His days were worse than ever, and the nights... well. InuYasha hated thinking about the evening meals that always seemed to turn into heated arguments; his father rarely mitigated when the brother's fought which would have been the normal way of things. SesshouMaru had thrown that out the window too.

Now the dinner discussions were civilized and calm. Since kissing Kagome, SesshouMaru had drawn into himself, displaying more reserve and control than InuYasha had even thought possible. When asked how his days went, he'd answer in simple and brief statements, meant to portray that his mind was occupied elsewhere and not at all interested in conversation. And wonders of all achievements, InuYasha couldn't get a rise out of him. The older son was never easily provoked but now even the most daring and direct of insults did little more than receive a curious look of boredom and at times disappointment.

It was horribly unnerving.

"I have a project due this Friday," InuYasha offered when this particular dinner became quite enough to hear the neighbor's phone ring. His father looked up from the immaculate meal their cook had prepared with a thankful gaze. The silence was eating at him too.

"Really? What is the topic?"

"Oh, ancient myths and legends," he replied with a slight flush to his cheeks. InuYasha had not chosen the topic, and actually he was lucky to have gotten into such a good group, so it mattered little to him. It was just kind of embarrassing, especially with SesshouMaru now diverting attention to the conversation.

Their father raised a brow in question but SesshouMaru spoke up before the patriarch could even draw breath. "Kagome's working on the same thing." He recalled a little of what had been on the slides he'd collected off the hood of his car. "Are you in her and Sango's group then?"

He was receiving a glare that bordered on outright jealously and a slow, satisfied smile curved InuYasha's lips. "Yup, Kagome offered since I was without a group and they were a member short." Actually it had been Sango and she had to threaten him with a broken arm if he turned her down. InuYasha was happy that at least one person was on his side as far as Kagome was concerned.

Of all the people he'd met at this new school, Sango was one of the few that realized SesshouMaru was not exactly as perfect as he appeared to be. She constantly was setting up scenes where InuYasha and Kagome were alone or together or interacting in some way. It was totally obvious that she was trying to get them to become a couple, a fact that InuYasha greatly appreciated since Kagome was easily everything he'd consider good and desirable in a girlfriend, but all the effort was going to waste. Kagome was floundering, caught, InuYasha figured, between the strange attraction SesshouMaru offered and the anger she displayed whenever his name was brought up.

Kagome had learned the name SesshouMaru later the first day InuYasha had met her. They had all been talking after classes, waiting for their rides to show, when a random female student who had witnessed the scene at the café, walked up and gave them her opinion on the matter. She berated Kagome for her attitude towards someone who was obviously wonderful and caring. SesshouMaru was a gallant gentleman that she felt Kagome didn't deserve and probably wouldn't know how to please anyways.

It had been a tense couple of minutes afterwards. The girl, who was dressed in far less clothing than was suitable for public school, alternated between sneering at Kagome and Sango, and batting her eyes at InuYasha. It had not escaped notice however, and Sango finally spoke up.

"Well, if SesshouMaru wants a slut, Kagome'll be sure to give him your name first." The words still echoed triumphantly in his mind. It had been a wonderful afternoon.

SesshouMaru eyed him suspiciously before taking another bite of his meal. InuYasha was pulled from his memory when their father cleared his throat. "Kagome? Isn't that the girl you were telling me about, SesshouMaru?"

"The very same," he replied in a snug tone. InuYasha looked at him sharply, concerned over what exactly his brother and father had spoken about. If SesshouMaru had already taken the initiative to claim Kagome then it would look as though InuYasha was trying to make trouble. As much as he knew their father favored him, InuYasha was not about to test the limits of the man's personal ethics on faithfulness. If SesshouMaru was involved with a girl already, their father considered it InuYasha's place to support him, as would be the case if the tables were turned.

"So she's your girlfriend," he said with eyebrows raised to SesshouMaru, "but asking you to partner her on projects?" His gaze was locked on InuYasha, searching for the truth in that purely businesslike manner that made him a shark in the financial world. When his younger son merely nodded, too shocked that SesshouMaru had gone so far to call Kagome a "girlfriend" to pick up where his father was headed, the old man sighed in mild disgust.

"I don't think I like this girl's attitude. Such behavior -"

"Is being embellished by InuYasha," SesshouMaru interrupted. He glared at his brother then fixed his father with the most serious and intimidating expression he could muster. "She's shy and extremely well kept. She'd never speak badly of another human being, regardless of whether or not they deserved it, and she doesn't lie." His glance flickered briefly to InuYasha before returning to his father.

"I'm sure if she actually asked InuYasha to join this project group -"

"Are you saying I lied about that?!?" InuYasha rose from his seat so swiftly the chair tipped back and almost toppled over. "She did ask me to be in the group," he practically yelled, "and I only said yes because she's the only person in the last five years that's actually been friendly."

"Oh Please! You're not all that likable, InuYasha. You probably had the teacher assign you to them." SesshouMaru stated this with such reserve and in a perfectly steady tone. InuYasha was half way around the table, violence in his eyes and every move, when their father intervened.

