Second Alliance – Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: Opening Negotiations

“How was your trip, Kaede-sama?” Miroku asked from his spot against the wall of the hut. Kaede had been gone for several days at the request of another village that had no healer. Kagome hurried to relieve the elder priestess of her basket of supplies. She noted with worry that Kaede looked tired. Her single eye was sunken and her mouth pinched at the corners.

“Ashai village has also shown signs of the new illness,” Kaede replied without inflection.

“That makes three villages in two weeks.” Sango sat back from the soup she was stirring and shared a glance with Miroku. “It is moving south.”

“If it continues at this rate, it will reach Edo in another week or so,” the monk noted thoughtfully.

“Did any of the new medicines we made help, Kaede-sensei?” Kagome asked hopefully. She began unloading the basket, putting away herbs and ointments.

Kaede settled herself with a sigh and the creak of old bones, gratefully accepting the bowl of soup Sango offered. She took a few sips without speaking, and Kagome’s worry increased. Since Naraku had been defeated and the jewel made whole, she had begun serious training under Kaede as a healer and priestess. She was able to use the well only on the new moon, and so trips home were regular but far-between. She had finished high school, barely, and begun a distance course in nursing. Studying in the feudal era was surprisingly easy, even with her additional lessons from Kaede, since she was no longer constantly travelling and under attack from youkai. She had even found time to try several new remedies for the strange illness that had been reported in other villages.

“The meadowsweet tincture you have been working on seems to reduce their discomfort.” Kaede met Kagome’s eyes with a serious expression and the younger woman felt her hope sinking. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the sick can fight off the illness on their own. Without something to attack the underlying disease, I fear there is not much we can do but wait.”

“But there are so many…” Kagome trailed off and swallowed.

In the villages that had reported the new illness, one in every two people got sick. Of those, so far, one in three died. She knew there might be another treatment in the future that could help, but she was torn over going to find it. She would have to see the victims herself to be able to research the disease effectively, and that would run the risk of catching the illness and potentially transmitting it to the future.

Even if she managed to find out what was causing the outbreak and discover a cure, there was no way of knowing if she could obtain or manufacture enough to be of any use. She had discussed the problem of time travel with Miroku many times, and they had both agreed that she could use her future knowledge with relative freedom. She had been doing so for more than three years without any serious repercussions, but the fewer things she brought back from the future and used on the general population the better. Even her modern medicines she had not administered outside of the group. Instead, she did her best to replicate them with natural substances that could be found in the feudal period. Ground and distilled meadowsweet had made an acceptable substitute for aspirin.

“I’ll try to learn more when I go back tomorrow, Kaede-sensei. Do you think you could help Shippo draw a picture of the rash you saw?”

Kaede nodded, and Kagome waved off Sango’s offer of supper in favor of going outside to find Shippo. The kit had been doing some training of his own, with, surprisingly, Inuyasha. Since Naraku’s death and Kikyou’s second, and hopefully final, funeral, Inuyasha had lost some of his anger. He still acted like an idiot a lot of the time, but when Kagome calmly requested that he teach Shippo the basics of hunting and tracking he had agreed. In exchange, he would receive no more than one ‘sit’ per day – unless it would save someone from mortal danger. The two were sitting on the edge of the forest, talking quietly about scents and wind direction when she approached.

“Kagome-mama!” The kit jumped up and grinned.

“Did you learn lots today, Shippo?” She couldn’t help but smile at his bubbly excitement, despite the serious situation worrying her.

“Inuyasha-nichan showed me how to use the wind to disguise my location!”

“Stop callin’ me that, ya stupid!” Shippo barely managed to dodge a blow from the hanyou’s fist. Kagome had to put a hand over her mouth to hide her smile; Inuyasha did not appreciate being called ‘big brother’.

The lessons had started out rocky, but Inuyasha had gradually grown to tolerate teaching Shippo all of the things he had been forced to learn by trial and error. He would never admit it, but Kagome suspected that he took pride in the young demon’s successes. In turn, Shippo had stopped playing quite as many tricks on Inuyasha, and didn’t tattle to Kagome as often either. He had found a new method of teasing his new sensei, though.

