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Pride is a Barren Mountain

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I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong.

- Vita Sackville-West

-l-

It was his own foolishness that had led him to this. Sesshoumaru knew this. He had been arrogant, blind, so sure of his own cunning that he had allowed himself to be tricked like a pup still wet behind the ears.

It made his predicament all the more galling.

He'd made a deal with a sorceress. She assured him that she could craft a spell that would make him able to wield the Tetsusaiga. All she needed was a strand of Inuyasha's hair and something stained with his blood, and both those things had been simple enough for Sesshoumaru to acquire. He should have asked more questions. Should have considered exactly how her spell would work around the binding Sesshoumaru's father had placed on Tetsusaiga's hilt.

But he had not believed the sorceress powerful enough to be a threat. She was a tool, there to serve his whims, nothing more.

He would gut her and leave her corpse for the carrion crows, to pay for the insult he had been dealt.

-l-

On the morning following the casting of the witch's spell, Sesshoumaru woke feeling weak. His extrasensory perception barely extended beyond the trees surrounding him and his youki had dwindled to nearly nothing. His hearing was muffled and his sense of smell dulled, as if he had his head beneath water. His eyesight was less sharp, though the colors were more vibrant than he was used to.

He was not in the tree where he had chosen to rest the night before. And there were humans – familiar humans – sleeping on the ground below him. For a moment Sesshoumaru thought his weakness only a side effect of the magic, and assumed the spell must have transported him within reach of his goal. But when he attempted to locate Inuyasha, he realized that he was surrounded in the hanyou's scent. It permeated everything around him, so much so that Sesshoumaru had been filtering it out subconsciously, as he did with his own scent.

His own scent which was decidedly lacking.

Slowly, Sesshoumaru looked down.

He was wearing a red haori, undoubtedly made of fire rat. His hair hung silver and coarse around his shoulders. He had both arms and his hands were the wrong size, and missing the stripes that belonged on his wrists. He had no shoes to speak of. Taking deep, meditative breaths, Sesshoumaru raised his left hand and smoothed it over the top of his head.

His questing fingers found two triangular and extremely sensitive ears.

He was a hanyou.

The only consolation was the fact that the Tetsusaiga was strapped to his side, and, as promised, he now had the ability to wield it.

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Sesshoumaru needed to return to the West. If his consciousness was in Inuyasha's body, then it followed that Inuyasha's had been transferred to Sesshoumaru's body. He needed to locate Inuyasha and ensure that the hanyou-turned-youkai had not lost his mind and laid waste to the countryside. Then he would find the sorceress and demand she return him to his rightful form, before killing her for her chicanery. While it was true that she had done as he requested – given him the ability to wield Tetsusaiga – the witch surely knew that he would never agree to become a hanyou, which was why she had not seen fit to tell him the exact nature of her spell.

Sesshoumaru had wished for the power of his father's fang, but not so much so that he would give up his own strength in exchange.

He stood and leapt from the tree branch where he'd woken, landing less than soundlessly on the grass below. Unused to his new height and weight, he stumbled. His balance seemed to work differently as well, perhaps something to do with the placement of his ears. And his bones seemed lighter, his musculature less dense. Neither absorbed the shock of impact as he had expected. Normally he did not need to bend his knees for such a short jump. Now… His lips twitched down. Inuyasha's body was even weaker than he had always thought.

His ears flattened to his head, signaling his displeasure, though he was unaware of it.

He cast his eyes over the still sleeping humans, his nose twitching as he noticed the kitsune kit tucked into the arms of the miko. For a moment, he hesitated. It would be dishonorable to leave Inuyasha's pack without the protection of their alpha, and he had not earned the right to kill or keep them as he pleased, not having killed Inuyasha in single combat. But neither did he wish to bring them with him. The kitsune was too young to keep up, and the humans had no hope of matching even a hanyou's pace, for all that they were fully grown as far as Sesshoumaru could tell.

He'd never spent much time around humans, save for Rin.

