Chapter 3: What Will Be Mine
A cold wind blew off the sea and brought the scent of snow to the Northern Lands. Ryukostokken dug his claws into the stone wall and stared at the slope of the mountain below him. His territory stretched out to the south, disgracefully reduced from the time of his father and grandfather. Dragons had ruled from the north for millennium, instilling fear and obedience in all those who fell under the shadow of their wings. Lesser demons used to offer tribute and respect to the Ryuu; humans had worshiped them as gods and the lords of the North had bathed in the blood of their enemies. The soil was wet with their glorious and terrible victories.
Then there was the dog.
Gouges appeared in the stone and sharp flecks of granite broke away and fell to the empty training ground far below. The Inu no Taisho. Ryukostokken snarled and slammed his fist into the wall. A block weighing more than three men split into pieces. The coward had attacked his indomitable sire, Ryukotsusei, and sealed him, rather than giving him an honorable death. The disgrace of the dragons was completed when the dog’s half-breed whelp managed to kill the magnificent Ryukotsusei – again using trickery. The sealing of his sire had forced Ryukostokken from Japan for many years, driven out by enemies of the North who became emboldened by his sire’s defeat at the hands of the dog. If not for his journey to the mainland, he would not have suffered as he had. Endured his great indignity. And then, to return and be on the cusp of regaining greatness – to hear his father had been released from the seal and defeated by a hanyou. The bastard pup of the original enemy. The dragon snarled in fury and turned his back on the view of Japan.
If he could still have maintained his true form, he would have swooped down on the half-breed bastard and gnash his bones with one bite. He would have already drank the red blood of the bastard son of the Great Dog General, then he would have sought out his heir: Sesshomaru. Lord of the West. Killing Perfection. Saidai Mao, the highest lord.
The titles of the young dog were undeserved!
The quiet scrape of a boot on stone drew Ryukostokken’s attention and ire. He lashed out, striking his servant with vicious claws. The male fell to the ground in a crouch, four bloody slashes laying open his scarred cheek. “Forgive me, Ryukostokken-denkaue!” The young dragon prostrated himself, but his Lord remained unsatisfied.
“Five lashes,” he snarled and the male cowered.
“Yes, my Lord.”
The taste of the servants fear in the air did little to soothe his irritation. The dragon lord could feel the heat of his fire churning under his grey skin. “Why have you disturbed This One?”
“Your spy has returned from the East, he awaits your pleasure, my Lord.”
“And the West?” Ryukostokken simmered with pent up anger and anticipation.
“No message has come.” The servant, hastily, to forestall any additional punishment for bringing unwelcome news, “But word has reached other ears that Sesshomaru seeks healing knowledge in the East and South. The infected furs were spread among several villages, as you ordered, my Lord.”
The Dragon Lord bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile. Many dragons had died so that he could bring his vengeance on the House of Inu no Taisho. The West would fall before the might of Ryukostokken; the pup would grovel at his feet and beg for his life in the end.
“Go,” he ordered. The servant scrambled away and Ryukostokken turned back to look over the wall. His jaws were poised to snap off the head of the dog, and then he would turn to all of Japan. He would bring humans and youkai to their knees, and they would know fear again. “Soon,” he murmured into the wind. “This Ryukostokken will be Saigo Mao no longer. No more will the North be last among the Demon Lords, but first! Not Saigo, but Saidai!”
He lifted his face to shout his claim to the heavens. They responded with the first cold flakes of winter. Snow settled on his dark hair and in the deep, pitted scars of his face and hands. His whisper sent a thrill of fire through his lungs, wreathing him in smoke, “No longer a mere prince. Not denka, but Emperor.”
Shippo sat on the edge of the well and twitched his tail with barely suppressed excitement. It had been three days since Sesshomaru had brought Rin to Edo. Three long days since he had been allowed near Kagome. He had watched her taking care of the little girl, using her reiki to speed recovery. Every time they’d laughed or Kagome had cuddled Rin, he felt a little stab of jealousy. Rin was his friend, he couldn’t wait to play with her. At the same time, he was not used to having Kagome near, but being unable to snuggle in her arms, to smell the soft, sweet scent that always soothed him. He missed her. He missed Rin too, and he knew it wasn’t the girl’s fault that she was sick, but the minute he was allowed to do so, he was going to hug Kagome – just as hard and long as he could.
