Second Alliance – Chapter 31

Back to Chapter 30: Righteous but Not Right

Chapter 31: Fear Lashes Out

Sesshomaru felt the rush of power from the well an instant before soft blue light erupted from its depths. When it dissipated a moment later, it left only the fading taste of ozone in the air and the scent of magnolias and cherry wood. Kagome. His tension both eased and intensified as he turned to the well, prepared to jump in and reclaim his miko. She had returned, and she would tell him if her family had accepted his offer. That should not have caused any trepidation in the daiyoukai, but Inuyasha’s message still echoed in his ears. ‘Ask her, and really make it a question’, the hanyou had said. He knew the miko, Sesshomaru had grudgingly admitted to himself while he waited. Inuyasha knew her better than Sesshomaru – the younger brother had known her longer. He might have miscalculated by following tradition, but he was not certain what he should have done instead.

He did not have the opportunity to get her, as she quickly began climbing up on her own. With every rustle of vines and heavy breath from the well her scent of anger increased. Inuzansho pepper was heavy and layered over another more concerning flavor. Sesshomaru tried to identify it, but it was deeply buried. When she finally emerged, her face was red from exertion and her eyes were alight with fury. Her bag was tossed onto the snow and her booted feet followed. He opened his mouth, unsure as to what he would say, but she spoke over him, “Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out? Did you think you could just plan everything for me and I would go along?” Her voice was almost shrill, and she nearly vibrated with anger. His instinct in the face of her challenging tone and stance was to lunge, to carry her to the ground and force submission. Sesshomaru actually found himself leaning forward, minutely, and had to pull back.

His own lips barely moved, so tightly did he have to reign himself in or risk giving in to his nature. “I intend-,” he began, but was again interrupted.

You intend?” She spat the words and followed it with an impressive snarl, for a human. “I am so glad that you have made this decision, Sesshomaru,” her voice dripped with sarcasm and the sound of his name spoken with such derision caused simultaneous feelings of rage and sadness within him. “Please, do, go on – what else do you intend?” When he did not immediately respond, she continued with almost manic fury, “Haven’t you already set the date? Shall we be married when we return, or will you allow me time to select my own dress, Saidai Mao. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to your plans – will we be having children right away? How many do you wish me to have? Go on, Sesshomaru-sama, explain to me what I will be doing with my life!” Her volume increased, so that she was shouting at the end, hurting his ears, but that pain was drown out by the raging of the beast inside him.

He stood still, painfully immobile so that he would not do something that might drive her away, while he argued with himself, trying to establish an approach that would not result in blood, tears, or an attempted run by his intended. She is human, he told himself. She doesn’t know how her accusations rile me.

She is disrespectful, he argued.

Not disrespectful, informal, he corrected. She is not of this time. She may not understand tradition.

He raged inside his mind, She is mine! She accepts my touch, enjoys it, gave herself to me. She cannot refuse, I will not allow it!

Logic tried to rule him, Think. She is not merely angry. There is something else fueling her.

While he had been struggling with himself, she had approached him, pointing with one finger as she glared. “You are not the Lord of everything, Sesshomaru! You can’t decide the fate of everyone around you! What if I don’t want to marry you? Did you think about that?” She poked him for emphasis, directly above the bone plate of his armor. Her reiki had surged to life with her anger, and it sparked against him. Hot energy snaked under his skin and the smell of sun and salt air tempered the pepper clogging his senses. He seized her finger, and wrapped his other arm around her, pulling her close and bending to loom over her face. Her eyes widened, and a tiny bit of sour niguari melon slid under his nose. She was still angry, but she was worried as well. She should be.

He was very aware of how small her body was. How very mortal and easily broken by his strength. He was aware of how easily broken her feelings might be as well. His eyes narrowed and he tempered a growl into a warning rumble that was intended to curb her actions.

