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Of Dead Demons and Rice Porridge

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Moroha sneezed again.

 

“Someone better stop gossiping about me!” Despite the sharpness of her tone, it lacked her usual venom and if anything, was more bark than bite if the pun could be forgiven.

 

“I don’t think anyone is.” Towa responded, closing her book. “I think you have a cold.”

 

“Do not! I’m a quarter demon. I’m Beniyasha!” She cursed her body when it chose this moment to sneeze two times in succession. “I don’t have a stupid cold.”

 

“You do.” 

 

It was Setsuna that cut in this time, from her perch up in the tree. Moroha looked up at her, deciding she disliked her quite immensely for choosing a place that forced her to look up. Her head didn’t appreciate the movement.

 

“Whatta you know ‘bout colds, Setsuna? You’ve never had one!”

 

“I have.” She answered. “And I know you have one because you haven’t complained about that monstrosity Towa is eating.”

 

Blinking, she turned. “Eh?”

 

Towa had a faint red tint to her face. “Setsuna, it isn’t that bad.”

 

“It smells putrid.”

 

Moroha glanced over at Towa’s bowl but couldn’t see anything amid the contents to support Setsuna’s accusation. A sniff told her nothing.

 

“Smells fine to me.”

 

“Because you can’t smell right now.” Towa caught onto her sister’s point, dug under the vegetables and lifted some beans to her chopsticks. “You hate fermented soybeans.”

 

Now that she saw them, Moroha’s nose wrinkled in distaste. Towa had weird taste and considered them good. Of all the things she had inherited from her father, his nose was not one of them but because of her sister and father’s sharp sense of smell, Towa only ever ate them away from home. 

 

But Moroha still couldn’t smell them. “Well…”

 

“Go home.” Towa’s face was bright, kindness a permanent mask. “You’ve got your parents now, remember? You don’t have to be afraid of being sick!”

 

“I’m not afraid!” But Moroha’s nerves were a mess and by the light scoff from above, she knew Setsuna could smell them. She was grateful Towa couldn’t. “Besides, Mom is the next village over, helping deliver some babies.”

 

“Your father’s still here.” Setsuna clarified. “He’s been in and out of the village but he’s here.”

 

Moroha bit her lip. Lying down was tempting but sickness carried its own curse. You were dangerous. And you were in danger. There came a lethal status with sickness and with as strong as her father was, what would he think about her obtaining that status, even if it was temporary?

 

No. She wouldn’t taint their home with it, she refused.

 

“I’m fine.” Turning, she left her cousins amid the Sacred Tree and ventured into the forest just outside the village that bore her father’s name.

 

OOO

 

Sleeping in trees or in small caves had become common for her over the years. With sickness, she opted for the cave. Less secure, given the lack of second exits but helped keep a lot of the elements out which meant faster recovery.

 

She’d been to this one before, years ago when she’d caught whatever bug was passing around the village. The humans feared it because of its lethality but her demon blood had shielded her from the worst of it.

 

She still had the old blankets here, tucked into the corner in a haphazard trunk, pieced together from pieces of wood and leather. It wasn’t the best at keeping out all things but when she pulled the blankets out, they were still whole.

 

Slipping behind the trunk, she nuzzled into the furthest corner, tucked away from the entrance and hidden mostly by the shadows. Anyone passing by wouldn’t have thought anything of it.

 

The old blankets were weather worn, making her appreciate the warmer spring weather but she still gave a low shudder. 

 

The appeal of the fire at home—home, still such an odd concept!—gnawed at her mind.

 

No. No, she wouldn’t be seen like this. Weak, vulnerable. She would not and could not. 

 

Just do what you used to do Moroha, she coached herself. Sleep. Sleep and your demon blood’ll chase it out before too long. Sleep it off then go home.

 

She wrapped herself tight, keeping her now and arrow, as well as her sword, well within reach. 

 

A cough and sneeze made her jerk lightly and she cursed whomever passed this onto her. Now that she had no distraction, her head felt ridiculously heavy even lying on her side. She’d likely fall to one side if she has to jump up. She shifted, curled into a ball.

