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Born of Fire

Chapter Text

There was blood in the water.

Heavy, copious amounts of blood that seeped from several injuries. With the brutal pressure of the ocean held at bay by a simple barrier of energy, the Guardian severed the tentacles of the sea monster and heard its wail of agonized fury reverberate through the waters. The thick, dark ooze of its own blood joined its fallen limbs on the soggy floor of the ocean that the Guardian stood upon, the air swirling around her form, so much smaller than that of her opponent. But the sea monster had not learned its lesson that size didn't matter in this case and struck yet again. The Guardian was starting to lose count at this point and was surprised that it hadn't run out of parts to hack off.

By the gods, how she hated being in the water! It made her slow, an easy target, even in her protective shell, which the sea monster had so far used to its advantage, a matter she had underestimated. The sheer strength of its tentacles pierced through the barrier as if it was nothing more than a curtain of paper, and the Guardian raised her sword once more, gripping with only one hand, as the other hung useless at her side, compliments of the seeping wound that was her shoulder.


It was staring at him.

Large yellow eyes were fixed, unblinking, upon his face, peeking up through a mop of dark hair. He glimpsed the sight of fangs sticking out of its mostly toothless mouth as it grinned widely at him. Tiny claws scraped at his hands while the legs kicked out. It let out a high pitch noise that was not quite a laugh, and then reached out. A pudgy fist managed to seize a lock of his hair before he was able to pull away and he frowned as it delighted itself with a new game of tug. Mindful of what his own claws touched, he shifted his grip so that he held it by the back of its clothing, pried the fingers off with his other hand, and swept his hair free, even as it made another grabbing motion in his direction.

Damn that priestess! Where had she gone? How dare she leave him with this thing! He was not here for her convenience. She had no business forcing this creature on him. He did not have the means to care for it, nor the interest to do so. With a growl of frustration, he set it on the ground in front of him, only for it to lift its head and grab a fistful of his hakama. Had it been Jaken, he would have kicked the thing down the hill for being so irritating. As it were, he could only endure until its mother returned.

"Oi! Sesshomaru! What are you doing here?"

Or the father.

In the overhead branches of the tree he rested against, Sesshomaru heard-and smelled-the arrival of Inuyasha long before the hanyou jumped down into his field of vision. Inuyasha looked between the daiyoukai and the thing near his foot, which was currently attempting to chew on his hakama. Sesshomaru gave his younger brother little more than a perfunctory glance, arms folded within his sleeves, before he peered out at the landscape, where he could see a procession of people gathered on the far side of the village, the faint resonating of bells and chanting rising from their midst, almost lost to the winds even for his ears.

"Why do you have Asami?" asked Inuyasha. "Where's Kagome?" 

"She saw fit to abandon the infant here when the old priestess called her away," Sesshomaru said as he ignored the insistent tugging on his leg. 

"Ah, that's right. The burial for that girl is today," Inuyasha muttered. "But Sango was supposed to be the one to watch-" 

The sudden sound of tearing fabric silenced Inuyasha, who slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a noise that would have had him killed on the spot. Sesshomaru closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, waiting a moment or two before he spoke. "Get your beast away from me, hanyou." 

There was no answer, only the heavy clearing of a throat. And then something was pulling against his hakama. Sesshomaru looked over to see the infant being lifted up, her hands and mouth still clamped tightly to the material before Inuyasha was able to loosen her grip and brought her to lay in the crook of one arm. "When did your fangs get so sharp?" he asked, though she could not possibly provide an answer, as he inspected her mouth for himself. "We'll have to try these out on Shippo the next time he tries to steal my food." 

"Were you in need of something, Inuyasha? Otherwise I do not wish to hear your inane prattle," said Sesshomaru. 

"Fuck you, asshole," was the dismissive reply. The words certainly lacked the bite of anger that the daiyoukai was accustomed to and he glanced at the hanyou to find that he had walked off a short distance with the infant held above his head in both hands. Nonsense noises of excitement filled the air, so loud for something so small. And the expression on Inuyasha's face conveyed a calm bliss, perhaps happiness, a rarity for one such as him. And it was quite clear that Inuyasha was thoroughly ignoring his elder brother. He was completely indifferent to a presence of one who had once meant fear and danger and that to drop his guard in such a manner would be a death sentence. And now that idiot hanyou willingly turned his back on the daiyoukai, who had been seen as little more than a convenient watchdog by said hanyou's wife. 

On occasion, Sesshomaru loathed these changes in his life. How long ago was it that Kagome would never have dared to speak with him on her own, let alone push a child into his arms when summoned to perform a burial ceremony? Next time he would refrain from being out in the open upon his arrival where he could be spotted by passersby. The one he waited for, after all, did not need to search by line of sight to locate him. 

"Where's that wench of yours, by the way?" the hanyou abruptly called out, as if he'd sensed the trail of Sesshomaru's thoughts. 

His claws clicked together. Yet before he could strike out at the wretched mongrel, a movement low in the air interrupted them as Jaken swooped down into their midst on the back of Ah-Un. The imp, holding the reins in one hand, adjusted his hat with the other and fixed Inuyasha with a disapproving glare. "Show some respect!" he admonished. "You will address her properly when she arrives. Right now Lady Lucidity is delayed by her duties and is currently at the bottom of the ocean, trying to-" 

"Enough, Jaken," ordered Sesshomaru, rising to his feet. "Did you locate Rin?" 

Jaken immediately bowed from his spot on Ah-Un's saddle. "Yes, my lord! She was busy with preparations for the festival, but she should be here as soon as she is done."

Sesshomaru's mouth pressed into a thin line of irritation, blatant enough to Jaken, who began apologizing profusely and offered to bring Rin to him promptly, proclaiming that he should have done just that from the start. And while Sesshomaru did not disagree with that statement, he said nothing in response, but turned and walked off, to find a spot that was more secluded where he would not be bothered by those he had no desire to be near. The attempt was rendered useless, however, when Inuyasha began to follow. 

"Hold up, Sesshomaru! What was Jaken talking about? Did I hear him right? She's at the bottom of the ocean? What the hell is she doing?" 

"What difference does it make to you, hanyou?" he replied, Ah-Un's shadow passing over him, as Jaken left to fetch Rin. 

Inuyasha fell into step beside him, the infant cradled in one arm. "Not much, but if she's not here, the kids are gonna have a fit. I, for one, don't want to listen to them whine and I'm sure you don't either. I guess we could tell them to ask Jaken and he can explain where she is." Sesshomaru stopped his descent from the hill and peered over at what remained visible of the village. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Inuyasha do the same, but soon the hanyou glanced back at him. "What is it?" he asked.

"She said she would return before the festival," Sesshomaru murmured. 

Inuyasha was silent for a moment before he spoke again. "You gonna go look for her?" 

His gaze flicked up to the sky, but there was nothing to suggest a hint of her presence. And the lack of it filled him with a frustration he would never voice aloud. If he'd been able, he would have searched for her long before now. Yet he did not have the means to do so. Her preferred form of travel was nigh impossible to track. There was no scent to follow and her aura was so well obscured that he would have believed her human, had he not witnessed the gradual transformation himself. And to add to his ever growing discontent, she had not informed him of where she was going, blatantly admitting that she didn't know the exact location of her destination. "Beneath the ocean" was all she could say, had even compared it to a vague scent that one must follow in order to discover the exact origin.

An abrupt silence in the distance drew his attention. He spotted people breaking from the burial procession, making their way back into the heart of the village, and took note of the two females dressed in white and red clothing with the unmistakable silhouette of the monk beside them. How often had he caught Lucidity observing them and their other allies in the waters of Sagashite? She studied the entirety of her domain within that reflecting pool, but always she would keep close watch on this village. If he had the ability to do the same, he would go to the Isle here and now by way of the ferry; however, Sagashite answered to no one but the Guardian and was, therefore, completely useless to the daiyoukai.

"It's bad luck you got here after that girl was cremated," said Inuyasha, pulling Sesshomaru from his thoughts. "Kagome has been really broken up about not being able to help her. Tenseiga would have-"

"The girl's life is of no consequence to me," Sesshomaru cut in. "I will not be your tool to resurrect every human you fail to save."

"Keh! I can't imagine Lucidity would be very happy with you if she heard that," Inuyasha said, adjusting the now dozing infant in his grasp.

"You seek to use her against me to sway my decision? Are you so weak that you need a woman to win your battles?"

Inuyasha scowled, but there was something about the sight of his holding a baby that lacked in menace. Sesshomaru merely continued on his way, too distracted to bother with his brother. He was uninterested in this interaction and was doubtful that even Rin would be enough to placate his foul mood.

"Look, we both know that if she asked, you would do it," Inuyasha said as he followed once more, and Sesshomaru could hear the mocking grin in his voice. "So don't pretend like you're above what your woman wants."

"You are under a false impression if you believe she would make such a request," said the daiyoukai, and the statement rendered Inuyasha mute, if only for a moment.

"She would," he eventually countered. "I know that if we asked her, she would, for the sake of that girl's family."

There was much that could be argued on that point, much that might be debated. Yet Sesshomaru had no interest in discussing the moral characteristics of the females in their lives. He was not interested in discussing anything at all. Being in this village, when he could do little more than roam the area, not knowing what had happened and with no immediate answers that were forthcoming or how to find them, left him agitated and restless. He had no wish to sit beneath a tree, to watch the humans celebrate some custom with yet another festival, to linger in the hopes that she might-

Sesshomaru froze as Inuyasha spun around. The sudden movement jarred the infant awake. Her cries echoed through the air, but the sound did not vex as it usually did in the wake of what had arrived. Hidden by the sleeve of his haori, Sesshomaru's hand clenched into a fist at his side as he turned around. Already the hanyou was heading in the direction of the village, but stopped to glance back. "You coming or what? Isn't she the reason you've been moping around?"  

The hanyou dodged the Whip that cracked near his ear. He cursed at Sesshomaru as the infant wailed louder and bounded off, while the daiyoukai walked the winding path around the hill at a slower pace, following the unmistakable aura to the center of the village. It had been a long time since that mutt had been given a proper lesson of boundaries. He was becoming too familiar with Sesshomaru, acting is if his company was desirable when, in reality, it was barely tolerable. To some extent, he found this to be Lucidity's fault. She was too friendly with the village, with the priestess, daemon slayer, and everyone else who lived here, which forced him to interact with his brother and the others more than he had in comparison to a year ago, when Rin was the only reason he ever graced this human settlement with his presence. Prior to meeting Lucidity, he and Inuyasha had dealt with one another only in passing during his visits. Now it was impossible to return to the old ways. Sesshomaru had imagined that, given her aversion to people, Lucidity would avoid the crowds of the village. Yet it seemed that she had forgotten their treatment of her, of the ostracism she had lived in. 

It was a conclusion that strengthened when Sesshomaru caught sight of a yellow-haired figure standing amongst a small horde, which included more than Inuyasha and his pack. She appeared to be whole and unharmed, laden with burdens and talking with several villagers, and soon handed over a large sack that was accepted with many bows of gratitude. Another was on the ground nearby, being torn apart by a brood of children, who were digging into its contents. It wasn't long until some began to rush off, clutching newfound possessions to their chests, which included brightly colored stones and an endless array of seashells. Sesshomaru glanced down at one small boy who ran by, completely oblivious of the daiyoukai, and recalled the first time he'd witnessed children interacting with Lucidity. It had been a drastically different display than what he saw here. 

She was lowering the last parcel that had been tied to her back when she spotted him and a smile curved her lips. "Sesshomaru," she greeted when he reached the cluster of humans and youkai, most of whom were giving him a wide berth. "I figured you'd be here." 

"You're late," he replied, ignoring the crowd. 

She shrugged a single shoulder and gave a sheepish grin. "I know. I didn't mean to be. There were extenuating circumstances. Did you know that krakens are a real thing?" And suddenly she kicked open the parcel at her feet. What unrolled created an onslaught of gasps and even Sesshomaru took a moment to consider the amputated limb that slithered free, as thick as his body and twice the length. "Who wants calamari?" Lucidity announced to the dumbstruck crowd. 

Inuyasha, who had handed his infant over to the priestess, came forward to stand over the tentacle. "Where did you find this?" 

"The ocean?" Lucidity offered. 

"Dammit, I know that! Where in the ocean?" 

"About fifty miles from the eastern shoreline. It attacked while I was trying to work," she said, rotating a shoulder. "A very determined creature, too. This was all that I could carry back." 

"It's dead?" spoke a voice from the crowd. 

"Very much so," she said. 

"What's a kraken?" someone else asked, but it was Kagome who answered. 

"It's like a very large squid," she said. "There are stories about them dragging whole ships into the ocean. I thought they were just a myth, though." 

"This one definitely wasn't," Lucidity muttered. Again Sesshomaru noticed the shifting of her shoulder. And when she saw his frown, she raised a brow. "What?" 

"You smell of fish," was his reply. "It's revolting." 

She let out a derisive snort and stepped over the tentacle to approach him. "You battle a sea monster and try coming out smelling like a basket of roses." 

"I am not the bleeding heart of a fool who brings food to lowly humans undeserving of my attention," he sneered with open contempt that had her blinking and drawing back. A sharp intake of breath could be heard by more than one onlooker as a tension filled the watching crowd and there was a soft, rebuffing note of his name from the priestess. Yet he had no regard for the disapproving or anxious reactions of the ones surrounding Lucidity. It was her response of alone that held any import for him. And she did little more than let out a sigh and close her eyes, brows knitted together, before she disappeared in a single breath, leaving behind a crowd gaping at empty air.

"How could you say that, Sesshomaru?" came the immediate, admonishing demand from Kagome as she stepped forward. "She's your wife! You can't-"

The daiyoukai turned his back on her and the others, striding away from a scene he had no desire to be part of. "Do not lecture me, miko, when you are the one who subjugates your husband with prayer beads."

"That's not-"

"Drop it, Kagome; it's none of our business," he heard Inuyasha say.

And yet she ignored the rare and sound advice of the hanyou as she called out to Sesshomaru. "If you keep treating her like that, she'll leave you in the end!"

"Kagome! Knock it off!"

The noise of their bickering followed Sesshomaru back down the path. While doubtful of the predictions of the priestess, he was aware that he had upset Lucidity; he knew she would be the second the words escaped him. He would not be surprised if the reason she had left so abruptly was to avoid a public argument as Inuyasha and his wife were wont to do. And though he caught her scent a moment later when she took her physical form in another part of the village, he did not search her out. He was still...inexplicably angry that she had taken such efforts to provide food and gifts for people who had considered her beneath them not so long ago, people who had banished her to the outskirts of their village, attempted to assault her.... He did not understand and had not bothered to ask for an explanation as to the reason she went to such lengths to please these humans. He'd let her do as she wanted without interfering, regardless of how ridiculous he found it.

Then, why did it anger him now? He paused along the path, a frown creasing his lips. This had delayed her, yes, and he'd had no way of locating her to find out what had kept her. Being set upon by a monster of the ocean was no fault of hers, but the gifts.... She should not have bothered with the gifts if it meant that she would return later than promised. She had made him wait, made him.... Sesshomaru closed his eyes as comprehension finally dawned on him. For the briefest moment, he felt the fool this time for not realizing it sooner.

"Sesshomaru-sama!"

The daiyoukai looked up as Jaken descended from the air once again and saw that he was still absent Rin. Immediately, Jaken jumped down from Ah-Un and dropped the Staff of Two Heads before prostrating himself into a low bow on his knees. "Please forgive me for returning without Rin!" he begged. "She refused to come with me. She wanted to inform you that she promised to come see you as soon as she is able, but that she could not be pulled away from the festival preparations. I know this is not what you want to hear, my lord. If you like, I will show you where she is. But...but that would be an insult, your having to search her out when she is the one who has been called here. I can't imagine that her respect for you has waned, but she is certainly becoming a willful child."

No, that was inaccurate. Rin was not willful, nor was she a child any longer; she was near the proper age to be married, though Lucidity had often said it was madness and that thirteen years was far too young. Rin's refusal to jump at his summons was more than that, though. This unwillingness to abandon her duties to the village rather than choose him showed an inclination towards a life with humans, one that was more logical, safer, a choice that should have been made long ago. This minute shift of their dynamics brought matters into sharp focus. If Rin was to build a life with her own kind, to become a wife and raise a family, a daiyoukai had no place here. In spite of that, he knew would continue to return. He was too...invested to disregard Rin so easily. 

"What shall we do, my lord? What are your orders?" 

Sesshomaru peered down at the imp, who was watching him nervously, still upon his hands and knees. "Do as you want, Jaken," he said. "We will depart after the festival."

And then the daiyoukai left him there on the path with Ah-Un, retreating into the woods where some form of solitary existence was to be had. He did not find a spot to rest, but walked the hillsides. Aimlessly he wandered, biding his time and listening to the distant echo of village activity, the dull roar of voices, the scent of fires and the cooking of special meals for the occasion, and the overall energy of excitement for the coming celebrations. And always he returned his attention to one particular scent, the subtle trace of an aura that was not completely muted to those who knew how to search for it. To be angry, yet still want her was a predicament he was not unfamiliar with. This matter with Rin, however, he was not accustomed to and Lucidity would...alleviate his frustrations. Her presence alone had done so in the past, an aspect he'd come to acknowledge over the last year. Yet the question remained if she would be willing; he still needed to quell her fury with him.

The sun had begun its descent in the sky when he felt her aura shift and the source of her scent came from another direction. She had moved from the daemon slayer's home to the outskirts of the village and he followed what had become a familiar trail. Rarely did she return to this area, but for one purpose. And when he passed by the vague outline of what had once been her hut, which had never been rebuilt, he walked along the stream into another section of the forest until he came upon the small waterfall she favored for bathing. As he'd predicted, he saw her robes laid out upon the ground, along with the fresh silk of a yukata and an array of soaps and roots; however, there was no sign of her.

Yet as he came to stand at the edge of the shallow pond, he caught a glimpse of toes, then a pair of feet, sliding out from the hidden niche behind the waterfall. He was treated to the sight of nothing but long legs for the briefest moment before the rest of her emerged, leaning forward on her hands. Water cascaded around her, beating down on her shoulders, and wet hair plastered to her skin. Rivulets streamed along her body, trickling over bare breasts, running down a smooth, taut stomach, to disappear between a pair of thighs pressed together. The haughty expression of anger on her face would have been enough to give him pause, to consider his next move with care. Yet the image incapacitated him. He forgot, if only for the space of a heartbeat, the reason he had sought her out. 

"Have you come here to make demands or amends?"

Her voice returned a grain of sense to his fractured mind and he looked at her with renewed focus. "I do not care for your indulgence towards this village," he said.

She raised a brow. "I'm aware. And I'm also aware that human custom is not the issue here. You were worried and now you're pissed that I made you worry because I didn't get here when I told you I would, all over some silly exchange of goods. Though why you saw fit to insult me in front of everyone, I don't know."

"It was not my intention."

She let out a scoff. "As calculating as you are, I find that difficult to believe. What was your intention, then, if not to piss me off?"

"I had no other intention than to see what had caused your delay," he said. "As you were able to decipher the reason for my displeasure, does it come as such a shock that I did not restrain my response in the wake of your flippant behavior?"

A flicker of surprise crossed her face before she regained herself and scowled. "Flippant or not, that doesn't excuse your behavior either. Honestly, if you're upset about something, tell me in private. Don't parade it around. You know it was a mistake, otherwise you wouldn't be here trying to explain yourself." A hand tightened into a fist at his side. His jaw worked as he felt a dull ache forming in his temple, frustrated as he was with the transparency in which she saw him. "If I'm wrong, tell me," she continued. "If I'm not...." A sigh broke from her and she shook her head, a hand going to her shoulder, as she dropped her gaze. Some of the fire had gone out of her voice when she spoke again, sounding exhausted rather than angry. "Really, Sesshomaru, I was excited to see you. I'm sorry I made you worry, but gods be damned, you didn't have to embarrass me like that. It wasn't as if what I did was intentional."

"Enough, Lucidity," he murmured, and saw her look up just before he turned his attention towards the forest. His gaze wandered over the trees and foliage that were cast in the light of the late afternoon. "You have made your point." 

"...does this mean you agree with me?" 

"Yes." 

A silence elapsed, during which nothing but the sound of rushing water could be heard, until Lucidity let out another sigh. "Is that all?" 

Claws threatened to pierce the palm of his hand, his entire frame stiff with agitation. That he was reduced to this, that she would dare ask, that he would even consider indulging.... He closed his eyes, loathing every second. "This is not easy, Lucidity," he said, his voice rough. "I do not...admit mistakes to others." 

"Except me?" she pressed. 

He was surprised at the amount of willpower it took not to snarl as he forced himself to speak. "Except you." 

"So, you regret your actions, then?" 

His lip curled. If she continued to push.... 

"Sesshomaru?" 

"That is correct," he replied in clipped tones. 

"...will you look at me? Please?" came the soft question, sounding for all the world like an innocent request.

At least that was what he believed it to be, until he turned his head and was instantly subjected to a face full of water. On impulse, he took a step back and ran a hand down his face, blinking through the wet strands of his hair at the water receding back into the pond. The sheer audacity of the act was the only thing that saved her from an immediate retaliation; he did not know how to respond to such a ploy of childish revenge. 

Lucidity leaned forward, the waterfall striking her back, that smile of mischief playing across her lips. "You're forgiven." 

This time, his reaction was instant, with no conscious decision behind it. His hand shot out and the green energy coiled around her ankle. She barely managed to blink and look down when he yanked back, jerking her out of the niche and into the pond below. He heard nothing more than a gasp before she disappeared beneath the water. The Whip retracted as she emerged, spluttering and shaking her head, looking startled, but only for a moment. With a questionable smile on her lips, she raked both hands through her hair and pulled the locks out of her face, completely exposed from the waist up. He considered the naked form in front of him, no longer veiled by the waterfall, but then paused when he noticed what it had hidden. 

"You're injured," he said, moving towards the edge of the water once more. Lucidity's hand went to the pink scar tissue of the shoulder she'd been favoring. And from this angle, he could see more on the back where she'd been pierced through. And then he spotted the other, albeit smaller wound on her side. "Why did you not mention this? Is this what delayed your return?" 

"I'm fine; I was just careless," she said. "It took me a couple days to recover full use of my arm, but I could have come back sooner, like you said, instead of collecting everything for the villagers." 

Sesshomaru let out a resigned sigh. "It escapes my understanding, your insistence on such pointless gifts. They have done nothing to earn your affections."

"Affections?" she repeated, and there was a lilt to her voice that he could not be certain of. "I'll admit, the children I like, at least the ones who hadn't terrorized my home when I lived here, but the adults I pacify. Some feel that I endanger their village, with the gaijin law still in place. Food and anything practical puts them at ease. Plus, you know, extra protection from the Guardian."

He frowned. "Did you not inform them that Guardians can hide their true appearance? That is the reason you are willing to come here, is it not?" 

"Glamour or not, I can't trust every single person to believe me," Lucidity replied as she moved towards the bank. "But I can trust that any objections they make will be easily overruled if the rest are kept happy." 

"I see," Sesshomaru said slowly, watching as she placed her hands on the grass and began lifting herself out of the pond. And yet her progress was impeded when he lowered himself onto one knee in front of her. She stared at him, upper body braced upon her arms and legs still in the water, as his fingers curled beneath her chin, tilting her head towards him. "You are a manipulative woman." 

"You're figuring this out now?" she asked, brows raised. 

His thumb brushed over her bottom lip and his eyes followed the movement of her throat as she swallowed. "A lesson, it seems, that I am still learning."

"Perhaps if you simply ask next time, instead of-" 

Her words were cut short in a sharp inhale as his mouth covered hers. He could taste the breath of excitement on her lips, the flames of home on her tongue. His arm wrapped around her waist and he rose, pulling her from the pond and onto her feet, never breaking the embrace. Her arms slid around his neck and he felt the press of her body against the length of his. His grip tightened as his other hand brushed along her side, over a thigh, and-

Sesshomaru drew back when he caught the scent on the wind and looked up. For a third time that day, the figure of Ah-Un was gliding towards him, yet this time was bearing a different rider. Alone and waving her arm excitedly in greeting, Rin beamed down at him. "Sesshomaru-sama! Sesshomaru-sama!" she called out. "I'm so sorry I couldn't come earlier, but I'm here now. The festival is going to start soon. I thought we could go together. Is that Lucidity with you? She can come, too!" 

A sudden cough from Lucidity did little to hide her laugh. "Of course, Rin," she said, shifting against him, as Ah-Un landed. "How about letting me get dressed first, and then we can both drag Sesshomaru into the village?" 

"Okay!" said Rin, sliding off of the dragon with the reins clasped in one hand. "I'll be over here with Ah-Un." 

As the girl wandered down the stream, Sesshomaru turned his glare onto Lucidity, his scowl barely suppressed. "I will not-" 

"Sacrifices must be made for our children," she whispered for his ears, that grin of hers back in place, one which he was coming to greatly distrust. 

"Insufferable woman," he said. "You will regret attempting to force this decision on me."

"Aye," she murmured, "but you still love me." 

He let out a soft growl, then turned on his heel and walked off. 

Chapter Text

"A crack in the ground? That's what you were after?" 

"It's more than that." 

"What do you mean?" 

"It was.... It's something called a fault line. And the way it was forming, beneath the ocean like that, would have triggered an earthquake. If that happened, the land would be hit with-" 

"A tsunami!" Kagome gasped, adjusting a resting Asami in her arms. "Are you saying you went out there to prevent a tsunami?!"

Lucidity nodded.

"What's a tsunami?" asked the kitsune from where he was sitting next to the priestess.

From the edges of the fire the group was huddled around outside the home of the monk and daemon slayer, Sesshomaru listened to a topic that was of rare interest to him. Lucidity had yet to inform him of her reasons for venturing from the mainland. He was unfamiliar with the terms being used, which was not uncommon with the gap of knowledge between himself and Lucidity that spanned centuries. Now he listened to Kagome explain this latest term of what she described as a giant wave that could crush homes, perhaps even erase entire villages, in the wake of its destruction.

"Wow," the kitsune whispered. "I'm really glad you stopped it, Lucidity. I wouldn't want to go out that way. But what about the giant squid thing? Was it trying to eat you?"

"No, it was just angry. I guess it didn't like me so close to its home," she explained, peering down at the pile of flowers in her lap. "I can only assume...." The last words were spoken in a soft, vague tone that had Sesshomaru frowning,

"How did you know of a danger so far from here?" asked the monk.

Lucidity glanced up from sorting through the bits of floral. Behind her, Rin and the twins were combing through the long mane of her hair, their fingers diligently twisting the strands together in small, numerous braids. "It's just a sense," Lucidity said, handing some more flowers to the girls, who started to work the stems into the yellow strands. "No different from any of yours. Whether natural or otherwise, if there is a threat of extensive magnitude somewhere in my domain, I will know."

"And this is the first time it's happened?" asked the daemon slayer, who was selecting a dark red camellia from the pile.

"Yes, it.... Erm...Sango? What are you doing?"

"This color suits you; you should wear it more often," said Sango as she slid the camellia behind Lucidity's ear.

"Does being covered in blood count?"

"No, it doesn't. And stop that, Inuyasha," Sango added to the snickering hanyou.

"Yeah. How can that be funny? It's usually her own blood she's covered in," said Shippo, folding his small arms in disapproval.

"Keh!" Inuyasha scoffed. "Don't try and blame me. She's the one who made the joke."

"But you're the only one laughing," the kitsune pointed out. "You have a sick sense of humor, Inuyasha."

"What was that, you little brat?!"

"You heard me. You have a horrible mind, muttface!"

"Muttface?! Have you been hanging around Koga again?"

As Inuyasha caved to the instigation of a child, an occurrence so common that it was ignored by those present, Rin suddenly spoke. "We're done, Lucidity!" she announced, beaming, as she and the twins stepped back to admire their work, while Sango and Kagome converged for a closer inspection.

Sesshomaru had seen and heard enough. The festival had begun. And though he had intended to venture no further than the outskirts of the celebrations, the displays witnessed here had served to change his mind. Already the group was delayed, with the girls cornering Lucidity with their flowers and entreating her to tell them of her tale out at sea. And now the damn hanyou saw fit to give chase to the kitsune. The ensuing ruckus triggered fresh wails from Asami, which in turn had Kagome on her feet and shouting at Inuyasha. With the females distracted by the display and the monk attempting to stop Inuyasha with calm reasoning, Sesshomaru slipped away into the darkness. Jaken and Ah-Un were nearby, close enough that there was still a clear view of the spectacle when he came upon them.

"You are not staying, my lord?" was the imp's immediate question when he strode by. "I thought Lady Lucidity had requested that you-"

"Actually, I'm surprised that he stayed this long," came a voice on the sudden gust of wind that tossed the daiyoukai's hair before dying down. He turned around to find Lucidity, hands clasped behind her back, standing before Jaken, who had managed to adjust to her habit of abrupt appearances. He hadn't screamed and was not on the ground this time, but seemed to have dropped the Staff and reins, which he was gathering up. "How have you been, Jaken?" she asked as he straightened.

"I'm well, my Lady. I trust you were successful with your mission?" he asked in return.

"Such formalities," she replied. "I wish you would stop, but I know you won't at this point."

"Indeed not!" Jaken exclaimed, bristling. "You are married to Sesshomaru-sama now and should be addressed with the proper respect." 

"Ah," she sighed. "I never thought I'd see the day where I'd miss hearing your colorful insults." Her attention shifted onto Sesshomaru and she offered a small smile. "I didn't think you'd make it this far or last this long. I didn't expect you to come with us at all, honestly. Did I really guilt you into coming?"

"Do not flatter yourself, woman," he said. "I do nothing that I do not want."

She raised a brow, then let out a soft chuckle. "All right. I'll see you soon, then? I doubt I will stay for the entire festival."

At first, he did not respond, but approached her, his footsteps the only noise other than the verbal spat in the distance. As he came to stand in front of her, he noticed Jaken out of the corner of his eye, taking a few steps back and watching the pair in silence. Ah-Un, indifferent to his surroundings, settled onto the ground, as if to proclaim that this was the ideal spot to spend the night. Sesshomaru's gaze wandered over Lucidity's countenance, at the floral decorating her hair instead of strands of silver this time, at her open curiosity as she watched him watching her, waiting patiently for an answer. His eyes lingered on the camellia, long enough that she reached up with a self-conscious hand and touched the flower. "If that is what you desire," he finally said.

"I'd like you to come with me," she said as she pulled the camellia free, twirling the stem between her fingers and her eyes following its movements. "But I know you hate these things more than I do, so I won't torture you with social interactions."

When he reached out, he saw Jaken look away just before his hand closed over Lucidity's. She peered up at him, looking both startled and perplexed. Without a word, he drew the flower from her grasp and returned it to the spot behind her ear; he realized, now, where her thoughts had been when she'd been speaking with Sango. She might have been the most powerful being here, but her mind was still rather human. "No blood will be shed tonight," he said. "And there is no need for you to spend the festival this year in the shadows. Go."

She stared, blinking a moment. "Sessh-"

"OSUWARI!"

"GAH!"

"Took her long enough that time," Jaken muttered, to which Lucidity turned away and covered her mouth, but failed to suppress her giggle. "Idiot hanyou!" the imp continued. "And he is supposed to be a parent? Pathetic that he would allow himself to be so easily goaded. How can he call himself a father? Hmph! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. With the honorable Inu no Taisho's passing, he had no decent upbringing. I am doubtful that people who lacked a parent growing up could make proper ones themselves. A man with no father, a woman with no mother. Too many of them are lost causes, I'm sure. Don't you agree, my Lady?"

Lucidity peered down at Jaken, her amusement gone, her expression blank. She held his gaze just long enough for him to frown in confusion before she glanced over at Sesshomaru. "I'll be staying until after the lanterns are lit. After that I'll come find you; I promise this time," she said.

"As you wish," he replied, and then watched in silence as she disappeared in a soft rush of air.

"Does she not agree, Sesshomaru-sama?" Jaken asked. "I had assumed, given her outlook on certain matters, that she would."

The daiyoukai said nothing, but struck his servant upside the head hard enough to send him face-first into the dirt, the Staff rolling from his slackened grasp.


The flames rose high from the center of the village, stretching above the roofs of huts and filling the darkness with light and warmth. The sound of mesmerized voices carried on the wind and easily reached Sesshomaru's ears from where he watched on the hill that overlooked the village. He stood among the trees and foliage, arms folded within his sleeves, and studied the fire that danced in a most unnatural way. It came in waves, burning bright, then dimming to almost nothing, before rising again. Different forms appeared, including that of a large bird and another of a female figure spinning in strange movements. And longer still, he watched, listening to those enraptured by the display. The head of a wolf now, its head thrown back in a soundless howl.

What next? Sesshomaru wondered. How would she indulge these wretched humans next? In spite of her reasons, the thought of her catering to them, performing for them, set his teeth on edge. She did not need their permission to return here. She did not need their favor at all. And yet she sought it. On some level, he could not understand her desire to be included in this world. Did she cling to a life that she should have moved beyond? She was not human. She was anything but human. And still she persisted. As the fire died away one last time, Sesshomaru could only conclude that he would let her do as she wished. There was no harm in it and this was a temporary arrangement. These humans she sought the acceptance of would not be here for long. It would not matter, in the end. She was immortal; they were not and would eventually become nothing more than a distant memory.

A soft groan ended the silence. The daiyoukai spared Jaken a glance and saw that he was just as before: sitting in front of the campfire and clutching his bruised and bleeding head. The punishment had not succeeded in knocking him unconscious, but he'd remained quiet and subdued beyond the occasional whimpers of pain. As Sesshomaru watched, Jaken leaned back against the sleeping dragon behind him, staring with an expression of absolute misery into the fire. Never did he ask for an explanation of his transgression and nor was Sesshomaru inclined to provide one. And yet the daiyoukai did wonder if Jaken knew the extent of his insult towards Lucidity or if he merely assumed he had overstepped his place.

Movement down below caught his attention and Sesshomaru peered back at the village to see figures emerging from the line of huts and onto the bank of the river. He scanned the congregation, but from this distance, even his eyes strained in the near darkness. Lucidity had said she would return, but the fact remained that he was tired of waiting. Days he'd been waiting. He was not angry, merely...impatient and no longer content to linger in the forest. This time, there were no questions from Jaken, asking where his master was going, when Sesshomaru set off.

He found her further up the river, apart from the other villagers. She wasn't alone. Inuyasha and his group were with her, along with the children, none of whom had been put to bed, not even the infants. And there was also Kohaku, speaking with Rin and the old priestess, further downstream. Yet something was wrong. There was a tension in the group, marked by Lucidity stepping out of their midst and walking upstream, a lantern hanging from her hand. Kagome started to follow. At first Sesshomaru could not fathom the reason for their departure from their companions, until the priestess spoke in a tone he was unaccustomed to hearing when she was addressing Lucidity. 

"I just don't understand! How could you decide something like that? It's so...it's so-" 

"Heartless?" Lucidity offered, coming to a stop and spinning around to face her. 

"Yes!" Kagome exclaimed. "It's completely heartless! Why would you turn your back on people who need help? That isn't like you." 

This was...an intriguing development. It was not uncommon for the priestess to become angry with the likes of her husband, but Sesshomaru had never seen her temper directed at Lucidity. Yet while Kagome was beginning to tremble with indignation, Lucidity remained calm, to the point of indifference. "And as I've been trying to explain to you, I can't do what you ask," she told the priestess. "I can't-" 

"You mean you won't! There's a difference!" Kagome shouted, drawing the stares of those attempting to ignore the bickering. "If I was in your position, I would do everything in my power to prevent any of those horrible things from happening." 

"And that is why you aren't the Guardian," said Lucidity, the faint coldness of her words a subtle warning that her patience was growing thin. "I will not interfere with anything I have preexisting knowledge of and that's final. Do not ask me again." 

"But why?!" demanded the priestess. "You could save so many! How can you be so cruel and let those people suffer, let them die?" 

"You forget," Lucidity said in a soft voice, "that this decision includes my father." And Kagome, mouth open in preparation for another angry retort, stiffened. "You know how much I love him," Lucidity continued. "You know how much I miss him, but all the same, I won't save him. I won't change what has happened or what will happen. Think about it: if he had lived, I would have never come to this country. Mother wouldn't have brought me to this era. I would not have become the Guardian. I know the consequences should I save him. I cannot fathom what would happen on a much larger scale and I don't dare tempt it." 

"But-" 

"You think I haven't considered this? It's a paradox, Kagome. If it doesn't happen, how could I ever know to prevent it in the first place? I will never interfere with something like that. So stop arguing and don't ever bring it up again."  

The quarrel was over. That much was obvious before Lucidity ever finished speaking. The self-righteous wrath of the priestess had evaporated. Sesshomaru could smell the salt water on the air before he saw the woman's tears, while Lucidity stood there, unmoved by the weeping of her friend. Not another word was said between the two and it was not long before Kagome turned and made her way back to the others, her pace brisk and agitated. The last few steps were taken at a sprint, right into the embrace of the hanyou. And though he was the one left to comfort his emotional wife, he peered uncertainly over the top of her head at Lucidity. Sango and Miroku were watching her as well, uneasy with this turn of events; even Rin, Kohaku, and Kaede had fallen silent to observe what was happening, while the children ran or crawled about on the ground with the two-tailed youkai, oblivious to their surroundings, save the kitsune in their midst, staring with wide eyes. Kagome's sobs, albeit muffled, seemed to be a condemnation that pointed the blame of guilt towards the other party involved, the one who did not speak in her defense, did not apologize, the one who did not show remorse or emotion of any kind.

