Chapter 49: Chemoreception, Consanguinity, and Affinity
Inuyasha sucked in air and held it in his lungs. The weather had changed for the worse, and it tasted like dry lightning in his mouth. The hairs in his nose were frozen and stuck together, making him want to sneeze. He breathed out, and the resulting cloud fogged his vision for a moment before the moisture crystalized and fell. The valley was deathly silent in the hour after midnight, and his sensitive ears could make out the minuscule ping as each tiny bead of ice hit the rock under his feet. He should have been sleeping under one of the furs or blankets that was provided to the soldiers. He could have been curled up in a tree, out of the damnable wind that cut against the thin skin of his ears like Tokijin – as though it enjoyed his pain. He should have at least walked through the camp, making an attempt at patrol and keeping the blood pumping in his bare feet.
Instead he was standing on a cliff overlooking the valley. The position caught the worst of the wind from two different directions: the first as it blew out of the north, the second as it whipped around the Eel Valley and blasted back at him again. The only flat ledge available was barren and smooth, would have been slippery if not for the thick grit of dirt and snow that piled in the corners and scoured at the surface. It did offer one advantage though. Inuyasha crouched, pulling his head down and tucking his hair into the collar of the fire rat to provide a little warmth and keep it from getting too tangled. He had a perfect view of the enemy encampment. It wasn’t that he didn’t have other eyes on the dragons. He did. It wasn’t that he expected them to attack. He didn’t.
The weather made sure of that. Dragons were from the North, but that didn’t mean they liked the cold. Their blood was thinner and needed something else to warm it, sunshine or fire or the pulse of active youki. They could live through it fine – they were youkai – but they got damn uncomfortable fast. More so than cranes that huddled together and shared body heat. More so than bears that ate a couple extra hundred pounds of meat to provide insulation. More than furry kitsune with their foxfire, or elementals that thrived on changes in weather. Maybe not as fast as inu hanyou that didn’t have fur and couldn’t manage to drum up warming youki when they actually needed it.
Inuyasha couldn’t complain though – wouldn’t in front of his soldiers. He had asked for cold. He got it. Even now, he knew, two of the four youkai he had tasked with the effort were toiling on the opposite ridge. A mixed-blood hanyou that could manipulate the wind worked with a serow that breathed out cold youki. Even with their carefully constructed campfires and bedrolls, not one dragon would sleep well and they would all be on edge in the morning. Inuyasha’s camp, however, had prepared for this. They were warm and comfortable – those who weren’t on duty. Or like him, irritated by an itch on the back of his neck that he couldn’t scratch. Like eyes on me, he thought sourly.
He studied the camp again, and, just when he was about to curse himself a paranoid fool, he saw it. A shadow, barely noticeable with the cloud cover, drifted over the wall of the ravine. Sometimes it almost seemed to disappear, then it would move sideways or up, but never down. After nearly ten minutes of squinting, Inuyasha was rewarded with a figure straightening and illuminated by a brief sliver of moonshine. That slick-tongued bastard. The half-breed dragon held his position for a moment longer than was necessary and it set Inuyasha’s teeth on edge. Then he changed. There was no explosion of power. No awesome swirl of youki. After a sizable grey dragon had taken flight, Inuyasha caught the scent of his energy on the wind. It had a metallic iron odor and tasted of sulfur with hints of mica that was flaky on his tongue. His eyes narrowed and he murmured to himself, “Where are you going, you sneaky little liar…”
Sesshomaru did not glance back at Kagome as he left his study and entered the reception hall, but he verified that her cushion was placed much closer to his than it would have normally been. His guests might think it unseemly, even after her status was announced, that he chose to position her on the dais with him, at his side, as his equal. They could think what they liked, as long as they didn’t act in opposition. Sesshomaru dismissed their objections from his mind, my actions are my own. Kagome was his equal, in power and honor. His only equal. She would be his mate, and rule by his side. That she should have the gathered daiyoukai, powerful demons, and human lords presented to her as that status dictated was right. And he did consider this their presentation to her. Not the other way around, whatever his guests might have assumed. They would be wrong, and would discover that soon enough.
