Second Alliance – Chapter 35

Back to Chapter 34: Tests, Flights, and Revelations

Chapter 35: Eye of the Storm

Kagome walked next to Sesshomaru at a sedate pace that she knew he had set for her benefit. She was grateful for their slow progress, despite the matters that urged them to hasten back to his shiro. Her brain was tumbling over itself trying to become accustomed to her new reality. It brought on a pleasant sort of vertigo.

They had spent the entire day in the forest near Goshinboku. An entire day of caresses, kisses, whispered words and low growls and moans. If there had been any doubt left that Sesshomaru desired her, it was completely obliterated under the onslaught of his tongue. The memory should have made her blush, but as she stepped along the worn path, she found she could not. Kagome had the strange thought that her new boyfriend – lover – intended mate might have stolen her ability to be embarrassed. There was only so much naked exposure and toe-curling fulfillment a person could endure before their mind was broken. She was fairly certain hers was.

She could not think of another explanation for why she was walking calmly along after everything that had happened: an entire afternoon of being physically worshipped by a powerful demon, of having her every need met, of being told she was beautiful, cherished, protected, strong, and intelligent; an afternoon that had left her exhausted and tingling with aftershocks. She had fallen asleep sometime before twilight became fully night and after Sesshomaru had built a fire, fed her, and explored her body for the fourth – maybe fifth – time. When she woke, it was to a breakfast of cooked venison, which he shared with her, and fresh berries, which he did not. Sesshomaru was considerably more subdued, but while his face was impassive enough to fool anyone who didn’t know him well, she recognized the soft glint in his eye. He touched her unnecessarily often, helping her with her obi and sandals, carrying her pack.

Holding her hand.

Kagome glanced down at their entwined fingers again, as though to remind herself that it was real. The Killing Perfection had informed her that it was time to leave their little camp, and then held out his hand for hers. His fingers were warm, his palm calloused from using his sword. The tips of his claws prickled lightly against her skin. He did not glance at her, but walked in silence with only the whisper of silk and the faint swish of his hair disturbing the background noise of the forest. Any human who viewed them from a distance would see the strange, but tranquil, scene of a lord and his finely dressed hime out for a stroll. A demon or holy person would know differently. Even as Kagome stared absently at the hem of her kimono, she could not help but sense the youki washing around them.

Kagome knew that Sesshomaru walked his lands to mark them, to let his presence be felt by those he protected – and any who intended harm in the West. She had experienced his power in that way many times, while they were searching for the Shikon, and recognized that it was different now. Where before, his youki had felt like a suspended weight – a pause, the threat of a blade that could fall at any moment – it was quieter now, thicker. Just as dangerous, she thought. She tried to conjure up an image to describe the sensation the energy inspired. The threat was still present, still deadly, but it was not Damocles waiting to fall, it was a warning sign: Danger. Keep Clear. No Unauthorized Admittance. This Property is Under Surveillance.

Beware of Dog.

Laughter broke the silence and brought Sesshomaru to a halt. He turned to her, face impassive but clearly waiting for an explanation. Kagome smiled and shrugged, knowing better than to think he would find the image funny.

You have been quiet,” Sesshomaru stated. There was a tiny wrinkle between his eyes that indicated a frown.

I just…” Kagome trailed off, suddenly uncomfortable under his direct gaze. She began walking again to avoid it. His face turned forward, and she found it easier to speak without the weight of his eyes on her, “I just am not sure what to say. I think you…I think,” she laughed again, this time at herself, “I think you fried my brain. I’m sure language skills will come back to me eventually – so you should probably enjoy this while you can.”

Your chatter is not…unpleasant.” Kagome blinked, unsure if she had been given a backhanded compliment, or a watered-down insult. Any response she had was forestalled as he continued, “I have not ‘fried’ anything, but if you mean to say the experience was so impressive that you have been rendered speechless, then I accept your praise.”

You-” Kagome spluttered, eyes wide. It had been impressive. Overwhelming. Completely freakin’ awesome. However, saying so, especially with Sesshomaru’s smooth nonchalance, seemed to ruin it a little. She wondered if he did it on purpose to rile her, or if he couldn’t help it – his ego was just that big. The corner of his mouth twitched and she narrowed her eyes. The daiyoukai’s ego was certainly large, but he was also trying to irritate her. Two can play at that game. “Impressive?” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned up her nose, prepared to take him down a few notches. “Good, certainly, but given the pedestrian nature of your repertoire compared to the future, if it were to be judged on a sliding scale, I think you wouldn’t score any higher than, say-”

Pedestrian?” Sesshomaru stopped again and glared down at her.

