Chapter 11: Tails
Blood. It was everywhere.
He should have been accustomed to the scent, after long weeks of smelling it spread across his lands. The human settlements in the north had been stricken first, and he had ignored the reports of death and refugees fleeing south. Humans took ill and died constantly. He allowed them to reside in his lands, as long as they did not attack youkai villages, but he could not be concerned with their troubles. The epidemics of such a short-lived species were not issues that he could waste time on. Then came reports that youkai were falling ill. He dismissed them. Demons did not get sick. That was common knowledge. Any who said otherwise were fools or liars. Then came reports of death, but still he dismissed them. The very idea that a youkai could succumb to a human illness and then die from it was ridiculous.
The first refugee had arrived at his palace a week ago: a wolf demon from one of the tribes on his northern border. His entire pack had been massacred. A message was sent to the largest wolf tribe to attend to their cousin and consult on the issue with him, but they had arrived too late. The stricken wolf had died.
He crawled to the shoji screen and opened it, his body weight tumbling over the threshold. He fell down the two shallow steps into his anteroom, and breathed heavily for a moment as his strength continued to wane. He lifted a hand to brush the sweat from his brow, only to find it covered in thick, sticky red liquid. His nose had been dulled to the scent over so many weeks, or perhaps he was too badly injured to use his own senses.
The anteroom was bathed in blood. Several inches deep, it beat against him, rippling out from a disturbance. He followed them to their source. A body had been pinned to the wall with long, thin blades. The skin was flayed from the meat, organs and even bones exposed in some places. Torture. He felt a deep pull of sympathy for the unrecognizable youkai that had bled out onto the floor. He frowned in confusion, his eyes growing hazy. There was too much liquid for one body.
“Kuren,” called a weak voice. His head turned unsteadily and he watched a ravaged stump inch out of his bed chamber. It thumped on the floor, leeching blood, trailed by the sleeve of a silk kimono that might have once been blue. Thump. Drag. Thump. Drag.
A head came into view. Although he would not have recognized it as such if it weren’t for the blue hair; the ends dragged across the wet floor, soaking up red liquid and dyeing the pale strands the dark shade of ink. The face. He sucked in a deep breath, not even noticing the way it caused his own injuries to worsen. The stark white bone of the skull was visible under the hairline. Where the eyes should have been, ichor trailed down exposed cheekbones. Only strips of tissue and tendons clung to the bone, hanging down to the jaw and occasionally splattering against the wooden floor.
“Kuren,” the voice cried again, quieter this time. He stared, horrified, at the broken fangs and desecrated flesh of his mate. Her kimono was in tatters, her naked body exposed where it had not been cut, ripped, and chewed away. In horror, he slowly looked back at the demon that had been pinned to the wall. The only identifying feature that remained was a single, silver eye.
“My mate. My daughter.” His whispered keening cry was not heard by either female. His mate collapsed, even demonic healing abilities unable to repair the damage caused by such brutal torment. My only child. He stared at his daughter’s sightless eye. It was the last thing he saw as claws pierced his chest, seizing his heart and withdrawing. The body of the bird youkai slumped forward, splashing blood against the steps.
The Eastern Lord was dead.
Once again finding his thoughts straying from his work, Sesshomaru closed his eyes and tried to banish the miko from his mind. She was resting peacefully, he knew. Eiji and Eiichi were guarding her, and after he had discussed their previous failure with them, they would not allow her to come into harm’s way again. Shippo and Rin had been with her all afternoon and throughout the night. One or the other would let him know if she became distressed or woke. Hisao had just come to his study from the morning training, which meant that Inuyasha would be returning to Rin’s rooms soon. As distasteful as he found the idea of the hanyou watching over his miko, he could not be there every moment, and Inuyasha had proven fairly effective in keeping her safe. If nothing else, the sound of his subjugation would act as an alarm system.
Sesshomaru had stayed with her for several hours after she collapsed. He’d wrapped his youki around her soul as his mokomoko wrapped around her body. He’d listened to her even breathing and steady heart and breathed in her scent. He had stayed so long because he could not make himself leave. That was…unexpected.
