The True Measure of a Heart
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha.
Sesshoumaru watched the woman wander through the gardens idly as he smoked his kiseru, the fragrant smoke winding around him in languid loops. He had been watching her in just such a fashion for weeks now.
He was a patient being. He had always been this way, even when he was young. But it seemed that Kagome was the one thing able to stretch and strain his patience like no other. Waiting for her to heal from what had been done to her was forcing him to dig deeper than he'd ever thought he would need to just to keep himself from killing everyone around him. It would certainly settle his nerves if he were to do so, he thought to himself, a dark expression overtaking him as he watched her turn her face up to the sun and close her eyes.
She had been here at Antai for two months now and he had to admit, despite his own impatience, that she was doing much better now than she had been when she'd first come here. One of the biggest things that had helped her had been the realization that she had not lost her reiki to her attack as she had thought she had. She was still every bit the formidable power that she had ever been.
His ruminations were interrupted by his assistant's entrance. He waited silently as the male bowed, then began speaking. "Sesshoumaru-sama," he began in a soft voice, "the group of youkai that we have been tracking have finally lost their senses and entered your lands. They have attacked one village so far but have done nothing else, having stopped to... celebrate their conquest, it seems. Your wishes?" he asked.
The daiyoukai said nothing, merely flicking his fingers at the male who bowed once more and quietly left the room, sliding the doors shut with almost no sound. Sesshoumaru let out another puff of smoke as he watched Kagome tuck a tendril of hair behind her soft, rounded little ear. Taking one last inhale, he set the pipe down in the little glass bowl meant to hold it as it snuffed out and then stood, leaving the room behind with no sound whatsoever as he let himself out into the garden to intercept the little female.
Perhaps it was time to lead Kagome back into real life – she could not simply wither away here in isolation forever.
No... it was time to take her back into the real world – she was ready.
And so was he.
"Where are we going?"
Those were the first words that Kagome had spoken since Sesshoumaru had appeared next to her in the gardens of Antai and told her to prepare herself to leave. They were already on their way, her riding on Ah-Uhn's back as the ground flew by beneath them.
"There is a group of rogue youkai that have lost their intelligence and dared to enter this one's lands. They attacked a village and are even now celebrating their supposed 'conquest'," he said derisively. "We go to teach them the folly of their ways."
Breath catching in consternation when what he was saying broke over her, she looked over at him and said, "Celebrating?" in a questioning, almost sick tone of voice.
"Two of those that are there are the last survivors of the group that attacked you," he returned, not quite answering the question in her voice, but also not willing to hide the truth of the identities of those involved in the attack on the village. It really didn't need to be said that they were raping the captive women – the ones that they hadn't outright killed, of course.
It was, unfortunately, a common crime in this day and age and Kagome would be faced with it probably many times in the next centuries. She had to learn to deal with it – and there was also the fact that once she had learned to face that fact without it causing her to panic she would finally be ready to be his.
He was becoming most impatient for that point in time to finally arrive.
Kagome had paled as soon as she heard his words, flashes of that terrible day pulling darkness from within and causing her to choke in sudden fear.
"There is no cause for you to fear, Kagome – I would never allow anyone to harm you," Sesshoumaru reprimanded gently as he turned his head to look at her. "But I would not suffer them to live even if it weren't for this new attack on what is mine, and you need to be the one to take their lives."
He'd had to wrestle with himself often over the last weeks to give up his own desire to torture them. He wanted nothing more than to feel their blood dripping from his claws, to hear their screams as his poison ate at them from within, to be responsible for their deaths. But if he did then Kagome would never get over that last little bit of damage. She had to be the one to take their lives so that she could once again feel in control of herself and her destiny. It was the only thing that would break the last chains that she had been bound in since the day she'd been raped.
"I... I can't, Sesshoumaru!" she finally managed to get out, her voice having been stripped from her the moment she'd heard his words. "How could you trick me like this? You knew I'd never agree to this if you'd told me before we left!"
"And yet it is necessary for you to heal the rest of the damage to your spirit, Kagome. Listen to yourself. Never before would you ever have backed down from anyone, and yet now you shiver in fear of two males that are weak and beneath you in every way." His eyes sparked; she was unable to look away as he forced her to face the past. "It is time to face your fears and defeat them."
"I couldn't do it before, so what makes you think I can defeat them now?!" she spat, fear making her cheeks pale and her eyes darken. "They might be weak compared to you, but I..." she looked away as she trailed off, shame clouding her scent, "... I am weak compared to you, too," she finished, now barely audible even to his sharp ears.