It means-”

I am aware,” he said, nostrils flaring. Kagome had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling.

Oh, then you understand. I mean, with such a small amount of data, I can’t really compile an accurate assessment.” He still looked upset, but his head tilted slightly. Kagome swallowed a grin and continued, trying to lead him into bantering, “And there are so many factors to take into consideration. Location, time of day, stress, familiarity – they could all affect performance.”

His jaw clenched so hard, she worried it might crack. “My performance-”

Kagome interrupted him, “Before I could pass judgement and call it impressive, I would really needed a larger pool for comparison.” His posture relaxed slightly, and Kagome continued helpfully, “You know, I would hate to call yesterday impressive, and then find out it wasn’t your best effort.” She could feel a blush rising, it was almost a relief to know she still could, but she could also see a glint in his eyes. She pushed on, “I’m going to need to see the rest of your resume, before I know if I’m willing to keep you on in this position.”

She knew he didn’t understand her references, but he seemed to grasp her meaning all the same. Excitement and contentment warred within her as he leaned down and firmly lifted her chin. “I am impressive, little miko.” His face bent closer and Kagome’s heart sped up. His lips brushed against her cheek to find her ear. She closed her eyes and shivered as his tongue traced the shell and he pulled the lobe between his teeth, biting gently. A soft moan escaped her lips, and she forgot why she had wanted to needle him in the first place. “Impressive – in every position.”

His whisper sent heat shooting right through her. She was surprised when, not a moment later, she was jerked forward by their joined hands. “Hey!” she complained.

We should be going, we need to get back to the West today.”

Kagome was put out. It had been a little scary teasing him, certainly she had never said anything like that before – to anyone, much less the Saidai Mao. She had hoped for more of a reaction. That, and his attentions had left her ear tingling and a dampness between her legs that would grow uncomfortable soon. She muttered under her breath, “If you’re in such a hurry all the sudden, why bother walking?”

It is what courting humans do,” his low voice answered easily.

It was Kagome’s turn to pull them to a stop, remembering their conversation about mating customs.

A lot of other things should happen before two people get married.”

Hn. Such as hand holding.”

Like holding hands. Like going on dates – er, on walks, and eating together, talking.”

Her heart stuttered, and her breath caught – just for a moment. He was compromising for her. Sesshomaru, the most unyielding person she had ever met, the one being who didn’t have to bend – who bent others around his desires, was meeting her halfway. For her. She stared at him, mouth open.

Kagome fell in love.

Later she would examine it, pick apart the moment and try to remember exactly how it had happened, but nothing would ever explain it. She had been standing there, arguing with him, feeling a little irritated and a little turned on. And then she loved him. Maybe it was the way he said it, the way he said almost everything, as though it was obvious and expected and the idea that things would happen in any way but his way was ludicrous. Maybe it was the way he had decided to do what she wanted. No questions, no argument, no dragging his feet. She didn’t nag or bat her eyes or plead. He had woken her up that morning with breakfast. Eaten with her, then taken her hand and proceeded to walk at a pace that was far slower than even his most unconcerned patrol – at a time when they really should be travelling as fast as possible. All so that she could have a date. He had the pressure of a war weighing him down, an entire people to protect, to save, and he still put everything on hold to walk with her.

Tears pricked at her eyes, and she smiled at him. A huge, goofy smile that probably looked ridiculous but she couldn’t seem to help. “Yep,” she said, her voice cracking a little, “they do.” She squeezed his hand, ignoring the worried frown wrinkle that had reappeared between his eyes, and began walking again.


Sesshomaru felt content. Which shouldn’t have been very unusual for him, considering that he had always taken exactly what he wanted, and ignored or killed what he didn’t. However, despite remaining sexually unsatisfied and enduring a sleepless night, dawn found him peaceful, rested, and absolutely…content.

Kagome had cried out his name until her voice gave out. She had come undone so many times in his arms her muscles quivered from the strain – until she could take no more and simply relaxed into a deep sleep. He had completely and utterly sated his intended – at her request – and no youkai could approach either of them without scenting their claim on each other.