He had already come to terms with his desire for the miko, for her presence as well as her body. He was not prepared to be so shaken by the threat to her physical well-being. He was concerned. Sesshomaru had cultivated his naturally distant personality so that he felt concern for very few. He did not have friends, but allies, vassals, and servants. Even for his pack he had never experienced that feeling. Until Rin.
The miko, the fragile human woman whose life could so easily be taken, lay sleeping and while he knew the source of her condition, he had no treatment. His concern was disproportionate to the short time he had spent with her, the newfound intimacy of their connection, and the nature of her species.
He supposed time could be ignored, for the depth of the experiences they had shared was far greater than that he had known with demons that had lived at the castle his entire life. That was logical.
Intimacy. Although he had every intention of experiencing her in all possible ways, it was reasonable that having their power entwined as it must have been while she healed him had furthered their connection in ways that some physical intimacies would never accomplish. Those thoughts firmly in his mind, he determined it was the nature of her that must have brought on the uncommon feeling.
Human. Weak. Delicate.
She was delicate; her soft skin and small bones. The size of her body and the ease with which she could be injured. Weakness… In many ways, she was weak. His own strength, even that of a lesser youkai, was many times greater than hers. But she had a spiritual power that outshone any but his own youki and a strength of character that was beyond compare. She was human. Her life would be so short as to be almost unnoticeable by demon-kind. She would die.
That undeniable fact echoed in his head, drowning out everything else. No matter how well he protected her, how powerful her own reiki, it was the nature of humans to age and die. She was young, and healthy compared to most humans he had seen, but she would still only have another…forty, fifty, perhaps sixty years of life? That was intolerable. He would not allow it.
Sesshomaru could not be distracted over the crawl of time and how it affected his miko. He had other matters that needed to be attended to. So, he added another responsibility to his growing list. He would find a way to make her youth and life last as his did. She was his; he would not concede defeat, he would not lose what belonged to him, to something as inconsequential as time.
“…Kento-san has been located,” Hisao continued with his report. Sesshomaru turned his cold gaze back to the captain.
“Why is he not before this one?” Kento would explain his actions. He would detail the circumstances under which the miko had become so…fatigued. Then he would provide justification for why his failure did not warrant extreme consequences. Sesshomaru doubted he would be successful.
“He was…occupied.” Hisao’s amusement was easily discerned in his scent. The daiyoukai’s irritation must have been palatable as well, because the captain elaborated. “It seems Aki-san has gone into heat. I thought it best not to enter her home until Kento-san is…satisfied with the results.” Sesshomaru considered the information. He was well aware that Kento had been courting Aki. It would have been difficult to ignore, it was the longest chase he had ever had the misfortune to observe.
“Five hundred years.” Sesshomaru well remembered the day Kento had first met Aki. He himself had only recently become old enough to consider pursuing a mate. Kento was a few decades older, and when Aki moved to the village and set up her shop, he did not look at another demoness. The chase had been amusing at first, as Aki was significantly older and more experienced, then tedious as it dragged on with no apparent conclusion, and finally it became part of the status quo. Sesshomaru had never asked why Aki declined the mating, although she seemed receptive enough to Kento’s attention. He had not really cared. In the way of most males, as long as Kento was content to pursue a female that would not bond with him, that was his business. Now, Sesshomaru found himself curious as to what had changed.
“Indeed,” Hisao agreed. “It does make you wonder. The idiot has spent half a century chasing after her kimono, with nothing more to show for it than a scent mark, and then one brief visit from Kagome-sama and-”
“The miko was with her?”
“Yes, Aki-san’s shop was her last stop in the village. Eiji reported that she picked up the things you ordered for her, and Rin selected some cloth for the kit. Then she and Kento went inside with Aki. Eiichi said that Kagome-sama offered to bless the house, and Aki refused, but Kento insisted.”
The house. Sesshomaru was filled with so many thoughts and emotions, he wasn’t sure what to focus on. Perhaps the miko has contaminated me with her feelings. She should not have overexerted herself with a simple blessing. Something more had happened in Aki’s home, and Sesshomaru was simultaneously exasperated with the miko for her inability to stay out of the problems of others, and irritated with himself that he had not realized that she would not be able to resist if she was asked for help. Kento would answer to him, painfully, if the miko was unduly harmed in the inuyoukai’s quest for a mate. As for the miko…clearly she needed to better understand her own limitations. He would explain them to her.
