Disclaimer: The only claim I have on these characters was made in the Live Journal community 30Shards, whose story prompts serve as a basis for this tale. In point of fact, the inu-brothers belong to Rumiko Takahashi.
Dedication: My thanks to Racing Stripes for serving as beta.
Brothers-in-Arms by Ginger Bits
Chapter 8: Tandem
"You want me to do… what?" Inuyasha asked, disbelief plain on his face.
Sesshomaru searched for patience; he did not make a habit of repeating himself.
"Train," the taiyoukai enunciated clearly, as if speaking to a simpleton. "With me."
"I heard that part, idiot," snapped the hanyou. "It ain't that I wouldn't welcome the chance to kick your ass, but what good's it gonna do for us to fight? We're supposed to be making it look like we're on friendly terms, right?"
"Train, not fight," corrected Sesshomaru. Letting his gaze slide speculatively towards the sword at Inuyasha's hip, he added, "What is the extent of your experience?" At the hanyou's frown, he added, "Have you ever received instruction in Tessaiga's use?"
"Well… nothing too formal, I guess," he admitted slowly as his eyes slipped out of focus. "Myoga and Totosai told me some stuff. I used to spar some with Miroku sometimes, and Shippo and I trained together… kinda."
"Nothing worth mentioning," Sesshomaru judged, managing to infuse the words with derision.
"I manage," Inuyasha countered in low tones that vibrated with confidence.
"Hnn," the taiyoukai murmured in what might have been a concession. "This training is very structured and will require discipline."
"I ain't incapable of learning, asshole. Just show me what I gotta do."
With a single nod of acknowledgment, Sesshomaru removed his swords from his obi and crouched to lay them upon the ground. "I have always performed a solo kata, which I will teach you," he announced as his hands made quick work of the fastenings on his armor. "Perhaps later, we can move on to something suited to pairs." Pausing, the taiyoukai gestured vaguely at his younger sibling's clothes. "I suggest you prepare yourself."
Inuyasha couldn't ever remember seeing his half-brother without the cumbersome-looking armor that seemed a part of him, so he stared frankly while the various sections were loosened and removed. As the taiyoukai divested himself of the rigid breastplate with its spiked guards, he gave his audience a cool look, and Inuyasha decided he'd better comply. Setting aside Tessaiga, the hanyou slowly fiddled with the ties to his fire-rat, all the while sending covert glances in Sesshomaru's direction. A long coil of pale fur joined the pile of armor, and then the taiyoukai unwound the complex knot of his obi and neatly folded his red and white kimono. When he finally turned to face Inuyasha, Sesshomaru was left in hakama and boots.
Trying to act casual as he hastily bundled his kosode and thrust it aside, Inuyasha stood and eyed his brother. He'd thought that stripping away all the accessories would make Sesshomaru look smaller, but the proud youkai was far from diminished. If anything, he seems more deadly. In an effort to appear unimpressed, Inuyasha made a show of looking Sesshomaru up and down, but his little ploy backfired spectacularly when his eyes snagged on an unexpected flash of color. Well… damn. The bastard's got more stripes. Two vibrant magenta bands arched over Sesshomaru's hip bone. The lower was an arc that rose above and dipped below the waistband of the white hakama, giving the impression that there was more hidden from view beneath pristine silk. The second, higher stripe flared upwards, coming to a fine point against flawlessly fair skin. As the taiyoukai strode forward, the hanyou noted that a matching set of markings graced the opposite hip.
Stopping before his younger sibling, the taiyoukai lifted a brow. "You will need your sword," he remarked dryly, gratified when the comment dragged Inuyasha's straying attention back to his face. "Your sword," he repeated.
"I heard you," grumbled the hanyou, scooping up Tessaiga and propping it casually over a shoulder. "Now what?"
"While the kata is not difficult, your form must be correct," the taiyoukai announced gravely.
"What makes you so sure I'll get it wrong?" Inuyasha smirked.
The taiyoukai chuffed quietly. "I will demonstrate. Watch carefully," he instructed.
