Chapter 16: Lessons Learned
Sesshomaru watched the miko and her new charges closely while he listened to the storm. She had not followed his orders. Again. He told her not to move, and instead she threw herself into the middle of three frightened, territorial youkai children. Any of them could have seriously injured her out of instinct. He felt the strange, twisting sensation in his chest, the same thing he had felt when he saw her collapse in the courtyard. She could have been hurt.
He pressed down on that emotion, doing his utmost to stifle it. The miko was in good health. The young ones had accepted her far easier than they should have. The bird youkai, a species not known for physical contact with others, sat close to her, pressing his knee against her leg. Her lap was occupied with the two inu children. Sesshomaru realized as he watched them that it had been a very long time since he had seen pups that age. It was another indication that their fears for the extinction of youkai were reasonable. The pups took to her immediately. The male, Sesshomaru guessed he would be about seventy, sat facing her, eating the last of the food she had brought in her bag and speaking incessantly. Curled against her chest was the female. Less than forty years old, the pup had pressed her nose into the miko’s skin and fallen asleep with one fist in her mouth and the other tangled in the human woman’s long tail of hair. That sight assured him that he had made the correct decision to claim the miko as his own. Nothing had ever looked and smelled so right to him as Kagome holding the pups.
He needed to get them back to the castle. When he buried the young ones’ sensei, he had found other youkai bodies, some had obviously died from a combination of wounds and exposure. The dragons that had attacked the village may have been driven off by the weather, but they would return to ensure that there was no one left alive. The miko and the pups needed to be safe at the castle before the enemy arrived. Dragons. He could feel a snarl welling up at the thought. Intelligence reports had led him to that conclusion already, but to have it proven and to see the turpitude that the North had sunk to was appalling. Enraging. He wanted to kill something.
The wind was dying down, and Sesshomaru locked away all his desires for blood to attend to his first priority. There was no other way to transport everyone. He would have to carry them. He opened the only storage chest in the hut and removed a thick blanket. “Miko,” he caught her attention. “Keep the pups warm and secure.”
“What about me?” The bird youkai looked defiant, but he smelled frightened and sad. Sesshomaru raised a brow.
“You will not need assistance holding on to This One. Unless you are afraid to fly?” The demon’s eyes widened and a small smile broke across his face. Hn, it is a start. “We leave now.”
Shippo sat on the steps and frowned at the snow in the courtyard. He was worried about Kagome. She had been gone longer when she went through the well for school, but never had they been apart for so long when she was in his time. His missed her. He even kind of missed Sesshomaru. Shippo sighed. Rin’s scent bounced towards him and he did his best not to look sad. It was his job to take care of his little sister while Kagome and Sesshomaru were away. They had both said so. Although Kagome had also said he should keep Rin happy, and Sesshomaru had told him to maintain the honor of the West. He guessed they both meant the same thing…basically.
“Shippo-kun! How was training?” Rin sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Shippo thought it wasn’t fair that his little sister got to be so much bigger than him.
“Fine,” he answered. It sounded sullen, so he tried to inflect some cheer into his voice, “There isn’t as much to do without Inuyasha here. Watching him fight with Hisao was fun. I thought I knew all of the bad words, but Hisao knows even more than Inubaka!”
“You shouldn’t call him that, Shippo-kun,” Rin chided, but she laughed too. “Hisao-san has a terrible temper. He is lucky to have found someone who can stand up to it. Sesshomaru-sama always beats him, of course, but he doesn’t have much time to play with Hisao-san.”
“I don’t think Sesshomaru would like to hear you call it ‘playing’, Rin,” Shippo noted dryly.
She shrugged, “But it’s the only fun he gets. Of course, now that Kagome-sama is here, maybe he will find more time to-” Rin paused, “What is happening?” Shippo turned his senses outward. The courtyard and training grounds had fallen silent. Most of the youkai soldiers were ready to attack, their hand on their weapons. He reached out with his youki, and gasped. Something very big and very dangerous was headed their way. Shippo jumped up and tugged on Rin’s hand, determined to follow his orders.
