Chapter 39: Conception
A glorious morning, Kimi thought with satisfaction as she transformed, letting her youki settle around her. She smoothed one elegant hand across her kimono and licked the last drop of blood from her fangs. Fresh, cold air and fresh, hot breakfast, few things could bring a finer start to the day. Of course, her mood had been helped by the return, just before dawn, of an tired hawk youkai. The guard informed Kimi that the message had been delivered and Sesshomaru had taken the priestess to meet with Bokuseno. The exact details of the conversation had left Kimi chuckling, and nearly beaming with admiration for the little miko. Any female that could handle the pride of one such as Sesshomaru so delicately was a great find. It certainly did not hurt matters that Kimi herself had been so well complimented at the same time. Her only disappointment in the matter was that the hawk had not interrupted any intimate activities. It would have irritated Sesshomaru, and she did so love to ruffle his fur.
Kimi used a bit of youki to lighten her step as she walked into the castle, intent on check on the pups before she began the day’s tasks. Kento appeared at her side, as if from thin air, and began reviewing important items without hesitation.
“Good morning, Kimi-sama. I trust your hunt was satisfactory. A scout has been sent out to greet Hirimoto-sama, as you instructed, and escort his party here. Your correspondence has been drafted, and awaits your final approval. The sentencing of the thief suspecting of stealing from a house abandoned during the plague is scheduled for today; I have taken the liberty of preparing your needles, should you wish to conduct interrogations yourself. Aki-san will arrive in an hour to offer you a selection of materials for the garments you ordered. Hisao-san is available now to report prior to beginning today’s training exercises. A kitsune has requested employment at the palace, Jaken’s objections have been noted in my report, and your tea is ready.” He offered her a neatly inked document and continued at her side, a charcoal stick scratching softly on the stack of paper in his hand as they approached the family wing.
Kimi read over the single sheet with a raised brow and a smile. Once Kento had accepted her as a competent superior, and with some pointed direction from Sesshomaru, he had shown himself to be a outstanding secretary. Nearly every desire was anticipated and provided for with excellent penmanship and calm demeanor. If he had only-
“I have directed the kitsune to wait in the tori room, should you wish to interview her.”
Ah, there it is. Truly, an excellent subject. Kimi refused to compliment him, changing the subject instead. “This One has not seen such a writing instrument before.” The scratching stopped, and she watched him study the unique item as she looked in on the pups. Emi, Nankae, and Shippo still slept, but Rin smiled and waved from her futon where she was looking over several bound scrolls with pictures. It was still early, but Kimi judged the light coming in through the outer screens to be sufficient for enjoying the artwork. She nodded in response and slid the door closed again.
“I cannot take credit for the design. It is a crude attempt to replicate something similar that Kagome-sama uses.” He fingered the thin reed that had been wrapped and bound with string around the charcoal. “Still, it is considerably more portable than brush and ink.” He returned to his notes and they descended again. She wondered at the strange articles the miko had with her. Curiosity about their origin and creation had thus far been answered only with ignorance or vague, poorly executed misdirection. It was extremely curious. The charcoal stick, the bound scrolls with impressively detailed art, the sticky paste for cleaning teeth, the prophecies – they combined with the already fantastical combination of power and humility, intelligence and ignorance, easy joy and fiery temper, a graceful face and ungainly form. The human was an intricate confusion. It would be entertainment for at least a few hundred years to watch Sesshomaru attempt to untangle the mystery. Kimi herself already had several possible explanations in mind, but she would test them on her own counsel.
Hisao’s youki was already lapping at the entrance to her reception room when she approached. Unlike Kento, Sesshomaru’s personal approval of Kimi’s position during his absence was not enough to bring the captain’s personality under control. That he bowed to her authority and expertise was not in question, Hisao was simply not one to trust easily. His scent, at least, was devoid of irritation as she seated herself and allowed Kento to pour tea. In deference to her excellent mood, she did not make him stew in his own impatience as long as she could have.
“New preparations for training and security during the Full Moon Council have been completed, Kimi-sama.” He gestured to the map laid out on her low table and continued, “Border patrols have…” She took in every word, all the while surreptitiously seeking out the youkai waiting in the tori room. The kitsune was quite powerful, although she did an admirable job of controlling and concealing her youki. There was little even Kimi could discern from the aura around her except her sex, heritage, and a range for her energy level. Admirable, indeed. She focused her gaze on Hisao, who went on about specific skirmishes the soldiers had put down with wild youkai and human bandits. Minor issues such as those had been steadily increasing in the wake of the plague, and the strain of dealing with them while holding back from the enemy he wished to attack was clear in the tightness around his eyes. His jaw and neck were so tense from the effort of holding his instincts in check that Kimi wouldn’t have been surprised to see a joint pop out of place. The rigid captain needs a distraction, she decided, before he injures himself.
