DISCLAIMER: All Inuyasha characters are the creation of, and © to Rumiko Takahashi, and subsequent parties. Full Circle is the creation of my demented mind, and © to Shun'u Hanashiro 2000-2001.

Author's Note: Italicized text (or //) can indicate private/unvoiced thoughts – or – flashback sequences. Colons [::] indicate insinuated thoughts by another character into one's subconscious. Be forewarned that all of the events prior to tankouban 14 of the manga are up for grabs in this story.

I believe someone asked what was happening with Rin and Jaken? ^_~

Thank you, everyone, for your kind reviews. They're wonderful. You're all wonderful. For some bizarre reason, the world's absolutely marvelous today. Do you think I should take off my rose tinted glasses? Nah…

December 2001

F U L L • C I R C L E

An Inuyasha Fanfiction

By Shun'u Hanashiro

Side Story 1: The Eternal Babysitter

"What have I ever done to deserve this?" Jaken mumbled miserably.

As was usually the case, no one answered the toad-like youkai's lifelong question. The only sounds to be heard in the nearly sweltering afternoon heat were the sluggish drag of lazy footsteps and an occasional curse as he tried to move through the open field. Behind him, Rin followed the path he whacked through the tall grass with his two-headed staff, never once thinking that Jaken suffered miniscule cuts and welts from said grass in the process. At the moment the little girl was quiet, but that was never a guarantee of a good day. Jaken cursed his fate as the world's eternal babysitter.

When Jaken had been younger, he had had dreams. Good dreams. Grand dreams of serving under a great youkai lord who was kind to his people and powerful enough that his lands would prosper. Oh, Jaken had found the great lord. That had been Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha's late father; the dog demon had been the most respected of all lords during his lifetime. And he had been kind. Jaken remembered their first meeting as though it had been yesterday and not a memory that was centuries removed.

He had been young and foolish then, still strong enough of limb that he had made the mistake of thinking that he could travel without weapon and be able to fend for himself. He had been wrong. No sooner had he set foot on the western lands than he was accosted by a band of minor demons too weak to serve their lord, but too strong to be harmless. Without legitimate work, they had become bandits and made it their business to catch foreign travelers unaware. Jaken was unfortunate enough to be caught in their trap.

In his defense, he had had no reason to believe that there were such thugs in the western lands. Rumor had it that petty crime was nearly non-existent in the dog demon's domain. The youkai lord was said to not tolerate any harm to his citizens, be they demon or human, strong or weak. Jaken had relied on that rumor and wound up beaten and denuded of all his valuables, tossed into the dusty road with only his skin as protection against the brisk autumn chill. What had made matters worse was that there weren't any villages near where he had been traveling. Thus Jaken battered and suffering from a fractured leg, tried to crawl his way to civilization. He would never have made it. By nightfall he was already tired beyond compare to anything he had ever experienced in his life. To rub salt in the wound, he hadn't even made it very far; he could still see the spot where he had been accosted in the distance.

Jaken firmly believed that he would have died that day had it not been for the fortuitous appearance of a certain young demon lord. The youkai was tall, very tall, and he had been the most beautiful creature Jaken had ever laid eyes on; second only to the son his first wife would later give birth to – that was saying a lot because Jaken was from the eastern lands, where the beautiful youko tribes roamed freely and legendary kitsune were the thriving youkai race. Jaken had been in the throes of despair when the young lord had manifested out of thin air and nearly scared the life out of him before he could choke back his breath. He still recalled his words with some embarrassment. If he had bothered to look at the youkai he wouldn't have reacted the way he had, but his eyes had been bleary from the road dust and he had been so weary that he had only caught a glimpse of white before screaming.

***

 "Gah!" Jaken scrambled backwards on scraped hands and flung one arm up to cover his eyes, which were shut tight enough to block out all light. "Don't kill me! I don't have anything left for you to take. Please let me go. I promise not to say anything about what you did."

"…I believe you've mistaken me for someone else."

Dear gods, he sounds ruthless. I'm going to die a gruesome death. He's just taking his time to enjoy the kill. Jaken whimpered in fear and curled up to await his death. He could only hope that it would be quick and painless. Then, what the youkai said filtered through his panic. Jaken held his breath as hope flared to life in his chest, causing it to tighten almost painfully before he breathed again. That hope lit a spark of courage in the toad-demon and he risked peeping through his splayed fingers at the strange youkai.

