Chapter 44: Results Based Approach
Chapter 45: Realization and Actualization
“They approach,” the lieutenant announced before his feathers had finished settling.
Inuyasha rolled his head from side-to-side, cracking his neck. His stomach was twisted in a bitter knot, but he kept a scowl on his face. It was ridiculous to feel anxious. The worst that could happen was the dragons could attack – but then Inuyasha would get to kill something, which was a hell of a lot better than standing around, trying to look like he was available to be manipulated into attacking Sesshomaru. That thought made him snort with amusement. As if he ever needed a reason to attack the ice prick. Most of the time just smelling him was enough to make Inuyasha want to punch something.
Preferably his half-brother’s face.
However, while Sesshomaru was an arrogant asshole, he was still pack. And a decent lord. And he had never tried to take Kagome. Keh, not ‘cept when she wanted it. That brought a whole host of other things to mind that had Inuyasha desperately trying to clear his head before he either blushed or gagged. He finally locked eyes on the last of the monks, hurrying to the back of the valley and the medical tent where they would be out of sight during the negotiation. If things didn’t go well, the worst that could happen was every youkai and human that had followed him would be slaughtered and then the North would march unchecked right through Edo and up to Sesshomaru’s door.
Ain’t gonna happen.
Inuyasha straightened his shoulders and crossed his arms. “Niji,” he barked. The oldest of the ameonnas bowed from her place at his left. “Get into position – and try not to be too obvious.”
“We are as spirits of discretion, Captain-sama,” she murmured with a faint smile. Her sisters behind her, all dressed – thank the heavens, Buddha, and every damn kami – giggled and bowed before gliding off behind Niji.
“It is not too late to simply attack them, Inuyasha-sama,” the crane murmured. “Ryukostokken is not with them, we could wipe out a sizeable portion of his army, and leave him open to another attack.”
Inuyasha grunted. “It is too late. And even if we could take them without losing most of the soldiers, which you know would be next to impossible on this ground, this ain’t about one battle.” Inuyasha whistled sharply to catch the attention of the hatchling who was making his way through the sparse groups on the training field. “You want blood,” he said bluntly, watching the crane out of the corner of his eye. The lieutenant’s jaw clenched, but he nodded and stayed quiet. “You won’t find it here. And if you can’t keep that blade sheathed, you best go back to the med tent with the monks.” Inuyasha raised his voice, not shouting, but loud enough that the youkai close by would hear and repeat what he said to their comrades. “This ain’t about revenge, or blood thirst, or atonement. This ain’t our battle to win. It’s ours to lose, ‘cause we are in this to win the war. We’re gonna stand here, and we are going to take whatever shit they want to feed us. We’ll drop a knee if we have to, whatever it takes. We’re gonna be Ryukostokken’s lapdogs, and when he’s done kicking us in the ribs – then we’re gonna bite off his fuckin’ head.”
Arashi walked quietly behind Natsou, listening equally to the captain as he discussed negotiation tactics – most of which were unwise – with his lieutenant, and to the men marching behind him. Their conversations were more far more interesting, although shorter and quieter to avoid Natsou’s wrath. The spy regularly fell back from his position, ranging along beside the ranks to eavesdrop. Most of them spoke of revenge, of glory in battle. A select few, quieter and perhaps wiser than their peers, said nothing, but their hardened glances and clenched jaws were signs of their thoughts. Arashi memorized their faces and their unspoken feelings regarding the suggestions that Natsou should forgo negotiation and slaughter the Eastern refugees.
By the time the captain became aware of the surveillance that had been placed on them, Arashi had been tracking two cranes and some sort of half-breed that was neither wind nor beast for more than an hour. He gave the young dog credit, his soldiers were skilled and the precautions taken with defensive traps were well hidden; Arashi very much doubted any of the other dragons had noticed. The tang of holy power was so faint and covered with youki, that the spy missed it on the first three lines of security and had to circle back to confirm his suspicions. The miko is not the only human Inuyasha has made an ally of, Arashi thought with respect.
“Eyes are on us,” Natsou snarled, nodding to the crane that circled far overhead. “Take aim,” he ordered.
“You have a most unusual way of opening discussions, Natsou-san,” Arashi remarked quietly. Only centuries of schooling his expressions and actions kept him from slapping the fool on the back of the head. “Has killing scouts earned you trust in previous negotiations?”
“Shut your maw, half-breed,” Natsou sneered, “Or I will rip it apart.”
Arashi nodded and bowed in a show of subservience, but his comments had achieved their intent. Natsou directed his best archer to keep an eye on the crane and his bow ready, but no order to fire was given. The final half-hour of marching was tense and silent. The spy noted two more protective barriers that were carefully prepared to be inert and nearly invisible until activated. The dog-hanyou grew in his estimation. When they rounded the last bend in the Eel Valley, his eyebrows rose a fraction, revealing his surprise – and admiration. The sight before them was no rag-tag group of refugees, frightened, injured, and banded together out of a lack of other options. It was an army. Not a full company by Northern standards, or those of the West, it was still impressive. And it outnumbered Natsou’s followers almost three to one. Arashi was quickly running through alternatives and potential versions of his original plan which would take the size and training of Inuyasha’s soldiers into consideration. Natsou did not seem concerned. The fool.
