Inuyasha ran mindlessly through the forest. He bolted through the underbrush, stumbling over fallen logs and tripping over thick foliage. The mountainside was steep, almost vertical at times, causing the hanyou to need to catch himself on the trees, or face an unstoppable and painful tumble down the rocky mountainside. Passing branches snagged on his robes and whipped in his face, leaving his face littered with welts and small cuts that were replaced almost as fast as they were healed as he crashed through the woods with reckless speed.
He, however, took no note of the landscape around him. His thoughts were raging, a thunderstorm of guilt, grief, and determination. He had left. He had relinquished his place among his newly acquired family. He was alone. Again. By his own choice.
It was for the best, he kept telling himself. It had to be done. His whole life, he had brought those he loved nothing but grief. He was too young to understand when he was with his mother. He watched her suffer the distain of her family and their kin, watched her be branded a whore and a traitor to mankind, simply because he existed.
Kikyo would never have been killed by Naraku if it were not for him. He knew that he had weakened her enmity and thus weakened her defenses against him. It was a weakness, that the monster had used to his advantage.
Even his brother had suffered. He had lost his father because of the birth of his half-blood brother. Inuyasha may scoff at the idea to Sesshoumaru's face, but he could not deny it in his guilt ridden heart.
He could not do that to Koga and the cubs. He could not be the selfish pup he had been in the past. He would not sacrifice their happiness for his comfort. He knew now that he loved them dearly. They had become the most important people in his world now. Koga's kindness and the cub's unconditional love and admiration were addicting. They wrapped around him and enveloped him in a sense of contentment he had never known in his entire existence. He truly thought he could have lived off of those feelings alone.
He would do anything for the people who had wholeheartedly and unquestionably embraced him as their own. If his presence was putting Koga's place as the Alpha at jeopardy, he would leave the caves without complaint. If his place by their side was detrimental to the cub's comfort and happiness, then Inuyasha would not and did not think twice about it. He would disappear and stay out of their lives for their betterment.
He came across a small craggy mountain stream and finally collapsed beside it. He had been running for hours and still had not made it down to the valley. His legs felt rubbery, the half run, half controlled fall he had been doing down the steep rocks having worn him out more than he would have liked. He crawled over to the sparkling brook and scooped handful after handful of frigid water into his mouth and splashed it on his face and neck.
Scooting back and resting against the trunk of a thick and sturdy tree, Inuyasha breathed a sigh full of anguish. Where would he go now? He knew he could not go too far, the bond was still in place, so he could not leave the province. He would, however, need to leave the Northern Wolf tribe's territory. If any of Koga's wolves found him, there could be trouble, for both him and Koga.
Perhaps he would find a semi- permanent place to settle for a while, maybe a cave, or a hollowed out tree. Perhaps he could build a small hut. He had certainly learned how, having helped the villagers build theirs back in Kaede-baba's village. He did not want his leaving to cause pain for the little squirt, so he did not want to move around too much. That might be nice. It would almost be like he had a home.
Having caught his breath, he staggered upright. He rolled his neck, hearing the cracking of bones and popping of joints. He started out at a slower pace this time, having settled some of his thoughts; the storm of feelings, memories, and regrets having died down a bit. He had a plan and he would follow it. If it ever got to be too hard, or too lonely, or too painful, he would just have to remind himself; this was to protect his family.
Koga growled in frustration. Where the hell had his mutt gone? He had been looking all over the caves. He knew the pup was off somewhere pouting, probably whacking some poor defenseless tree to smithereens with that giant sword of his. He remembered that Inuyasha usually left the group for a while when he and Kagome used to get into it, so he figured he would have found him in some isolated room or at the tree line.
After peaking in yet another one of the unused alcoves in the back of the cave, he huffed and turned back to make his way to the Den. He would have to ask one of his wolves if they had seen him slink off somewhere.
His face twisted into a deep scowl. He could not believe his wolves had been so nasty to the hanyou. He was brought into the caves by his own hand and they dared tell the inu that he was not welcome here! They would learn their place or risk his wrath and then possibly expulsion from the tribe. If they would rather wander as lone wolves then reside next to a hanyou, then so be it.
