Second Alliance – Chapter 14

Back to Chapter 13: Know Your Alpha

Chapter 14: Passing Notes

“How many dead?”

“Thirty-seven, Ryukostokken-denkaue. The village was nearly wiped out.”

“Next time, kill them all,” he ordered his captain. Ryukostokken stared at the map before him. Eighteen villages in the West, forty-two in the East. He had directed they leave survivors at first. Survivors became refugees. Refugees sapped resources and strained defenses. They told tales of suffering and death. And those that did not speak, they were even greater allies to his cause. Every fourth village the dragons captured and tortured a few – human or youkai mattered little. The most effective method was to cut out their tongues. His soldiers were not inflicting pain to gain information; if they did it was an axillary benefit. They left vicious scars, wounds that would never heal on the flesh and the spirit. Those that survived were turned loose, close to the next village so that they would receive treatment for their injuries. The ones that could not, or would not, talk…they inspired fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the dark and monstrous things that the imagination could conjure with greater creativity and terrorizing effect than any half-mumbled story of raiders and murderers.

Ryukostokken knew what fear was. He knew its power. The deaths of the lesser youkai and filthy humans were pleasing to him as well, but it was the stark, hushed whispers of death without a face that he wanted to reach other ears. By the time he moved his army, the small bands of assassins would have created a panic that would shake the foundations of Japan. Even the arrogant Sesshomaru would tremble, wondering what such whispers could mean of his enemy.

“What of Kuren?”

“The crane of the East is no more, my Lord.”

“It was painful?”

“As you ordered, Denka-ue. He was incapacitated in another room while his mate and daughter were raped and flayed. The child died just as we released him. The female put up a considerable fight; he saw her last breaths before I ripped out his heart.”

Ryukostokken reveled in the satisfaction that welled in him. Kuren had been a new lord when he returned from the mainland after his father was sealed by the Inu no Taisho. Ryukostokken had approached him for a trade alliance, to help bring wealth and prestige back to the North. The crane refused, stating that even if he had the fortune and goods to risk on the dragons, he would not be willing to make a move that would so obviously displease Sesshomaru.

Displease him. As though his simple displeasure was worth more than the fate of the North.

Kuren had gotten only a fraction of what he deserved. Ryukostokken wished briefly that the crane had been more prolific, that there might be other children that could be brought back to his castle, screaming. It had been many decades since he had tasted the flesh of bird youkai. As he recalled, the young ones were the most tender.

He also recalled that the Lord of the South had at least two cubs, although the older was well into adulthood, the younger had been born only a century or so ago. Bear meat had good marbling, and would still be full and sweet so early in the season. “When we take the South, you will bring the second heir to this one – alive.”

“Yes, Denka-ue.”

“Speak of the fate of this village,” he pointed to another speck on his map. He sat back with his sake and listened to the number of deaths, the mutilations of those that were allowed to flee, and smiled.

ooo

Sesshomaru was eager for the repairs to his rooms to be completed. With the miko’s condition, he was unwilling to be separated further from her than his nose could easily discern her state. He was certain he could maintain the youki bandage he had made for her power from a greater distance, but there was no need to test it when he was more comfortable in closer proximity. Kento had brought his most pressing work to the antechamber outside her room, and his secretary handled all visitors and reports, personally relaying any information that Sesshomaru needed to hear immediately. Unfortunately, the room was far too small for himself, his work, Kento, and occasionally Hisao. It made him want to growl in irritation. He tried to relieve his frustration by considering how the miko would view the situation. The uncommonly cheerful woman would endeavor to look for positive repercussions of his new workspace. He fought the warm feeling that expanded in his chest at the mental image of her wide smile and bright optimism.

His kowtowing administrator’s presence did not fit in the smaller guest apartments, nor was it allowed above the main floor of the castle. The absence of that demon was welcome.

He could smell her clearly. Not on mokomoko, which had been reluctant to leave her when he rose, but through the rice paper screen that separated them. He could smell her clean scent, finally free from pain after a long night at her side. He could hear each small sound she made as she shifted restlessly or murmured through a dream. Her nearness was pleasing.