“Come on! We have to-” A shout rang out among the soldiers, and then a moment later Shippo recognized what they had sensed. The demon coming to the castle was Sesshomaru, and he was moving quickly. “They’re back!” Rin stood too, clapping her hands in excitement. He was difficult to see at first, but then the kit pointed out the silvery white of the daiyoukai against the grey storm clouds to Rin. His own eyes grew bigger and bigger as Sesshomaru approached. He had never seen the Western Lord in his true form, and he was gigantic. Shippo swallowed, wondering how his human mother had ever found the courage to become allies and then friends after she had been attacked by that. He landed in the courtyard on all fours, sending up puffs of snow, but instead of immediately transforming, he lowered his belly to the ground.
Hisao approached from the training grounds, “My Lord? What do-”
“A little help, please, Hisao-san,” Kagome’s voice called down from somewhere above the mounds of white fur. The captain looked to Sesshomaru for permission, and received a slow blink in response. With a single jump, Hisao landed on the great dog’s back, sending a cascade of snow and ice crashing to the courtyard. He returned to the ground holding a kid about Rin’s size, who was wrapped in a blanket and also covered in snow. A servant was summoned and took the white crusted bundle, and Hisao vaulted up again. This time he returned with a smaller, significantly less snowy bundle. There was a whirlwind of youki, and Sesshomaru transformed. Shippo had to shield his eyes from the blowing snow, but when it was over he was relieved to see the daiyoukai, holding Kagome.
“Kagome-mama!” He yelled happily, as Rin called out, “Sesshomaru-sama, Kagome-sama!” They raced to meet Sesshomaru as he strode towards the castle. Hisao and his bundle followed behind.
The Lord was speaking to his captain in low tones, “…speak immediately. Fetch a female to care for the bird, he will want his own kind.”
“Sesshomaru!” came an indignant huff from his arms. Shippo stared at Kagome. She was wrapped in an ice covered blanket, and everything the blanket had not covered was crusted with snow. Her hair, her eyebrows and eyelashes. Her face was pale and her lips a strange purple color.
“You will see him later, Miko. Hush.” As if there were not twenty or more demons watching, he bent his head and brushed his nose along her hair, still walking as though it were nothing unusual. “Hisao,” his voice came out as toneless and cool again, “break a platoon into fireteams and…” Shippo stood and stared in shock after them as they entered the castle.
“Did Shippo-kun see what Sesshomaru-sama did?” Rin’s voice was awed and excited.
Shippo nodded and replied, stunned, “Did you smell what Kagome was holding?”
He’s fine, stop worrying, Kagome admonished herself. Sesshomaru had explained, after she finally tugged on his mokomoko for attention, that bird youkai only allowed themselves to be groomed or fed by their own kind. Paho had been taken to one who resided at the castle, but Kagome would be able to see him after he was settled. Nankae had latched on to Hisao with a death grip and asked a million questions about the Western army. When he realized they would be bathing, he demanded to stay with the captain. Sesshomaru had sent out a low tone that made the boy duck his chin and his lip stick out. Hisao listened to a rapid-fire string of orders from his lord, then deposited the pup on Kagome’s lap and disappeared.
They waited at the entrance to the private springs until a servant arrived with clean clothes and supplies. Sesshomaru whisked her off her feet and straight to the hot water. He took Nankae from her and set him on his own feet with a stern directive to strip and wait in the shallow end. With stiff fingers, she tried to unwrap the frozen blanket, but she couldn’t seem to get her numb limbs to work. Sesshomaru made a sound of irritation and brushed her hands away.
