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Lessons in Parenting by Sage McMae

Protector

The stench of decay was offensive when not obtained by his own hand. Glaring at the village before them, the Lord of the Western Lands contemplated diverting his path. It would be a simple task to maneuver around the human hovels. There was no reason to inspect the lands. Death permeated the air. There had been no survivors. 

Despite that, he pressed onward, staying the course. 

While Jaken chatted nonsensically at his side, Sesshomaru scanned the town to confirm what his sense of smell already knew. 

Wolves. 

He grimaced. The mongrels, who lived in the mountains, were one of the lowest classes in the demon hierarchy. Their lack of control, as well as their inability to follow court protocol, made them a nuisance Sesshomaru preferred to avoid. 

His lordship granted him many favors. It also bore the immense weight of duty— a duty he would have to abide by if he came into contact with any who had caused this destruction. Killing a human was allowed for one of three main offenses: theft, murder, or assault. If the latter was done against a female, the punishment would be severe. No mercy was to be shown for such a violation. 

Sesshomaru doubted the wolves had reason to decimate an entire village. While humans were disagreeable creatures, he found it difficult to believe all the inhabitants of the town had committed crimes against the wolves. Killing without cause was cowardly and he despised cowardice. Acting in such a manner meant the wolves were no better than the weak mortal lives they had taken. 

He scanned the vacant huts, stepping over mauled bodies as he passed. Pathetic, Sesshomaru thought scornfully.

A lighter smell caused him to pause. The scent was that of a pup. Baby, his mind supplied. Humans named their newborn offspring differently than his kind. The term was fitting for such a defenseless species. 

Sesshomaru followed his nose to a small hut at the edge of the village. Stepping through the flap, he saw baskets overturned and torn blankets. In the middle of the rumpled fabric, something lay deathly still. 

He swiped his hand over the cloth, removing it to reveal a tiny form. 

His eyes widened. Human or not, the slaughter of children was as abhorrent as assaulting a female. Sesshomaru growled. On instinct, his hand fell to Tenseiga. The blade pulsed and he followed its will. 

Instantly, the child came to life. She blinked her wide brown eyes at him, curiously. Sesshomaru stared at her, pleased by the sword’s power yet at an impasse on what action to take. Sensing the danger towering over her, the babe cried. 

“Silence your incessant bawling,” ordered Jaken, appearing at Sesshomaru’s side. The imp struck the ground with his staff but all he managed to do was cause the infant to shriek in protest. 

“Jaken.” 

“Erm...my apologies, Lord Sesshomaru.” 

“Where is the nearest human settlement?”

“Less than a day’s ride from here, milord,” the imp answered. 

“We shall deliver it to its own kind and be done with it,” Sesshomaru decided, turning to exit the hut. “As long as it travels with us, it will be under my protection. You will take care of it for me.” 

“What?” Jaken squawked. “But, my lord, I know nothing of these worthless humans. How will I—.”

“Are you disobeying a direct command?” Sesshomaru inquired as he paused in the doorway. 

“No, no, milord, of course, not!” the imp hastily assured him. 

“Then do as I have asked.” 

With that, he walked out, leaving Jaken to carry the baby on his own. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Oh, come on, Kagome. You can’t be mad,” Inuyasha pleaded. 

“I can and I am!” she insisted furiously. 

“But you left with him!”

“I didn’t leave with Kouga. I was abducted!” Kagome reminded him. 

“Just because the guy lays it on real thick doesn’t mean he actually loves you. He just wants you because you can see the jewel shards,” Inuyasha said. 

Kagome sighed. It was difficult to agree with him when she was mad. The practical side of her brain understood there was no way Kouga could love her. They’d only just met. Despite his glowing compliments, all he really knew about Kagome was that she could spot the fragments of the Shikon Jewel and that she was attractive. 

At least to him, anyway, she thought ruefully, glaring at Inuyasha. 

Her half-demon friend was too hung up on his first love to notice what she looked like. It was painful but Kagome was realizing that Inuyasha had given his heart away long before they met. It would be silly of Kagome to think he would ever care for her the way he had for Kikyo. 

Still, a kind word now and then wouldn’t kill him. When was the last time the jerk had paid her a compliment? 

“At least Kouga is appreciative,” Kagome snapped waspishly. 

“Eh? What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“Ugh! Never mind. I’m going home,” she declared. “Sango, do you mind if I borrow Kirara? I shouldn’t be gone for more than a few days.” 