He also admitted to himself that he wanted his miko close enough to touch, if need arose. He wanted to be able to protect her, if necessary. To comfort her. Perhaps even simply to feel the cool texture of her skin or the warm breeze of her reiki, if he chose. Not all would accept his inclination. It would be preferable to secure the support of all of those present for the coming battle. It would save lives, hasten Ryukostokken’s defeat. However, if he was presented with a choice between Kagome as he desired to have her – as she deserved to be – and allies, there would be no choice. He would swiftly eliminate any who wished to challenge his decision.
“You are most honored. Give respect to the Saidai Mao, greatest of the Cardinal Lords. Ruler of the Western Lands, Tashio Iwakura Sesshomaru of the House of the Crescent Moon.” It should have been a lesser administrator that recited his titles, but as that position was currently vacant, Kento performed the duty. His voice was robust and clear, the respect in his tone obvious but not obsequious. Sesshomaru considered idly that his secretary should continue to serve in that function. His dark blue kimono, far finer than that of any other lord’s secretary courtesy of Aki, spoke of the wealth of the West. He had donned hakama underneath, in deference to Sesshomaru’s preferred style, and his obi was tied in a similar fashion, the red cloth embroidered in whorls of blue in every shade.
Hisao stood at the entrance to his study, waiting to follow Kagome to her place and stand behind his lord and future lady. From the corner of his eye Sesshomaru saw that Aki had taken liberties with his captain as well. The plain dark blue cloth that all of his soldiers wore had been replaced with something youki-spun in a similar shade. He wore no armor, although he had argued for it given the topic of the Council discussions, but the red sash of the West around his waist was shot through with metal threads that caught the light. As did the hilt of the one sword Kento had finally allowed, relaxing his revered protocol. It was unnecessary, certainly. After Sesshomaru himself, Hisao was easily the most skilled warrior in the room. He would not need a sword to put down any attempts at violence. The captain, however, insisted it was a matter of principle.
While the daiyoukai knelt gracefully onto his cushion, the gathered crowd offered their respect. Some bowed deeply, others knelt with lowered heads. A few lesser youkai pressed their faces to the floor. Even the most arrogant among the human lords, and Kimi had appraised him of details regarding those men that were almost disturbing in their accurate intimacy, managed a low nod.
“You are most honored.” Kento repeated the command in the same cool, expectant manner. “The Lady of the West. Utsukushi shi. Iwakura Kimi of the House of the Crescent Moon.” Sesshomaru did not have to look to know that his mother had entered the hall. The ghost of her youki proceeded her, and the whisper of admiration followed. She took a seat to his left and behind him, although she had refused the privacy screen that Kento had hesitatingly suggested. Apparently it was common in human courts to veil noble females from view. Kimi had been amused, and wondered aloud how effective feminine wiles could be from behind such an obstruction. She also noted that her poison, should she find it necessary, would ruin the silk. Tsukahara Kazan stepped forward, apparently oblivious to the empty cushion still at Sesshomaru’s side. The eagle did not manage more than opening his mouth before Kento spoke again.
“You are most honored.” For a brief moment, Sesshomaru was surprised. Attention to detail was Kento’s life, and protocol did not require such a command for an intended mate of a lord. He realized, with a swell of pride and satisfaction that Kento was demanding such for Kagome because he felt she truly deserved it. The humans remained quietly waiting, but the youkai in the crowd stirred, their auras rising and ebbing with uncertainty. Some, like Hirimoto, knew or had an idea of who would be introduced. Others would be blindsided. Sesshomaru preferred it that way; their reactions would be more honest, and his challengers and allies easier to discern. “The Miko no Mao.” There was an immediate swell of youki – one demon actually gasped. “The Shikon Miko.” The gasp turned into something closer to a snarl and Sesshomaru was forced to control his own response. It would not be the first time that evening, or even for the week of the Council, that he would have to bite back his instincts. “Higurashi Kagome.”
