Author's Notes: A couple of years ago, around the time I wrote Kaede's Story, I sort of got into a "backstory" phase, and I started toying with some ideas about Inuyasha's "pre-Kikyo" past. There's some episode of the anime—I don't even remember which one—where we see a brief flashback of a young Inuyasha running through the woods, terrified, apparently being chased by something. That image, along with what little we know about his childhood, was sort of the genesis for this story—I built the rest from there.

Just a warning, this story is rated M for a reason. It's a little on the dark side in places—for me, anyway… ;)

Hanyou

He woke up to the sound of footsteps in the hallway. They were still quite a ways off, but coming closer rapidly, thundering in his ears as if they were already upon him, shaking the walls of the house, the floor beneath his futon shuddering with their weight. By the time the door slid back with a loud crack, bathing him in light from the hall lamps, he was prepared.

He could not, however, have been prepared for what would happen next.

"Get up, brat," the voice snarled roughly.

Inuyasha sat up, blinking against the light as he tried to make out the faces of the men silhouetted in the doorway. The lamplight licked at the jawline of the man in the front, and he recognized the angular bone structure of Noboru, one of his mother's relatives.

"I said get up!" he repeated more harshly, and Inuyasha scrambled to his feet, raking his eyes over the group of them. Something was wrong—something was terribly, terribly wrong. He could feel it. He wasn't sure what it was, but his instincts were telling him that whatever it was, it was something bad.

"Where's mother?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly.

"Your whore mother is dead, brat," Noboru replied, striding forward and grabbing Inuyasha roughly by the shoulder. "Come on."

There was no time to react—he only had time to snag his fire rat furs from the foot of the bed where he'd left them before Noboru dragged him out into the chilly corridor, he and the other towering men hustling him along the length of the house so quickly that Inuyasha had to jog to keep up and to prevent his feet from being stepped on. His heart was racing in his chest, head buzzing with the Noboru's words. Dead. She couldn't be dead. He had seen her only hours ago, and she had been fine, doing much better. She'd told him she would be well soon, and she had never lied to him before. It had to be a mistake. Maybe he had misheard. Maybe they were taking him to see her, to see how much better she was.

But they passed his mother's room without so much as a second glance. When Inuyasha tried to break out of the clump of men and tear into the room himself, one of the men yanked him by the arm and clipped him hard around the ear, shoving him forward again. "Mother!" he called out as they kept herding him along, gripping his shoulders now to keep him moving. "Mother!" She would hear him. She would come out and see what they were doing to him, and she would stop them.

But no one came.

The front doors were wrenched open and a hand shoved him hard in the back, knocking him off his balance and down into the snow on his hands and knees. "Get going, brat—and don't you dare show your face here again, you demon mongrel."

Inuyasha glanced back at Noboru in fear, certain that this must be some sort of mistake. Where did they expect him to go? He'd never even been outside the grounds of the estate—his mother hadn't allowed it. She'd said it wasn't safe out there for him, that he must always stay within the walls of the gardens where she could watch over him.

"Get out, you goddamn half-breed!" Noboru yelled, marching over and kicking him hard in the stomach so that he doubled over, tears springing to his eyes. A hand grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and yanked him to his feet, shoving him forward a few more steps before he sank to his knees again, still clutching his stomach. There was another kick to his side, then one to his temple that left his ears ringing and his vision dancing, harsh words raining down upon him as well, though he was now only dimly aware of them. Desperate to end the growing storm of blows he was receiving, he struggled to his feet and stumbled as quickly as he could toward the gates, shielding his head with his arms, still hunched over from the pain in his stomach. When he had at last crossed the threshold, the heavy wooden doors slamming shut at his back, he staggered against the rough wall and sank to the ground again, barely feeling the cold as his clothes grew damp with snow and the chill night wind nipped at his fingers and toes. With nowhere else to go and no strength left to find shelter, he curled up into a ball there at the border of his world, clutched the fire-rat furs to his chest, and cried.


He woke shortly before dawn, his limbs so numb he could barely move—but he knew he had better get away from this place quickly before the villagers awoke. He did not want to know what would happen if Noboru and his men should come by and find him still outside the gates. Besides, his muscles ached with the cold, and he needed to find someplace that was at least a little more protected from the wind.

Shivering, he pulled on his fire-rat robes over the plain white underclothes he normally wore to bed, burying his hands deep within the haori sleeves and trying to warm them with the heat of his own body. Never before had the world looked quite so large—or quite so bleak. Smaller houses and huts of wood and stone and reed loomed menacingly over the snow-covered hillside, each one as forbidding as the next as he wandered among them, praying to come upon a friendly face or a welcoming fire. But there were none. Each hut's face was blank, refusing him entry. He thought about approaching one at random and asking if someone might be willing to let him come in and warm up a little, maybe give him some food—he was starting to get hungry—but every time he was about to do it, he remembered his mother's face that day he had come to her and asked her what a "half-breed" was. That was when she had told him never to leave the grounds, never to leave her protection.

He had always known that he was different, of course. Ever since he could remember, he had noticed people giving him strange looks—even the servants. None of the other children in the household had wanted to play with him, and he had never understood why. He'd asked his mother a couple of times, but she had never been able to give him a straight answer—only told him to stay inside, to stay away from all of them and keep himself safe. She had told him that he was beautiful just the way he was, and he had scrunched his face up at her curiously—this answer still confused him. But in any case, he understood that this world was a dangerous one for him, perhaps more dangerous than for anyone else, and he would not be welcome at any of these homes.

There was something else that had become clear to him as he slept: His mother was not dead. She couldn't be—that was why Noboru had refused to let him see her. He didn't want Inuyasha to know that she was still alive, because he didn't want him to have any reason to come back. He still wasn't sure why Noboru and the others had wanted him out of the house in the first place, or why they had chosen this moment to expel him, but none of that really mattered. As long as his mother was alive, everything would be alright. He would lie low for a little while, until Noboru was no longer on his guard, and then he would find a way to sneak back in and tell his mother that he was alright. The men would undoubtedly have told her the same lie they had told him—that he was dead—in hopes that she would not go looking for him. But he would get back to her and tell her what they had done, and she would expel them from the house, and then everything would be alright again.

He wandered away from the dark, quiet houses of the village into the shelter of the forest. It was still much too cold, and he still longed for a fire and a bowl of rice, but at least the wind wasn't as strong here. Soon enough he found a small nook between the roots of a large tree and wedged himself as deeply within it as he could, pulling his haori more tightly around him and flattening his ears to his skull, face buried in his knees. While not exactly peaceful, at least this sleep was somewhat warmer and more restful than his last.

It was his stomach that nudged him awake this time. As much as he tried to ignore its insistent pangs, he couldn't do it, and soon unfolded himself from the warmth of his sanctuary to go in search of food.

Although it was a bit lighter than it had been when he had gone to sleep, the thick blanket of clouds and the net of tree branches overhead rendered the world quite dim. He wandered between the trees, arms wrapped around his growling middle, trying to hold on to as much stored warmth as he could—but no matter where he looked, he couldn't seem to find anything that resembled food. The trees were bare, and there wasn't much underbrush in the area. He thought about going down to the village vegetable patches to see if there was anything he could steal, but he was afraid of getting caught—and anyway, there weren't usually fresh vegetables in winter. The fields were probably empty.

After a few hours—there was no way of knowing how many—he came upon a patch of leafy brush hung with little black berries. He had never been fond of fruit, but after having gone nearly a day without anything at all to eat he wasn't feeling particularly picky. He plucked the little black beads from their branches one-by-one and gobbled them up, trying not to wonder what he would do if he ran out of them, or if they proved the only edible thing around. To quench his thirst, he shook snow from the lower branches of the nearby trees, letting it melt on his tongue.