Unfortunately, the close quarters also necessitated that Rin and Shippo be sent elsewhere so that he could concentrate on what must be done. As soon as he had finished relaying instructions to Inuyasha, the children bid their goodbyes. The kit gave reminders to say hello to those in Edo, and passed along notes and drawings for the slayer and monk. He even teased the hanyou, calling Sesshomaru’s half-brother ‘nisan’ and earning a rough smack to the back of his furry head. Rin offered her hand, as a proper lady should, and then impulsively hugged the hanyou. Sesshomaru determined, as his nose was offended by her unshed tears, that she had grown far too attached to his bastard sibling. Although it was amusing to see a child successfully admonish Inuyasha for his foul language. Jaken was summoned soon after and led the children away for breakfast elsewhere and a game that made Rin clap with excitement and Jaken groan in dread.

He ate little himself, hoping only that the savory smell would tempt the miko to wake, but she slumbered on. He worked for hours, reading reports, demanding information, signing orders, and glaring at anyone who spoke above a whisper when they entered. Hisao and Kento appeared as a servant removed the untouched lunch tray, and he was reminded again of the unsatisfactory size of the room. Three large inuyoukai made it uncomfortable. Hisao was also not known for his well-modulated voice. Sesshomaru stood and waved them to the outer walkway. He paused to look in on the sleeping miko and then followed them out. The cold and falling snow would not bother the youkai, and their voices would not reverberate against the screens, disturbing her.

“If I may, Sesshomaru-sama,” Kento began.

“This is ridiculous,” Hisao interrupted. Sesshomaru was torn between amusement and the desire to vent his frustration and pent up concern on his subordinates. Kento, ever the diplomat, had been walking on eggshells since Sesshomaru had revealed that Aki’s new state came at the health of the miko. Hisao was even shorter-tempered than usual, having been forced to deal with a higher state of tension within the troops, a new, nearly equal standing with Inuyasha, and transferring messages from the flighty administrator, who was chafing at his restriction from his Lord. “You can’t keep working like this. Only the bare minimum is getting accomplished, and there is much more that needs to be done. We cannot discuss plans for potential attacks or defense if you are spending all of your time reading mail. That is a job for clerks!”

“And we do appreciate the occupation, Hisao-san,” Kento said dryly.

“There are more important things for the Saidai Mao to be doing!”

“Paperwork is important. It brings word of your potential attacks, it orders resources and men for defense, I think I even have your payroll here somewhere – waiting for authorization.”

“I’ll show you where you can put your authorization!”

Sesshomaru was getting a headache listening to the two dogs bark at each other. Tensions were high among his closest advisors, only few outside of their group of three had heard the reports, seen the missives that crossed Sesshomaru’s desk. No one else had seen them all. The knowledge of what could be weighed heavily on them. Coupled with forced inaction and tight quarters it was pushing them to the edge. He felt his own mask slipping. He bore the responsibility for all that happened in the West, and the condition of the miko still concerned him. He growled.

The low, warning vibration was accompanied by a pulse of youki. Hisao’s mouth snapped shut, though he was still fuming. Kento folded his hands neatly in his sleeves, his eyes flashing.

“Cease this foolishness at once.” His command was met with silence, and the daiyoukai took a deep breath of crisp winter air and magnolias and continued, “This one’s rooms shall be finished tomorrow, we will reconvene there until the miko is well. The administrator and his clerks will have no further access to reports.”

“Sesshomaru-sama,” Kento began, then fell quiet with a low bow under his Lord’s intense scrutiny.

“What can wait for this one’s attention will do so. Evaluating the wake of the disease and making arrangements to deal with it are the first priority, seconded by information gathering and strategy. Hisao, since you are so concerned for this one’s time, you may assist Kento in sorting through the reports for value after you have completed training each day. Kento-”

“These reports?”

Sesshomaru was at the miko’s side the moment she spoke. He had not noticed her approach. She moved with a silence that was abnormal for the clumsy female. He had left the screen to the anteroom partially open, to better hear if she should become distressed, and she was poised in the opening, a sheaf of loose papers in her hand. His gaze raked over her. She was dressed only in her silk robe, but mokomoko protected her from the cold and indecency. Her only exposed flesh was her hands, face and a sliver of neck and collarbone where her clothing had shifted while she slept. With a twitch of youki, his fur slid tighter around her, concealing even that pale skin.

“It is far too cold here for humans,” he said in a low voice.

“I feel much better,” she answered brightly, still staring at the reports.

“You should be resting.” He pressed more authority into his voice, and even used a bit of his power to try to nudge her back inside. She rolled her eyes.