There came a soft mewing sound, and Sesshoumaru tossed his – Inuyasha's – hair over his shoulder, turning to look at the small neko youkai that served the taijiya. She gazed on him with steady eyes, and he wondered if she sensed that he was not her true Alpha.

The neko mewled again, and there was a shifting of fabric and a quiet sigh.

"Inuyasha?" the miko said. "Is something wrong?"

Sesshoumaru turned his back on her and began to walk away. He would go to the West and quickly rectify what he had wrought. That was the only way honor could be served.

"Inuyasha? Where are you going? Is something out there?"

Sesshoumaru kept walking, not looking back at the calling female, though his ears swiveled in the direction of her voice.

"Kagome? What…?"

"I don't know, Sango, Inuyasha's being strange, even for him. He let us all sleep in, and he hasn't said a word since I woke up."

"Perhaps he's going hunting?" the monk's voice joined the two women.

"Hey Inubaka, you promised to take me hunting with you!" the kitsune whined.

"… Sango, I think something's wrong. He's never this quiet."

There came the sound of running footsteps. Sesshoumaru increased his pace, unwilling to explain himself or the situation he found himself in to any member of Inuyasha's pack.

A hand clutched at his sleeve, a soft feminine voice saying, "Inuyasha…"

He shrugged the hand off and jumped high into the air, deciding he was less likely to be molested if he took to the trees. He was mid-leap when he heard her say it.

"Osuwari!"

There was a tingle of holy energy against Sesshoumaru's diminished senses, and then a weight like nothing he'd ever felt before pulled him out of the sky and sent him crashing face first into the ground.

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In his outrage at being brought low by a mere human woman, Sesshoumaru forgot himself and raised his arm, snapping his wrist in an attempt to call forth his youki whip. He would give her a lashing across the cheek for her audacity. Let the lingering mark serve as a reminder of her place.

But of course, no light formed at his fingertips. His youkai heritage was muddied with human blood, diluted to the point of uselessness. He tightened his jaw, biting back a scowl, turning instead to deliver an open handed slap to the woman in place of his whip.

He was never able to land the blow.

She sent him crashing into the ground six more times with her word of power, never letting him take so much as a step before he was once more dragged down by the impossible weight around his neck. It was the rosary. The strand of beads and fangs that he hadn't paid attention to when first waking crackled with holy energy now.

"Stop!" he growled out around the sod stuck in his teeth. The bones of his face were beginning to ache, and his muscles burned with the strain of fighting the pull of the rosary. His face flushed an angry red, his fangs curling over his lips in a snarl. His humiliation was so great, that if he could only reach her he would have gladly torn the miko apart, and then slaughtered the rest of Inuyasha's pathetic pack for witnessing his shame.

"You stop!" the miko countered, crossing her arms and stomping one tiny foot. In that moment she looked like Rin, though Rin had never been so ill mannered.

The thought of Rin quelled his bloodlust. He had taken the girl in as pack, in fulfillment of a debt owed. If Inuyasha happened across the child while wearing Sesshoumaru's face, Sesshoumaru would not have her go happily to her death, thinking herself safe with her Alpha. For such an offense, Sesshoumaru would see to it that there was not enough left of Inuyasha to send to hell, no matter what body he wore.

Sesshoumaru would not commit the same crime.

Bit by bit, one muscle group at a time, Sesshoumaru forced himself to relax, sinking down into the depression made by his – Inuyasha's – body.

"Allow me to rise. I will not strike you."

"Or run away or attack anyone else?" the miko prompted.

Sesshoumaru felt his brows quirk in spite of himself. The miko was more intelligent than he had expected, only having seen her at times when she was barreling into the middle of battles she had no business taking part in, bellowing Inuyasha's name.

"This one gives his word," he affirmed. His voice sounded wrong. The inflection was his, but the light tenor was not.

There was a pause, as if she were weighing his sincerity. Then she said, "Okay," and warm hands, scarcely bigger than Rin's, were helping him to his feet.

