One of the first things he noticed about people was their hands. Being small for his age, it was pretty much the first thing he could see. Removing a mitten, he noted that his hands were unremarkable, except for the smallish scab on his wrist that was quickly healing over. He'd gotten the cut just this morning rough-housing with his cousins. His nanny, Kaede-oba-san, had put a band-aid on it at his insistence, though it wasn't necessary. She said it'd heal by the end of the day. Touga secretly hoped it wouldn't. He had always wanted a scar. His half-sister Rin had them. She didn't like them much, but Touga could not see why. His father had one too, though he wouldn't ever talk about it. Even his noisy, obnoxious cousins had a few scars. It simply wasn't fair that he didn't too.

Father said that because he was hanyou he wouldn't scar like Rin or his cousins. Rin was a human and therefore fragile, scarring was natural for them. His cousins were only a quarter youkai, making them more human than hanyou. They healed better than Rin would, but not as good as a true hanyou. His father... well, he asked Kaede why his father had a scar but she wouldn't tell him either.

It was very frustrating.

Then he noticed how far ahead of him his father had gotten. Alarmed, he ran as fast as he could, though it was still hard to catch up to him. Father was very fast and he couldn't always keep pace. Out of breath but glad he hadn't lost him again, the little hanyou pulled off his mitten, reached up and grabbed his father's hand, enjoying the rough texture of his palm. He squeezed his father's hand, feeling childish glee when his father squeezed back. They walked in pleasant, companionable silence surrounded by the music of the forest and the crunching sound of their footfalls on the gradually thawing earth.

Touga enjoyed this moment alone with his father. Going on vacation with extended family could be rough. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy spending time with his cousins, on the contrary, but he wasn't always used to the constant noise and chaos surrounding his uncle's family. His life with his father was quiet, peaceful. It could be boring at times, but other times... when it was just him and his dad, he loved and cherished those times because during those quiet times, his dad showed him a different face, one that no one else in the world ever saw, making Touga feel as if he were in on a great secret.

This was one of those times.

When they awoke in the hotel this morning, his father had told them that they were going someplace special today. They had gone over to his uncle's room just as they had the last two days. Touga had assumed that his father and uncle wanted to coordinate schedules, as traveling with such a large group presented considerable logistical issues. He vaguely wondered where they might go. His cousin, Nobuo, had postulated that they might be going to Ainu Kotan -- a district in Akankohan that was lined with shops that sold traditional Ainu handicrafts. It also had a museum of Ainu culture that Nobuo insisted they were going visit because his mother was determined to make this vacation fun AND educational, being that they had no homework over spring break. His twin brother disagreed vehemently, stating that their dad said they'd be going on the boat tour to the Marimo Exhibition Center. The argument quickly got heated, as it was clear both boys had their own agenda and had been hoping to somehow sway their parents into taking them where they wanted to go.

"That's just because you want to see some of that crappy algae!" Nobuo shouted.


And just like that, the twins began to roll on the ground, throwing wild punches at each other. Touga became involved because his youngest cousin, Nanako, had begged him to intervene. She never liked it when her brothers fought. Touga adamantly refused.

"If they want to act like idiots, why should I stop them?" he'd scoffed. His father had taught him the value of knowing when to fight. And seeing as his cousins seemed to feel that breathing was a legitimate reason to brawl like a pair of savages, a disagreement was inevitable and it was pointless to even attempt to stop it.

Nanako had continued to beg and plead, with tears and everything. You see, despite being quite small for a six year old, he was stronger than he looked; much stronger. It had been clear early on that his older cousins, though bigger than him, were no match for the young hanyou. He carried the strength of both his father and his mother. No quarter youkai could hope to best him, and he found himself putting his cousins in their place more often than he liked. This time, however, he had no intention of stepping in, no matter how much Nanako cried. Their fighting had gotten quite tiresome. He'd rather be reading. And he turned away to do just that when one of them, he wasn't sure which -- being twins and all -- tackled him from behind. Apparently, they'd heard his imperious little speech and took exception to it. The fight got rough which inevitably ended in something getting broken. That something would be one of the hotel's heavy crystal ashtrays which had been broken over his hand, leaving him with the small scab on his wrist that was now very close to falling off.

