Disclaimer: Rumiko Takahashi owns Inuyasha. How'd you guess?

Five Hundred

When the mortal woman died, he hadn't cared. They all did, in the end, didn't they? But his father collapsed at her side, his tears wetting her still face. Fool. Sesshoumaru had no time for the weak or the dead. He left his father behind him, still sobbing over a cold corpse in a silk kimono.

He remembered almost nothing from that time. He'd wandered, a young man with an impassive face who never stopped walking. And then came the vow. That day was still clear in his mind, as if it had happened last week instead of many years ago.

At the time, he'd liked to watch battles. They were human follies, where they all died even younger than they already would have, but they were fascinating. The crimson stain of blood spread over ruined homes, armour, flags, and lives, and Sesshoumaru would gaze at it until it had dried and melted into the ground.

This one was no different at first. Horsemen carrying the smell of death swept down on a small cluster of hovels. Their swords shone as they sliced effortlessly through flesh; their torches flickered as they swept across ripped paper windows. Humans poured out of the place like so many ants, desperate to save themselves for a few more minutes. A small, pretty woman carried a young man with a splinted leg out of a burning house, her feet taking her as fast as they could with the man in her arms. One of the bandits spotted her and spurred his horse forward.

"Run, Michiko! Save yourself while you can!" cried the man. The woman—Michiko—only sobbed and held him tighter, giving him a short second more of life before the sword ran them both through.

Afterwards, when the bandits had left and the vultures had come, Sesshoumaru gazed at Michiko. She could have lived if she'd abandoned the cripple and run. But she'd tried to protect him, and now she was facedown in the dirt, blood wetting her ragged clothes and drying there, staining them a deep, rich brown.

Her hands were limp, her eyes stunned and glassy. All that for caring, for trying to prevent the inevitable because it hurt too much. He could not ever let that happen to him. So, holding Michiko's rag-doll hand, Sesshoumaru made a vow. He would find five hundred weaknesses in the world, five hundred follies that he would guard himself against. He smeared Michiko's blood like paint in scar-like lines along his cheekbones, a reminder of what he would never do.

He did not bury her or any of the others, but kept walking. In the many years since then, he watched love and death and despair and more suicides than he ever would have thought possible. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred fools passed before his expressionless, statue-like face, ephemeral as paper butterflies thrown into a flickering fire.

And then had come the little human girl, the mute one with the sad brown eyes. He didn't know what had caused him to bring her back from the dead. It had not occurred to him that so many years of observing weakness had given him a little of his own. Though she would have been the four hundred ninety-ninth, he didn't count her. She was his weakness, and he had none.

But she followed him anyway, now talking and laughing with eyes that radiated happiness. Her little feet bounced off the ground, over and over again as she followed him. He had not told her for what he was searching, why they were walking; she was too young and pure and innocent to understand.

After Rin came Kagura, blowing into his life with the force of a tornado. She was fiery, temperamental, sad, and beautiful, red eyes shining alternately with passion and tears barely held in. Some time, watching her, he realised what Rin was, that he'd failed in his quest. But the blood on his cheeks would not fade, and so he kept looking for the last one. That in itself was another kind of folly, another one of his, that he kept up with a promise he'd made to himself as a child and broken with another child.

So it all ended here, in an empty field filled with flowers. He had no cause to be here; the scent of Naraku here was tinged with air: Kagura. Bloodied and broken, she sat among the fragile white blossoms. She seemed to be waiting, although Sesshoumaru could not see for what.

As he came closer, he understood it, what she awaited, a red-and-white end and the freedom she'd wanted for so long. She would gain it now, but she was losing something else, and so was he. Something stirred in his chest, an animal feeling suppressed for hundreds of years.

He had found his five hundredth.

Her body faded away into the wind, all blood and flowers and glory. But after the blaze has ended, the only thing left is featureless black ash.

His cheeks are still scarred by someone else's blood. He has failed a second time, and lacks the heart to keep searching.

But in a different way, he has succeeded.