“Kento,” she interrupted the military report, to which Hisao repressed a snap of pique, “bring the other matter forward now.” Pleased that she did not have to be more specific, Kento disappeared and was back before Hisao could decide his audience was over and excuse himself. The small, sassy sparkle of orange youki garnered the captain’s attention and he straightened, tightening his jaw further. Kimi almost rolled her eyes, he most definitely needed to relax or he would transform and rampage north before everything was in place.
“My Lady,” Kento bowed, “my I present Aina-san, of the Nara school for kitsune. Kyoshi-san desires employment at the shiro.”
“Step forward,” Kimi commanded. Light steps, accompanied by the almost imperceptible, and unquestionably magically contrived, sound of bells, quickened across the floor to stop an appropriately respectful distance from the dais. Thick, coppery hair slid over one slender shoulder to fall on the floor as the female knelt. Her form was lithe, her skin pale and faintly pearlescent. If Kimi had not been so attentive to all of the youkai in the room, she might have missed the lightening flash of interest from Hisao as the kitsune’s scent reached him. The Lady memorized the sweet fragrance with a wicked gleam of intent in her eye. White fukiran. Candied plum. The perfect distraction to keep Hisao from being an annoyance or prematurely starting an open war.
“You may look upon This One,” she stated, not bothering to hide the glee in her voice. Hisao looked grimly inconvenienced. Kento smelled concerned. Dramatic cheekbones and dark red lips would draw the eye of any male, but it was the teasing glint in the kitsune’s eyes that promised to make any chase of epic proportions. Vivid green met devious citrine and the two females shared a smile that exchanged a great deal of information – all along the lines of stirring up the cold, straight-laced ones is the most fun and excitement ahead. “What place would you have in the House of the Saidai Mao?”
Kento looked up from his charcoal scratching, mouth open to offer a correction, and Hisao frowned even deeper. Kimi was aware that the little fox had approached about working at the castle, not in the castle, but she simply could not let the opportunity escape.
“Any skills I have are yours to put to use as you wish, Iwakura-sama, Lady of the West,” she said demurely.
“And what skills would those be?” Hisao practically growled, interjecting himself into the conversation. “Illusions? Trickery? This is not a road inn,” the disdain in his voice implied that something less virtuous than kitsune schooling was expected in such an establishment, “but a place of honor and rule.” Kimi wanted to clap her hands in glee. The kitsune rose to the bait, ready to play the game of words, but the captain was so serious that he would be an easy target for such an accomplished teaser.
“Oh,” the fox’s brow furrowed prettily, “I had not realized that the residents of the palace were so straight-laced, Rojin-sama.” Hisao bristled at the respectful title – for an elderly uncle. Kento coughed discreetly and covered his mouth to hide his smile. Kimi did not bother attempting to conceal her enjoyment. “Please do direct me in what sort of manner you feel the Lady might best be served, if you speak for her.” The gauntlet was thrown down with an innocent smile.
“I speak,” he answered tightly, “for the security of the West. Slight-of-hand and foolish jokes will not be tolerated.” The black markings on his jaw and neck began to shimmer.
Reluctantly, Kimi ended the confrontation before Kento would need to consider replacing furnishings. “Are you trained in weapons, as well as words?”
Green eyes turned back to her, still sparking with the excitement of a frivolous argument, “Yes, Lady. I have trained many years with shuriken and hamidashi. My martial skills are humble, but sparring partners have credited my ‘trickery’ as making up for lessor experience.”
“You come from Nara school,” Kimi continued, rolling over the confrontation Hisao was obviously itching to rekindle. “Tell This One of your teaching experience.” The kitsune named an impressive number of years spent at Nara and other, similar, schools as well as naming a few of her students that had made legends for themselves with their magic. Kento was suitably impressed and the note-taking resumed with vigor. Hisao was still fuming, and did little to hide it in his scent or youki. That pleased Kimi immensely, as it indicated he was working to hide other things from her nose. “You will assist in instruction for This One’s pack,” she announced.