“I’m fine, Sesshomaru. Why are you all fired up about this stuff anyway? It is just a bunch of trade accounts, surely they aren’t that urgent?”

Sesshomaru paused, leaning back to consider her. He knew she could read, he had seen her do so on many occasions. While some of the kanji were unfamiliar to him and the phrases strange, he could read the bound scrolls she brought from her time. If they were any indication, her education was quite extensive.

“She can read?” Hisao sounded dumbfounded. Considering the norms for education in general, and women in particular – especially among humans – Sesshomaru decided it to be an appropriate response.

“Of course Kagome-sama can read,” Kento responded as though it should have been obvious. It was more likely his cousin told him.

“Then she can cull through this lot!” Hisao’s excitement was tempered only slightly by Sesshomaru’s glare.

“The miko needs to rest.” He could feel her gearing up for a protest, but he was done discussing how to put her to work when she was standing barefoot in the cold air. He pulled her tightly against his chest and moved into her sleeping chamber, snapping up a youki barrier, closing the screen, and settling on the futon. He had her secure in his lap before she could open her mouth.

ooo

“I’ve rested-” Kagome was abruptly aware that she had been relocated back to her futon, and Sesshomaru surrounded her. “-enough,” she finished lamely. One clawed hand wrapped around her waist, the other tangled in her already sad braid, freeing her hair and tickling her scalp. “Sesshomaru,” her breath hitched when his nose dipped into the shell of her ear, “what are you doing?”

“Examining,” came the low reply. His nose was surprisingly cool in comparison to the heat of his body, and Kagome was struck with the image of a large dog, snuffling at her hair.

“Examining?” Her voice was faint, but she was having trouble focusing on what they had been discussing before. His head dipped and his breath ghosted along her jawline.

“It means-”

“I know what it means, Sesshomaru.” She rolled her eyes and felt mild irritation flaring. Prior to coming to the West and spending so much time with the daiyoukai, she would not have thought it possible for one person to be so infuriating and intriguing at the same time.

“Temper,” he said flatly, pulling away to look in her eyes. Her confusion must have shown, because he elaborated, “You are getting angry with me. You will not summon your reiki.”

Phantom pain at the memory of her last attempt to use her power made Kagome wince. It had hurt more than when Urusae had taken her soul to resurrect Kikyou. She shuddered. “Right, thanks. Although, it would be easier not to get angry if you weren’t so- so-”

“Considerate?”

“Annoying,” she said wryly. Something changed in his face and body. He was still holding her, still cupping the back of her head with his hand and looking into her eyes, but his face was wrong. Cooler, more emotionless. How she could tell between his varying levels of cool, cold and frigid, she wasn’t sure, but it was evident in the stiffness of his posture and the way his eyes shuttered. She had hurt his feelings. Is that even possible? Don’t give yourself so much credit, Higurashi, she chided. Still, she hadn’t meant to hurt him.

“Considerate too.” She cupped the side of his face and smiled, trying to show him she wasn’t really upset. “Thank you, Sesshomaru. I don’t know what you did to make me feel better, but thank you.”

“Hn.” He relaxed, fractionally, and Kagome was relieved to see his mask melt a few degrees. “My youki is sheltering your power while it regenerates.” Kagome closed her eyes and sank into herself for a few moments. She didn’t even notice it until she looked, but his youki was indeed inside her. The amount of power he had filled her with was astonishing – not only that he had so much to spare for her, but also that she hadn’t realized it was there or unconsciously rejected it. It felt…nice. Warm. As though she had been wrapped in her favorite blanket, been given a cup of hot tea…and then surrounded by armed bodyguards. It was nice, and also supremely weird. She mentally shrugged. Nothing hurt anymore, she felt full of energy, and Sesshomaru had apparently decided not to retaliate for her attempt to zap him with a shock of purification. The whole day had a positive sheen to it.

“Sooo,” she began, and then faltered when he leaned in to her neck again, this time tracing the edge of her collar. “I, ah- about those papers…”

“Do not concern yourself.” His lips brushed against the hollow of her throat and she completely forgot what she had been saying. It tickled. And also felt really, really good. “Kento and Hisao will manage. You must rest.”

His nose brushed up the opposite side of her neck and her pulse quivered. Sesshomaru! This is the cold, unfeeling daiyoukai! This is Inuyasha’s brother, the killing machine, gorgeous, great kisser – Kagome shook herself, and embarrassment flooded her. She was sitting in his lap, and he was…nuzzling her. She wondered briefly if the damage to her reiki had also affected her brain. There was a low, rumbling vibration that thrummed against her wherever they touched.

