Chapter 43: Violent Tango
“Tamago,” Inuyasha barked. The fledgling was at his elbow in an instant, having taken to the rude nickname as though it were a badge of honor. The ever present roster was tucked under one arm. “Where’re the monks at?”
“They’re still working on the second bend, Captain-sama.” The kid’s head feathers ruffled weirdly and he smelled of excitement and hormones. It didn’t take an inu to track down the reason. The ameonnas were going through to their usual washing-up routine, and Inuyasha was so sick of dealing with the fallout he was ready to give them double-shifts so they’d have less time to stir up every male in camp.
“Pull your head out of your pants, Egg. Go find the lieutenant and send him to me, then go get an update from the monks.” He pinned the skinny fledgling with a hard gold stare, “I don’t want to know where they are, Tomago, I want to know about progress.”
It didn’t take long for the last Eastern officer to arrive with a series of sideslips that sent dust and snow stirring around Inuyasha’s feet. In his true form, the crane was only slightly taller than the hanyou. It didn’t allow for much tactical advantage in combat, but the bird was excellent at reconnaissance.
“Well?” Inuyasha demanded. He walked while they talked, stopping occasionally to check on soldiers repairing armor and weapons or to correct the stance or form of those training. It had been so much easier when it was just him, nobody else to worry about. Most of his life, two hundred years between the death of his mother and being sealed to Goshinboku, he had been alone. It had been tough. More than tough. There were long stretches in the early days were he couldn’t remember anything but gnawing hunger, bone-aching cold, and the taste of his own blood and fear in his mouth. It had made him stronger though. There was no training camp or martial tutors for a dirty half-breed orphan; Inuyasha learned everything he knew about fighting and surviving on the razor-thin edge of death.
After he had met Kagome, after he had recognized the little pack he had cobbled together of humans and youkai for what it was, he wondered what had kept him going before. He had nothing to live for in the old days, couldn’t have imagined ever having anything worth fighting for, worth protecting. It was only the kind of empty, single-minded devotion to be strong enough to live that had fueled him. And then there was Kagome, and the others followed. Working together, group tactics, had been new to him at the beginning of the quest for the shards; within a month he had adapted far easier than he would have thought possible.
Grudgingly, as he stalked though the camp in the Eel Valley, he admitted that Sesshomaru’s unwelcome and taunting attacks had been excellent exercises for learning to protect, to trust his pack to use their skills to advantage and watch his back. It might have honed his sword skills too. A little. Not that he would ever say so aloud. Not even if the ice prick had his claw in Inuyasha’s gut.
Leading the rag-tag army wasn’t much different. He had to learn each individuals’ strengths and weakness, pair or group them to take advantage of complementing techniques, and get them all to feel tied to each other. Uniting against a common goal was an easy way of making allies out of enemies. It had worked for a pervert monk, a guilt-ridden demon slayer, and a grief-stricken kit – and damned if it didn’t work for refugee cranes, hunted wild youkai, and wandering holy men. ‘Course, there was also the added burdens of massive supply shortages, multiplying personality conflicts, a growing and uncomfortable mantle of responsibility, and the fuckin’ ameonnas.
Inuyasha sniffed, nearly sneezing at the thick pheromones that flooded his nose. He glowered towards the stream and interrupted the lieutenant. “What the hell do I gotta do to get them to knock that shit off?” His words came with more snarl than he intended, most likely due to the female that noticed his attention and blatantly smiled back and ran her hands over her body invitingly. The crane noted his anger and took a physical step away.
“Short of throwing them out or mating them, I am not aware of any non-violent means to curbing the…predilections,” he said the last word delicately, and although Inuyasha hadn’t heard it before, he got the jist just fine, “of female rain youkai.”
“Who said I was only looking for a peaceful – wait, what?” It took a moment, but he finally digested everything the bird said and it filtered through his irritation. Shock temporarily numbed his brain and loosened his tongue, “Mate them all?”
“Ameonnas are polyamorous. Usually there are several of them, siblings, in a union with two or three individuals from outside their family.” A smirk twitched at the bird’s mouth. “I believe those sisters would be willing to settle for you alone, if you are not interested in taking another male with you.”
“Oh, fuck no,” Inuyasha said in horror. He just knew his face was as red as his haori. He could feel his youki rising too, and it wasn’t a pleasant sensation to be fighting himself for supremacy over his ‘F’ instincts – to fight, flee, or…mate.