No human could see Kagome and not recognize that she had been devastatingly well-satisfied.

That was obvious when he woke her for breakfast. Her lips were still red and swollen, her skin faintly flushed. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders in attractive disarray that spoke to having claws thrust into it passionately. When he retrieved mokomoko and helped her to dress in her red and white kimono, he had an excellent view of her silky skin, marked at the hips and thighs with faint pink lines and small bruises – the latter from her own fingers when she couldn’t reach his hair to hold on to. Her breasts had still been heavy and swollen even after her rest; her nipples red and peaked and overly sensitive.

Kagome smiled at him shyly as he helped her dress. She grinned openly over breakfast. She hummed under her breath and stared into the middle distance with a smile on her lips as they walked. She smelled of fresh cherry wood and dewy magnolias. The faint smoke of her cinnamon desire still wreathed her and was layered heavily with the warm, thick scent of gardenias. She was happy to be with him. Happy with him.

The scent of her – of her emotions – washed over him like a tide. He had taken nothing of her for himself, and still, he was content. More than content. Pleased with himself, with her. Pleased with the day and the crisp air and the faint taste of far-off snow in the air. The feel of her small warm hand in his as they walked, the sound of her sandals stepping in time with his – only occasionally tripping. The feel of her power ebbing and flowing between them, reaching out to caress him without any active direction from her.


After a few hours, the feeling had not diminished, but it was joined by a spark of concern. It occurred to him that he had never known his miko to remain quiet so long. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She had a strange look on her face that matched the scent of concentration around her. Without warning, her scent deepened and brightened and the clear tone of her laughter broke out. A year ago, he would have ignored such behavior, but he could not have prevented himself from stopping and turning to her if he had wanted to. And he did not want to. Sesshomaru wanted, desired, needed to know everything about this female – his intended. Her complex and ever changing emotions were almost incomprehensible to him. Although his nose told him what she was feeling, despite all his preternatural senses and supreme intellect he often did not know why she felt as she did.

She shrugged off his questions – either unable or unwilling to explain her sudden amusement to him. He allowed that, but could not let her think that her voice disturbed him. He did not actively listen to every work that came out of the female’s mouth, there were simply too many, but even when his mind was elsewhere he had discovered he enjoyed the sound of her almost as much as the scent of her. Then she had called his abilities into question. He was fairly certain she was teasing him, but her expression was serious and her scent full of too many emotions to be definite. Sesshomaru was fully prepared to carry her deeper into the woods and prove his prowess.

Before I could pass judgement and call it impressive, I would really needed a larger comparison.” She was teasing. Her metaphors were unfamiliar, but he understood her intent. He barely suppressed a wicked grin. His shy little miko was blushing again, but she had rather boldly tried to manuever him into giving her what they both wanted. He, of course, had been right. In the end she needed very little convincing. The citrus of her excitement misted around him, tugging at his own control.

Sesshomaru carefully pinched her chin between two claws. “I am impressive, little miko,” he stated, his voice deep and carefully pitched for her ears alone. He brushed his nose and mouth along her jaw and cheek, inhaling the uniquely satisfying mix of her. He ran his tongue along the delicate edge of her ear and nipped at her. She moaned, and he allowed a self-satisfied smile against her skin. “Impressive,” he purred, “– in every position.”

The spice of desire filled his nose and he withdrew, leaving her to consider the state her teasing had left her in. Sesshomaru was not unaffected, but he had centuries of practice at self-denial and repressing his own desires to help him win the little game she had devised. She was vocally unhappy with his decision to move on, and he could feel the corner of his mouth lift slightly at her disgruntled comments. He considered that perhaps he would take another night on their journey to show Kagome his considerable skills. One more day would be acceptable to be away from the West; Kimi, although he would never say so to his mother, would have things well in hand. With Kento and Hisao present and no immediate threats, he could afford to take a short time with his intended.

If you’re in such a hurry all the sudden, why bother walking?” She was irritated, which he found enjoyable in small doses, and unsatisfied, which he empathized with – strongly.

