BY: Mel (proud member of the Hentai Onna-Gumi and Evil Onnas Inc.).
WARNINGS: Language, crossover, possible eventual yaoi.
DISCLAIMER: This story is mine. The characters, and their backgrounds, are not. Both 'Ranma 1/2' and 'Inuyasha' are the creations of Takahashi Rumiko-sama, and are a heck of a lot better than anything I'm ever likely to come up with on my own.
Really Important Essential Background Information For People Who Haven't Seen These Mangas/Animes:
Sesshoumaru is a character from 'Inuyasha'. He's a dog-demon, but usually looks like a SERIOUSLY gorgeous (semi-)human male with pointed ears, long white hair, golden eyes with cat-slit pupils, two red stripes on each cheek and a red crescent on his forehead. He also has a long fluffy thing wrapped over one shoulder and trailing behind him that is actually his tail. His true form is a whacking huge demon dog. Think Godzilla-sized. His younger half-brother Inuyasha (who he hates for being half-human and their father's favourite) chopped his left arm (foreleg?) off during one of their fights. Christy and I call him 'Fluffy-sama'.
- RANMA 1/2
Ryouga is a character from 'Ranma 1/2'. (This is a much sillier manga/anime than 'Inuyasha', and Sesshoumaru is going to notice, hehhehheh.) Things to remember about Ryouga is that he's ludicrously strong, knows a martial arts technique that lets him basically blow up rocks, has the world's worst sense of direction -- he has been known to end up in a different country when he was just trying to get to the bathroom -- and has been cursed to turn into a small black piglet when he gets hit with cold water. Hot water turns him back, and he then has to find clothes. (Rowr!) He's a bishie boy too, but not as... er... refined-looking as Fluffy boy.
There's a lot more to their history than this, but that's the bare bones of what you need to get this first section of the fic.
There was a tiny noise from somewhere, a long way away in the winding tunnels; a clatter, as if a piece of rock had fallen from the roof. It was barely audible over the sound the little trickle of water made, dribbling into its stone bowl and then running away across the floor, and Sesshoumaru never noticed it. He was lost in his memories, remembering a time when there had been light and life in his prison.
*How long has it been?*
"Sesshoumaru-samaaaaa!" Rin's tiny hands reached out for him as she was carried away.
"The child will be looked after, youkai. It is a point in your favour that you have cared for her as well as you have."
"I won't be trapped in here for long," Sesshoumaru said threateningly, panting.
The bland-faced old monk turned back towards him, eyes glittering in the light of the lanterns carried by his younger assistants. "That is possible. The wards will hold you for precisely as long as is required. You may change enough to render them unnecessary in a very short period of time... but I doubt it."
The monk smiled slightly, face creasing into a multitude of wrinkles. "Exactly. You are not so much 'evil', youkai, as you are completely self-centred. If you ever come to care more for another creature than you do for yourself, you will be able to break these wards, for their sake."
And then he was gone, and the light went with him.
*How the old fool imagined I'd ever meet another creature down in this warren, let alone care about them, is beyond me!*
Another memory tugged at him. Sometimes he could dream of times before he was trapped, remember sunlight and plants and a multitude of scents carried on the wind, but it was getting harder and harder to recall such things. Everything faded away, wiped out by darkness, dripping noises, and the constant smell of wet stone.
*Rin?!* He jerked upright, listening to the fading echoes. Another voice followed, softer, and the sound of a rope sandal scuffing against rock.
"Child, he can't hear us yet."
"He can so! Sesshoumaru-sama has very good ears. And he hates being surprised, so I wanted to let him know we were coming."
A soft chuckle. "If you say so, Rin-chan."
Rin was right; he hated being surprised, but even more so, he hated being seen at a disadvantage. By the time a flickering light appeared around a bend in the tunnel, Sesshoumaru was sitting comfortably on a spur of rock, one foot tucked up underneath him, as well-groomed as he could manage without a comb and fresh clothing.
As soon as she saw him, Rin wriggled out of the grasp of the young monk carrying her, running forwards to stop just beyond the faintly shimmering barrier. "Sesshoumaru-sama, how are you? Are you well? I-- oh..." Her eyes widened as she saw the signs of his increasingly frantic attempts at escape. Gouges in the walls and ceiling showed where he'd clawed at the rock, trying to dig his way out, and there were several melted-looking patches where he'd used his Poison Claw, only to find that the same barrier blocked him a few inches under the surface.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, voice curt.
