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Hellhound by Tsuki no Tennyo

Hellhound

Author's Note: [originally posted 10.31.16] Ugh, this goddamned thing took forever to write. I've had this vague AU plot bunny in my head for over a year involving Sesshoumaru being a spirit guard dog, but I've been stumped with the general plot direction I wanted to take. I think I wrote something coherent; it's just not as horror-ish as I originally envisioned. Blah, I don't care anymore.

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Kagome was five, and lost.

She trudged through the wood with slow steps, shivering and sniffling as the sky darkened and the temperature dropped. She called out for her mother and father, but the only response she received was the squawk of a raven. Startled, she tripped over an overgrown tree root, scraping her arms and knees in the process.

She lay on the ground for a few minutes, sniffing and crying quietly from the pain, cold, and fear, wishing only for the warm embrace of her mother. The soft whimpers that escaped from her lips ceased when she heard the sudden crackling of a tree branch breaking. She sat up, trembling when she saw emerging from the dark forest a large white dog with strange markings covering its body. It stared at her with bright red eyes.

"D-doggy?" She whimpered, watching with hesitant fear in her eyes as the canine circled around her closely, scrutinizing her with its calm steady gaze. She shut her eyes tightly when the wild dog suddenly appeared closer to her. She opened her eyes slowly when she felt the dog licking her wounds.

Sighing in relief, Kagome reached a shaky hand out to stroke the soft white fur. It nuzzled closer to her and Kagome let herself wrap her arms around its neck, feeling suddenly safe and warm in its presence.

The dog remained still, letting the young child hold onto it just a bit longer before it lay down on the ground and watched the little girl followed suit, curling up against its body for warmth.

Hungry and tired, Kagome gave in to her fatigue and fell into unconsciousness, feeling only the soft fur warming her near icy cold skin.

When she awoke the following morning, she found herself lying on the bed at the inn her family was staying at. Her parents crowded around her, relived that she was finally conscious, but their joy quickly dissipated when she questioned them about the strange dog in the forest.

"Kagome, dear," her father started gently, sitting down on the bed next to his daughter as he lay a soft hand on her back. "There was no dog when we found you in the forest."

Kagome frowned, feeling suddenly petulant because of her parents' disbelief. She pounded her little fists on the mattress, insisting that she remembered a dog stayed with her all night long. Her frown remained even after her mother stroked her cheek with maternal tenderness and kissed the top of her head soundly, telling her she should rest some more. As her parents quietly left the room so she could rest, Kagome heard her mother remarked softly under her breath that perhaps it was just something she had dreamt while she was unconscious.

Kagome pulled the cover over her head, deciding to let the subject drop, but deep in her heart, she still remembered the dog and how warm it felt next to her.

.

Kagome was seven when she saw the familiar white fur and magenta markings again.

She was staying at her grandfather's shrine for the summer when she saw it emerged from the trees behind the house. It sat there, looking at her, waiting for her.

Taking a quick peek around to make sure no one was watching her, Kagome made a dash for the dog from across the courtyard. She knelt before it, extending her hand out for it. Slowly, the dog licked her hand in acknowledgment. She giggled at the touch.

"You have a moon on your forehead," she said quietly, admiring how beautiful the creature was.

The dog stared at her, unimpressed by her childlike insightfulness. It let out a yawn before lying down at her feet and closing its eyes.

Kagome's eyes shined brightly as she watched the dog rest.

"I like you," she said quietly.

The dog opened its eyes, unresponsive, and then it shut them again.

.

She traced the markings around its face, happy that it let her do so. After a few minutes, though, the dog stood up, seemingly annoyed and tired of her antics. Kagome stumbled backwards, landing on her behind, but she was too awestruck by the dog full height to be upset. It was far bigger than she remembered, perhaps being even taller than her father if it stood on its hind legs.

"What kind of dog are you?" she breathed, somewhat hoping that among its other strange features, speech would be a part of it, too. The dog simply twitched its ears in response. She stood up and stroked its back, still admiring it. "You have red eyes like my friend Yuka's bunny. It's also white like you, but it doesn't have these pretty markings like you do."

The dog yawned.

"Will you be here tomorrow?"

"Kagome! Time for lunch!"

Kagome turned towards her grandfather's house, hearing her mother calling for her. She answered back, turning back briefly to find the dog had disappeared. She frowned, disappointed that it left so suddenly. As she walked back towards the house, she took frequent glances behind her, hoping to catch sight of the dog again.

.

Kagome didn't see the dog again for the rest of that summer.

.

Kagome was eight when her father was killed in an automobile accident. She had learned of death before when she had found a dead bird her cat had brought into the house. She was told by her father it was just part of the cycle of life, a delicate balance that must always be equal. It wasn't always fair, but it was life. She didn't understand much, but she had nodded just to stop the conversation. She didn't like thinking about death.

