I felt the ground and looked up high
and called your name.
Ooh, remember when it rained
In the water I remain
Josh Groban, "Remember When It Rained"
The Last Day
"The Healing Wheel of Time."
Soft strands of silver hair fell in glistening waves across my hands. I hummed softly as I drew a brush through its endless length, careful not to scratch the two delicate dog ears extending from underneath. There were rarely tangles, only the occasional wild hairs here and there.
It is amazing how time has gone by. Days, weeks, years, they drifted by so slowly, yet when I look back it all seems to have flown by too fast for my liking. First steps, first words, tantrums, wildness and blooming...this must be how a tree feels as it watches flowers and seedlings grow around it in the forest. The earlier years were not easy, they rarely are, but the moving and curling of time's current heals all.
"Mama," came a soft, silky smooth voice, "if you keep brushing my hair, you will brush it off my head."
I blinked out of my haze, "Oh, I'm sorry, Soukenmaru!" I put the brush down and settled my hands on my son's broad shoulders, "Did I scratch you?"
Soukenmaru turned his head and flashed a quick smile. He looks just like his father now. Someone could have taken a painting of my Lord, covered up his stripes and painted dog ears atop his head, and they would have my son.
"No." he ducked under the brush and stood up, "So, where did you daydream to this time?"
His question made me laugh. He daydreams just as much as I do, sometimes even more. His studies took ages longer because of it...yet we persevered.
"Just," I fluffed his parted bangs, "wondering how all these years got by us."
"It's only been twenty years, mama," said Soukenmaru. He blushed and tried to slap my hands away when I adjusted his red and white kimono - the very same kimono Lord Sesshoumaru used as his first blanket. It still had faint stains, but Soukenmaru wanted to wear it today, so I let him.
Twenty years...they were not an easy journey. Soukenmaru has a mind much like mine, and, like me, he always had trouble behaving properly around others his own age. As a child he liked to play his way only, and if the other children did not follow his lead, he became violent. It did not take long for his playmates to cast him out of their pack. He often came running up to me, crying, because other children wouldn't play with him anymore. No one wanted to invite him anywhere because his behavior was too wild, making it impossible to leave him unsupervised. Few things outside his interests held his attention more than a moment, hence his difficult education, and none of the other children liked the same things he did.
Inuyasha saved Soukenmaru from more fights than I can count. A day rarely passed without him walking up the path, an angry Soukenmaru under one arm and Tetsusaiga propped on the other shoulder. I thank the stars that he reconciled with Lord Sesshoumaru enough to be part of his nephew's life, because there were situations where even I could not protect him.
Soukenmaru's struggle to fit in with a world where few shared his thinking patterns and neither demons nor humans fully accepted him was both painful and triumphant at the same time. Again, his uncle was there to help him. I'm also thankful that Lord Sesshoumaru's men are so accepting of my son. Had he been the child of anyone else, I doubt they would feel the same.
And somewhere through it all, he grew up into the man standing before me now. I know he can handle what he is about to step into. He may behave a bit young for his age, but he is also very bright and inquisitive and sees what others miss.
"Oof." I heaved my son's armor off its wooden form. It resembled his father's, save the shoulder guards were thick with two rows of spikes. This made it heavy and difficult to lift. I honestly know not how he can stand to wear it. "Are you nervous?"
He clicked his claws together. "Not at all."
I captured his twitching fingers, "Try not to fidget when you go out." And while he was distracted, I pulled the leather strings that fitted his armor to his body and clicked the breastplate in place. "This includes rocking, tapping..." I tied his purple and yellow sash in place. "...and this," I caught the rippling digits of his left hand. "Let me see your nails. I hope you did not bite them down to nothing."
"Ma-maaaa," he rumbled in feigned offense. Hearing his deep voice stretch the word like that made me smile. "I have been better about that." Lifting his hands, he allowed me to examine his claws. It pleased me to see ten sharp points and not a single bite mark anywhere.
"Good. Now, before you go..." I reached behind me for a gift wrapped in plain cloth and handed it to him.