“I’ve got it, really I-” He glared at her, and so she bit her tongue and stood patiently while he unwrapped the blanket. The unconcealed look of surprise on his face was worth all of the tiny claw pricks she had received on the way back to the castle. Nankae had snuggled up easily to her during the journey, clinging to her and Sesshomaru’s fur on his own, but Emi was too little to secure herself. Kagome had worried that she would fall, or not stay warm enough, so she had unwrapped her gi and folded the little pup against her skin. She was still asleep, Kagome was sure, and the lump under her clothes made her belly look enormous. Kagome giggled. Her chattering teeth made the sound stutter, “Th- this is why you-u-u shouldn’t f-feed me so much, I’ll g-get fat!”
Sesshomaru had a strange look in his eyes when he approached again, and Kagome was speechless when he slowly loosened the knot of her obi. The shirt fell open, revealing her modern bra and the black-haired pup curled against her skin. She grabbed Emi with both hands, too stunned and preoccupied with the child to cover herself. Golden eyes raked over her exposed flesh, and Kagome trembled for reasons that had nothing to do with temperature. His hands moved to the ties of her pants, and Kagome was suddenly aware of how dry her lips were.
“Hey, ‘Gome! This place is neat! Do you swim here all the time?” Nankae’s guileless interruption had her jumping back with a guilty flush. Sesshomaru’s claws snagged the ties, slicing through one so that she had to grab the waistband to keep from becoming even more exposed. She glanced to the boy, anything to keep her eyes off of the daiyoukai, and found him edging into deeper water. She had no idea if he could even swim.
“Nankae-kun, stay still until I get in,” she said sharply. His head tilted and his eyes took on a wounded cast. She softened her voice, “Emi and I don’t want you to have all the fun without us.” He smiled and made a huge waving motion that comically splashed his own face.
“Then hurry up! It feels really good and warm, ‘Gome.”
“You will obey the miko, pup.” Sesshomaru’s deep voice drew her eyes unwillingly, and Kagome’s mouth fell open. He strode into the pool without another glance at her, completely naked. She hadn’t noticed him undressing. Smooth, pale skin. Hard muscle. Long, silky hair. “Do you need further assistance?” Her eyes snapped to his face and she had no chance of fighting the blush that raged on her cheeks. There were tiny wrinkles near his eyes, and the golden color looked suspiciously warm. He’s teasing me. She shook away that ridiculous thought, which he apparently took as a request, for he began to rise out of the water. Past his chest…his waist… magenta markings…
“No,” she practically shouted. She squeezed her eyes shut and turned to adjust Emi without looking at his…his everything. The pup woke and squirmed in her embrace to stare at her with big, unnaturally blue eyes. Another shiver wracked her body and she tried to force herself to get over the discomfort. After all, she had bathed with him before, sort of. It wasn’t like mokomoko was going to molest her in the water again. She eyed the fluff, lying innate where he had piled it. Even if the daiyoukai was interested in her, at least physically, there were children present. He was far too proper to do anything in front of them. She assured herself it would no doubt be a quick bath in any case; Sesshomaru probably had an enormous amount of work to do. That thought made her wonder why he had stayed with them instead of sending the rock demons to guard the springs. “We’ll be fine here, Sesshomaru. I’m sure you have more important things to do.”
“But you said you had a pack, ‘Gome.” Nankae’s sad, confused voice came from behind her. “My father said protection and comfort for the pack was the most important job of the alpha. Unless…is Sesshomaru-sama not your pack?” There was silence behind her and Kagome struggled with the remaining knot in her pants even as she tried to think of a response that would reassure the child and not mortally offend the Western Lord.
“This one is a strong alpha.” Sesshomaru’s voice rang out behind her and Kagome stilled. Is he saying I am… “There are repercussions to pack that do not obey…and remain shivering out of modesty.” Kagome rolled her eyes, finding irritation her only defense against a pleased sort of blush. She stepped out of her footwear and took a deep breath. It was just like going swimming. No more revealing than some of the bikinis her friends in the future wore. She tried not to dwell on the fact that she had never been brave enough to wear one without a cover up.