She brightened slightly. "They said I couldn't come to see you, so I said I wouldn't eat anything until they let me, and they didn't believe me but I showed them! And here I am. I brought food, here!" The young monk silently passed her a cloth-wrapped bundle and she sat down to open it, revealing rice balls and a couple of small grilled fish.
He watched her silently for a moment as she carefully pushed half of the food through the barrier, pulling her hand back with a yelp as her finger brushed the shimmer and it sparked at her. Her face was thinner, and there were dark shadows under her eyes...
"You know I don't eat human food," he muttered, looking away.
"I know," she said mournfully, looking down at the rice ball in her hands, "but I couldn't get anything else and I thought maybe..."
"Rin-chan, you promised you'd eat once you saw him," the monk said softly, touching her shoulder. She sighed and nodded, taking a small bite and chewing slowly, unenthusiastic.
*Normally she can't stuff it in her mouth fast enough...* A faint growl escaped Sesshoumaru as he leaned down and picked up the fish, dropping it on the rock next to him and pinching off a shred of flesh. *She might be able to find a way to break the wards,* he told himself, suppressing an urge to wrinkle his nose at the taste of cooked food. *She won't be any use to me if she pines away.*
After all, he'd originally saved her life intending to use her against his despised younger brother Inuyasha, not because he liked the idea of being followed around by a devotedly loyal human brat. There was no reason for him to feel a slight lightening of his spirits as she smiled brilliantly and tucked into her own food with renewed appetite.
No reason at all.
"What happened to Jaken?" he asked eventually, eyeing the rice balls lying on their bamboo-leaf wrapper. *Perhaps they wouldn't taste as bad?*
Rin looked up, sucking her fingers clean, with several grains of rice stuck to her face. "Ummm... Jaken-sama ran away," she said, sounding embarrassed. "I mean, you know he ran away from the fight, Sesshoumaru-sama, but then he ran away for good, I think. He sneaked up to the temple to ask me what happened--" the listening monk twitched at hearing that, looking surprised "--and when I told him, he said... um..." She looked down at her lap, twisting her fingers together. "Um, he said if you hadn't broken the wards already, you probably weren't going to, and he definitely couldn't do anything, so he was going to go somewhere safer and, uh, find a new master to work for," she mumbled. "One who wouldn't kick him so much."
There was a long, ominous pause.
"...Sesshoumaru-sama?" Rin squeaked eventually, peeking up at him.
"Jaken requires kicking on a regular basis," Sesshoumaru said evenly, bending down to pick up a rice ball and examining it closely before taking a bite. His expression was perfectly blank, but the red stripes on his cheeks had widened slightly, and the magical barrier was beginning to give off sparks. "He works more efficiently when abused. Whatever new master he finds, they'll discover that soon enough."
"Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama," she said meekly.
"Rin-chan, time's up," the young monk told her, glancing uncertainly towards the trapped youkai. "We have to start back now, or the torch will burn down before we reach the cave mouth."
"All right," she said reluctantly, bundling up the debris from her meal. "Sesshoumaru-sama, I'll be back in five days, I promise! The monks wanted me to only visit you once a month, but I kind of won the argument." She sniffed indignantly. "I wanted to come back every day. Maybe I will, once I know the tunnels well enough to come by myself!"
"It's a very long walk, Rin-chan!"
"I'm a very good walker," she told the monk haughtily.
Sesshoumaru remained silent until the pair reached the first curve in the tunnel.
"Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama?" she called back, turning around.
He kept staring straight ahead at the wall of the cave. "Don't starve yourself any more."
Rin came back as promised, every five days, carrying the scents of the outside world with her. Sometimes she was covered in dry summer dust, sometimes dripping with spring rain or melting snow; she brought seasonal candies, leafy branches, flowers from the temple garden. She grew taller with surprising speed, filling out into an attractive young woman... for a human, at least.
Once, there was another person with her, a quiet shadow who stayed back at the tunnel corner.
"Who is that?"
Amazingly, she blushed. "That's... he's just... He wants to marry me. I said he had to understand that I'd still visit you, no matter what, and he wanted to see..." She fiddled with a strand of her hair, grown down to her hips now. "Do you mind, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Why should I mind?" he said coldly, turning away. "It's none of my concern."