Sesshomaru felt a stirring of his youki. She was awake. He stood, prepared to go to her again, but the foolish administrator who announced guests chose that moment to open the screens. One of his scouts had returned. He seethed with barely contained impatience, but reseated himself and prepared to listen to another report. If the scout from the East did not have anything of value to discuss, Sesshomaru would leave him for Hisao. The East had been a long-standing, albeit conservative, ally for years. There was little that could be of interest in news from the East. He would listen briefly, to confirm his suspicions, then he could go to the miko. The thought soothed his restless youki as the scout began his report.
Kagome wanted to go back to sleep. She tugged the blanket over her head and snuggled down into the futon, hoping that everything would just go away and let her rest. Quiet voices invaded the sanctuary of her blanket cave. She couldn’t make out the words, but she knew the speakers. Inuyasha, Shippo and Rin were nearby.
She frowned, hazy memories of walking back from the village niggling at her brain. When did I get back to the castle? And whose futon is this? That thought made her sit up straight. The chilly air finished the job her friends’ noisiness had started and she knew she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. She tried to find a positive attitude. She was in Rin’s room, so at least she hadn’t fallen asleep on Sesshomaru again. Not that the experience hadn’t been memorable. Satisfying. Delicious.
She shook her head. Thinking about Sesshomaru was way too much work, and too confusing, so soon after waking up. Her stomach felt cavernous and her bladder was full, so so threw back the covers and quick-stepped across the cold floor to use the facilities and wash up. She briefly wondered why everything was so chilly, but the demands of her belly forced her to ignore her concern and wrap up in the first thing she grabbed off of the futon. She had it around her shoulders before she realized it was Sesshomaru’s mokomoko. Why would-?
Inuyasha interrupted her by throwing open the screens. “About time you woke up, wench.” His words were harsh, but she could see the wrinkles of concern at the corners of his mouth and eyes.
“How long was I asleep?” She followed her nose into the anteroom and found Rin and Shippo were just finishing their breakfast. Kagome happily collapsed onto a cushion and accepted a cup of tea and a bowl of miso.
“We left Aki-san’s just before midday, yesterday,” Rin said cheerfully. “I am so glad you are feeling better, Kagome-sama. Sesshomaru-sama and I were so worried about you!”
“Eighteen hours?” Kagome murmured to herself in surprise while Inuyasha huffed,
“And what about Shippo and me? We were just laughin’ it up while she was konked out?”
“Of course not, Inuyasha-san,” Rin soothed. “We all know how worried you were, right, Shippo-kun?” Shippo nodded vigorously, snuggling up to Kagome for a one-armed hug. Inuyasha was left in the embarrassing position of admitting he was concerned or letting Sesshomaru take the credit for caring for his friend. Rin didn’t give him a chance to respond. “Sesshomaru-sama caught you when you fainted, Kagome-sama. It was so dramatic!”
Kagome blinked, her mouth full of rice and fish, at the strange phrasing of the girl. Dramatic? Like a white knight? That image made her smile around her food. White, certainly. Knight, very believable. Her white knight – Sesshomaru was more likely to smile at Inuyasha than sweep her off her feet to ride into the sunset on his…steed.
Kagome tried not to laugh at the daydream of Ah-Un trotting along with an armor-clad Sesshomaru on his back while Rin continued, “My Lord made sure you were all tucked in and safe. You were so cold, Kagome-sama! Rin worried you might get sick. Wasn’t it nice of Sesshomaru-sama to leave mokomoko-san to keep you warm?”
“Fu-” Inuyasha glanced at Rin’s tiny frown and cleaned up his language. “I, er, it’s no wonder you smell like that bast- ah, that guy. Take that thing off and get a bath already.” Kagome smiled and took another huge bite of fish. She was really enjoying how easily Rin handled the foul-mouthed hanyou.