“Stop calling you what, Inuyasha-nichan?” He smiled in mock innocence and Kagome interrupted Inuyasha’s growl before they could break into a real argument.

“Shippo, supper is ready.” She snagged his collar before he could run back to the hut. “After you eat, please help Kaede with a drawing I need. It has to be done before I visit my mother tonight.” The kit nodded and took off as soon as she let go. Kagome sighed and sat down next to Inuyasha.

“The medicine didn’t work, eh?” he said.

“How did you-” Inuyasha pointed to one furry ear and Kagome smiled sadly. “I suppose Shippo heard too?”

“Kit’s ears ain’t as good as mine, and he was kinda busy.” He paused and stared into the village.

Kagome enjoyed the comfortable silence. She had stopped trying to start a romantic relationship with Inuyasha shortly before Naraku was destroyed. Sometime after Kikyou’s funeral, her heart had stopped pining as well. She loved him, she really did. And she knew he loved her, but Inuyasha was still feeling the grief of his loss. Even once his heart had healed, Kagome doubted he would ever be able to feel that way about her. She reminded him too much of his first love. They were friends, best friends. And that was enough – more than most people, especially hanyous, had.

“When we go back, I’m going to see what I can find out about this disease. With Shippo’s drawing and Kaede’s description, hopefully I can figure out what it is and what we can do to slow it down.”

“And if ya can’t?”

Kagome shivered in the slanting sunlight. Night was approaching faster as summer had faded and autumn was fully entrenched in the village. Inuyasha had seen more death and destruction than anyone else she knew – except maybe his brother, although she suspected most of that was Sesshomaru’s own doing. Her friend had lived through the desperate, horrifying, famine-ridden Warring States Period, but she knew there was no way he could imagine the kind of world-wide destructive force of some diseases. She wasn’t sure she could explain to anyone in the feudal era the magnitude of thousands of deaths from yellow fever, hundreds of thousands of deaths by influenza, or millions of deaths from bubonic plague.

“We will quarantine Edo. It will make for a long winter, but the crops will be harvested in the next few weeks, and then we can wait for the cold weather to stop the traffic between villages. Once the disease has no way to spread, it will die out in those places it has already infected. I did tell Kaede to advise the villages to burn the clothes and futons of the infected along with the bodies – just in case.”

“They won’t all listen.”

“It is the best I can do, for now.” Kagome sighed, then straightened her shoulders. She would do her absolute best to keep her friends safe, and to prevent the suffering of others. “I’ll come up with something, Inuyasha.”

“Keh. We’ll figure it out…” He nudged Kagome with his shoulder and she smiled.

ooo

“It’s okay, Sesshomaru-sama. Rin will-” A hacking cough interrupted the little girl and Sesshomaru found himself frowning. He quickly wiped the expression off of his face. His ward used a scrap of cloth to clean the pink mucus from her nose and mouth. “Rin will be better soon,” she assured him in a raspy voice. “Jaken is bringing tea for Rin, and then she will feel good again.”

“Quiet, Rin.” She ceased her rambling immediately and relaxed into the generous blankets of the futon.

He noted that her skin was much paler than usual. He placed his palm on her forehead. She was very hot for a human, but she still shivered and struggled to pull the covers further over her narrow shoulders. Her eyes slid closed, and his frown returned. It was not strange for Rin to contract an illness. In the nearly four years he had travelled with her, she often had runny noses and sore throats. She was always better within a week or so, less if they were at the castle and she received adequate rest and warm food and drink.

This disease had been different. It had not been contracted while walking the lands in cold weather or by associating with human villagers who did not bathe as they should. No. This illness had begun among the demons at the castle. Rin seemed to get worse once she began to show symptoms and she progressed faster than any of the demons had. The sixth night of her illness was well underway.