Twice after that, her figure gradually swelled with pregnancy. She missed a visit the second time, when she went into labour on her way to the cave and had to turn back. She never brought the children with her -- the monks wouldn't allow it -- but Sesshoumaru smelled them on her, and heard about their lives. Marriage and grandchildren, triumphs and failures, everything.
Eventually her hair silvered, and she grew frailer. And then...
"Who are you?"
The young man stared at Sesshoumaru for a long moment, holding his torch high, before seeming to remember his errand. "Uh... Grandmother Rin... she died. Yesterday. She won't be coming back to see you any more."
"...Already?" Sesshoumaru whispered. "She wasn't old..."
The man shrugged. "She was over sixty. That's pretty old. We were kind of expecting it, really... she got awful sick last winter." He blinked hard, swallowing, and sniffed back tears. "Anyway, she wanted you to know. Told me how to get here, asked me to say she was sorry. So... sorry." He shrugged again, turning away.
"Wait!" Sesshoumaru lunged after him, recoiling as the barrier sparked and crackled. "Will you come back?! Will anyone come back?!"
He shook his head, already walking away, more interested in the flickering torch than Sesshoumaru's question. "No. The monks won't let anyone in the caves any more. They only let me in 'cause Grandmother Rin asked, before..." His voice trailed off as he turned the corner, and the light from his torch began to fade.
Sesshoumaru didn't remember what he'd done after Rin's grandson left, but judging by the state his prison was in when he returned to his senses, it had been noisy. Part of him hoped the human had been out of earshot; part of him hoped the man had heard, and felt some guilt for leaving him alone in the dark. The stubborn remnants of his pride stung him at the realisation that, either way, he'd fallen low enough to care what a miserable human thought of him.
He had a very long time to chew that over in his mind.
His youkai body wouldn't allow him to starve easily, though sometimes he thought it might have been a blessing. He hadn't realised how much he needed stimulation, depended on his senses, until there was nothing to stimulate them, and he was too strong-willed to retreat into insanity... so he faded into dreams and memories instead, ignoring his gradually weakening body as much as he could. On the rare occasions when he thought about it, he supposed that he would eventually slide from sleep into death without ever noticing.
*It would have been far more satisfactory if that useless old idiot had just killed me when he had the chance. Did he imagine he was doing me a favour, or did he just not want to soil his hands with an 'unnecessary' death?*
*It hardly matters now. The result is the same.*
A slithering crash from a minor rockslide echoed through the tunnels, pulling Sesshoumaru back to the here and now. He listened to the echoes, mildly interested -- any new sound was interesting, however mundane -- but didn't bother to move or open his eyes. More rocks might keep falling for a while, but even if the slide had been within a few feet of him, there wouldn't be anything to see...
"Oh, great. Where in the world am I now?!"
That snapped his eyes open in a hurry.
"Great," the distant voice repeated in disgusted tones, blurred by echoes and more rocks clattering. "Somehow I don't think this is the road to Nerima."
Slowly pushing himself upright, Sesshoumaru strained to hear any reply, but there was only the one voice, now muttering something about a map. One person, then, talking to himself? There wasn't any scent yet, or any sign of light.
*If he's coming this way,* Sesshoumaru thought, *if he just comes here... He won't stay long, but if I can just get him to come back--!*
He leaned forward, sniffing eagerly, then abruptly hissed in pain as his left shoulder cramped viciously. Something dropped into his lap as he grabbed at the stiff joint, and he frowned in puzzlement for an instant; then it was driven out of his mind as what seemed like every other muscle in his body locked, protesting at being forced to move after so long. Only a lifetime's practice at never showing a weakness prevented him from howling in agony.
Teeth bared in a silent snarl, he concentrated grimly on flexing his hand and arm until they would do what he wanted, more or less; then he slowly began massaging some life back into his muscles. It seemed to take an age before just his neck would move properly, and he was beginning to feel pins and needles in his legs and tail as he moved on to his left shoulder. Half his attention was on the distant sound of whoever-it-was walking, trying to decide if the footsteps were coming closer or not, as his hand moved down his left arm to the point where Inuyasha had cut it off--
--and further down.
He froze for a moment, startled, then slowly felt his way down to the elbow and beyond. *It grew back?!*
Incredible as it seemed, his left arm and hand were there. About as responsive as a stick, lying in his lap with the fingers curled into a stiff claw, but there.
*And I never realised... I truly have been withdrawing from reality, haven't I? How long is it since the last time I bothered to move?*
It was a depressing thought, and Sesshoumaru might have dwelt on it for a very long time if the person stumbling through the tunnels hadn't reached his sixth or seventh dead end just then.
