On a cold and rainy spring day, Kagome Higurashi's mother laid her only daughter to rest.

"So very tragic, she was so young!"

"Yes, she would have been seventeen this summer."

"It must be so hard on her little brother. Poor Souta."

A black framed photograph. White blossoms surrounding the smiling face of a girl who would smile no more, and the smell of incense that hung heavily over a small shrine. A family, grief-stricken and mourning, while raindrops cascaded from the cloud drenched sky.

"I heard she'd been sick for a long time. Never knew exactly what from, her mother didn't say…"

"If they had only caught it sooner, maybe something could have been done…"

Mrs. Higurashi clenched her fists while her eyes stared straight ahead.

I didn't know. Gods, I'm her mother, I should have known!

The whispers, gentle and solemn, filled the room. As quiet as they were, those words were still the only thing Mrs. Higurashi could hear.

"It was detected during her high school physical."

"How terrible. And no history of cancer in her family, it was such a shock."

She grit her teeth, the scream boiling at the back of her throat. The weeping of Kagome's school friends grated on her nerves, resentment filling her at the sight of their plump, healthy faces. And their parents, faces drawn in sorrow as they sipped tea, quietly speaking of her daughter in voices that strained away from that essential truth.

You're glad it wasn't your own child! I know…I know I would have been glad if it had been one of yours, and not my Kagome!

Ugly thoughts, murky and foul like something rotten cast up from the sea. She could find no solace in their kind, pitying words. Only the burning of impotent rage in her belly, like a snake made of fury.

"Ovarian cancer is difficult to treat when it's advanced."

Diagnosis. Shock. Rounds of treatments, hours spent by Kagome's side as she sobbed during the chemotherapy. Doctor after doctor imploring them to not give up hope, to keep fighting, all while her baby withered away before her very eyes. Her beautiful black hair, falling out in clumps. Kagome's face became paler than the white sheets, her blushing beauty faded to ghostly gray and her fingers like pallid sticks in her mother's hand.

Mama, will you look after Inuyasha for me? He's going to be so alone when I'm gone

NO! her mind had screamed. Denial was the last rope, the last string she clutched at with desperate need. NO, and NO, and NO! Mrs. Higurashi refused to even speak of it, talking instead of how Kagome would be able to catch up in her studies, how she would watch Souta's next soccer match.

How next summer they'd take a trip as a family, something they hadn't done since Kagome had gone on her quest for a sacred jewel. She'd believed in her daughter, believed in Inuyasha, believed that the two of them could save both the future and the past from evil. She'd believed that her Kagome could do anything…

Anything except die.

"As young as she was, shouldn't they have been able to do more for her?"

The tremors, concealed deep within her body, started to break loose. She could feel her self-control starting to snap, like fine wires wrapped around her limbs, once cut, they only wanted to lash out

"There was only so much they could do."

Shaking, not with grief, but a blazing black anger that consumed her very flesh.

"I'm sure the doctors tried."

Not enough! Not enough to save her life!

"Ah, well I understand they didn't find the disease until it was already at stage four and…"

Mrs. Higurashi stood up, letting a cup of cold tea fall to the floor with a crash. The room went deathly quiet, all eyes on the grieving mother. Her fury made her transcendent, her rage at the unfairness of her loss like a crackling aura that filled the room with static poison.

"No," she said in a clear, firm voice. "It was at stage three when they found Kagome's cancer." Her heart was slamming against the walls of her chest and around her, their faces paled. She watched as the mourners who could not even echo her grief withdrew their empty words of comfort.

"Not one of you," she whispered. "Not one of you can guess how I feel, not unless you've held your child in your arms as they died. Right now, I don't want your pity. I only wish that I could make you feel it, that I could make you suffer the way I am suffering now. Then…then maybe you'd know," her voice broke, glass falling on stone, "how angry I am right now!"

They stared at her, locked in the moment, held by her stark and vivid rage. Suddenly, the sight of them was too much and Mrs. Higurashi turned on her heel and stalked out the door.

"Please excuse her," she heard her father's voice. "She is overcome with sorrow."

Not the half of it, Mrs. Higurashi thought bitterly. She was overcome with anger, hatred, a burning and sickening bile that rose from her gut to the back of her throat. As she walked across the shrine grounds, insane thoughts drifted through her mind about tearing them all apart, ripping their hearts out. Agony upon agony and it wouldn't be enough!

Reaching the Goshinboku, she stopped and closed her eyes. Her daughter had loved this tree, a symbol of strength and fortitude. Mrs. Higurashi had loved it too, the peaceful timeless energy of everything good and pure. Many days she'd spent here with her daughter, laughing and talking, always looking ahead and never dreaming that one day it would all end.

She wanted to claw the bark from the tree, pour acid on its roots. Tear the trunk from the ground and burn it to cinders. This helpless anger, it held no answers, and she fell to her knees as if in prayer.

Please…if there are any gods that listen, tell me how to take away this rage!

"Are…are you all right?"