“Are you…laughing?” She pulled back, although he didn’t let her go too far. His face was expressionless, but his eyes were warm and…amused. Daiyoukai were confusing.

“I do not know if it is your species, or something unique to you, but your emotions are…exceptionally transmutable. It is intriguing.”

“Transmut-” she cut herself off, knowing he was about to explain, “No, I got it. I just can’t decide if that was a compliment or not.” She was conscious of his palm against her waist, under the mokomoko. His thighs were warm and hard through the thin robe where she was sitting on him. It was intimate, and unsettling, and just weird. It was also oddly right. She knew her cheeks were still pink, but she did her best to act as though it was not at all strange to have a calm discussion with Sesshomaru while she was on his lap. In her pajamas.

“So, the thing with the papers. No, hear me out,” she raised a hand to silence him. He frowned, almost imperceptibly, then gave a brief nod. “I really do feel one hundred percent better, and I don’t think I could go back to sleep right now if I tried. However, I understand, given my recent, er, relapses, that you might think I should take it easy. Let me help you with your paperwork. I can read and sort just as well as Hisao, and it isn’t exactly strenuous.”

She could see he was ready to refuse her, so she threw everything she had into her argument. “And I’ll be right next to you the whole time. If you think I’m getting tired or whatever, I’ll come straight back here and lie down. Please?” She did her best to make her eyes huge and let her lip hang a little. It almost always worked on Inuyasha.

“Hn.” Brothers, more alike than they’d ever admit. She grinned and impulsively kissed his cheek. Kagome pulled away again almost immediately, wondering if she had overstepped. If the contact had bothered him, he didn’t show it. He slowly stood, setting her on her feet, which put her at the distinct disadvantage of having to tip her head far back to look at him. “You will dress first.” He nodded to a stack of freshly laundered clothing. “And eat.” He narrowed his eyes and specified, “You will eat until I feel you have had enough.”

“Okay,” she agreed without complaint. She was starving; he couldn’t possibly force her to eat more than she would have on her own. Kagome turned and stepped away, only to find herself pulled flush against him, back to front. She sucked in a breath and did her best to contain a riot of emotion as his claws slipped between the mokomoko and her robe. Directly under her breast. His thumb slowly brushed against the swell of flesh, then it was gone, and with it the fur that had draped around her shoulders. He stepped away from her, taking his tails with him, and she looked back to see it secured in its usual spot on him.

“Dress warmly, Miko.” He disappeared through the shoji screen, but his barrier remained. She was grateful for the layer of privacy as she pressed one hand against her rapidly beating heart.

“Is it warm in here?” she whispered, dazed.

ooo

Almost five hours later, and Kagome was filled with a tired sense of accomplishment. Her back ached a little from sitting and reading for so long. She had quickly given up a ladylike position and instead sat or lay in the most comfortable way she could find while staying modest in her new blue kimono. Kento and Hisao raised their brows at her, but no one said anything as she breezed through stacks of paperwork.

It had taken her an hour or so to get used to the script and archaic kanji, but once she was settled in, the reading was interesting. Even the trade reports, so lamented by Hisao, easily held her attention. Everything from silver and salt to silk and ink were tracked and traded in the Western Lands. She even found some brief descriptions of harvests in human areas, which she decided she would take up with Sesshomaru at a later date. She had already muddled in his affairs as thoroughly as possible. At some point, she figured, she couldn’t mess up the timeline any more than she already had.

She made piles for economic news, social/political requests, castle business, disease, and military affairs. Kagome sorted each by urgency, and then kept a few scrolls and papers set aside that needed Sesshomaru’s immediate attention, or that she had trouble categorizing. She had also come across a paper that was written in some sort of code, which she had great fun deciphering. She saved it for the end of the afternoon, while she waited for Kento to look through her left-over papers and Hisao and Sesshomaru finished up a debate. It was a Uesugi cipher with a waka poem – something she had learned about in middle school and the girls used to pass notes in class. Kagome couldn’t help a little whoop of triumph when she completed it. All other conversation stopped and three pairs of demon eyes stared at her.