“Break here,” he commanded. “Block the exit, set a guard – hostile territory.” Arashi considered privately that, were he in charge, he would have done the same. Although not as obviously and aggressively as the captain. Not that it mattered; Arashi was the furthest thing from commanding the soldiers. He found a spot in the shade of a pine tree to offer some concealment and perched on a boulder that afforded a better view. A wide mixture of youkai – crane, bear, even a tanuki – had obviously been training before they were alerted to the approach of the dragons. Soldiers stood in regimented rows facing the entrance to the valley, weapons ready, but not drawn. There were no tents that he could see, although around the next bend in the valley he could make out a few campfires and bedrolls ready for use. Inuyasha had chosen an excellent position to defend, if that was his intention and Arashi was certain it was. The question was, why? Why prepare to defend, and against what or who? Why request the assistance of any half-wild youkai with a grudge against his brother? Arashi had twisted the truth when he explained things to Ryukostokken. The spy was well aware that, although not friendly, the two siblings were certainly not at each other’s throats. They had been allies against Naraku, and the ward of the West often stayed for days at a time in the village of Edo – under Inuyasha’s protection. All information he had left out of his report to Ryukostokken because it had been deemed counterproductive at the time. It could be a trap, an ambush to divide and reduce the Northern Army. It didn’t seem to correspond with what Arashi had gleaned of the hanyou’s battle tactics, but it was more believable than the alternatives.
Inuyasha intends to surround Natsou and massacre his soldiers, as part of some plan of Sesshomaru’s.
Inuyasha’s survival instincts were greatly exaggerated, and he intends to ally with the North and attempt to kill his brother.
Inuyasha is practicing deception.
The last option was perhaps the most unlikely, given everything that the spy had learned in recent weeks. However, it was what he would do in the same situation. That gave Arashi pause. Inuyasha was not the crazed, blood-thirsty, luck-blessed moron that Ryukostokken had convinced himself he faced. If he was, he would never have allied with Sesshomaru against Naraku. He would never have allowed the miko to purify the Shikon. He would never have been able to bring together so many youkai with no allegiance in one place and make a respectable army of them. No hanyou that survived on his own to adulthood – and Inuyasha was very close if he hadn’t yet come of age – was foolhardy or a slave to his instincts. Arashi was well aware of the discipline and cunning required to persist with the blood of two species in his veins.
An ambush was a tactic that most would consider. Ryukostokken had used the scheme many times to great effect. It favored planning and greater numbers – both of which Inuyasha had in abundance in this scenario. The Saidai Mao was certainly capable of developing and executing any strategy that the Dragon Lord could come up with. But would he, Arashi asked himself. It had been many years ago, but Arashi had once watched the Lord of the West in battle. It was a personal combat, against a tiger from the mainland, and necessity for concealment had kept Arashi at a distance. However, the inuyoukai was not one for games or subversion. He stood open and still, waiting until the last possible moment to engage. Never once did he present himself as less than he was or reveal allies or tricks that would sway the outcome. If Sesshomaru had any flaw, in Arashi’s estimation, it was pride. That daiyoukai would never consent to feigning weakness to trap his enemies.
There was a fourth possibility, of course, that Inuyasha was attempting the ambush on his own reconnaissance. The idea was discarded almost as soon as Arashi considered it, not because he believed the dog-hanyou incapable, Inuyasha was nothing if not a wily survivor, but because the youkai in question appeared at that moment in the camp. The distinctive red of his clothing and white of his hair stood out among the blues and greys of primarily crane demons. Purposeful strides took him past the edge of the line of warriors to stand, feet spread and arms crossed, not one hundred yards from Natsuo’s troops. Well within accurate distance of ranged weapons, whether the action was a cunning bravado or over-inflated ego had yet to be determined. There the dog waited. Arashi had expected brash comments and taunts to spur an attack, but none came and the inu-hanyou rose even higher in his esteem. At this rate, I will actually like the pup before we are through, Arashi thought with some humor.
“Half-breed,” Natsou shouted. Arashi suppressed a sigh; the captain was forever finding new ways to disappoint. He lightly jumped down from his perch to take up a new stance, close enough to advise the de facto leader of the dragons without the dog obviously hearing, but far enough away to avoid becoming an injured party if Natsou’s negotiations fell through. “I wish for the death of the weakling, Sesshomaru!”
His declaration was met with absolute silence. Arashi had to give credit where it was due, if Inuyasha was thinking anything beyond irritation, no one present would know it. “Unlike myself,” he said quietly, aware the Captain could hear him, as could anyone else with extremely strong youki and preternatural ears, “most born under such circumstances are not well-disposed to having it pointed out.”