The demon slayer shared a look with Miroku. The monk’s gaze flickered from her face to Inuyasha who was sitting with his back turned on them. “Kagome, are you sure about this?” he asked. 

“Yes,” Kagome answered without hesitation. 

“Kirara, go with her,” Sango told her companion. “Safe travels, Kagome.”

“Thanks, Sango.” 

With her friend's blessing, Kagome took Kirara and flew toward the Bone Eater’s Well. She was internally seething, replaying the conversation she’d had with Inuyasha over and over again in her mind. Why did he have to behave that way? It was one thing if he was jealous but Kagome found that unfair. What right did he have to be jealous when every chance he got, he was off running around, trying to track down Kikyo? 

She needed time away from him. A change of scenery would help Kagome clear her mind so she could focus on the task at hand: completing the Shikon Jewel. 

As they neared the well, she heard wailing coming from the forest below.

That sounds like…a baby! 

“Kirara, down, please,” Kagome urged the nekomata. 

The cat yokai landed in a clearing, keeping close to Kagome as the miko nocked an arrow. She feared what attention the baby’s cries had drawn to its location. Cautiously, Kagome crept around the trees, scanning the grass until she spotted a bundle of cloth at the base of a large oak. 

“Oh, you poor thing,” she exclaimed, rushing over. 

Kagome gathered the child in her arms. Kirara eyed the infant inquisitively. The baby stared at the nekomata’s large red eyes and let out an ear-piercing scream. 

Kirara growled and backed away. Kagome apologized profusely to both her friend and the abandoned child. Rocking the baby, Kagome cooed and sang to her until her cries quieted. 

Who leaves a baby in the forest? she wondered, glancing around. There didn’t appear to be anyone nearby. I’ll take her to Kaede. She’ll know what to do. 

“Mind if you drop me off at the village?” Kagome asked Kirara.

In response, the nekomata lowered herself to the ground so Kagome could climb on her back with the baby. They made their way to Kaede’s hut, Kagome singing softly the entire way. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was quiet. Too quiet. 

“Jaken.”

“Yes, Lord Sesshomaru?” 

“The child— where is it?” 

“I did as you commanded, milord. I took care of it,” the imp answered, bowing lowly. 

“How?” 

“I left it in the woods,” Jaken stated proudly. 

Sesshomaru slammed his fist down on top of the imp’s head. “Take me to it. Now.”

It took several moments for Jaken to recover and several more moments before the imp was able to walk in a straight line. Sesshomaru simmered as his golden eyes followed the servant. 

Eventually, Jaken led him through the forest that bordered his brother’s lands. The half-breed owned nothing, except for Tetsusaiga, yet Sesshomaru referred to the area as his all the same. Besides, it was only a matter of time before Tetsusaiga became his. 

Jaken came to a halt by an oak tree. When he began flailing, Sesshomaru’s gaze hardened. 

“It was here! I left it in this very spot!” the imp cried, hopping up and down with his staff. 

The Lord of the Western Lands scowled. He could smell the lingering essence of the infant but hers was not the only scent in this place. 

“Stay with him until I return,” he ordered Jaken. The imp gazed up at the two-headed dragon, who acknowledged him with a derisive snort.

Sesshomaru would find the child and when he did, he would demand answers from the one who took her. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The villagers greeted Kagome with fondness as she strolled to Kaede’s hut. Though they were still wary of Inuyasha, they showed her respect when she visited. A few even approached her to ask how her quest was going. Their questions took a turn when they noticed the infant in her arms. Even in the future, having a child out of wedlock wasn’t considered proper. Kagome hurried to Kaede, hoping to avoid any further inquiries. 

“Kagome,” the elderly miko said from where she was hunched over her fire. “I was not expecting you back so soon.” 

“I was on my way home for some supplies,” Kagome lied, “when I found her in the woods. Someone left her there. Can you believe it? Jerks!” 

Kaede reached for the baby but the moment Kagome handed her over, she screamed. “Oh, no, it’s alright. Don’t cry. This is Kaede. She won’t hurt you,” Kagome reassured the infant, sitting her on her lap. 

“I'd say she's about four or five months old, though it is hard to be exact. She appears to be in good health, though a bit underfed. Sayo is a wet nurse. She can provide for the child until we locate her family,” Kaede suggested. 