His frown deepened. Illness among youkai was not unheard of, but it was very rare. However, he had never seen a disease that affected both demons and humans. Even more troubling, it did not appear to be something that his healers could successfully treat. He’d sent close-mouthed messengers to the east and south, searching for medical scrolls or information of a similar illness. To the north he had sent nothing. He did not trust even his most secretive vassals under the suspicious eyes of the North. No weakness could be perceived by his enemies – not that the West had anything to fear from any of the other three lords of Japan. His thoughts were interrupted by the sliding of the shoji screen.

“My Lord,” Jaken bowed and scraped in his usual obsequious manner.

Sesshomaru cleared his face of all expression, settling the cold mask over his features that inspired fear in his allies and enemies alike. The toad knelt on the floor, bowing low to touch his head to the wooden boards. “I regret to inform you that the kitchen maid has died.”

Sesshomaru considered this news carefully. The illness that had struck his servants and some of the inhabitants of the nearby youkai village was puzzling and worthy of attention in its singularity. However, record of demon deaths from disease was almost unheard of. The matter elevated with the news of a single mortality to have his utmost attention. Treatment and cure would be his first priority, above even concealing this news from his allies in the East and South. It had not yet escalated to the point where he needed to consider extreme measures, such as requesting assistance. He would resolve the situation before such a distasteful thing occurred.

“Jaken,” he intoned, “you will-”

He was interrupted by a sharp, bitter smell, immediately followed by retching. Rin had barely managed to hang her head over the edge of the futon before she emptied the contents of her stomach. She hadn’t eaten much recently, so the result was mostly bile. Sesshomaru flicked his eyes to the toad, who quickly stood and held back the girl’s hair. He squawked and accused her of making a mess, but his little claws were gentle as he patted her mouth dry and helped her to lie down.

“Sorry, Jaken-sama, Sesshomaru-sama,” she mumbled. He leaned down to press his hand against her hair, knowing the small gesture would comfort her greatly.

“Jaken, you will stay with Rin while This Sesshomaru-” He hesitated, staring at his young ward.

“My Lord?” Jaken squawked.

Sesshomaru ignored his inquiry, staring at Rin’s pale face and open mouth. His keen eyesight found something which accomplished a feat that no enemy had ever managed – a tingle of fear slid down his spine. The tongue and inner cheeks of the little girl were covered in raised, dark red bumps, dotted with white in the center.

The same rash had covered the dead kitchen maid from head to toe.

ooo

Shippo felt like his stomach was trying to climb its way out of his mouth. His knees shook and his heart was beating fast. He knew that the daiyoukai could smell his fear, but he had to ignore it. Sesshomaru was the most powerful youkai Shippo had ever met, maybe even the most powerful in Japan. The fur draped around him, larger even than when he had traveled with their group, indicated his wealth and status. For demons, it was also a display of his strength.

The villagers had stopped their work and stood in shocked, frightened silence, when Sesshomaru had appeared in the center of the village. An orb of light had streaked across the sky. The subsonic echo of impact was followed by a swirling wave of youki that scattered the other children and forced Shippo to the ground. He stood as soon as he’d realized what was happening. Instinct told him that cowering before a predator like Sesshomaru would be deadly.

“Sesshomaru-sama,” he managed without squeaking. He tilted his head to the side out of respect.

Miroku skidded to a stop at the edge of the path, panting from his run. Sango had felt the youkai presence as well. She turned quietly from her place by Kaede’s hut where she had been giving instructions to the villagers on building a wall to quarantine the village. Although Kirara had already transformed at her side, she didn’t have Hiraikotsu with her, and Shippo gulped. Sesshomaru had been their ally against Naraku; hopefully he wasn’t ready to end that alliance.

“Sesshomaru-sama,” Miroku said quietly. He bowed deeply out of respect and addressed the powerful demon. “To what do we owe the great honor of-”

“Bring me the priestess,” Sesshomaru interrupted Miroku and Shippo felt fear pinch his throat. The daiyoukai had gained a distant respect for the future girl while they traveled together. He even seemed to listen to her suggestions, although he didn’t acknowledge them. He wouldn’t hurt her, my human mama; there is no reason for him to hurt Kagome-okasan.