Surprised, she looked up to see a face among the branches. Anxious golden eyes stared down at her, a young man's face drawn in grief. For a moment, all she could hear was the gentle sound of the rain, and felt nothing more than the slickness of it on her cheeks.

Inuyasha

He dropped to the ground in front of her, half crouching as he looked into her eyes. His hair was a matted tangle and he seemed thin, less strong and vital than she remembered. Idly, she wondered when was the last time he'd eaten, and realized that she couldn't answer such a question for herself, let alone anyone else.

"Have you been out here all this time?" she asked.

He nodded, his fingers clenched in his billowing red sleeves. "I couldn't leave," he whispered. "I just…I can't leave her behind."

She understood. All though Kagome's illness, she knew he hadn't been far away. At the hospital, where he kept hidden from the doctors and nurses. At the funeral, where he'd lurked in the shadows with lonely pain. She knew he'd never really left Kagome's side. Even when he'd had to conceal his presence, Inuyasha's despair had been the silent echo of her own.

But while his pain had become despair, hers had become rage. Mrs. Higurashi stiffened when Inuyasha reached for her hands, trying to help her. The ground was wet and muddy, he probably thought that Kagome would hate to see her mother ruined by such loss.

"Hi…Higurashi-san," he mumbled. "You'll get sick if you stay there."

Youkai didn't get sick, she thought. Neither did hanyou. She raked her eyes from his drooping white ears to his bare and muddy feet. Kagome had told her of terrible wounds, mortal injuries that he'd endured. His hands were strong and tanned, tipped with dangerous claws. Invulnerable, he'd protected her daughter from harm, only to lose her to the frailty of her own human body.

"Higurashi-san?"

"Why so formal?" she whispered. "Didn't you used to call me Mama?"

He blinked and then flushed as he dropped his eyes. "It doesn't seem right…not now."

His warm palms on her wrists, she felt him shiver. "Go on, Inuyasha. You can still call me Mama even if Kagome can't…"

He shuddered at her words and she knew they brought him pain. Her mouth went dry at the thought. Here was someone who could hurt as badly as she did, someone else that might go mad with despair and rage. He wasn't angry now, she could see it. Only mired in their mutual loss, and reaching out for any comfort he could find.

He took a deep breath and met her eyes. "Mama," he began.

She yanked her hands away from his and slapped him, hard. Inuyasha stared at her, his mouth still open and about to form his next word. Unable to stop herself, she hit him again, even harder if that were possible. The rage inside her boiled out of control, a pot left too long over a fire, it hissed and spat furiously.

And she didn't want to stop. Mrs. Higurashi hit him again and again, slapping him, punching him, clawing at his face. Inuyasha did not move, did not even raise his arms to ward off her manic blows. She tore at his hair, lunging at him in her rage, rasping curses and abuse at him until she felt the weakness take hold again and stumbled.

He caught her. Her body convulsed and he held her tightly until her breathing slowed to something closer to normal. Striking out…had felt amazing. Not that she blamed him for Kagome's death, only seethed with jealousy about how much of Kagome's time he'd had for his own.

"Did it feel better to hit me?" he asked as she pressed her face to his chest.

"I have…I have to hurt someone," she whispered. "This rage, I can't help myself."

The hanyou stood quietly, letting his arms drop when she was able to stand on her own. "Then hurt me," he said, rain dripping down the bridge of his nose. She saw faint bruises, red marks where her fingernails had caught him. Fascinated, she watched a single drop of blood fall to mix with the moisture on his face.

It was raining blood, and it was not enough.

"Hurt me," he said, his voice rough and shaking. "I want you to do it. I need it or I'm gonna go crazy. If it makes you feel better…"

He swallowed. "Then hurt me as much as you want."

After the day of Kagome's funeral, Mrs. Higurashi hardly knew herself. She moved through her days like a puppet on broken strings, barely speaking. Around her, the housework went undone and she didn't think to feed herself. She seemed in stupor of grief, withdrawn and given to staring out the window…staring at the well house and waiting for the sun to set.

Other than once under the Goshinboku, she had Inuyasha wait for her beside the well. During the day, she was numb. Like a woman painted on glass, she did not move or react to the world around her. She sat outside in the sun, patient and quiet, waiting for another sleepless night to arrive.

Only then did she become alive, only then did her rage have its feast.

She tied his hands over his head because it kept them out of her way. She already knew that Inuyasha was far past resisting. Even when she roused herself enough to be appalled, sickened by her behavior, she never once hesitated to do what the rage asked of her. What Inuyasha seemed to need from her.

At first, she only struck at him with her bare fists, scratched him with her nails. When that became futile, she put her simmering anger to work in doing real damage. She slashed him with kitchen knives, enthralled by the path that the blood made down his lean chest. A broom handle to bash against his ribs until he was black and blue, then tipped with razors to etch fine, delicate lines of torment on his skin.

She attacked Inuyasha like a mad sculptor, carving his flesh until the floor of the well house became darkly stained. Burning him with a naked flame, watching his skin blacken and peel, she was absolutely horrified. But her rage was eager, hot and panting like a dog at her heels for the next time.