Natsou ignored him and took a step forward, his hand on the pommel of his sword. “Half-breed, do you seek the destruction of the West – or have you lost your balls?” The crude taunt was actually more ill-conceived than Arashi had expected. Usually Natsou had the sense to at least temper his mouth when he was acting on behalf of his lord. It was a testament to how badly he wanted the negotiations to fail, so that he could kill a hanyou and meet up with the rest of the army. Natsou wanted the glory of invasion and the taste of blood, and he would ruin many, many plans if he continued as he had begun. Generally, Arashi preferred to remain in the shadows. He was a spy by profession and an outcast by birth. However, his shogi game had certain key moves left to be played, and he could not allow one over-eager youkai to upset this operation.
“Inuyasha of Edo,” he called out. One white ear flicked his way, and a hard gold gaze turned to him, but the dog did not move. His scowl might have become even deeper. Arashi took a deep breath, “The Lord of the North has sent Captain Natsou to treat with you for the terms of your stay on his lands. Will you speak with him?”
Natsou hissed and Inuyasha grunted. “Keh.” He made a show of looking behind him, then at the ridge of the valley. Arashi did not need to follow his eyes to know that several youkai loyal to the inu-hanyou were placed strategically above them. For each one he saw, he was sure there was one other he did not. “Don’t look like his lands. Looks more like my lands.”
“You challenge the North!” Natsou roared. He drew his sword, and the soldiers behind him shifted, griping their weapons tighter. Strangely, Inuyasha didn’t bother with a blade. He cracked his knuckles and bared his teeth.
“You came to me, fucker,” he sneered. “I ain’t challenged shit – yet.” Natsou lifted his sword, and Arashi tensed, prepared to jump away from a full-out battle. “I got bigger fish to fry than you pissants – and I wouldn’t chew on you if I was starving. I’ve had dragon.” For the first time in centuries, Arashi had to suppress a grin. Inuyasha might be the most reckless youkai he had ever met – reminding his enemy who had killed Ryukotsusei, the former Northern Lord. It was a terrible negotiation tactic, but it resulted in the realization of the fondest daydream of many of the dragon soldiers. Natsou let out a chilling scream, acrid smoke wafting from his mouth, and waved back his warriors. He drew his two-handed sword and charged. Inuyasha met him, faster than Arashi would have guessed the dog could move, and caught the blade with one hand. Blood dripped down his palm, but the weapon did not cut clean through. The surprise on the arrogant captain’s face was exquisite. “I’ve had dragon,” Inuyasha repeated with a snarl, “tastes like tough shit.” He slammed his fist into Natsou’s face and the captain careened backward. He did not fall, but he lost his sword to his opponent. It had been surprise, as well as strength, that allowed Inuyasha that small victory. Natsou would be more cautious, and Inuyasha would have to display considerably more skill, if they were to engage in combat again, but the point had been made.
Inuyasha tossed the blade, sticky and dripping, at the captain’s feet. “You want to challenge me, let’s go. You want to talk about how you can get the hell outta my way while I cut off that fuckin’ prick’s other arm – let’s talk.”
That set the tone for negotiations. They were conducted standing, midway between the Northern soldiers and Inuyasha’s army. The dog summoned a trembling little crane he called ‘Egg’ to his side to take notes, prompting Natsou to demand Arashi’s presence. The tactic had set the spy on edge. It would have made more sense from Inuyasha’s standpoint to speak to the leader of the dragon contingent alone – he certainly didn’t need a half-grown bird at his side. He wondered at the reasoning, not willing to fool himself into thinking that Inuyasha didn’t have one.
Natsou, however, was not used to doing much thinking about his enemies’ motives, and the negotiations were no exception. Despite his rather humiliating defeat at the hands on an unarmed hanyou, he still managed to insult Inuyasha every third time he opened his mouth. Surprisingly – again Arashi found himself thinking that the inu-hanyou was unexpected – while Inuyasha was just as derisive and condescending in response, he did not take the bait and act violently. And if Arashi hadn’t known any better, he would have believed that Inuyasha wanted nothing more in the world than to destroy the West and Sesshomaru with it. It all fit in quite well with the spy’s plans, but it grated on his nerves that he didn’t know why. That, added to Natsou’s constant missteps, had him considering ways to delay the process and allow him time to think.
“And what would your master want for this support?” Inuyasha snorted, “Not that I need it.”
“You’ll be fortunate to escape your first battle with your life, half-breed,” Natsou sneered. “But if my lord decides you are worth his generosity, he would only ask for one small thing. There is a miko in the West.” Arashi gave Inuyasha points for not immediately reacting. “Ryukostokken-sama wants her whole and unsullied.” Then he had to take away those points just as quickly.
“No.” Gold eyes were narrowed, at what had begun as a scowl transformed into something much more feral and dangerous.
“Don’t tell me you lust after the little whore too? Are all dogs so eager to pant after weak humans, or is it just your line?” Youki, wild and savage, swelled from the young hanyou. Natsou responded on instinct, his own aura rumbling. The pressure between the two quickly became uncomfortable for Arashi and pushed the hatchling back a step. Something had to be done or the rest of the day would be spent cleaning up the mess.