Aina’s eyes widened momentarily in surprise. How humorous that she did not think she would receive such a position, Kimi observed. Kento nearly dropped his papers and his mouth opened and closed several times, no doubt searching for a respectful way to tell the dowager Lady that she did not have the authority to make such a decision for the assorted brood Sesshomaru claimed as his own.
The captain of the Western Army was less discreet. He snorted, “Kagome-sama will love that decision being made in her absence.” Some of the tension left him at that observation, and Kimi was pleased to see that he thought so highly of the miko’s ability to confront a daiyoukai of her stature.
“Kento, fetch Rin-yojosan and the others. Hisao, you may go.” The captain was bowing perfunctorily and walking away before his colleague had managed to set down his tablet. The two left together, the shogi screen sliding shut behind them. Kimi’s barrier snapped into place, and the kitsune mirrored the action. All traces of triviality disappeared and she kowtowed.
“My Lady,” she intoned formally.
“Aina,” Kimi responded lightly. “It is so good of you to arrive at the West…so fortuitously. Tell me, is it divine fate that has brought This One’s most skilled spy to the door, or have you merely longed to bait a leashed dog?”
“Although the latter is a passable exercise, and the former possible, I must admit to a more curious circumstance, my Lady. I recently was approached by an old acquaintance…”
Kagome yawned and stretched, comfortably warm and cozy. Soft sunlight danced across her eyelids and she smiled, well-rested, but contemplated remaining in bed for a while longer. If her stomach had not chosen that moment to make her audibly aware of its cavernous state, she might have fallen back to sleep. Instead, she opened her eyes to a creaky chuckle.
“Good morning, child,” Bokuseno’s bark shifted and split to reveal a kinder version of the same face from their confrontation the day before. “I trust you slept well?”
“Oh, yes, I-” she let out a little shriek of surprise as her pillow shifted, pushing her upright. Mokomoko was her blanket, protecting her from the frosty morning air, but her bed consisted of a soft layer of moss over huge roots. The roots belonged to Bokuseno, she could feel the youki coursing through them, and they continued to move as he spoke.
“That is good. Expending a great deal of power, as I understand you have done recently, takes a toll on the physical body. Particularly if you are not used to – what is the human phrase – flexing your bones.”
“Your muscles,” Kagome corrected automatically, “flexing your muscles.”
“Ah, yes that does make more sense. Although flexible bones would be an interesting advantage to your little species. You should consider evolving that way.”
“Eh, yeah…that would be…something.” Whether she meant having an elastic skeleton or controlling evolution, she wasn’t sure. The tree continued to smile in a familiar sort of way, and Kagome tried unsuccessfully to reconcile the angry, awesome red youki that had threatened Sesshomaru with the gentle, soothing energy that pulsed through the forest around her. Thankfully, their strangely companionable conversation was discontinued as Sesshomaru arrived.
He had been running, she recognized that only by the sway of his clothes and hair and the stirring of dry leaves at his feet. His stop was sudden, only a few yards from her, and his gaze was piercing, raking over her both systematically and intimately. The heat and concern she saw there made a pink blush rise on her cheeks. Mokomoko subtly tightened around her.
“You are well.” His statement demanded a response, despite her confusion.
“What? I mean, yeah, but-” Kagome flushed darker, remembering her cry of surprise when she woke. That combined with her rather unnecessary display of protectiveness the night before no doubt led Sesshomaru to have concern for her safety. Probably from herself. It sucks when he’s right, she grumbled internally. “I’m fine,” she managed aloud, in a calm voice. “Just disoriented when I woke up. And hungry,” she added when her stomach rumbled again.
“A meal is prepared,” he turned his attention to the tree, “away from your woods.”
“Thank you for that consideration, Sesshomaru,” Bokuseno’s branches shifted and unseasonably green leaves drifted down on her. “I will send an emissary to your home at once. It has been a pleasure, young miko,” the great magnolia lowered his eyes to meet hers, and she felt the barest touch of twigs upon her shoulder. She turned, and a branch, heavy with blossoms that should not have been alive, much less thriving, in the winter, descended before her. “Please do return one day, when we will have more time to speak and fewer evils to dwell upon.” With a snap, the largest of the blooms fell into her lap and the branch returned overhead. She cradled it in her palms, and even without bringing it to her face she could smell the fragrance.