“Sorry,” she said without really meaning it. She was too pleased with herself to be embarrassed. “I didn’t think I’d remember how to do these.” She smiled and passed her working paper to Kento, along with the original message. He frowned at the pencil scratches, then read over her work twice. His face twitched and he passed the work to Sesshomaru. When the daiyoukai stared at her after reading it, Kagome felt the first inklings of trepidation. “I, ah, maybe I shouldn’t have…” He passed the papers to Hisao, who took about two minutes to explode.

“You broke our code!”

Kagome flinched, grateful that a youki barrier had been put in place to keep the conversations secret. “I didn’t mean to? I mean, humans used it a lot, in the fut-” she glanced at Sesshomaru and smiled weakly. “Where I am from, this is a pretty simple thing. Kids use it to learn about cryptography. I’m sure it’s a really good code?”

Hisao stared at her, clearly fuming but unable to form words. Kento looked aghast. Her eyes locked on Sesshomaru, pleading with him to understand. A tiny, tiny smile flickered at the corner of his mouth, and she breathed easier.

“Hisao, this one thinks you should work with Kento to develop a new method for sending messages. If human schoolchildren can read your battle plans, they are not very secure.” Hisao sputtered, and Kento sighed. “The miko must eat. You may return to this one in an hour and we shall begin with the reports.”

“It shouldn’t take too long,” Kento said with his own smile. “Kagome-sama has only these that need your immediate attention.” He placed a thin sheaf on Sesshomaru’s table. “The others I can deal with or can wait for you. She has also made a few notations that may be of interest, my Lord.” Kagome blushed under the scrutiny and fiddled with her obi. If she had known she would draw so much attention, she might have tried harder to make the formal garment look better. Not that it would have done much good. She was terrible with the folds and knots required to wear a real kimono.

“Hn.”

Hisao bowed stiffly to both Sesshomaru and herself, still muttering about the work ahead of him as he left the room. Kento bowed as well, and then knelt before Kagome, his fists on his thighs. “I must thank you, Kagome-sama, but I am unable to find words to express myself. Aki,” he took a deep breath and smiled, “my mate and I are grateful. We are in your debt. If there is anything that we may do for you, please call on us. Only our loyalty to Sesshomaru-sama comes before you.”

Kagome didn’t know what to say. Sesshomaru filled in the silence. “Your debt to the miko is first, Kento. Your obligations to This One may be set aside if the miko is in need.”

Kagome blinked, and Kento became gravely serious. “Your high favor is most well-placed, my Lord.” Kento bowed again and backed out of the door. Kagome stared at Sesshomaru, who had already stood and cleared her little table so that they could eat.

“What just happened?”

“In this moment, nothing of consequence.” He nodded to the doors and dropped his barrier. “Eat, miko.” She frowned at him, ready to question him, but the smell of approaching dinner made her stomach growl loudly. She blushed and frowned harder.

“We aren’t done with this,” she warned.

“Hn.”

They ate in near silence. Kagome found she had enough trouble not looking like a half-starved street urchin and still filling the bottomless pit that had replaced her stomach – without adding talking into the mix. It did not seem to bother Sesshomaru. Of course not, idiot, he’s probably grateful for a moment’s peace. He did, however, look over her empty bowls with approval.

He finished his work just as the children returned, tired and a little crabby after a long day with only Jaken and the servants for company. Well, Shippo was crabby. Rin was resigned. Kagome suggested a bath before bedtime, and Sesshomaru escorted them to the springs. For a moment, she had been torn between fear and anticipation that he would join her again, but he disappeared to the far side of the boulders with Shippo.

The girls washed quickly, and Kagome had time to fix Rin’s hair before Sesshomaru and Shippo reappeared. She was growing a bit anxious, considering how quiet things on the boy’s side had been. Inuyasha and the kit were usually all splashes and loud arguments. Shippo looked content and sleepy, however; he was a matched set for Rin.

Kagome picked up the kitsune with a soft grunt. He was growing too big to cuddle in her arms, and she had to perch him on her hip instead. He immediately laid his head on her shoulder and yawned. She turned to find that Sesshomaru had picked up Rin as well, who cuddled into his mokomoko and was struggling to stay awake. They moved quickly back to the rooms. Kagome was pleased to have only tripped twice on the way.

They settled the children into bed. Kagome gave them each a kiss and a hug. Then Sesshomaru leaned down to pat each head with affection. Something gooey and warm bubbled up in her chest at the sight. The proud, tall daiyoukai bending to smooth hair from brows and straighten bedding.