It is what courting humans do,” he responded. The entire morning had been by her order, after all. She had catered to his needs the previous afternoon, accepting many of the wholly inu actions his instincts and culture demanded of their situation: the courting, the challenge to his claim, the reassurances. A strong mating was a partnership. Even if it was not often sought in inu unions, he would have preferred equality to forcing Kagome into subservience. Such was not in her nature. So he had followed her instructions as well. A meal together. A walk together. Hand Holding. Although he had no intentions of delaying their mating as long as human customs dictated, those affections and intimacies were not objectionable, and Kagome was obviously pleased with them.

At least, he thought so, until she suddenly stopped on the path. Their linked hands forced him to stop as well, rather than drag her after him. She said nothing, but her eyes were wide and her lips parted. Sesshomaru felt his concern revive. He inhaled discretely.

Cherry wood, freshly cut. Magnolia blossoms, kissed with dew. Kagome.

Fading satsuma oranges. Excitement.

Cinnamon spice. Desire.

Faint inuzansho pepper. Irritation.

Hints of sour niguari melon. Concern.

He could feel an involuntary crease forming between his brows. At least ten other emotions ebbed and flowed in her scent – he could not be certain which pertained to his actions and person, and which were wholly products of whatever thoughts ran through her mind. He had assumed she would be pleased with his attempts to accommodate her culture. Doubt began to grow in his mind. He had misjudged her on previous occasions, perhaps the unfortunate circumstance had occurred again. Without her scent to give him clear direction, he focused on the sound of her.

Dub-lub. Dub-lub. For a moment, she stopped breathing. Dubbbub. Her heart seemed to catch, and his eyes widened momentarily, but the organ corrected itself before his fear could surface. Carnations effused the air around them, so sweetly rich and thick they nearly overwhelmed the rest of her scent. The flowers married perfectly with the base of her, of what was Kagome; to his inu nose she was suddenly complete in a way he had not known she could be. He could not tie the aroma to any particular emotion, and was further disoriented by the salt and shine of her unshed tears. A smile broke out on her face, like the sun from behind a cloud.

Yep, they do.” Her voice cracked, as though in sadness, but she squeezed his hand and began walking again. Had Sesshomaru been anyone other than himself he would have shaken his head in wonder and confusion. Kagome was pleased with him, happy with him, desired him – and yet also seemed on the verge of an emotional maelstrom. Females were difficult. Human females unfathomable. His miko was on a level entirely her own.

Sesshomaru could not let the conversation rest on her odd words, but did not know what to say. “Hn.” He walked alongside her, still sorting through the varied and conflicting signals she put out, and listening to her quiet humming.

He was still trying to precisely determine where the morning had escaped his control when the odor of death reached him. He had Kagome secured against his side and the area scanned before she could utter a surprised, “Wha-?”

With a surge of youki and a spring of his powerful legs he leapt above the trees, summoning his cloud to hold them there. “Sesshomaru!” Her shock and concern were evident, but she kept her voice modulated. A far corner of his mind noted with satisfaction that she was familiar with dangerous situations and reacted appropriately. One small hand gripped the strap of his armor while the other reached for her bow – which was not there. He would have winced, if he were inferior enough to allow discomfort at his miscalculations to show on his face. The future Lady of the West needed to be able to defend herself and her people. She was capable of it, he had seen that firsthand time and time again. She needed her weapon. She needed training.

Those thoughts ran in the background while he assessed the situation. There were no youkai nearby, although several lesser individuals, males that had controlled their youki and scent, had travelled in the area recently. The most recent human trace was months old. The odor was centered to the west and north of their path, and the animals had given it a wide berth. There was no immediate threat, but Sesshomaru was still vigilant.

Something – someone – has been killed recently. Call your reiki,” he ordered quietly. “We will investigate.” He flew closer, but could not easily see the source of the stench through a thick tangle of branches. Touching down a few yards away, he reluctantly let Kagome go. “Stay close. Protect yourself as you see fit – your abilities will not harm me.” His silent steps were wasted as Kagome crunched through the crust of snow and old leaves on the ground. He ignored it, and approached the corpse, cataloguing the injuries and attempting to set aside the protective urges inspired by Kagome’s gasp and saddened horror.

The body was human, but beyond that he could only guess at the identity. The naked back faced the sky, long dark hair spread across the snow. Shallow cuts ran across the skin, only a finger’s width apart, from the neck to the ankles. Blood stained the ground around the body – the person had been alive when it was dumped there – but escape or salvation would have been impossible. From the angle and texture of the joints he could ascertain that the ankles and knees had been crushed. From the coloring of the skin, it had been done before death. Sesshomaru held up a hand to signal Kagome to stay back, which she ignored, following a few feet after him as he approached the corpse.

