Chapter I: Something familiar this way comes

Sesshomaru stood alone on the crest of a hill overlooking a sodden forest, a miserable patch of leaves and wood weighed down by a recent thunderstorm, and uninvitingly dark on this moonless night.

He could smell and hear them crashing through the forest – some monstrous but obviously mindless youkai, and that familiar someone, who was emanating a quite different scent from usual at this moment, thanks to a certain monthly inconvenience imposed on him by the waning of the lunar orb.

Sesshomaru's lips curled in a barely perceptible smirk as he imagined how poorly his half-brother must be faring against a beast intent on turning him into a meal, on the very night when he was no longer hanyou as he normally was, but fully, inadequately human.

On a whim, he decided that he would watch the fun and games.

The taiyoukai swooped into the forest and perched in a tree on the edge of a sorry excuse for a clearing within the woods. Leaping into trees was more Inuyasha's style, but for these purposes, it gave Sesshomaru a vantage point without exposing himself unnecessarily.

Within seconds of his lighting on his chosen branch, the two creatures he wished to be entertained by burst into the clearing. That open space was hardly big enough to contain the gigantic youkai, a massive length of slimy chitin, countless feeler-like legs, and, of course, the mandatory gaping mouth packed with mandibles, which now dived steeply in the direction of the little human figure that only just dodged the assault and darted back in among the trees. Moonless night or not, Sesshomaru's demon vision easily picked out every piece of the action.

Inuyasha, a streak of scarlet garb and streaming black hair, was quick even in his human state, and as resourceful as ever. The Tetsusaiga would not transform for him on this night, but it was still a sword, and Sesshomaru watched passively as he stuck it with a battle cry into the left eye of the youkai upon its next lunge at its intended snack.

Now half-blind but immeasurably more enraged, the youkai monster screamed as it launched its entire length at Inuyasha – and caught him with the very tip of its tail-end, sending him flying against a tree with a smack that Sesshomaru would probably have considered sickening had he been in Inuyasha's position.

Sesshomaru smelt the blood at once, the instant it spurted from his half-brother's skin, as it split open and scraped against the rough bark of the tree. More blood oozed to the surface as the beast struck again, this time succeeding in spearing Inuyasha with three of its numerous legs before the Tetsusaiga lopped them off to free him from the impalement. Yet more blood spilled when the monster crunched into his sword-arm shoulder with a mandible on the edge of its maw that just managed to catch his flesh as he attempted to dodge the attack.

Violet eyes flashing murder but body incapacitated by the battering he had sustained, Inuyasha emptied his lungs with a furious yell of pain and folded into a heap on the ground when the beast withdrew its mandible for a second in order to rear back and lash in again for a better grip.

It was what Sesshomaru had come to see, but abruptly, for some reason he did not now have time to examine, it no longer pleased him to see his half-brother beaten to a pulp by that ugly youkai, though it had given him pleasure often enough in the past to carry out the thrashing himself.

Just as the beast slithered into what would almost certainly have been its final strike, Sesshomaru flew at it in a blinding streak of white light, sword drawn, and with a casual ease that was almost insulting to the massive struggle Inuyasha had just engaged in, waved the Bakusaiga and lopped off the monster's head, then landed lightly on his feet with his back to Inuyasha, who remained prone on the grass.

When the beast's death throes finally ceased, and the forest no longer shook from the thrashing of its absurdly long body, Sesshomaru's ears immediately picked up the sounds of Inuyasha trying to lift himself out of the mud behind him.

He turned his head fractionally so that he could just see the figure on the ground, whose breath came in rasps as he opened his mouth to speak.

"Why, Sesshomaru, I had no idea how much you loved me," Inuyasha said, throwing back at his brother the very same sardonic words Sesshomaru had tossed at him many moons ago, in a rather different fight involving a little girl in danger and an adolescent boy with nothing more than a death wish.

His words came in a breathless rush, accompanied by a short and bitter laugh, heavily laced with irony and the physical pain of coming off worse against an enormous creature that had more legs than any living thing strictly required, and which had tried to make supper of him.

Then Inuyasha's head drooped and he sank back into the mud. Sesshomaru could not immediately detect from where he stood if he had completely lost consciousness or simply collapsed from exhaustion.

When he did not move again, apart from the shallow breaths that stirred his bloodied suikan in a minuscule rhythm of rising and falling, Sesshomaru decided in favour of the former option.

He sheathed the Bakusaiga and turned away. No point wasting any more time in this kami-forsaken forest now that the hideous thing was headless and the temporarily human hanyou was sprawled in the mud, as good as dead to the world for hours to come.

It was what Sesshomaru had always done – turn on his heel and walk away from Inuyasha after a battle against a common enemy – but something felt different now, and he stopped in his tracks.

For a fraction of a moment he wondered what the difference was, then he knew. After every fight that Sesshomaru had been around to witness in recent years, Inuyasha had unfailingly had his pack of friends rushing up to him, shouting his name and throwing themselves to the ground beside him, first fearing for his life, then tending to his injuries once they had ascertained that he was still breathing and not mortally wounded.

They were gone, every one of them.

The underdressed miko back to wherever she had come from; the monk and slayer starting life together and rebuilding her village from scratch; the kitsune off on a visit with the old village miko to the newlyweds; and the fire cat on a mission with the slayer's resurrected brother, now freed from the bond that had once chained him to their late, loathed, multi-limbed enemy Naraku – what was it with vile demons and their countless spare appendages?

And why, Sesshomaru asked himself, did he know so much about the developments in the lives of his half-brother's comrades?

However he had come by all that useless knowledge, Sesshomaru was certain of this: Inuyasha was alone. And utterly, helplessly human.

Damn himself, but he could not just leave him lying there, unconscious, soaked from head to bare toe in his own blood.

Well, he could, but he wouldn't. Not this time.

Sesshomaru turned around and walked back to Inuyasha's fallen form. He carefully slid the Tetsusaiga's scabbard over the blade, whose hilt Inuyasha still grasped, and secured the sword to his half-brother's sash.

Now, to see to Inuyasha. Permitting himself a moment's mental indulgence, he thought how useful it was to have both his forelimbs again. In the same moment, he silently cursed at how all that blood and mud was going to completely ruin his clothes, and contemplated for an instant the feasibility of simply collaring him by his suikan and hauling him into the air.

But no, if he was going to do it at all, he would do it properly, so he bent down and scooped Inuyasha into his arms.

This brat of a hanyou brother had been an almighty pain in the butt for a couple of centuries now, but bloody hell – Sesshomaru suddenly realised as he rose to his feet and found that the bundle in his arms proved to weigh somewhat less than he had expected, and to feel rather smaller than he looked – he was only a child.

Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha, and make no money or profit from writing this fanfic; Rumiko Takahashi has all the rights to the original manga and anime and the characters in them.