“Yeah. ‘Gome isn’t inu, maybe she doesn’t know. You should tell her she needs to obey,” the simple directive made Kagome snort, and she turned and stepped into the spring in her bra and panties, still holding the clingy Emi. Agonizing needles of heat raked across her skin where she touched the water. Kagome bit back a cry of pain as she acclimated to the change in temperature. She refused to meet the golden eyes that stared at her as she sank into the water, not able to take a deep breath until she was in up to her armpits. Kento had once told her that inu often bathed and groomed together within their close family packs. It seemed so long ago that he had given her a first lesson on demons and dogs. Really, it had been a week since Sesshomaru had taken ill and Kento had lectured her:
“An alpha leads his pack, usually with his female. The more powerful the inu, the greater the size of his pack. The innermost circle is his female and pups. The next, larger pack contains his siblings, their packs, possibly parents. Next are more distant relatives, and very close allies. It goes on, further for each inuyoukai depending on his power and rank. Sesshomaru-sama has the entire Western Lands under his control. Alpha to us all.”
Kagome sighed. Alpha, indeed. She might be ‘of the West’ for a time, but she doubted that Sesshomaru considered her a permanent member of his domain. She did her best to brush aside the pull of sadness as she considered that if, when, the daiyoukai took a mate, the demoness would take a spot in that closest pack with their pups. She got to play in his personal space for the time being, but it was not permanent. He would never wish it to be so. I wouldn’t either. How annoying it would be to be constantly expected to defer to someone else, someone so much stronger and more knowledgeable about many things. To be protected and cared for and… Kagome shook herself. Listing Sesshomaru’s desirable qualities was not helping her mood.
His eyes were still on her as she took up soap and began gently scrubbing Emi. Nankae was standing on an underwater ledge near the daiyoukai, eying the deeper water. Having raised a sneaky kitsune for four years, Kagome could see the boy’s mind turning. She wasn’t a match for his demon quickness, however, and didn’t have time to utter a warning before he leapt off the ledge. Sesshomaru snagged him out of thin air by the boy’s waist and returned him to the ledge with a stern glance. Kagome cuddled a soapy Emi and felt her chest constrict. A year ago, if someone had told her she would feel all melty and wistful watching Sesshomaru act the role of a parent – if someone had told her that Sesshomaru would take up the role of a parent – she would have backed away slowly and tried not to startle the crazy person. She thought of the demoness that would be at his side in the future and felt an unreasonable stab of jealousy.
“Miko.” His low, warm voice brought her back to the present and she frowned to cover up the inappropriate turn of her thoughts. “Hand the female to this one. The other pup needs your attention.” Relieved to have a task to keep her occupied, she stepped closer, holding out the wide-eyed Emi. The pup didn’t fuss, but held very still in his arms and watched Kagome. She turned to Nankae with her soap, and almost drowned herself when she felt hot breath on her ear. “Very good. You obey your alpha.”
Sesshomaru watched with a mixture of amusement and arousal as the miko stiffened and sputtered. He was pleasantly surprised that she had told the young ones she belonged to a pack. Even if she thought of Inuyasha as her…no, he refused to consider that possibility any longer. She had willingly lain with him, had responded to his advances. She was his pack, but Nankae was correct, the miko did need to learn what it meant to be inu. He teased her with a command he knew she would follow, caring for the pup, but he was unprepared for how her obedience had sent a pulse of warmth through him. She would argue. He knew that. It was in her nature, and, despite himself, he often looked forward to the challenge she presented. Swift prey made for a better hunt. Her opinions, well, it was within his power and benefited him to consider the perspectives of others. A miko from the future would give interesting and insightful counsel.
The pup in his arms remained wary of him. She stayed still, her instincts warning her not to draw attention from a dangerous predator. Sesshomaru combed through her black hair with his claws, letting a quiet rumble vibrate his chest so that she would know she was safe with him. Her eyes followed the miko, even as she relaxed against him. It seemed that all young, human or kitsune or inu, were drawn to her. That was good. She would be an excellent mother. When he had pulled away the blanket and seen her clothing swollen by the pup she sheltered, he had been…awed, content, pleased, and overwhelmed with a possessive need to take her close to him and cover her with his scent, his touch. The logical part of his mind knew that the pup was not his, she could not be carrying his offspring, had not yet known his seed. The beast in him wanted to make it true.
