Disclaimer: If I own anything but the plot and my original characters, may I hang until dead. (Of course, I do have a lot of original characters-no poaching, you lot!)
A/N: Here you are, another short installment, where something called the plot finally kicks in. You didn't even have to wait months for this one. If you're glad, review!
The Bone Eater
Time is A Tapestry
The paper was worn, the ink almost unreadable. It was also something immeasurably precious. Raika did not need to look at it to remember the words it contained, centuries since memorized, but he wanted to see the shape of the characters, written in the hand that had been familiar to him long ago.
It was not the most graceful, nor the most cogent, it did not even broach poetic. She had been none of these things. But she was still reflected in her writing, in the freedom of the strokes, even mired as they were by misery, in the awareness of the recipient, in the strange characters only time by her side had taught him.
Raika, it opened, with the nickname she'd given him. He could almost hear it now, in the kind of joy she'd always spoken with-he could not imagine her voice clouded with tears. Her compassion ran deep and steady, like the ocean, but she was also strong, stronger than anyone he'd ever known and she turned sorrow into a kind of strength as well. And she must have known so much of it.
I know this is selfishness, but please, as the only favor I will ask of you, consider this the last gesture of my love, my precious Kuroraikami. When this finds you, I will already be beyond your reach, for my time is at an end at last. During our time together, I told you many stories, for you were a curious and clever child, but I never told you my own.
You must feel betrayed as you read this words. I know you thought you would find me waiting when you returned, whether the years that passed were two or two hundred. We are youkai, after all-time is something we can afford to be generous with. But it was not always so for me. I was born human, brief as that life was, and always time held me in a different regard than the youkai it ignored and the humans it adored. If time is the great river, the bottom always shifted where I stood, until the day I fell into a sinkhole and was swept away, counter to the current.
Thus I can say that I was born in a future you cannot even imagine and I lived in a past so ancient as to be dead to the memory of youkai. But even when I'd been swept so far towards the beginning, I did not live as others live. That would make me very old, wouldn't it? Even a youkai might be driven to madness by that stretch of time-even the gods themselves are not immune to such a vast and terrifying life.
I continued "slipping," one moment my world as firm under by claws as anyone's, then the next I would be a hundred years downriver, my life before now only a memory to all but me. It was not constant-I could live twenty years in peace, slip sixty, live a hundred, slip seventy. I would learn to sense when my time was about to end, but not yet.
I cannot express to you in words how difficult this time was. Please do not take this as pleading for pity and understanding; it is your right to be angry. And you might be angrier yet when I tell you of the shameful way I learned to keep living on.
You know me well, know I have not the wisdom to do what might be perfectly obvious to some. A wise, hard man might quit making the bonds with others that caused such pain. But I hadn't the heart to do it, my son. In all ages, in all places, there are beautiful people. And such terrible holes they leave when you must leave them behind.
A heart can only shatter so many times before it becomes difficult to pick up the pieces, like building a mirror from grains of sand on a beach. And so I found a way to give back what had been so precious. Before I left each life, I tore aware the brightest and the greatest memories, those of friendship and caring and entrusted them to the one that I would miss the most. Was it cruel of me? I suspect it was-the tiny fragments could torment them as they did me, allowing them to see the memories I'd always before carried in my heart.
I took with me only the memories of bloodshed and power, for if I could not stay, then I was at least determined to return to where I belonged. And those were terrible, burdensome memories, but even being robbed of my memories of friends did not take the feelings they had inspired.
This slip will be my last. I am almost "home" now, though my heart is scattered throughout the ages. You are probably not the only child of my heart that I have raised, but I can recall enough to say with surety you are the only one that I have told this story. For you I leave more than the others, though whether this is a greater or lesser inheritance is for you to decide.
The self that you knew, the product of endless wars and struggles, has no place where I am going. With this letter, you have found two objects. One, a single shard of opalescent glass, is the container of my memories with you and all the others that made this time a place I have no desire to escape. The other, the dark jewel, is the container of all the knowledge I've accumulated through the ages, all the memories I've never seen fit to leave to others. To you, it is nothing more than colored glass. The memories inside are sealed. I learned long ago the lesson of objects of power misused. Shatter it if you wish, sink it to the bottom of the ocean, trade it away as a bauble. They are only memories-I take my power with me.
If we, by some happenstance of fate, see each other in the dim future, know that it is not out of rejection that I no longer know you. Think instead that I could not bear to know that I had parted from you.
I leave you with all my son,
Raika's teeth clenched. The wound was old but still healing. His claw tipped hand went to the choker at his throat, then his eyes traveled to the great bow that leaned against the wall, carefully wrapped for travel. It was said to be made of one of her horns, when it had been broken off in battle, strung with hair donated by one of the princes of the land.
Then he turned from it, ashamed. For it was the same bow that had stolen his mother's human life. It had been among the memories she had left to him, faded and dim, perhaps unintentional in its inclusion. But in it he had seen himself, using the bow none but herself had dared touch.
