Disclaimer: I do not own the Inuyasha series or any of the characters. I suspect my life would be a great deal more exciting if I did.

Summary: With the battle against the panther tribe won and his army in disarray, Lord Sesshoumaru finally has time to think about the disturbing news Jaken brought him concerning Inuyasha. He goes to see for himself. One shot.

A/N and translations: see end

In the Shade of Goshinboku

The sun was setting when Sesshoumaru finally had time to simply think his own thoughts. The battle with the panther tribe had been long and bloody, and much of his army lay dead. He had prevailed, however, and the panther tribe had fled. For now, anyway. He held no illusions that Toran and her ilk would stay where they belonged for long. They would be back.

The battlefield stank, as battlefields tend to, especially in the sticky heat of high summer after the end of the rainy season. In addition to the regular stench of corpses ripening in the sun, youkai wars were unique in that the participants often had abilities similar to Sesshoumaru's own poisons and acids, abilities which were not always very pleasant to the nose. Factor in the sickly-sweet scent of burning corpses as those youkai who were mostly unscathed worked to clear the field, and the resultant mixture was enough to make anyone with such an acute sense of smell choke.

"Jaken."

The small youkai scurried forward, fawning obsequiously as usual with his grating voice.

"Shut up, Jaken."

"Aye, milord!"

"You will ensure that the clean-up is finished swiftly."

"Yes, Lord Sesshoumaru!"

Sesshoumaru was silent for a moment, and Jaken managed to keep his mouth shut for once. The only problem with having time for his thoughts was that his mind was now free to think on things he would rather not contemplate. The news Jaken had brought him before the battle had disturbed him more than he would admit.

"Where did you hear this rumour about the hanyou?"

"You mean Lord Inuyasha, milord?" Sesshoumaru took his eyes from the battlefield long enough to glare at his retainer for such a stupid question, and Jaken hastened to answer. "To the east, milord. Word has it he spent the last several years in the land of Musashi, and was placed under the spell several months ago. They say he can be found in the forest where the Bone-Eater's Well lies, the forest that is now called the Forest of Inuyasha."

"Hn. That fool has a forest named after him?" Sesshoumaru paused. "What of this miko you spoke of?"

"Dead, milord. It is said that she sealed him to a tree before she succumbed to her wounds."

Sesshoumaru stood silently in deliberation once more. Inuyasha… sealed. The word coiled treacherously around his thoughts like a serpent, sharp-toothed and disquieting. The wind ruffled his hair and clothes, bringing with it a particularly strong whiff of the battlefield. Irritation flooded his mind.

"Jaken," he said abruptly. "I am leaving."

He turned without waiting for a reply, ignoring Jaken's questions, and strode out of the encampment with the sun at his back. He would go and see his half-brother's disgrace for himself.

Sealed…

Why does this disturb me so? he wondered. He was far beyond childish fears inspired by stories about miko who would seal or purify naughty youkai children, and it was certainly not caused by any concern for the half-breed. So why did that particular word trouble his mind?

Inuyasha's fate was supposed to be mine to decide, he answered himself. This Sesshoumaru dislikes being robbed of that privilege.

His turmoil thus reconciled, he put the word from his mind and continued on his way, choosing to walk the distance rather than use a faster form of travel. He was in no hurry to arrive and especially in no hurry to return while the battlefield was still reeking. And Inuyasha certainly wasn't going anywhere. It was also more comfortable to walk than to use his other methods of transporting himself, since it consumed the least amount of energy and left his youki free to heal his injuries. He had not been badly wounded in the battle, but Toran had landed her fair share of hits before he'd managed to injure her severely enough to send her fleeing. The deep, parallel claw marks that had splintered his armour, tore his hitoe and kosode, and slashed into his torso hurt more than just his pride. Even now he could feel the grating edges of shattered ribs beginning to mend.

Cats. Miserable, pestilential creatures.

He knew of the region Jaken had described, and judged it to be about twenty-five miles distant, factoring in the additional couple miles he would need to detour around the small village he knew to lie nearby — he had no desire to stroll through a collection of human hovels. The first half of the journey would be slower due to the landscape, but once he reached the road he would make good time. The leisurely, steady pace he could keep up for days if necessary would bring him there sometime in the early morning. He would probably be almost completely healed by the time he arrived, which would improve his disposition, at least.

About an hour's walk from the battlefield he could no longer smell the stench, which made the evening a great deal more enjoyable. The wind had died down to a pleasant breeze and a brief rain shower at midnight left the earth smelling damp and clean. His clothing dried quickly in the warm summer night, and by the time the horizon ahead was a cool green line of approaching dawn, he found himself feeling much more relaxed. The solitude and quiet was peaceful. He did not feel at ease in crowds. Dogs may be social creatures, and inuyoukai were no exception, but even as a pup he had never been inclined to mix with strangers. They were not pack. He had no pack. The closest approximation he had of a pack since his father's death was probably his retainer Jaken — which, quite frankly, was a truly pathetic notion indeed.

