Second Alliance – Chapter 10

Back to Chapter 9: Breaking Down Walls

Chapter 10: What to Expect, When You’re Expecting

Ryukostokken ignored the captain at his side, looking over the small bands of warriors arrayed before him. There were only a few in each group, but those dragon demons had been trained in stealth and assassination for decades. They would not fail him. The time to reveal himself was close. Snow was falling heavily in the North, and the storms would reach into the heart of Japan soon.

He smiled, baring his fangs and prowling across a low rise that looked out over the border of the Northern Lands. He had recruited spies to reveal the weaknesses of his enemy. He had spread disease to debilitate them. This would be his third move in the game he played against the pup. Sesshomaru had not even known he was under attack, but he would soon realize that there was a more powerful force working against him. Ryukostokken felt a surge of greedy anticipation, imagining the skinny little pup, his pretty face ravaged by pox, lying weak in his castle with the dead bodies of his servants around him. He wondered if the human whore had survived, and felt almost gleeful adding her decaying body to the scene in his mind. The pup, just like his father, grieving over a weak human. Pathetic. Perfect.

“Send them out,” he commanded.

“At once, Ryukostokken-denkaue.” The captain, scarred as he was, issued orders to the men. Each band was sent out to a predesignated sector in the Eastern Lands. They would harass the population there, decimate villages that had survived the pox, disrupt trade routes, and gain information. Once the Eastern Lord was sufficiently occupied and crippled from disease and border incursions, then…then Sesshomaru would have one less ally. Then his soldiers would be able to sweep through the East to reach Lord Hirimoto in the South. He savored the impending taste of revenge.

Ryukostokken smiled and grabbed hold of the sightless wind youkai that served as his transport. She tossed a brown leaf into the air, increasing its size with her youki to carry them both. She bent the air currents without speaking to speed them to their destination. Long experience had taught her that the Northern Lord was not appreciative of youkai that were not dragons. Or females that did not know their place. She knew hers.

Ryukostokken stood behind the demoness and gripped her hair, drawing a sharp noise of pain. The wind witch knew her place, as did all in his domain. Once he regained all that rightfully belonged to him, he would remind other youkai why the dragon demons were the oldest, had survived the longest. They were the most powerful and they were made to rule all others. The humans too, those he did not slaughter or feed to his armies, would know their place. He was reminded again of the image of Sesshomaru – weak and struggling for life. Perhaps it would be better if his human woman had not died from the pox. Ryukostokken growled in excitement, his fist tightening and drawing another wince from the female.

He pictured the human at Sesshomaru’s side, fearful as a great dragon approached to rip out the heart of the pup. Everyone would know the place he allowed them, and even a human whore could retain a position in Ryukostokken’s empire. He would show her where her kind belonged, and treat her to the power of a true daiyoukai while her Lord looked on. That would be best. Sesshomaru would be inflicted with the pain of knowing Ryukostokken had taken everything from him: his health, his beauty, his power, his title, his lands, and people. Especially his woman.

The dragon lord smiled, eager for all that would come.

ooo

Kagome smiled weakly as another demon bowed before her. “Thank you, Miko-sama. Thank you.” It had been going on for hours. At first she was embarrassed and surprised, but after the initial five or six times, it had morphed into a sort of surreal acceptance. She thanked the lower level bird youkai with his beaky face and trailing head feathers and wished him continued good health. The bird beamed, and backed away, continuing to bow and offer thanks.

“I really wish they would stop that,” Kagome sighed. She had started out that morning intending to visit Jun. Eiichi and Eiji trailed behind her, escorting her through a maze of corridors and shadowed gardens between the castle and into the infirmary. Jun’s reaction should have been the first indicator that things were not as they had been at the Western Palace.

“Miko-sama,” Jun left his place straightening pallets to bow low before her. “You honor me with your presence. What may I do to assist you?”

“Please, Jun-san,” she tried to brush off the strange feeling his extreme respect gave her, “I have asked you to call me Kagome. Just Kagome.”

“I could not, you must not sink so low, Miko-sama.”

“At least not miko, then? You worked so hard alongside me, I feel we know each other well enough for names, Jun-san.”