Hisao stayed at her side, his arm extended under her hovering hand, but not touching her. Her steps were slow and measured. He knew it was a result of the narrow skirt of her kimono and her very real fear of tripping over her own feet, but her straight spine and serene expression gave her an air of purposeful deliberateness. Sesshomaru did not turn his face to her, but the vibrant blue at the edge of his vision was enough to know that she wore the clothing he had commissioned for her. It was only three layers of kimono, in deference to her difficulty with what she called ‘antiquated fashion’, and all of exotic demon-made fabrics that would be the envy of the youkai present and provide amazed fascination for the humans. She wore Bokuseno’s flowers in her hair, and followed Kimi’s example of utilizing only the barest of cosmetics. He knew his mother had been intrigued by the miko’s combination of modern balms and colors with the light powders purchased in the village. She arrived at his side, and Sesshomaru was not unaware of the restrained but obvious emotion in the audience.
Shock. Admiration. Fear. Annoyance. Lust. Hatred. Curiosity.
More emotions as well, and some tightly contained which could only be guessed at. Kagome’s scent was refreshing and welcome in comparison. Silky white petals, rich wood, and the underlying thrum of sour worry. With a flick of his wrist he held out his hand to her. It was unprecedented, not only for the setting but for him as an individual, but he knew she would be nervous about attempting a seiza in front of so many. A tiny sigh, barely more than an exhalation, escaped her and she settled her palm, the cool skin covered by the material of her sleeve, against his. She leaned her weight into him, and the effort was nothing to his strength, but everything to the graceful impression she made. The melon in her scent faded to nearly nothing as she found her place. From the corner of his eye, he watched her nod to him with respect, but then her neck straightened to match her spine and her gaze fell on the room. A slight smile played at her mouth, not amused as Kimi often portrayed, but tranquil and kind. Sesshomaru found an answering expression in himself that he had to crush. She has found her mask.
“You are called before This One,” he stated flatly, finding the cold, unforgiving tone that he had cultivated to inspire fear and obedience. “Name your worth.”
Tsukahara, already near the dais, opened his mouth again. He had obviously intended to take the honor of the first introduction, and his irritation at having the moment preempted by Kagome – a human – was clear. “The honor is mine,” he said in a clipped tone that barely managed to be respectful. “Sky Master. Tsukahara Kazan, of the House of Blood.” The eagle bowed low to Sesshomaru, nodded to Kimi, and pivoted back into the crowd without acknowledging Kagome. The great inu’s eyes narrowed, but he allowed no other outward sign of his displeasure. Ignorance is not insolence, he reminded himself.
Hirimoto stepped forward next, with an easy, rolling step that emphasized his stature and the play of muscle under his kimono. “The honor is mine,” he said sincerely. His bow was low as well, but measured in a way that implied esteem. “Second of the Cardinal Lords. Ruler of the Southern Lands. Chiyotanda Hirimoto Dokite of the House of the Ebbing Wave.” He nodded deeply to Kimi, with folded hands and a wink that those gathered behind him could not witness. Kagome received the same deference, without the wink. Which was wise, as even Sesshomaru had limits to his patience. Introductions continued, and most acknowledged the human woman at his side. Strangely, although Kento had made an attempt to explain the intricacies of human interactions at their courts, it was the warlords that seemed most uncertain with how to treat the miko. Only Matsudaira, who was precisely correct in his tone and the depth of his bow to the Western Lord and his esteemed mother, gave Kagome the same proper treatment as Hirimoto had displayed. Uesugi was subtle and smooth in her delivery, pausing only long enough to give rise to wonder if she would acknowledge the woman at his side. Sesshomaru was not impressed with her hesitation or the hint of interested youki the otter sent his way. The wolf, Ayame – Kagome had greeted her by name and smiled with ease – he knew her to carry the full authority of her grandfather. She was young, but had a calm head for discussion. Her friendship with his miko would be advantageous as well.