You should have asked me,” she whispered furiously. He stared at her mouth, watching her form the words, but hearing his brother’s voice, ‘you haven’t even asked her’. The statement seemed to break her, and Sesshomaru felt his own anger scattering as hers was stripped away and her true feelings laid bare. She was not merely worried, but afraid. Afraid of me, perhaps. “I just- I can’t-” A muffled sob escaped her and then she was leaning against him, heedless of his armor. Her free hand fisted in the material of his sleeve and she raised watery blue eyes to meet his gaze. “I can’t be helpless. I can’t be powerless.” In a strange and worrisome reverse of her previous behavior, she grew quieter with each word, the fight leaving her like wind from a sail. “Not again,” she said, barely loud enough for him to hear.

He knew then, understood his mistake. Ryustokokken had robbed her of her power, had held her at his mercy such a short time ago. A part of Sesshomaru was insulted that she would compare him to the vile dragon, but he understood the root of her fear – and the anger she had tried to conceal it with. He gently smoothed one hand down her side to grasp her hip. I cannot allow her to be afraid. He held her accusing extremity carefully between two clawed fingers and tried to determine how he could ease her dread.

Speak, Kagome. I will listen.”

ooo

Kagome wasn’t sure exactly how it had happened – which was often the case when her temper got away from her – but, as if she was standing outside herself, she could hear the accusations. Although they were not without merit, she grimaced at the childish way she had reacted. Why am I doing this? Her mind tried to answer that internal question, but some part of her, some instinct for self-preservation refused to examine her motives. It would have been better to talk to him, she knew that. It would have been better to explain why she was upset, rather than expecting him to guess, to know; she couldn’t seem to help herself. She was a modern woman, but she understood tradition. Had a man from her time been interested, he might have acted the same. Obviously, she would have had many indications that he was serious – probably even a frank, private conversation between the two of them – before her family became involved. And the gift. It would have been a symbolic envelope of cash, or a transfer into the Shrine’s fund. Not – not that. She was also aware of another pressure, pushing her to act without thinking. A lingering shame, an uneasiness in her own skin, even fear, that threatened to spill out again if she did not focus on something else.

Sesshomaru supported her weight easily, her finger held between two deadly claws. Her other arm was pinned between them when he reached around her, holding her tightly. The pinprick of his fingers through her leggings and into the flesh of her hip reminded her of how casually violent he could be, and how defenseless she was against him. The golden lava roiling in his eyes let her know that he was far more upset than a mere prick of her skin. He was boiling, livid that she had accused him – verbally attacked him, and only his supreme control was keeping her safe. He is concerned for me, the thought rang true. She knew that was why he restrained himself; that was why he sought answers from her, rather than apologies. Or blood.

Speak, Kagome. I will listen.” The hard plates of his armor were unyielding against her chest and hips. His stance forced her back to bow slightly, tilting her face up and exposing her neck and keeping her off balance. She had lost. She recognized that. He had been wrong, yes, but she had overreacted and miscalculated and there was no opportunity for her to win the battle of wills. Some unreasonable part of her was terrified of her position, of her powerlessness before him – reminding her of another, very different youkai.

The realization pushed her fear forward again. She could not be helpless. She had to be in charge of her own future. Her destiny. Her soul and mind and body. “I am not strong enough – I wasn’t strong enough,” she whispered. The words felt as if they were torn from her. She admitted her weakness, and it left a gaping, ragged wound of vulnerability behind. “Before – then, in the North – I couldn’t do anything to change what was happening to me. What could have-” A shuddering sigh escaped her, something that barely managed not to be the frightened sob that wanted to escape. “What would have been. I need to have this now. I need to hold my own future. Sesshomaru…” In his golden eyes, behind the cool, emotionless façade he presented to the world, Kagome thought she could see understanding. “Please don’t take that from me.”

You had already accepted my offer. I would not have sent the gift to your family if that was not the case.” He spoke evenly, almost monotonously, but she could hear the confusion and reproach in his words as well.