“Kagome-sama, then.” He grinned, revealing the fangs of his inuyoukai heritage and settled into an easier discussion on the status of all of the former patients. She spent an hour with him, while the rock twins waited patiently outside, debating how her reiki worked and the possible implications for youki and holy power working in concert. She promised to return once she was confident she had rested enough so that they could run some experiments.

When she stepped back out into the sunshine, she found Rin waiting with Kento. She had no doubt that Jun had alerted his cousin to her whereabouts. Kento offered to escort her wherever she wished to go, and no amount of protesting that two guards was already overdoing it seemed to make any difference. She finally gave in, unwilling to spoil the happy mood she woke up with. Kagome decided that she would ask him to be her tour guide for the day, if Sesshomaru didn’t need him.

“My Lord has other occupation this morning, Kagome-sama, leaving me at your service. Might I suggest the formal pavilion? It is surrounded by-” Rin interrupted, eager to show her the village surrounding the castle walls. She quickly agreed, as an entire village of demons – all living under the peace of the Western Lord – sounded very interesting.

Her issues started before she even made it out of the courtyard. A pair of female servants approached them, wide-eyed and smiling behind their hands, and bowed low before Kagome, the Miko-sama. The guards at the gate went so far as to kneel in front of the ‘Miko-sama’. Kento explained that their families, both mates and three children between them, had been stricken with smallpox. Sesshomaru’s secretary seemed to be expecting the behavior; the rock brothers stoically ignored it. Rin smiled and greeted many of the demons they met. Kagome was the only one who was discomfited.

The bows and thanks only increased in frequency as they made their way through the outer courtyard. An apothecary approached with a shallow basket filled with herbs. He offered her his thanks for healing himself and his grandchild, and then humbly offered her the basket for her use. Kagome thanked him and offered him wishes for good health and prosperity, something her grandfather often said to tourists at the shrine. The demon – he had a vaguely monkey-like appearance with soft brown fur on his head and a beard that framed his face like a mane – begged her to stay a moment, and disappeared inside his shop. He returned a moment later with a much smaller, pink-faced version of himself. The child stood by shyly, gripping his grandfather’s robes.

“Miko-sama, if it pleases you, would you bless my grandson as well?” Kagome had never felt so honored and awkward before. Denying that she was special or skilled enough to bless anyone would only insult the demons, which was not something she wanted to do. She figured that a blessing was a blessing, and even if she didn’t have the kind of holy power that Miroku did, at the very least her words might make the apothecary feel better. It couldn’t hurt.

She knelt before the child and spoke as softly as she could, trying to remember some of the blessings she had written for the family shrine. “My name is Kagome, what’s yours?”

“Haruko,” he whispered.

“Haruko-kun, that is a very good name. Do you want to make medicine like your grandfather when you grow up?”

“Yeah.” He turned to look at her and gave her a small smile. She selected a flowering herb from the basket, one that represented good fortune, and held it out to the boy.

When he reached for it, she spoke, “May you have future blessings of happiness in the path of your mind and heart.” Kagome released his hands and stood, bowing slightly. “Thank you very much for the flowers, Chemist-san.” The apothecary’s mouth hung open and the child looked dazed, and a little bit awed. Rin took her arm and led her away as a small crowd gathered around the monkey demon.

“It is so nice that everyone likes Kagome-sama now!”

“Y-yes,” Kagome responded, unsure if she really preferred stares and deep bows to being ignored. Although it was better than being called a loose woman. She sighed, trying to look on the bright side.

“Rin is excited to show you all of her favorite places. Rin does not get to come to the village very often, as Sesshomaru-sama or Kento-san must go with her, and they are very busy. Now that Kagome-sama lives here too, we can visit often!”

“Rin,” Kagome said, startled. She didn’t want to dim the girl’s excitement, but she also didn’t want to mislead her on how long she would be staying. After all, she was a guest, she didn’t live at the castle.

“I believe Rin would enjoy showing you the shops, Kagome-sama. The Western Lands are very prosperous. Sesshomaru-sama has brought fortune to us by securing trade with…” Kagome listened to Kento’s lesson on economics in feudal Japan, made far more interesting than the classes she had taken by descriptions of various demons and demonic items that played a role. Rin interjected with funny comments about how a certain trader or lord acted and whose goods were used at the castle itself. Throughout their walk, she was always conscious of the stares. By the time a bird-demon approached, she was the recipient of a loaf of sweet-smelling black bread, an evergreen wreath with blue berries, a strange cake of soap that had no scent, and a packet of tea. She was more grateful for the apothecary’s gift of the basket with each step.