Eventually, the Guardian's chest heaved with a deep sigh that could have conveyed a number of potential responses: bitterness, acceptance, regret. Yet none could be interpreted, not even by Sesshomaru, as he watched her turn and disappear into the brush. For a moment, no one spoke, no one moved, with only the sound of rushing water and the soft crying filling the air. And then a babble of conversation broke out, mostly those asking after the well-being of the priestess or the kitsune suggesting that they speak with Lucidity themselves and request that she reconsider her answer. Sesshomaru felt his lip curl. Unclear though he was about what had led up to this argument, he had witnessed the end result and found himself...disgusted by the behavior. And he was seized with the urge to release the Whip into the group, to strike out and cause pain to those who would dare show such disregard. Nothing fatal. He simply wanted them to hurt.

This desire was irrational, however, and one he would not act on. Instead, he began to follow Lucidity's trail. He noticed Inuyasha's head swivel in his direction as he left, but he did not acknowledge him. In spite of how the hanyou and his companions had proven themselves worthy adversaries and allies over the years, in this moment they were lower than the belly-crawling serpents he so despised. They had no comprehension and therefore no true respect for what the mantle of the Guardian meant. 

If only she would realize the worthlessness of their acceptance, Sesshomaru thought as he spotted the crown of yellow hair, near lost in the tall weeds of the river. He moved closer and saw her crouched on the edge of the bank, the water gliding past, serene and indifferent to the chaos of celebrations. As he approached, she lifted a hand and, with an idle flex of her fingers, a flame flickered to life above her palm. He watched as she lowered the fire into the lantern, then drew her hand back once it took to the wick. He knew she was aware of his presence, but said nothing and nor did she. Instead, they remained in perfect silence while she lowered the lantern into the water and pushed it out until the current swept it from her grasp. Without a word, she rose and he stepped up behind her, sliding an arm around her waist. He did not need to see her expression or know what was going through her mind to understand the reason she leaned back against him, why she turned to the side to tuck her head beneath his chin. His gaze followed the single light upon the river as it floated further and further into the distance, to eventually join the other lanterns of the festival that honored the departed souls of kin.

"Am I really so cruel?" Lucidity asked in a low murmur that nonetheless pierced through the quiet stillness.

"Those who lead do not have the luxury of kindness," he said.

"I'm no leader, just a cold, heartless bitch, it seems," she replied and there was a sour taste to the words.

A ripple of annoyance brought a growl to his lips and his arm tightened around her. "I will not hear such things from you when they are the ones who are blind," he said. "Do not question yourself over the idiocy of fools."

"I can't help it," she murmured, shifting closer, and he soon felt the caress of her breath along the skin of his throat. "Kagome wanted me to prevent another tsunami, one that won't happen for another five hundred years. She started talking about other natural disasters, mass slaughters, wars. She wants me to stop goddamn wars, practically change the course of history and it's...it's insane. I can't do that. I shouldn't. I know I shouldn't, but-"

"Enough," said the daiyoukai. "You cater to their whims to the point of revulsion. It is not their place to make demands of you, not even the miko." 

The sigh of defeat that escaped her was, for once, a welcomed sound. She sagged against him, but his arm remained secure around her waist, as she buried her face into the crook of his neck. "No...no it isn't," came the soft whisper. "But I think what Kagome was really after was something more personal and...I can't blame her for trying. I won't change what happened to her father, the same as I won't save mine, no matter how badly I want to."

Sesshomaru peered out across the river, at the distant glow of lights along the water, feeling the warmth of the body in his grasp. "You believe that to be her motive?" he asked. 

"It would explain why she was so upset," Lucidity said. "Either that or she's pregnant again." 

His mouth twisted into a frown. Would the priestess manipulate one she considered a friend for such personal gain? He had not...believed her to be the sort, though humans as a whole had long since shown that they were capable of disloyal traits. And when it came to matters of family, it was not so shocking to consider. Even Lucidity had displayed such tendencies before and after becoming the Guardian, but she did not manipulate those she'd developed a bond with. No, he amended, that was not true. She had manipulated him and the others before. And yet it was to ensure that they did not come to harm, as was proven when Morstua killed the monk and daemon slayer. 

"Would you ever light a lantern, Sesshomaru?" 

The question pulled him from his musings, as did Lucidity lifting her head. He glanced down to find her staring up at him, that blue gaze oddly tentative. Whatever had prompted this line of questioning, he didn't know, nor did he care to. "It is a ridiculous custom of humans that I have no need of," he told her, and she swallowed, lowering her eyes, which in turn only served to frustrate him. 

"Never, then?" she pressed. "You never would? Not even for Rin? You will outlive her. Her children. Grandchildren. You'll outlive all of them." 

"That is the way of it," he said. And when she stepped back, daring to move from him, he scowled and, seizing her by both arms, jerked her forward. She gasped, her head snapping up, eyes wide, startled. "Your despondency is starting to vex, woman. Why do you insist on continuing in this manner?"  

Her eyes narrowed. "Well, excuse me for being discontent," she said coldly. "Why don't you give me some time to adjust to 'the way of it,' hmm? A few decades, a century perhaps? That might be long enough to accept how things have changed. Unless you honestly believe a handful of months is sufficient. Is that the case?" 

His grip loosened, but he did not release her. She was still...so very human. The memories of the late Guardian might have been at her disposal, accessed only when necessary, and she might possess a strength that rivaled his; however, in some ways, she was no different than when they first met, so hopelessly mortal. Discontent, was what she had said. Unsatisfied, then, with the way things were. She would learn. At some point, she would learn and adapt. Yet until that happened...what was to be done?

The simmering anger of her expression wavered when his hand reached up and cupped her jawline, his fingers sliding into her hair. And when his thumb brushed over the curve of her cheek, he knew, from the way her eyes flickered, that she was tempted. He took a step closer, easing her head back, and she did not fight him. "Take us from here," he ordered suddenly.

"What? Why?" she asked in surprise.

"Do it," he said.

"Er...where exactly-"

"Away from this vicinity."

Her lips parted, but she quickly closed her mouth and settled for a bewildered frown instead. In the end, she obeyed and their forms dissolved. It was not a way of travel Sesshomaru was fond of, being spirited from one place to another and having no control, his body nothing more than an insubstantial gust of air. He never imagined that he would ever allow another to hold such power over him; he'd never believed it was possible to put unconditional trust in another.

He heard the waterfall before he saw it and soon felt his solid feet upon the ground. Lucidity had returned them to her bathing area, far removed from the village and unwanted company. She peered up at him, her persistent confusion showing in the subtle furrow of her brow, which only deepened when he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers.

Chapter Text

An explosion echoed in the distance and fire showered the sky. It illuminated the contours of the surrounding trees and foliage, reflected off the surface of the pond, before dissipating into nothing. Another explosion followed a second later, brighter than the first, and soon there was a third and fourth, and a dull roar of voices began to fill the air, growing louder and louder, but never quite deafening. The excitement of the villagers could not drown out the trickle of the waterfall, nor draw his focus from its present course. 

The scent of flowers, however, was starting to overwhelm. The camellia, in particular, was bothersome so close to his nose. And though he had returned it to her hair earlier, he now removed it, pulling the stem out from behind her ear, as he drew his mouth from hers and straightened. Aware that she was watching him, Sesshomaru studied the dark petals of the flower as another firework burst across the sky and the cheers of the mesmerized crowd reached his ears. He let the camellia fall from his fingers, shifting his gaze onto Lucidity, and again there came another blast of fireworks, a series of them, over and over. Not too long ago, the noise and odor would have driven him from the area. But in this moment, he could not be moved. The light, distant though it was, danced over the paleness of her skin and caught the glow of those unusual eyes that had become more familiar to him than his own.

And as he gazed down at her, a tension rose inside him that he had come to associate with this woman and no other. It filled him with a sense of tranquility and at the same time sparked to life an urgency that incensed him if he did not touch her. He had claimed her. In every way possible, he'd made her his. And yet there were moments when he was not satisfied. What infuriated him the most, however, was that he remained uncertain of what it was that he wanted of her. Some nights, the force that drove him to take her was more than physical yearning; it was like the plague of the mind and there was no cure save to sink his fangs into his prey. And this need, this desire to possess her completely, could never be silenced. And more to the point, he had no wish to silence it. He succumbed, every time.

A weakness, he knew, and also did not care. All he cared about was drawing her against him and sealing his lips to hers. And she went to him, arms sliding around his neck, body molding to his. Every curve, every movement, he could feel and he wanted more. Always, he wanted more. He feasted on her mouth, his tongue seeking entrance, and she opened to him. His hands found their way into the folds of her clothing. The obi took mere seconds to loosen and the fabric fluttered to the ground as the yukata fell open. His hands moved up her sides and the sensation of the warm, bare skin beneath his palms after so many days apart made him realize how much he had...loathed the separation, brief though it had been.

His fingers traced the outline of her breasts and her chest heaved as she took a deep breath, lips parting from his. His touch became firmer, while his mouth trailed down her neck, and he cupped a breast. He bent over her and his teeth moved along the soft mound of flesh before closing around her nipple. Her gasp was almost a sigh. No matter how gentle he was, she never failed to react. And if he was rough...she merely became louder. His tongue circled the nub of flesh, pressing against it until the skin contracted and hardened, and then bit down. This time her inhale was sharp and high and she even momentarily lifted herself onto the tips of her toes. As soon as she lowered herself back down, he did it again and at the same time pinched the nipple of her other breast between his fingers.

Making her crumble with so little effort was a pleasure unto itself. She was moaning, her weight shifting from foot to foot, toes curling in the grass. He felt one hand pushing into his hair, her other coming to grip his shoulder, only to glide down and cling almost pathetically to his arm, her nails scraping the silk of his clothing. And when he gathered both breasts into his hands, she pushed herself up onto her toes once more, shivering, as his mouth switched from one to the other. Her body was growing hot beneath his touch, and her scent, the potency of it, was slowly invading his senses. He hungered for it, for everything that she offered and more. He yearned to have it all, every last ounce of what she was, and keep it for himself.

His teeth pulled at her nipple, hard enough that there was a note of pain in her groans and the fingers in his hair tightened, but she did not shove him away, did not so much as voice a complaint. And when he did it again, she moaned and shuddered, the whole of her body arching, her hips twisting, and the aroma of her heat overwhelming all else. Finally, he drew his teeth from her breast and his mouth traced a wet trail down the center of her stomach, nipping at her navel, as he lowered himself onto his knees, hands moving over her thighs. And then his lips found the dampness between her legs. Scent and taste became one and the same with his tongue pushing into her swollen folds. He explored her as he never had another, bringing her closer, easing his tongue inside her. He basked in the flavor her depths, the sound of her voice echoing through the air, the sensation of both hands now combing through his hair, gripping tight, while he enjoyed himself with the taste of her.

She was starting to tremble, trying to keep her balance, and he held fast to her hips, not allowing her to move so much as a step away from him. His tongue traveled back up and pushed against the hard knot between the lips of her sex. She gasped, convulsing once before stilling herself, and he felt nails scrape along his scalp. He did it again, moving his tongue over the tiny nodule, and she moaned for him, rocking herself against his mouth. He didn't stop. His claws dug into her skin, never piercing, as he worked this special spot of hers, one that never failed to make her writhe, make her moan, and even, at times, make her beg. And how he could make her beg! Yet not tonight. Tonight he wanted to show her, wanted to remind her....

"Sesshomaru!" she gasped, body bowing forward, hands clutching hard. "[I-I can't.... Fuck! Fuck, oh gods! You're going to.... Fuck!]"

The crude sound of her foreign words collapsed into little more than a whimper as he urged her to him, his tongue never stopping, never allowing her a moment to breathe, until she finally succumbed. She convulsed yet again, over and over, her voice a wordless melody of ecstasy, clinging hard to him and he to her, his mouth remaining firmly latched onto the wet pulse between her thighs. His eyes were shut while he savored what she gave him, the essence that flowed between his lips and over his tongue, even trickled along his chin. His hands roamed over her backside, feeling along the curve of muscles, and he drank the last of what she offered as her spasms of pleasure shuddered quietly into nothing but the echo of ragged breathing.

His eyes slid open and trailed up the line of her body, between the mound of her breasts, to see her looking down at him, lips parted, body swaying back and forth, and hair tumbling off her shoulders. In the dim light of the night, he could still see the flush in her cheeks. Neither of them moved, neither of them spoke, and yet as she regained her breath, he found himself leaning back, drawing his mouth from her, and then licked his lips in blatant satisfaction. Though, in truth, he was far...far from sated.

And suddenly his face was in her hands. She was bearing down on him, her mouth crushing his, teeth threatening to cut into his lips. It was her tongue, however, that had his attention. It was moving along the inside of his mouth, searching every crevice, flicking over his fangs, before pulling out. In some dull recess of his mind still capable of thought, he realized she was tasting herself on him. What was more, she had crouched down in front of him, her mouth on his chin, lapping at what remained, fingers brushing over his cheeks, her soft moans burning his ears. Did she know? Was she aware of the gesture? The submission of it? Did she understand that he could not be held accountable for his actions if she persisted?

And then she bit him. A delicate increase of pressure on his chin, hardly enough to leave a shadow of an indent, but enough to have him seize her by the shoulders and drag her forward. His teeth latched onto her throat, an unbridled growl rising from his own, and he was nearly undone by the cry that filled his ears and the moan that followed after. In an effort to retain some sense of mind, he rose to his feet and pulled her along with him. He managed to shift his mouth away from her neck, but once again growled, feeling the yearning churn inside him like a feral beast.

"Remove my armor," he rumbled into her ear. "Now, woman."

Her breath hitched. He stepped back and gazed down at her, waiting in expectant silence. Her hands, which were resting on his chest, were shaking. Not from excitement or pleasure, not even anger at being ordered. Instead, she was nervous and the temptation he felt at the sight was almost too much; he had to force himself to remain calm. She didn't look up, but stared straight ahead, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth. And just when he was ready to prompt her into responding by whatever means necessary, her fingers trailed down and took hold of the sash at his waist. Still trembling, she untied the knot and lifted the swords free. It was not out of the norm to allow everything to simply clatter to the ground. Yet this time she laid it all carefully on the grass, her manner respectful, docile, and it filled him with the urge to throw her down and take her then and there. His hands fisted at his sides as she straightened and began to undo the straps that held his armor together. He did not move, but waited while the breastplate and pauldron were lifted away and set aside with the same care.

"The haori, woman," he said. Mutely, she obeyed and drew the material off his shoulders, along with the mokomoko, which dropped to the ground. Gathering the haori into her hands, she crouched a third time and laid the silk over the armor.

Only then did he seize her by the back of the neck, before she even had a chance to stand once again, and turned her around to face away from him. At the same time, he grabbed the collar of her yukata from behind and tugged it off. She gasped, panting heavily, as if she had never been given a moment of respite, and he tossed the clothing aside, letting it fall where it may. And then he brought her to her knees. She didn't argue, didn't fight, but went with a willingness that had his skin singing at the sight of her bowed head and quivering body. She braced herself upon her hands as he pushed her down until her cheek rested on the grass and lowered himself behind her. His claws bit into the nape of her neck and he could smell the blood before he leaned over, his teeth finding the shell of her ear and the ache of his desire pressing against her open folds. She did nothing more than moan and shiver and ease herself back, allowing him to feel what she was so eager to give.

And yet his hakama prevented him from truly experiencing the warmth of her, a matter which was quickly remedied. With his body resting over hers, his hand slipped between them and blindly loosened the clothing until he was free, until he was sliding against her moisture, guiding himself inside. And her voice resonated in his ears, drowning at the groan that escaped him, a sound of pleasure, of knowing that she was here, she was safe, and that she was his. She belonged with him, a truth she needed reminding of. She needed to be shown that this world of humans was no longer where her priorities should lay.

His hand shifted from her neck to her shoulder, claws tipped with blood scraping across her skin, and pinned her there. As his other hand clutched at her waist, his hips snapped forward, jolting her beneath him and wrenching a cry from her throat. Bearing down on her, he growled in her ear, daring her to complain, and thrust himself into her again. His movements were hard, vigorous, and his claws were drawing fresh, crimson lines from her shoulder. His mouth latched onto the deepest wound, just as he had done to her sex, and the rich taste of blood steadily began to work him into a greater frenzy.

His grip tightened. He pushed down on her, with no mercy, with little thought of the discomfort, of the potential pain it would cause, as the moans dripped from her, fractured by unmistakable whimpers. He could feel her moving, writhing against him, and it only enticed him further. He had her here and now, was mounting her as he desired, but he wanted more. He wanted her submission, wanted to dominate her until she pleaded with him, and still he knew it would not be enough. Like fire in his veins, this longing seized him with an agonizing need that he could not fulfill. Why...why was it never enough? What more could he possibly want from her?

With his frustrations rising, he yanked her upright onto her knees, his arm threatening to crush her waist, his other hand dropping to her upper arm, claws hooking into the tender skin. He could hear her voice, her cries, the sound of his name on her lips, punctuated with each thrust of his hips, and felt her hands clinging onto his arms. Yet she made no attempt to break his hold. She could have. So easy it would be for this woman to free herself of him, to exact revenge if she so chose. And yet she didn't. He demanded her obedience, made her bleed for him, made her body his own, and she allowed it. She succumbed to him just as he succumbed to his yearnings. And the knowledge only served to strengthen this maddening ache that could not be assuaged.

With a snarl he would never permit any other to hear, his teeth pierced her nape, over a familiar set of scars, until the skin broke and he brought them to the ground. Her blood cascaded over his tongue. Her voice rang through the air as he had her on her side, a hand hooking behind the back of her knee and lifting her leg to ensure that nothing would restrict him from taking her as he would. And with his fangs buried in her neck and his organ buried in her depths, the daiyoukai feasted on all that she was, all that she had, all that she could give, and more than she could possibly understand. She never struggled, never fought, never refused, as he penetrated her again and again, relishing in the flavor of her blood, her essence.

He could feel the pressure rising, churning in the pit of his stomach, and thrust himself deeper, harder, his fangs carving their way into her flesh, and the arm around her waist began to move down. His hand eased between her legs as his movements continued, with no end in sight, and his fingers found the swollen nodule that had her bucking into his touch. Over and over he stroked her, worked her while he rocked his body into hers, trapped in the tightness of her warmth. And then he felt those walls contracting around him, how her frame shook against his, and heard her cry of completion that destroyed the last of his reserves. His voice tore from his throat, a guttural cacophony of snarls that were as beastly and feral as his lust, as he finally emptied himself inside her, his frame stiff and unyielding, clutching her against him with no intention of releasing his prey.

And though he lowered her leg, his arm remained secure around her waist. He could feel the last of her pleasure throbbing in the wet swelling beneath his fingers and he idly pinched the lips of her sex, delighting in the gasping, twisting response the absentminded act elicited. He drew his teeth from her nape and dragged his tongue over the wounds that had bled down her spine. The growl that escaped him was a lazy sound, one of contentment, perhaps even satisfaction. Would it be enough this night? He wondered this as he pressed his hips against hers once more, feeling the dull reverberation of pleasure, a mere echo of the mindless euphoria he'd experienced moments ago.

"N-no more," came the trembling whisper. "Let me rest."

Rest? Was he in the mood to permit such a request? Again, he lapped at puncture marks, tasting the fresh blood that continued to trickle from the wounds, before he rolled her onto her stomach, still sheathed inside her. She started to push herself up, only to cry out when he clamped his teeth onto her shoulder to keep her still. He dragged her arm out from beneath her and promptly pinned it against the small of her back, while her other arm remained trapped between her and the ground. Young, healthy, and with an apparent appetite that could not be appeased, the daiyoukai claimed her again. And regardless of how it lacked the same brutality as before, his actions were nonetheless demanding and relentless.

"Sesshomaru, please," he heard her say, but he merely growled in return.

"Silence, woman," he ordered, and she complied, releasing nothing more than a low whine before the tension drained from her body. She was soft and pliable in his grasp, without objection, even as she turned her head to the side, eyes squeezed shut and teeth clenched. He held her there as he took her and found his pleasure once again while she lay beneath him, her voice little more than breathless gasps, the occasional shudder racing through her. Before long, he spent himself a second time that night, doubtless it would be the last. And as he lay there, his forehead coming to rest against the nest of her hair, he breathed in the aroma of blood and flowers, the mixture of his scent and hers, and a sense of ease stole over him. Seven, nearly eight nights apart, and she was at his side once more; he would not have her leaving again, regardless of the reason.

Suddenly, her wrist twisted in his grasp and Sesshomaru shifted his wandering attention onto the form still trapped by his frame. He gave little thought to finally acquiescing to her request as he released her and extracted himself in the same movement. She shivered, rolling away from him and onto her side, as he laid down next to her, adjusting his hakama back into its proper place, though she was without covering. Briefly, he considered draping his discarded haori over her, at least until his appetite returned. And yet he found the sight of her bare skin far more appealing. Spotted with blood and scrapes, bearing the marks of his favor from her throat to her calves, the image of her enticed him. Merely laying there enticed him, while the seed glistening between her legs pleased him in a way he had not experienced before, knowing that she was for him and him alone. No other would ever have her, so long as he lived.

Moving onto his side, he eased himself up onto one arm and reached out to glide his hand down her side, before he leaned forward and laid his lips upon the junction of her neck. She was still shaking, he noticed, with subtle tremors running through her body. She was stiff in his grasp and it only worsened with her resisting when he attempted to draw her back against him.

"No," she said, pulling away. "That's enough, Sesshomaru, I mean it this time."

And though he was reluctant, he did not stop her as she dragged herself upright and struggled to her feet. Frowning, he sat up and watched her retrieve the yukata, pulling it on, then went to fetch the obi. But when she lost her balance and her legs buckled beneath her so that she quickly lowered herself to her knees, he rose to his feet and walked the short distance that separated them. He knew that no mortal could have survived the treatment he'd subjected her to and yet it could never harm her to such an extent, not unless....

"Why did you say nothing?" he asked as he came to stand over her. She didn't answer, nor did she lift her gaze, but rather she shook her head as she pushed herself up, now visibly trembling, and refused to look at him when he knelt in front of her. "Why, Lucidity?" he urged. "Your body is more susceptible to damage in this state. You should not take such risks."

"It was my choice," she said. "You've been stressed and clearly you need an outlet; I wanted to give you that."

"Idiot woman!" the daiyoukai growled, seizing her by the arm and yanking her forward. She gasped and braced herself with a hand against his chest, her eyes snapping onto his face. "You would have me injure you further over some misconception of my needs? Do not make such decisions for me, you stupid girl!"

An angry retort was what he expected. It was what he was accustomed to; a carefully worded, seething reply that would explain to him the insanity of her reasoning or, on occasion, a quiet acknowledgment that he was correct, that she had used poor judgment in this instance. He was accustomed to her challenging him, of not allowing slights to her person without some type of retribution. What he was not expecting, what he was not accustomed to seeing, was the wide-eyed shock he received. More than that, however, was the fleeting glimpse of a stricken pain behind her eyes that was too sudden for her to hide, forcing her to drop her gaze. She drew back from him and he let his hand fall away.

"What is it that you need, then?" she murmured, and he felt himself grow still. "Something is going on with you and it's getting worse. Letting you do as you want seems to be the only thing that can calm you. I don't mind...I really don't; but if I'm wrong, I want to know. If you need help, I-"

"No," he interrupted. "I will not have you harming yourself based on these presumptions; it is no concern of yours."

A bitter smile crossed her lips as her eyes fell shut. "You are always my concern...and you are so damn unfair. If I'd behaved as you just did, you would not give me a moment of peace until I explained myself."

"Lucidity," he began, but stopped when she unexpectedly leaned forward. She hadn't lost consciousness, but rather had laid herself across his lap, her head in the crook of his elbow. He peered down the length of her profile, at the glimpse of pale legs tangled in the yukata, at the stretch of bare skin down the center of her body that remained uncovered, and the strands of yellow hair that curled over her shoulders and brushed along his arm. Without thought, he slid his other arm under her knees and lifted her onto his lap so that her head came to rest against his chest. When he pulled his arm free, he paused at the sight of blood smeared along his skin. He'd forgotten, if only momentarily, that his claws had pierced the back of her knee. Worse damage was caused than he had intended. And when he noticed a discoloration beneath the loose sleeve that had slipped from her shoulder, he eased the material down further and saw for himself the deep bruises that were starting to form. Within the hour, her body would be littered with markings he had not wished to leave and it had him...disconcerted. She was his to protect, not to harm, not like this.

"You're a right bastard, Sesshomaru," Lucidity muttered, and his gaze flicked up to her face to see her studying him. "You're deliberately making me worry, aren't you? This is revenge for my making you wait, isn't it?" The smile she offered was crippled with blatant exhaustion and she soon closed her eyes, her frame growing limp against him. "You will keep me safe?"

He snorted softly. "Do not ask stupid questions, woman."

Once more, her lips curled upwards at the corners, a fleeting expression before her features relaxed and her head sagged along his chest. His gaze slid over to the bruise that marred her pale skin and he felt his mouth shift with a threatening scowl as he pulled the sleeve back up. She did not stir, but remained perfectly quiet, completely and utterly unaware while she slept. For one so powerful to be so vulnerable was an ironic fate. This was only the third, perhaps fourth, time he had witnessed her in this state and it never failed to cause him unease. Nothing could disturb her when she was like this, not even her own death. For two days she would not wake. And each time he did not take the chance of leaving her out in the open, whether he was at her side or not.  

They couldn't stay here, but Sesshomaru didn't move just yet. He felt his mouth press into a thin line as he studied the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, the ease in which she slumbered. She should have said something, should have warned him. Why had she kept her silence? Regardless if he had commanded it or not, if she truly had no inclination to obey, she could have stopped him; it wouldn't have been a first. So what was different this time? Her concern? Was it enough to negate all common sense and put herself at jeopardy merely for his sake? If he had completely lost himself, he could have done worse than a few bruises. 

These thoughts and more churned inside Sesshomaru's head as he removed the flowers the girls had woven into Lucidity's hair. The worst part, he found, was that he was uncertain what he would have done if he'd given in to his base nature. Would she have been able to reason with him? He had not heeded her desires while indulging his own. She'd wanted a reprieve, but he had refused. He had...assumed that she would overpower him if she hadn't been willing. But now he knew that she hadn't had the strength. She had pleaded instead and he hadn't listened. He'd refused, taken what he'd wanted, and she had allowed it, in a foolish effort to ensure that his hunger was well fed. But had she wanted it as well or had he forced her? 

He stilled at the unbidden thought, his fingers caught in the yellow locks. Was it possible? The idea disgusted him and yet he wondered at the truth of it. She'd allowed him to do as he pleased, to put at ease this...carnal beast that he never attempted to harness. Had she truly not wanted him in that moment? Had she wanted to be free of his touch, of his lust? He did not know.... The only matter he could be certain about was that he could not let himself lose control again.

Carefully, he laid her on the ground, and then stood to collect his haori, armor, and swords. Once he was dressed and the mokomoko over his shoulder once more, he turned his attention back to Lucidity. His lip curled at the dried blood that stained her skin and he proceeded to strip her of the yukata before bringing her unconscious form to the pond, where she had left her bathing supplies from earlier that afternoon. With a discarded washcloth, he cleaned the remnants of their evening from her body, blood, seed, and all. Watching his hand scrub over her skin, he recalled the first time he had done this, when she'd been struck unconscious by a viper, covered in blood and injuries that he had been responsible for, as if little had changed between now and then.

This should not have happened.

The words echoed in his head, over and over: when he set aside the washcloth, when he dressed her in the yukata and obi, when he gathered her into his arms and went in search of Jaken. The weight of the words pressed down on him with every movement and he could not escape this state of self-blame. He could not convince himself that Lucidity was the foolish one, the one who should be the guilty party, for failing to inform him of her impending condition. He should never have let it to escalate to such a point and the inability to rectify the mistake was infuriating.

Jaken had not moved from where the daiyoukai had left him. He sprang to his feet and bowed in greeting. "I-Is everything okay, Sesshomaru-sama? I was not expecting you back so soon," he said. "I see that you have found Lady Lucidity. Is she all right?"

"She sleeps," Sesshomaru answered.

"Oh! Then allow me to summon the ferry for you," said the imp as he awakened a reluctant Ah-Un and urged the dragon to its feet by the reins. He set a quick pace through the forest, away from the village and its inhabitants.

Sesshomaru cast one last glance towards the collection of huts, listened to the dull roar of celebrations that would continue in their absence, before he turned and followed the path left by Jaken, his mind ever churning with thoughts that refused to settle. Up the river from the village, he located Jaken, who was retying the drawstring of a small pouch at his waist given to him by Lucidity months ago. Between his fingers, he clasped a single strand of long hair and lowered it carefully into the water.

"Hahaoya no Shikyu," the imp called out, "we're ready to return."

Chapter Text

The strands of silver in her hair shimmered under the light of the full moon. Rin's idea, not hers, but it provided a good distraction, something for her fingers to fiddle with while she gazed ahead, feigning to be utterly engrossed in the speech being given for the gathered crowd. The heat of so much attention was difficult to ignore, a constant burning along her skin, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Focusing was difficult, being completely still more so, until his hand squeezed hers. A minute gesture that went unnoticed, regardless of so many witnesses. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, the ever stoic youkai lord who was moved by nothing and no one. He was staring straight ahead at the figure in front of them, the one who was giving a blessing of their joining for all those present to hear.

It was the string of the orator's energy that bound their hands together, a delicate rope of emerald that flowed from one wrist to another and back again, creating a binding unity. The soft glow of power cast his features in a subtle dance of light and shadow that held her attention far better than the dull drone of memorized words ever could. And then his head turned, ever so slightly, and she suddenly found herself staring into those golden eyes that reflected little of his inner thoughts. Yet she didn't need to know his exact thoughts to understand what he was feeling. And when he squeezed her hand again, the gesture whispered the same message as before: I hate this, too. 


Lucidity awoke in a haze of confusion. The green foliage of familiar boughs loomed on every side of her. No matter which direction she turned her head, green leaves illuminated with sunlight were all she could see. The thrum of power of the Hahaoya no Shikyu echoed through her as she brushed a hand through her hair, rubbing at her temple, and closed her eyes. She clung to the images of what she knew now had been a dream. Well...more of a memory, but still a dream of sorts, the images churning through her mind like a film reel. She had yet to truly dream when she slept in the Hahaoya no Shikyu. It was more like that the great tree played back the highlights of her life or sometimes Satomi's.

Her union with Sesshomaru seemed to be the popular one as of late. That was the second time she had relived the moment during her seasonal slumber. Not that she was complaining. It was pleasant compared to others, helped her remember details she had forgotten. Neither of them had enjoyed the ceremony itself, of being bound together before those loyal to the daiyoukai. She'd never realized the vast number the daemons he ruled over until that day. Stiff and formal, Lucidity had endured the evil necessity of the ceremony, as had Sesshomaru. It was the final result that they both wanted, after all, for their own reasons. The fact that Sesshomaru had insisted on being her husband and at the same time loathed having to stand in front of witnesses and declare it for the world to hear had amused her to no end, especially since they had been in the same frame of mind; had these been modern times, Lucidity would have insisted on eloping.

The smile that had been forming slipped away as she suddenly recalled how Kagome had complained at not receiving an invitation, which in turn reminded Lucidity of her last encounter with the priestess. She remembered standing apart from Inuyasha, Sango, Miroku, and the rest, gazing at everyone in silence while Kagome wept. No one had spoken. No one had tried to reason or argue with either of the women. And yet Lucidity could feel the divide between her and the others. Whether they agreed with Kagome or not, they would never choose an outsider over the priestess. The fact remained that Kagome was family and, despite what might have been said in the past, Lucidity was not. And never had she felt the brutal reality of the truth as she did right then. She knew it was what Sesshomaru wanted her to accept when it came to the people of the village. Even if she'd still been mortal, she was too different, and nothing was ever going to change that.

Lucidity let out a sigh as she rolled over and felt the branch beneath her unfurl from the trunk. With much stretching and creaking, the Hahaoya no Shikyu eased her towards the ground until she was able to step out of its embrace and onto the grass below. Shaking out her hair, she peered around at the empty courtyard. Sesshomaru and Jaken were nowhere to be seen, but she could sense both on the Isle. For a moment, she considered searching them out, until she glanced down at herself and noticed she was wearing the same garments from the festival, which meant she hadn't had a proper bath since before she and Sesshomaru had last laid together. As she made her way into the palace, she wondered if he was still upset with her.

The halls were quiet. She came across only two servants, who were quick to bow and greet her, offer assistance, the usual spiel. And then they hurried off to prep whatever needed to be prepped while she ventured down into the hot springs, where she found the bathing supplies and evidence of recent use. The cluster of silver hair that was discovered on the scrub brush gave evidence of the guilty party and had her truly worrying if he was, in fact, angry with her; it was typically his custom to wait until she awoke so that they might bathe together.

With an unexpected incentive to track him down, she went through the motions of washing her hair and body, rather than take the time to relax and enjoy the luxuries rarely experienced outside of the Isle. One of the servants from earlier barely had time to bring her a robe to wear outside of the hot springs. Lucidity was out of the water and about to break down her form when the girl appeared and presented her with the clothing, offering apologies that were waved aside. The robe was little more than a bit of cotton fabric that was pulled on and tied into place, something simple to wear between here and the Guardian's chambers.

And once Lucidity was alone in the privacy of said chambers, she shed the robe, using it as a towel to quickly tousle her wet hair before tossing it over the room divider. Sesshomaru had been here, too, she noted upon spotting his armor and swords, set on the floor against the foot of the bed. Her gaze shifted from Bakusaiga and Tenseiga to the weapons mounted on the wall: the sword and dagger given to her by Sango. Sesshomaru had, in his own, subtle way, sneered at what he'd proclaimed as useless. With the power she wielded now, the weapons were obsolete, but she was not about to discard them.

The same could be said about the ankh that hung beneath the swords. It had been found in the forest not long after Asami had been born. Yet regardless of the sentimental attachment she had to the necklace, Lucidity could not bring herself to wear it. Every time she tried and gazed at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn't stand the sight. It made her feel as if she was attempting to cling to a past that was not hers, cling to a life that had been fabricated until she came to this era and learned the truth. Yet she didn't throw the necklace out as she had done before. She wanted...some sort of reminder, something physical that represented where she came from, something that was more than words in the journals taken from the village and now kept in the den of her chambers. She had moved on from her past as well as she could, but that didn't mean she wanted to forget.

"My Lady?"

Lucidity shifted her attention from the ankh to the entrance of the bedroom. The sound of shuffling feet could be heard and Rusuban soon appeared, arms full of silken material. The old caretaker paused at the sight of her naked mistress, then shook her head. "Your hair is a mess, my dear," she said, stepping forward and holding out the light-as-air attire. 

Lucidity raised a brow as she took the clothes. "Be happy I didn't show up covered in blood again."

"Hush now," Rusuban chided as she picked up a thickly bristled hair brush from the table. "Do not tempt the Fates, otherwise next time might be worse. Now get dressed and sit down so I can tame those wild locks of yours."

On reflex, Lucidity obeyed. There was just something about an older, maternal woman barking orders that made her inclined to listen. "Have you seen Sesshomaru?" she asked as she fed her arms through the sleeves of the new robes.

"He was here this morning," Rusuban said. "I imagine he was getting impatient; you slept for three days this time. How extensive were your injuries?"

Lucidity stopped, hands behind her back where she was securing the sash with a clasp. "I...not that extensive," she replied. "Not enough to warrant three days of rest."

"Perhaps there was more internal damage than you realized. Here, have a seat," the old caretaker added, easing out a low stool from behind the room divider. It was usually reserved for clothes or shoes, but Lucidity sat nonetheless, chewing on her bottom lip, so that Rusuban could drag the brush through her hair.

"Has Sesshomaru seemed out of sorts to you?" she asked.

Rusuban let out a soft snort that didn't quite hide her laugh. "I’d have an easier time divining the stars and heavens than those moods of your husband, Lady Guardian," she said. "Is there a reason he should be upset? Has something happened?"

"It's personal," said Lucidity, and the fingers lifting strands of hair from her face paused a moment.

"I can only convey uncertainty, my dear," Rusuban eventually told her as she resumed her work. "When you continued to sleep, he did begin asking questions as to your health and well being. My answers of your needing to recover from whatever might be ailing you did not seem to satisfy him. He left your side not soon after."

"Left my side?" Lucidity repeated. 

"He did not move from the Hahaoya no Shikyu until today," elaborated the old caretaker.

The heavy weight of hair was being gathered up by Rusuban as she spoke, so that she might pull the brush through the tangled ends. Lucidity could feel the gentle tugs of the bristles and endured for a second or two in silence before she reached back and caught hold of Rusuban's wrist. Rusuban went still and a soft "My Lady?" could be heard. And yet Lucidity did not answer. She rose to her feet and smoothed out her robes as she turned around.

"He didn't budge?" she asked. "Not once?"

Rusuban shook her head. "No, my Lady. Is everything all right?"

"That remains to be seen," Lucidity said as she made her way out of the room. "I need to speak with him."

"I understand. Will you be wanting anything when you return-Oh! No need for such rudeness!" Rusuban exclaimed when Lucidity not only failed to answer but also dissolved her form and disappeared through the window of the alcove without so much as a farewell.

There would be time to apologize later. The behavior of the daiyoukai was what concerned her. Perhaps it was nothing, but of that she was doubtful, especially considering how angry he'd been with her. There was still much that needed to be discussed and Sesshomaru had had three days to sit and contemplate over what had happened, come to his own conclusions without wanting to hear anything to the contrary; he was so damn stubborn! And luckily, he was not difficult to track. Even if she was unable to sense his presence, she knew his habits. She knew where he went when he did not want to be bothered, where only she could force her company on him.

He was reclined against the moss-covered wall in their spot at the top of the mountain, one leg drawn up and an arm thrown over his knee, with the mokomoko trapped behind him. For a moment, Lucidity hung in the air, her body insubstantial, and took in the sight of the youkai lord, of the Guardian's Protector, young and powerful and hers. Married. Honestly...she had never entertained the notion, even before she came to this era. The idea, to her, had always been too surreal to imagine. Not that she believed it would never happen, but simply that it would be more of a matter of convenience, something that would help her obtain the mundane goals of a suburban household and family. She never expected it to be...more.

