Chapter 48: No Such Thing As Coincidence
Ryukostokken waited with obvious impatience for the witch to set down her implements. Two youkai were suspended over a work bench, their black feathers slowly molting and falling to the surface. Both were near death, but even in their weakened state, the mated pair tried to stretch their youki toward each other. Specially crafted manacles restrained their power, preventing them from lashing out or even finding comfort in each other as they each watched their partner die.
“My Lord,” the witch finally acknowledged him with a bow. She was human, he knew, but with so much dark power running through her veins time had not aged her. Her expression was smooth and cool, but her dark eyes glittered with malice. The dragon lord appreciated that.
“This One will see progress,” he demanded.
She nodded, and gestured to the simple, wide-mouthed clay vessel on the worktable. The blood that dripped from the vulture demons darkened the interior until it shined wetly in the lantern light, but it was the heat of their spirits that the witch drew his attention to. “It will not be long,” she said. Her power flared slightly, prickling against his own youki, and the shadow of her aura caused the draining energy to glow faintly. “Their bond is stronger even, in death, than I expected. This magic will be most powerful.”
“Or it will be your life,” he promised. She bowed again, understanding his threat, but Ryukostokken had few concerns. Wei recommended the witch highly, and his administrator knew the consequences if he promised results and then disappointed his prince.
“The one that ingests this will be ripe for manipulation. One word, one name and scent given to the victim and their heart and soul will be bound.”
The dragon lord left the witch with a smile on his face and a newfound sense of calm. His army was nearly ready, his first wave already moving into position. He had been forced to alter his plans, after the pox had failed, but he found himself eager to personally take the field. Natsou would have the bastard pup digging a grave soon enough – either for himself or the cowardly Western Lord. Ryukostokken sent a flicker of youki to summon Wei. The spy Arashi would need to be recalled. He had a gift to deliver to the miko, and the dragon looked forward to when they would next meet, across a field of inu corpses.
Kagome ran her fingers through Emi’s hair while she listened to Aina. The kitsune had softly suggested that she might offer knowledge regarding the development of the two pups, and Kagome had agreed. However, it had not been too long into the discussion that the miko realized there was more behind her words that a simple parent-teacher conference.
“Grooming, as you do now, Kagome-sama, is very soothing to inu pups. It comforts them and signals love and safety.”
“Only among inu?” Kagome asked, thinking of the boneless heap that Shippo became when she combed his hair.
“Most perceptive of you,” Aina praised. “Most youkai are tuned to the nuance of touch. Canine youkai particularly so. Kitsune, wolf, inu. Neko as well. It is with physical contact and youki manipulation that packmates mark one another and make emotional connections.”
“Youki?” Kagome asked. She thought of Sesshomaru’s reaction when she had ruffled his fur with her reiki. It had certainly sparked a reaction, and brought on physical contact.
“Yes. If you would observe, Kagome-sama,” she requested. Aina summoned Nankae from his solitary game of trying to jump over a substantial pile of cushions and the pup sat down close to her. She rumbled something soft, but higher pitched than the sounds the miko had heard Sesshomaru or Inuyasha make. The effect was subtle. Nankae’s eyes widened, then fell again and he leaned against Aina’s leg. Kagome sucked in a breath in awe as gentle tendrils of youki emanated from the kitsune and made a long, stroking motion from the boy’s forehead, down his neck and back. Nankae made a sound of contentment and snuggled into her side.
“That is the best bedtime story – ever,” Kagome said softly. She caught the sparkling green gaze of the kitsune. With a thought, she summoned her reiki. She was tired, after training with Sango and Kimi, so she only pulled forth a small amount. She was aware of her limits, and there was no way she would let Sesshomaru think he had been right to want to place her under supervision. Aina gasped faintly and Kagome had to ignore it as she manipulated her energy. It felt awkward, but she finally managed to create a similar stroking motion against Emi’s hair. The pup melted against her with an easy sigh. Kagome grinned at the kitsune’s startled expression, proud despite the beads of sweat dotting her brow.
“I did not realize such a thing was possible. Kagome-sama is a powerful miko, indeed.” Aina bowed and Kagome blushed.
“No, not really. It has taken forever for me to figure out things like this. And if I’m trying to do anything big, I’m still more likely to zap someone in the process. It is a good thing Sesshomaru doesn’t seem to mind, he even-” Kagome’s blush deepened and she snapped her mouth shut. Aina’s eyes were sparkling, her smile knowing. Continued application of her youki and another soft growl had both children nearly asleep. Their nap had been delayed, so it was not surprising when Nankae let out a snuffling snore.
“As most youkai know,” Aina continued slowly, “physical and youki contact are not restricted only between parents and young. Siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even close, unrelated pack mates may use this method. A parent may use youki to offer support to adult offspring. One mate may comfort or rouse the other.” Kagome’s face was hot, and she had to remind herself to fill her lungs evenly. A sly smile in the miko’s direction made it apparent that the kitsune was purposefully providing intimate information under the guise of a parenting lesson.
Embarrassment notwithstanding, Kagome was not one to ignore potential knowledge. “Um, how, exactly?”
“Bathing, grooming. Kitsune are likely to dress and bathe with their pack, but have little modesty for their form. Inu, I understand, do not disrobe in front of others except when sparring or performing physical labor – and then only with others of the same gender. For an inu were to allow another to see them unclothed, to initiate and accept such, is quite intimate. A signal of interest.” Well, thought Kagome, humans don’t generally strip down with someone unless they are interested either. “Touch is an even more intimate act. It marks both parties with scent, which is of the utmost importance to inu. Pack mates are marked by their alpha regularly, both to mark his territory, providing them security, and to let them know his concern and care for them. Acceptance of such between adults that are not related is the initiation of the courting period.”
That explains a lot. “And, uh, the youki?”