How the mighty have fallen…

But this Sesshoumaru had no need of such. Reliance on others was a weakness. He certainly did not need the likes of Jaken, although it was quite diverting to abuse the wretched creature when his screeching became too irritating or when he overstepped his station. He would feel no remorse if he were to simply abandon the shrill little youkai, no more than he would if he were to cast aside a tool that had lost its usefulness.

It was just after dawn when a new, instantly-recognizable scent disturbed his contemplation. The scent, while still faint, was so like his own, and his father's, that it was unmistakeable. The taint of human blood in the scent, as always, made his nostrils want to curl with distaste; though, of course, he did not allow such an undignified expression to cross his face. It seemed strange that he found the scent so very familiar when he had spent so little time in Inuyasha's presence over the past one hundred and fifty years. In any case, he would certainly have no trouble finding the right location.

It was another four miles, another hour of that damnable scent growing ever stronger, before he found himself standing in the shade of a massive old Tree of Ages that the humans had been calling Goshinboku since he was a mere pup. His brother was here somewhere; he could smell that much, but he was finding the scent of the human village, which was too close for comfort, to be a distraction. Eyeing the tree suspiciously, he made a wide, slow circle around it, keeping his distance as he brought himself about to face west.

Inuyasha hung motionless from the trunk of Goshinboku, clad in his usual red fire-rat robe, dusty bare feet dangling off the ground. His head was tipped forward, his face almost hidden behind the overlong bangs. His silver hair floated free in the breeze, shining an almost golden colour in the bright morning sunlight that filtered through the leaves. The two puppy ears atop his head that marked him as a half-breed were relaxed in repose, rather than pricked forward aggressively or laid back in agitation, as Sesshoumaru was accustomed to seeing them. And then, of course, there was the arrow. Piercing the hanyou's left shoulder just below his collarbone, it pinned Inuyasha to the tree and forced his body's entire weight to hang from that one point.

Something distressing twisted in his gut at the sight. Perhaps it was the shame upon the family, or simply because the position looked uncomfortable. But no, the real reason for his disquiet was that this was not right. Death by this Sesshoumaru's hand — yes, that would be permissible. A clean, honourable end, a fitting death to restore the balance of things. But this was not what he would have wished upon his brother. Not this disgrace, this ignoble demise. This was not a clean death. It wasn't even a death. Inuyasha simply… lingered.

A memory, dredged up from the shadowy vaults of puphood, of strong hands, profound gold eyes, and a deep voice. "Always make a clean kill, my son. We inuyoukai are a proud line, a civilized breed. We do not wound our prey for sport. A clean kill or none at all."

Enemies, of course, were a different matter, but even still, Sesshoumaru was usually inclined to treat all his kills as he had been taught so long ago.

Inuyasha looked more like their father every time Sesshoumaru saw him, or at least how Sesshoumaru could imagine Chichi-ue looking if he had been a half-feral adolescent. They were so very alike in face and form, though Inuyasha would have to grow much taller to match the great Inu no Taishou in stature. But the resemblance between the two was still uncanny — the warmer skin tone, the heavier brow, the more solid, robust build. Sesshoumaru's looks had always taken after those of his mother, pale as snow, tall, willowy, and aristocratic. One more way in which Inuyasha was the favoured son.

Inuyasha had grown since Sesshoumaru had last seen him, a fact which forcibly reminded Sesshoumaru of just how long it had been since he had last laid eyes on the half-breed. A different feeling of discomfort drifted vaguely though his mind now — subtler but somehow more troubling than his displeasure at finding his brother like this. He had not experienced this feeling in a very long time, and the sensation nagged at the back of his mind annoyingly; he felt oddly like a pup, who, having chewed up his father's favourite boots, was now hoping no one discovered the ill-concealed evidence.

"Go you now to do battle with Ryukotsusei, Chichi-ue?"

The taiyoukai paused in the act of pulling on a hitoe of heavier silk with closer sleeves than he normally wore for courtly use. After a brief hesitation, his hands resumed their motions. "You disapprove, my son?"

"No Chichi-ue. Ryukotsusei's challenge must not go unanswered."

"Yet you are still dissatisfied. What troubles you, Sesshoumaru?"

Sesshoumaru held his silence as his father slung the heavy armour about his torso. I am the one who is meant to defeat you, he thought, but said nothing.