His expression never changed, but his gaze suddenly shifted in her direction. With vision, at times, being a secondary sense for him, she was only surprised it took this long for him to react as she set herself down, bare feet moving over the ground. His head tilted back, golden eyes sweeping over her, as her form solidified, wet hair and all. She offered a small smile, which he, predictably, did not return.

"You have recovered?" he asked in way of greeting.

"After three days, I should hope so," she said and caught a glimpse of his lip curling at the corner before he peered back at the horizon behind her. She moved closer, blocking his line of sight, which in turn had him closing his eyes and exhaling a soft breath through his nose. Oh yeah, something was definitely bothering him. She took a step forward, then another, until she crouched down beside him. "Rusuban told me that you-"

"Whatever the hag has shared with you, woman, does not interest me," came his curt response. "I do not care for her interference."

"Oh?" Lucidity muttered. "I see. You would have me ignore her gossip, then?"

A muscle worked in his jaw and his eyes remained shut as he spoke again. "That is correct."

"So, you don't want to discuss that you feel responsible for my extra day of sleep? You don't feel guilty at all about what happened? I mean, there must be some other reason why you didn't move from the Hahaoya no Shikyu for almost three days, right?"

He didn't reply. She may have even assumed he hadn't heard her, if it wasn't for the minute creases of anger lines that she'd come to know so well. Letting out a sigh, she lowered herself onto her knees and brought a hand to his thigh. His name was on the tip of her tongue when, without warning, he snatched her wrist and pulled her hand away. Golden eyes were open and narrowed, fixed directly on her. "Do not touch me," he rumbled, his grip tight, before he released her just as quickly and folded his arms within his sleeves, head turning aside, and closed his eyes once more.

Lucidity gaped; she couldn't help it. It wasn't that she was hurt or upset by this unexpected turn of events. Rather, she was quite thoroughly shocked. He wouldn't look at her, could barely tolerate having her so close. Just what the hell was going through his head? Bracing herself on her hands, she started to lean in. "Sesshomaru-"

"Leave, woman," he ordered. "Your presence is not wanted right now."

That had her drawing away. She stared at him, her stomach churning with too many unpleasant emotions, as she warred with herself. Should she give him the space he asked for or should she force herself onto him? He was being a royal prick about it, but that was nothing new, especially if something was grating at his nerves. Swallowing down another sigh, she shifted back on her heels. It would be easier to leave. Let him come to her. Let him have his way. It was easier not to push, not to fight.

"Open your eyes," she demanded. Easier, yes, but this lack of communication would accomplish nothing. And when he didn't respond beyond the subtle hint of a scowl, she felt a cord of anger snap as her patience reached its end and slammed her hands onto the ground. "Dammit, Sesshomaru, I will toss you off this fucking mountain if you don't stop sulking! Stop being such an ass and talk to me already!"

At least her outburst had the daiyoukai looking at her now, if only in a smoldering glare that promised painful repercussions should she threaten him again. She merely scowled in return, fingers digging into the grassy earth, as he leaned forward, braced upon his own hands. And he dared! He dared attempt to stand, to leave her here, seething and without answers! But just as he gathered his feet beneath him, she grabbed his shoulder and shoved him against the wall where he nearly slid onto his back, his legs sprawled out in a most ungraceful display.

"I said for you not to touch me, woman!" he snarled, fangs bared in a rare show of temper, as he seized her arm. She could feel the claws biting into her skin, but no blood was drawn yet. His fingers were flexing. He was...restraining himself, she realized.

"Are you really going to play this game with me again, prince of youkai?" she whispered. "We both know how well it has worked whenever you try to avoid explaining yourself to me. I know it goes against your nature, but we need to talk. You honestly think I haven't noticed your behavior when we're together? I never mentioned it before because I've always enjoyed it. I enjoyed it the other night, too, even if I was exhausted afterward." 

"Do not lie," he said. "You were injured as a result; I see no reason for enjoyment to be had." 

"Oh come off it!" she snapped. "You act as if you've never made me bleed before. And you know that if I really wanted to stop you, I'd make certain of it. So-" 

"Would you?" he asked, and she felt those fingers twitch once more. "You believed it was your duty to ensure that I was sated, did you not?"

"Sesshomaru-"

"Did you think that it would please me that you would force yourself to lie with me?" 

Lucidity pulled her hand from his shoulder as if he'd become the blackness itself. He was quick to sit up, his molten gaze fixed on her, lips pressed into an unpleasant frown. "You...actually believe that?" she murmured.

"It is to be expected," he said, his voice as hard as his expression. 

Expected? Her duty? 

"[Oh! Bloody hell! That's what you think?]" she exclaimed as an abrupt understanding clicked into place and she buried her face into her hands. 

"And what is it that you assume I think?" came the harsh question. 

Lifting her head, she shook out her hair and glared at the daiyoukai, a heavy breath escaping her, and then promptly moved forward, flinging a leg over his thighs, so that she straddled his waist. Subtle though it was, the widening of his eyes was rather amusing; she enjoyed catching him off guard, in spite of how he stiffened beneath her, his hands seizing her by the shoulders. 

"Get off of me, woman," he ordered. 

She quirked a brow at him as her hands spread along his chest, feeling the firm muscle beneath the clothing. "Answer me first," she told him. "Is it your belief that just because I am your wife that it is my obligation to please you? Is that why you believe I'd force myself to lie with you?" 

"That is the way of it," he replied, an echo of the other night, the same words that had brought her no comfort. 

She shook her head. "And after everything we've been through, it never occurred to you that I might be a bit different from the women you're accustomed to? Did it never cross your mind that I might come from a land and era where it is not uncommon for the wife to control the intimacies of marriage?" Her arms slid around his neck as she pressed herself against him, ignoring how unresponsive he was. "I want you to get this through your head, Sesshomaru, because this will undoubtedly happen again: there was no force. There will never be any force. I let you do as you please because it is what you need and because I enjoy it. I enjoy how rough you are because it is the only time I ever see what you hide from everyone else. Seeing your passion, seeing you lose control, I love every moment of it."

"No!" the daiyoukai said and the sharpness of his tone caught her by surprise as his grip tightened and he pushed her away. "My actions...cannot be repeated." 

Heart racing, she stared at him, but he wasn't looking at her. Instead, his head was turned to the side, his eyes on the ground, narrowed in anger. And when she reached out and barely managed to caress a lock of silver hair before his fingers closed over her wrist, drawing her hand away once more, her stomach clenched and she had to swallow as it finally dawned on her: he was ashamed. She never believed such a thing could happen, but here it was. The great daiyoukai was unable to look his wife in the eye, unable to touch her without some part of him recoiling. And it suddenly seemed terribly vital that he should touch her, for her to let him know that she still wanted him, no matter what wrongs he believed he had committed. She broke his rather brittle grip on her and gathered his hand in hers. There was no resistance as she pressed her face against his palm, her eyes squeezing shut, until she felt his fingers move and he started to pull from her grasp. 

"Don't," she said, and he actually stopped; she'd been doubtful he would. She didn't like this. She didn't like seeing him this way; she never expected he would blame himself to such a degree. Opening her eyes, she found that he was still peering at the ground, his expression passive, his gaze distant, and a heavy sigh broke from her. "Sesshomaru, I'm not upset about what happened. I-"

"That is not the point," he cut in and extracted his hand in a sharp movement that she couldn't prevent. Her own hovered in the air a moment, before she lowered it awkwardly into her lap. "My behavior was that of a mongrel," he continued. "I lost control; I cannot allow it to happen again."

"And how do you intend to do that?" she asked, a note of exasperation escaping her. "You get worked up almost every time we're together. Unless you plan on going celibate, I don't-" Her words broke off when golden eyes darted in her direction and away again so quickly that she thought she was mistaken. "You wouldn't?" she whispered in a hoarse voice, and when he remained silent, carefully avoiding her gaze yet again, she suddenly found herself shouting. "You can't be serious?! That's your solution?! Ignore the problem and hope it goes away? You coward!"

For the briefest moment, Lucidity could have sworn Sesshomaru's eyes flashed red before he bared his fangs and shoved her off him, slamming her onto her back and pinning her down. "What did you call me?!" was his low, guttural snarl, his face so close to hers that she could feel his hot breath on her cheek. "You dare show me such disrespect-"

"COWARD!" she screamed, and he jerked back, his expression filled with an unbridled fury that was quite refreshing in a way. "Every time you do this! Whenever something happens that you don't want to deal with, you run away with your tail between your legs and leave me alone to pick up the pieces. You-"

She never saw the blow coming, only heard the whistle of wind in her ear, felt the brush of it along her skin, and then came the resonating impact as he drove his hand into the earth beside her head. She could all but taste the vibrations of rage dripping from him as he lifted his arm, bits of dirt and rock falling from his fist. "Do not," he said, each word tight and so carefully enunciated, "attempt to provoke me into taking you, woman. I will not be manipulated."

Her heart was pounding. She could feel herself shaking. If it was from anger or something else, she wasn't certain, but she had to swallow before she could find her voice, which trembled every few syllables. "If I wanted you to fuck me, I'd seduce you, not piss you off."

"I will not listen to your lewdness or play your games, Lucidity," he said, and his grip began to slacken as he pushed himself up.

Without thought, she promptly flipped them over so that Sesshomaru was the one on his back, the mokomoko stretched out around them, her legs tight on either side of him, fingers digging into his chest, as she peered down at him. "I'm not playing any games," she said. "I'm trying to get you to talk to me, but you're being so fucking difficult. I'd sooner get answers out of a stone than you. I know that you're angry with yourself. I know that you're ashamed about your actions. I'm not asking you to bare your throat, but I need you to communicate with me. Or did you forget that this is what nearly broke us in the beginning?"

She saw it, the barest flicker in his widening eyes. His mouth moved, lips parting for a fraction of a second before he blinked and the alarm vanished. His expression was blank, a perfect mask that she could not read as he eased himself upright. She made no attempt to stop him, remaining where she was and gazing into those golden eyes that betrayed no hint of the daiyoukai's inner musings. No anger, no haughtiness, just...nothing.

"Is that a reminder?" he finally asked. "Or a threat?"

Her fingers clenched at his haori. "Gods be damned, Sesshomaru, I'm not giving you an ultimatum!" she snapped. "I just want you to tell me what's going on instead of telling me I'm not wanted, instead of acting like my touch will infect you. That is not the way to go about this! You can't treat me as if I'm here at your convenience." 

"And you believe insulting my honor is the proper response?" he demanded.

"How would you have me respond, then, when you leave me floundering?" she asked in return. "If I had done as you wanted and went back to the palace, would you have ever explained yourself? Would you have ever told me that you don't want to lose control again? Or would you have gone about your life rebuffing my every advance and leaving me to wonder what the hell was going on? If that happened, it would kill us faster than the Princes of Death."

"I would have explained in my own time, woman, if you had allowed it," said Sesshomaru.

"And what? I should have just turned a blind eye at your lack of respect towards me?"

The perfect mask was starting to fracture. His expression was darkening. Hands descended onto her waist, but she didn't draw away as he leaned close. "You...are insufferable," he growled.

"And you are a royal pain," she muttered, and then pressed herself against him, arms clutching hard around his neck.

Chapter Text

His mouth was hot. He tasted like wild, untamed power, perhaps the very power he rode upon into his true form. Was this the flavor of rage? To imagine the idea was...invigorating, as were the hands sliding over her back, urging her closer and easing the hard lines of their bodies together. Her own fingers slipped their way into his hair as lips and tongue warred with one another and she moaned into the suffocating kiss, until fangs nicked at her when he abruptly pulled away.

"Enough," Sesshomaru said. "This cannot continue."

Lucidity let out a sigh, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders. "Ignoring the problem won't help."

Narrowed eyes shifted onto her, near hidden by the shadow of his hair, as a frown curved his mouth. "Until I understand what is happening, I will not take the risk."

"And what then?" she asked. "Even if we knew the cause of this insatiable appetite of yours, what difference will it make? If something out there is affecting you or if it's something in your own blood, how do you plan on handling it?"

"I will rid myself of its influence," was the immediate answer.

"And if you can't?" she pressed. "If this isn't some sort of infection that has an antidote, what do you plan to do?"

"Whatever is necessary," the daiyoukai said in a tone that reverberated finality as he began to sit forward, his hands on her waist.

She pushed back against him, holding him in place, and leaned forward to brush her lips against his ear. "Refusing to act on your desires out of fear is the same as admitting defeat," she whispered and felt him stiffen, hearing a low growl form in his throat. "You know I'm right. The same as you know that I'm stronger than you. You're afraid that you'll hurt me, but until I sleep again, you can't. Take the time to train yourself, just as you do with everything else."

"And how would you suggest doing that, Guardian?"

That he would ask was a good sign. That he would call her by title, though, was a little disconcerting. It seemed almost mocking, but his expression was indecipherable when she settled back onto his thighs. Bringing a hand up, she brushed aside those silver locks that had become disheveled in their back-and-forth tumbling, so that nothing obscured his face from view. She wondered if there would ever come a time when she no longer paused to marvel at the beauty he possessed, at how achingly attractive he was to her, or how he could, with little more than a word or gesture, render her a breathless slave to passion. Her fingers traced along his cheek and over the line of his jaw, her eyes following the trail, as though mesmerized by her own movements. She stopped only when her thumb came to linger on his bottom lip. She didn't know what was happening to him. On some level, she couldn't comprehend. And yet the idea that he would not kiss her, that she would not feel his lips or hands on her skin in times of solitude, nor his arms around her while they laid together at night, waiting for the sun to rise, induced a crippling pain the likes of which she found difficult to believe, as though this was a rejection she could not live with. A price to pay, she understood, when one dared to give themselves to another.

"You've controlled yourself before," she said into the silence that had risen between them, her gaze never wavering from his mouth. "When I was still mortal, the first time we laid together, you were careful not to hurt me. I know you can do it again."

His lips parted and her thumb slipped away, though her fingers curled around his chin, the back of her knuckles caressing over the skin. "Circumstances have changed since then," he said. "I am...unaccustomed to this feral need that has taken root."

"Everything has changed since then," she murmured, and her eyes flicked up finally and she saw his do the same, as if he'd known all along when she'd look at him. "We all must adapt at some point, should we not?"

He blinked, the only sign he gave that he was even remotely taken aback by her words, before his eyes briefly fell shut and his arms slid around her. The mere sensation sent a thrill through her and she had to swallow as he drew her against him. His hand rose to the back of her neck as he leaned in. "Never," he said, "insult my honor again, Lucidity."

"And you will never treat me like a servant again," she replied at once.

The corner of his mouth twitched. Whether he was amused or otherwise, she wasn't certain, not until there came the renewed grip around her waist. "Your terms...are acceptable," he said, his voice soft, little more than a whisper, and then she felt the warm pressure of his lips against hers. Her mouth opened for him and his tongue slid inside. And yet his touch was little more than a whisper of a caress before he unexpectedly pulled back. A protest nearly burst from her until his mouth found a new spot to taunt just below her ear, and then traveled down the side of her neck. It was like a jolt of electricity, each shift of his lips, every gust of breath on her skin. Knowing that she had almost lost this, however long or brief a time it would have been, filled her with a mixture of relief and excitement, which only served to fuel the arousal that the daiyoukai so effortlessly lit inside her.

And the hands that were suddenly on her knees, guiding the material of her robes up her thighs, stirred those rising flames. Her weight shifted with the clothing now caught about her waist and clawed fingers brushing over her bare backside, and she felt his mouth wander along her collar bone, teeth grazing. With her hands gliding down his arms and coming to rest in the crook of his elbows, she bared her throat to him until he bit down, gentle, never daring to break the skin, and pulled her closer. She could feel him, a growing firmness that eased against her, with nothing more than a thin layer of youkai silk separating them. And, without thought, she rolled her hips into him. His body stiffened beneath her, a grunt reverberating along her throat, and she did it again. This time, he moved himself against her in return, his lips and tongue playing over her neck. She could feel his length hardening, could feel herself responding, the moisture that gathered between her legs, and moaned as their hips met again.

Together, they moved, their bodies dancing in a promise of what was to come, and steadily driving one another into a fever of burning desire. He was kissing her, a deep, devouring embrace that near robbed her of her senses. His hands slid over her thighs, down to her knees, and back up again, urging her to him with a growing impatience. Yet she was the one who reached down, the one who found the opening of his hakama and freed the throbbing organ from its confines. She was the one who brought them together while the daiyoukai's claws scraped at her skin, her knees straddling his lap, and felt the press of him at her entrance. The kiss broke and the echo of labored gasps filled the air. She was above him, gazing down, her hands between them as she basked in the sight of the youkai lord of the west as no one else was permitted. His lips were parted, eyes shut, and the quickened breaths that escaped him were a pleasure unto themselves, knowing that his passion, his vulnerability was for her and her alone. 

"Look at me," she whispered, and those golden eyes opened at once. At the same time, his hands squeezed at her waist and the anticipation conveyed in the simple gesture sent a thrill through her. "Trust me to help you with this, Sesshomaru." 

"Lucidity-" he began, only for his voice to be cut off with a grunt that had him clenching his teeth when she took him inside her. Her moan was breathless as he filled her and he, in turn, raised his hips until he was sheathed to the hilt. Her hands came up to grip at his shoulders, her back arching, and he lifted himself again, pushing inside her depths. He was watching her as he did this, as though attempting to draw out every last secret her body had to offer, and it never occurred to her to drop her gaze, to look anywhere else but at him. A single arm wrapped about her waist as he braced himself upon one hand to thrust into her once more. Again and again, he slid into her, clutching her to his frame, his eyes narrowed with such unwavering concentration that she knew she would lose herself in those scorching pools of gold if she was not careful.

And biting down on her lip, she found herself leaning back, hands on his thighs, never breaking her gaze from his, and met his strokes with her own rolling hips. She saw his fingers dig into the earth, his teeth grit, and the rush of pleasure gripped at her as surely as it did him. She met him again, matching his pace, his rhythm, which steadily began to quicken until she could not stop herself from looking away, from tossing her head back and baring her throat with a shuddering moan. Her fingers bit into his thighs, but he never wavered and nor did she, not even when she felt the claws on her throat, raking down towards her collar bone and pushing beneath the neckline of her robes. Lower still, he eased the material until his hand was brushing over a bare shoulder, gripping gently, as their bodies continued to move, sliding together. 

And then she felt him sit forward. His mouth latched onto her throat as he held her to him, his hips never stopping, and the waves of ecstasy came washing over her in greater earnest every time he lifted her. His hand was wandering again, brushing along the other side of her neck, holding her in place as though he intended to feast on her in any way he could. And yet he suddenly took his mouth away from her skin, only for her to feel the caress of it against her ear, his hot breath flowing over her cheek. "Lucidity," he groaned, and the deep echo of that voice, the sound of her own name spoken with such strain, sent a chorus of shivers down her spine that had her contracting around his length. The daiyoukai gave a hard thrust that jolted an unbidden cry from her lips. And he did it over and over, his breath echoing louder and louder in her ear. She could feel how tight he was clutching at her, how unyielding his body was, how he refused, utterly refused, to let go. Yet she needed him to. She needed the wildness of his desire, needed him to feel that temptation, to burn away every last ounce of rationality. This would not work otherwise.

Lucidity knew what poison to use. It filled her mouth when she slid her teeth across her tongue and the scent of it triggered an immediate response in Sesshomaru. He'd been so careful, after all. The restraint he showed in his touch had not gone unnoticed. And now his efforts were for naught as he went rigid and drew back, gazing up at her with a sense of wary surprise. And then there was anger that flashed in his eyes when she took his face in her hands. She could feel the tension in him, felt his attempt to pull from her grasp, but it was too late. She shoved her tongue between his lips, blood and all, blue eyes fixed on gold, the latter wide with a rare and entrancing display of pure shock. She barely noticed his claws digging into her arms, unable to pierce through the material of her robes, and yet determined to leave some lasting reminder on her skin.

He started to push at her and she pushed right back, knocking him onto the ground, her mouth still locked to his, and moaned as she rode him. With her strength, she held him there, his frame trapped by her legs, unable to raise his arms that she'd pinned to his sides. And all the while, her blood trickled between their mouths, her body rolling against his. The movements were smooth, yet sharp with the rising pressure that had her quickening the pace. Shivers racing up her spine had her arching her back and she braced herself against Sesshomaru, who succeeded in tearing his mouth from hers, teeth clenched and stained red, his eyes blazing. Gods! Those eyes! A glaring scarlet that seared through her as she straightened, staring down at the daiyoukai gathering his power beneath her, but it would never be enough to shatter her hold. Yet she could feel the strength in it, and in his grasp as well when his hands managed to seize her waist. And yet she never wavered, never allowed him to rise, even as she rode him to completion. In one last brutal stroke, the mind-numbing bliss crashed down on her, wrenching a cry from her throat, and the daiyoukai, in turn, stiffened beneath her, raising his hips, his grip bruising, and she saw his head tilt back, presenting her with the long line of his pale throat, as he groaned his release. 

His body began to relax, and yet the moment she dared to ease her grip, Lucidity found herself on her back, her chin clamped hard in his hand, his fangs bared in a silent snarl as he glared at her. Her heart was pulsing away in her throat at the sight of such fury, his eyes that same, brilliant shade of red, as he bore down on her, his weight pressing her into the ground. And suddenly his mouth was on hers, his teeth biting, his tongue thrusting, and he moved against her, their bodies still connected. Her hands worked their way into his hair, gathering up the mass of locks, and she savored the taste of him, the sensation of him inside, before forcing his head back. His fang snagged on her lip and she felt the skin split, felt the blood trickle free, but soon she was staring up at the daiyoukai caught in her grasp, at the crimson mess painted across his mouth.

"That's enough," she said, only for him to reach up and seize a wrist in either hand. And she let him break her grip, let him bring her arms above her head, pinning her wrists in one hand, while his other wandered down, over her neck and chest, to pull at the line of her robe until the mound of a single breast was exposed. His fingers clamped down onto the tender flesh, his claws piercing, and the spark of pain brought a gasp to her lips as she began to writhe. And he thrust into her, hard and fast, as though scolding her for daring to move. "W-wait!" she panted. "Sesshomaru-" 

He growled, a loud, sharp sound, yet said nothing as he lifted her lower body to him, thrusting deeper, pushing at her threshold so that she clenched her teeth against her own yearnings, against such desires that would make others blush, perhaps even cringe.

"No-" And yet he cut her off with another hard jolt that had her crying out. Her body shifted in his grasp, her hips twisting, but he only renewed his grip. His claws slid in deeper, both around her breast and into the skin of her wrists. She could feel the blood on her underarms as he moved again, before she finally shouted, "Dammit! I need you to stop, you stupid dog!" 

He froze. 

Whether it was the raised voice or grievous insult that no one but she could get away with, Lucidity didn't know, nor did she care as she glared up at him, still trapped in an iron grip that would have shattered a mortal body. "That's what I need you to do," she said. "I need you to listen. Get a hold of yourself and that blasted beast of yours whenever you taste my blood. Stop pushing it to the point where I have to physically overpower you so that you give me a chance to rest."

Sesshomaru didn't respond, merely gazed down at her. And then she felt the claws being retracted from her breast, only for him to slide the fingers into her hair, tugging at the locks and forcing her head back. She caught a glimpse of a scowl before she found herself staring up at the stretch of sky spotted with clouds, felt Sesshomaru move above her, and then the tongue on her exposed throat, his teeth so near the jugular. She shuddered, her pulse racing, wondering if he would listen, if he would stop, or if....

"You will be my undoing, woman," the daiyoukai rumbled in her ear, and she gasped when he suddenly extracted himself. Her wrists were released as he pushed himself up, and she did the same, easing herself onto her elbows and peering up at him where he knelt between her legs. He was wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, watching her as he did so, then lowered his arm. Without warning, his hand shot out and she was being yanked forward and into his lap before she understood what was happening. He held tight to her upper arms, his teeth on her ear, and a low, resonating growl rose from his throat. "Never force your blood onto me again, not when there is a possibility that I will not regain control."

Panting softly, she did her best not to groan as those fingers dug into her. "But you did, and I know you still struggle. It would not be considered training if you didn't."

"Idiot woman," he said. "You do not understand."

Lucidity drew back until she was able to meet his gaze, still trapped in his grasp, his body so stiff beneath hers. There was nothing friendly in his expression, the way his eyes were narrowed or the hard frown on his lips. Every bit of him was disapproving, and she let out a sigh before leaning forward to lay her head against his chest. "I trust you, Sesshomaru," she said. "I know you will never really hurt me."


Steam wafted through the air and veiled the further recesses of the hot springs from view, making the terrain of the floors nearly indistinguishable from the texture of the walls. As usual, lanterns placed sporadically throughout the room provided a source of light beneath the palace and the fire of these lanterns danced across the walls and ceiling. The shadows created the illusion of great activity; though, in reality, the only two souls who occupied the room were quiet and still, simply experiencing the warmth of the waters, engrossed in their own separate thoughts. The time spent here had been in silence, either of them washing away the events of the afternoon from their bodies. Not a word had been spoken since they had ventured into the hot springs, but that in itself was not unusual, nor was the daiyoukai's penchant for ignoring her while he bathed.

And yet Lucidity found herself wondering about the day, about her own actions, the wisdom or lack thereof behind her decisions. She might have been the Guardian of the East, but there were times when she made choices as a result of an emotional response rather than a logical one. And she'd been passionate about what she'd chosen on the mountain, determined to convince Sesshomaru to change his mind. She'd been successful, more or less, but now, watching him in what seemed to be a sullen silence, she was becoming doubtful. Had introducing her blood been the tipping point? Had that gone beyond what was forgivable? Sesshomaru was far from pleased with her. He had not told her as much, but she knew, from the way his eyes turned from her to the furrow in his brow; he was unhappy about what she'd done. And she, too, wondered if any of it should be repeated, when he was so against the idea. She did not want to force him, but nor did she want to give this up without some type of fight. Yet what was the cause of this beast that plagued Sesshomaru? Could it be overcome? She couldn't fathom any answers. 

Perhaps, someone else could and, pressing the heel of her hand against her temple, Lucidity closed her eyes. The action itself was not required, but, in some way, the physical touch helped her relax, allowed her to lower the defenses she had so carefully constructed. And the gates that kept the memories at bay slowly began to open, until Lucidity found herself wading through the years of her predecessor. It was easier now than it had been in the beginning. Before, searching through the memories had been like diving into the sea and sinking beneath the waves of information that could drown her at a moment's notice. She never knew where she would land or if what she needed would be in the millennia of Satomi's life that she was recalling. Yet now that she had become more familiar with the terrain, she could navigate her landing more precisely, usually within the century. There was so little to work with, though. It was only towards the end that Satomi began interacting so closely with mortals. And even then, she had kept the company of humans, rather than youkai, more often than not. Satomi had known much about the Viper Clan, for instance, but almost nothing about those of Sesshomaru's line.


 

A child, no more than eight-years-old, perhaps. He seemed a proud boy, glaring up at her with a defiant gaze, hands forming tiny fists at his sides. Tears were in his golden eyes, which trickled over the long, jagged marks of an off-blue color on his cheeks. With his teeth clenched and bared, she could see the curve of fangs. He was trembling in his tiny temper, covered in dirt, scrapes, and bruises. A cut on his forehead was bleeding profusely, but he ignored it, as he did the body of the great fallen beast behind him. 

"A show of gratitude would be more appropriate, little daemon," she was saying. 

"And who are you to make that command of me?!" he shouted with as much authority and fury as his young voice could manage. 

"I am the one who saved your life," she replied. "That youkai was far too much for one so small to prevail over. You should consider this a lesson and take it to heart. Honestly, what were you thinking?" 

Though he was in the midst of wiping angrily at his eyes, the boy suddenly straightened, shoulders pulled back, chest out, doing his best to appear so proud, in spite of his tears. "I was training," he declared. "I fight only the strongest."

Her brows rose. "Oh? And why is that?"

"To be the most powerful!"

"And what would you do with that power?"

The boy folded his arms and the haughtiness that filled his features gave her the impression of a rather stubborn young man instead of a child, especially when he said, "I will conquer the lands. This is my father's territory and all he does is want to keep what he already has. But I will show him how much more it can be."

Such grand dreams for one so tiny. And yet the abilities of his she had witnessed, even if he had almost been killed, had been impressive. It made her wonder what he would be capable of when he became older, if he was fortunate to live that long. Stepping closer, she crouched down so that she was level with him. He unfolded his arms as he took a step back, glaring at her with an ever increasing dislike. "Tell me, little daemon: what do you plan on doing when you have built up this territory of yours?"

He snorted, as if she had asked the dumbest question in the world. "What else? I will rule the land and all the youkai in it, including you!"

So easy it would be, to kill him now. Perhaps she should have allowed the beast to do as it wanted. Yet it would be a petty thing, to slaughter one over the ignorance of youth. "All right," she eventually said. "If you wish to come find me when you're older, to prove your power, so be it. Yet, until that happens, I want you to remember something: you can have all the land, all the power, all the wealth that the world has to offer, but everything will be for naught if you have no true purpose. Fighting to obtain, simply to rule, fulfills no one in the end."

Golden eyes blinked at her and, for a moment, his proud demeanor shifted, his arms lowering to his sides, before the boy seemed to remember himself and shook his head, sneering at her. "Purpose? I know my purpose! If you think you're so clever, what's yours?"

She shook her head and straightened, gazing down at him. "To keep little fools like you alive."

The boy scoffed. "And why would you do that?"

"Life is everything, little daemon. It is the reason we exist." She stepped closer, causing him to move back, his small hands forming into fists and fangs bared in warning. "Have respect for the lives you take on your path to supreme conquest or you will walk this world truly blind to what it can offer."

The boy moved back, his body taut and ready to spring. "And what would you know about supreme conquest? You aren't that powerful. Are you even youkai? You don't smell like it. And your aura is pitiful."

The first hint of irritation had her bristling. Such a little whelp. One who had potential, a potential that she would not put a stop to simply because he might become a threat later on in life. Yet she would ensure that he remembered this day. And the moment she dropped her defenses, the moment she allowed her aura to expand, to blanket him and the land, until the very air crackled around them, she knew she had succeeded. He skittered backwards so fast that his feet became entangled and he fell hard onto his back. His small chest rose and fell rapidly as she came to stand over him. "Do you understand now, little daemon?" she asked, but he merely stared up at her, mouth gaping open. "Do not live for the sake of power alone."

"Who-who are you?" he asked in a choked whisper.

"I have no name."

The boy swallowed, and his voice was a little stronger when he next asked, "What are you?"

She tilted her head. "That is a very involved answer, little daemon."

"Stop...stop calling me that," he said as he pushed himself up and did his best at a defiant glare. "My name is Toga."'


 

Something touched her hair and, for a moment, Lucidity was bewildered by her surroundings. For a handful of seconds after opening her eyes, she couldn't understand how she came to be underground, when she had just been standing upon the beach, listening to the sound of waves and a little brat who needed a good smack across the face. Vaguely, she was aware of lowering her arm across her lap as she stared into the water of the hot spring, the confusion mounting, even as she felt someone touch her cheek and tilt her head back, until she was staring up at a face that was so familiar and yet so strange. Screwing her eyes shut, she pulled back and shook her head, before she looked again, knowing she ought to recognize the one she was staring at. And yet the confusion persisted, even as she felt the memories draining away, one drop at a time. Slow, agonizing, it was, until she could tolerate the sight no longer and her forehead came to rest against a warm leg. 

"Lucidity?" he called, but she merely groaned in return. "Look at me." 

She didn't obey, but nor did she fight when a pair of hands eased her away and took hold of her face, tilting her head back just as before. Except this time, he leaned down and kissed her. Her eyes widened, for a fraction of a second, before she tasted the familiar flavor of his tongue, felt the curve of his mouth, and the path his fingers painted through her hair as no other had ever done, so that he might hold her in this embrace. She began to relax, sighing against his lips, and heard a deep rumble in his chest in response. Whether he approved or disapproved, she didn't know, not even when he pulled back to stare down at her, his expression smooth and stoic, as if he had never resorted to such intimate lengths to drag her out of the void that her mind had become.

Sesshomaru straightened, his hands falling away, and she held his gaze a moment longer before turning to lean her head against his leg. Yes, this is where she was supposed to be. They sat together at the edge of the hot spring, water lapping at their bodies, but he was on higher rock than she, so that her shoulders were level with his knees, which made him the perfect spot to rest against. Of course, it also left her completely exposed, being so close to him. He had the perfect view, for more than one aspect of her if he so wished. And now his hand was in her hair, sliding into the locks, but he did not lift them away to see what she was hiding. Rather, he combed his fingers through the strands and she felt the brush of his claws against her scalp. 

"What memories did you allow to ensnare you this time?" he asked. 

"An ancestor of yours, I believe," she replied, and the fingers paused. "He was the only one Satomi ever encountered." 

"A subject I will question you later on," Sesshomaru said, and the rough tone in his voice had her glancing up. "You seek information on my family. Why?" 

"I'm trying to understand what is going on with you-" 

"This I will see to on my own," he interrupted. "I will have no more of your interference." 

On reflex, her mouth opened, some word or other on the tip of her tongue, and yet no argument was forthcoming. What could she say that she had not already said? What could she do that she had not already done? Nothing more than a frustrated sigh escaped her in the end before she closed her mouth and laid her head back down on the daiyoukai's thigh. "You are so damn infuriating," she muttered. 

"And you are not without your vexing qualities, woman," said Sesshomaru, his hand slipping from her hair to rest on her shoulder. "Nor your deceitful tongue." 

Startled, she jerked back, gaping up at the daiyoukai, completely flabbergasted at such an out of the blue statement. "What are-"

"You lied, Lucidity," he continued. 

"I don't know-"

He squeezed her shoulder. "The creature that injured you; you lied about its motives for attacking. I would know the truth." 

Well aware that her mouth was hanging open, Lucidity could only stare, torn somewhere between exasperation and annoyance. "You...how did-? Seriously?!" That had been days ago. Why was he bringing it up now? And what the hell had given her away this time?! 

He let out a soft snort, the corner of his mouth curling. "You are poorly skilled at fooling me," he said. "I suggest you refrain from doing so in the future. Now tell me what I want to know."

Chapter Text

"I hate being out here. Do you really have to do this? They're just a nuisance. Not even worth the time to talk to."

"I have given you my reasons; I will not repeat myself."

"Sesshomaru, come on-"

"Silence, woman."

"This isn't necessary!"

Sesshomaru shot her a cold glare and Lucidity knew it was futile. With a huff, she looked away, out towards the expanse of ocean that surrounded them on all sides. Floating above on Ah-Un, she and Jaken sat side-by-side while Sesshomaru drifted further along, suspended by his own energy. This was not the first time they had argued about coming out here, but it was definitely the last. Nothing she could say would convince him otherwise. His mind had been completely one-track for days and he had allowed nothing to sway him, not even her disdain for open water. Lucidity glared at the offending stretch of sea, grinding her teeth, while Jaken cleared his throat softly beside her.

"I know that you and Sesshomaru-sama come from different backgrounds, my Lady, but I'm sure you understand that this is a matter of pride for him," Jaken said with an air of someone patiently imparting great wisdom. "You were assaulted on the orders of another. It is to be expected that my lord ensures that the youkai responsible is punished accordingly." 

"Yeah, yeah," Lucidity muttered. "An eye for an eye."

"It is more than personal vendetta," he continued. "You are the wife of a lord. If he allows the one who harmed you, of all people, to go free, what sort of message would it send to his subjects? He cannot let this-"

"I know!" she snapped. "Gods, believe me, I know."

It was the very reason she hadn't wanted to tell Sesshomaru anything. She hadn't wanted to answer any of his questions or give in to any of his demands. She knew he wouldn't let this lie if he found out, knew that he'd pursue his retribution to the ends of the earth and back again if need be, and not because it was to keep her safe or for some selfless reason. 

"You are certain this is where you battled the kraken?"

Lucidity didn't look at Sesshomaru when he spoke, but the hand in her lap tightened into a fist, and it took a moment or two for her to unlock her jaw before she replied. "Yes. I can still sense the residual traces of the fault line."

"Open a path."

"Water isn't my element, Sesshomaru; you know this."

"You have other means to do what I ask."

"The amount of energy that would take-"

"Is a fraction of your abilities," he said. "Your arguments do nothing but postpone the inevitable, Lucidity. Need I remind you that we have already discussed this at length? You agreed to show me the way. Now do it."

Teeth clenching, she peered over at him and met that molten gaze of his that seemed to reflect how utterly unmoved he was by her repeated attempts to thwart his plans. She couldn't help but recall that their "discussion at length" had involved hours of arguing. Days of it, really, off and on, with neither of them having any peace of mind until they had finally come to terms. He'd worn her down in the end. As soon as he learned the truth behind the kraken's attack, he'd given her no respite. He was relentless in this as he was in everything else. And the fact remained that she had no grounds to refuse him; she understood how he worked and would probably do the same in his position. Simply because this was not the outcome she wanted wasn't reason enough to make him appear weak.

"Do not wipe out the entire population over the actions of a few," she eventually said, but he did not respond, merely looked at her until she complied, however reluctant she might have been. And comply she did, with nary a thought. It took some effort, some concentration, the same as it would take a woodsman to chop wood. One had to aim, swing, and control the force of the impact. And Lucidity did no different with the torrent of power she sent towards the depths of the ocean. Like a hurricane, the wind tore through the water and spread it apart, raising the walls high in a jarring reminder of an ancient story of another god parting a particular sea. Yet Lucidity went beyond creating a simple path, but pushed the water further until miles of ocean floor were revealed. It was dull and barren with no structures of coral or rock to decorate the otherwise mundane sight of wet sand. Here and there, however, she spotted several unfortunate creatures flopping around that had not escaped with the receding water. As her eyes followed a descending Sesshomaru, she vaguely wondered what other sort of animals might be below the sand, the ones that made burrows and bided their time until their prey came to them. 

