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Operation Lost Smile by Chie

Operation Lost Smile

It was in the midst of the most mundane of tasks when Sesshoumaru suddenly realised something highly out of ordinary.

His clawed fingers came to a halt, tangled in the silver-white hair he was washing.

A frown creased his brow, his golden eyes narrowed, as he focused his mind to his most recent visits to Edo, trying to prove his disquieting notion wrong.

But his memory failed him, only serving further proof of what he had observed but which his mind had not truly registered until this very moment.

The miko had ceased smiling.

Try as he might, sharp as his memory was, he could not recall when he had last seen that bright, wide smile both curving on her lips and twinkling in her eyes.

The few smiles that he could recall from more recent occasions had been strained and wan. They certainly had not reached the blue depths of her eyes, which these days always seemed to remain darkened by pain.

Sesshoumaru's fingers curled, pulling at his hair while he scowled.

He didn't like it.

He did not know why it concerned him so, but the thought of the miko's vanished smile resonated with wrongness so deep it echoed in his very bones.

Sesshoumaru could also make well-educated guesses as to the reason of the miko's drastic change of mood.

Three months back, one of the regular visits he paid to Kaede to see how Rin was faring had turned very awkward indeed, when an argument had erupted between the half-breed and his miko. Their tempers had clashed to such degree that the row had quickly deteriorated into a vicious shouting match that the entire village, Sesshoumaru included, had been forced to overhear.

And although the miko’s reproofs had been cutting, Inuyasha, in particular, had not minced any words.

The next time Sesshoumaru had gone to the village, the entire atmosphere surrounding it had seemed muted, and he hadn’t been able to sense his half-brother’s presence anywhere in the vicinity.

And then, shortly before he had taken his leave, Rin had made mention that the miko had moved out of her and Inuyasha’s hut.

Based on all of that, it was rather clear to Sesshoumaru that the miko's relationship with Inuyasha had come to an end.

Although Sesshoumaru wasn't well-versed with relationships, he had experienced loss before.

He knew first-hand what a crushing blow it was to lose someone important to you.

And for the miko, it must have been all the more devastating, because she had lost more than just Inuyasha.

From what Sesshoumaru understood, it was for the hanyou that she had returned those couple of years ago, leaving behind her home and her family.

It was something women of the higher classes all experienced upon entering a marriage, of course.

But in the miko's case, it was more extreme: with the magic that had once enabled her to travel through the Bone Eater's Well exhausted, she could never meet her family again or write to them.

Sesshoumaru untangled his claws, squeezed the water out of his hair and straightened, ignoring Jaken puttering about the clearing.

It truly was no wonder why the miko's smile had disappeared.

Only one question now remained.

What could be done – what could he, Sesshoumaru, do – to bring it back?

********************

Something was wrong with Sesshoumaru.

In Kagome's opinion, the inudaiyoukai worked in absolutely bizarre ways on a regular day – not that she had ever spent much time in his company.

Still, this was weird even for him.

Sesshoumaru was hovering.

Ever since Kagome had returned to the Feudal Era, she'd noticed the regular visits Sesshoumaru made to Edo.

Every few months, like a clockwork, he would stroll into the village and sit awhile with Kaede and check up on Rin.

It was rather sweet that even though he had left Rin to grow up among her own kind, he remained in her life and would look after her in his way.

But now, in just two weeks, he had already shown up in Edo five times.

And he was no longer sitting with Kaede, either.

Oh no.

For whatever reason, Sesshoumaru was seeking her out.

Early one morning, not at all hungry and foregoing breakfast, Kagome had left her hut and the village behind to go on a stroll. Feeling particularly heartsick and nostalgic at that moment, her feet had taken her to the Goshinboku.

She had simply stood in front of the all-too-familiar tree, looking up at its slowly swaying branches, when Sesshoumaru had silently walked out of the forest like a ghost.

He'd nearly given her a heart attack.

He'd stopped there, a short distance from the treeline, and hadn't made any effort to approach her.

Neither had he said anything.

Kagome had quickly discovered that it was impossible to feel sorry for oneself and reminiscence over a tree when one's shoulder blades kept itching under the weight of a level stare.

It had honestly been a bit creepy.

She'd snuck the occasional glance over her shoulder.

Sesshoumaru hadn't moved. He still hadn't spoken a word. He had done nothing but stand there and stare.

Kagome had left soon after she had begun to sympathise with those minuscule bugs being dissected under microscopes.

Fortunately, Sesshoumaru hadn't followed, and the rest of her day had been spent in solitary peace.

