Sesshomaru knew what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go— but the more pressing issue was what he needed to do.
Flying through the midday sky, cradling two infants in his swordarm and keeping them safely out of sight within the soft furs of his pelt, Sesshomaru headed East towards Edo village in search of help.
Regrettably, he had to accept the fact that he did need help, simply because there was no avoiding it. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn't provide for his children in this specific circumstance. It was only a biological impossibility. They needed fed and since they were not old enough where hunting would suffice, he needed to find a woman. A wet-nurse. At their age they had no patience for traveling, either, so he needed to attend their needs promptly. While he wanted to take them to the Castle in the Skies, where they would be safe and treated as their birthright demanded, it would take far too long to locate it, let alone find anyone who would nurse them without putting them in danger’s way.
So to Edo it was. If he were fortunate, Kohaku's elder sister may be able to provide, albeit temporarily. She always seemed to have an infant on her hip. If not her, then perhaps Kaede or Kagome might be able to convince some other human woman to tolerate the twins. He could compensate them handsomely, if necessary, until the time came that they could safely travel home. It would hardly take a week for preparations to be made once he located the castle.
Though he despised the idea of a stranger feeding his children, his discomfort fell flat in the face of their hunger. His options were extremely limited; to find anyone who would take pity on hanyo would be difficult unless they were already entangled in his half-brother’s life. He didn’t even know if a demoness of the castle could feed them, were he to order one to do so— the twins were incredibly human, and likely required human sustenance in that regard.
He could already predict how sour this situation could turn, but he forced aside those thoughts for another time. If he needed to take another human into his charge, he would; no matter the circumstance. There were plenty of unfortunates who could be convinced, if he didn’t just outright purchase a girl from her father.
In his arm, Setsuna whimpered. Towa, the calmer of the two, reached out beyond her blanket to butt her tiny fist up against her sister's cheek, soothing her for the moment. Even in sleep, they were always reaching out for one another.
Sesshoumaru watched and said nothing, because there was nothing to say. Their mother might've cooed to see such a sight, might've teared up and hugged them close, but that didn't matter, because she was dead. She was dead and there was no bringing her back.
Edo arrived over the crest of the forest and Sesshomaru did not dip lower as he might've in the past, because despite this village's tolerance for demonkind, he would not risk putting his children within spearing range. He had done nothing to earn the loyalty of these villagers and did not desire it; they only suffered him because they suffered InuYasha, and beyond that, because their demon slayers and spiritual guides were notably biased in their trades. Their miko was married to a hanyo; their monk and demon slayers cherry-picked their targets on the base of sentiment. It was only a matter of time before the rabble took offense and turned on them.
Not that they could survive against InuYasha.
Sesshomaru did not descend until he saw a familiar woman in white and red at the river's edge, and the thought occured to him that approaching Sango might be done more efficiently if her dearest friend were at his side. His acquaintanceship with Kohaku's sister was not tenuous, but his request was not minor. If she could provide, it was not a small thing to accept a demon's child at her breast; most would consider it outright scandalous, if not unthinkable. She was a slayer and her husband was a monk, however delinquent he might be. For her to feed a hanyo, to portion what would be her own child's sustenance to the both of them...
He would not blame her if she refused him outright.
But if she couldn't provide in the first place, Kagome would know, and he could avoid the whole conversation altogether. There was no guarantee she'd had another child, after all— he was merely taking the chance that she had. He’d not been here in some time.
So he landed behind his sister-in-law with no hesitation, touching down in complete silence on the well-trodden path between the river and her village. If it wasn't his yoki that alerted her to his presence, it was Jaken, who jumped free from his pelt and immediately began his hasty 'check' of their surroundings, flailing the Nintojo around like a fool and making no effort towards being inconspicuous.
He was incredibly protective of the girls, even more so since their mother had taken ill. It was incredibly annoying, but Sesshomaru could not admonish him for it. He was only doing what he thought he could, whether or not it was productive.
Kagome turned from her chores - laundry, he gathered, by the sight of InuYasha's robe in her basket - and smiled at him, standing up and brushing the dirt off her clothes.
"Big brother!" she greeted, and his frown was immediate. That she laughed told him well enough that she'd done it on purpose.