“If you do not want her body, then it is only her life that you object to giving away.” Arashi hated to give away knowledge without direct benefit, but the situation had to be salvaged. “That matter can be negotiated. If you can concede that her other attributes are not your concern, then, in time, we can come to agreement.” Fuzzy white ears twitched, but told the spy nothing of Inuyasha’s thoughts.
“Fine,” he snapped his teeth at Natsou, earning a hiss, and straightened. “There’s a lord’ll do whatever he wants with her body,” a twist of revulsion crossed the hanyou’s features, and Arashi was perplexed and fascinated by the expression, and the one of unholy satisfaction that followed, “if he can avoid her fuckin’ burn. But I ain’t agreeing the dragons get to take her out of the West without my say-so.”
Natsou’s tongue flickered out, and Arashi knew he was testing the dog’s scent for lies. Nothing came of it but a set jaw and frown of distaste from the captain. Arashi was left wondering exactly what part of the implication in Inuyasha’s words was true, and what was vague suggestion. Natsou gave a sharp nod.
“Excellent,” Arashi said quietly. He glanced at the sky, there was perhaps only an hour of good light left in the day. He felt the tension of every strained minute spent listening to the two youkai taunt, argue, and threaten. Not for the first time, he considered, with longing, the assignments that were as simple as bribing an official or two, waiting motionless for a week in a frozen tree, and assassinating a band of samurai. He had known when he first set up his shogi board decades ago that there would be unpleasant aspects – it was politics, after all – but he had not imagined that the fate of Japan would rest on a hanyou too young to be expected to play and a dragon too blinded by ego to see the pieces. “May I suggest we break to eat, and resume these discussions in the morning?”
Both parties agreed, although Inuyasha added that if the dragons came any further into the valley, or tried to summon reinforcements, he would not hesitate to attack. Natsou suggested he would welcome the attack, as he had not dined on crane youkai in years. The barbed insults continued for another quarter hour before both males departed, leaving Arashi standing in the open, pinching the bridge of his nose and very aware of the vulnerability of his back.
Sesshomaru blinked awake in the pre-dawn quiet of his room and breathed deeply. Soon he would need to extract himself from the tangle of Kagome’s arms and legs. Soon he would be required to bathe, dress, and leave the family quarters to begin the business of the West. Soon, but not yet. He ran his claws gently through the thick mass of black waves that flowed across his shoulder and onto the futon. He found a knot, which was unsurprising given the activities his miko had engaged in before they slept. The memory brought a satisfied smile to his face as he smoothed her hair.
“Don’t you have work to do?” Kagome had blurted. Her face was so expressive, he did not need the tang of turnips in his nose to recognize her wince as embarrassment. Although her emotion was obvious, the reason for it was not.
“There is always work to be done, although there is nothing currently needing my immediate attention.” Sesshomaru felt an amused irritation. Kagome was a paradox: willing, wanton, powerful but also clumsy and often awkward in her own skin. And his miko still smelled of her completion, and even more recently than that of excitement and want, but she also seemed to have trouble admitting to such. How many times will I need to taste her before she loses such modesty? Sesshomaru vowed privately that he would commit himself to seeking the answer. He desired her, desired his own completion, but he had no intention of pushing Kagome toward such acts if she was not ready. Their mating ceremony would be soon enough; during his centuries he had gone far longer than two months without release. Always as his own choice, and never, thankfully, with so much ready temptation, but he did not doubt his ability to succeed.
“So, would you, ah, have time for a…bath?” He nodded, slowly. He needed to bathe, as did she, and once his hair was completely free of her fingers he considered that she might be prevailed upon to groom it for him. It would be torture, to allow her such an intimacy that was reserved for a mate without burying himself in her afterward, but it was a suitable task to make up for the damage she had caused to his person. He had no doubt that she would also find it enjoyable. Human females, if Rin and Kagome were any indication, were quite enamored of his hair. “Anything I can help you with?” She winced again and for a moment he was still thinking of locating a comb.
Then her scent reached him. She was embarrassed still, but the notes of passion had increased substantially. Excitement, trust, anxiety. Kagome attempts seduction. The experience was so unlike anything he had ever had before, or expected from her, that he was speechless for a moment. His body, unlike his mind, had no hesitation about the appropriate response. What had been uncomfortable fullness and heat amplified so that the strain of his member against his hakama put the demon-made fabric under serious stress. His gaze drifted from her flushed cheeks and the glimpse of white teeth biting into swollen flesh, down her neck and chest to her lace-covered breasts. The fabric was still damp from his tongue and the peaks red and tight. The soft skin of her stomach was marred by a faint bruise in the shape of his mouth, which he did not remember making. It pleased him even while he reminded himself to be gentler. She held her legs awkwardly drawn up, trying to maintain some decorum but seemingly unwilling to disturb the wet fabric over her sensitive flesh which was no doubt uncomfortable. He held his eyes there for a heartbeat, breathing her in and determining the quickest way to remove his fundoshi without strangling his cock or overwhelming his virginal priestess.