He wondered when Inuyasha had become so important to him. He would fight every wolf in his tribe if it meant he could keep the puppy by his side. He had mated the Ayame because they had been contracted since childhood. She had not been a bad mate. At time she had been fun and interesting, but he delighted in having someone he truly liked with him. Inuyasha was stimulating in mind and body, making him laugh, think, and admire his quick wit and utterly delicious body.
By that token, he really did not understand what the wolves' objection was to the pup. He was helpful, interesting, smart, a good hunter. He would make a perfect border sentry or warrior. He was amazing with the tribe's cubs. He could be a wonderful teacher for the cubs; teaching them survival skills and how to fight in ways that the older wolves did not know, thereby giving them an advantage against those who fought with different styles, thus strengthening the tribe as a whole. He would be an invaluable addition to the clan. So why would they throw that away because he was a half breed?
They had argued with him for hours, saying that he was being controlled by Inuyasha's "hanyou magic". Koga had nearly burst into laughter in the middle of the argument at the comment. Hanyou magic? Koga had never seen the mutt perform any kind of magic in the decades he had known him. Koga smiled with remembered passion. Unless you count that delicious blush, he thought libidinously. Now that is magic if I've ever seen any. He could get me to do anything if I could see that beautiful face flushed in pleasure!
His good mood returned with that train of thought as he reached the main cavern. Looking around, he spotted a group of wolves gathered together over one of the fire pits. They had been the ones who had defended Inuyasha and were still furiously discussing the situation. He approached them with a grateful nod, acknowledging their support.
"Have any of you guys seen Inuyasha about?" he asked. They had not and he turned to ask others.
At the mouth of the cave, one of the Elders caught his eye. He was smirking out into the evening, and leaning against the entrance way. His distinctive crooked-toothed leer was identifiable even from across the Den and Koga recognized him as one of the Elders, Michinaga. Koga shuddered as the tingle of cold dread shot down his spine. He had long ago learned that a smug Elder Michinaga only meant bad news for him. The old man seemed to live to make his life harder. His idea of a favorable rule was of the tyrannical variety and that just did not go along with what Koga was comfortable going.
He sauntered over to the Elder. He did not want to appear suspicious of the man. That usually put people on their guard, making them more careful of what they say and therefore less likely to reveal important information.
The man's red hakama rustled in the growing wind. His black and red lined gi was held closed with a fire bright orange obi that matched his eyes, eyes that turned to his approaching Alpha.
"Ah! Good evening, Chief Koga," Michinaga greeted in silky tones.
"Good evening, Elder," Koga responded. "Have you been aware of the bit of disruption within the caves today?"
"Hmm, yes, I was witnessed the distressing argument over that hanyou. Causing quite a bit of strife, is he not?" the Elder answered, steadily looking at Koga with narrowed eyes.
Koga made a noncommittal noise. He was not about to answer that and start a fight with the man.
"I wonder. You seem to have been here for a while; have you seen Inuyasha either leaving or entering the cave, lately?" Koga looked out at the mountains, as if it was just a casual question, but kept the cunning Elder in his peripheral vision.
"I apologize, Chief Koga, I have not. Perhaps he is taking advantage of our springs or exploring the tunnels," he suggested.
"Very well," Koga relented, "I suppose I will keep asking around."
"You do that, My Lord." The Elder smiled politely to him as he left.
Koga turned and left, looking back at the figure standing at the entrance way, his hands folded behind his back, looking out at the setting sun. There was something about that man. Koga could not let go of the feeling that he was lying about something. He could not decide if he was just imagining treachery in the man or if he really did detect an undertone of smug satisfaction in his voice; if he really did see a glint of humor in his fiery eyes.
Inuyasha finally reached the valley as the sun neared it's the western horizon and the sun chased away the blue and the sky began to turn orange. He was tired and aching from running too fast and having to use muscles in his legs that he did not usually need to use, as he kept himself upright on the steep descent. He had had no time to rest. He was sure many times during his escape that he had heard people following, but as they had yet to make an appearance, he thought it might have been possible it was simply his paranoid imaginings.
Now that he had reached the valley, he figured it was safe to start to set up camp. Of course the only thing he needed for "camp" was a suitable tree and dinner. With that in mind, he set off in a more sedate pace in search of a good kill.
