Wishes of the Soul

The little group was tired and footsore; but it was worth travelling that bit longer so they could reach the shelter which promised a short holiday from the endless trek, that Inuyasha was obsessed by. He had promised them a couple of days camped in one area where they could rest and relax with a good dry cave and hot spring, lush grass and good hunting. They had gained no further shards and were becoming frustrated with their lack of progress, it seemed there were not many more to be found and that increased the tension as it meant that the final confrontation was surely near at hand.

However at the moment the mood was lightening as the prospect of luxuriating in the hot springs was soon to be a reality and even Inuyasha was less grumpy, looking forward to his time in the water that would help un-kink his shoulders. But first, he and the monk would secure the perimeter; fetch wood for the fire and hunt for the evening meat before they would have their turn in the pool. That fact bothered neither male as it meant that the food would be ready when they were and they would have longer in the spring than the girls.

Before they had got much further Inuyasha's nose was twitching and his hand reached for the hilt of Tessaiga although he didn't draw the weapon. The others of course noticed as they were all in tune with each others movements and body language and at the raised questioning eyebrows, Inuyasha just answered 'Sesshoumaru'. But they carried on towards their destination regardless as the Taiyoukai was usually not a threat to them anymore. Besides, he seemed to be waiting for them; as he too would be aware that they were in the vicinity. Perhaps he had news of Naraku at last.

None of them were prepared for the sight that awaited them when they entered the clearing, Sesshoumaru was sitting and tending a fire that was almost ready to roast a succulent looking small boar that he had dressed and spitted. The youkai did not bother to stand as they approached him, he was not afraid or wary of his brother's group; but he looked up and kept his expression bland. It was the nearest thing to a welcome he would give them and they came forward with caution.

"This Sesshoumaru has surmised that you wish to camp within this area tonight."

"We had planned on doing so, Lord Sesshoumaru. We had hoped to spend a day or two here as a small break." Miroku informed his Lordship politely and before Inuyasha could jump in with a crude reply.

"It will not inconvenience me if you would care to join me in my meal. I anticipated your arrival and procured meat for this evening."

"Feh! What are you after Sesshoumaru? Where are your little imp and the girl? Surely she would appreciate roast boar, makes a change from rabbit?"

"Indeed, but I have left the child in the care of her nurses in the Western Palace; she has a human ailment, a cold and with winter only a few weeks away I thought it best to leave her where she will be warm and well treated."

"Keh! Was the eloquent reply to this piece of news as Inuyasha turned his head away to look into the distance. He remembered when he had suffered hardships as a small pup during the winter and his brother couldn't have cared less. But that was thinking that helped nobody and certainly changed nothing, so he shrugged it off and started to set up their camp. Everybody else joined in and soon, the cave had been made comfortable and secure from any bad weather.

Kagome and Sango were soon ensconced in the hot springs safe in the knowledge that there was nothing around to harm or harass them, apart from a lecherous monk who would be under the watchful eye of Inuyasha and his brother. Soon the delightful scent of roasting boar was drifting in the air and making all realise just how hungry they were, the girls came out to let the boys have their chance and to take their turn at watching that the roast did not burn. To Inuyasha and Miroku's surprise and consternation, Sesshoumaru also came to the spring and gracefully entered the water in a way that seemed to invite them to join him rather than the other way around.

"Feh! Now I know somethin's up. You would never lower yourself to join us normally Sesshoumaru, what's the matter?" Inuyasha's words may have sounded harsh but his tone held some concern; if his brother was acting this nicely he required their help and that thought was somewhat alarming. In a voice free of sarcasm or confrontation, Inuyasha inquired as to Sesshoumaru's problem asking how they could help.

For a moment, surprise at the lack of belligerence from his half brother was evident on Sesshoumaru's face. As was the question that was now asked:

"What is up with your scent Sesshoumaru? I could hardly tell it was you and your aura is faint, are you ill?"

"This Sesshoumaru does not suffer illness, hanyou; I find it expedient to reign in my power at the moment. I do not wish to advertise my presence for now."

"You afraid?"

"Do not be ridiculous Inuyasha. I thought it would be appropriate to combine our search for Naraku; I have the feeling that our mutual adversary will make himself known to us soon and it would be to our tactical advantage to fight him as allies, rather than individuals. I choose not to alert anyone to the fact that I might accompany your group and to that end I offer my assistance."

"You want our help to fight Naraku?"

"That is not quite what I said Inuyasha, however if we help one another maybe more of your group will survive. Think about it."

"I don't need to think any more Sesshoumaru, I agree as long as you don't start any fights or question what I say for the sake of it."