His response was flat, as it always was. Setsuna and Towa wriggled slightly in his hold, awake now, but they were kept out of sight by the mass of fur held around them. Thankfully, instinct kept them quiet around new voices and scents. But it wasn't meant to last— Setsuna was already wanting to fuss, kicking at her blanket, pressing her heels into the polished plating of his armor. She was hungry. It had been almost a full day since her mother had passed.
"Is everything all right? InuYasha’s back at the house..."
Beckoned out of his thoughts by the miko's voice, Sesshomaru blinked.
"I have a question."
Kagome's eyes were on his pelt, prying with curiosity. Even if she couldn’t see the twins, it was clear he was holding something out of sight. She waited.
Sesshomaru, much to his own personal horror, eventually spoke.
"Is the demon slayer capable of nursing?"
If he cared to, he could’ve pinpointed the exact moment that Kagome's brain stopped functioning.
"I—uhm, nursing? You mean Sango? You want to know if Sango is..." she babbled, a sharp blush of embarrassment flushing her cheeks, "Nursing nursing, right? Er, no, Hisui is too— I mean— Ugh. Why do you want to know that, Sesshomaru?"
"It would be rude to ask her directly."
That much was obvious. The look she was giving him was, at best, exasperated.
"So you're asking me?"
"You are her friend.”
"So you would know."
It was that simple.
"...Okay." Kagome sighed, seeming to accept this explanation even as she scratched her head. He would never understand why she and her kind seemed so baffled by the plainest of questions.
"But why, though?" she wanted to know.
That, unfortunately, was an understandable inquiry. He’d known going into this that introducing the girls to his extended family would be unavoidable, but he wasn’t quite in the mood to hear InuYasha’s opinions on them. Not that he wouldn’t be deserving of his half-brother’s ire— he was well aware of his own hypocrisy. He simply didn’t have the energy to address it.
He didn't have much energy for anything, in fact.
“I require a human wet-nurse,” was Sesshomaru’s only explanation before he turned and opened his arm for her to see the twins.
Kagome gasped and her hands flew to her mouth.
Setsuna, sensing she’d been exposed to the world, took this as indication that she was safe after all, and immediately began to cry. Towa whimpered only because her sister was upset, little fists twisting as she wriggled.
Jaken, somewhere on the perimeter that he’d taken the liberty to establish, squawked. In the absence of their mother, he’d felt the need to take over the role of the worrier. Sesshomaru had no appreciation for it, however, and ignored him completely.
“Oh, oh my,” Kagome was walking into his personal space with far more ease than he was comfortable with, but he let her, even when she was so close that her hair brushed against his clothes. “Look at them.”
He said nothing as Kagome brushed her fingers over Towa’s forehead, rustling her silver, red-streaked bangs out of her eyes. The babe blinked up at her, wide eyes a little glassy as she sniffled. Her sister, however, was less calm; Setsuna nose twitched and then she was wailing properly, wrenching her arm free of her purple swaddle and reaching out to Kagome with a tiny fist. Sesshomaru’s brow furrowed.
“You need a human wet-nurse?” Kagome was being cautious with her words, and he understood why. But it was unnecessary. He posed no danger to her.
Even she couldn’t say it. Somehow, that was almost funny.
“Oh.” Kagome let Setsuna take her finger in hand. Sesshomaru almost stopped her, because even a hanyo infant could snap her finger in half, but Setsuna’s grip was hardly crushing. “Did something happen to their mother?” she wondered.
“Dead,” was all the information he offered, because it was all that mattered.
Tiny tears leaked out of the corners of Setsuna’s eyes. Towa huffed, frowning.
“I’m so sorry.” At her condolences, he merely nodded. “May I?”
He nodded again and Kagome lifted Setsuna out of the crook of his arm, stepping back and putting a little space between them again. She cooed at her, gently rocking her and trying to soothe her cries. His daughter didn’t calm, but she did immediately nuzzle into her breast, seeking sustenance.
Distantly, he recognized a pang of guilt in his chest. He was tired of feeling things.
“I can compensate any woman in this village—” he began, only to be promptly ignored. “Miko, I am speaking to you.”
Kagome didn’t seem to care. She was walking away from him with his youngest daughter in her arms, passing underneath the shade of a tall tree and sitting at its trunk.
“How long since they’ve eaten?”
He followed her, adjusting Towa longways in his arm. Her tiny hand pressed against one of the spikes of his breastplate, trying to grab it, but it was too wide for her infantile fingers.
