Chapter 45: Realization and Actualization
Chapter 46: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Kagome could feel sweat running down her back and making her underwear stick to her butt. Her bangs were hanging in her eyes and her arm was stinging from a blow delivered by her sparring partner via a wooden practice stick. The kitchen servant, an inu girl that looked no more than fourteen, had apologized profusely after the hit and fallen to the floor to beg forgiveness. The only reason Kagome hadn’t made a bigger deal out of how badly it hurt was the look of fear on the poor girl’s face. It had been a lucky strike – the inu was even less experienced with weapons that Kagome herself, and if the miko had been focused it would never have happened.
“No worries,” she said again, smiling despite the throb in her shoulder. “Let’s at least do one more, if you’re not tired. I think I finally got the hang of this.” Kagome was painfully aware that the girl would have had to be next door to death before she would refuse to practice with the Miko no Mao. The pressure for the servant had to be intense, as the Western Lady sat on a specially prepared cushion on one side of the dojo, watching and critiquing. It certainly made Kagome edgy, and didn’t help that she felt a little crabby and tired, too.
The girl attacked, using her full speed. She was faster than any human, but not so much as to be a blur to Kagome’s eyes. The miko jumped up, rather than trying to roll under the hit, and barely cleared the stick. She stumbled on her landing, but it worked to her advantage. She had to drop her own stick to regain her balance and the servant tripped on it and went sprawling. Talk about the blind leading the blind, Kagome thought wryly. The miko wondered if Kimi found them aggravating to watch, waving their weapons with less skill than children with sticks and stumbling over invisible winkles in the tatami mats.
“That will be enough,” Kimi called out.
The relief both females felt was palatable as they bowed to each other. The inu even managed to crack a small smile. Kagome laughed out loud. “Thank you, Sabanto-san. Let the cook know I said you should have the rest of the afternoon off.” The inu’s mouth dropped open and she sputtered, “Consider it and a long soak in the springs a reward for going so easy on me. Have a nice day!” There were a silly number of bows and thanks as the younger girl backed out of the dojo and softly shut the screens behind her. Alone with Kimi, Kagome immediately flopped onto her back on the floor.
“The pup would have washed before returning to her duties. There was no need for the additional privilege,” Kimi commented.
“She deserved it,” Kagome mumbled. “I’m sorry this wasn’t as productive as you were expecting, Kimi-sama. I’m afraid I’m just not athletic. Or graceful. Or coordinated.” Kagome covered her eyes with one arm and considered taking a nap right there on the mats if Kimi would let her.
“Indeed,” Kimi sounded like she was repressing laughter. Kagome frowned, but it quickly turned into a self-deprecating smile. She really was hopeless. “Perhaps you are not capable of combat directly with a youkai. This only means that we must change our course of action. I will give it consideration, and we will try a new approach tomorrow. In the meantime, we have a few hours before we must be prepared to receive guests. You will show me your reiki now.”
“What?” Kagome rolled onto her stomach and stared at the Lady. “Er, right here? Shouldn’t we go down to the archery range?”
“You have displayed your abilities in many ways other than arrows, have you not?” Kimi was ostensibly referring to the kotodama, the only use of reiki she had witnessed from Kagome. But the miko had become aware during the few days she had spent in the Lady’s company that Kimi knew a lot more about her and the Shikon than Kagome felt comfortable with.
“Well, yeah, but I don’t think-” Kagome’s worries were interrupted by Hisao’s smooth voice behind her.
“Please, allow me, Kagome-sama.” He walked around to stand in front of her. His nose twitched and he frowned briefly, but his expression quickly cleared again.
“Ah, allow what now?” she asked, confused. If the teenage servant had been able to clip her arm, she wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of training with Hisao. From all of the accounts she had heard, he was considered to be second only to Sesshomaru in skill.
“Thank you, Hisao-san,” Kimi replied before turning her attention to Kagome. “Use your power and move him, Miko.”