It was getting dark again by the time he felt full, and he knew it must be evening already—it was difficult to tell through the clouds. The difference between night and day seemed incremental, only a slight variance in the shade of gray cast over the world. He hadn't thought to keep track of where he was walking, so he had no idea how to get back to the tree he had found. He supposed he would have to find other shelter nearby—but he picked as many of the berries as he could find first and tucked them inside his haori for safekeeping. They were cold against his body, half-frozen as they were, but as he walked in careful circles around the immediate area, looking for a soft patch of ground on which to spend the night, they began to warm up, matching his body temperature.

He eventually settled at the base of another tree—not quite as large or protective as the first, but at least the ground beneath it was dry and cushioned with a few long-fallen leaves. He curled up on his side this time, head pillowed on a bent arm, his other hand resting protectively over his stash of berries. The cold and the darkness made him feel so sleepy, and yet the bite of the air kept him awake, nibbling at the tips of his ears and nose and fingers. He curled in on himself further, snuggling back against the tree, but despite his best efforts he couldn't escape the icy caress of the wind whistling overhead.

After several sleepless hours, when it seemed as if the dual powers of the cold slowing his blood and the wind nipping at his skin had lulled him into a sort of waking coma, he realized there was something else pulling at him—something he had never noticed before: He could smell a rabbit.

That seemed odd. He had seen rabbits before—he knew what they looked like, and he could even spell the word "rabbit" in kanji, but he had never given any thought to what they smelled like. And yet he had just now caught a scent in the air that had immediately called up for him the image of a rabbit—he was sure that was what it was.

Keeping utterly still (which was made easier by the fact that his whole body was nearly numb with cold), he opened his eyes slowly and took another sniff—there it was again. Not far away, from what he could tell—somewhere just beyond those trees, a few feet away. His ear flicked atop his head, and he found he could hear it too, paws crunching quietly over the leaves and twigs covering the forest floor. Sure enough, within moments it poked its little nose into view between a tree trunk and a small bush at its base, and Inuyasha watched in fascination as it minced along, most likely scavenging for food or looking for a warm place to sleep, just like him. He watched it for what must have been nearly an hour before it finally tottered off into the darkness, beyond the range of his senses. Smiling to himself, still in slight awe of what had just happened, he closed his eyes once more and tried again to sleep.

It wasn't until he was just about to drift off that it occurred to him with a sinking feeling that that rabbit and his brethren would most likely be his alternative to berries in the near future.

The next day, as he nibbled on berries and explored the surrounding area a bit, he began to realize that rabbits were not the only thing he could smell. Of course, he had smelled things before—but not like this. He had never before realized how vivid the scents of the forest could be, and how easy they were to distinguish from one another once he bothered to pay attention to them. He could smell bark of all kinds, the sap of the evergreens, the dead and rotting leaves hidden beneath patches of snow, even traces of animals that were not there at the moment, but that had passed by recently. These scents in particular fascinated him, and he played games with himself, trying to figure out which animal had left which scent, and tracing each one's path as far as he could before the trail disappeared. It was sometime around midafternoon that he realized he too was leaving such a trail; that he could follow his own scent to retrace his steps. Loathe to spend another night shivering away in his insufficient shelter, he put his newfound ability to good use, tracking his own scent all the way back to the larger tree where he had spent that first lonely night. He made a few wrong turns along the way, and there were places where his scent became mired in the conflicting scents of other animals that had crossed his path, but eventually he was rewarded with the sight of that large, sturdy, inviting trunk looming out of the darkness. Nestling within the protective embrace of the tree's roots, he decided then and there that this spot would be his home for the time being.

He thought often of his mother over those next few days. Sometimes he sniffled into the sleeves of his haori, careful to wipe away each tear before it could freeze upon his cheek, missing her, wishing she were here to protect him and tell him that everything would be okay; but most of the time he found himself worrying about her. He wondered if she knew that he was still alive, or if she had believed Noboru's lies. He wondered if she was safe there in such close proximity to her kinsman. He wondered if she was waiting for him, or perhaps even searching for him in secret. He wanted to contact her somehow, to tell her that he was safe, and to see with his own eyes that she was as well. But he knew it was too soon. If he could only hold out a little while longer, a few more days, maybe a week, maybe a few weeks, then he would be able to return, and Noboru would not expect him.

For nearly two weeks he subsisted on berries and what little plant life he could find in the area—but those things were quickly running out, and they could not replace themselves quickly enough to keep him alive indefinitely. His stomach empty more often than full, he thought many times of the rabbit he had smelled, of the many rabbits he had smelled since coming into the forest, and he knew he would have to do it soon. But he couldn't—he just couldn't. He knew where meat came from, and had eaten it many times—but he had never had to prepare it himself, had never even seen meat that had not already been cooked. Then one day, although something in the scent of them warned him not to, he ate some mushrooms growing not far from his tree, and became violently ill. He spent most of that day and part of the night emptying his stomach into the bushes, heaving and retching even after there was nothing left.

The next day, he killed his first rabbit.

It was sloppily done—he knew that—and tears leaked from his eyes as he peeled away the skin, separating meat from bone from entrails. The blood covered his small hands, seeping so deep beneath his claws that he knew they would never be clean, but hunger kept him at work. His weakened stomach protested at the slimy, rubbery nourishment, and it took all his strength of will to swallow it, piece by piece—but he did not throw up. When it was all over, though the rest of him felt drained and weary, his stomach at last was full. With time, it would get easier.

Late one particularly cold night, as he lay shivering in a restless sleep, Inuyasha's ear twitched. He couldn't make out the sound that had reached him, just barely, but it set him instantly on edge. Straining every one of his senses, he listened for anything out of the ordinary, tried to make out an unfamiliar scent above the stench of a couple of rotting rabbit pelts leftover from his dinner, but it was difficult. In this heightened state, the wind whistling through the trees sounded to him like a human voice, the light footsteps of woodland creatures melding into the heavier sound of a human gait—but he knew it was only his imagination. And yet, there was something. He could feel it, though he was not sure which of his senses was telling him so.

Breathing—he heard breathing, low and ominous, each exhale like a growl, and it was coming nearer. There were footsteps, but not a man's—they were too heavy even for a man. Inuyasha's heart began to pound in his ears as the wind shifted, and a foul, menacing stench came to him—too close, much too close! The licking of wet chops, the growling breath interrupted by a musty sniff, and then another, and then the underbrush to his right jostled, and Inuyasha lurched in on himself in fear.

A wide, wet snout reflected the pale moonlight, and he could just make out the lumbering silhouette of an enormous creature, mere feet from him in the darkness. The sniffling stopped abruptly, and Inuyasha could feel the beast's eyes on him, hear its lips peel back with a growl as it prepared to pounce.

Acting purely on instinct, Inuyasha threw himself to his feet and tore off into the woods, his arms groping wildly ahead of him to push aside branches and warn him of obstacles. The creature appeared to have been stunned for a moment at his sudden movement, but not for long—he could hear its heavy body barreling through the woods behind him, crushing undergrowth in its wake, its slobbering, grunting breaths nipping at Inuyasha's heels. Brambles scratched his face and arms, tree limbs catching in his hair and bruising his body when he failed to avoid them. His lungs began to burn with the effort of keeping ahead of the creature—he had never run like this before—but he didn't dare slow down, knowing he would be torn limb from limb the moment he did.

He felt the beast gaining on him, and all at once something heavy and sharp slashed at his side, making him yelp with pain and stagger. He pressed a forearm to his searing ribcage, feeling the warmth and stickiness of blood, and whimpered as tears streamed down his face, but he kept running—he had to keep running. He had to stay alive.