And strange he was indeed. The youkai lord – for there was nothing lowly about the creature standing in the middle of the dirt road – was distinctive. Tall and fair of skin, he looked more human than most youkai were capable of disguising themselves to be. Long silver-white hair fell past his waist and his kimono consisted of ivory and violet watered silk. He traveled with only a katana strapped to his waist and a fine jade-carved flute in his hands. Not a scrap of armor was in sight. And yet… the youkai lord's presence was such that he took possession of the very air he breathed, as though he had every right to claim the territory upon which he stood. Jaken thought that the youkai was the most peculiar thing he had ever seen.

"Who- who are you?"

"I am…" The youkai lord hesitated for only a second, but it was long enough that Jaken realized he did not want to reveal his true identity to a stranger, albeit a harmless stranger.

"I am Kentarou."

Dog boy? Jaken thought the youkai a bit reckless to use that particular name when he was in the western lands, home of the dog demon clans. If he weren't careful, the lord would surely offend someone in the ruling family and might get himself killed.

"May I be of assistance to you?"

"Huh?"

Kentarou bit back a sigh of impatience. The odd looking creature was obviously severely injured; his eyes were cloudy with fatigue and he could barely sit up with the help of his skinny arms. Anger surged through Kentarou as he thought of the bandits who had done this to an innocent traveler, a traveler passing through his land. First he would tend to the injured demon, then he would take care of the misfits who willfully disobeyed his laws. He was not a man inclined to using violent measures, but he knew when and where a strong hand was needed to maintain the peace of the land and wasn't averse to doing what was necessary.

"You seem to be in need of aid," he said to the unnamed toad-demon. "There is a place nearby where you are welcome to rest and recover from your injuries."

"You're helping me?" Jaken asked in amazement. Kentarou looked confused by his question, but to Jaken it was almost unfathomable for a youkai lord to help a low caste youkai like himself. "But why?"

Kentarou tossed back a question of his own. "Why not?"

Good question. Jaken shut up.

The "place" where he would be welcome turned out to be nothing less than a castle. Jaken wished that he could have arrived in better condition than he was in. If it wasn't auspicious enough that the friendly lord piggybacked him the entire distance to the castle, he had to borrow said lord's outer robe since he had been more naked – thanks to the bandits – than he had ever been since his birth. Jaken was terribly embarrassed by the fuss Kentarou made over him; he wasn't used to the attention. Most people overlooked his existence.

When they arrived at the castle the servants came rushing out and immediately tending to him as though it were a common occurrence for them to receive injured strangers into their midst. Jaken was taken to a comfortably appointed room where his wounds were tended by the capable hands of a human midwife. He wanted to ask so many questions, most of which revolved around the mysterious youkai lord who had disappeared soon after he handed Jaken over to the servants, but the day's events caught up with him and he drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

***

The youkai lord didn't waste any time. As soon as he handed the toad-demon over to his capable servants he took off, returning to the spot where he had found the injured stranger. There in the road he could make out the patterns of a scuffle and specks of blood had coagulated to create an asymmetrical pattern in the light brown dirt. There must have been five of them who attacked the little demon if his senses were correct. Kentarou's golden eyes narrowed into slits. Jaken would have had a heart attack if he had met this side to the demon lord.

Tracking the progress of the bandits with his nose, Kentarou sped across his territory in a streak of violet and white. He soon found them. The thieves were sheltered in a cottage that looked like it was about to collapse at any moment, its roof half caved in and the windows covered by moth eaten cloth. Kentarou's sensitive ears picked up the sounds of ribald laughter and conversation.

"…then that stupid lizard was beggin' for his life."

The door shattered easily beneath his foot as he kicked it down. Laughter stopped and the five bandits each scrambled for weapon or cover. Kentarou was disgusted. Seeing who they were, he remembered them well. They had come to him a year ago seeking shelter from a storm, having heard that the western lord was welcoming to those in need. He had had no reason to deny them such a simple request that was within his power to grant. No reason to throw them out until they had attacked one of his serving girls. Only the girl's distress had saved them from being summarily executed on the spot. Now they were out terrorizing his people. That would change.

"M- milord!"

Kentarou's eyes snapped to the one who had spoken. He was taller than the rest and healthier looking. His suntanned skin and humanoid appearance was probably what allowed him to travel the roads easily. Kentarou concluded that he was the ringleader. Only higher caste youkai were able to shape shift into human form.

