Kagome wandered around the outskirts of the village with a listless expression.
What was there for her? She'd been pondering the question for weeks without answer and had slipped into a mood no one could seem to jolt her out of. She had a case of ennui that had well surpassed anything she'd ever experienced before and it seemed that she simply wasn't equipped to deal with it.
She didn't feel like she belonged here, but she didn't feel like she belonged in the future, either. Her friends and family in the future loved her, but they didn't know the person she'd become after everything she'd been through in the past. She didn't doubt their love, but they found it difficult to relate to her. While her friends had been giggling about the boys they'd been flirting with, Kagome had had little to contribute to the conversation. Perhaps it was InuYasha's influence, but she had a hard time accepting the passiveness of the boys she knew, nor did the boys in her own era entice her. Though they were the same age as her friends in the feudal era, they seemed far less mature.
At the same time, she struggled with her friends in the past, too. Though they'd appreciated Kagome's modern lifestyle, and at times benefited from it, they didn't understand it. They couldn't understand why Kagome had been so driven to gain her education nor why she hadn't wanted to immediately marry and settle down as soon as she'd returned to them after the jewel's destruction. Everyone else had contentedly settled into their lives in the aftermath of Naraku without hesitation. Sango and Miroku had married and had recently welcomed their third child. Kohaku, Sango had said, had finished his training and was off battling yokai with Kirara but had recently gained a companion Sango thought he'd eventually marry. Shippo was off at school but it seemed even he had begun courting the little yokai sister of the Thunder Brothers.
So what was left for her?
There was InuYasha, but it would be cruel of her to accept him now. She loved him still, but something kept her from agreeing when he'd asked. She knew it had bothered him—everyone, InuYasha included, hell, even Kagome herself, had thought she would marry him—but something had held her back. And if she couldn't accept him enthusiastically, then she couldn't accept him at all. He deserved better than her absent heart—hadn't she learned that herself when Kikyo had been brought back?
She found herself before the Bone Eater's Well before she realized she'd walked there. Her feet had just walked there on autopilot but it was as good a place as any to try and gather her thoughts.
She sat down on the edge of the well and stared up at the sky. She couldn't bring herself to care that InuYasha had wanted to marry her or Sango had wanted to welcome her next child when Kagome was ready to welcome her first or that Kaede expected Kagome to become the next priestess in the tiny village by the well. She had little interest in the events happening now in Japan when once she'd been excited to run into Oda Nobunaga—not that she had, but still—or that the future of this village would to one day become part of the metropolis of Tokyo, called Edo in this era and it was far smaller than Tokyo would grow to be. Edo itself was some distance away and Kagome had little interest in visiting it or Kyoto now, though once she'd desired to do just that.
InuYasha, frustrated by her unusual mood, had begun spending more and more time apart from her until she was no longer certain when he was in the village and when he wasn't. Worse, she couldn't bring herself to care that he'd abandoned her. Sango hadn't understood, but Kagome had little to say to explain how she felt. If anything, it was a relief that InuYasha was no longer around to pressure Kagome into trying to do whatever he wanted to do in the moment.
Worse still was the fact that she wanted to go home, knowing her mother would care for her even if Kagome didn't feel like she fit in there, but she couldn't. The well had closed, permanently, and the future had been lost to her forever. Though Kagome believed it was her fate to return to the past, she mourned the loss of everyone in the future more than she could express. She'd never see her mother, brother, grandfather, or friends again.
Kagome felt like she belonged nowhere and had no one who really understood her. Despite having people around her, she felt like a black sheep, someone who was there but didn't quite fit in. The longer she stayed, the worse her mood grew until she could no longer think of anything else but her own misery. No matter how hard she tried to rise above it, her mind kept circling back to dark thoughts that likely tainted her purity, yet Kagome couldn't seem to stop herself.
She knew the word, depression, but fought it. She wasn't ready to accept that her mind had betrayed her after all she'd been through. If it was to fail her this way, it should have done so long ago. She'd been the courageous one of the group, the one who loved and cared no matter what her friends did. She wasn't this person, this broken, wallowing, apathetic being.
Finally, though, she'd given up trying to deny how she felt. She just wished she could stop it, but she didn't know how.
"Why do I feel this way?" she wondered aloud, staring up at the cloudless sky. She should have been content, but she wasn't and she didn't know why she couldn't find a way to become content again.
Just then, Sesshomaru flew overhead, no doubt to visit Rin. To her surprise, he spied her and veered off-course to land beside her by the well.
She barely took notice of him except to note that he had changed since the days of Naraku. Gone was the white and purple garments and in their place, he'd donned a dark blue with a delicate white pattern tucked behind armor that was no less impressive though it, too, had changed since the days their paths had once crossed.
He eyed her for a moment but she couldn't bring herself to care. "Rin is that way," she said listlessly, pointing in the direction the girl had gone to help Kaede that morning.