“Here, Kagome-sama, this is Rin’s favorite shop!” Her delighted exclamations drew the attention of the shopkeeper – although she must have known they were approaching considering the whispers that ran ahead of them through the village. Despite the chilly weather and the light coating of snow on the ground, a tented stall was doing brisk business in front of a two story stone structure. It was one of the more impressive houses in the village.

Rin skipped ahead, and Kento explained, “Aki-san is a spider demon.” Kagome shivered a bit; her history with spider demons was not a good one. She squared her shoulders and smiled, determined not to let Naraku color her first impression of one of Sesshomaru’s people. “Her sisters and cousins have trading posts across Japan, and have married into the demon clans on the mainland. They procure the most exotic and unusual cloth, from human and demonic sources – and some others that they will not share the origin of. Sesshomaru-sama’s garments are all made from her wares.” He was proud of her, she could tell from the warmth in his tone. Kento paused as they drew closer and lowered his voice, “I believe the Inu no Taisho made his last purchase of fire rat cloth from her as well.”

“Miko-sama,” Aki crossed her ankles and dipped into a graceful bow, hands clasped before her, “you honor me with your presence.” Kagome nodded, and something in her wanted to like the merchant immediately, despite her nature. Her skin was darker than most Japanese, a smooth caramel color that in the future Kagome would have said spoke to a blended heritage. Her hair was an inky blue-black and was bound with silk cord into a rope that fell to her waist. Her eyes were purple, and shone with iridescence that twitched with glimmers of green and gold. Her outer kimono matched her eyes, and the only decoration she used was a heavily embroidered obi that was covered in depictions of plants and animals too detailed for Kagome to examine without rudely staring.

“Aki-san made my kimono herself, Kagome-sama,” Rin said with a twirl. The green material was softer than even the finest cotton in the future, and thick enough to keep the human girl warm in the cold air. Tiny flowers trailed along the neckline and pooled at the hems, the white thread glittered with traces of gold that also limned the orange obi at her waist. It was a work of art. It also reminded Kagome of the thinness of her own kimono. Despite the heavy shawl a servant had procured for her that morning, it was still chilly. She shivered.

“It is beautiful, Rin.” She turned to Aki and gave her a small bow. “Your work is amazing, Aki-san. Anyone would be privileged to wear such fine garments. It is no wonder that Sesshomaru-sama is always so well attired.” The demoness was smiling, so Kagome ventured a small joke, “Although I do not envy how often you must replace them. White does not seem practical for one who walks through the forest.”

Aki’s smile grew wider and she replied, “Dirt would not harm my fabrics, Kagome-sama, they are demonic in nature.” Her eyes sparkled. “That forest path is also one of conquest – which results in an unfortunate amount of demon blood.”

Kagome laughed, “I’m sure it is difficult to get out of silk. I have a hard time cleaning my own clothes, although Sesshomaru-sama is significantly less messy than I am.”

“My Lord seeks perfection in all things,” Aki remarked. Kagome laughed again, and Aki joined in, both aware of how the diplomatic answer was not necessarily a compliment of Sesshomaru. A small crowd had gathered around the stall and kept a respectful distance back by Eiichi and Eiji. Kento stood ready to explain anything to her, while Rin looked through bolts of silks and more exotic material.

“May Shippo-kun have new clothes, Kagome-sama?” Rin held up a handful of blue cloth that shifted and warped the light; for a moment, Kagome wasn’t sure there was anything there at all. It was amazing and Shippo would love it, she knew. He needed new clothes too, he had definitely grown taller. She hesitated; it had to cost a fortune.

“I don’t-”

Kento interrupted her, “Please put this on our bill, Aki-san. Kagome-sama’s kitsune will come by to be measured.” Kagome was ready to protest, but Kento smiled and continued, “My Lord has directed that all your needs be met, Kagome-sama.”