"This is astonishing!" Jaken suddenly breathed as he guided Ah-Un to the ground. "Why have you bothered with air pockets if you were capable of this?! Not that I would ever question the ways a Guardian does battle, but it is very confusing to me. You could have easily dispatched your enemies. Why did you risk being hurt?" 

"Like Sesshomaru, I try not to expend any unnecessary energy," Lucidity said, and then added in an undertone, "But I also...underestimated the kraken." 

"It must have been a lesson well learned," the imp remarked. "You say this is where you fought with the beast? There doesn't seem to be anything left of it." 

Indeed, Lucidity had noticed this as well. Slipping off of Ah-Un, she touched down on the warm sand that sank beneath her feet and peered around. Through the spray of salty mist and the high power of winds that stretched outward to keep the crushing weight of the water at bay, she could see no evidence of what had taken place here. The body of the kraken, regardless of how large it was, had been swept away, devoured by the marine life. And as for the ones who controlled it, there was no sign of them. Lucidity walked along the ocean floor, peering around at what little there was to see, and heard the lumbering footsteps of Ah-Un trailing after. She came to stand beside Sesshomaru, who was gazing up at the vast wall of water, and cast him a sideways glance. There was little she could discern from the way he was scrutinizing what blocked his passage, but he was not requesting that she widen the path. She was just beginning to wonder if he had spotted something in the water that she had not when he suddenly unsheathed Bakusaiga. Within seconds, the air rattled with a blast of power that was propelled into the water.

Lucidity watched the swirling mass of emerald quickly disappear from view into the darkness of the sea before turning to Sesshomaru. "A warning?" she asked. 

"An announcement," he replied without looking at her.

Peering back into the water, she found herself doubtful that anyone was still in the area to receive this grand, albeit deadly announcement of their presence. Of course, she loathed the thought of it being received at all and her eyes darted about, searching for some threat or other in the murky depths. Yet there was nothing. No movement, no cries of battle, no tentacles piercings through body parts. And for good measure, Lucidity turned to take in the rest of their surroundings, at the long stretch of exposed ground and the far walls of water her power continued to hold. Silence prevailed. Her heart thudded with a tentative hope that their excursion out here was for naught. She could endure any displeasure from Sesshomaru if he dared to question her integrity, to question that she had, indeed, guided him to the correct place, because she had absolutely no idea where else to search and would tell him as much. He could, though, demand that she use Sagashite to locate his targets; she could only pray that they were outside of her domain. 

She was on the verge of speaking his name, hoping, somehow, to urge him back to the mainland, when she felt the first tremor. She didn't need to hear Jaken's exclamation of fright or see the ocean floor churn beneath her feet to realize how big of a fool she had been for ever daring to hope that they were alone. Witnessing the long mass rise out of the sand and cut a path across the exposed land was more than enough to convince her how terribly mistaken she was. As the tentacle stretched its way towards the sky, she was forcefully reminded of pictures she'd seen of redwood trees, so tall and thick that the top was lost to the sky and tunnels had to be carved into their trunks so that vehicles could pass through.

"Did you not say you killed it?" came the impatient question from Sesshomaru.

"I did," Lucidity breathed. "This isn't...the same.... This one makes the first look like an ant."

"An ant?!" shrieked Jaken. "Didn't that ant impale you? More than once?!"

Lucidity had a similar line of thought, but it was Sesshomaru who acted first. Before she could so much as draw up a weapon, he had bounded forward, leaping high into the air, and sliced through the tentacle in a single stroke. He fell back, landing in almost the exact same spot he'd been standing in a moment ago, his movements so quick and precise that if someone had not been paying attention, they could have easily assumed that the attack came from an outside source. The severed half collapsed with a resonating thud that shook Lucidity's very bones while what remained weaved back and forth; she could easily imagine screams of agony in the grotesque display, coupled with the heavy droplets of dark, blue blood that began to rain down. And yet none of it lasted for long, as the consequences of being cut by Bakusaiga took effect and the tentacle began to disintegrate in an explosion of emerald light. She knew that this second kraken would be dead within minutes, perhaps less. One less thing to worry about. 

Or it would have been, if it was not for the wave of creatures that came pouring out of the waters. 

On all sides, they came, a confusion of rapid movement and bright colors. Sunlight glinted off helms and armor of various shades of greens and blues. Each one sported hair of stark white and skin not unlike green of sea foam, their hands and feet webbed, necks lined with gills. Distinctly humanoid. Distinctly youkai. And very, very hostile. In every single hand, a weapon was wielded. And all blades, no matter the weapon-be it sword, arrow, or spear-were edged with barbs, designed to tear flesh as readily as they were designed to impale. Twice the damage. Twice the pain. And it was with these weapons that a great number of the undersea warriors hacked away at the mangled limb of the kraken, eventually cutting off that which was infected. A horn sounded somewhere in their midst and the youkai encircled Lucidity, Sesshomaru, Jaken, and Ah-Un, stances low, feet spread, waiting for the next signal, the one that would begin the battle. 

An accumulation of power gathered in Lucidity's hand, glowing softly for an instant, before it began to expand, stopping only when she was grasping the hilt of a single-edged sword. She held it loosely at her side as she shifted a step closer to Sesshomaru. In the distance, beyond the many heads of the youkai eager to slaughter them, she could see the massive, distorted figure of the kraken in the water, still whole and unharmed, with many more limbs stretching out, seeking vengeance for its fallen limb, but remaining in the confines of its natural element.

"I believe that thing could feed the entire country," she muttered. 

"Then I will leave you to deal with it," Sesshomaru replied. "And I will see to the rest." 

And yet, before either of them could take a step, a movement in the ranks of the youkai caught her attention. Someone was walking forward, one who looked no different from the others save for the extra decoration on the top of his helm, a sort of fin that cut down the middle and trailed towards his back. And as the helms did not covers their faces, Lucidity was easily able to make out the disdain so visibly etched upon his as he fixed her with narrowed eyes that held such malice. 

"Bear witness, men!" he spat. "Never trust the word of a land dweller. This female claimed she would leave us in peace and now she has brought more enemies to our home to slaughter us all. See to it that none-" 

"She betrayed nothing until it was ordered of her," came the calm declaration from the daiyoukai.

"And who are you to speak for her?" the leader sneered. 

"The lord husband of the woman you dared to injure!" announced a most irate Jaken, looking for all the world as if he was ready to flay the flesh from their bones. "He is here to strike you from the world! You will learn what it means to cross Sesshomaru-sama!" 

"Oh?" replied the leader. "Is protecting our territory a matter of insult to you, O Mighty Sesshomaru-sama? You had best keep your wife in line, if that is true, lest she come to harm." 

"You are the one who gave the order, then?" asked the daiyoukai, giving no inclination that the other had spoken. 

The leader gave a derisive snort. "I was not about to allow a woman to interfere with our revenge."

"Revenge?" Lucidity echoed, stepping forward on impulse and ignoring the shifting stances and hands tightening upon weapons. "Only trespassing was mentioned when I was last here; not that any of you gave me a chance to talk before you sent your pet after me."

"And why would we?!" shouted the leader. "Our people have been plagued by madness because of the land dwellers. You are the ones who sent the black sickness to us. We have died by the hundreds. We were forced to slaughter our own kin to keep the sickness from spreading. Revenge is ours by right!"

Lucidity, so taken aback by this unexpected information, found herself glancing at Sesshomaru on impulse. He peered back at her, saying nothing, but the brief exchange was all that was needed to know that they understood each other, understood what had happened here.

Yet Jaken, bristling with indignation, was the one unable to control his tongue. "You imbeciles!" he shrieked. "That plague was not of our doing! It didn't even come from this world. It was as much our enemy as it was yours. And you attack the one responsible for-"

"LIES!" cried the leader as he drew his sword, and there was a ripple among his troops, a rush of anticipation that had Lucidity flexing her fingers around the hilt of her own weapon. "The land dwellers drive us back into the water whenever we attempt to set foot onto dry soil. You force us into hiding. It's only a matter of time before you eradicate our people! I will see to it that yours are washed away, your homes reduced to ruin. Every last land dweller will pay for our suffering!" 

"Sesshomaru," Lucidity whispered, and heard a soft grunt in return as she stared at the seething hatred upon the face of their enemy, "kill them all."


The daiyoukai was not one who sought approval or permission. Those who expected it of him in the past had been readily dealt with. Except for her. Always, she was the exception. He had intended to rid them of any threat these youkai posed long before he arrived here, whether it meant slaughtering each and every last one or a single individual. It did not matter if she became angry with him; he would do what was necessary. And yet, hearing her words erased any restraint that might have lingered. He was able to go forward, knowing there would be no repercussions with her.

Bakusaiga cut a path through the horde, even with its power contained. In such an enclosed space, he was unwilling to risk the full potential of Bakusaiga when not all present were his enemy. Regardless, many fell to his blade, their demise so abrupt that few had time to scream as their bodies disintegrated. The daiyoukai moved swiftly, rapidly depleting their numbers with every step he took. And yet, for each one he cut down, several more poured into the clearing. When he neared the wall of water, he saw the figures of more youkai stretching through the ocean, further than he could see. Their numbers were, perhaps, beyond the counting.

"Kill them all," she had said. And that he could and would do. There was no reasoning with the insanity of their certainty, their resolve to carry out revenge against an imagined enemy. No, that was inaccurate. The enemy was no longer imagined, but one of their own creation. And it would be their undoing.

A great cry went up among the youkai as another wave of energy from Bakusaiga reduced them to nothing but pieces of flesh and bone. Those who remained began to withdraw, closing into formation and leaving Sesshomaru trapped between the horde and the water, as they readied for another assault, one that came in a different form. From their midst, he could see their general. His voice was lost among the other sounds of battle, from the fires of Jaken's Staff to the number who fell screaming under Lucidity's sword, but the signal of his command was in plain view, along with the volley of arrows and spears unleashed. From this direction, Sesshomaru could not use Bakusaiga's power, not with Jaken and Lucidity in the path of the blast. It was with the burn of irritation that he leapt into the air, forced to handle such a formidable weapon as nothing more than a deflection against such a pitiful attack. Even more infuriating it was when several arrows hit their mark, penetrating through armor and flesh before he was able to rip out the offending shafts, indifferent to any further damage caused by the barbs. 

The daiyoukai was growing tired of this play and the sting of pain from the arrowheads only served to fuel his temper. He made quick work of the archers from above with another strike from Bakusaiga, before he turned his attention to those in his way. Jaken, standing astride Ah-Un, had kept the youkai at bay by maintaining a constant ring of fire. The ground was littered with blackened bodies while the ones who were left standing attempted to charge forward, only to be forced to retreat again, and still more attempted to knock the imp down with well-placed spears. In the time it took the daiyoukai to send the youkai into further retreat, Jaken was nearly impaled twice, if not for the quick reactions of Ah-Un blasting the spears into dust.

"Your presence is becoming a liability, Jaken; be gone from here," Sesshomaru ordered as he came to a stop in front of his servant, peering around at the horde and tasting the blood lust on the air, knowing the assault that was to come. But in the endless sea of faces, there was only one he searched for. "Where is Lucidity?"

"She had her sights set on the kraken, my lord, the last I saw."

The answer was...a relief to hear; the kraken was in the opposite direction. As a fresh blow of a horn reached his ears and the youkai charged forward as one, Sesshomaru saw the gleam of the fin upon the general's helm. Once more, the daiyoukai commanded Jaken to retreat, and the moment the shadow of Ah-Un passed over him, he raised Bakusaiga. The emerald wave of energy tore through weapons and bodies alike, covered the sands in blood, and did not stop, not even when it reached the water and those who lay beyond. And in the midst of the chaos of shredded corpses, he lost sight of the fin helm. 

Yet then, without warning, it seemed as if the ocean itself intended to seek its own vengeance. The walls of water that towered over the battlefield were wavering. The sea began to rain down, washing over Sesshomaru's boots, threatening to take him in its hold. Yet he stood his ground, turning on the spot, and saw the youkai receding into the waves, disappearing back into the ocean. And he also saw Lucidity in the distance, rising to her feet from where she had fallen, weaponless and shaking her head. And he knew from how she staggered that she was unfocused, which explained the sudden collapse of her power, the reason why the water had now reached his waist. There were no visible wounds, no smell of blood; he could only fathom what had caused her to slip. A matter he did not have time for when a tentacle reached out from the water and swallowed the Guardian into its grasp. 

Sesshomaru surged forward, but it was for naught as a shock of power stopped him in his tracks. Blinding in its white light, he raised an arm to shield his eyes, but could feel the burn of it on his skin. He was forced to take a step back, then another and another until he finally conceded and took to the air, where Jaken, his own face hidden behind his sleeve, waited with Ah-Un. Sesshomaru could see nothing, but heard the waves that crashed into one another, the angry roll of the waters, and the emptiness that followed as the power began to recede and its heat dwindled into nothing. 

The ocean was still and calm, giving no hint of the death and carnage that lay below. It betrayed nothing, offered up nothing, not youkai or spears or sea monsters. It was quiet. Even when the daiyoukai lowered himself closer to the surface, there was no sign of foe or friend. His fingers tightened on the hilt of Bakusaiga still clutched in his hand. He could not smell...could not sense.... 

A spray of water struck him in the face and he felt the weight of arms around his neck-albeit with no body that could be seen-before he could properly react to the assault. So similar it was to another moment that had happened not long ago, and yet under such different circumstances, and his arm automatically slid around Lucidity's waist as her form grew corporeal once more, hair and clothes heavy with water. He held her in place, feeling his mouth twist in a frown at the unexpected weariness in her gaze. 

"What happened?" he asked. 

"I...I don't know." 

Chapter Text

"You're covered in blood." 

"I am aware, so do not attempt to change the subject. Now answer me: can you locate the underwater horde?" 

"I saw them retreat after I killed their last pet...or so I hope it was the last." 

"The kraken does not concern me, woman. Are you capable of tracking the youkai or not?" 

"Through the water? No. With Sagashite, I might be able to. But even so, there's miles of ocean and the East has never been familiar with that terrain. So, unless they come onto dry land or attempt another attack like with a fault line that I can sense, there's little chance of finding them." 

"Then your abilities are useless in this endeavor. I will seek them out myself." 

"Sesshomaru, you-son of a bitch, you are seriously bleeding all over the place! Take off your armor and let me-" 

"I will do no such thing. These wounds are not fatal."

"Then why haven't they clotted? We left the ocean ages ago, but you're still bleeding like a stuck pig."

The daiyoukai leveled Lucidity with a glare at being compared to a swine, an animal which he had always found revolting in its mindless existence. "The arrows were tipped with poison," he explained, the discomfort of which he could feel now that the excitement of the fight was over.

Lucidity blinked several times, lips parting in surprise, and then shook her head as she recovered herself. "But I thought you were immune to poison? Your dokkaso-"

"There is enough poison in my body to slow the healing, nothing more," he said.

"Then...let me cauterize the wounds, at least?" she replied, and went so far as to raise a hand towards his injured shoulder. When he caught her wrist, she gave no reaction, merely met his narrowed gaze with an expression that suggested a quiet patience, one that often caused him to wonder at the thoughts drifting behind the blue eyes that studied him so carefully. "Even a daiyoukai can bleed to death," she eventually murmured. "You will lose consciousness at this rate. I can wait and cauterize the wounds then, but I'd prefer to do it now while you're still awake to growl at me." 

Before she had finished speaking, an image had risen to the surface of his mind, of blood curling around a hand and dripping in rivulets onto a bank of snow. So abrupt and unbidden, the memory was, that the combined scents of his dying father and seawater assaulted his senses, to the point where he released Lucidity without realizing he had moved. He peered down at her, at her unwavering gaze, at the tautness of her mouth that betrayed her disapproval, and knew that, in this, she had won. Without a word, he turned away, unburdening himself of his swords before loosening the bindings that held his pauldron and breastplate together, and then went to sit in front of the stream Ah-Un had brought them to a short while ago. The dragon in question was grazing on a low hill nearby, and Sesshomaru watched the lumbering figure cut a slow path under the dying light of the sun before he set his swords and armor aside and laid the mokomoko on the ground. Finally, he shed the haori, which peeled away like a second skin, wet as it was with blood, and cast it onto the grass, just as Lucidity came to kneel beside him. 

"Be quick with it," he said. 

A hand came to rest on his arm and he soon felt fingers moving over the gash in the back of his shoulder. "You mean before Jaken comes back with firewood?" she asked. "Don't want him to see you squirm?" 

"You had best hold your tongue, woman; I am not in the mood for your taunts this-" 

A sharp and unexpected searing agony pierced through his back and his voice broke off in a sharp, undignified inhale of one caught by surprise, as his spine arched and his claws dug into the ground. His initial response was to tear those claws through the fool who dared bring him harm and he could feel how the muscles of his arms stiffened in expectation of the reflex, and yet he managed to remain still. Slowly, he forced himself to relax and turned his head to glare at the one so close to him. She had shifted her position, so that she was kneeling upright and leaning forward, the cloth of her garment brushing against his elbow. However, for all her focus, she was ignoring the seething youkai lord. 

"Was that intentional?" he demanded. 

"Yes," was the immediate and indifferent reply, as her hand wandered over his back, gliding through the blood, until it stopped at another wound. 

"Do you find enjoyment in such acts?" 

She met his gaze then, and there was nothing he could read in hers. "Not particularly, but you were getting on my nerves. You've been getting on my nerves for days, so I suppose it was just petty revenge on my part. Shall I warn you from this point on? Brace yourself, now," she added, and again there came the red hot pain that had him clenching his teeth, his entire frame growing rigid until it passed. "Better?" 

"I am allowing you to burn my flesh at your request," he reminded her. "Enough of your games. Get on with it." 

She snorted softly and suddenly came to crouch in front of him, one hand gliding over his chest, the other braced upon his knee. "If I wanted to play games, I'd bite you on the ear every time to distract you from the pain," she muttered, of which he ignored, as her fingers came to yet another wound, perhaps the worst, centered as it was between his ribs. "This one nearly hit your heart. No wonder your body isn't healing if the poison was able to enter your bloodstream so quickly." 

"I said to get on with it," he told her, "before I lose my patience." 

Her eyes flicked up, then down again and she uttered not a word as she laid the flat of her palm against his ribs. Yet he had seen. Regardless of her apparent indifference, he saw the agitation that she attempted and ultimately failed to hide. He watched as she lost herself in concentration, her eyes moving back and forth, perhaps inspecting or sensing the damage; he could not be certain. She murmured another warning and once more there came the pain that had his body tightening. This time, it was enough for him to close his eyes and tilt his head back, though he uttered not a sound. And then she moved on to the next and final puncture mark, located some inches below the third in the muscles of his stomach. And for a fourth time, he was subjected to the searing agony that left him desiring for some form of retaliation. 

Yet there was none to be had. Only silence followed as Lucidity completed her work on him before lowering her arms into the stream to clean herself of blood. He was perplexed, though, when she straightened. Her hands were cupped and filled with water, which she held out towards him, but not to drink. Instead, she brought her hands to his chest, where he felt the touch of her fingers, soon followed by the sensation of a cool trickle. He glanced down to see the water spreading over his skin, trailing outward in every direction, as her hands rubbed over the fresh burn marks. Slowly, she washed away the blood, not a sound or word passing between them. The only movement he made was to turn his head and watch the progress of the water make its way along his arms.

"You claimed water was not yours to control," he said, when she brought a second handful to his back to repeat the process.

"It's the weakest," she said from behind him. "What you've seen is the most I could ever do with it. The South, though...she can flood a canyon like you or me could fill a bowl. But if she tried anything with the air, she'd be lucky enough to make a leaf dance."

"Then you are at a disadvantage when in the water," he said. "Is that what broke your concentration?"

The hands on his back paused. "I think so," came the soft murmur after a moment. "Usually I travel in an air pocket. However, when I tried to reach the kraken, I was too easy a target for the youkai who were waiting. Traveling as the wind through the water is possible, but...I suppose I'm not used to it. I became so disoriented that I had to back out." He felt her fingers withdraw. "Makes me dizzy just thinking about it."

"Then you will not repeat it when next we encounter them," said Sesshomaru.

Lucidity came back around to kneel in front of him, looking over his form as though searching for some imperfection or other. "And how soon will this next time be?" she eventually asked.

"You disapprove?"

"No, I'm just curious how long it will take," she replied. "You were right about them, after all."

"Are you admitting you were wrong, then, Lucidity?"

Lucidity answered by rolling her eyes. For a moment, he believed that would be the end of it, until he suddenly found the weight of her in his lap, familiar arms snaking around his neck. On reflex, his hands came to rest on her waist as he peered up at her, a frown pulling at his lips. "Is that what you'd like to hear?" she asked. "You were right, I was wrong. I didn't understand what was really going on because I never bothered to question those bastards. We never would have learned how dangerous they actually are if you hadn't been so persistent. Happy now?"

Happy? No, he was not. He was not happy to discover a new enemy, an enemy incensed by a mindless hatred of imagined slights, an enemy who was not worth his time. A nuisance, as Lucidity called them, and yet their numbers and their ability to create destruction through means of nature were enough to garner his attention. That he was forced to debase himself by chasing vermin was insulting. And yet he was no lord, no ruler of any empire, if he allowed such low creatures to wreak havoc upon his lands, to allow the attack upon the female in his arms to go unpunished. He had taken her for his and now.... 

She would see him satisfied. By her own admission, she found herself at fault. And now she put an end to their days of feuding when she sealed her lips to his. What was worse, however, was that he did nothing to stop it. So much of their time as of late had been spent in cold silences or heated arguments, during which neither of them made advances towards the other, regardless of any suppressed desires, present though the urge might have been. An outcome he had not enjoyed, and yet he'd believed it had strengthened his decision to not embrace her, to not lose himself to that carnal beast. She'd nearly convinced him otherwise and he'd taken her again, hoping she was right, that he needed to adapt, until she forced her blood onto him. And the result was...shameful to think on. 

Was he so weak? To succumb to the warm body beneath her fine robes, to allow all resolve to shatter merely from the contours of flesh beneath his hands? The taste of her mouth, the scent of her skin, was more tempting to the daiyoukai in that moment than any source of power ever could be, when he yearned to the point of agony, knowing it was not his to have, not today, not now, not until he had a proper understanding. And it was with the hands of a stranger that he held Lucidity by the arms and pushed her away, when, in truth, he wished to do the exact opposite. And yet his grip remained firm, as did his resolution, as he peered up at her. 

"No," he said, his voice purposely harsh. "We have discussed this." 

She did not fight, but stared down at him, blue eyes wide, and her expression one of anxious discomfort. "But-"

"Nothing you can say, or do, will convince me otherwise, Lucidity," he said. "I would have you respect my decision. Do not attempt to seduce me again, not until this has been settled." 

At first, she didn't move, only stared at him, lips slightly parted, as though she intended to protest. And yet she did nothing more than close her mouth and let out a sigh, casting her gaze towards the streams, as if the water would somehow hold the answers. There was no fight in her as she leaned back, her hands falling away from him to come rest in her lap. "I went too far, didn't I?" He didn't answer, but his silence seemed to be explanation enough, as she then asked, "Are you angry?" 

"No," he said, "but I will not have you swaying me, not in any way. You will maintain your distance and so will I." 

The twitch of her fingers did not go unnoticed, nor did the thinning of her lips pressing together, however stoic she attempted to keep her composure, before she suddenly let out a heavy breath, looked at him, and then nodded. She rose to her feet, stepping back, and held his gaze a moment longer. "You have blood in your hair," was the only thing she said, and then she turned to walk downstream. 

It was with a stale taste on the air that Sesshomaru stood, gathering the mokomoko over his shoulder, and watched her figure come to an eventual stop. With her back still to him, she folded her arms and tilted her head back to peer up at the darkening sky. He loathed this feeling, this...inability to act as he desired, to act on his desires. This was not what he wanted, to leave matters as they were, but there was no other choice, and she seemed to finally understand this, if not accept it. There was nothing else to be done and he turned from the sight, snatching up his bloody haori as he went, right when Jaken emerged from the surrounding woods next to the stream. 

"My lord?" he called out. "I have the firewood. My lord? Where are you going?" 

Sesshomaru did not answer, but continued to make his way upstream, seeking nothing more than a proper bath to wash away the blood and the solitude that came with it, and ultimately leaving behind him the scent of fire and salt water.


The scratching of the quill was a lonely sound that Lucidity had long since grown accustomed to. Whether this was unfortunate or not made little difference to her. She found comfort in the old practice and familiarity of record keeping, which was just a fancier way to describe journal entries. Normally times of writing were reserved for the brief spells spent on the Isle, when she would jot down all she could remember of their most recent adventures, personal thoughts, moments, or whatever she considered appealing and worthwhile, really. The only reason for any lull in this hobby was because she was too busy, too distracted, to bother. It was not as important to her as other matters. And besides, she was rarely left alone. 

Until recently.

True to his word, Sesshomaru was keeping his distance. Worse than his word, in fact, as far as Lucidity was concerned. He was hellbent, it seemed, on ensuring that he did not give in to temptation, nor allow any opportunity-imagined or otherwise-for her to "sway" him. Not that this surprised her, but it was no less frustrating, the utter lack of...everything between them. She tried to remind herself that it was for a good reason, that Sesshomaru never would have set such boundaries unless it was necessary, and that he was the one who had to fight his own inner...daemons until life could continue as it once had. And yet it was maddening, this constant tension between her and the daiyoukai, to the point where it had replaced all else.

She could not relax around him. The few times she had, his reactions hadn't been favorable. Grabbing him once to get his attention had resulted in her hand being knocked away by a sharp fist. Being absentminded and standing too close was met with cold glares, even a shove one afternoon when a certain part of her anatomy brushed against his arm. He sat across the campfires at night instead of beside her, bathed alone, and overall invited nothing of her company. Even conversations were crippled. Lucidity could not tease him as she once had. Regardless if the jokes were innocent or not, she had little inclination to say anything aloud. They talked shop, discussing little more than the underwater threat and how to find it, the Princes of Death, rumors of powerful youkai throughout the lands; Sesshomaru, after all, would never stop questing for the strongest opponents, at least the ones he did not wed. 

One week. 

Two weeks.

Three weeks. 

Four weeks. 

Life continued on in this vain for well over a month, and Lucidity could only wonder if it was driving Sesshomaru just as crazy. Once, though. She had asked once. In all this time, she'd never pushed, never prodded, never hounded. Nothing. She had accepted his decision, respected his space, and displayed little of her growing discontent. And yet, in spite of all that, the one time she had asked about what he was doing to tame that beast of his, he'd left. Not right then and there, but the very next day saw him departing with Jaken. It wasn't without word, albeit with little explanation. He told her that Jaken knew about some rumor or other about an old, youkai sage who may or may not be of use, but who had no fondness for intruders or outsiders. Sesshomaru had not wanted to risk bringing a gaijin. A loose interpretation, it sounded to her. What he was going to ask the sage, she could only speculate, because she heard nothing more about it because he said nothing more about it, merely instructed her to remain where he could find her before he took off with his servant in tow.

Yes, be a good girl. Stay. Let the men do the work. Sit home and knit or cook or clean. And also, remember, he will never bother with such prying questions, because, no, he never did answer her. He didn't respond at all, in fact, but had walked off, and didn't acknowledge her until the following day when he announced he was leaving. She wasn't sure what to make of it, and what she did make of it, she had no interest in dwelling on.

That had been six days ago. Seven now, actually. Tomorrow would be the start of day eight. Too long it had been to just wait around, so of course Lucidity hadn't stayed put. But she didn't disappear into thin air as she was wont to do more often than not. Instead, she kept her corporeal form, to make it easier for Sesshomaru to track her whenever he decided to return and find her gone; she'd give him that much, considering just how far she was forcing him to search. But she'd be damned if she stayed and twiddled her thumbs while waiting dutifully for him to come back. To hell with that! This was her domain, the Guardian's domain, which far exceeded the territory of some youkai lord. She traveled further across the lands without Sesshomaru than she ever had with him. (Save, perhaps, the time she had gone through the earth to eradicate the blackness.) He'd left Ah-Un with her, too, and the dragon had no qualms with venturing to the ends of the countryside, streaking across the sky or strolling through the hills and mountains, passing villages, and, overall, making damn sure that daiyoukai could follow their scents when he deemed it fit to come back.

If he came back.

The scratching of the quill stopped.

If....

She didn't like that thought. Perhaps it was time to head back to the Isle. If she saw him through Sagashite, alive and well, she could cast her worry aside and simply seethe about her situation. But he'd been gone longer than this before and been just fine. He was supposed to be too stubborn to die, she reminded herself. Maybe she should just visit Inuyasha's village on her own accord, even though she hadn't parted on the best of terms the night of the festival. What was stopping her? They were still friends. They still called her family. She was even Kagome's sister by law. Was it because she knew how upset it could make Sesshomaru? He was going to be angry that she had gone off on her own. If she went to visit people he believed she wasted enough time and effort on already, he would be even more so. If she wasn't married to the asshole, what would her decision be? If she wasn't married, what would she be doing now?

Probably going insane, she answered herself, if she wasn't by this point.

Lucidity let out a heavy sigh and snapped the journal shut. No matter how angry or upset she was, that asshole youkai lord of a husband was still the best thing to ever happen to her, even if she was torn between screaming at him or begging that he lift this no-touching ban. She was so tired of spending the nights alone, aching for the softness of his mokomoko, the warmth of his skin, the press of-

With a sharp shake of the head, she gathered the journal and writing supplies and clambered to her feet. She left the shade of the tree, wanting to put it and unnecessary-not to mention torturous-thoughts far behind her. Ah-Un was over the crest of the hill, just out of sight and never wandering far from her in his endless quest to forage for the best grass, leaves, roots, or whatever else he ate. He paid her no mind when she came up beside him and put away her belongings in the travel pack Jaken always kept on the saddle.

"Think we should head out?" she asked the dragon, her only companion for the better part of the week, as she patted the side of one of his necks. "We've been here a while. Maybe we should turn back. Or should we go further? This land is crawling with youkai. Think there are any here who would be worth our time?"

Not that she was one to go looking for trouble. Seeking out opponents to fight wasn't really her thing, but it might break up the monotony of her wanderings. Ah, but, what would she do with the youkai in the end? Beat it bloody? Kill it? To what point or purpose? She took no pleasure in killing. Be like Inuyasha and his group then? Go find someone helpless to rescue? Lucidity rolled her eyes. Yeah, sure, she'd help if she came across people who needed it, but she wasn't a saint.

These woods, though, really were crawling with youkai. At first, she'd felt the trickle at a distance. An hour ago, was it? She wasn't sure. But the group had been making its way steadily through the surrounding hills and forest. She'd been checking their progress every so often, giving it little thought, caught up as she'd been with her writing. At the same time, however, she didn't want to attract their attention and had blanketed her own aura, to the point that the regular five senses would be needed to find her. And that was why she was taken aback when she realized that the youkai, whoever or whatever they were, had changed their course.

Ah-Un lifted his heads, gazing in the direction of the trees, and Lucidity, too, watched the images darting about. Not along the ground, but through the canopy. Whatever was moving out there was using the branches as a means of travel. She stepped away from Ah-Un, more curious than on guard, and bewildered about what might have attracted their attention. Were they considering making a meal out of her? Maybe this was the exercise she needed, a break from the tedious days that her life had become. There were more now, spreading throughout the trees, circling the area. More than a mindless hunt, then, if they were setting up a perimeter?

But then she felt something else, something that was coming in a wave of powerful aura, far greater than the drops that were present now. She put more distance between herself and Ah-Un, moving into the open space of the meadows, and saw, now, the gleams of eyes from the treeline. Dozens of eyes peering out from the shadows. She was half tempted to blow the trees down, just to see what lay beyond, but decided against such rashness. And a moment later, it didn't matter, as the youkai began spilling out onto the grass. 

Chapter Text

Cats? 

Lucidity stared. There was definitely no mistaking the creatures as being anything but feline. Bipedal though they were, they were covered in fur and had the frame of mind to wear proper clothing. Yet none of them spoke. There was much hissing and growling, but no actual exchange of words. Behind her, she could hear the heavy footsteps of Ah-Un and he was soon standing beside her, lowering and raising his heads a couple times, as if debating if these youkai were an enemy or not. Her hand came to rest on his scaly neck as her gaze roamed over the cats, taking in their many colors, their demeanor, and the overall abruptness of the situation. They were so hostile, forming a semi-circle around her and Ah-Un, swiping at the air with their claws, hackles raised.

And then they began to close in. Ah-Un tossed his heads sharply and Lucidity automatically seized his reins as she took a step back for every step they took forward. Should she fight them? It wouldn't be much of a fight, to be honest. Hardly worth the trouble. It was that burning aura of power that interested her. And as the cats continued to herd her and Ah-Un towards the trees, allowing no open space for easier movement, that power arrived. It didn't come in a cacophony of explosions or flurry of confusion, but at calm, delicate pace, emerging from the forest, as if it had always been there. Or rather, as if they had always been there.

Four altogether. Three females and one rather large male in every meaning of the word. Lucidity had to turn to face them, putting her back to the cats. Were these some type of felines as well? Sharp eyes, claws, tails, and there were probably some fangs in there as well. They must be. That seemed to be the pattern with youkai; they stuck with their own kind, like Koga and his pack of wolves.

The tallest of the three females stepped away from her comrades and Lucidity considered her more closely. She wore a single piece of armor on one shoulder and a kimono with only one sleeve, which to Lucidity was stranger than the pale blue color of her long hair. The woman's gaze darted between her and Ah-Un, displaying little more than curiosity, a stark contrast to the angry, spitting noises that had yet to stop from the surrounding cats.

"What is it, Toran?" asked one of the females, the one with short, red hair and a dancing, yellow tail.

"Yeah, why'd you have us come all the way out here for a human?" grumbled the male, who was hardly paying attention, arms behind his head and eyes closed.

"That beast," said Toran. "I know its scent. And I have seen it before. It belongs to the eldest son of Inu no Taisho."

Lucidity blinked as the other three immediately perked up, their boredom quickly giving way to keen interest. There were smiles all around that brought absolutely no reassurance that she was among allies, not with the sparks of excitement she saw in their eyes, the sort that whispered mischief or, worse yet, malicious intentions. She'd been on the receiving end of such looks before, from certain men in this era when she'd still been human, and it made her very skin crawl, forcing her to suppress a shudder.

The third female came to stand next to Toran, waist-length, red hair swaying behind her, as she tapped her lip in careful thought. "What is a human doing with Sesshomaru's pet? Did he send her to us as an emissary?" 

"I doubt it," said the other redhead. "She doesn't seem to recognize us. She probably doesn't even understand us. Hey, girl, do you know what we're saying?"

Lucidity didn't answer, let alone give much of a reaction. She was too curious about what would happen if they continued to assume she was an ignorant foreigner, and looked from one to the other, garnering their responses and saw that none appeared to be terribly impressed, save for Toran, who was possibly reserving judgment. Staying here meant inviting trouble, Lucidity knew, but found she didn't much care right then. With the month she'd been having, the idea of letting off some steam was too appealing, and she nearly smiled when the loud redhead let out a scoff. 

"Her head must be full of sawdust," she said. "We should just eat her and be done with it; I doubt Sesshomaru will miss one who is this stupid." 

"I heard he's grown a soft spot for humans," sneered the male. "Rumor has it that he even had a human girl running around with him a few years ago. Wonder what he's doing with this one." His eyes roamed over Lucidity and his mouth split open with a grin. "If he doesn't intend to eat her, I can think of some other uses she has. She's pretty for a gaijin."

"You're sick, Shuran," said the loud redhead. "She's still human. And remember, he hates that hanyou brother of his. No way he'd make the same mistake as his old man."

"Hey, a hole's a hole, Karan!" laughed the male.

"Enough, you two," Toran ordered before a gagging Karan could respond. "It doesn't matter, the reason why she's traveling with Sesshomaru, only that she's here in our territory. Let us find the dog and get to the bottom of this. Bring her, Shunran."

"Yes, sister," was the dutiful reply from Shunran, who came forward as Toran moved back, arms outstretched as if she wanted the world to see every last vibrant color of her kimono.

Suddenly, the wind kicked up, tossing hair and clothes, rippling through the grass and scattering fallen leaves, and Lucidity glanced around, for once not the cause of it. And then she caught the scent of flowers, soon followed by the unmistakable petals of cherry blossoms that swirled around her and Ah-Un. It was overwhelming, the smell, to the point where it tickled her noise and brought on a sneeze. At the same time, she heard a heavy thump beside her and looked over. Much to her surprise, she saw Ah-Un on the ground, out cold, but still breathing, before she put two-and-two together and peered over at Shunran, whose astonishment couldn't have been more obvious with her wide-gaping mouth as she lowered her arms to her sides. 

"She isn't human at all!" announced Shunran, pointing a dramatic finger at Lucidity. "No human can withstand my cherry blossoms!" 

The shock from the others evaporated and there was much renewed hissing from the cats. Lucidity could hear their footsteps as they moved in closer and she cast a quick glance over her shoulder, debating if she should ignore or incapacitate so that this could continue uninterrupted. And yet before she bothered to lift a hand, the cats began to retreat, their movements slow and wary. And when she looked back at the four in front of her, she found that Toran was walking towards her. 

"If you can understand me, then you had best answer my questions, girl," Toran began as she stopped short of being too close for comfort. "Who are you and what are you doing in the lands of the Panther Tribe? Did Sesshomaru send you?" 

Panther Tribe?! Now that rang a bell! Tales from both Inuyasha and Jaken had finally come in handy. Lucidity knew exactly who she was dealing with, though she had never been told any of their names. And it was no wonder that Sesshomaru had never ventured out this way, if this was the territory of such a powerful enemy. Yet it was her understanding that their last encounter had ended in a truce, or at least the Panther Tribe no longer sought revenge. However, was her being here going to-?