He traced the line of her neck and the curve of her shoulder, the tiny indent made by the strap of her…undergarment…the only detraction from smooth skin. Her hair was pulled over her shoulder, so there was no impediment to his view as he followed the column of her spine past her shoulders and into the water. Ripples on the surface distorted what lay underneath, but he was more than satisfied with the deep curve of her waist and the generous swell of her bottom. Sesshomaru clenched his jaw and concentrated on willing away his response. He had much to do before he could enjoy her skin on his again.
She was efficient with Nankae, and soon they were ready to leave. He handed her the little one and exited first with the other. The males dressed quickly and Sesshomaru was not immune to her blush as she stepped from the water, a small inu head on her shoulder and water cascading over bare skin. Wet, her undergarments revealed more than they concealed. The thin white fabric clung to her skin, nearly transparent except for the heavy embroidery that created flowers and leaves across her breasts and at her hips. His eyes were drawn to the dark place between her legs as she hurriedly dried and dressed Emi. She did not lift her face to his as she handed over the pup, and he forced himself to give her his back. The gesture was less out of respect for her modesty and more out of understanding that if he saw her pull that clinging fabric from her body, he was not certain he would restrain himself as he should. He wondered if he would ever understand why it was this female, Kagome, who could shake his control like no other.
She dressed quickly, and when he turned and handed back the pup he took the opportunity, while her hands were busy, to retie her obi. He understood that the garment was not worn in her time, but he was repeatedly surprised that she could make new and more horrible messes each time she tried the simple task. He led the small group back through the castle, refusing to acknowledge the stares and whispers of his servants. The miko seemed to be a favorite topic of gossip. He was pleased to learn that, for the most part, she was held in high regard. The Miko no Mao had saved their Lord, saved them all. She returned with their Lord and brought back youkai children from the grasp of death itself. His eyes narrowed when he heard the ill-advised murmurs of one soldier who called into question allowing a human to remain so close to pups. Sesshomaru stopped in place and caught the male youkai’s eye. He shrank back, baring his neck and bowing low. Satisfied for the time being, Sesshomaru continued on, making a mental note to speak to Hisao about occupying his troops better if they had time for idle gossip.
“Sesshomaru?” The miko interrupted Nankae’s constant prattle. The pup did not seem to ever remain silent, asking questions and divulging all manner of personal and trivial information. “Aren’t our rooms the other way? Have we changed again?” Our rooms. That pleased him immensely.
“This One’s chambers have been repaired.”
“Oh. Should we, er, the children and I, go to Rin’s room?”
“You will accompany This One.” He felt a twitch of a smile and a surge of pride when she noticed the changes. Her noises of surprise and appreciation grew as they continued through the family quarters. His carpenters had been working hard to remodel in the wake of his…disagreement with Inuyasha. The corridor ended abruptly with shoji screens on either side. Sesshomaru gestured to the left, and the miko opened the screen and stepped into the new room. He had ordered furnishings suitable for a gathering space. A low table, long enough to accommodate eight or more, sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by blue cushions. A smaller table, arrayed with implements for writing, faced the outer wall. A selection of scrolls had been installed on shelves nearby. He was pleased to see that Rin and the kit had been well occupied while he was gone. The shelves also held books from the miko’s time and the main table had been decorated with flowers.
“Oh!” She turned slowly, her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide, and for a moment, Sesshomaru could not discern her state from her scent. “Is this…is this for me, Sesshomaru?”
“Hn.” He made the briefest inclination of his head, and was reduced to sniffing the air with a hesitancy borne of uncertainty. Then she smiled. Her hand fell away from her face and the bright, warm smell of her happiness filled the room. The pups smiled as well, Emi even laughed and Sesshomaru was struck with the realization that the miko held that power over them all. With her smile there was contentment. With her sadness, despondency.
