~~Chapter 10~~

InuYasha snorted indelicately as Sesshoumaru strode into the small cubicle of a room. Sparing a moment to regard InuYasha as though he might be trying to read InuYasha's mind, he finally shook his head. "You simply cannot be left to your own devices for more than ten minutes, can you, baka?"

"What the hell do you want?" InuYasha growled in kind.

Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed slightly. Instead of addressing him, however, he turned and regarded Namikaze-san in much the same way. "I would like to be left alone with my . . . half-brother," he said. Despite the politeness of his words, the absolute authority in his tone was unquestionable. It only served to rankle InuYasha's nerves just a little more.

Namikaze-san arched her eyebrows as she pinned Sesshoumaru with a somewhat bored stare, and InuYasha blinked at the brief sense of open hostility that he sensed in her before she managed to school her features and give a curt nod. "Of course," she replied stiffly, turning on her heel and striding toward the exit.

Sesshoumaru said nothing as the woman slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her. "Where's your little friend?" InuYasha grumbled.

"He is not with me," Sesshoumaru remarked, "and in any case, he is none of your concern."

Shaking his head since he honestly didn't care, one way or the other, InuYasha started to head for the door—until Sesshoumaru stepped into his path, that was.

"You are not free to go yet," Sesshoumaru said in a tone that suggested that InuYasha ought to know as much already.

"Then say whatever it is you wanna say, and get outta my way, bastard," InuYasha bit out, rapidly losing the slight hold he had over his rising irritation.

"I think I have told you before, but you cannot run around causing trouble these days, InuYasha," Sesshoumaru pointed out coldly.

"Weren't causing no trouble," InuYasha growled. "But that damned Kouga is gonna answer a few questions for me whether he likes it or not."

Sesshoumaru wasn't impressed by InuYasha's show of bravado. "Be not a fool, you worthless half-breed. Anything that draws attention to youkai is causing trouble."

"Look," InuYasha growled as the very last of his patience unraveled, "I don't give a damn about any of that! The only thing—the only thing—I care about is finding a way back to Kagome!"

There was no change in Sesshoumaru's expression—not entirely surprising, given that InuYasha had serious doubts that the bastard had ever experienced any kind of real emotion, in the first place. The youkai leaned back against the closed door, staring at InuYasha in the entirely lazy kind of way that was enough to set the hanyou's hackles rising once more. "The miko . . ." he mused thoughtfully, trailing off for a moment as he considered InuYasha's statement. "And where is she, InuYasha?" he finally asked.

Gritting his teeth at the condescending way that Sesshoumaru had asked the question, InuYasha snorted indelicately. "Keh! None of your damn business, bastard."

"When she purified that tainted relic, you somehow ended up here," Sesshoumaru went on, though he sounded more like he was talking to himself than looking for verification of his conclusions. "Yet she managed to remain in the past . . ."

Having it so eloquently spelled out to him did nothing to assuage InuYasha's irritation as he erupted in a low growl, unable to help himself as his lip curled, as he bared his fangs at Sesshoumaru. "Thanks for the rehash," he snarled. "Appreciate it. Now fucking move."

"And you honestly believe that there is a way for you to go back in time? Be not a fool, ignorant half-breed," Sesshoumaru retorted without a change in inflection. "This is not some farcical science fiction or outlandish anime tale."

InuYasha glowered at his half-brother, mostly because he wasn't entirely sure what Sesshoumaru was referencing, anyway. "I said it once, and I'll say it again: get the hell outta my way."

"Stop being a baka, InuYasha," Sesshoumaru said, his tone lowering, his gaze narrowing just slightly—a tell-tale sign that he was nearing the end of his patience. That was fine with InuYasha, considering he was, too. "Understand that you are fighting against everything—everything—that might be of aid to you, and if that, alone, is not foolish, then perhaps you should consider taking me up on my offer to dispatch you from this life."

Grinding his teeth together, InuYasha smelled the blood that pooled in his palms as his fists tightened, as his claws broke the flesh of his palms. "As if you could," InuYasha growled back. "Now move, bastard."

"It's obvious that you're not going to listen to reason," Sesshoumaru remarked calmly, mildly, almost emotionlessly. Then he shrugged. "Very well, InuYasha. When you grow weary of chasing your own tail, use your . . . nose . . . to come find me."

That said, he pushed himself away from the door and let himself out of the room, finally, blessedly, leaving InuYasha alone. It all just figured, didn't it? The way his luck was going, he was never going to find even a modicum of peace in this era.

Willing away the desire to smash something, the hanyou stifled a menacing growl. Damn Sesshoumaru for his endless riddles, and damn Kouga for his ridiculous claims. Kagome, marrying that damned wolf bastard? 'The hell she would,' he snarled to himself.