“Kaede-sama is not in the village at the moment. Perhaps I can-”

“The miko, Monk.” His voice left no room for objection. They all knew who he was referring to, and if Miroku continued to avoid the subject, Sesshomaru would not be pleased.

“Kagome isn’t here either, Sesshomaru-sama,” Shippo blurted. Golden eyes focused on him and the pinch of fear grew into a claw that threatened to choke him completely. “She – she went with Inuyasha to visit her home.” A protective feeling pushed against the terror that the inuyoukai inspired and words tumbled out of the kit’s mouth before he could pull them back. “You can’t hurt her!” He clapped both hands over his lips and stared at the daiyoukai with wide eyes. I am so dead.

Sesshomaru stood in silence for a moment, before finally taking a deep breath through his nose. A shadow of distaste crossed his features, and then he streaked down the well-worn path to the well, leaving a cloud of dust behind him.

Shippo was quick to follow him, and Sango, Kirara, and Miroku were not far behind. The demon perched on the edge of the well, staring into the dry depths. The others hesitated, but Shippo stepped forward, careful not to step on the yellow bag and empty pot stacked against the old wood. “She’ll be back tonight.”

“What magic is this?” Sesshomaru did not look at them, and the question went unanswered. Shippo glanced at Sango and Miroku, who seemed to be trying to decide if they should reveal Kagome’s secret. “Kit.” His deep order tingled Shippo’s spine with a youki command.

Shippo wanted to tell him, he had to tell him. Secret, secret! Kagome’s secret! He felt the knowledge trying to force its way out under the heavy weight of Sesshomaru’s power. A low growl pushed against the kitsune’s will, instinct driving him to give in, to obey the command of one far more powerful than him.

“If I tell, you can’t hurt Kagome!” As though the daiyoukai had been taken by surprise, his power hesitated, and Shippo could take a deep breath without feeling compelled to bend to Sesshomaru’s will. “Or the well,” he continued in a more even voice. “Or us,” he gestured to himself, Sango and Miroku. “Or Kaede…or Inuyasha,” he added as an afterthought.

There was a long, pregnant pause.

“This Sesshomaru has no desire to waste time on such insignificant lives.”

Shippo decided that was as good as a promise as he was going to get. Before Miroku could interfere or Sesshomaru could reassert his dominance, he gave in. “The well transports Kagome to her home. It is the only way to get there, and only she and Inuyasha can use it.” No need for him to know when Kagome is from. “They left last night and they’ll be back before nightfall.”

“This Sesshomaru has need of the miko now.”

Shippo decided it was telling that Inuyasha’s scary older brother didn’t even blink at the news that Kagome needed to use a magical portal to get home – or that it was disguised as an old well.

“Unfortunately, we have no way of retrieving Kagome-sama sooner, Sesshomaru-sama. She will return when she returns.” Miroku paused, and Shippo felt a spark of admiration for the monk who did not flinch under the cold gaze of the tall demon. “Perhaps we may be of assistance in her absence? Or we may pass along a message for you when she returns, if you do not wish to wait.”

“She will not return sooner.”

Sesshomaru’s monotone made it difficult to tell if it was a question or a statement, but Miroku smoothly answered, “That would be most unusual.” Before the monk could make his offer of help again, a turbulent swirl of youki exploded and Sesshomaru disappeared in a ball of light. Shippo was the first to turn back to the well, peering over the side in the hope that Kagome had decided to come back early. Only the cool darkness stared back at him.

“What do you think he wants with Kagome-chan?” Sango asked worriedly.

“It is difficult to say,” Miroku answered. “However, I believe we should make every attempt to alert Kagome and Inuyasha to Sesshomaru’s intent to seek her out – prior to the return of the Western Lord.”

“Especially Inubaka,” Shippo muttered to himself. As much as he had enjoyed the past year with the calmer, more brotherly hanyou, he didn’t think that attitude would last long in the daiyoukai’s presence. Once their fight started, it wouldn’t end until Sesshomaru had something better to do or Inuyasha was too exhausted or injured to continue. Worse than kids, Shippo groused.