“It’s beautiful, Sesshomaru. Thank you. I…I don’t know how to…” She laughed again and turned around the room, finally coming to a stop at his side. Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks flushed. “Thanks, Sesshomaru-sama. Thank you.” She leaned up and pressed her warm lips against the underside of his jaw. He knew logically that his height prevented her from reaching his cheek, her most probable target. She would have no way of knowing how intimate, how familiar, how deeply significant the act was to inu. His instincts did not care for logic. His chest rumbled, and both pups snapped to attention before leaning into Kagome in boneless contentment under the effect of the sound. Her free hand remained on his chest, her weight pressed against his side.
Rin and Shippo chose that moment to emerge from another set of screens, revealing the remodeled sleeping room for his adopted daughter. After a brief bout of sniffing and some encouragement from the miko, Nankae and the kit went to investigate Shippo’s toys. Rin dragged Kagome from Sesshomaru’s side to show her everything that had been done. The reception room opened to the girl’s sleeping chamber and beyond that another smaller room that had been laid out as a classroom. She pointed out a room for Shippo connected to the far end of the shared study area, and an open air garden, currently covered in snow, carved out of the side of the mountain. At the back of the gathering space, ornate shoji screens opened to another sleeping room, a raised futon designed for more than one was covered in luxurious bedding. Sesshomaru found a great deal of pride and satisfaction over the exclamations of the miko as she admired each new thing. She trailed her fingers over a lacquered wardrobe, which Rin explained was for her clothing, and glanced at him with worry in her scent.
“Sesshomaru…what about, I mean…isn’t this where your rooms were?” He raised a brow and gestured around the gathering space with a small smirk. He could almost see her mind working. The south wall opened to Rin’s space. The west opened to the garden. The northern doors revealed the sleeping room. And to the east…he barely held back a smile as she realized there was another, plain screen along that wall. She slid them apart and found Kento and Hisao waiting in an exact replica of the private study that the hanyou had destroyed. The sweet citrus of her pleasure filled the room.
“I have left papers on your desk, Kagome-sama.” Hisao’s eyes glittered. “See if you can figure out my new code.”
“Kagome-sama,” Kento began, “It is good to-” He was interrupted by the yell of a small inuyoukai.
“Commander-sama!” Nankae barreled across the room, Shippo trotting behind, and crashed into the captain’s legs. A barrage of chatter followed. Descriptions of all the pup had done and seen in the hour since Hisao had escorted them to the springs. Sesshomaru held back a smile; the miko was not so contained.
“I think he likes you, Hisao-san.” Hisao looked confused, and Sesshomaru found himself enjoying the other male’s uncertainty. He considered for a moment how many years it had been since Hisao’s mate had died. He considered many things. Particularly how soon he would like to begin his own litter, and the opportunities to do so with a talkative pup hanging on the miko’s skirt.
“Miko, there is work to be done.” She took Nankae’s hand and enlisted Shippo and Rin to help pull him away with promises of drawing, stories, and lunch. “Stay in these rooms. Hisao will join us for dinner.” She winked at the captain and bowed, shutting the screens on the three adult youkai. He turned back to his two closest advisors and ignored their openly questioning expressions. Sesshomaru settled himself at his desk and poured a cup of tea from the waiting pot. There was much to do, and no need to waste time on personal inquiries. “Report to this one on the results of your inquiries.”
Rin was in heaven. She was sure of it. Sesshomaru-sama was well again. Kagome-sama was staying at the castle; she had loved her new rooms. Rin had two new pups to play with and Emi-chan was adorable. If she could name a single thing that wasn’t perfect, it was that Sesshomaru-sama and Kagome-sama hadn’t mated yet. She was sure they would soon, though. In the courtyard, Sesshomaru-sama had scent-marked the miko in front of everyone. On her face. Rin had lived with inu for long enough to know that such gestures were only for mates and pups. Her Lord had only marked Rin that way once. On the day he announced her as his daughter, he rubbed her cheek with his in front of InuKimi and his vassals. Rin was Sesshomaru-sama’s…and Kagome-sama was his too, she just didn’t know it yet.