"AAAAARGH! Bakusai ten-KETSU!" 
"Stupid wall," the voice growled over the background clatter of ricocheting pieces of rock. "Bakusai ten-ketsu!"
=*BOOOOOM!*= -clatterclatterclatterclatter- THUD "Ow! *grrrr*" =*BOOOOOM!*=
*Of all the ways I ever imagined being found,* Sesshoumaru thought, listening wide-eyed as the curses and explosions came closer, *this is definitely the most ridiculous.*
Ryouga growled under his breath as he drew his arm back for another strike at the rock wall in front of him. Somehow, in what seemed like only a few seconds, he'd gone from tramping down a quiet road to being lost in a series of winding rock caves and tunnels, and getting out was proving to be a lot less simple than getting in. He'd eventually decided to just blast his way in a straight line until he reached open air (or an underground parking garage, or the subway -- something useful), but this was about the tenth tunnel he'd reached with no sign of human occupation or a way out.
*Always assuming I am going in a straight line,* he thought morosely, stabbing forwards and walking through the hole left by the resulting explosion. *I'm probably travelling in a spiral or something...*
He paused for a moment, shining his flashlight around hopefully to see if he'd actually got somewhere, and sighed as he saw nothing more than wet rocks. Again.
*And that's another thing,* he told himself, finding the next wall's breaking point and taking aim at it. *There's a lot of water down here. I should start being a bit more careful; I could walk through a wall straight into a pool, and I don't want to turn into a pig down here! It's hard enough to find hot water even in cities, sometimes...*
He stepped forwards, meaning to just look through the newly created hole first, but a large chunk of rock broke free from the roof and fell behind him, glancing off his pack on its way to the floor. Caught off balance, he staggered forwards, feet scrambling for purchase over fallen stones, and saw with a sort of resigned horror that he was heading straight for a small pool.
*Of course,* he thought, part of his mind quickly calculating his chances of being able to set up his travelling spirit lamp and kettle while in pig-form and coming up with 'zilch'. *Once again Fate displays its marvellous sense of timing--*
Instead of falling into the water, however, he slammed into something yielding and elastic -- almost like rubber, except that no rubber he'd ever encountered had spat sparks and burned him. Yelping, more from surprise than pain, he pushed away from it and landed on his rear, dropping his flashlight. It promptly went out.
"...Damn," he muttered, shaking one scorched hand. For a moment there, he'd had the unpleasant feeling that he was sinking through the sparking thing... "What the hell was that?!"
"A kekkai,"  a hoarse voice replied. "A very strong one."
There was a rustle of movement from only a couple of feet away, and Ryouga found himself staring straight at a pair of luminous golden eyes with cat-slit pupils, glowing faintly in the dark.
Sesshoumaru strained all his senses, trying to hear or smell something -- anything! -- that might give him a clue as to how the human was reacting to finding him. In the instant of dazzling brightness before the strange smokeless light had vanished, he'd been unable to see much; just a vague shape with some sort of bulky load on its shoulders, stumbling towards him.
*Male,* he decided, breathing in the scents of human skin, sweat, and some sort of soap. *Not an entirely repulsive odour; at least he seems to wash regularly.* Most of Sesshoumaru's previous encounters with humans had been with bandits, and once an army out in the field, so he had come to expect much worse. *Healthy... he's been walking through grass and pine needles, he ate some kind of fruit a little while ago, he smells of road dust and dried meat and something like lamp oil and--*
The mingled scents were almost intoxicating after so long underground, and Sesshoumaru didn't realise he was swaying forwards until the barrier sparked warningly at him, snapping his mind back into clear focus. It seemed to snap his 'visitor' out of a daze, too, for he drew in a sharp breath and shifted his weight.
"Who are you?" he asked warily, sounding fairly young. "Or should that be 'what are you'? An oni?"
"No!" Taken by surprise by the question, Sesshoumaru realised he'd sounded rather more offended than he'd intended, and hastily tried to moderate his voice. He wasn't entirely successful. "I am a youkai."
"Sorry. I've never met a youkai, but I met an oni once, so that's what I thought of first." Surprisingly, although the apology was graceless by Sesshoumaru's standards, it also sounded genuine. "Um... I don't suppose you know the way out of here, do you?"
*NO DON'T LEAVE!* "No. I don't."