Kagome settled back against the tree and drew her knees up, resting Setsuna against them as she, inexplicably, put her finger in the babe’s mouth and let her suckle as she began to push her kimono off her shoulder.
“You don’t need to compensate anyone, Sesshomaru,” she was saying as she rendered the Lord in the West speechless, baring her breast to his child. “I can help. We’re family, after all.”
He’d been too distracted to notice the changes in his sister-in-law. The way her curves had grown more matronly, or the tell-tale scents of motherhood. She had never drawn his eye in such a way, but now she did. No wonder Setsuna had reached for her.
Kagome, a woman he’d tried to murder on multiple occasions and once regarded as nothing more than the dirt beneath his feet, held his child to her breast and fed her freely, asking for nothing in return.
It turned out that InuYasha had welcomed a child into the world perhaps half a year before he had welcomed the twins. Moroha, whose very existence spat in the face of logic and genetics, had very recently been weaned— so recently, in fact, that Kagome had yet to stop producing milk. According to her, she didn’t have much left to give, but that would change if she kept feeding the girls; a woman’s body would provide if asked, he presumed. It made sense.
So she fed Setsuna from one breast and then traded him for Towa and fed her at the other, relaxing under the shade of the tree as he sat stiffly at her side. It felt strange to be so close to his half-brother’s wife, but these were his children and he would leave none of them at a disadvantage in this violent world. The miko was capable, yes, but he doubted she would be of much use with a babe at her breast.
Their silence was comfortable, but it wasn’t her way to stay quiet for long.
In his lap, Setsuna cooed happily, finally mollified. It hadn’t been enough to fully satisfy her, he knew, but she would be fine for now. Jaken was standing ahead at the river path that led towards the village, frightening off any villager unfortunate enough to walk by them.
He turned his head towards Kagome, giving her his attention. Towa’s silver hair nuzzled her breast as she rubbed her hand up and down the infant’s back, soothing her as she ate. Setsuna, for her part, played with his fingers, her arms freed from her blankets as she tugged at his claws.
If nothing else, he was glad the children were provided for today. Tomorrow would come when it did.
“You know we’re here to help, right?”
“You are helping,” he responded flatly. Kagome gave him that exasperated look again, as if he’d said something lame. He hadn’t, of course; it wasn’t his fault that she tried to find nuance where there was none.
“I mean always. I know you and InuYasha are…” she seemed to be searching for a word that wasn’t unkind, but instead settled for repeated emphasis, “You and InuYasha. But that doesn’t matter to any of the girls. Or to me. If you need us to watch them for a while...”
She trailed off indeterminately, assuming he would understand her meaning.
“Are you offering yourself to me?”
An unfortunate turn of phrase, certaintly, but it expressed his meaning well enough. Kagome gave him a flat look in response, sighing with great theatricality.
“Why do you have to make everything so weird?”
“I do not.”
But perhaps he was needling her, just slightly. She shook her head, laughing a little as she readjusted Towa in her arm. Setsuna started gumming his knuckles, making nonsense noises against his hand.
“I’m saying if you need to leave them here for a while, or if you need me to feed them, that’s fine,” she explained. “We’re family.”
Three years ago the idea that he would ever have any sort of rapport with his half-brother wife - or that InuYasha would have a wife at all - would’ve been laughable. And yet here they were.
It was a strange thing to consider. This world was no kinder to demons than it had been when InuYasha had been this small, but the humans that his half-brother surrounded himself with seemed determined to defy the status quo. Were Izayoi to have perished when he was a babe, InuYasha would’ve quickly followed from starvation; no woman would’ve fed him so freely, so charitably. And Sesshomaru wouldn’t have cared to force someone to, if he’d ever bothered to know Izayoi had died in the first place.
But now the wife of the boy he would’ve forsaken was feeding his demonic children without so much as batting an eyelash. And she was a priestess, at that.
Their peaceful reviere was broken, however, when Jaken squawked again and began to curse, suddenly assaulted when he tried to hurry someone along the path. There was a flash of red and white as Sesshomaru gazed up, impassive and bored, at the incredulous set of golden eyes staring down at them both.
“And what the fuck,” over InuYasha’s shoulders, a little black-haired girl smiled and bared her tiny, glistening fangs, “is going on here?”
Kagome laughed and her baby girl laughed back, reaching over her father’s shoulders down at her mother.