 

No position was comfortable or warm. She felt both hot and cold together and wished deeply her body would make up its mind.

 

Sleep evaded her until the sun was low but it did finally take her consciousness. 

 

But dreams brought her no relief. 

 

As a child, dreams were her favorite pastime. She used to imagine all kinds of reasons why her parents were gone. As she grew older, they became more and more dark but she still cling to the optimistic ones.

 

She imagined them as ambassadors for some grand demon lord, fighting to keep a land safe.  (Mama had laughed at the idea of Papa doing anything with politics and Papa had said that was Uncle Sesshoumaru’s job as eldest)

 

She imagined they’d died ushering her away to safety fighting some horrific monster. (“Partially true” both had said).

 

She’d imagined she’d been a horrifically ugly baby and had been cast away out of disgust (Mama sobbed when she’d told her that theory and Papa had told her she’d been, objectively, the most beautiful baby in the world and he’d behead anyone that said otherwise)

 

She imagined that they were trapped in an alternate dimension, still trapped in that forest fire, forever lost and waiting for her to come help them…

 

That one was the closest to reality now that she thought about it.

 

After her parents came back into her life, her dreams took on a much more light hearted tone and were more mixed memories and desire than anything else. Happy images of training, play, talk and eating.

 

These dreams she had now were…off.

 

No real images to speak of but more feelings. A sense of suffocation, pressure, tension. Only thing she could compare it to was running. The sense of running with a threat behind her, no means to defend herself. The ground, though she couldn’t see it, would swamp and sink. She fell and tumbled and no matter how hard she tried, her footing never regained.

 

She hated being helpless. Hated being alone. 

 

Right now, she was both.

 

OOO

 

Waking up came with far more comfort than Moroha had expected. Her eyes, heavy with gunk, settled on a wooden wall instead of rocks. Her body was wrapped in blankets but not the thin, weather torn ones. These were thick, heavy and oh-so-warm.

 

Something sticky and cold was on her chest and right under her nose. It smelled terrible—

 

Hey! She could smell! Well, partially anyway.

 

She sat up, way too quickly and cursed, grabbing her head as it protested. 

 

“Awake? Damn lucky ya didn’t die out there!”

 

The rough sound drew her attention and her father stood from his position by the hearth. Something was cooking on a pot but apparently, not done yet because he left it there to walk over.

 

Looking about, reality finally caught up with her. She was back in their little hut, wrapped up in blankets on the family futon they all shared.

 

When had…

 

Coolness took her forehead in the shape of her father’s hand.

 

“Feh. Still hot. Fever ain’t broke yet.”

 

“Papa…what—“

 

“Your cousins ain’t shy about tellin’ on you, just in case you ever think ‘bout giving them any big secrets.” Inuyasha’s golden eyes were soft. “When I didn’t hear ya come back, I figured I’d ask them and they said ya took off into the woods. Not too hard after that.”

 

“You found my cave?” Trying to sound offended, Moroha was pretty sure she just sounded whiney. Though, maybe that was the scratchy throat and stuffy nose. 

 

“I survived in those trees longer than you’ve been alive.” Inuyasha answered simply, flopping on the ground next to her. “Ain’t no cave there I don’t know about.”

 

Disappointment clouded her features and shame flooded her eyes. “I never even heard you…”

 

“No shit. Your fever was too high. Even demon blood shuts you down eventually.” 

 

In a wave of motion, Moroha was on her feet. “But it’s workin’ now. I’m fine, I—“

 

Dizziness overwhelmed her, a thousand pounds slammed on her shoulders and she swayed. A half moment later, her father pulled her down, firmly but gently, by the arm with a, “Sit!”

 

He fumbled somewhat, no doubt at the obvious irony but quickly shook it off. “If you ain’t gonna lay down, at least sit. You don’t have anything to prove to me!”

 

You don’t have anything to prove.

 

Moroha choked.

 

They sat in silence a long time. Moroha didn’t move and Inuyasha didn’t say anything. It was evident that he wanted to say something but he held his tongue. No small feat with him but he knew all too well what it was like to be on the receiving end of yelling. Of blame.