"Would you say something already?!" shouted Karan, who suddenly sprang forward, tense and quite ready for a fight, with flames erupting around clenched fists. "Even if it's in some gaijin tongue, would you open your mouth and talk? You're starting to creep me out!" 

"Let's just take her and find the dog. He's gotta be nearby," said Shuran as he punched his fists together, sparks of electricity crackling to life. 

"Do it then," came Toran's command. 

Lucidity's gaze darted down to Ah-Un. Still not moving. She wondered how long he would be out and decided it was best to change locations, lest the unconscious dragon get caught in the crossfire. And even as she studied the large and unmoving frame, she could hear the enemy coming at her. The cats from behind darted forward and a quick look up revealed Karan and Shuran taking it upon themselves to subdue her, while Toran and Shunran remained where they were. Perhaps they believed it was enough, more than enough probably, and Lucidity wondered how long this encounter would last as she dissolved her form, feeling the harmless swipe of claws and fists, heard the snarls of fury as they realized their target had vanished, and spirited herself across the open field, only to realize, too late, that this was a mistake. 

The world was spinning faster than she. It was just as before, when she'd been in the ocean. The confusion, the dizziness. She was vaguely aware that her solid body had struck the ground. The only reason she knew she had come to a stop on her stomach was because of the sharp smell of moist soil that flooded her senses and the grass that pressed against her face. Eyes shut, she clung to the ground, feeling as if she was about to fall off the earth itself. Back and forth, the world tilted, like some disorientating ride she could not escape from, but she could hear someone making their way towards her. A lot of someones. A lot of feet running, coming this way, before stopping. This wasn't good. If she didn't manage to focus and soon.... 

"Grab her," said a voice, and it took her a moment to recognize it as Toran's. 

A hand closed around her wrist and the ground disappeared. She felt herself being lifted up and a groan broke from her. All of her weight was being held by the one arm and the pressure it put on her shoulder was rather discomforting. A deep chuckle echoed inches from her face and the pungent odor of stale breath crawled over her cheek. 

"Not so tough, are you?" snickered Shuran. "Nothing but a wench full of tricks." 

Though it continued to feel as if the world had turned itself upside down on her, Lucidity managed to open her eyes. No, she decided, this wasn't like before. This was worse. It took too long for Shuran's face to swim into view and, even then, it was difficult to focus. Her head was starting to hurt something fierce, with sharp bursts of pain that came and went. Just what the fuck was going on?!

Later. She would figure it out later. Right now, she needed to get free; Shuran's smile was too wide and uninviting when he caught her eye. "I know you don't understand me, but I'm sure you realize you're coming with us now," he said and patted her side, before abruptly running his hand up and down her waist, then lower to her hip and thigh. He was so close. She could smell his skin, he was so damn close! 

So, of course, she drove a knee into his stomach, right below his rib cage, and felt something crack. So satisfying it was, to see the expression on his face, the way his eyes bulged and his mouth hung open as his large body started to double over, at least until a hard punch to the face knocked him backwards. His slackened grip disappeared from her wrist and she jumped back as he collapsed into a heap on the ground. 

Shouts filled Lucidity's ears as she landed on a knee, a hand going to her throbbing head, but she kept her attention on the panthers. The three females were surrounding Shuran, crouched beside his limp form, inspecting him for signs of life, and murmuring their relief that he was only unconscious. The cats in clothes milled around them, observing in agitated silence or hissing at Lucidity, but kept their distance all the same. And then Toran rose to her feet. In spite of how the world was still churning, albeit not as severely, Lucidity did the same, wavering once before she regained her balance.

She and Toran looked at each another, neither moving, neither speaking. There was a simmering rage behind the woman's cold, calculating gaze, and it was going to need an outlet sooner rather than later. Even when she flung her arm out in a curt signal that had the cats bounding towards her, Lucidity knew this action was nothing more than a test, trying to see if there was any true threat behind brute strength. 

And so the cats never made it across the field. Simultaneously, each of them stumbled to a sudden halt, hands going to their throats, mouths open wide, then closing, then opening again, over and over. One by one, they dropped to their knees. Some even rolled onto their backs, clawing at their throats, while the Panther Devas looked on, helpless in their shock, while their henchmen struggled like fish on dry land.

"What's going on? What is she doing to them?!" Shunran cried. 

"What does it matter? She needs to be stopped!" yelled Karan, who was already sprinting forward, flames licking around her hands.

"Stay back! She's mine!" 

Toran's shout was enough to freeze Karan in place and her fire disappeared just as Toran surged past her, a long, double-pointed spear forming in her hands. And Lucidity, unwilling to risk taking incorporeal form again, summoned her own weapon, and the blade of a war scythe clashed with Toran's spear. Reminiscent of Hogosha, the familiarity of it brought a sense of comfort to Lucidity, who found herself falling into an equally familiar dance with the leader of the Panther Tribe. The dance with death, singing blades and pounding hearts, the rush of blood in their ears, the hard earth beneath their feet. Lucidity knew this so well, too well, and pushed past the discomfort in her head, righted herself when the world threatened to waver beneath her, and felt little more beyond the irritation of being inconvenienced.

"Toran, hurry! She's killing them!" someone was shouting. 

There was a glint that appeared in Toran's eyes at these words, a wild fury of determination. And she struck with greater purpose, the blows resonating through the weapons and into Lucidity's arms. She was a strong opponent, like Sesshomaru, and yet showed more passion, enough for Lucidity to realize how important this was for her, how important it was to save her comrades. They would not die, though. True, the cats had stopped flopping, stopped trying to inhale the oxygen that Lucidity had deprived them of, but it was returned before it could be fatal, just as she had done to Sesshomaru last winter, prior to the battle with Morstua. Toran didn't know this, of course; all she saw was a threat to her people. Being the strongest and being the leader, Lucidity could understand why she took it upon herself to win this fight.

Yet for all her strife and resilience, none of it was enough, as the spear of ice was torn out of Toran's grasp and sent flying through the air to land out of sight. The point of the scythe stopped a mere inch or so from her throat and she stood, arms at her sides, as if she had frozen herself in place. It did not last long, however, when Karan and Shunran attempted to charge into a fray.

"Don't!" Toran shouted, flinging out a hand towards them, but the torrent of wind had already seized them in its grasp.

Their cries rang through the air as the pair spiraled upwards, trapped in currents that could have shredded them apart if the Guardian so much as considered the idea. Yet she refrained, for now, but it did not stop her from changing the direction of the wind and the panthers hurtled back down, where their bodies hit the earth in a resonating impact that left them motionless where they lay.

A trembling Toran turned back to Lucidity, a twisted scowl on her face, and the distinct beginnings of a deep-seated hatred blazing in her eyes. "You...what are you?! Why are you here?!"

Lucidity raised a brow. What to do now? Killing the lot of them was the quickest solution, but that didn't mean it was the best. She peered around at those who had fallen. This was the Panther Tribe. The history between them and Sesshomaru went back centuries. If he had not attempted to defeat them by now, she was doubtful he would be appreciative of any assistance, and that was if he even intended to do so in the first place. She didn't know. Perhaps she should ask what tribes or clans he planned to conquer in his rise to power. 

Her attention returned to Toran, who hadn't budged, and began to retract the scythe. Toran blinked and a bit of tension fled her body as the blade disappeared, only to cry out when the staff struck her hard across the face and sent her skidding along the ground in a haze of dirt and freshly churned earth. Beyond her, Karan and Shunran were slowly picking themselves up, grunts of pain echoing between them. And a distant groan and subtle movement revealed that Shuran was finally coming to. Ah, what perfect timing, he had.

Perfect timing, it seemed, that was shared by many, as another presence seized the air and washed over them, accompanied by a voice that rang out with one, single word: "Lucidity!"

Lucidity closed her eyes for the barest trace of a second, before she turned to watch the speaker as he emerged from the forest and made his way across the field. He paused in the middle of the chaotic aftermath, taking in the forms that were still lifeless on the ground, and at the great brute of a male nearby, who was shaking his head and clambering haphazardly to his feet, savoring his midriff as he did so.

"Sesshomaru!" Toran called out as she pushed herself to her feet, blood decorating the side of her face, and the daiyoukai looked over at her. "What is the meaning of this invasion?"

He did not answer, but none of the panthers attempted to stop him, even when he walked mere feet from their leader until he reached Lucidity, who knew at once that this would not end well. He...was...furious! His usually indifferent countenance was nowhere to be seen. Lips were drawn back to reveal the sight of bared fangs and she didn't have trouble imagining the sound of his snarls, had they been alone. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his claws flexing, near hidden by his sleeve, and wondered how much willpower he was using to restrain himself. The very muscles of his neck were stiff as he finally opened his mouth. Nothing but a rough growl trickled free, so faint that she knew it was meant for her ears alone, as was the flash of scarlet that filled his eyes. The sight of piercing blue irises had her taking an involuntary step backward, and that was perhaps the only reason why he managed to relax his temper. Red faded into white and golden eyes darted to the staff she still held behind her back. 

"Get rid of the weapon," he ordered, and there was nothing subdued about the anger in his voice. "You have done enough damage here today." 

Slowly, Lucidity managed to let out a soft exhale of breath and at the same time the staff disintegrated. She folded her arms, to declare that she was, indeed, weaponless now, as she peered up at him. Not a word passed between them, but his rage remained palpable, simmering and simply waiting for the spark of fire that would bring it surging to the surface. 

"Explain yourself, Sesshomaru!" came Toran's unbidden shout. "Why are you here? Who is this creature you've set on us?" 

Again, he did not answer, but continued to stare down at Lucidity, as if daring her to speak. And when she raised a brow, his scowl returned and a fist clenched at his side, but she gave no regard as she said, "In my defense, I never struck until Shuran made it necessary."

"It fucking speaks! But what a freak!"

Sesshomaru turned sharply around. Karan took a step back, both hands clamped over her mouth, and cast a furtive look at her sister and leader. Yet Toran gave no reaction, her attention focused solely on Sesshomaru, who, at first, did nothing. Then, without a glance in her direction, he said, "I would have you remain silent, Lucidity," before he began making his way towards the panthers in that careful, measured pace of his, never giving a sense of urgency, and yet declaring the unwavering certainty that the daiyoukai had in his own power.

And Lucidity, not knowing what else to do, stayed where she was. She brushed a hand through her hair, closing her eyes and rubbing absently at her temple, where she could feel a dull ache. Fortunately, it was all that remained of the dizzy spell she had suffered. What had that been? It didn't make any sense. Satomi had never suffered anything like that without being gravely injured first. Was it some adverse effect of not being a true-born Guardian? Had the South experienced-?

"She was not here on my orders; she came of her own accord." Sesshomaru's voice cut through her thoughts and Lucidity opened her eyes to see him standing before the Panther Devas, all four of whom had gathered around Toran.

"You expect us to believe that?" shouted Karan. "She's the perfect weapon. She killed our men and didn't even break a sweat!"

"If I wished you dead, I would see to it myself," Sesshomaru replied. "And your men live. The air was removed from their bodies until they lost consciousness, nothing more; it is what she does when her intentions are not lethal."

"You're defending her actions, then?" Toran demanded. "Who is she to you, Sesshomaru? Why would you trespass into our territory if you didn't send her?"

"She is the wife of Sesshomaru-sama and daughter of the great Mother Goddess! You'd do well to show her respect!"

Lucidity...had been wondering where he was. He was never far from Sesshomaru's side, after all, unless ordered otherwise. Obviously, that was not the case this time, as she saw the small form hurrying towards the gathered youkai, Staff in hand. Jaken peered around at Ah-Un and the others still on the ground, like one who was inspecting an interesting piece of artwork with an untrained eye.

"This is your doing, Lady Lucidity?" he asked. "Why do you play when you can just kill them in an instant and be done with it?"

"Quiet, Jaken," ordered Sesshomaru, but the imp's words had already had a noticeable effect on the suddenly anxious panthers, especially Shuran. Pale with beads of sweat appearing on his forehead, his dark eyes kept darting between Lucidity and the daiyoukai and he swallowed when her saw her watching him. And yet, Sesshomaru seemed to be paying him no mind as he spoke again. "Her actions were of her own making, Toran, and I do not condone what she has done. I came to collect her; she should not have come here and will be dealt with."

"[Fuck you, Sesshomaru!]"

The words broke from Lucidity before she had a proper understanding of what she was saying, but that did not mean she regretted the outburst. She was so sick of this, his attitude, his treatment, his indifference. This last month, it was as though nothing had ever changed, as if she was still some human forced to travel with a youkai because of their mutual needs, tolerated, but not welcomed. And she hated it, every last second of every goddamn day!

In unison, the panthers backed away, save for Toran, who stood her ground, as Lucidity came to stand in front of Sesshomaru, his golden eyes narrowed and glittering with a rage that promised pain to the wrong person who crossed him. Yet Lucidity did not care; she'd already thrown all propriety out the window.

"[Fuck you,]" she said again, and saw the flash in his gaze, the immediate comprehension of the foreign tongue she'd taught him ages ago. "This is my domain. Your territories make no difference to me. The squabbles of youkai and humans make no difference. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even have your precious lands to fight over. The lot of you would be rotting from the plague." She cast a glare towards the panthers. "Every last one of you, covered in black veins, eating each other until your hearts gave out. That would have been your fate if it wasn't for me." She peered back at Sesshomaru and could taste his tension on the air. "I am not some dutiful wife to be dealt with. I am the Guardian of the East and it's time for me to remind people of that."

Chapter Text

The remainder of Sesshomaru's interactions with the Panther Tribe was a complete mystery to Lucidity, mostly due to the fact that she had stalked off after chewing the lot of them out. She didn't care about the outcome or what needed to be done to pacify the panthers. That was Sesshomaru's concern, not hers. And if he was furious about what she'd done, so be it. It wasn't as if they weren't already at each other's throats. Nothing good was going to come from any of this, but she'd be damned if she cowered under the wake of his temper, constantly struggling to put things right.

It felt as if they were going in circles and always ended up in the same spot, unable to escape this rut they were in. Something she did would set him off. Something he did would set her off. They would argue. They would fight. They would talk. No insulting his honor. No treating her like a servant. Could a mutual respect ever be maintained between such a proud daiyoukai and a Guardian attempting to learn the meaning of husband and wife?

Lucidity, eyes closed, rubbed the back of her hand along her forehead, feeling the same remnants of pain from earlier. The memory of what had happened continued to unsettle her, and it was one more concern to add to the ever growing pile of crap to worry about. She didn't like these thoughts spinning through her mind, this feeling that there was no way out, that she and Sesshomaru would make the same mistakes over and over again until everything that had been built fell apart, until they fell apart.

The meandering pace in which she'd been walking came to abrupt halt. She stood there in the open lands, with nothing but mountains and forests in the distance and an endless stretch of grass before her. Arms wrapped around herself at the chill of dread that seized her. Was that what was happening? Were they falling apart? This relationship had never been the easiest, but it had always been worth the struggle. He was worth sacrificing everything for, wasn't he? That had always been her belief. So, what was his?

And yet, when the daiyoukai eventually arrived with Jaken and a recovered Ah-Un trailing behind, Lucidity found herself too afraid to ask. She turned to face him when she felt his approach, arms folded, but no longer hugging herself in some pitiful display. Their eyes locked, but neither of them was quick to speak. Jaken hung back, reins clutched in one hand and his Staff in the other, and looked between the two powerful beings he'd come to serve.

"Did you find what you were searching for?" Lucidity asked, finally shattering the silence.

"I'm afraid the sage died some months ago," said Jaken when Sesshomaru did not answer. "He was killed by the blackness, as so many others were."

"Pity," she muttered, starting to the turn away.

"You have used poor judgment today, Lucidity," said Sesshomaru, and she peered back at him, her expression as blank as his. "If you were anyone else, I'd have no choice but to execute you."

"How fortunate I am, then, that you've become too attached to kill me," she replied coldly.

"You will silence your mockery!" he snapped, and his raised voice had Jaken tugging Ah-Un away to seek out safety and perhaps shelter. "You nearly started a war!" the daiyoukai continued in a soft growl, stepping towards her. "One that I cannot afford to happen now."

"If you like, I can go back and finish it for you. I can wipe out the entire Tribe and you can claim this scrap of land for yourself. How's that-"

In an instant, Sesshomaru swooped down. His claws would have sliced right through her skin if it hadn't been for the robes, he showed so little regard with the strength in which he grabbed her by the elbow. "I said enough of your mockery, you insufferable wench!"

Even if it didn't feel as though her bones were about to snap under his grip, the insult alone had her jerking free and shoving him away. "To hell with you, Sesshomaru!"

She didn't see it coming. She didn't even know what had happened until the impact resonated throughout her body and it took several moments for her mind to piece together that she was no longer upright on her feet, but sprawled on the ground, staring up at the blue, cloudless sky. And her head.... Dear gods, her head! Rolling over with a groan, she pushed herself onto her knees, a hand buried in her hair, the pain so bad she could barely open her eyes.

"[Fuck,]" she muttered. Fuck, fuck! Did that ever fucking hurt! Enough that she was close to tears by the time she looked up and saw Sesshomaru standing over her, his fist still raised, as he surveyed the damage. He seemed engrossed by it, by his impulsive response. He'd hit her. Actually hit her out of blind anger! The last time he'd raised a hand to her was on the battlefield with Morstua, but that had been a cold, calculated act, a manner of retaliation for what she'd done to him. This was...this was something else. 

Still holding her head, she slowly pushed herself to her feet, never taking her eyes off the daiyoukai, who finally lowered his arm. There was no trace of any anger she could see; no trace of much at all, in fact. Certainly he was intent upon her, his focus unwavering, but regarded her with little more than quiet expectation, waiting for her to reciprocate in kind. She didn't. She didn't do anything more than shift her hand from her hair to brush her knuckles over the throbbing cheek he had struck. His brow furrowed and his mouth pressed into a thin line before he turned and walked off, stopping a short distance away. And Lucidity, swallowing heavily, did the same. The difference, however, was that she did not stop.


The Mother's mark would never fade. It would be with him until his dying day. A constant reminder of what had first been forced upon him and what he had later come to accept. Protector of the Guardian, the one he had claimed as his, who could no more be tamed than a youkai lord. What did it mean to take the daughter of a goddess as his wife? What was the line between the Guardian and the woman? To him, the Guardian of the East had always been the mortal gaijin who had emerged from her hut that day to hang herbs out dry. Had she been as Satomi, a true born Guardian, would he see her differently? React to her differently? She would not be the same; it would be impossible. He would not have...taken interest, not beyond wishing to battle a worthy opponent.

Sesshomaru closed his fingers over his palm, obscuring from view the seven-pointed star he had been staring at, and folded his arms. His gaze drifted over to the fire Jaken had built, in an effort to cook himself a meal of fish that Lucidity had not been present to help him catch. Lucidity.... How to deal with her? How not to deal with her? An infuriating woman, who was not bound by the same laws as he. She had the power, and yet did not exercise it unless it was necessary. Jaken was right; she could have killed the Panther Tribe instead of indulging them. She had stayed her hand. Why? She took no pleasure in killing, but it had been warranted from the recounting that Toran had shared, down to the specific details of Shuran's grievous choices that had cost him a hand by the time the daiyoukai was done with him. The only conclusion Sesshomaru could come to was that she refrained because of him. She'd known what his response was going to be, and yet....

She'd antagonized him. Why? Was she so vindictive, so petty? However, his response was no better. Claws dug into his palm, into the scars, and he glared at the fire. Again, he'd lost control. He'd allowed his temper to get the best of him. Toran had mentioned Lucidity had come to them injured, however that might have happened, and he saw for himself-a small extent of it-by causing her more pain. That should not have happened, like so much already.

"Eeto, Sesshomaru-sama?" came the tentative call of the imp from across the fire.

"What is it, Jaken?"

"It's getting late. And it's been hours since.... Would you like me to find Lady Lucidity for you?"

Sesshomaru lifted his gaze to the sky, littered with stars and a half-moon to accompany the endless array of tiny lights. "She's gone."

Jaken nearly dropped his Staff as he jerked upright. "G-Gone? What do you mean?"

"If you keep treating her like that, she'll leave you in the end!"

The miko's voice was a harsh bell resonating in his head. With a scowl, Sesshomaru closed his eyes and settled back against the tree he'd chosen for the night. What could be mended, at this point? What could be salvaged with this distance between them?


The village took a remarkably short time to reach-a mere few days-considering that most of the journey had been on foot, with sporadic bursts of travel on the air. She'd broken down her form only once and the outcome had been the same as before. It was enough to make her wary of repeating the attempt, not to mention anxious about what was happening to her, with no answers to be found. She'd be a fool to believe that a couple of miko and a monk could determine the cause of what left a Guardian a disorientated mess on the ground, and yet this was where she found herself. Perhaps...not for answers, but for company, for reassurances. No mortal could possibly explain what was physically wrong with her, but her troubles with Sesshomaru? That was another matter. But the thought of going down there, of sitting with Kagome and Sango, did not...feel right. What could be said, what could be done, to make it better? She wanted someone to talk with, someone she trusted to confide in, whose word and experience she could rely on. She wanted....

Her father.

The revelation nearly brought her to her knees. Gods! She missed him! Guardian or not, memories or not, he was her father, the man who raised her, guided her, taught her. For years it had been just the two of them, ever since she'd been a small child, up until the day of the accident that ultimately took him from her. If he was alive now, if he saw her now, she knew that the mantle of the Guardian would make no difference to him. He'd only see his little girl. That was what he had often said: even when she grew up, got married, and had children, she'd still be his little girl. And that was what she wanted now, and rather desperately at that. The void in her life since his passing had never felt so profound, and all because she needed a shoulder to lean on, because there was no one else. Not her friends, not Sesshomaru. None of them could provide her with what she needed right then, that comforting presence and reassurance that only a parent could give.

This was what mourning was, to miss someone at random moments in time, to suddenly be overwhelmed by the loss that part of you still could not believe, could not accept. It wasn't a wonder that she finally succumbed and lowered herself to her knees, that she finally admitted defeat. Unable, unwilling to move, she felt the heat of emotion that crept along her face, the burn of tears in her eyes, and the heaviness that settled in her chest, as much a part of her as the breath that filled her lungs.

And then he came. In a sudden rush of movement, he was there on the hillcrest with her and she was on her feet, face dry and eyes blinking furiously, but with no visible tears, by the grace of good fortune. Being forced to explain why she was outside of the village, crying like a lost babe, was not an experience she was keen on having, especially not with a snarky brother-in-law.

"Inuyasha," Lucidity said, "what are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," the hanyou replied, folding his arms. "I caught your scent. As careful as you're being about your aura, I'm surprised you let that happen."

Lucidity shrugged. "Everyone makes mistakes."

Inuyasha snorted. "Yeah, even demigods. So, why are you here?"

"Just...passing through," she answered.

"Uh-huh, and Sesshomaru worships Jaken," Inuyasha said with a roll of the eyes as he approached her. "Where is that asshole brother of mine, anyway? I can't smell him at all."

"Elsewhere," was the vague response, and she didn't care for that scrutinizing gaze sent her way, those golden eyes looking her over, so much like the daiyoukai. She turned away, using the view of the village as an excuse to focus her attention on anything but the hanyou, who, to her dismay, decided to come stand beside her.

"Has something happened?"

"He's alive, if that's what you mean," she said, watching the distant figures of the villagers.

"It's not and you know that," Inuyasha said. "Well, whatever. I don't want to know the details. You're here for a reason, right? So, stop sulking up here and let's head back to the village. I know Kagome has been wanting to see you." And he started making his way down the hill, but had taken just a few steps when Lucidity spoke.

"No," she told him, and he stopped, glancing over his shoulder, lips parted in surprise. "I'm not in the mood to see anyone right now. I really am just passing through. I'm actually on my way back to the Isle; I stopped to see if I could change my mind about visiting, but I haven't."

Inuyasha turned to face her, frowning, and it was a moment or so before he replied. "You know...no one blames you about what happened at the festival," he began. "There's stuff none of us will ever get about the Guardian. Kagome was just upset about that girl dying. It was the first time she lost someone she was caring for and-"

"It won't be the last," Lucidity cut in. "Inuyasha, I don't care about the fight. Believe it or not, I have other things going on and I don't feel like talking with anyone. I'm sure you can understand about not wanting to put on a good show for the benefits of others."

"Keh," he scoffed. "Fine. It's not my problem, if you decide to stay or not." And, once more, he started to leave, only to pause and look back. "But if you do change your mind, we're having supper at Kaede's tonight."

Lucidity blinked, and then felt a shadow of a smile spread along her lips. "Thank you, Inuyasha."

"Sure thing," he said as he turned and walked off. "I won't tell anyone you were creeping around. See yah, Lucidity," he added, holding a hand up in farewell, before he reached the base of the hill and disappeared from sight.

Inuyasha, the pain in the ass little brother, who could be a remarkable jerk, even to those he liked. Was it some sort of genetic trait in his family or just a happy coincidence that both he and Sesshomaru were assholes? Lucidity could only sigh and shake her head as she continued on her way, giving the village a wide berth as she did so, to ensure she did not come across any unwanted company.

Running into Inuyasha had jarred her out of memories of her father, but now she was right back where she had started, mulling over that blasted daiyoukai and what sort of repercussions would follow their latest fight, beyond her leaving without a word, that is. Would he blame her for taking off? Or accept it? He hadn't stopped her, but...she hadn't expected that he would. Maybe he was aware that some distance was better right now, to give them both time to cool off and collect their thoughts. For how long, though, would this last?

The swift current of the stream was a dull roar in the otherwise quiet solitude beyond the village. And Lucidity, her pace slowed by these heavy thoughts, absently followed the water along its path where it joined the main river that ran through the village and countless miles beyond. Now and then she caught a glimpse of fish, swimming by themselves or in schools, and wondered how Jaken was fairing on his own without her quick hand to help. She knew he was perfectly capable of catching his meals on his own. Perhaps she was spoiling him. If she wasn't careful, he might forget how to take care of himself. And if things between her and Sesshomaru didn't....

For two reasons, Lucidity came to a stop, staring intently down at the river. The first was because she loathed where this train of thought was taking her and very much wanted to derail it. The second was because of what she sensed floating above her, the answer to at least one of her many questions. And when she looked up, sure enough, he was there, sitting astride the dragon with the imp settled in behind him. He must have flown all this way to catch up with her. It didn't come as a surprise. Of course, if he hadn't followed, she still wouldn't have been surprised.

"Take Ah-Un to the village, Jaken, and wait for me there," she heard Sesshomaru say, along with Jaken's murmur of agreement, before Sesshomaru dismounted. His form drifted soundlessly to the earth as Jaken directed Ah-Un around. She did not bother watching the two-headed silhouette disappear, intent as she was on the daiyoukai who landed some yards away from her.

"Come to do this dance again?" she asked in way of greeting. 

"You are still angry?" was his response in that ever-stoic manner of his.

Resisting the urge to chew on her lip or do some other stupid show of nerves, she folded her arms and peered back at the river. "Are you?" she asked in a voice that was almost too forceful. She didn't need to hear the footsteps to know that he was standing beside her. The heat of his presence alone was enough, and she found herself looking up at him in spite of her efforts to keep her eyes downcast. Almost every time she looked, it got her in trouble, whether because he saw what she tried in vain to hide or because she could not endure the sight of him without some part of her breaking into pieces. And this time was no different when she met his gaze, because the impulse to simply fling her arms around him had her stiffening. Every bone in her body seemed to protest, aching in complaint that she needed to move, needed to go to him. But she wouldn't.

"I am frustrated, Lucidity," he said. "As you mentioned, this is a dance we continue to repeat. What can be done about it?"

"You came all this way to ask me how to fix this?" she muttered, both incredulous and bitterly amused, even as she threaded a hand through her hair, pressing her palm against her temple.

"This Sesshomaru is at a loss," came the admission, the words so soft, barely above a whisper, but enough for her to lift her head up in surprise. He wasn't watching her, though, but the water rushing by at their feet. In contrast to the rapid current, he was so still, arms at his sides, expression utterly unreadable. There was no wind, no fur being lifted, no hair being tossed, no sleeves billowing. Perfect and utter silence. "How does one distinguish the Guardian from the woman?" he murmured into that silence.

Lucidity swallowed. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears and wasn't entirely certain as to why. "What do you mean?" she asked.

Golden eyes slid over to her. "Who are you first? The Guardian or the woman?"

Quite suddenly, she didn't want to answer. She didn't know where he was leading with this and didn't want to. A critical decision was to be made, no doubt, based on her response. But what sort of decision, she had no idea. And just as before, she was too afraid to ask. She didn't want to know. She just...wanted things to be as they were, before any of this happened, before his beast got the better of him and their spats were easily forgiven with water splashed in the face.

"Lucidity," Sesshomaru pressed, "I would have you answer me."

"I don't...I don't know," she said, and nearly stepped away when he turned to fully face her.

"Yes, you do," he told her. "Otherwise you would not avoid the question."

"What would you have me say?!" she exclaimed. "How would you answer? Who are you first? Sesshomaru-sama, youkai lord of the west, or Sesshomaru, husband who strikes his wife?"

Nothing. 

He didn't move, didn't speak. He gave no reaction at all as she stood there, staring at him, heart hammering and breath tight in her chest. She wanted to scream, wanted to beg, wanted him to tell her that she was being a fool, that there was nothing to worry about. And then he lowered his gaze, a mere fraction that she caught a mere glimpse of before he turned from her, to peer back at the river, at the endless flow of water that seemed to carry with it unspoken words that would never be heard aloud. 

"It seems, then, that we are at an impasse," he said, and she hoped to the gods that she was just imagining the finality in his tone. 

"Sesshomaru...." she muttered as her head came to rest in her hands, a noticeable ache forming in her temples and a rising discomfort in her body. 

"We cannot remain as we are," he continued, as if she had never spoken. 

Like before...like before but worse. A pain, shooting through one side to the other. Fingers dug into her hair as her jaw clenched. "Sesshomaru," she repeated, the name hardly audible to her own ears, her teeth were clenched so tight. A shock ran up her spine and her body bowed, and the pain was spreading outward now, seeping into skin and bone alike. Like liquid fire through the veins, it infected every inch, scorching from the inside out. 

"Lucidity?" 

His voice was so distant, no more than an echo across a great cavern. 

"What is it? Lucidity?" 

More urgent now, he spoke. But she couldn't answer him. She could barely breathe as the agony brought her to her knees, head threatening to split apart from the power that seemed to be rocking her very soul back and forth. It was more than that, though. Even as her vision swam and she found consciousness to be a wavering thing of privilege, she could feel it beneath her: the trembling, roaring earth, the smell of rot and all things dead. Was that her screaming? She didn't know. Yet she knew what was happening, what this was, but the reason for it? A horrible, agonizing mystery that was shredding her insides. She couldn't see, couldn't move, couldn't breathe! She couldn't do anything cling to the feeble line of awareness, hoping it would end, hoping she would be spared this living hell. 

And then, as if the strings had been cut, the power receded and her body went limp. The world never stopped churning, never stopped writhing beneath her, as her fingers slipped from her hair and she was falling, falling into the embrace of soft grass and hard earth, or so she believed. And while it was soft, her landing, it was also warm, not at all what she had expected. She felt herself being lifted, heard the heavy breathing of another, and opened her eyes to a crescent moon. But soon, the rest of his face swam into view and she saw that his lips were parted, that it was his panting she was listening to. 

"Put me down," she muttered, and he did without argument. Though releasing her entirely was another matter, especially when she had difficulty finding her balance, still clutching at her throbbing head with one hand. 

"What happened?" he rumbled above her, an arm around her waist much to her chagrin. 

Yet it could not be helped, as the shaking ground beneath them had her teetering back and forth. "Mother...She.... [Ah, fuck, fuck....]" Her curses trailed off with a groan as another wave of power had her doubling over, and Sesshomaru renewed his grip on her as her legs threatened to give out. "Something's wrong," Lucidity moaned, feeling the hot press of tears behind closed eyelids. "She's never done this befo-" 

It couldn't be stopped, her cry of pain, her knees finally buckling, and Sesshomaru lowered them to the ground. She could do naught but clutch her head, trying so desperately not writhe in his grasp, to ride out the pain. Every rise and fall of this inexplicable assault was accompanied by a fresh churning of rock and soil. Were these aftershocks, or was Mother just getting started? But why?! Why was this even happening?! Never in any memory, dead or alive, had the Mother Goddess done this to Her daughters. And Lucidity could hear Her. Beyond the searing energy, beyond that earthquake that shook her to the bone, she could hear her Mother. It was a piercing wail, a scream without voice or form, an ultimate suffering that She ensured Her children would suffer with Her. And Lucidity did. By the gods, did she suffer! Every moment, every second, until she nearly forgot an existence without this torture. 

The first clear thing she became aware of was her ragged breathing. Labored gasps through an open mouth, her entire frame moving with each one. Gods, did it hurt! Even as the world began to quiet, as the screaming began to fade, she could feel herself trembling with the agony, as though she'd been thrown off a cliff to land in a rocky ravine down below. Wet tracks trailed from the corners of her eyes, to disappear into her hairline, and several more tears managed to escape while she lay there, trapped against a familiar line of fur, with firm arms wrapped around her. She needed to rise, needed to find her feet, and yet...did not want to. She couldn't find it in herself to move, when every breath tasted like fire in the lungs and each movement felt as if her bones were grinding against one another. 

Sesshomaru wasn't looking at her, perhaps did not even realize she was coherent. He was turning his head, peering from one side to the other and back again, left to right, back to front, and there was something decidedly unsettled about his demeanor. His eyes were narrowed and she saw him swallow, letting out a heavy exhale as he did, before he looked down at her. He blinked, the muscles of his jaw working, when he noticed that she was alert, and then he frowned. 

"Why has the Mother done this?" he asked. 

She shook her head and managed to sit up. The discomfort was lessening, like a wound closing over, and she was able to see for herself what had had Sesshomaru's attention. The earth was split open. And yet, that was not the unusual part. Rather, it was the fact that fissures in the ground were surrounding them, four in all, trailing in straight lines in each cardinal direction, further than the eye could see. And at the center, she and Sesshomaru rested inside a circle of untouched earth. With a tentative hand, she reached out to the edge of the circle and her fingers hovered above the broken soil, nearly touching, before she recoiled on instinct, drawing her arm back in tight against her chest. 

"You are afraid," said the daiyoukai. "Why?" 

"Something's happened," she whispered. "Something bad...really bad." 

Knowing that this statement was true, unequivocally so, had Lucidity on her feet. Sesshomaru stood with her, hardly a breath of space between them, and she made no attempt to push him away, considering that the moment she had her balance, a swoop of absolutely stark terror filled her stomach with its icy chill, a sensation so unexpected that she nearly fell against him. Panting slightly, arm around her middle, she forced herself to step away.

"What is it, Lucidity?" he demanded, and she shook her head once more. 

"The Isle...I have to get back to the Isle," she said, and began moving towards the river at once, only for a hand to close around her wrist. 

"You are not going alone," Sesshomaru declared. 

A hundred-and-one reasons to leave his ass behind could have been given in the span of only a few seconds, she was sure, and even opened her mouth to make such an attempt. And yet the overwhelming urge to move and move now had her nerves on edge. Her fingers flexed under his grasp before she jerked herself free and glared at him. "Fine," she snapped. "But only because I don't have time to argue. Let's go; we need to get to Sagashite." 

"What for?" 

"You'll see." 

And see he would. After she dipped her hand into the river and the rolling fog arrived with the summoned ferry, he would see what awaited on the Isle. The two servants who steered were visibly agitated and didn't speak a word, but guided the boat swiftly through the fog and into the passageway that brought them to the banks of the Isle. Lucidity did not even wait for them to come to a stop, but leapt out and set off at a run towards the palace, Sesshomaru right on her heels. Her pace did not slow until they reached the palace and she caught sight of the number of servants out on the veranda, perhaps all of them, including Rusuban, every last one appearing as anxious as the next. Beyond them, in the darkened recesses, a glow pulsated, a rapid rhythm that seemed to echo her own pounding heart. 

"My Lady?" spoke the old caretaker, but Lucidity was already brushing past her. 

"I know, I know," was all she said in return before ducking behind the curtain of vines, Sesshomaru not even a step behind. And there was Sagashite, its normally calm surface rippling and bubbling, as if a torrent of rain was coming down. The light of the water continued to dim, then brightened, over and over, and faster now that she was standing beside it.

"What is this?" asked the daiyoukai. 

"A summons," said Lucidity as she hopped onto the ledge of the pool and turned to peer back at him. "Whenever there is an emergency like this, the Guardians are summoned to the domain where they are needed." 

With a frown, he looked from her to the churning waters. "Sagashite not meant to merely observe?" 

"That is only one of its uses," she said, growing impatient. "Come on already. If you don't want to be left behind, then get up here. I'm not going to wait."

He didn't respond, not even to glare, but lighted upon the ledge next to her and allowed himself to be led into the water. It was shallow, the pool, reaching only to their ankles. And the moment they stood at its center, Sagashite's power thrummed to life in an impact that rattled the teeth and caused a grunt to escape the unsuspecting daiyoukai, who stepped closer to Lucidity and slid an arm around her waist. She didn't know if it was deliberate or absentminded, but didn't have time to rebuff the unwanted contact, as the waters began to glow. Brighter and brighter, their surroundings became, the water spreading outward and rising above them, until they were completely enveloped, everything else lost from view. A roaring echoed through the air, resonated in Lucidity's ears until it was the only thing she could hear, to the point of deafening, and the power continued to course its way around them, spreading over their skin, filling their lungs, beating inside their hearts. 