Kagome was awed and honored. It was not just a bloom, but a demon flower, infused with power from an ancient youkai; she tucked it carefully into her obi “Thank you, Bokuseno-sama.” She struggled to stand until Sesshomaru cupped her elbow and mokomoko relaxed to return to his shoulder. “I appreciate your understanding, and patience with someone new to this ti- world. Of youkai. And nobility.” She paused awkwardly and smiled. “Thank you again, and I do hope we can see each other in the future.” She winced. That couldn’t have been more disturbingly true.
“Come, miko,” Sesshomaru tugged gently and Bokuseno rustled a goodbye. Their walk back through the forest had an even larger unseen audience than before, but the aura of suspicion was absent. The daiyoukai leading her remained silent, even as he helped her across the stream and they left the isolated glade behind. His youki rolled out again, and she flared her reiki momentarily, just to assure herself that they were alone. Green power drifted and swirled over the landscape, giving Kagome the impression of a puppy let out after a long day indoors. She stifled a giggle and glanced at Sesshomaru’s profile. His expression was as smooth and cool as ever. She doubted he would appreciate the analogy, but it was true, nonetheless. She even sensed the pull of his power on hers, urging her to play. It was undoubtedly unconscious, but she didn’t bring it to his attention, the feeling was too nice. She concentrated, and formed fingers of reiki to sift through his energy. A sweat broke out on her forehead from the intense focus, but it was worth it when he stopped in surprise and turned slowly on her.
“Miko,” he began. His eyes narrowed then relaxed again as she succeeded in raking the crests of youki in the opposite direction. Just like brushing Buyo the wrong way, she smirked. “Kagome,” he spoke her name in a low voice that sent tingles across her skin. “You are playing a game without first knowing the rules.”
“Then teach me,” she challenged breathlessly. It was a bit silly, a bit reckless, but she liked the feeling of being alone with Sesshomaru, of teasing him and skirting the edge of serious subjects and action. So much had been weighing on her for so long, and continued to grow heavier, that she relished the opportunity to let all of her attention center on him. On the way he could make her feel. I love you. She kept the words behind her lips, but the emotion made her radiate joy.
Sesshomaru led his clumsy human carefully, watching for the numerous opportunities for her to trip or snag her hair or clothes and silently steering her around them. He breathed in the duel scents of magnolia, from the bloom in her obi and her skin, and found he preferred her subtle sweetness to the actual flower. Her wonder in the small gift brought him a renewed understanding of the enormous power of a simple gesture, of the beauty in a magic that would disappear from the world if given the opportunity. The small miko at his side, with her bright smile and near-constant chatter that could border on obnoxious, refused to let fate have its way. She stood before a tsunami of time and destiny and the power of her determination held it at bay.
It was no wonder he had spent what remained of the night, after ending his conversation with Bokuseno, watching her sleep. It was completely understandable that he had passed several hours methodically kneading her leg and memorizing the curve of her jaw. It was right that he had gently slipped his power under her skin until she was full to the brim and her reiki answered his call so that he could know her, be connected to her, be with her. She was amazing.
Their proximity made him hyper aware of her state of being. The fresh bone that had grown to repair her broken arm was still tender. The bruises on her wrist and the cut on her cheek had healed completely, due to a combination of reiki, youki, and inu saliva. The muscles in her legs were slightly sore and her most secret places tender from his recent, thorough attentions. That knowledge strummed a heavy, warm cord in him. She was tired; not dangerously exhausted, but tired in a way that spoke to long days and hard work. Which, he supposed, was what she had been doing. Even before her abduction, she had been sleeping little and expending enormous physical and spiritual energy to heal, to fix, and to protect. Over time, he believed that she could train herself to handle the strain of using her power better, but she was unused to such activity, and it was evidenced in her body. She was hungry, as well. That irritated him; it was not anger at her, but himself for not recognizing and immediately attending to her most basic needs. It was his duty as an alpha, as a future mate. It must be his priority, because she was his priority.
He had left her under the watchful eyes of Bokuseno, in the safety of his glade, and hunted. It was the work of less than a half hour to kill and prepare a boar and build a fire a safe distance from the tree youkai to cook it. He had taken the opportunity to transform as well and stalk his own meal. The last bone crunched between his jaws and slid down his throat when he heard her cry. He had hunted down wind of her, keeping her scent on his periphery at all times, and her moment of anxiety was punctuated by high-pitched shriek and followed by the smell of sour melon and sharp turnips. She was not in danger, he knew from the way she was quickly swamped with confusion. Still, his feet had barely touched the ground as he made his way back to her side.