“But this is really too-”

“You mustn’t insult a demon as old as me, Kagome-sama.” Aki smiled and produced a paper-wrapped package. “I have worked very hard to make clothes for you as Sesshomaru-sama ordered. I would be most offended if you refused them.” A grin revealed her small fangs, “And my Lord would be most…”

“Displeased?” Kagome finished weakly. Aki laughed and the miko tucked the package in with her other gifts. It was too much; she really shouldn’t…but then, Sesshomaru obviously knew what it cost. It wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. He is probably horrified that I’ll wear my future clothes around the castle. That thought comforted her, reminding her that Sesshomaru’s intentions had nothing to do with her, personally. “Thank you, Aki-san.” She bowed again, and considered the demoness. She didn’t have any money, or anything really that she could give the merchant to show her appreciation. Unless…she bit her lip, hoping she wasn’t making a mistake. “I have little to offer but my thanks, but I would give you and your shop a blessing, if you would receive it?”

“That is most generous, Kagome-sama, but as you can see I am already blessed with good fortune. Please, there are many others who would benefit more from your gift,” Aki demurred.

Kagome nodded, worried she had overstepped, and would have turned away if not for Kento’s hand on her arm. “You should take it, Aki-san,” Kento said quietly. Kagome was surprised by the seriousness in his voice, and the warmth of familiarity.

The spider demoness stiffened. “That isn’t-”

“Please.” That single word stopped Aki’s protests cold. Kagome stared between the inuyoukai and the beautiful cloth merchant, wondering what was going on.

“I will gratefully accept your blessing on my house. Follow me, Miko-sama, if you please.” Kagome wasn’t given the chance to tell her she could say the blessing outside, as Kento led her into the house behind Aki. Once the door had closed behind them, Aki continued, “I am without child, Miko-sama. If you are willing and able, I would ask that you honor me with blessings of fertility.” She threw a poisonous glance at Kento. “Although there are many that can claim the same misfortunate, who have less to comfort them.”

“If there is a possibility, would you not want to try?” Kento did not actually move, but his youki stirred, and Kagome was caught in a strange position of seeing the pale blue energy of the inuyoukai brush against Aki and tease out a darker blue power that twined with his – almost like they were holding hands. She gasped and pressed a hand to her mouth, staring at them with wide eyes.

“You’re a couple,” she blurted. The youki almost instantly withdrew. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean to surprise you, especially if it is a secret. Is it a secret? Is it because you are different kinds of demons, is that not good?” Her eyes narrowed. “Has Sesshomaru forbidden-”

“No,” Kento said shortly.

Aki spoke at the same time, “Are you so familiar with our Lord?”

“Aki refuses to mate me, as she was not able to bear children with her first mate. He was a spider also, and it can be more difficult for demons of different backgrounds to have pups.”

“Hatchlings,” Aki corrected. She considered Kento critically. “You must really think she can help. You would never share so much personal information otherwise.” She nodded and stepped forward, having reached her decision. “Please, Miko-sama, will you bless me?”

It was asking a lot, Kagome knew that. These were two people who were deeply in love, if their youki was any indication, and their most tightly held desire was children. Children. Her heart melted. She would do everything she could to make things right for them. She took Aki’s hands in her own, noting how smooth and soft her skin was, the strength of her muscles, the deceptive delicacy of her bones. Gently, she reached out for her reiki, giving it a nudge to wake it up. Her power was sleepy and responded sluggishly, but it came to her fingertips as she urged it along. She held it, right under her skin, and looked into Aki’s hesitant eyes.

“It is alright, my love,” Kento said softly to the demoness. “Do not be afraid.”

Kagome knew – she knew – that this was the right thing to do. She didn’t have to think about it, or even push her reiki out. It slid slowly from her fingers, drawing a small gasp of shock from Aki as the warmth wound around her wrists before sinking under the skin. Kagome was lost in a brief world of sensation and knowledge of Aki. It was not as all-consuming as her examination of Sesshomaru had been. She focused on that part of Aki that would carry a child, and was surprised, and somewhat comforted to see the similarities she shared with humans. It only took a few minutes, and Kagome was very glad she had finished her course on reproductive biology with high marks. She recognized the symptoms of polycystic ovaries, and with a soft, gradual application of reiki she burned away the cysts, pushing the fluid and tissue that impeded fertility back into the proper place and stimulating the ovaries.