He became aware that his silence had resulted in a spike in her concern. “Most definitely,” he answered to assure her. He looked into her eyes, marveling at the blue color. “A mate – an intended mate,” he corrected himself quickly rather than get into a pointless argument with her that might distract her from her present goal – whatever that might be, “should groom the other. I will assist you.” Sesshomaru allowed a rare, wide smile that revealed his fangs. It had the intended result as Kagome’s eyes widened and her scent thickened. “And I expect you to be equally…through.”
The results had been far better than Sesshomaru had allowed himself to imagine. While he lit a fire in his newly constructed bathhouse to heat the water, Kagome had stripped off her undergarments and donned a thin yukata that left little to the imagination. She insisted on helping him remove his clothes. It was a glorious suffering. Her small, cool hands fumbled with every tie and fold of his kimono. Every inch of him, except the place that was throbbing for her, was caressed multiple times before she even bared his skin. Despite his frustrated need, he could not help the chuckle that escaped when she finally figured out his fundoshi. The wrapping fell away and he was gratified by her gasp and focused stare. She had stuttered, blushed, looked away and ordered him to sit. He did so, but enjoyed stretching out his legs to trap her between them so that she would have to press against him and lean over his shoulder to dip the rinse bowl into the bath.
She had blushed, the rosy color extending down to the collar of her yukata, but her scent assured him that she was not intimidated or overwhelmed by the intimacy. He was certain he had never been so thoroughly cleansed before a bath. She poured the slightly chilly water over his feet and calves, then thighs, working her way up his body properly. He found himself holding his breath, preparing to have his ardor forcibly cooled, but she skipped his groin to rise his chest and shoulders. The scentless soap that he preferred was stacked in paper-wrapped cakes on a shelf, but she first seized a bottle from her time and poured a sweet-smelling liquid into his hair. She spoke while she worked, although Sesshomaru was certain he had missed most of the nuance – details about products designed for hair and skin, and someone called Tsubaki. It was a glorious few minutes while she worked a lather up and scratched lightly at his scalp. She smoothed his hair all the way to the ends, tugging pleasantly and pressing her breasts against the side of his face and neck as she worked. He was disappointed when she finally rinsed, only to learn that she would repeat the process with something thicker which she promised would make his hair soft.
He did not abuse her of the notion that he needed such treatment, but enjoyed her ministrations thoroughly. When she finished, she pulled his wet hair into a braid, much to his surprise, and then began to wash his body. He leaned back against the wall of the bathhouse, giving her ample opportunity to take as much advantage of him as she dared. He watched her with heavy-lidded eyes, waiting to see how far his modest-yet-brazen miko would go. She lathered a bar of soap and began with his feet. Sesshomaru had never realized that his toes and ankles were so sensitive, but he felt every squeeze of her palms and brush of her fingers as though she were touching the straining member that stood demanding her attention.
Again, once she had rinsed the soap from his legs she skipped up to his shoulders and repeated the process on his arms and chest. By the time she poured water across his flat stomach, the fire had done its work and the liquid was perfectly heated. He moved as if to stand, prepared to return the favor in equal measure, but her fingers pressed lightly against his forearm. It was her quiet voice that held him in place, however.
“I haven’t finished yet.” The words were spoken evenly, but there was a thread of heat in her tone that caught his attention. Her scent had been building while she talked and worked, and the steam in the small room amplified it until he was swimming in magnolias and cherry wood, heavily spiced. It was made that much better to his senses that his own scent layered over hers where he had touched, kissed, and pressed his weight against her.
She had reached up for another scoop of water, and her yukata gaped open. He was so focused on the view of round flesh and pink skin that he nearly missed her deliberate pour of water into her open palm and then onto his cock. It was hot – but no hotter than his flesh and he appreciated that she had obviously thought to test it with her hand first. She dipped another bowl of water and set it to the side as she took up the soap. While she worked it into a lather in her hands, her gaze found his.
Sesshomaru had found it difficult to breathe. The passion written on her face was obvious and deeply felt, but it was the sweet fragrance of carnations and gardenia that shook him to his core. She trusted him, felt deeply for him, in addition to lusting for his body. By the time she set the soap aside and reached for him, his muscles were tense with anticipation, his member bobbing lightly with eagerness. His chest was tight, not just with expectation, but with emotion for the woman before him.
She had knelt, between his thighs, and even seated on the low stool the head of his cock reached nearly to her chin. Her hands shook slightly as she reached for him, and at the first touch Sesshomaru had to close his eyes and will himself not to release. Her hands circled him, slippery with soap and far cooler than his skin. Her finger and thumb could not meet around him, so instead she utilized her entire palm to stroke his shaft. She pulled down gently, smoothing back his foreskin and exposing the entire head to the steamy air. Through slitted eyes, all he could keep open, he watched her lean closer. To inspect or to do something else entirely, he had no idea. Her slick hands turned in a corkscrew motion as she inched closer to the tip. Finally her thumb found the narrow tendon that connected the back of his head to the shaft. She caressed it, her face so close that her breath puffed against his skin.
He had spoken, more guttural sound than actual words, what he was trying to say he did not know. Her hands stilled in response and she looked up at him, biting her lip. “Is this okay?”