Once the adults had finally heard the noise, they came charging into the room demanding answers. There was a lot of shouting, mostly by his cousins, who were both trying to tell their sides of the story simultaneously. Touga knew better than that. He stayed quiet and tried not to look in his father's face. His dad rarely ever got really angry with him. No, he just got disappointed, which was far worse. While his Uncle Inuyasha and his Aunt Kikyou were busy arguing with their brood, his father stepped forward.

"Touga, come." And without further word, his father turned and left. After a second of indecision, he followed, head hung low.

His father took him into the next room, where Kaede tended to him. They left shortly after that. His father had still not said anything to him, not even when he was buckling him into his car-seat in the rental car. He didn't even say anything for the one hour ride to Teshikaga-chō. It made Touga very nervous. His father being that quiet generally meant he was very angry.

Touga tried not to show how upset he was. He felt so bad for fighting with his cousins, even though, technically, it wasn't his fault. Father didn't much care for who might be at fault, he knew this. He had always said that there was a right choice and a wrong choice in any situation, and that a wise man would know the difference. He also said that a wise man took responsibility for those decisions, no matter if they were right or wrong. Clearing away all excuses, Touga knew his decision wasn't the best one, but how to make it right... he had no idea.

This made breakfast quite awkward. That feeling was made worse when they finally arrived at Lake Mashū. The little hanyou quickly found a brochure at one of the souvenir stands for something to do. Lake Mashū is one of the world's clearest lakes... how interesting. It also mentioned what fish could be found in the lake (there were only two, trout and salmon), the lake's depth (211.5 m.) and average temperatures during the summer months (14.5° C.) and other interesting facts (the Ainu name for the lake was Kamuy-to -- the Lake of the Gods). Very dry stuff, but it was a good way to avoid the tense silence while his father unpacked their supplies.

Without a word, his father handed him a backpack, swinging a pack of his own over his shoulders as he calmly walked away from the parking lot and towards one of the hiking trails. Sighing deeply, the little hanyou followed. They hiked along the trail for a very long time. It was hard going, it was cold and the slope was steep, but the scenery was quite beautiful. Moving his fingers inside his gloves, he watched a bird fly over the still frozen lake. Noting the bird's plumage, he stopped momentarily to pull out his Guide to Birds of Japan. White-tailed eagle... he smiled, digging deeper in his pack for a pencil. He quickly crossed it off his list, a small, toothy grin lighting his face. It fell quickly when he looked around to tell his father and found himself quite alone.

Initially, he had panicked, looking around and calling for his father frantically. When that didn't work, the panic turned to terror and he began to cry, stumbling around the trail blindly until he caught his father's scent, which had gone off the trail and straight into the woods. The little hanyou ran after him desperately until he caught up, face still streaked with tears. His father said nothing, stopping long enough to set a hand on his head before giving him a bottle of water and a package of tissues silently. It was his father's quirky way of making things right between them. And that was where he had found himself now. He knew that his father would require an explanation at some point, but he was not angry with him. It made the walk that much more pleasant and allowed Touga to enjoy the crisp spring afternoon.

Home, in Okinawa, it was always warm. He wasn't used to the cold Hokkaidō weather. His mitten felt strange and uncomfortable but it was an interesting change. In school, they taught everyone about how some places had different seasons and weather and whatnot. He had been concerned when father had said they'd visit Hokkaidō in the spring, because teacher had told him that spring was when the snow melted and he very much wanted to see what it looked like. How lucky for him that it was so cold in Hokkaidō that some of the snow hadn't melted yet.