He stood stiffly while she brushed dirt from his chest, uncomfortable with her touch, but unwilling to take the risk of giving offense and being sent crashing to his knees once more. She stayed close to him even when she had ceased to arrange his clothes and hair, apparently unconcerned with the fact that he had been attempting to discipline her mere moments before.

She gazed up at him with forgiving blue eyes filled with adoration and worry. Sesshoumaru recognized the expression, having seen it often on Rin's face. Gently, the miko asked, "What's wrong, Inuyasha?"

Sesshoumaru considered for a long moment. It was possible that the pack would be more cooperative if he allowed them to believe he was Inuyasha. But what reason would Inuyasha give for seeking out Sesshoumaru? And what wrath might the miko unleash once she discovered the ruse?

No, Sesshoumaru was a warrior of honor. He would tell the truth. Such deceit and machinations were better left to lesser beings, like that vile hanyou, Naraku.

He carefully did not think about the fact that he too was now a hanyou.

"I am not Inuyasha," he told the miko. "I am Sesshoumaru, Lord of the Western Lands."

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Kagome's first reaction was to laugh. And she did, long and loud. But when Inuyasha just watched her with a level gaze, no expression on his face, her giggles eventually petered out. Realizing how close she was standing to the hanyou, she took a step back, looking Inuyasha up and down.

He didn't stand like Inuyasha.

Inuyasha always had his feet braced apart, his toes pointing out, his right hand on the hilt of Tetsusaiga. He stood tall, but with his shoulders ever so slightly hunched, and he had a tendency to lean forward, as if forever about to charge ahead with all his speed.

This Inuyasha stood with his feet together, one foot pointing forward and the other pointing to the right. His shoulders were back and perfectly straight, his arms hanging at his sides. He kept flexing the fingers of his left hand like he was trying to restore circulation, and his ears constantly swiveled and twitched in the way they did only when Inuyasha was on high alert for danger.

But it was the eyes that really convinced Kagome. There were years there that Inuyasha had never seen, and a sort of cold ferocity that seemed all the more frightening when compared to the flame of Inuyasha's temper.

"Sesshoumaru?" she squeaked, not entirely meaning to speak aloud.

The hanyou jerked his chin down once.

Kagome's mind went completely blank.

It was Miroku who salvaged the situation. While Kagome was still staring in morbid fascination and silently babbling to herself about using the rosary on Sesshoumaru, the monk stepped forward and bowed low.

"Forgive us Sesshoumaru-sama, for the way we have acted. We did not understand and were concerned for our friend."

Sesshoumaru was silent, though he turned his aristocratic gaze on Miroku. Kagome chose to take that as a good sign. And hey, who knew Inuyasha's face could be aristocratic?

"Ah, Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome started, following Miroku's lead with a deep bow. "I am sorry. But how did this happen? And if you're here, where's Inuyasha?"

Inuya- Sesshoumaru's ears pivoted in Kagome's direction, but he kept his eyes on Miroku. After a pause long enough that Kagome thought he wasn't going to answer, he said, "A witch has cast a spell upon this one and the half-breed. As this Sesshoumaru awoke in this… form, Inuyasha no doubt wears this one's flesh."

Now he met Kagome's eyes. "This one will return to the West and see that all is restored."

Then he turned on his heel and started to walk away.

That snapped Kagome out of her funk.

"Hey, wait! You can't just walk off with Inuyasha's body! We're coming with you!"

Typically, Sesshoumaru didn't turn around or respond to her. He just kept walking. Kagome's hands curled into fists.

"I'll say it! I don't want to, especially now that I know who you are, but I'll do it if you make me!"

That made him stop. Unfortunately, it also made him turn his head and give Kagome a flat, lethal glare that made her stutter and shiver with the feeling of someone walking over her grave. Like a rabbit caught by the gaze of a serpent, she couldn't move or think, could only feel the rapid thumping of her heart. Vaguely she could hear Miroku, Sango, and Shippou whispering to each other behind her, but the sound of their words was lost beneath the pounding of blood in her ears.

