Chapter 10 - Before the Storm

It was completely captivating, nearly melodic. Singing steel hummed a song that was only Seiya's as Inutaisho slowed his steps to watch her finish his unfortunate assassin. His pulse thumped in his ears, insistent, wary, battle-ready, but he'd been delayed and arrived to find the fight finished by the uniquely capable hands of his princess. He crossed the flower-strewn field, inhaling the gentle warmth of spring mixed with the coolness of Seiya as she withdrew her twin blades from the still body in a practiced sweep. Jade eyes swept up the hill at his arrival and he could see the subtle shift in expression, from cold concentration to smugly satisfied.

"What a reckless speed, Inutaisho," she called, resheathing her swords in one fluid movement. "Kanaye said you were still in Hiu Chan with my father. You must have a pact with the devil to have moved so quickly."

He smiled at her in greeting. "Speaking of which, where is he? Lien said he sent her to me, then went after you."

She sighed, then gestured toward the ruined remains of something he could barely identify by sight. The scent, however, was something that was indelibly imprinted into his very core and he immediately recognized it as the stench of Eido's people. Or what was left of them.

"Sometimes I am reminded that I share my home with a rabid animal," she said in a voice that sounded unsure whether it was complimentary or complaining. "There were only six of them, so it was going well, but then your brother was suddenly in the mix, maiming two of them so thoroughly, the last one lost his courage and ran," she said, gesturing toward a small, quaint homestead surrounded by sprouting fields and distressed, bellowing cattle. She turned back to him, her tone derisive, "Eido certainly sends his best, doesn't he? What makes it all the more ridiculous is he has instructed them not to touch me, and so their hands are tied when they find me waiting for them." She shrugged slender shoulders in a careless gesture. "But even Eido's orders go by the wayside when they realize they are about to die; that is when they start to fight back, as pointless as that is."

Inutaisho fell into step with her as they made their way toward the rice farm. "I think you may have touched on the one subject where there is some remnant of agreement between he and I: where this conflict is concerned, you are off limits."

"'Off limits'," she repeated thoughtfully, head tilting slightly as though giving it serious consideration. "I wonder where I gave the impression that I am some breakable piece of porcelain. Was it before or after I separated your assassin's head from his shoulders?"

He laughed lowly at the light warning in her words. "It was no slight against your abilities. I've seen your skills enough to know that you are the last person I would ever wish to fight, for multiple reasons." He paused, then said in a careful voice, "This is a difficult conflict for me to share. It's deeply personal and I have lost more than enough to it already. You must understand why I would want to keep it separate from you and your family. Your father opened his home to us. I won't see that repaid with a repeat of what happened at Ayakami."

She said nothing to that and he turned his attention to the empty fields and neatly-kept home with its thatched roof and eerie aura of silence. He could already feel it. That unique undercurrent of power that threaded the very air with a malice he had reluctantly come to know over the last year; it had transformed his mother into some odd, distant onlooker and prompted Jianyu's frequent expressions of quiet concern.

Inutaisho stepped into the house ahead of Seiya, keen eyesight adjusting immediately to the dimness within, his sense of smell already having prepared him for what he would find. The body of the attempted escapee was sprawled just inside the door, separated into two equal parts. Inutaisho stepped over the widening puddle of fluids, also taking note of the deceased human woman lying on the floor, throat gaping, her blood soaking into a freshly-swept tatami mat. And then the other, her uninvited guest ...

Kanaye was seated at what looked to be a farmer's tool-covered work bench, feet propped casually against the thin wooden wall as he took a long swig of what smelled like old sake. He swallowed and set the bottle on the table, frowning lightly in contemplation, as though not quite sure if he liked it. Blank golden eyes lifted at their entrance. He looked as unperturbed as if they had simply walked in unannounced to interrupt his lunch break, and Inutaisho was struck again by the changes the last year had wrought on his brother. All signs of the quiet, scholarly boy had been obliterated by this errant, sarcastic creature that had grown to within a finger's width of his own height. Sixteen months and an exhaustive, demented training regimen had transformed Kanaye into something solidly-built, highly-skilled and intensely vicious.