He rubbed at the pale bruise that hadn’t quite faded on his arm. Miroku had been gentle with the needle – Shippo wasn’t stupid enough to let Inuyasha stick him – but it had still formed an odd scab and sore spot that didn’t heal like injuries normally did for the little youkai. The night after, he had gotten sick – just like the hanyou. He was hot and sweaty, and his joints ached. When he’d woken up he felt fine, but Kagome had said he had to wait another full day before he would be safe around Rin.
A blur of white caught his eye, and Shippo froze at attention. Sesshomaru had returned to the little camp. He had left for the first time early that morning, right after breakfast, no doubt to hunt. Shippo’s nose and ears quivered. The daiyoukai kept his scent and youki tightly leashed unless he wanted his presence known. Inuyasha thought it was just another indication of what a sneaky bastard his brother was. Shippo knew better. His father had done the same thing. It’d made playing tricks on humans easier, but more importantly, it had kept his family safe. Unless he was fighting, the only place the older kitsune had let his scent and youki accumulate was in their den and on Shippo and his fox mother.
His close attention was successful. Shippo breathed deeply and caught Sesshomaru’s scent. It was strange. When he was fighting Inuyasha it was laced with amusement or irritation. When he’d fought for real against their enemies, there was excitement or anger in his scent. Even then, Sesshomaru had better control than even Shippo’s dad, a five-tail, had ever had over his scent. It was always faint and disappeared quickly. It smelled different now. Calmer, possessive.
The daiyoukai circled the camp slowly, pausing to rest a hand on Rin’s head. His clothing brushed against Kagome as he walked by. She didn’t seem to notice, but Shippo stiffened. The wind was blowing in his face, and he clearly caught the subdued earthy musk and cloves of Sesshomaru. It marked the area, warning other predators away from his territory. It layered Rin, completely covering the fading metallic, putrid scent of her illness. What most distressed the kit was the way it settled on Kagome as well. He could still smell her, but his instincts also told him that she was Sesshomaru’s. The kitsune wasn’t sure what to think about that.
Sesshomaru was an Alpha. A predator above all other animals and youkai. Kagome could not be safer anywhere than she was under his protection. Before, Kagome had always been his. Inuyasha’s too, but mostly his. If Sesshomaru claimed Kagome as pack, where did that leave Shippo? The kit frowned. Lost in thought, he almost missed the approach of the daiyoukai.
“Sesshomaru-sama!” His voice squeaked a little in surprise and he nearly fell backward into the well. A clawed hand caught him by his scruff and set him on the ground. Golden eyes in an impassive face looked him over.
“The miko will allow you near today.” Shippo yipped in excitement and took off at a run. His progress was immediately halted by a hand on the scruff of his neck, again. “You will be gentle with Rin and the miko.”
Shippo frowned. Of course he would be careful with Rin, she had been sick, but Kagome was his. No matter how many times Sesshomaru put his scent on her, she was his first. “You can’t have her, Kagome is mine! Me and Inuyasha claimed her first!” He crossed his arms in anger. For a brief moment, he had forgotten that Sesshomaru had earned his name, the Killing Perfection. He was lifted until his face was level with the older demon’s. His feet dangled far above the ground, and a cool, assessing gaze settled over him. Shippo gulped.
“You have more sense than the hanyou.” Shippo blinked, prepared for denial at best and, at worst, outright death. “Those that travel with This Sesshomaru are marked for their protection.” Shippo felt tears threatening to fall. So Kagome would go with him. She would leave again, and then he would be alone… He would have friends, but no family. Sesshomaru set him down, but left him with a few more words before releasing his hold. “A pup…or kit…does not claim. It is claimed.”