The demon regained some of his composure and managed to ask, "What can we do for you, lord?"

Kentarou's eyebrows lifted. The creature had gall, he granted him that. "What can you do…?" An image of the battered toad-demon flashed in his eyes. He said coldly, "You can explain to me why you're attacking people and robbing them of the very clothes on their backs."

"What!" A different demon gasped, while the others shifted from foot to foot and muttered under their breaths. This one was a bird-like creature with small yellow feathers covering his arms and legs as well as having shiny green feathers in place of hair on his scalp. "We never did any of it! Someone's told you lies."

Kentarou bared his teeth. They were the ones spouting lies. "Surely you do not expect me to believe that drivel."

The dog demon allowed his aura to flare to life and partially transformed until his face lengthened into a muzzle and his body was covered in fine white fur. Black claws lengthened and his limbs became heavy as his infrastructure shifted from human to beast. It was trickier walking on two legs in his were form, but he had long ago learned how to balance on hind paws. Looking at the petrified bandits, he smiled, knowing full well that the smile was gruesome to behold in this form.

"The five of you have been terrorizing people traveling this area for a while now. I sent warning to you a month ago that your crimes had to cease or your punishment would be greater than imprisonment. You did not listen to my message. This morning I found a demon beaten, robbed, and left to die." Kentarou paced forward, herding the lesser demons into a corner. He had no tolerance for cowards who bullied the weak. "Obviously none of you respected my edict enough to obey it. In which case, I see no reason to be merciful. Do you?"

***

Jaken woke up to the unnerving experience of being suffocated in pitch black.

"Am I dead?" His world was filled with darkness until his brain finally reminded him to open his eyes. He immediately regretted that decision as light blinded him. Jaken groaned and rolled over to bury his head into the sweet smelling sheets. "Where am I?"

"You're in a safe place, as I promised."

Jaken leapt out of the futon as though its surface burned him. "Gah!" His heart beating a mile a minute, Jaken tumbled into an uncoordinated heap. He groaned again as his weak body protested such activity after its recent healing.

Jaken's antics amused Kentarou. He was unlike anything the youkai lord had ever encountered before; the young toad-demon exuded a refreshing combination of sincerity and honesty. But at the rate he was going, the little guy was going to hurt himself with his ungainliness. Kentarou helped  him get up on shaky legs.

"You really shouldn't be moving so soon. Your body is still recuperating from its injuries."

Jaken stared at the youkai lord in dawning horror. He had been delirious, yes, that was it. That was the reason why he hadn't realized that the demon who had helped him, the one who had bloody well carried him on his back, was the western lord himself. Jaken's narrow shoulders slumped in defeat. He had so been hoping to make a good impression on their first meeting.

"You're the Western Lord, aren't you. I'm such an idiot for not seeing it before. Who else would be living in this grand castle."

Kentarou valiantly swallowed his laughter. The toad-demon was wringing his hands and pacing in agitation. Naked. Jaken was too wrapped up in his misery to notice. He even failed to see that the western lord was staring at the ceiling and that his shoulders were shaking as though to repress some emotion.

"I can't believe my lousy luck!" Jaken finally broke into a wail. "I came here to get a fresh start, to find a place for myself where I could be respected, where people wouldn't talk behind my back about my past mistakes. I sold everything I had to get a nice suit of clothes and a good pair of shoes. What happens?" He threw agitated hands into the air. "I get ambushed and everything I own is taken." Jaken dropped to the ground. "I hate my life."

Kentarou waited for the toad-demon to say something else. When all he heard was silence, Kentarou said, "Excuse me, but I didn't catch your name."

"Jaken," the toad-demon said.

"It's nice to meet you, Jaken." Kentarou crouched down to be as close to eye level with the short demon as he could physically get without sitting on the ground. "I have to thank you, Jaken. You've done a great service for me today."

Jaken thought he was hearing things. Had he hit his head when he fell out of the futon? That was clumsy even for him. The damned thing was laid out on the hardwood floor. "What do you mean?"

"You led me to those bandits. I've been searching for them for a while now."

"Oh." Jaken blinked incomprehensively. "You're welcome, I guess."

"I would like to thank you for your help," Kentarou said. His golden eyes twinkled with good humor at the toad-demon's dazed state. "I don't know if it's to your liking, but I happen to be in need of a good retainer, one who is loyal and willing to work."