“Nah,” she said as soon as she had swallowed. In all honesty, it seemed a little strange to use what she had always assumed was like a stole of office as a blanket or coat, but if stuffy Sesshomaru thought it was okay, then there couldn’t be anything weird about it. If it irritated Inuyasha…she used her free hand to snuggle the fur against her cheek, just to watch his face twist in disgust. It smelled like woodsy cologne and cloves, and the fur was incredibly soft. It just had too many positive attributes to get rid of it. So what if it was Sesshomaru’s stole or cape or whatever? It smelled great, was super warm, and ticked off her friend immensely. The mokomoko was definitely a keeper. “I like it, although I do need a bath. Too bad somebody broke mine.” She refused to meet his puppy-dog eyes and concentrated on her second bowl of miso. She was starving!
“We can go to the springs, Kagome-sama. That is where Rin and the others that live in the castle bathe.”
“You have hot springs?” Kagome wanted to hug the child. A nice, hot soak sounded heavenly. Her muscles were sore for some strange reason, and she was still a little cold, despite the heavy fur. “And why is it freezing in here?”
“Er, I’ll go let the castle boys know we’ll be going downstairs.” Inuyasha disappeared before she could blink.
“Coward,” Shippo sneered. He turned green eyes up at Kagome and grinned. “I guess he and Sesshomaru had a fight and broke the wall down. There were carpenters at the castle all day yesterday fixing stuff.”
“They should be done today, or maybe tomorrow,” Rin supplied helpfully. “Rin’s Lord decided to make a few changes since he had to rebuild anyhow.” She gathered everything they would need for baths into a basket and smiled at Kagome. “Whenever you are ready, Kagome-sama.”
Kagome set down her bowl, surprised to find that she had finished two helpings of miso, three of rice and two whole fish. She was comfortable, but she still felt like she could eat more. She justified it by telling herself she had missed lunch and supper the day before. She took the mokomoko with her, knowing the rest of the castle would probably be chilly as well, and reminding herself that she hadn’t had a chance to scrub it after Sesshomaru had gotten sick. Shippo kept up a running commentary on his lessons at the training grounds and Inuyasha’s sparring matches with Hisao. Kagome was surprised and pleased that Sesshomaru had taken the time to find something to occupy his half-brother while he was at the Western Palace. Rin described the springs and how the castle had been built overtop of them. Eiichi and Eiji followed silently.
Kagome saw few servants as they made their way. Those that caught her eye, bowed deeply and murmured their respect, ‘Miko-sama’ they said. As she passed, she caught whispers of something else, but her human ears weren’t keen enough to understand it.
“What is that they’re saying,” she asked Shippo.
“Miko no Mao,” he replied with a smile. “Everybody is really happy that you didn’t purify them, Kagome.”
“Me too.” She was dazed, not comprehending why they would give her such a title. She had only done what needed to be done to save Sesshomaru. The rest had been an accident. She didn’t deserve such respect; she was just doing what needed to be done, what any person would do if they saw someone in pain – everything they could. She didn’t have the power, nobility, or skill of command that Sesshomaru possessed. Those thoughts were banished the moment she entered the baths.
“Oh!” She covered her cheeks with her hands, unable to speak for a moment. They were huge. Perhaps three-fourths of the footprint of the castle above, the springs were split into several smaller pools. Smooth boulders, manicured gardens and gentle waterfalls separated them. Rin pointed out the women’s bath and a sheltered alcove for changing in privacy. The largest pool was designated for men, and Kagome was mildly shocked to see a few of the soldiers were making use of the hot water. Rin and Shippo led her down a set of narrow, stone stairs and past a waterfall to a more secluded area. A pool approximately forty feet long backed into the rough- hewn wall of the mountain. Tumbled rocks divided the pool into two equal halves. Shippo abandoned her to race to the far side, where she could hear Inuyasha scolding him to pile his clothes further away from the water.
“One moment, Kagome-sama,” Eiichi bowed low.
“If you please, Kagome-sama,” Eiji echoed his brother’s motions. He stayed at her back while the other rock demon circled the baths and even disappeared momentarily into the rock floor before reappearing with a satisfied expression. “The area is secure, Kagome-sama. We will wait in the passage,” he pointed back the way they had come. “Please call out if you need anything.”
The rock demons disappeared along the ledge that led into the main chamber. Rin grabbed her hand and tugged her into a niche in the wall, concealed by a strategic fall of vines. They left their clothes in neat stacks there, although Kagome needed Rin’s help to unwind the stubborn mokomoko. After collecting scrubbing cloths and Kagome’s new soap, they carefully followed the leafy passage at a shallow decline towards the water. Kagome left the fur lying on the shore and waded in with the younger girl.