Eager to see what the bastard considered proper training, Inuyasha made room by stepping back. Sesshomaru began, going through the motions with an exaggerated slowness that Inuyasha decided must be for his benefit. The forms were simple, and his brother flowed from one position into the next with a grace the hanyou doubted he could pull off. It looks easy enough, but… shit, how long does this thing last? As the stylized battle dance continued, Inuyasha gave up trying to remember the sequence of movements.
Since he was stuck watching Sesshomaru anyhow, Inuyasha took the opportunity to indulge his curiosity where his older sibling was concerned. For someone who seems to put so much stock in honor and appearances, he sure is unpredictable. You'd think the asshole would seem more… set in his ways. Even after the past several days of constant companionship, Inuyasha couldn't say he understood Sesshomaru any better than he ever had. Every time he tried to outguess him, the taiyoukai would say or do something unexpected. It's almost like he's trying to keep me off balance. The weirdest part was that it all kinda made sense, as if his brother was remaining true to some private master plan. Inuyasha didn't particularly like being kept in the dark about everything that lay ahead. It forced him to rely on Sesshomaru more than he liked.
The glinting of the morning sun off his brother's sword drew his eye, and Inuyasha's attention returned to the intricacies of the kata. No other weapon was suited to Sesshomaru quite like Bakusaiga—a match for its wielder in both power and elegance. The blade sketched a shining path through the air as his brother slashed in slow motion, following the mock-strike with a pivot and lunge combination. The leg extension of the move caused the deep notch on the side of Sesshomaru's hakama to gape, offering the hanyou another brief flash of color. The vibrant marking that peeked through was pointed upwards, and Inuyasha's brows drew together in confusion. If that's part of the stripe above the waistband, how the hell does it end up like that? Canting his head in an unconscious attempt to connect the two pieces, he realized that the marking must curl back on itself. Unless that's a different stripe altogether. Huh. He retraced his brother's youkai markings speculatively. Two at the cheekbones, two at each wrist, and two on each hip, he mused. I wonder if that means he's got another set lower on his legs—ankles, maybe?
When the kata's pattern was finally completed, Inuyasha was brought back to the present when his brother sheathed his sword with a snap. The hanyou met Sesshomaru's inquiring look with a thoughtful expression. "Something tells me that ain't as easy as you make it look," he remarked offhandedly. Surprise flashed through the taiyoukai's eyes, and Inuyasha belatedly realized he'd paid the bastard a compliment. "I can learn it… with some practice," he added more brusquely.
"I will need to… correct you," the taiyoukai returned slowly, and there was the barest hint of a question in his statement.
Inuyasha stared uncomprehending for a moment, fervently wishing that his half-brother wasn't so tight-lipped. Trying to read between the lines of every fucking statement was exhausting. With a soft growl of frustration, he faced off with his laconic sibling. "Would you just say what you ain't saying? It might make this easier, you know." As the tension mounted between them, Sesshomaru closed his eyes, giving Inuyasha a clear view of the bright, matching slashes of color on each lid. Almost forgot those, he realized, adding another set to his growing catalogue of youkai markings.
The fleeting distraction was eliminated when Sesshomaru's eyes snapped back open, pinning him with a chill, yellow glare. "Do you recall our conversation last night?"
Unconsciously laying his ears back, the hanyou fought to maintain eye contact and stay on an equal footing. "Yeah. You said… Wait, is this what you were talking about when you said I had to get used to you touching me?"
The hanyou slowly shook his head. "Unbelievable."
"How so?" demanded Sesshomaru.
"You made it sound like…" Inuyasha sighed gustily. "You know what? Never mind. Touch away. So long as you don't accidentally run me through again, I ain't gonna make a big deal out of this. We don't have time for your bizarre sense of humor, and that kata of yours was fucking long. Let's just get started."
Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed. "I do not have a sense of humor." Inuyasha's gaze took on a bored quality, but he had the sense to hold his peace. When the protracted silence set the hanyou to fidgeting, the taiyoukai was torn between disgust and resignation as he realized that Inuyasha wasn't even remotely intimidated by their current stare-down. His restlessness betokened impatience—nothing more. Even though it was the kind of response Sesshomaru had been working towards, the change didn't really please him.