Accepting the gift, Soukenmaru pulled the cloth off the top. A red handle emerged. He trembled and allowed the shroud to fall all the way off. Then he held the sheathed sword up so the crimson handle and sheath caught the light. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. "Herutsuga..."
"Your papa wanted me to give this to you when you were ready," I clasped my hands around his, which grasped the sword so tightly that his skin was pulled taut. "and I think today is the perfect day."
"Thank you, mama. Really." Soukenmaru came forward and embraced me in his familiar warmth. The moisture in his eyes dripped against my ear, tickling as it trickled away. "I have two swords now, just like he did," he glanced at Tenseiga in his belt, then back up at me. "I wish papa was here."
The mention of my Lord sent a small pang through my heart. I wished he could have been there as well. "He is here, Soukenmaru. In my heart and yours. I'm sure that if he could appear and speak to you personally, he would tell you how proud he is to see you claim your birthright."
He placed Herutsuga gently beside Tenseiga. Glittering tears made his amber eyes glisten. "I don't even know how to use Herutsuga."
"It will come to you when the time is right." Reaching up, I cupped Soukenmaru's cheeks and wiped away his tears before they could fall again.
Footsteps padded up the floor to the fusama. I turned just as Master Jaken poked his green head through the door, "It's time, are you two ready?"
"Yes, just a moment." Soukenmaru pulled himself free of my hands. I moved to help him wipe the evidence of tears off his face. He shot me an indignant look and wiped his eyes himself, trying to compose his expression. "Mama, please don't baby me in front of people, it's embarrassing!"
"All right, all right. You better go. Ah-ah!" Before he could rush past me, I tapped my cheek with one finger. My son rolled his eyes and gave me a swift little kiss, and I in turn kissed the end of his nose.
Not more than five or ten minutes later, I stood in the great hall, watching Soukenmaru emerge from the side and lower to his knees on a red tokonoma placed in the middle of the floor. The men Lord Sesshoumaru once commanded, already present, rose to sit on their knees as well. Last to enter was the elder, his amazing hair trailing on the floor behind him. On one arm he carried my Lord's old pelt and in his free hand he held a small bowl containing one drop of blood from every demon in the castle.
"Soukenmaru," the elder knelt before him. "Are you prepared to accept responsibility for the Western lands and all who live within its borders?"
"Are you prepared to suffer and die for these lands if such is required?"
Soukenmaru's fists clenched against his knees. "I am."
Pride swelled in my heart with each question asked and each affirmative reply. Soukenmaru's expression remained deadly serious and he never fidgeted even once, though I knew how badly he wanted to. He never was one to sit statue still for more than a moment at a time.
"Poison the blood," the elder's hoarse voice filtered across my thoughts.
Extending his hand, Soukenmaru let a droplet of green poison fall from his claws to the bowl. The elder dipped his thumb into the crimson liquid and traced Soukenmaru's moon marking. I winced when it bubbled and sizzled, but, to my amazement, his skin did not burn.
The elder lifted the bowl to Soukenmaru. "Consume the blood of your warriors."
And when Soukenmaru drank, he did not show any displeasure for the putrid, burning taste. His eyes glowed red. He bared his bloodstained fangs to all present and emitted a throaty growl. The gesture was meant to show his dominance over everyone in the room. He looked so fierce, more demon than human.
My heart pounded for him. I can not believe this day has come. This is the reason he was conceived in my womb and schooled so strictly. I could not control the few tears that blurred my eyesight.
"Son of Lord Sesshoumaru and the human-born Rin, extend your right arm," said the old youkai, his tone never changing. When Soukenmaru lowered his head and stretched out his arm, the elder placed my Lord's old pelt over my son's shoulder. "I bestow the bloodline's blessing upon your shoulder."
"I accept," said Soukenmaru.
Wrapping it once, the elder continued. "I bestow upon you the laws and rights of the Western lands and all of its inhabitants."
He bound the fur a second, final time, "I bestow upon you the title of Western Lord."
Soukenmaru stole a glance at me through the corner of his eye. "I accept."
The elder stepped back, sank to his knees amidst his endless hair and bowed until his forehead touched the floor. "Rise, Lord Soukenmaru, and look upon your inheritance."