Later that night, after all three girls had bedded down, sprawled out over each other in a tangle of tiny limbs and short hair, Sesshomaru walked out of InuYasha’s hut and took a small reprieve underneath the night sky. Jaken was snoring at the door, giving him a few moments of personal silence. Kagome was with the children and InuYasha was out, having gone to do something at his wife’s request. Sesshomaru didn't remember what it was.
He stared up at the moon and wondered what he should do.
Before, he’d intended to let the girls’ mother raise them. It was simply what was done when it came to demon fathers and human mothers. The children were left with their mother until they were old enough to join their father and enter the demon world, if they so desired. It was what his own father had planned for InuYasha. But, of course, that plan had fallen apart with his death.
And then after Izayoi’s death, Sesshomaru himself had made sure her child hadn’t perished— but that had been a matter of claiming InuYasha’s life as his own, not a charity or a sentiment. It was merely the principle that the only one to kill InuYasha would be him. Not anyone or anything else.
Since then, so much had changed.
Now he was caring for hanyo again, but this time they were his own. His children. There was no misplaced bloodlust about wanting them to survive. They would survive because they were his, and they were also hers.
He allowed himself to think about her for a moment, and that moment kept stretching on. He didn’t know how much time had passed in that thought before InuYasha arrived.
Sesshomaru’s mouth set in a thin line. InuYasha put two pails of water at the door, splashing Jaken slightly with the slosh; however, the toad wasn’t stirred from his slumber.
“What are you going to do?”
He told the truth, because there was nothing else to say.
“I do not know.”
“Keh.” InuYasha drew up beside him, crossing his arms and shoving his hands in his sleeves. It was the first time in a while that they had stood beside each other without purpose. “...We can take care of ‘em while you figure it out.”
Sesshomaru blinked, turning his attention towards his younger half-brother without thinking very much about it. InuYasha was looking away from him, staring into the darkness of the forest that the villagers called his own.
“Just don’t fuckin’ raise ‘em in the wild,” he said gruffly, and Sesshomaru remembered him when he was small, covered in dirt and bruises and muck. Smeared with blood. Hungry.
And he had turned away.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“What? You wanna fight? Wake ‘em up?”
He considered it, but only for a moment. It was in that same breath that he wondered if InuYasha was living in their shared memory.
InuYasha sighed, shaking his head. Sesshomaru turned his eyes back towards the stars.
“Like it or not, they’re cousins,” he said, “And Kagome would purify us both if we let our shit get in their way.”
There was silence again, but it wasn’t awkward. It simply was. Two centuries of hate had been strung between them, brewing with bitterness and turmoil, but now it fell silent for the sake of their children.
“Who was she?” InuYasha wondered.
“It doesn’t matter. She is gone.”
“Says the guy who can bring people back to life.”
It was InuYasha’s turn to look at him. He could feel his eyes boring into the side of his face, but he didn’t care. Still, he felt an odd urge to tell him something he’d left in the past, the memory abandoned so long ago.
(The corpse of a dead woman in a ditch, discarded there by her own people. She was unworthy of their funeral rites. Her life had not been easy, and her death had not been kind. Her child was missing.)
“I tried, you know.”
InuYasha’s brow furrowed.
“Bringing her back.” The words drifted out of his mouth with reckless disregard. There were many things that Sesshomaru knew and InuYasha did not, but he'd never felt compelled to share them before. “Izayoi. I had no desire to play guardian over you.”
“Father must’ve saved her, at some point. I didn’t realize at the time.”
“Setsuna and Towa were born dead.” He wanted to stop talking, but he couldn’t. “They and their mother perished in childbirth. Tenseiga was used."
InuYasha’s jaw, previously hanging lax at the revelation that Sesshomaru had once tried to save his mother's life, clicked shut. Idly, he wondered if InuYasha had ever resented him for not bringing Izayoi back. Not that he would've known of Tenseiga's powers at that age, but even so. What had he thought, once he had known?
(What would be different if Izayoi had opened her eyes that day?)
"Then where is she?"
"It only works once.” He cast his gaze aside, back to InuYasha. He would not elaborate. “And now it is truly useless. Tessaiga, however, is not.”
Looking rather grim, InuYasha nodded in understanding.
“I’ll protect ‘em.”
It wasn’t that Sesshomaru couldn’t. It was that he was trusting InuYasha to while he was away.
It was the first time he had ever thanked his little brother for anything.