Kagome was physically tired, but she hadn’t done much with her reiki in days. She knew it was fully recovered, or near enough so that such a training exercise wouldn’t matter. However, she was nervous about her ability and it still felt strange to attack a friend with it. In addition, she had hardly ever made a direct attack with her power and had only in the past year been able to summon it with reliability to do something other than imbue an arrow. She glanced at Kimi, but the Lady was cool and faintly amused as always. Kagome had the feeling that they would sit there all day if the daiyoukai didn’t get what she wanted. The miko sighed and stood up with a grunt, pushing her wet hair off her face.
“Okay, I’ll try to be careful, but I’m not very good at this, Hisao. You have to tell me if it starts to hurt even a little.” He nodded, his face calm, and Kagome took in a deep breath. Slowly, she pulled out her power and it responded readily. When a sufficient amount was gathered in her hands, she formed a sphere that winked a little as it moved. Then she threw it. A shower of pink sparks cascaded to the floor, but Hisao remained unmoved. A youki barrier, steely grey in color, shimmered for a moment against her fading power and then became invisible again. The captain grinned.
“I thought miko were dangerous?” His taunt made her smile as well.
“Okay, you asked for it!” Happiness radiated from Kagome as she rapidly summoned more power, forming smaller balls of reiki. The spheres were easier to make than they had ever been before, perhaps because after healing Sesshomaru she was more confident in how much power was available to her. She had never attempted to use them as a weapon, only as an exercise in control, but Kagome didn’t have experience with anything else. She tossed them his direction – one, two, three at a time – but he deflected them all. With a laugh, she called more, these she made in various sizes from golf balls to one as large as a volleyball and sent them whizzing his way all at once. Hisao grunted with effort, but he twisted in the air, performing a neat summersault that seemed to defy gravity, and deflected each orb. Kagome was having too much fun to worry about Kimi’s judgement, or to be concerned about her sweaty clothes or fact that in an actual combat situation, her opponent would not give her so much time and space to attack.
“I might need some water…if we keep this up for a few more hours.” Hisao smirked.
“Ooo – now you’re going to get it!” Kagome shot a few more spheres, laughing and turning as Hisao circled her, but she couldn’t get anything past his shield. The problem was, she needed something faster, something more like an arrow, but she had never made any weapon other than a bow with pure energy before, and never when she wasn’t in a life or death situation. It occurred to her though, that she had made her reiki do other things, things that Shippo had told her youki could do. Things like ruffling Sesshomaru’s fur and comforting her kit. Things that could be distracting. She spread her hands out wide, letting power flow down her arms to her fingertips. To her delight, pink ribbons hung down to the ground, coiling there and waiting. Kagome could feel the sweat dripping down her temples, but she swung her arms up overhead and spun, trying to imitate a rhythmic gymnast. From the corner of her eye, she could see Hisao standing stock still, eyes wide and staring. She bent at the waist and curled her arms around herself, letting the pink settle a bit before opening her hands wide again in a wave of purity that made the air above her sparkle. Hisao’s hands dropped to his sides.
Kagome struck. She imagined drawing two water pistols and blasting her reiki out under pressure. The holy energy actually made a splat sound as it hit the captain, and she managed three before he threw up his shield again – cursing and patting at the faint smoke rising from his kimono. Kagome held up her index fingers and blew across the tops before shoving them down next to her hips as if into holsters. She grinned.
“That’ll teach you to rustle cattle in my town,” she said in what even she admitted was the worst American accent ever. Thankfully, America didn’t exist yet, so no one would could call her on it.
“What,” Sesshomaru’s deadly quiet voice had her glancing over her shoulder in surprise, “is going on here?” He stood half-in, half-out of the dojo doorway, his eyes moving between Hisao’s smoking clothes and Kagome’s sweat drenched ones.
“Showdown?” Kagome squeaked with a blush at the same time Kimi said,
“Training. Hisao-san has agreed to partner Kagome-san, to prevent lesser youkai from being injured.”
Kagome wasn’t sure what to make of his narrow gaze. Kimi sounded somewhat pleased, and she had managed to hit Hisao, but Sesshomaru looked ready to blow a gasket. Or, as close to that as he ever got, which meant that the gold of his eyes was a degree or two colder than usual and his jaw was clenched tight enough to turn coal into diamonds. Belatedly, she realized she still had her hands formed like six-shooters, which wouldn’t be invented for a few hundred years.