The two adults continued with their own conversation. “I really think someone should stay here, but the villagers need help with the new wall if they are going to get it started correctly.”

“I agree, Sango, my dear; they need your expertise. I have not yet finished preparing the letters to the nearby shrines to notify them of the illness. If I hurry, I may be able to return to the well before nightfall, but if they should return sooner-”

“I’ll stay,” Shippo volunteered. “Since Sesshomaru has been here, the mothers will all want to keep their kids close anyhow, so I won’t have anyone to play with. I’ll wait for Kagome.”

“Thank you, Shippo,” Sango smiled. “I’m sure Kagome would rather see you first.”

“Certainly, you may be the best watch we could set,” Miroku mused. Shippo was suspicious of the gleam in the monk’s eyes. “And if Sesshomaru returns before Kagome, he is far less likely to murder Rin’s one-time playmate than one of us. Come, Sango.”

The two left with a transformed, small Kirara and only a wave over their shoulders and Shippo slumped against the well. Hurry back Kagome!

ooo

“No way! I’ll take these clothes back with me!”

“Be reasonable, Inuyasha,” Kagome tried again. “If you take those clothes back, they’ll have to stay in the feudal era. There is no sense in Mama having to buy you more clothes here, and they shouldn’t stay in that time anyway. It is a waste!”

“I did everything you asked this time, I even wore those stupid Rubs-”

“Scrubs,” Kagome corrected.

“Whatever. I wore those weird things to steal the medicine you needed, but I ain’t jumpin’ back naked, and that’s final!” Inuyasha turned his back on her and Kagome stared at the cobwebbed ceiling of the well house and counted to ten. Don’t sit him. Don’t sit him.

“Inuyasha,” she began, then took a deep breath. “Inuyasha, I know that all this stuff about disease and bacteria is a lot for you to understand all at once, if you need me to-”

“You think I’m stupid?” He glared at her, the smallest gleam of hurt in his eyes. “I get it. ‘Cause Kaede was near the sick humans and then we were near her, the sickness might have got on our clothes. That’s why you made us leave our old stuff there and why you told me to pour that fuckin’ hot water over my head.”

Told him to- Kagome’s eyes widened in fear. She had made Inuyasha turn his back while she stripped and scrubbed with hot water before she jumped in the well. She’d told him to count to five hundred before he jumped in. As soon as she had arrived in the future, she had run through the darkness to the laundry line and wrapped up in the first thing she grabbed – which happened to be a sheet. She’d tossed one of her grandpa’s robes in the well house for Inuyasha, and when he came out, he looked wet. But in the darkness and with his hair black because of his human time…

“You did it, didn’t you, Inuyasha? Please, please! This is so important-”

“Feh, ‘course I did. Keh. If anybody took my fire rat while we were gone, wench-”

“Okay, okay.” Kagome waved him off, suddenly sagging in relief. She had taken the extra precaution before leaving the feudal era just in case whatever flu strain or illness the villagers had was still dangerous in the future. After she had completed her research that morning…she shuddered, unwilling to even think about what could have happened.

“I still don’t see why you can take your clothes back but I-”

“I always wear future clothes in the feudal era, Inuyasha. Everything I have left there will stay there from now on, including these,” she pulled at her old tank top and button up shirt. “That’s why I am wearing my oldest clothes. Mama paid a lot of money for what you have on so you would have something to wear while – argh!” She threw up her hands in the air, completely frustrated. “We don’t have time to stand here arguing about this, Inuyasha! If you don’t care if Miroku and Sango see you in your future clothes, I will explain to Mama. Just get going!”

She pointed at the well, knowing she was yelling loud enough that anyone at the shrine could hear her but unable to stop herself. Inuyasha narrowed his eyes, and Kagome prepared to have to ‘sit’ him to get past him and jump down the well. His lids lowered, and he looked down at his own clothes. Dark jeans, which he always complained were too tight but which Kagome and her mother agreed were perfect for him, were topped by a red t-shirt that outlined his muscles more than was intended after an accident with the dryer. A blush rose on his cheeks.