Finally, Shippou spoke up.

"Alpha," he said, looking at Sesshoumaru. And how strange it was that now it was impossible to think of Inuyasha's body as Inuyasha when expression, carriage, and tone all screamed Sesshoumaru.

Sesshoumaru's laser-like attention shifted from Kagome to Shippou, and Kagome spared a moment to feel relieved before getting nervous all over again.

Shippou looked back over his shoulder and received encouraging nods and shooing motions from Miroku and Sango. Squaring his little shoulders, he hopped forward a few steps, bowing his head. "Alpha," he said again.

Sesshoumaru studied Shippou long enough for Kagome's life to flash before her eyes no less than three times, but then closed the remaining distance between them and rested his hand on top of Shippou's head. Shippou's ears and tail twitched and he gave a happy little sigh.

When Sesshoumaru looked up, Kagome found herself sandwiched between Miroku and Sango. Each one of them grabbed one of her arms, pulling her down so that the three of them knelt in a row.

"Alpha," Miroku and Sango said in tandem, Kagome echoing them a second later when Sango elbowed her.

Sesshoumaru approached them and laid his hand on each of their heads in turn. It was weird. Kind of…comforting, but very weird. He even did it to Kirara, when she stretched herself out on her belly at his feet.

Sesshoumaru stepped back, gesturing for them to rise. "Miroku. Sango. Kagome. Shippou. And…?"

"Kirara," Sango supplied, making Kagome realize that Sesshoumaru was checking to make sure he knew all their names.

She'd had no idea that he knew their names.

Sesshoumaru inclined his head. "Come. We make haste for the West."

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Miroku bowed to Sesshoumaru, showing proper deference to his pack leader. "Sesshoumaru-sama, may we have a few moments to break camp? Being human, there are things here that we will need to travel for any great distance."

Sesshoumaru nodded his acquiescence. He was familiar enough with the needs of humans. He carried the things Rin needed on Ah Un after all. Allowing the humans time to gather their belongings would add speed to their journey in the long run. Now that Inuyasha's pack had claimed him as their Alpha, and he had accepted their claim as honor and custom dictated, they were his responsibility. He would not kill them or leave them to die, no matter how they frustrated him, for he would not have Inuyasha do the same to Rin.

He took a moment to look his new pack members over. The humans were all dark of hair and thin, though not so thin as to indicate they were eating poorly. The monk and the miko both had light eyes, while the tajiya's were brown. Perhaps light eyes were a sign of holy power.

The miko's strange clothes showed far more skin than was usual for humans, as far as Sesshoumaru knew. He had seen youkai females wearing less, but they were all strong enough not to need the protection clothing offered, and low born more often than not.

It was a puzzle.

The kitsune was dark skinned and typical of his race, with green eyes and fiery hair. The neko, a lower order youkai on a par with Ah Un, was gold and black with eyes of flame, colors that suited the smell of brimstone that clung to her.

The pack seemed to have enough to sustain them in terms of worldly goods. Sesshoumaru recognized cooking and fire-making tools, stores of food, and the like. Miroku and Sango had serviceable weapons, and Kagome had her bow, though Sesshoumaru was uncertain how much her aim had improved, if at all, since he last saw her use it. Shippou had toys to amuse himself with, and youkai spun silk to wear. The humans, however, were badly dressed, none more so than Kagome.

It would not do. Inuyasha may not have been capable of providing for his pack, but Sesshoumaru was not Inuyasha. The state of the pack reflected the Alpha's strength, and though temporarily hanyou, Sesshoumaru refused to consider himself less than he had once been.

"Shippou," he called. The little kitsune dropped the bedding he was gathering up and came to Sesshoumaru at once, green eyes shining. "Stand guard," Sesshoumaru ordered.