He flinched at the memory of the reality. Time is a wheel-what we do has already been done. Those were words spoken by okā-sama herself, who ought to know, but it did not relieve him of the guilt. To raise his hand against his mother was shameful. Will you forgive me for this, I wonder? he asked himself. His fingers closed over the jewel at his throat. Would you believe, I only wished to see you again, okā-sama?
Sensing the approach of another youkai, the letter was quickly stowed in his clothing, his expression smoothed over. The inu before him bowed, before saying, "Welcome back to the Western Fortress, Kuroraikami-sama. I hope you trip was pleasant?"
He inclined his head and the servant continued, "Sesshomaru-sama is absent at present. He has joined his half-brother in campaign against Naraku."
Raika's eyes narrowed. "I see."
"Will you be meeting with the council?"
"There is no need," Raika replied. "Sesshomaru is young, but capable enough. I do have some questions, however."
"If it is within my power to answer, I will."
"Did the one called Kagome join them?"
"The Well Demon? Yes, Hoshiko pronounced her fit enough to leave. Why, my lord? Is there something about her that troubles you? She seemed quite pleasant, if a little strange. But that only be expected, considering she was the Shikon miko reincarnated before she was transformed."
Raika repressed the scowl that wanted to form. It seemed there was much of his mother he didn't know. Perhaps his actions had been rash, but he had happened to catch sight of her in company of the old General's bastard offspring. And human lives were so short and uncertain-if he hadn't acted, he might have lost her again.
I will restore you, okā-sama. Every day, I learn more of who you were, how great the legacy you left me. You should meet some of your children! I've been looking for my siblings, all this time, hunting for the remnants of you. All of them are remarkable beings. And they are all willing to return your memory, when the time is right. Until then, be under the protection of my grand nephew. His veneer is hard, but underneath is someone you would have been proud to call your own.
"Take me to Hoshiko," the great black inu commanded, following the servant in a silent billowing of green and white silk. "I would speak to her about this Kagome."
The wind whipped at her hair, caught and tangled in her tail, but Kagome didn't really feel it in the same way she would have as a human. She was mightily curious to know if she even felt it like other demons. After all, there were fundamental differences between, well, dogs and wells.
Kagome frowned again. Turning from the commanding view of the landscape from atop the cliffs, she made the short journey down to where the rest of the party, sans Inuyasha, was waiting. Apparently, while the journey wasn't worth the difficulty for Miroku and the others, the appeal of the scene had long since been eroding for Temujin and Sesshomaru. Or, at the very least, it wasn't appealing enough to share it with Inuyasha.
Edging close to the stoic inu, Kagome stared ferociously at him, attempting to get him to acknowledge her. Eventually he turned his amber eyes to her and her tail gave a short wag to commemorate her victory. Blushing under the raised eyebrow that prompted, she asked. "Can I...talk to you, Sesshomaru-sama?"
"This one was under the impression you just did so," he replied, in a tone that made it monumentally obvious he didn't much care one way or the other, in much the same way he wouldn't care if she'd tumbled from the clifftop.
Being used to being brushed off by Inuyasha, this sort of tepid, silent preference for silence wasn't much of an obstacle at all. "I want to talk about feelings," she prompted.
"Your questions are then best answered elsewhere," was the prompt reply.
"Not feelings feelings," Kagome said impatiently, "but y'know, how you perceive things. Do you think you feel them differently because you're an inu and I'm a well?"
Sesshomaru considered her seriously for a moment, which in itself was a better reply than she had been hoping for. "It does not matter," he concluded.
"Yes, it does," Kagome argued.
"Sensation is not something one can take out and measure. It is not a sword or a horse. Therefore, one's own experience is the only one you will ever know and the only one that is any importance. You are in the unique position of being able to measure your experience as youkai against your experience as human, but outside comparison beyond that will only leave you disappointed."
Kagome considered that, then wondered if an EEG might be able to compare the electrical activities in both their brains when exposed to outside stimuli. The idea was immediately nixed, because "lab rat" wasn't among her career preferences. Still, what might Sesshomaru of the closed-book say when she told him that they had machines in the future that could measure the physical activities of the body so closely they could almost interpret emotion?
And then, she realized she'd been doing it again. Temujin called it "speaking human." What he meant was she was sense-blinking herself subconsciously, looking for the signals a human would look for, not a youkai in general or an inu-youkai in specific. But she really couldn't help it. Wells didn't come with inborn instincts, unlike animals. She only had her human standard to judge things by. Despite the sharpness of her senses, she routinely underutilized them so she could process them in the same way she'd always done.
Sesshomaru was, first of all, listening. To her and to everything around them, his posture open, his head canted so he could better listen to the sounds from beyond where they'd taken shelter, a concave wall of rock that wasn't quite deep enough to be called a cave.
And his scent projected nothing but ease. Kagome's sense of smell wasn't good enough to pick up the subtle nuances, nor was her brain wired to interpret them without a good deal of wrangling and a few half-forgotten biology lessons, but she thought that Sesshomaru might actually be trying to put her at ease.