“Ah, yes. I have heard that inu are extremely territorial of their mates. Perhaps you could claim the eldest? The other two would probably fall in line if you-”
“Shut. The. Fuck. Up.” Youki flared around the hanyou and the crane fell silent, all traces of humor gone. Inuyasha was breathing heavily, his knuckles white on Tessaiga – not out of a desire to cut down the crane, although the bird would deserve it if he couldn’t get his mind out of the gutter, but to try to reign in his aura.
“I apologize, Inuyasha-sama,” he said formally, bowing and prostrating his own aura low in a respectful sort of submission.
“Sonofa-” Inuyasha bit off the curse. “I ain’t mad at you, idiot.” He couldn’t keep on like this. Every time he caught wind of the females, whose scents shouted their interest and readiness, he had to claw down aggression and other things he did not want to examine. He didn’t have time for that shit, and the rest of the army was in similar shape, but less concerned with keeping the drool off their faces. It was not a good way to face an enemy. “Wait here.”
He stomped across the valley, ignoring the soldiers that had stopped whatever they were doing to stare. A wide path cleared before him like magic, and Inuyasha found himself standing before the ameonnas in mere moments. He braced his feet wide and gripped the hilt of his sword tightly. His face was still hot, his own hormones dancing just under his skin to the tune of please, please, so good, pleeease but he scowled and reminded himself that any overtures they made, even if they were serious, probably had more to do with the new station that Sesshomaru had thrust upon him than with the hanyou himself.
“Which one of ya’ is oldest?” His clipped words got immediate attention, although not exactly how he had hoped. A dark skinned female, slightly taller than the other two and with red hair that stuck to her wet flesh and hung down to her thighs stepped within reach.
“Captain-sama,” she breathed. Her voice was smooth and cool like the breeze before a storm. All of the blood threatened to drain right out of the hanyou’s skull. “I am what you want.”
Not a fuckin’ chance, he thought savagely, although there were parts of him that screamed yes. “This,” he nodded to encompass them all, “Ain’t good. So you got three choices, soldier. You can put on some goddamn clothes and stop throwin’ all that sexy-eyes shit all over camp, or you can pack up your sisters and get the hell outta here.”
“What’s the third choice?” She glided closer to him before he could blink, and Inuyasha was suddenly conscious of the press of warm, wet flesh against the fire rat and a hot breath in his ear. He hadn’t had a woman lean against him like that ever, and the closest he had come to it was carrying Kagome. His upper brain function seized on the image of his best friend like a drowning man finding driftwood. If he fucked this up, if the army wasn’t ready and he didn’t do his very best, she would pay the consequences. The bastard Ryustokokken had kidnapped her once, and Inuyasha knew from unfortunate experiences with a whole host of evil-as-hell stalker types that he wouldn’t want to let her go. That the dragon was a warlord with a burning desire to take over Japan just made things more complicated.
Slim, blue-black fingers reached out to stroke his face. With a snarl, Inuyasha seized her wrist in a crushing grip. She cried out, falling to the ground at his feet and reverting to her water form. Later he would wonder how he did it, but at the time it happened like an extension of his will. His youki rose and wrapped around her like a skin, capturing her liquid form and absorbing what should have been an extremely powerful shock. It bothered him no more than static. There was a pained, shrieking sound, and then she was back in her human form.
“Third choice is I make you leave.” His voice had gone cold and deep in contrast to the heat he felt behind his eyes. “Submit, Ameonna. Serve in this army, follow my orders, or leave. Either whole or in pieces.” The camp around them was silent as a grave, as if the whole valley was holding its breath. Her eyes were wide and full of fear – the same fear he could smell coursing off of her sisters. The scent was raking against his control, demanding submission or death. The grey of her eyes wavered, and he saw emotion there. Obedience…and something else. Something that still had a passion to it, but was stronger and more solid than anything she had displayed before.
Her head lowered, as close to the ground as she could get with her wrist still shackled in his grip. “As you command, Captain-sama.” Her sisters bowed behind her, kneeling down in the shallow water. Inuyasha let go slowly, surprised that, for once, his temper and a half-baked idea had actually worked. “We will return to the tent to dress and arm ourselves. If it is your will, we will fight for you.”
“It is?” It came out as a question, which Inuyasha quickly covered with a clenched jaw and a nod. The females swept away, bowing repeatedly, and gradually noise returned to the camp.
“I guess I was wrong,” the lieutenant said dryly. He had reclaimed his place at Inuyasha’s elbow and the hanyou could feel the other male’s consideration. “Leave it to a dog to bring the strays to herd. Most impressive, Inuyasha-sama.”