“Ah, thanks for the target practice, Hisao.” She offered him a smile, “Do you want to try again?” The captain’s focus shifted behind her, and Kagome’s irritation was roused. She hadn’t been excited about the training sessions in the first place, and then when she did manage to have a little fun and do something kind of cool – Sesshomaru did his impression of a wet blanket. Why he wasn’t in his office, she didn’t know.
“Guests will arrive soon,” the Lord in question said coolly.
The effect on Hisao was immediate. He bowed to Kimi and then to Kagome and said, “Unfortunately, I must return to my duties, Kimi-sama, Kagome-sama.” And then in a swirl of youki-infused speed he was gone. Kagome pouted. Her little trick wouldn’t have worked a second time, but it had been nice to feel like she wasn’t a complete failure at the whole combat thing.
The faint rustle of silk signaled Kimi’s preparation to depart as well. “As you seem to have things well in hand here, Sesshomaru,” Kagome was certain she did not imagine the laughter in the Lady’s voice, “I will change for the reception. Do see that your miko has adequate time to prepare before Hirimoto arrives.”
“I thought-” Kagome began, but Kimi glided through the screens and closed them softly without acknowledging the miko. She narrowed her eyes. While Kimi hadn’t given her a second glance, Kagome was certain she had seen a wink thrown Sesshomaru’s way. Kimi would have only done that if she was teasing her son, if it would make Sesshomaru uncomfortable. That implied that Sesshomaru was behaving unusually. “What are you doing here?” she asked, her suspicions aroused.
Sesshomaru ignored the question. “Why are you not in our rooms?” He stepped towards her, the movement predatory, and Kagome had to turn slowly to continue to face him as he circled.
“I heard you,” she blushed, but continued, more concerned with his strange attitude than her own embarrassment, “about the blood…and smell. But Kimi wanted to train this afternoon, and she said it was barely noticeable.” Kagome smiled triumphantly as she remembered something he had said that supported her decision, “Kimi’s nose is just as good as yours, and if it doesn’t bother her, I shouldn’t have to worry about anyone else.”
“My mother is not male,” he said coolly. Kagome hesitated, mouth open, trying to figure out how that made any difference. “My captain is.”
“You mean-” Kagome recalled how Hisao had sniffed rather obviously when he first arrived. She blushed, but straightened her spine. “Well, it didn’t seem to bother him either.”
“I am aware.” Kagome blinked, surprised that Sesshomaru capitulated so easily. His nostrils flared and his mouth opened slightly. Kagome knew he was smelling her, and despite his extremely enjoyable assurances the day before, she was uncomfortably mindful of her own sweat. “Why is that, my miko?” He tilted his head and his eyes nearly closed, studying her. “Your scent is…muted, since this morning.”
It took a moment to process, but when she did Kagome’s face burned. “I, ah,” she cleared her throat. “Sesshomaru, this is one of those things that is personal – and please trust me when I tell you it has zero effect on you or us,” she waggled her index finger back and forth between them, “together. But I am not discussing it with you. Not now. Maybe not ever if I can avoid it.” She muttered the last sentence and swore to herself that if she never had to explain feminine hygiene products to Sesshomaru it would be too soon. He was quiet for a long moment, and Kagome worried that he would push for an answer and they would have to repeat the whole cultural differences conversation. She didn’t think her hormones were out of control, but she was honest enough to admit that her temper was closer to the surface some days of the month than others. She really didn’t want to argue.
“Your reiki was unexpected this afternoon,” he said instead. Kagome relaxed, not realizing how stiff she had become. She could have kissed him for letting the subject drop. He stepped closer, “It gave concern.” Sesshomaru had been worried about her. She smiled and reached out to take his hand. He definitely deserves a kiss. “I have told you that you must allow me to supervise your power, so that you do not hurt yourself.” Or maybe not. Kagome tried to drop his hand, but he wound his fingers through hers and pulled her closer.
“I’m feeling much better, thank you Sesshomaru,” she said, a bit more sarcastically than she had intended. “Besides, you try telling your mother no.”
