Thanks to reader kakigreene
Chapter 55: Declaration
Kagome had finished wiping the blood from Sesshomaru’s skin and pushing his broken ribs back into his body when a breakfast tray arrived. She fetched it silently, hoping not to wake the children, and returned to their room. The daiyoukai remained just as she had left him, still and uncommunicative, seated with his legs crossed and chest bare on their futon. Bakusaiga lay at his side, his stained kimono discarded on the floor. She could feel the weight of his gaze on her as she poured tea and arranged bowls of soup. He was angry.
She doubted anyone else would have ever recognized it. His youki was tightly controlled, his face impassive, his spine straight despite the pinkened bandage that wrapped around his chest, holding his bones inside until his body could heal the damage. Kagome understood the emotion. No doubt he was angry with himself, with Hirimoto, with Ryukostokken and even his own mother. She set down her cup after only one sip and reached out to touch him. The situation he had been forced into, because of his position and the actions of an evil-
“Do not ever do such a thing again,” Sesshomaru said quietly.
Kagome paused, hand hovering in midair and fingers barely inches from his knee. There was a moment of confusion where her brain could not reconcile her own train of thought with his cold expression and words. He spoke so low, so deeply, it was almost a growl.
“You will not disobey This One.”
Oh no. Kagome thought with dismay and a tiny amount of heartbreak. Then her temper surged. Oh. No. “Excuse me,” she said carefully. She hoped he could hear the anger she was holding back. She hoped that after the problems and resolutions in communication over the last several weeks, after he had fought beside her against Naraku and seen her stand her ground in arguments against his brother, against him, that he would realize he was making a mistake.
“You were ordered to protect yourself.” He did growl then, and his golden eyes narrowed on her. His youki was hard and hot in the room, reaching out and pressing against her, down upon her, trying to pin her in place.
“I did what I thought needed to be done, Sesshomaru – which I have always done.” Kagome breathed deeply and counted to five. He’s hurt, he’s lashing out, he is more than this, she reminded herself. “Which I will always do.”
“Fool,” he snarled. He moved, the suddenness startling although it was much slower than she knew he was capable of. His hands latched onto her upper arms, pulling her toward him, but not into his lap or an embrace. He held her awkwardly, suspended a half foot from his body with her legs tangled in her kimono and stretched under her. “You would have been killed. Weak, fragile, human,” he growled, “dying to protect those that do not need it. Being slaughtered by One more powerful than you can imagine. Fool,” he repeated.
They stared at one another for a time that stretched out painfully, both angry. Both hurting. Oddly, it was Kagome’s reason that returned first. He was afraid. “Do you really think that’s true, Sesshomaru?” She spoke softly, trying to break in behind his angry gaze and find understanding. “Do you really think I’m not powerful enough to stop Hirimoto?”
“Power,” he made a sound that was caught between a derisive snort and a growl. “Power means nothing if you will not use it. To stop another you call friend, when they would be injured, to hurt one that is not your enemy. No, my miko-” His voice broke and he looked away. Kagome didn’t move, almost didn’t dare to breathe, despite his hands tightening painfully on her arms. Sesshomaru was struggling with something inside himself, something she would never have believed him capable of feeling. He had been worried for her life, not because he thought her weak – but because he believed her too soft-hearted to cause another pain.
He had been worried for her.
“Have I ever hesitated before, Sesshomaru?” She watched his eyes close and his throat moved as he swallowed. He did not respond, but he was listening. “When Inuyasha, my best friend, would have destroyed everything around him in his rage, did I ever hesitate to use my power to stop him? Even if he got hurt?” His eyes remained closed, and Kagome tried to brush her hands across his shoulders. Her biceps spasmed in pain, and his hands tightened reflexively, so she settled for cupping his elbows. “You have to trust me too, Sesshomaru. I make my own choices, and you have to believe in me, or this won’t work.”