“Keh.” Inuyasha huffed and turned on his heel, trying to regain some semblance of order over himself. At least he had one less thing to worry about. “You were sayin’ the dragons have crossed the straight?” The crane smoothly began his report from the beginning again, which the hanyou was thankful for. It took him a good ten minutes and several snapping comments at lazy soldiers before he felt he had his youki under control and his mind clear.
It was another ten before his traitorous body fell into line.
“After you eat, you will meet the training partner I have selected for you. She is a young hanyou, and not particularly powerful, so there is little risk that she might physically hurt you while I asses your abilities.”
“Honestly, Kimi-sama, wouldn’t it be better to have someone else? Sesshomaru or Hisao, maybe?” At the raised eyebrow on the Lady’s face, Kagome rushed out, “Not you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s just-”
“Just that you do not think I know what I am doing,” Kimi stated flatly. Kagome blushed and flinched. She understood she needed some weapons and hand-to-hand combat training, was even grateful that Kimi had taken it upon herself to personally teach her. And it had to be better than memorizing which crazy relative had tried to enchant his sword to drink blood or what dog had killed who in glorious battle. It was most certainly better than picking though fabrics and jewels and swiftly finding that her opinion was inconsequential to the planning of the engagement ceremony. It damn straight couldn’t hold a candle to Kimi’s amused and extremely graphic description of various joining customs. “If you fear you might purify the little servant, Miko, do not be concerned. We will begin with only physical exercises, not energy.” She smiled slightly, and her enjoyment was obvious in the playful pinch of youki around Kagome’s shoulders.
“Ah, okay then.” Kagome felt like she had been caught up in the wake of a shark. She was just a little fish, and couldn’t get out of the current, but at any moment the shark could lose interest in its goal and turn on her. She wondered if this was how her friends in the future felt when they met a guy’s mom.
On their walk, they had almost completely circled the castle, starting in formal gardens on one secluded side, then making their way through the open courtyard, and into a more natural setting that combined small, purposeful meadows with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Kagome’s feet were aching, unaccustomed to walking so long in geta, by the time they returned to the courtyard. She would have followed Kimi into the shiro to gratefully sit down were it not for a pulse of youki.
Sesshomaru. Without thought, Kagome pulled her hand from Kimi’s arm and turned toward the source. Soldiers and several servants were gathering near a narrow corridor set into a high wall. She sent out her reiki, questioning, and found the Western Lord on the other side. He was angry. Kagome sucked in a breath. Sesshomaru was in control, as he always was, his power spreading around him with the weight of his authority, but she could sense the icy-dark rage under the surface. Her feet moved forward of their own accord.
“Miko,” Kimi said sharply, but Kagome ignored her. As commanding a presence as the Lady was, Kagome was riveted on the cold burn of Sesshomaru against her power. She was nearly halfway across the courtyard, and becoming more and more concerned by the number of youkai streaming though the corridor towards whatever their Lord was doing that made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up, when Kimi appeared at her side. The breeze of her movement ruffled Kagome’s bangs, but it was the firm clawed grip on her upper arm that got her attention. “Miko,” she said again. Her eyes were dark and her mouth settled in a firm line. “This is not a place for you. You will come inside.”
“I will not.” Kagome watched Kimi’s eyes narrow. All morning she had followed the Lady and agreed politely and demurely because this was Sesshomaru’s mother. Because this was a powerful, noble, youkai that was looking after her best interests. Because she knew that Kimi, in her own domineering way, was being friendly. But, however much Kagome was changing, however much she was willing to change to fight for the future she wanted, she was still the same. Still Kagome. And she could be just as stubborn as any dog. “I am going to see what has Sesshomaru so riled up, and try to help him if I can.” Blue eyes narrowed and met gold glare for glare. “You are welcome to join me.” She didn’t wait for a response but started off again, even lifting her kimono off the ground so she could take longer strides.
Kimi was by her side again when she reached the corridor, and demons melted out of their way as they passed. Kagome did not have time to feel uncomfortable, or even to take note of the action, as complete shock washed over her when she stepped into open air again.
The corridor led to a yard enclosed by high stone walls on all sides. A ledge, some ten feet off of the ground, ran around the wall and a few demons had found purchase there to watch the interaction below. In the center of a grassy circle bordered by paving stones stood Sesshomaru. He wore his armor and only one sword; although she could not see it clearly from the distance, she could feel the distinct thrum of Bakusaiga. His face was absolutely blank, it was a companion to Hisao, who stood behind and to the side of his Lord. Where Sesshomaru was coldly neutral, Hisao’s features were set in unflinching duty. Kagome could feel the sharp ozone of Sesshomaru’s youki, almost taste the bitterness of his acid. Panic clawed at her belly, trying to climb up her throat. It was wrong, all so wrong, but she didn’t know how or why. She wanted to rush out to him, to grab hold of his arm and shield him with her power from whatever held his gaze. The demons around her were restless, unsure, their own youki spiking and ebbing unpredictably and irritating her reiki. The crowd had continued to grow, fanning out around the edges of the circle, but none actually stepping onto the grassy area.