She figured he'd move on but was surprised to see him still standing there after she'd pointed out Rin's location. "This one is aware."
She shrugged, unable to think of anything else he might want or anything else she might want to say.
"Something is wrong," he observed.
It wasn't a question but she sensed that he expected her to explain anyway.
"Not really." She stared at the ground, watching individual blades of grass blow about in the wind. "Rin's fine. So is everyone else."
"But you are not."
Kagome wasn't sure why he continued the conversation so she shrugged again, expecting him to leave her alone to her odd mood.
"Speak." There was something about his tone that told her he wouldn't leave her be until she answered to his satisfaction. For a moment, she was annoyed that he had decided to interfere in her personal life, but the irritation quickly faded. It didn't matter that he was interested because he wouldn't stay interested so what did it matter? She'd answer to his satisfaction and he'd be on his way.
Why bother with anything more?
Kagome sighed heavily but couldn't bring herself to move from her place on the lip of the well. "I just..." She waved a hand in frustration as she tried to express herself. "I don't have a purpose, Sesshomaru." She figured that would be enough to satisfy his odd curiosity.
Sesshomaru seemed to study her for a long, silent pause. "Do you require a purpose?" he asked slowly, as if he were carefully choosing each word.
"I'd like there to be one," Kagome said quietly as she waved her feet around. "I think all humans do, at least. It gives us purpose, you know?" She eyed the daiyokai's blank look and added, "Well, maybe yokai don't need one."
She figured he wouldn't be able to understand what she was feeling and expected him to once again continue on his way.
"I see," Sesshomaru replied and she wondered if he understood or if he was just agreeing.
"Anyway, like I said, Rin is that way." She once again pointed Rin out, scarcely noticing how limp her movement was. "She's helping Kaede gather some herbs for a few villagers with arthritis. She shouldn't be hard to find."
His question didn't surprise her. She shrugged yet again. "Not here," she said after a moment, sensing he wanted a verbal response. "He left."
She didn't bother to explain why or where InuYasha had gone. She wasn't even sure she knew herself, anyway. All she knew was that he'd grown angry with her mood and had eventually left her for Miroku and Sango to deal with.
"Hnn." His gaze didn't so much as flicker away from her. "You are not well."
She shrugged for the fourth time. She should have cared about how often she was defaulting to that as a response, but she didn't. Nothing seemed to touch her anymore. "I'm fine. Healthy as a horse, in fact."
She felt his gaze but did her best to ignore his stare. "Come," he said after a moment.
Kagome's eyes snapped up to see his blank expression. "Where?" she asked, surprised by the odd invitation. She'd never have expected Sesshomaru of all people to ask her to follow him.
"Yuri-en." His reply was short and he was already walking away before she realized it.
Kagome scrambled after him. She was mildly curious about where the inuyokai was taking her and that was enough to propel her forward.
They traveled for days in silence. Sesshomaru never spoke of where they were going nor why he'd invited her along and she didn't ask. He stopped when Kagome felt tired and provided sustenance when her hunger ate at her but never spoke a word.
Kagome didn't know where he got the human food he offered nor did she care. She likely wouldn't have ate without him providing food or bathed if he hadn't directed her to a hot spring or pool every night. The initial curiosity had faded and her listlessness had grown worse. Kagome should have been afraid that without Sesshomaru, she might have faded away, but she couldn't bring herself to care about that, either.
She took no notice of the time but eventually he led her deep into the mountains. At some point, the path had grown too steep and Sesshomaru had allowed her onto his cloud before flying them the rest of the way. She didn't ask why he hadn't used his cloud sooner. It didn't matter.
The place he landed in once would have taken her breath away. The garden had been aptly named, for lilies grew everywhere in the vast gardens surrounding an elegant wooden palace. It was a small palace, designed for a single family, but obviously as richly built as the garden had been. A small lake sat behind the palace as Sesshomaru led her around, with an island with its own garden in the middle connected by two wooden arched walkways.
Kagome as she was now scarcely reacted as he led her up to the steps of the palace. She had been vaguely aware of him opening up a barrier prior to settling down on the ground within the barrier but that was it. Evidently, he knew the place well, perhaps even called it home, but the thought left her mind almost as soon as she'd thought it.
"Come," he said again.
She followed as he led her into the wooden building. He showed her to a room with an attached bathing room and ushered her inside. He indicated a wooden tansu with one hand and told her to dress after bathing and then let her be.
Kagome bathed because he'd told her to, gaining little pleasure in what had once been her favorite activity, and then dressed in what she'd hoped was nightwear—everything was so elegant and well-made that she couldn't be sure—and settled onto the futon and dozed off into a listless sleep.