Shippo dashed away from the daiyoukai, but he couldn’t stop thinking about what Sesshomaru had said. Maybe he had it wrong. Maybe he and Inuyasha hadn’t claimed Kagome. Maybe she had claimed them. If he belonged to Kagome, and Kagome belonged to Sesshomaru… Shippo grinned, surprisingly comfortable with that new knowledge. As he ducked under Kagome’s arm to receive a kiss and cuddles, another thought occurred to him that made him laugh out loud: If he was Sesshomaru’s because of Kagome, that meant Inuyasha was Sesshomaru’s too.
He couldn’t wait to tell the hanyou.
Rin was very happy. Sesshomaru-sama was with her. He had wrapped her in his mokomoko-san and let her keep it even after she started feeling better. She wasn’t sick anymore. Kagome-san was with her, and she was the nicest person Rin knew. Rin loved Sesshomaru-sama. He was the bravest, most powerful, most beautiful thing in the world. He had saved her and he took care of her. He’d even brought her to Edo when she was sick – and Rin knew Sesshomaru-sama did not like going to human villages. He had asked Kagome-san to heal her, and her Lord never asked anyone for anything.
Rin let her chin rest on her knees and enjoyed the sensation of Kagome’s brush in her hair. She loved Sesshomaru-sama, but Rin was almost sure that she was beginning to love Kagome-san too. The miko was always nice. She smelled good, and she shared her special soaps and pretty brush with Rin. She told stories and sang lullabies in a soft voice. She gave lots of hugs and cuddles. Rin had forgotten how nice it was to be hugged. She hugged Sesshomaru-sama sometimes, and he would pat her head, but he was a great, powerful daiyoukai. He did not give hugs. That was okay, she didn’t mind, but still… Kagome’s hands smoothed over Rin’s hair and shoulders before she began pulling it up into a tail. If she had to pick between Sesshomaru-sama and his occasional pats, or Kagome-san and lots of hugs, she would choose Sesshomaru-sama, of course.
But maybe… Sesshomaru-sama reappeared in the camp and let his palm rest on Rin’s head. Rin sighed in contentment. Her Lord circled the nest of fur and, like the day before, brushed against Kagome-san as he moved. Rin knew that he was putting his scent on the camp. Jaken-san had told her once it was why he walked the Western Lands rather than flying – to mark his territory with his scent and youki. Kagome-san was in their pack while Rin got better, so it made sense that she got his scent too.
A kernel of an idea began to take root in the little girl’s mind. Maybe Sesshomaru-sama could keep thinking Kagome-san belonged with them. If her Lord wanted the miko, then Rin could be with Sesshomaru-sama and Kagome-san. And where Kagome-san went, so did Shippo-kun.
It was an excellent thought, but Rin wasn’t sure how to make it happen. She needed advice. She was twelve, but she hadn’t spent a lot of time with anyone other than Jaken-san, Ah-Un, and Sesshomaru-sama. The servants and soldiers at the castle were always respectful, but they did not speak to her very much. She was happy when Sesshomaru-sama had traveled with Kagome-san and her group, but she’d mostly spent time with Shippo-kun or Kagome-san. Sometimes Sango-san had taken baths with them or helped Rin with setting up camp and making food, and she was nice too, but not as nice as Kagome-san.
The miko had rearranged the freshly washed blankets and mokomoko-san. Rin giggled to herself at that memory. Sesshomaru-sama had been most irritated when Kagome-san insisted that the fur had to be scrubbed with hot water and soap. He was very protective of his fur, and there was more of it to keep clean than there had been when she’d first started traveling with him. True to the miko’s promise to the daiyoukai, the fur was just as soft, if not softer, than it had been prior to washing. It smelled good too, still like Sesshomaru-sama, but also like the oil Kagome-san had worked into mokomoko-san. Her Lord had not said anything when the miko had rubbed the stuff into the pelt, but he had watched her hands very closely.