“Ah, yes.”Aina did not actually lean closer, but she gave Kagome that impression. As though she were with one of her future friends again and about to have a great, delicious secret imparted to her. “There are many ways…”
More than an hour later, after Kagome had woken the children and taken them back to the family quarters to meet up with Sango for supper, she was still reeling from information overload. Random flashes of heat in her cheeks were impossible to control. Kimi had tried to speak to her about similar issues, although the combination of her smirk, the enjoyment she took in Kagome’s discomfort, and the fact that she was Sesshomaru’s mother made it extremely difficult to listen. Aina, on the other hand, seemed closer in age to Kagome; although she knew the kitsune was probably several hundred years old. She was still embarrassed, but Kagome found it much easier to ask questions of the fox despite the graphic topics.
Sango raised her brows at Kagome’s expression when she arrived for supper, and the miko had to whisper a promise to speak with her later before she left the pups in the slayer’s care and sought out the older children. She found them with the rock brothers, huddled together in the cold, watching those arriving for the Council. Kimi’s lesson regarding the other youkai, and even the human lords, had pushed aside naps and math lessons after lunch. Kagome’s mind swirled with names and bullet points regarding power, lands, followers, and personalities.
The children were easily lured away from the dark balcony with promises of a meal, and quickly perked up with questions as they walked through the warm halls. “Will we get to meet them, Kagome?” She couldn’t help but smile at Shippo’s excitement. Just because she wasn’t enthusiastic about the welcoming ceremony didn’t mean that a child wouldn’t be. She supposed she might have been more interested if she was less worried about protocol and politics and could focus instead on meeting new and exciting people.
“You will get to see them,” she replied carefully. Kimi had mentioned that the older children would be present, but the miko couldn’t recall anything about them staying past the formal introductions. “I know you and Rin will be attending the ceremony tomorrow night, but I don’t think there will be much chance for you to talk with anyone.”
“Rin has been to one before,” the girl volunteered happily. “Rin had to sit quietly next to Hisao-san while Uesugi-sama and another youkai were introduced. The other youkai came to talk to Rin afterward, but Rin was very shy. Rin does not even remember that youkai’s name.”
“Uesugi…Uesugi…” Kagome wracked her brain for a description to go with the name. “That is the otter, right?” Kimi had smirked a great deal when she spoke about that daiyoukai. She was powerful, although not in the same category as Sesshomaru’s family, and controlled a significant port that allowed trade with China and Indonesia. Kimi had left the impression that it would not be wise to offend Uesugi, but that Sesshomaru had halted some agreement that could have brought Uesugi firmly under the control of the West.
“Yes, Kagome-sama!” Rin praised her, and Kagome felt a bit ridiculous that the child knew so much more about demons than she did. She really should study more. “But Kagome-sama must tell me why Sesshomaru-sama does not like Uesugi-sama as much as she likes him.” Kagome tripped, barely managing to right herself without pulling Rin to a stop. “Uesugi-sama is very pretty, and seems very nice. You will tell me if we should not like her, Kagome-sama?” Rin waited expectantly for an answer.
Surely she doesn’t mean…but Kimi was so smug…of course, he did say he had lived centuries…she couldn’t expect that there weren’t…any man – demon would have…How pretty was this otter, exactly? Kagome felt her eyes narrow, and had to force herself to think reasonably. Hormones, she reminded herself, hormones are making you crazier than usual. Try to act like an adult. “You must decide to like someone or not on your own impression of them, Rin-chan.” She couldn’t help but mutter, though, “I suppose that means I can’t dislike them straight-off either.”
The potential for meeting her daiyoukai’s ex-…whatever, if that was what Uesugi could be called, was pushed to the back of her mind while she ate with the children and Sango. Sango told a story to the younger children while she combed their hair and settled them down for bed. Kagome listened up to the point where the fisherman that rescued a turtle and was rewarded with a fantastic trip to the sea, but then excused herself to prepare futons and ensure that the rock brothers would be on guard near the children’s rooms. Aina returned to take Nankae to stay with Hisao. The pup had spent a couple of nights with the captain so far, to get them both accustomed to forming a new pack. Sesshomaru had assured her that Nankae would continue to take lessons and play with the others, even after Hisao was ready to formally adopt him, at least until Hisao took a new mate. Assuming that ever would happen. Once everyone was settled and the servants had removed the bowls and food, Kagome settled down with her friend and a pot of tea.
“So,” Sango began with a smile, “what had you so flustered earlier.”
“Oh,” Kagome waved her hands in embarrassment. “It turns out I was having a lesson in youkai mating…customs? I guess?”
“Do you…” Sango paused and bit her lip. “Excuse me if I presume, Kagome. You helped me so much on my wedding day. My own mother died so early, and I…I mean…” she blushed, but smiled happily, “…thank heavens you explained the basics, it made me a lot less nervous. And that Miroku!” She sputtered.
Kagome laughed, “I have no doubt that he did his best to convince you of all sorts of things.” She nudged her friend with her shoulder, “And was successful when you wanted him to be, right?” They both laughed.
“I just…I get the impression that these aren’t just your rooms?” Kagome nodded with a hesitant smile. “Are you okay with that? I mean, slayers aren’t exactly educated on youkai personal habits, but if you aren’t happy then-”
“Sango,” Kagome began, then stopped. Her heart was full to bursting with love for her friend. Sango was concerned for her, certainly, but even though Kagome’s situation was straining the morays for the era – would have been if Sesshomaru was human and completely destroyed those norms since he was a demon – the slayer still wanted to support her. “I…I love him.” The admission, aloud, relaxed her immensely. As if saying it allowed her to feel the emotion, fully. Kagome grinned. Her happiness was irrepressible. Maybe she should have told Sesshomaru first. It would have been better to tell him first, she thought. But she couldn’t feel bad about it. Kagome had already had her heart broken once, and that had been the love of childhood – immature and unformed. What she felt for Sesshomaru was deep and abiding. She was almost completely certain that he felt the same, even if he didn’t realize it, but if she was wrong the hurt would be so much worse. She needed her friend, needed support to prop up her courage. Kagome was determined to go after what she wanted, what she knew would make her happy. She just needed to bask in the emotion first and shore up her resolve.