Now as she sat in the living room of her grandfather's home, staring at the portrait of her deceased father surrounded by flower wreaths and mourners, Kagome wondered why she couldn't cry even though everyone else was. She felt so numbed she wondered if there was anything wrong with her.

The hours passed by slowly with soft mournful murmurs and polite graciousness. Nightfall descended, but it seemed like the house had multiplied with more guests showing up to show their sorrow and offer condolences. As her mother and grandfather talked with the guests, Kagome felt her feet dragging her out of the house and across the courtyard. She stood before all of the tall trees and stared into the darkness, feeling so small and insignificant.

"Are you there?" Her voice was soft, just barely above a whisper.

She waited, and then it appeared.

"Hi, doggy," she said quietly, feeling her voice was starting to crack.

The dog stepped closer and let her wrap her arms around it as she let her sudden tears drenched its white fur.

.

The first time she learned his name, she had witnessed him changing into a more human appearance under the bright full moon, approximately one month after her father's death. From her bedroom window she had seen the white dog emerged from the trees, shaking and trembling, seemingly in pain. Worried, Kagome snuck out of the house quietly, careful not to wake her slumbering family, before she ran off to her dog.

She stopped short of it, catching sight as its canine body changed to a man's. His white hair grew long, reaching down to his waist, and his paws changed into clawed hands. The mysterious markings remained, just as mesmerizing as when she had first laid sight on them. His eyes had been tightly squeezed shut, but when the pain seemed to have ceased, he opened them for an instant, revealing bright amber that was far different from his usual red eyes.

How unusual, she had thought, taking a step closer to him. For a moment, she admired the white silk kimono he wore that gave him a regal appearance, reminding her of stories about brave, kind princes her parents had read to her when she was younger. Her heart felt a twinge of nostalgic sadness at that thought, realizing that that part of her childhood was no longer possible.

When he let out another pained cry, she snapped out of her brief daze. She stepped towards him hesitantly, unsure of how she could help him.

"Dog-Doggy?"

"Sess-Sesshoumaru," he gasped softly, breathing labored and pained. "My name is Sesshoumaru."

She stepped closer and touched his cheek. "Hello, Sesshoumaru."

He looked up, meeting her gaze.

"Hello, Kagome."

.

"How old are you?"

"I am old."

"Hmm, are you older than my papa?"

"Much older."

"Are you older than…my grandpa?"

"Yes, much older."

"Older than the earth?"

"No, you silly child."

.

He didn't tell her much then, brushing aside that her young age as the reason for his reluctance to share his past or himself to her. Under the moonlight, he had seen a pout forming on her round face, and with a small wry smile that escaped her notice, he simply stated a bad witch did this to him, cursing him to remain a dog at all time except under the full moon.

That seemed to have satisfied her curiosity then.

.

"I will tell you a secret, though, little one."

"What is it?"

"I was once able to freely transform into a bigger dog."

"Really? As big as...a bus?"

"As big as your house."

"W-wow…!"

.

The first time she had witnessed him killing was when she was kidnapped while walking home from school alone down a quiet, vacant neighborhood. She had walked home alone before, but for some reason this time she felt chills running down her little spine. The slightest of noise startled her. She could feel her paranoia was playing tricks on her mind. Was this neighborhood always this quiet? Where was sweet old lady Ukiyo sweeping the sidewalk around her home like she always did at this time? What happened to—

She let out a sharp gasp, feeling a sudden strong grasp around the back of her uniform collar, jerking her back and then lifting her off the ground. She tried to scream, but a large hand instantly covered her mouth, suppressing her cries. She struggled, tried to kick, punch, do anything to escape her abductor, but she was far weaker than this man who had grabbed her. She screamed behind his hand, but her voice was muffled. Slowly, she felt herself losing consciousness.

The last thing she heard before she blacked out was the gruff voice behind her saying, "Finally."

.

There was a bloodcurdling scream when she woke up on a dirty mattress. Her vision was distorted for a moment before she blinked it into focus again, finding herself in an empty living room. She heard a scream again, this time stirring her into immediate alert. She tried to yell, but there was a cloth wrapped around her mouth. She then realized her hands and legs were also bounded by similar cloths. She looked around frantically, unsure of just what exactly she was searching for. She stopped when she saw a thick river of blood streaming towards the mattress.

She followed the trail leading to the source. When she arrived at the point of origin in the kitchen, she felt her heart stopping when she saw Sesshoumaru, covered in blood, growling and mauling her captor, who was no match to the large dog. It took only a few more minutes until the man dropped down into a pool of his own blood.

Her thoughts were jumbled as she tried to make sense of the entire situation. Where was she? What happened here? Why was Sesshoumaru here? Why did Sesshoumaru do that? Why is he—

She jumped when she felt a cold snout brushing against her hand, interrupting all of the questions that ran frantically through her little mind. She looked down to see Sesshoumaru biting into the cloth and tearing it away. She kept her sight on him, watching as he sat back, waiting patiently for her. Slowly, almost mechanically, Kagome untied the cloths around her ankle and her mouth.