At last, when his body was beginning to give out, and he knew that he would not be able to outrun the beast much longer, another instinct kicked in, and he pushed off from the ground with a strength he'd never known he possessed and latched onto a branch several feet off the ground. The beast's claws raked at him again, this time catching him hard in the shoulder and nearly breaking his grip, but he merely cried out, refusing to let go. It took everything he had to push himself up onto the branch and claw his way up the trunk to the next highest, and then the next, until he was reasonably certain he was out of the creature's reach. Unwilling to give up his hard-fought prey, the beast scrabbled at the base of the tree, the whole of the trunk shuddering against its weight—and yet, it seemed the creature couldn't climb it as he could. Inuyasha's arms tightened around the trunk, his claws digging into the bark, and winced in pain and fear with each shudder, each growling breath, until finally the shuddering ceased. He could still hear those heavy, panting breaths, still feel eyes glaring at him from below, still smell the thick, fetid saliva coating the creature's fangs—but then, at last, he heard its footfalls retreating over the snow-covered ground, and all sense of the beast gradually faded into the distance.

Inuyasha didn't move for a long time. The bruising and claw marks on his shoulder and side were agonizing, making it difficult to breathe, but he couldn't seem to convince himself to dislodge his own claws from the tree trunk, so he remained where he was. His head swam from the loss of blood and the draining of adrenaline from his system, and soon he found it very difficult to remain awake.

When the midmorning sunlight filtered through his eyelids and nudged him back to consciousness, he groaned slightly, scraping his cheek against the rough bark he'd been using as a pillow. His whole body felt stiff, both from the running and injuries, and because of the awkward position he'd slept in. There was dried blood all over his fire rat, and his injuries still hurt like hell, but the pain at least seemed to have dulled somewhat—he was already beginning to heal.

He sniffed carefully and peered around the area at the base of the tree with a newfound caution before he began to climb back down. He had no idea how far he had traveled, but he could pick up his own scent trail easily, and knew he would be able to use it to find his way back. However, he could also smell a river nearby, and decided to head in that direction first to clean the blood off of his clothes and get a look at his injuries.

It hurt to peel the kimono away from his flesh, the dried blood causing it to pull painfully—but he found that if he splashed a little of the freezing river water over the area, it helped free the material more easily, and numbed him slightly to the sting. It took a long time to clear all the blood away, and his shivering aggravated his injuries and made it that much more difficult to work; but he steeled himself against the cold and the pain. It had to be done. He had to take care of himself, or no one would.

No one but his mother, of course, he corrected himself. But she wasn't here right now, so until he had her back, he would have to learn to manage on his own.

He moved slowly on his way back to the tree, favoring his side and trying not to move his shoulder too much. He tried to feel relief at the sight of his makeshift home, but there was something different about it now. It wasn't the same. Every little noise in the distance set his teeth on edge, each unfamiliar scent putting him on alert rather than sparking his curiosity as it once had. When nightfall rolled around, he found he couldn't bring himself to curl up at the base of the tree as he had so many nights before. Every time he closed his eyes his heart was in his throat, and he couldn't seem to relax. Finally, with a frustrated growl, he stood up and climbed up into the branches of the tree, going slowly because of his injuries, until he was some fifty feet up in the air. There, he settled himself with his back against the trunk, one leg dangling off the branch, and let his senses stretch out to scan the area for danger. When he had satisfied himself that there was none, or at least that any potential dangers were far, far below him, at last he was able to breathe freely, his eyes drifting closed as he fell in to a peaceful, if watchful, sleep.

The first time his human night arrived since he had been cast out, it took him by surprise. He knew it had something to do with the moon cycles, but he had never paid much attention to when it happened or how he should know that it was coming. His mother had always taken care of that. It seemed to make her nervous, for some reason—he'd never known why. She always had him come and sleep in her room that night. He actually rather enjoyed the experience, usually. It was like turning into a different person, magically, just for one night—his hair and eyes changed color, the world around him looked and felt and sounded just a little bit different. And although he knew that no one in the household was fooled by his "disguise," he'd noticed that they didn't seem quite so inclined to stare at him when he looked human. For a little while, he was just like everybody else.

But here, it was different.

He hadn't realized until the sun began to set, and he felt the change starting to creep over him, sapping him of his heightened senses, just how much he had grown to depend on scents and sounds while he was out here on his own. The darker it grew, the dimmer the entire world seemed to be, as though he'd had clumps of wool stuffed in his ears and up his nose. It didn't help either that this night was also the one in which there was no moon in the sky, so that the world around him was even blacker than usual. It was frightening—he felt clumsy and cut off, as if anything or anyone could sneak up on him at any moment and he wouldn't even know it, much less be able to defend himself. He couldn't even seek sanctuary in the branches of his tree—he was too weak to jump high enough to reach the first branch, and anyway without his claws he was sure he would slip as he climbed.

Finally he had to resign himself to a sleepless night on the ground. Although he came close to nodding off once or twice, he always snapped himself awake again, knowing he mustn't fall asleep. Next month, he promised himself, he would plan ahead—he would make sure to climb up onto his branch before the sun had set, so that at least he would be up there instead of down here. Even so, however, deep down he knew he would never sleep on a moonless night again.

He lost track of time out there in the woods by himself, but soon he began to realize that the nights were not quite as cold as they had been before, and that the sun seemed to stay out a bit longer during the day. Spring must be on its way, and if that was so, he must have been gone for quite some time. The new moon had come and gone three times already, so it must have been nearly three months. Soon it would be time to return to the manor house and find his mother.

He began to spend more time near the outskirts of the village, lurking out of sight in the treetops and watching the villagers go about their daily lives. It was a strange thing to see, these ordinary people living and working together. Even when he had lived in the manor things had never been like they were here. At the manor, no one was equal—there were masters and there were servants, and everyone had to answer to someone. Even his mother, supposedly the head of the household, had always acted as though she were beholden to the others, the seneschals and relatives that were technically beneath her. But in the village the children played with the other children, and the adults talked and laughed with each other without fear of saying the wrong thing or being punished, and it was impossible to tell who ruled over whom, if indeed anyone did. There was the manor, of course, and whenever any of the lords of that house ventured forth into the town, the villagers deferred to them completely—but amongst themselves, they made no discernable distinctions. Inuyasha envied that, and wondered with only a hint of bitterness why his mother had never allowed him to play in the village with the other children. At the manor they had called him names and been mean to him, at least when his mother was not around—but in the village, wouldn't it have been different? In the village, without the concerns of station, couldn't he have been just like everybody else?

Finally, on a day on which the melting snow could be seen dripping from the tree branches, and little tufts of brown grass had begun to appear here and there from underneath the receding snow, Inuyasha made his way toward the northern end of town. There at the crest of a hill sat his mother's house—his house—and it struck him all at once just how long it had been since he had seen it.

He kept to the trees as he crept along the outer wall toward the back of the structure, listening for footsteps within, and all the while hoping to catch his mother's scent. Although he had never really relied much on his sense of smell before leaving the manor, he'd found that he could still recall with clarity the scent of the wood that had made up the floors, and the incense his mother had always kept burning.

With the strength he had gained from climbing so many trees, he scaled the outer wall with no difficulty and peaked over the eaves to confirm that he was, indeed alone. Swiftly and silently, he dropped down into the courtyard and tip-toed along the damp, cool grass, trying to stay out of sight of the windows and keeping a scent out for any unwanted company. As he rounded a corner of the building, his heart leapt when he caught the scent of lavender and some other smell that made his nose itch on the breeze, from the direction of his mother's room. His caution slipping away, he picked up the pace, still listening for footsteps and ducking beneath windows, but unable to suppress his excitement and apprehension at seeing her again. He imagined the look on her face when she discovered that he was alright, could almost feel the soft fabric of her kimono against his cheek.

Running now, he practically flung back the sliding door that led into her quarters. "Mother!" he gasped, darting his gaze to all corners of the room, expecting to see her whirl around in surprise—but to his dismay, the room was empty.

Completely empty.