And then, in a breath, it vanished. The waters became dark and fell away like so many dead leaves, and left the pair standing at the center of an identical pool. And yet the scenery was vastly different. So different, in fact, that Lucidity, who had known what was coming, still found herself somewhat disoriented at the abrupt change. Where a second ago it had been late afternoon, it was now early morning where they were. So early that the sky was still dark and twinkling with stars that shown through the canopy of moss and vines of the gazebo-like structure they were under. It was utterly quiet, with the only sounds being their footsteps as she and Sesshomaru dropped down and onto the cold stone of a dais below. There was nothing around them but dense foliage and a single path of dirt that led away from the pool, which Lucidity immediately started down.

"What is this place?" Sesshomaru asked. 

"The North's sanctuary," she answered. "Like my Isle. They're all connected by a Sagashite." 

"Why have you not told me this?" 

"I never had a reason to. Gatherings like this rarely happen. I never expected...so soon...." 

Her voice trailed off and her brisk pace slowed to a walk. Sesshomaru did not need to ask the reason, as he, too, was distracted by the sound that had reached their ears. Up ahead, the brush and trees started to thin. Bits of sky could be seen through the stretch of leaves and branches. The end of the path could be seen, the dirt giving way to a lawn of grass and flowers that bloomed night and day, a garden so carefully tended to with a loving hand. And in the midst of the colors darkened by the night and illuminated by the light of the moon, a figure was dancing. Hopping from one foot to the other, twirling in circles, and strumming a stringed instrument that Lucidity quickly recognized as a lyre, the figure's voice rose in a soft melody of sing-song, the pitch neither high, nor low, indistinguishable as male or female. 

[In the shadows, let us walk.

In the forests, let us dance. 

In the meadows, let us wander.

For at night, I shall sing:

Come to me.

And I shall embrace you,

As your friend,

Your lover, your guide. 

For at night, I shall sing:

Come to me,

And I shall be yours.

Come to me,

And you shall be mine.

Come to me,

And I will forever hold you,

In my final embrace.]

The figure pivoted once more, voice carrying through the air on the last, echoing note, and stopped upon spotting Lucidity and Sesshomaru standing at the edge of the garden. Slowly, the lyre was lowered and the figure stared at them. Even now that they were closer, Lucidity found herself questioning what she was looking at. The figure appeared human for the most part, small in stature, at least a head shorter than her. The long, pointed ears, however, declared the creature as anything but human. The hair was short and unkempt, resembling a nest of brown, tangled weeds more than anything. The clothes were little more than a tunic held together by a strap of leather around the middle, displaying an utterly shapeless body. There were full cheeks with a slight point to the nose and chin and large, round eyes, the same dull brown as the hair, that gazed back at her. She could have been staring at the face of a young boy or just a very short, young woman. 

And then the figure smiled, wide and bright, showing a perfect string of pearl teeth, and bowed deeply, with much sweeping of the arms. "[Good morning, dear travelers, and thank you for joining us in this dreary patch of paradise,]" came the flamboyant greeting in that same sing-song voice. "[My name is Puck! Welcome to Avalon!]"

Chapter Text

"Puck?" Lucidity repeated. "[You're...Puck]?" 

Puck gave a broad grin. "[You sound like you know me. Do you know me? I'm quite famous with mortals these days. But you aren't mortal, of course. Neither of you. And you are most definitely foreign,]" he added, pointing a sharp finger at Sesshomaru, whose mouth pulled down at the corner. 

"You are familiar with this creature, Lucidity?" he asked coldly, and she could all but feel the Whip burning in his fingers. 

"Yes, but not as the Guardian. I know him from-"

"[So rude!]" Puck suddenly shouted, nose scrunched up and a heavy scowl on his face. "[That's rude! Don't ignore me and prattle on with words I don't understand. Show some manners!]" And he threw the lyre onto the ground and folded his arms, huffing loudly, the very epitome of a pouting child.

"[You speak of manners, boy,]" Lucidity began, "[when-]"

"[BOY!]" screeched Puck. "[You think I'm a boy?! Oh wait....]" Without warning, he stopped and peered down at himself, plucking at his tunic. "[Am I boy this time? Usually I choose what appeals in the moment, but...ah, I don't remember.]" And here, he began to lift the clothing up, head bowed for a better look.

Lucidity quickly brought up a hand, to shield from view whatever may or may not be there, and turned her head away. "[No, no, we don't need to see. And we're not here for a social visit either, Puck. We're on our way to the castle to meet with the others, so-]"

"[Oh, you are?! Let me escort you!]" Puck exclaimed, releasing the tunic and clapping his hands. "[I've never seen you here before and it's such a big place. So easy to get lost. How about some music? It's a long walk.]"

"[That won't be necessary,]" said Lucidity. "[I know the way.]"

In the midst of scooping up the lyre, Puck froze and those round, brown eyes shot up, mouth gaping wide open. As he straightened, clutching his instrument in both hands, he began to sway back and forth on his feet. "Oh, oh, oh!" he cried with each rock of his body. And then he began to hop, up and down, around and around, dancing in fast circles around her and Sesshomaru. And again, every hop was punctuated with an "Oh, oh, oh!" until he finally screamed for the whole of Avalon to hear, "[GUARDIAN OF THE EAST! YOU ARE THE GUARDIAN OF THE EAST!]"

Laughing and prancing, his fingers started to flit across the strings, and he moved faster in his circles to the point that it was becoming dizzying to watch him. Head thrown back, he began to sing, his voice carrying, unnaturally amplified, but then ended on a high pitched screech when he quite unexpectedly lost his footing, only to be lifted up and sent sailing through the air. It took Lucidity a moment to understand what she was seeing, but once she spotted the green tendril, she realized what was happening. The Whip released him by the ankle just before he disappeared far into the thicket of trees that she and Sesshomaru had emerged from moments earlier. She could hear muted shouts and cursing before she glanced over at the daiyoukai, who was lowering his arm and marching off through the garden. 

"What manner of youkai was that?" was his first question after she caught up with him. 

"Not youkai," she said vaguely as she took in their surroundings, at the dramatic change of vegetation, of trees that littered the area, altering the landscape and thus making her pause when she realized she was uncertain of the path ahead. Sesshomaru, too, stopped and waited while she turned slowly around in an effort to get her bearings. 

"What then, if not youkai?" he asked. 

She looked at him. "Faerie," she said. "Of the harmless variety. Satomi knew of the company the North kept, but she never knew Puck personally. I only know him from stories. He's a trickster, from what I've read, so his behavior really doesn't surprise me; he'll probably try and get revenge on the little stunt you pulled."

"I will kill him if he makes the attempt."

"Please don't," she sighed, peering back at the trees. "That really would be rude. You're a guest here; you shouldn't go around killing the residents. Ah, I think it's this way," she added, and took off, striding past an outline of raised earth where a boulder had once laid and had since been overgrown with soil and grass.

"Why do you not travel on the wind?"

"Why would I with you here?" she was quick to say. "You hate it. And Puck was right." She glanced over at Sesshomaru, whose mouth pressed into a thin line. "It's very easy to get lost; this place is several times the size of the Isle, so I can't just up and leave you wherever." 

"I do not need you to guide me," was the haughty reply.

She let out a snort. "I also don't trust you with the locals, nor them with you. Puck isn't the only trickster, and there are others more dangerous than him who call this place home. Visitors are usually restricted to the castle grounds because, out in the forest, they are often fair game." 

"Nor do I need your protection."

"Tell that to Morstua." 

There was stony silence after that, which served in Lucidity's favor while searching for the path that soon led them out of the forest and onto the shoreline. The cadence of lapping waters filled the otherwise empty air, their feet sinking into the soft sand, as they walked along. With trees on one side and the ocean on the other, the beach was a path unto itself, a straight route from one direction to another. And up ahead, even the heart of darkness, their destination could never be missed. 

A castle.

At the top of a large, broad cliff, the highest point in the sanctuary, it put her little palace to shame. The whole of a village population could have lived comfortably inside. It contained a near endless array of stairs and halls that would take a lifetime to learn and navigate, floors that always seemed to be changing, rooms beyond the counting, windows like stars glittering with light through the glass panes. Towers and turrets, turrets upon turrets. Hidden doors and passages. And doors that were not doors, and walls that were not walls. Even to Satomi, the castle of the North had always held more secrets than perhaps Mother Herself.

The path of the beach ended at the base of the cliff, where sand gave way to rock and the sound of their footsteps grew heavier at the change of terrain. She and Sesshomaru continued to walk in silence, her attention never straying from the castle, which seemed to reveal some illusion or detail with every passing second. As they drew nearer, she spotted movement at the top of the entrance, where a drawbridge would have traditional been if a moat had existed. Figures were striding back and forth. Four-legged, about half the size of a horse, their scaly skin caught the light of torches that lined the ramparts. Horns, wings of a bat, the creatures were gruesome to look upon, but not altogether surprising to see.

Yet it wasn't the gargoyles that had Lucidity coming to an abrupt stop. It was the lights. An array of colors and glittering hues emerged from the depths of the night. Greens, blues, purples, reds, ever shifting and changing, as if an artist had splashed an assortment of paints across a blank canvas, only to spray water along the top and allow the colors to bleed together in a dripping rainbow. These lights swirled around the towers of the castle, raced up and down the curves of stone, expanded and diminished in the same breath, with no pattern or meaning to be deciphered. No end. No beginning.

Lucidity swallowed and felt herself shiver as her heart began to pound, breath caught in her throat at both the beauty and the possibility of what this could mean.

"What is it?"

Sesshomaru's voice was an odd, jarring noise in the surreal atmosphere that had seized the night, unwanted to some extent, and it took Lucidity a few moments to collect her thoughts. "That is...a bit difficult to explain," she said. "Do you remember what Rusuban told us when we first met her? Everything, I mean?"

Golden eyes met hers and she hated the thought that crossed her mind, the mere feeling that he could drag out of her from a simple glance, as if he was whispering more than the words he eventually spoke. "I cannot forget."

She took a deep breath and nodded, peering back up at the lights that had yet to cease their dancing. "That is called the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, and that is the extent of what most people know about it. But...those are Guardians."

"Guardians?" Sesshomaru repeated.

"Yes, the three who never took a physical form. Above, Below, and Within. Normally, they exist within their own domains, in dimensions that no one but a Guardian or Mother can access. But when they come to this plain, they are able to be seen by the naked eye, if they so choose. It doesn't happen often that they allow others to see them this close. The fact that they would...."

"It frightens you," he finished for her when she became silent.

"Yes," she murmured. "Everything about this frightens me."

"...are you still in pain?"

The question seemed so out of the blue and she glanced over at the daiyoukai with a frown, to find him watching her with such intent that she felt as if she should have expected him to ask such a thing. "No," she answered, sighing softly. "Whatever Mother did, it's gone now. But She was...hurting, and I know that it was more pain than She could convey. I can't think of any time in Satomi's memories that this has happened before."

An icy pit of fear had settled in her chest by the time she finished speaking and a shudder raced through her that could not be helped as she shook her head and looked away from Sesshomaru. Part of her didn't want to press on, didn't want to see what lay beyond the entrance to the castle, didn't want to learn what terrible news awaited on the other side. Of course, she had no choice. She couldn't abandon the other Guardians, any more than she could have ignored her Mother's summons to come here. She wanted...wished that Sesshomaru would say something, do something, the smallest show of reassurance, to remind her that she wasn't on her own. He'd wanted to come with her, demanded it. And yet, she was riddled with doubt about his reason. Was it to keep her safe, to watch over her, because it was what he desired or was it because he was bound by duty? However, this wasn't the time or place to question his motives. And yet, as she began to put one foot in front of the other, she couldn't stop herself from dwelling on what he had said-seconds before Mother had unleashed Her assault-that they could not remain as they were. What...in the seven hells had he meant?

A harsh jolt back to reality came in the form of one of those oversized bats almost landing on her head. Startled, Lucidity jumped back and barely managed to snatch Sesshomaru by the wrist when he raised an arm, a soft, green glow encasing his fingers. He pulled out of her grasp, frowning at her, but she said nothing as she kept her attention on the snarling gargoyle, watching it shift its weight back and forth, its wings flapping rather furiously, as if daring them to come closer. 

"Oh, stop it," Lucidity told the creature, only not in so many words. "Leave us alone."

Immediately, the gargoyle started to back away, pointed ears pressed down, a whine low in its throat before it bowed its head. And then it turned, took a running leap, and soared its ass back to the ramparts. Lucidity followed its progress until it quickly landed. And even then, the gargoyle began to howl, and its brothers soon joined in. 

"What did you do?" Sesshomaru asked, taking a step forward and peering around at the assembled pack. 

"Ordered him to get lost," Lucidity muttered. 

"How's this?" he pressed, and there was an underlining hint of irritation in his voice; he never did seem to enjoy it when he did not understand something. 

"The language of the Guardians has no words," she replied. "More...with the mind, really. Remember that the Guardians had to communicate in some way before they had bodies. And it's the only language these things respond to. They're the watchers of the castle, carved from the same stone and brought to life by the North and her Tree. If anyone unfamiliar enters without the accompaniment of a Guardian, that person is-"

"Fair game," interrupted the daiyoukai. "Your Guardian of the North seems overly cautious of strangers." 

"She's too used to faeries running amok, I guess. Come on; we should get inside." 

There were no more surprise pounces from the gargoyles as Lucidity and Sesshomaru made it through the entrance. Nothing but flags of stone greeted them; no grand decor or jaw dropping beauty. Though there were numerous lights that were floating around or cutting sharp paths through the air. Tiny balls of light they were, too, hardly large enough to fill a palm. Several of these buzzed around her and the daiyoukai, little more than a harmless nuisance, as they made their way up the stairs that led to the large, front doors, which were almost twice their height.

"What are these?" muttered Sesshomaru, glancing at a speck of light near his ear. 

"They're...er...." Lucidity paused with a frown, glancing up at the glittery display. "I don't know the exact translation, but they're called [will-o'-the-wisps.]"  And when Sesshomaru repeated the name, she nodded and turned to the door. "Also...don't follow them if they ever try to lead you anywhere." 

"Why?" 

"Just don't," she told him, pulling on the old, rusted handle and easing the door open. 

The inside was...a forgotten splendor. It had changed since the last time she had...since Satomi had last been here. The once lavishly illuminated entrance hall was dim and ghostly. The candles that filled the grand chandeliers, three in all, had long since gone out, their melted figures covered in dust. In fact, most everything was covered in layers of dust, enough that their footsteps were muffled. Suits of armor were rusted and falling apart in their niches along the walls. The few remaining torches were broken and unlit. Paintings and tapestries had faded and were rotting away. Everywhere she looked, the beauty and grandeur had wilted like so many dead flowers. The castle, overall, could remind someone of a fair maiden withered and hunched with age, leaving behind a frail, blind crone, who whispered in the tongues of a mind grown feeble.

Lucidity had to close her eyes, as what she could see here and now warred with the images that filled her head, of what Satomi had experienced. Countless times Satomi had visited and never, in all those centuries, had the castle fallen into such a gloomy neglect. Opening her eyes, Lucidity peered around once more, taking everything in slowly: the grand, split staircase that led into the shadows to different wings; doors on either side that would take one to the kitchens, servants quarters, dining hall, ball room, gardens, or nowhere at all. But there was one door in particular, tucked behind the stairs, that was of interest to her at the moment. She strode across the formerly magnificent entrance hall, noticing the path that had already been formed in the dust, which meant she was not the first to arrive. And beyond the door, the walls were marked with burning torches, spaced evenly every handful of feet or so. There was more dust here, cobwebs along the ceiling, but the inhabitants had long since fled the flickering light. The passageway sloped ever downward, and was narrow enough that she didn't doubt that Sesshomaru, if he wasn't careful, would run the risk catching the mokomoko on a torch. 

"Where are you taking us?" he asked. 

"There's a room down here that the North prefers to gather in, where the inhabitants won't disturb us by accident. And...I'm afraid you won't be able to join us," she added. 

It didn't come as a shock when the footsteps behind her suddenly ceased and she peered around to see Sesshomaru frowning at her in apparent irritation. "Then why bring me here?" he demanded.

"You would have argued with me regardless," she sighed. "At least this way you know where I will be. Wait outside in the hall or wander the castle. I don't care, but I have to go." And she turned away to continue down into the passage; predictably, he followed. 

"I will not be dismissed, Lucidity; you know this," he said. "I would learn the reason that you have been summoned here." 

"And I will tell you, after I meet with the others."

"Lucidity-" 

"I would heed her advice, Protector," chimed in a new voice, the words laced with a foreign accent that could not be placed. "You will gleam no more from it than any other mortal creature in this world." 

Both Lucidity and Sesshomaru came to a stop as a figure walked out from a bend in the passage, having been just out of sight. The sudden arrival of this man was as unexpected as his appearance. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and dressed in rich, dark fabric, which included a tunic, leggings tucked into leather boots, and a long cloak with silver fastenings. Yet it was the dual-colored hair that caught her attention, the black locks pulled up in a high ponytail and the white bangs draped around a face of refined features. And then she noticed that his eyes were not hidden by those bangs, but were pure white as well. No irises. If that alone did not mark him as anything but human, the sharply pointed ears would have done the trick. He came to stand before her, arms folded, proud and dignified in spite of their dreary surroundings. 

"You...understand us?" was the first thing Lucidity could think to say after recovering from her initial surprise. 

"Yes," said the stranger, glancing between her and Sesshomaru. "My Lady North has been gracious enough to teach me many languages, including yours. Though, by your coloring, it is not your native tongue either." 

"As good as," Lucidity said. 

"You are the new Guardian of the East," he replied, more statement than question, but she nodded all the same, to which he responded with a respectful bow. "An honor to meet you, Lady East, and your Protector. I am Oberon." 

Lucidity's eyes flew wide and she nearly took a step back before she managed to stop herself. "O-Oberon?" she stammered in a soft voice. 

Oberon straightened, a small, albeit bemused smile playing on his lips. "Yes. I have been friend and consort of my Lady North for several centuries, but I never met the former Guardian of the East. Yet you seem to know me, my Lady. How?" 

"Stories," she muttered. "You've...made yourself known to mortals." 

"Indeed," said Oberon. "And so has your sister; she is my Titania. But neither of us were aware that our tales had spread so far." 

Lucidity shook her head. This was too much to take in at face value, and now was not the time. She was intrigued, yes, even excited to a point to learn such secrets behind ancient lore, which she would most definitely ask the North about later. Yet, as of this moment, she had more pressing concerns, and gave the faerie a perfunctory smile. "Thank you, Oberon," she told him. "We should speak later, but-" 

"Yes, the others are waiting. Titania should be arriving shortly," he said. "Shall I play host to your Protector until your meeting has ended?" 

She didn't answer, but glanced over at Sesshomaru, who had, as usual, been perfectly quiet. Even now, he said not a word, merely fixed her with a piercing glare, and then turned on a sharp heel and stalked back up the passage. With a sigh, she turned her attention back to Oberon. "You are welcome to make the attempt, but he isn't one for company." 

"Nor am I, but, forgive me, I am not comfortable allowing a daemon to wander unattended in my home." 

How he knew what Sesshomaru was, she wasn't certain, and could only shake her head in response. "It's your home; you don't need my permission. Just remember that he is my Protector...and my husband, and can be territorial where I am concerned." 

It was Oberon's turn to be shocked. His mouth fell open and he stared to such a point that it would have been considered rude in any society. Eventually, he managed to recover himself, snapped his jaw shut, and gave another bow. "As you say, Lady East. Please excuse me."  

And then Lucidity was alone in the passageway. The footsteps of the two men-Fae and youkai respectfully-faded into nothing and she was left with little more than the sound of her own breathing and torches flickering under the draft of air sent down the tunnel-like hall from the distant door being opened and shut. She continued on her way and soon rounded the bend that Oberon had emerged from. Why he was down here, she could only fathom, since outsiders never attended meetings, as far as she knew. He must have been waiting for the North, or rather Titania. 

Gods! The North had actually allowed herself to be named?! Not only that, she was known to the human world now and would be for centuries. Was there something Lucidity was missing? Had the North done this before, some time after Satomi had died? Or was this new? Was that why the castle was in such a state of neglect? Had the North grown bored of life on Avalon? 

Questions for later. Probably much later, Lucidity reminded herself, as she came to a stop in front of a plain, wooden door. There was no handle, only hinges for it to swing upon, but Lucidity found herself staring at it nonetheless, as if there was some secret to opening it. Only in this moment had she stopped to consider, to really think about what was going on. She had been in such a rush to answer the summons, to find out what was going on, that she never bothered to reflect on what it was that she was actually doing.

She was preparing to meet the other Guardians.

Immortal beings, beyond the concept of time, power near limitless, who neither thought, nor felt as a mortal did. Well, save perhaps one. But even then, the South had been a Guardian for centuries, over a thousand years, at least, the exact date always uncertain. The South had probably long since forgotten what it meant to be human. Yet for Lucidity? It hadn't even been a full year. Memories or not, she was a child, an infant in comparison, and had already broken taboo more than once. And she well aware of how Satomi had felt towards the woman who had become the new Guardian of the South; at least until she, too, made the same decision to become mortal, albeit for different reasons. 

No matter where Lucidity went, she was an outsider, pressing her face against the glass as she peered in. But...she couldn't afford the luxury of lingering on any insecurities. Swallowing, she straightened herself as well as she could, ran her hands through her hair in a final gesture of nerves, and then pushed the door open.

At first glance, she believed the room to be empty, in spite of what Oberon had said. She saw only the four stone seats that were carved into the walls, opposite each other, and the gleaming reflecting pool in the center, smaller than the traditional Sagashite; a quick sift through the memories told her that it was the only one of the other four that had the ability to search each domain, depending on which Guardian was instructing it. And then, a movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she looked over.

It was the Guardian of the West, moving out from the shadows, hands clasped behind her back and dark eyes fixed on Lucidity. She was just as Satomi remembered her. A petite woman, very petite, barely gracing over four feet with a slender build. Her face was a perfect oval and framed with straight, black hair that stretched to her lower back; and even in the dim lighting, Lucidity could make out the copper tone of her skin. Regardless of her size, each step the West took was with an understated self-assurance, a complete confidence in her own person, and the haughtiness in which she regarded Lucidity was almost enough to make the younger of the two turn from her.

"East?" spoke the West in the same language Lucidity had used with the gargoyle, the language that never had words, but filled the mind with colors and shapes, patterns and hints of emotions, endless nuances and combinations, all rolled together in the utter abstraction that only the daughters of the Mother could ever completely comprehend. And when Lucidity nodded, the West gazed at her for a heartbeat or two longer, then moved away. Lucidity let out a soft breath, before peering over at the only other occupant in the room, sitting serenely in her respective chair. 

Perfectly still as she was, hands folded upon crossed legs, she moved without moving. The way the light caught the curls of her hair or the fabric of her dress seemed to reveal a natural unity of her essence, like one color flowing into another, utterly flawless under the skilled brush of a painter. The South had fire for hair, which always struck Lucidity as an oddity, but it would be a lie to say that the deep scarlet was not an appealing shade. And the bright green of her eyes could not hide the obvious interest in which she studied Lucidity, though she had not spoken or budged a muscle. Her face was a woman's face, the features full and mature, and her body was most definitely a woman's body, curved in all the necessary places. In Lucidity's understanding, the South had been nearly thirty years in age when she'd become a Guardian, which had been well beyond womanhood in her time. And yet, the only thing Lucidity saw was a young lady offering a friendly smile. 

"South," Lucidity managed to greet as she settled into her stone chair. 

The South considered her for a moment, then unexpectedly said aloud, "My name...Thalia. What you?" 

Surprised, Lucidity offered her own name, before saying, "You know this language then? I didn't realize you visited the East's domain." 

"Yes. I visit. I learn. Not many years. Understand better. Knew you will talk this language. Wanted learn. Speak with...Lucidity," said the South, and a broad smile curved her lips. 

"Enough, you two," said the West suddenly, striding forward and taking her seat. "We don't need to bother with these human tongues, not when any creature might overhear our secrets."

"And what would these creatures do with our secrets, dear sister?" asked Thalia, and there was heavy sarcasm laced throughout her being, right down to the way she tapped her fingers. "Create stories and poetry about us? Spill our existence to the world when most mortals believe us to be myths?"

"Do not mock-" began the West, but her outburst quickly died away when a burst of brilliant light swept through the room.

Lucidity, momentarily blinded, blinked rapidly, noticing Thalia and the West doing the same, before she peered over at the others, Above, Below, and Within, drifting through the room. Their colors shimmered not only along the floor, walls, and ceiling, but the three of them as well. Mauve, magenta, emerald illuminated the pale skin of Lucidity's hands. So surreal, it was, something straight out of a dream. Tragic and beautiful at the same time. The way these spectral beings weaved and danced, how their colors shifted from a warm summer to a cool winter, casting everything in a deep ocean of sapphire hues, filled the air with an oppressive chill. And Lucidity found herself swallowing, her nails scraping along the arm of the chair.

"What is it?" asked the West, sitting forward, and there was a tremor in her stance, a note of fear in her expression. "Do you know why we have been summoned here?"

There was soft burst of tiny lights throughout the display of the aurora borealis, as if many holes had been poked through a sheet to let in the sun. Somehow, it was reminiscent of raindrops. And then the three sisters uttered in unison a simple, devastating revelation:

"The Guardian of the North is dead."

Chapter Text

The fabric was old and worn, but the picture depicted by the meticulously sewn thread could still be seen under the growing decay. The detail of it was...astonishing, and yet expected for the amount of wall the tapestry covered, larger than any space found on the walls of palace back on the Isle, save perhaps those in the ceremonial chamber. The green of forests was everywhere. Patterns of rivers and lakes carved through the trees. A waterfall-or what remained that could be seen-took up the space of a top corner. A village of humans going about their lives stretched across the bottom. People working the farms, collecting buckets from wells, tending to farm animals, children playing with sticks and hoops, men chopping wood, women cooking on open fires outside. Hunters were bringing down game in the forests. Men dressed in strange armor marched on horses towards a castle not unlike the North's. Archers were practicing with targets or shooting down birds from the air. Wolves were coming down from the mountains to prey on flocks of odd animals that appeared to be covered in heavy amounts of white, coarse fur.

As Sesshomaru studied the unfamiliar creatures, the echo of footsteps reached his ears and soon the door to the underground tunnel opened, then shut. He continued to walk alongside the tapestry, his gaze sliding over the endless scenes, as he ignored the presence of the other male. A task that became increasingly difficult when Oberon joined him in his observations.

"It was once very beautiful," Oberon said. "A shame it has fallen into such a state, as so much of the castle has. If you had visited only fifty years ago, it would have been more impressive, more immaculate. Though I'm afraid Titania's interest in this place has been waning far longer than that. It's only a matter of time before she dismantles everything and begins anew, if the idea even appeals to her."

And though Sesshomaru conveyed no regard to the conversation, let alone acknowledged him in the slightest, Oberon followed as the daiyoukai moved on to consider the strange shell of armor stacked in a niche, the same as what he'd seen in the tapestry. Of course, neither of these items held much intrigue for him, not when his mind was distracted by the meeting he'd been barred from. A fist tightened at his side. Something had happened, something vital, something that he was certain would bring about a drastic change in their lives, and there was nothing that he could do. She'd dismissed him. In spite of what he'd said, his presence was...unnecessary in these matters concerning the Guardians. And the frustration of it, the humiliation....

"There are other parts of the castle that are more appealing than this," said Oberon. "If you would prefer-"

"I do not care to see the castle any more than you care to show me," Sesshomaru interrupted. "We are both biding our time until the Guardians are done."

A soft chuckle rose from behind him. "Very true. And personally, I would rather wait in an area that did not smell of old rot."

"Then go," said Sesshomaru, and, again, began to walk away.

"Surely you must realize by now that I do not trust you?"

The daiyoukai stopped and peered back at Oberon, who stood with his arms folded, a peculiar smile on his face.

"And you do not trust me either," he continued. "It's to be expected when meeting strangers from a strange land. A daemon and a Fae, as unlike one another as can be, but who-by the grace of the Mother-have in common the remarkable women in their lives. I have never met a man who has also been claimed by a Guardian. And here I find myself in the presence of one who has managed to marry a daughter of the Mother Goddess." Suddenly, Oberon tossed his head back and laughed. "You must tell me your secret, young Protector. The Lady North does not understand the appeal of marriage. Not even I, Oberon, King of the Faeries, has been able to convince her otherwise."

Sesshomaru blinked. King? Lucidity had explained this foreign term to him some time ago, and the idea that the one who stood before him was, in reality, not a simple consort, but a monarch was...difficult to accept.

"It looks as if you have questions as well," said Oberon. "Shall we continue this discussion somewhere more inhabitable?"

There was no verbal agreement from the daiyoukai, and yet, regardless, he found himself outside a short while later, walking side-by-side with the ruler of this foreign land. If there was one matter he could agree on, it was the unpleasant smell of the castle and that the air out here was, indeed, more appealing than the grime and dust inside that had built up over the decades. It was the main courtyard that Oberon had brought him to, having led the way through a sea of twists and turns of halls and doors until they reached the exit. Gardens had been mentioned by the Fae King, along with fountains with no clear source of the water that trickled so freely from them, and a grand maze of towering hedges that stretched towards the ends of the cliff.

Not once did he speak of the tree surrounded by these hedges.

Sesshomaru was...taken aback by the sight. Never had he laid eyes on such a structure. Its physical form had been hidden by the castle-though the castle itself was not much larger-while its aura was obscured by the very island it had put its roots in. Even now, standing so close, he could not tell one from the other. There was an ethereal glow to the foliage, an unnatural light to its body and branches, as if a fire burned inside it, yet caused no harm. The Hahaoya no Shikyu was a sapling in comparison. 

"Magnificent, isn't it?" murmured Oberon. "I understand you have one similar in the Lady East's domain. But this one is Primum Lignum: The First Tree, which is fitting, considering."

The daiyoukai waited a moment, but when no further explanation was forthcoming, he begrudgingly found himself asking,"...considering what?"

Oberon appeared startled for a moment, before his expression relaxed into an amused smile. "You don't know, do you?"

Sesshomaru felt a sneer twist his lips and, rather than endure an attitude of such haughty superiority, took a bounding leap over the hedges of the maze. An exclamation of surprise echoed after him, soon followed by Oberon himself. So, a Fae could keep pace with a youkai lord? Would a King of Fae prove to be a worthy opponent? Sesshomaru wondered this and more as he darted across the maze until he finally reached the center, the ground of which was overrun with the great roots of the First Tree. The one he came to stand beside was larger than he; even in his true form, he would have been an insect crawling upon the branches.

Oberon dropped to the ground beside him, panting slightly and, yet, somehow still smiling. "You're fast, young Protector," he said, brushing a hand through his white bangs. "Though, I suppose I should not be surprised. You must be a great warrior in order to be charged with the safety of the East. You watched over her while she was still human, yes? And safeguard her even now when it is necessary?"

"That is correct," answered the daiyoukai as his hand came to rest against the root. The power. He could feel it more acutely now, a subtle hum against his palm. Dormant, he realized.

"So, what is your secret? How did you convince a Guardian to marry you?"

Drawing his hand from the First Tree, Sesshomaru folded his arms with his sleeves and peered over at Oberon, whose odd, white eyes seemed so intent, eager as he was for a potential way in order to obtain what he so blatantly desired with the Guardian of the North. "You are a fool if you believe there is any such secret," he told the Fae King.

"Ah, then, a fool I must be, because I do find that hard to believe," Oberon replied with a shake of his head. "No Guardian has ever taken a husband before, not without surrendering her power. The original Guardians of the East and South were unusual in their choices, I will grant you that. But even the South's successor, from the interactions I have had with her over the years, has come to the realization that she and her sisters really have no need for us mortals; we matter little to them in the grand scheme of their lives. For all the centuries the Lady North and I have been lovers, she will eventually leave me. I am not her first, and nor shall I be her last."

"And your point is?" demanded Sesshomaru, none too amused by this line of conversation.

"Your wife is an anomaly," said Oberon. "And while I wish you the best, I can't help but feel that neither of you understand potential harm this may cause. Or, if the Lady East does, then I hope she is prepared for what is to come." And suddenly, he paused and turned his attention to the castle, where the many windows still gleamed, in spite of the emptiness within its walls.

A silence fell, one that was...disconcerting to the daiyoukai. "What are these consequences you speak of?" he soon asked.

A sigh broke from the Fae King, who closed his eyes briefly, before meeting his gaze with a sense of reluctance. "She has broken custom," he murmured. "Guardians are slow to accept change. The South, though she has been around for more than a millennia, is still viewed as an outsider, not fully trusted to an extent. Your Lady Lucidity faces the same challenges. And by marrying you, I imagine it will be even more difficult, for she has shown that her loyalties are divided, and at a time when it is most crucial that our Guardians be united, now that the Mother has summoned them together. That is why you came across me in the hall; I am fearful about what is taking place in that meeting."


"You're wrong. It cannot be possible." 

"It is, and we are not wrong." 

"No, no! This is a mistake! Her body, her power-" 

"Gone. Everything she was has been eradicated. The Guardian of North is no more." 

"She can't be!" 

"She is. Mother has shown us and Mother is never wrong." 

"Mother is not infallible," said Thalia. "And yet, we can die. It is not impossible." 

"It has never happened before!" exclaimed the West. "So...how...how could our Sister North...? HOW?!" 

Lucidity had not moved from where she sat, watching and listening to the back and forth bickering. The Guardian of the West had risen from her chair, utter anguish etched across her face, and the helplessness of her plea, of begging to understand the unfathomable, brought a certain constriction to the throat. Even the South was both on her feet, the grave news too much to allow her to remain still. The other three continued to swirl through the room, their own voices heard as one, while Lucidity felt the intruder, bearing witness to these strangers reacting to the death of one they had known for so long, the death of one who was family before the concept of family ever existed. And she, herself, could only sit there, a faint numbness of shock having settled over her. She needed to...say something, do something, anything but remain the quiet observer. 

"You!" 

Lucidity jumped when the West rounded on her without warning.

"Do you know anything about this?!" 

"No!" Lucidity said, eyes wide, and shook her head. "Of course not."

"Why would you even believe she played a part of this?" asked Thalia with a hard frown. "A single Guardian cannot kill a sister; each of us are of equal strength."

"Unless the sister she would make her victim sleeps," countered the West. 

"Yes, but, again, I ask you why you believe our Sister East could ever be responsible?" 

"How can you not consider it? The earth has not even completed its rotation around our star since she came into her power. And now one of our number has been slaughtered, all trace of her erased? How can you believe this a coincidence?" 

"I have no reason to hurt any of you, let alone kill," said Lucidity, rising to her feet.

"You have a lot to gain from this," scowled the West as she pointed a sharp finger at her. "I do not-" 

"I know you don't like me," Lucidity interrupted. "And I understand how you can't completely trust me. But how could you jump to this conclusion first without considering other possibilities? What about the Princes? How could you assume it was me over them when they have more motive than I ever could?" 

"The power you could be given-" 

"Gods be damned!" Lucidity cried out with a stomp of her foot. "Why do people always assume that I ever wanted anything to do with you Guardians?! You need to understand this and understand this now!" she continued as she strode over to the West, cutting a quick path across the room until she stood in front of her. "I don't want the power I do have, but have kept it out of necessity. I am not interested in gaining more. I don't want to gain anything! All I want is to protect this world and the people in it. I want to go back home with my Protector and keep him, and others whom I care about, safe. Is that too much to get through your thick head, you stubborn, old-" 

"Shame! Shame! You bring shame to us and our Mother!" The bright glow of the aurora borealis swirled through the room, spinning so fast that one color could not be picked from the other, and a soft surge of energy crackled through the air. "You shame yourselves, arguing amongst each other," the three continued. "We are all sisters. We are all Guardians. Daughters of the Mother Goddess. We have lost our eldest, our leader, our first! And this is how you conduct yourselves in the wake of her passing?! You disgust us!" 

Silence prevailed. 

Lucidity and the West looked at one another. And though the contempt was unmistakable in those dark eyes, the West merely scowled in the end and turned away to stride back over to her chair, where she sat, body and posture as rigid as the stone. It did not take long for Lucidity and Thalia to do the same, a sigh breaking from the latter, who settled into her place with a sense of exhausted resignation. 

"They're right," Thalia said. "There is no enemy from within. Our enemies are out there. The Princes of Death have always had their fun, while we clean up their messes. It is not difficult to believe that they would become more inventive now that we have taken on the guise of humans. But I am assuming that the North was killed beyond the borders of Avalon. Is this correct?" she added, peering up at the lights still churning around the room. 

"Yes," the three echoed. "Mother had us search. It is not far from here." 

"Then a number of creatures could have slain her, especially if she risked sleeping outside the sanctuary," said Thalia. "Beings from the Netherworld, for instance, not just the Princes." 

"Traces," said the three. "Only traces of the Netherworld, could we feel. Not enough for the presence of a Prince. Less power, it had." 

"But enough power that a Guardian became its prey," said the West. "It still could have been on the orders of the Princes." 

"Yes," Thalia agreed with a pointed stare. "In this matter, they should be suspected first before anyone else." 

The West drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair, settling for a firm glare, before speaking again. "But why? Why shift their strategies now? Why escalate?" 

"Perhaps they've grown bored," suggested Thalia. "It's been known to happen." 

"Yes, but the Princes have always attacked the planet with greater force when they decide it has been too quiet for too long. Never have they attacked us directly like this, not to...not to such an extent." And, suddenly, the West slumped back, the fire of her temper vanishing altogether, as she closed her eyes, head in her hand. "Why would they do this? Why the North? She is...was...." 

"She was the strongest of us," Thalia sighed, arms loosely folded, as she peered up at the low ceiling. "She kept us in line at the worst of times, kept us grounded. Her death...it has already weakened our bonds." 

"But that can't be the only reason. Something has changed," the West said. "But other than the East returning to our fold, what could it be? Nothing like this happened when you came into your power, South, so...what could motivate them to do this?" 

"I wish I knew." 