“Hn.” His face dipped down to hers and Kagome’s heart picked up speed in anticipation. She still wasn’t happy with him, but her insides were beginning to melt regardless. To hell with him, I deserve a kiss. “She can be…adamant.” His lips hovered over hers; his breath felt cool against her overheated skin.
He had wrapped his free arm around her waist and through the light fabric of her tunic his claws pricked against her back. She licked her lips in anticipation. “Adamant,” Kagome repeated dazedly.
The moment was broken. Kagome’s eyes snapped into focus and she frowned. “I know what it-” Her irritated reply was cut off when his mouth pressed against hers. There was something about him that was capable of flipping a switch inside her, from irritated to besotted to irritated again. And, damn he makes me hot. His lips moved slowly on hers, not pressing for entrance, but lightly brushing once, twice. Then his tongue darted out to lick at her. Kagome moaned, gripping his shoulder and standing on her tiptoes to gain more pressure, but he pulled back. Her eyes opened, frustration making her huff. “What?”
“So eager,” he said, his lips quirking up at the corner.
Kagome’s blush returned but she still managed to retort, “And you’re not?”
“Indeed.” The hand on her back tightened suddenly, bringing her body into full contact with his. Kagome was extremely conscious of how eager he was. Her mouth went dry as she recalled exactly how certain parts of her daiyoukai looked when he was eager. Sesshomaru’s nostrils flared again. His lids drifted down over golden eyes until only a narrow slit remained. “If you continue such thoughts, we will not have adequate time to repair ourselves.”
“We have time,” she whispered, pulling herself up to brush her lips under his jaw. The way it made his neck tense and his voice deepen was thrilling.
“Never enough,” he growled. He kissed her again, this time harder. His tongue forced her lips open, and she returned his passion readily. Too quickly, he pulled back again. Only the clench of his fist at her back and his faster than normal breathing kept her from complaining. He was just as unhappy with the timing of their guests as she was. Kagome sighed, resigned. She hadn’t been thinking about the logistics in any case. It would be a few days before she was ready to fully enjoy access to a naked inu youkai again.
“Are you sure you need to greet them?” She suggested, knowing it wasn’t possible and smiling to let him know she knew.
“Yes. As I am certain that you would wish to be present, even if it was not required.”
“Required?” Kagome frowned. “Why do I have to be there? I thought there was going to be tea and that formal reception thing later.”
“Yes.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead and gave her a gentle push towards her fallen practice weapon. “But we must still meet a Cardinal Lord upon arrival. As my intended, you will be at my side.”
“Fine.” Kagome made a face and groaned a little as she picked up the stick and put it back on the weapons rack. He followed her across the room. “But this won’t be an all-nighter like when Kouga came, right? I am pretty tired.”
“No.” He smiled, a real, soft smile that sent a flutter through her heart and had Kagome leaning against the wall just staring at him. “You will not have to stay long. Although I believe you will be awake quite late in any case.”
Kagome offered him a sultry smirk, sure she knew where he was leading, “Any why is that?”
“Your human friend, the slayer, approaches.”
“Sango is coming here?” Kagome was shocked, her friends were supposed to be helping Inuyasha in the East, but it quickly wore off in favor of happiness. “When? How do you know?”
“The border patrol spotted her neko. I had alerted my soldiers to watch for your friends and keep them safe if they entered. Her escort should-”
Kagome didn’t let him finish, but threw her arms around his neck and jumped. His eyes widened slightly, but he caught her with ease, one hand under her bottom and the other around her back. “Thank you!” She gave him a smacking kiss. Sango is coming! “Thank you Sesshomaru, you are the best!” She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she missed her friends, Sango in particular. Kimi was…easier to get along with than she had imagined. And Sesshomaru was, well, she loved him, but he was not a fantastic conversationalist. Even if he was, she couldn’t talk about him to him. Despite her earlier reservations about how Sango would view her relationship, things had progressed to a point where she was ready to discuss it. With his offer of courting, it had also moved into a realm of respectability for the era.
Sango was coming, and Sesshomaru had been thoughtful enough to make certain the slayer was protected and welcomed in the West. Kagome gave him a full body hug, squeezing with her arms and legs tight enough that a human would have gasped. Her daiyoukai merely rubbed circles on her back and endured. With one more quick kiss she asked, “When will she get here?”