Sesshomaru breathed shallowly, not because of the dull ache in his slowly mending ribs, but in a futile effort to keep her scent out of his lungs. He had overreacted, was overreacting, he knew that. Kimi’s actions had surprised and overwhelmed him, if it was possible for such a thing to occur. His mother had taken his responsibility upon herself, had forced her will upon her own closest friend. Whether she had acted to spare him from doing so, or out of a belief that she could ease Hirimoto’s pain and anger, he did not know. But to hold himself back from injuring the bear, holding his power in check while attacked, and then to see his opponent turn on his intended – it had been more than he had thought to prepare himself for. Kagome wasn’t hurt, wouldn’t have been hurt. One blast of her reiki shield, which she had been working on with Kimi for more than a week, would have startled Hirimoto out of his blind attack. And if it had not, Sesshomaru would have brought his true strength against the other lord. Instead of allowing the bear to vent some of his frustration and grief against his own flesh, Sesshomaru would have pinned him down and broken Hirimoto’s jaw before he let Kagome be injured. He knew that, but still he struggled with the lancing terror that had nearly severed his spine when Kagome drew the attention of a half-crazed daiyoukai.
It wasn’t that one instance. He was aware of that as well. It was the reminder that she would always be smaller, more fragile, more kind-hearted than any enemy that would try to hurt her – to hurt him through her. Their courting ceremony and the time they had spent together had only strengthened his instinct to protect, to shelter. Even while he realized that she needed his safeguard less – he wanted to give more. It took everything he had to not crush her in his embrace. To not force her down to the futon and punish her disobedience, her independence, and then force her to accept his dominance and shelter. To pin her down and mark her, brand her, with his scent and his teeth and claws until she cried out his name in submission. For all he had done to extend her life, she could still be taken from him. He wanted to lock her away so that nothing could ever hurt her, not even herself. The effort to shackle those urges caused most of what she said to fade into the background.
“…my own choices,” her words finally penetrated his haze of emotion and struggle for control, “you have to believe in me, or this won’t work.”
My choices are my own. He had always lived by that edict, and his intended voiced the same steadfast belief. He knew her strength. Knew her power. Was proud and intrigued and aroused by those things in her. He simply did not know if he could let her choices outweigh his need to keep her safe. He did not know if the things that he cherished in her were worth more to him that the whole of her, at his side, forever. In the moment of indecision, Sesshomaru breathed deeply of her scent and became aware of three things simultaneously.
She smelled of trust. Patiently, Kagome was waiting for him to agree with her, to give her his faith, as though it were a foregone conclusion. It made a recalcitrant part of him long to do the opposite.
He loved her. It was a logical conclusion. Her happiness, her security, her life as she wished it to be was more important to him than even his own needs. He was aware that the emotion existed, even among youkai. He knew the symptoms. Despite the suddenness of his revelation, it was not surprising. It was Kagome.
His hands were overly full of soft flesh, his claws dangerously close to piercing her skin.
Sesshomaru relaxed his hold immediately and swept her into his lap, burying his nose against the side of her neck. Magnolia, silky and fresh with dew. Cherry wood new and sharp. Warm gardenias. Sour niguari melon. Sweet carnations. His chest cramped with pain, reminding him of his injury. Her breath puffed against his hair. One small hand came to rest on his jaw and caressed him lightly. He breathed again. She would be, already was, everything he needed her to be. It only remained for him to accept that gift.
Mokomoko tightened around her, pulling her close and supporting her while he reached for her abandoned soup. His fingers brushed hers and he met her eyes when he handed it over. The wide blue of her gaze was worried, searching, piercing him straight to his heart. Her lower lip was caught in her teeth, the ripe red flesh abused. “Are we-” she began at the same time he started,
They both stopped, and she smiled. It was small and sweet and began the process of easing the tension in him. “You first,” she said.
“I apologize,” he said simply. She didn’t ask him to explain, for which he was grateful. Instead she stretched out an arm and snagged his tea cup, sloshing a small amount over the rim and onto her fingers and the bedding. “You must be more careful. More vigilant.”
“We will talk more about it later,” she promised easily, but there was a weight to her gaze that he took seriously. She held the tea out, and rather than taking it he drank from her hand. “I’m sorry too,” she softly. “For Hirimoto, I mean. I’m sorry for what he is going through, and sorry you had to be the one to tell him. I will wait with his children, when he tells them, if you think that will be okay.”
He could not manage his characteristic ‘hn’ but only nodded. It was an experience unlike any other, to have the burden of his responsibilities recognized and the weight shared. They ate in a silence that gradually became more comfortable. His own meal finished, Sesshomaru pressed a kiss to her head and evaluated the state of his injuries while he reviewed his plans for the last day of the Full Moon Council. “After the meeting,” he said finally. “Hirimoto has more that he must do, first, and his children cannot know until that is complete.”
She was uncomfortable with it, he could tell by her scent and her fidgeting, but she nodded. “Will it take very long, do you think?”
