Chapter 27: Introductions
Once they were left alone at the springs, Sesshomaru had raised her ire by condescending to her intelligence and it had the desired effect. The guilt that had returned to her scent cooled and was replaced by peppery irritation. While she was distracted, trying to berate him, he carried her into the water and kept her too focused on his words to give her time to protest when he removed her clothing. He caught her before she could do more than make a minor splash, and he was sure the movement had been almost invisible to her human eyes. To his, however…blessed with demon senses he had ample opportunity to take in her pale, naked skin before the water covered her once again.
Her temper overtook her quickly, and he let her words wash over him as he inhaled her scent and gloried in the relaxed, easy peace within himself. She was safe. She was with him. He had Kagome, and he knew his enemy’s measure. Although his ego had been shaken during her capture, with her secure at his side it returned in even greater measure. He knew his weakness, had admitted it, and knew how to protect against having it exploited. While he strategized and defeated his enemies, he would enjoy all of the benefits that could be wrought from an intended mate. Soon, he relished the thought, she would be more. If her shrill accusations were any indication, she was closer to being convinced than he had hoped.
“Just because you made me cum my brains out doesn’t mean you can play doctor whenever you want and if you think that a hot body and talented mouth can get you whatever you want, you’ve got another think coming!”
Blood surged straight to his cock at her words and he relied on centuries of practice keeping his expression calm. She poked him in the chest, most likely thinking it emphasized her point. All she had emphasized was that she had enjoyed their time together, and that she found him physically pleasing. Her appreciation was gratifying, and he considered that such praise deserved an encore. Although he wanted to take her right then and show her that he would, indeed, take whatever he wanted – and she would beg him to do so – he refrained, and instead replied, “Although I have not before heard this expression, ‘cum your brains out’, I believe I understand the meaning.”
She reddened, and he could practically see her mind working. Her mouth fell open, allowing the full lower lip to tempt him. Her eyes widened, and she smelled of sharp turnips. He still held her close, and he considered sliding his hand down her back to cup her bottom and pull her against him and show her how he wanted her. He considered proving to her that she was just as ‘lickable’ as she claimed she found him to be.
Cinnamon and satsuma oranges joined her embarrassed scent and Sesshomaru could not help the rumble of laughter that came to life in his chest. Kagome, his Kagome, was the most contradictory creature. Contradictory, sweet, brave, loyal, delicious, and absolutely lickable. She grumbled something about making him a subjugation spell, and he pictured himself submissive before her. Not prostrate on the ground like Inuyasha, but on his knees, worshiping her body. His instincts had a pleasant tug of war, disliking the submissive image, but urging him to taste her again. He told her he would be happy to do so, and she threatened him.
The blue fire in her eyes sparked his natural instincts to dominate, and he did his best to modulate his own actions. She was human, and although she needed to learn what it was to be inu, he realized that he might also need to accommodate her nature. Realized that he could accommodate her. Instead of pulling her head back by her hair and nipping at her neck, he loomed over her, using his height and superior strength to herd her through the pool, even as he bent to taste her lips. He whispered against them, taunting her and testing his limits. She was soft, silky, and Kagome. He stopped with only a light press against her mouth, as they had reached the destination he had in mind.
The stone seat was only a few feet below the surface of the water, barely deep enough to keep her breasts covered. He pulled back and his body reacted instantly to the sight of pink nipples – pebbled tips on her flushed breasts. Round and firm and thrust towards him as she tried to maintain her one-sided argument. Slim waist and pale, flat belly that ended in the dark arrow of her sex. Toned, muscled thighs that made him ache to think of parting and sliding between. His glance slid up to meet her face. Her cheeks were pink as well, and that only reminded him of the peaks below the water and the blush that would coat all the skin in between when she reached her climax. Inky hair absorbed the steam of the springs and created waves around her, sliding into the water to dance around her shoulders. Shoulders, kissed by the sun, which sloped up to meet her neck in a juncture that pulsed with her heartbeat and called out to him to kiss, to taste, to mark.