The consultation with Bokuseno had been necessary to maintain alliance and gain intelligence. It had also been personally informative. As he shifted another errant rock away from her – it surely would have caused her sandals to stumble if he were not there – he allowed a pleased smile to drift across his features. She was his. Would be his. Forever.
He had not realized how much concern the unanswered question of her mortality had caused him until it was resolved. To keep her with him through time, he needed only infuse her with his power. It was not a hardship. He lifted her over the magical brook that surrounded Bokuseno’s glade and allowed his youki to expand once again. It responded to his lightened frame of mind, marking his territory, dominating his surroundings, and swirling around his miko possessively. He inhaled her happiness and felt his own chest lighten in response – right before her reiki stroked across him.
The warm sensation of a salty breeze brushed against his face even as his nerves stood at attention. He stopped, turning towards her, and called to her, uncertain if the action had been intentional. If her expression of gleeful triumph had not made it clear, the next caress of her power did. Irrevocably.
Youki could be manipulated and willed to act like an extension of the body, even a replacement for various motions and communication. Demons learned that at a young age, and began working to shape their energy to their command soon after. The more powerful, the older the demon, the more intricate and precise their youki could be. A word of warning, a lover’s caress, a parental reprimand, a deadly strike. Sesshomaru had used his youki in all those ways and more, but it had never occurred to him that Kagome could do the same with reiki.
Her pleasant surprise and the moisture on her brow confirmed that she had not been aware of the ability before either. Although he knew she had done it teasingly, unknowingly, he could not stop his instincts from screaming that this female was inviting him to play an erotic game that would end in a struggle for dominance. One he would win. The ghosting sensation of her hand trailing up his spine, burrowing under his fur and lightly dragging against his skin had heat pooling in his belly and a low vibration stirring in his chest. “Kagome,” he could hear the thrum of pleasure in his voice but did not bother to restrain it. “You are playing a game without first knowing the rules.”
“Then teach me,” she challenged him, skin glowing and warm breath clouding the air between them. Sweet carnations flooded his nose and Sesshomaru used his hold on her elbow to draw her close. Her joy, her stirring passion and excitement were obvious and heady and capable of waylaying his train of thought beyond repair. Her blue eyes stared up at him. The flush on her cheeks pinked her skin and drawing him to her like a moth to flame. He held his nose less than an inch from her, maintaining their gaze and breathing in the air that kissed her flesh. A cherry tree, freshly cut. Other things familiar and still exciting drenched his lungs.
“You smell,” he paused to run the tip of his nose across her lower lip. “Perfect.”
Reiki spiked around him and he bit back a groan of sheer pleasure. Sheer torture. “So do you,” she said breathlessly. Her head dipped under his and he tilted back to look at the sky, wrapping his arms around her to lift her, help her gain access to his body. Her nose and mouth brushed across his jaw, calling to him to dominate her. “Like cloves,” she whispered against him. The plump flesh of her lip dragged for a moment on his neck. Demanding domination. “Like the woods, but better,” her breath was hot, “darker,” he felt the smooth flat of her teeth, “a secret.” Her tongue flicked out and his groan escaped as something equal to her sensual assault.
The growl reverberated in his chest and her body responded. Even through three layers of kimono he was certain he could feel her breasts swelling, tightening. “Ka-go-me.” He drew out her name, not to stimulate her, although her moan indicated that it had, but because if he did not speak carefully he would revert to his natural language. And that would be closely followed by crushing her with his youki and body and making her his mate whether she was ready for that step in their association or not.
“You smell like…” Her lips found the vee of his clothing and the shallow hollow between his collarbones. She pressed a kiss there and the rising vapor of her passion made his head swim with spicy citrus. “Like cedar and…bacon?”
Sesshomaru stood still, only then realizing that he had been carrying her toward the fire that roasted her breakfast. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had no doubt intended to ensure her warmth while he saw to their mutual want, but the fragrance of cooking pork brought other needs to the forefront. Kagome’s stomach growled impressively and her immediate embarrassment eased his frustration enough to allow clear thought. Only she could stir him to such heights and bring him to deny himself with good grace. He set her feet on the ground, but kept hold of one arm while he plucked one of many spitted cuts of ham from the flames. Crisper than he would have liked, his senses assured him that the meat was cooked through and still juicy enough to be pleasing to her. He imagined he could hear the eager saliva pooling in her mouth as she stared at the food.