“If you insist on attending, Miko,” Kimi said quietly, “This One refuses to have a less than optimal vantage.” Layers of silk and fur wrapped around Kagome’s waist and she felt the faint prick of claws against her ribs. Before she could blink she was standing on the narrow stone ledge beside the Western Lady. She could not help her shocked gasp – although it was not from the sudden movement.
Kneeling before Sesshomaru was Kento, stripped to the waist and chin bowed to his chest. The light layer of snow on the ground had soaked through his pants. His feet were bare and tense in a formal seiza. His fists rested on his thighs, and the tension in his shoulders was evident, even to human eyes. Long, dark hair was pulled into a simple leather thong at the base of his neck, revealing the blue stripes on his forehead.
“This One will not suffer a traitor in the West,” Sesshomaru stated in the monotone voice that was so familiar, but which Kagome had not heard in weeks. In that moment he was every inch the rigid Killing Perfection, the unfeeling daiyoukai, the powerful Saidai Mao.
“This is Ringu,” Kimi’s calm, quiet voice reached her easily. “Youkai accused of breaking the law – of breaking their loyalty to the West or diminishing the Lord’s honor – stand trial here. They confess or they fight.” Kimi’s face had lost any trace of amusement or flippancy. “There will be a death here.”
Kagome’s heart ached even as her head spun. That was Kento. Sesshomaru’s friend. Her friend. There was a traitor, they knew that; Sesshomaru had suspected and Ko confirmed. But it could not be Kento – she wouldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe it. Kagome reached out with a hand, her mouth opening. To say what, she had no idea, only knew that she couldn’t just stand by.
“No, Miko,” Kimi spoke directly in her ear, claws gently but firmly restraining Kagome’s hand. “That One must do this. It is the responsibility of the Western Lord.”
Her mouth snapped shut and she drew a painfully cold breath through her nose. A winter wind crested the wall and scorched the occupants of the courtyard with heart-stopping chill. Kagome’s eyelashes felt frozen with unshed water; the fine hairs in her nose stiffened and her forehead burned with from the drop in temperature. There had to be a mistake. Had to be. Her ribs felt too small and her lungs too big. Please, please, don’t let him do this. Don’t let him have to do this.
“You are accused, Kento of the House of the Falling Stars. Do you plead to This One, or would you require proof?” The wind lifted the ends of his silver hair, but Sesshomaru was unmoved. Kagome pressed a fist to her mouth, trying not to scream, trying not to cry out that there had been a mistake. Kento could not have played a part in her kidnapping. Could not have allied with the bastard that threatened Rin’s life. Could not have helped the enemy that had sent a plague upon them all.
“I am your most loyal vassal, my Lord. My life is yours.” Kento bowed further, and Kagome wanted to hit him – hit something – for his reticence. How can he just sit there? How can he take it? Defend yourself! She screamed at him in her mind. From the corner of her eye she caught sight of Aki, flushed and flustered and vibrating with terrified youki. The spider had not waited for the demons in the corridor to part and let her pass, but instead scaled the stone wall. On hands and knees she crab walked across the surface faster than Kagome could run and landed gracefully at the miko’s side, opposite the Western Lady. Pinned between the two females, the strength of their auras nearly overpowered her. Kagome reflexively pushed back with reiki and opened her mouth again, desperate to stop what she could not understand, did not want to understand, could not bear to watch.
It was Aki that stopped her the second time, with a dark hand over her mouth. “No, Kagome-sama,” her voice was shaking and her iridescent eyes shimmered with unshed tears and barely contained emotion.
“Control yourself, Miko.” Kimi’s command was harsh and low. Kagome’s eyes narrowed and she chafed against the demand. Why can no one else see that this is wrong? She seized Aki’s wrist with both her hands, but did not have enough strength to pull it away. She was desperate enough to call her power when Kimi pressed her lips directly against her ear. “Have you no faith in him?”
It stung to hear that, but Kagome listened. If she interfered, if she questioned Sesshomaru’s actions here, in front of so many of his subjects, it would be seen as an affront to his honor – as a disrespect. More than that, Kagome wanted to have faith in him. She wanted to believe that Sesshomaru would not injure – kill, her mind whispered, execute – his friend. She wanted to believe that Kento was loyal, that Sesshomaru – that she – had not misplaced their trust in him. A few of the demons standing below her looked up, and their mouths fell open to see the Miko no Mao pale and wide-eyed in the Ringu. None of the three males in the circle paid any attention, although it was doubtful that their inu ears did not hear her aborted cry.