Shippou smiled at him, wide and delighted, before schooling his face into an expression of seriousness. "Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama."

That done, Sesshoumaru turned his eyes once more on the humans, assessing strengths and weaknesses. Finally he said, "Sango, watch the pack," tacitly acknowledging her strength and announcing her place as Migitsume, Right Claw of the Alpha. She would be protector and leader when Sesshoumaru was not present.

Sango nodded her understanding and acceptance.

With that, Sesshoumaru melted into the forest, intent on scouting ahead and acquiring better clothing for his humans.

-l-

"What's going on?" Kagome demanded as soon as she was sure that Sesshoumaru was too far away to hear them talking.

"Pack law," Sango answered, not looking up from where she was scattering the ashes of their fire. "It was Miroku's idea."

Miroku shrugged, giving Kagome a sheepish look. "It was a very lucky guess based on the way Kouga's wolf tribe works and some things Inuyasha seems to do instinctively, without really understanding why. Shippou was very helpful too."

Shippou, who had stationed himself in the center of the clearing and was making a show of being alert and watchful, grinned and blushed. "I remembered some, from my mom and dad. If a pack's Alpha dies or leaves, a new Alpha can take over the pack. Inuyasha is our Alpha, but he's not here and Sesshoumaru is, so…"

"Okay, so we just made Sesshoumaru our leader… why?" Kagome wrinkled her brow, scrubbing a hand over her face. Inuyasha was not going to like this.

"So that he'll take us with him." Sango stood, the fire pit successfully dealt with. "We need to go with him so that we can help Inuyasha. By making him our Alpha, we made him responsible for us. He might leave us behind sometimes, but he won't ever go farther than he's able to sense us, and since a hanyou's senses aren't nearly as powerful as a full inu youkai's…"

Kagome smiled. "That's brilliant, guys! He won't ever be so far away that we can't follow him. How did you know he'd go for it?"

Miroku laughed. "We didn't."

"It would have been dishonorable for him to say no. Not while he's in Inuyasha's body," Shippou told them. "Can't really explain why… It just would." He nodded to himself, a look on his face that said firmly And that is that.

"I just hope that Sesshoumaru-sama is willing to give us back to Inuyasha when we've undone this spell," Miroku mused, picking up his staff. "I can't imagine he'd want to keep me, but you two lovely ladies are another story…" He waggled his brows.

A resounding crack made Kagome laugh as Miroku clutched at his cheek, covering the red handprint Sango had left there.

Then his words caught up with her. "Wait, what do you mean you hope Sesshoumaru is willing to give us back?"

Sango's face was solemn when she said, "Under pack law, if Sesshoumaru doesn't want to let us go, either we each fight him to win our right to freedom, or Inuyasha fights Sesshoumaru for the right to be our Alpha."

Kagome's eyes widened. "Well. I'm sure it won't come to that," she muttered.

"It probably will," Shippou disagreed. "It's us."

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It took Sesshoumaru longer than he liked to locate a nest of spider youkai sufficient for his needs. Used as he was to probing his surroundings with his youki, to be restricted to an inferior hanyou sense of smell made tracking difficult, if not onerous. Still, he persevered. If Inuyasha could hunt, handicapped as he was, it was inconceivable that Sesshoumaru could not do better.

At last he came across the corpse of a human traveler, and followed the sickly sweet scent of spider venom back to the dark copse of trees where they spun their webs. Unable to use youki to cloak his presence, Sesshoumaru carefully approached downwind, the broader color spectrum of Inuyasha's vision helping him to separate shadow from spider youkai. There were six of them, two females, and four males. Pale and long limbed, they appeared human for the most part, with wide, red mouths and hair so black it was almost purple. Their clothing would be spun out of their own silk, and likely fit the humans of Sesshoumaru's pack.

Very well.

As silently as he was able, Sesshoumaru drew the Tetsusaiga, enjoying the rush of power up his arm even as it vexed him that he needed the sword to defeat the pitiful excuses of youkai lounging before him. Despising that, having wanted the power of the Tetsusaiga because it was his birthright, he now was forced to use it as a crutch.