Less fortunately, that had only been the first occasion when Sesshoumaru had made a sudden and inexplicable appearance out of nowhere when Kagome had found herself alone.

The second time, she'd been sitting outside her hut and doing some mending while enjoying the warm early autumn sunshine. Again, Sesshoumaru had appeared, only to hover nearby, staring at her in silence.

The third time, she'd been down at the stream, collecting water and the same thing had ensued: appearance, silence, intense scrutiny.

The fourth time she'd gone to look for mushrooms to pick in Inuyasha's forest. Instead, she had found Sesshoumaru, who had proceeded to stare at her while the silence around them grew super awkward.

Kagome had no idea what he was on about and why he had suddenly picked stalking her as his new hobby.

Yesterday had been the last straw.

Thinking about it, Kagome still felt a bit guilty.

Sesshoumaru’s peculiar behaviour might have creeped her out… But he hadn't exactly done anything bad either.

Other than the awful staring, he hadn't bothered her in any way.

Kagome did not believe he had any intention to do her harm – not after the multiple times he’d saved her life! And even if he did have some nefarious motive driving him, by now, given all the times they’d been alone together, he’d had ample opportunity.

But this last time, he had caught her at a really bad moment.

Because yesterday, Kagome had not left the village on a mundane errand or so she could mope in peace.

She’d left because she’d needed a good cry.

And the absolute last thing she had wanted when she had been ugly sobbing while sprawled on the ground half-leaning against the Bone Eater’s well, had been a shadow suddenly falling over her.

Even with his hovering, Sesshoumaru had kept his distance from her each time – except now when Kagome longed to be alone.

Suddenly he was crouching beside her.

He was not staring this time, which was a small relief.

His frown was so deep that Kagome could see the expression even through the haze of her tears.

And then, Sesshoumaru had broken that invisible boundary of his former stalking sessions altogether.

The touch had been soft and fleeting, but so unexpected that Kagome had flinched. His finger was cool against her cheek for a fraction of a second. Then he pulled it away, and his scowling face turned from her to regard the single tear he had captured, glistening on the tip of his claw.

And just like that, Kagome had had enough.

Her voice had been hoarse and broken, but the words had been clear enough and their effect immediate.

“I need you to leave me alone. Please.”

Sesshoumaru’s shoulders had stiffened. His scowl had vanished as his face had smoothed out, leaving it blank, void of any emotion.

Wordlessly, he had stood up and left, his steps silent and swift.

Tears had welled anew in Kagome’s eyes.

She’d been left alone. She had got what she had wanted.

So why had she felt even worse then than she’d had before?

********************

Sesshoumaru brooded over his mistake for all of the following day.

His intention had been merely to observe. He’d needed to ascertain that the miko’s smile indeed remained gone.

And he could not do anything to try and bring that smile back before he could figure out ways to make her smile.

For that, he had needed to make a study of her, in a way he had never done before.

Of course, he had subjected the miko to much scrutiny from the very first instance that they had met.

How could he have not, when this fearless human woman, dressed in a garb the like of which he had never seen, had not only pulled free his father’s sword but also refused to perish under his attack?

But he had always studied the miko from afar, and he had never spent much time alone in her company.

He’d had to remedy both of those things to make the most of his observation.

He had still endeavoured to keep a respectful distance. He’d only wanted to learn to know the miko and her habits better, and he had no desire to be discourteous or in any way be a hindrance to her daily tasks.

But during that last encounter, he had failed his mission miserably.

Even though the lost smile was the whole reason for this current undertaking of his, he had not expected to find the miko in tears.

He hadn’t known what to think so he had simply reacted, forgetting and forgoing all his previous courtesy.

He wasn’t sure why the crying miko had distressed him to such a degree, why the sight of her grief and pain had unsettled his very soul.

He’d very nearly felt an ache in his own chest, as he had looked at her pale face, silently willing those tears away.

For a moment he had felt utterly helpless.

And then Kagome had told him to leave.

He could not fault her for that; he had behaved crudely and crossed a line that he should not have.

But to have upset her further when his intention had been to soothe was unforgivable.

In the dead of the night, recalling the sorry scene, he had almost abandoned his quest to return Kagome’s smile to her altogether.

As the day had dawned, so had his resolve grown and settled.

He’d gazed into the light in the horizon with grim determination and knew what had to be done.

To atone for his wrongdoing, he would have to pursue his quest with more dedication and perseverance.

Carefully, he recalled the tasks he had seen Kagome engaged in and then set forth to fulfil the next step of his plan.