The days blurred further. Sesshomaru checked on her daily, bringing her food on a tray she was sure he had someone else prepare, for she couldn't picture Sesshomaru preparing human food for anyone, let alone his half-brother's priestess. He encouraged her to take strolls through the garden and often accompanied her. He also spoke to her, telling her of his childhood, his studies, and even of his travels during the time of Naraku. She'd learned of his odd relationship with his mother, of the first sword his father had given him when he'd first begun to train, and the pride he'd felt when his father had taken him into his first battle.
He also took the time to explain the history of Yuri-en, that it had been built by his grandfather when his grandmother had lost her entire clan in a bloodthirsty war. His grandfather, of course, had sought revenge on her behalf, but had ultimately built this place and brought his mate here for her to heal.
She listened impassively, making what she thought were appropriate noises of encouragement. She withdrew further into herself, losing interest in caring for herself, and though she knew she should be grateful for his help, she just fell deeper into depression.
If Sesshomaru noticed, he didn't seem to care. At least, not at first, for nothing seemed to change.
At some point, he'd noticed her physical condition and took matters into his own hands. She wasn't sure how long it had taken him since she wasn't entirely sure how long she'd been there, but he took affront to her mused hair and had spent one afternoon carefully working with her hair with a fine silvery comb until all the knots from her disregard of its care had been worked out. He had led her to the bathing pool, and, while fully dressed, stepped into the water with her and carefully washed it with his claws, using them gently to stimulate her scalp. He then led her out, dried her off, and helped her redress in dry clothing, all with an impassive air that told her he either hadn't noticed her brief nudity or hadn't had any interest in it.
He had then gently done up her hair, using jeweled hairpins and delicate blossom decorations made of silver in a hairstyle that managed to both be attractive when she finally caught sight of it in the mirror yet weighed little more than her hair did loose.
Sesshomaru had then dabbed perfume on her before leading her out into cushions stacked onto the pavilion she'd ignored until then. He led her down onto the cushions and for the first time, surprised her nearly out of her depression by pulling her into his lap. He said nothing as he let her sit there. He didn't wrap his arms around her nor did he make any other move to touch her. In fact, he seemed to be waiting for her to protest.
But she didn't. She sat there stiffly for a few minutes before finally reclining back against him, surprised by how comforting she found his presence and the warmth of his body around her.
After that, Sesshomaru made it his daily routine to repeat the care he'd given her that day. He took care of her hair, helped her don on the fancier clothes she hadn't before dared try to wear, and then led her to the pavilion to pull her into his embrace. Some days he even painted her face for her, though where he'd learned the skill she'd never know and hadn't dared ask.
One day, she surprised them both by pulling his arms around her. He didn't speak, seeming to understand that she still wasn't ready to talk, but he allowed her to wrap his arms around her and, when she pulled her hands away, he kept them there.
It became a tradition. He seemed to understand she drew comfort from his physical affections and made more of an effort to embrace her, to pet her hair, and to hold her hand within his own clawed ones.
Finally, one day, she said, "Thank you."
Her voice was hoarse from disuse but he inclined his head in agreement before setting her down before him to comb her hair.
"I don't know why you're helping me," she continued. Now that she'd begun speaking again, she couldn't stop herself. "You don't know me, not really. You don't have any reason to help but you did anyway so... Thank you."
"Your gratitude is unnecessary." His voice was quiet as he answered her. "You have proven your worth, Kagome."
She flushed at the unexpected praise. He'd taken to using her name recently, a fact she'd only just noticed. "I don't know if that's true. I'm just a normal girl, Sesshomaru. I'm nothing special."
"Are you?" He set the comb on the ground beside the cushion she sat upon and slid a floral pin into her hair. "Perhaps that is what you see. But is it true? You may have fulfilled your fate by banishing the jewel but that does not mean you are without purpose. You may have lost those you loved along the way but that does not mean you are unworthy of finding love again. You may have taken a different path in life from your friends but that does not mean you cannot keep them or find new ones."
She flinched, surprised at how easily he put her feelings into words.
"You destroyed the Shikon jewel," he continued, styling her hair as he spoke. "You brought peace to the world. You aided yokai and human alike as you traveled. You are most worthy, Kagome."
Finished, he gently turned her to meet her gaze with a surprisingly gentle look. "This one aided you, Kagome. That alone should prove to you your worth."
"But why?" she asked quietly, finally daring to ask him.
He smiled faintly. "Does he need a reason?"
She sensed there was something he was not telling her and she pressed the question. "Why, Sesshomaru?"
He hesitated and then admitted, "This one promised himself if the hanyo did not claim you, he might present his own suit." There was a faint blush to his cheeks that told her he spoke the truth. "But you were not well. The hanyo has neglected you and left you alone in your pain. You were in no place for any sort of courtship and this one... He found that caring for you, seeing you return to the vivacious self that once attracted his gaze was more important. Whether you later accept him or not is no longer important. Only your wellbeing is."