He knelt beside it, careful to keep his silks away from the blood and muck. The scent of youkai was faint, but not concealed. Sesshomaru quickly identified it as dragon. Already cautious, his instincts demanded he secure the area. The daiyoukai had not become the most powerful of the demon lords by constantly giving into his primal tendencies, and he needed more information before he could act appropriately. He gently rolled the body. It was female – or had been – and the cuts on the back continued around the front. He held out his hand to verify the pattern. As though the person had been suspended and spun, claw marks spiraled around from foot to neck, gradually growing deeper. The bloodloss would not have killed, but the pain would have been immense as nerves and skin were scored like a lemon rind. Particular attention had been paid to the breasts and genitals. The woman had been viciously raped, but then – or perhaps beforehand to further denigrate the will and amplify the pain – some sort of dulled blade had been taken to her flesh. Those places that were most sensitive had been sawed and ground until they resembled little more than meaty pulp.

Rage burned hot in his veins as he took in the atrocity that had been committed. The location where the body had been left, on a road between East and West, and the unnecessarily prominent stench of dragon were evidence that he was intended to know the fate this pitiful creature. The sadistic whelp Ryukostokken had arranged the remains of his pleasure to be found where someone loyal to or allied with the West would be sure to find it and recognize the taint of dragon. It took every ounce of his will to remain kneeling on the ground, quietly. He wanted nothing more than to tear something in two – particularly the vile monster, he does not deserve to be called youkai – but he could not. This was not a battle of one and one – meeting on a field and proving their worth. This was a battle of armies and innocents. Ryukostokken had shown, viscerally, that he would target Sesshomaru with any weapon he could while remaining behind his walls, subjects, and untold numbers of prisoners. Sesshomaru was aware of Kagome’s gasp and strangled retching behind him, but he could not comfort her until he had his own violence under control. Her pale, shaking hand brushed the hair away from the corpse’s face as she whispered a prayer for peace.

His heart stopped.

Between one breath and the next, he saw Kagome lying there. Kagome bloodied and desecrated on the ground. Kagome who had been seized and violated and left to die in agony and solitude. He looked to the sky and a howl of rage and grief built in his chest and his fangs and claws lengthened of their own volition. His youki exploded into the woods, frightening every living things within a mile and threatening death. He took in a deep breath to release his anguish and fury. Camphor and sweet flowers washed over him, soothing and clearing his senses.

Sesshomaru?” He looked down, the red haze receding from his vision. Her voice was soft and concerned, her face close to his, nearly blocking his view of the body. “Sesshomaru?” Her fingers brushed across his face markings, and the blue of her eyes radiated her care and unease. He carefully gripped her arms, confirming that she was there, with him – alive. His gaze shifted back to the corpse, this time prepared for what he would see. It was only the first glance that had tricked his eye. The face was roughly shaped like hers: small nose, pointed chin, high cheekbones. The hair had been inexpertly cut across the forehead to mimic her long, untamed bangs. The shape of the mouth was wrong, but it was the eyes that had momentarily obfuscated the truth. He was nearly certain that the woman had been born with brown eyes, like most Japanese humans, but a ceramic mask had been fitted to cover them. Large blue eyes, lined with thick lashes, were painted on the surface.

Ryustokokken could not have Kagome. So instead he had recreated her image and tortured and raped the woman behind it. Then he purposefully left his scent and the body where Sesshomaru would be made aware of it. This was a threat, a promise, that the dragon would take her again – and she would not live to escape a second time. Kagome tried to turn and see what had distressed him, but he used his superior strength to refuse her.

No,” he growled. He pressed her face against his arm and stepped back from the corpse. “Do not look.”

Sesshomaru,” she mumbled into the silk of his sleeve, “Let me go.”

No.” He tightened his grip and turned them both to trap her between a large tree and his body. His beast was dangerously close to the surface, and he was not certain that he could endure her horror and shame if she were to see what the dragon had done and come to the correct conclusions. “You must not.” He was not certain he could endure to look again. He pressed his nose into her hair and breathed deeply of her. His youki still flooded the area, warning and threatening any who might approach. It was not her.