“As I was saying,” one silver eyebrow lifted in amusement, “her escort should bring her through the gates shortly. The slayer shall be provided with a room while we bathe and-”
Kagome interrupted him again with a wave, “I’ll just wait for Sango. Oh, I can’t wait to show her the springs! Shippo will be excited to see her again too, and-” Kagome kept talking while she loosened her grip. After a few moments, Sesshomaru let go and allowed her to slide down to the floor. He walked beside her in silence to the courtyard where they would meet her friend. If he seemed more subdued than usual – or, more accurately, as subdued as he had been before they had grown close – it was easy to ignore in her excitement. It only occurred to her much, much later that Sesshomaru was pouting because she chosen to bathe with Sango rather than him.
Shippo could barely contain his excitement. He could sense the stir of youki and the smell of curiosity and some anxiety as Sango made her way through the lower bailey. It wasn’t every day that a demon slayer was invited into the Western Palace, he was sure, and Kento had personally gone down to the gate to walk with her back to the courtyard. Part of his glee stemmed from a desire to show off his tail, and his new tricks; part came from missing Sango and Kirara. However, it was Kagome’s happiness that was rubbing off on him more than anything. His mother-figure was practically vibrating with enthusiasm. The citrus smell was enough to almost overshadow the salt of her sweat and the clove-musk of Sesshomaru that covered her. Not that either of those smells were bad, it was just that she really, really wanted to see Sango.
It was a little startling when he switched his attention to the daiyoukai. It wasn’t at all strange that Sesshomaru had escorted Kagome to the courtyard and waited there with her until a servant fetched Shippo; it did seem a little strange that he stayed, even though Eiji trailed behind her and there were quite a few workers and soldiers in the area. The kit discreetly sniffed, but Sesshomaru was as controlled with his scent and youki as he had ever been. The daiyoukai was marking his territory, including Shippo and especially Kagome, with his power, but past that revealed nothing about his thoughts. Compared to the human, he had all the emotion of a stone wall.
Weird, Shippo thought. Two soldiers carrying a heavy trunk slowed as they walked past, glancing at Kagome, and Sesshomaru’s youki immediately thickened, urging them to move on. Shippo shook his head, adults are dumb and weird. Kagome smelled very faintly of blood, just like every month. And just like every month stupid youkai kept sniffing around her. Sesshomaru was just as irritated by it as Inuyasha had been, but at least the daiyoukai wasn’t as loud. It would have been a lot easier if the dogs had ever just told her what the deal was and asked her not to be so…so…Kagome when she was bleeding. In fact, if she smelled a little more like Sesshomaru – like Sesshomaru’s mate – probably no other demons would even look twice at her. At least, not where Sesshomaru could see them. It was obvious to anyone with a nose that Kagome loved the lord. If they couldn’t tell by looking at her face when she looked at him, they should know from the constant scent of sweet carnations that had become a part of her. She had never smelled like that so long or strongly before – even when she thought she loved Inuyasha. If he would just ask, she would tell him, and then everything would be fine – but no, they have to do things the hard way. And if Sesshomaru was irritated by Kagome’s blood, Shippo wasn’t looking forward to the following week – at all. Human women didn’t smell as strongly as demons, but it was enough to always put Inuyasha in a bad mood and leave Kouga drooling all over the miko.
Shippo rolled his eyes at their stupidity, vowing not to let adulthood turn him into an idiot. It was all but forgotten though, when Sango strolled through the gate. The slayer’s eyes lit up when she caught sight of Kagome, but she bit her lip rather than calling out like Shippo expected. He figured she was probably feeling a little awkward with Sesshomaru and a bunch of strange youkai near. Kagome had no problem with it.
“Sango-chan!” She waved happily, and her voice approached something close to a painful pitch. Shippo was quick to follow when Kagome raced across the courtyard to her friend; Sesshomaru walked at a more sedate pace. She only tripped once, and she was close enough to Kento that he caught her before she hit the ground. Shippo had to roll his eyes again – Kento took one sniff of the miko and let go so quickly she nearly fell anyhow. Thankfully, Sango grabbed her up in a fierce hug. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too!”