“The enemy has three times used information against the West which should not have been his to know. Once information which This One entrusted to only two others. A second time, knowledge between only you and your Lord. A third time, that which is known only to This Sesshomaru has become known to the enemy. Do you deny this?” Kento remained silent, and Aki shook harder. Hisao’s quiet growl carried on the wind to every ear. “Northern mercenaries raided the Tengu Road, killing physicians and stealing medicine intended for Western villages. This One, Captain Hisao, and you live. All others who knew the route were slaughtered on their journey. Do you deny this?”
Kento said nothing. Kagome had not known about the massacre, but she knew there had to be another explanation. She took a deep breath, trying to will away petrifying doubt.
“Those villages that were first struck down by disease were those where trusted agents had been stationed by This One. You wrote the orders yourself, so no other would know. Do you deny this?”
Sesshomaru’s youki was growing heavier, pressing down almost visibly on Kento. Aki’s hand on Kagome’s arm gripped painfully, claws digging into flesh through thick layers of kimono. The secretary remained silent.
The voice of the daiyoukai dropped lower, deeper, rolling over the crowd like black tide that suffocated and seared. Kento’s fists slipped off of his thighs and slammed against the ground, barely holding him up. “This One has never named that which is most treasured in the West, and yet That One was targeted and taken before all others well known to the enemy.” It took a moment for Kagome to realize the meaning in his statement. Me. He means me. Her mouth fell open with shock. Kento was suspected of treason over what had happened to her. Sesshomaru’s gold gaze slid her way, meeting her eyes for a moment before returning to Kento. It was only then she felt the wetness blurring her vision and sliding down her cheeks, freezing and chapping the skin. “Do you deny this?”
Finally, finally, Kento lifted his head. He gasped for breath against the pressing weight of youki, “I cannot deny it, my Lord.”
A silent shift went through the crowd. As one being they seemed to lean back, pulling away from the inu that knelt in the circle. In that moment, with six words, Kento lost the West. Aki fell to her knees, dragging Kagome’s arm with her. Kimi was still holding her on the other side, so the spider only tugged her arm painfully, leaving burning trails of blood that blended into the dark red sleeve of her outer kimono. The injury faded into the background for Kagome, who felt her heart breaking. The pain was not for herself, but for Sesshomaru, who had so few that were close to him – and now there was one less. Still, hope struggled to burn in her. She cast her mind out, trying to find another solution, trying to see how this could be anything but what it seemed, trying to remember some detail, some fact that could change the future that was unwinding before her.
“The House of Falling Stars has long had the power of mind-speak, and you may take the thoughts of those related by blood. Do you deny this?”
“I would not, my Lord!” For the first time, Kento spoke with conviction, his voice strong. “I would not trespass in your mind without permission! I could not!”
“Jun.” The name flowed past Kagome’s lips without thought, barely above a whisper, but the keen demon ears around her heard. Kimi straightened, Aki stared. Kagome could feel the warm whisper of Sesshomaru’s youki winding around her. Memories flooded through her, unwanted and unbidden. Her stomach twisted with each one.
The day after she had arrived at the Western Palace, Jun had tried to convince her not to go to Sesshomaru when he did not answer her summons. It was Kento, leading her through the courtyard who explained how he had known she was trying to leave the infirmary, ‘the males in our family have alternate means of communication’.
She had visited the healer after the pox was cured. His questions had seemed professional, but she could hear his voice echoing in her ear, and see the bleeding stump and severed wing of the golden dragon in Ryustokokken’s castle, ‘how large an injury could you heal, Kagome-sama’ and ‘do you need to feel close to the patient, or could you do the same for a stranger, an enemy even’.
The look on his face when Gakuto had his claws around Paho’s throat, his quick advice, ‘obey their commands’ when she traded her freedom for the young bird’s. The way that Emi had screamed, howled, ever louder in Jun’s arms. The pup knew then what Kagome was realizing with painful horror. Jun was a liar.
Jun was the traitor.
“Does another speak for the accused?” Sesshomaru turned his gaze to her, and there was something in his eyes and the caress of his youki on her reiki that she recognized. He was asking for her to trust him; he was letting her know he trusted her.