Hitashimashita was the last to come forward, which was unsurprising. The tree demon was older than most messengers of his kind, should have rooted decades ago, and his pace betrayed the fact. His skin was so dark it was nearly black and was heavily creased. His green hair swayed around him, as though in a breeze that no other could feel. Sesshomaru sensed the excitement Kagome found in the youkai’s appearance. “The honor is mine.” He did not bow, but the creak of his skin was enough to assure Sesshomaru that he intended the gesture. “Hitashimashita,” he introduced himself simply. His eyes, deep and warm, fastened on Kagome and he took another slow step forward, stretching out a clenched fist. Sesshomaru tensed, but could scent no animosity, only the dusty, wet smell of shaded earth and vegetation. He said nothing else, but opened his gnarled fingers to reveal a twig covered in clusters of dark pink cherry blossoms. The fragrance was soft and not unwelcome, even to superior inu noses.
“Oh,” Kagome breathed quietly. She reached out, only the tips of her fingers visible under the wide sleeve of her kimono. She glanced at him, questioning, and he tilted his chin. He was pleased that she sought permission, and that he was able to give it. The offering was a symbol of respect and honor beyond that received by all but a select few. Neither Kimi nor himself had been gifted with the youki imbued flowers of a ki-demon. To be the beneficiary twice over was unprecedented. “Thank you, Hitashimashita-sama,” she said with reverence. She carefully tucked the small branch into her obi and folded her hands together, nodding to the tree. A faint blush painted her cheeks, and the scent of her happiness was effusive. She gave him a wide grin. The tree creaked again, responding with his own bark-splitting smile. And another ally has my miko won, Sesshomaru thought with familiar admiration. Perhaps there will be no need to slay any here this night.
Kagome took another deep breath and sought out Shippo and Rin with her eyes. Once the formal introductions were concluded, the children had been escorted in by the rock brothers. Other family members that had accompanied the invited attendees were allowed as well, and Hirimoto’s two children stuck close to the kit and human girl. Whether out of instruction from their father or budding friendship, Kagome was not sure, but she was not overly picky. She wasn’t sweating, thanks to modern anti-perspirant and breathable youki cloth, but her stomach was knotted so painfully she was certain she wouldn’t be able to eat for days. She had faced down countless bloodthirsty demons. She had travelled through time. She had survived the wrathful dokkouso of the Killing Perfection. She had explained to her mother why she needed birth control, for heaven’s sake. There was no reason she should be afraid of a few nobles.
Except the consequences. The fate of Japan. A war. Embarrassment of Sesshomaru and his whole house. The success or failure of hundreds of Western soldiers who were counting on allies to reinforce them. Inuyasha. Kimi’s assessing gaze.
Another shiver passed through her and the tail ends of mokomoko pressed against her back. She was fairly certain that no one could see the gesture, Sesshomaru certainly didn’t act as though anything of importance was happening, but she appreciated the comfort he offered. The ceremony had, so far, gone better than she had feared. She hadn’t tripped, Sesshomaru had helped her sit down so she didn’t have to make an awkward attempt, and no one had spit in her direction or called her names. Kagome paused in her inner assessment, I really need to reevaluate my standards for success. She was aware, however, that not everyone was pleased with her presence. The eagle had been short with her to the point of rudeness. A lesser youkai had relocated to the furthest corner from her after his introduction, and clearly had no intention of approaching again to speak with Sesshomaru. One of the human lords, Date, she thought, had made a few innocuous remarks, combined with a gaze which she considered sleazy, that had Sesshomaru’s youki rising. Without thought, she had reached out with her reiki. It soothed her daiyoukai, but several others in the room sensed the holy power and had varying levels of poor reactions to it.
Still, the tree youkai had given her the most beautiful flowers. Her hand drifted to the blossoms with that thought. And the mingling, if that was the correct word for deep bows and stilted conversations while others got to mill around and she was forced to remain seated, could not go on much longer. Dinner would be served soon. Kagome pictured with longing the moment when Kento would announce the food; her feet had fallen asleep ages ago. Her stomach rumbled, and Kagome blushed when Sesshomaru turned his face to her.
“Soon,” he said quietly. His golden eyes were warm with pride and something else that wasn’t quite passion but still made her heart thump harder.