The women smelled salty and happy, which made Shippo happy, but he also really wanted to show off his tails. Plus, all the crying was putting Kento’s and Sesshomaru’s youki on edge. “Check out my tail,” he announced loudly. Sango released Kagome and admired it appropriately, demanding to hear the story over dinner of whatever trick had resulted in the new growth. Kirara, in her small form, jumped down from Sango’s shoulder to twine around his legs in congratulations. Sango belatedly bowed and presented Sesshomaru with a scroll from Inuyasha, which she said she could add to if he had any questions. Kagome wanted to show Sango the hot springs, and they both kinda needed a bath, so Shippo offered to take Kirara with him. Secretly, he was pleased. It would be fun to show off his new friends to the little neko. The women talked non-stop all the way inside, where Sesshomaru summoned a servant to take Sango’s travel bundle. He would have gone straight upstairs, but the daiyoukai’s claw on his collar stopped him.
“Yes, Sesshomaru-sama?” He swallowed and hugged Kirara tighter, trying not to look intimidated by the serious stare that was leveled at him. His mind unhelpfully flashed at least a dozen images of things he had done in the past week that neither Kagome nor the lord would approve of.
“You will not speak of the slayer’s condition,” Sesshomaru commanded. Shippo almost sagged in relief, although Kento looked surprised.
“No kidding,” he began, then blushed under the scrutiny and quickly made his tone more respectful. “I- I mean, of course not, Sesshomaru-sama. Humans don’t like it when you make a big deal about their smell.” He took a deep breath, gathered his courage, and continued, “But ya know, sometimes you have to. Right?” He waited a beat, but Sesshomaru didn’t seem like he was going to even admit he knew what Shippo as speaking of, much less do anything about it. “Besides that, girls hate it if you spoil their secrets.” He hadn’t really been referring to anything in particular, but his little nose fairly itched with the interest Sesshomaru turned his way. “Ah, gotta go!” He said brightly, bowing and backing toward the stairs with the neko in his arms. “Lessons, right?” And then he was off.
Shippo didn’t relax until he was back in the ima and the little kids were busy with Kirara and the sensei. Rin leaned in close, pretending to show him her latest assignment. “Did something happen with Sango-san?” She asked worriedly.
“Sango’s great. It’s Sesshomaru and Kagome. She’s-” Shippo bit his tongue and blushed, reminding himself of his own advice. Rin didn’t need to know the details, but she would agree with the solution. “They both want to, so I just wish he would mate her already.” Rin’s squeal of happiness hurt his ears and drew the attention of every youkai in the room – and some a good deal further away. Sheesh.
Kagome sighed with happiness as she relaxed back against the edge of the hot springs. She was clean, and smelled nice again, and Sango was with her. For an hour or so she was determined to leave responsibility and the threat of war out of her mind and focus on something else. She wanted to know everything. “How have you been? Tell me all about the people in the camp.”
“Can that guard with the spiked hair hear us?”
“No. He’s too far down the path. So did you see Kaede on your way here?” Kagome had so many questions.
“I am pregnant.”
“Has Inuyas…ha…ah… What?” Kagome sat up straight, comprehension slowly dawning, and stared at her friend. Sango looked like she was about to be sick. Her long hair hung wet and straight into the water and was a sharp contrast to her pale skin. Kagome had been too pleased to greet her friend before, but now she noticed the purple skin under her eyes and the ragged edge to her lower lip where she had been chewing on it. Sango was not happy.
The slayer blew out a long breath and repeated, “I’m pregnant.”
“But you aren’t excited about it,” Kagome said slowly. She knew Miroku wanted children. Every woman in a hundred mile radius of Edo knew the monk wanted children. But she had never talked about it with Sango, not specifically. Until recently, Kagome hadn’t given pregnancy much of a thought past health class. She was still young for that in her time, and there hadn’t been anyone in the feudal era to make those sort of thoughts a priority. As far as Sango was concerned, she supposed she had always assumed the slayer wanted children. She was raised in a time where it was expected, where women were valued for it. And she married Miroku, for heaven’s sake. Kagome felt terrible. Knowing whether or not her best friend wanted children was vitally important – and the kind of thing a considerate person would know.