"Damn." He sighed. "I'm never going to make it to Nerima at this rate."
Since Sesshoumaru had no idea what or where Nerima was, there wasn't anything he could say in response to that.
"Can you see where my torch landed?"
*Torch? It didn't look like it was on fire...* "No. I need some light to see by. I think it went to your left, though."
*Yay. Directions,* Ryouga thought gloomily. *Well, at least I don't think this is a very big chamber; I just need to cover the floor and I'll find it eventually. Assuming I don't go straight out the entrance and down the tunnel, that is,* he amended as he started patting the rock floor around him. *Or land in the water!*
As he searched blindly, he was also thinking over what he'd learned.
*That kekkai is sealing him in. That little pool is on his side of the barrier, I think, so he's got water... but no food. I don't know if that would matter to a youkai. The seal obviously doesn't keep him unconscious, so he's been stuck in the dark with nothing to do or see for how long? He's got an odd accent, but I don't know if that's because the language has changed a little, or just because he's not human.*
Not being the most tactful person in the world, as soon as he thought of the question, he asked it. "How long have you been stuck down here, anyway?"
"I don't know," the hoarse voice replied slowly. "I know it's been a long time."
"Umm... how big was Tokyo then?"
"It's a human city."
"I didn't pay much attention to humans. I don't know that name."
Ryouga frowned into the darkness, trying to think of something that a youkai might have noticed and that he would recognise as marking a time period. There wasn't much. "Did you ever hear the name of an important human? The Emperor, or a famous general? Was there a lot of big towns?"
"I walked through an army once... I don't know who the general was. I never heard anything about an Emperor. I stayed away from towns, so I didn't see humans often. At least, not alive."
"...'Not alive'?" Ryouga asked, puzzled, pausing in his search. "What do you mean by that?"
"They always seemed to be fighting, everywhere, one little country against another," the youkai said, not sounding particularly interested. "They'd leave their dead on the battlefields. I saw lots of them."
"You--" Ryouga almost choked. "Do you mean you've been down here since the Warring States period?! That's over five hundred years!" He spun around to stare incredulously at the dimly luminous eyes that were all he could see, and saw them widen slightly in surprise.
"I didn't think it was that long... but it would explain..." The voice trailed off.
"That's horrible!" Ryouga burst out indignantly. "I've been down here for less than an hour and I already hate it! Somebody sealed you up and left you to rot! Why?!"
Sesshoumaru flinched. Out of all the questions he might be asked, that was the one he least wanted to answer truthfully.
*If I tell him the truth, he may just walk away and leave me. He won't have any reason to come back, or to help me. But if I lie...*
*I could invent a story easily enough, but that monk's temple was close to here. It could still exist, along with its records. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the story of my capture has become a local legend, either. If I lie, and he finds out the truth, it'll be much worse.*
"You could say that it was... deserved," he said, swallowing painfully.
Ryouga gave up on the search for his torch for the moment, and settled down for what might be a long discussion. "Why?"
There was a faint, humourless laugh. "I have always ignored humans, except when they were in my way. However, getting in my way tended to be fatal. That army I spoke of... they were camped on top of a grave I wanted to investigate. They died. I killed a group of bandits once, merely to test the strength of an attack... I never gave it any thought, but I suppose I developed a reputation. A monk decided that it would be safer to remove me from the world."
"So... why didn't he just kill you?"
"I wish I knew," the youkai said bitterly. "He could have. Easily."
*As much as you hate admitting it,* Ryouga thought wryly, recognising a tone that he'd heard in his own voice often enough.
"He did say that he didn't believe I was truly evil," the youkai continued. "Perhaps he thought this was more merciful."
Ryouga snorted. "I'd rather die." He thought for a moment, chin in hand. "If you were let out now, what would you do?"
The response was immediate. "I would find somewhere that humans never go, and stay there!" The eyes blinked two or three times, as if the youkai was startled by his own vehemence, and then he continued in a quieter tone. "Everyone who I might wish to revenge myself on is long dead... except for my half-brother, perhaps, and after so long that seems somewhat less important than it did once. In any case, I have no desire to do anything that will lead to me finding out whether the monks of this time are as powerful as the last one I had dealings with."