She blushed, “I just-”
“Sesshomaru-sama,” a silky voice interrupted her whisper. Uesugi seemed to glide across the floor until she came to a stop nearer to Sesshomaru. It did not escape Kagome’s notice that the sleeves of the otters’s kimono brushed against the lord’s knee as she bowed. The miko felt her eyes begin to narrow, and immediately corrected the response. Kimi’s lessons had been brief, but specific. Concentrate on something that makes you feel differently. Focus. Smile. Kagome recalled how Sesshomaru detested having others touch him. He found the scent of any but his own pack intolerable on his person or clothing, to the point that he had employed a water elemental specifically to launder his clothing and bedding. The aged rain youkai’s scent was so faint, he had told the miko, that it was nearly non-existent. Whatever intentions the otter had, and Kagome was pretty sure she knew what those were, she wouldn’t find Sesshomaru in a very receptive mood after purposefully releasing her scent on him. The miko’s smile came easily.
“It has been too long since last I was here. I see you still maintain that effusive little human waif, how is she?”
“Well.” Sesshomaru’s cold reply did not seem to faze the demoness. Uesugi brushed silvery grey locks over her shoulder and smiled at the daiyoukai, revealing deceptively delicate fangs.
“I am most pleased to hear that, Sesshomaru-sama.” She bent forward slightly, and her smile became a bit more sultry. “If it pleases you, my lord.”
Kagome had to bite her tongue, but her smile remained fixed. Slut, she thought uncharitably, then had to remind herself that she had no way of knowing what expectations the otter actually had. Sesshomaru could very well have given Uesugi legitimate reason to think he would accept her advances. Kagome wasn’t anxious about his response or concerned that she might be replaced – or worse, expected to share. Both she and her daiyoukai had been very clear on those issues. However, she was still a young woman, and the desire to drive off someone so obviously interested in what she considered hers was strong.
The female seemed to read something into the standard Lord of the West, this-conversation-is-over sound. “My last visit was cut short. It is unfortunate you had such pressing matters to attend to. However, there is no reason we cannot continue trade discussions when the Council is not in session. Tell me, do you still rise early and eager for…the day?” The insinuation was blatant.
Kagome could see it coming, could feel the heat of a bad decision brought on by unruly temper, but it was like a train wreck. She couldn’t stop it, and she couldn’t look away. “Yes,” she answered for him, the sweetness in her tone almost enough to put herself into insulin shock, “he does. Unfortunately, Sesshomaru-sama is otherwise occupied in the early hours. Might I suggest you speak to Kento-san, regarding an appointment?”
The otter blinked. Once. Twice. Slowly a third time. Kagome used those moments to consider Kimi’s emphasis on not losing her temper, no matter how insulting or insufferable things might become. A tendril of youki, silvery-sable and quick reached toward Sesshomaru. If she had thought about it for even a moment, Kagome would have recognized the gesture as searching, and recognized that the Saidai Mao was more than capable of deflecting it. Instead, she reacted on instinct. Reiki slapped it down so quickly that the otter had stepped back and the room fallen silent before the first tendrils of smoke rose from the scorched floor.
Uesugi laughed. The sound was as beautiful as the youkai that made it, and it only blackened Kagome’s mood. She recognized jealously when she felt it, she didn’t like it, but she wasn’t sure she could – or should – do anything about it. “Oh, lovely little Miko-chan,” the otter said and Kagome had to force away a scowl over the sudden familiarity. “We are going to be fast friends, I know this.” She leaned closer, and her blue eyes were warm and almost hypnotizing. “Perhaps more,” she purred. Kagome’s face burned.
“The meal is prepared,” Kento spoke loud enough to be heard over any conversations. Not that anyone was speaking in the aftermath of the interaction between Kagome and Uesugi. The miko wasn’t certain if she was grateful for the interruption, or pissed that she hadn’t gotten to be more aggressive with her warning. Sesshomaru stood, pulling her up beside him. Mokomoko and his strong arm around her waist swept her out of the room and had her pinned between the heat of his side and the wall of his study in moments. Kimi and the children followed close behind. The moment the screen slid closed, Sesshomaru’s barrier snapped into place and the children burst into excited chatter.
“Come now,” Kimi said to them, but her smirk was for Kagome, “by the time we are finished refreshing ourselves, our guests will be waiting in the dining hall.”
“Won’t you come with us, Kagome-sama, Sesshomaru-sama?” Rin asked happily.