"Sess-Sesshoumaru?"

He stood up and began walking towards the door, expecting her to follow him.

She did. As she left, she absently noticed the shattered glasses from the window. She walked faster.

She walked side-by-side in silence with her hand resting timidly on his back as he guided her home. She was barely aware of Sesshoumaru slowing down as she walked faster until she stopped altogether when she saw her mother and grandfather standing below the shrine's steps, talking frantically with police officers.

"Ma-Mama?" Her voice was so hoarse it nearly escaped everyone's notice.

Within seconds, she was scooped into her mother's arms as she cried and cried, looking her over to make sure she was alright. She felt her mother brushed her bangs aside to inspect her further for injuries.

Kagome turned around, believing Sesshoumaru was still there, but her heart dropped when she saw the empty space behind her. She turned around again when she felt her mother shook her gently, questioning about what she was looking for.

"I'm tired, Mama," was all that she said as she wrapped her arms around her mother's neck.

.

Kagome never told anyone this—not even Sesshoumaru—but she dreamt about that day often, reliving it every now and then. White fur stained with red blood filled her vision as vicious snarls and growls echoed in her mind.

She would wake up in a cold sweat, trembling from the memory of his ruthless attack. Her instincts told her she should stay away from him, but whenever her eyes lay sight on him seemingly napping in her presence, she would forget about his violent nature, knowing he would never harm her.

.

"Does it always hurt?" she asked, climbing into his lap to wipe away the sweats on his brows with the sleeve of her pajamas. They sat behind the old well house, and Kagome watched as Sesshoumaru let his head tapped gently against the back wall. She followed his gaze to the bright moon in the sky.

"Sometimes," he responded, looking down just in time to catch a dubious glance from the young child. He pinched the tip of her nose, earning a quick yelp as she swatted at his hand. "It is not something for you to worry about, Kagome. You should be in bed anyway."

"I wanted to see you," she responded brightly. He stared at her confused, and then she felt a low laugh rumbled in his chest.

"Silly child."

.

"Do you have a family?"

"Once, long ago."

"What were they like?"

"Like yours, Kagome."

"Were you all happy?"

"We were."

"And then not."

"…Yes."

.

As she grew older, Kagome felt herself withdrawing from her family and friends. When all of her elementary classmates departed for different middle schools, her mother had noticed the change.

One day Kagome came home early from school and accidentally overheard her mother mentioning to her grandfather the possibility of sending her to therapy. She remembered the ill feeling at the thought of exposing all of her thoughts, secrets, and feelings to a stranger who couldn't possibly understand her. She didn't even want to let them understand her. She didn't need anyone else when she had Sesshoumaru by her side.

She started to put on a mask, playing the charade of the perfect daughter who was always pleasant and friendly to everyone she met, or at the very least, she showed that image to her family to assuage their worries.

"I don't like lying, Sesshoumaru," Kagome said one day as she sat behind the well house on her family's shrine. She kept her eyes on the white dog laying opposite of her, waiting for his reaction. "It's too exhausting pretending around them."

He raised his head from its position on the ground, watching her with minimal interest. He gave her a pointed look, and she scowled in response. Her features then softened as she reached forward on her knees to stroke his neck.

"I wish it could just be you and I together."

He gave her another look, one she couldn't quite decipher from his usual apathy. She could have sworn his eyes had brightened at that thought, but perhaps it was just her own wishful thinking.

.

Kagome was thirteen and bullied for being different.

There were rumors of her talking to herself, some claimed she saw the deceased, and others just tormented her simply because everyone else did it. Her schoolmates played cruel pranks on her, leaving live frogs in her seat and pouring garbage on her when she walked by. She didn't understand what made her different. She was just Kagome, the girl who lived on a shrine. She had a family like everyone else did. She tried to be kind and generous, but at times she felt like she was failing.

"I don't like my new school," Kagome said, sitting under a bridge as she listened to cars sped by above her. It was the third day she skipped school, but she didn't care. She pulled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around them as she buried her face into her knees. She felt Sesshoumaru slipping his head under her arm, but she remained firm in her position.

"Go away, Sesshoumaru."

He let out a soft noise, not quite a whimper, but gentler than a growl. Kagome looked up just in time to see him run away and leaving her alone. Realizing what she did, Kagome immediately stood up and tried to call after him, but he was already gone.

.

Kagome showed up at school the following day, expecting her bullies to torment her in new creative ways since her absence. Maybe they had left chicken feet inside of her desk. Or perhaps they'd smeared feces inside of her books. Or maybe they would lure her into a closet later and locked her there after nightfall.

As she strode down the hallways, she noticed her classmates huddled close to the wall. Hushed fearful whispers filled the corridors as people averted glances with her. She absently wondered whether or not they were conspiring against her, but she also noticed they seemed slightly afraid of her.