Okay. Oh-kay. Sesshomaru had heard her use the word before, knew what it meant. In that moment he wished to find the human who would invent such drivel and rip their tongue from their mouths. It was not okay. Kagome should never say as much about anything that happened with her skin on his. “No,” he snarled. It came out rougher than intended and she frowned, looked down, and pulled one hand away. He trapped the other against himself, trying to keep his claws gentle but refusing to allow her to stop, wishing he was better at expressing what she needed to hear – what he wanted her to know. “Perfect,” he managed to get out between clenched teeth. He moved her hand under his and relaxed against the wall – as much as he could with every fiber of his being screaming at him to pick Kagome up and part her with his cock. She had initiated this intimacy, he would force himself to let her continue as long as she desired. Even if it killed him.
“Oh, oh…good.” That seemed to break the silence that had fallen over her, and she began to speak again. Her voice was huskier than usual, and low, as though she expected someone might overhear. And through it all her hand kept moving. “I have been wanting to touch you, wanting to…do this to you. You are so beautiful, Sesshomaru. It makes me ache…” Her thumb found the sensitive base of his head again, and this time stroked under and around the lip, drawing heavy breaths from him. His hand fell away from hers and found the low wooden table behind him that held towels. He gripped the edge, could feel his claws biting into the hard, dark lumber.
It was when her second hand tentatively caressed his sac that he first bit his lip. He must have made another sound, because she glanced up at him, worried again. He could feel a drop of blood running down his chin as he pried open his jaw to speak. “Perfect,” he said again. It was all he could manage, but there was really no other way to describe the dual sensation of her palm and fingers, slightly calloused from her bow, gripping and pumping his shaft while she cupped his balls and gently rolled. He sucked in a sharp breath and his hand reached out of its own accord to stroke her hair away from her face. He tucked it behind one ear so he could watch her, cheeks flushed, lips parted, eyes focused only on him. “…would it be like?” she continued, blushing but focused. “When you touch me, I want to know.”
Kagome’s hands left him and he almost grabbed her hair to force her back. He had to fist his hand on his thigh and breathe deeply to regain control. She poured the bowl of water over him slowly, and where the water had cooled while she touched him, his skin seemed to have become inflamed. He closed his eyes and let out a low growl, unable to concentrate on her words while his instincts were trying to claw their way out – demanding that he take her, teach her, show her, dominate her.
“…be alright?” He nodded once, not certain what she had said, only certain that he would let her do whatever she wanted for as long as he was able. He had to breathe. He had to pull in the Kagome scented air around him, air thick with his own desire, and let-
With a snarl and the sound of breaking wood his eyes snapped open. Kagome was staring at him, blue eyes wide and pink lips stretched over the tip of his cock. Her mouth was warm and wet, her lips soft and pliant. They both remained frozen, until he felt the flat of her tongue swipe across his weeping hole.
“You kill me, mate,” he growled in his own language. He knew she didn’t understand the words, but it did not seem to matter. Her eyes darkened, her lids grew heavy, and her hand wrapped around his shaft again. Sesshomaru abandoned the broken splinters of the shelf, ignoring the towels and sawdust that littered the floor, and instead dug his other hand into the stone base of the bath. Sparks flew from his claws, but he was nearly oblivious as his intended took him in her mouth again and again. Her fingers tugging and stroking, her tongue and lips caressing and sucking. When she cupped his sac again he gave in and thrust his free hand into her hair, tipping her head so that he could watch her taste him.
He had found his release that way, his first with Kagome, between her lips. She had hesitated before swallowing the first mouthful, the rest coated her neck and collarbones. When he was finished, he leaned over her where she knelt on the floor and kissed her. She still tasted of him, salty and musky, but of herself as well. The combination was enough to make him ready again, and he had to will his desire down. Instead he had washed her and brought her to completion again with his hands and mouth. He showed her, with his body and the reactions he pulled from hers, how much he cherished her.
Afterward, they had bathed together and talked of her lessons with his mother and the importance of martial training. He informed her of the duties expected of her, as his intended, during the Full Moon Council. She agreed to most of them with only a few arguments and bartering. She made a demands of her own, most of which would be simple and pleasing to fulfil. He had not brought up Jun, and was surprised when she did, but not at all surprised by the depth of emotion she showed him. Hurt, anger, pity for the youkai that truly believed he was acting in the best interests of his lord. She expressed second thoughts as well, revealing that she had only learned the kotodama spell recently, in an effort to make a new necklace for Inuyasha with a less humiliating trigger. She worried that she had taken Jun’s punishment too far – worried that she had not gone far enough. Sesshomaru had held her, reassured her, and when they were finished she went to eat with the children and reluctantly seek out Kimi. He removed himself to his private study to work. At the back of his mind, for the rest of the afternoon and evening, there was a sense of peace within him that he had never felt before. All of the reasons that he had used to justify bringing Kagome to the West, keeping her, pursuing her, courting her – they were still true. But it was also true that she was more than those things, more than the sum of her strengths and faults. She was a complement to him, a piece of himself that he had not realized was missing.