He crouched low in the underbrush and walked silently on padded feet. Years of hunting for survival had honed his ability to be silent as a shadow when he needed to be. His ears twitched to and fro, listening to the subtle sounds of the forest. Snapping twigs and rustling leaves could be signs of the presence of prey or simply a strong wind. He listened to the calls of birds. If there was any big prey in the area, the bird's calls to one another would tell him what. If there was a predator in the area, the bird's calls would become high pitched and agitated. If there was something less dangerous, their calls would be less so, simple trills of notification from one bird to another.
The birds did not fail him this time. The birds overhead let out a song signifying a beast of prey was in the area. He lowered himself closer to the ground, camouflaging himself in the brush. His stark white hair and bright red fire-rat robe were anything but helpful in the endeavor, but there was nothing he could do about his hair and the robe was his only garment and one of his most precious possessions, so he had learned long ago to figure out how to compensate for them.
The beast trotted unawares into the clearing in front of Inuyasha. It was a good sized Mountain Dragon, much bigger than he needed for himself, but much smaller than they got when fully grown. He was not turning down a full belly, even if he did end up wasting most of it.
He deftly pounced on it, tackling it to the ground and breaking its neck for a quick and painless kill. Kneeling beside it, he sliced through the tough skin of its underbelly and began to feed. It was still warm and fresh, much better than the stuff he had eaten back in the caves, which was sometimes dried or would be cold by the time the hunters returned. He tried not to think about the fact that he would gladly live the rest of his live eating sand if it meant he could live happily with his family.
Inuyasha froze, however, with a handful of meat half way to his mouth, as he heard the faint sounds of other people. His ears swiveled on his head, listening to the low murmur of voices. Dropping his meat, he climbed the nearest tree and crawled branch to branch to get closer to the source of the voices without being detected.
A small distance from his kill, he stopped, crouching on an overhanging branch as he came upon a small group of youkai. He sniffed them out and studied the five individuals below. His eyes widened in recognition. Sitting on the ground was the group of young wolves who were cast out of the caves a month ago for attacking him.
They huddled together over a small fire. Some were resting on nearby trees; others huddled in on themselves, as if cold. Their clothing was tattered and muddy. Their faces were gaunt, much thinner than when they had left the caves.
Pathetic, Inuyasha thought with mild distain. He could not work himself to be overly contemptuous of them. He knew well how hard it was to fend for yourself without the knowledge to do so well, from being run out of his home when he had been a small child. These wolves had little excuse, though. They were well past the age where they should know these things, but had been spoiled by the help of their families and clansmen.
Inuyasha was about to slink off to finish his meal and get out of the area before they discovered him, when he was halted by the voice of one of the wolves.
"Urgh! I will be so happy to be home!" a heavily built wolf exclaimed, slumping back onto a tree. "I'm so tired of being hungry. We haven't been able to catch anything to eat in more than a week!"
The wolves murmured agreement in tired tones.
"Well, the forest in starting to look familiar. I bet we could make it home by nightfall tomorrow," offered a relatively young one. He was quite skinny. The wolves had obviously had not been distributing what little food they had been able to get equally. Inuyasha had a feeling he knew just who bullied the most food out of their supplies. His suspicions were confirmed when the stringy haired ringleader, Tametoki, produced a small gourd filled with water. He gulped down a swallow.
"May I have a sip, Toki?" the smallest wolf asked timidly.
Tametoki sneered at him, the scowl creasing his face and extenuating his over large nose. "There ain't enough here. You'll just have to wait 'til we cross another stream, Tsunekuni."
The little wolf relented and looked at the ground. Inuyasha growled quietly. The pompous asshole! He whipped away for the clearing and back to his food.
Tsunekuni rested his chin on his knees and drew pictures in the dirt with a small twig, trying to ignore the growling ache in his empty stomach. He had been trying to fill it with water whenever they came upon a body of water. It had helped alleviate the empty feeling for a while, but he was starting to feel the effects of expending so much energy without food.
Suddenly a loud thump broke him from his ruminations. He looked up in shock like the rest of his comrades at the large dragon carcass that had landed in the middle of their encampment. The wolves descended on the fresh meat with hunger fueled greed.
Tsunekuni, knowing he would not be allowed access to the meat until the other had had their fill, looked up into the tree tops. The sun was now hidden behind the horizon and the sky was a dark purple. The tree tops were barley visible. A light rustling of leaves drew his attention and Tsunekuni watched with wide violet eyes as a figure in distinctive red robes with white hair disappeared into the dense foliage and encroaching darkness.