“Oh, Kagome,” Sango enveloped her into a tight hug. “I knew it! I just knew it! I’ve never seen him so concerned as he was during our meeting.” And it speaks volumes about Sesshomaru, that speaking directly to someone with words that aren’t threats or insults translates as concern. Sango sat back and grinned at her friend, tears of happiness glittering in her eyes. “Leave it to you to melt Sesshomaru’s heart.”
“I don’t know that it’s love he feels – yet,” she hastily added. “Care, concern, yes. Respect. Lust – most definitely,” she winked through her blush. “I told you he is courting me, but I haven’t told him yet that I…”
“That’s fine,” Sango assured her. “Sometimes men, er, demons too I suppose, need to learn to speak honestly about themselves and ask what we feel. If we just told them everything, they wouldn’t learn.”
“You are the expert,” Kagome said. And that was true. If ever there was a man who needed to be kept in line, it was Miroku. The miko didn’t think Sesshomaru fit into the same category, he was in a class all his own for sure, but she recognized that they did need to work on communication more before committing to an eternity together. For both their sakes. “Enough about me,” Kagome changed the subject. “Let’s talk about you, and that baby.” She gave her best friend a stern glance, “And how quickly you are going to tell your husband so that he can share in this experience.” She continued softly, “Let him help you, Sango. Miroku is worthy of that.”
“I know. I just…” Sango sighed, “I just needed a little time to get used to the idea myself, first.”
“Completely understandable. But not too much longer, okay?” She stood and fetched a textbook, paper, and pencil from her desk before seating herself again more comfortably. “If you aren’t tired yet, let’s talk about your family health history.”
Kimi paused in the hallway, checking on the steady breathing of the pups. She had been busy for most of the day: gathering information, instructing the miko, making the final decisions for the welcoming ceremony. She felt justified in stealing a few moments to herself to refresh in her rooms and check on the pack before going to meet with Sesshomaru. Her senses were aware that the slayer was with the miko, she approved of the added protection until her son would be finished with his work for the day. Kimi could not help, out of long practice, but eavesdrop as she was about to move away.
“I just…I get the impression that these aren’t just your rooms?” Kimi recognized the slayers voice and stood still. She appreciated the human woman’s tactical insight. Appreciated the companionship and protection she offered Sesshomaru’s intended. She would not appreciate any attempts to shame the miko for actions that humans might find distasteful. “Are you okay with that? I mean, slayers aren’t exactly educated on youkai personal habits, but if you aren’t happy then-”
“Sango.” There was a long pause in which Kimi hoped that Kagome would not let her down. It was a ridiculous hope. The miko’s infatuation with her son, her passion for him, were obvious in her action and her scent. Still, Kimi wanted to know that the heart that had been sheltered so long by a distrusting daiyoukai would be cherished. She wanted to hear the girl say it with pride to her human friend. “I…I love him.”
Tension eased in the Lady. It is as it should be, she thought with satisfaction. She turned and left the humans to their conversation in private. Sesshomaru loved the woman as well, a mother knew those things about her child. Kimi doubted he knew himself, or had labeled the feeling as such. A soft snort as she passed the rock demons startled them, but she paid them no heed. Sesshomaru would have convinced himself that his declaration at the Ringu was enough. That showing the miko physical affection and declaring her to be his in front of his vassals was all that was necessary. Males could be patently obtuse. Of course a female recognized those signs if she had a healthy mind and a nose on her face, but it was still important to hear words. It was a sign of their civilized society, of a commitment that went beyond instinct and lust to inspire a union of mind and spirit as well. As Kimi approached her son’s study, she vowed that she would not let him flounder too much before she stepped in and made him see reason. It would be for his own good.
She slid the screens aside without requesting entry. Sesshomaru did not look up from his work, but his secretary quickly stood and bowed. “You may leave,” she waved Kento away. The secretary looked to Sesshomaru for guidance, and the briefest nod of her son’s chin had the dark-haired inu gathering his papers and excusing himself. Kimi pulled her barrier into being as soon as the shoji had closed. “Have you chosen a gift for the courting exchange?” Despite his control over his scent and youki, Kimi detected his irritation in the faint tightening of his jaw. She smiled, the pup was too fun to bait.
“This is why you come here. Triviality.” He continued reading the scroll in his hand, but Kimi knew she had his attention. She wondered how long it would take him to let his façade of disinterest break, or if he would freely join her conversation.
“Trivial? The tangible representation of the value you place on your intended? Is that what she is worth to you?” Laughter bubbled behind her words and Sesshomaru’s jaw clenched tighter. If Kimi had known what possibilities for getting under his skin lay in the little miko, she would have swept up the human and brought her to the West ages ago.
“Inuyasha delivered my bride gift during the new moon.”
Kimi raised a brow. She was not aware that Sesshomaru had already selected an item from the treasury, and she was curious as to what was given to a widowed shrine-owner for her oldest child and only daughter. She would not give him the satisfaction of asking, but there would be several servants that would soon find themselves tasked with an inventory of the House’s wealth. More interesting was that he had trusted his half-brother with the task, and that Inuyasha’s visit had not been considered ‘terribly inconvenient’ by the miko. And that Sesshomaru had not been able, for reasons she would discover, to deliver the gift and make his claim himself. “You will have to select another. It cannot be said that the House of the Moon did not adequately provide for a mate.” She smiled sweetly before he could deny her, “If you do not have time, I am sure I could locate something the miko would find pleasing.”
“That will not be necessary.” His voice was even, but he showed her the barest hint of fang. How she enjoyed making him give in to his emotions.
“I see that Uesugi was the first to arrive.” She changed topics without warning to keep him off balance. “Apparently she was not so dissuaded after her last visit.”
“I do not recall your presence at that time, mother. Which of my servants did you have whispering in your ear?”
“Not a whisper, but a fair roar, Sesshomaru,” she replied with a chuckle. “I understand it was quite a painful dance for you, to avoid that female’s advances and maintain a lucrative trading alliance. I would not have been surprised if you had simply killed her for the presumption. It is good to see you have learned to value politics over immediate satisfaction.”