“Kento is not the traitor,” she said. Her voice shook, and she fisted her hands in her sleeves to still her trembling. A cold sweat had broken out across her back, dripping down her spine and chilling her to the bone. Every eye in the courtyard turned to her. Kagome swallowed hard. If Sesshomaru listened, if she was right, Jun would be killed. If she did not speak up, Kento would die. An innocent man would die. The weight of the responsibility hung around her neck. Her muscles trembled under the strain of standing straight and holding her head up.
“Offer This One proof.”
“You must stand before him, Miko,” Kimi whispered in her ear even as she wrapped her arm around the human’s waist again. With a graceful leap, she carried Kagome into the circle, to stand in front of Sesshomaru, within arm’s reach of the daiyoukai. The Lady stepped back, beside Hisao, waiting.
Her heart was fluttering, her stomach twisting. Why, why did he do it? Why did he pretend to be my friend? Why would he- With a sharp inhale, Kagome knew. In vivid detail memories flew by and she knew how the West was betrayed. Why the West was betrayed. Her feet ached. A blister had formed from walking in the new geta and it rubbed painfully under her sock. Her palms were clammy, her mouth dry. She looked straight into Sesshomaru’s eyes.
“Jun is the traitor, Sesshomaru-sama.”
Gasps and cries of outrage rang through the crowd. Jun had treated so many during the pox, had been held hostage by the enemy and kept the two orphan youkai safe when the Miko no Mao was taken. Kento had all but admitted his guilt by refusing to defend his innocence. Kagome could hear those things; she was certain Sesshomaru heard them all.
“No,” Kento said adamantly. Kagome turned slightly to watch him. She felt a wellspring of pity for the demon, his mushroom colored skin pale in the cold, the three blue stripes on his forehead wrinkled in distaste and confusion. “No he could not. Jun-san is loyal to Sesshomaru-sama, to the West. He has supported the House of the Moon, he has championed all but-” Kento’s mouth snapped shut. His head lifted, and his eyes focused in on one figure in the sea of youkai that surrounded the circle. In the blink of an eye, Jun was left alone in a barren space of dirt and snow. The soldiers and servants around him drew back as though he had a barrier around him. “No, cousin,” Kento said quietly. “It was too much.”
“It was not enough,” Jun answered, a resigned frown on his face. With a roar, Hisao tore past Sesshomaru, leaving a frigid breeze and swirl of snow in his wake. Jun did nothing to fight the captain, not that he would have been able to match him. The movement was too fast for human eyes, but there was a crack and the slap of skin on skin. Jun’s body slid into the circle. He struggled to stand, but Hisao was there, claws on the back of the healer’s neck and digging into one shoulder. The captain forced him to kneel and face his Lord.
“You were the one who stole thoughts from someone else’s mind, Jun,” Kagome said quietly. With each word, her certainty grew, as did the clenching pain in her belly. “You entered your cousin’s mind – not Sesshomaru-sama, but Kento – and knew the route those physicians would take. You took the knowledge of the Western agent’s locations from Kento without him even realizing.”
“My stupidity is my own,” Kento snarled. “I should have realized that you were poking where you didn’t belong. I should have thrown you out of my mind the one time I found you in here without permission,” he tapped his head with a claw, hard enough to draw blood. He paid it no heed. “You claimed you hadn’t intended, promised it would not happened again. I trusted you cousin,” pain and rage saturated his voice. “Our Lord trusted you, and you dared to steal into the mind of the Saidai Mao?”
“No!” Jun’s outrage was difficult to hear, with the odd angle Hisao held his neck at, but the whites of his eyes showed it clearly. “I would not – you were right, could not! Sesshomaru-sama is too strong.” He turned his face with difficulty toward Kagome. The corners of his mouth turned down, not with disgust, but with something that resembled regret. “My Lord’s preference needs not be spoken. It was better to end it before he became ensnared.”
“Why?” Kagome had to ask, she could not fathom that. Even after admitting his treason, Jun was nothing but subservient and respectful to Sesshomaru.
“You love Sesshomaru as your Lord,” Kento said quietly, resigned, almost defeated. “You worship him, the West, almost as a religion. You could not bear to think that an enemy, one who denigrated the Saidai Mao and desired to take his place was allowed to live.”
“Yes, yes, you see!” Jun smiled, baring his fangs at his cousin in a strange plea for understanding. “The dragons must die, but Sesshomaru-sama refused to risk Western lives. For the West to be strong, for inu to be the dominate youkai, the North had to be destroyed.”
“So you helped to orchestrate this.” Disgust dripped from Kento’s words, and his mouth twisted as though the thought brought him physical pain. Kagome felt sick. Jun had pushed for a war – war where hundreds, perhaps thousands, would die. The balance between good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark was always keenly felt by the priestess. Jun had tipped the scales, his intentions were not even worthy – for he had only desired the supremacy of his own species, above all others. Reiki flooded under her skin, outraged at the perfidy Jun had committed against the West, against Sesshomaru.