With that, everything seemed to fall into place. He wasn't caring for her like a parent might care for its child. He was caring for her like a mate cared for its wounded partner.
She gaped. She could still feel the melancholy gripping at her soul but the promise he was offering her, the quiet emotion she saw in his gaze, slowly gave her the strength she needed to push it back. It did not yield fully, and perhaps never would, but something told her that allowing Sesshomaru into her heart would help her gain the advantage over it.
"Even if I'm still like this?" she asked him. At his blank look, she added, "Even if I have moods like this again, you'd still marry me?"
He looked surprised by the question and then looked vaguely insulted. "Of course." His words were simple and short but he seemed to sense her need for reassurance because he added, "This one would not pick and choose part of you, Kagome. He will accept all of you if you but do the same in return."
From that, she suddenly understood. Sesshomaru's darker nature, his own desires, were possibly too heavy for most women to accept. But the darkness in him didn't repel her any more than the darkness in her seemed to repel him. He understood her moods, cared for her through them, and was offering to continue to do so.
"I think I've fallen for you," she admitted, unable to meet his gaze then. She'd only just realized the truth of her words now as she thought back to the months, if not longer, of his constant and gentle care. "After all this time, you never wavered. You never stopped trying to help even when I stopped trying to help myself."
"Kagome." His hand moved to lift her chin back to his golden gaze. She saw earnestness and another emotion lurking there that she couldn't quite identify. "You do not need to answer me now. I only voiced my desire because you seemed to need it. When you are well, we will speak of this again. Until then, you must put yourself first. If you still feel the same after, we will discuss how to proceed."
She hesitated. The desire to reassure him of her heart warred with her own spiraling mood and finally, she nodded. She wasn't sure she agreed but bowed to his wisdom. He hadn't steered her wrong yet and so she trusted him to continue to guide her as she worked to move forward.
He fell silent as he helped her to her feet and led her out to the garden, falling back on routine. Not another word was said about the conversation that day and Kagome forced herself to let the topic die...for now.
Kagome woke one day and saw the sunrise. For the first time, she noticed its beauty as it rolled over the mountains that Yuri-en lay within. She saw the golden rays light the gentle flowers and their bright green leaves and finally appreciated the great beauty of the place she'd been brought.
In the back of her mind loomed the dark feelings that had haunted her for so long but for the first time, she was able to push them away. She thought of her family with a gentle smile and wondered how they were doing and for the first time, didn't regret that she wasn't there. She thought of her friends back in the village and for the first time, wasn't resentful that their paths had taken a different turn and no longer felt lost that she didn't fit into that path anymore.
And to her relief, her feelings for Sesshomaru remained unchanged.
She wasn't sure exactly why she'd been able to pull through that morning or what had changed, but she was grateful that she was finally able to rise above it once more. Even if those feelings came back, she had faith now that she'd be able to succeed again in winning over them without any drastic action on her part.
If nothing else, she knew Sesshomaru would care for her as she worked through that depression again, should it ever return.
He found her later that morning, sitting at the edge of the pond of her own accord, her bare feet sunk into the watery bank.
Sesshomaru took in her blissful face and for the first time, she saw a tiny smile cross his lips. "How do you feel?" he asked gently as he settled down beside her.
"Better." She closed her eyes as she enjoyed the warm sunshine on her face. "Thank you, Sesshomaru. I don't know how you knew what I needed, but it's because of you that I'm doing better."
She opened her eyes to find him shake his head. "No, Kagome, it is thanks to you," he corrected her gently. "You helped yourself. I merely lended you my aid when you needed it."
Kagome knew he'd done so much more than that but she decided he would only downplay his help if she continued to press the subject so she let it drop. "Do you still want to marry?" she asked him quietly, changing the subject to the one that had been on her mind as of late.
If he was surprised by her bold question, he didn't show it. "Do you?" he countered.
She smiled. "I do," she told him. "I meant it when I told you that day that I've fallen in love with you, Sesshomaru. I never expected to find that again, but I'm glad I ran into you that day."
He reached out and pulled her into his lap in an all too familiar gesture. "I am glad as well, Kagome," he said, embracing her as his lips pressed gently to the top of her head. "No matter what else you encounter, I will weather it beside you. If you stumble, I will catch you. If you become lost, I will find you. But more than anything, even more than the love I have to offer you, I am glad you found the sunrise yet again. I hope you never lose your smile again... But if you do, I will help you find it once more."
Kagome smiled as she turned in his arms. "Those are beautiful words, Sesshomaru." She cupped his jaw with her hands and pressed a gentle kiss to his own lips.
He allowed the kiss to linger for a moment before pulling back. "They are promises," he corrected her before bending his head to kiss her again.
Kagome, for the second time in months, smiled again.