Rin snuggled down in her futon, and listened to Nankae-kun and Shippo-kun breathing quietly. After a restless nap time where Emi-chan had a nightmare and woke up Nankae, it was decided that he would sleep at night with Shippo. Shippo-kun still prefered to sleep on the floor in Rin’s room, so futons had been dragged in so that they could share. Jaken-san had squawked about the waste of space and bedding, but Rin was happy to have the youkai with her. Hopefully, the kit would be her brother soon, and if Sesshomaru decided to keep the pups…
That was what the adults were discussing, she knew. She could still hear the faint, deep murmurs of Sesshomaru-sama, Kento-san, and Hisao-san. Paho would stay with the only bird youkai at the castle. They were pleased to have him, and Rin had known several birds – they were nice enough, but they didn’t like to sleep or eat with other kinds of youkai. Nankae-kun and Emi-chan were a more difficult problem. There were several inu that had already approached Kento-san about inviting the children into their packs. Rin could tell that Sesshomaru-sama would not take the little girl from Kagome-sama. She grinned into her bedding. Her Lord’s face got…easier…when he looked at the miko and the sweet little pup together. Of course, it would also make a difference that Emi-chan didn’t like being apart from Kagome-sama; she cried when anyone else, with the exception of the Western Lord, held her. So, Emi-chan would almost definitely being staying with Sesshomaru-sama’s pack.
Nankae-kun liked everybody. Rin thought the pup was about four years old, but Shippo-kun said he was a lot older than he looked. He was still young, by demon standards, but he didn’t seem to be as sad about his parents dying as Emi-chan was. Rin thought that maybe Nankae-kun’s parents had been like Rin’s first father. Rin didn’t miss him either. The boy was so nice and sweet, and cute, that Rin was sure Sesshomaru-sama would make certain his new parents loved him. It would be sad if he couldn’t stay in their pack, but he would be at the castle, so Rin and Shippo-kun could still play with him.
Rin listened to the low thrum of her father and wondered how much longer it would be before he mated Kagome-sama. Shippo-kun said kitsune have a contest to decide how clever they are before they mated. If a kitsune impressed the one they liked with their tricks and illusions, that kitsune would give the trickster a gift; then their families would meet and exchange gifts. Then the kitsune boy would stay at the kitsune girl’s house every night from the new moon to the full moon. Then the couple gave each other gifts, and there was a mating ceremony, and it was all done. Rin knew there were a few things different between inu and kitsune. Inuyoukai would not be very happy if someone played a lot of tricks on them. Foxes believed good tricks made a good kitsune. Rin would knew that inu thought power and strength made a good dog.
Sesshomaru-sama had definitely proven how powerful he was, and Rin decided that although Kagome-sama was not very strong, her reiki was very powerful. They had probably both won the contest. Sesshomaru-sama had given the miko lots of gifts: beautiful kimonos, her new rooms, and Rin knew there was a gold comb decorated with blue stones waiting for Kagome-sama to find and use in the morning. She had not seen Kagome-sama give anything to her Lord, but Rin didn’t think the girl had to get the boy anything right away.
Unfortunately, they would have to skip the next step. Shippo-kun said the magic well to Kagome’s home wouldn’t let anyone else through. For the same reason, Sesshomaru-sama couldn’t stay through the moons at the miko’s home. Rin frowned. She wondered if it would be okay if Kagome-sama stayed at the castle instead. That would mean she had to wait another…well, only a few days. Then they would each give the other a present, and they could be mated. Kagome-sama would be her mother, and Shippo-kun her real brother. If Emi-chan stayed, she would be a little sister. Rin had to press the futon into her face to keep her happy laughter hidden. She tried out the sound, “Kagome-mama. Mama. Mama!” She laughed again into the cushy bedding, then froze. Someone was running up the corridor. The door to Sesshomaru-sama’s study slid open, and she could make out Hisao-san’s voice.