“It can’t be anyone from here. You would recognize her,” Kagome pointed out. “Have you been called away to any of the neighboring communities for births in the last few months?” 

The older miko shook her head.

Kagome opened her mouth to ask what they would do if no family was found, when the baby wrapped her tiny fingers around one of hers. She gasped in surprise. “Wow.” Kagome gazed down at her with awe. “She’s got a firm grip.” 

“A sign of perseverance,” Kaede noted sagely. 

“If we can’t find the family, what will happen to her?” Kagome asked, worried. 

“If a home for the child cannot be found, whether with family or a surrogate, I’m afraid there is not much I can do,” Kaede replied. 

Kagome’s blue eyes widened. “Couldn’t we take her to an orphanage or—.”

“Orphanage?” Kaede repeated with a perplexed expression. 

Kagome’s heart sank. Resources were precious in this time. Charity was rare, not because people didn’t care but because they didn’t have anything to give. The concept of massive housings for those unable to get by on their own, especially children, was as foreign as Kagome’s fashion. 

“I’ll find her family,” she vowed. 

“You already have a quest.” 

“I won’t stop hunting the jewel shards. I’m just taking a detour,” Kagome assured her. 

Kaede regarded her with mild confusion, then shook her head. “Inuyasha will not like this.” 

Her face soured. “Yeah, well, I don’t like Inuyasha much right now, so...” Kagome trailed off with a shrug. 

“How will you feed the babe while you travel?” the older woman questioned. 

If she was in her time, there would be baby formula. That’s it! Kagome grinned. “I’ll go home and bring back supplies. We have formula— er, portable milk —that I can take with me on my journey to feed her.” 

The elder miko made a humming noise as she considered this. “You ought to give the girl a name,” she suggested. 

Kagome looked down at the sleeping bundle in her arms. “Rin,” she decided. “I’m going to call her Rin.”

Sesshomaru stood at the outskirts of the village, eyeing the town suspiciously. He recognized the scent of the half-breed’s miko. She had passed through here not long ago. The trail led him to the town before doubling back and ending at an abandoned well. 

His nostrils flared. Thousands of demons laid buried at the bottom. The stench of their rotting corpses was overwhelming yet he caught the faint trace of the girl. He peered over the edge and saw nothing but dirt. 

Where had she gone? 

He determined the location did not matter. His prerogative was the child. If the miko was foolish enough to steal her from him, she could not reasonably expect for Sesshomaru to leave the infant in her care. 

She was ill-suited for raising a child. Her strange mannerisms and informal mouth were inexcusable but it was her proximity to his brother that made Sesshomaru dismiss her as an acceptable proxy. The infant required a strong provider, one who could tend to her needs and keep her safe— a task her parents had woefully neglected to do. 

With a final glance at the well, Sesshomaru proceeded down the hillside to the village. 

Movement halted as he neared. The inhabitants, who had been busy with their daily chores, froze upon seeing him. Their reactions were typical. He disregarded them, following the scent of the child to the one-eyed miko’s hut. 

She must have sensed his arrival. Before he could enter her dwelling, she emerged with a quiver of arrows and her bow prepared to fire. 

“What business do you have here, demon?” the old crone inquired. 

“Your apprentice stole what was mine. I have come to reclaim it.” 

The elder glowered after him. “And what purpose do you have with a human child?” 

“That is not your concern. Stand aside,” he ordered. 

“The babe is under the protection of the Shikon Miko. Until she returns, I will guard in her stead.”

Sesshomaru’s hand went for his sword. 

The villagers swarmed around him, intent on protecting the old priestess. He growled lowly. Several people fidgeted but not a single one withdrew. His irritation increased. 

“Tell your apprentice that when she returns, I request an audience,” he said. 

The one-eyed miko nodded and he took his leave. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Kagome, are you sure about this?” her mother asked as she shoved the last of the formula in her backpack. The yellow bag was bulging with all the supplies she’d managed to fit inside. 

“I can’t just leave her,” Kagome returned. “She’s a baby.” 

Her mother looked conflicted. “I know,” she said with a sigh. “At least, you’ll have your friends for support.” 

Kagome stilled. She doubted Inuyasha would be much help. He was still angry with her over the incident with Kouga. Sango would do her best, though she had her own things to worry about. Miroku would be kind. He was a good friend, even if he was a pervert. 

That just left Shippo. Kagome chewed on her bottom lip. The kitsune would probably be jealous. As the youngest member of their traveling party, he’d been their token child. Introducing a baby to the group would change their dynamics. 