“Fine!” He barked out. “Turn around and count.”

If she hadn’t been so preoccupied with what she knew about the feudal illness and the supplies she had packed in her new bag, she would have smiled at his capitulation. Instead, she turned to face the closed well house door and began a quiet count. “One. Two. Three. Four-” At twenty-five a blue light flashed behind her. Kagome got to almost two hundred before she lost the battle with her anxiety.

“It isn’t like I haven’t seen him naked before. He’ll get over it,” she mumbled to herself. She dropped down the well, eager for the surge of power that would carry her to the people who needed her help more desperately than they could ever know.

ooo

Sesshomaru stared at the little kit, his face impassive. Despite his warning and Jaken’s near constant threats, the kitsune appeared to be edging closer to the God Tree. Rin lay between the roots on a thick blanket, quiet and still except for the occasional racking cough, wrapped in furs and his own mokomoko. When he’d realized that the miko was not in the village, and accepted that he had no way to retrieve her but must wait – and that galled him nearly as much as it angered him – he had returned to the castle to risk moving Rin closer to the miko.

He’d flown back to Edo on his cloud, carrying his ward while Jaken followed on Ah-Un. Rin needed treatment immediately. If the miko does not return by nightfall, I will… Sesshomaru forcibly relaxed his claws and turned his mind from thoughts of ripping the well apart to fetch the strangely powerful priestess who followed his imbecilic half-brother. She would return, and Rin was close enough that the miko could begin treatment immediately.

However…he sent out a low pulse of youki in warning. The fox demon ceased his cautious movements forward. The disease could be spread by proximity, that much was obvious. It would not do to have the kit pick up the disease and carry it to Edo and other human villages.

Technically, Inuyasha’s forest and the nearby village were in the East, but they bordered his lands, and as Inuyasha was part of his – Sesshomaru let out a long breath and reordered his thoughts. Rin would also be less happy if her playmate were ill once she was well again. Humans seemed to be healthier when they were happy. That was reason enough to keep the kit away.

He noted the darkening sky and turned his eyes to the old well. Behind him, Rin’s breath was difficult. His sensitive ears could not help but pick out the slow beats of her heart as she slept. The thick, watery sound of air in her lungs. His nose had to search for her light, grassy scent – only recently tinged with a deeper floral note – under the thick, sanguine smell of her illness. A bitter, metallic taste was in the air around her. The knowledge that neither the Meidō nor Tenseiga would be able to return her to this plane if she died again was a constant, irritating pressure against his mind. He refused to dwell on such thoughts and instead began devising ways to distract the hanyou while the miko healed Rin. He had decided he would vent his considerable frustration on his half-brother’s skull, and then his senses demanded his attention.

Power. Pure, unadulterated power with no taint of good or evil exploded into being in the clearing around the well. A blue light flashed briefly, and then all traces of magic disappeared. Sesshomaru, had he been a lesser youkai, would have been stunned speechless. As he was a daiyoukai without compare, he considered the circumstances in stoic silence. He had not detected any deceit from the humans or the kit when they told him of the portal, but the amount of power the well displayed was far beyond what he had expected.

He would reflect on the nature of this artifact used by the miko another time, when he was not distracted by the scent of angry inuhanyou. Angry…embarrassed inuhanyou? In a blur of movement that was incomprehensible to any eyes other than his, Inuyasha leapt from the well and crouched behind it, next to a yellow bag. The half-demon was quite naked.

“Jeez! What happened to your clothes, Inuyasha?” The kit’s tail twitched in discomfort and anxiety. “Kagome sit you straight out of them, or what?”

“Shut up,” Inuyasha growled. “Just…don’t say anything to the monk about this – or you’ll regret it!”

Sesshomaru was in the unusual position of containing a smirk. He was grateful the wind kept his scent from the well. The hanyou would not be any trouble in that condition while the miko… A quiet, short growl escaped his calm facade. Where was the miko?