She stopped suddenly when a trio of girls blocked her path, bowing low and apologetically at her. She blinked in surprise, not expecting this behavior. She noticed one of the girls to her left was trying to cover her arm. Kagome reached towards her but she stumbled backwards, revealing a deep bite mark she was trying to hide.

Before she had a chance to question her, the girls rushed off, with one yelling behind her, "That nasty dog of yours should be put down!"

.

"You shouldn't have done that," Kagome scolded Sesshoumaru the next time she saw him, which was actually nine days later. He gave her an indifferent look, but Kagome responded with her own scowl. "I shouldn't have told you anything."

His ears twitched a bit before he ran off, leaving Kagome perplexed by his strange behavior. It was only a moment later when she realized her little brother was calling for her.

.

Another full moon arrived, but Kagome saw no sign of Sesshoumaru appearing. Normally, she would not find anything strange about this, recognizing that he came and went as he pleased, but on this particular night, she had wanted to speak with him, wanted him to answer for his actions and behavior.

When two hours have passed without him appearing, Kagome made up her mind. Quietly, she slipped out of the house, sneaking off across the courtyard and stood before the trees in the back. It was the middle of autumn and the moon shined bright above, but the thick foliage blocked most of the moonlight, giving it the appearance of a sinister forest from some dark fairy tale. Kagome swallowed hard before she took the first step into the forest.

She called for him, but her cries were only answered by the wind howling. The deeper she went into the forest, the darker it became. Fear crept into her as the memory of the time she was lost flashed through her mind, distracting her from her original goal.

"You should not be here."

She jumped. Her head whipped in the direction of the voice. She squinted in the darkness, trying to make out his figure.

"Sesshoumaru?"

He stepped into view, careful to keep his claws hidden from her, but she noticed the gesture anyway.

"Why is your hand bloody?"

He stepped closer, face impassive as he lifted one clawed hand, licking the blood clean. He dropped his hand again.

"You should be in bed, little girl."

She glared at him. "I'm not a little girl anymore! And why did you do that? You were the one that hurt her, didn't you?"

"Does it matter?" He circled her, putting her nerves on edge. She faintly remembered the first time he did that, although his appearance was different then. "They are no longer tormenting you, hurting you."

"You shouldn't have done that, Sesshoumaru."

He stopped in front of her, kneeling down so he was at eye-level with the young girl. He pressed his forehead against hers and whispered lowly just for her ears, "I will never let anyone harm you, Kagome."

She stood still, unsure of how she should feel with his vow. She felt chills, and wondered whether it was the cold autumn night or him that caused it. Before she could comment or react, he stood up, grabbing her hand gently as he began leading her out of the forest. She followed close behind in a daze, not even aware when he had led her to edge of the forest and let go of her hand.

She turned around to see him, but he was already gone.

.

Kagome didn't see him again after that night. The chilling promise he made, though, still resonated in her mind even as the years rolled by. She thought of him often and she wondered if he thought of her.

She hoped he did.

.

Kagome was seventeen, not quite yet a woman, but also on the verge of bidding farewell to her girlhood. She felt strangely melancholic at the thought in spite of how unhappy her childhood had been. She shook the thought aside, deciding to keep her mind fixated on the future.

It was her last year of high school and she should be focused on what she wanted to do in this next stage of her life. She should be, but during one cool mid-spring evening, she felt his presence as she walked home with her group of friends she had made the past years during his absence. Everyone was chattering away about their plans for college or at the very least post-high school, but Kagome became distracted by the feeling that she was being watched. She fell behind, turning to take brief glances at her surroundings.

He was back, she just knew it. He was back, and why did she feel her heart swelling in excitement at the thought? He was back—

"Kagome?"

She turned to her friends, noticing their looks of concern. She instinctively smiled, reassuring them that she was fine. They resumed their walk home, prattling on and on about idle things.

.

After bidding farewells to her friends, Kagome climbed the steps of the shrine, stopping at the top when she made out faint, strange paw prints in the distance close to the well house where she had shared many secrets with him throughout the years. She felt her heart leaping, believing that he had come back after leaving for so long. She quickened her pace, searching frantically for the familiar white fur that had warmed her throughout her childhood.

She turned all around, pleading silently to herself that all of this wasn't just in her head, wasn't just a figment of her imagination or wishful thinking. She stopped, catching sight of a shadowy figure skirting close to the outer edge of the forest.

She let out a hollow laugh when he reappeared, but that laughter died just as quickly as it arose.

"You're covered in blood again." Kagome knelt to the ground as she reached into her school bag to pull out a handkerchief and water bottle. She poured a tiny bit of water into the handkerchief to moisten it before she reached towards Sesshoumaru to wipe his mouth. He shook back, indignant at the treatment.

"Please, Sesshoumaru, don't act that way."