First, Sesshoumaru travelled to the west. While Kamakura might have been closer, Kyoto was the larger city and would offer a better selection.

As Kagome certainly deserved the best, Sesshoumaru made the trip to Kyoto without complaint. He didn’t even need to listen to Jaken’s griping, as he had left the retainer behind with instructions to keep a discreet eye on Rin.

He travelled as quickly as possible, taking to the air, and was strolling the streets of Kyoto, perusing the shop fronts with a critical eye before noon.

Sesshoumaru’s first purchase was a pair of bamboo-woven baskets, which he deemed as practical as they were decorative, with the carefully handcrafted patterns crisscrossing the surface.

His second purchase Sesshoumaru chose with even more care, visiting several shops until finally finding something that passed his scrutiny.

The kosode was nothing fancy, wholly by design. It was no silken piece of art but a sturdy, enduring piece of clothing that had been expertly dyed. The deep indigo colour would match with Kagome's eyes.

He also bought a quilted overcoat. It was still September, but the winter would arrive inevitably and eventually, and humans were more susceptible to cold.

Practical, everyday items that would be helpful to Kagome, that was what Sesshoumaru was after.

He added a well-crafted knife to his pile of items, as well as a sewing kit, an assortment of dried herbs and spices and a handful of arrows of the best quality.

Wholly on a whim, Sesshoumaru also bought something utterly frivolous; a hairpin.

Although the hairpin was of a simplistic style, it was a beautiful and delicate thing of dark lacquered wood, with ornamental gilded patterns adorning the stem. At the end, it curved resembling a tree branch, and a lone, decorative flower sat there, just starting to bloom, a small pearl gleaming in its middle. It was somehow… hopeful.

It reminded him of Kagome.

Finished with his shopping, Sesshoumaru carefully packed all the items he had bought for Kagome and started his long trek back to Edo.

This time, he chose to travel on foot.

It would cost him more time, but he was not in a hurry.

Besides, he had no intention of bringing those two baskets he had first bought to Kagome's door empty.

 

********************

One morning Kagome stepped out of the hut she’d moved in after the disastrous end of her romance with Inuyasha and nearly ran into two baskets neatly placed at her doorstep.

All thought of her routine task of fetching water disappeared in the confusion that filled her.

She stared at the baskets, uncomprehending. One of them was full of pears and persimmon and other fruit that was currently in season. The other was filled with mushrooms.

They had to be intended for her, as they been left right at her door where she’d almost trampled them.

But who would have brought her two baskets of food? And more importantly, why?!

A familiar tingle skittered across her skin and Kagome shivered. Her throat suddenly dry, she knew what she would see before she even turned her head.

The weight of his stare was too recognisable, after all the times she'd borne it of late.

There, at the end of the village, stood Sesshoumaru. Silent. Staring.

And after she had held his golden gaze for a moment, he inclined his head, turned, and walked away.

Kagome blinked.

One of her questions at least seemed to be answered.

Although, this answer had only confounded her further.

Sesshoumaru had never done anything like this.

So why now? Why her?

Why?

As the week progressed, however, it became clear that the two food-laden baskets had only been the very first of the bizarre offerings.

On the second day, she almost stepped on a sewing kit. Instantly, her head snapped to the side, searching out Sesshoumaru's still form. Once again, he bowed his head to her in acknowledgement, then left. Kagome picked up the sewing kit, not knowing what to think or to feel.

On the third day, she let out a gasp at the sight of the kosode. The deep blue colour seemed exquisite, and it seemed more finely crafted than most other clothes she owned. She bent to pick it up, then cradled the folded cloth to her chest as she turned to look to where Sesshoumaru was waiting.

This time, it was she who bowed her head to him. Gravely, he returned the gesture and walked away.

On the fourth day, an increasingly baffled Kagome found a quilted winter overcoat waiting for her. She blinked at the sight of it, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. Meeting Sesshoumaru’s waiting stare, she called out to him for the first time.

“Thank you.”

He did not reply, simply inclined his head as always, and left.

On the fifth day, there was a bundle of arrows and one silent daiyoukai waiting for Kagome. As she carefully tested the point with the pad of her finger, scrutinising Sesshoumaru’s retreating back, a sudden and horrible thought struck her.

It was an absurd idea. An impossible idea. A laughable idea.

But it was an idea Kagome was unable to shake and so she went to visit Sango and Miroku, and tried to casually steer the conversation towards youkai courting rituals.

Sango and Miroku had heard rumours of Kagome’s surprise gifts.