For an instant, the sword did not transform. But Sesshoumaru was familiar with the song sung by Tenseiga, and was not troubled. The Tetsusaiga's voice was far less subtle, and as Sesshoumaru communed with it he could hear his father saying Why do you fight? in echo of another question he had asked Sesshoumaru long ago.

To provide for my pack. To return to Rin, he answered silently.

With a swirl of spectral wind, the rusted sword became his father's fang.

Wasting no more time, Sesshoumaru sprang into action, quickly beheading one and then a second of the spider males, turning their bodies upside down as he passed so that they were less likely to bleed on their clothes. The Spider Queen screeched and spat poison at him, which Sesshoumaru did not bother to dodge, forgetting until it hit his skin that he was no longer immune.

He hissed at the burning sensation of the poison soaking through his haori and hanjuban to sizzle against his flesh, surprised at the pain of it.

"Filthy halfling! How dare you invade my lair! Mongrel!" the Spider Queen called, moving through the trees faster than Sesshoumaru's hanyou eyes could follow. A low rage started boiling in his gut at her insults, but he put the feeling aside, burying it and the pain of his wound deep to be dealt with later.

Mind clear, he chased down and beheaded the remaining lesser spiders, hanging their bodies upside down in their webs and leaving himself able to engage the Spider Queen unhindered. She had continued to spit poison and webbing at him from the shadows, and he'd been careful to always keep her in his peripheral vision, unwilling to unleash the greater powers of the Tetsusaiga since they would destroy the entirety of the spider nest, thus defeating Sesshoumaru's purpose in this battle.

The Spider Queen was playing for time, keeping him from drawing close enough to her to do any damage, and Sesshoumaru knew it was because of the strength leaching from his limbs, the poison spreading in his veins. He was getting slower, the fire in his chest growing more intense. He needed to wash the spider's poison from his body.

He needed a projectile weapon. His youki whip was not possible, and he was no longer a poison master. Inuyasha carried only the Tetsusaiga, emphasizing his poor understanding of tactics and disregard for the art of subtlety.

Sesshoumaru grit his teeth, realizing what he would have to do.

Fending off another volley of poison and webbing with the Tetsusaiga, he stuck his left hand inside his haori, sinking his claws into the open wound on his chest and letting his hanyou blood coat his fingers. Then he concentrated on his miniscule youki, imbuing the blood on his hand with its power, an easy enough feat for one such as he.

With a flick of his wrist, he sent blades of blood arcing through the air, pleased to see one of them strike the Spider Queen in the eye. She gave a high pitched cry of pain, and he used her distraction to close with her and cut her throat.

He did it with his claws. It was neater, and allowed him the visceral pleasure of taking her life.

-l-

The battle done, Sesshoumaru cast his senses out as best as he was able to ensure he was truly alone. Once satisfied in that regard, he sheathed the Tetsusaiga and immediately stripped off his clothes, wiping at the poison on his chest with the hem of Inuyasha's hakama.

His skin – no, the skin, not his skin – was pitted and red from shoulder to shoulder, and he could see muscle in more than a few places, but he did not fear dying. Inuyasha had survived large doses of Sesshoumaru's own poison, so this body was unlikely to be defeated by the weak venom of a presumptuous spider.

Naked and blinking to combat the dizziness that accompanied his poisoning, Sesshoumaru went about stripping the dead spider youkai of their clothes, and then picking over the belongings they kept stored in coiled loops of webbing, amassing a respectable pile in an area free of blood and ichor. He ended up with three kimono suitable for females with associated layers and underthings, a youkai made dagger that would be an appropriate weapon for Shippou, four sets of masculine clothes, and a short hakimono ensemble that might appeal to Kagome if she insisted on baring herself for whatever human reason she had.

He bundled up the spider silks, along with his abandoned fire rat, and let his ears lead him to water.