He stared at her for a moment, and then he lay down, resigned to letting her do as she pleased. He remained still as she cleaned his fur until he was pristine again. When she was finished, he sat up, licking his jaw.

She smiled at him sadly. She barely noticed how hoarse her voice sounded.

"Why did you leave?"

He kept looking at her and then after a moment he glanced up to the sky.

She understood, nodding. "Tonight is a full moon, right? I'll be here."

He stepped closer, nuzzling his face against hers.

.

Instead of being where he always was behind the well house, she found him standing behind the Goshinboku, staring up at the leaves overhead. She approached him slowly, worried that he might disappear again.

"Sess—"

"I am not a good man."

She paused, perplexed by his sudden declaration. She walked towards him, grabbing the sleeve of his kimono. The fabric felt softer and was more lustrous than she remembered. He kept his eyes averted, unable to meet her gaze.

"You told me once that someone cursed you."

Sesshoumaru remained silent.

"Was it a bad witch like you told me?"

Sesshoumaru continued to keep quiet, prompting Kagome to raise her voice.

"You're always doing as you pleased! Why won't you ever tell me anything about yourself?"

Sesshoumaru looked down at the young girl by his side, not quite as little as he remembered, but still just as gentle and fragile as that scared child he had found in the forest so long ago. Gently, he pried her hand away from his sleeve. He cupped her face, brushing his thumb lightly across her cheek.

"You would not like the real me."

She shook her head furiously, rejecting his claim. "How can I break your curse?"

He looked at her, surprised.

She wrapped her arms around him, catching him further off-guard by her behavior.

"Don't leave," she whispered into his clothing, and he caught the faint scent of salty tears in the air. "Don't leave me again."

He hesitantly placed a hand on top of her head. He then lifted her chin, tilting it back just enough so that she was facing him. He placed a chaste kiss on her forehead.

"If that is your wish."

.

"Why were you cursed?"

"We have been over this before."

"No, we have not," Kagome countered, seizing his hand when he attempted to turn away from her. She held on firmly as she continued speaking, "I am not a child anymore, Sesshoumaru, you can tell me the truth."

"I have killed many."

She stiffened, not expecting him to be so readily candid. Her hand weakened around his, but when he tried to pull away from her, she tightened her hold again. She stepped closer, wrapping her arms around him, waiting for him to continue speaking.

He kept his eyes away from hers. "One of my victims was a young girl. She was…roughly the same age as you were when I had found you so long ago. She was the youngest sister of a priestess, the one who had cursed me to remain in that pathetic form until I have repented for my sins."

Kagome's eyes darted across the ground as she absorbed the information. She mulled over what he said, feeling like more questions arose than were answered. She carefully stroked his claws. She imagined all of the blood that have stained this hand, all of the lives taken by this hand, and all of the lives waiting to meet their ends at this hand. She shivered.

"Why did you kill them? Why do you kill still?"

"It is my nature." He wrapped his hand around hers, pausing for a moment, seemingly lost in memories of his life long ago. When he felt her trembling against him, he drifted back to reality, letting her hand go. "I was never a good man."

"How long have—how long ago was this?"

Sesshoumaru pulled away from her, thinking. "Six hund—no, perhaps seven hundred years ago?"

Kagome looked at him, feeling weighed down by so many new revelations. Her mind was in chaos as she tried to sort through the admissions and the questions that remained. She barely even noticed him speaking again.

"I thought if I saved you then, then I would be free of her hold over me."

Kagome felt a strong stab through her chest, almost akin to the feeling of betrayal. She shook that feeling aside. She tried to keep her voice steady, but it felt like she was failing. "S-so why did you…why were you always here? Why were you always here when I needed you?"

He looked at her, and slowly his lips curved upwards into a mirthless smile. He let out a soft chuckle, devoid of any amusement. "Yes, that is a very good question indeed."

He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. She felt his hand brushing against her cheek as her heart sped up and something dropped deep inside her stomach. Her breath seemed to be caught in her throat.

"I seem to be bounded to you."

She searched for her voice. "Sess—"

"It is late. You need your rest."

.

She stayed clear of the forest for the next two weeks, but that seemed to have been fine with Sesshoumaru, since Kagome noticed he never showed any sign of visiting her. Still, his words replayed in her mind countless times, distracting her from the daily tasks at hand. She wanted to help him, but it seemed impossible to help someone who didn't want to be helped. It seemed like he was resigned to his fate to stay trapped as that creature. It seemed like he felt he still needed to repent.

Kagome wanted to help, even if he won't let her.

"Grandpa," Kagome started one evening, sitting down at the table in the living room next to her grandfather, who was busy reading the newspaper. She traced her finger around on the table, appearing to be nonchalant. "Is there…do we have any books on folklores?"

"Folklores?" Her grandfather set his newspaper down on the table, puzzled by his granddaughter's sudden interest in the matter. He stroked his beard as he pondered. "What sort of folklores do you have in mind, Kagome?"