“I value my privacy,” he responded tightly, “but that is rarely respected.”
Kimi ignored his obvious criticism of her. Interference was a mother’s prerogative. “I look forward to seeing how that will be respected in coming days. Do you think Uesugi will be discouraged by a pending mating? Or will she attempt to replace your female?”
“Kagome cannot be replaced.” His fury was short-lived, but potent. Kimi heard the distant clatter of a tray being dropped by a startled youkai as Sesshomaru’s power crashed through nearby rooms. Her own silver hair floated on the currents of youki. She maintained her teasing smirk and controlled scent, but it did not escape her notice that his power had grown since last she tested him. Sesshomaru was her equal in raw energy and would inevitably surpass her. It sent a twisted pang of pride and bittersweet longing through her heart.
“You are correct, of course.” Kimi conceded. “However, it will be amusing to see Uesugi discover that. Your intended does have a temper; I would advise you to make certain that she expresses it in moderation, lest you lose a valuable trading port.”
“You have no concern for her safety.” Sesshomaru stated, finally setting down his work.
“Uesugi’s?” Kimi purposefully misunderstood. “No, I doubt the miko would purify her, although she is clearly capable of such. Her training has proved that she is not particularly adept at combat. Perhaps with a few centuries of practice, a human such as her could make a formidable opponent for a daiyoukai, but her physical restrictions, dulled senses, and natural hesitation to harm others combine to severely limit her effectiveness.” Kimi nodded seriously, “The slayer has recommended more defensive weapons, for melee combat. I believe those will suffice for the time being. And the miko is remarkably accurate with ranged weapons, when motivated.”
“I care little for Uesugi’s safety in such an encounter, as you well know,” he said dryly. “However, your assistance in training Kagome is more welcome than I expected.”
“That sounded suspiciously like gratitude,” Kimi bared her teeth with a smile.
“Age often corrodes hearing,” Sesshomaru responded. Another joke. Not one in centuries, and then two in the space of a week, Kimi thought, quietly stunned. The miko is good for him. He abruptly cut to the heart of her visit, “Do you bring news from your informants?”
Kimi was slower than usual to reorder her thoughts, but finally responded, “I have let it be known that I desire information, but it will take time. I stressed the importance of keeping this matter quiet.”
“Hn.” They spoke briefly on other matters, particularly news of incursions and spies from the North, before Sesshomaru stood. He offered her his arm and they walked in silence to the family quarters. He came to a stop outside her rooms, within view of the rock brothers whom he dismissed with a nod. It was a moment after the screens had shut between them when she heard him move away. He did not have to say what he was thinking, his youki reached out briefly, squeezing her shoulders in an unmistakable ‘thank you’.
Sesshomaru paused in the anteroom to assess his pack. The young ones were all sleeping deeply, Nankae on his own futon in Shippo’s room and Emi curled up with Rin. He could still smell the faint trace of their excitement near the table. Happiness. The spiced meat and plain rice of their meal. The slayer had joined them, and sat near Kagome long afterward leaving her own scent and that of a subtle tea in her absence. His intended was sleeping as well, her breaths soft and even from their shared bed. Her scent was sweet and purely hers. He cocked his ear and was met with the quiet shifting of embers in the bath house. It brought a smile to his lips. He had told her how he preferred her scent unsullied by others – and so she had bathed again before laying down. He would offer her the same courtesy; and when he finally wrapped his arms around her, it would be only his scent that would coat her skin.
He walked through the snow-dusted garden to the bathhouse, so as not to disturb her rest. Sesshomaru washed quickly, and debated bothering with a sleeping robe. Although he knew he would enjoy her reaction should she wake to find him naked – a blush, undoubtedly, a kiss, likely, more, he would certainly prevail upon her for – he did not relish the knowledge that he would have to leave their bed earlier than she should wake. He had a great deal of work to do before the welcome ceremony and the long days of Council meetings ahead; there was not enough time to both properly enjoy his miko and allow her adequate rest. After the internal deliberation, a sleeping juban was pulled on and tied loosely.
She felt cool to the touch, more so than usual, when he slipped under the blanket, so he pulled her snugly against his chest and draped mokomoko across her. She mumbled in her sleep, bumping her head against his chin and releasing a cloud of drowsy scent that soothed as much as it aroused. One small hand burrowed into his fur, rubbing against the skin of his tails before resting there. The other found his hair and was quickly tangled in the silver locks. Sesshomaru did not mind. Her desire to hold him close, even while she was unconscious, started a low rumble of contentment in his chest. She shifted again, pressing her curves against him, and he buried his nose in her hair.
The daiyoukai woke the next morning in nearly the same position. The small differences made him bite back a growl. Kagome had turned in his embrace, twisting mokomoko and his hair with her. Her clenched fist was almost painful in its position at the base of his skull. Almost painful, but extremely arousing. Her nails scraped against his scalp with the slightest movement of his head, and the position had the unintended consequence of directing his face towards her exposed neck. If a youkai had held him so, it would have been a demand for intimacy. Kagome slept deeply, unknowing.
Mokomoko was pressed against her back, the ends of his tails tucked up against the lower curve of her firm bottom. His miko had also demonstrated her continuing incompetency in donning fashion of his era – not that he felt the need to correct her error. Her sleeping yukata had not been properly tied, and had parted to leave several inches of exposed skin from her neck past her waist. He would have been able to see all of her, if she had not also sought out his body heat in the night. One of her legs was thrust between his, smooth bare skin absorbing his warmth. The other had been thrown over his thigh, parting her legs and nearly welding her to his groin in her quest to get closer. He knew of only one way to give her what she desired, and was fully prepared to do so, when he heard the faint, tapping prickle of claws against rice paper. Sesshomaru nearly bit his tongue in frustration.