He drew her to kneel on the ground, and arranged himself to sit behind her, the half circle of his bent knees surrounding her. “Eat,” he commanded softly, trailing his claws down her sleeve. She obeyed, without even her customary eye roll or sharp comment. It was further evidence that the demands of her body had been ignored too long. Sesshomaru vowed to himself that it would not happen again. He unconsciously traced circles across her back while he monitored their surroundings. There was no presence for miles save the animals of the forest and Bokuseno’s glade. Kagome licked her fingers, both soothing and riling his instincts. He kept his thoughts to himself, however, until she was well into her second piece of meat.
“We will return to the castle today,” he informed her.
“I’ve heard that before,” she said around a mouthful of food.
“My responsibility-” he began to explain, a guilty sensation reminding him that she would not have had to see the remains that Ryustokokken left behind if they had not dallied at the well.
She waved her hands, gesturing with a nearly bare spit and almost losing what remained of her pork. “It wasn’t an insult, Sesshomaru. I only meant to say that we keep running into delays. Although, some were kind of our own fault.” She blushed, and shoved a rather large piece of meat into her mouth, looking anywhere but at him.
His guilt disappeared and he leaned closer to her, brushing a stray lock of hair back into her messy bun. “I consider any time spent in such a way essential.” The few inches of bare skin between her collar and her hair were smooth and warm against his fingers. She shuddered in response, then promptly coughed, choking on her food. He watched with mixed amusement and concern as she wheezed and fumbled for a bottle of water from her bag. Once she was breathing normally again, he continued, “It will take us some time, even flying, but I have no concerns in having spent this day away from the shiro. My mother is…” he struggled for a moment with a description that was truthful but would not put Kagome in fear of the inu female. “…a formidable presence. With Kento and Hisao assisting her, I do not doubt she has things well in hand for the time being.”
He watched her chew, much more thoroughly, and swallow before she spoke, “What would you have done, if she wasn’t there?” For a moment, his ribs seemed to shrink in size, and his blood did not pump properly. If Kimi had not come, Kagome would not be with him. “I mean,” she continued, oblivious to his struggle to remain collected, “even discounting travel time, you spent like a day and a half with Bokuseno and dealing with the…body…on the border. Could Kento and Hisao have taken care of things while you were gone? And who dealt with everything while you were helping us against Naraku?” Deep frown lines appeared around her mouth as she reached for a third helping. “You had to be neck-deep in paperwork by the time you got back.”
Sesshomaru took a deep, silent breath. “During the hunt for Naraku, I returned to the West every few days, and Kento is more than capable to deal with day-to-day matters – during peacetime. In truth,” he considered what had been a relatively short time, in a youkai’s lifespan, spent tracking the spider hanyou and then cooperating with Inuyasha and the miko. If I had known then…but he had not, and his association with the miko had developed in a more than satisfactory manner since then. It could also be noted that she had used the intervening time to grow and mature, perhaps making her more of the creature that he had come to desire. “Hisao would have preferred to hunt that irritation himself. He had been anticipating a fight for many decades, and was most disappointed when I determined to take care of the matter personally.”
Kagome giggled, twirling a bare spit between her hands. “I think maybe you were anticipating a fight, no? Were you getting bored? No one to play with?”
“Combat, not play, miko,” he corrected with a smirk.
“Uh-huh. Is that why you were always ‘accidently’ crossing our path every week or so? I think if it was combat you wanted, instead of play, there would be one less Tashio brother around to annoy me.”
“Fighting with Inuyasha made him a better swordsman,” Sesshomaru explained seriously. At the loss of lighthearted amusement in her scent, he amended, “And I found it to be passable exercise.” She laughed, and he relished the sound. “Although, you should watch your words carefully. It sounded as though you found This One annoying as well as the hanyou.”
“This One,” she parroted, trying and failing to look down her nose at him, “finds waving sharp object around while yelling to be annoying – from either brother.”
“Are you practicing, Kagome?” He asked softly, pressing closer and squeezing the back of her neck gently. “Once you are my Lady, it will be expected that you speak in that manner in front of others.”
Her eyes fell to his mouth. “I have trouble doing what is expected,” she said, her voice reaching a husky tone that he immediately wanted to hear more of.