Kagome bit her lips, thinking over the key words she wanted to tell. "Um, maybe something about priestesses and curses."

"Hmm," he murmured to himself. "Since when have you shown any interest in this?"

Kagome fumbled with her next thought. "Oh, um, it's for school."

She was grateful her grandfather had accepted her flimsy excuse. A thought suddenly popped into her head. "Do you suppose there is any way to reverse a curse?"

"Well, that would have to depend on what type of curse was placed, of course. Curses are meant to cause harm or punishments. If the curse is malicious, then it might be more difficult to break it, but if it was placed as a punishment, then perhaps the way to reverse it is to learn from the punishment."

Kagome nodded, absorbing her Grandfather's thought. She blinked when he continued, shrugging carelessly as he resumed reading from his newspaper.

"Ideally, it would be like that, but truth be told, it varies. There are no set rules, Kagome. There is no how-to guide to create or reverse curses. I'm pleased that you are taking an interest in our family heritage, but…"

His words faded to nothing in Kagome's ears as she found her spirits sunken by his offhanded afterthought. She didn't even notice her mother calling her to dinner until her brother came in to tell her himself.

.

"I am graduating soon."

Kagome readjusted her skirt and then motioned for Sesshoumaru to come closer to her. He hesitated until finally he acquiesced. He sat next to her, stiffening when he felt her idly scratched his ear. He growled lowly but she didn't seem to notice, choosing to carry on with her thought.

"I don't know what to do after that." She looked at the leaves rustling on the trees, wishing that time would just pause in this moment. It felt so warm and peaceful sitting around her family's shrine with Sesshoumaru, she didn't want this moment to end. She didn't want to grow up anymore.

"Where do you go when you're not here?"

Sesshoumaru looked around.

"Do you…do bad things?"

He blinked at her. She didn't ask any more questions, choosing to listen to the quiet rustling of leaves. Her eyes followed a small group of birds in the evening sky, watching as they soared by until they disappeared off into the horizon.

"It's alright," she said after a moment.

Sesshoumaru cocked his head to the side, but Kagome said nothing more after that.

.

Within a blink of an eye, Kagome bid farewell to the end of her childhood, watching as one by one, her friends moved on to the next stage of their lives. Some continued on to college, a few chose to get married right after high school, and others just started working at any place that would choose to hire them. She, on the other hand, found herself at a standstill, unwilling to take that first step into adulthood.

It's alright, she thought, trying to reassure herself and keep her spirits uplifted. It's still only the beginning of summer.

Kagome spent her days taking walks with Sesshoumaru, following him into the trees behind her house, and if only for brief moments, just forgetting the world existed beyond the forest border.

She ran her hand along his back, letting her fingers sink into the thick fur. He didn't seem to mind as much.

"This feels nice," she murmured, feeling a warm breeze tousling her hair. He looked up at her quizzically.

"But I miss hearing your voice."

He was quiet and then he barked.

She laughed, stopping to rest against a tree. He walked up alongside her, sitting close by her feet. She scratched his ears absently.

"You know what I mean."

.

Kagome began noticing Sesshoumaru acting even stranger than normal. She would hear pained whining in the distance behind her house. The first time she heard about it, her mother had commented worriedly that she had been hearing unusual noises lately. Her grandfather had brushed it aside as a troublesome raccoon or other small vermin.

She felt a strange sinking feeling in her stomach, but she had hoped her grandfather's dismissive comment was true. When she began hearing the noises herself, she realized she recognized the sound. Without a second thought, she immediately ran into the forest, following after the sound as she called for him.

She ran for what seemed like hours, dodging low branches and upturned roots with surprising agile in spite of her frenzy. She was breathing heavily, feeling a dry burning in the back of her throat as she gasped desperately for air. Her legs were aching, begging for her to stop in her mad dash, but she willed herself forward, needing to find him, to make sure he was alright.

She came upon an unfamiliar clearing, finding him growling and whining, tossing his head wildly as if he was battling some invisible being she couldn't see. She stepped towards him immediately.

"Sesshoumaru! Sesshoumaru, what's wrong?"

He looked up, his eyes seeming redder than she remembered. She noticed his markings were no longer smooth stripes, but were now bleeding jagged. He pounced towards her, causing her to shriek and stumbled backwards. She lost her footing, landing on the floor hard. She sat up hesitantly, noticing he was prowling towards her.

He was growling, saliva was dripping heavily from his mouth.

"What's wrong? Sesshoumaru, why are you acting this—" She screamed when he leapt towards her. She barely dodged his claws as she rolled away, quickly standing up and backing away from him. She gasped softly, feeling herself pressed up against a tree. She felt the rough bark beneath her hands. She swallowed hard, trying to remain calm in spite of the pure terror resonating in her bones.

"It's me, Kagome, don't you recognize me?"