Sesshoumaru snorted, not accepting her excuse. "These two carrion are so weak that even Jaken would be able to defeat them. The only reason they succeeded in their attack on you was because of their sheer numbers at the time. They simply overwhelmed you back then, but that is not the case this time. And don't even give me the spiel about not being able to murder someone in cold blood; they are nothing more than animals that are preying on human and youkai alike and must be stopped. They are like the many youkai that you killed during the hunt for Naraku. You will face them, and you will destroy them. And then you will see that I was right – you will finally be freed from those last chains that have bound you for so long."
Kagome didn't need to wait to see whether he was right, she already knew he was. But the fact of the matter was that she didn't feel ready for this in any way at all. "I'm not ready for this, Sesshoumaru! I'm not ready to face the past or them!"
"And I say you are wrong. You are ready. But if you were not pushed you would never force yourself to face them, and it has been long enough." He glanced at her again out of one golden eye. "Would you have them free to roam and continue killing and raping? If you do not stop them they will do just that."
She froze at that, completely unwilling to hear it and yet knowing he was right. The truth of the matter was that she didn't want to face them, not that she wasn't ready – and forcing her to acknowledge the fact that they would continue to destroy the lives of all those around them if not stopped was the one thing that would make her cooperate, for she would never be able to live with the guilt that would inundate her if she turned a blind eye towards their crimes because she wanted to be a coward.
Her shoulders slumped and tears edged her eyes as the fight drained out of her. She felt raw and pained but she could not bring herself to deny his planned objective. She would face those who had attacked her and had now attacked others, and she would destroy them, no matter how much misery it caused her. "You are a tactical genius, you know that?" she asked, her voice low and angry and even bitter. It was clear, at any rate, that her words were not a compliment. "Always moving those around you to suit your desires, no matter what it does to them. It must be nice not having a heart."
Her companion shook his head. "If I did not have a heart I would have left you bound by these chains for the rest of your life. Broken and weak and hiding yourself away from life. But I have not, and your words will not make me relent. I will see you healed of this damage no matter how hard you fight me," he finished, his tone relentless and uncompromising.
Kagome's shoulders slumped as guilt bit at her for taking her fear out on him, because he was right – if he didn't have a heart he would have left her to flounder in this prison that was really of her own making. Hell, he would have left her where he found her those months ago, injured and face down in the dirt at his feet. Instead, he'd picked her up, dusted her off, and given her every aid in healing that he could.
"I'm... sorry," she breathed at last, shame at her manner keeping her from looking at him. "I didn't mean it."
Sesshoumaru brushed her apology off. "I understand you better than you think," he replied, "so your apologies are not necessary. All I require from you is that you face your fears and defeat them. You will not be alone in this anymore than you ever will be from now on," he added as he began to lead them lower, finally closing in on the position of those who had dared to cross him. "Now be silent, for we are almost atop them and I do not wish to give our presence away just yet."
Kagome didn't take insult at his words; she shivered, because she also did not want to give their presence away to those who were even now shouting drunkenly and carrying on in their ill-gained camp.
She could hear the cries of the women and the raucous laughter of the males as they laughed at the begging and pleading of the women, and she slid off Ah-Uhn's back and retched, the sounds mixing with her memories and leaving her to wonder if she was still being assaulted and Sesshoumaru and her months at Antai had been her own mind breaking.
Sesshoumaru didn't leave her to wonder for long; his face frozen at the pain and fear in hers he watched the cavorting males through the trees with cold and dangerous eyes. But he didn't move, and when one of the women cried out in pain and the terror of her circumstances, what he'd known all along would happen... did.
Kagome's fear left her and rage took its place instead, and she drew an arrow and burst through the trees and into the firelight, holding her now blazing weapon drawn on the male that was accosting the woman who'd cried out.
"Move away from her," she growled through gritted teeth as silence fell around the camp; the male did as told, since he was the one under the arrow, but the others all laughed after a moment.
"Look, everyone, we missed one," one said with malice dripping from his voice. "And she was kind enough to deliver herself to us." He frowned then, and looked closer at her. "Oi – I know who you are – we've already spoiled you, wench. Come back for more?" he drawled to the laughter of his current companions.
Kagome recognized his voice – it was he that had been her chief tormenter that day she'd been assaulted, and with little thought she turned her arrow on him and loosed it, watching in satisfaction as it hit and he turned to dust with a shocked scream. Suddenly, those still in the camp weren't laughing any longer.
But before they could regroup and gang up on the young miko Sesshoumaru walked into camp, his youki heavy and presuming and freezing every being in place with consternation.
Tears were streaked down Kagome's cheeks but she did not falter; she'd already nocked a new arrow and had drawn down on the last male standing out of the entire group that had attacked her that day that now seemed so long ago. She tilted her head, indicating that he'd best move away from the woman he'd been about to rape and once he did, seemingly mesmerized by the hot pink glow of her reiki, Sesshoumaru said, "Do it, Kagome. Just like you fought them all before and killed most of them, you must finish it."