As her power withdrew, the modern medical practitioner in her made her examine Kento as well. Her hand hovered over his groin, and Kento made sounds of discomposure, but Aki ordered him to stand still. He shifted uneasily – until Kagome grew irritated with his impatience; movement made her work immensely more difficult, and resulted in her shocking him with a small burst of reiki. Kento yelped, but realized the wisdom of staying still quite quickly. She didn’t feel as bad about that as she should have. Problems conceiving were not only attributable to the woman, despite what feudal men would say about it. She considered what she found and applied her power before calling her reiki back to her and opening her eyes. Both demons were staring at her in shock.

“I did what I could, but it is only temporary. The effects will eventually go away; I’d say in a year or two, although possibly sooner. I am not very familiar with-” She pressed a hand to her head as a wave of dizziness hit her. Both Kento and Aki reached for her, but she waved them away. “I’ll be fine. Besides,” she grinned, knowing she was blushing but too happy with the results of her healing and the consequences for Kento and Aki to care, “I think you might have more important things to do than worry over me right now.”

Kento frowned. “Thank you, Kagome-sama, but if you are unwell, we should return to the castle. Sesshomaru-sama would be most displeased if anything happened to you.”

“I know,” she laughed shakily. “He’d hate to have to go to the trouble of finding another human priestess.”

Aki opened her mouth, shaking her head, “You misunderstand, Miko-sama-”

“Kagome, please,” the miko insisted.

“Kagome-sama,” Aki relented, “My Lord does not-” She stopped abruptly as Kento appeared at her side, breathing deeply. “Ah, Kento-san?” The inuyoukai leaned closer, running his nose along her chin and neck, sniffing.

“You are entering heat,” his voice was husky and his youki trembled with restrained need.

“You can smell that?” Kagome immediately clapped her hand over her mouth.

“Heat,” Aki said in confusion. Then her hands flew to her belly, “It worked so soon?” Kento’s face was buried in the joint of her neck and shoulder, and Kagome backed up to the door. As interested as she was in youkai senses and mating rituals, the couple needed privacy.

“Thank you, Kagome-sama, thank you.” There were tears in the spider demoness’ eyes and Kagome nodded with a smile and stepped out, closing the door behind her. Most of the crowd had dispersed, and those that were left seemed inclined to watch in curiosity rather than ask for a blessing or offer thanks. She asked Rin to help her close up the stall; clouds heavy with snow were piling up ominously in the sky. Kagome hated to think of the fine cloth being ruined. Eiji frowned, staring at her, and waved over a nearby shopkeeper to take care of it instead.

“We will return to the castle,” Eiichi stated.

“You look tired, Kagome-sama,” Eiji noted with a worried look. Kagome had to admit she was grateful for Rin’s arm to lean on as they walked back. The younger girl even carried the basket. A cold wind picked up as they walked, plastering Kagome’s kimono against her legs and making her shiver. She knew she was slowing them down, but she was just so tired. Fat, angry flakes began to fall and she stopped, waving the others on.

“Go on, I’ll catch up. I don’t want Rin to catch cold.” She was panting with effort, and she felt dizzy again, but she smiled so that they wouldn’t feel they had to stay. It really was getting bad out, and Rin had been sick so recently. The rock brothers shared a look and stepped forward, each taking the arm of one woman.

“Please permit us, Kagome-sama -” Eiji began.

“- to travel faster,” Eiichi continued.

Kagome nodded, relieved enough to be carried that she wasn’t concerned with how undignified she would look riding on someone’s back in a kimono. Rin clapped with glee and latched on to Eiichi’s arm. Youki flared. There was a rumble, darkness settled over her, and Kagome felt as though her breath had been knocked out. Everything around her was warm and still and close. Then she was standing at the base of the stone steps of the castle, staring at Eiji as a cloud of dust settled around them. The courtyard under her feet rippled from the disturbance of their passage, and then settled back into place as though the brothers had not just reshaped earth and stone.

“Rock demons!” Rin said happily, clearly excited about their mode of transportation.

Kagome pressed a hand to her head, willing her headache away and smiling wryly, “Rock demons, of course.” Then she fainted.

ooo

When Sesshomaru had awoken that morning, it was to a warm softness pressing against him and the scent of cherry wood and magnolias. He breathed deeply, refusing to open his eyes for a moment. Kagome. She was stretched on top of him, her head tucked against his chest and her arms wrapped around his waist. So much smaller than him, her feet dangled just below his knees, tucked between them and burrowing into him for warmth. It placed her flat stomach level with his groin, and the moment he noticed that, he also noticed how right she felt in his arms. Her breasts pressed against him, the thin robe doing little to conceal their shape and weight. His desire was aroused, and for a moment he considered waking her to a demonstration of why she would stay with him. Then he recalled Inuyasha’s taunt, ‘ya didn’t ask her, didja?’. He refused to admit any miscalculation to the hanyou, but he did recognize that knowledge born of longer acquaintance was a tactical advantage. Perhaps verbal discussion would be the best course of action. If it failed, he could always move on to demonstration.