 

He wouldn’t do it.

 

He couldn’t do it.

 

She wasn’t fully to blame. If Inuyasha knew her, those damned self damning thoughts were to blame. Granted, she made some stupid decisions but when pushed to fear, you’d do things to hide it, even stupid things.

 

He knew that personally. Too personally.

 

Finally, Inuyasha stood, went to the fire and spooned out a small bowl of rice porridge. He sat back down and offered it to her. “Here. Body can’t fight if it’s empty.”

 

Eyes downcast, Moroha stared, her own flushed red face staring back at her. “Not hungry.”

 

“Eat anyway.” Sharpness entered his voice without meaning to. “Don’t be stubborn.”

 

Quiet reigned. Moroha considered pointing out the irony of her father warning against stubbornness but it hardly seemed worth the effort. She stirred the porridge about, the small cut up vegetables tempting her. But her lack of appetite wasn’t due to sickness.

 

And it was flowing out of her eyes as bright as moonlight.

 

Her father knew that look.

 

Inuyasha inwardly groaned. Why he expected otherwise he didn’t know. After all, this was his daughter.  And she’d was feeling, no matter how hard she was trying to hide it, the very same things he had felt once.

 

So…what would he have wanted to hear?

 

“You didn’t do nothing wrong to get sick, ya know.”

 

Moroha turned, “Eh?”

 

Inuyasha scratched at his ear. “Everybody gets sick. You, your mom. Me. Sooner or later. No reason to run off.”

 

Moroha bit her lip. “Didn’t want you to…” she trailed off.

 

“Didn’t want me to what? See ya like that?” His voice softened.

 

Her entire body was screaming it.

 

“Sickness means you can’t fight.” She said simply. “Means you can’t catch bounty. Means you’re vulnerable. Weak.” Moroha pulled her knees to her chest and held them tight. “The weak die. And I’m your daughter. Mama’s daughter. I’m not weak.”

 

Inuyasha closed his eyes because he heard so much of himself in those words. The one thing he’d told Kagome he didn’t want their child to endure was the sense of worthlessness he was exposed to. The inner poison that was worse than any cut. No matter what, he’d said, she won’t feel that. She won’t have the life I did.

 

And yet, here they were, him hearing the same words that used to echo in his mind. Still did sometimes.

 

Damn you, Sesshoumaru. Damn you all the way to Hell.

 

He didn’t care if he meant well. He didn’t care that it had aided them in the end. He didn’t care. He’d robbed him and Kagome of fourteen years. He’d robbed Moroha of her childhood. Robbed them of their chance to be a family and now, they were trying to rebuild.

 

Inuyasha didn’t know if he’d ever forgive him for that.

 

“You ain’t weak, Moroha. I don’t care what bastard told you that you were. You ain’t.” He took her chin, gently caressed it with his claws. “And I ain’t ever gonna be nothin’ but proud of you. You don’t gotta prove nothin’ to me.”

 

She gaped a bit at him. Be proud of her? Hearing it, she knew he didn’t lie. He probably didn’t know how to lie. “Papa, I want you to see me when I’m strong. Not when I’m…like this!”

 

“Like what? Sick? Healing? Best time to be with someone ya care about.” He tilted his head, understanding settled in his eyes. “But took me a bit to figure that out too.” 

 

Moroha considered. It was a better feeling to have people by your side when you were afraid or unsure. A much better feeling than being alone, that was for sure. 

 

But sick?

 

“When ya got people that share the space in the world with you, you don’t hafta be strong all the time. Cause ya got other people to do it if you can’t.” He added. “And there’s gonna be times you can’t.”

 

Inuyasha sat back and held Tessaiga out to his daughter. “Ya know, what woke Tessaiga up when I first got it?”

 

Moroha started to shake her head then thought better of it. Instead, she just eyed the old sword, letting her fingers caress the sheath. “No.”

 

“Protecting your mom. But know who pulled it from its spot in my old man’s tomb?”

 

“No.”

 

“Your mom.”