Openly sobbing now Kagome nodded, and closing her eyes let her arrow go. It made a solid 'thunk' sound when it hit and she could hear the male's screams as he slowly disintegrated.
But as the camp suddenly woke back up and the other males tried to escape Sesshoumaru's vengeance for attacking anything in his lands, Kagome stayed put, eyes tightly closed as she replayed those minutes under the trees over and over through her mind's eye.
The sounds of dying youkai around her didn't even faze her, lost in her own mind as she was, but when it finally fell silent she opened her eyes to see why.
The women were already gone, disappearing into the trees the moment Sesshoumaru went after their captors and he let them go, too busy making sure those who'd attacked them would never get the chance again to pay any attention to their escape. The males were all dead, and the gore-strewn clearing gave away how; he'd used his whip, slicing them all to pieces in one turn.
It was a bloody and terrible way to die but Sesshoumaru showed no mercy; these males, while they might not have been the ones that had attacked Kagome would have done so if they'd been there, as they'd shown by their actions and he had no qualms whatsoever about destroying them like the plague they were.
"Vermin," he finally scowled as his whip disappeared back into his fingers. "They were nothing but vermin. As were the two that you killed." He paused and then looked at her, his eyes golden and watchful. "I am pleased... you did what was necessary."
But there was a question in his voice, and Kagome raised dazed eyes to meet his now gentle gaze. She knew what he was asking and nodded.
"Yes... you were right," she finally sighed, her eyes sliding away from his. "I know you were right. They had to be stopped, and... I... I had to stop them."
"Hn." Sesshoumaru watched her closely for a few seconds, frowning slightly at the way she wouldn't look at him, but after a moment he decided that he would leave her be for now. If she continued such a tactic of avoidance then it could be dealt with later. For now... "Come – we return to Antai."
Without waiting for a reply he led the way back to a patiently waiting Ah-Uhn and then, when she had just as silently mounted him he took to the air, guiding them back to tranquility so that Kagome could do the last of her healing in its comforting embrace.
Soon... very soon now she will finally be ready. And none too soon, either, for my patience is finally running out.
There had been an odd air of anticipation at Antai for several days that had the servants and even Kagome tense and a little on edge, for they could all feel that it was coming from the master of the realm, and it was unusual for him to be broadcasting his emotions in such a manner.
The little miko, still trying to deal with what had taken place on her first foray outside of Antai in months, tried to stay away from the daiyoukai while she worked her way through the last remnants of the assault on her and the scars it had left behind. Surprisingly, he had allowed it so far, but she knew that wouldn't last and so she was also trying to brace herself for what she knew was coming, and sooner rather than later.
After all, she certainly hadn't forgotten what he'd been claiming ever since she'd woken in his domain, and he'd made no secret of the fact that he was only waiting for her to be ready before taking her as his lady.
Even after all this time and everything that had happened between them and within herself, she still had trouble believing that Sesshoumaru wanted her so much that he was willing to overlook her being spoiled in the way she had been. Rape was a much different matter here in Sengoku Jidai than it was in her world, and even more to one like the daiyoukai – his senses were extremely sensitive, and she was quite certain he'd been able to sense the remains of the attack on her in a way humans would never be able to.
She cringed at the thought, knowing that she had to have greatly offended his sense of smell when she'd been found – for he would have been able to scent out the remnants of the males who'd spoiled her with perfect acuity. That was easily attested to by the fact that he'd then went about tracking those same males down and killing them – and all by the scent they'd left behind on her.
Shame clouded her aura and tears her eyes and she shook her head almost despairingly, not even able to see the loveliness she was surrounded by, sitting in the shade of a huge sakura tree with beautiful gardens spread out as far as the eye could see. Perhaps that was why she was unaware of the object of her thoughts approaching, which left her unable to escape him as she had been doing since returning to Antai.
"Why do your thoughts still linger on something that no longer has any power to harm you?"
Startled, Kagome stiffened, and then reluctantly acknowledged him. "Sesshoumaru," she whispered, still refusing to look at him, her face flushing as his sudden appearance left her floundering. And just when I was thinking those things he comes to me...
Her eyes widened defenselessly as her chin was jerked up and around, forcing her to lock eyes with Sesshoumaru in all his perfection. He was close, really, really close, and she was completely unable to move – he wouldn't allow it.
"Do not turn away and hide from me – not with your body or your eyes," he began sternly, almost scowling at her with displeasure. "Nothing that belongs to me is ever allowed to be outside my consideration, and most especially not you, my dear Kagome."
At the arrogance put into that statement Kagome scowled back, suddenly irritated and forgetting her angst of a moment. "Belongs to you?!" she snapped belligerently. "I don't belong to anybody!"
