Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha.

Spoiler Warning: Up to manga ch. 471

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Sesshomaru grimaced as he found his way back in the dark after this latest battle with Naraku. A battle that had once again ended in failure. FAILURE. The word seemed to flash in Sesshomaru's mind as lightning struck the sky. Another fruitless encounter over, another day that manipulative bastard Naraku was free to live, free to gloat. The thought pierced Sesshomaru like a blade and soon he noticed blood spreading down his chin. He'd bitten his lip too hard in anger. With the back of his hand, he wiped the blood away. If Rin were to see it, she would worry.

Keep her safe, he'd told Kohaku that morning as he readied to leave the three of them. Then as Jaken ran up to say goodbye, tripping over his feet, Sesshomaru frowned and added, This incompetent fool, too.

Yes, Lord Sesshomaru, the boy stuttered, still not wholly comfortable around the intimidating youkai.

Hardly were the words out of his mouth before Sesshomaru passed him by. He had no concerns leaving the two in Kohaku's care. Despite the boy's small stature, he was nimble with his weapon the kusari-gama, the chained sickle he kept at his side. Besides that he was fond of Rin and, most importantly, fiercely loyal to his new lord. Sesshomaru knew he could be trusted.

Rain began to fall now as Sesshomaru made his way to return to them, the drizzle a low hum in his ears. He rounded a hill, nearing the cave where he'd left them. He knew the sight he would see greeting him: Kohaku standing guard, Jaken fretting by a fire, Rin asleep on Aun's stomach. After such a bitter day, he almost welcomed the thought of their company.

The downpour picked up stronger, feeling like a thousand pinpricks on his skin. It obscured his view, drowned out their scent—made it impossible for Sesshomaru to know the truth until he was up close. The muddy ground pulled at his heels as though trying to hold him back from the sight as he entered the cave and clenched his jaw. Only the crackling of a fire could be heard inside.

Rin was lying facedown against Aun—in a pool of reddish-brown blood. There was a deep, precise gash along her throat. Aun's two heads lay severed.

Jaken was strewn in front of her—in two pieces, his mouth frozen in a permanent scream, one eye halfway closed—the position of his body indicating that he died first, seemingly trying to protect her. The Staff of Two-Heads surrounded him in splinters.

And then there was Kohaku. His body was slumped over like a toy that had been tossed aside—outlived its usefulness perhaps. The only wound on his body was a tiny hole in his back where the Shikon shard had been ripped away, but the kusari-gama by his feet was dripping with blood. He was the last to die.

Already Sesshomaru surmised what had happened. Luring him away, leaving them with Kohaku, it had all been a part of Naraku's plan. It had been enough. Enough time to corrupt Kohaku's Shikon shard, to take control of him once again, to make him murder another family.

Sesshomaru sniffed the air. Over the scent of blood and death, there was something else. Byakuya had been there. Probably to take the Shikon shard away when Kohaku was done and leave him dead with the others.

Sesshomaru clenched his fists. Numbly he felt his claws break the skin of his palms, but he didn't care.

He didn't have to kill them all…

If the Shikon shard was Naraku's only goal, why murder Rin and Jaken too? Naraku was just toying with him now, making a game out of how much he could suffer.

The three people he was supposed to protect. The three people Tenseiga could never bring back. And now they were gone forever.

There was a sensation in Sesshomaru's stomach unlike any he had felt before. The world spun, and suddenly he doubled over and heaved as acid rose in his throat. It tumbled to the ground, a green-brown sludge.

Catching his breath, he realized something was digging in his side. Tenseiga. He unsheathed the useless blade and held it before him. Fire reflected off its edge, stinging his eyes. He blinked several times and when the world came back into focus he saw that he was not alone.

Creatures all around him, little spindly-legged cretins with gnarled faces and pitchforks in their hands. They were seething around the bodies like a swarm of maggots. The pallbearers from the next world.

Sesshomaru's eyes widened. Was he hallucinating? They should not have been there. He should not have been able to see them. Not anymore…

Rin, Jaken, and Kohaku had each already died once before. Tenseiga should not answer his call for them again. But there they were, the pallbearers from beyond, sniffing and prodding at the bodies, readying to take their souls to the netherworld from which they could never return. And Sesshomaru should have only been able to see them if Tenseiga allowed it…

There was only one way to find out if it was real. Sesshomaru raised his arm, Tenseiga flashing in hand, and in one fell swoop he sliced the pallbearers to shreds. If it worked, his companions should be waking up now…

"Lord Sesshomaru…" Rin opened her eyes and looked around, the wound in her neck gone.