"There is something different, sisters," spoke the three, and the West straightened, while Thalia looked up with a sharp frown. "An oddity we have not encountered before." 

"An oddity?" Thalia repeated as she leaned forward. "What do you mean? Where?" 

"The atmosphere," said the three. "We have felt it only today when we came here. It grates against us, does not belong." 

"The atmosphere...but that is yours," said Thalia, and peered over at Lucidity. 

Lucidity's hands clenched in her lap and she found herself biting down on her lip in spite of her efforts. She glanced from Thalia to the West, both of whom were watching her intently, while the three insubstantial Guardians drifted around them, a constant shimmer of shifting color and shape. Heart pounding, she swallowed and let out a slow breath. "Morstua," she told the others. "He is my prisoner." 

"What?!" The West was immediately on her feet, her eyes wild with alarm. "What do you mean he is your prisoner? Why would you dare do such a thing?!"

"It is what he deserves," said Lucidity. 

"That is not how it's done!" she shouted. 

"Indeed, not," Thalia agreed. "No matter what grievances he may have caused you, he needs to be sent home to his realm, where he will remain locked away." 

Lucidity shook her head. "Only until he frees himself will he be trapped. And even then, it's not as if the Netherworld is a prison for him, not for any of them. They simply lose interest in the place and want somewhere new to play, then come here and cause as much damage as possible until we kick them out again. It's ridiculous! And what he did-" 

"It does not matter!" the West snapped. "You have no right to change the rules of war! You...you.... THIS IS YOUR FAULT!" 

It went without saying that Lucidity was not expecting so explosive a reaction, one that quite literally upended her from the stone chair. Though the West remained where she stood, body stiff, hands fisted at her sides, the tidal wave of power knocked the unsuspecting Lucidity to the floor, shook the dust from every nook in the ceiling, and threatened to sear the oxygen from the room. A fire seemed to be burning in Lucidity's lungs as she lay there, her head spinning. She was gasping for air, trying to find her bearings, when, all at once, the heat of the attack disappeared and she pushed herself up to see Thalia forcing the West away, hands locked onto each other's arms, auras clashing. And then that, too, came to an abrupt end when the other three Guardians tore them apart, spiraling downward and slamming them backwards in opposite directions, where they both struck the walls and collapsed to the ground.

"No!" they screeched. "Do not fight your own sisters! We must be-" 

"They are not our sisters!" cried the West as she scrambled to her feet, disheveled, trembling with rage, and her eyes too bright for comfort. "These two with human names, they are not true Guardians! They are the ones who bring us shame! And you!" She pointed at Lucidity. "The death of my Sister North is your fault! The Princes, this was their revenge. You violated our ways, our rules, and they shattered our family in return. And you dare! You dare call yourself a Guardian! You are unworthy to even speak the title!"

"Please, calm yourself," came the soft voice of Thalia, who had managed to stand and was now approaching the raging West, hands out, imploring for reason. "The only one we should blame is the enemy who took the North from us. We can't afford to turn on each other, not when it is more dire than ever now that we join together."

"I will join with no Guardians tainted by human heritage as you have been," snarled the West. "May my Mother learn from her mistakes and birth proper daughters next time. Until that happens, I will have nothing to do with such lowborn bastards."

"Sister," called the three. "Stay your decision. Do not leave yet. Allow us time to search, to discover who is behind this terrible deed. They are enemy to us all; we must be prepared."

The West blinked and the anger contorting her face suddenly eased as she straightened. "Take me there," she declared. "I want to see for myself where she died, to find what taints the land in the wake of her passing."

"You must stay-" the three began.

"Show me!" the West commanded, and released the first verbal sound she had made that morning: a high shriek of fury. "Show me, damn you, or I will find the place on my own before returning to my domain indefinitely! Do you understand me?!"

The room splashed with wisps of deep blue and swirls of magenta, which washed over the richly colored skin of the fiery Guardian until she was lost to the brilliant display of northern lights. "As you wish, sister," they echoed, and swept her from the room, out of the very castle.

It was only when silence reigned that Lucidity slowly became aware of herself again. Still on the floor, she had not moved. She didn't even remember if she had managed to breathe properly, she was panting so heavily, simply from bearing witness to this horrible calamity. The devastation that could follow in its wake...she shuddered at the mere thought, but could do nothing but clamber to her feet, her stomach full of knows. Yet she paused when a hand entered her field of vision, staring a moment, then peered up at the Guardian of the South, saw the weight behind that brilliant green gaze, and felt something tighten inside and her throat swell uncomfortably. She had to look down before she took the proffered hand and allowed Thalia to help her up.

"That," Lucidity whispered, brushing herself off, "was a disaster."

"And that is an understatement, dear sister."

Hearing those words made Lucidity want to recoil, and she clenched a fist at her side as she gazed around the room, so empty and eerie in the abrupt silence that they had been left in. "Is there anything we can do at this point?" she eventually asked.

"Little can be done until our Sister West returns," said Thalia as she folded her arms. "And even then, I doubt she will be cooperative. There is so much more we need to discuss and potentially plan for. This is new territory for us; I cannot imagine what will come of everything, what the Princes will do, and...." She trailed off and glanced over at Lucidity with a frown. "Why...did you break tradition? How did Morstua wrong you that you would even think of committing such an act?"

A hand was on the back of her neck before Lucidity realized she had moved her arm. Fingers traced over the familiar marks, the scars that he had managed to leave on her, and, in return, felt something constrict inside her, clutching with a cold grip inside her chest, and she suddenly wanted.... But it was impossible. He wasn't.... The impasse he'd mentioned would never allow it. She was...alone in this.

"Lucidity?"

The sound of her name spoken aloud had her jerking her head up, to see Thalia watching her rather intently, a quizzical frown on her full lips. "Sorry," Lucidity murmured. "I was just remembering, what Morstua did, the things he claimed, that made me believe it necessary to entrap him. And also to draw his brothers out."

"His brothers?" repeated Thalia in surprise. "Why?"

The initial impulse was to refuse any sort of explanation, feeling that it was none of Thalia's business. Considering that was the same sort of answer she had given others who had attempted to pry information from her-such as the Viper Clan before they'd been dismissed from the Isle-Lucidity wasn't surprised at her lack of interest to respond. She had no desire to reveal the things Morstua had done or said he would do. That was...that was personal. And the only one who knew about the finer details was Sesshomaru, which she wanted to keep that way. But the rest, about what the Princes were plotting, that was...it actually was Thalia's business and the realization startled Lucidity to some degree; she'd forgotten whose company she was in. Thalia wasn't some villager or random youkai. Thalia was a goddamn Guardian, just like her. More like her than the others, more like her than anyone else in the world. And as Lucidity let go of her reserve and finally began to reveal to Thalia what happened with Morstua, she couldn't help but wonder if Thalia felt the same sort of relief, to know that she wasn't alone anymore. Not alone...to some extent, at least. 

"That is...." Thalia began once Lucidity finished, but then shook her head. "Forgive me; I do not know enough of your language to convey myself clearly. What you've told me, it is unsettling. I never would have imagined that the Princes would become so bold with us. I don't believe any of us could have imagined this. Perhaps that is our shortcoming: we are too accustomed to old ways and we lack the imagination of our enemies. Perhaps...not you, with your fresh eyes. But, if what you say is true, this puts us all danger." 

"It's true," Lucidity said. "I wish to the gods it wasn't, but it is. We've been in danger before, but never like this." 

"No, never like this," Thalia agreed. "We have never been more vulnerable. It will not be difficult for the Princes to execute their plans with our numbers depleted and with such dissension between us. The West needs to know; I should be the one to tell her when she returns. It might be best to minimize your interactions with each other until she has calmed down." 

"That...could take a while," Lucidity muttered, once more rubbing the back of her neck. "Her fury is...." 

"It's her way," said Thalia. "She never hid her disdain for me; I am not surprised at her reaction to you. It's simply in her nature. Do not dwell on it." 

In her nature? Was that the only reason? Lucidity wished she could believe that, wished that it was merely because the West was biased that had her taking out such wrath on Lucidity, who could not completely shake that sharp sting of hearing that it was her fault, that she was the ultimate cause for the murder of the North. She had tipped the balance, and the thought had her stomach running cold. She folded her arms tight across her body, frowning hard at the ground, her feet shifting. 

"What...troubles?" came the soft whisper from the Guardian of the South. 

"Need you ask?" she mumbled. And when she was answered with nothing but silence, she reluctantly lifted her gaze and found those green eyes staring back at her, as acute in their focus as a certain other pair that often scrutinized her, albeit were gold in color. "Would it...?" she heard herself say. "Would it have made a difference, if the North had known about Morstua?"

"It may have," Thalia said. "It may have not. We can never know." 

Her stomach churned. She actually...felt ill. Of course, she couldn't really become ill or vomit or any of that human stuff. But she had yet to forget that sensation, of muscles contracting, tasting bile in the back of her throat, of her body heaving and expelling its contents. And to her irritation, she shivered at the memory and quickly turned away. "I have to...I need to tell Sesshomaru," she said, and yet knew it was more of excuse than a need. 

"Who now?" 

"Sesshomaru," she repeated. "My protector. I promised I would let him know. If we can't do anything until the West gets back, I should go find him." 

"I see. I would like to meet this Sesshomaru. May I?"

Lucidity nodded. "I don't see why not. He's not the most pleasant, but I'd imagine he would be interested in meeting another Guardian." 

A small grin curved Thalia's lips. "I can handle unpleasant. Do you know where he is?" 

"Probably with...oh...shit...." 

The grin disappeared, replaced with a wrinkle of concern. "What is it?" 

"Oberon," Lucidity said. "Oberon doesn't know about the North."  

Chapter Text

"Ses...sho...ma...ru...." 

The daiyoukai glanced over when his name was articulated with such care. Oberon sat upon a high root that twisted far above his head, staring down at him, one leg swinging freely back and forth while the other remained propped up. With an elbow resting against his knee and chin in his hand, no part of the Fae King carried the appearance of a self-proclaimed monarch. If it wasn't for his manner overall, he would be nothing more than a reminder of a particular uncouth hanyou. 

"That is what you said your name was, yes?" asked Oberon. "Or am I mispronouncing it?" 

Sesshomaru didn't reply, but peered back towards the horizon. On the far side of the First Tree, the maze opened up to the edge of the cliff and this was where he stood, watching the stars slowly dwindle and fade. The scent of dawn hung thick in the air, though the first traces of light had not arrived yet. The only light that had been seen was the strange apparition of the Guardians, rushing overhead and disappearing into the distance. It had happened so suddenly and vanished so quickly that he would have been inclined to believe he had imagined the whole thing, if he had been the sort to use any type of imagination, that is. And then the Fae King had commented that the meeting must be over, which meant that Lucidity would be arriving soon. And so, Sesshomaru waited.

And waited. And waited. 

"I shall assume, given your silence, that my pronunciation is correct," said Oberon. 

And now, with this waiting, Oberon was attempting to draw him into another discussion. Sesshomaru kept his back to him, confident in his own power to thwart any attack, and doubtful that one would be forthcoming in this setting. Had they met under different circumstances, however, Sesshomaru was certain that a battle would be inevitable; he was too...curious about the strength of a Fae, especially that of a monarch, and would see for himself if it was worth his while. 

"It won't be long now, I'm sure," Oberon continued. "You must have questions. You should ask before we are interrupted. I will answer what I can, or what I am willing. Or did you allow yourself to be brought out here for a different reason?" 

Once again, Sesshomaru looked over at Oberon. Yes, he had questions, few of which he would share, perhaps not even with Lucidity. However, he was in the company of one who had spent countless years with a Guardian-a true born Guardian-and he would be a fool not to attempt to collect information from such a source. And though he had Lucidity and did not believe that she would lie to him outright, there were times when he was doubtful that she was being completely forthcoming, withholding matters from him or omitting them entirely. 

"What do you know about the Princes of Death?" the daiyoukai finally asked. 

Oberon straightened, apparently surprised by the choice of topic. "The Princes?" he repeated. "Well, now, let me see. There are four of them, I believe, each varying in age. Unlike the Guardians, who were created together in the beginning, the Princes were created one-by-one, with the gulfs in-between their births spanning anywhere from a few millennia to millions of years. If memory serves, the last one is some little brat who crowned himself Morstua. He enjoys his games, that one." 

A familiar surge hatred burned through him at the mention of that name, a reaction Sesshomaru had little control over as he looked away from the Fae King and out towards the land that stretched out below them. And yet, with a fist clenched at his side, all he said was, "Games?" 

"Yes, games," Oberon replied. "Every so often, the Princes will wreak havoc on the planet. Sometimes together, pairing up, or sometimes on their own. What domain they're in, it will be the responsibility of that Guardian to put an end to it. She may enlist the help of her sisters if needed, but for the most part, they handle the Princes on their own and send them back to the Netherworld."

"Send them back?" 

"Oh, yes," said Oberon. "Guardians can tear a rift through the dimensions and lock the Princes into the lower recesses of the Netherworld. I've seen the Lady North do it once, to Morstua actually. It takes them centuries to crawl back out. My Lady North told me that she wishes she and her sisters could lock the Princes away permanently down there, but the Guardians can't cross over; or rather, they choose not to, as they have little power in that dark realm."

Sesshomaru frowned as a gust of wind tossed his hair and fur, and he paused, wondering, yet felt nothing but empty air. "Then how are the Princes able to command formidable power in this realm if the Guardians cannot do the same in Netherworld?" 

There was no immediate answer. If it hadn't been for the scent that continued to linger so close, he would have believed that Oberon had vanished, he'd become so quiet. But then Sesshomaru heard movement, followed by the sound of feet landing on the ground, and he glanced over to see the Fae King approaching him. "You have met a Prince of Death," Oberon declared, coming to stand beside him. 

"Morstua," Sesshomaru answered. 

In a show of exasperation, Oberon rolled his eyes and folded his arms, cloak billowing behind him in another rush of wind. "Ah, of course," he said with a slight curl in his lip. "I'm not surprised; he makes Puck look like an innocent child of a saint. But I'm afraid I don't know why they have power here. That question is better asked of a Guardian."

"Do you possess any knowledge of import?" the daiyoukai demanded, growing impatient. "Does the North tell you so little?" 

The Fae King blinked, brows rising, before he simply shrugged. "Why would she?" 

"She is your lover," Sesshomaru stated. 

"She is a Guardian," Oberon countered. "She has no reason to share her knowledge with any mortal. Why? Is that what you expect from your Lady East?" And when Sesshomaru did not reply, Oberon shook his head. "You shouldn't have such expectations. She may have been human in the beginning, but she is ultimately the daughter of the Mother Goddess. You will learn, I'm certain, as will she. I've long since accepted that my Titania will never truly be mine. I know she cares in her own way for me, but she belongs to the earth first. That is the way of it."

The way of it? The North belonged to the earth, was a Guardian first before she was anything else. Was it the same, then, for Lucidity? As it was the way for their lifespans to be greater than that of humans-a matter that Lucidity must accept-was this a matter that he, Sesshomaru, needed to accept, as well? 

"Do you believe your Lady East is too different?" Oberon continued in the wake of his silence. "She possesses the memories of the original Guardian, as the Lady North has told me. She knows their ways, knows what is expected of her. She has married you, I'm aware, but that does not mean she can turn her back on her duties. My Titania has always put hers before everything else. Do not be surprised when the one you have taken as a wife must do the same." 

The impulse to strike out at Oberon was quickly ignored as the daiyoukai forced himself to turn from him and make his way back towards the castle. "Your advice is unwanted, Fae," he murmured without looking back. "And you overstep."

If a response was forthcoming, he never knew. He had gone no more than a few paces when he felt a gathering of energy that had him spinning around, ready to voice his displeasure that she had taken so long to return. Yet what he saw kept him silent. A mist was accumulating in front of Oberon, who appeared bewildered, but far from alarmed. Frowning, Sesshomaru watched as the mist rose into a short pillar, thickened, and then solidified into the form of an unfamiliar woman with crimson hair, her green eyes narrowed at the daiyoukai.

"My Lady South," the Fae King spoke. "What are you doing here?"

The Guardian of the South did not answer, but kept her gaze on Sesshomaru as she lifted an arm and pointed at the castle. "Lucidity waits," she said, her accent heavy, her command of the language crude; however, he understood clearly that he was being summoned back to the massive dwelling of stone, and felt his irritation rise. Yet before he could respond, the South had turned towards the Fae King. "Oberon...."

And Sesshomaru understood nothing more from that point on. The words she spoke were utterly foreign and bore no resemblance to the language Lucidity had taught him or the varying dialects he had heard her use during their time together. He was aware that the Guardians had learned a vast number of languages, but this one he could not decipher, not a single word. The Fae King, however, had no trouble. His expression was ever shifting. First from an ever deepening confusion, then surprise, before a steady shadow of horror passed over his features. His arms loosened, to hang at his sides, and his lips slowly parted while the South continued on, her voice low, her gaze downcast, until Oberon suddenly closed his eyes and brought a hand to his face. A moment later, he'd dropped to his knees and what could be seen of his expression was pure and utter defeat before the South crouched down to wrap her arms around him.

What news had been delivered? Why did Lucidity not come to him? What had even brought them to this strange island?

His irritation had disappeared, leaving in its place the bitter taste of apprehension. Sesshomaru left the Fae King and Guardian among the roots of the First Tree and ventured back over the hedges of the maze, intent upon entering the castle. Yet when he reached the courtyard, he stopped at a sudden scent on the air. The lights of the castle continued to burn in their many windows as he peered up at the enormous structure, but it was single movement that caught his attention. At the top of a high tower, where a pair of doors opened out onto a balcony, the hangings of the doorway were fluttering outward, as if the castle itself was able to provide an unending current of wind.


Little had changed about the interior of the castle. The paths and architecture, at least, remained more or less the same. Vaulted ceilings, carvings, and bits of art worked into the stone. The same brackets were mounted on the walls, filled with burning torches; it seemed only the first few floors were without proper lighting. With every staircase she climbed, Lucidity found ever increasing signs of life. Less dust and cobwebs. Floors had been swept and clean carpet stretched across the stones. Decorations here had been tended to, from oil paintings to more armor that was not rusted or falling to pieces. There was even plant life, vases filled with flowers that chased away some of the stench of old dirt. It was the wing that held the family quarters that showed the most care, showed that people actually lived here.

Not anymore, Lucidity reminded herself. With the North gone, she doubted anyone would want to remain. Could a sanctuary even survive the loss of its Guardian? A question that could now be answered. Yet it was a question that should never have been answered to begin with. These thoughts and her surroundings were taken in with measured care as she wandered through the halls, never venturing into any of the rooms, and never having any clear destination in mind. She was simply...procrastinating. Thalia had left her not long ago, to search for Oberon and.... Well, Lucidity did not envy her in this horrible task, had not even gone with her, though she was certain that Sesshomaru could not be far from the King of the Faeries. She had every intention of telling Sesshomaru everything; she just didn't want to be bothered right now. Honestly, what difference would it make if she told him at all?

Lucidity dragged a hand roughly through her hair, eyes closed, and came to a stop. It really did not matter if Sesshomaru was ever informed or not. In the end, there wasn't a thing he could do that would be of any help. Not a damn thing. And yet he had to know, had to be dragged along, had to be obeyed and.... "Fucking asshole," she muttered, covering her eyes briefly, before shaking her head and peering around, only to stiffen when she realized where she was.

The ornately carved, silver handle on the door in front of her was unmistakable. As she stared at it, she couldn't help but wonder at what subconscious thought had led her to this spot. It had not been her intention to come to this part of the castle, yet here she was. She had no right, no place. It was not hers to claim. None of it was. And yet, regardless, she opened the door and stepped into the room. 

Like walking into a dream, it was, knowing what was there and yet surprised by what she found. The room and its contours were so very familiar, the walls circular and the ceiling lower than that in the halls. On the far side of the living space, a pair of doors were open, and a balcony was visible beyond the curtains, with a small set of three stairs separating the balcony from the rest of the area. Yes, the shape and layout were exactly the same, but everything else was different. Fresh rugs carpeted the floors, soft and white. A four-poster bed, complete with canopy and hangings that were currently tied out of the way, took up most of the space. There was a large chest at the foot of the bed and a dresser with a chair and small mirror across the way. Everything in here was an antique in her eyes; however, for the era, every last piece was up to date, perhaps even the latest fashion, right down to the oil lamps that hung from the ceiling and lit the room. It was all so...confusing. These were Satomi's chambers. Why would the North...?

Lucidity stopped when she noticed a scrap of parchment on the floor by the dresser and crouched down to retrieve it. As she straightened, her eyes skimmed over the words, and she began to walk slowly through the room with an ever-deepening frown. It was a list, in another language far removed from this region, but one the memories allowed her to read. Each piece of furniture in the room was on here, along with several more items that had yet to be acquired. With a cold rush of realization, she suddenly understood. Just as when Thalia had claimed the mantle of the South so many centuries ago, Mother had made her existence known to the other Guardians, and no different had been done with Lucidity. The North had been anticipating her visit and was preparing Satomi's old chambers for the new Guardian of the East. The North had intended to fill it with a desk and tomes, scrolls and writing implements, clothes and footwear, anything to make it as convenient and inviting as possible. She had...wanted to welcome Lucidity, in a way she had never done so with the South.

And the project was incomplete.

Such a small detail it was, but one that brought reality into sharp focus. Some of the items had been marked off the list, while many more remained untouched, and forever would be. And while she stared at this tiny bit of paper, a memory rose to the surface of Lucidity's mind, one that was hers, one that she had not recalled since before she left her home country.

The day of her father's accident.

She'd gone to his house after spending hours in the hospital, speaking to police and doctors, answering questions, contacting family. She'd been so drained, so disconnected, and it had seemed the most logical thing to do. Though looking back on it now, there had been absolutely no logic to the decision. His house was where she had grown up; it was home to her and home was supposed to have the answers, to bring comfort. Of course, there had been no answers when she stepped through the door, and certainly no comfort. Nothing but emptiness had greeted her, with a cruel silence to accompany it. There was old mail on the kitchen counters; a pot of cold coffee he'd forgotten to pour out that morning; dirty dishes scattered across the living room, with newspapers that littered the coffee table, covering coasters, remotes, a controller for a game console. And, worst of all, there was a slow cooker keeping warm the roast that he would eat for the rest of the week. She remembered thinking that the food had to be packed up, because he wouldn't need it that day. She'd put it in the fridge, for when he came home. And yet...the moment she had pressed the button that turned off the slow cooker, the full impact of the situation struck her, the reality she was suddenly faced with and the utter finality that life would never be the same. Shutting off the machine had shattered her world. 

Lucidity didn't remember dropping the parchment or when she leaned against one of the bedposts. She wasn't certain when her breathing began to quicken or the flames of the oil lamps started to dance under the wind that was howling around her. It whistled in her ears, lifted her hair and robes, rattled the hangings of the bed and threatened to dislodge the blankets that had been so carefully tucked into place. A hand came to her chest and the heartbeat she felt couldn't possibly be hers, so erratic that it hummed beneath her fingers. She took a deep breath, once, twice, over and over as she tilted her head back and closed her eyes.

A mistake, one she realized too late as the memories burned through her mind, flashes that came so fast she could barely pick one from another. And her pulse continued to race, as if it was the very fuel that filled her head with unwanted images, words and scents and experiences that were not her own. So deep she had delved this day, deeper than she had in months, remembering what was not hers to remember, communicating in a language that no human could ever comprehend. And she could see the North, hear her voice, feel the touch of her hand, the warmth of a sister's embrace, a shared laughter, and then a desperate plea, the open weeping of a loss she didn't want to suffer, when she begged the East not to take the same path as the South.

Something echoed in her ears. Distant, hardly more than a whisper. Was someone trapped? The sound was so muffled. Again, it came. Sharper this time. Was it shouting? And again, she heard the noise. Yes, yes, that was a voice. What was it saying? Was it a man or woman speaking? She couldn't tell. Nothing else was said. But something was touching her. Arm. Shoulder. Face. She became aware of each part of her body in turn as the hurricane that was her mind finally began to subside. If the person would just speak one more time....

The slap across the face brought Lucidity back into sharp awareness and she heard herself cry out in surprise, felt her body stagger against the bedpost. She managed to catch herself before she fell onto the bed and, upon finding her feet, jerked her head up to see the daiyoukai standing there. Ever impassive, his expression was, that haughty gaze searching what was before him, deciphering each nuance that she, somehow, was never aware of in time. He said nothing; they were both aware of why it was necessary for him to give such a shock to her system, and the reason he chose no other option but brute force. And yet the way he watched her, scrutinized her, she knew what was coming, knew he would not offer anything of worth.

"What happened?" Sesshomaru asked, but there was nothing in his tone that suggested he was making a request. And when she did not respond, his eyes predictably narrowed. "Answer me, woman."

Lucidity swallowed around the thickness in her throat, heard the heartbeat in her ears, felt the constriction in her chest, the sensation sickening and painful all at once. "...get out," she whispered.

He blinked, which was the extent of his surprise, and then frowned, stepping closer. "I will not be ordered from here. Tell me what-" 

"Out! Out! OUT! GET OUT!" Her voice tore from her before she even understood what she was screaming. "You goddamn son of a bitch! GET THE FUCK OUT!"

And still, it wasn't enough, when he did nothing more than stop short to stare at her. She never touched him, never laid a hand on him, but her power unraveled like a heavy whip and backhanded him into the dresser. It broke apart on impact like so much glass being shattered and he collapsed into the remains. Bits of wood and shards of the mirror rained down on the daiyoukai from where he lay in the wreckage. And yet he merely shook his head as he sat up, brushing the mess from his hair and peering up at her, as if being knocked down was a terrible inconvenience. She stood over him, fists at her sides, face hot and the taste of salt water in her mouth.

"I want you gone from here, do you understand?!" she shouted, clinging to this rage that made everything so much easier. "I want you out of this castle. I want you off this island. You have no business being here! This isn't your world, this isn't your fight. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference if you know what's going on or not. You are completely fucking useless!" 

He never said a word, merely rose to his feet. A few more pieces of woods tumbled over one another to clatter onto the floor. Slivers and shards fell from his kimono in a shimmering shower as he gazed down at her, the lines of his face so smooth and perfect and cold. And it nearly undid her.

"Leave!" she hissed, her voice growing rough, breathless. "Leave now! You have my hair, so go back to where you belong, or I swear on his grave I will banish you entirely!"

His eyes flashed at the threat. Was he alarmed? Angry? She couldn't be certain, and didn't care, because he was already walking away. His pace was slow, ever measured, and the sound of his footsteps echoed through the air as he crossed the room, heading straight for the balcony. Lucidity didn't need to witness his departure, didn't want to, and turned her back on the sight of that mokomoko swaying behind him. It was inevitable. Long before he had declared that they had reached an impasse, before he'd demanded that she decide if she was his wife or the Guardian, she knew a separation was bound to happen. This dance of theirs had to end, the cycle had to be broken. And with an utter finality, the sound of the balcony doors closing rang in her ears, and yet kept ringing and ringing. She gritted her teeth, stomach churning, and wrapped an arm around the post of the bed, as the feeling threatened to drain from her legs and the floor tilted beneath her. It would be a relief to faint, to lose consciousness, to forget everything, to not care about anything! Such a relief...if it could all come to a stop.

An arm wrapped around her waist. 

Lucidity let out a gasp that was loud, strangled, as she felt the warmth that pressed against her from behind. Her hand flew to that striped wrist and her fingers scratched over the silk of the billowing sleeve of his haori, trying to find a hold. His mouth was above her ear, his breath rolling over her cheek, and she twisted her head away, attempted to pull free, only to discover just how fierce his grip was. And, with a shout of frustration, she began to struggle, digging for the strength she knew was there, a strength that was greater than his, that could break his hold, his goddamn arm if she wanted! But she was so...burnt out, so weary and overwhelmed that she wanted to do nothing more than collapse on the spot. 

"Dammit," she groaned, fingers digging at his hand. "Fucking let me go! I told you to leave. I-" 

"No," he murmured, and he was right there, closer than he had been in weeks, his voice resonating right down to her core. "I will not."  

"I don't want you here!" 

"I'm not leaving," he said, and his other arm slid across her midriff, pulling her tighter against him. "A mistake I made once before, and I will not make it again."

So indifferent, he was, to the pain he could inflict. So cruel he could be with the things he said, the actions he took. Such a cold, heartless bastard he was! A bastard who knew exactly what she needed in this moment and she could not stop herself from crumbling in the wake of it. She buried her face in her hands, drew in a deep, rattling breath, and released it with a gut-wrenching sob. And once she started, she could not stop. Any hope of control was destroyed the second he'd touched her. And now she collapsed. Not into his arms, but to the floor, her legs refusing to support her weight.

Yet he did. With his arms still around her waist, he lowered them both to the rug and brought her onto his lap. She knew this only because she was suddenly resting in the fur of his mokomoko. And yet the thought of his seeing her like this had her recoiling. Face still covered by her hands, she leaned forward, drawing her knees up, until she felt like a small child, curled up against his chest, head tucked beneath his chin, body wracked with sobs. She was weeping so hard she could barely draw breath, let alone speak.

But he made no demands for her to explain herself, to stop the foolishness of her tears. He did nothing but sit there in silence, one arm around her and a hand buried in her hair, holding her head to his chest. And this only made it worse, his quiet patience, his willingness to give when she was the one who had been cruel, when she attacked him because he was the easiest target...the only target. She may have been angry with him, but he had not been deserving of the assault, and the realization tore away at her, added to the guilt that was already burning her from the inside out, until a low keen rose from her throat, one that was silenced too late with a bite to her knuckle.

"Lucidity?" came the soft rumble of her name, and she groaned in return, rolling away from the daiyoukai and burying her face into his mokomoko.

"What have I done?" she gasped against the fur, her frame trembling, the tears never stopping. "Sesshomaru...what have I done?"

"Nothing to warrant this," he answered, and she felt the touch of his claws in her hair, drawing the strands from her wet cheek.

"No...no, you don't understand," she said, keeping her face turned from him. "It's my fault.... She's dead...the North is dead and it's my fault!"

And the moment the words were out of her mouth, it was real...irrefutably real. The moment she said it aloud, it became the truth. There was nothing anyone could say or do to change that fact. And as she realized this, Lucidity's voice caught in her throat and she succumbed once more. She admitted defeat in a way she hadn't done since her father had died-since she had let him die-and cried with abandonment into the fur.

Chapter Text

The air smelled of oil and salt and the warmth of early morning. The lamps had gone out under the torrent of wind that had clashed throughout the room. It was quiet now, and had been for some time. Only the distant calls of birds remained to battle the silence as the light of dawn crept across the balcony and through the glass of the doors that had been shut for some semblance of privacy. Sesshomaru had watched the slow progression of night giving way to day with Lucidity curled up in the curve of his arm, the mokomoko gathered beneath her. The weight of her was a strange thing, so long it had been. It was...regretful that circumstances could not have been different. Weeks it had been since he'd touched her, a full cycle of the moon come and gone, and now she lay with her back to him, unwilling or unable to look at him, lost as she was in her stupor, or so he could only assume. 

She'd grown quiet not long prior to the sun rising, while he continued to dwell on what had transpired. He'd seen her tears before, endured the brunt of her temper before, but never had he witnessed her collapse under the strain of emotions until today. The night she'd put her foot through the fire had been the only other time that came close to what had happened here, and even then she had been quick to calm. He'd felt the drench of her tears in the mokomoko long before she'd been able to stop, felt the quivering of her body echo through his, and could not understand what could bring her so low, cause her to show such weakness.

Regardless of what she had told him, he couldn't see the logic in her reasoning. A Guardian dead? Her fault? How was it possible? His immediate thought turned towards the Princes of Death. Were they the only beings capable of slaying a Guardian? Or had it been another force? And yet, what else could Lucidity be tied to that would make her believe such a thing? Or was it a matter that dealt with the Guardian of the East and not the woman at all? Sesshomaru could merely fathom and had been tempted to ask for a more thorough explanation. More than once, he had been on the verge of speaking, only to keep his silence in the end. Not a word had passed between them since she told him about the Guardian of the North and by now he saw no reason to say anything until she was inclined to talk. How long that would be, he didn't know, nor did he care. He was willing to sit here on the floor, his back against the trunk at the base of the bed, and wait for her to break the silence.

However, to his irritation, she was not the one to do so, and neither was he. 

No footsteps were heard, no presence felt, but the door to the chambers came open nonetheless. In its frame stood the red-haired woman from earlier, the Guardian of the South who had taken Oberon aside to deliver what the daiyoukai knew, now, was the news of the North's passing. She stared, her gaze shifting between him and Lucidity and back again, a slight twist to her mouth that suggested she was annoyed. She was not alone in that regard, as he had no wish for any interruptions, not even from another Guardian. Yet he said nothing as the South entered the room. 

"I here speak Lucidity," she uttered, coming to stand in front of them.

His lip curled at the broken speech. "My permission is not necessary." 

She frowned at him. "I know. I can't." 

"Can't?" he repeated. 

The South made a gesture towards Lucidity. "Can't," she said again. "She...she...." And suddenly, the woman let out a sharp exhale of breath, looking away and muttering in an unfamiliar tongue, seemingly frustrated she was unable to make herself better understood. When she peered back at him, she spoke once more, but he could not understand the foreign words. He watched her as she lapsed into silence, the corners of his mouth pulling down, and she soon tried again. Different words, a different language. And when that brought about no comprehension, she considered him for a moment, glanced at Lucidity, and made a third attempt. "[Do you know this language?]"

"[Yes,]" he replied, and her shoulders sagged with relief. 

"[This is Lucidity's native tongue? She taught you?]" 

"[It is,]" he said. "[What do you want?]"

"[I already told you: I wanted to speak with her.]" And here, the South let out a sigh and folded her arms. "[But I can see she has fallen asleep. When will she wake? One day? Two?]"

It was Sesshomaru's turn to frown. "[You are mistaken; she has already slept this season.]" 

The reaction from the Guardian was intriguing, her blatant surprise and arms dropping to her sides as she stepped closer, going so far as to kneel beside him upon the rug, her focus solely on Lucidity. But when she began to reach out, Sesshomaru was quick to close a hand over her wrist and she jerked her head up with a reproachful glare. 

"[I'm not going to harm her,]" said the South. 

"[You are unknown to me,]" he said. "[I will not have you touching her.]" 

The South pulled herself free and settled back on her heels, a hard anger etched across her face. "[Have it your way, Protector, but you can see for yourself that she does, indeed, sleep. If what you say is true, that she has already had her seasonal slumber, then this is quite odd.]" 

Sesshomaru held that green gaze for a bit longer, and then finally peered down at the one laying so serenely in his arms. Taking hold of her shoulder, he carefully rolled her onto her back. She never stirred, but remained perfectly still in the fur of the mokomoko, eyes closed and the barest trace of her lips parting. Her arm lay across her stomach, which rose and fell in the familiar cadence of steady breathing, deep and even and unmistakably asleep. He'd believed that she had chosen to ignore them, not...this. How was it possible? She was not injured; she did not need to recuperate. With a tension rising inside him, he brushed a hand over her cheek, tilting her head towards him, and leaned closer, her name on the tip of his tongue. 

"[She deserves her rest; leave her be,]" declared the South, and he glanced up with another frown. "[As I said: this is unusual, but not unheard of. The same has occurred for me, when I have been too overwrought. It is exceedingly rare, but we are experiencing a difficult time. She explained to you, about the North?]" 

"[She made mention, but gave no explanation,]" he said, feeling the tension ease. "[How-]"

"[We don't know how. We have our suspicions, but must investigate further. This is new territory for us; we aren't certain what will happen from this point on.]" 

Something twisted low in his gut and a sour taste rose in the back of his throat as he peered back down at Lucidity. "[You know nothing?]"

"[Only that we are all in danger. And if we can't be unified, I fear the outcome. The Guardian of the West is most upset about this. I am doubtful she is willing to accept Lucidity, and it is pivotal that she does. We are weakened. With the North gone, we are without focus, without a leader, and....]"

"[Survival is questionable against the Princes of Death,]" he said, looking at the South once more. 

"[Indeed,]" she murmured, "[as it never has been before.]"

"[Why does Lucidity believe she is the cause for the death of the northern Guardian?]" Sesshomaru asked, and the abruptness of the question appeared to surprise the South, who stared at him and, for the first time, displayed a sense of nervousness as she shifted on the rug, then immediately stilled. 

"[That is a question better asked of Lucidity,]" she replied. 

"[I've been waiting long enough; I would have the answer now.]" 

"[At least be honest, Protector, and admit that you do not want to cause further distress for her when she has clearly been worn down by the morning's events,]" the South immediately countered. 

"[Interpret my reasons as you wish, but tell me what I want to know.]" 

Green eyes narrowed at him. "[I see that she was being polite in describing you as 'unpleasant.']"

He let out a soft snort and settled back against the bed once more, with Lucidity still in his arms, resting deeply in spite of the hushed argument taking place next to her. "[You are welcome to leave if you have no intention of answering.]"

"[We believe that the North's murder was in retaliation to what Lucidity did to Morstua.]"

Sesshomaru peered sharply around at her. The Guardian of the South knelt there with her hands folded in her lap, posture straight and rigid. And when she spoke, a haughty arrogance seeped from every syllable of her words and every contour of her body, revealing nothing of the fear she claimed to feel. He listened while she shared what had taken place in the underground chamber, from their speculation about what had been done to the North to the brief scuffle with the West. Rules of war broken? A leader lost? An alliance shattered?

"[I do not think for a moment that Lucidity meant for this outcome,]" the South continued. "[But she took a risk in making Morstua her prisoner and we can only conclude that these are the results of her choices.]"

"[She believed Morstua's brothers would seek revenge on her alone,]" said Sesshomaru. "[She warned of it, the day she sealed him away.]"

"[Yes, and that has always been their way,]" said the South. "[They have obviously changed tactics. This is a new game, with new rules, that we must learn. I can only hope we are not slow to adapt.]"