Shippo stood on the other side, and he might have sent a chiding flick of youki to send the kit back to bed if not for the bitter unease that layered the young one’s natural nutty-woodsy scent. He checked to make certain that Kagome was adequately covered and pulled his youki barrier tightly around her to conceal the scent of their mutual arousal. He chuffed, quietly, to bid the kit to enter.
“Sesshomaru-sama,” the young male whispered. His eyes fell on the mop of black hair that spilled out from under the covers, but he wisely did not approach. Instead he knelt in the doorway; his tails flicked nervously behind him. “Something is at the garden door. I think it is trying to get in.”
Immediately, Sesshomaru’s youki flared out looking for any threat to his pack. It startled the other pups awake, and made Kagome groan and stir, but he found what had worried Shippo. It was a small thing, and had been pressing against the rice paper screens, but at the brush of superior youki it lost the energy that had animated it. The daiyoukai recognized the signature and relaxed significantly.
“Go,” he rumbled, “soothe the others and sleep.” It was still dark out, although dawn was not far away. The kit smiled with relief and nodded, sliding the screens closed again. Sesshomaru tucked his nose back into Kagome’s hair and took in a deep lungful of her scent. His intended still smelled of arousal. His cock ached. Three pups were awake one room away and an urgent message awaited his miko. Never enough time.
“Sesshomaru?” she questioned. Her voice was thick with sleep and need and she shifted against him again; the friction of his juban caught between her soft heat and his hard length made him clench his jaw.
“We must wake, Kagome,” he managed gruffly. She seemed determined to ignore his command and burrow deeper against him. Her yukata parted wider with her movements and the slide of soft breast and tight nipple against his torso nearly made him forget why he could not remain with her – at least long enough to taste her again. He sent a short pulse of youki into mokomoko and at his will it tightened and twisted, effectively pinching her bottom.
“Oh,” she pulled back sharply, blinking her eyes wide open. Her hand was still entangled in his hair so the motion brought his head with her. He pressed his lips closed, but she still made a sound of discomfort when his mouth connected forcefully with her forehead. “Ouch! Sesshomaru,” she complained quietly.
Amusement warred with frustrated desire. “It is you who have injured This One, my miko,” he said dryly. She pulled away again, more carefully, and eyed him while tenderly rubbing her head. Once she realized what she had done to his hair, again, she blushed.
“Sorry, I’m sorry.” She pressed forward to work on the knots and the accompanying slide of her skin on his made her eyes widen. She emitted an adorable squeaking sound that Sesshomaru felt in an answering twitch of his flesh. He allowed her to vacillate for a few minutes, alternately rubbing herself against him and futilely tugging at his scalp. Finally, he let out a sigh that evolved into a short chuckle.
Beautiful, desirable, yes. Graceful my miko is not. “Hold still,” he murmured against her skin. With a deft move he rolled her onto her back and lay heavily on top of her, his pelvis locked securely between her legs. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted to allow a pink tongue to dart out wetly. Sesshomaru assured himself, that if ever there was a testament to his perfect control, Kagome was it. He reached up and found the loose ends of his hair, tugging gently and freeing her hand. Then he smoothed her bangs back from her forehead. Finding the beginnings of a bruise where she had smacked against him, he ran his tongue across her skin. He only rocked himself against her once. Near perfect control. “Come, miko,” he commanded her lowly. The scent of cinnamon fairly burned between them.
She hesitated, and he allowed himself a wicked grin. Her frustrated desire, knowing that he could make her long for him for the rest of the day, almost made up for the uneased throb he endured. “There is a message from your friend Ko.”
When he was finally getting dressed, admiring the smooth skin of his intended as she stepped into her own clothing, it occurred to him that his father may have had good reason to begin wearing his hair bound after he met Izayoi. Human females were extremely enamored of his hair.
Kagome pulled on loose pants and a short training kimono with jerky movements. She was a little embarrassed, yes. She had practically pinned Sesshomaru down while they slept, and although she knew he could have woken her if he was irritated by her grasp on his hair, she still felt badly about it. Then there was…everything else. She wasn’t sure if she was more upset that Sesshomaru had to have known how badly she wanted him – she had come dangerously close to jumping his bones and she hadn’t even been awake – or upset that he hadn’t let her follow through. Even after washing her face and running a wet cloth across the rest of her skin, she still felt unsatisfied and damply hot between her legs.
It was fortunate she didn’t have time to dwell on it; a message from Ko, he had said. Although Sesshomaru had more layers to don, he finished at nearly the same time as her and directed her to the screens in the anteroom. A cold gust of wind, perfectly natural winter wind, blew in when she slid open the shoji. The lanterns guttered and she shivered, but her attention was focused on a strange blue leaf that skittered across the floor. The moment she touched it, she sensed the faded trace of Ko’s youki. Some sort of chalky paint, rich blue and thick, coated the surface.
…remember this…blue for danger to your allies…
Kagome sat down heavily on the mat. Inuyasha. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she recognized that Sesshomaru had closed the screens and knelt beside her. Her thoughts had immediately gone to her hanyou friend and his bold plan to infiltrate the Northern forces. He was at risk every minute, she knew, and it was a familiar state for Inuyasha. But having it confirmed by someone so close to the enemy was terrifying. Ko. There were others though, not just Inuyasha, but Ko too was her ally. She was in constant danger, and her decision to help Kagome had increased that ten-fold. Kagome felt as though plaster had been poured down her throat. Her chest felt tight and hard, as though something was pressing on it from the inside out. Ko had put herself in a terrible position to help Kagome. Her stomach churned, but nothing could get past the swollen weight in her chest. Most of the youkai they had allied with during the quest for the Shikon had followed Inuyasha north or were gathering information for Sesshomaru. The faces of everyone who had ever helped her – who were helping her, helping Sesshomaru because of her – flew through her mind and each one darkened her vision further until she could barely see the room around her through the black tunnel of fear. Kouga. Miroku. Kaede. Genji. Sango. Shiori. So many others.
She couldn’t breathe. How had she done this? Why? Again, she had attracted the hatred of a powerful enemy, and again her friends would suffer for it. She felt the dry heat of Ryukostokken’s words on her neck, as though she were still a prisoner in the North. She heard the broken sound Ko made as the dragon defiled her.