Mrs. Higurashi stopped thinking about anything. Wrapped in anger, slaked by his blood, it kept the yawning despair from her heart. She was humbled and grateful by his sacrifice. It would have been an easy thing for him to break away from her, it would have been even easier to never return and just let her fester in her own pain.

She barely noticed when Kagome's grandfather, uneasy about what was going on between his daughter and the hanyou, took Souta away from the house to visit relatives. Mrs. Higurashi spent that afternoon tying knots in a heavy length of rope…and pushing a sharp needle through each one with a single-minded sense of self-preservation.

Perhaps she'd lost her mind, perhaps Inuyasha had opened a dark place in her soul she'd never known existed. No matter how badly she injured him, leaving him weak and delirious from torture…he came back to her. His skin would be whole and new the next time, a ready canvas for what had become an obsession…with rage.

She gagged him, blindfolded him sometimes when she couldn't stand to look into his eyes. Stripped to the waist and accepting every blow like a martyr, he'd turned a gentle homemaker into a sadist. And Mrs. Higurashi knew it was that it was her own descent into this monster that caused him the most pain.

His blood was the sticky nectar that drew her like a honeybee. She licked it from her fingers, gagging at the first coppery taste, then ravishing his skin with her tongue. The cuts and scrapes were rough, exciting, and she heard him catch his breath.

"What are you doing?" he whispered, his eyes covered once again.

Mrs. Higurashi didn't answer. Instead she loosened the ties of his hakama until every shift, every twitch made them slide down his hips. His upraised arms trembled as she felt the rage swell beneath her skin like the bloated decay of a month old corpse.

"Are you afraid?" she murmured, smoothing her hand along his jaw. "Do you need me to stop?"

Inuyasha didn't answer, only continued to pant heavily. Slowly, she moved her blood-slick fingers below his navel until she felt the soft down of his pubic hair. Experimenting a little, Mrs. Higurashi tugged on the silky strands and Inuyasha made a sound like he was strangling on his own tongue.

"Don't," he begged, twisting his hips away from her. "I can't…I can't…"

Instinctively, she knew that if she hurt him there he wouldn't be able to tolerate it. He'd tear himself free of the ropes like they were only paper, male preservation trumping his need for submission. Mrs. Higurashi let his hakama fall, taking his erection with both hands.

"This is worse for you," she said softly, caressing him. Pain, rage, despair…all slipped away as Kagome's mother knelt in front of him. Her fingers were slick already, the color of his blood. Inuyasha moaned and writhed like pleasure was far worse than all of her abuse.

She licked him, tasting bitter fluid with the metallic tang of blood. Another lick, and she heard Inuyasha whimper helplessly. Ruthless, she pulled him between her lips before slowly drawing him out.

"Stop, please," he groaned, thrusting into her mouth on his own. Mrs. Higurashi grazed him with her teeth and made him yelp. Her fingers tightened, then abruptly released him. Inuyasha whined, a pathetic sound, as she let him suffer on the edge of release.

She looked up, noticing that for the first time, his cheeks were wet with tears. His mouth hinted at a secret pain, the blindfold creasing as he sobbed quietly. The rage had faded to a dull roar in her ears, she was confused and lightheaded, floating almost, on the fringes of Inuyasha's pain.

"Are you thinking of my daughter?"

Inuyasha screamed, Kagome's name burning like charcoal on his tongue. Stunned, she stared up at him as he ripped his arms free of their bindings and tore off the blindfold. His face was nothing less than horror itself and her heart twisted at how young he looked…and how devastated.

He dropped to his hands and knees, sobbing like a child. Feeling her own sorrow more deeply than since the day Kagome had died, Mrs. Higurashi reached out to him. She rocked him against her chest, soothing him with whispers and apologies. Over and over, she told him they would be okay, that somehow…from this twisted mess of rage and despair…they would heal.

But her words weren't meant for Inuyasha.

They were for Kagome, their beautiful, lost Kagome.

Hours later, Mrs. Higurashi and Inuyasha sat huddled together on the steps of the well house, watching the sunrise. Her fury had faded, leaving her worn and empty inside, but somehow whole again. Beside her, Inuyasha was very quiet and she flushed with shame, wondering what he was thinking.

"You must despise me."

"No," he said immediately.

"I tortured you," she said, her voice trembling. "What I did was…"

He took a deep breath. "That day, I was looking for a way to die with her."

Mrs. Higurashi slumped against his shoulder. "I just wanted her to come back to me, I was so angry that she couldn't."

Inuyasha stood slowly, reaching down to pull her to her feet. Awkward, not quite looking her in the eye, he gently embraced her. Mrs. Higurashi held him close, fisting her hands in the back of his haori, trying to give him what she'd taken. What she'd needed…everything he had left to give.

"I'm not coming back," Inuyasha said, his words muffled against her neck.

"I know." She let go, watched Inuyasha enter the well house without another word, without a backwards glance. Keeping her eyes averted from the darkness within, Mrs. Higurashi reached for the door and silently closed it after him.