Her bedding, her clothes, her dressing table, her trunks—everything was gone, and a fine layer of dust covering the floor indicated that they had been gone for quite some time. The only item in the room was a small wooden altar sitting squarely in the center. He approached it slowly, walking around it and kneeling before it. There was a dish for incense, a few spent sticks lying inside it, and there were several slips of paper with strange writing on them that he couldn't make sense of. He reached out to touch one of them, almost in a daze, and got a violent shock before he even contacted the paper. His breath came faster as he began to panic—he didn't want to believe that this was what it appeared to be. She couldn't be… And even if she were, surely she would have merited a finer memorial than this dour, pitiful little box.

He was so distracted that he didn't hear the footsteps in the hallway behind him, didn't hear the door slide open, didn't even register the presence of another person until he heard a sharp gasp and the clatter of wood against the wooden floor just behind him. He whirled around, ready to defend himself, and came face to face with a terrified young woman not much older than he kneeling in the doorway, her hands clutching at her plain, rough skirts. Beside her on the floor was a little wooden box, several sticks of incense spilling out of it. For a long moment they merely stared at one another warily, each waiting for the other to make a move—but neither broke the stalemate.

At last, when he felt reasonably certain that she would not scream and give him away, he asked quietly, "Where is my mother?"

The girl gave a small start, but couldn't seem to find her voice.

"Please," Inuyasha reiterated, beseeching her to answer him, "where is she?"

Something like pity flickered beneath the fear in her eyes, and the girl swallowed, dropping her gaze to the floor between them. "She's dead," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

Her nearly inaudible apology—for the loss of his mother, for being the one to have to tell him, it didn't matter—was lost on the torrent of grief and anger that rolled through him. He hadn't believed Noboru when he had said it, but Noboru had always hated him, would have stopped at nothing to get rid of him, to cause him pain. But this girl seemed to have no such motives. She even seemed to feel sorry for him. If she had been contemptuous of him, if she had sought to wound, he might have been able to convince himself it was another lie. But he couldn't. "No…" he whispered.

"They told us all that you were dead too," the girl rambled, perhaps hoping that some sort of explanation would soften the blow. "We light the incense and maintain the wards to keep away those of your kind who might want to avenge her."

Inuyasha's brow twitched. "My kind?" he asked dully.

"Youkai," the girl breathed, as though afraid to even utter the word too loudly, lest it call these members of "his kind" to her.

"Youkai," he repeated, still dazed. Then he glanced back at the altar, at the slips of paper that had shocked him with such a strange energy…at the burned out sticks of his mother's incense that were all that was left of her. A phantom scent without the warmth of her touch. "Mother," he choked, and then, without thinking, reached out as if to cling to the girl's skirts for comfort.

But the second she saw him move toward her, she gave a strangled squeak of terror, and lunged backwards, staring at him as though he were a monster. He looked back at her horrified face, followed her gaze to his clawed fingers, and felt a knife of something terribly cold and bitter plunge itself into his belly. Suddenly, in the terror of her expression, he could see all those sideways glances and contemptuous looks that the other members of the household had always fixed upon him when his mother wasn't around, when they thought he wasn't looking. Suddenly, he understood: To her, he was a monster. A non-human. A youkai.

Unable to remain there a second longer, he pushed himself to his feet and dashed across the room, tearing back the screen door and leaping over the nearest wall, retreating once more to the forest that was now his only sanctuary. For the first time in his life, he was truly alone.


Weeks crawled by. He didn't know what to do with himself anymore. For so long now he had been living on his own, but living with a purpose—to see his mother again. He had kept himself alive and learned to fill his stomach and learned to protect himself, at least a little, all for the promise of being with her again, feeling her arms around him, knowing he was safe, and that she would protect him. Now that was gone. He didn't know what to do.

He slept when he was tired. He fed himself when he was hungry. He lived because it was habit, because he was scared to die, but he didn't know what it was all for, why he was here in the first place or where he was supposed to go, and that scared him most of all.

Youkai. He was youkai—the woman in his mother's room had told him so. He'd always known that he was different, of course, but his mother had never explained to him why, and the others had all done little more than sneer at him, calling him names he didn't understand. Half-breed. His mother had been like the others—so did that mean he was only half-youkai? His mother had never mentioned his father to him at all, and it had never occurred to him to ask, never really occurred to him that he had had a father, though he supposed he must have had one once. What had happened to him? Was he still out there somewhere? Had he left them behind? Had the humans of his mother's household forced him away the way they had forced Inuyasha away?

Sometimes at night, as he dozed against the rough bark of whatever tree he had chosen, he would try to imagine what his father might have looked like. He imagined a tall man, strong and fierce, with silver hair and ears on top of his head, like Inuyasha's. He was an imposing figure, kind like his mother, but with a hardened determination in his golden eyes. In Inuyasha's dreams, he saw his father standing before him, fighting off the men of his mother's household with ease, commanding them never to harm his son again. Then, when all the enemies had fled, he would turn back to Inuyasha, his lips curving in a slight smile, and tell him that everything would be alright now. And for those few, precious moments, Inuyasha could believe him.

Of course, when he awoke, the knowledge that this could not be so came crashing down upon him, each time a little more heavily, and yet each time he met it with a little more resignation. If his father had been so kind and strong and fierce, why would he have left them unprotected? If his father had had the will and means to protect him, Inuyasha would not be alone.

As the permanence of his situation truly began to sink in, Inuyasha gradually managed to find comfort in daily routines. When the thaw had nearly completed, he taught himself to catch fish in the river; it was difficult at first, but soon his muscle control and reflexes grew stronger, more precise and efficient, and it became much easier. He still caught rabbits, no longer squeamish about preparing them, and his technique in that improved as well, so that he managed to salvage much more meat from each one than he had with his first few sloppy kills. He hunted other small game too, and honed his tracking skills to adapt to the weaknesses of each type of animal.

All the while, he wandered slowly farther and farther from the village, until one day he realized he no longer knew just where it was, or how far he had traveled. There was nothing to tie him to it any longer—nothing but grief and bad memories, neither of which he could afford. To survive had become his purpose. What for, he preferred not to ask. Questions were troubling, he'd discovered. Life was much easier if he avoided them. He ate because he was hungry, he drank because he was thirsty, he slept because he was tired, he breathed because his lungs burned without air. Whenever that terrible question of why he existed, why he bothered to keep living, why he kept moving when he had no place to go and no one to talk to crept out of the darkness at the back of his mind, he learned to shove it firmly away and just keep going.

The summer was easier than the winter had been. It was nice not to have to huddle for warmth and try to find trees that were situated to shield him from the wind, and game was much easier to come by. Some days when the heat and humidity were especially high, he would strip off his shirts and lie down in the shade for a few hours, basking in what little breeze there was to come by—or he would tear through the forests at dizzying speeds and create a wind of his own, challenging himself to leap onto low tree branches, or even sometimes from branch to branch. Before long this became too easy, and he pushed himself to jump higher and farther. Every once in awhile he would miss and catch a branch to the stomach, or fall flat on his face—but when that happened he simply scoffed, dusting the dirt from his scraped elbows and knees, or massaging his ribs, and then carried on as before, ignoring the pain. He was tired of being a slave to pain. If he didn't let it bother him, he discovered, it couldn't slow him down.

This discovery also came in handy in his subsequent encounters with the larger game of the forests. Some months after leaving the village for good, he was attacked by a boar youkai—he could tell it was a youkai, and not simply an ordinary forest creature, because of a certain tingling at the edge of his senses that he recognized in retrospect from the night he had been chased down by that beast, and that he had observed in no other animal since. It was something he neither heard nor smelled, but felt, as if whatever it was that made him a youkai were somehow resonating within him at the presence of another like him.

He was sitting on a riverbank, finishing off the last of a batch of fish he had just caught, when the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and he sensed the source of that tingling sensation coming nearer. Soon his ears pricked up, and he could hear it, smell it as well, and he got quickly to his feet.