 

Moroha took a small bite of the porridge, a bit encouraged. It wasn’t bad. Bland but that was sort of the point. But…the one that freed that demon blade had been a human? Had been her mother? “It was Mom?”

 

“Yep. She freed it but she couldn’t wake it up. But I couldn’t wake it up until she was in danger. Me wanting to protect her gave it the pulse it needed.”

 

“And you cut Uncle Sesshoumaru’s arm off?” She knew that part! She’d heard it several times and could never stop the evil grin that took her face when she talked about it. Not because she thought Sesshoumaru deserved it but because the idea that her father was strong enough to maim a demon in their true form was amazing!

 

With a half-prideful, half-sheepish grin, Inuyasha set the sword back by the wall on his other side. “Damn right I did.”

 

She took another bite, still watching his face.

 

“And when we were huntin’ those damn shards, your Mom was the only one that could see ‘em. But she needed me to kill a lot of the demons chasin’’em.” He settled, looked at her straight on. “And we only killed that bastard Naraku because we worked together.”

 

She’d only known some of that story. “You needed each other.” 

 

“More than either of us knew. We were idiots for a while.” Inuyasha let his face color some. “Still can be sometimes. No reason you hafta be, though. You ain’t gotta make our mistakes. Ya bounded with Setsuna and Towa all on your own. Means you understand a lot more than I did.”

 

Moroha sipped a bit more of the porridge and set the bowl down, wiping her mouth with her arm. It wasn’t empty but she didn’t think she could eat anymore. She hated it but she would hate it more if she threw up.

 

The prospect of being in sync with someone, that they would fill in where your weaknesses lie,

 

“So, don’cha worry about being sick. Ain’t nothing gonna happen.” Inuyasha took her face in his hands, much like her mother liked to do sometimes. “You ain’t alone, Crimson.”

 

She relaxed in his grip. Wasn’t that what all her bravado was for? Because she was alive and she couldn’t let down her guard if she was alone. Because no one else was going to help her. 

 

But she wasn’t alone anymore. Not now, not ever again.

 

She sometimes couldn’t believe it. She sometimes couldn’t believe there were people that would stay by her side, no matter what.

 

Like her cousins. Like her mom. Like her dad.

 

He’d gone looking for her. He’d cared she was gone. He’d been sitting her, slathering her with herbs.

 

All for her.

 

Her throat choked, tears welled in her eyes. She could have come home like Towa told her to. Her parents never stopped talking about her, they never pushed her to the shadows. They never stopped defending her.

 

She had a place here. A place to come home to. But she hadn’t come home. She had it, and she didn’t come home to it.

 

“Idiot.” She said. “Moroha’s an idiot.”

 

Shaking his head, Inuyasha corrected. “Not an idiot. You’re not.” He pulled her into his side and while she stiffened at first, she relaxed not long after. “Hard to let down your guard when you get so used to it being up. But you can let it down, Moroha.” He ran a finger down her nose. “I won’t let nothin’ hurt you. And I’m gonna make you feel better.”

 

Sniffing, she opened her mouth and tried to pull in her father’s scent. That was the dog demon side of her smell. His smell was more important than sight.

 

But her stupid nose only pulled in a sampling. “Damn.” She rubbed her nose. “Stupid nose.”

 

Inuyasha didn’t say anything, just smiled and let his claws caress her hair. Just like her mother, she leaned into it. “Just like your Mama. Stubborn and all.”

 

“Mama says I’m just like you.” Came her weary answer. She nuzzled into his side, relishing in the warmth bleeding out from him. It was different warmth than the blankets and she found she preferred it.

 

“You are.” Inuyasha looked at her. “But you’re like your Mama too. She fought being sick too. Nearly had to chuck her back down the well myself to get her to go lay down.” He started to thread his claws through her hair, gently stroking her scalp.

 

Moroha smiled but didn’t answer, closing her eyes and folding her face into her father’s arm. Let down your walls. Let them down. Let them down. You’re not alone, Moroha. Let them down…

 

Inwardly, her mind raced. What about her demon blood? She had to become better to control it. What about her spiritual powers? She had to become better to control those. What about her place in this world? She had to be better, stronger, braver, to claim that. No one will give it to you.