He snarled at her, looking more like a rabid dog than whom she knew he was. He lunged towards her, and the only instinct she had was raising her arm to shield herself. She screamed, feeling his fangs sinking into her arm, instantly drawing blood.

She fell to the ground, crying as she clutched her arm.

Her scream seemed to have reached Sesshoumaru, as he immediately pulled back. She noticed his eyes softened and the markings, while still more jagged than normal, were beginning to return to their normal smooth stripes. He looked at her face and then he glanced at her arm, focusing on where it bled. He licked his jaw, appearing to taste her blood on his tongue. He took a slow step backwards. A soft remorseful whine escaped his mouth.

"Sesshoumaru," she said softly, trying to hold back a stinging hiss. She tried moving towards him, but the sharp pain hindered her for a moment. At the sound of heavy paws hitting the ground, she looked up just in time to see him running away from her, going further into the dark depths of the forest.

.

Kagome stumbled home, more focused on Sesshoumaru's behavior than her injury. The pain was prevalent, but she knew it would pass once she returned home to treat it. She was more concerned with his behavior, knowing he wasn't himself when he attacked her. She knew he would never attack her willingly like that. She knew something was making him act that way.

"Kagome! Mama, Mama, Kagome's bleeding!"

She was drawn back to reality when she heard her little brother yelling. Her mother rushed out of the house, screaming when she caught sight of her daughter's bloody arm. She was immediately surrounded by her family as they began bombarding her with questions while they tried to slow the bleeding.

"Kagome, what happened? What did this?"

"N-nothing," she lied, searching her mind desperately for a feasible excuse. She found none.

"We need to get you to the hospital. Souta, stay here with Grandpa—"

"Mama, no!" Kagome froze when her mother gave her a piercing stare. "It's fine. I just need to stop the bleeding."

"Kagome—"

"It's fine!"

Kagome sighed in relief when her mother finally submitted to her. She was led into the house where her mother cleaned up her wound in silence. Kagome fidgeted under her treatment. Her mother paused for a moment in her task, staring at where Sesshoumaru had bitten her.

Souta appeared from behind, eyes widening in awe. "Those are bite marks!"

"Souta, go to your room."

"Y-yes, Mama."

"Mama," Kagome started but was quickly interrupted.

"I don't want you going into that forest anymore. What were you even doing in there in the first place?"

Kagome kept quiet the rest of the time.

.

"Where's Grandpa?" Kagome asked the next night as she sat down for dinner with her family. She graciously accepted the rice bowl her mother handed to her. She picked up her chopsticks, wondering what dish she should try first.

"He wanted to take a look at that forest."

Kagome dropped her chopsticks, not even noticing one fell on the floor. "W-what? Why?"

Her mother sat down next to Souta, who was already happily eating, paying no heed to the conversation at hand. She sighed, placing her head into her hand. "I don't know. I told him not to, given what happened to you yesterday, but that seemed to have only spurred him on." She began eating her meal. "You know how Grandpa takes his duty as Shinto priest seriously. He believes there are demons in the midst."

"De-demons? That's crazy," Kagome started, pausing, "Isn't it?"

Her mother shrugged. "He thinks because tonight there is a red full moon, it must be a sign that demons are growing more powerful—Kagome, where on earth are you going?"

.

Kagome ran as fast as her legs would take her. She didn't even hear the sound of her mother or brother calling for her anymore. She was more concerned with finding her grandfather or Sesshoumaru before either one crossed path with one another. She halted abruptly, gasping when she heard a sound in the distance.

"N-no," she breathed, already running towards the noise.

Within minutes, she found both her grandfather and Sesshoumaru in the same clearing as the day before. Sesshoumaru was still transforming, being painfully inhibited from running or defending himself. Her grandfather held up a paper ward, already chanting a spell under his breath. He threw the ward at Sesshoumaru. He howled.

"Begone, demon!"

"Don't hurt him!"

"Huh—Kagome? What are you doing here? Get away from that beast!"

Kagome stood between Sesshoumaru and her grandfather with outstretched arms, protecting the latter. She had a look of pure desperation on her face. "Don't hurt him, grandpa!"

"Kagome, you don't know what that thing is—"

"Yes, I do!"

She gasped when Sesshoumaru leapt from behind her, looking just like the wild animal that had attacked her yesterday. She scrambled towards him, grabbing him by one of his hind legs just before he lunged for her grandfather. She struggled in her hold, trying desperately to pull him back. "Don't, Sesshoumaru, don't hurt him! Run, Grandpa, run!"

"Kagome—"

"Run!"

Her grandfather staggered back, and then he ran, intending to find help.

Sesshoumaru slipped from her grasp and he turned to look at her, a low growl reverberated from deep within his chest. She held her ground firmly.

"It's the moon, isn't it? It's affecting you, right?"

He jumped at her, and she barely dodged.

"Tell me how can I help you? Tell me how to break this curse!"

He howled again at the bright red moon in the sky. He stepped towards her, seemingly calculating his next move.