Slowly, carefully, tendrils of reiki wound around his hands and arms. A gentle breeze of her power, warm ozone with a tang of salt, blew against him. His beast was pacing, howling, scratching at the chains he had around it, but her soft aura soothed him, calmed the worst of his vehement reflexes. “I can handle it, Sesshomaru,” she said quietly. His mind refused the idea, recalling the image of her broken with shame and crying in his arms after the escape from the North. Her arms circled his chest, pressing her to him despite his armor. Reiki followed suit, winding around him and his youki, surrounding him with herself. “I am stronger now, Sesshomaru. Stronger with you. You cannot hide the world from me.”

He brushed his mouth against her hair and smoothed his hands down her arms, across her back. It was not her. She was right. He knew that, knew that his miko, his intended was strong. She had proven it, he only needed to move past his protective concern and let her stand beside him. It was exceedingly difficult.

If not the world,” he said quietly, almost to himself, “why not then, this one thing?” With a monumental effort, he stepped aside, but kept his hands on her, prepared to shelter her again if she showed the slightest need. If I feel the need. Her face remained relatively calm, for her, although her scent and the tension in her body betrayed the sadness and revulsion she felt looking on the dead woman. He knew the instant she saw what he had seen, understood the depravity and cruelty that was displayed with that one death.

It’s me?” The question fell out of her mouth, unthinking, and Sesshomaru reflexively tipped his head and snapped at her ear in rebuke.

No,” he growled, and she must have sensed his turmoil because her eyes turned to his and the growing shame and anger in her scent diminished to make way for concern. He breathed of her again, inching closer to perfect control again. “But it was intended to be. Ryustokokken-”

How do you know it was him?” she interrupted.

In another time, Sesshomaru might have asked how many murderous stalkers were interested in her, if she couldn’t immediately blame one individual. Instead, he responded, “The stench of dragons stains the flesh. It was marked intentionally for once such as myself to discover.”

He wants to punish me,” she said slowly. Her understanding was laced with guilt and stirrings of her newfound hatred, “but I got away so he did this to someone else instead.” Her eyes narrowed on the body, and she swore with a conviction he had not heard before, “I will erase him.”

Sesshomaru both relished her determination to end the dragon’s life and mourned her innocence. What was done was done, and Kagome knew the reality of the world. He could only now ensure that she was prepared to meet it. “We must return to the West.” The situation had changed since that morning. The luxury of escaping for a day to be with each other was no longer afforded to them. They had people to protect, justice to mete out, and a stain upon the living world that must be removed.

We cannot leave her like this,” as ever-changing as the wind, Kagome shifted from avenging warrior to caring priestess. “We should take her with us.”

There is an outpost nearby,” Sesshomaru informed her, marking the area with his youki to keep others away. He could think of few things more disturbing that carrying his miko and the desecrated corpse of her double. “We will send soldiers to bring her to the palace.”

She deserves an honored burial.” Kagome kept her gaze on the woman even as she latched onto his armor and his cloud formed around their feet. They rose in the air and began west, as quickly as possible. Kagome growled impressively against Sesshomaru, “He deserves to be castrated.”

It shall be as you decree,” he replied, approving both her demands.


It’s not clear enough. What if he doesn’t figure it out?” Inuyasha stuffed his hands in his sleeves and scowled at the note Miroku had painstakingly drafted and redrafted.

He’ll get it, don’t worry. If the Northern Lord isn’t intelligent enough to read between the lines, then he has someone working for him who can. When this message gets to him, there will be scouts checking on our position within a day.” Miroku finished the final kanji and set down his brush.

Sango added, “Don’t worry, this is a good plan. It is something my father would have thought of, making your enemy think he wants you as his friend.”

Remember though,” Miroku cautioned, “he needs to have to work for it. If you look too eager, he’ll catch on to what we’re doing.”

The hanyou growled under his breath. Sango was right, it was a good plan. He just wasn’t sure he wanted it to work. If Ryukostokken took the bait and followed him to try and negotiate an alliance, Inuyasha would have to speak with him. At some point, he would have to stand across from that dragon fucker and not rip out his windpipe. It wasn’t his style. In fact, it grated against every nerve ending he had to play a part and pretend that his enemy was his ally. If it worked, he would get close enough to smell the slippery little asshole – but he wouldn’t be able to kill him.