Kanaye's eyes gleamed in the dimness as he said, "I figured I'd give you two a few moments to yourselves. You're both so precious, I can barely stand it."

"Kanaye," Seiya said evenly, "you realize you are a shining example of why some animals eat their young?"

"And do you realize that when you talk to me like that, I think of you in a way that makes my brother's face form an expression like that?" he returned, smiling vaguely at the look of pure death that crossed Inutaisho's features.

"Why is that woman dead?" Inutaisho demanded, one clawed finger pointing toward the victim that lay deceased at Kanaye's feet.

"She wouldn't stop screaming," Kanaye complained. "Sure, I chased a demon into her home and murdered him on top of her dining table, but the hysterics were just uncalled for. It's not like the guy was going to sit down to tea with her."

Inutaisho felt Seiya's eyes on him as that slow, familiar frustration began to build yet again. Kanaye's utter lack of discipline was growing worse with time, not better. For a while after his brother recovered from the battle at Ayakami, Inutaisho had written off the random, wicked behavior as something that would pass when he calmed and came to understand that Inutaisho would never allow for them to be caught off guard like that again. Kanaye had been dormant for a while after they'd first arrived in China and the safety of Seiya's family's home, but then he'd grown more distant and quick to anger, and rumors of strange, violent deaths began to circulate amongst the human population. Inutaisho had been forced to use Tenseiga to cover for as many of them as he could.

"Get out. Go home."

"I will when I finish my drink."

"I won't repeat myself."

Kanaye's eyebrows rose with faint interest. "Are you going to clean up after me again? The great Inutaisho-sama, the golden son of the west, has been reduced to wandering around and waving his magical healing sword at these meaningless scraps of human flesh."

"Learn some restraint and you will save me the effort."

Kanaye rose to his feet at that, pacing closer, voice low as he spoke, "There are over 240,000 human vermin infesting this region. That number was reduced by only one today. There is my restraint." He shoved the bottle of sake into Inutaisho's hands as he passed, clapping him hard on the shoulder with the other hand. "You look like you could use a drink, Brother. It's all yours." He moved past them then, exiting into daylight and Inutaisho let him go, his hand moving automatically to pull Tenseiga from where it rested at his side.

"You should reconsider," Seiya suggested calmly, eyes locked dispassionately on the deceased human woman.

He glanced at her. "It's not ideal, but I can hardly leave this for her family to find when they return. These people have nothing to do with any of this. She just happened to be in Kanaye's path."

"Either he needs to be controlled or you have to stop reviving them," she replied seriously. "Many don't remember the specifics of their deaths when you bring them back ... but others do, and it's beginning to cause problems between my father and the humans." She looked at him then. "You must understand, Inutaisho ... the current generation of humans does not like or respect my father, even though he has given them no cause to feel anything but appreciation. They understand who and what he is. They endure our presence because he all but props up the regional economy on his own. If they believe we are becoming too much trouble, there will come a point when his usefulness will not outweigh the danger, and then I will become very, very busy and Kanaye will have true reason to assault the humans."

"I have been too lenient with him for too long," Inutaisho said, tone sounding frustrated to his own ears as he extended Tenseiga over the woman's body, waiting for the impish soul-bearers to reveal themselves.

Seiya frowned lightly, the normally expressionless girl exposing her worry. "Please do what you can. I have to protect my family and that means smoothing relations with the humans. I don't want to do it, but if Kanaye forces my hand, I will have to respond to him."

"I'm not blind, Seiya," he said wryly. "I see the way he looks at you. Feral hound or not, he'd sooner gnaw off his own fingers than lay a hand on you, that I can promise."

"Then you should be worried for him," she warned quietly, still looking troubled as she turned and left him with the deceased and her soul-bearers.