He pressed one knee between hers, “Accommodating,” he whispered the correction against her mouth, leaning in for another kiss, when a distant pulse of youki reached him. His ardor was immediately banked, although it did not dissipate. His mother was at the palace, and she was thoughtfully – although Sesshomaru could think of much more thoughtful actions she could have taken when she realized he had returned, such as allowing him privacy – notifying him that she was making her way to him. He held back a sigh, held back the growl of frustration at having his time with his miko cut short, and pressed a hard kiss to her lips. He nipped her gently. “I appreciate the offer, but I must decline.” He reached for the bathing supplies on the ledge of the pool and filled a ladle with water.
“Offer? Why you-” She managed to glare at him around a mouthful of water and a face full of hair. Her irritation was arousing. Almost as much as her kisses, her moans, her breathy uttering of his name. Sesshomaru repressed another sigh. Always there were other demands on him, on his time. He vowed he would rectify that, soon. He began lathering a bar of soap while he spoke, “We do not have time for such intimacies, you still need a bath, and we have company.”
“Company?” She stared at him, not understanding.
“My mother approaches.” A lesser youki would have winced at the explosion of anxiety, the sour melon tainting her delicious scent. “I believe Inuyasha is with her.” Her reaction was instantaneous. She sank into the water until it lapped against her chin and her eyes darted around comically. Sesshomaru cupped her elbow with one hand to prevent her from accidentally drowning and enjoyed the torturous sensation of her inner thighs sliding across his hips as she slid down on her seat. If the ledge she sat on were only a few inches shorter…
“I can’t- he can’t – your mother!” She sucked in a deep breath and coughed on water. Sesshomaru pulled her up, gently, and rubbed her back with one soapy hand while he pushed her hair out of her face with the other.
“Shhh, breathe. It will be fine,” he tried to assure her. The assurance felt awkward, but he was not certain what, exactly, about the situation upset her. If she would cease talking, she would be dressed before they arrived. Perhaps she worried that his mother would not approve, or that Inuyasha would start a fight. She should have more faith in him. He would not allow either to affect their situation.
“Holy hell, Sesshomaru,” she wheezed, staring daggers at him, “it will not be fine. It is your mother. It is Inuyasha. We’re naked!” She wailed the last part and Sesshomaru could feel her breath speeding up and anxiety overtaking her. He seized her shoulders, slippery with soap, and pulled her flush against him. The kiss, intended to derail her train of thought, had the same effect on him. Her lips were open, and he took advantage, running his tongue along her cheeks and across the smooth surface of her teeth. She tasted of her fish supper and mountain water and salt, but also of the same feelings that made up her scent: citrus excitement, cinnamon passion, sharp turnip embarrassment, sour melon concern, and peppery anger. She tasted of warm gardenias and new cherry wood. She tasted of Kagome.
Her gasp of surprise as she shifted against him, the slide of her skin across his pulsing member, the taste of her – he almost lost himself in the moment. Another, more insistent, irritatingly amused pulse of youki forced him to pull back and set her away from him. He seized the soap again, aware that his movements has lost their usual economy and grace. Aware that her eyes were slightly glazed and her lips swollen. Aware of the spicy sweet scent that drenched the steam around them. His voice was lower, rougher than he intended when he spoke again.
“We have time to finish bathing. They have a considerable distance to traverse.” Kagome shivered as he rubbed soap-slickened palms over her shoulders and down her back to wrap around her hips. She looked ready to protest his assistance, but he could not have allowed her to move away in that moment if it would have been required to save his life. “Hold still, and you will be clean with time to dress before they arrive. Resist…” He pointedly looked down into the water, and her eyes followed his. The image of his cock, dark with flushed blood and poised to take her if she only slid off of her seat, was slightly distorted by the ripples in the water, but she gasped and swallowed hard. “Please, Kagome.” His hands slipped through her hair, washing the strands and teasing her scalp with the careful prickle of his claws. He held her gaze with his and released a seductive purr that had been building in his chest.
“Ka-go-me. Please resist.”
She shook her head in the negative, eyes closed and breath hard. Sesshomaru held back again, not a sigh, but a groan. If washing his miko and helping her dress did not kill him, he promised himself he would give serious consideration to the merits of matricide.
Kimi had to physically restrain the hanyou when they entered the springs and he scented the miko. Her clawed hand on his arm stopped his leap forward, but not his mouth, “What the fuck, Lady?”