Sesshomaru trained his senses on Kagome as she spoke. He had not intended for her to watch the Ringu; he had not expected her to understand the subterfuge he had planned to take place there. He could not deny, that her accusations of Jun were well placed. Better than if he had called the healer out himself, better than if Hisao had done so – which is what they had discussed. They both knew Jun was the guilty party, beyond almost any doubt. But it was also true that if the truth were not handled carefully, there would be those that would view Kento with suspicion. Sesshomaru’s trust was not misplaced in his secretary, and he would not allow it to be called into question.
So, he had accused the loyal inu himself. Had summoned all who lived at the shiro to watch the trial – and the audience included Jun. The youkai present would see the guilty party, would see Kento absolved of any involvement. They would trust him again, as Sesshomaru trusted him. And the traitor would be dealt with.
He had not intended to bring Kagome into the matter, but when she came to the same conclusion he had and spoke those thoughts aloud it pleased him. The miko was a treasure, a credit to the West and to him. His intended was powerful, beautiful, and intelligent. He would have preferred that she not witness the conclusion of the Ringu, did not want her to have to see a youkai she had called friend slain by his hand, but she was strong enough. The light scent of blood on her tugged at his instincts, announcing physical injury as well as the greater emotional turmoil he knew she felt. He would comfort her when it was done, he promised himself.
“So you helped to orchestrate this.” Kento smelled indignant, revolted, and furious, but it was nothing compared to the storm brewing in the daiyoukai.
The treason itself was despicable, but the reason behind it was like a bitter herb in Sesshomaru’s mouth. Jun did not see, even as he faced execution, that what he had done was wrong. He believed that in helping Ryustokokken and stirring Sesshomaru to war, he had set in motion the ultimate supremacy of the West. His disregard for the lives that would be lost was intolerable. Even if he, like so many other demons, cared nothing for the humans that had and would die when youkai took up arms against one another, even if he gave no thought to the wild youkai, the cranes of the East, and those who had been killed by pox, the inu that had already died and the vast numbers that would face death on the battlefield should have given him pause. A rage tore at the restraints of Sesshomaru’s will. Jun had willingly invited the enemy into his House. Jun had seen the calls for Rin’s capture and said nothing. Jun had aided in Kagome’s abduction.
A low growl rumbled through the courtyard, and Sesshomaru did not bother to conceal his fury.
“You alone have committed the crimes attributed to another, do you deny this?” As far as he was able, Jun shook his head in the negative, a sad smile on his mouth. “Treason is punishable by death.” Dokkasou dripped from his claws and his acid whip began to form and lengthen with a thought. This betrayal has brought nothing but death, one more will end it, he thought. Sesshomaru did not enjoy the action he had to take, but it was necessary. It was just.
It was her light touch on his sleeve, the fragrance of white flowers and fresh cut wood, as much as her soft voice that stopped him. He could taste the build up of her holy power. Sesshomaru clenched his fist rather than risk damaging her clothing with his acid, and turned his eyes to hers. She was not looking at him, but at the traitor. Where he had expected to see pity, had expected to have to explain to the gentle human that Jun had to be punished, that he was a risk to the West, he was surprised. Not pity, but disgust lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes. Sesshomaru considered her, all that he knew of her and how she had been changing, growing, maturing since the day they first met in his father’s tomb. He thought on all she was and would become.
“Personal injury to the Miko no Mao resulted from Jun’s actions,” he stated, loud enough for everyone in the courtyard to hear. Much more softly, so that only Kagome and Kimi could make out his words, he said, “Speak carefully, intended, your decision will be the will of the West.” Blue the color of a warm summer sky turned on his face then. He could smell the faint trace of sour niguari melon and angry pepper.
“I need a fang,” she said simply. He barely had time to blink in surprise before Kimi was at his miko’s side, a glistening white tooth, still smeared with pink blood at the root, in her outstretched hand. Kagome took it with shocked thanks and hesitated for only a moment before closing both her small hands over the deadly weapon. An inkling of what she intended caused his eyes to widen minutely as reiki glowed from her fingers. “You have brought injury to the West, Jun.” She had dropped the honorific, and her expression was stern when she looked again on the traitor. Sesshomaru took pride in her straight posture and steady voice. “Lives have been lost, innocent lives, because you thought you knew better than your lord.”