Kanaye was fairly certain there was still some tattered remnant left of his soul, even if his mother could not make her feelings to the contrary any clearer. After all, there had to be something buried in there somewhere, something that was keeping him from annihilating this stupid, careless, spoiled girl. He watched the back of Lien's golden head, closing his eyes in vexation as she prattled on and on about her music lessons in that overly-sweet, lilting voice that could only come from someone whose greatest concern in life was whether the day called for the upswept hair of local human custom or the gold-threaded silk kimono that had been brought back from some distant, filthy human city. She was like a prized doll set carefully on top of the family shelf by Seiya and Jianyu. Her family lived an odd, twilight life: one foot in the human world and one foot in the youkai world, with Lien's chief concern being whether those feet were covered by acceptably fashionable shoes.

At least she's nice to look at, he consoled himself as he watched her walk ahead of him. She was perfectly-formed, pale and delicate and golden, so like her sister, but where Lien's beauty was warm and shatterable, Seiya's was cool and unbreakable. Like moon and sun, utterly opposite, utterly devoted to each other. It was those two, those girls and their opposite ways that had made Kanaye feel like he could breathe again after Ayakami. They were a diversion, sometimes amusing, but more frequently aggravating, a sort of hovering brightness in his peripheral vision that would momentarily draw his attention away from the vicious ugliness in himself. He could explain it no better than that.

Yes, the girl wasn't bad to look at and that was Kanaye's only consolation when Jianyu tasked him with walking Lien to and from the home of her strange, shrunken old music teacher. It was exhausting to him; beyond the effort it took just to put up with the annoyingly exuberant girl, it meant he was forced to walk through the outskirts of human-infested Hiu Chan. From the moment he stepped foot past the gate until the moment he returned to the open road, his muscles tensed as though for battle, blood pumping through veins like liquid rage, hot white flashes punctuating every breath and thought in that odd way that had lingered after Ayakami. He was forced to stand outside the old man's home, listening to the soothing strains of practiced notes while wound so tightly, it was all he could do to keep from lunging at every filthy vermin that passed.

No wonder Mother sent those exterminators after me, he thought with bitter humor, looking on impassively as Lien turned to eye him as though checking to make sure he was still there.

"You really don't talk very much. Were you always this quiet?"

"How am I to get a word in when you barely stop to take a breath?" he returned coolly, taking evil pleasure from the anger that flashed in her eyes. Truly, he would rank offending this annoying girl as one of the great pleasures in his new life.

She sighed dramatically. "Inutaisho is so gracious and well-mannered. How is it that you are related to him at all? I can barely see it ... other than the looks, of course."

"You're saying you like the way I look?"

"I - no!" she exclaimed, caught off guard. "I am saying, there is a resemblance betwe-"

"Then stop blushing at me like some lovestruck fool," he demanded, making a circular motion with his hand. "Turn around and walk. Stop concerning yourself with why I don't speak to you. You won't like the answer."

She ignored his command, hands falling to silk-covered hips as she stopped in the middle of the dusty road to look him in the face. He could almost laugh for the sheer lack of intimidation she exuded.

"What?" she asked, voice rising with offense. "Say it, for heaven's sake!"

Kanaye allowed himself to move toward her, leaning in almost conspiratorially, so close he could feel the heat mingle between their bodies. Her heart betrayed her with a sudden surge of erratic beating. "You have a singular purpose in my life, Hime-sama," he said in a tone that was low and hypnotic as he breathed in the warm, lilac smell of her.

"What purpose?" she murmured, pale green eyes fixated on his hovering face, seeming to forget her anger with his sudden, unexpected closeness.

"You are my punishment for being such an evil, heartless son of a bitch," he snapped, impatient fingers making the turning motion again. "Now turn that dumb look back toward the road and start moving your feet."

Her face tightened angrily and she whirled around, surging forward with a renewed and energetic pace as she unleashed a stream of shrill complaints about him. He listened apathetically, distracted by the appearance of four humans on horseback, barely more than dark specks in the distance. They traveled quickly and he felt that swift-building black rage begin to beat in the back of his head as ears filled with the sound of heavy, thumping hooves and scent picked up the sickening smell of oiled leather and inadequately-washed human. He could feel that they were trouble long before they displayed poor judgement by stopping to block the road.