She was left with sudden exhaustion and regret. She sagged against him, allowing his hold to accept her weight. Gracelessly, with her hands sill immobile, she leaned against his spike-less shoulder. “I didn’t know you – you…” she stumbled over her words, as though she had used up all of her articulation yelling at him. “I had no idea that you were thinking about that. It was a shock.” Her voice fell until she was whispering, “You can’t – no matter how much I wanted you to be with me, to want to be with me – you can’t make decisions for me. You can’t expect me to know your mind and agree without question. I don’t know, I mean, how could I know? What youkai or inus think marriage is like? Shouldn’t we talk about that? Shouldn’t we know what the other wants, expects, before something like this?” She was speaking so quietly, no human could have heard her, but she knew his supernatural ears were listening, “We haven’t even held hands.”

The silence in the clearing was heavy. The heat of him pressed against her front and around her waist where he held her, but the backs of her legs were cold and snow was seeping through the toes of the cheap boots she had deemed inexpensive enough to be left in the feudal era. His youki was tangible, looming over and around her, neither soothing nor oppressing, but waiting, for what, she was not sure. A chill breeze picked up, casting long, silver strands into the air to dance behind him before they settled over his shoulders and slipped across hers as well. She knew what had set off her panic – the panic she had contained with unreasonable anger. She knew that her experiences in the North had left scars, psychological damage that would take time to heal. She knew those things, but it did not make the pain of her memories – the shame of what had happened, what could have happened, and her shame and fear over anticipating the pain that Ryustokokken had promised – disappear. She sighed into his chest, wishing she could forget about everything else and go back to that night she had lain next to him and decided she wanted to be with him. It had been easier, before.

I am holding your hand now.” That statement, said so calmly, made her lean back in surprise. Her eyes darted between his stoic face and the white hand that was still wrapped around hers. His claws rested on her skin; his callouses, built up from centuries of handling a sword, were just hard and rough enough to send a shiver down her spine when he squeezed her gently. She couldn’t help herself. She laughed.

Once she started, she couldn’t stop. Her wild fear leeched away leaving a desperate need to make him understand and a strange out-of-body knowledge that the depth and wealth of misunderstandings that could happen between them was staggering. Great, deep gales of laughter escaped her, making her body try to double over. Sesshomaru saved her from impaling herself on his armor at the last moment, turning her in his arms and sinking to the ground with her. She curled over in his lap, tears streaming down her face and barely breathing around the near hysterical giggles that followed. One large hand smoothed over her back and she was able to, after several long minutes, take a deep breath. “That is exactly our problem,” she managed to get out, “you are holding my hand. But that is not the way I meant.” She sat up and met his eyes. Mirth curled the corners of her pink lips. His expression was as stoic as ever, but his eyes were still smoldering. He was so handsome…and so fascinatingly complex. It nearly took her breath away. She still wanted him – still wanted to try to be with him. He was worth the effort. Surely, she bolstered her confidence, teaching Sesshomaru to communicate can’t be even half as hard as it has been with Inuyasha. And he didn’t mean to make me feel like that, she thought more soberly. No matter how arrogant, how much he thinks he knows what is best, Sesshomaru would never wish to hurt me.

She lifted her captive fingers and he obliged by allowing her to do so. Their hands, suspended before them with his sharp claws gingerly pinching her smaller finger as if it had offended him, looked so comical that she nearly started laughing again. She swallowed the response and said, “You see that you are holding my hand.” She looked to him for confirmation, one brow raised to encourage a response. He nodded shortly. Kagome pulled her hand away and placed their palms flat together, interlacing their fingers. She held up their clasped hands for his perusal. “I meant to hold hands for companionship…intimacy.” She barely controlled her blush, but forged on, “Not captivity.” He was quiet for a long moment, and she held her breath in anticipation. Finally, he settled her more firmly against his chest and squeezed their joined hands. A barely audible sigh blew against her hair.

If you desire intimacy, you need only ask. I am happy to provide such.” Her mouth fell open at his cool suggestion and the trail of claws across the thin fabric of her leggings.