“Allowances may be made for your limited vocabulary, but not your thoughtlessness.” Inuyasha turned to her with a frown and a mouth open to argue and Kimi pulled him to an abrupt stop. “Give the woman a moment to herself,” she commanded. Her tone was soft, but she hardened her expression so that he would know she was not asking. She could feel Sesshomaru’s youki, and although Inuyasha could clearly sense his brother, he either did not understand or did not care that the daiyoukai was clearly warning them to stay away. Kimi did not allow her feelings to seep onto her face or into her scent, but she worried that the miko might have been damaged during her captivity. A youki barrier kept her from gleaning any information from scent, sound, or energy other than the presence of her son and his intended.
“She ain’t fuckin’ alone,” Inuyasha spat.
Kimi raised one delicate eyebrow, “It is considerably less enjoyable that way.” He stared at her for a moment in confusion, until realization dawned and a furious blush spread from his jaw straight up to his hairline. She repressed a smirk. Youth are so easily embarrassed.
“You- I-” he fumbled.
Kimi took pity on him, “This One doubts, however, that such an act is occurring. This One assumed that the miko would be eager to wash off the scent of dragon.” After a few more false starts, he began to calm down, falling back to what Kimi was beginning to realize was his default attitude – irritation. The scowling façade had no doubt worked well for centuries to conceal his true feelings from a world that would have been eager to take advantage. He shoved his hands in his sleeves and glowered.
“Whatever,” he muttered. He fell into step beside her, and Kimi set a sedate pace. It belied her own growing excitement. It had been many, many years since she had taken so much enjoyment from life, but since she had arrived at the Western Palace she looked forward to the experience. Meeting the infamous Shikon Miko, the Miko no Mao, could turn out to be severely disappointing, and Kimi did hate to be let down. However, meeting the female that had turned Sesshomaru’s arrogant head could not possibly be anything other than fascinating. Small, delicate steps were slow but still made progress, and she was aware of Sesshomaru’s restrained displeasure as she approached the guards on the path to the family springs. They waited there in silence, Inuyasha’s impatience like a physical presence, for several minutes until Sesshomaru lowered his youki barrier. The hanyou was through in a flash of red and silver. Kimi followed the sounds of his greeting with graceful speed.
“Can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I? And you!” Kimi rounded the last bend in the path to see Inuyasha pointing a deadly claw at his brother. “You were supposed to be protectin’ her!”
“Now don’t-” the miko began, but Sesshomaru interrupted her.
“Kagome, This One presents Mikadzuki Iwakura Kimi, Lady of the Western Lands. Mother,” he paused, meeting Kimi’s gaze with a sternly cold expression and anticipatory youki that demanded her compliance, “you are honored to meet Higurashi Kagome, the Shikon Miko and Miko no Mao.” It was either an unforgivable slight and breach of protocol, or Sesshomaru intentionally placed the miko above Kimi in status. The Lady had little doubt it was the latter. Sesshomaru did not do anything unintentionally. He barely waited for the little human to fold her hands and dip her head in a shocked bow, cheeks red with embarrassment, and for Kimi to nod politely before he turned his attention back to his brother.
“You are correct. This One has failed.” His admission of error was met with silence. Inuyasha’s mouth hung open and the miko’s eyes were wide, staring at the daiyoukai’s impassive face. Kimi nearly rolled her eyes at the display. Although she agreed that her son had acted the part of the fool, it was unnecessary to admit that to anyone else. She regretted that he had taken after his father in that way – unable to so much as blur the truth for the sake of appearances.
The three made a narrow triangle: the males furthest away from each other and centered by the small figure sitting on a boulder to pull on her socks. Her red and white kimono was of excellent quality and blatantly stated her association with Sesshomaru. White foam had gathered at the corners of her mouth and the priestess wiped it with a cloth in one hand while the other was occupied by a lurid green brush that smelled of mint. Her hair was long and silky. Her eyes were a bright blue that could have been youkai considering the unusual color. The Lady Mother of the Western Lands assessed her future daughter-in-law with a critical eye. She was pretty, even by demonic standards, but not breathtaking. Her injuries, half-healed by time and – Kimi guessed – liberal application of inuyoukai saliva, should have made her appear weaker. Instead, she had the air of a warrior bearing battle scars. She was wounded, yes, in spirit as well as body, but she had not been defeated and she would grow stronger for the experience.