They, too, were completely astounded when Kagome told them that it was Sesshoumaru who’d been leaving them.

Kagome was, however, quickly reassured by the couple. Some youkai courting rituals did incorporate giving presents, but all of the gifts Kagome had received so far had been perfectly ordinary and practical things. There was nothing very romantic about a sturdy kosode or a sewing kit or a bundle of arrows.

Inclined to agree, Kagome walked back home, her steps light from the vast relief buoying her.

The next day, Kagome found another not-at-all romantic gift, a knife.

Confusion seemed to be her perpetual state of mind, these days, but none the less she bowed her head to Sesshoumaru in return and watched him leave with a puzzled frown.

The last day of the week, Kagome’s gift was an assortment of dried herbs and spices. She felt absurdly pleased and a little awed at such a valuable present and bit her lip.

Everything she had received from him had been high quality. Even the baskets from the first day were finely woven with a pretty lattice pattern – both decorative and practical. 

How much had all of this cost? Where had Sesshoumaru got the money?

There were too many questions to which Kagome did not know the answer.

But the one she kept returning to was why.

She would probably never know, Kagome mused to herself the following morning.

The weird week of gifts was now over, but she still had no answers.

Kagome shook her head and picked up the empty bamboo water container.

Soon enough, she was sure, life would return to normal and this all would become one very strange memory of Sesshoumaru taking a leave of his senses by leaving her assorted gifts.

Kagome stepped outside and was already turning towards the rainwater barrel resting by the wall of her hut when something glinted in the early morning sun.

Kagome froze, and the bamboo water container dropped with a dull clatter from her numb hand.

Her heart in her throat, she coaxed her trembling fingers to pick up the hairpin.

She had not been expecting any more gifts.

Never one so exquisite as this.

Loud as thunder, a single word rolled through her head.

Why?

Her eyes wide, she saw Sesshoumaru standing in the distance.

And before the thought had even entered her brain, she was walking.

 

********************

Sesshoumaru clenched his jaw as he stood at the edge of the village. His back was rigid, his shoulders tense and stiff as he stared at Kagome’s hut.

He had failed.

All but one of his gifts had been delivered.

Kagome had acknowledged him, thanked him.

She’d been pleased to receive some of his carefully selected items.

But she had not smiled.

Sesshoumaru’s lip curled, his hand balled into a fist.

He did not know what more he could do, what other way he could pursue in order to bring back what Kagome had lost.

Sesshoumaru stood straighter when the door opened.

He heard the gasp clearly, even across the distance. He saw her drop the bamboo container, bend to pick up his final gift.

Her eyes were impossibly blue when she finally met his gaze.

And then, taking him completely by surprise, she started striding towards him.

Sesshoumaru stayed rooted to his spot, unsure as to what he should do.

Their last interaction had not ended well and he hoped he had not inadvertently given her further offence.

Why had he purchased something so whimsical as the hairpin?

Kagome stopped only a foot away from him. She looked up, carefully cradling the hairpin to her chest. Her eyes seemed to search his, their soft blue mesmerizing Sesshoumaru.

“Why?” she blurted out, her voice shaking. “This one’s different.”

That latter addition had not been a question. It was a statement; and a true one at that.

Sesshoumaru could only nod.

The hairpin was very different from the other gifts. It always had been.

“Why?” Kagome asked again.

Sesshoumaru cocked his head, spent a couple of silent seconds composing his reply.

But in the end, he told her the simple truth.

“It reminded me of you and I thought you would like it,” he said.

Kagome bit her lip and blinked.

Something that looked alarmingly much like tears glinted in her eyes.

The ache unfurled in Sesshoumaru’s chest.

Had he truly failed her this profoundly?

Helpless, he looked into those suspiciously shiny eyes.

“Please do not cry,” he implored.

Kagome inhaled sharply and before Sesshoumaru could grasp what was happening, she had already closed the distance, was wrapping her arms around him and burying her face into his mokomoko.

Sesshoumaru stood more still then than he ever had in his life.

Slowly, he wound one arm around her and hesitantly patted her back.

“I still don’t understand,” Kagome said, her voice muffled by the fur.

She looked up, her blue eyes alight.

“Thank you.”

The smile was slow and soft and the sweetest thing Sesshoumaru had ever seen.

His heart soaring, Sesshoumaru plucked the hairpin from Kagome’s slim fingers and tucked it into her raven tresses.

“You are welcome,” he replied.

The corners of his lips twitched, curling up in response.

End.

 

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