"[You call a war between life and death a game, one that even you may not survive?]" snapped the daiyoukai, growing tired of hearing the comparison. He loathed this, the uncertainty, the doubt, of knowing that in this struggle against the Princes, he would be of little use, just as Lucidity had proclaimed him to be. And when a smile crept its way along the South's face, mocking in its amusement, he felt a scowl twist his own mouth.

"[When you have been alive for as long as we have,]" she began, "[life takes on a different meaning. It is easy for it to become a game, one century bleeding into another until you have become so ancient that you cannot remember how it all came to be. Even half-breeds like myself and your precious Lucidity will eventually reach a point where we can do little more than exist and react to what surrounds us. Our Protectors were so named to save us from ourselves. Mine was mortal, same as you, and though she was Fae and capable of living for centuries, she died the same as any human in the end: succumbing to old age. Such will be your fate if you are not taken prematurely, while the Guardian is left behind, with every day, every moment being a struggle. It can be a cruel existence. If I live through this war, so be it. If I die, I can only hope that what I leave behind is kept safe. And it would please me for Lucidity to survive, as well. I may have just met her, but she is full of life and it would be a sad loss to this world.]"

Sesshomaru...did not care for the turn this conversation had taken and found himself relieved when the South rose to her feet, smoothing out her garments and offering a small smile that reflected nothing of what had just been said. And when those green eyes flicked to Lucidity, he suddenly became all the more aware of the weight of her across his lap, the soft echo of her breath reaching his ears, the scent of her skin surrounding him, and drew her closer, hardly an inch or so. Yet the South noticed and the smile widened.

"[Do not be so possessive of her,]" she said. ["Until our Mother is able to birth a new Guardian of the North, we need the East, more than any other.]"

"[What is your meaning]"

"[We have our chain of command, the same as any mortal army,]" explained the South. "[The North was our leader. With her gone, we must defer to the second-in-command.]"

"[And your second-in command is-]"

"[Is the one you covet in your arms.]"


Who was she? The woman or the Guardian? It was...unreasonable to make her choose. And yet he had attempted to do just that, because it was what custom dictated, for a woman to fulfill her duties as a wife first before anything else. But such a life was not possible with the one he had chosen, a reality he should have come to accept long before now. He faulted Inuyasha and the others for not understanding, for having no true respect for the mantle of the Guardian, when he, Sesshomaru, was guilty of the very same. How did he not realize this sooner?

Anger was an emotion he was not unfamiliar with. Anger at enemies for eluding him. Anger at Inuyasha for his boisterous manner. Anger at Lucidity for her stubbornness. Yet anger at himself? A relatively new experience, and one that was not so easily resolved. What he had learned this day, what he was coming to understand, was that he, in fact, understood very little. He knew nothing of the Guardians. Their purpose in this world, perhaps, but not their ways, not their customs. What he'd believed had been based solely on the actions of Satomi. It was only now that he realized just how peculiar she must have been in the eyes of the other Guardians.

How strange, then, was Lucidity to them? How mistrusting were they of her, the one who was expected...to lead these daughters of a goddess? If a truce could not be reached....

Sesshomaru closed his eyes as his claws scraped along the railing of the balcony, where his hands rested. It was speculation, this potential outcome, and it would not do well to dwell over what could not be determined for the time being. He recalled how Lucidity's advice had helped resolve the long-standing blood feud with the Viper Clan; she was not without her talents in matters of strategy, and that was before she had gained the memories. What would she be able to draw from her predecessor? A second-in-command, and the one who would be leader. What was it Lucidity had said the night of the festival? That she was no leader, just a cold, heartless bitch. He no more believed that now than he did then.

A noise rose from inside the chambers. He opened his eyes and peered out at the sun-drenched island of Avalon before turning around and striding towards the double doors, and spotted the first movements coming from the bed. By the time he stepped inside, Lucidity had pushed herself up, holding her head in one hand and looking around in exhausted confusion. Her gaze came to rest on him, but when he moved down the steps, giving her an unobstructed view of the balcony beyond, she let out a sudden groan and turned her head away, eyes squeezed shut and a hand lifted to block out the light of the sun. She was cursing softly as he came closer and, with a swipe of his claws, cut the cords that tied the hangings back, so that he might draw them shut.

"Sesshomaru?" he heard her mutter. "What happened?"

"You fell asleep," he told her as he walked around to stand on the other side of the bed, where he saw that she had pulled her knees up and had laid her forehead against them, hands pressed to her temples. "Lucidity?"

"My head...fucking hurts," she grumbled as she straightened and peered up at him, a tension around her eyes betraying the discomfort she spoke of. "I fell asleep? I don't understand. How?"

He repeated what the Guardian of the South had advised, and then added, "Does this not happen with any of the other Guardians?"

"No, it.... I suppose, since we're half-breeds, we will be different in both mind and body from the others." A sigh escaped her and she laid her head back down on her knees, face turned to him. "The South was here?"

"Hours ago," he answered. "You've been asleep for most of the morning."

"No wonder I feel like shit.... What did she want?"

"To speak with you. About what, she did not say." He moved closer to the bed, the covers, pillows, and woman all cast in shadow. "She informed me of what took place in the meeting."

Lucidity closed her eyes. "Of everything?" she asked, and when he confirmed her apparent fears, she immediately hid her face in her knees once more, hands pushing into her hair. The scent of salt water soon filled the air as her shoulders began to shake. Yet when he reached out, his claws barely tracing over the strands of yellow, she drew from his touch and knocked his hand away with a fist, still managing to keep her face out of sight. "Leave...leave me alone," came the strained whisper. 

"This behavior is childish," he said. But when his disapproval was met with nothing but a fresh attempt to recoil from him, his patience dwindled rapidly and his hand shot out, fingers closing over her wrist and yanking her out of the bed. He heard her gasp of alarm, felt her stumble against him as she tried to find her footing, and he caught her by the other wrist, holding her upright and glaring down at her. "Enough! You are not weak, woman, so you will stop acting this way and return to your duties as Guardian." 

"Why the hell would you care about that?!" she snapped, and yet in spite of the venom in her voice, she made no attempt to free herself. She stood there with steady tears wetting her face, eyes bright with an odd mixture of fury and despair, as though she swayed from one to the other. "You're the one who can't handle a Guardian as a wife," she continued. "You would prefer it if I was weak. It's the only way you'd be in complete control of our lives, in control of me. That's what you want, isn't it?" 

"It was," he said, and his candid response managed to douse the heat of her anger. She stared at him in a mute shock of parted lips and flushed cheeks, the stress of emotions still bringing fresh tears. "Being in control of you would mean you belong to this Sesshomaru completely. I see, now, that such an idea is an illusion. You cannot be mine and a Guardian."

"What...." The word came out as little more than a grunt and Lucidity had to swallow before making a second attempt. "What are you saying?"

He started to answer, perhaps assuage what concerns might be churning through her head, but the words never made it past his lips. The presence that made itself known in the castle was as abrupt as it was powerful, enough to break his train of thought and he peered sharply over at the entrance of the chambers. It was only when Lucidity pulled herself free that he realized his grip had slackened in his distraction. He watched as she hurried over to the door and wrenched it open, only to suddenly pause and glance back at him. There was hesitation in her gaze. She was...indecisive, peering down the hall, then back at him, and he noticed the movement in her throat as she swallowed once more. Did she understand, then, his meaning? He could only fathom any conclusions she may have drawn as she finally made a choice and quickly left.

He could hear the rapid pace of her footsteps echoing down the hall, until the noise stopped unexpectedly when she let out a gasp. And he was immediately out the door. He caught a glimpse of Lucidity in the distance and another woman standing before her. Small, black-haired, and trembling with visible rage. Not a word was being spoken, and yet there were obvious gestures of an animated conversation, shifts of facial expression. Lucidity was holding her hands out, imploringly it seemed, and the other woman shook her head, and then suddenly let out a cry of fury and lunged forward.

The two women disappeared before Sesshomaru could so much as take a step. A mirage of heat filled the hall that fed the torches burning in their brackets, raising the flames so high that they licked the ceiling, until a torrent of wind stole the very air from the fire and left nothing but smoke in its wake. The two forces clashed-felt, but unseen-racing through what limited space there was, before an outlet was found, through the very door he stood next to. He was tossed aside, no more than an obstruction that impeded their progress, and heard the shatter of the balcony doors by the time he found his feet and sprinted after them.

The daiyoukai could do nothing. In their true forms, the Guardians eluded him, were beyond his reach. He could do naught but stand there on the balcony, trying to focus on where they were, follow the flow of their fight. Had it been only the West-for the black-haired woman could be no other-he would have attempted to bring a stop to her, however temporary it would be, with Bakusaiga. Yet he would not risk Lucidity. Was this not her battle, though? Were the Guardians not her responsibility from this point on?

And there they were, the South appearing on foot on the grounds below, running from the direction of the First Tree, while the three without form seemed to burst from the very air, swirling in a maddening cacophony of colors and power, encircling the forces that were the East and West. Then, in an explosion that shook the earth and caused loose stones of the castle to rain down, the figure of the black-haired woman solidified once more, floating above, perhaps trapped by the three who continued to dance around her. But it was the other form that had the daiyoukai leaping off the balcony, seeing that long, yellow hair whipping about her as she fell, unconscious, towards the ground.

However, it was the South who caught Lucidity, reaching her moments before he did. He landed beside the women as the South knelt and laid Lucidity upon the grass. No injuries were visible, not so much as a bruise, and she was already beginning to stir. Soft groans escaped her as she rolled her head, eyes fluttering, then flashing with pain before closing, and he felt a fist clench at his side, as his other closed over the hilt of Bakusaiga.

"[You idiot! What do you think you're doing?!"]

The shrieking voice of the South followed Sesshomaru as he rose into the air, his attention fixed on the West, who had been focused on the three formless Guardians. Yet now she turned her dark, burning gaze onto him and a sneer played along her lips, which soon deepened into a mangled expression of fury when he unleashed a volley of Bakusaiga's power. Blood sprayed through the air as the energy tore through her body and she let out a scream, the same sound she had made prior to attacking Lucidity. Save this time, it was the daiyoukai she was after as she surged forward, paying no mind to her wounds and disappearing in a wave of heat. And again, Bakusaiga's power found her, incorporeal though she was, forcing her to retreat.

This repeated. Over and over, with no interference from the others. Yet there was shouting down below. Lucidity's voice, calling out, ordering him to stop. But she made no attempt to enforce her commands, while the fight pressed on, while the temperature around him rose, and his vision became obscured and the air grew too heavy to breathe, an agonizing reminder of how Lucidity was capable of stealing the breath from the body itself. And when he attempted to descend, to escape the pressure slowly crushing his lungs, the aura of the Guardian rushed at him from all sides. Fire erupted, encasing his frame, and he raised Bakusaiga once more as he caught the scent of burnt hair and silk. And though he was able to extinguish the flames in a single stroke, he felt a pain that tore across his back, penetrated his body, and he could suddenly taste blood in the back of his throat.

Chapter Text

"What is it with you and being stabbed from behind?! First the blackness, now this. I hope you realize how lucky you are that she didn't kill you on the spot."

"I will make no apologies, woman."

"You never apologize for anything! So, that statement is a bit moot, don't you think? Honestly, Sesshomaru! You realize it's impossible for Guardians to kill each other? All of us are on equal footing. It's not as if you were saving me from anything."

"Then why did you lose consciousness?"

"That's not the point! You had no business getting involved! I never should have brought you here. If I could, I'd send you home, knock your ass straight back through Sagashite."

Sesshomaru scowled and started to push himself up. Yet not even the stoic youkai lord could hide the pain of what the West had done to him, and the color draining from his face, the grit of his teeth, were lingering reminders of her power that continued to flow through his body. Lucidity, sitting beside him on the edge of the bed, shoved him back down into the blankets with little effort on her part and they glared at one another for several long, tense seconds before he let out a sharp exhale and turned his head away, closing his eyes.

Sweat was gathered along his forehead and trickling down the side of his face, glistening over the skin of his neck and bare torso, which heaved with every labored breath he took. He was stripped from the waist up, the mokomoko stretched out along the bed around him. The gaping wound in his chest, where the West had plunged her arm straight through, was an ugly sight. The blood had been cleaned away, but the ring of exposed tissue had a sickly, yellow cast and was frothing along the edges, bubbling outward to stain the skin. A putrid stench would have been fitting for how horrible it was to look at, but it was a small blessing that the wound was completely odorless. Of course, that did not mean that Sesshomaru was any less happy about his condition.

"What manner of poison did that Guardian infect me with?" he growled when Lucidity, once again, dragged the wet cloth she'd been using over the wound.

"Sulfur, or something based in it, I would say," she answered as she dipped the cloth back into the bowl of water, which had slowly taken on a yellow tint since she had started tending to him; there was another cloth beneath him that would need to be changed soon.

"Sulfur?" he repeated

"A natural element, and often found in volcanoes, which the West has always favored. She weaponized it early on," Lucidity explained. "It can be a slow death for many, or instant, depending on where she strikes. You would have dropped dead if she'd hit your heart."

"A strike to the heart would be fatal regardless of who deals the blow," said Sesshomaru, his eyes still shut and a deep wrinkle in his brow. "This is not, then, judging by your lack of panic?"

"Considering the poison is slowly eating its way through your veins and burning out your blood, it actually is, whether you are youkai or not."

His eyes snapped open and she could have smiled at the alarm that broke through his expression, if matters between them were not so...unresolved. With the bowl of water on her lap, she carefully wrung out the cloth and laid it over his chest as the wound began to seep again, more profusely now than when she had brought him up to Satomi's chambers less than an hour ago. She gently eased her hand over marred flesh, letting the ragged material of the cloth soak in the foreign liquid, and could feel the pulse beneath her fingers, the heartbeat that was a little faster than normal. She could not help but recall when he'd been infected by the blackness and was grateful he was conscious this time, even though that meant he had to endure quite a bit of pain.

"The South, Thalia, has the antidote," she told him and saw his brows quickly contract. "Hence my lack of panic, and hence why the West had no true intent to kill you. Make you suffer, yes, but she knew this would not kill you while the South is here."

"And why do you not have the antidote?" he demanded. "Why prolong this?"

Lucidity sighed. "Let me rephrase: The South is the antidote. Her magic, however she is able to counter the effects of the West's poison, is the cure. A human would be bedridden for a month. For you...maybe a few days. So, do me a favor, and take that time to rest. Perhaps reflect on the stupidity of your actions? I'm going to find Thalia, see if she has managed to escort the West through Sagashite yet."

And Lucidity started to stand, her hand slipping from his chest, when he seized her wrist without warning. The movement was so abrupt and his grip so strong-stronger than she expected, given his condition-that she jumped and sent the bowl tumbling from her lap, where it clattered onto the floor. Her heart seemed to fall right along with it, right into the pit of her stomach. He never said a word as she stared down at him; he merely fixed her with that unwavering, golden gaze, which soon slid over to the hand caught in his grasp. Too mesmerized to budge or speak, she sat there, feeling his thumb trace over the raised scars on her palm, before he unexpectedly laced their fingers together and pressed his scar against hers. Mother's mark, a physical reminder that would never fade, never...give them an ounce of peace when separated.

The swell of emotion that gripped her suddenly made it difficult to breathe. Her throat tightened in a sensation that had become too familiar as of late, but she could no more help it than she could ignore the sting in her eyes, how her vision began to glaze over when he looked back at her. She couldn't meet his gaze, not if she wanted to hang on to that last thread of control. If he said her name, if he so much as squeezed her hand, she wouldn't be able to stop herself. She knew...just knew she would be helpless, knew she would go to him and force herself to forget the last several weeks, beg him to forget it with her, beg him to make everything right again. And then she stiffened when she saw his other arm rise. Through the haze of tears that threatened to fall, she saw him reach for her, fingers outstretched.

The chamber door swung open.

And Lucidity was on her feet, pulling herself free and blinking rapidly until the fog in her vision cleared and she was able to see Thalia entering the room. She was not alone, however, as the other three Guardians swept in after her and filled the space with their soft light. 

"[The West has gone home,]" Thalia announced. "[And she is adamant that she will not return to us.]" 

"[Even if the Princes attack?]" asked Lucidity. 

Thalia shook her head. "[I do not believe so.]" 

"[If it comes to war, she will need to see reason.]" 

"[I agree. For now, though, we should leave her be. No good will come from bombarding her with tensions so high; she will only attack us again. Speaking of which, how is Sesshomaru doing?]" Thalia added as she stepped over pieces of the broken dresser still scattered about and moved closer to the bed.

In the short span of their conversation, the daiyoukai in question had managed to sit upright and remove the cloth from his chest, along with the one on his back. Both had been tossed to the floor and Thalia kicked these and the forgotten bowl aside as she peered down at him, considering the wound from a short, albeit safer distance, before letting out a soft hum. 

"[A simple fix,]" she said, and suddenly lowered herself onto the bed. "[If you would lay back down, Sesshomaru.]" 

"[That won't be necessary,]" was the predictable, stubborn reply that did not phase Thalia in the slightest. 

"[If that is what you would prefer, but I will let you fall where you may if you pass out,]" she said as she brought a hand to his wound.

There was something decidedly...aggravating in seeing Sesshomaru being touched by her. Not that Lucidity didn't trust Thalia to remain professional, but just bearing witness to another woman with a hand on the daiyoukai's chest, shifting closer to him while he was shirtless, on a bed and.... And now she was leaning down, her mouth hovering an inch or so over the wound, and something hot uncoiled itself in Lucidity's stomach. This was stupid. This was petty! There was no need for any anger or.... Gods be damned! There was no need for jealousy. And yet her hands clenched as she moved away, trying to find something else to focus on, hardly aware of the bits of wood near her feet. But the wisps of a blue, hazy mist that flowed from Thalia's parted lips drew her attention, and she watched its progress as it entered the dripping wound. And she suddenly found herself caught up with the steady of rhythm of Sesshomaru's chest while he breathed, the stray lock of hair that had fallen over his shoulder to hang so near the injury. She noticed his hand tighten briefly on the coverlet and looked up at his face, curious if the procedure was somehow painful, but received a slight shock, instead, to find him watching her over Thalia's head. 

"Sister." 

Lucidity nearly jumped at the unexpected greeting from the incorporeal Guardians. She peered around at their drifting forms that illuminated every crevice of the room and felt their touch as they surrounded her. "What is it?" 

"Inconvenienced though we are by our Sister West, we must remain vigilant," they said. "We still have responsibilities to this world and our Mother, domains to protect; we cannot be distracted at this time. The best course of action must be considered. What are your orders?" 

"Orders?" 

"Yes, orders," the three repeated, and there was in impatience in the air. "What would you have us do now?" 

"I...uh...I'm not sure. Maybe...." So put on the spot, Lucidity was drawing an absolute blank. The three waded around her and she felt goose bumps rise each time their aura brushed over her skin, making it all the more difficult to focus. On reflex, she found herself glancing over at Sesshomaru, knowing that he would probably have no answers even if he was aware of the conversation taking place. His eyes met hers with such a familiar intensity, and she realized he had never looked away, even when she had. He was watching her with an unwavering concentration that had her heart doing a tap dance against her ribs as she wondered about the thoughts behind that molten gaze. And then she felt a bristle of irritation from the three Guardians and shook herself out of the trance. "I don't...I don't know," she finally admitted. 

"You can think of no solutions?" they demanded. 

"The Princes are our only lead and you said there was no trace of them at the site," Lucidity replied. 

"A trace of the Netherworld, but nothing powerful enough to suggest a Prince was present," corrected the three. 

"Then search!" she snapped. "Something still could have killed the North on their orders, yes? So search the world over. Find out if they have come topside recently. Look for any rips in the dimensions. Do what you can to locate a Prince and imprison him for questioning." 

There was no immediate response. The three rose and fell, as if deeply considering the wisdom of her instructions, their colors ever shifting, moving into hues not unlike those found in a sunset. A hushed conversation drifted from the bed where Thalia continued to battle the West's power with her own, Sesshomaru still upright and very much conscious. He was asking if something was happening and Thalia was gracious enough to explain the conversation. And though Lucidity tried to maintain her focus on the three, her ear was tied to their voices, listening to minute changes of pitch and tone, an inflection of interest on Sesshomaru's part and boredom on Thalia's.  

"If that is what you believe is best, Sister East, then that is what we shall do," the three answered. "But what of the scarring created by Morstua in your domain? How would you have us determine if he or his brothers are behind whatever we may discover?" 

"I will search my own domain," Lucidity told them, and there was a ripple of agreement in return. 

"And I will do the same," Thalia added. 

"As you wish," said the three. "We shall return to you when we have finished, Sister East, and report our findings. Farewell."

And nothing more was said. Without waiting for a response, the three swept out of the chambers, through the shattered doors of the balcony. The curtains rustled at their passing before silence prevailed and the room immediately dulled without the constant, vibrant show of lights. And Lucidity was left with a distinct impression that this pathetic excuse of a leadership role was merely tolerated by beings who understood only protocol...and had no other options available. She suppressed the urge to release a heavy sigh as she stared through the empty doorway, at the afternoon sky outside that was bright and cloudless and utterly mocking in its cheery appearance. The desire to simply drop on the spot and drag her knees up had the muscles of her legs growing tense. She fought the impulse and, instead, managed to keep her back straight, her limbs so rigid that she felt no different than the stone she stood upon. 

"[Open your mouth.]" 

Thalia's voice drew Lucidity's attention back to her and Sesshomaru on the bed. It was startling, the sight of them. Thalia had taken hold of Sesshomaru's jaw with one hand and it appeared as if she had forced his mouth open, rather than allow him to comply. Or had he refused? Either way, the glare of anger was blatant in the daiyoukai's eyes and he had even taken hold of Thalia by the arm, while he braced himself on his other hand in an apparent attempt to pull free. Yet Thalia ignored all this as she leaned in, her own lips still parted, and Lucidity took an involuntary step forward, stopping only when she saw something rise out of Sesshomaru's mouth. 

No longer in liquid form, the sulfur looked as if it had taken on the consistency of sand, with tiny particles trailing through the air on unseen waves, to filter their way into Thalia's mouth, as though she was stealing the very soul from his body. Gods how he must be hating every second of this! And now Lucidity could hear his voice, little more than a grunt that he struggled to contain. She could see it, the tension that filled him, the way the muscles of his arms flexed, right down to his stomach when he inhaled sharply. All the while, Thalia continued to extract the poison, paying no mind to the daiyoukai's increasing discomfort. Again, Lucidity heard his grunts as he shifted on the bed, and then the sound of shredding fabric filled the room as his claw tore into the blankets. His body arched as his eyes squeezed shut and Thalia renewed her grip on him, dragging his face closer, and Lucidity knew beyond any doubt the agony he was in. A strangled growl tore from his throat before it unexpectedly cut short, as if someone had muffled the noise, and his expression slackened, his body falling limp in Thalia's grasp. 

Lucidity was beside the bed, gripping onto one of the posts, without even realizing she had moved until she was there, staring down at him and whispering his name. There was no response. His head had fallen back, exposing the line of his throat, while Thalia supported his weight with an arm around his back, her other hand still holding his mouth open, the sulfur steadily pouring out and into Thalia.

"He will be fine," she told Lucidity. "I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner; everyone passes out from the pain."

"You're sure? He won't.... He really will be okay?" 

"Yes, I promise. The poison spread far. It traveled through his heart just now." 

"His heart?!" Lucidity exclaimed. "But-"

"Relax. My power diluted it. Although, had he been human, he wouldn't have survive," said Thalia, her eyes narrowed in  irritation, possibly at the repeated interruptions. Or perhaps she did not appreciate her abilities being questioned. Either way, Lucidity stepped back, knowing how annoyed she became when others hovered over her, inspecting her work, doubting she was capable. The West certainly doubted her. Did Above, Below, and Within feel the same? Did Thalia? The Guardian of the North was dead and an inexperience child had taken her place as leader. Anyone in their right mind would doubt a child and Lucidity couldn't blame them.

The trail of sulfur was coming to an end. The grains flowing from the daiyoukai into Thalia was thinning until Thalia finally lowered him onto the bed as the last grain disappeared between her lips. She inhaled sharply, eyes closed, and coughed several times before letting out a deep breath. "[I have never worked on a daemon of his caliber before,]" she said as she peered down at his immobile form, mouth pursed pensively. "[I'm uncertain how long he'll remain unconscious, but he will make a full recovery. I should return home and begin my search, as my leader has commanded.]" 

"I'm no leader," Lucidity muttered.

Thalia rose from the bed and came to stand in front of Lucidity, who suddenly found it difficult to maintain eye contact with the Guardian of the South. Those green eyes were too vivid, too scrutinizing, as if she could pull secrets from the soul with nothing more than a glance. And then she reached out and clasped Lucidity by the shoulder. "[You did well with our sisters and it will become easier as time goes on. The West will always be wild and unpredictable, and we shall handle her accordingly should it ever be necessary.]"

"[...necessary?]"

The answer she received was little more than a small, upward curve of the lips. "May the gates of our domains be open to one another," said Thalia in that heavy accent of hers. And the words were a deep echo of the past; she must have practiced off and on for years to perfect the phrase.

"Now and forever," Lucidity replied with a slight bow of the head that Thalia returned in kind. And yet Lucidity felt a stranger in her own body, repeating gestures and formalities that were never hers. It wasn't until Thalia began to walk towards the exit that she suddenly remembered one matter she had been meaning to ask about. "Do you know where the North was killed, by chance?"

Thalia turned sharply around, surprised at the question. 

"I was going to ask the other three, before they left," Lucidity continued. "But with Sesshomaru injured, I just...I forgot. I was hoping that they told you. Or...was that a privilege only for the West?"

A sigh broke from Thalia as she ran a hand through her hair, such a very human display to make. "[I see. Yes, they did tell me. When they first returned with the West, I asked where they had gone.]"

"Will you show me?" Lucidity requested with a tap to her temple.

Thalia obliged and was able to paint a clear picture in her mind while giving directions. How many miles it was, and that she needed to travel in the direction of the setting sun, then further north until she found water. A great body of water that was teeming with absolutely no life, not even a single plant. And then the South was gone, leaving in a soft rush of mist, and the rest was silence. 

Though she was not the only one here, the room felt empty. Broken, was what it was. Unfinished. She peered around at the remains of the doors and dresser, what the hard work of the North had been reduced to. Her gaze lingered on Sesshomaru's belongings that were on the floor by the bed. Swords, clothing, armor, boots. Foreign and out of place, as was the daiyoukai himself. Lucidity came to stand over him and peered down at his form, unobstructed by the presence of Thalia. His wound was no longer seeping. There was no sweat to be found. And his breathing was shallow with sleep. Overall, he was improved, for which she was grateful, even if she hadn't...cared for the method of healing Thalia had used.

Lucidity paused when she abruptly realized what she was doing. Peering down at her hands, she saw her thumb pressing into the scarred palm. An indent of her nail could be seen in the skin and she quickly pulled her hands apart. What would have happened if Thalia had waited a bit longer to arrive? What matters might have been addressed, even put to rest? Or would there have been no talking at all? They needed to talk, if only to sort out what needed to be done now, what their...priorities should be.

Swallowing heavily, she reached out and took hold of the mokomoko so that she might drag it around Sesshomaru's shoulders, knowing that was how he preferred to sleep. But she went a step further-perhaps using this as nothing more than an excuse to keep touching him-and pulled the blankets over his frame. Only then did she step back, to watch him for a long moment: the stillness of his face, the movement of the blankets as he breathed, the slight bit of space between his lips that seemed to beckon. And yes, she wanted to kiss him, rather desperately in fact. But what would happen after? She had no idea. And that uncertainty made the atmosphere of the room so hot and thick that she was forced to step outside onto the balcony. The irony of it, that she of all people needed air.

There was no mountain peak here, no place to truly find an escape. Yet it was so quiet. Devoid of Guardians, servants, and even the locals. No dancing will-o'-the-wisps, no prowling gargoyles, no instruments being played. Were those creatures active only at night? A minor curiosity that could not distract her for long as she leapt off the balcony to the ground far below, with a vague destination in mind. Perhaps she would visit the place the North had died. Or should she wait, until Sesshomaru awoke? Would he, by some chance, be able to find something the Guardians had missed? A trail? A scent?

She took a slow, ambling path through the hedge maze as these thoughts churned through her head. There was no clear plan of action, no where to turn for answers. Mother was silent. She had delivered the news to Her daughters and now had Her own work to do, leaving-no, abandoning them to their own devices, their own wars against outside forces and among each other. Ever the absent parent, She was, playing Her hand only when She did not have every Guardian available to use as Her tool.

Anger would be refreshing, would give her something to focus on. Yet Lucidity could feel little more than a fleeting burn of irritation before it disappeared and she was left with a bottomless hole in her gut of dread and guilt and regret. She peered up at the great branches of the First Tree as she cut through the maze. Why bother coming here? This was the North's resting place, not hers. This was not Hahaoya no Shikyu, similar though the trees were. This was not home. Ah, but then, what was her home? The Isle? It was a safe haven, no doubt, somewhere she was familiar and at ease with. But could she call it home? Or was home not a place, but rather people? Inuyasha and Kagome, Sango and Miroku? Or, perhaps, home was just a person. Sesshomaru, then? Or...

Her father?

At the end of the maze, Lucidity came to a stop in an archway of hedges and stared down at the massive roots of the First Tree. There was an all too well known sting in her eyes and an ache in the back of her throat as she pushed a hand through her hair. Dammit! Why did she keep thinking about him? Now was not the time. She had to focus. She couldn't dwell on homes and belonging and injured husbands. She had to.... To what? Do as the three had said? Focus on her responsibilities to their Mother and ignore everything else? There was...truth to the fact that what happened between her and Sesshomaru was of little consequence where the whole of the world was concerned. He helped to keep her grounded, yes, but he could not fight in a war against the Princes. She did not need him to win this. Without a doubt, she wanted him at her side, but if they could not reconcile, he would only be a distraction. She needed to...to figure out her priorities. 

"My Lady East."

Lucidity gave a start and looked around to find Oberon walking through the roots, striding with purpose in her direction. Where had he come from? Had he been there since she stepped out of the maze? Jumped down from the branches, perhaps? As he drew nearer, she realized that, once again, she'd been rubbing at her scarred palm and quickly folded her arms.

"No more formalities, Oberon," she said when he gave a low bow after stopping in front of her. "Please, just call me by name."

He frowned and there was a deep set to his brow that suggested anger or disapproval. What details had Thalia told him? It didn't appear as if she had held back. He looked utterly exhausted. His hair was disheveled, as though he had spent hours with his head buried in his hands. There were prominent circles beneath his eyes, which appeared...somewhat swollen. Not red in the least, but she wondered if he had the taste of tears in his mouth as she did.

"I'm sorry, Oberon," she murmured, looking away.

"What does my Lady apologize for?" he asked, and she didn't know if he was indifferent or simply...sad. His voice was so low and monotone, the complete opposite of his lively tone upon first meeting him.

A deep sigh broke from her. "Everything," she said. "The loss of the North, of your Titania, the part I played in it."

"The part you played? Yes...the Lady South mentioned something of the sort."

Trying not to cringe, Lucidity started to turn away. "I'm sorry," she said again. "I...shouldn't be intruding. I will-"

"Don't leave on my account," said Oberon. "And do not apologize. What you did to Morstua was brilliant."

Lucidity froze and peered back to stare at the King of the Faeries, lips parting a fraction. He gave a rueful smile at her surprise.

"The Princes have never truly paid for their crimes," he continued. "Is Morstua conscious? Where he is trapped, he has no form, but he's aware, yes?" 

She nodded.

"Explain to me how it works, his imprisonment." 

Lucidity was reluctant, and yet saw no reason to refuse. "His body has been broken down into a base substance," she said. "He's trapped between the edges of this planet and what lays beyond, and is conscious for every moment of his existence. I can feel him, like a small discomfort you get used to after a while. He is constantly trying to pull his body back together, become whole again. I ignore him, for the most part, allow him only so much progress, before I scatter his essence again." 

"So...he is forced to start over," murmured Oberon. "How often does that happen?" 

"Once, maybe twice a month." 

"That," Oberon said, his voice growing breathless, "would drive any man to insanity, mortal or otherwise. How long do you intend to keep him prisoner?" 

"Indefinitely," was the apathetic response. 

"Is it possible for this fate to be shared by all of the Princes?" he asked, and there was no hiding the eagerness in his tone. 

"No," Lucidity said. "It is the next best thing after an execution, I know, but I can't imprison all of them. One, yes, two...might be possible, but not nearly as long. If the other Guardians were willing to take Morstua's brothers, there could be some measure of justice for the North." 

"You believe I care for justice?" demanded Oberon, but paused when she leveled him with a quiet stare. 

"Not in the least," she said. "You want revenge. You want them to suffer." 

"I want to find the one who killed her and make him pay," came the vehement declaration that had Lucidity sighing once more. 

"Challenging a prince is suicide for anyone other than a Guardian." 

"Do you think that matters to me?" he snapped, and there was a prickle in the air, a subtle power that had the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. "Do you think it would matter to your husband if the same were to happen to you?" 

Lucidity could not stop herself from moving away, if only a step or two, and fought the urge to peer up at the castle, at the balcony that led to the chambers the daiyoukai slept in. "No," she muttered, keeping her gaze fixed on the ground. "He wouldn't hesitate to give his life in pursuit of revenge."

The sound of footsteps had her glancing up at the King of the Faeries to find him standing before her, his jaw clenched in a hard frown, the anger running deep in the lines of his face. "And I would do no less for my Titania," he said. "When you discover who is responsible, I want to know. I wish to be there when the sentence is passed. And in return, I am at your disposal, Guardian of the East. I offer my service and that of my people, should you ever have need." 

"Oberon...that isn't-" 

"Please, Lucidity," he whispered, and the temper of his demeanor fractured, bearing the broken man beneath the King. "I was not meant to outlive her, and now...." 

"All right, all right," she said. "You have a deal." 

The cloak he wore slid back from one shoulder as he lifted a hand out to her. "The bargain of a Fae is binding," he said. "We must promise each other that we will not go back on our word." 

Her brows rose slightly. "And...what should happen if the promise is ever broken? I have not heard favorable tales of those who bargain with the Fae."

"Mortals who betray us are dealt with harshly, this is true," he answered. "But there is little we can do against the power of a Guardian. You and your family would be unwelcome among my people, should you break our deal. Loved ones less powerful than you could potentially be put in great danger should they ever come across us outside of Avalon. As for myself, I am aware of what you are capable of, of the harm you could bring to not only me, but to all Fae. I know the risks and do not offer this bargain lightly."

Lucidity reached out and took his hand. "So it would appear."

Oberon's smile was tired. Sincere, yes, but he was worn down, aged by grief, and, considering his longevity, that was quite a feat. His hand was warm in hers, firm in its deliberate grip that would have crushed her fingers had she still been mortal. And then she felt the caress of his power, a subtle flow over her skin, and there was a wildness that she could taste in the magic that was different than what she was accustomed to. It filled her senses with the scent of flowers and wet soil, reminded her of storms and oceans battering against cliff walls. Pure nature. It wasn't a wonder why the North had been drawn to him.

Without warning, a sharp pain seared her palm and she jerked her hand free with a soft curse.

"Apologies, Lucidity," said Oberon. "I know it can be uncomfortable."

She didn't answer, but stared down at the image that was already fading. There was a distinct glow of pale antlers in the center of Mother's mark, overlapping the raised scars on her skin. But she blinked once, twice, and the image vanished, leaving nothing behind but a vague soreness when she flexed her fingers.

Oberon moved closer, his gaze on her hand. "That is where the Mother bound you and Sesshomaru together. From what I have seen, she has chosen well. I witnessed his assault on the West from a distance; he has great skill, even if she bested him in the end." 

"You know he will not be happy with this bargain of ours?" she replied, lowering her hand and peering up at Oberon. 

"I'm aware, but he should learn that the business you conduct as the Guardian is not his to interfere with."

"That...isn't how a marriage should work," was her feeble answer. And yet she had no true ground to stand upon, when she, herself, had told Sesshomaru no different. 

"You are not a typical wife, my Lady," he said. "And I hear how you protest, but I know there is discord between you two. I understand that much from what little Sesshomaru deigned to reveal, and more from what he would not speak of. Sometimes, silence is more informative than words." Of course, she said nothing in response, merely frowned, and he gave a small, sad smile before continuing. "A war is coming, Lucidity. And if the passing of my Titania means anything, it is that the outcome of war is unpredictable. Do not let matters remain as they are between you and your lord husband. Sever or strengthen your ties as you see fit, or you will have nothing but regret in the end."


Night had fallen.

The lamps had not been lit. There was no crackle of fire, no warmth of light. The air was stale and cold. Nothing stirred. So, at first, he could not understand what had awoken him, until he became aware of the presence near his feet and a familiar scent that accompanied it. The fact that he had not noticed immediately was a strong hint of the effects the poison had had on him. He did not need to feel the weakness of his body, .or the aches of protest in his muscles when he began to move, to know that the alternative outcome could have been potentially fatal if it had not been for the interference from the Guardian of the South. And knowing that he was at a disadvantage only served to strengthen the foul mood that was encroaching on him.

The blankets fell from his frame when Sesshomaru pushed himself up. And he saw her there, kneeling at the foot of the bed. The form of her silhouette could not be mistaken, as was the sheen of yellow hair that tumbled around her shoulders. Darkness did nothing to impede his vision and he could see those eyes fixed on him, saw her lips move, though she said not a word. And then she moved forward, placing one hand in front of the other, crawling over the bed, over him, her body moving along his, over his thighs, until she settled into his lap. She had a leg on either side of his waist and the weight of her pressed down on him. 

She wore no clothing, and he felt the touch of bare breasts against his chest as she leaned in, lips brushing over his, hands taking him by the shoulders. And he, in turn, seized her by the throat.