"Can we get on with it?" prodded the hanyou.
"Hnn." The taiyoukai beckoned him over, and they stood side by side. This time, Sesshomaru demonstrated each position, giving its name and holding his stance until Inuyasha matched it. Elder guided younger through the progressions, reinforcing the terminology, and by their third pass through the exercise, the hanyou had a handle on the jargon. Now that Inuyasha could be verbally directed through the kata, Sesshomaru stood before him, keeping a critical eye trained on his brother's form as he tried to correct his footwork.
"Lift your left foot. Pivot as you swing. Don't shift your weight so quickly," interjected the taiyoukai at intervals.
I was right. This is harder than it looks. Inuyasha's muscles were beginning to protest against the deceptively simple rigors of the kata. His brother hadn't lied. The movements seemed pretty basic, and he was picking up on the rhythm well enough. Still, the whole sequence took a long time, and the movements gradually increased in complexity.
"Lead with your elbow. Lower your sword arm. Control the movements," Sesshomaru instructed.
Fighting to maintain his concentration, Inuyasha focused on his half-brother's voice, letting its quiet timbre flow over and around him as it directed his exertions. The bastard's a decent teacher—more patient than I expected. He'd been tensed in preparation for some kind of snide remark or thinly veiled mockery, but Sesshomaru's comments held no venom. Guess this must really be important to him. Tightening his hold on Tessaiga's hilt, Inuyasha vowed to hold up his end of their alliance by nailing this damn thing.
"Rotate from the shoulders. Straighten your hips. Hold your fingers like so."
Inuyasha nearly jumped out of his skin when Sesshomaru caught the wrist of his free hand and brought it up between them. Snatching his hand out of his brother's loose grasp, the hanyou scowled to cover his chagrin. "Keh. A little warning would be nice," he muttered.
"Hnn," nodded the taiyoukai. "Your hands were clenched. Ease up on your grip, and hold your other hand… like so." This time, Sesshoumaru didn't touch his brother, merely demonstrating the proper position.
"Right," sighed the hanyou. Eyeing the taiyoukai, he added, "Let's try it again. I'll get the hang of it." He restarted the kata from its beginning and managed not to flinch when a brief contact at his elbow adjusted Tessaiga's angle. The hanyou's wary amber eyes flashed to Sesshomaru's steady golden gaze repeatedly, but his half-brother's tone and touch remained neutral. We've come this far. Doesn't make any sense to hold back now. Shrugging off the lingering uncertainty, Inuyasha turned his mind to more important things, like memorizing his brother's kata.
After further repetition, Sesshomaru redrew Bakusaiga, taking up a position a few paces away, and they moved through the training exercise together. So long as his brother talked him through the sequence as they went, Inuyasha was able to keep up. The sun climbed towards its zenith, bringing the temperatures with it, and sweat gleamed on bare skin. Finally, Sesshomaru called a halt, and the hanyou moved gratefully towards the lake to quench his thirst. He splashed tepid water over his face and shoulders before taking a mouthful, then paused to watch the taiyoukai crouch nearby to do the same. "I'll have it tomorrow," Inuyasha announced.
Sesshomaru didn't argue, but his voice was especially bland when he remarked, "Once you know the pattern, we can set the proper pace."
"Damn. I knew that had to be too slow," the hanyou groaned as he rose and followed his brother back to their sparse camp. Sesshomaru chose a seat in the shade, not bothering to put his armor back on, which made Inuyasha wonder if he planned to bathe first. I wonder if the bastard can swim. He supposed so, since it was hard to imagine Sesshomaru incapable of something. Still, there was a hell of a lot of stuff he didn't know about his half-brother. Guess there'll be time enough to learn, since this whole alliance thing might drag out for years. "That kata sure ain't what I thought you meant last night," Inuyasha commented as he slipped his arms into the sleeves of his white kosode. Leaving the shirt hanging loose and open, the hanyou claimed a seat against a nearby tree.