“Kagome.” Sesshomaru sounded far away. She wanted to go to him, hold him, let him keep anything bad from ever touching her again. But there were so many others, so many who depended on her, who had faith in her. And she was afraid. For them. And for myself.
Suddenly, her vision was filled with white. The silvery hair of a daiyoukai washed away the tunnel darkening her sight. His pale face commanded her attention. “My miko,” he said softly. She focused on his golden eyes, on the warmth of his palms against her cheeks. Kagome became aware of wetness sliding between their skin and she darted out her tongue to taste salt on her lips. “Breathe.” Youki flooded her, familiar and strong. She sucked in air, almost coughing on the oxygen that her lungs had been craving. A gasping sob escaped her and she felt a wave of shame. She couldn’t break down, she couldn’t let fear overcome her. This was her duty, this was what was right. Her friends were counting on her, all youkai were. Sesshomaru was counting on her. The helpless feeling, from when the dragon had her chained and she could not summon her power came back. Kagome shook with terror and anger. She could not let him win, but she did not know if she was strong enough to fight. Reiki bloomed around her, so strong it was visible making the walls glow with pink light.
Sesshomaru tipped his forehead against hers and growled. It was not a sound of anger or frustration, but one of comfort and gentle reprimand. Mokomoko wrapped around her and squeezed. She took a deep, shaky breath.
“Sesshomaru,” she said softly. “It-it means danger. Our allies-”
“We will deal with it. Together.” His thumbs, calloused from his swords, caressed her cheeks. His breath was warm and moist on her mouth. His power surrounded her, circling, containing, and soothing her reiki. “I have you.” It took a few more minutes, but Kagome was finally able to control herself. Sesshomaru pressed a kiss to her lips and she laughed, rueful and a little ashamed.
“Sorry. I just- sorry.”
“There is no need to apologize.” He kissed her again lightly. “Eat. Hold your pups. We will discuss this in my study.” He hesitated, and Kagome leaned back slightly to look into his eyes. He seemed conflicted. “I will stay.”
“No, no. You have work, I’m fine.” She could see he wasn’t reassured, but it was true. She was still scared. Still angry. There was still a pit of emotions and issues that she would have to delve into at some point and deal with, but she felt better, more manageable. Sesshomaru had helped her do that – regain equilibrium. “Really,” she smiled at him. His hands slid from her face to her neck, over her shoulders and down her arms to lightly grip her waist. He was putting his scent on her, she knew, but there was also a sense of self-reassurance in the act. He wanted to know she was whole and safe. Her heart stirred at the thought. “Sesshomaru.” She leaned forward and kissed his jaw, running her nose under his chin and licking him lightly. The brief lesson with Aina had paid off. When she sat back, the tension had eased in his face. “This is awful and scary and I might cry again later, but right now, I am fine. Thank you.” She squeezed his hands where they cupped the top of her hips. “I will see you after breakfast.”
He kissed her once more before taking the blue leaf from her and exiting quietly. Mokomoko stayed behind, warm, comforting, and smelling of cloves.
“Mama?” Shippo’s head poked out of the doors to Rin’s room, his eyes wide. “I felt…are you and Sesshomaru okay?”
Guilt prodded her sharply, of course the young demons had sensed the power that accompanied her little breakdown. She smiled again, “We’re fine, Shippo. I just got a little emotional.”
A strange expression crossed her kit’s face, and then it smoothed into acceptance. “Right, okay. Will breakfast be here soon?” There was a respectful knock and a servant entered with tea at that moment. Kagome wasn’t sure how they always seemed to be ready with whatever she needed, but she was grateful. “I’ll get the others,” Shippo offered and ducked out of sight.
Kagome did not want to fight evil. Not again. She didn’t want to go through the danger and the tears. The blood. The sorrow. She straightened her shoulders and wiped her face on the edge of her sleeve. But she would. For all those who depended on her. Because they deserved to live without fear. Because Ryukostokken deserved to die. She would do this, and with Sesshomaru, she would not fail.
Sesshomaru immediately set himself to work when he arrived in his main study, but found his concentration repeatedly interrupted by concern for his miko’s state. If Kento noticed that the daiyoukai would pause briefly every few minutes and his youki would expand, he was wise enough not to comment on it. She arrived only a few steps ahead of Hisao, and his captain waited for her to enter and closed the screens behind them both. She met his gaze, and he was relieved to see a slight smile on her lips. It was not until she had taken her seat next to him and her sweet scent drifted over him that the last thorn of unease was removed. Kagome would need to release the emotions that still pained her from her experience, but for the time being, she was safe, calm, and pleased to be near him. Her fingers drifted lightly down his sleeve and across the back of his hand where it rested on his desk, ostensibly to steady herself as she leaned forward to pour his tea. The touch was unexpected, and welcome.
“The miko’s Northern ally,” Sesshomaru withdrew the blue leaf from his sleeve and placed it on his desk, “sent warning.”
“Does Ryukostokken move against us? Is his army mobilized? What of the negotiations?” Hisao’s rapid questions were nothing less than Sesshomaru expected from the captain, eager to take up arms and end the veiled attacks that had foreshadowed war.
“I cannot say,” Kagome admitted. She frowned and turned a pleading expression first to Hisao, then Kento. “I am sorry I don’t know more, but we didn’t have much time to come up with a code, so it-”
“Most would not have managed as much, under such circumstances,” Kento assured her. His glare toward his friend was black.
“Oh, no,” Hisao said at nearly the same time, “I spoke to soon. I meant only to ask if anything more had been learned, from other sources…” The captain shifted uncomfortably, more from his own desire to not hurt the miko’s feelings than any reaction on Sesshomaru’s part. “…past that our allies are in danger, I mean…not that that isn’t-”
“Enough.” Sesshomaru enjoyed seeing his captain attempt to apologize to Kagome, but there were more important matters to discuss. “The slayer will go to Inuyasha with this news.” His intended stiffened beside him, and her scent became faintly concerned, but she contained any other reaction. He did not want her to worry unnecessarily, so he found himself uncharacteristically explaining himself. “If a soldier of the West were to be seen with the hanyou, it would betray an alliance with This One.”
