A/N – My first attempt at Izayoi. It can't have been easy for her. Feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.

Disclaimer – I don't own Inuyasha, any of the canon characters, settings or situations. No money was made in the writing of this fic. Don't sue.

A Woman, Alone

The Inu no Taishou is dead, and Izayoi is alone.

For the first time in her life she is without shelter or protection, cast adrift in a world suddenly cruel and dangerous. Her family will not help her: when she flees to her father's stronghold she learns quickly that humans are just as violent, cruel and intolerant as youkai; they lose no time in informing her of what little value she holds now, a fallen youkai's cast-off whore, still nursing a hanyou whelp.

For the first time in her sheltered life, she learns to fear. She had never dreamed it would end like this, not when she first left her home to follow the powerful Western lord – he had seemed so invincible then, his immense strength bolstering her courage, promising that she would be safe and forever beloved.

But his immense strength was broken, his great castle thrown down and destroyed, and the life she had built with him came to a tragic, untimely end – all she has left now is her life, her memories, and the child, Inuyasha, so innocent and so terribly vulnerable.

With no one to help her, Izayoi learns to provide for herself. Carrying Inuyasha in a sling on her back, she walks until her silken shoes are torn and shredded, until her feet start to blister and bleed. She gathers what food she can from the forest, from the fields, giving Inuyasha the lion's share and keeping the remnants for herself. She works until her white skin grows dark and coarse, and her soft, fine hands are rough and calloused, until she is no longer recognisable as the beautiful princess who once caught the Inu no Taishou's eye.

Occasionally she falls in with fellow travellers, or stops for a time at a tiny farming village. But it never lasts; sooner or later they drive her away, cursing her, hurling stones and attacking her with sticks and pitchforks. She keeps moving, always hoping to find some place of shelter, of safety.

And every night when she holds him close, she tells Inuyasha stories, whispering to him of his proud heritage, his great father, urging him never to give in to despair, because if any child in the world was ever loved, it was he.

But for all her fragile, hard-won strength, she is one woman alone in the wild; she can not protect herself forever. One night, she finds herself circled by predatory youkai, yipping and baying as she fends them off desperately with a burning brand from her campfire; they taunt her, darting in and nipping at her heels, laughing as she cries out in pain and falls to her knees.

And then, between one moment and the next, they freeze, cruel glee giving way to abject terror; their muzzles lift to test the breeze, snuffling, and they turn tail and flee –

And a ghostly white apparition emerges from the tree line.

Izayoi has heard tell of Sesshoumaru, of course. But relations between the Inu no Taishou and his cruel, ruthless son had been so strained that she had never once been introduced to him, and had, in fact, been kept away from him on his rare visits. She has never been so grateful to see anyone in her life.

Slowly, she forces herself to drop the burning brand, and with her heart pounding she gathers Inuyasha close to her breast, soothing his fretful wailing, staring helplessly at her husband's heir. It occurs to her that he is notoriously intolerant of hanyou, and that he is in fact far more of a threat to her and her son than the pack of feral scavengers he had just scared off.

But surely there must be something of his father in him.

"Cease your son's wailing, woman," Sesshoumaru orders in a deep, indifferent voice, "or I will shut him up for you."

Her eyes fly wide open. Sesshoumaru is close enough now that she can see his golden eyes glowing in the reflected firelight. There is not an ounce of gentleness or compassion in him. Quickly, she begins to sing under her breath, rocking Inuyasha gently back and forth, lulling him into peaceful silence. Her hair, still thick and black, though far from its previous camellia-scented glory, falls forward over her shoulder to curtain them; she has the impression that Inuyasha is comforted by her scent, because he soon lapses into fitful sleep.

When she looks up, Sesshoumaru is seated just across the fire from her, regarding her intently. She tries not to quail under his gaze – it is easier, now, than it might have been before her long, hard exile.

"Thank you," she says quietly. "For saving us."

He frowns at her. "You are not strong enough to wander the wild alone. Why did your male relatives not take you back?"

She cannot help it; she laughs bitterly. That Sesshoumaru, of all possible beings, could ask her that question… "They do not want a hanyou staining the purity of their bloodline," she spits out, her fists clenching with exhausted fury. "They cast us out."

His eyes blaze. The sickly-sweet smell of his poison stains the night; his own fist clenches in annoyance. He is not nearly as collected as he appears, she realises; there is some great conflict in him that he has come to her to resolve.

"What do you want, Sesshoumaru?" she asks, suddenly exhausted. She wants to lay her head on her husband's shoulder and hear him tell her that all will be well, that nothing will ever harm her or Inuyasha again. But her husband is dead, and all she has now is his murderous son.

"Hanyou or not, your son is of the Inu no Taishou's blood. He was not meant to die at the hands of filthy scavengers."

She says nothing. He seems to be coming to some kind of conclusion.

"I cannot allow your son to die while he is too weak to protect himself. I owe him that much." That last phrase is spoken in a softer, more reflective tone, and Izayoi wonders if she was meant to hear it. And then his eyes fix on hers once more. "I have been watching you, woman. You seem to be a good mother. I have no wish to take the hanyou from you. I will take you to a safe place."

"There is no safe place. Not for us."

Sesshoumaru smiles. It is truly terrifying. "Once I have finished with it," he says with utter certainty, "it will be safe."

Years later, after Izayoi's death, the young Inuyasha digs her grave with his own claws and stands vigil for three grief-stricken days, remembering the only shelter he has ever known. On the fourth day, he strikes out on his own, leaving the tiny, backwoods village in his dust.

The villagers breathe deep sighs of relief to see him go.