If it worked, he could get enough information to end the war before it really began. He could find out exactly how and when the North was moving their troops. He could send word to Sesshomaru and they could attack, together, before the dragons got anywhere near Edo or the Western Palace. Inuyasha didn’t have a lot of people he cared about, but they were all in danger, and if staying his sword this one time would save them, he had to do it. The whole thing left a nasty taste in his mouth.

It must have shown in his expression, because Sango slapped him on the back, hard enough to rock him forward a few inches. “Cheer up, Inuyasha. With that attitude, we won’t have to worry about him wondering if this is a trap – he’ll know you want to kill him.”

The truth hurts,” Miroku stated cheerfully, rolling up the scroll.

Some more than others,” Inuyasha muttered. He shook off his misgivings and waved one of older soldiers, a crane that had proven capable of setting aside his feelings over the massacre at the Eastern Palace in order to get the job done. “You know what to do. Drop it if they don’t manage to take it from you-”

Miroku interrupted, “Try to look like you’re thinking about going back for it.”

Inuyasha continued, “Just don’t get hurt too badly. A couple of good licks to make ‘em think they drove you off, but don’t get carried away. We need good soldiers more than we need this plan.”

I will not fail, Inuyasha-sama.” The crane bowed stiffly and accepted the scroll. Several of his comrades stood silently, witnesses to his bravery, as he took to the skies. The entire camp was quiet as the grey blue of the soldier’s wings faded into the distance. Inuyasha took a deep, calming breath. This was it. The decision was made and there was no going back. Every demon, and human, in his small army was counting on him. Edo was counting on him. Kagome, Shippo, and Rin were counting on him. Sesshomaru was counting on him. If he succeeded, he could save his friends and allies – the West. Hell, all of Japan if his bastard of a brother was to be believed.

Keh, he snorted, no pressure.

What are you standing around for?” He barked at the soldiers, “Get moving, now! You have your orders!” He turned to Miroku, but the monk was already packing up his ink and brushes.

I’ll meet up with Koga and bring him around to the staging area though that narrow pass the goat youkai scouted for us. We should be just a couple of days behind you – faster, if they haven’t moved to the new camp yet.” The houshi leaned towards his wife, and for once grabbed her hand instead of her ass. “You will be careful, my love.”

Of course,” Sango responded with a smile that spoke volumes about her feelings. She still hadn’t told him, but Inuyasha was staying out of it. She had agreed to fly messages back to Sesshomaru, and so as long as she had an assignment that kept her out of direct danger, Inuyasha was trying to let it go.

Don’t push too hard,” he couldn’t help but admonish her. She glared at him and he quickly amended, “Sesshomaru probably won’t get back to the palace for a few days; he’ll take his time with Kagome.”

I bet he will,” Miroku said suggestively. A smack to the back of his head sent him stumbling forward.

Pervert,” Sango muttered, rolling her eyes.

Don’t talk like that about Kagome and the ice prick,” Inuyasha ground out, “anybody but them.”

Really?” Miroku’s eyes lit up even as he rubbed the knot forming on his scalp. “Then let’s talk about your love life, my friend. You could really use a-” Inuyasha wasn’t sure who hit the monk first, him or Sango, but he was out cold either way.

Great, now we have to carry him. Lazy lecher probably planned it.” Inuyasha grouched to cover the red stain in his cheeks.

Speak for yourself, I’ve been ordered to deliver mail, so I’m afraid I’m too busy to help.” Sango threw him a mock salute and an overly sweet smile and flounced away, presumably to prepare Kirara for their journey.

Why is it that I always end up havin’ to carry somebody,” Inuyasha muttered to himself as he none-too-gently slung his friend over his shoulder. “Idiot better wake up soon. I am not havin’ his ass in my face when I’m elbow deep in dragon guts.” He turned and yelled general orders to the camp, “Pack it up! I’m leavin’ at sundown, if ya ain’t ready, ya might as well go home.”

The last time his frigid brother had asked for his help, Inuyasha had said no – hell no – and Sesshomaru had still succeeded against an invasion. This time the forces challenging the West were greater. This time his allies were fewer. This time there was more to protect. Kagome, Shippo, Rin. A little Miroku and Sango baby, that wasn’t even born yet. He wouldn’t let his brother stand alone. He couldn’t.

Chapter 36: Make Like A Tree