Lien turned to look at him questioningly as three men and one boy dismounted from their nervous mares. The apparent leader stepped forward first, making the bad decision of looking Kanaye directly in the face. "You are a demon of the Xian clan."

"Don't insult me with your human nonsense," Kanaye sneered. "Jianyu may have accepted one of your filthy last names, but never attribute it to me."

"You were at my farm yesterday," the man accused. "You did something to my wife. I don't know what happened, but she flinches at every sound as though convinced death is upon her."

Kanaye exhaled a weary breath, turning to shake his head at Lien in open exasperation. "This is what happens when my brother uses Tenseiga to sweep up after me." He glanced back at the angry man. "All right, human, I'll bite." Quite literally, came the mental nod. "Just what do you intend to do?"

"I am here to avenge my wife."

"Wait," Lien spoke up as she moved toward the farmer, "you don't understand all of what happened yest-" She stopped as a blade swung in her direction, but its threat was instantly removed. Kanaye struck with swift precision and razor-sharp claws, removing the wielder's hand so suddenly, so cleanly, there was a moment of stunned silence before the pained shrieking began. The unfortunate victim collapsed in the road, body wrapped around the ruined, gushing appendage as the boy moved to help him.

Calm and casual in his movements, Kanaye bent to retrieve the weapon from where it had dropped, coldly eyeing the group's leader as he snapped the blade in two and tossed it into the grass. "Will you avenge him next?" he asked in a venomous voice.

"Japan is infested with youkai because they live in fear of you," the leader said harshly. "You will find we don't scare so easily here. Our patience is ending, demon. You will either adjust to our way of life or be destro-"

The man was cut off when a large hand swept out and wrapped around his throat, pulling him off his feet and hauling him to face level with an angry, hovering demon. Desperate hands clutched ineffectively at Kanaye's viselike fingers as his face began to redden from the stranglehold.

"This is what it feels like to adjust to my way of life," Kanaye hissed viciously in the man's face. "Avenge your woman, human. I am waiting." There was a pause as the man continued to struggle. One of the other companions drew his own sword and lunged at Kanaye, who responded with an absent sweep of claws that opened the throat with a fatal slash. The body instantly dropped into the dirt and Lien delicately sidestepped the rushing pool of blood that began to soak the road.

He turned his attention back to the oxygen-starved man that dangled in front of him. He was becoming sluggish, fading, and Kanaye smiled grimly into his face. "I am the last thing your wife saw before she died. My brother restored her life, but he is not here to do the same for you. You've made me very angry today and so I have decided to undo his work. "

"Kanaye," Lien whispered in a sad voice, eyes wide with quiet dismay.

"I congratulate you on your true and abiding love, human," Kanaye said mockingly as the body relaxed in his grip. "But you've failed your wife." He tossed the dead man away from him, the body thumping to the ground like a heavy sack of rice. He then turned his attention toward the boy, who still knelt next to the amputee, looking like a deer caught in the sights of a predator. Kanaye took a purposeful step toward him, but drew up with some surprise when Lien moved to intercept. She planted herself in his path, a skinny creature that exuded about as much threat as his kid sister.

"No," she said forcefully. "You can't kill them all just because they challenged you."

He stepped back at that, face darkening at finding himself repelled by a heart that lent itself too easily to mercy and kindness. "You fool. I destroyed them because they challenged you. Or did you miss the part where that blade cut within a hair's width of your pretty white throat?"

She blinked in open confusion. "You don't even like me."

Kanaye smiled thinly, a strange mixture of possession and cruelty reflected in his eyes. "You're perceptive, Hime-sama. I don't like you. I think you are a useless, self-important scrap of a girl, but you can carelessly live your life knowing that I will destroy anyone who lays a hand on you."

"That doesn't make sense, Kanaye ..."

"That is because you are youkai in blood only. Your heart bleeds sympathy for these insignificant creatures who would happily leave you bleeding out at the side of the road if given the opportunity. Your strange values mean you cannot understand the chasm of debt that separates your family and mine, but it is foremost in my mind. Always."