“The leader of the Eastern wolf clan has arrived.” Rin shivered, glad that Shippo and Nankae were staying with her. She knew the Eastern wolves had promised not to eat humans anymore, Kagome had told her so, but she still didn’t want to be alone with one.
“It’s about damn time. Show him up and-”
“This one will not have the stench of wolves in his chambers. This one will meet him in the reception hall.” The voice of the Western Lord was cool and calm. Rin was so proud to be part of his pack. He was powerful and fair, and he always took care of her. Rin was sure that Kagome-sama would-
“Eiichi-san,” Hisao rumbled, “you will stay here to guard Kagome-sama. Eiji-san will-”
“The miko will accompany This One.”
“It is late, my Lord. Surely Kagome-sama and the pup will be safe under the watch of two while you deal with this business.” Kento sounded like he was trying to reason with his Lord. Rin wanted to giggle. Kento-san was always trying to steer Sesshomaru-sama. He would have been just as effective if he barked as he was with reasonable words. Rin pressed the bedding against her mouth, unable to hold back a laugh at the image of Kento, barking at the great inu’s heels like a common herd dog.
“This One does not repeat himself.”
“Kagome-sama-” Kento-san was interrupted by the woman herself.
“Is awake, and perfectly capable of walking downstairs, if it is necessary.” Rin could almost see the roll of blue eyes and a small smile. “Is it necessary, Sesshomaru? And may I bring Emi?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Give me a moment to find her a blanket.”
“My Lord,” Eiichi-san sounded nervous. Rin frowned. Eiichi-san was never worried about anything. “The wolf has asked if Kagome-sama is at the castle. He believes he picked up her scent in the courtyard.”
“He’s probably being insistent about seeing me?” There was a pause, and Rin could imagine Eiichi-san looking at the cold face of his Lord before nodding. “I definitely need to go then, before he tries to tear up the place.” There was silence for a long moment. “What?”
“Kagome-sama,” Kento began hesitantly.
“Why would the wolf seek you out?” Rin knew that tone. Sesshomaru would be sitting even more still than usual. He was a predator on alert. Rin was very, very glad that she would not be in the reception room when Sesshomaru-sama met the wolf.
“Uh, yeah, heh, that’s kind of a long story. I had hoped the idiot would marry, er, mate with Ayame but he just won’t let this stupid idea go. I mean, he’s still my friend. He was an ally against Naraku, but if he grabs my hands one more time I might just let Inuyasha beat that cra- er, stuffing out of him.” There was the faintest rustle, and then Nankae and Shippo stirred on their futons. Even Rin could feel the release of youki in the other room.
“Miko,” Sesshomaru-sama’s voice was quiet, “what idea?”
“Ah,” her voice was higher-pitched than usual, “oh, nothing. Maybe I should just stay here? Emi is looking chilly and-” Her voice cut off abruptly. “Er, thank you, Sesshomaru, but-”
“This One is leaving. Eiichi, guard the pups.” Her Lord’s shadow flickered on the rice paper screens to the corridor, followed closely by Kagome-sama’s less graceful movements. Kento-san strode behind them, carrying his usual sheaf of papers and scrolls. Hisao-san should have come next, but a quiet noise from Eiichi-san held him back.
“Hisao-taisa, may I speak freely?”
“Please stay close to Miko-sama.”
“Do you think the wolf will attempt to attack her?” There was a long pause, and Rin felt a shiver of fear crawl up her spine. She didn’t like wolves.
“No,” Eiichi answered finally, “the opposite. He seemed very…familiar…towards Miko-sama.”
“Then Sesshomaru-sama will teach him to speak with respect. What is the problem?” Hisao asked.
Eiichi answered with brevity, “When the Saidai Mao gives such a lesson, I do not wish Miko-sama to be spattered with blood.”