The water was absolute bliss. Pleasantly hot where they entered, it cooled quickly towards the front and grew hotter closer to the cave where the water seemed to be coming from. Smooth ledges protruded around the edge, strategically providing places to rest soaps and combs. Kagome and Rin played for nearly an hour – swimming and talking, before they got down to the business of washing each other’s backs and hair. Kagome was entranced by the soap from the village. To her nose, it smelled like nothing so much as white copy paper. Rin claimed it was expensive and extravagant. The girls hadn’t been using it for more than a few minutes when a head poked over the rocks.
“Hey! That smells great!”
“Ack!” Kagome slipped and nearly drowned herself.
“Knock it off, runt,” Inuyasha’s furry ears appeared above them as well – although they swiveled convulsively, his face was firmly turned away.
“Inuyasha-saaan!” Rin wailed, sinking below the water. Kagome barely managed not to smile at the girl’s embarrassment. She was used to being ‘accidentally’ found while bathing. She had been more startled than worried. After all, Miroku was nowhere nearby and she had a host of demon soldiers between her and anything that wanted to eat her. Rin, however, was probably very unused to such interruptions. Although, she had bathed with Shippo when they were traveling together. Kagome supposed at twelve it felt very different to have an adult nearly peeping at her.
She appraised the wet white hair that barely crested the division between the two pools. She had never really thought of Inuyasha as a man – or adult demon, or rather, hanyou. He had been a girlish love interest, a boy who seemed to be her own age, and then later he was her friend. To Rin, though, he was probably just the right age to form a crush on. What is it about girls wanting someone like their father? Well, they looked enough alike, but Kagome knew that beyond extreme overprotectiveness and a highly developed sense of honor, there wasn’t much else the brothers had in common.
“It’s okay, Rin-chan, Inuyasha knows better than to look.” Kagome silently mouthed the ‘s’ word and Rin let out a tremulous smile.
“Oi, what is that smell?” The hanyou tipped his head, trying to get a better sniff without actually seeing them. “It’s like you, but not, and there’s…” his voice trailed off.
“Oooo, I know!” Shippo was almost bursting with pride, his nose twitching. “It is you and Rin-chan! You smell just like you, but more! How did you get rid of all of the other smells?”
“I don’t-” Kagome started.
“Kagome-sama has special soap,” Rin said quietly. She was still chin-deep in the water, but her blush was fading. “Demons make it specially for sensitive noses, like inu and kitsune. It gets you clean so that only your scent is left.”
“Left,” Inuyasha snorted, “more like you’re shouting ‘Here I am’ to every hungry thing in a ten mile radius.” His head sank back down, but his grumpy tirade continued, “Not to mention the perverts.”
“Perverts?” Rin looked sweetly confused.
“Uh-huh,” Shippo nodded solemnly. “They already like the way you smell, but the males will go crazy for it now.” He frowned and turned to Kagome, “Maybe we should go back to our rooms?”
“Let’s get going!” Inuyasha’s shouted reply got Rin swimming back to their clothes.
“I can’t go yet, Inuyasha. I have a few things to get clean.” She smiled at Shippo and waved him away, but she spoke to the hanyou who no doubt was ready to argue, “If we smell as good as you say,” she rolled her eyes at the idea since no one could see it, “then you should take Rin back. Remember, I’ve traveled with Miroku for years. I’m used to fending off perverts; I’ll be fine with Eiji-san and Eiichi-san guarding the path.”
She really did still have work to do. Resolute, she made her way to the mokomoko and dragged it into the water while Rin dried off and got dressed. She would have thought it would sink as the fur soaked up the water, but whatever held it all together was buoyant enough that it floated just below the surface. Her only complaint was that the thing seemed to wrap around her every time she moved. Grabbing her bar of soap she started scrubbing, but every time she worked up a good lather the thing twisted in some current she couldn’t feel and tightened around her.
Kagome had just worked a good length free from her legs, leaving the other end to wrap around her chest and shoulders, when Rin called out that she was ready. Shippo and Inuyasha strolled out around the edge, ready to escort the girl out of the springs. The hanyou kept his eyes firmly away from the water, but Shippo paused to wave and call out a goodbye. The little kit paused, staring at her struggle with the fur, and a smile split his face.