"Sesshoumaru, I know this is not you. I know you don't want to hurt me—"

He bared his fangs at her, forcing her to take an uneasy step back. He moved towards her and she continued to back away until she tripped over a large tree branch. He took this as his chance to lunge towards her.

She screamed, and he paused, towering over her. His saliva dripped onto her face. She looked up, seeing his eyes softening again, recognizing her. He immediately backed away from her, shaking his head. He looked up again, eyes clouding and softening as he fought to remain in control.

She gasped sharply when he began throwing himself at the trees in their surroundings. She reached for him, but he shied away from her grasp.

"What are you doing? Stop, stop, Sesshoumaru!"

He wasn't listening to her. He pounded his head against the tree again and again and again. She could see blood was beginning to seep from his skull. She grabbed at him but he quickly shook her off himself as he carried on.

She continued trying to stop him, but he was far stronger than she was. She watched helplessly as he continued to slam himself against the trees until finally he dropped down on the ground, panting softly. Kagome immediately reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She tried to stop the bleeding, but he was just losing blood too fast. He looked at her weakly, pulling from her hold to lick at her bandaged arm weakly. He collapsed back, eyes closed.

"N-no," she breathed. She shook him gently, but he remained still. "I forgive you," Kagome sobbed into his fur, pleading silently to herself for him to wake up. "I forgive you for everything you did. Don't leave me, don't leave—"

His breathing was slowing and Kagome cried harder. In the far distance, she heard her name being called.

Go away, she thought to herself, crying.

Kagome curled up against his fur, wishing she was little again, just to have him by her side, watching over and protecting her from harm. She slipped into a dreamless slumber as she gripped tightly his fur.

.

She awoke the following morning in her own bed. She stared at her ceiling, trying to remember the night before. It was a little hazy, feeling more like a nightmare than a memory. She crawled out of bed, getting dressed before making her way downstairs.

"Kagome! Thank god, you are awake. You had us so worried."

Kagome didn't react when her mother wrapped her arms around her or when her grandfather approached, checking to make sure she was alright. She remained stiff as she stared at the door.

She winced in pain when her mother brushed her hand against Kagome's bandaged arm. She instantly remembered him licking her there. She asked quietly, "Where is he?"

Her family stared at her. "Why—what does it matter?"

"Where is he?" she repeated, tone unchanging.

"Kagome, we…we found you alone last night. That beast was nowhere in sight."

Gone. He was gone. She allowed herself the little sliver of hope that he had survived, but she also remembered how much he had bled after his attack. Even if he had managed to crawl away, she imagined the blood loss could eventually be fatal.

She needed to find him.

"Ka-Kagome, wait, don't go!"

"Stop! Don't leave!"

"Kagome!"

She didn't hear their cries over the pounding in her ears as she ran and ran, disappearing back into those trees that have hidden him from her.

.

She arrived at the clearing, finding a faint pool of blood staining the ground. She examined the area, searching for any sign of him. Minutes went by before she caught sight of a clue, a man's footprints imprinted deep into the ground moving away from the location. Every few footprints, she noticed dried blood droplets.

Her stomach twisted at the sight. She followed them, going deeper into the forest.

She called for his name, but there was no response. Her faith was wavering the further she walked. She lost track of how long she had been in the forest, finding the trail he left to be neverending. She knew he was strong, but she didn't imagine him being able to carry himself this far with his injuries.

She slowed to a stop, finding the footprints to have ended abruptly. She searched left and right, looking all around her for an answer to his disappearance.

Then she heard a weak cough, turning to find him resting against a tree. He opened his eyes weakly, meeting her relieved gaze. She rushed to his side, her hands were already holding his face.

"Y-you haven't changed back," she whispered, surprised. "It's daylight and you haven't changed back."

"So it seems," he murmured.

She felt his head gingerly, noting the blood had dried. He pulled her hand away.

"Sorry, does it still hurt?"

"No, it will heal." His eyes lingered on her bandaged arm. Kagome noticed, so she tried to discreetly hide it from him, but he stopped her. He touched her carefully, afraid of hurting her again. Then he spoke low, seeming to consider his words carefully, "I am sorry, Kagome. I never meant to—"

She placed a finger over his mouth, silencing him immediately. She pressed her forehead against his.

"That wasn't you. I know you, and that wasn't you."

He swallowed hard. "What does this mean then?"

"I think it means you are free."

He remained quiet, prompting her to continue speaking.

"How do you feel?"

"Lost. But…happy."

.

In the far distance, beyond the forest border, she thought she heard her name being called, but she ignored it, choosing to remain in this quiet little world that she had built with him. She felt his fingers weaving through her hair as she listened to his steady breathing drown out all of the other noises.

She didn't know what awaited her in the future, but the present was all that she needed then.

.

"I wish it could just be you and I forever."

"If that is your wish."

"Will you leave me one day?"

"Never."

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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