Just like any good alpha. Kagome blinked, then glanced at his pack members. Ah-Un was sleeping, Rin already making a nest in its crossed forearms that she was graciously allowing Shippou to share. Even Jaken was nodding off, his weird fire-breathing staff threatening to slip off his shoulder and crack him in the noggin.
And that, she realized suddenly, might have been a direct result of Sesshomaru. The moment he tensed, his youkai companions would be on the alert and his human ward would follow their lead.
She'd seen this kind of effect before, in the Fortress, but it was generally only so strong between mothers and their young. Only the very strong sub-alphas could emotionally and physically influence their subordinates through only their state of mind.
He's a very good alpha, she realized with a start. I mean, I knew he was strong, but I didn't realize he was even capable of recognizing the emotional needs of his followers, let alone meeting them. Which, on second thought, is dumb. Doesn't everyone say human infants will die without kindness? And Rin's not that old. Yet she always looks happy to be around Sesshomaru. So he can't be all bad, right?
Turning her attention outside her thought, she stilled immediately when she saw that Sesshomaru had been eyeing her features and tail with interest. Kagome frowned repressively at him. "If you're doing that inu mind-reading thing that Hoshiko does, keep your thoughts to yourself," she grumbled.
A very, very faint smile pulled up the corner of his lips, which let her know he knew exactly what she was thinking. Kagome groaned.
Contrary to her impression, Sesshomaru did not know what the young youkai was thinking, but it was amusing to let her think he did. She expressed herself erratically in this form, sometimes using hand gestures and facial expressions so like a human her tail might not have existed, at others so ignorant of the appendage she did not think to still it. It was curious.
And it was interesting to watch her small sub-pack. She darted here and there, curious as a pup, with the dexterity and limberness of a ferret, while her tiger cat-napped. Their pace was very different, would almost clash, but something made their partnership functional. Neither seemed to bend to accommodate the other, but somehow Temujin seemed to be where he was needed when he was needed and Kagome still so taken by the small details of the world and how she interacted with it they didn't trample over each other too badly.
Much more peacefully, in fact, than the former miko and his half-brother got along. If he had been a stranger and had witnessed one of their "talks" he wouldn't suppose them to be anything more than hostile acquaintances. After their reintroduction, Inuyasha seemed to have forgotten that the well demon had rightfully usurped his place as alpha, if he had ever had it. Which was why their commentary on his competing for leadership of this pack had been ridiculous-who was he to fight when the alpha was absent?
His brother might think of himself as beta, by virtue of barking loudest, but all he did was charge forward. Kikyo directed them, the monk advised him. Either would be a more likely beta, which required a precarious balance of intelligence, strength, and a willingness to submit to the demands of the alpha. Which the monk did, with grace. When Kagome spoke, he listened, with the kind of intent and constantly calculating listening that the very best subordinates were capable of. He, obviously, belonged to Kagome. As did the kit, who obviously thought of himself as her kit, just as Rin based her identity on her relationship to himself.
The slayer was a little harder to read. Her alliance was with Kagome, but it was the alliance of one alpha female to another, for common cause. It was likely, he predicted, that after this fight with Naraku was over, she would break off and form her own pack, perhaps stealing Kagome's monk. Though that might only be proximity.
Inuyasha and Kikyo had become their own sub-pack, in part because those allied with Kagome over Inuyasha mistrusted the female. Which, Sesshomaru acknowledged, was a singularly reasonable reaction and ought to be encouraged. She was obviously a trap, but his suggestion they foil any plans in the making by destroying her had been vetoed.
But the risks incurred in keeping the abomination fell on Kagome's pack; so long as it stayed there and proved no threat to him and his, alive she would remain.
Though, and he watched as Kagome, quite visibly to his eyes, quashed the urge to make her replacement submit, she ought to be very careful. For if the young youkai lost control of her instincts, Sesshomaru wasn't going to be the one to stop her.
Noticing that she had scaled the cliff wall again, Sesshomaru relaxed further against the rock face. He needed little sleep, but it was better to do so now, when the threat of danger was distant, than postpone and endanger his pack. For her instincts seemed to know better than Kagome herself. Even if her body language was broken and her senses misused, there seemed to be some deep flicker of pure youkai, the kind of instinct that had driven her to make his half-brother show his belly, the kind that almost made her defend her rights on the male of her choice, even if he did not return her feelings.
And that situation did not bode well. Sesshomaru frowned internally as he turned over the possibility, which roused him from the first fog of sleep. He himself was rather young by youkai standards, but old enough and disciplined enough that he was not slave to his instinct. But sometimes frivolous, carefree, newly youkai Kagome?
Control was the furthest adjective from his mind when he thought of her. But she was a spirit demon. They didn't go into season, so perhaps it was a vain worry. Or mayhap not so vain. Only time would tell. Dismissing his misgiving, he settled into sleep, content with the knowledge that his own honed instincts were reinforced by the other alpha's.
A/N: If you're confused, that's okay. Things will be clearer in future chapters. And if you aren't, that's okay too.