“I didn’t notice that Sesshomaru-sama got his second tail, too! That’s great!”
Kagome froze, and Inuyasha whipped around so fast she worried he would get whiplash. She looked down at the thick white fur in her hands. The end she was holding did, indeed, split into two long, fluffy sections. She didn’t think it had been like that when they traveled together. Nor had it been quite so big. She recalled that when Sesshomaru wore it they trailed from his waist to drag a bit on the floor. That didn’t mean…surely not…
“That’s his tail?” Inuyasha’s voice was one part incredulous and two parts furious.
“Well sure,” Shippo frowned. “You really don’t know anything about inuyoukai, do you?”
“How the fuck would I know!” Inuyasha exploded, actually wading into the water until the hems of his pants were in danger of getting wet. “Get that fuckin’ thing off ya, wench, before I rip it to shreds!”
“No, no Inuyasha-san!” Rin grabbed his arm, tugging in a vain effort to pull him away. “You mustn’t hurt mokomoko-san! Sesshomaru-sama lent it to Kagome-sama to keep her warm, he was only afraid she would get sick.”
Kagome noticed the telling glance between Shippo and Rin, as well as the way the fur tightened around her, the…tails…sinking below the water again to wrap around her hips. One end even managed to slide between her legs and twine down to her ankle. The feeling of silky wet fur on her inner thigh was scandalous, made even more so by the knowledge that this was Sesshomaru. He hadn’t given her a dynamic piece of youkai clothing. He gave her a part of himself. She blinked. Twice. That was actually…kind of sweet. Sesshomaru was intensely private and did not spare the time of day for anyone he felt was beneath him. Which was pretty much everyone. If he had used his own…body – she felt her face burning hotter at the idea – to keep her warm, that was…weird. Sweet and nice and thoughtful in a way she would have never thought he could be, but also weird.
And a little pervy. The mokomoko twitched and the second tail drifted through the water and slipped across her bare bottom. It felt suspiciously like a furry groping. Her eyes narrowed. “Go ahead, Inuyasha,” she said firmly. “I do have to finish this, and then I think I will need to speak with his Lordship.” Inuyasha’s eyes widened and he was clearly torn between glee that his brother might be about to taste miko wrath, and the desire to save his friend from unwanted advances. “Go,” she ordered softly.
Her friends disappeared down the path and Kagome took a deep breath before she went back to work on the fur. As if it knew that she knew, it gave up any pretense of ‘accidental’ entanglement. It allowed her to wash it, but only in small sections, and only by squeezing and rubbing it into languid relaxation before it would release whatever part of her it had secured itself around.
“Oh, he better look sooo innocent when I ask about this, or I swear by all that is holy, I will…” She kept up her muttering, finally sitting back in a shallow portion of the springs. She was completely covered from thigh to armpit in wet white fur, and the tails alternately wrapped around her legs or hung freely in the water while she scrubbed the last two feet with firm strokes. Her fingers were thrust into the pelt, kneading the underlying…skin…while she cupped water in her other hand to rinse out the soap. “He isn’t like that,” she reminded herself in a flat whisper. “He isn’t like this.”
A swirl of youki-made breeze and white silk interrupted her. She was startled for a moment when Sesshomaru appeared in the vine covered passage, next to her bundle of clothes. He looked beautiful. There was no other word for it. That wasn’t to imply he was effeminate. Even without his armor, which he never wore inside the castle, his masculinity would never be in question. His short kimono fit snugly over broad shoulders and a strong chest. His long legs and wide stance gave her the inappropriate urge to bring him a pair of jeans from her era. His hair was glorious, as always. His mouth was wide and softer looking than any part of Sesshomaru should be.
His eyes widened fractionally, practically a gasp for the daiyoukai, and Kagome remembered where she was, and what she was not wearing. She made a strangled sound and clutched the end of the mokomoko to her chest. The rest tightened around her in response – and then Kagome realized she was covering herself from his view – with him. Her face burned hot enough to bring tears to her eyes, and she had to close them to avoid crying. “Holy crap,” she whispered.