The moon was massive and ruddy-gold, like a bleeding sun shining in the night. It was considered to be a terrible omen, a beacon of evil, and its terrible light was cast down on the distant town of Hiu Chan. Inutaisho looked on from his perch on the steps of Jianyu's palatial home as he listened to Sesali's small voice obediently recite Sun Tzu's writings. Human or not, Inutaisho had found some value in the man's works and had set the girl to the task of learning it. It was never too early. He had learned that the hard way.

Crickets chirped loudly from within the carefully-tended gardens that wound outward around them, away from the main house and its half dozen separate wings. Seiya's father had mated into an ancient line of Japanese youkai that had been considered something like royalty before the rise of the regional lords, and the man had built his mate a home to reflect her status more than his tastes. Xian Jianyu was a simple, uncomplicated man and all but a foundation for that region of China, so much so that the humans had gifted him with the last name "Xian" - immortality - reflective of how he had remained unchanged through their generations. Inutaisho had bonded closely with him over the past year, frequently assisting him in his business when he was not busy repelling Eido's long distance attempts to murder him. Jianyu had taken them in, welcomed them into his family and Inutaisho felt certain that was a debt he could never fully repay. Jianyu, Seiya, Lien ... he had fit into their strange world like a key to lock. And Sesali was happy, carefree; she'd proved resilient and had grown past the scars of Ayakami that had altered their mother and brother on a level he was still trying to understand.

And I do want to understand, he thought to himself, absently searching the darkness for signs of Kanaye. He had done all he could to save his brother's life all those months ago ... but there were times when he felt like he was still trying to save it. There was a coldness to Kanaye now, a sleeping rage that would suddenly manifest itself in acts so brutal and unconscionable, Inutaisho sometimes wondered if there was anything else left in him. Their own mother openly feared him and it had transformed her into someone Inutaisho was no longer certain he could trust; she hovered at the edge of their world, quietly anxious, with only the ever-loyal Kaia as her confidant.

As if summoned by those thoughts, he looked up to find his brother walking slowly up the stone path, like a silvery ghost in the night. Inutaisho could already smell the blood. He's been up to something ... There was movement at his back and he recognized the soft step of his mother who came to collect Sesali, swinging the girl into her arms before stepping back into the shadows to watch her younger son's approach.

"You've been gone a long time," Inutaisho called casually, rising to his feet. "Lien filled me in on the details of what happened today. Will I be hearing about anything else in the morning?"

Kanaye's hands spread in a helpless gesture as he reached the steps. "They only talk if you revive them later. Thanks for that, by the way."

"He will bring destruction to Jianyu-san and this household," their mother spoke up shakily from the dark landing, still clutching Sesali to her chest. Her voice rang with an odd, distant tone.

The words prompted Kanaye's face to become cold and unreadable. "I'm standing right here, Mother."

She seemed not to hear him. "Whatever you are, whatever destroyed my son, I see you even if no one else does. You do not belong in this world." Empty golden eyes swerved to Inutaisho. "You know what you must do." With that cryptic, parting demand, the woman turned away from them and entered the main house, shutting the door with a resounding thud, excising the faint light from inside.

The silence that followed was oppressive. As though expecting the woman to return and air the rest of what was in her troubled mind, Kanaye eyed the door for several silent moments before turning to look at his brother with a blank expression.

"That is the same woman who used to refuse to let me run with sharp objects, right?"

Inutaisho exhaled a short, relieved laugh at the unexpected humor. Even Kanaye appeared to crack a quick, wry smile at the laughter, which was so uncharacteristic these days, it made Inutaisho feel hopeful that this discussion would not fall on deaf ears.

"Are you going to tell me why you reek of human blood?"

"You don't want to know. And no, it will not get back to you. I made sure there were no witnesses."

"Does this have something to do with what happened this afternoon?"


Inutaisho went silent for a moment, mind turning to the individuals in the sprawling house behind him. Seiya's worries echoed in his ears then and he looked Kanaye in the eye once more, expression serious as he said carefully, "Kanaye ... why do you live?"

