Written for the livejournal community iy-no-kakera.
It was one of those brisk days that teetered on the edge of summer, when the sun set earlier but the nights were still warm and the wind picked up but none of the leaves had left their branches yet; a day, in short, that was caught up in the throes of change. Sesshoumaru came across his father, who was examining a sword with a vaguely satisfied look on his face.
"What are you doing?"
"Ah, Sesshoumaru, there you are," he said pleasantly, straightening and sliding the sword back into its scabbard. "I want you to keep an eye on Izayoi and Inuyasha while I'm gone," he went on, ignoring his question.
Sesshoumaru tried, and failed, to keep the sneer off his face. "Why? Where are you going?"
"Out for the afternoon," Inu no Taishou replied blandly. "And don't make that face when you go to see them, Sesshoumaru."
He followed his father all the way to the castle gate. "Where are you going?"
"Well, I'm off," he said, smiling benignly, and then he was.
Izayoi lived in a building apart from the main castle. The women in the staff giggled and referred to it as 'the barn,' saying loudly while she passed that it was just where her kind belonged. Inu no Taishou could not understand why she would not move into the house with him, but he also could not deny her anything when she pleaded for it, so out in the old building she remained.
The truth was, she feared the household. Many times she had pulled apart her bedding to find venomous snakes, no doubt placed there on the orders of her husband's old concubines. Izayoi was sure, from the poison she found in her food to the strangled chicken on her doorstep, that they wanted her gone in the vain hope the Inu no Taishou might then return to their beds.
He doesn't want any more children, she longed to tell them. Even Inuyasha had been a mistake. More children would be a hindrance, not a help, to him. But of course he wanted Inuyasha, she rushed to assure herself. He just hadn't planned on it.
She wouldn't say anything to them, however. She was terrified of them, and avoided all the youkai in the palace sans her husband. She worried what they might do, if she wasn't near him, but it was that nearness that endangered her life.
Izayoi worried about Inuyasha as well. He did not have the sense to stick close to her, and ran off whenever he got the chance. He'd acquired serious wounds of mysterious origin more than once and, after a near-fatal cup of tea, she had begun preparing all his meals herself.
She was thankful she had this refuge, at the very least - no one but her husband came to visit her, and she could shut the door whenever she wanted and pretend the world outside didn't exist.
Someone was knocking.
Izayoi frowned at the door. Her husband didn't knock. The servants didn't come while she was in.
The knocking persisted, louder. Izayoi's hand trembled, but she opened it.
"Se-Sesshoumaru?" she asked, staring. "-Sama," she hastened to add when his eyes narrowed. Of all the youkai, Sesshoumaru scared her the most. She fumbled over her words for a moment, then bowed quickly and stuttered out an invitation inside.
"No," he said cooly. "Where is the hanyou?"
Izayoi kept her face bowed so he couldn't see her furious look. He'd never called him brother, nor even by his name. "Inuyasha is sleeping inside."
Sesshoumaru left wordlessly. Izayoi kept her head bowed until she thought he was gone.
When she looked up again he was standing between her and the house, a hand resting on the old sword he carried around, looking westward.
His father was late.
Of course, his father had not told him when he would get back, but Sesshoumaru's gut told him, He's late.
He ran it over in his head. My father is late. My father is late. My late father.
And when he thought that his father appeared at the castle gates, armor torn off, blood soaking through his shirt. He met his gaze, smiled a little, and collapsed in the dust.
Inu no Taishou was getting tired of the constant attention.
He didn't like getting waited on like an invalid. These wounds were nothing; he'd be fine, just fine, he only needed a nice meal and a warm bed.
Sesshoumaru was blowing this out of proportion. Speaking of Sesshoumaru...
The teenager slid the door open a foot and looked at him for a moment, poised in the doorway, before pushing the door open the rest of the way and saying, in an even tone, "It's time to change your bandages."
Inu no Taishou sighed and began to shrug out of his shirt, but Sesshoumaru closed the distance in two steps and untangled it for him, setting it aside and calmly sat at the edge of his bed, peeling the blood-brown bandages off of him.
Inu no Taishou was getting tired of this constant passive-aggressive attitude.
"Aren't you going to ask me what happened?"
Sesshoumaru's hands faltered, for an instant, and he cleared his throat. "I do not believe you will tell me."
Inu no Taishou laughed, then coughed violently. It hurt, against the ribs he had lost, and Sesshoumaru grabbed his shoulders and held him down against the bed.
"I want to see Izayoi," Inu no Taishou said, eyeing his son as he wrung linen out in a blood of fresh water, turning it cloudy and red. Sesshoumaru paused, staring intently at the twisted piece of cloth in his hand, then returned to his work.
"I... do not believe that is such a good idea, Father."
He snorted. "I'm not so weak I can't walk out to her corridors-"
"I only meant that... it might distress her, to see you so bloody."
Inu no Taishou muttered "This is just a flesh wound," but he relented. "I'll see her as soon as you let me up out of this bed. Let her know."
He was getting worse, not better.