Sesshomaru's brow lifted. "Indeed?"
Inuyasha flashed a brief, rueful grin. "You don't wanna know. Say, you never did explain why this training of yours is gonna help," he pointed out, changing the subject.
"The main dojo and exercise grounds are unrestricted. Those who live within the fortress will be curious."
"They're gonna turn out just to watch you swing your sword around? Ain't they got better things to do?" scoffed the hanyou.
The taiyoukai snorted lightly. "You are the novelty, little brother. They will want to see the hanyou scandal who wields the sword of a legend."
Inuyasha's eyes hardened, and he muttered, "I don't like the idea of being on display."
Sesshomaru shrugged minutely. "It's unavoidable, so we will use it to our advantage," he said with apparent unconcern.
"How do you mean?" demanded the hanyou suspiciously.
"If we move in unison, others will see unity."
Amber eyes lit up with understanding and amusement, and Inuyasha rubbed his jaw in a half-hearted attempt to hide his smirk. "That actually makes sense, and it definitely sounds like your kind of plan," he said with solemnity.
The taiyoukai's gaze sharpened. "How so?" he inquired, voice dangerously smooth.
Inuyasha threaded his hands together and propped them behind his neck, unfazed by the glint in his half-brother's eyes. "I ain't surprised you're gonna use a fucking kata to send some kind of message to those assholes in the court. You figured out a way to make your big declaration without actually having to say anything. That sounds like you," he explained smugly. Sesshomaru chuffed softly, and Inuyasha was pleased that his brother didn't get bent out of shape. This was as close to friendly banter as he'd been since leaving the village, and it felt good. Maybe there's hope for the bastard after all.
"Oi, Sesshomaru," Inuyasha ventured after a while. "Does this go both ways?" The taiyoukai's eyes slid his way, and a small frown demanded further explanation. "Can I touch you?" the hanyou asked bluntly.
Inuyasha leaned forward, propping an elbow on his knee as he met the taiyoukai's gaze. "Well, I ain't saying your plan isn't a good one. I just don't think it goes far enough," he said slowly, not wanting to spoil the tenuous sense of camaraderie they'd managed to establish. Sesshomaru arched a brow, inviting more. "I don't know about how youkai treat each other, so maybe it's different, but with humans at least, you can kinda tell when two people are friends."
The taiyoukai nodded once, saying, "Of course."
"I'm kinda used to having you breathing down my neck every time I turn around, and I can live with your training sessions." Inuyasha paused, choosing his words with care. "You've covered the kinds of things allies don't do. I was just thinking… maybe we should try some of the things friends might do."
"What kinds of things?" Sesshomaru asked stiffly.
The hanyou squinted thoughtfully. "I dunno. Little stuff—friendly stuff," he said vaguely.
Inuyasha stood and folded his arms across his chest. "You sure you're not gonna take my head off if I tap you on the shoulder or something?" he asked, only half in jest. Taking Sesshomaru's stony silence as permission to proceed, the hanyou strolled over. Just pretend the bastard is Miroku. We must've done this kind of thing a thousand times over the years. Without any fuss, he dropped into an easy slouch beside the taiyoukai and casually bumped their shoulders together. They sat that way for several moments, staring straight ahead, but finally Sesshomaru turned to look at his companion.
"What is that supposed to signify?" asked a puzzled taiyoukai.
"Different stuff, depending on the situation," Inuyasha offered unhelpfully. "Miroku was a really touchy person, so I got used to his kind of friendly. This was his way of saying 'hi', or sometimes he was just letting me know he was there if I needed to talk. I never could follow all of the nonsense he'd spout, but his little gestures were easy to read and understand."
"Yeah. Miroku stuck around after Kagome… Well, he and Sango both stayed so that I wouldn't have to be alone." The hanyou's eyes drifted out of focus as he lost himself in memories.
"Hnn. Are there others?" interrupted Sesshomaru.
"Other… what?" asked Inuyasha blankly.
"Plenty more," Inuyasha affirmed. "I think we better take it slow, though."