Kimi approved. Without knowing firsthand the human’s power, or learning her personality, the Lady knew that the little miko was what the Western Lands needed – because she was what Sesshomaru needed. Strong enough to endure. Strong enough to continue to fight. Strong enough to raise her head and hold herself straight and –
“Knock it off, both of you!”
And command two of the most conceited, powerful creatures in Japan like common pets. Kimi allowed herself a small smile. She most definitely approved.
“Ka-go-me!” Inuyasha’s voice bordered on a whine, but the miko cut that behavior down before it had a chance to grow.
“So help me, Inuyasha, if you accuse him one more time I will sit you straight to the bottom of the spring.” Her jaw was clenched, her cheeks pink, and her voice was laced with barely controlled temper. Kimi was pleased to see her hot anger, reiki sparking in her aura. It was the perfect complement to the icy burn of Sesshomaru’s youki. “And you!” She spun to face the other male, pointing at him with a dull human nail. “You’re not my keeper, it wasn’t your fault, so quit acting like a martyr. If I wanted someone to try to wrap me in cotton I have plenty of other options.”
A vibration, so low it was almost unrecognizable as a growl, rumbled in Sesshomaru’s chest. His eyes narrowed. Inuyasha wisely, surprisingly, took a step back. Kimi wanted to clap her hands in anticipation. An alpha needed a mate that was his match, a female that ensnared him fully but would not be a weakness. The miko Kagome was certainly bold enough to be his equal. Sesshomaru was jealous at the mere idea of another that might try to hold her – proving himself fully ensnared. The woman needed only a little training and she would be ready for whatever would face her. Kimi relished the thought. She would seize the opportunity to teach the next Western Lady, and watch Sesshomaru’s calm be tested. It was unfortunate that placing wagers on his sanity would detract from the image of the Saidai Mao. Kimi was sure the betting would be furious, amusing, and lucrative.
“There are no others,” Sesshomaru stated with finality. He took a step towards the miko and she responded in kind, planting her fists on her hips and scowling up at him. The sight of the fragile human, the top of her head below his shoulder, facing off against the formidable daiyoukai was both awe-inspiring and ridiculous. His growl increased in volume and an answering noise emerged from the miko. The sound was small and not threatening in the least. Kimi laughed.
“Come now, children, this is no time for diversions – that can wait until after the full moon.” Sesshomaru’s gaze swung to her with an intensity that could have pierced armor. His youki followed behind, issuing an undeniable warning to watch her words. So, he has not told the miko his intentions. Foolish pup. “Taisho Inuyasha has given This One a report of his mission. It shall be relayed to you, Saidai Mao, while the miko visits her home.”
“Is it-” The miko’s worried gaze at Inuyasha intrigued Kimi, as did his immediate response,
“We should leave now,” he confirmed. “If I run, we can just make it.”
“I need to change,” she picked at the confining narrow kimono, “if you’re going to carry me. And I should see Shippo and-“
“He will not carry you.” Sesshomaru closed the distance between himself and the miko and pulled her against him. His face was as cool and impassive as usual, but his youki was bucking – warning the hanyou away from his female.
“She’s slow as hell, we’ll never make it if she walks,” Inuyasha tried to reason.
“Hey!” The miko looked like she wanted to argue, but wasn’t sure who deserved her ire first. Kimi held her tongue, waiting to see what would happen next. Wondering if they would let Inuyasha’s little secret slip. Of course she had known for years, practically since his infancy. After all, she had the pup followed and spied on. It was nothing special. She had a lot of creatures spied on. However, she did wonder if Sesshomaru had knowledge of his brother’s human night, and how it related to taking the miko to her family home.
“You will stay here. This One’s construction is finished, and the new pack rooms are most private.” He put an emphasis on the last word that was not lost on Inuyasha.
The hanyou’s eyes widened. “You sure?”