The boar came tearing out of the underbrush, charging straight for him, and every instinct he had screamed at him to run—but something larger stopped him, challenged him to stand his ground instead. He didn't know what he was doing, standing there like an idiot in the face of almost certain death, but he knew that this time he would not run. It was as though the same impulse that had commanded him to shake off the small injuries he incurred when he stumbled from a tree branch was now telling him that this was something he had to do. If he was going to keep going, he wasn't going to spend his life running away from the likes of this creature.

He dodged the boar's initial strike and swept out with his claws, but they hardly made a dent in the creature's flesh as it turned and came at him again. It swung its heavy, fanged head at his side, and he just barely inched out of the way, kicking back. The creature connected on the backswing, however, its teeth digging deeply into his other side and dragging a scream of pain from his lungs. Still, he fought back, raking at its neck and forcing it to loosen its hold so that he could roll away.

He kept one hand pressed to his injured side, but didn't take his eyes off the boar as he got to his feet, panting. They circled each other, sizing each other up, and then the creature lunged again.

It went on like that for nearly half an hour, until Inuyasha was covered in blood, every inch of him aching, his left arm broken and useless—but the boar was much the worse for wear as well, Inuyasha's claw marks running the length of its flesh, blood dripping from its mouth in long, sticky strands. Time was running out—Inuyasha didn't know how much longer he would be able to keep going. His legs wobbled underneath him, and his head felt light from loss of blood, but he refused to give in to unconsciousness. Finally, with his last burst of strength, he lashed out at the beast with his one good hand, giving a strangled cry—and this time something was different.

There was a power inside him, he knew, the power that gave him the strength to run faster and leap farther than ordinary humans, and that heightened his senses, and made him resilient—but until now, that power had always remained inside of him, only fueling his existing abilities. And yet, when he lashed out with that final swipe of his claws, all that power seemed to wind itself into something tangible, something all its own, and come shooting down the length of his arm and out the tips of his fingers, sending blades of flashing energy searing through the air where his claws had been, and tearing the boar to gruesome shreds right before his eyes. He only had a second or two to marvel dumbstruck at what he had done, before he slid into a boneless heap on the ground himself, and passed out.

It was dark when he awoke, and his first reaction was uneasiness at being down here on the ground in such an unprotected clearing while he was unconscious. As he pushed himself up with the intent of moving to a tree, the pain that racked his body reminded him of why he'd been there on the ground in the first place. Still, it wasn't as bad as it had been before he had fallen asleep. He was no longer bleeding, and although his arm hurt like hell, the bones seemed to have knitted themselves back together. Nonetheless, he was still dizzy and covered in gashes, bruises, and dried blood, so that every movement sent pain skittering across his frame, and he had to take things slowly to keep from passing out again.

He walked the few feet back to the river and set about cleaning himself up, only hissing slightly as he peeled his clothes away and pressed his damp, bundled kosode to his flesh to clean his wounds. When he was done, he climbed somewhat more carefully than usual into a nearby tree, stretched out on a nice, high branch, and finally surrendered himself back to sleep.

Just before he drifted off, however, he could have sworn he sensed a presence somewhere in the darkness. It was like when he had sensed the boar youkai, but different somehow—less of a random resonance, and more of a steady thrum, as though the aura, or whatever it was he was sensing, were more composed and orderly, and perhaps more powerful than a simple boar demon's. He wasn't sure why, but there was something strangely familiar about it as well—not as though he had actually felt it before, but as though he knew what it was and where it came from nonetheless. In that insubstantial breath between sleep and waking, he knew somehow that it was his father.

For several days after that, Inuyasha felt inexplicably on-edge. It was like he could tell something was coming, but he wasn't sure what. Whenever he paused to sniff the air or stretch out his sharpening senses, he couldn't seem to locate anything in particular that would be causing this feeling. The eerie mix of foreboding and excitement dogged him throughout his daily routines and kept him from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep each night. And every once in awhile, just for a second, he would feel the barest ripple of that aura he had sensed—or perhaps imagined?—the night after his fight with the boar youkai.

In the meantime, hoping to distract himself from this strange uneasiness, Inuyasha focused on trying to harness the power he had discovered. At first he was utterly unsuccessful, and wondered if maybe it was something he could only do when faced with mortal danger. He would spend hours in the forest swiping at trees, trying to imagine slavering demon jaws yawning out at him from the bark, but it was no use—he could only scrape shallow grooves in the rough wood. Finally, once his frustration was nearing the breaking point, he began to feel the power welling up within him once again, and though it generated only small sparks at first, he managed to produce an external energy like the blades of light he had used to kill the boar demon. Seizing on this small victory, he tried to memorize the feel of that power as it gathered itself inside him, so that perhaps eventually he would be able to reproduce it just by force of will.

It was a bright but partly cloudy afternoon, a little over a week after his encounter with the boar. Inuyasha was at the edge of a field on a deserted hillside, practicing slicing the blooms off of the tall grasses waving in the wind, when all at once he felt that presence again—the powerful, strangely familiar presence that seemed to have been stalking him for days. But this time it wasn't just a flash—it was there, he was certain of it, and it was coming closer. He couldn't even tell immediately which direction it was coming from because it was so strong, hiding itself in its own dominance, and he whirled around, sniffing the air for some hint, his heart pounding in his ears. At last he could feel it coalescing in the direction of the forest just behind him, downwind, and he turned to see a tall, human-like silhouette moving towards him between the trees. He could barely breathe, part of him wanting to run, but another part of him rooting him to the spot in anxious—almost hopeful—anticipation. There was a flash of silver in the sunlight filtering through the branches, and his eyes widened just that much farther. When the figure finally stepped out from the dim, Inuyasha found he couldn't breathe.

It was his father.

The man was tall and stately, imposing, though his face was expressionless, his stance neutral. His hair was long and silver, though straighter and better kept than Inuyasha's, and his eyes were a piercing gold. He didn't have ears on top of his head, but those on the sides of his head were distinguished from a human's by their pointed tips, and he had markings on his cheeks and forehead. His kimono was made of fine silk, white and red, and over it he wore a breastplate with a spiked shoulder guard and a fur-covered sash that trailed behind him.

"Inuyasha," the man said tonelessly when Inuyasha did not speak, his expression never wavering.

"Father…" Inuyasha breathed, barely realizing he had said it aloud.

But the youkai's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, something fierce flashing within their golden depths. "I am not you father." Though his voice remained even, every word seemed to drip with disgust.

Inuyasha's heart sank. "Then…then who are you?" he managed, trying his best to keep the fear from his voice.

"I am Sesshoumaru, son of the Inu-no-Taishou."

"Okay…" Inuyasha said, when Sesshoumaru did not continue. "Then, uh…what do you want with me? How do you know who I am?"

If possible, the man's expression grew even colder. "You are the bastard son of the human Izayoi and the Inu-no-Taishou. While she lived, she hid you away from the rest of the clan. Now that she is dead, however, it seems you have no place among humans any longer. Is that so?"

Inuyasha swallowed, but couldn't help the faint blush of anger that stained his cheeks. "Yeah, so? What of it?"

"Then I must kill you."

Inuyasha staggered back a step, suddenly terrified, yet fighting to stand his ground. Still, something in him told him that this guy would be a much more formidable opponent than the boar youkai—and he had barely come out of that one alive. "W-what? Why?"

"You are hanyou. You pollute the ruling line of the Inu-youkai clan. You cannot be allowed to wander these lands."

"But—but you just said I was the son of the Inu-no-Taisho. Doesn't that make us brothers? I'm one of you, they said so—I'm youkai…"

"You are not my brother," Sesshoumaru cut him off, his voice like a slab of ice down Inuyasha's back. "You are not youkai—you are hanyou." He seemed to spit the word, as though it were something filthy and vile, the way the humans of his mother's house had always said "half-breed."

"But…" Inuyasha said, almost to himself, "if I'm not one of you, and I'm not one of them, then what am I?"

