When Sesshoumaru was a boy, he asked his father what happened to the leaves in the winter. And his father, without pleasantries, told him they died.

His father was that sort of man. He did not soften things and he did not embellish things. Alive was alive and dead was dead. Later, when Sesshoumaru learned dead was alive, he felt vaguely cheated.

--

Sesshoumaru was his father's bodyguard.

It took Sesshoumaru a long time to realize it, but when he did everything - the drills, the training, the betterfasterstronger - made sense. The youkai that came after his father (assassins and mercenaries, mostly, warlords didn't resort to knife-in-the-dark tactics - warlords wanted everyone to know they were the killer) were strong, so Sesshoumaru had to be stronger. Better.

The best, as a matter of fact.

Women did not visit Sesshoumaru, because Sesshoumaru could not afford it. If he kept away from them there could be no girl with no squalling infant that came to him demanding luxuries and inheritance, no desperate princesses that pointed painted fingers everywhere but the gardeners, no greedy fathers or calculating mothers. There would be, in short, nothing to distract him.

Sesshoumaru knows that's what his mother did. He knows she came to his father and pled her case, swore up and down that he was his. He knows his father was less than pleased. He doesn't know what happened to his mother.

He knows enough not to ask.

--

Sesshoumaru doesn't think it's - it's not sick, what he does. What his father does. It's just not entirely healthy.

--

The older Sesshoumaru became the fewer trees there seemed to be, but when he said they were dying his father rebuked him, and when he said it was the humans that were killing them his father remained silent.

The more he grew up the more his father seemed to grow in. It bothered Sesshoumaru, because his father was still his whole world, and it felt like it was collapsing.

The idea that is father was not becoming weaker, and that he had simply surpassed him, was unthinkable.

--

Sesshoumaru's father was under the unfortunate misconception that proximity bred love. So he brought the girl to their home, and when Sesshoumaru looked upon her with scorn his father shouted and threw him from his bedchambers.

But Sesshoumaru was still his bodyguard, so he stood watch outside his door and listened to her high, thin gasps and tried to drown them out with all the silence he could muster.

The Inu no Taishou struck Sesshoumaru as a youkai that wanted to die - a youkai that wanted to eat, and sleep, and bleed, and fall in love. A youkai, in short, that wanted very desperately to be a human. Sesshoumaru would have felt sorry for him, if he were not being dragged along.

--

Sesshoumaru's father doesn't die at all at once. For a while he is dead-but-alive, and Sesshoumaru thinks it is unfair that he expect him to understand when he always taught him how definite that line was. So because Sesshoumaru does not like abstractions he thinks of the years that follow as a slow, particularly painful to watch death, and he mourns his father before there is a body and pays his respects before there is a grave.

He does not feel as though he has failed, because he guarded his father's body devotedly, and his father's mind had never been entirely healthy.

Before he leaves he seeks him out, one last time, and asks him what happens to the leaves in the winter. His father smiles serenely and tells him they die because they have to, because they have to make room for the next generation, and that way the tree lives forever.

Sesshoumaru looks at him for a while. Then he never looks back.

--

When the Inu no Taishou died, Izayoi expected to be taken care of.

She didn't expect the flight she had to make in the dark, clutching her son to her chest; she didn't expect the unsympathetic villages that turned her from their doors with disgusted looks; she didn't expect that the only people who would tolerate her would only do it if she took up residence in a partly burnt shack on the fringes of their town and didn't speak to them. But by the time she sold all her pretty, expensive dresses, and cut off all her pretty, expensive hair, she'd come to expect it. When she had to plant her own food it did not surprise her. After awhile she accepted it wearily, and mended her clothes, and fixed her roof, and pulled weeds.

Every now and then she would stop, and pause, and stare at her son, and wonder rather irrationally where he had come from and where, for that matter, she had come from. Certainly, she thinks, she is not a princess. A princess doesn't stay up at night crying because she plucked every one of her vegetables from the ground, mistaking them for weeds. A princess doesn't wait until the village has gone to sleep before sneaking into a chicken coup, animal-like, and wringing a bird's neck.

--

One day she is scrubbing hard at her clothes, trying to get rid of the blood before one of the villagers sees, because she may not have much anymore, but if there is anything she has learned, it is that she could always have less.

And that is the day Sesshoumaru appears, and she gasps and knocks over her water basin, and her hands fly to her mouth to cover her wildly indecent smile. Because she did not expect him, but now he has come and will take care of her, just like his father promised her he would. She thinks, vaguely, embarrassedly, of how the past year has made her, and curls her hands into fists to hide the dirt and calluses and broken nails. She wishes she had her makeup, or her comb, or...

"Stupid," Sesshoumaru mutters. "I have always found you ugly."

Izayoi blinks, perplexed, and then insulted, and, she feels, rightly so. Her fists tighten, a little.

"Aren't you here to take care of me?"

"Take care of..." he says, and looks almost amused, and she wonders what is so funny until his hand closes around her neck.

Izayoi gasps and struggles, because that's to be expected, but then she stops and considers her position and relaxes and thinks, So he is saving me.

And when Sesshoumaru sees that, he promptly lets her go.

--

Izayoi chokes, kneeling in the dirt, and when she looks back up at him she is crying.

"I would give you - everything - you want," she coughed out.

And of course Sesshoumaru does not believe her, because she seems more in the habit of taking it away. So he just looks at her and thinks that if alive is alive then she is most certainly dead, and he has no reason to remain.

--

She cries when he leaves, and then she looks up and sees Inuyasha staring at her from the doorway, his eyes wide and terrified, and she swallows her sob and chokes on it, then wipes her eyes on her wrist and collects her dress from the mud. She rights the water basin, and thinks the mud might wipe out the blood.

She does not look at her son, because sometimes... Sometimes she hates him, and regrets him, and that makes her feel so guilty she can't breathe right. And she hates that, too, because love isn't the sort of thing that should kill her, but it will.

--

End