She returned to her room and was just untying her outer kimono when the screen clicked softly shut. Anticipation fluttered in her belly and she sternly admonished her feelings to settle down. His rooms were a construction zone. He had nowhere else to sleep. Except an entire castle. He was worried about her, afraid she would collapse again. Yeah, okay, this is just a check-up, he’ll probably leave when he’s done. She turned from her inner pep talk and found that Sesshomaru had changed into a short sleeping robe and seated himself on her futon. She had to drag her eyes away from the pale, muscular calves on display.

“So, ah, did you want to check on my reiki?” He tilted his head slightly, so she took that as agreement. She knelt carefully beside him, keeping a few key inches between her knees and his thigh, and turned her thoughts inward. His youki was so thickly bound around her, she almost couldn’t see her own power. She reached out gently, and the green vines shifted and bent to reveal a healthy pink glow at the center. It was getting better, slowly, but her power was still dimmer and much smaller than she was used to. “I think it looks pretty good. So you can-” she opened her eyes and swallowed, hard. His face was close to hers, his warm breath puffing against her mouth. “Ah, you can, ah, go now.”

“I will stay close.”

“Right, yeah, of course. Your youki. Thank you for that.” She tugged on a blanket and scooted backward. “I’ll just…over there-” she gasped when his arm latched around her, pulling her forward and down until they both lay on the futon. Her face rested on his chest, and blankets were pulled up over her shoulders. “Uh…”

ooo

Sesshomaru felt the urge to sigh. He could have laughed at her misplaced anxiety and modesty. He wanted to roll her over and turn back the folds of her garments so that he could learn every inch of her scent. He did none of those things. He had a strategy. She needed reassurance. She needed to feel comfortable with him. The miko would grow accustomed to his presence, then long for it. He would explain the benefits she would receive from mating him. When he was sufficiently assured of her agreement, he would ask for her acceptance. Then he could trace the dip of her waist with his nose. The crease of her hip.

“What you did for Kento and Aki was ill-timed, but appreciated.”

“Kento’s thanks were too much. Really it was-”

I am appreciative,” he clarified. She shifted slightly, her cold toes brushing against his legs. That would not do. He trapped her feet between his calves, warming her. Her scent raced. Embarrassment. Anxiety. Arousal. Irritation. Contentment.

“Er, you’re welcome? I’ve never done anything like that before, but it was interesting. I mean, those kinds of reproductive issues are pretty rare, and they have to be even more so for demons, right? So what are the chances I would ever see that again?”

“Healing them was a good thing. Spider demons are intended to have numerous offspring, and Inu should have many pups.” He wondered how long it would take the miko to conceive. He was unfamiliar with human physiology, but they seemed to reproduce at a lightning fast pace. However, his father was with Izayoi for nearly two years before she ripened, so perhaps that was a more reasonable timeframe.

“Really?” She sounded intrigued, and…almost…disbelieving.

“A litter-” At her look of confusion he explained the term, “Pups that have not yet reached adolescence are part of a litter.” She nodded and he continued, “A litter is often comprised of five or six pups at a time. An inu demoness may have multiple litters, and twins are not uncommon.”

“So, your mom could have fifteen or twenty kids, er, pups?”

Sesshomaru was both amused and horrified of the idea of InuKimi with a litter of pups, hanging on her skirts and learning from her how to properly stalk prey – in the forest and the political arena. “I am her sole offspring.”

“Is that, like, an age thing? Inu have a, a window of opportunity to have kids?”

“Females remain fertile for a thousand years or more after their maturity. Males,” he dragged his claws down her ribs to the swell of her hip and squeezed. His voice grew lower, “are virile until death. Would you like to know when inu reach their peak?”

“Ah-” Cinnamon and turnips did a battle for dominance in her scent and Sesshomaru had to bite back a groan. This phase of the plan was for reassurance, not seduction. “Eh-hem. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there are any litters around here. Does everyone keep their pups at home? Or are the villagers and your servants all pretty young?”

“They are of many ages.” He realized that she wouldn’t really know what that meant for a demon. “I am nearing eight hundred years of life.” He rolled over her sharp intake of breath, “That is still young for a daiyoukai. There are many in the village and at the castle that are older than I. Many upper level youkai may live to be three or four thousand years old, if they are not killed in battle. A daiyoukai may live twice that time. Although, some have been recorded as far older.”

“Holy crap,” she whispered. “I mean, I ah. When do they reach maturity?”