"You are nothing," came the blank reply. And then, faster than his eye could detect, Sesshoumaru advanced on Inuyasha, grabbing him by the throat and hoisting him into the air. Inuyasha gave a strangled yelp and grabbed onto the man's wrist with both hands, but he tried to bury the terror in his eyes as he glared back into that cold visage that was so much like his. He felt the claws pierce the skin at the back of his neck, the wounds burning unnaturally as though poison were seeping into him through them. Gradually, his body began to tingle, and he could feel his limbs going numb.

"I will allow you to live, for now. You will head east from here, and you will not venture into these lands again. If we cross paths again, I will kill you."

And with that, he dropped Inuyasha in an unceremonious heap on the ground, turning to walk back into the forest. As he was disappearing into the shadows again, Inuyasha heard him say evenly, "You live only because I have willed it, hanyou. Remember that."

Inuyasha could only stare after him, his body rendered immobile, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. But deep within his gut sparked a burning hatred, and with each step of distance between them, the flame grew.


The winters were always the hardest. Food and shelter were harder to come by, and Inuyasha was growing quite steadily, so he was nearly always hungry. When game was scarce, he was sometimes forced to sneak down into villages and steal a few things to tide him over. At first it was only out of necessity, but after awhile he began to enjoy it. It was like a game, seeing how much he could pilfer, how deeply into the settlement he could penetrate before someone spotted him and sent up the alarm, and the villagers chased him away again wielding scythes and bows. Sometimes he would just sneak around without even bothering to steal anything—as soon as he was spotted, they chased him away just the same. The worst was when the village happened to have a resident spiritualist. Most of them were pretty useless, but he had a few close scrapes here and there with a miko with good aim, or a houshi armed with ofuda that actually worked.

A few years ago this would have bothered him—but he didn't give a shit anymore. They didn't want him around, that was fine—he didn't need them. He didn't need anybody. He'd been getting along just fine on his own for awhile now, after all, and there was no point wishing that things were different, because they weren't. And they never would be. That was just the way it was. The only person who would look out for him was himself—and that was just fine by him.

One spring afternoon, he came upon a group of boys in the forest, lounging around a clearing with a jug of sake between them and a sack of glinting jewelry and holy talismans spread out on the ground before them. They looked roughly Inuyasha's age, some a little older, and they were laughing and shouting as they picked through their spoils, weighing the pieces and sorting out who would get what. Inuyasha watched them, captivated, until suddenly the oldest of the boys noticed him and jumped to his feet, drawing a short sword that was strapped across his back.

"Hey you, get out from behind there!" the boy demanded. "Come on, show yourself!"

Inuyasha did so, crossing his arms over his chest, chin slightly lifted, trying to look more defiant and unconcerned than he felt.

"Who are you?" the boy asked, eyes narrowed.

"Inuyasha."

The boy raised an eyebrow. "You're a demon?"

"What do you think?" Inuyasha replied sarcastically.

The corners of the boy's lips quirked up, and he shared a chuckle with the rest of his gang. "I see. And what are you doing around these parts? I've never seen you around here before."

"I've never been around here before."

The boy nodded, seeming to size him up. Then suddenly he snatched the sake jug away from the boy next to him and hurled it straight at Inuyasha, who caught it without a flinch before the second boy had even managed to grunt in protest.

"Nice reflexes. What about those claws—they as sharp as they look?"

"I can give you a demonstration, if you like," Inuyasha retorted, and the boys chuckled again.

"Not necessary," the boy said with a smirk, and resheathed his sword. "My name is Keijiro. Tell you what, Inuyasha—there's a noble procession headed this way soon, one of the lords from the next province over traveling with his retinue to sign some treaty or other with the local daimyo. They'll be passing this way sometime tomorrow, and we're planning to help ourselves to a little of their spare change." The other boys chuckled at that. Keijiro continued, "If you're interested, you could come help us out. We might even cut you in on some of the spoils."

Inuyasha thought about this, casting a shrewd eye over the group. He had learned not to trust humans by now, but these boys didn't seem to him to be ordinary humans. They weren't afraid of him the way most humans were. Only Keijiro had drawn his weapon when he'd spotted Inuyasha, and even he hadn't seemed so much afraid as wary. Wariness was something Inuyasha understood well. It was only natural. It made good sense. Better that than to let down your guard only to have someone stab you in the back. He didn't have much use for human trinkets like gold or jewels, but the prospect sounded interesting—a new challenge. A new game. And perhaps some company and some sake for awhile would be nice.

"Okay."

The raid went well—their prize was enormous, more wealth than Inuyasha had seen in his life. Though his mother had been wealthy, her tastes had been austere—she'd never flaunted her money with jewelry or fine china, and the rest of the household had conformed. These boys spent their riches in no time it seemed, laying out a positive feast for all to share, with meat and rice and drink in excess. Inuyasha tasted the sake, but found it unpalatable, and he didn't like the way it messed with his senses, so he mainly wolfed down the food—and had plenty of that. Later on some of the boys disappeared into a hut at the edge of the nearby village and spent more of the money on women than they had on the drink.

Inuyasha stayed with them after that, and they moved from village to village plying their trade. Sometimes they preyed on lone travelers or small groups, other times they would clean out a house or two, see just how much they could take before they were caught. Inuyasha's unique talents were especially useful on those occasions, as he could give the others warning to run when they were about to be discovered.

He knew what was happening. Maybe he hadn't really at first, but it gradually crept in on him. He knew there was violence being done, though he tried to turn a blind eye to most of it. Some of the boys seemed to take a perverse pleasure in slitting the throats of inconvenient observers or troublesome victims. Keijiro in particular seemed to gravitate toward the female nuisances, dragging them off to a corner or a patch of brush before he killed them. Inuyasha knew what he was doing to them. He didn't completely understand, but somehow he knew. Most of the time he was able to hide his disgust—but then one day, as they were divvying up the takings from an old farmer that one of the others had just slain in the road, Inuyasha saw it. He saw Keijiro, tucked away in the underbrush just off the road, lying on top of the young girl who had been traveling with the farmer. Tears mingled with blood on her cheeks as Keijiro jerked violently against her, again and again, and she pleaded with him to stop, to leave her alone, not to kill her, promising she wouldn't tell anyone, she would never tell a soul, he could have anything he wanted if he'd only leave her alone. And then he dragged the blade of his knife sharply across her throat, and she was silent, blood spilling from the corners of her mouth. At this, Inuyasha couldn't conceal his horror.

That was when the trouble started. The others knew he was getting squeamish, and he knew he couldn't keep going like this. They didn't quite trust him with anything anymore—there always seemed to be someone looking over his shoulder, second-guessing him. And maybe it was because he was distracted, or maybe it was because he actually did want them to get caught somewhere deep down, but he was slipping too. Their escapes were getting narrower.

One night, after a raid in which one of their number had been captured and killed as they'd fled, Inuyasha lay awake on the ground amid the group. His eyes were closed, but he couldn't sleep. He just kept seeing that boy's body on the ground, the pool of blood beneath him spreading faster and faster, like a river swelling its banks.

He didn't realize he was in danger until a fraction of a second before it happened, and Inuyasha opened his eyes just in time to see Keijiro plunge a knife into Inuyasha's chest.

Shock, anger, and pain coursed through him, but over and above all that was the instinct for survival. He batted Keijiro away with a powerful right claw and yanked the knife out with a grunt as he got to his feet. The others were waking up and catching on to what was happening, but Keijiro was already coming at him again, sword drawn, and Inuyasha parried it with the knife, attacking again with his claws. One by one the others joined in trying to take him down, but he was furious now, and despite the blood pouring from his wound and the sheer force of numbers against him he managed to fight them off, again and again, delivering a few particularly nasty blows that took men down who did not get up again. He didn't care. He didn't know if they were alive or dead, and he didn't care. It had been a mistake to ever get involved with any of this. They may not have been afraid of him, but they were still scum, every one of them. Just like all human scum.