"Do you not know? Or do you simply refuse to tell me?"

The Inu no Taishou held out his arms then, and Sesshoumaru stepped forward behind him to tighten the bindings on the armour, as he had done many times before. The proximity emphasised just how tall and imposing his father was. Sesshoumaru was still more than half a head shorter than him, and likely a good 60 pounds lighter. Sesshoumaru, all of five hundred years old, was just barely considered of age to go to war or take a mate, and had not quite finished growing. Even so, he could tell already he would never surpass his father in stature.

But the cunning old dog is not invincible, whispered his treacherous thoughts as he fastened the complicated straps. How easy it would be to slip claws or a knife into that broad back that his trusting father so casually turned to him. How simple to call up poisons inherited from his mother, to which his father had only the natural resistance of any taiyoukai instead of the full immunity that ran in Sesshoumaru's blood.

He ought to kill him, and rise up to take his place.

He should want to kill him…

"Are you having difficulty, my son?" his father asked when it took a little longer than usual to accomplish the familiar task, and from the undercurrent of humour in his voice, Sesshoumaru knew that his father was somehow aware of his contemplation. His father had always had that ability, to speak with a tone that made his opponents realize he was aware of all their machinations, and that he found them amusing. Of course Chichi-ue knew. He had always known every faithless thought that had ever worked its way though Sesshoumaru's head, even long after Sesshoumaru had learned to school his face into utter impassivity.

He stepped to his father's right side and fastened the shoulder-piece into place before moving to cross in front of his father, intending to repeat the process on the left. His father stopped him with a hand to Sesshoumaru's own shoulder, strong fingers squeezing briefly.

"I have a task for you, if I should fall."

A task. Some matter of importance his father would entrust only to his heir. Some action to ensure that the world would not implode if his father did not return from battle. This was the assurance he had eagerly hoped for.

"What is it you would have me do, Chichi-ue?" he asked in carefully measured tones, continuing on to fasten the left shoulder guard.

"The Lady Izayoi will give birth within a matter of days. If I do not return, I would have you protect her and the pup. Ensure that they live well and long… Mind what you are doing, Sesshou! Not so tight!"

Burning with fury and righteous indignation, he loosened and retied the cord that he had jerked in his momentary loss of composure. This is what his father would ask of him? To defend that human and the filthy hanyou she bore? The humiliation was unbearable.

"You are angry, my son."

Angry? He had never been so close to transforming and attempting to crush his father's skull between his teeth. Not that he would win, blinded by such a rage.

I should want to kill him!

His anger, apparently, was but a trifle to his father, who was now casually donning the armour pieces that would cover his forearms. "I would have your word that you will do as I bid." His tone left no room for argument.

Sesshoumaru tugged the final cord on his father's shoulder into place, and walked out of the room.

It was the last time but one that he would ever speak to his father.

When his father, badly injured in the fight against Ryukotsusei, foolishly got himself killed fighting Takemaru, Sesshoumaru had tried to flout his will. He was not accustomed to debasing himself to killing women and children in cold blood, so he swore that when the whelp reached adulthood, he would kill him, and until then he would wash his hands of the pair. But even with this resolution, he had still found himself chained to his father's request — not that he had ever admitted it to anyone, least of all Inuyasha. Try as he might to leave the human and her half-breed pup to their fates, he had found his feet leading him in that direction too many times to count. His visits had been embarrassingly frequent while his half-brother was still small, sometimes more than twice a year. He never let himself be seen, of course, and he offered no aid, made no enquiries into the well-being of the hanyou… but still he went. Then, a quarter of a century after being charged with this intolerable duty, the woman, still raven-haired but now past her prime, had the gall to sicken and die, and the other humans drove the half-breed away. He had found the whelp, hungry, filthy, and distraught, wandering the forest not far away, and had let himself be seen for the first time. Apparently Inuyasha's eyes and nose worked, because he had recognized Sesshoumaru immediately as the brother of whom his mother had told him.

"Are you gonna help me?" the hanyou had the nerve to ask.

I would have your word that you will do as I bid…

"No," Sesshoumaru had told him. "This Sesshoumaru will have nothing to do with a filthy half-breed. You must fend for yourself."

"Why?"

"You are a disgrace to our father's memory. When you are grown I am going to kill you."

He had expected his half-brother's expression to crumple further, perhaps even for him to shed a few tears, but apparently the hanyou was not the soft little near-human that he had anticipated. Inuyasha bared his milk teeth with a passable growl and fled into the trees, leaving Sesshoumaru to reflect that with such instincts the little bastard might just survive that long.