Izayoi was terrified.
The way the staff looked at her, like they were conspiring... it unnerved her. She needed her husband. He was her buffer, her protection against death, and she knew it. She had no friends here.
Izayoi was terrified, should she lose him, that protection. She didn't know what was going on, no one would tell her.
She saw Sesshoumaru one morning, holding a piece of cloth stained pink, his sleeves rolled up, his hands still wet. She ran over to him and asked quickly about her husband; she had not seen him, had not heard from him, for weeks.
Sesshoumaru did not take kindly to her accosting him. "Get out of the way," he said flatly, then made to move around her.
"Has he asked for me?" she cried, scared enough to stand her ground.
Sesshoumaru looked right at her.
Eventually, Inu no Taishou asked, "Why are you the one doing this? I have servants for a reason, you know."
Sesshoumaru looked out the window. The lords and ladies were mingling, pulling their heavy clothes closer when the autumn wind picked up.
Because they have all given you up for dead.
"I don't trust them."
"You don't trust anyone, that's your trouble," he groused, and then leveled him with a look. "I'm going to get better, Sesshoumaru."
Sesshoumaru didn't answer him.
Time seemed especially sluggish.
There was always a mist over everything, rolling in during the late afternoon and hanging on until late morning the next day. The sky was rain-washed gray, the sun hidden by more of the same, and the trees were stripped of more and more red/yellow leaves whenever a breeze blew through.
Bad weather, Sesshoumaru thought, to recover in.
Illness and mutiny seemed to be breeding among the staff. Sesshoumaru worked to making his father's room sterile, safe, but his father infuriatingly insisted on leaving the window open.
"If you're going to tether me to this bed," he huffed, "you could at least allow me some comforts. I like the wind; I like the sea-fog. Leave the window open."
And Sesshoumaru did, because it was an order, and he couldn't disobey his father's orders.
The walls were dripping. The wood had taken the water in, swelled, and was now wet to the touch, as if it had been sitting outside during heavy rain.
Sesshoumaru was looking out the window while his father slept, out at the heavy gray fog that obscured the outlines of buildings and made the courtyard look dead. Isolated.
"The wind scatters those leaves everywhere. It's always such a pain to sweep them up."
Sesshoumaru didn't turn around. "Father," he said slowly, inhaling and smelling wet dirt, cherry wood. Death. "Tell me where you went that afternoon."
"Now Sesshoumaru," he said airily, "don't you start acting like an avenger. It doesn't suit you. And anyway, he didn't kill me. Step away from that window, you're going to get wet."
He took a step backward, his bangs already gripping, and turned around to look at his father, who shuffled a bit and moved to his left side, pulling the sheets so that laid more comfortably. "I'm going to go back to sleep, hmm? So wake me up when you bring dinner in, because I'm hungry."
Sesshoumaru stood by the window for a very long time, then he got up and left the room.
He had funeral plans to make.
The day after they laid his father to rest, Sesshoumaru went out alone to see the grave marker.
He found it toppled and broken, the earth torn open, and stared until the rain had drenched him. Someone had stolen his father for a second time, and he still didn't know who it was.
When Sesshoumaru came home, he found the castle swarming with mutineers. He almost turned around, went back the way he came, but he remembered just in time.
The hanyou - he was still in the castle.
Izayoi was terrified. The ground was muddy, slick with blood, and it made her want to retch and cry. She wondered where her husband was.
She was grabbed by the hair and shoulder, pulled out of the toppled beams that had moments ago been her sanctuary from the world she had come to without a thought - she'd done it for love but where was her love now?
They tried to tear her away from Inuyasha and she screamed and clung tighter. It was such a weak, human thing, screaming. But she was human and she was weak so she kept on screaming, and she didn't think anyone in her position would have faulted her.
And then she was sprayed with something hot and, with nothing to strain against, fell backwards. She looked down and say an arm sawed off at the elbow, still clutching her in a death grip. With a muffled, horrified sob, she wretched the appendage from her body and threw it away, trying to comfort her young son.
Izayoi looked up, her hands pressing her son into her chest, past the still-hot body that had been grabbing at her, up the body of her rescuer, until she locked eyes with her inhuman stepson.
Words escaped her, at first.
"But," she whispered, her arms around Inuyasha, "I thought you hated me..."
"I do," he told her. "But that doesn't really matter now."
"Then... why are you...?"
"I can't disobey an order." His eyes went unfocused for a moment, and it was the first time Izayoi ever thought they resembled her husband's warm gaze. "He told me to look after you while he was away."
Izayoi stumbled to her feet, wavered for a moment as they stared at each other, her uncertain, him resigned, and then she turned and fled.
And so this is what it comes to, Sesshoumaru thought, overlooking all things destroyed with a numb sort of acceptance that this was the way things were going to be. His father dead, his family home destroyed, and him without the means to bring either back. In the end, he could never save the things he wanted to.
I will find his grave, he resolved. His father was wrong.
He would make a better avenger than he had rescuer.
That which does not kill me makes me stronger.