The brush of soft fur against her hand was the only warning she got before one tail wrapped around her wrist and Mokomoko squeezed her from hips to mid-chest. Kagome’s mouth fell open, ready to reply, but Kimi forestalled her response with a flash of amused fang. “They will join us…without too much delay.”
Kagome was still smarting from the overt advances of Uesugi. Her legs were full of pins and needles and she was breathless from the almost instantaneous relocation to the study. She couldn’t seem to form a coherent response before the shoji screen closed behind Kimi and the children. Warm lips pressed against hers; she resisted at first, determined to say something. An apology for her temper, an unfounded accusation, or a plea to not make her go back in front of those strangers – she would give him all three as soon as she could manage to speak. Her umbrage melted under the demanding motion of his mouth. He licked at her, nipped at her lower lip and she wondered dazedly if anyone would notice if her makeup was ruined. Then his tongue plunged into her mouth even as his tails stroked her skin under the wide sleeves of her kimono. When he finally pulled away it was to lean his forehead against hers. Their breath mingled together and Kagome breathed deeply to try to order her thoughts, I was mad about something, but all she could taste was Sesshomaru, right, the ex-girlfriend, and all she could feel was his skin and fur and hair touching her. His heat, his hardness, against her.
“You undo me, Kagome,” he rumbled and she melted even further. His words pulled at a memory of another time, the first time he had held her, stroked her, let her know through speech and touch that he valued her, cared for her. “You were the wonder and envy of every eye in the room. You could not hear, but I did. You are beautiful,” he repeated, his nose sliding along her cheek so he could whisper in her ear. “Legendary.”
“They didn’t-” she swallowed against the need he had effortlessly brought to the surface. “They don’t all like me.”
“No,” he admitted, but his pride in that statement was obvious. “But those may still respect you, and if they do not, I will deal with them.” She wanted to say something then. Something about how he shouldn’t kill people just for disliking her, that he should…something, but he caught her lobe in his teeth and she shivered. “Those that like you,” his mouth was hot and wet as he traced the shell of her ear. One of his tails slipped along the inside bend of her elbow, and she moaned. “I want to rip them apart as well. The scent of their interest in what is mine stirs my instincts.” He dipped his head and left a moist trail on her neck, ending abruptly in an almost painful nip, just under the edge of her collar. He pulled back to meet her eyes, and she had trouble focusing on anything but the heat in those liquid gold pools. “As I am pleased to find it stirs yours as well. The tart yuzu of your jealousy is a fire in my veins.” He leaned toward her mouth again.
“Fire…in your…” she repeated weakly. Wait, my jealousy? Kagome wedged one arm between them and glared. “And exactly what do I have to be jealous of, Sesshomaru?”
“It is unnecessary,” he continued as though he hadn’t heard her question. When she turned her head away from his kiss he simply placed it on her jaw. “I have not been intimate with Uesugi for more than a century.”
Kagome felt ice slide down her spine, in contrast to the heat of him against her front. “But you were…” It was dumb, but she still felt slighted, cheated. Everyone had someone else in their past. Hell, she had basically dated his brother, and he wasn’t making a big deal out of it. She couldn’t help but compare herself to the youkai female though, and find herself wanting.
“I was,” he stressed the word seriously and met her eyes again. “I am not. Nor ever will be again. As you will have only me.” The strength of his embrace, the honesty and determination in his voice, convinced her.
“I’m not going to make friends with her, though,” she warned. He smiled the flashing-quick smile that never failed to send heat coursing through her and followed it with a suggestive press of his lower half against hers. Even through the multiple layers of clothing, his heat seemed to burn and beckon.
“That may be best,” he said in a low voice. “Uesugi holds her friends close, and I am possessive of my miko.” It took Kagome a moment to catch on to his meaning, but when she did she blushed and spluttered. He cocked his head to the side, watching her with curiosity and banked desire. “Humans do not enjoy intimacy equally?”
“No! I mean, some do, but I don’t…I just…it’s fine. That’s fine. I was just surprised.” She cleared her throat. “If we are going to encourage more demons and humans to work together, you might want to mention to any youkai that are, uh, non-discriminating, that most humans in this time are not so, ah, equal-opportunity.”