“I did not wish for your death, Kagome-sama,” Jun frowned. “But sacrifices needed to be made to strengthen the West. You are kind enough, well-meaning, but you bring weakness with you. Any who saw Sesshomaru with you would have known that-”
Sesshomaru couldn’t stop the snarl any more than he could stop from stepping closer to Kagome, pressing his front against her back and looming over her. He wanted to silence the traitor, at that moment, he would have ripped out his throat and enjoyed the sound of blood hitting the ground. Kagome did not make him weak. She made him whole. The savage truth in his thoughts was so perfect that he did not need to examine the instinct behind them.
“If you think Sesshomaru weak, you are more than a traitor, you are a fool,” she scoffed. The agreement in the crowd was audible. Her reiki, blooming between her hands, spread to engulf her body in a pink light. A warm, salty breeze teased along his skin and tantalized his nose. Her voice dropped to a near whisper, low enough that he doubted any outside the grassy circle could hear, “Alive, you are a fool. Dead, you would be a martyr.” Emotion flashed across Jun’s face and in his scent so quickly, any lesser youkai would have missed it. Sesshomaru did not. The brilliance of Kagome’s actions were clear to him. She would make an example of Jun, one that would not encourage any to follow in his footsteps. Death was too easy, too final for one such as him. “Can you pierce it?” She held her hand out to him, and carefully, so as not to accidentally slice her skin, Sesshomaru drilled one claw through the diamond-hard fang of his mother. Without her asking, he also pulled a hair from his own head and laid it across her palm.
As she spoke, she threaded the silvery strand and knotted the ends into a loop less than two feet around. “You have betrayed the West, betrayed all youkai, when you violated Sesshomaru’s trust. Death is too good for you, Jun, but your delusions are too strong to allow you to live freely.” Her reiki glowed brighter, creating a sphere around her that encompassed Sesshomaru. The light intensified between her hands, burning hotter and brighter as she walked forward. “You will be youkai no more – demon in nothing but years.”
Comprehension brought fear to Jun’s eyes and he struggled against his captor. With a fist to the healer’s temple, Hisao knocked him nearly unconscious. Kagome slipped the glowing necklace over Jun’s head and pressed her hot, pink hand to the fang where it fell against his breastbone. “Traitor,” she intoned. The sharp smell of ozone was strong, making several in the crowd gag, and the effect on Jun was instantaneous. He was yanked out of Hisao’s grasp into a kowtow at Kagome’s feet. His face tilted to the side, his cheek pressed against the snow. Half of the courtyard watched and whispered as the two lines on his forehead disappeared. His fangs shrank back into his mouth; silver eyes darkened to light brown and claws blunted into human nails. Sesshomaru was impressed. His miko had subjugated the inu and more than that, subjugated his youki so completely that it was dormant, not unlike a hanyou during their human time.
Her power is great, he thought, and well used. Sesshomaru settled his hand on her shoulder in praise. In his mind, it was not enough, but before he could add to the punishment, she spoke again. “For the rest of your days, you will serve in the East and you will do no harm. Any youkai or human that has need of you, you will aid them as best you can. This kotodama will obey the command of any of the House of the Crescent Moon, or those of the Sunset Shrine at Edo.” She did not slouch, but Sesshomaru could feel the weariness flooding her body. It had taken a great deal of power, worked with an exacting skill that he had not witnessed from the relatively untrained miko before.
Before her voice could give out, he squeezed her gently, pulling on her shoulder until she leaned into his chest. Her body fit snugly against his. Just below the edge of his armor, he could feel the beat of her heart in tempo with his own. “As This Sesshomaru commands, you are no longer of the House of the Falling Stars. Leave this place, Jun. The West rejects you.”
The traitor, struggling against the slowly loosening pull of the necklace, cried out in shock and shame. His pleas for mercy, for death, his excuses and explanations were not answered by the crowd. At Hisao’s direction, youkai surged forward and seized Jun, carrying him out of the courtyard to cast him away. Gradually, the crowd followed, with many deep bows before their Lord and his miko. With each passing minute he could feel Kagome growing heavier against him. He pushed his youki into her to keep her warm and awake until the last demon had departed.
Kento and Aki bowed and offered repeated thanks. “Go now,” Sesshomaru said calmly. “There is work to be done tomorrow.” He shared a look with his secretary – his friend, he reminded himself – and was strangely comforted by the understanding he found there. Kimi gave him a regal nod and a twitching smile before calling to the captain to escort her inside. Alone, Sesshomaru gave in to his need and wrapped both arms around Kagome, pressing his nose against her hair and breathing her in.
Powerful, beautiful, intelligent, just. The deepest, purest part of himself added, as he pressed his lips to her head and gathered his cloud to carry them inside, Mine.