 

But Papa and Mama and Towa, Setsuna. They’ve all made one for me.

 

Not good enough! Don’t be a fool. That annoying voice screamed at her: walls up. Build yourself, be better. Be better first.

 

But…she always had to be better. There was no end to it!

 

“Better.” She spoke it softly, a whisper of a whisper to herself.  “Be better.” Her words came as a slur, her father’s claws in her hair was intoxicating. “Be better.”

 

Inuyasha watched her, gently pushing her loose hairs from her face. She looked miserable. Her nose burned a dark red and her forehead dotted with sweat. She would occasionally tremble and shake and every ounce of his being wanted to take that away. But, without that skill, he settled for holding her close.

 

Hearing that ‘be better,’ cut him.

 

He and Kagome had been trying to combat the lies the world had poured into her head but apparently, there was more to be done. More to fix. Damn you, Sesshoumaru. If we’d been there to raise her, this wouldn’t BE a problem! And damn you too, Koga! You were supposed to protect and instead you let that bitch sell her--

 

Inuyasha’s grinding teeth stalled when his daughter’s breathing went steady but not without a whimper and a wheeze to it. He sniffed and frowned. The fever on her was not abating. The herbal remedies he’d used were keeping it from growing but they weren’t bringing it down.

 

He remembered seeing her mother like this, so many years ago. When he…

 

Realization dawned on his face. Looking down, his daughter shook with chills and curled tight into a ball. He laid a hand to her face and it burned at contact.

 

 “If that’s what you need, Crimson, that’s what I’ll get.”

 

OOO

 

Stepping outside their little hut, Inuyasha chanced a glance behind to see Moroha hadn’t stirred. She was sleeping, with a wheeze, but sleeping. Good.

 

“Girls, come out. I can smell you’re there.” Resting his hands behind his head, the half demon waited. He found he didn’t have to wait too long.

 

Emerging from the trees, Towa and Setsuna both looked a wee bit sheepish though only Towa voiced it. “Didn’t mean to intrude, Uncle Inuyasha.”

 

Inuyasha flinched a bit, as he always did at being called Uncle. Not because he disliked it but because the concept itself was so odd. Yet, these girls—especially Towa—took to it like they’d been saying it their whole lives.

 

What might have been.

 

Despite his still sharp rage at their father, he bore no ill will toward his nieces. In fact, when he’d caught their scent as Moroha drifted off, it worked in his favor.

 

“Came to see Moroha?” He asked.

 

Setsuna nodded. “She’s our friend, not just our cousin. And we know how stubborn she is.”

 

Inuyasha allowed a half smile. “Blame her mom.” He caught a light eye roll from Towa but opted to ignore it. “Could use your help though.”

 

That perked their attention up and Towa stepped forward, head high. “How can we help, Uncle?”

 

“I needa get some medicine for her.” He jerked his thumb behind him. “But I think you both know how stubborn she is. Keep an eye on her for me, would ya?”

 

Towa gave him a firm salute, as if she’d been given the most important task in a war for freedom. “Of course! How is she?”

 

“Fever.” Inuyasha answered truthfully. “Ain’t eating much so if she wakes up see if you can get sone of the porridge into her. Or at least water.”

 

Setsuna finally spoke, her face still and firm. “She will be taken care of.” Adjusting her grip on her weapon, she said, “You have our word.”

 

“Good.” Inuyasha led them inside and sure enough, Moroha was still sleeping though with the occasional cough cutting through her slumber. He knelt and to the two invited girls, it seemed he forgot the rest of the world existed. His eyes were only on Moroha.

 

Stroking her face until her eyes opened lightly, Inuyasha said. “Your cousins are here to keep ya in check. Don’t do anything I’d do.” 

 

Moroha blinked away the sickness and sleep from her eyes. “Where are you going?”

 

“Get you some medicine.” He gently rubbed her head. “Ain’t gonna be long.”

 

Standing, he picked up Tessaiga and headed for the door. Towa called after him.

 

“Granny Kaede is just down the lane. I could go get it.”