With tensions already high after the incident with the wolf clan, Kagome decided it might be best if she dealt with Rin on her own. 

Besides, a week or two away would give Inuyasha time to cool off. It wasn’t like he was going to apologize anyway. Insufferable jerk! 

She tightened the straps on her backpack harder than she meant to and winced. 

“Be careful,” her mother said, hugging her. 

“I will, Mama.” 

Kagome darted out of the house, waving goodbye to her grandfather as she ran past. She followed the steps and hopped over the rim of the well. 

The familiar sensation of time travel rippled through her. It was like diving into water without getting wet. Kagome watched an array of colors twist and fold around her until it came to a stop, depositing the girl in the past. 

She climbed up the side, unaware that a pair of golden eyes were watching her. 

Kagome paused to adjust her backpack, her shoulders already aching from the weight of it. She hoped Rin had behaved for Kaede and Sayo. The villagers were doing her a favor by caring for the infant. Kagome had made sure to pack an extra shampoo for the woman and a first aid kit for Kaede. 

No matter what era, people appreciated gifts. It was a universal language. 

She took one step toward the village and froze. There was a powerful yokai nearby. His aura was strong and familiar. Kagome tensed, expecting the demon to come after her jewel shards. He didn’t. Her brows knit together. He had caught her unaware so why hadn’t he attacked?

“I know you’re there,” Kagome said, feigning courage. A tall form slipped out of the shadows. “Sesshomaru?” Kagome wished she would have brought her bow along, though she doubted she’d be able to fire it under the weight of her supplies. “Inuyasha’s not here.”

He surprised her by saying, “I desire to speak with you.” 

“Why?” 

“You stole something of mine. I have come to take it back.” 

“I didn’t steal anything!” Kagome retorted. 

“The child you removed from the woods belongs to me,” he persisted. 

Her eyes narrowed. “The child you abandoned, you mean? I don’t think so, buddy. Rin’s staying with me.” 

“Rin?”

“That’s her name,” Kagome informed him. “I’m going to find her family and reunite them.” 

“Her family is dead. The wolves of the East slaughtered her entire village,” Sesshomaru told her tersely. 

She gasped, staggering backward a step. Kouga’s wolves were the reason Rin was alone. They had destroyed her town, stolen her home from her. Kagome fought hard to swallow her tears. She refused to cry in front of Sesshomaru. 

“I revived her with Tenseiga so her life belongs to me,” he stated resolutely. 

“What? What could you possibly want with her?” Kagome asked, her sadness giving way to rage. Who was he to claim a life? Rin wasn’t property. She was an innocent child. 

“What could you?” Sesshomaru countered. 

“I told you. I am going to find her family.” 

“Her family is dead, miko.” 

“Then I’ll find a family to take her in. I’m not handing Rin over to you,” Kagome snarled. 

“I will take her in,” Sesshomaru proposed. 

“No way! You don’t know the first thing about raising a baby, especially a human one.” 

He frowned. Kagome waited for him to unleash his poisonous claws or change into his true form. Sesshomaru could tear through her in a single bite. Yet, he did neither. 

Approaching her, Sesshomaru said, “You will teach me.” 

Kagome’s eyes widened in surprise. “Huh?”

“The child is now a ward of the Western Lands. As such, she is my responsibility. You will share your knowledge on how to care for her.”

“And why would I do that?” 

“In return for your services, I will help you eliminate Naraku and restore the Shikon no Tama,” Sesshomaru vowed. 

“Yeah, right,” she scoffed.

He arched a brow at her derisive response. “You refuse?”

“I don’t trust you,” Kagome returned, crossing her arms over her chest. “How do I know you won’t go back on your word as soon as you get what you want? What’s preventing you from killing me and all my friends?”

“You are ignorant of our ways so I will make this simple. When a daiyokai makes a promise, he is bound to uphold it. To do otherwise would be most dishonorable.” 

“As dishonorable as using Mu-onna to trick Inuyasha into revealing where Tetsusaiga was,” Kagome said, skeptically. 

“Your attempt to shame me is fruitless. I will have what is mine,” he replied. 

It was clear that Sesshomaru meant more than Rin. Kagome set her jaw, a reckless idea forming in her mind. “You want her? Come and get her.” 

Before he could respond, Kagome dropped her pack and took off running.

 

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