Sesshoumaru laughed darkly, his grip on her chin tightening for a moment. "Oh, but you do, little miko. But though I have claimed you, you have given yourself instead to your attackers and allowed them to own you. And despite what has so recently occurred, you are still doing so. When are you going to deny them and turn to me?" he practically snarled.
Shocked at his bold words, Kagome's eyes widened even further as they echoed through the sudden ringing silence within her own mind. Her lips moved but nothing came out – she was simply too stunned by what he'd said to retain control of her vocal chords – or her wits.
After several long, breathless moments spent staring at him in confusion, she finally shook her head, her scowl having softened to a pained frown. I've... given myself to those bastards? How could he even say something like that to me? I thought... "How could you?" she breathed, the hurt in her voice written on her face, as well. "How could you say... such a horrible thing to me?"
"What?" he snapped. "That you have given yourself to those that assaulted you? Because it is the truth. Still, even after all that has passed between us you are allowing their actions to make you dance to their tune. As long as shame clouds your scent and keeps your eyes hidden from me, you are allowing them to control you when there is no reason for it. They are dead, and can no longer harm you or anyone else. Let it go!" he finished in a low, but fierce tone, his voice rumbling in his chest as his eyes reddened just a bit around the edges.
"It's not that easy!" Kagome burst out, tears rimming the edges of her eyes and then falling over and down her cheeks in a cascade as the last of the poison within her system welled up within her. They fell closed as her voice fell into silence, and Sesshoumaru watched with grim expression.
He shook her gently after a moment, and her drowned eyes opened back up obediently to once again meet his. "It is not that hard," he returned softly, his once more golden in the moment and very intent. "Let it go," he repeated, his voice suddenly soothing and hypnotic to the weary young woman he was still holding onto.
A sob broke from her before she could stop it, and then she almost folded in on herself as pain washed through her, the blight inside her trying to retake its faltering grip on her soul. "You're poison, do you know that?" she finally sighed, too tired to fight with him any longer.
"Then let me poison you, Kagome," he whispered. "You will find that my poison is much, much sweeter than what those bakayarou left within you. It will never harm you, only heal you. All you have to do is trust me and let me inside in place of those others. Let me prove to you that my words are true – I promise you will never regret it."
Still caught in his eyes Kagome could only wonder numbly why she was even bothering to try to escape him. She didn't really want to, after all – she just felt unworthy of one so high as him. But if he was so adamant that her view was wrong and only his was correct, then what was the point? In the end the only opinion here that mattered was his – if he thought her worthy, then what did it matter what she thought, anyway?
The truth was, she was almost ashamed to admit, she'd never have really felt herself worthy even if that attack had not occurred. Sesshoumaru was the pinnacle of the youkai race, with beauty and grace the gods envied. And she was... just a human. Longer lived than all the others, for some reason she'd been unable to fathom since she'd found out about her extended lifetime, but still only human.
So what was it that he saw in her? She still just didn't understand... and she probably never would.
She exhaled deeply, her tears slowing as her weariness began to numb her to all the poison and the pain of the past months. It left her right where Sesshoumaru wanted her... unable to fight him any longer and not really seeing the point of doing so anymore, anyway. Shaking her head, she looked down finally, a very slight smile on her lips that the daiyoukai was immeasurably pleased to see.
"Is this the true measure of a man, then?" she asked.
It was silent as he waited for her to look up again, and when she did she was immediately trapped in melting gold, the look in those eyes giving away something she'd never have imagined him capable of containing within him.
"No, Kagome... this is the true measure of a heart. Even I, the cold lord, as so many have called me, have a heart – and it is yours. All you must do is reach out and accept it. Reach out for the future you will have at my side and let it erase the past from your memories. Let me erase the past and give you new memories to look back upon with joy instead of horror and pain," he said, his voice going husky as his eyes sparked with flame and he pulled the unresisting form of Kagome closer and into his embrace.
And as he kissed her for the first time Kagome did as he had told her to do and let him erase the memories of anyone's touch but his own from every corner of her heart, mind, and soul.
In later years that one phrase – the true measure of a heart - was the one thing she would always think back upon, because it was the first and best way he'd ever told her that he loved her, though he proved it everyday and in many different ways.
She finally understood that the true measure of Sesshoumaru...
… was the full measure of his heart.
And it was endless in all its glory.
A/N: And it's finally done. I know a lot of you have been waiting for me to finish this, and I apologize for the wait – life and writer's block and a lot of other things have had me in a huge slump. Hopefully things will finally start calming down soon... I would like to get back to enjoying writing again.
I hope everyone is happy with the final part of this story... yes, Kagome does some backsliding between the second chapter and this one, but that's actually how these things tend to go. Healing takes a long time and generally comes in waves, with the aforementioned backsliding in between.