Kimi could feel the wealth of unspoken questions in those two words. Are you sure there is room? Are you sure it is secure? Are you sure you want to call me pack and have everyone know it? Are you sure you want to treat me as a brother? It was heart-wrenching. Kimi hadn’t been certain she still had much of a heart. It was gratifying to know that it had not withered away from disuse, and strange that it would be Toga’s bastard, the child of the woman she had blamed for so long that would make it twist.
“This One does not speak empty words.” There was not even a hint of warmth in his tone, but Kimi could feel the edges of his youki, reaching out to briefly clasp Inuyasha’s shoulder. It was perhaps the most non-violent contact the two had ever participated in, and the younger male was struggling to swallow, all his bravado blown out of him.
“Excuse me?” The miko’s voice was nearly muffled by Sesshomaru’s mokomoko that had twined around her. A pale hand pushed the fur away from her chin and she grinned. “I am super glad that you guys are having a bonding moment, and you are totally ready for a sleepover or whatever, but I really need to go home.” Sesshomaru turned cold eyes on the miko and Inuyasha just stared. “What? Did you forget that I need to check on a few things?” Neither male responded. “Stretch my senses and-” she glanced at Kimi, “-and see if any of our friends are around?” Kimi wondered at the miko’s secret as well. Sesshomaru had said she knew the future. Perhaps she could only experience a vision at a holy place near her home. Perhaps there is more to the miko than I have been told. Perhaps my son has learned to obfuscate the truth after all.
“Mother.” Sesshomaru’s attention did not reduce the little surge of pride Kimi had felt. She had always regretted that he was not skilled nor interested in deception. She held hope that the miko would bring out the best in him. “Has the threat to This One’s pack been substantiated?”
Kimi nodded, “Yes.” Sesshomaru’s thunderous expression was understandable. He had told her of the rumors that reached him just prior to the miko’s kidnapping. Ryustokokken had placed a price on Rin. Not on her head, but on her body. The youkai that brought her, alive and virginity intact, to the North would be paid her weight in pearls. It had been the primary threat to Rin’s safety that had kept Sesshomaru from leaving the West without a leader and going after the miko. “Measures have been taken to ensure no bounty is paid.” Kimi allowed herself a sweet smile as she recalled how Ryustokokken’s herald had looked, exhausted and terrified after her spies had captured him and brought him to the West – after dragging his flayed body through every village that he had visited. She had ordered pearls sewn under his skin, grinding into his flesh with every movement and leaving a trail of precious dust and blood-soaked gems behind him. The message had been quite clear: none who accepted Ryustokokken’s offer would enjoy their reward.
The miko looked confused, but Inuyasha grinned furiously. He had personally seen the effect the pearlized dragon had on any who thought they might profit from Rin’s capture and relayed to Kimi his satisfaction that any dent caused in Sesshomaru’s treasury was more than worth ensuring Rin’s safety. Sesshomaru nodded in acceptance. “This One must be absent a few days longer to journey to Edo.”
“Inuyasha can-” the miko began.
“You have shit to do, I’ll carry-” Inuyasha said at the same time. Kimi overrode them both and saved Sesshomaru the trouble of putting the two in their places and announcing his refusal to have another’s scent on his intended.
“All is fine here. You had best leave immediately, This One will let the pups know of the miko’s freedom, but if they greet her now it will delay you grievously.” She held up a hand, knowing the other female was eager to see her pups. She turned to Kagome and smelled the mingled grief and love on her.
“They will be happy, planning for your return, if they know you are safe. However,” Kimi moved her own mokomoko in front of her and the fur slid back to reveal the sleeping Emi, “if you can take one more with you, This One’s ears would appreciate it.” The miko had slipped out of Sesshomaru’s fur and was cradling the pup in moments. Emi woke the instant the miko’s aura touched her own.
“Kago-mama!” she cried and latched onto the human’s neck. The miko had tears running down her face as Sesshomaru stepped behind her, bracing her and wrapping her up once again. They made a perfect picture of a pack, and Kimi was struck by the image. The miko’s dark hair blended with the pup’s and stood out sharply against the white of Sesshomaru. She controlled her scent tightly – refusing to allow the joy of seeing her son so poised for happiness, or the faint bitter sadness at the reminder that her own little pack had grown and dispersed long ago – to cloud the air.