It’s not – I don’t mean – “ she made a noise of frustration and pulled back, conscious that she could only do so because he allowed it –b ut this time not frightened of his power over her, – to stare at his face. A blush burned high on her cheeks, but she wouldn’t allow herself to look away. “Marriage is a big step. There should be a lot of other things,” her voice dropped to a whisper again, this time in embarrassment, “not just sex.” She cleared her throat and ignored the predatory gleam that had sparked in his eyes. “A lot of other things should happen before two people get married.”

Hn.” His claws had found the hem of her shirt, and he was tracing along it in a distracting way, but his eyes remained focused on hers. “Such as hand holding.”

She smiled, tentatively, “Like holding hands. Like going on dates – er, on walks, and eating together, talking.” She narrowed her eyes and spoke slowly and firmly to help him understand how important this was, “Especially about things like the possibility of getting married.”

Mated.”

Whatever you want to call it,” she huffed in exasperation. “The point is, that…” She swallowed convulsively, trying to remember why she had been so mad to begin with but finding it difficult when he was being so nice – when she felt so safe. He was holding her tenderly, looking at her with warm golden eyes and letting a low, soothing sound vibrate his chest. “You should have asked me first.” His fingers on her leg stilled and he allowed some distance between them. His head tilted slightly, reminding her of a quizzical dog – not that she would ever say so.

Inuyasha said much the same,” he stated. That had her temper rising from ashes that weren’t yet cool.

Inuyasha! You talked to him about – but not me! I-”

He cut her off with the brief press of his mouth to hers. When he pulled away, she was startled by the emotion in his expression. His eyebrows were drawn together slightly and the corners of his mouth tight – his equivalent to a plea for understanding. “I did not anticipate that your captivity would cast such a light on my actions. You are fierce, passionate, loyal, and independent, Kagome.” His next words soothed the jagged edges left in her spirit after she admitted her fear, “These are the things that I admire in you. I desire you for those qualities, and more.” He stroked their joined hands down her cheek, and Kagome felt in that moment that there was nothing she could not forgive, nothing she could not overcome. “I am not,” he seemed to search his vocabulary before coming up with the right word, “accustomed to accepting the help of others. Especially not my half-brother.” She smiled, trying to encourage him to continue, and the corner of his mouth quirked up in response. “You are deserving of all the respect and honor that can be bestowed by the West. I wished to court you and adhere to tradition as strictly as possible.”

This,” she waved her free hand between them, “isn’t exactly traditional.” She smiled, and then his entire meaning caught up with her. “Court me?”

He looked down his nose at her, his voice laced with amused condescension, “It means-”

I know what it means.” Her irritation at his enjoyment in needling her washed away as quickly as it arrived. “What I do not know, is what that is all about. What happens when youkai court? Is it very different from humans? Is it very different from humans of my time?”

In your time,” he said carefully, “there is no longer an exchange of gifts between families.”

She heard the question in his statement and answered, trying to ignore how strange it was to be having such a conversation with a youkai. With Sesshomaru. Trying to ignore her own conflicting feelings over the idea that he wanted to court her, to mate her. Trying not to think about what, exactly, mating entailed. Trying to contain the blush that seemed ever-ready to erupt in his presence. “Many families still give gifts, but not all. And it is symbolic. Nobody in Japan, well, nobody I know, provides actual compensation to the family of the bride.” He seemed genuinely puzzled by her statement.

If the gift is not commensurate, the parents would have no provision for their old age. They lose a daughter that would care for them late in life. That is of particular importance among humans.” He stated the last part with an arrogance that made her grin, as if Sesshomaru had become an expert on the human condition and social norms.

I realize that is true in this time, but not in mine. Adults save for their retirement, rather than depending entirely on their children. Although some still move in with their kids, or vice versa. Real estate in Tokyo is murder.” She regretted the statement, as she could see plainly that it had raised all sorts of off-topic questions with the daiyoukai. She should not have worried. As always, Sesshomaru was able to accept a great deal of information and still stay resolutely on task.