His father, sensing the boy's eagerness, let go and nodded, giving the boy permission to go ahead -- his son gave him an earsplitting smile, dashing off like a shot, his backpack bouncing merrily as he ran. He couldn't help but watch with a certain sense of amusement as the boy gleefully picked up handfuls of half melted snow, only to find it unpleasantly cold without his other mitten. The boy quickly replaced it, attempting to pack the snow together with newly be-mittened hands. It was far too slushy to make a good snowball, but was still fun enough for him to throw. And when he tired of that, he skipped ahead, investigating newly budded plants as they came from hibernation until a squirrel drew his attention. He stalked it for a bit, but soon found himself invested in collecting various rocks that drew his interest. It made Sesshoumaru smile. Though the boy took after his side of the family in looks, his personality was all his mother: curious and stubborn.

He would not say that the last six years had been easy. There was no doubt it had been hard. But he would say that those years were the most rewarding of his long life. His son meant everything to him; he was his joy, his life.

When he had come down from that mountain, he had left with the clothes on his back, his son, and nothing else. It was hard enough to start over on your own, but with a child had made it doubly difficult. He had a stipend from a trust fund set up for him by his brother, along with stocks in his old architectural firm. His brother still worked there as an engineer, and had told him there was a place reserved for him in his own company if he wanted it. Sesshoumaru demurred politely. Reclaiming his old job had not even occurred to him. He had left it behind a very long time ago and he felt he was better for it. That life no longer interested him.

Instead, he picked up an old hobby he'd enjoyed in college: Pottery. He had a talent for it, but had been so focused a money-making career that he had easily left it behind. His old teacher, Urasue-sama, had been so disappointed when he gave it up. He hadn't really known what it was that compelled him to look her up and call her, but he was glad for it. She had brought him to Okinawa and got him started again. Going back to it had been pleasant, and very therapeutic. The rest was, as they say, history. Six months after he'd left Hokkaidō, he made the move permanent, settling down in Okinawa's capitol, Naha. He and his son had a nice apartment over his gallery in the pottery district. It was a good life. Just as simple as what he'd had here but oddly more fulfilling...

There had been a short time, when his son was still small, when he wondered if it had been the right choice to leave this mountain. Looking at it now, he couldn't imagine his life any different. The old man had been right about so many things but the one lesson he remembered most everyday was the value of struggle. He hadn't truly understood that lesson until he left. There were regrets and a great deal of guilt that never went away. He had thought that it had, but truly it was always there and he doubt it would ever leave entirely. But he would not let it defeat him. He would not fade. He would move on, stronger and wiser and happier than he had been in a long time... even if he didn't always feel he deserved it. For the first time in his life the earth had hardened -- it had been raining for so long.

Then he realized that he would have to return one more time, to pay respects to the old man who taught him so much. His life seemed to roll in odd circles, one would turn and he was obliged to make peace with that which he left behind. Coming up here had been the completion of one full circle. He would say goodbye to his time on the mountain and fully embrace the new life he had created with his son.

Suddenly, as if summoned by thought, his boy was standing right in front of him, staring at him expectantly with wide golden eyes. "Da! DA! Look what I found!!" Touga proudly held up a handful of pinecones for his father's inspection.

"Hn. Black pine," he commented, picking up a pair of bright green pinecones from his son's outstretched hand and examining them carefully: one male and one female. "I think we can get one of these to grow."

"To make a bonsai?" his son asked excitedly. Being so small, he had a tendency towards liking other small things like him.


His son immediately handed the pinecones over. Sesshoumaru put them in his pack, smiling yet again when his son charged off into the forest without a word seeking the next new adventure fearlessly. Truly, he was his mother's son. She would be so proud of him... it was unfair she wasn't here to see him grow and it still pained him to think of it. He could not understand it, nor would he ever. His only hope was that their souls might meet again someday. Until then, he had a small piece of her alive in his son and that was more than enough.