He did not answer her directly, but pressed his mouth gently to hers. She tasted of tea and miso, of soft heat and sweet flowers. “Allies will declare themselves today, and enemies make themselves known. There will not be much time, after this. There are still those who will report on the outcome of the Council. The news will ride on swift wings North, and Ryukostokken will know all that align themselves with the West.”
“Spies,” Kagome muttered with disgust. Then her expression turned thoughtful and Sesshomaru was again reminded that his intended, his miko, was far more clever than the average female. “Why say so at the meeting then, why not-” her eyes widened in sudden comprehension, “Oh!”
“Yes,” he confirmed for her.
“Sesshomaru,” she said, with a smile that bordered on wicked and made him forget, for a short while, the terrible gravity of their situation, “I didn’t know you were so sneaky.”
He pressed another kiss to her mouth, then one to her jaw, directly below her ear. “I believe you have been introduced to my mother.”
Kimi found her seat at the council table and silently thanked her kitsune mother for long lessons in misdirection and concealment. Her lips smiled, her eyes sparkled with amusement. Her mouth teased and mocked. All while her chest was gripped in a vise. She had, early that morning, forced her oldest and dearest friend to submit to her. She had used superior youki to break him and command that he set his grief aside. There were very few days when she did not relish, or at least enjoy, her role as Lady of the West. Today was one of the few.
Sesshomaru was still in private meetings, and Kagome had not yet arrived, but Kimi knew the fierce miko would soon. After the newly announced couple had left the remains of the tea house the inu demoness had stayed there for several hours with Hirimoto. By the time they had both cleaned up enough to be respectable and slipped back into the palace, Kimi wished for nothing so much as to forget the day. To make them all forget the day. But that was not to be. They all had responsibilities greater than themselves. Greater than their wants and needs. Greater than love or grief. So she had bathed and changed and made an appearance in the gardens, in the breakfast room, in private meetings with lords that still struggled with what role they would commit to in the coming war.
Matsudaira entered and they nodded to one another. Tsukahara took his seat midway down the table and gave quiet directions to his secretary. Kagome entered only moments later, on Hirimoto’s arm. Kimi had declared that the bear would escort the priestess, and it was a calculated choice. Although Hirimoto kept his youki controlled and his face blank, close inspection by any who had known him more than a few decades would have revealed that something was wrong with the Southern Lord. However, with the newly intended mate of the Saidai Mao beside him, few in the room even spared a glance for Hirimoto.
There were polite greetings and congratulations, innuendos, and knowing smiles. The miko blushed hotly, and without Kimi or Sesshomaru to conceal her scent, the light natural fragrance of the human was washed with embarrassment, anxiety, and a floral note that some would call infatuation or lust, but Kimi knew to be love. The sensory spectacle distracted eyes and noses from the uncommon tightness around Hirimoto’s eyes and the deeply buried storm of his youki. He brought the miko to her seat beside Kimi and then stepped around to his own place across the table. Makoto sat behind his father; ink and brush ready like all of the secretaries in attendance, but his curious smile was directed toward the human female. Kimi locked away any stray thoughts as to what that youth would soon become privy to, and what he would have to endure.
All of the attendees had taken their seats by the time Sesshomaru entered, and Kimi raised a shield around Kagome as the Saidai Mao stalked to the head of the table. A mother could always recognize when their pup was hurting, and Sesshomaru, despite his stoic expression and deadly intent, was injured. His fight with Hirimoto had broken ribs, and Kimi could sense the swirl of his youki around the wounds – but Sesshomaru prevented it from healing entirely. He was hurting, but the physical was only a reminder he was forcing upon himself of the emotional ordeal. So much that is necessary is bitter on the tongue, Kimi thought. He settled gracefully, and tea was poured before servants withdrew and screens were silently closed.
“You have been called here to answer the West. Your decision will be heard today.” His voice was cold and hard, and every demon and human in the room reacted to the serious tone and grew still and quiet.
“I offer my support to the West and Lord Sesshomaru,” stated Date, breaking the silence. He bowed his head to the Saidai Mao with an arrogance that concealed how his support had been forced. Others near him voiced their accord, including the wolf demoness. Kimi’s eyes skipped ahead as the conversation moved around the table; she watched the faces of those who were not yet the center of attention. She already thought she knew who would leave and who would stay by Sesshomaru’s side, but a change of heart from one of the lords was not impossible.