Explain how the courting practice is performed in your time.” His command rang with authority, and his free hand danced up her spine to comb through her hair. The combination was as impossible to resist as it was soothing to the uncertainty that still lingered in the recesses of her mind.

Usually, kids date some when they are in school. Ah,” she could tell that wasn’t helping him understand at all, “When humans in my time are around fifteen years old, they begin to spend time with someone of the other gender, to determine if they like each other.”

Establishing the potential of a mate.”

She wanted to roll her eyes, but she supposed it was as close a comparison as could be made. “Yeah, I guess. Very few of those relationships end in marriage, or anything very, er, intimate. It is more like a test run, to try and figure out, ah-”

Where everything goes,” he finished. His composure and deadpan delivery did not fool her, she could see the playful light in his eyes.

Kagome wasn’t about to allow him to get the best of her; she was never one to back down from a challenge. “Yes.” His eyes widened minutely and she felt her inner self cackling with glee. He didn’t see that coming. She kept pushing, “By their early twenties, most humans have had sex with one or more partners. Sometimes that person ends up being their spouse, but not always. Sex is part of serious dat- er, courting, before marriage.”

It is common for women in your time are intimate outside of a mating claim?” She could hear the growl in his voice, but her enjoyment of his discomfort swiftly fell away, to be replaced with excited apprehension with his next words, “I agree that such a test run should be incorporated into our courting. I accept your suggestion.” He smirked and his thumb dipped between their joined hands to rub teasing circles on her palm.

Her face felt hot, she knew it had to be bright red. “You, I didn’t-” she spluttered. A rumble shook his chest and she let the argument drop in favor of listening to his laughter. It was quiet and so low she felt it more than heard it, but it was there. A warm glow of happiness ignited inside her. She liked that sound. When it stopped, she had to shake herself back to reality. “In any case, a couple may then get engaged – like a promise to be married. Sometimes the girl asks the guy, but it is usually the other way around. He asks her – before they talk to their families. That is usually after a few years of courting. At the engagement party, the family exchanges ceremonial gifts.” She stressed the ceremonial part, but Sesshomaru focused on something entirely different.

Several years,” he stated flatly, “is not acceptable.”

She rolled past that to finish up the description, “The gifts are usually small, symbolic. Yours was way, way, way over the top.” That didn’t seem to faze him, so she sighed and continued, “Engagement can last about a year, to allow time to plan the wedding. And then they are married. Although, divorce rate is pretty high in Japan, so not everybody stays married. And then the courting may start over again.”

Divorce-” he pronounced carefully with a frown.

Kagome interrupted, pleased to turn his mockery back on him, “It means to dissolve a marriage and go your separate ways.” She couldn’t help a smirk of her own from breaking out.

I surmised as much,” he said with a glower. “That will not be a concern.” Sesshomaru, in a fashion that suited him as much as it was expected, brushed away legal rights, matrimonial concerns, and the experience of millions of human beings with six words and a flick of silver hair. “The schedule you have described is unacceptable.”

Well, then what is your idea of courting?” He studied her, and she worried that he might still not answer her questions. She knew he was taciturn; she expected him to be stubborn and arrogant. She could live with that, she even – strangely, inexplicably – liked those things about him most of the time. This was not something he could expect her to follow him into without explanation. Then he began in his low, even voice to describe inuyoukai courtship. With short, clear sentences he described how, when dog demons came of age, they would often engage in feats of power and strength when they encountered another they were interested in. If the interest was reciprocated, the second youkai would give a gift to the first – as a symbol that they found the display impressive. Within one month, the two families would meet and, if the mating was agreed upon, they would exchange gifts. The gifts would be commensurate with the status of the family and the financial stress that the loss of a child would have on the home.

The male would stay with the female’s family for one month. His description, although not particularly suggestive, was accompanied by caresses and a brush of his lips on her hair that made her imagine what it would be like to be secluded with him for that long. She had to force herself to concentrate on the rest of his words. If at the end of that time, the mating was still desired, the couple would exchange gifts, and their life together would begin.