Jaken was a little confused. Did the western lord want his advice?. He said, "I'm sorry, my lord, but I don't know anyone who would fit that category. I haven't really traveled outside of my village in the eastern lands until now, and no one back home would want to come here. They're all kitsune and more comfortable serving Inari."

Kentarou smiled. "I was hoping that maybe you could fill the position. From what I've seen you seem to be perfect for it. What do you think, Jaken? Would you like to work for me?"

Jaken stared long and hard at the dog-demon, thinking perhaps that he wasn't so kind to be playing such a cruel joke on a person down and out on his luck. Then the genuine sincerity peeked through Kentarou's handsome face and Jaken caught a glimpse of concern. Jaken felt hope zing through his veins.

He said timidly, "Are there any special skills I need to have, my lord? I have to warn you that I don't have many skills other than reading and writing. This will be my first job."

"Anything you need to know, you can learn. There's no rush just yet, Jaken, I have faith that you will do well."

Jaken felt the hope burst into his heart and light every crevice of its four chambers. He smiled happily after Kentarou left with the order that he rest some more until his body was fully healed. Somehow his luck had turned for the better.

***

"Turn for the better, then boomeranging back with a vengeance," Jaken muttered as another weed whipped him in the face.

Rin was humming a melody under her breath as she walked. In her hands were multiple stalks of grass that she was weaving into a neat coronet. Jaken was reminded of Sesshoumaru as a child. When he was happy to simply be one with nature and before his lovely mother died. There were days when Jaken sorely missed the wonderful lady. She had not only been kind to him, but she had tempered Sesshoumaru's aggressiveness and volatile nature with her gentle ways. Jaken wasn't ashamed to admit that he had been more than a little in love with his master's wife.

***

"Jaken, would you mind taking Maru-chan out for a while?" The lady called out to Jaken, who was busy transcribing one of his master's scrolls.

The young demon had settled easily into life with the dog-clans and he was happy with his life. He had lost count of how many years he served Kentarou – who still would not give his true name – but it must have been almost a century's time in his estimation. It was so easy to lose track of the passing years. Youkai life spans were so long that they paid little attention to Father Time's activities.

Jaken carefully rinsed his horsehair brush to ensure that ink would not dry within its rough strands, and then he set it and the scrolls aside to heed his mistress' call. She was in her art room, as she liked to call it, and working on her own wall scrolls. Her talent had always amazed Jaken. She had never been taught anything about art, had only known artwork by what she was exposed to in her youth. She had only begun to experiment with creating her own shortly after Sesshoumaru's conception. She often joked that Sesshoumaru's kicking in the womb was his way of telling her that she should stop looking at other people's art and start giving form to her own dreams.

As for Sesshoumaru…

The child was currently getting into mischief. Jaken's eyes bugged as he saw the boy teetering on a tall armoire as he reached with eager hands towards the vase of fresh flowers set atop it. Jaken made a mad dash towards the boy but did not reach him before Sesshoumaru had his hands full of white and yellow blossoms.

"Sesshoumaru-sama," Jaken wrung his hands. "Please come down from there. It isn't safe to climb so high." It made Jaken a little dizzy just looking up at the little master.

"It's okay, Jaken," Sesshoumaru laughed and buried his face in flower petals. "I can fly."

"What?" Somehow the word came out as a hoarse croak. A terrible suspicion took hold of Jaken. "Sesshoumaru-sama, when did you learn how to fly?"

"Last week, when you were away with Chichiue."

Jaken took a deep breath. He looked to Sesshoumaru's mother for guidance. None was forthcoming. The lady was giving him one of her mischievous grins. Jaken knew exactly where Sesshoumaru's adventurous and trouble-making inclinations came from. The boy looked like his father, but his personality and intellect was a reflection of his mother's influence. Jaken was on his own this time. She might as well have said, "It's your problem. I wash my hands of it all." Dare he ask? Yes, he dared. The problem was that he really didn't want to know the answer.

"Sesshoumaru-sama, just how did you learn to fly?"

"I jumped off the bridge over the river," Sesshoumaru said innocently.

Jaken trembled. He's going to be the death of me. How am I going to explain this one to his father? "By the way, master, your son just learned how to fly. Oh, no, no, I didn't show him. I don't even know how to myself. He just decided to jump off of a bridge one day and "poof" he's airborne. Congratulations, your son's a prodigy."