She smelled relaxed, and he could tell she was still deeply asleep. Carefully, he shifted, sitting up and cradling the female against him. It was only just beginning to lighten outside, but without the bedding, the room was quite cold. Kagome shivered. Walls are essential to heat retention. They will be repaired immediately to address the miko’s comfort. He found his mokomoko on the futon and it wrapped around her, alleviating her shivers and easing her back into deep slumber. He made certain she was completely covered, enjoying the way she rubbed her cheek against his skin, before he opened the screens to his anteroom. The remains of the wall looked worse in the light of dawn, and Sesshomaru stepped through the snow that had blown in during the night to move into the corridor. With a brief effort of youki, he summoned Eiichi and Eiji to the family quarters.

He slipped into Rin’s rooms without waking her, to discover Inuyasha and Shippo already awake inside. Sesshomaru glared at the hanyou, warning him not to wake the miko, and deposited her in the futon with Rin. Reluctantly, he reclaimed his mokomoko. As much as he would have preferred her to remain secure in it, he needed it that morning. He closed the screens to the sleeping room and faced his half-brother and the kit.

“You kept her with you all fuckin’ night?” Inuyasha was vibrating with fury. Briefly, Sesshomaru considered letting him vent his frustration. He would enjoy a chance to beat his half-brother as well, for the crime of earning a piece of the miko that he had not yet claimed. He straightened his spine. She would be completely his soon enough, and in the meantime, he had more important matters to resolve. The miko would also be distressed if he irreparably damaged the hanyou.

“Utilizing reiki is exhausting for her,” he stated. It was the truth, which Inuyasha would smell. It simply hadn’t been the case the night before. Sesshomaru held back a smile. The female had been embarrassed and uncomfortable when he pulled her into his bed, but she relaxed much more quickly than he anticipated. It was an excellent sign of progress towards his ultimate goal.

“Keh. Still could have brought her back when she was done healin’ ya.” Inuyasha stuck his hands in his sleeves and nodded at the kit, who was staring at him, wide-eyed. “Come on, runt. Let’s see how well you get over the wall.”

“You are leaving the Western Palace?” Sesshomaru would not have normally asked, but he was genuinely surprised that Inuyasha would leave the miko alone with him. As for the kit, he regarded the woman as his mother.

“You wish,” the hanyou snorted.

“We’re going hunting,” the kit supplied helpfully. “Inuyasha has been teaching me tracking and stuff, but we haven’t had a lesson in a while.”

“No slacking.” Inuyasha jerked his head and stepped into the corridor, waiting for the others to join him before he shut the door. “Where’s your castle boys? I ain’t leavin’ Kagome here without protection.” The rock brothers arrived at that moment, silently taking their positions on either side of Rin’s door.

“I will join you,” Sesshomaru decreed. He instructed the guards to stay with the miko and strode away, not waiting for the younger demons to follow as he knew they would. He needed to hunt, and he wanted to stretch in his true form for the first time since he had gotten ill. He had intended to chase down prey in the forest by himself, but the opportunity to gauge the kit’s skill and education was fortuitous. The miko would stay with him, which would necessitate the young one staying as well. For the West, Sesshomaru would not allow him to grow without ensuring he was everything he could possibly be. His limits would have to be tested.

Sesshomaru would also be able to find another opportunity to gain illicit knowledge of the miko. Inuyasha would tell him what he wished to know, he would simply have to be more creative than usual to gain cooperation without the hanyou’s knowledge…or excessive physical damage. He needed only to leave instructions with Kento and dress, then he could be about the business of ensuring the miko’s acquiescence.

Within the hour, he crossed the courtyard where Inuyasha and Shippo were waiting, and leapt over the wall. He transformed the moment he reached the treeline, sensing that the other two had fallen behind. They had been forced to run through the gates, as the kit was unable to scale the high, smooth wall. Inuyasha’s speed would allow him to catch up if Sesshomaru waited for him, but the Lord needed to see to his own hunger before he could observe the hanyou and kit.