“It varies by type of demon.” His voice took on a husky note. “Inu come of an age to take a mate at two hundred and fifty years, although most do not do so immediately.” He tipped his head to brush his lips across her hair and breathe in her scent. “It is said that males are most…pleasing…after they have seen their seven hundred and fiftieth year.” He listed to Kagome’s swallow and the beat of her heart and grinned.

“So where are they? The kids I mean? If you people – youkai – have so many pups, how come I haven’t seen any? They must be adorable.”

“You would view them as such.” Sesshomaru paused and considered her observation. He had not spent a great deal of time among young of any species until he found Rin. He was aware that neither Kento nor Hisao had pups, but Kento had Aki and Hisao’s mate had died only a century or so after they mated. In child birth. He tried to picture the packs and families in his villages, then he compared them to the human villages he had observed. There were very few demon children. He frowned. That was not right. Inu had large packs with many pups. He had been an only child, but that was easily explained by the relationship between the Inu no Tashio and Kimi. He did not have pups of his own yet, other than Rin, but he had every intention of remedying that lack. He considered those inu he knew personally, sorting through all who worked at the castle or lived in the village. There were none that had more than two pups. Over half, he recounted quickly, did not have any pups at all.

That was not right. Toga had thirty-six siblings, although most of Sesshomaru’s paternal aunts and uncles had died in glorious battle or personal conquest before he was born. Kimi was younger than her mate, but she was one of twenty pups. Sesshomaru only knew of one that was still alive – his mother.

He thought back to his history lessons from childhood. Stories of great inu with long lists of progeny he had to memorize. But the lists became shorter as the time of those demons grew closer to his own. Sesshomaru could feel a growing concern. He had no cousins, no second cousins. His closest living relative, outside of Kimi and Inuyasha, was Kento. Kento and Jun’s grandsire was Kimi’s great uncle. Sesshomaru sat up, disturbing Kagome and ignoring her small protest.

He calculated in his head. Then did it again. They were dying. The inu were dying out and he had not realized before. Certainly, his pack was small, but his sires had always walked a path of conquest – it often ended in bloodshed. It was not just his line, however. It was every line, every inu lineage that he knew had dwindled in numbers. If things continued as they had for the last three generations, in less than one thousand years, they would be gone. Stunned, he pulled what little he could easily remember about other youkai out for examination. He found similar situations. The bears, cranes, panthers, badger youkai, monkeys. Only the kitsune seemed to be pushing back the tide of extinction, and even they were decreasing.

“There are no youkai,” he said flatly.

“What?” The miko sat up as well.

“In your time, in the future, there are no youkai.”

“Yes, but that is why I wanted to come here, when you said the demons were getting sick. I think smallpox may have been responsible for them being wiped out. I’ll know for certain when I go back home again, but-”

“No, it will not be the disease. It is us.” Her small hand touched his shoulder, and he stared into space. His entire race was dying. “Do you understand? There aren’t enough pups.” He did his best to explain, to make her see the terrible knowledge that made a knot of cold anguish in his chest. He had not believed her about her medicine, and he nearly paid with his life. When she told him there were no demons in her time, he had brushed her off. He knew now, he could see the truth.

“So, let’s find out why.” He tilted down to look at her face, and found she had leaned her head on his shoulder and tucked her hand into his. “I decided, when I agreed to come to the West, that I was going to help you survive. I want you to survive. I want to go through the well, and know even in my time I might see Kento walking out of a bank, or Hisao drinking coffee.” She squeezed his hand, “I want to know that my friend, Inuyasha, will still be grumbling about the stench of humans in five hundred years. I want to know that somewhere out there, Sesshomaru is still protecting the West. We’ll figure it out, then we’ll fix it. I am not going home unless I know that you will be coming to the future with me.”

Her words were simple and full of assurance. He realized that part of her calm came from the time she had to consider the problem. She had known about the fate of demons for years. He, on the other hand…it was understandable that he was still reeling from the discovery. She was right, though. He straightened his spine and recovered the cool rationality that had abandoned him for a few moments. He had never met an enemy he could not defeat.

He eased back down onto the futon, pulling her snug against his side. Her breath blew against the parted vee of his neckline. Her arm draped across his chest to place her palm over his heart. With the Miko no Mao, the future priestess, Kagome, at his side, not even time would stand in his way.

Chapter 15: Of the West

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