“It is part of your allure,” he assured her. He brushed his nose against her cheek, wanting to do more, to fulfill the invitation that she was sending him – consciously or not. He reminded himself, with a deep breath that was thick with her scent and his intertwined, that she would still be receptive to his attentions if they had to wait until they were closed in their room that night. The delay also had the potential to allow for anticipation, increasing her excitement. He willed his urges back under control, but not before he nipped lightly at her earlobe, barely grazing the tender morsel with his fangs. He allowed some space between them, and waited for her eyes to flutter open again and her parted lips to close. “I do not regret this time, the opposite is true, but it would have been beneficial if there were time to meet with another youkai before we return.”
“But you said your mom would be fine for a while?”
“Indeed,” he confirmed. He gestured to what remained of the meat, and she hesitated, but declined with a shake of her head. “But there are other matters that must be decided soon – how to deal with the North – that it is not her responsibility or right to determine. Also,” he added, because it was true and he knew it would make Kagome smile, “she will have already taken the opportunity to rearrange my household. If left to her own devices, she will take it upon herself to inspect the soldiers as well. It would not please Hisao.”
Her grin did not disappoint, “And no one wants a grumpy Hisao.”
“Hn.” He agreed, and stood. Kagome excused herself to ‘freshen up’, and Sesshomaru allowed her a modicum of privacy as he consumed the remains of the boar. He kept an ear on her movements as she relieved herself and washed, straightening her clothing and mumbling about ‘hairspray’ and toothpaste. He put out the fire and followed her, noting the obvious signs of her unassisted passage through the vegetation. Disturbed snow, broken twigs, kicked up leaves. He watched for a moment unnoticed as she replaced her tooth brush in her bag and searched for something else.
“There!” She said triumphantly and pulled out a small, flat, rectangular box. She opened it, and he sniffed experimentally, but the scent was nothing he could identify. Clean, cool, sterile, nothing else. She unfolded a tiny note from the box, and read swiftly, as though merely verifying information, before replacing it and popping a tiny pill out of the package. “I have got to figure out pockets if I am going to remember to take these every day,” she muttered.
Sesshomaru was so surprised to see her taking what must have been a medicine from her time that he did not react when she dropped it into her mouth and swallowed. She was not ill, he knew from her scent and his youki, and her injuries had all either already healed or were well past the point of causing her pain. “What is that?”
His honest curiosity nearly caused her to fall into the stream. She yelped, drawing her hands behind her back and turning swiftly to face him. He was at her side in an instant, catching her before she overbalanced and ended up in the water. He had been mildly inquisitive, her things from the future were always remarkable, but her sharp embarrassment and pink cheeks deepened his interest – as did her instinctual reaction to hide the little box.
“Wha-what?” She cleared her throat noisily.
“The pill you took,” he clarified, growing almost suspicious. “Are you ill?”
“No, no, it’s not…I mean,” she blushed harder and tried to slip the box deep into her bag without him noticing. “Well, it’s really kind of personal, Sesshomaru,” she finished primly.
“Are we not personal, Kagome?” At his question, her mouth opened and closed several times, almost comically.
After a few vague gestures and odd noises she finally squeaked out, “It is to keep me from getting pregnant, okay!”
It was not ‘okay’. Not even the slightest amount was it ‘okay’. Blood thundered in his veins and pulsed behind his eyes. Of their own accord, his hands formed fists against his hips. His youki surged around them both and he leaned over her. His instincts were roaring, once again, and underneath of that the feelings she had awoken in him were bruised. She fears I will lose control, he snarled in his mind, angry with her. I have very nearly done so, several times, he argued with himself, his anger turning inward.
She does not want our pup.
She loves pups – children of any race.
She fears I will not accept a hanyou born of her.
I have given her little reason to believe I would.
She is not ready to be mated.
I have told her I will give her time to be courted – she has instigated intimacy more than once.
He could not believe, would not allow himself to believe that Kagome was refusing to be his mate in every sense, to bring his pups into the world. It occurred to him, giving rise to self-recriminations and a desire to protect her, that it might not be his seed she wished to prevent taking root. That thought, and all of the terrible images that followed it, some plausible, some impossible – all reprehensible – had him teetering on the edge of control for the second time in as many days.
“No other will touch you,” he ground out between clenched teeth.