And despite his words, he still found himself seeking out the pup from time to time to… assess him, for lack of a better explanation. This became less frequent as the half-breed started to wander farther from Sesshoumaru's usual haunts and became more adept at covering his trail. It had been several years since Sesshoumaru had last encountered him.

And now he was practically grown. Only one hundred and fifty years old, Inuyasha had nearly reached the stage of development Sesshoumaru had taken five hundred years to reach. Only to have everything cut short by a single arrow.

Sesshoumaru found his feet carrying him slowly forward, almost against his will. The expression on his brother's face, nearly hidden by his untamed hair, intrigued him, and he found himself edging closer until he was standing upon the bulky roots of the old tree, a mere arms-length from his brother. This close, with the morning light lending an almost otherworldly radiance to Inuyasha's face, he could nearly believe he was looking upon his father once more.

I was destined to be the one to defeat you (You were supposed to be invincible)…

I should have wanted to kill you (Don't die, Chichi-ue, you are needed still)…

I refused to give you my word (I defied your will, broke your trust)…

I hated you in the end (I only ever loved you, Chichi-ue)…

The light shifted, and the face was only Inuyasha's again. Still, Sesshoumaru found himself reaching out with one hand, hesitated, then cupped his fingers under the hanyou's chin and lifted his head to get a better look at him. He had never touched his brother before, save for one memorable incident when the mongrel had bitten him and he had thrown him into a tree in retaliation. He was surprised to find that his brother's skin was warm; he had expected him to be cold, as though in death. He could feel the blood moving sluggishly beneath the skin, the hanyou's heart beating perhaps once a minute, his breath coming so slowly as to be almost imperceptible.

He considered the expression on his brother's face now. He looked so at peace, more contented than Sesshoumaru had ever seen him, and he recalled Jaken's words, that Inuyasha had lost his heart to the miko who had sealed him. It was not surprising that the hanyou suffered the same weakness as their father, and Sesshoumaru felt outrage that one who shared the same blood as him had been brought so low. The outrage faded quickly, however, and he found himself reassessing the peaceful expression. Was love a fair trade for this outcome? Sesshoumaru was not so arrogant as to believe all love had to be a weakness, but if it resulted in such a fate then surely it was a liability in this case. He wondered if Inuyasha would consider it to be worth it. Judging from his countenance, he rather thought the answer was yes. The realization that his brother had grown up while he wasn't watching was a strange feeling indeed.

His hand moved of its own accord, pressing against the warm cheek, skimming over the relaxed brow to brush the soft, silver hair away from his brother's face, before continuing upward to pass gently over a silky ear. His hand dropped to rest against the fire-rat robed shoulder, mere inches from the sacred arrow, feeling the sting of miko energy that he dare not approach any closer. Then he remembered himself, and let his hand fall away, stepping back from Inuyasha's slumbering figure. Sesshoumaru watched him for a minute more, and the forest seemed to hold its breath.

"Sleep well, little brother. Better that you should stay asleep. For if ever you wake, this Sesshoumaru will kill you."

In the space of a heartbeat, the clearing around Goshinboku was empty once more.

::Owari::

Author's notes:

Ages: I did not use any definitive ratio of youkai-to-human aging for either Sesshoumaru or Inuyasha. The 1:10 ratio people favour for youkai childhood would not make sense for a hanyou, because Inuyasha's mother died when he looked about 5, so his mother would have to have been between 65-70 years old, not a black-haired beauty. I chose to cut this in half, meaning his mother would have been in the 40 year old range, which is much more plausible. I expect youkai would age relativelyquickly in early childhood, like most predators, before their growth would slow down to accommodate their immortality. As for Sesshoumaru being not quite full grown when his father died, I am basing this off the fact that he looks maybe 16 or 17 at the beginning of the third movie, compared to looking 19 or 20 during the rest of the movie (his voice is just as deep but he has softer angles to his face, larger eyes, a more slender neck, and less broad shoulders. Anyone notice his hair is shorter back then too?).

Sesshoumaru/Sesshou: Although normally I resist the urge to shorten the names of characters to nicknames, -maru was a common suffix used for young males of the warrior class (see the Wikipedia article on "Sesshomaru"), and I could see it potentially being dropped to make the name into a childhood nickname. Therefore it seemed conceivable for Inu no Taishou to revert to using this as a diminutive when annoyed with his son. Call it artistic license. ()

Japanese terms:

Chichi-ue – formal and archaic word for father

Youkai – demon

Inuyoukai – dog demon

Taiyoukai – great demon, demon who is very powerful

Hanyou – half-demon

Goshinboku – God Tree

Hitoe – outer shirt-garment (like the red layer Inuyasha wears, a haori is more like a jacket)

Kosode – longer shirt-undergarment (like the white layer Inuyasha wears)

Miko – priestess