And damn him for feeling as though there wasn't a single thing he could do to find out the truth.

Willing back the trace irritation that clung to him like an unwelcome shroud, Sesshoumaru let the door fall closed behind him with a definitive 'thud'. Flicking his wrist to check the expensive timepiece he wore, he stifled an irritated sigh since he had been so unceremoniously dragged out of the meeting he was supposed to be having with the current owner of a small tech company that he had spent the last few months trying to acquire. Tetsuo-san, the owner of the company, was notoriously temperamental to deal with, and this unwelcome delay was going to cost him—no thanks to that baka half-breed, half-brother of his, anyway.

"Sesshoumaru-sama, I assume we can release InuYasha into your custody?."

The soft, almost sultry tone of voice was completely at odds with the venom dripping from the detective's tone—and almost brought a slight smile to Sesshoumaru's lips—almost. "You can simply release him, Byakuren," he replied. "He need not come with me."

A faint flicker of irritation on her features from Sesshoumaru's unwelcome use of her first name was covered quickly enough as she chose to ignore it. "How is it that that one is your brother?"

"Half-brother," Sesshoumaru corrected matter-of-factly.

She snorted indelicately. "Fine, then. Tell me why you haven't bothered to adequately conceal your half-brother."

Sesshoumaru's gaze shifted to the side, flicking coolly over Namikaze's blatantly irritated visage. "InuYasha is none of your concern," he pointed out evenly.

She flicked a hand in dismissal. "He is when he's running around unhidden," she countered. "Surely the great and powerful Inu no Taisho would know this."

The sarcasm that fairly dripped from her words was not lost on him. "I will say this once more: InuYasha is none of your concern. I will deal with him in my own time, and in my own way."

Magenta eyes hidden behind the blue glass lenses she wore sparked dangerously just before she narrowed her gaze on Sesshoumaru. "Aren't you the one who insisted that we hide our true natures from the world?" she countered, but only after glancing around to make sure that her words wouldn't be overheard. "Is this brother of yours so important that you would jeopardize our kind, simply to coddle him?"

Sesshoumaru crossed his arms over his chest, barely quirking an eyebrow to attest to his vague irritation, though the rest of his expression remained impassive. "And you dare to question my decisions?"

The insincere smile that twisted the woman's lips was telling. "When it involves the safety of many versus the comfort of one? Yes, I think I do."

That didn't deserve an answer, as far as Sesshoumaru was concerned. Stepping away from the door, he headed for the exit. "Do not call me down here for something so trivial again," he warned as he kept moving.

'InuYasha . . .' he mused as he stepped through the automatic doorway that slid open silently ahead of him. The murky smog of the city cast a foggy mist in the air as he strode down the steps and across the sidewalk to the black sedan that was waiting for him.

He should have known that it wasn't going to be as simple as he had thought or perhaps foolishly had hoped. Nothing was ever easy when it came to that volatile baka, now was it? Even so, the very real problem was something that no one, not even Sesshoumaru, had the power to manipulate. No, as much as it irritated Sesshoumaru to have to admit, the truth of it was that the only one who could do anything about it was InuYasha himself. If he would only settle down and do the things that were necessary, then it would all come together in the end. Unfortunately, Sesshoumaru was all too aware of just how high the stakes really were. After all, at least three lives hung in the balance directly—so many more if things went disastrously awry . . . All it would take was one moment of stupidity to bring the proverbial entire house of cards crashing down around them, and InuYasha . . .

Stifling a sigh along with the irritation that he should be so inclined to utter such a sound, to begin with, Sesshoumaru's gaze darkened.

Too bad InuYasha was nothing. if not entirely too well versed in those aforementioned moments of stupidity.

"Th-This place . . ."

Atsushi narrowed his eyes in the darkness of the cavern, taking in the strangely misshapen rock formations that hung from the ceiling, that jutted out of the floor. It was pitch black, but his dragon eyes could discern it all easily enough.

"It's cold in here."

Sparing a moment to glance back at Minako, he rolled his eyes and wrinkled his nose. "It's not that bad," he countered. "You can go back if you don't want to look around with me."

He wasn't surprised when Minako straightened her back stubbornly, despite the anxiety she tried to hide. "It's just really dark," she murmured, stepping closer to Atsushi's side, slipping her hand into his. He could feel the slight tremor in her body, the silent proof of the fear she was trying to hide from him.

"Here," he said, stooping to retrieve a blunt stick. He sucked in a deep breath and blew out a small stream of fire, enough to catch the end of the stick. Satisfied with his handiwork, he handed the makeshift torch to Minako before resuming his inspection of the cave.