“What? No kidding, Sesshomaru,” she looked upset at him, brows drawn deeply together. Her scent was peppery with irritation, but there was no hidden shame or remorse, no fear, anxiety, or sadness. “Why the hell would you even say that?” She closed her bag and stood with a huff, heedless of the streaks of mud and grass on her skirt or the wisps of hair that fell in her eyes. “Setting aside that we already had this conversation,” she said tightly, her eyes narrowed and one finger raised pointedly, “your tone needs some serious improvement. And when I say something is personal – you should know that means I don’t want to talk about it, and you should trust me with that!” She turned sharply, prepared to stomp off, he was sure, but one sandal got caught on a clump of dirt and she lost her balance.
Sesshomaru was there, again, this time holding her under her knees and behind her back, close to his chest. He breathed through his nose, walking away from the water and using the action to distract him from her anger and his own. He knew both were most likely unreasonable and unfounded – certainly hers is – and he reminded himself that he could not command her openness and honesty and expect to be pleased with the results. He had to understand, had to make her understand. Misunderstandings between them could lead to consequences he did not wish to contemplate – chief among them the potential for her to break off their courtship.
“Kagome,” he began, and when she opened her mouth he shifted mokomoko to cover it. Her eyes widened – then narrowed, and he knew the action could tip her ire into serious anger. If he could not find the words to soothe them both she would not easily forgive him for muzzling her. “Perhaps you do not intend it, but your explanation is, at best, insulting.” Her body was still stiff in his arms, but she was not struggling to escape. He took another deep breath of magnolias and cherry wood layered in his own musk to reassure his instincts. “Any other youkai, male or female, would punish their mate severely for refusing that act. Daiyoukai in the past have killed a mate for refusing to create an heir.”
Sesshomaru came to a stop below a large tree, its roots layered in soft grass. He lowered himself to the ground, watching her carefully, to make certain that she understood the serious nature of their conversation. She squirmed, and his hold automatically tightened. It took everything he had to keep his body from using the level of strength he wanted. The desire to subdue her, to force her to fulfill the obligations of a mate was strong. It was not just youkai culture and instinct that drove him, however. He had a sour, wounded sensation settling low in his chest. A doubt, doubt that she wanted him as wholly as he wanted her prodded him sharply. He could hear Inuyasha’s words echoing in his memory, “Ya didn’t ask her, didja?” He had not. Although he had come to his own decision on the benefits of mating her. Come to consider with familiarity, with warmth, with longing the idea of dog-eared pups resting against her round breast. He had not asked her for an opinion on the matter, had not considered that she would have one other than coos of joy and ridiculous sighs and soft laughter at the thought of a child of her own body. Of them. There were so many things he wanted, needed from her – and she was not capable of simply understanding, of obeying. It was as frustrating as it was an integral part of her that he would not change. There was no way around it – he would have to speak to her of his mind, of the strange compulsions that he was beginning to think might be his heart.
He would have to speak – at length.
He kept her mouth secured for a few more long minutes while breathed of her scent and organized his thoughts and overcome his distaste for discussing rather than showing. At least, he told himself that was what he was doing. Despite all his strict adherence to honesty, there was nothing that could have made Sesshomaru admit, even to himself, that he might be trying to avoid hearing a response that he feared:
Not with you.
She fidgeted, her breath hot and close against mokomoko. He growled in response and her eyes widened momentarily. There was no fear in her scent, but concern and a still-strong current of irritation. And trust. He filled his lungs with warm gardenias and relaxed fractionally.
“I desire you as my mate, Kagome.” He found it difficult to look at her large blue eyes, the only part of her not currently held prisoner by him, and instead stared into the middle distance while he spoke. “Inu mates not merely joined by words, they are bound by power and will. For one of my kind, a mated pair is the foundation of pack – of family,” he clarified and watched from the corner of his eye as the frown line between her brows eased and she grew thoughtful. “We seek to join with another who can make one more, better, increase power. To mate is to find one that helps to build a pack, a strong mighty line that will move forward through the ages. Mate to have pups, to increase and pass on power and make a pack stronger.” As he spoke, he realized that it was not merely a lesson in inu culture and instinct. He was exploring a truth about himself that he had not considered before, one that she must know as he was beginning to know it. “I traveled the path of conquest, not merely to test and strengthen myself, not for personal power, but to make myself stronger for my pack. To make my lands safer, broader, more plentiful for my pack. “He looked down on her again, and his voice lost any cool tone that he had managed to conceal his deep feeling with, “This is what it is to be inu. To be me.”