"That isn't necessary," the taiyoukai frowned.
The hanyou cocked his head and studied his half-brother's face. "There's more to it than memorizing a sequence of steps. It's gotta be natural, or people will know it's a load of crap."
"Are you questioning my capacity to learn?"
"Keh. You are such an idiot," growled Inuyasha.
The taiyoukai's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Explain."
"Look. Before today, I'd never seen a fucking kata; I couldn't have bluffed my way through that sequence to save my life, let alone your ass. You're the fucking kata expert, so I'm trusting you to show me how it's done." The hanyou leaned closer. "So, tell me, you stubborn prick. What's the extent of your experience? You ever unbend enough to be friendly before? Because something tells me you haven't, which makes me the fucking expert." Hearing his own words, his expression soured. "Come to think of it, that ain't saying much."
"I am not so ignorant," Sesshomaru countered. "In order to lead the Western Lands, it was necessary to master diplomacy, courtesy, tradition, negotiation, arbitration, and more."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll give you that, but I'm willing to bet that all that interaction is as stiff and formal as your training exercise. I remember enough…" The hanyou paused, mouth firming into an angry line. "In the courts of humans, people can hate your guts and still be all sweet and polite to your face. The same shit must go on in the youkai courts, or you wouldn't need me. I ain't saying you don't know how to deal with people. That ain't the problem."
"What is the problem, then?" Sesshomaru inquired, making his question a challenge.
"Me," Inuyasha declared with a touch of pride. "Last time I checked, you hate me. You don't think people will pick up on that?"
The hanyou shook his head, pointing out, "It's hard to miss."
Sesshomaru's expression closed. "It won't be apparent," he stated calmly.
Nothing's apparent with him. The only time he'd ever seen the bastard show anything other than indifference was when they fought. He wasn't even sure Sesshomaru's emotional range encompassed anything beyond death and derision, but they needed the court to believe their alliance was solid. If we're going to present a united front, they're going to have to believe that he's changed his opinions where filthy half-breeds are concerned. "Will they buy this? The people who are out to get you—will they even believe you've allied yourself to someone like me?"
The sharpness of the taiyoukai's bitter monosyllable pinned Inuyasha's ears back. "That… pisses you off, doesn't it?"
"The clans have questioned my choice in companions before. Consorting with a hanyou won't surprise any of my detractors."
"Are you talking about that kid?"
Ignoring the question, Sesshomaru looked up through the overhead branches. "Convincing the court that you are my choice will not be difficult. Convincing them that you are the correct choice…"
"How do we do that?"
The taiyoukai's eyes slid to his brother's earnest face, then returned to the shifting patterns of light and leaves. "You must make a favorable impression."
"That's all?" the hanyou asked, incredulous.
"For now, yes. The clans will see the two sons of the former Inu no Taisho in alliance, with Tessaiga returned to the West. Although your presence is largely symbolic, it will build confidence."
"That's dumb," Inuyasha muttered.
"Nothing that matters is gonna change. You'll still be doing… whatever the hell it is you do, but they suddenly feel better about your leadership because I agreed to hang around for a while?"
"Hnn," affirmed Sesshomaru with a single nod.
Inuyasha drummed his fingers against the side of his leg in a random pattern of agitation. A good impression, huh? Great. That means I can fuck this up right from the start. Before he could get too worked up over his impending introduction into youkai society, a shoulder nudged lightly against his. For the space of a few moments, the hanyou allowed the familiar jostling to ease his mind. At least he wasn't going in there alone. Wait… aw, shit! Inuyasha caught himself before he leaned into the offered support and turned an accusatory glare on his half-brother. Either the asshole is a quick study… or a damned good actor. Probably both, he reluctantly admitted. Sesshomaru face was unreadable, though the hanyou spied a suspicious gleam lurking beneath all the serene placidity. They both knew he'd been outmaneuvered. Smug bastard. With a retaliatory touch of his elbow to the taiyoukai's ribs, he uttered a soft, "Keh."
Shard 10, Weapon