Matsudaira, from his place at the far end, was quiet for a long breath when the declarations reached him. “I have listened much these past days, and considered how the outcome of this discord, and potential alliances, might benefit my family in generations to come. I have looked to many of you, listened to your arguments and your concerns. In the end, however, it is only my mind that can make this decision for me. Only what is in my heart matters – how I feel my actions may best serve my objectives. I will not stand with you, Sesshomaru-sama.” There was a gasp from someone along the table, and a muttered curse from Date. “I do not side with your enemy, but I shall not gather my warriors and march with you.”
“Go,” Sesshomaru said flatly. The human lord stood and bowed deeply, first to Sesshomaru, then to Kimi, and departed. Anticipation contracted low in her belly and the Western Lady had to force her muscles to relax and reign in her instincts. The declarations were slow to begin again, and were kept short. Most supported Sesshomaru. Only one minor youkai and two more human lords took their leave.
One of Kenjirosu’s supporters was next to speak when a commotion in the corridor became loud enough to disturb even the humans. The screens snapped open and a panting, wild-eyed bear youkai entered. He managed only a disgracefully shallow bow before dashing to Hirimoto. “My lord!” he cried. “The Southern Palace has been attacked! Dragons flew in from the sea and surprised our sentries.” Kimi had anticipated the event, had even sent her own interest to slow such a messenger down – just enough so that the news would be timed to arrive during the meeting. Still, she could not help the tightening of her muscles, her instincts readying to fight or flee. Hirimoto’s eyes had gone wide, and he was beginning to stand even as the guard fell to his knees in supplication. “No one – your honored sister – they are all dead, my lord!”
His roar was just as loud and painful as it had been hours ago when he first heard the news. Kimi doubted any present, outside of her own pack, guessed that Hirimoto was acting. The bear’s fist slammed into the wall and he growled in his own language, the enemy’s soul will be devoured for this. Another guard, this one inu, appeared at the doorway and bowed swiftly.
“Speak,” Sesshomaru commanded.
“A runner has come from the South, my lord. None survived the attack on the shiro, but a human villager saw the dragons flying low at night, some walked through the forest. The human saw some of the attack, but could speak nothing else of it to the youkai patrol.” He swallowed, the young dog’s anxiety and racing heart making his scent sour. “Initial reports indicate the forces of the South have been halved.”
“This is what your waiting brings about,” Hirimoto snarled, throwing a reddened glance at Sesshomaru. “Makoto – stay in the West. Protect your sister.” He was gone before the young male could respond. Makoto’s legs were shaking, his back pressed against the wall and his face chalky. From across the table, Kimi could sense his youki, formless and directionless, alternately fighting for release and curling defensively around himself. He was not even old enough to transform and follow his father.
The room erupted into questions and shouting. The bear guard ignored them all to chase after his lord, so the council members turned on each other. Kimi could smell the stench of fear and anger in the room. The pretense had been calculated, precise, but still she wished it had not been necessary. To be forced to halt one’s own deep grief so quickly and suddenly, and then, so soon, to require its facsimile before an audience was brutal.
“This cannot be allowed!”
“Reinforcements should be-”
“-damage already done-”
“If the South was vulnerable, then we all are!”
“-North now, and draw blood-”
“Silence.” As if the sound had been pulled from the room like a flame being snuffed out, mouths closed and eyes turned to Sesshomaru. Kimi looked with the rest, and saw what held them spellbound. The Saidai Mao was fiercely cold and beautifully terrible. His eyes remained cast down at the table, where his large, slender hands rested, palms flat against the wood. Behind him, around him, was an aura of power that threatened to blot out light as well as sound. His youki was made visible – the green so dark it was nearly black. The sound of hearts beating too quickly, of dry throats swallowing, of nervous breaths, were loud in Kimi’s sensitive ears. Slowly, he looked up and Kimi was relieved that he had retained control of himself, for a moment she had doubted that he was acting – as they had discussed. His eyes remained burnished gold, however, cold and calculating. A distant part of her felt pride in her son’s newly displayed ability to manipulate allies and enemies alike. A quieter, mournful part of her noted that the very coldness she despaired of him ever shedding is what made such a deception possible.
“This One will hear your decision,” he said again, the command obvious.
Out of turn, Shimazu spoke up, “This cannot be allowed to continue. My men will fight with the youkai of the West.”