Shippo-kun’s arrival disturbed her thoughts. “Kagome!” he cried, throwing himself into the miko’s arms and snuggling into her neck. Rin smiled. The kitsune had grown since she had last seen him. Although he was still smaller than her, he was too big to sit on Kagome-san’s shoulder.
“Shippo, I missed you! How are you feeling? Does your arm hurt?”
Rin listened to them talk, like a real mother and son, and felt a rush of envy. She quickly shrugged it off, not liking the ugly feeling. Shippo-kun must have felt awful the past few days, seeing Kagome-san but not able to come close. Rin knew how bad she felt if she could not be with Sesshomaru-sama. Shippo-kun was her friend and he- Rin paused mid-thought, an idea wiggling loose. Shippo-kun spent a lot of time with Kagome-san and the rest of her group. He was really smart too, he knew all sorts of things about youkai and packs and scents. Her eyes went wide and she grinned at the kit. Shippo-kun would give great advice!
He smiled back hesitantly and glanced at Kagome-san.
“It’s okay, Shippo. You can play with Rin now, just don’t be running around and tiring her out.” The miko got up to follow Sesshomaru-sama on a walk to the well, and Shippo-kun pulled his crayons and paper from his vest to share, chattering happily. Rin waited until she was sure that her Lord was too far away to hear her before she whispered conspiratorially, “Can you keep Rin’s secret?”
“Since Rin is feeling better and Shippo is here to keep her company, I’d like to go take a bath, Sesshomaru.” The daiyoukai did not respond, and Kagome realized belatedly that although her tone had been respectful, she had forgotten his honorific. Again. Well, he won’t even use my name, so there is no reason for me to give him title.
They walked in silence for a few minutes and Kagome had to rearrange her yellow bag on her shoulders. It was unusually light, carrying only the clothes she had worn the last time she returned from the future and her bathing supplies. All of her medical equipment was in the new bag, and most of her clothes and belongings were back at Kaede’s hut. Thankfully, her one kimono had been in the bag, but it was starting to look pretty poor after two days’ use and being slept in. She wondered if it smelled to Sesshomaru. She had given Rin and herself sponge baths in the little stream, but she was sure the sensitive nose of an inu was still bothered.
“You require a guard.”
“Miroku hasn’t spied on me in ages,” she laughed, “Sango would never allow it. I’m sure I will be fine without Inuyasha on the lookout for perverts.”
“This One shall guard you.”
Kagome felt her mouth fall open in shock. If his tone hadn’t been so flat and serious, she would have been upset at his high-handed declaration. As it was, she was equally surprised he would be willing to stay in close proximity to her while she was naked and insulted that he might think she would leave Rin permanently. A moment of awkward, intimated desire passed out of existence as soon as she recognized it. It was ludicrous to so much as suggest, even to herself, that the Lord of the West, the Killing Perfection, would have any interest in seeing a human priestess naked. She almost laughed again at the idea. He is depending on me to keep Rin healthy, and to look into the illness among the demons in his lands. It isn’t as though I haven’t given him ample reason to think that I can’t be left alone without being attacked, or kidnapped, or both. She sighed.
“Thank you, Sesshomaru-sama. I am sure you have more important matters on your mind. I can get Inuyasha to hang out within yelling distance.” She bowed slightly, and promptly tripped over nothing.
Sesshomaru caught her by the strap of her backpack and set her on her feet without breaking his stride. “This One shall guard you,” he repeated. Kagome sighed again and nodded in acquiescence.
Sesshomaru stood calmly under the shade of a tree, blocking the path to the hot springs and spreading his youki into the surrounding area. Behind him, the miko bathed quietly. He did not understand her hesitation at first. She had washed her clothes and laid them out to dry and then stood uncomfortably on the edge of the pool. He had given her his back for privacy, but distance was irrelevant for a youkai of his abilities. His senses were so acute, he would be able to recognize every shift of clothing and splash of soap on water whether he was ten feet from her or one hundred. Even now, his ears, nose, and youki sent him images of the miko’s actions as if he were looking right at her.