“I get it,” Kagome smiled softly, although she still smell of sour melon. “That would ruin Inuyasha’s chances for success, and put him in even more danger.”
Sesshomaru could not think of any words to reassure her, so he relied on familiar ground. “The slayer is a formidable opponent. For a human,” he amended. It was true. The daiyoukai had been impressed with her skill and tenacity on more than one occasion. Of course, it would be nothing to him, if they were ever opponents, but she would be a challenging adversary for most of the strong youkai in the West. Kento nodded in acceptance, Hisao seemed to consider his lord’s assessment as though he was determining the best use for the slayer on the battlefield. Kagome chuckled.
“I’ll tell her you said that,” she said with humor. Sesshomaru, as was frequently the case, could not have said what amused her. Still, her happiness covered any lingering worry in her scent.
“Shall I prepare the message, my lord,” Kento asked. Sesshomaru nodded and his secretary sat down to work immediately, although he still listened to the conversation.
Hisao started right into his daily report, clearly eager to move past his earlier blunder. “The third company is in peak condition, and eager for battle. I have repositioned them, here,” he pointed to the map of Japan that hung on Sesshomaru’s wall. “As you commanded, they have all been issued heliotrope oil – although they have complained of the smell. Second company has already reported back that they are in position,” he gestured again to the map, “and are awaiting further instructions. Field preparations have begun.” Hisao detailed the groundwork that would prepare the place of Sesshomaru’s choosing for battle with the dragons.
As the captain wound down, Kagome spoke up, “Is that a village, there?” She pointed to the map and the tiny pink freesia painted near the selected site.
“Yes,” Hisao answered, without even looking at Sesshomaru. He should have confirmed with the daiyoukai before responding, as she had no authority – yet. Sesshomaru was pleased with the misstep, it spoke to how well his closest advisors had accepted her place at his side.
“Have they been evacuated?”
Her question made Hisao pause, and Sesshomaru hesitated as well. He knew her concern, without her speaking of it. His miko would worry for the safety of those that lived in the village. That they were human might also cause her to think their heritage played a part in his decision.
“No,” he answered calmly, watching her to gauge her reaction. “They will not be.”
Hisao elaborated in an attempt to forestall any anger on the miko’s part. “It might cause interest to be taken in this area. We cannot allow any word to reach Ryukostokken that the West has its attention here.”
“It might put them in greater danger,” Kagome said slowly. Sesshomaru nodded, proud that she understood. “Then send humans.”
“What?” Hisao blinked and leaned back. Sesshomaru controlled his own reaction better, and recovered quicker. Youkai in any numbers would cause eyes to watch and tongues to whisper. And it would take numbers to evacuate the entire village. However, what Kagome suggested might be possible – although not in the way she intended. Humans would be better received by the villagers, and less noticeable to Northern spies. However, if a hundred or more people were suddenly absent, local youkai would notice, and word would reach Ryukostokken. Perhaps it would not be necessary for them to leave. Perhaps there was another way.
“Hanawa,” he stated, still turning the problem over in his mind for potential flaws.
“What?” Kagome’s confusion was evident on her face and in her scent. Kento looked up from his ink with a frown and Hisao wisely snapped his mouth shut and waited for further information.
“Monks are trained there.”
“Uh, yeah,” his miko was staring at him, but Sesshomaru ignored it. His keen mind could find no challenges that would prevent his new course of action. “They asked me to stay there,” she continued slowly, “after the Shikon…but how did you-”
“This One is aware of many things, Miko,” he repressed a smirk, enjoying her huff of irritation for a brief moment. “The shrine is well established.” He directed his gaze to Kento, who understood he was seeking information and rose to pull several scrolls from the shelves behind him.
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Kagome answered. “I mean they offered to build me a hut for my stay – so…” Sesshomaru absorbed that information while he waited for Kento. He knew that several shrines had coveted the Shikon priestess and sent invitations and even gifts to Edo to attempt to entice her to visit. It would have been a coup for any temple to have her in residence. However, he had not realized any had gone to such lengths. The expense alone of constructing stand-alone rooms was beyond most holy places, in addition to how it might upset the balance of the temple.
“My lord,” Kento held open a scroll and ran his claw down a row of figures. “Hanawa has significant wealth, but it has declined in recent years, since the death of their patron.” The secretary named several figures and items that had been given in worship. The monks there would be appropriate for his plan, so long as they did not draw any incorrect conclusions regarding his miko.
“Prepare coin,” he directed Kento, then turned his attention to Kagome. “You have had a vision,” he instructed her.
“I, I have?” Her mouth fell open and Sesshomaru smoothly split his focus. One part to the arrangement of all creatures within his domain to better serve the desires of the West. One part to how Kagome and her full, pink lower lip might be arranged to serve his desires.
“Indeed.” Swiftly, carefully so as not to prick her with his claws, he lifted her chin to close her mouth. He was fully capable of dealing with the distraction, but it would be better to avoid the impetus to leave the ruling of the West for another day so that he might enjoy his intended. “They must build a temple at Inawashiro. You will send funds to be certain it is done as you foresaw.” He paused again, his fingers still holding her chin, and spoke to Kento, “Such construction would require many humans.”
“Of course, my lord.” Kento answered the question in his statement and his understanding of Sesshomaru’s intent was obvious as he continued, “For one of Kagome-sama’s reputation, the monks will oversee the work, and personally conduct much of it themselves. It will take several months.”