Sango shook her head.
“Do you want kids?” Kagome wasn’t sure what she would have said if the answer was no, but she would have done her best to figure it out. She would have supported Sango with whatever she needed.
What she wasn’t expecting was for her dear friend, her dear pregnant friend, who had only cried twice in all the time that they had known each other, to burst into tears and wail, “Yes!” Kagome spent the next five minutes holding a sobbing Sango and listening to a jumble of words and phrases that included, ‘debauched lecher’, ‘miscarriage’, ‘beautiful man’, and, insensibly, ‘turnip stew’. She rubbed her friend’s back and made soothing noises until the crying subsided into occasional hiccups.
“Sorry,” Sango mumbled, scrubbing her face with spring water. Her cinnamon colored eyes were surrounded by pink and she looked even more tired than before.
“Sango,” Kagome said seriously, “there is absolutely nothing to be sorry for. Now,” she adopted a brisk tone, “you want this baby?” Sango nodded, a look of longing so fierce on her face that Kagome’s heart clenched. “Then we will do everything we can to make sure she will be perfect.”
“She?” Sango gave her a watery smile and Kagome returned it brightly.
“It would be karmic justice for Miroku.” They both laughed.
“So,” Sango began much later, after they had washed their hair and spoken of a few ways that Kagome might be able to make the pregnancy easier, or at least, give them more information about it. “Sesshomaru seems very attentive toward you.”
Kagome could feel her face heating, but she also couldn’t contain her silly grin. “Oh, Sango, you have no idea.”
When Kagome and the slayer arrived in his study, Sesshomaru was mollified to find the scent of both women to be calm and happy. The unfortunate combination of Kagome’s trace of copper with the other human’s pregnancy stirred his instincts, but he easily repressed them with a promise to himself that he would coat his intended in his scent before any other males approached her. His need to protect was stronger with the other human present, and Sesshomaru quickly realized that it was not only due to her condition, but also the way Kagome treated the woman. Like pack.
He stifled a sigh. A few years ago he had been alone, and at the time had believed the situation preferable. Then there was Rin. For a youkai, the years between Rin finding him in the forest and Kagome coming to the West were short. He had changed many of his thoughts during that brief time. Then, in the blink of an eye, Kagome was followed by Shippo, Inuyasha, the pups, and his mother. Now it seemed, by virtue of having let one human into his pack, he had been joined by a motely conglomeration of others. The slayer and her mate, and whatever young they would conceive, would hardly be noticeable in the cacophony that his life was evolving into.
At least the slayer was an acceptable warrior. It remained to be seen if the monk’s utility outweighed his lechery.
Kagome led Sango to a cushion across from Hisao and Kento, and would have sat beside her if Sesshomaru had not pointedly caught her eye and glanced at the place that had already been prepared. His intended blushed, and for a moment he thought she would sit where she pleased simply to be contrary, but she moved to kneel beside him and began to pour tea. Kimi arrived just as Kagome would have handed out the first cup. Sesshomaru had thought the seating arrangements might cause an issue, but the Lady did not bat an eye before folding into a proper seiza next to the slayer. For her part, Sango’s eyes widened dramatically when his mother arrived, but her mouth remained firmly closed and her hands neatly folded while a powerful and unknown youkai settled within a foot of her. Perhaps having the slayer in residence will be good for Kagome.
Kagome flaunted the rules of propriety and presented the first cup of tea to Kimi instead of Sesshomaru. Hisao cleared his throat, Kento determinedly studied his papers, and Sango shared a smile and a wink with his intended.
He did not comment, more because he knew she was trying to get him to say something than because he didn’t want to. And it was impossible not to sense Kimi’s amusement. Although, any actual irritation he might have felt was overshadowed by the enjoyment Kagome seemed to take in the harmless act. None but his pack and closest advisors had seen the slight, and they understood her strange humor. He doubted she would have acted thus if others were present, so there was no reason to reprimand her. Although, after Kagome served him, and the others in the room, she found that the teapot had disappeared from his desk before she could serve herself. He ignored her narrow gaze and pointed looks to her own dry cup while he sipped his most excellent tea. Her faint scent of pepper was well worth the steamy heat where mokomoko hid the teapot.