She ducked her head under the water and popped back up almost immediately. Sheets of hot liquid slicked down her hair and ran across her exposed face, neck, and shoulders before returning to the pool. She smelled better already, just having gotten wet. The dirt, sweat, and hundreds of other little odors were dimmed and the wet air amplified her own scent: sweet cherry wood, magnolia buds and the faint, fresh, sharp turnip smell of her embarrassment. The water lapped against her skin as she moved to retrieve a dry cloth and the strange liquid soap she claimed everyone used in the future. His sensitive ears easily picked out the motions of her hands as she lathered her hair: the quiet waves against her arms and chest as she washed; the almost imperceptible sound of bubbles sliding down her neck, gliding across the slope of her breast-
Sesshomaru straightened, his already perfect posture becoming infused with iron. There was no reason for him to focus so intently on the miko. Although he could not avoid knowing what she was doing, even how she was feeling to a certain extent, he did not need to react to her. The very idea that he was even capable of such was…unsettling.
He willed his blood to cool and turned his mind to a logical dissection of why he would be unwillingly attracted to her. Certainly, he was no lesser being who would deny evidence of such unconscious responses. He had found himself caring for her as he would a packmate, which was not inappropriate, but it was without thought on his part. That was not acceptable. He would be in control of himself. He would decide how he would treat the miko, not some base need or desire. He would determine the source of such inclinations, and cease the cause of such…warmth.
She was powerful. Although still woefully untrained, the sheer mass of her reiki could not be ignored. He was youkai, and inu, and as such he acknowledged that power would call to his instincts. That was acceptable. She was his ally; he would not contemplate alignment with anyone less than nearly equal to his own power. His true equal did not exist, but she was more than most – perhaps even more than any other he had considered affiliation with. His interest, both conscious and on an instinctual level, was appropriate.
She was maternal. That too, called to his instincts – especially when she directed such actions towards his ward. He cared for Rin, and so should appreciate any who made Rin’s health and safety a priority. The miko also made Rin happy. Less important than survival, the girl’s state of mind was a significant aspect which Sesshomaru admitted to himself that he anticipated and made adjustments for. He determined that he approved of that trait. It added to the miko’s utility and would make her more loyal to her packmates. He could appreciate the results of her own instincts – uncommonly strong for a human.
She was unusual. Her strange habits and knowledge of the future made her valuable and…interesting. Sesshomaru understood every creature, tree, and rock in his domain. It was logical that he sought information about the miko as well. Knowing her presented a rare challenge.
She was not unattractive. Sesshomaru frowned, considering what he had seen of the miko and finding his own assessment lacking. Four years ago he could have said such of her. She was then a pretty human, but nothing he would have been justified in noticing. She had matured in the intervening years and, when he reviewed his impressions of her face and form honestly, he found that she had grown quite beautiful. Even among youkai, her appearance would be pleasantly viewed. Such thoughts rekindled the heat in his blood, and he frowned again. My pack should garner respect and admiration for the West. That was as it should be. His pulse was stronger, but only because she added to the perfection of his house. There was no personal feeling involved.
Satisfied with his organized assessment, Sesshomaru turned his attention back to the miko just in time to hear her sounds of anxiety. He cataloged the living things in the forest around them and a rapidly approaching youkai. It was familiar to him, and he prepared for the demon’s arrival. Thankfully, he did not anticipate an immediate conflict. The miko did not share his knowledge and apparently had concerns significant enough that she dashed from the water. He turned to assure her that there was no immediate danger, and was unable to avoid the sight of her wet, naked flesh before she snatched up a towel and tucked herself behind him.
He should have moved away from her, but she pressed herself against his back and wrapped one hand tightly around a strap of his armor. “My clothes are still wet,” she said in horror. Sesshomaru was acutely aware of her softness against the muscles of his back and legs. The embarrassment in her scent intensified, spiced with a whisper of anxiety, but it did nothing to detract from the heady mixture of cherry wood and magnolia that wrapped around him – borne straight to his nose on the steam rising from her skin.