The next morning Inuyasha woke late in the morning, having found a wonderful spot to sleep that was thick with leaves that blocked the morning sun from his eyes rather effectively. He swatted away a few ants that had crawled over him, tickling his exposed neck, and stretched lazily in the late morning sun, already bright and warm with the oncoming of summer. Scratching absently as he surveyed his surroundings with bleary eyes, he was taken completely by surprise when clawed hands gripped at his robe and yanked him to the ground, hard.
Inuyasha's breath whooshed out of him as it was forced from his lungs with the force of his fall and he was momentarily stunned by the impact. Seemingly out of nowhere, three large wolves pounced on him. They were well muscled, wore the typical fighting furs and armor of the wolf clans, and worked together as if they had trained together. Strapped around each of their hips, a small and well cared for tanto hung from leather holsters. These wolves were obviously not like the last group that had dared to attach the hanyou; these were warriors, trained and dangerous.
One grabbed him by the lapels of his hitoe and bodily threw him into a tree. His head slammed into the sold trunk. His face scrapped against the ruff bark as he slid to the ground, leaving his face bruised and bloody.
Taking advantage of his disorientation, he was grabbed up by two of the warriors. They held his arms, one seizing a handful of hair and pulling his face up to face the third warrior in front of him. As he dazedly met the wolf's hate filled eyes, he was hit by a powerful punch across the jaw, the crack of the bone resounding loudly in the quiet morning.
Before he could recover, the wolf snapped his head the other way with a punch to the other cheek, followed by a painful kick to the ribs. The wolves holding him up dropped him. He lay on the ground, panting in painful gasps, trying to orient himself.
"Get up, beast!" one warrior demanded in a low and threatening growl. He clenched his fists and stood ready to fight.
Inuyasha spit out a mouthful of blood, determined not to cry out his agony as he raised himself from the ground. He hated when people attached out of nowhere. I must have gotten too comfortable, he thought bitterly, I let down my guard and this is what happens. Got too relaxed in those caves.
He stood as tall as he could, ignoring the stab of pain from his obviously badly bruised ribs. He swayed on his feet, the pain from the broken bones of his face and the spitting headache from the impact combining to disorient him, as he reached for his sword. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind and his doubling vision, and quickly took his battle stance.
The three wolves unsheathed their long daggers and crouched low. They smirked. The hanyou was at a disadvantage in the close-range fight. In the closed off space in the middle of the woods, his long range and high powered attacks were fairly useless, whereas the wolves' twelve inch swords and tactile fighting styles were made specifically for this environment.
"Hanyou, you have been declared an enemy of the Northern Wolf Tribe. As such, you will now be exterminated, by order of Chief Koga of the Northern Territories and the Northern Wolf Tribe Council of Elders," the wolves grinned maliciously. "Stand down and accept your death honorably."
Inuyasha jerked back as if he had been slapped. Koga? Koga wants me dead? Inuyasha's thoughts whirled furiously in his head. I knew I was causing trouble but… it thought we were family?
Inuyasha's stance faltered in his shock, giving the wolves their chance to attack. Inuyasha blocked the oncoming swings. The Tetsusaiga's powers might have been useless to him at the moment, but the sword was big and strong with the strength of Inuyasha's powerful body behind it.
The three wolves were faster than the hanyou, however, the smaller swords more easily maneuverable and their training in wrestling and guerrilla tactics proving invaluable. They hacked away at the inu, keeping him in a defensive position and preventing him from being able to take a swing at them. The constant onslaught of three against one finally left the hanyou open. One of the small swords struck him, slicing through his left flank and across the tender flesh of his belly. Inuyasha curled reflexively in pain, trying to protect his wounded side from further harm. He lowered his sword, leaving his upper body vulnerable. Crouched to the side, his neck and shoulder was left exposed to the swipe of their blades.
One of the warriors leapt up, intent on swinging a killing blow, from above, across his neck. He brought the dagger down with enough force to decapitate the young hanyou, only to be stopped inches from his flesh by a crossing katana.