In his true form, he could consume the vast amounts necessary to fuel his youki. He left the hanyou and kitsune to transform. As always, the impending hunt both relaxed and stimulated him. He scented his prey, and circled it, staying downwind and moving silently. An inu in its true form, a predator, a hunter: it was how Sesshomaru was meant to be, and he relished it. He caught the stag within minutes, and rejoiced in the hot blood of the kill and his dominance over a weaker creature, even as he lamented that the prey had not been faster or stronger.

The hunt had been over too soon for his liking, but it had served its purpose. He devoured the meat quickly and moved deeper into the woods, gradually feeling his youki begin to replenish itself as the nutrients were absorbed quickly into his body. His adrenaline rose again and his senses focused as he followed the scent of his next prey. The boar provided a greater challenge, but Sesshomaru still ended the chase with the inevitable crunch of his jaw around the struggling beast. The kill satisfied the instincts that made him what he was, and the fatty meat increased his energy until it hummed contentedly beneath his fur.

He returned to his humanoid form to observe his half-brother with the kit. Inuyasha was a surprisingly good teacher. He gave praise where it was due, but the kit had to work hard for it, and Inuyasha was not afraid to point out his mistakes. He always followed it with suggestions, and the instruction showed. The kit was an excellent tracker and hunter, considering his age. He was a credit to the miko, and also, he admitted begrudgingly, to his half-brother.

After the kitsune had finished his lesson, Sesshomaru allowed them to watch the hunt continue. Inuyasha did not admit it, but the daiyoukai was also keenly aware of the pup’s eyes on him. As he consumed his second boar, he came to the uncomfortable realization that Inuyasha had suffered from more than just ostracization after their sire’s death. The hanyou knew almost nothing about inuyoukai, and what he did know was mostly conjecture based on hostile encounters between them. He had never shunned his half-brother, but nor did he seek him out upon hearing of Izayoi’s death. It was…regrettable.

Several hours later, they arrived back at the castle and Sesshomaru set himself to succeed with several new responsibilities. He still needed to run the Western Lands and ensure their dominance for the next millennium, but he also needed to ascertain the damage inflicted by the illness and set about repairing it. There were rumors that needed to be tracked down and enemies that should be watched. He would set the kit to a course of education alongside Rin, as well as begin a more formal physical training course for the young demon. The added responsibility of providing his half-brother with some of what he had been denied still needed attention, but he would assess the hanyou’s skills and move accordingly. And, of course, he would secure the miko.

A guard quietly updated him as to the whereabouts of Rin, the miko, and her guards while Inuyasha and Shippo trailed behind him. Sesshomaru approved of Kento’s decision to allow her into the village. In the unlikely event that anyone there should still hold ill feelings towards a human woman, the rock brothers would deal with them and the threat would be revealed. The tour would accustom her to the benefits of living at the Western Palace, and provide ample proof to his people that he regarded her highly and that she deserved their respect.

He found that his youki sought her out almost instinctively, without his will. She seemed happy enough, although a bit uncomfortable from the weather. Her new clothing had been commissioned, but he would remember to order additional garments. He turned his thoughts to Inuyasha, although the miko’s warm, pink presence was constantly at the edge of his senses.

“Hisao.” The captain left the soldiers he was training and approached his small group. “The kit will be training with the other children.” A bear demon was summoned and he disappeared with a fascinated kitsune in tow, taking him to the smaller training area set aside for the youth of the castle to spend a few hours each day learning to harness their power. “This One has brought another in need of much discipline. You will test his skills personally.”

“Heh! Shippo is just a kid! He can’t fight this guy!” Inuyasha scowled at Sesshomaru, then fixed his glare on the captain. “Pick on someone your own size.”

“Hn. That he shall do.” Sesshomaru left Hisao to his duty. Training had always been a strength of the inuyoukai captain, and he had no doubt that one of his longest serving vassals would know Inuyasha’s skills as well as he did before the day was through.