As Soukenmaru rose to stand, his men assumed the elder's position on the floor. His eyes shone with pride and excitement as he lifted his chin like a good Lord should. That was my son standing there. My son!
Myouga was right when he said I would always see him as my baby. When I looked up at Soukenmaru, I saw him as a young man claiming his inheritance. At the same time, I saw him as a tiny, screaming newborn dangling from Lord Sesshoumaru's hands. Then I saw him as a shy little boy with large, bright eyes. I blinked and he became a man again, but I wanted badly to compact him back into an infant just so I could fit the entirety of his body in my arms.
I woke from my thoughts to find everyone prostrated on the floor. I felt silly standing alone, so I quickly lowered myself as well.
Around me, the soldiers spoke in unison, "We pledge our loyalty to Lord Soukenmaru. Our eyes, ears and noses are at his disposal. His orders alone are the only orders we will obey. All hail the new Lord!"
Peeking up, I saw my slightly overwhelmed son gazing around the room. He looked lost as to what to do next. Fortunately, Master Jaken was there to remind him.
"Psst! Give your first order!"
A few of the men chuckled at this, but soon fell silent.
"My first order..." I heard Soukenmaru approach and felt his billowy hakama brush against my hair. Kneeling down, he took my hand and pulled me upright. "...is that my mother need not prostrate herself before me. I may be the new Lord, but she is still my mother."
This generated another round of chuckling. I sent Soukenmaru a small glare to remind him that this was a serious affair. He was darn right about my being his mother, however. Lord or not, was still my son. My look doused his silliness before it had the chance to spoil his entire induction ceremony. I shook my head. He had not yet learned when to use humor and when it isn't appropriate.
Turning away, Soukenmaru drifted to the center of the room. He kept stroking the pelt on his shoulder and tilting his head to rest his cheek against its softness. "Secondly, no outsiders are allowed to see me during my human day. I will post guards outside my room. Any affairs that can wait will wait until sundown. If it can not, one of you will report the problem to me and I will send out an order through one of those guards. This rule applies to all of you, understood?"
Mixed replies of "yes, m'lord" and nodding of heads followed.
"You may rise."
They did so, bowing slightly. The elder was the last to stand. He clasped both of Soukenmaru's hands in his and smiled. I can't help but wonder how many new Lords he appointed in his long lifetime.
Soukenmaru dispatched his men to their proper posts, bowed politely towards the elder and walked over to Master Jaken and me. "I must prepare for my first patrol...Jaken, you and Ah-Un will come along." He started towards the door. The sky was cloudy, but bright when he stepped out onto the dirt path with Master Jaken at his side.
"Soukenmaru," I said as I joined him outside.
He sent Master Jaken to retrieve Ah-Un, then turned to me. "Yes, mama?"
"I'm so proud of you today." I reached up and scratched him behind his ears. No matter how often he denies it, I know he likes having his ears scratched. I smiled at his embarrassed frown and said, "Be careful. I hope you'll return in time for supper. And keep an eye on the sky. It looks like rain and you don't want to be surprised by dusk. Are you warm enough?"
"Yes, I am." Soukenmaru rolled his eyes and smiled, saying, "It smells like rain too, and yes, I will watch the time." He caught the back of my head and pressed his mouth to my cheek just as Master Jaken arrived with Ah-Un. "See you soon."
I offered him a nod and a smile. "If you see Inuyasha, tell him I said 'hello'." Then I watched him turn and start down the path, Master Jaken on one side, Ah-Un on the other and my son in the middle. His silver hair swished just above his knees, nearly as long as Lord Sesshoumaru's. I heard him tell Master Jaken a joke that sent the little toad into a fit of laughter...and I shook my head. Hopefully, he will learn not to joke around during something more dangerous than a border patrol.
Soukenmaru...his voice and gait were much like his father's. I could tell they shared the same kind of spirit. On the surface he seemed like everything my Lord was not. Down in his heart, he and his father are very much alike. He can easily laugh one minute and kill someone in the next.
Killing...one thing I instilled in him is never to kill unless it is necessary. I don't ever want him to cause any unnecessary loss of life when peace could get him just as far.