"Whaa…" Jaken blinked awake. "I'm alive… I could have sworn… Oh dear…" he had just noticed his legs were resting half a meter away.

"I'll help you, Master Jaken!" Rin dashed up to help him sort himself out.

Kohaku was the last to stir. Unlike Rin and Jaken, this was his first time being revived by Tenseiga, and he didn't recover so quickly. As he sat up and came to his senses, panic struck him. "No… I did it… I killed them…" he picked up the kusari-gama and stared at it in horror. It was covered in his friends' blood. Suddenly he dropped the weapon with a clatter, and backed up into the cave wall shrieking into his hands.

A shadow fell over him. It was Sesshomaru.

"Get up."

Kohaku shook, writhing in pain.

Sesshomaru's voice was gruff, but unthreatening. "It wasn't your fault."

The boy stopped wailing through his fingers. He looked up, face red, eyes shining. "Lord Sesshomaru?"

"Naraku thinks he's won. But I'll put an end to him. Let's go."

Kohaku seemed shocked. After what he'd done, he didn't expect this. To be saved and then to be allowed to stay.

The rain was slowing, but it was still dark and wet and gray, and there was an odd buzz in the air. As Sesshomaru left the cave, he felt the presence of his companions following him.

It was an odd experience for Sesshomaru, bringing them back to life when it should have been impossible, but he never questioned it, nor tried to find an explanation. Tenseiga had granted him a reprieve he decided, but he knew he should not be so lucky for it to happen again, and he guarded his companions more closely than ever.

But as time passed, Sesshomaru realized that the miracle was not without repercussions. For no matter how many years, or even decades went by, the three remained unchanged. Rin and Kohaku never grew, never aged in body or mind. Jaken, too, never altered in behavior. It was like a well-rehearsed act, the three of them going about as they always had with nary a hair out of place.

If this strange occurrence should have bothered Sesshomaru, he didn't know it. He simply accepted it as the natural course of events. Perhaps, though he never admitted it to himself, the stability of sameness even brought him a sense of relief…

Almost two centuries had passed when Sesshomaru noticed he was supposed to visit Mother again. She liked to check up on him every so often. This time he almost dreaded it. It was hardly her business, but what would she say when she saw the humans unchanged? And that he had kept them for so long? She would be ready with a quick remark or two about that….

But as it turned out, Sesshomaru couldn't believe his luck. Mother barely seemed to look at his companions. Even Jaken prostrating himself at her feet failed to get a comment out of her. But then, Sesshomaru realized, Mother was never one to pay attention much to lower youkai. With times as they were and matters of great importance to be conferred upon, perhaps discussing humans was beneath her.

She must know something I don't, Sesshomaru wondered as he made to leave. Mother was the bearer of the meidou-seki after all, the stone that acted as a gateway to hell. She possessed much knowledge of the afterlife and Tenseiga. There must have been some special circumstance under which it could be used again that she had never told him about for fear of him growing too bold.

"Farewell, Honorable Mother!" Jaken cried one last time before running after Sesshomaru's heels down the steps from the castle. She didn't deign to answer him.

Sesshomaru watched Kohaku and Rin race each other down the stairs, one of the many harmless children's games they played. They must be hungry by now was his last thought as he left Mother's realm. She stood watching him as he went.

So unlike the last time she'd seen him she thought as his solitary figure disappeared from view. Back then, he seemed to find fulfillment from having company. The two human children would have naturally long been dead by now, but what a shame, Mother thought, that tragedy must have befallen the little youkai, too, for he was nowhere to be seen. She'd rather liked him.

But now she merely shrugged. Sesshomaru seemed contented enough living on his own. There'd been no reason to talk to him about their absence. Sesshomaru, she decided, had changed, and that was good. After all, it was the static ones you had to be afraid of…

Elsewhere, Sesshomaru made his way through a dark stretch of woods. There was a foul stench in the forest like something had died. The air sizzled, crackling with thunder in the distance, threatening to rain. He'd have to find shelter for them soon.

Edging along a hillside he came upon the mouth of a cave. Vaguely he felt it looked familiar but he pushed those thoughts aside.

"What of this cave, m'lord?" he heard Jaken venture.

"Can we rest here, Lord Sesshomaru?" Rin yawned beside him.

"You think a youkai lives here?" Kohaku wondered aloud, peering into the black depths.

Sesshomaru surveyed the cave with his sharp eyes. "No, it's uninhabited. We can stay the night."

As he entered the darkness, his three companions following behind him, he murmured softly to himself, "Nothing in here but a few old bones."

THE END