The rock brothers were summoned and the small party disappeared through the stone floor, the miko and hanyou still bickering, to be brought up again outside of the palace walls where prying eyes would not see them leave. Kimi walked sedately back to her reception room, prepared to update Kento and Hisao and sift through the many reports from her informants. She had returned to the West out of curiosity. She had stayed out of duty and planned to continue there for the sake of amusement. She had not anticipated that she would need a pack again – had not considered that there might be a pack for her to need. One that needed her. It was not an unpleasant sensation.
Arashi held completely still in the high branches of a tree, waiting for his quarry to appear. It had taken nearly the entire night, but finally Hachi seemed to grow tired of drinking away the money of foolish humans and was making his stumbling way up the road towards the dragon hanyou’s position. The raccoon dog demon tripped on a rock and his illusion fell. The image of a slender monk with purple robes and a short ponytail shimmered and revealed the portly servant in his true, sake-drenched, glory.
He lay on the ground for a few minutes, breathing heavily, before managing to roll himself over and stare up at the sky. Arashi jumped down silently, his youki tightly controlled, and padded up to Hachi. He was within arms’ reach when the smaller demon spoke.
“Have you no manners, dragon? One should never sneak up on a Tanuki. We are unpredictable when startled.”
“Will you lecture me about moral virtues then? Or perhaps offer financial advice? I fail to see what dire consequences could result.” Arashi halted, taking in the closed eyes and neat clothing of the other youkai. Of course, Hachi had no idea that Arashi worked for the Northern Lord, but his lack of concern was strange. It had always been so, since Arashi was barely an adolescent and trying desperately to control his raging youki and make his way in the world. Hachi always had advice and a warm drink for the strange young hanyou, who grew to be the strange older hanyou, who still visited occasionally for advice and news. It was foreign to a dragon, but the nature of a Tanuki was to guide, advise, and wish good fortune on others. Even without knowing their true identity.
“No lecture tonight,” he mumbled, “the sake was too good and the ladies far too sweet.”
“How about a tale then? News of your travels and stories of things that have changed the course of Japan?” One eye cracked open at Arashi’s question, so he offered encouragement. “I have a fire already laid and meat for roasting, if you are of a mind to share warmth and words.” With an inexplicable bound of energy, Hachi jumped up.
“So you have listened to my lectures then, how delightful! Well, show me how hospitable you can be Arashi, and I will tell tales…or answer questions as you please.” Arashi led him to the fire, and lit the prepared wood. They settled in around the flames with the smell of meat in the air. The dragon reflected that he much preferred to gather information through a friendly connection and a warm meal than at the end of his claws, but preferences had little baring on his position in the Northern Palace.
“I am looking for a specific story tonight, good Hachi.” The raccoon dog demon turned round, intelligent brown eyes on him. “You have said that you traveled with the Shikon Miko for a time. Your master was one of her comrades.”
“Yes,” he answered carefully, “I have said as much before.”
“Tell me again,” the dragon urged. “All of the stories of the Miko. All you saw and heard while you were with her. Everything you have learned since.” There was a long pause, and Arashi was concerned for a moment that fire and food would not be enough to gain what he needed this time. He would regret using other means, but the knowledge was vital. Hachi was a friendly face, perhaps even something like a friend, but the stakes were too high to allow that to stand in his way. The stakes were always high in the games Arashi played, but this game, the shogi game of black and white, North and West, dog and dragon…this game was for the fate of Japan. Perhaps even the world. No price was too high to ensure the winner.
“What will you do with such information, my friend?” Hachi was tense. Although his tone remained light, his body was ready to flee. It would be useless, of course. Arashi sat back and considered many things, not the least of which was how little he liked pulling information from blood and guts.
“Perhaps,” he said softly, “I will right a great wrong.”
“Perhaps?” Hachi questioned.
“Perhaps not,” Arashi shrugged. “It depends upon your stories.” The two demons sat still for long minutes while the fire crackled and the scent of hot meat drifted with wood smoke. The air was cold, but there was no wind in the sheltered clearing to steal their breath. No snow fell from the cloudless sky and the stars and crescent moon were bright against the darkness.
“My master met her first,” Hachi began.