Despite the fact that he was talking to a self-confessed mass murderer and non-human, Ryouga found himself unexpectedly sympathising with the youkai. *I don't think he's lying,* he thought seriously, scratching under his bandanna. *I'm usually pretty good at telling when someone's lying. I think. Unless they're girls. Or Ranma... anyway! If he was going to lie to me, he wouldn't have said he was sealed in for killing people, he would've told me he was just minding his own business and was attacked for being a youkai or something. So, I guess he really does just want to get out of here and be left alone.*
*He did kill a lot of people...*
*No. He killed a lot of humans. From the way he's been phrasing things, I don't think he ever considered humans to be 'people' before. It sounded like the way I think of killing bugs because they're getting on my food; it's not important enough to me to worry about, but I suppose the bugs don't like it. Maybe he'll treat humans as people now... or maybe he'll just act like he does so he won't get sealed up again. I guess that would be okay. I figure a lot of humans only obey the law because they don't want to face the consequences of getting caught breaking it, so why should I hold a youkai to better moral standards?*
*Besides, five hundred years of solitary confinement and starvation is enough to atone for a lot.*
*What is he thinking?* Sesshoumaru shifted uneasily, ignoring the aches and tingles from his reawakening muscles as he considered what the human's abrupt silence could mean. *He hasn't left, but... I don't know anything about him. I can't predict how he'll react to anything.*
*I'm worried about what a human might think. How pathetic,* he thought, suddenly disgusted with himself. *And I'm going to keep being pathetic, because right now he's the only thing standing between me and another five hundred years alone in the dark!*
"My name's Ryouga," the human said abruptly. "Hibiki Ryouga. What's yours?"
"Se-Sesshoumaru," he replied, stuttering slightly as the possible implications of this introduction occurred to him. *He's not just going to leave?*
There was a faint chuckle, and a rustle of cloth as the human -- Ryouga -- started patting the ground again. "I'd say 'pleased to meet you', Sesshoumaru-san, but since neither of us really wants to be here I guess you'll forgive me if I skip it. I-- ah!" Metal scraped on rock, and then Sesshoumaru had to throw up his good hand to shield his eyes as the dazzling white light sprang up again. "Yes! It's not broken! --Oh, sorry!"
"I just need a moment to adjust... Hibiki... san," Sesshoumaru gritted out, forcing the honorific past his teeth with an effort. *I must be polite,* he told himself grimly, blinking moisture out of his stinging eyes. *He's hardly going to want to help me if I insult him. Besides, didn't Father say something about only high-ranking humans using double names?*
*Not that I care about some mortal's rank,* he added sourly to himself, lowering his hand slightly and squinting past it, *but he probably does.*
"Just Ryouga is fine, Sesshoumaru-san," the human said absently, tugging a cloth out of his pack and wrapping it around the light. "It's not like I'm anybody special, after all, and 'Hibiki-san' makes it sound like you're talking to my dad. Is this better?"
*So much for that idea.* "Somewhat," he admitted, cautiously lowering his hand back into his lap. "And if we're not being formal, I see no need for you to use '-san' to me."
"Well, it's only polite," Ryouga said with a sudden grin. "You're definitely senior to me, after all, by at least several hundred years!"
That surprised a short, barking laugh out of Sesshoumaru, and he found himself half-smiling back.
*He looks a lot better when he smiles,* Ryouga decided, studying Sesshoumaru in the half-light his shrouded torch provided. *Less... I dunno... cold? Aloof?*
*Under the circumstances, I don't think anything could make him look worse!*
The youkai would probably have been handsome, Ryouga thought, if he hadn't been so painfully thin. His eyes and red-striped cheeks were sunken, giving his face the appearance of a skull with excellent bone structure, and the hand he'd raised to shield his eyes looked as if light would shine straight through it. His incredibly long hair was probably white under its coating of dust and grime, something that looked like a wadded-up, matted fur was wound around one shoulder, and his clothes were just recognisable as the tattered remains of an expensive kimono.
"Your courtesy is appreciated," Sesshoumaru said, mouth twisting bitterly, "but under the circumstances..." He lifted his hand again to gesture at his surroundings, and then froze, staring at it. Thin and filthy and trembling slightly as he turned it over to examine the other side, it probably looked like it belonged to a stranger.
"Under the circumstances," he repeated harshly, balling his hand into a fist and withdrawing it into his sleeve, "I'm hardly in any condition to insist on you following the proper forms."
"Then it's a good thing you don't have to insist, isn't it, Sesshoumaru-san?" Ryouga said quietly, and started pulling things out of his pack.