 

“Ain’t talking that kind of medicine.” Inuyasha extended his claws a bit. “I’m going for the fresh stuff.”

 

Towa blinked and Setsuna paled a little, looked like she might be sick. Towa had a feeling this was a remedy she’d heard of but if it enough to turn her sister’s stomach, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

 

With a spring forward, Inuyasha vanished into the nearby woods. The twins stood there only a moment more before turning to head indoors.

 

Moroha was half sitting up, though still mostly prone on the futon.

 

Setsuna pulled her naginata, pointing it directly at the girl’s nose. Moroha, to her credit, stopped cold.

 

“Lay. Down.” Channeling a great deal of her father, Setsuna’s command was clear. 

 

“I’m okay.” Moroha insisted but she flopped back down anyway. “Take that thing outta my face.”

 

“Will you stay down?”

 

Moroha glared, stuck out her tongue but ultimately, she caved. “Fine.”

 

Towa shook her head. “You don’t have to prove anything Moroha. We’re friends. We’re worried about you, just like Uncle Inuyasha.”

 

At the mention of her father, Moroha appeared to settle, though uneasiness still rang in her eyes. “Sure he’s not just annoyed?”

 

Setsuna shook her head. “He reeked of worry. You can’t fake that.”

 

Moroha turned to face the wall. 

 

Towa laid a hand on her back. “You don’t have to keep up that hard wall around him. He’s your dad.”

 

“That’s why I have to!” Her voice broke, though certainly unexpectedly. “He’s…I have to show I’m strong around him. You’ve seen how strong he is!”

 

Setsuna frowned. “You don’t have to earn your place with him, Moroha.”

 

“…” Clamping her jaw shut, Moroha stared at the wooden wall, as if it would make everything make sense. “Everyone has to earn their place.”

 

“No.” Towa shook her head. “No, they don’t. I didn’t with Papa Sota. Setsuna didn’t with me. We didn’t with our Mom. You didn’t with your mom—“

 

“And if you’re not strong enough, you endanger those people!” She whirled on them, sweat and tears on her face. “The wolf demon clan was in danger because I had those…moments where my blood was uncontained.”

 

Setsuna frowned. “That was their own fault for breaking the seal. Not yours.”

 

Moroha trembled, both from fever and emotion. “And I was a part human. Reason enough for them to get attacked.”

 

“Prejudice from the other demons.” Towa answered. “Again, not your fault.”

 

“And I would still be in debt to—“

 

“Not even your debt to begin with!” Anger entered Setsuna’s face. “They had no right to settle you with that. Didn’t your dad show you that when he wrecked the place?”

 

A light smile, despite the fever, warmed her eyes. “Yeah. He did.”

Towa heaved a sigh. “See? So, if that wasn’t your fault, do you really think he’d hold you to this standard?”

 

Setsuna sat, holding her weapon close. “You’re the one setting that ridiculous standard.”

 

“It’s not ridiculous—“

 

“We’ve just told you it doesn’t apply here anymore!” Towa grabbed her short hair in frustration. “But why do you cling to it?”

 

Moroha set them both with a glare. Her heart raced but her thoughts were right on the heels. She lay back down, rolled to the wall and said, “I should sleep. I’m sick, remember?”

OOO

Even with her clogged nose, Moroha caught the foul odor and a moment following, the sound of metal on flesh. And coal and fire smoke. Sniffing, she gagged at the putrid scent.

 

“Nasty as shit, ain’t gonna lie.”

 

Blinking, she pondered for a moment how much time she had lost when her father reappeared, a steaming clay mug in his hand. That was where the horrific smell was coming from.

 

Just behind him, she saw her cousins had retreated nearly out the door, with Setuna green in the face with both hands over her mouth. Towa was plugging her nose and looking outside, as if trying to suck in fresh air.

 

“Here.” Her father sat and pushed the mug into her hands. She couldn’t make out what was in it exactly, just that it looked like vomit and smelled just as bad. Her hand went to her nose and mouth.

 

“I know, it smells terrible. Tastes bad too. Better just plug your nose.” Despite his honesty, Inuyasha took her chin in his hand. “But it’ll make you feel better, I promise.”