"I am sure that if This Sesshoumaru made any suggestions they would be listened to and followed should the group deem them fit. Should it not work out between us, we will be free to go our separate ways once again."

"It seems a good idea to me Inuyasha, we can always use more power to work together." Miroku said as he looked between the brothers.

"Keh! Fine by me, at least you ain't got the obnoxious toad with you; I almost feel sorry for the girl having to put up with him."

"Be that as it may, Jaken is very loyal and has his uses." Sesshoumaru said as he got out of the spring and wrung out his hair and tail before finishing drying and dressing. Soon all three males were heading back to where the boar was just about ready to eat. After apprising the girls of all that had transpired and getting their complete agreement, the group settled down to eat and then sleep with Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha taking the night watch together.

The next day was fine and warm for the time of year and there was no hint of danger all day; in fact it was restful and beneficial for them all. Shippou practiced his tricks and Sesshoumaru helped him, encouraging the kit to push himself further; but in a gentle and kindly manner. He seemed to be a natural teacher. The others too were impressed by how much Shippou improved under the tutorage of the youkai who took much time and effort into making the kit less shy and afraid of him.

Only Inuyasha seemed surly about all the time devoted to Shippou and earned himself some painful 'sits' for his crass attitude; but his bad mood could not dampen the day for the others, who allowed him to sulk on his own. In the end it was Sesshoumaru who reproved the hanyou by blaming him for not encouraging the kitsune to practice every chance he got. It was Inuyasha's responsibility to train the small youkai so that he had a better chance at survival.

"You would let the kit suffer just because no one taught you. You would treat him as badly as I treated you? For shame, Inuyasha." Sesshoumaru's words were softly spoken but his brother heard them with pain and thought them unfair. He did not neglect Shippou, but the kit would not do as he was told; preferring to rely on being babied by Kagome and getting Inuyasha into trouble with her whenever possible. For once Shippou came to Inuyasha's defence though and admitted to not yet having tried to improve himself.

"I expect like most good mothers Miko, you are slightly over protective of your young; but the child does need to learn and will come to no harm."

"I understand and thank you Sesshoumaru, Shippou certainly responds well to your instruction; it's better than just being hit on the head." Kagome looked daggers at Inuyasha as she spoke and demanded to know why he had never explained that the fox kit was old enough to train.

"Feh! Nobody trained me and any time I tried to say something to Shippou, the little runt ran back bleating to you about how I was a big bad bully."

"Inuyasha, he is just a small child..." Kagome said, but Inuyasha had already turned away from her and was walking off. Sesshoumaru watched him leave before saying:

"Inuyasha is not much older than Shippou himself in youkai terms Miko and he was a neglected pup, it is sadly true that he will not have much idea in how to raise the kit." At once he saw the contrition on Kagome's face as she realised the significance of Sesshoumaru's words and she left Shippou to go and apologise to her friend. As usual he just shrugged off her words hating to have any sort of pity directed at him.

"I've not been a whelp for years Kagome; it's just that Sesshoumaru is older and bossier than me. Take no notice." With that they walked back to the others and started to prepare lunch from the rest of the boar. For the rest of the day not much was done that could be construed as energetic by anyone other than Shippou, who was obsessed now with practicing his tricks. Sango took time to polish her weapons and Miroku took time in watching her, which he called meditating. Inuyasha was getting anxious because the new moon was that night and he could already feel his youki waning.

He was no longer afraid of Sesshoumaru as he knew that the youkai knew when his vulnerable time was already, but he hated to feel weak and inferior to his brother in any way. Sesshoumaru himself was ignoring the pacing and antsy behaviour of Inuyasha and had surprisingly sat himself down next to Kagome, who was studying from her strange 'books'. She in turn was showing him the things she was trying to learn; finding him a great help when he could understand and explain some of her mathematics.

Instead of mocking her for her studies because he didn't understand her need, the Taiyoukai showed interest in the fact that she was a scholar and he found her depth of knowledge impressive for a girl of her age. He enquired of her why she needed such an education and nodded his head when she said it was important for her to learn so that she could help provide for her future and to honour her family. There were many things that Kagome was learning that Sesshoumaru had already known and he offered his assistance to her while they were on their quest.

Kagome was delighted and she thanked him with her eyes shining like stars, with Sesshoumaru's help her studying would be far more productive. Sesshoumaru responded with a small smile of his own and he sat with her as they discussed the things she was learning until it was too dark for her to see her books even in the light of the evening fire. For the first time she had not been conscious of Inuyasha's change to his dark haired human persona and she felt a jolt of surprise to see him sitting next to Miroku over the fire.