He returned to his study, taking up the endless paperwork of his position and checking on the projects he had ordered Kento to have begun. His thoughts continually returned to the miko. She had tended to him the previous night, ignoring his brother. Her friend and companion whom she loved. Sesshomaru allowed himself a frown in the privacy of his study. The miko had cared for him first, before the hanyou. Even as she admonished Sesshomaru’s behavior, she’d checked for injuries to his person. She had found nothing alarming, and yet still she insisted that he had to rest. She worried for him. It was not all that he desired, it was not even a small fraction of what he needed the miko to feel for him before she would stay.

It was apparent to him, after much consideration on a full belly, that she would have to be convinced. Inuyasha had implied that he would have to ask her to stay. Regardless of her feelings or the logic of remaining in the Western Lands, the human woman was nothing if not argumentative and willful. If she was not consulted, or made to feel she was consulted, she would act against his wishes out of anger and contrariness. That would not be acceptable. Sesshomaru recalled the impression he had of her even before she had cured the illness. She followed his lead as long as she agreed with his course. He would lead her to his side, to a permanent place at the Western Palace, so it remained that he would have to bring her into agreement with that goal. Thankfully, he was an excellent negotiator. He pushed aside his work, striving again for honesty with himself. He was an excellent strategist. The chase had already begun, he had only to position her to run to him.

Satisfied with his conclusions, Sesshomaru idly checked on the thrum of reiki against his senses as he returned to his desk. She seemed weary, which was not unexpected after a long walk through the town. He paused, she was more than tired – exhausted. Her reiki, which had still been resting that morning but was recovering nicely from the healing, was nearly sapped. He focused his senses on her more intently. She wasn’t just weary, she was nearing illness.

Youki, familiar to him, flared in the village and surged underground. Sesshomaru moved without thought, racing towards the courtyard. He arrived seconds behind the rock brothers, just in time to see Eiichi emerge from the stones with Rin, right behind Eiji.

Rin laughed, “Rock demons!”

“Rock demons, of course.” The miko rubbed at her head, and Sesshomaru felt a pull of anxiety. He was at her side just in time to catch her as she collapsed. He swung her against his chest, cradling her close and wrapping his mokomoko around her. Her skin was freezing.

“Kagome-sama!” Rin cried.

“This One will speak to you later,” he said to the guards, “regarding your incompetence.” He did not snarl at them. He did not tear their heads from their shoulders. He was aware of a frown drawing down the corners of his mouth – as were the rock brothers. They were supposed to be protecting the miko, and yet she was not as he had left her. Her condition did not reflect well on the West; it spoke poorly of the respect and security she had received. Sesshomaru did not appreciate having his word, his promise of safety and prosperity, broken. The brothers were not alone in their charge to guard her; their failure would belong to their superiors as well: Sesshomaru, Hisao, and Kento. Kento, his jaw clenched. His errant secretary had much to answer for as well.

“Come Rin.” His daughter followed him at a near run as he sped through the castle. Servants, staff, and soldiers alike stayed out of his way as he climbed to the family quarters. He paused at the corridor, remembering the condition of his rooms, and turned instead to Rin’s chamber. He tucked the miko into the futon and turned to his daughter as she arrived. She set down a basket and slid shut the screens that led to the anteroom, promising him privacy and offering to secure tea and food.

He stared at the miko, willing his heart rate to slow. She was not in danger. He knew that. He breathed deeply of her scent. New cherry wood. Magnolia blossoms. Exhaustion. Happiness. Contentment. Worry. So many other emotions lingered that he could not place them all. Alone with her, he gave in to his instincts and buried his face in her loose hair. She had overexerted herself, nothing more.

He reached out with his youki. Her reiki was curled deep inside her, nearly as insensate as the female herself. She had only just begun to recover from the immense outpouring of power she used to heal him, and she had obviously called on her holy energy again. His jaw clenched. He would find out what she had done, what had seemed so important she had risked her own well-being. He knew there was nothing that could satisfy him that she had acted appropriately. He would have to guard her much closer, since she could not be trusted with her own safety if there was another she judged who needed her assistance. Unfortunately, Kagome seemed to think everyone needed and was deserving of her help. Kagome.

He breathed deeply again and gave in to the urge to lay down beside her. In the nest of bedding he rubbed his face against her cheek, leaving his scent on her, and secured his mokomoko around her. She was his. He would have her. So another responsibility was added to his shoulders. He would secure her acquiescence, and he would keep her safe, even from her own foolishness. She was his. Miko no Mao.

Chapter 11: Tails

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