The wolf, taken aback, raised startled eyes to the sword's wielder. The demon was heavily armored in a mainland style cuirass with an attached spiked pauldron , yet outfitted in a delicate and richly designed kimono. His regal bearing was accentuated by a snow white fur that hung elegantly over one shoulder and brilliant silver tresses framed a face unequalled in beauty, with magenta markings on his cheeks and eyelids. If the warriors had been confused as to who stood before them, looking back at them with a seemingly impassive and bored expression, the midnight blue symbol of a waning crescent moon left his identity clear to all who wished to know.
This was a daiyoukai of the House of the Moon. This was the first born son of the Great Inu no Taisho. This was the Lord of the Western lands. This was the Sesshoumaru-sama.
The wolves stared at the newcomer with surprised awe, unsure if they should attack or not. Inuyasha looked up from his bent stance and his eyes widened.
"Are you so pathetic that you cannot fight off a few barbarous, lowbred wolves, little brother?" Sesshoumaru drawled in an unaffected monotone, never taking his eyes from the wolf warriors. The wolves growled in offence.
Inuyasha scuttled from underneath the crossing swords and moved to the side of his half-brother. He had not seen Sesshoumaru in a few years, and was enjoying it quite honestly, but he would certainly not turn down the help. It was embarrassing. If he had not been blindsided, he could have taken these wimpy wolves on, easy. He was sure of it. To have his stinking brother be witness to his thorough ass beating was just more of his awful luck. He would, however, take that over having his head detached from his neck any day. He was rather fond of it where it was.
"Pathetic hanyou. It seems it truly was luck after all that has kept you alive to be a thorn in my side all these years," Sesshoumaru stated. He narrowed his eyes at the three wolves. "And you. You dare attempt to take my kill? No one has the right to correct my father's mistake but this Sesshoumaru."
Inuyasha inwardly snarled. Damn asshole still spoutin' that shit? Still, he would take Sesshoumaru over these guys right now. At least this was providing a moment for him to catch a breath and figure out what to do next.
"This abomination is destined for death by order of the Northern Wolf Chief," growled out the leader of the wolves. "Step aside, good Lord, this is Northern Wolf business."
"You presume too much, wolf filth. The death of this hanyou is this Sesshoumaru's obligation alone," Sesshoumaru asserted.
"We were here first!" the wolf roared and swiped at the Lord of the Western lands.
The daiyoukai easily blocked the assault and deftly parried his Tokijin through the forest air, effortlessly cutting through the wolf's leather armor and across his chest. He keeled over, holding his chest as blood poured from the deep wound. The other two came forward, each wielding their short tanto.
This time the wolves were at a disadvantage. Their short swords were not long enough to reach the inu youkai, and Sesshoumaru's katana was both longer and lighter than Inuyasha's and therefore easier to maneuver in the wooded area they fought in. That, combined with his flowing mastery of the art of the sword meant that Sesshoumaru's victory was assured and quickly met.
The last wolf fell to the ground in a bloody heap as the Lord of the Western Lands turned to his brother with a stony mask, lifting one elegant brow. He flicked the blood from his sword and sheathed it before gracefully approaching his hanyou half-brother.
"Little brother, I should kill you like the dog you are for the dishonor you bring to our father's House; to fall to a couple of primitive and lesser youkai as that."
Inuyasha scowled up at the demon Lord from where he sat against a tree, holding his punctured side. "Yeah well, they caught me sleepin! I'd've got 'em eventually!" he groused, his voice garbled due to his injured jaw. "What do you care, huh? They'd a done you a favor!"
"Remember, Inuyasha, you are mine to kill," Sesshoumaru leaned forward as if to press the point before leaning back and appearing to survey the hanyou with disinterest. "Heal hanyou. It would be wholly unsatisfying to kill you while you are unable to fight full strength."
With that, Sesshoumaru turned on his heel and walked away. Inuyasha watched him go with a curious mixture of relief and resignation. His older brother had always calmly walked in and out of his life, always bringing out deep fear and heart-wrenching longing for any familiar bonds.
Inuyasha leaned his head back against the ruff bark of the tree. His face was swollen and crusted in dried blood, the scrapes on the side of his face almost completely healed but the bones still broken. He clutched his side, trying to stem the flow of blood and taking careful breaths so as not to unduly cause himself anymore pain. To Inuyasha, however, all of that fell to the background. He had felt physical pain far beyond this many times before. He swallowed hard. The true pain came from the betrayal from his family, the betrayal from Koga.