he could feel her blood racing in her veins as he touched her. He was careful of his claws, but every now and then they snagged the fabric of her plain yukata, traced lines over her nipples as they mapped her breasts.
He waited for her to protest, he wanted her to give him a reason to leave. When she didn't, he pushed aside her clothing and touched her some more. She was warm, her ribcage rising and falling under his palm. How fragile was her heart, beating like mad under the soft, too delicate skin. Sesshoumaru was deliberate and gentle as he explored the girl his father had once claimed, sniffing her curiously.
Most humans stank, smelled of mortal sweat and dirt, but this one was clean. Once he had adjusted to her strange smell, he found it pleasant enough and female in a way that he normally associated with youkai women. Dipping his face to her chest, he licked her nipples, first one and then the other. They were still rough and calloused although she had stopped producing milk a few weeks ago. Her body felt plush and soft under his when he mounted her, sliding between her legs without a word.
She wanted him, he understood that. And he wanted her back, for whatever reason he might assign, he could not deny it. Part of the attraction was that she had belonged to his father and now she would belong to him. Part of it was satisfaction that she was not going to resist him, even encouraged him. It was possible that she felt she had no choice in accepting him, but that didn't matter much. She met him eagerly enough, her lips parting under his, surprising him by daring to kiss him back.
He pulled his mouth away from hers, looking down into her soft, dark eyes. Her small hands raised to twist in his hair and he wondered if she had done the same with his father's, if it had fascinated her, those pale strands that glowed by moonlight.
"Yes," she whispered, closing her eyes and turning her face away from his.
She shivered when he entered her, lifting her hips to meet his. Sesshoumaru bowed his head until it rested on her shoulder, the scent of her hair was rich in his nose. He tasted her, skin warm and salty, real and alive. Her breathing grew ragged as he moved against her, slowly at first, then growing more urgent as his body demanded more. Somewhere within this simple girl was his answer, was the reason that he was drawn to her. It wasn't about his father for Sesshoumaru, not anymore. It was about her.
Izayoi cried out and he raised his head to look at her. Her face was flushed, her eyes tightly closed, the grimace seemed almost one of pain. But a woman in pain didn't clutch you against her, didn't rake her blunt fingernails down your back. Fascinated, and loathing himself for it, he leaned down to nip at her mouth.
"Tell me you love me," he whispered in her ear. He knew she'd be lying if she said it, but still, he wanted to hear those words. Maybe then he'd understand his father better. This girl's body was his last living link to him. He didn't care if she lied, he could pretend it was truth or he could pretend it didn't matter.
"I love you, Sesshoumaru," she said, pressing her face against his neck. True or not, it stirred him and he thrust himself hard into her, growling. Her hands fisted in his hair, her knees locked tight over his hips and he finally shuddered once and stilled above her, listening to the hoarse sounds of her breathing as it slowed. Just this once, he told himself as he pulled her against him, cradling her head against his chest. Limbs wrapped around each other, sweat sticking flesh to flesh, he thought he might understand humans a little bit better now.
He was gone in the morning and she understood him well enough to know that she would never see his face again. Whatever he'd been trying to figure out about her, about her baby, about his own father, she couldn't tell. In a way, she was relieved that he was gone, it was more than she could bear if he had stayed.
He couldn't love her, that much she knew from the beginning. His father hadn't loved her either, maybe driven to her by some wild youkai instinct she couldn't comprehend. Izayoi pitied them both, such solitary creatures and yet wanting and needing as fiercely as a human. Yet, neither could admit to needing anything or anyone, instead choosing to live without. Of course she felt sorry for them. If he had stayed, she might have told him that.
She heard a laugh from behind her and turned. Her little son was digging a hole in the soft dirt with his hands. Amazing how fast he'd grown and how strong. She went to him and lifted him up, holding him as the sunlight filtered through his hair.
"I promise you better than that, Inuyasha," she murmured as her boy grabbed a fistful of her hair and shoved it in his mouth. "I will teach you to be able to love."
She understood demons now, it wasn't that they couldn't love, but rather that they had never been taught.