Sesshomaru pressed his lips against Kagome’s hair as the screens to the garden lightened with the first hints of dawn. She mumbled in her sleep – his name, which brought on a wave of heat and contentment – and burrowed into the dent he left in the futon when he stood. Mokomoko clung to her until he forced it to obey him; it was not unnoticed by him, nor distasteful, that the extension of his youki and instincts desired to stay with her. He consciously ran his fingers through her hair one last time and kissed her again before he left to begin his day. Sesshomaru did not have a name for the new feeling that Kagome had inspired in him, but it was strong and deep. Sometime in the moments between watching her mete out justice and allowing her freedoms with his person that he had never granted another, that feeling had been planted, rooted, and grown to become the foundation of his being. It filled him in a way that his quest for perfection and supremacy never had. He allowed a small smirk at the irony, as he made his way to the study where Kento was no doubt waiting to start the day. When he had turned his attention to the thing he had considered least likely to bring him greatness – that is when he became complete.
“Hirimoto-san,” Kimi smiled sweetly and gestured for her old friend to join her. The bear demon waved his small party to a halt and approached her, and she considered how the years had changed him. Rich chestnut hair cascaded just past his shoulders. Brown eyes sparkled with amusement. Wide bands of pale gold around his eyes and across his temples contrasted with the darkness of his skin. He was older, certainly; the breadth of his shoulders and strength in his chest were undiminished, but there was a hint of fat around his belly. Although that may have just been the season.
“Lady,” he greeted her. His voice was just as deep and amused as she remembered. “Please do not tell This One that such a beautiful flower travelled alone all this way.”
Kimi’s smile widened and she invited him to sit with a nod of her head. He claimed a cushion near her own. The location for her reception had been carefully chosen: far enough from the Western shiro and any villages to avoid attention, but near enough that she had easily flown there during the night. Her two most trusted servants had arrived on foot the day before, leading pack animals laden with everything needed for a hime’s picnic. A brilliant white canopy shielded her from the few stray flakes of snow that occasionally fell. Thick, imported carpet insulated her from the cold ground and supported plush cushions and an exquisitely carved table that held fresh, hot tea and plates of delicacies. Privacy for discussing matters of state was difficult to find, but there was no reason it had to be uncomfortable.
“A great ally and long friend has entered the West, Hirimoto-san. It is This One’s pleasure to offer greetings and welcome. Please, be refreshed after the journey.” Kimi lifted one elegant hand, and her servants stepped forward to offer trays of tea, sekihan, and sweet karintou to the southern party. The bear lord washed his fingers in the bowl of water near the table and dried them before selecting a ball of sekihan from the table.
“What celebration nears? Surely not the arrival of the South?” He eyed her over the sticky, red rice before popping the morsel in his mouth.
Kimi judged that her servants and Hirimoto’s party were out of earshot. “May formalities be considered exercised?” She raised an eyebrow and he smiled around his food, nodding. It was one of the many reasons she had always liked the bear, after his penchant for speaking his mind, he smoothly followed a change of course and adapted to new circumstances easily – unlike some dogs she knew. “The sekihan is my discreet way of incurring your congratulations.”
“Congratulations,” he immediately responded with real sincerity. Then he grinned, and his good humor was infectious. Kimi had to struggle to maintain a demur smile rather than ruin the air of mystery she was trying to establish. “Obviously, you are most deserving of my best wishes, simply by virtue of gracing me with your presence and hospitality.” She really did enjoy the bear. “However, if there is something more specific-” his eyes narrowed and he lost all indications of a good mood, “You have not taken a new mate, have you?”
“No.” Kimi was so startled by the unexpected question, the sheer ridiculousness of it, she took a moment to reorganize her thoughts. “But we are celebrating the joining of two houses. Sesshomaru-”
“Is far too old and too stodgy for my little Mitsu,” he interrupted. Kimi glanced at the female in question. She stood next to her brother, practically hiding behind his broad back. The cub was only midway into her second century, gawky, thin, and shy. Sesshomaru would scare that little thing to death, she thought, then remembered the collection of other young that her son had accumulated. Perhaps not. She shook her head and chuckled.
“I am afraid that will not be possible, despite your obvious desire to join our houses.” She had intended him to laugh at her joke, but Hirimoto did not and it irritated her. The bear had always been a source of enjoyable diversion. Her entire day would be ruined if he had decided to turn serious on her. If she had wanted to take every word literally and find only the most dour outcome in situations, she could have stayed home with her son. “Sesshomaru,” she began again, and then paused, arching an eyebrow to invite Hirimoto to interrupt again – if he dared. He did not. “Sesshomaru will announce his intended at the Full Moon Council. Her father is no longer living, so I wished to ask you to escort her to the dais during the ceremony.” Kimi would have preferred to draw out the announcement further, for full effect, but Hirimoto had already spoiled it. She huffed silently. They had become great friends after his mate had died. Before Toga found his human mistress the three had spent many pleasant hours together. Although she had not seen him, or any other daiyoukai, since she retreated to her sky palace, she had hoped that their friendship would remain intact.