"There's nothing here," he muttered at last, as disappointment sank in. Still, if he listened hard enough he could hear the whispers, couldn't he? But there were no faces, no bodies. He was used to that. His mother had said before that they were the voices of the dead, and that Atsushi could hear them because he was special. She said that if he worked at it, he would be able to understand those voices one day, too.

"If you train yourself to hear them, if you can make out what they say to you, one day you can harness them, Atsushi, and if you can do that, no one would ever be able to stand against you."

Tightening his fists around the hem of his clothes, Atsushi frowned thoughtfully as he scrunched up his shoulders, as he leaned forward on the pillow situated on the tatami mat before the short dais where his mother sat. "But I don't want to harness them," he ventured quietly.

His mother laughed softly. "For the sake of our clan, you must," she insisted. "It's a power that few have ever possessed . . . It can restore us to our rightful place."

"For . . . our clan . . ."

"Oh!" Minako exclaimed softly, effectively shattering the memory, as she darted away to pick up a shining rock nearby. The colors of the broken crystal seemed to glow in the wavering light of the torch, and Minako smiled happily as she inspected her find, then held it out to Atsushi for his inspection. "I'm going to take this back for onee-sama!"

Atsushi broke into an indulgent smile. Being two years older than Minako often resulted in a slightly superior air that would manifest itself at moments like this. "It's just a crystal," he told her.

Minako made a face, her eyes glowing softly in the wan light. "A really pretty crystal," she corrected. "It's like . . . a treasure . . ."

"If you say so," he allowed with a good-natured shake of the head. Wandering a little further into the cavern, he lifted his face, closed his eyes as he bid the spirits speak to him. Try as he might, however, the whispers did not grow louder, and he sighed.

"Are there voices?" she asked, her voice dropping so that she didn't interrupt his concentration.

Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "I can't make out what they're saying, though."

She smiled encouragingly. "You will someday," she insisted. "I know it!"

"I have to," he corrected, a very real sense of gravity entering his eyes as he scowled around the darkened cavern. "For my clan . . ."

"For your clan?" she echoed, hurrying to his side, leaning forward and holding up the torch to get a better look at his face. "Why?"

He shrugged, absently noting how much deeper black her hair seemed in the stingy light, how much paler her skin seemed in the darkness. She almost seemed to glow, almost like a ghost or apparition . . . "Hahaue says that they stole everything," he admitted.

She considered that in silence. He really didn't know how much of it made sense to her, but since it didn't really make a lot of sense to him, either, he figured that it was all right. "Anyway," he went on with a mental shrug, his voice growing louder, stronger, "I must do it. I must restore everything."

She pondered that another moment, then she smiled. It was enough to bring a grin to his face as he glanced at her. "Then I'll help you!" she decided matter-of-factly. The conviction in her tone, the brightness behind her gaze . . . Minako's unwavering belief was something that he loved about his best friend, after all . . .

Wandering around the base of Goshinboku, Kagome stared up through the branches with a marked frown of concentration as she tried to figure out if there was a good way for her to climb it. There weren't really any good footholds that she could see.

'This was so much easier when InuYasha was here . . .'

Heaving a sigh, she circled the tree a few more times, hoping that she would notice something that she hadn't before, something that would help her in her wish to climb up to the branch that she used to share with him.

It kind of figured, didn't it? She'd thought that being up there might help, might give her a feeling of being near to him despite the years between them. Turning her back to the tree, she let out a deep breath as she plopped onto the cool earth below. The rough bark chafed her through the thin fabric of her blouse. Kagome didn't care. The brilliance of the picturesque afternoon was lost on her. The clouds could roll in, unleashing thunder, lightning, the very wrath of the earth, and she probably wouldn't have noticed. Odd how the world seemed so much duller since he'd gone . . .

Taking in a deep breath, Kagome stood up once more, whirling around to give the tree a critical eye once more. Failure wasn't an option, now was it? Not when she couldn't shake the feeling that, if she could just get up into that tree, she might well feel closer to InuYasha . . .

She stepped over, jammed her fingers into a couple of knotholes as she kicked off her loafers and carefully wiggled her toes into a lower hollow. Carefully picking her handholds, meticulously feeling around with her toes, she slowly managed to get herself about halfway up the solid trunk. The lowest branch was almost within reach, and she frowned in utter concentration as she picked the next knothole.

After what seemed like forever, she finally flopped over the branch, pulled her legs up as she shifted around and sat up, leaning back against the tree trunk as she wiped the perspiration off her brow, savoring the feeling of accomplishment as she shifted her gaze over the landscape. The air was cooler up here. The usual sounds of the forest seemed oddly distorted. Deliberately trying not to think about just how many times she'd sat up here with InuYasha, she allowed herself a small smile as she ignored the little voice in the back of her head that asked her just how she was planning on getting down later.