“You want me to lie to them,” Kagome said quietly. Her blue eyes turned on him, and Sesshomaru could not be certain how she was feeling. Her face was smooth and cool, her scent a blend of worry, sadness, and trust. “If I lie, they will be there when the battle comes. The monks will protect that village with their lives.” Sesshomaru carefully considered his response. He understood Kagome’s reluctance, understood that she could not abide the thought that her actions might harm – even kill – another. It was part of her nature that he found attractive; she fought resolutely for any that she felt were unable to defend themselves. She would have wanted to save the human village even if it were not in the West; but as it was under his control, he was content that she would strive to protect those lives. As the Lady of the West should do. But it was also his responsibility, and that of his future mate as well, to understand sacrifice. War was dangerous, even more so for the weak, and he avoided it when possible. But when inevitable, as it was against the North, there would be compromises, sacrifices, decisions that put others at risk in order to ensure that the whole survived. It was a delicate balance. He searched her gaze to find a solution.
“Is that not what human monks do?” Hisao asked, trying to comfort her in his own way.
“It is just a precaution, Kagome-sama,” Kento said softly. “It is unlikely the fighting will spill over into the village.”
“If you are unwilling,” Sesshomaru began quietly, “perhaps the slayer will know-”
“Inawashiro?” Her voice was quiet, but steady. He nodded. “Are you sure?” Fear and trust were warring in her scent, nearly covering the delicate magnolia. The skin at the corners of her eyes was pinched and wrinkled.
She closed her eyes and let out a shaky breath. “Inari,” she said quietly, after a long uncomfortable pause. “In my vision, a monk planted a seed and a shrine grew at the edge of the village. Night fell, and white foxes appeared, barking to wake the villagers and leading them to the shrine. For one night and one day a battle raged outside the walls. Every hut was burned to the ground, but those in the shrine with the monks survived unharmed. When dawn came the next day, the monks opened the gates, and Inari stood in the center of the ash, surrounded by sacks of rice and coin. Their lives and prosperity were her thanks for worship at her shrine.” She opened her eyes, calmer, but still pained. “Can you write that for me, Kento? My calligraphy isn’t as nice as yours. And make certain the grain and money is set aside – for after the battle.”
“Ye-Yes, Kagome-sama,” Kento bowed shortly. Sesshomaru was, initially, just as stunned and curious as his vassals, but he repressed it.
“It shall be so,” he commanded. Hisao returned to his duties with the soldiers. After Kagome softly requested it, Kento divided the work he would have split between Sesshomaru’s desk and his own to include a portion for the miko. The three worked for several hours, interrupted only occasionally by servants bringing fresh tea or soldiers delivering reports. Although he found her presence easy to tolerate, even enjoy, and the swift efficiency that she applied to his work gratifying, the daiyoukai could not completely remove thoughts of her resolve and certainty from his mind. It was not until he was escorting her to a private lunch with the children, far from prying ears, that she explained herself.
“We went there once – my family.” He had placed her hand on his sleeve while they walked, and her fingers tightened on his arm. Her eyes stayed firmly on the ground in front of her while she stepped carefully to prevent her own clumsy nature from taking control. “They have onsen there, and boat tours of the lake. Mama’s cousin invited us to holiday at his country house. There is a shrine.” She took a deep breath, and if he had been human her fingers would have left bruises. “There are statues of Inari’s foxes at the gate house. It is the oldest structure in the village – which burned down in the Battle of Suriagehara. Date Masamune and Shimazu…something…there were others too, but I can’t remember their names.” A choked, broken laugh burst from her lips, “I don’t even remember who won. I wasn’t paying attention to that part of the tour, I was so interested in the statutes.” She stumbled, despite her care, and he caught her in his arms and pulled her close to his chest. The sadness had returned to her scent with an almost vicious scent of despair. Sesshomaru rumbled low in his chest, desiring to comfort her even as he wanted her to finish her telling. “The tourist information claimed it was as old as ours, the Higurashi Sunset Shrine.” He cupped the base of her skull in his hand and tipped back her head, forcing her to meet his gaze.
Her words came quicker, almost desperate, “Do you see, Sesshomaru? We only just started building the shrine at Edo – Kaede, Inuyasha, Miroku, Sango and I. We put the gate at the base of the hill to the well – right where it is in my time. If Inawashiro is as old, it must be built now. And the battle will happen right after it is completed.” He did understand, better than she could see. He understood the fear and responsibility that she was taking on. The fear of responsibility. He had lived for centuries with the knowledge that the future of the West was his alone to shape – all those lives his to allow to prosper or fade. He had been young when his father was killed and the title of Lord fell to him, but he had prepared his entire life for it. His intended, Kagome, so painfully young by youkai standards, was being tasked by fate with a greater burden and she had only a few years of experiences to ready her.
“It is our battle,” she whispered. Sesshomaru pulled her into an empty storage closet and threw up his barrier. Her reiki was becoming erratic, the scent of tears not yet shed threatened to overwhelm his nose. “Inari…the statue I saw years ago – centuries from now…Mama said it looked just like me.” Sesshomaru brushed his nose against her forehead, then his lips against her cheek. It was fine. As it should be. His miko was making her own history, bending time to her will. He would soothe her fears, ease her burden.
“Hush, Kagome,” he rumbled. He pressed his mouth to hers, but her agitation did not lessen. His instincts were on alert, his nature compelling him to comfort her. To remove anything that distressed her.
“You don’t – it isn’t,” as soon as her lips were free she was searching for an explanation. “How can that be? How can it be me, if I hadn’t yet decided? If it was you who thought to build the shrine? If it isn’t my choice, then what is?” She pressed her cool hands against his cheeks, her thumbs brushing over his markings. “If the future is already determined, how can I save you?”
Her teeth sank into her lower lip, he knew it was her effort to hold back tears. Still the scent of camphor surrounded him. She worried, she feared, for him. His soft, delicate little miko. She had not given a second thought to an obligation too large to be forced upon anyone, much less a human barely into adulthood. But she was consumed with concern for him, Sesshomaru. He was first in her thoughts, and it both humbled and elevated him.
“Perhaps you do not need to, Kagome.” He brushed his thumb along her lip, and her jaw relaxed in response. A drop of red welled where she had broken the skin. The scent of it mixed with the salty wet of tears as they fell. “Because you already have.”