“But they are in your time,” he stated.
“Er, yeah. Some.” Kagome really wanted the conversation to be over. Surely there was something else they should be doing, like preparing to meet with the powerful guests that were waiting on the Saidai Mao to eat.
“But you are not,” he confirmed.
“Ah, no. Not that I’ve ever-” she took a deep breath and met his gaze openly. “Are you?”
“No,” he responded easily.
“Oh, okay. Well, shouldn’t we, you know, get going?”
“We have time, yet.” A glint returned to his gaze and his mouth lowered to hers again. He stopped, less than an inch away, and whispered, “Unless you would prefer to speak on the matter of Uesugi further?”
“Hell, no,” she responded fervently, and crashed her lips against his.
“Perhaps, Saidai Mao,” Hirimoto’s respectful title for him made Sesshomaru toss a glare his way. The bear only referred to him so formally when he was about to impart what he considered to be fatherly advice. Sesshomaru had not had a father for more than a quarter-millennia, and had not been receptive to parental advice for far longer than that. “The next time you call a mixed-race war council together and you allow your human miko to display power that is coveted by half of the room and feared by the other half, you might consider not leaving evidence of your desire for her all over the poor woman’s neck.”
He did not deign to respond. And there was no point. He would have done the same again, wanted to – and more, at that moment. He felt no recrimination over his action. It was not only his desires that had prompted his actions. Sesshomaru valued his control with good reason; he could have restrained himself. However, he intended to create a new kind of alliance between youkai and humans. Not something fleeting borne of dire threat, but a lasting foundation that would take both species into a future that would be better than the one Kagome had described. His relationship with his miko needed to be obvious, acknowledged, and accepted as a first step in that process.
“Oh, do hush, Hirimoto-san,” Kimi rolled her eyes as she settled down into a comfortable pose on the pillows in the ima. The room smelled of rice and small, warm bodies, of kitsune and inu and excitement. It was, however, much more private than his study – so close to where some of his guests still lingered. And yet, it was not quite within the family quarters, and so Sesshomaru felt comfortable allowing Hirimoto there. The bear strolled along the walls, stopping periodically to examine one of the many colorful drawings and childish examples of calligraphy that had been hung proudly. “It was one tiny mark, and the humans have eyes too weak to see it. There was no harm done.”
“I was not speaking of the mark, but the layer of musk he left on her,” the other lord said with exasperation.
“She is mine,” Sesshomaru stated with a mixture of enjoyment and warning, “all now know this.” Hirimoto looked like he wanted to say more, and the inu daiyoukai was prepared to respond, but his mother interrupted.
“Stop fretting,” she ordered. Both males turned to look at her with distaste.
“I have never fretted,” Hirimoto declared.
“Indeed,” Kimi said dryly. “The miko will finish her cycle tomorrow, I have discussed this with her,” she said pointedly to Sesshomaru before he could protest the topic. He wanted to, though. Just because a bear could scent nearly as well as an inu, did not mean such matters should be brought up. “Without the blood-scent in the air, my son will be less possessive – which is to say, he will only cover her in his scent when he suspects the interest of another, not drench her and mark her during a state dinner.” She threw a quelling glance at Sesshomaru, which he ignored. “The Council meetings will go forward, and the miko will attend in the way we had planned.” The Western Lady did not leave room for argument. “Agreed? Excellent. Now let us move on to assessment of our guests. Tsukahara was as arrogant as ever, and reacted as expected to humans amidst the Council. I believe, however, he was impressed with Kagome’s display of power. He will be a challenge, but he will support the West.”
“Hitashimashita and Ayame are both clearly enamored of Kagome-san.” Hirimoto turned from a fairly well-drawn depiction of a large white dog with a tiny, black-haired woman on its back. “Even if you had not been assured that the trees would join us, the gesture this evening was obvious, Sesshomaru-san.” He settled onto several splayed cushions near Kimi and folded his large hands under his head to stare up at the ceiling in contemplation. “Uesugi is something else, though.”
“She will secure supply lines,” Kimi volunteered, “and is considering joining the fight personally.”