Two months, she swallowed hard, that is pretty fast. “So, they can break up, they don’t have to mate?”

A couple may decide at any time that they are not suited to one another, although,” his lips twitched downward, “family pressures often ensure the mating takes place regardless of any hesitation.”

Have you ever, ah, courted anyone…before…” Her question hung in the air until he brushed his mouth across the skin of her forehead.

No,” he said simply.

And there isn’t any dating, or, ah…” Her blush had returned full force, but she knew she had to ask anyway. Sesshomaru was rarely so talkative, so she would take advantage. “Youkai aren’t intimate with anyone outside of courting?” Her voice squeaked on the ‘intimate’, and she could sense his amusement, but she held his gaze.

Some youkai, not all. Inu may rut with a partner they do not intend to court. It is a common practice to relieve stress and…do a test run, as you said.” He must have anticipated what she was really asking, and she was thankful she didn’t have to spell it out. “If you wish to know if I have done so, the answer is yes, albeit rarely.” She wanted to shy away from him then, embarrassed and unreasonably disappointed, but his hand cupped the back of her head firmly and refused to let her. “I am more than seven hundred years old, Kagome. I have been mature for many centuries. But…” he smiled, a slow, seductive smile that melted her brain a little and sent butterflies loose in her stomach. “I am very selective. There have been few, and none whom I can remember after seeing your flushed skin and open lips. After hearing you moan my name…no other would satisfy.” Her heart must have been near to bursting, or perhaps her blood was thundering in her veins in an eager attempt to fuel the heat pooling in her belly. If anyone else had ever said something like that to her, she would have laughed in his face and called him a smooth-talking liar. She couldn’t imagine Sesshomaru ever lying to get into a woman’s bed. He would never need to. She couldn’t imagine Sesshomaru even stretching the truth – for any reason. He really means that. “And you, Kagome?”

There ah, no one…not until you.” Her eyes fluttered closed as he dipped to taste her mouth.

His lips found her jaw, and he whispered along it, “There will be no others.” He found her ear and reversed, backtracking with gentle nips and kisses to find the other ear. There he stopped and breathed deeply. His hand in her hair was still, his body tense beneath her, but she was lost in the shivery sensation of his breath on her skin. His voice was cold and unrelenting, “What other male has touched you?”

Like a bucket of water had been thrown over her, Kagome blinked, startled, “What?”

He pulled back, tipping her head so that he could lean over her further, nearly parallel to the ground. His voice was composed, but his teeth were clenched. “Another has touched you, here,” he bent quickly and ran his tongue along her cheek to her ear, catching the lobe between his fangs and lapping with the slightly rough appendage. He pulled back, and Kagome could barely focus. Between the strangely exciting anger in his eyes and the cool winter air drying the wet trail on her face, she managed to grasp that he must have smelled something on her.

Hojo, she remembered, then groaned. Stupid Hojo. Sesshomaru growled, and Kagome grumbled, feeling that the intimate moment between them had been broken, “I should have let Inuyasha drop him off a building years ago.” Sesshomaru gave her a hard stare, and she shrugged – as best she was able in her position, “He was pretty disappointed when I told him I was going to be living with you.”

Who,” he demanded quietly.

A boy from my time,” she answered. She had just begun to feel a little enjoyment in his obvious jealousy, when she suddenly realized what the inu equivalent of a jealous boyfriend would mean. Yuka’s last boyfriend had broken her ex’s nose when he found out his predecessor wanted Yuka back. She scaled that reaction up in her mind for a hanyou like Inuyasha and blanched. Then she reminded herself that Sesshomaru was, if demon blood was responsible, twice as possessive than his brother. Holy hell, thank the kami he can’t get through the well. Someone would get gutted. “He hasn’t ever tried to do more than hold my hand or kiss me,” she assured him, and quickly understood that admission was not helping. His hand tightened on hers and he leaned closer until she could not focus on his eyes. “I don’t like him! I’ve told him so! And hey-” she frowned, suddenly wondering how he had gotten the high ground in their conversation. “If I had known you wanted to date me, I might have let him know I was already taken! So I guess there are a lot of good reasons for you to discuss things with me – instead of just making decisions!”