"Jaken, are you okay?" Sesshoumaru asked. His eyebrows were drawn down in worry and he momentarily forgot about the fragrant blossoms in his hands.

"Maru-chan, come down, please."

At his mother's words, Sesshoumaru immediately called up a tiny cloud of youki and hopped onto it to float down. Jaken felt faint. His heart threatened to stop for the few seconds it took Sesshoumaru to land. Thoughts of Kentarou's displeasure at his ineptitude in being guardian of his son and heir warred with images of Sesshoumaru getting hurt. It didn't really matter which thought was prevalent. Both of them made Jaken age by a couple of decades and added to his growing number of warts and arthritic joints.

"Sesshoumaru-sama…" Jaken tried to clear his aching head. "Why did you climb onto the armoire?"

"I wanted the flowers, Jaken." Sesshoumaru held out a yellow rose to his guardian. "They smell nice, see?"

***

"I used to wish that he would grow up quicker so that the insanity would stop," Jaken whacked more violently at the detestable grass. "Now I wish that he hadn't grown up at all. At least taking care of Sesshoumaru was easier than taking care of Inuyasha; that one got into even more trouble trying to imitate his brother than Sesshoumaru did imitating his father. And anyone would be better than the human brat."

Said brat was currently in a world of her own. She was bored with Jaken's brooding company and it simply wasn't fun traveling without Sesshoumaru-sama. Jaken never spoke to her unless it was to lecture, and he tended to talk to himself a lot whenever Sesshoumaru-sama wasn't around. It was quite a change from her usual routine. Traveling with the youkai lord was always entertaining because she got a chance to watch other people's reactions to her hero. And such silly reactions they were too.

Everyone always acted so scared of Sesshoumaru-sama, as though he were a monster out for blood. She knew for a fact that Sesshoumaru didn't eat people. Heaven knew that she had tried her best to feed him everything she could get her hands on when they had first met and he had been so hurt. To this day, Rin had no clue what Sesshoumaru ate. He would bring her all of the food she asked for, but he never ate any of it, repeatedly declining her offers of rice cakes and candy.

"Jaken?"

The toad-demon grumbled something unintelligible under his breath that Rin interpreted to mean, "What is it?"

"What does Sesshoumaru-sama eat?"

Jaken stopped whacking the grass and looked back at her. "What?"

"What does Sesshoumaru-sama-"

"I heard what you said." He said crossly. "Why do you ask?"

Rin shrugged. "I never see him eat. Doesn't he like food?"

Jaken struggled to form an answer that wouldn't elicit more questions from the too inquisitive girl. Then he settled on the simplest answer possible. "He eats."

"But what does he eat?"

"Food," Jaken snapped. "What else would he eat?"

"But what kind of food?" Rin stomped her foot impatiently. Jaken was being dense on purpose.

"Why are you asking so many questions all of a sudden?" Jaken turned away to resume his therapeutic destruction of plant life. Blades of grass flew from his strikes. "Ask Sesshoumaru-sama when he comes back."

Rin ran to catch up with her temporary guardian.

"Ne, Jaken," she asked a while later.

"What is it now?"

"Do you think he'll be back soon with Oneechan?" she asked.

He slowed his pace to a walk that the little girl could easily keep pace with. He said gruffly, "He'll come back soon. Now be quiet. I want to think."

Jaken maintained the slower pace for Rin, but he resumed his internal dialogue. I hope you come back soon, Sesshoumaru-sama. I don't know what you were thinking taking this girl in… and now you're going after that witch. It shouldn't have taken this long to reach the Old God Tree, collect the witch, and come back. Please be all right. Rin needs you.

[End Side Story 1]

Author's Notes: I've been trying my best to wean away from using smatterings of Japanese terms in my fanfiction. Somehow, though, I really can't bring myself to stop using certain words like "youkai" and "hanyou". I can't even begin to have Sesshoumaru say "Father" and "Mother". He just sounds so uppity already… ^^; that would be overdoing it even for him, don't you think? Besides, it sounds more affectionate (at least to me) for him to use "Chichiue" and "Hahaue" although they roughly approximate to the same meaning.

Definitions:

Youkai – demon

Chichiue – (one's own) father – usually Chichi, but adding "-ue" makes it more formal.

Hahaue – (one's own) mother – usually Haha, same thing applies with "-ue".