“The trees,” Hitashimashita creaked, concise for once, “support the West.” Other youkai and human lords voiced their support, and then the circle was nearly completed, back to Uesugi that was seated next to Kenjirosu.
The otter folded her hands together carefully. “My people are not warriors,” she began, “we have little to offer in the way of weapons and skill on the battlefield. I do not see that my support would assist the West.” Ayame made a snarling noise in the back of her throat, green eyes narrowed at the beautiful youki across from her. “However,” Useugi continued with a vicious smile thrown at the redhead, “my port is useless without trading partners. And I doubt Ryukostokken will barter fairly.” She turned her eyes on Kagome with a sensuous tilt of her lips; then her gaze slid to Sesshomaru and what had been sultry became dangerous. “I will not allow my markets to be usurped. I will support the West with supplies and information.”
“I was of one mind last night, after the radical display of power in the courtyard.” Kenjirosu spoke with measured words that Kimi recognized for their menace. His smooth, cool voice and blue eyes drew the focus of everyone in the room. “After further discussions, I was of another. And now, this new information…” He paused, considering the empty place where Hirimoto had been seated and the shaken young daiyoukai grieving behind it. “Ryukostokken has invaded the oldest holding among youkai. He has violated the code of honor long established by the youkai courts. He has no honor, no morality, no mercy by which he might be reasoned with.” He faced Sesshomaru and nodded deeply. “Saidai Mao, I will not oppose that which will succeed, but no strategy voiced before this gathering will succeed against such an enemy.”
Without any further discussion, he stood. Before he had even left the room, two other lesser youkai made their statements and hastily followed the water demon out. A guard shut the screens quietly. The shock in the room was evident, but not overwhelming. Kimi watched carefully for eyes and ears that were more interested in their surroundings than the revelations of the first hour of the meeting. There were two she singled out, among the secretaries, whom she would need to point out to Sesshomaru later. Informants could be used against their master, she was well aware. Her smile was firmly in place, and as easy and mildly amused as ever, but her face felt stiff, her eyes overly dry.
“Now then, lords, This One has ordered refreshment, so that you may enter into discussions of war without the distraction of dry throats.” She flicked her youki gracefully and servants bearing tea and light snacks entered. “Please partake. The West thanks you for your allegiance.” She stood, pulling Kagome with her and sweeping out of the room past Makoto’s desk. The miko gathered him up without hesitation and the trio were halfway to the guest quarters, with two of Hisao’s finest guards trailing them, when the cub broke down.
“They’re really dead?” he whispered.
“Oh, sweetie,” Kagome responded softly. Kimi could smell the miko’s tears, mingling with those of the young demon that she swept into a hug. The Western Lady urged them along, unwilling to stand in an open corridor while the son of her oldest friend grieved. War brought hard choices, hard actions upon them all. Later, as she held Makoto while Mitsu keened and wailed into the miko’s chest, she made a silent promise. I will see that whelp made powerless and alone before he dies at my feet.
Inuyasha leaned against the sharp rock wall of the valley and stared into the dragon’s camp. It had taken a full day of retching, another uncomfortably cold night, and a morning of screaming and kicking at his subordinates, but Natsou seemed to be back to his old self. The hanyou’s eyes narrowed. Inuyasha had always been a good judge of character. He had to be, growing up as he did. Knowing when a smile was honest or a mask to get a small, hungry boy alone and unsuspecting had meant the difference between freedom and death – or fates worse than death – more than once in his short childhood. Despite all his bluster towards the three humans – and one annoying kitsune – whim he now counted as his closest friends, he had always known their intentions. He hadn’t always agreed with them – he sure as hell still didn’t always understand them. Kagome and Sesshomaru, together, the thought sent a bewildered shiver down his spine. But he knew, just watching his friends, that their loyalty was his. He didn’t always feel he deserved it, but he knew. Just like he knew that Sesshomaru had never really wanted to kill him. Past that, he doubted anyone could guess what was going on in the ice prick’s mind, but that had been enough to forge an alliance against Naraku.
That and Kagome.
He didn’t have Kagome with him, but Sango had his back, which was nearly as good. Better, if there was going to be any actual fighting. And there was. Oh, hell yes, he thought with satisfaction, there is definitely going to be fighting. And blood. And a whole lotta dead dragons. Inuyasha knew that because he knew people, or in this case, youkai. Knew how to read them. Knew when they were earnest and when their actions and expressions were just a mask.
Almost half of the dragons in Natsou’s camp were wearing masks.