The stare that shot his way morphed quickly from surprised to molten hot and defensive. "Mother's feelings have taken root elsewhere, it seems."

Inutaisho shook his head slowly. "I'm not asking you to justify your existence. I am asking you what you live for," he said, refusing to break eye contact. "Do you understand the difference?"

Kanaye frowned, looking caught between confusion and irritation. "What do you mean? What should I live for other than to exist? I refuse to die until every last dirt-breathing Hokido vermin is dead, until every last whore-spawned northern mutt is destroyed." The words were vehement, as though he had been saving them for a while. "Spite and vengeance. That is what I live for."

Inutaisho nodded as though in understanding, finally looking away from his brother's intent face as he gestured toward the house behind them, which shown with a fairytale glow in the ruddy moonlight. "Do you see Jianyu's home for what it is, Kanaye? It's a haven, a fortress. For them and for us. We are the gate that protects it - you, me, Seiya - if one of those links weakens and allows itself to fall, it can all be lost. Just like Ayakami." He leaned in closer then and gripped Kanaye's shoulder, meeting that fiery gaze with one that was equally intense. "I was the weak link that day. I made a poor decision and it's something I will live with for the rest of my life, most especially because I see you and Mother and Sesali living with it every day. I know what you carry with you; I see it because I recognize it in myself."

Kanaye shook his silvery head, suddenly looking incredibly young, more like the boy they had lost, and Inutaisho felt as though he was watching his brother search for words. "Every moment is a struggle to check myself," came the low confession. "Today, I saw myself in Lien's face; she was horrified by what I did, but she does not understand that that was restrained, that was all the mercy that is in me. If she could see what was truly in my mind, she would put me to the stake as quickly as Mother." He paused, appearing hesitant, then went on in an uncharacteristically weary voice, "Sometimes I wonder what will happen if I relax, if I unleash myself ... not even I know what I am capable of, but I look at Mother and think that she does know. Something in me broke that night. I can't describe it, but it's what I remember most vividly, it's always under the surface. I'm aware that there is something terrible in me, but I have no remorse or regret for the humans. I look at each of them and I see Hokido and that is enough."

Inutaisho listened, experiencing relief that Kanaye was still able to hold such an honest conversation, experiencing dread because he could hear the empty, soulless undercurrent in the words. He was confident that Kanaye was trying to tell him not just that he couldn't stop, but that he didn't care to. A dangerous apathy. "Your violence against them is escalating, and if it continues you will turn this place into a second Ayakami. That means I will do what I have to do to stop you."

He watched as Kanaye drew back a step at that, posture stiffening, the moment of confidence broken. One hand lightly brushed the hilt of his sword as he offered, "Then shall we solve your problem now, Nii-sama?"

There was an odd pang at the sudden use of that old honorific. "I am your brother, Kanaye," Inutaisho said with quiet sincerity. "There is nothing you can do that will cause me to forget that. I will always offer a hand first and a fist second. Remember that the decision will always be yours." His thoughts turned inward for a moment, to Kuroshi, to the deal he had made on a beautiful, snowy night that seemed like so long ago. "There may come a time when I am no longer here to rein you in. But until then, know that I will work to stop you ... as much for your sake as anyone else's. I'm going to buy you time to defeat the monster."

"Then I am exhausted for you," Kanaye sighed, shaking his head as his hand dropped from his sword.

Inutaisho gave a casual shrug of his shoulders, easy smile returning. "Your greatest ally and enemy all in one. It certainly uncomplicates things, doesn't it?"

"That just means I'm allowed to like you while I'm wrecking that smug face," Kanaye muttered, moving onward toward his wing of the house. He stopped suddenly, as though considering something, and turned his black armor-clad body toward Inutaisho once more. "You never answered for yourself. Just what do you live for?"

Inutaisho's answer was instant and honest. "I live for you. For Mother. For Sesali and Kaia. I live for Seiya and Lien and Jianyu. And, just as importantly, for the ones we lost." He paused, focusing intently on the face that looked so much like his own. "Do you see the difference, Kanaye? That's where you and I differ ... and I am the one who is able to sleep at night."