*He's proud,* he thought to himself, watching the youkai out of the corner of one eye as he set up his camp lantern, turning it down lower than normal. *Maybe too proud -- gee, who else do I know who fits that description?* he added with a quiet snort. *It's got to be just about killing him, being seen this way. So... I try not to rub it in, without being too obvious about it.*
*Yeah. Right. Like I've ever managed tact in my life!*
*I'm disgusting,* Sesshoumaru thought, feeling his skin crawl as he realised just how dirty he was. *I stink. I probably smell bad enough that even a nose-blind human can tell, and even if I don't, he only has to look at me to see the wretched state I'm in!*
His own scent had long ago faded into the background along with the smell of damp rock, never noticed because it was always there. Now that he was aware of it, however, the reek of unwashed demon and rotting cloth was unpleasantly obvious, and he suddenly wished he could crawl out of his own skin and leave it behind, along with its coating of oily filth.
*I would undoubtably be covered in lice and fleas, if there were any down here to catch. And I am not going to scratch in front of him!*
If there had been anywhere he could go to hide, he probably would have bolted; but there wasn't, and he knew it, so he just sat quietly and watched Ryouga from under his matted bangs. He had no real idea of how to judge a human's age, but he'd seen Rin change from a young child to an old woman with surprising speed, and Ryouga wasn't showing any signs of aging that he could see.
*So he's probably quite young,* he reasoned, trying to distract himself from thinking about his own condition. *Full-grown -- I think -- but not deteriorating yet. Perhaps twenty years old? Less? More?*
*He moves well, like a trained fighter. Probably hopelessly slow by youkai standards, and lacking in refinement, but... Actually, he reminds me of that wolf-tribe youkai I saw squabbling with my brother once or twice. His style was all strength and speed, no subtlety at all, but effective enough against most opponents. What was his name? Something -ga, I think. Touga? Kouga?*
Dismissing the question as pointless, Sesshoumaru considered the human in front of him again. From his point of view, Ryouga was dressed like a peasant, in dark travelling clothes that left his muscular arms bare, shaggy black hair held out of his eyes by a yellow-and-black bandanna. *It's certainly a practical costume, though,* the youkai admitted grudgingly, *if he's planning to walk any sort of distance. I'd have to see what he wears at home to judge-- eh? Green eyes?*
*That's odd. I think every human I've ever seen had black eyes... though I can't say I really paid attention!*
"Watch your eyes," Ryouga said absently, moving the lantern closer to Sesshoumaru's prison and slowly turning the flame up. "I need more light to get a proper look at this barrier thing."
Sesshoumaru almost forgot to squint against the growing illumination as a feeling of desperate hope welled up within him. *He's going to-- I didn't even ask-- But I would have, wouldn't I?* he thought, mood abruptly swinging back to shame and self-hatred. *I would have got down on my hands and knees and begged him to help me if I had to, and I still might, because I was stupid enough to get myself into a situation where I'm dependent on a human's help to get out of this hole!*
"Is something wrong? You look-- er--"
Sesshoumaru looked up into Ryouga's concerned face and then wrenched his gaze away, struggling to regain his normal cool, expressionless mask. "Your pardon," he gritted out harshly, aware that his impotent fury was audible in his voice but unable to control it. "I am... not used to relying on anyone else's assistance. I suppose you could say I'm having trouble adjusting to the idea of being an object of pity!"
"I don't pity you," Ryougha said flatly, looking away towards the rock wall. "I'm doing this out of self-interest."
"Oh? How so?" Sesshoumaru snarled. *If he thinks I'll serve him if he frees me--*
"The world is a cold and lonely place, and you have to look after yourself, because nobody else will," the human told him, sounding like he was reciting something he'd said hundreds of times before. "Right? But it shouldn't be that way. I don't want to depend on anyone else, either, but I've been in situations where I needed help before, and I guess I will again. And I can't expect anyone to help me if I won't help them. So..." He shrugged, still looking at the wall as if something fascinating was written there, rubbing his thumb over a small lumpy projection.
*...He's serious,* Sesshoumaru realised, looking at him wide-eyed. *He's embarrassed about it, but he really is doing this because he believes that it's the 'right' thing to do!*
*Either he's been extremely lucky to survive this far, or the world has changed a lot since I was sealed down here.*
end Chapter 1
to be continued...
 Bakusai ten-ketsu: 'breaking point strike'
 Kekkai: a magical barrier
On to Part 2
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