The dragon captain would scream and they’d bow and carry out orders. He’d kick or take a swing at a soldier that wasn’t moving fast enough or maybe just irritated him, and they would apologize and accept punishment. But they didn’t want to. When the Natsou turned his back, there were sidelong glances. Short and easy to miss, but they were there. They tensed when he walked by. They eased away and followed his orders to the letter – but not the spirit. There were a hundred little ways in which those soldiers were disobeying Natsou, but he couldn’t see it. Inuyasha could. He smiled, one fang falling over his lower lip.
“What do you see?” Sango’s quiet voice didn’t startle him, he had heard her soft, gliding footsteps a hundred yards back, but his little hatchling secretary squawked and jumped about a foot in the air. Drawing the attention of a few dragons at the edge of their camp. They eyed him carefully, but went on about their business.
“Settle down, egg,” Inuyasha muttered. “You can’t be lettin’ somebody get the drop on you like that,” he snorted, “or at least try to act like they didn’t.”
“She’s a slayer,” Tomago whined, with a mixture of awe and fear in his voice.
“So?” Inuyasha could imagine the raised brow and look of disbelief that Sango was no doubt throwing at his back, so amended, “Just cause there is no way she wouldn’t get the drop on you, don’t mean you have to act like it. Half the battle is actin’ like you ain’t impressed by the other guy.” Tomago nodded solemnly and thought over his words, making Inuyasha roll his eyes. Damn kid, thinks I know what the hell I’m talking about, he snorted, half disbelieving, to himself. He idly picked up a stone and stood again, rolling it between his fingers.
“Well?” Sango asked quietly.
“Well what?” Inuyasha didn’t think before he threw the question over his shoulder. If his count was good, and he gave himself some breathing room with the numbers, then Natsou would have only two-thirds the number of warriors that Inuyasha had. That would be half of his group – if, and it was a big if, if Inuyasha could convince the half that had no respect for their captain to lay down their weapons. He figured between the youkai, monks, and a few surprise traps he had prepared in advance, that he could take all the dragons on. But, if he was a lot more careful than he preferred, he wouldn’t have to. Facing half as many enemies would mean half as few injuries to his own soldiers. If the monks can take position on the ridge, then-
“There are few times I have wished for power over the kotodomo,” Sango said mildly, “but it would garner your attention.”
Inuyasha blinked and rewound their conversation, stifling the urge to spin around so that the slayer was no longer at his back. He winced when he realized he had ignored her. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I see a little crack. Right down the middle.”
“Hm. A little crack can cut a rock in half, given time. I don’t think we can wait that long.”
“Not time. Pressure.” Inuyasha was aware of the hatchling’s confused gaze hopping between the two old friends, but he kept his eyes on the enemy. Pressure, he thought, I just need to find the right point. Natsou left his tent and strode toward a small training area. The dragons there stopped and bowed, and he demanded an opponent. The mock battle was quick and messy, leaving a dusky copper-skinned youkai writhing on the ground. Natsou’s cruel grin earned him both sincere congratulations and stiffly cool nods. The captain spoke to the injured soldier, reprimanding him for a petty offense, nothing worthy of such a punishment.
“Pressure?” Tomago questioned, puzzled.
“Properly applied,” Sango said with the air of an instructor, “one finger can destroy even the most fearsome of demons.”
“You can do more with a clenched fist,” Inuyasha pointed out. He squeezed the stone in his hand and it broke with a muffled crunch and a spray of dust between his knuckles. “And it is more fun.”
“I thought…” Tomago’s voice trailed off until Inuyasha glanced over and raised his eyebrows. “I thought we were, uh, showing them our bellies?”
Inuyasha barked out a short laugh that startled several nearby bird youkai. “Some can do more damage that way.” He brushed his hands off on his pants and wiped the smile from his face. “Egg, get me every kitsune and tabuki we have in camp. I want them up at the tent in an hour.”
“Planning on starting trouble, Inuyasha?” Sango murmured. He could hear the smile in her voice.
“Miroku said I should play to my strengths.”
Sesshomaru watched the ameonna glide out of the courtyard and had to force his jaw to unclench. Deep violet shadows stretched from the buildings and dormant trees in the nearby garden. Cold, still air, the crisp taste of snow thickening in his nose, sat heavily over the shiro. The day had been long. Long and distasteful. More than distasteful. Offensive. Repugnant, even. He had just finished dictating a message for Inuyasha that the water demon would repeat to the hanyou, word for word. The command therein could very well get his half-brother killed.