Inuyasha's violet human eyes however stared in disappointed reproach back at her; she had not remembered or said anything to ease his discomfort and he had come to welcome her loving gestures and smiles. Instead she had sat all afternoon talking quietly with his brother and ignored the hanyou completely. Then seeing Inuyasha looking all forlorn, (even though he would have categorically denied it), Kagome suddenly felt maternal towards him.

She went over and put her arms round his shoulders and leaned her head against his, this time wisely not saying anything that he could deny. Sesshoumaru too watched the pair and asked gently whether or not the transformation caused any pain. He was rewarded with a disbelieving glance:

"Since when do you care?"

"Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru's only asking you a question."

"Feh! Yes it hurts for a bit, but I'm used to it. It don't stop me being able to defend myself though so don't get any ideas."

"Certainly not Inuyasha, you make me quake in my boots." Sesshoumaru grinned when everyone stared at him for his comment and then because he was smiling.

"Something's seriously wrong with you Sesshoumaru; are you under a spell or somethin?"

"No, Inuyasha; I have come to realise that I have wronged you and wish to make amends. Caring for a human child has helped me to understand my shortcomings where you are concerned."

"It's a bit late for that ain't it? I'm no runt anymore, I don't need no one to teach me tricks or coddle me in their tail at night, like the kit and the girl. I don't need anyone to look after me" Inuyasha managed to sound angry and upset all at once, the fact that he was human and far more emotional than normal only added to his chagrin.

"These facts are something I have come to regret Inuyasha, but you are still a very young hanyou and as such I wish to aid you as a brother should." He held out his hand to his brother who pulled away slightly as he was very suspicious of this overture of care if not affection. Kagome saw the flicker of disappointment in Sesshoumaru's eyes and she tried to mediate by appealing to Inuyasha:

"You have nothing to lose Inuyasha and all to gain; you will be a family again. Isn't that worth taking the chance to trust him?"

"I'll think about it O.K. No promises." Inuyasha sat closer to the fire but turned to look out into the darkness beyond. 'Nothing to lose' Kagome had said, it showed how little she knew. Inuyasha had always wanted his brother's love and care, if he trusted in it now and it was all a trick...None of them knew the fine line that Inuyasha lived, balancing between protecting his heart from any more hurt and pretending that nothing affected him. But when Sesshoumaru approached and placed his hand on Inuyasha's shoulder and the boy didn't reject his brother's gesture of affection, Kagome smiled and knew that all would be well.

Miroku watched the two acutely and wondered if Sesshoumaru fully knew how much Inuyasha wanted his brother to accept him and how apprehensive the hanyou was at the moment in allowing his heart to open even slightly towards his older sibling. Miroku never said much on a serious note, but he was a quiet study of people and knew more about the members of his little group than they would ever realise. He knew too that of course Sesshoumaru would certainly understand the make up of his little brother and know how he was affecting him.

The next day Inuyasha's youki returned as it always did but he had promised his group to spend the day resting again and to return to the shard hunt the following day. There was still no sign of Naraku so they weren't wasting any time. Once again Shippou practiced, this time with Sango and Miroku while Sesshoumaru and Kagome sat studying her lessons. The Taiyoukai was very patient and was willing to test her on her knowledge and she gratefully accepted his help. His voice was low and pleasing and she found to her gratitude that he also had a dry sense of wit when he chose to use it, which helped impress on her the more salient points of the material. This was in direct contrast to Inuyasha who came bounding over to ask why Sesshoumaru was so interested in Kagome's school work.

"I have never understood the lack of education in one whose circumstances permit it, Inuyasha. A female who proves she has the same capacity to learn as a male deserves to have the same chance. She would then prove herself worthy of her mate and be able to converse intelligently with him. I see many advantages for this within a mating bond and for the ability to discuss on equal level any strategies that might be useful at different times. My own mother was always able to speak articulately and with knowledge, she was invaluable to father when he had to hold meetings with the other Lords."

"Feh! All it does for Kagome is make her argue with me and mean she has to leave to take tests at home." Inuyasha replied grumpily with his arms tucked in his sleeves and his nose in the air. But before Kagome could reply angrily to him, Sesshoumaru answered for her.

"You speak so because you are still a pup Inuyasha; one who hates anything that takes your playmate away and stops you from being the centre of her attention." Sesshoumaru smirked as he took in the fuming Inuyasha and the girl who was trying unsuccessfully to hide a huge grin behind her hand. The glaring dark look the pair received for this comment only added to the impression of sulky child, making Kagome laugh harder.

TBC