"I'm sure," he said quietly, a signal to both his sons that it was now their behavior that he disapproved of, "that this girl would not like to know she is the cause of such discord at my table." His piercing gaze, directed at SesshouMaru and then InuYasha, froze them both. It was unexpected that he would suddenly champion a young woman he'd never met yet had only previously thought little of. "She is not a prize in this little game you two play, is that clear?"

Two affirmative nods answered him and InuYasha returned to his seat.

The meal finished out in silence, InuYasha being the first to leave the table. He ambled up to his room and did some more homework to ease his mind. It wasn't working though, and after an hour, he made his way back downstairs. Maybe there was something on TV or a book in the library that might be of interest...

"I want to take her to dinner in the city next weekend," SesshouMaru's voice floated out of the great room almost in a conspiratorial manner. "I'm wondering if it would be permissible to use a company car."

InuYasha snuck closer to the entranceway, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection. "I want to meet her first, SesshouMaru. I won't have you and your brother bringing this poor child into your dispute. This family has lived through enough scandal."

SesshouMaru must have rolled his eyes or something because their father's tone of voice changed dramatically. It was almost threatening. "I won't be disobeyed in this."

"No, father. I would never -"

"Good." The old man sighed again and sat back. "I will tell my secretary to send one of the fleet to the house on Saturday night. You can pick her up in my car bring her back here first, then go into town later. I expect you to meet her father and assure the man that his daughter will be safe. You're not going boating after all..."

InuYasha heard the way his father's voice caught at the mention of the boats. It had been a terrible accident that caused InuYasha's mother to be killed, nothing that could ever be attributed to their father though it was.

"Of course not," SesshouMaru answered, the way his voice was lowered indicating to InuYasha that he too was hurt by the loss of his stepmother. It wasn't completely true though and InuYasha better than anyone else knew that.

SesshouMaru had always resented his stepmother for not dying in InuYasha's birth. In a way it was horribly unfair that the older son would be without the love and attention that was poured onto InuYasha in the early years. It had always been obvious who was the first son and who the second as far as InuYasha's mother was concerned. It was not that she purposely doted on InuYasha and shunned SesshouMaru; rather it was a young mother's adoration for her husband and own child.

InuYasha suspected too that their father saw something of his dead first wife in SesshouMaru; perhaps one of his mannerisms or the beautifully perfect line of his face and build, but whatever it was, InuYasha felt a twinge of empathy for his brother at times. It was sad really, to belong but not.

Their father finally excused himself and left. Walking past InuYasha's hiding spot, his eyes were focused on some memory of the past, some time when they were a family untouched by so much pain and loss. It was all consuming and the usually highly perceptive man strode right past his offspring and up the grand staircase to his room. It was only after he heard the door close that movement in the great room drew InuYasha's attention back.

SesshouMaru had moved to stand before the fireplace. The mantle was littered with pictures of the family, a habit of InuYasha's mother that their father had been unable to give up. The many, framed photos showed vacations on distance beaches where they all smiled happily, as well as the traditional family setting in a studio, those meant to be sent to relatives for the holidays. There were a few shots of InuYasha and SesshouMaru at various stages of life, some of the family before InuYasha's birth but after his parent's wedding, and then two that captured the image of a woman neither brother had ever met.

The older son studied one of these shots now, the one of this woman with their father. She was heavily pregnant, her hands spread wide along with her husband's on her curved belly, both smiling gloriously. It had been taken only days before SesshouMaru was born and his mother had died. Despite her flushed cheeks and twinkling eyes, it was clear her body was not meant to bear such a burden. Her immense stomach had surly been painful, the skin stretched beyond repair, and her back constantly sore from supporting two bodies.

InuYasha knew his father had been advised against having children with such a tiny woman, that the risks would be high and devastating. They had almost lost SesshouMaru too, difficult as it was to believe, and that was what the second picture of this woman portrayed.

Both sick and exhausted, the second shot was taken in the delivery room, perhaps thirty minutes after her son's birth. Cuddling the baby to her, the sunken shadows around her eyes and her hair still glistening slightly from labor, she was kissing her son lightly. It was a mother giving her child the power to live, her last breath for his evermore, and her life so that he might survive. She'd died that night.

Caught in a trance of his own recollections of the past, InuYasha almost betrayed his hiding spot when SesshouMaru sniffed heavily. Replacing the photo he'd been holding, the young man turned from the display of memories and swiftly exited. He passed InuYasha, head high and expression determined, but it couldn't hide the twin tracks on his cheeks, or the deep sorrow that shone in his eyes.

Even after his brother had been gone for minutes and then an hour, InuYasha sat frozen in the hall next to the great room. He'd never seen SesshouMaru cry.



- - - - - - - - - - -

Author's Note:

OMG. Angst [sniff]. Wow, I actually cried at the end there... I was so caught up in it that the next thing I knew someone was asking if I was okay.

This is a surprise chapter. I was ready to post the chapter I told you all about and then decided I needed to lead into it more. So, now you have a little more information about this family and how the two brothers think.