"Shovel that bullshit elsewhere," Kanaye sneered as he began to walk away once more. "I share a wing with you and that is the greatest challenge in my life. Seiya has to walk past my room to reach yours, you know. Sleep is what you do the least in there."

"Good night, Kanaye," Inutaisho called emphatically, fangs gritting together.

"Not as good as yours!" came the distant retort, followed by the sound of a shutting door and the blessing of silence.

Seiya was waiting for him when he returned, giving off her own mesmerizing glow in the darkness, jewel-like eyes flashing with a warmth she best displayed when she was alone with him. It was like she fundamentally changed with her wardrobe, from the graceful, combat-ready princess to the soft, silk-clad girl who made him impatient for the moon to rise and shut out the rest of the world. Every movement she made was unintentionally seductive to him and he found himself watching her at every opportunity throughout the day, like some hopeless boy enraptured by a goddess from one of the ancient Greek tales Kanaye used to repeat for Sesali.

Day was gone and she was his again. She moved to reinforce that, greeting him with soft lips and that clean, soul-scrubbing smell that had him pressing his nose into her skin, inhaling her, fingers threading through the silvery-gold softness of free-flowing hair. She allowed the silk kimono to fall and then his hands were full of soft, warm skin and the reminder of how deceptively delicate she appeared even though she was also nothing less than an instrument of precision, honed and skilled. He quickly became frustrated with his continued state of dress and removed his hands from her long enough to solve the issue, exhaling a calming breath at the pleasant heat of skin-to-skin contact.

"Seiya ...," he said quietly, watching as her eyes rose to his, "your father asked me about us."

Her lips drew upward in a faint, secretive smile as her body remained firmly against his. "In a house full of youkai, it's all but impossible to be discrete. He has spoken to me as well." She closed her eyes languidly as his fingers continued to move lightly through her hair. "He knows he will lose me to Japan. I have to do what I can to resecure his status with the humans before then."

He answered her smile with one of his own. "Always a step ahead of me. I haven't even asked you yet."

"Why would you need to?" she asked with her usual forwardness. "I see the way you look at me. I see how you are looking at me now, as though you would literally consume me if it were possible without exhausting your supply."

He laughed lowly, pressing his lips against her pale forehead. "You know me well. I've been as close to you as it is physically possible to be, and it's never enough."

"If I know anything with certainty, it's that you have to return to reclaim what you lost ... and that you will not leave my side. There is only one solution for that."

"That is what I need to discuss with you," he said very seriously, reaching out to cup her face between his hands. "You once told me that you would be important to me, but it's beyond that. You've become integral to my life, threaded into every piece of me, but you will not return with me to reclaim the west."

Her face settled into that familiar, dispassionate expression. "Why would you reject my help?"

"It's not rejection, Seiya," he whispered, so keenly aware of how close she was. "Those of us that lost the west will be the ones to reclaim it ... or to lose it for a final time. I'm waiting for Kanaye to stabilize. I'm waiting for Sesali to grow and prepare. When that happens, we will finish what happened at Ayakami. But for everything and everyone we lost, it has to be done in that way for it to feel completely ours again." He leaned in, warm lips brushing against her softer ones, an expression of love and apology. "You bought us time to heal and provided us with a sanctuary. You are my future, you're what I will earn if I win. When the time is right, I'm going to go back and do the impossible and I need that motivation. Do you understand?"

She was silent for a long moment, liquid eyes boring into his as though wanting to argue it further, but then he saw her relent in both expression and posture. "You are a stubborn man. Fine, then you have my word that I will not interfere; I won't cross into Japan again until you are the western lord once more. Reclaim your lands when you're ready, Inutaisho-sama."

He pulled her in tightly, enjoying the feel of her body molded into his, a perfect, exacting fit. "I'm reclaiming it for all of us ... and there is no one better suited to rebuild it with me than you."