When the sword glinted in the corner of his eye, slashing towards him again from behind, he whirled around instinctively and swiped out with his claws—but this time he felt that crackle of energy poor out of him, blades of light arcing from his fingertips and slicing cleanly through Keijiro's body, tearing him to shreds.

For a moment, everything stopped. All the other boys gaped in horrified silence at what he had just done, and he too stared blankly at Keijiro's remains, not quite sure what to think or feel. He felt cold. It had been an accident, but he wasn't sorry. Keijiro was evil—he had deserved nothing better. But Inuyasha had never killed a man before.

The other boys didn't come after him again—they were plainly outmatched, all of them could see that. When their wits returned to them they started stumbling about, falling over each other and their fallen comrades to gather up as many of their belongings as they could and scatter off into the woods, eager to put as much distance between themselves and him as they could.

When they were all gone, Inuyasha tore away into the forest in the opposite direction and didn't look back.

The pain in his chest was searing, worse with each breath, but he didn't care. He knew by now that it would take more than that to finish him. The pain was just pain—the wound would heal by morning.

By the time he felt he was far enough away, the sky was already beginning to lighten at the edges. Finally, his muscles burning and his breath coming in sharp, painful gasps from his injury, he took to the treetops, finding the highest, sturdiest branch he could, and settling down to rest.

He slept in fits and starts, the pain in his chest dragging him back to consciousness frequently, but at least it was rest. This was better, being alone. He was safer this way. He didn't have to worry that someone would turn on him at any second as long as he just kept things separate between him and the rest of the world. It was all easier that way, less complicated, less work. And that was the way it always ended up anyway.

When he awoke, he felt a vague sense of longing—longing for some sort of familiarity, some sense of knowing his surroundings. He'd been wandering for so long without really going anywhere. He wanted someplace that was his. Of course, he couldn't go home—and even if he could, it wouldn't really have been home. The manor house had only been home because his mother was there. Now that she was dead, it was only a building. And he had no desire to return there.

But the forest outside the village—ever since those first cold, lonely months, that had somehow been his. He'd felt safe there, as safe as one like him could ever be, and he had known it all by heart—every tree branch, every rabbit hole. Maybe, if he could just get back there, the world wouldn't seem so…empty anymore.

It took him several weeks to wend his way back there. He had only the vaguest notion of where he had traveled over all this time and which direction the village might be, and of course there wasn't much chance of asking directions—any travelers he showed himself to would either try to exterminate him or would run away in fear—but eventually he found himself in an area that looked familiar, and the feeling of familiarity grew with each step he took toward the village of his birth.

He had been right—it did seem brighter here, somehow. It was just the same as anywhere else, really, but it was his. As long as he never showed himself, as long as he never ventured down among the villagers, he could even almost imagine that they wouldn't be afraid of him. That they wouldn't mind his being here. Sometimes he would perch himself for hours on a high branch overlooking the main square, well out of sight, and just watch them going about their daily business. As if he were some sort of benevolent guardian who could swoop in to rescue them if trouble arose. As if he were their protector.

One overcast afternoon, as he lounged against the tree trunk and watched the village women bartering for wares in the village center, he caught sight of a woman whose face struck him as vaguely familiar. Her clothes were surprisingly fine, a colorful layered kimono that no ordinary village woman could ever hope to afford, and she was accompanied by a stone-faced man in a uniform he recognized as belonging to the guards of the manor house. The other village women deferred to her as befitted her obvious station, but she too was reserved, sullen. Why did she look so familiar?

And then he realized: It was the servant girl.

The girl who had found him by his mother's memorial altar. The girl who had told him that his mother was truly dead. The girl who had looked at him with fear—but also with kindness.

And there she was, dressed in the finery of a noblewoman. And she looked so sad. Why?

The crowds shifted across his view, and suddenly the woman was gone—but the guardsman was still there, glancing around him in confusion. He didn't seem to know where she'd disappeared to either. Inuyasha, with his better vantage point, scanned the crowds from above, and soon located her sneaking around the edge of a nearby hut and slinking away into the forest, several yards away from where he sat. She glanced over her shoulder a couple of times as if checking to see that she was not being followed, but she seemed to know exactly what she was doing.

Curious, Inuyasha followed her, staying high and silent as possible, but trying to keep her in sight. Once he saw the path she was taking, he thought he had an idea where she might be headed—a large, rounded boulder that jutted up from the uneaven forest floor, still shaded by trees, but whose smooth surface offered a perfect place to sit or lie down and take in the scents and sounds of the world around you. Sure enough, when he caught up to her, that was exactly what she was doing—lying, curled up on her side on the cool surface of the rock, eyes closed. For awhile he simply watched her. It wasn't until the wind shifted and he caught the scent of saltwater that so reminded him of his mother that he realized she was crying.

He knew he could be making a terrible mistake, but he couldn't help himself—quietly as possible, he dropped down to the ground inside the clearing, a few feet away from the stone.

She gave a start at the sound of his footfalls, and sat up, looking around. To his relief, when she caught sight of him, her face registered more surprise than fear.

"You…" she whispered.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he replied, just in case. "I promise."

She nodded.

"Why were you crying? Why are you dressed like that? What's happened?"

"I'm…I'm part of the household now," she explained, giving a weak smile that seemed to show more revulsion than pleasure.

"How?"

"I…belong to Noboru."

"You belong to him?"

She looked down at her hands, seeming about to cry again. "He wanted me, so he took me. And now I'm his. I'm his concubine."

Inuyasha narrowed his eyes. "Took you? Do you mean he raped you?"

She flinched at the direct language, and did not reply, but Inuyasha knew that was a yes. The sight of Keijiro raping that nameless young traveler girl before slitting her throat flashed across his mind, and it turned his stomach.

"When?"

"A long time ago. After I found out—" She stopped herself suddenly and glanced up at him, then quickly away, as though she'd only just remembered who she was speaking to.

"Found out what?"

"I shouldn't tell you. I can't tell you."

"Why can't you tell me? Who the hell am I going to tell?"

"You…you won't want to know if I tell you."

"Why? Is it about…my mother?"

She looked up at him again, fear in her eyes—but not, it seemed, fear of him.

"What is it?" Inuyasha took a step forward urgently. "Please, tell me. I need to know…"

"Noboru…killed her."

Inuyasha went numb. He could feel all the blood draining from his face, saw phantom spots dancing in his vision. "What do you mean? She was sick. She died because she was sick…"

The woman shook her head, never taking her eyes off his face. "She was sick, but she'd started to get better. When Noboru realized she wasn't going to die, that he wasn't going to be able to take possession of the household…he poisoned her."

A fist clenched his heart inside his chest, strangling the life out of it. Noboru had killed his mother. He had killed her in cold blood, and he had tried to kill Inuyasha as well. All because he wanted to take from them what was rightfully hers. A house and a few trinkets—all for that.

Before he even knew what he was doing, he had turned away and was tearing off through the trees, headed not for the village, but for the hill beyond. He could hear the woman calling after him, but it blended in with the sound of snapping twigs and branches, the wind whistling past his face, the roll of distant thunder on the horizon. By the time he reached the front gate of the manor house, a few raindrops were beginning to fall.

He didn't bother with the door, simply vaulting over the wall in one swift bounce and pounding across the gardens. He tore aside the screen entryway and took off down the hall, keeping a scent out for only one person. Anyone else who got in his way would have to suffer the consequences.

Finally he tracked him down, tearing around the last corner and slamming open the doors that led into the main hall. There they were, the head of the household and his advisors, kneeling before their trestle tables at the other end of the floor, enjoying a pleasant afternoon meal.

"Noboru," Inuyasha said in a feral growl. He had never felt anger like this in his entire life. He didn't just want to kill—he wanted to maim, he wanted to destroy. He wanted more than anything in the world to make this man, this insect, suffer.