At the end of the path, he turned to wave, his slightly stained sleeve falling away to pool around his elbow. I raised my hand in reply. I did not close the door until he disappeared from sight.
Driving rain poured mercilessly from the rumbling sky. Both Soukenmaru and I sat side by side, watching the lightning while enjoying a hot supper. Neither of us spoke, but silences between us were rarely awkward. Soukenmaru's hair still dripped from his swift return through the rain. I had insisted he change out of his sopping clothes and stood by to wrap his shivering form in a dry yukata.
"Soy sauce?" I asked, holding out the bowl.
"No, thank you."
We resumed eating, me finishing off my sushi and him chewing on his sashimi.
Suddenly, quietly, Soukenmaru put his chopsticks down and rested his head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around him, instinctively drawing his body closer to keep him warm. Goosebumps broke out on my skin from his cold hair touching the side of my neck.
"Are storms really earth and sky making love?"
"That was the story your papa told me," I said, kissing the top of his head. "And I like his story better than the one my mama told me."
"Mm." Soukenmaru fell silent, his eyes directed towards the window where lightning occasionally flashed. He wiggled his delicate fingers back and forth against his thumb, leading me to realize I was doing the same. Then he buried his nose against my shoulder and inhaled, a small smile curling his lips. He had Lord Sesshoumaru's beautiful smile...and I treasure it each time I see it.
I worked my other arm around his shoulders and closed the space between our bodies. We sat with our sides touching, watching the rain. I could hear it pattering on the pond and across the rooftop above us.
"Did you hold him like this?"
"Hm?" I blinked myself out of the fog.
"Papa," Soukenmaru whispered, "after he died..."
Wretched pain worked its way through my heart. I closed my eyes to quell the wave, swallowed and replied, "Not quite like this, but yes, I did hold him after he stopped breathing. I didn't want him to feel me move away before his senses faded."
Again he was quiet for a long time. Many thunderclaps later, he encircled me in his other arm, his voice creating a chord with the rain, "How long would he have lived if he didn't take his own life?"
I sighed into Soukenmaru's hair. This was not a subject I expected for a supper time conversation. He could not have caught me more unprepared if he tried. "Maybe a year, perhaps two, much of them bedridden, in constant pain and without any dignity. Your papa never liked to feel weak or helpless." I stroked his head, "There is one thing I do know..."
"And?" his ear twitched.
I scratched it, grinned and said, "The moment he saw your eyes, he loved you. I saw it when he smiled...he had fallen completely in love with you."
"Hmm, heh." My son sat up and finished his rice, leaving me with a cold shoulder where his head had been resting. I had to smile, there were worse things to get on my clothes than water. He blinked over at me, the part in his lips telling me he had something to say, but didn't know how. "Um, what about - A-CHOO!"
Rice flew everywhere. I quickly gathered an edge of my sleeve and wiped his face clean. He pushed my hand away and rubbed his nose himself. I sighed, "We best brush your hair dry, you're catching a cold."
"I'm fine - " he sneezed again.
"Come along," I stood, half pulling him upright as well. "A Lord can't go around sick all the time."
Soukenmaru rolled his eyes and hurried ahead to his room. Once inside the door, he turned and looked down at me. His lower lip was pressed flat against his upper one, turning his small mouth into a curved line. "Mama, don't you think I'm a little old to have you brushing my hair for me?"
"Your papa was over two hundred years old and I still brushed his hair." I gave him a little pinch on the cheek to tease him.
He chuckled and collapsed to sit on his futon. I slid behind him, grasped his sopping silver mane and slowly worked the comb through, starting at the bottom and working my way up. His hair was soft in my hands, but heavy with all the water weighing it down.
Occasional lightning flashes illuminated the room in sparkling clarity, but the storm itself was dying away. In the thunder's final rumble, I heard the question Soukenmaru started to ask: "Did papa love you as much as you loved him?"
Raindrops landed on the shoji screen, making soft splat-splat sounds and running down its surface like tears. A small smile touched my lips. Even if Soukenmaru did ask the entire question, I wouldn't offer a reply.
He already knows the answer.