ooo

She was angry again. Sesshomaru was aware of the resurgence of pepper in her scent, although the dry mace scent of her fear and sour worry were thankfully absent, but he could not focus on diffusing her mood when he was struggling to reign in his own instincts. Regardless of any conversation that Kagome desired to have with him, the result was already a foregone conclusion. She would agree to mate him, because he would not accept any other outcome. Knowing why she had feared losing her independence and what expectations her upbringing had given her gave him the opportunity to alter his strategy to ensure success – but he would succeed. As he had already claimed her as his intended, both in his own mind and as tradition dictated with gifts and scent marking, his instincts were snarling for blood. Another male had touched what he claimed as his own. If he had been present when the suicidal Hojo had held her – for Sesshomaru knew she would not have accepted such behavior from someone she spoke so disparagingly about without being held still – Sesshomaru would have removed his offensive hands permanently.

She is human, he reminded himself. Words have more meaning for her than action. No demoness would have been surprised by his formal offer of mating. Scent-marking her with his touch, sleeping beside her, the clothing he had provided for her – he had even hunted for her when they rescued the orphaned pups – these things were obvious actions of a male that had selected an intended mate. She had not understood. Kagome needed words. He could not comprehend it; she spoke so often, about things both enormously important and ridiculously inconsequential, and yet still she needed more words. He breathed deeply, trying to quell his temper, and succeeded only in taking in her scent, which aroused him, and the traces of the human male on her. His youki lashed around him like a tangible thing, and he forced his miko to lie on the ground. Her hair spread across the snow and mokomoko swept under her to cushion her back from the cold.

You can’t just assume, Sesshomaru! I…” His own thoughts drown out her tirade. Magnolia. Cherry Wood. Pepper. Sour niguari melon. Sweet, spicy cinnamon. He pressed his mouth against her neck, just below her ear. He was driven to place his teeth there, to growl and force her to submit while he replaced with his own scent the light trace of musk and nervous sweat that tainted her. He wanted to mark her. Not just to place a visual reminder of her importance to him, but to hurt her, just a bit. He wanted to make her feel a brief, painful reminder of why she should obey. To remind her that she belonged to him. He wanted to soothe that pain with his tongue and hands. To make her forget about any other males that might capture her interest. He wanted to pleasure her and have her call out his name and know that she knew he was responsible for her – her safety, her needs, her wants.

Her wants, her fears, were what held him back. Drawing blood would reprimand an inuyoukai female; it would frighten and anger Kagome. His arm tightened around her, holding her still while he struggled not to press her down with his weight. She was too fragile, her body not made to withstand such displays. He squeezed their joined hands and pulled her arm above her head. Sesshomaru’s body felt hot and heavy, his muscles tensed and ready to pounce. “Do not move.” His youki enforced the command, coating her skin and holding her still. Her reiki rose to meet him – vigilant, but not yet fighting; it sparked against him in small, gratifying shocks. Her voice faded away, and he held his breath while he licked. Once. Twice. A third time along her jaw to her earlobe and around the shell of her ear. When he could taste nothing but his miko, he rested, finally allowing her pure scent to fill his lungs.

Sesshomaru?” She questioned. The sour melon worry had grown. He did not wish to frighten her, to concern her. Such emotions were counterproductive to his goals, and knowing that she was still hurting, in her mind and soul, from her captivity he had no desire to have her fear him. She will not understand. He held her for a moment longer, selfishly avoiding her gaze and questions, before leveraging his weight off of her and onto an elbow. The bulk of his youki receded slowly, but wisps still twined across her skin, caressing her. He set aside his reluctance. It was unavoidable.

He would have to explain himself.