Prior to that he had secured himself in his study with Hisao and Kimi while Kento and Jaken ensured that all of the council members and their entourages were packed and prepared to leave at first light – those that did not depart immediately. They had taken the plans and resources offered by the allies of the Full Moon Council and dissected them, pulled them apart and reformed them to fit within a greater framework of war. Knowing the coming battle, having prepared every defense and offense, made Sesshomaru long to draw his blade. The tactics they would use were not his preferred methods, but it was the best of all they had to offer. Strong, skilled soldiers. Spies. Former enemies. Sheer numbers in human allies. Wild, nearly uncontrollable youkai that were often more beast than demon. Holy power. The risks were immense. Defeat was intolerable. Those he respected most, cared for most, those he loved would be in the most danger. It was an unacceptable eventuality that he had to force himself to accept.
And those hours secluded in planning had been preceded by hours more with those left of the Full Moon Council. Uesugi had agreed to send scouts along the coasts and report back of any movement. Sesshomaru would not be taken by surprise a second time if Ryukostokken tried to move his forces across the water. The otter had also offered supplies – of particular importance to the human soldiers. They would require food and some camp comforts if they were to move quickly without stripping the land of stored grain and cloth that disease-ravaged villages needed desperately. Ayame had left almost immediately to gather her wolves. She had the furthest to travel overland, but her pack was swift and Sesshomaru trusted her be ready. Tsukahara had been surprisingly helpful in dealing with the humans. Date needed significant coaching on the methods of youkai warfare, and the eagle had been patient with him. Sesshomaru recognized that Tsukahara did so out of strategic necessity – Date had the largest standing army of any of the humans, all well-equipped and trained. Still, it made the final planning run smoother when the amount of derogatory insinuations and misunderstandings were kept to a minimum. The trees were also already positioning themselves. They would act primarily as a communication network, alerting Sesshomaru to any change in the enemy’s position and relaying information from the far spread allies of the West.
Nothing was said of the absence of Kenjirosu or Matsudaira. None dared after Sesshomaru had ended speculation on Hirimoto’s involvement in the war. As they had discussed, he left his answer vague, but unarguable, “That One fights alongside the West.” It was true, but open to interpretation among those who were without doubt smuggling parts of the battle plan to the North. Ryukostokken must believe that Hirimoto would not be able to return, might not be willing to return, to Sesshomaru’s side and take part in the war. If the ruse was revealed, then Hirimoto’s suffering would be tarnished. Sesshomaru would not allow that.
It had been a long day, but in the cold of a burgeoning storm, Sesshomaru admitted that he preferred his meetings and the distasteful subterfuge to the task that Kagome had been set. She had spent most of the day comforting the mourning cubs of the South. He would not have known what to say, what words to offer that might console after such a loss. It was ironic, that he who had suffered the death of his own father and the near destruction of his lands could not offer sympathy to Makoto and Mitsu. He was not certain he was capable of it. Of greater import, Sesshomaru could not attempt such a thing. His attention was already on a dangerous precipice. The defeat of Ryukostokken should have been at the forefront of his mind – the only occupation for his thoughts. The Saidai Mao was managing to keep his emotions and concerns – for Kagome, Hirimoto, even Inuyasha – in check, but if they escaped the tight confines he had placed around them his instincts would rage wild and unimpeded. A sword drawn out of fear and sentiment was not drawn by a master.
Kagome had done what he could not, without his having to command it. To ask, he thought wryly. She, of the generous heart and ferocious desire to protect would soothe bruised spirits and dry tears. His miko would do everything possible to make the artifice that was required of Hirimoto more tolerable. The disarray in this thoughts was entirely her fault – hers for bringing these needs and desires and concerns for others into his mind. But she was also his salvation in that chaos. Kagome was like a stone at the center of a zen garden; the sand flowed around her, but she anchored focus. She anchored him.
Sesshomaru breathed deeply and sent out his youki to locate her. She was in their rooms, not sleeping, but no doubt preparing for bed. The pups slept deeply in their respective rooms. Sesshomaru turned on his heel to seek her out. He would need to hunt and return to his study yet that night, but he also desired the warm waters of the hot springs to cleanse the scent of council members and tension from his skin while the steam settled his thoughts. He did not doubt his ability to persuade Kagome to join him. She could sleep after, and he could do the work that must be done.