 

Staring into her cup, Moroha considered. No one would blame her if she refused. After all, even Setsuna looked like she was going to throw up. But, how much time had passed? How long had he been gone? How much was in this?

He wouldn’t lie to her, would he?

 

If he went to this kind of trouble, what kind of weakling would she be to refuse?

 

Grasping her nose tightly, she dunked the cup down her throat. Thick and chunky, she tried not to think about all the possibilities of what she was drinking. Half of them almost felt like they were trying to fight on the way down, as if there were lingering pieces of energy remaining.

 

Keep it down, keep it down!

 

Sweat broke out on her forehead but she swallowed in three attempts before setting the empty cup down. A low gag escaped her mouth and her tongue hung out.

 

“Powerful stuff.” Inuyasha smiled. “But ya handled it better than your mom did.”

 

The praise soothed her spirit and when he pushed her on the shoulder, she made no attempt to fight the gesture to lay down. If anything, keeping that nasty concoction seemed to have zapped what little energy she had left. Her body felt like limp and soggy bread.

 

“You can take the leftover parts to Kohaku or Sango, Setsuna.”

 

Moroha barely caught the conversation with her cousins. In fact, she only heard pieces though she was almost certain she was still awake. But everything felt cloudy, stunted, like sleep was trying to claim her but having a hard time.

 

“Your daughter is the most stubborn creature alive.”

 

“Get to know your aunt more.”

 

Warmth billowed in her body, flooding through her veins and left her feeling light and airy. When she inhaled, her throat and nose no longer protested it. Her limbs themselves felt heavy, weighed down as if drenched in water.

 

Her spirit was light but her body was stone.

 

Sleep wasn’t really much of a choice anymore.

 

OOO

Moroha awoke at the light pressure on her legs. Turning her head, she blinked amid the low light. “Papa?”

 

Inuyasha stopped in mid gesture, removing his hand from where he’d been gently patting her legs. “Buggin’ you?”

 

“Uh uh.” She said quickly. “I…like it.”

 

With a smile, he resumed. “Your grandma used to do it for me and I did it for your Mom when she got sick. Must be a family thing.”

 

Moroha relaxed again and after a moment of lying amid her thoughts, she said, “Sorry, I’ve been a little pain in the ass.”

 

Shrugging, Inuyasha stated, “Only got myself to blame for that. You got it from somewhere.” He stopped, considered then corrected with a head shake. “‘Sides, you ain’t a pain in the ass.”

 

“You really mean that?”

 

“I can’t lie to save my life, Crimson. Ask your mom if you don’t believe me.”

 

“I believe you.” There was always emotion in his eyes—anger, happiness, passion. But never falsity. Settling, she said, “You really aren’t mad at me?”

 

Sighing heavily, Inuyasha moved to sit by her head. “Girl, are your ears working? Didn’t I say I wasn’t?”

 

She didn’t answer. “Towa and Setsuna were talkin’ to me about…this.”

 

Inuyasha simply nodded, still keeping one hand patting her legs. “What’d they say?”

 

Red flushed her face.  “They said I was being silly. Because I don’t hafta prove anything. That I don’t have to be…better.”

 

Closing his eyes, Inuyasha opened them in surprise when Moroha suddenly sat up, pressed tight into his chest and half climbed into his lap. She dug her claws in, as if afraid he would vanish. “Moroha?”

 

“They don’t get it. They don’t. I mean, I know that you said…and Mama said I don’t have to…do that anymore. But that doesn’t mean it stops.” She sighed, frustration bleeding from every pore. “Sorry, I…”

 

“The feelings. The fear that everything you’ve found will go away and it’ll be because of somethin’ you did or didn’t do. The message you get all the time that you’re different and that’s a bad thing. The memories of people being cruel is stronger than the memories of people being kind.”

 

Shock at hearing everything in her head spoken aloud made Moroha look up. “Papa?”

 

“And all you can think of is that you have to be better—smarter, stronger, faster.” Inuyasha looked down at her, laid his chin on top of her head when she pressed closer. “It’s become the way you survive. I get it, Crimson. I get it.”