Her dark brows were drawn together, her lush mouth open to express concern, which he forestalled. “It is in my nature to protect. To possess.” She looked like she would argue, so he continued quickly, “I know that this is not how things are done in your time. You have said as much.” He stared into her eyes, trying to impress upon her that he was fighting himself for her benefit. “I am attempting to take your nature into consideration, Kagome.”

Her dark blue gaze searched him silently, and then she said something he did not expect, “How…how much more is there?” He blinked, and she seemed to sense his confusion, as she continued, “If this,” she nodded her chin to indicate their position and her imprisonment beneath him, “is you holding back, how much more is there?”

His youki surged forward at her apparent invitation, and he barely kept it in check. “Do not say such things,” he ground out, “unless you mean for me to show you.”

Tell me first,” she countered. Her scent was anxious, but also excited. Oranges and traces of cinnamon and fading pepper whet his appetite for her. He could not ignore her request, even though he did not think she would be pleased. He described how he wanted to find the weak human, Hojo, and eviscerate him. Sesshomaru could almost feel the satisfaction that should have been his as he described how he would have used his acid to cauterize the welp’s wounds, so that he would not bleed to death, but be able to hear the daiyoukai’s promise to remove his eyes as well as any other part that touched his miko. He stated that he would have wanted to mark her there, where the assault on his female had occurred, so the boy could watch, but he would have held himself back until they were alone so that no one else would see her bare flesh.

And she would have been bare. Within moments. He told her how he would have rent her clothing; it would never be worn by her again as another had touched it. He would have removed all traces of the boy’s scent. With his hands, with his lips and tongue, he would have covered her with his scent – so that only she and he remained. Then he would have impressed upon her to whom she belonged, because she was his – his miko, his intended mate.

Reprimands with teeth and fangs and the barest hint of blood.

Soothing comfort with touches, caresses, kisses.

Desire. Want. Bringing his name to her lips in a cry of concupiscence so deeply felt, so passionate, that she forgot all others. So that she would know no other could bring her to the same peak.

He fell silent, and the weight of his desires fell on them both. His lower body, pressed lightly against hers, ached where his armor restrained him. His muscles were tense and nearly shaking under the iron bands he had placed on himself. The scents around them – her arousal and his own – were so strong that he was distantly concerned he would not notice an enemy if it approached. Her eyes were wide, the black centers large – only a thin rim of blue surrounded them. Her lips were parted. The pink skin was full and recently wet – from his tongue or hers he was not sure. This is not the time nor the place, he sternly reminded himself. He wanted to do all of the things he had described, but she needed time. He would not wait years as humans were wont to where she was from; the idea was infuriating and ludicrous – but he knew she would not be ready to receive him, to finish the courting process, in another month as inuyoukai tradition dictated. He breathed deeply, forcing the air in and out of his lungs smoothly rather than lingering on the taste of her excitement. It did not soften his ardor.

How- how about, I mean, can you do just some of – of that?”

His blood froze in his veins at her words, at the implication that she would accept his instincts, then pounded even harder through his body. Every inch of his skin came alive, tense and waiting for her to confirm what he wanted to hear.

She made a strange, laughing sound, “Obviously not maiming, ew, and if you could use the well and do that, the police would try to arrest you and then you’d want to melt something and – well,” she chuckled again. “Not that part. But,” her eyes met his and her amusement faded. She swallowed, wetting her lips again with the tip of a pink tongue and splitting his thoughts between her words, and a myriad of possibilities for that little muscle. His fundoshi was painfully tight, his cock hard and heavy with need. “As long as you understand…this isn’t me saying yes to the mating…and I can still change my mind. If you can promise that this is still my decision, then, ah…” Her cheeks flushed becomingly, and spicy sweet citrus filled the air. “I think,” her voice fell into a husky whisper, “I’d like you to, to…exercise your instincts.” His youki surged and mokomoko swelled and heaved against her, pushing her closer to him. “We could do a test run.”

Chapter 32: Shifting Pieces

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