Noboru's eyes widened in fear, and he got shakily to his feet. The man was older, smaller, frailer than Inuyasha had remembered. He was going gray at the temples, developing lines around his eyes and mouth. The last time he'd seen this man he'd seemed like a giant, and he'd been able to kick Inuyasha around as if he were a child's plaything—but no longer. He was barely taller than Inuyasha now. And Inuyasha was no longer that frightened little child.

In a flash, before any of them had had time to react, Inuyasha was across the room, and had Noboru pinned to the wall, Inuyasha's hand clenched around his throat just tightly enough to make him choke and sputter for air, the tips of his claws just barely drawing blood. "This is for all of them," he spat, "all of us—that girl you raped, and any others, for that day you kicked me out and left me to starve on my own. Well I didn't starve—and in a few seconds you're going to wish I had."

Then he plunged his free hand deep into the man's gut and grabbed a handful of entrails, making Noboru squirm and cry out in pain. "And this," Inuyasha continued in a low growl, mere inches from the other man's face, "is for my mother." And he yanked hard, tearing another pathetic wail from the abominable lump of flesh who had murdered his mother. And he relished it.

Noboru collapsed to the floor, gasping and writhing in agony. His servants and advisors rushed to him, paying no attention to Inuyasha, but there was nothing they could do, and they all knew it. Inuyasha turned away and began walking back toward the door—but he stopped short when he saw the woman, the servant girl, Noboru's concubine, kneeling on the floor with a shaking hand pressed to her mouth as she gaped in horror at him, at what he had just done.

"What?" he snapped, taking a couple steps closer.

"You killed him…"

"Of course I killed him!" Inuyasha shouted. "After what he did, do you think he deserved any fucking better?"

"You just…killed him…"

"I did it for you too, you know," he snarled. "You should be thanking me! You're free of him now."

Slowly her eyes drifted away from Noboru's body and back to Inuyasha's face—and there was fear in them once again. Fear of him—and nothing else. The sympathy was gone. "You killed him…" she whispered again.

Inuyasha couldn't take it anymore. He tore the door completely off its track with a growling bark and disappeared off down the hall before it had even clattered to the floor. Back through the house and over the wall again, into the pouring rain that drenched his long, thick hair and made it stick to the sides of his face, he took sanctuary in the high branches of the forest he had come to think of as his.

What did any of them want from him, anyway? Did they expect him to just stand by and let someone like that go on living? They were the real monsters—the Noborus and the Keijiros—and yet anywhere they went they would be welcomed and treated with friendship until they'd had all they wanted and turned around to kill their benefactors, take everything they owned. And it was Inuyasha they were afraid of? Just because he was part-demon. A half-breed. A hanyou.

Fuck them all—humans, their whole kind. There was nothing in their world but weakness and sickness and death and betrayal—what kind of insanity would make someone want to be a part of all that misery anyway? The only thing that was worth anything was power, strength—humans were all slaves to their own weakness.

When dawn broke the following morning, Inuyasha took one last look at the human village where he had been born. There was nothing here for him. There never had been, nothing but fantasies, and those were no good to him anymore. This time when he left, he knew he would never return. Inuyasha wasn't human. He would never be human, and he didn't want to be. They could keep their worthless trinkets and their craven, subservient, fearful little lives, always beholden to one another, always slaving away for another's benefit. From now on, he would seek only that which could make him stronger.

From now on, Inuyasha stood alone.


Epilogue

Inuyasha blinked awake in the darkness. He could hear the crickets in the distance, outside the hut, and the moonglow seeping in around the window curtains told him it was still the middle of the night. It took him a little while to realize where he was, feel the soft futon underneath him, the pillow scrunched up under his cheek. He rolled over onto his back, almost hesitant to glance over next to him, afraid that this part was the dream, that he was really still back there—back then. But it wasn't a dream—he knew that. And Kagome was there, sleeping peacefully beside him, just like always. A soft smile of relief spread across his face as he looked at her, curled up under the covers, her bangs hanging in her closed eyes.

Quietly, careful not to wake her, he pushed the covers aside and slid out of bed, getting to his feet. With one last glance back to see that she was still asleep, he slipped out around the reed curtain covering the door and stepped out onto the porch, looking up at the night sky. He took a deep breath, sat down on the edge of the porch, and closed his eyes, listening to the forest sounds. They were the same as they'd always been, he knew, but somehow it was different, hearing them now. They seemed friendlier, like an old companion.

There were so many bad things to remember—bad things he'd done, bad things that had happened to both of them, to all of them—but on nights like this, when he thought about the way things had been before, when he could feel just how bad it could have been if it had never found her, if none of it had ever happened…it was hard to regret even the worst of the bad things.

His ear twitched as he heard the creak of floorboards and the rustle of the reed curtain behind him.

"Is everything alright?" she asked.

"Yeah. Just thinking."

"What about?"

"Some stuff," he replied. "From the past."

Kagome hesitated. "Kikyo?" she asked carefully.

"No," he glanced back at her with a slight reassuring smile. "Before Kikyo."

She sat down beside him on the edge of the porch. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head, but reached out to lace his fingers with hers, gazing down and their interlocked hands. "Some other time. Not tonight."

She nodded, and for awhile they simply sat there in silence, staring out at the silhouettes of trees fringed in moonlight from the clear night sky.

Then, distantly, as if not quite sure whether he was talking to her or to himself, Inuyasha began to speak. "For a long time I really hated humans…" The statement hung in the air for a moment or two, a simple observation. "All that anger and hatred—I remember it, but it's like…it was someone else. You brought me back to life. You saved me. I just…I don't know if I ever…thanked you for that. Thank you for saving me."

"I didn't save you, Inuyasha—you did it yourself."

"No, I didn't," he said seriously. "I couldn't. I tried, but I couldn't. If it weren't for you, I'd still be the way I was before. Hell," he almost chuckled, "if it weren't for you, I'd still be pinned to that damn tree."

Kagome smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Well, maybe I saved you just a little, but you saved me too. And I don't just mean from mortal peril."

Inuyasha brought their clasped hands up to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently. "I love you, Kagome."

She nuzzled her face against his arm, and he could feel her smile against his skin. "I love you too, Inuyasha."

He ran a clawed, rough-padded thumb back and forth over the soft, smooth skin of her hand as they sat there together in the moonlit darkness, and he marveled once again, for what must have been the thousandth time, that she wasn't afraid. She was never afraid when she was with him. And neither was he.


A/N: So…what do you think? This story is a bit of a departure for me, in several ways. For one thing it's a tad on the dark side—a bit heavy on the violence and light on the laughs compared to most of my stuff. Also, I don't think I've ever written a story of this length that has so little dialogue. So much of it is just sort of Inuyasha off by himself in the wilderness, trying to get by—which, of course, is entirely the point of the story, but it's not something I write often. It was a little daunting, actually, once I got down to writing and realized that that was going to be the kind of thing that made up most of the story. I guess scenes built around bantery dialogue have become a bit of a comfort zone for me…

Anyway, the idea behind all this was basically to explore how Inuyasha got from being a sweet, innocent child with a loving mother and (presumably) a comfortable home to being a tough, jaded, violent, damaged jerk (albeit, with a heart of gold). As I see it, the sweet, vulnerable person we get glimpses of in his gentler moments probably reflects the way he was as a child—open, enthusiastic, kind, friendly—and it was only the years of hard living and (at least in my version of events) violence and betrayal that gave him that crusty exterior that Kagome spends most of the series chipping away. So I wanted to see how that might play itself out.

Btw, I don't think my timeline directly contradicts anything from the canon (except possibly a couple details from the third movie? But I haven't seen that in ages, and I don't really subscribe to movie canon unless it's useful to me), but if it does it's not intentional. Sorry if there were any slip-ups! And let me know what you think… ;)