 

She inhaled, took his scent close and held it in her heart. “Papa, I want to believe you and Mama. I thought I did…I was so sure I did. Then this happened and…”

 

Inuyasha pulled her tight. “Moroha, you ain’t gonna change your thinking overnight. I still do stuff that drives your Mom nuts and she hasta remind me. Sometimes,” he paused, stroked a stray hair from her face, “We all need a reminder.”

 

She buried her face into his chest. “Papa, I want stop thinking about being alone. I’m not alone anymore. But sometimes, I can’t believe it.”

 

“Sometimes, I can’t either.” Inuyasha smiled. “I wake up and hafta check and see that your mom and you are here. I go outside and your cousins come runnin’ up, calling for Uncle and I almost wanna look around for someone else.” He paused, “And when you call me Papa.” His grin took over his entire face. “I neber thought I’d have kids. Didn’t think it was a possibility. Me? But…then I met your mom. Then Shippo. Miroku, Sango. Hell, even managed to make up with Sesshoumaru…a little.” A low growl settled in his throat.

 

Moroha laid close, her father’s beating heart a familiar melody.

 

“And I learned I wasn’t alone anymore. Didn’t have to be. All that pain I went through. It passed.” He ran his claws through her hair, from root to tip. “And you aren’t anymore either. You never should have been in the first place. If I could undo it, I would.”

 

She looked up, rested her chin on his chest and he rested his palms on her cheeks.

 

“Sometimes, I’m gonna be an idiot. Sometimes, your Mom is gonna be too stubborn. Sometimes, you’re gonna jump into things without thinking. But, Moroha, you never are gonna hafta earn anything with me. You’re my Moroha. That’s enough. And it’ll always be enough.” He rested his head on hers, inhaled her scent. “Forget that bullshit about being better. You’re Moroha. That’s enough.”

 

She squirmed a bit closer, laid her temple on his shoulder, curling her legs up entirely. “I’ll work on believing that.”

 

“Guess I’ll just have to keep reminding you.”

 

She closed her eyes, focused on his scent. So much strength in it. Strength that she…she didn’t have to have that strength right now. Because he would. He did.

 

And he wouldn’t let anything happen.

 

“Can I stay here?” Moroha asked suddenly, without really taking the time to wonder why. “Here with you?”

 

Inuyasha laid against the wall, rested his hand in her hair and said, “Long as you want to. Long as you sleep. That medicine’ll work its magic but even it needs help.”

 

“I’ll sleep.” She nuzzled deep into his chest, taking solace in his scent. “I promise.”

 

The two went quiet. The day wore away into twilight and still the two stayed. Moroha was change position or awake suddenly with intrusive thoughts only for Inuyasha to chase them away with a word or a gesture. He would reassure, promise again and help her get comfortable, always without a word of complaint about his numb legs.

 

When Moroha re-settled for the fifth time, Inuyasha cleared his throat and his face turned red. “Do…do you like music, Moroha?”

 

She looked at him, “I do. Setsuna can play the violin really well but I’m not good at that.”

 

“Me either. Never have been. When I was a squirt, my mom would sing.”

 

Moroha smiled, a wistful but happy smile. Settling her head on Inuyasha’s shoulder, she said, “I bet that was nice.”

 

“…it was.”

 

Closing her eyes, Moroha pondered for a moment, that kind of feeling. She bet Rin sang to her cousins. Maybe Mama would sing if she would ask her. Maybe…

 

“If you are filled with sadness, you can lean on me.”

 

Her father’s heavy baritone carried the tune with hesitation, uncertainty, and no small amount of embarrassment. But he sang.

 

Moroha drowned in it.

 

“Come my way, alone in this darkness. Come close to me now, I’ll shine some light.”

 

Moroha heaved a sigh, one of contentedness, of peace, of security.

 

“I’ll be with you. I’ll be with you.”

 

Inuyasha tightened his grip on his daughter, held her as tight as he dared without hurting her. She caved under the touch.

 

“I’ll stay beside you. So come my way.”