“Inuyasha,” he said coldly, stepping out from under the shadows of the Goshinboku and immediately garnering the hanyou’s attention. “I require the miko.”

Inuyasha’s ears flattened and he dropped his hands from the buckles of the bag to grab Tessaiga. He did not, thankfully, stand. “You!” He spat, eyes wide.

If Sesshomaru had been less concerned with Rin’s welfare and more…well, not himself, he would have rolled his eyes. Instead, he strode forward within a few lengths of the well. “Fetch your miko,” he ordered.

“What the fuck do you want with Kagome?” Inuyasha stood, to Sesshomaru’s displeasure, and leveled his sword towards the older brother. “She ain’t here, and if you don’t tell me what you want, she ain’t comin’ either. Just back the fuck-”

Another wave of power flashed across the clearing, ruffling Sesshomaru’s youki and disappearing as quickly as the blue light that heralded use of the portal. He did not require note of the widening of Inuyasha’s eyes or the indecision flashing across his features to know the miko had arrived. Her distinct scent, familiar to him from their alliance against Naraku, burst into his nose from the nothing that was the dry, musty well and day-old scents of both the human woman and the hanyou.

“Shit.” Although Sesshomaru appreciated the hanyou’s predicament, his language left something to be desired and the situation would only devolve further if he allowed his younger sibling to steer matters.

“Inuyasha!” Her voice called from the bottom of the well. “Just throw on your pants and get me out of here. I need to get-” Sesshomaru did not wait for her to finish, but leapt into the well, secured the female against his side, and ascended again faster than she could let out a startled gasp.

“You will tend to Rin.” He did not look at her, but stepped away to lead her to the God Tree. He was aware that her human eyesight was lacking, so he would show her the way so that she might begin as quickly as possible. “Jaken,” he continued, “fetch firewood and-”

Excuse me?” There was something in her tone. Was it defiance? Surely not. Jaken scrambled away, recognizing the minute details that signaled his Lord’s ire. Sesshomaru’s nostrils flared and he turned slowly. Rin was ill. The miko’s assistance was required. She would – “I am not-”

“You will obey, woman, or-”

“She said fuck off, you bastard!” Inuyasha yelled. He leapt in front of the miko, and Sesshomaru felt his iron control slipping. Rin was ill. The miko’s assistance was required. He flexed his hands and dokkasou dripped from his claws. His ward would not suffer even a moment longer than necessary. If I must end the life of Inu-

“-YASHA!” The girl shrieked. The shrill volume pierced his ears and flattened the hanyou’s furry appendages against his head. “You’re naked!” she continued in a strangled whisper. “I can handle Sesshomaru – certainly better than you right now – what are you going to do, embarrass him to death?” The hanyou tried to respond but she cut him off. “Get out of my way and get dressed or I’ll you-know-what, and think about how that is going to feel without your pants on!”

The hanyou looked venomous, but he jumped away and back to the yellow bag, and, presumably, his clothes. The miko took a deep breath. “Sesshomaru-sama,” she bowed, and for once Sesshomaru was displeased with the respectful formality. Rin did not have time for that. “If you would please expl-”

He grabbed her wrist and yanked her against him again, speeding to the tree and dropping her at Rin’s side in less time that it would take a human to blink. “Rin is ill. This Sesshomaru requires your assistance.”

Looking down at his ward, even in the growing darkness he could see that her condition had grown worse. The flattened welts that had covered the inside of her mouth and spread to her face and neck and were beginning to appear on her chest where it was exposed by the vee of her kimono. The newest lesions were pale pink. Those more than a few hours old were already turning dark red. Raised white dots marked the center of each oval shape. The miko remained silent, and Sesshomaru growled in warning. “Begin healing now, woman, or risk This Sesshomaru’s displeasure.”