So ... yeah ... I had to break this into two. This chapter was on pace to become almost double the size of the others, so for the sake of pacing and my sanity, I broke it. I'm about to send them back into some crazy stuff, so I consider this a sort of "pause" to establish where they all are before I throw them back out to sink or swim again. :) Plus, I had to climb back into Kanaye's head, which I haven't done in 5 years. That's usually me just sitting at the screen thinking, "What is the most inappropriate thing for him to do or say? Ok, there we go." I should still be able to reconnect with Sesshoumaru and the others in the "present" at the end of the next chapter.

To the Reviewers:

Anon: Thanks! It's totally weird to be back, but I really just needed to get some completion here. Every time I'd think back to this story, I'd get annoyed that it wasn't finished. :)

Like Stars in Twilight: Wow, you are very, very kind. Thank you! The funny part is that I look back at Reflected Past and I almost feel the urge to delete It was written so long ago. It really was the very first full story I had ever written. I'm tempted to go back some time and give it a "treatment" that makes it mesh better with my current writing style, but I'm kind of wondering if people might yell at me. :) Those stories represent a really fun time in my life; I got to delve into some of my favorite anime characters, work on my writing, and interact with some really neat people on this site. :)

LustChantay: Honestly, I really did not expect this trilogy to be updated, either. ;) But I'm someone who likes to complete things, so it was uncharacteristic of me to drop it. That would not have happened at all, if I hadn't been so completely whipped by the computer crash that obliterated so much of it. I work on my own original stuff now, but I can see characters that were partially formed through my efforts in these stories ... which would remind me of these stories ... which would remind me that Serpent's Curse was still unfinished. And, well ... here I am. :)

MiaHoneyDo: Good to see you and thanks for the encouragement! I think people will be satisfied with the ending ... I am, at least. We will see. Right now I have to dig my way back to the main story or risk being stuck in the past for 15 chapters ... -_-

Ghost140: Another reviewer name I recognize. :) Glad to hear you're doing well! And believe me, I was probably about as surprised as you were. This is just bizarre. It's like traveling back in time. I followed the ending of the series, but I haven't sat down and watched an episode in forever. I've got to before I try to go back to writing the current characters. Haha ... thanks for that about Seiya. I figure if she's Sesshoumaru's mom (Obviously, as far as canon, she is not ... but in my stories she is because there was no "mom" for him when I started building all of this) she's gotta be pretty badass, so she can handle the hot-headed boys in this story with no problem. She's fun to write. =)

Midnight Lady: Hi, good to see you! Thanks for the nice words. =) Honestly, Inuyasha has been done for so long and this fic has been sitting unfinished for so long, I wasn't even sure if anyone who had ever followed it was still around, but I've been seeing some familiar faces. It's been nice seeing you guys again. :)

llpando: 7 years ... yeah, you know, I think next year it will be 10 since I started Reflected Past. Crazy. I was such a kid back then. :) Thanks about the characters. I love doing characterization and finding indirect ways of exposing traits or flaws or feelings. Fuuuun stuff. I know, super nerdy, but I accept that it's a weird hobby. ;) But it's also the reason I get carried away and turn a 2-chapter flashback into a 4-chapter flashback. I want to make sure it's quick enough, but not so quick I miss out on doing all right by the characters. Anyway, thanks for the review!

Lifestyle: Haha! Yeah, I thought about that when I updated this thing. I imagined people who haven't been to this site in years getting that random update and being like: What the **** is this...?" :) As for rereading the stories ... that almost makes me I can't look at RP right now. It makes me want to revise the hell out of it. War's Shadow I can still read without reaching for the delete button. (The formatting is screwed on both of those, btw. I don't know why. must have done something while I was gone) Serpent's Curse is mostly fine, although there's some stuff I would do to it, too. But...I'm one of those people who would probably get into an endless loop of revisions if I ever started. I couldn't get the art links to work, unfortunately (it acts like it's a broken link even when I play with it...weird). But I do definitely love good artwork. In fact, that reminds me, I haven't been over to deviantart in a while... Anyway, thanks for the reviews. :)