His jaw tensed, the only outward sign of discomfiture he allowed himself. He came to the realization that he might have overlooked something in his assessment of the miko. He knew that he had ignored the truth in himself and thre reason for the heat that rose in him when he thought of her body, but he said only, “You are dripping on This One.”
No, please no, am I really grabbing Sesshomaru like some sort of modesty shield? Her face burned with embarrassment, but Kagome didn’t move. The approach of an unfamiliar youkai had urged her out of the spring. She had been caught in the bath by enemies before, and she wasn’t eager to repeat the experience. Sesshomaru made an excellent deterrent for both ravenous killers and ravenous perverts. According to more than one carnivore, she smelled tasty, and according to Miroku she looked tasty. In her ragged towel and without her bow and arrows, she wasn’t prepared to defend against either.
“You are dripping on This One,” he said stiffly.
Perhaps she might have found a better way to seek Sesshomaru’s protection other than plastering herself to his back. The fall air felt downright cold after the hot spring, and goosebumps sprung up all over her skin. The daiyoukai, however, radiated heat. She held onto the knot of her towel with one hand and gripped the strap of his armor with the other. He might not appreciate her position, but he didn’t push her away either. If he needed to kill anything, he could damn well do it with her behind him, because she wasn’t in the mood to be ogled or chewed on.
“Send me the dry cleaning bill,” she muttered. Her face felt hot, but she knew that she was the only one affected by their proximity. Sesshomaru was, certainly, irritated with her presumption with his person, but there was no way he was interested in her body. She could depend on him to remain stoic and apathetic about her state of dress. He would just have to deal with the intimacy he no doubt found distasteful. She would rather have to apologize to him and deal with her own unwelcome responses to his…impressive…self… than worry about another demon. The devil you know… She blew out a short breath, knowing the intruder would be upon them soon. “Sorry, Sesshomaru-sama. I will take care of it once I’m not so-”
“Hn.” A swirl of youki energy abruptly stopped, and Kagome peeked out around Sesshomaru to see a male demon bowing before him. His dark blue hair was pulled into a tail and his skin was the color of mushrooms. He looked up with black eyes and fangs poking slightly over his lip. “Kento,” Sesshomaru said flatly. Kagome relaxed marginally. If Sesshomaru had bothered to learn his name, he couldn’t be all bad.
“Saidai Mao,” the demon responded, standing. He must be one of Sesshomaru’s men. Kagome was sure he was aware of her presence, but he did not look away from the daiyoukai. “Two more at the castle have died. Four outside of the quarantine have fallen ill.”
Sesshomaru took so long to respond that Kagome finally spoke up, although she kept everything but her face behind him. “How many days from the time they showed symptoms until death?” The demon did not respond, and Kagome let out a sound of frustration. “Well?” she growled.
The demon blinked – the miko could have sworn his pointed ears twitched – but he did not respond until Sesshomaru gave him a nod. “Sixteen days for one, seventeen for the other.”
“That is slower than for humans…” She trailed off, wondering how many demons would need to be treated and trying to calculate how long it would take her to make more inoculate.
“Return and await This Sesshomaru.” The demon turned to go, apparently needing no further explanation.
“Wait!” Kento froze and Sesshomaru stiffened.
“Miko,” he said in warning.
Kagome rolled her eyes at him. “Did you come straight from the castle? Or did you go through any villages on the way here?” Kento looked to Sesshomaru for permission before acknowledging that he had avoided any contact and had not stopped on his journey.
“Do the same on your return,” Sesshomaru ordered. Kagome gave a small sigh of relief. Hopefully, the risk of infection was minimal.
Kento nodded and leapt across the water. He paused there, and looked over his shoulder, “Pardon, my Lord, how is Rin-yojosan?”
Kagome was surprised at the honorific, but even more so at Sesshomaru’s reply, “Rin-yojochan is well. She will return with This One and honored guest.” Rin is his adopted daughter? Kagome’s eyes widened as Kento disappeared with a bow and a swirl of leaves and youki. I am an honored guest of Sesshomaru, highest among demon lords?