“Finally found a bitch to meet his high standards?” Hirimoto laughed, easing his posture and relaxing into something like the attitude she had expected. “Where did he capture this paragon? And how have you managed to keep her from seppuku at the thought of the mating?”
“Sesshomaru is considered quite attractive by most females,” Kimi allowed the conversation to drift. It was nice to speak with peers.
“Of that I have no doubt,” he laughed again. “Mitsu and her clutch of high-pitched handmaids have been swooning over him since he last appeared in the South more than two decades ago to discuss trade routes with me.”
“Mitsu who is too young for him?” Kimi asked pointedly.
“Yes,” he glowered, then shook his head. “Children are forever wanting things that are not good for them, and rejecting what we know they need. Is that not correct?” She nodded in complete understanding. “Given a few more centuries I might have considered the possibility,” he admitted, “if you and Toga hadn’t raised the coldest heart this side of death.”
“Not so cold anymore,” Kimi noted. She poured him a cup of tea and collected another perfectly round sekihan on a decorative serving leaf.
“Really?” Hirimoto said with interest. His fingers brushed hers as he took the food, and the heat made Kimi shiver. She flicked mokomoko over her shoulders to ward off what must have been a chill breeze.
“This mating must take place, old friend.” She stared at him, trying to impress upon him the gravity of the situation. “We need that one on our side if we are to win the war…and what will come after. And,” she broke away from his gaze to pick up her tea, “she provokes Sesshomaru. Which I approve of entirely.”
Hirimoto said nothing for several long minutes, enjoying his tea and watching his cubs rest their legs and talk with Kimi’s servants and the small contingent of guards that had accompanied him. “You have not named her. Do I know this powerful family that Iwakura Kimi desires to bind to her own?”
“Higurashi Kagome is her name, but you would know her not by her family, but her deeds.” Kimi turned back to him and watched his face carefully. “You have heard of the Miko no Mao?”
Hirimoto nodded slowly, giving nothing away. “Word of the plague reached us, although we were not cursed with the disease itself. Sesshomaru sent messengers some time ago to let me know it was no longer a threat. They gossiped with my soldiers, eager to describe the beautiful physician that cured the West. The stories make her out to be a powerful spirit of healing or the earthly embodiment of some goddess.”
“Nothing so mundane for my son, Hirimoto.” Kimi took another long sip, before calmly stating, “She is a miko. A human female.” The sputtering and spray of tea across the table was gratifying. “Although your people may know her by another title. The Shikon Miko.” There was several long minutes of coughing, and both Kimi and Hirimoto had to wave away worried youkai retainers. “Are you concerned for the diluting of my line with human blood?”
“No.” He breathed deeply and carefully set down his cup. “Honestly, Kimi-san, your line could use some diluting.”
Kimi laughed. Great, silvery peals of laughter that echoed in the clearing and startled game. Hirimoto was smiling at her with a soft look, and her servants gazed in her direction with something closer to terror. She could not help herself. Only a daiyoukai, a friend, as old and trusted as the Southern Lord would have stated the truth so frankly. She had to brush moisture from the corners of her eyes when she finally regained her composure. “Oh, you must tell that to the miko. She said something very similar – although she was considerably more polite about it.”
“You believe that we will need reiki on our side to defeat Ryukostokken? Has he gained so much power?”
“It is not the strength of his steel or the bite of his jaws, nor the size of his army that dictates the threat. It is his conviction.” Kimi folded her hands in her lap and breathed carefully to keep her youki subdued. There were few things that could make her forget herself, few things that would cause her to lose control and potentially injure less powerful daiyoukai such as Hirimoto in the process. The thought of what Ryukostokken would do to the West, to Japan, was one. “He began that plague, Hirimoto. My spies have confirmed that he infected his own people first, and it disfigured and disabled those who did not die so that he could build an army immune to the disease before spreading it to the rest of us. We have allowed him to live bitter and blackened for too long. It must end now, by any means necessary.”
Kimi breathed in his familiar scent, and did not relax until she detected the changing note of his agreement. “War is more important, of course,” Hirimoto said conversationally, “but I can’t help but pity the poor girl. Fighting alongside her natural enemies must be difficult enough, suffering Sesshomaru as a mate seems beyond cruel. Not even he could hate her if she aids his army, but that won’t mean he can find any kindness for her. I suppose her saving grace will be her short life; she won’t have to spend more than a few decades suffering though his apathy.”
“Oh, I believe Sesshomaru has found more than kindness for her.” Kimi poured more tea for each of them and bit back another smile, keeping her voice light, “We can only hope that the little miko can walk after the enormous strain of his affection.” Hirimoto very nearly spit out his tea again. Pleased to have caught him unaware, she changed the subject. “Tell me, did you bring the healer as requested? And have you taken an opportunity to review the names I sent you?”
Once Hirimoto managed to stifle his laughter, they spent another pleasant hour discussing politics and family – although the two were not mutually exclusive. He informed her that he had already prepared the larger portion of his army to make its way to the border, in anticipation of Sesshomaru’s call to arms. When they were finished, she returned by air to the shiro, while her servants joined the southern party on their longer route. Kimi found herself smiling the entire way.