“Sesshomaru, I can’t – oh…wait.” The miko slipped a bag from her shoulders, not unlike the yellow one left by the well, and dug for a few precious moments. Finally she withdrew a lantern, which lit in an instant and flooded the area with a light so intensely white Sesshomaru almost had to shield his eyes. The miko blinked and leaned over Rin, carefully pulling the mokomoko away so that it did not shadow her face. “Oh, no,” she whispered. Her hands ghosted over the still features of the little girl, assessing, but not touching, and then she turned to him. “I am so sorry, Sesshomaru-sama, I-”

He wasn’t even aware he had moved. The miko was pressed against the tree, his claws around her arm and throat, poison seeping onto her skin. Her eyes were wide and her skin pale, but the daiyoukai cared only for her words.

“You will heal her,” he snarled. He refused to believe that the miko would, could, do anything else. She cared for other humans, hanyou, even youkai. She helped everyone, including those who should be her enemies. The foolishly soft heart and immense power of this untrained miko was all that stood between Rin and death. She would heal Rin. He knew his youki was bucking wildly and he fought for control. He heard the kit whimper. Inuyasha snarled and unsheathed Tessaiga and Sesshomaru lashed out with nothing but his own demonic energy, bending the hanyou to his will and throwing him across the clearing. “You will heal her.”

He might have injured her irreparably if not for the softening of her eyes and the glitter of tears that threatened to fall. Her scent penetrated the haze of anger and despicable helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. Fresh cut cherry wood and new magnolia blossoms. Salty tears. Anxiety like dry mace. Her fear, the smell of ripe sour melon he knew from previous battles, was absent. She did not fear him, despite his claws, his poison, his power, his feral anger.

“Of course,” her words were garbled from lack of air, but he understood and released most of the pressure on her neck. “I am only sorry for the pain she has felt, and what you have endured on her behalf. I will get to work as soon as-” Her eyes flicked down and he released her at once. His anger and a twisting fear he refused to acknowledge were still present, but her calm agreement had turned his animosity from her. He forced his cold mask back into place, noting the way his acid slid down her skin, smoking without leaving injury, and stepped aside to allow her access to Rin.

“I will do my best, Sesshomaru-sama. You should know that there are many humans, in other villages, who have been taken by this same illness.” She was quiet for a few moments while she pulled items from her bag. She did not look at him again, but she spoke softly and with a seriousness that he had not often heard or expected from the indecently dressed companion of his foolish brother. “I know this sickness, Sesshomaru. Where I come from it has plagued entire nations many times. I will save Rin, or die trying, but you should know…this pox has killed hundreds of thousands of humans. If it hasn’t already begun, it will sweep across your lands as it is doing here in the East.”

“You will discuss it with This Sesshomaru once Rin is well.” He stepped back. Once. Twice. Until another tree was at his back and he could sink to the ground in an elegant act of nonchalance that concealed the racing pulse of his blood – still hot from the moment where he believed that Rin would die because she could or would not act. That was not a thought he needed to pursue. Rin would be well. The miko would make it so.

He watched her further loosen his mokomoko and use unfamiliar devices from her bag to look in the girl’s mouth and listen to her lungs. He ignored the hanyou, who ordered the kit back to the village with instructions to let the others know of Kagome’s return, and to keep them away from the clearing. Inuyasha settled against a tree on the other side of the Goshinboku, fully dressed and with his sword against his shoulder, and took up a tense watch over the miko. At least he has the sense not to interfere with this.

Gradually, Sesshomaru became uncomfortably aware that he would owe the one called Kagome a debt. In addition, if she truly knew so much about this disease, he would require further assistance from her. Assistance which most priestesses would be unwilling to give, as it would save the lives of demons. He firmly locked away such thoughts and the unfamiliar feelings that tried to stir as he watched a human woman care for his ward.

“You misspeak,” he said instead. She raised a brow, but did not interrupt or turn to him. “This plague is already in the West. It has brought low many human villages in This Sesshomaru’s territory.” He paused, weighing the value of sharing tactical information before it was absolutely necessary against the pang of, of…whatever it was that the miko’s actions called out of him. “This ‘pox’,” he tried out the unfamiliar word and found it unsatisfactory, “infects demons as well.

Chapter 2: Extinction Event

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