Sesshomaru did not have to wonder where his mother had gained such information. She had ears and eyes everywhere. “Kenjirosu is the only youkai that leaves me with reservations. Some of the little fish are flopping over the idea of allying with humans, and even protest attacking the North, but Kenjirosu drags them in his wake. Where he goes, they will follow.” It was true, and the Western Lord had already been considering what arguments or demonstrations might sway the water daiyoukai. His strength would be welcome in the coming battle. “It would be a simpler matter, without the human lords.”
“Without the humans, any conquest will be short-lived,” Sesshomaru said flatly. The humans could not be cut out of the alliance. He would have considered such a course of action before he had ever met Kagome. Now that he knew what she knew, what she had seen of the future, it was imperative that he begin to integrate his power into the human’s structure. They could not be cast aside as irrelevant knowing how they would thrive if youkai died out.
“Shimazu is interested in how this may affect his enemies,” Kimi stated. “Although I have not yet determined his precise desires, I do not anticipate difficulty. Date-” Sesshomaru growled. Date should keep his eyes from wandering, lest they wander out of his skull. Permanently. Kimi cleared her throat, “As I was saying. Date is a simpler creature. Coin, land, power, females. His desires are open for all to see; some combination will buy his loyalty. It is Matsudaira that most vexes me.”
“Tell me, my Lady. I will be happy to discover what he is made of.” Hirimoto’s offer was made in a casual tone, his claws extended and flexing, but Sesshomaru knew the other lord would cheerfully gut the quiet human if the notion caught Kimi’s fancy. The bear was far too eager to please.
“No, thank you, old friend. I must discover this on my own. Well – by my explicit direction,” her eyes sparkled. Hirimoto laughed and Sesshomaru allowed himself a smile. His mother’s legion of informants were no doubt already pawing through every nuance of the man’s life. “We will talk again tomorrow evening, and perhaps I will have more. Now, the schedule…”
Ko flinched at another vicious tug on her hair. Ryukostokken’s youki guided her, there was no need for physical reigning, but she knew that protests would not be well-received. The pain was minor, in comparison to anything else she had endured at his hands, so she remained quiet. She could not see the soldiers below them, but she could sense the dragons flying the air currents around her, and their numbers caused concern. Ko was not certain where they were going, or who would shortly be dead, but there would be battle. Soon.
The target was a mystery. Her injuries, and his new-found interest in human girls, had kept her out of Ryukostokken’s bed for nearly two weeks, and he did not have much use for her aside from transport or pleasure. She had kept her ears open, but was unable to learn anything aside from the fact that the North was mobilizing and would begin the war in earnest. It was to be a surprise attack, but on who she could not say. They had headed too far to the east – utilizing ships to carry the bulk of the army south out of sight of the eastern coastline – to make a direct hit on Sesshomaru’s shiro. But, then again, Ryukostokken could have been leading them in a loop to breach the West from the south. There was little left in the East worth attacking after the destruction of Kuren’s castle, aside from a few human lords. The South was the strongest, in numbers, of all of the lands and Lord Hirimoto’s soldiers were well-trained and had suffered no losses from disease.
Ko was desperate to understand what the dragon lord was planning, but she kept her lips sealed, even as he tugged harshly again. She would figure it out, or not, but there was little she could do to change the outcome. The wind demoness only hoped that if Sesshomaru was the target, Kagome had survived and the dog would be prepared to meet Ryukostokken. And end him. She wondered briefly what task the spy, Arashi, had been set to. He had left the North with Natsuo and a sizable company of soldiers. Ko did not trust the hanyou entirely, but he had expressed concern for her survival, and that was unusual enough to make her hope that he was prepared as well. Prepared to rip out Natsuo’s throat if it came down to the two of them, prepared to run far and fast if Sesshomaru killed Ryukostokken. Ko doubted that a youkai of the Saidai Mao’s power would leave any that had been loyal to his enemy alive.
It would be a bloody day when Sesshomaru met Ryukostokken over steel. One of many. The sound of blade on rock reached her ears; soldiers below were sharpening their weapons. Ko was tired of blood.