She scooted back, bracing herself against the trunk. The branch was good and sturdy, much thicker than some of the ones farther up. Crossing her arms on her raised knees, Kagome let her face drop into the cradle of they created and sighed. Closing her eyes, she drew a deep breath, then two. The calm was a palpable thing, and something about the very proximity of Goshinboku was enough to quell the ache that was never very far away. It brought a curious sense of well-being—a feeling that Kagome hadn't truly felt in weeks.

'I wonder if InuYasha's sitting in Goshinboku right now?'

Biting her lip as she pondered that question, she almost smiled. Even if it wasn't entirely possible to know, she wanted to believe that he was. As often as he retreated to the boughs of the tree, it wasn't impossible, either. Her smile faltered and faded, though, as her thoughts roamed a little more. She hoped that he was adjusting well, even though she rather figured that it wasn't entirely likely. The hanyou gave 'stubborn' an entirely new definition, after all, and she, better than anyone else, knew that, too.

Even so, he'd have to try eventually. She truly hoped he'd be able to carve out a place for himself, and maybe he'd even find some friends, too . . .

Shoving aside the slight surge of misplaced upset that accompanied the thought of InuYasha finding ways of going on without her, she grimaced. Was she really so bad that she'd want him to be alone, simply because she couldn't be with him?

She wasn't, was she? Biting her lip as a wash of complete shame surged through her, Kagome shook her head, as though to refute her own negative thoughts. Of course, she'd never want that, any more than InuYasha would want the same for her, and she knew it. Swallowing back the despair that welled up, she winced inwardly. Just what kind of person was she turning into . . .?

"Kagome-chan! What are you doing up there?"

Leaning to the side, peering down at the ground so far below, Kagome spotted Shippou at the base of Goshinboku. "I climbed," she replied simply.

Shippou considered that for a moment. "Oh . . ."

She watched in silence as Shippou darted up the tree in much the same manner as she'd seen squirrels climb trees before. He didn't stop until he was sitting on the branch in front of her, gripping the bark in his small hands. "Sango and Miroku asked me to come find you," he said.

Letting out a deep breath, Kagome nodded. "They're back?"

Shippou nodded. The taijya and the monk had gone to help out a nearby village with a blessing on a newly constructed shrine. They'd asked her to come along, but Kagome had pretended as though she hadn't heard them, and they didn't press the issue, either.

"Miroku was talking to Kaede about a rumor they heard about."

"What kind of rumor?"

Shippou shrugged. "Something about an enchanted lake to the north. They said that the story goes that people have fallen into the lake, only to disappear . . . Sango said she thinks maybe it's been bewitched by some kind of youkai, but Miroku didn't seem to think it was anything at all."

"An enchanted lake, huh?" she echoed, her gaze clouding over as she pondered it. It sounded odd, sure, but then, she'd seen so many weird things since she had fallen through the well, she couldn't rightfully discount something just because it seemed implausible.

"Oh, look!" Shippou suddenly exclaimed, hopping to his feet as he rummaged in his shirt for something. Oblivious to Kagome's darker thoughts, the child giggled as he produced a small scroll and shoved it at her.

It was an invitation for the young kit to join the next kitsune examinations. Puffing up his chest proudly, he waited for Kagome's reaction.

She smiled. "You'll do great," she told him since she knew that's what he really wanted to hear.

"Maybe I can earn another rank!" he said. A sudden hint of doubt flickered to life, though, and he leaned against Kagome's leg. "You think I can?"

"I know you can," she replied, affectionately ruffling his russet mop of hair.

He positively beamed at her, and her smile widened just a little. "Thanks! Uh, do you want me to help you down?"

"Okay, okay," she said. To be honest, she didn't actually want to get down, not yet, but she'd have trouble doing it herself, she figured. Besides, she might as well find out what Sango and Miroku wanted to tell her, anyway.

Shippou hopped off the branch and, with a pop, he transformed into his floating form, hovering just below the branch as he waited for her.

'An enchanted lake, huh . . .?' Kagome mused as she carefully scooted off the branch and onto the kitsune. Maybe Miroku and Sango wanted to go check it out. At least it was something to do . . .

Byakuren: White Lotus.

If you haven't seen it, I've been working on a sequel to Metamorphosis, so feel free to look it up! Metamorphosis 2: Legacies can be found on Media Miner and on Archive of Our Own!

Final Thought from Miroku:

An enchanted … lake … Uh huh

Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Desideratum): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.