“This One has read the report from Inuyasha. You are welcome in the West, Slayer. You shall defend the miko while you are in residence.” Kagome’s head snapped up, brow furrowed, and it was obvious she wanted to say something, but she looked to the slayer for guidance.
“Thank you, Sesshomaru-sama,” the woman said quietly. “However, I feel that I must inform you that I am with child.”
Women were surely strange, unpredictable creatures in the daiyoukai’s eyes. Youkai females were closely guarded as the time for birth drew near and their size became cumbersome, but they were generally more deadly to their enemies while they were breeding. “Does the condition effect your ability to lift your weapon?”
“Not at this time, no,” she answered, clearly startled. “Eventually…”
“Hn.” Sesshomaru ended the discussion. He intended to eliminate the threat to the West expeditiously, so it would not be an issue. The slayer’s face gave away little, but her scent was pleased. “You will speak your thoughts on Inuyasha’s plan.” He sipped his tea while Sango slowly warmed to the topic. Hisao listened intently, Kento took notes. When the slayer reached the culmination of the plan, with a great deal more detail than Inuyasha had put into his missive, Kagome frowned. Sesshomaru was impressed she didn’t yell.
“Idiot.” Rather than irritated, his miko was genuinely upset. The powdered mace of fear, not for herself, but for his half-brother, was dry in his nose. “Does he really think Ryukostokken will believe that? Inuyasha isn’t that good of an actor, and as soon as he says something offensive, the-he-” She swallowed hard on the words that were spilling out of her mouth. Sesshomaru reached for her hand under the table, squeezing it where it lay on her lap. He did not understand why Kagome was so loyal to the hanyou, he was not overly enamored of the idea, but he knew it pained her to think of his half-brother in danger. He could also see that she was remembering her time at the dragon’s mercy. He could not change that experience for her, regardless of his desire to do so, but it was his responsibility to help her move past it.
“Calm yourself.” It was all he felt he could say in front of so many others, and still he scented the slayer’s embarrassment, but he held his miko’s gaze and stroked her hand with his claws until her breathing slowed. His instinct to prevent her discomfort was strong. The blue of her eyes was still surrounded by white, her lips pale, but her heart was steady and her scent even – if not completely clear – when Kimi spoke.
“The whelp will not go himself. He is far too prideful to lower himself to negotiate with a hanyou.” She tapped one claw against the porcelain of her cup thoughtfully.
“Yes,” Kento murmured, shuffling through his notes, “hm, two captains, Natsou and Sou. If he takes Inuyasha-san’s bait, then one of them will certainly be sent to enter discussions.”
“Same if he sees through this lie.” Hisao set down his cup with a clink, and frowned. “One of those two and a gang of dragons would make a decent assassination squad.” Kagome sucked in a breath, and Sesshomaru unfurled his youki in reprimand to his captain. His anger over the ill-conceived statement was only tempered by Hisao’s immediate chagrin. “Don’t worry, Kagome-sama. Neither Sesshomaru-sama nor myself are heading North any time soon – so Inuyasha-san won’t meet any opponents he can’t deal with.” Kagome smiled shakily, and Sesshomaru pulled her palm to rest on his knee, then covered it with his hand. Youki curled around her wrist and comforted her. It was not all he wished, but it was the most he would offer. In public, at least, his intended had to learn to contain her fear. The small, trusted audience before them would be make an excellent practice arena prior to the Council meetings.
“This One wastes no concern on mere captains of the North,” Kimi said. Sesshomaru focused intently on her tone – devoid of the usual amusement or wordplay she was well-known for. Privately, he agreed with her assessment. Even if Inuyasha was attacked outright, considering the number of Eastern soldiers and wild youkai fighting with him, no small force would be able to overcome the hanyou. Unless Ryukostokken had sent at least a third of his army to the negotiations, Inuyasha would be adequately prepared to defend the ground he had chosen. The probability that the dragon lord had split his forces more evenly was small; Ryukostokken was filth that did not deserve to live, much less rule, but he was not a poor strategist. “There is another,” she continued, “that could be problematic. This One will explore the possibility.”
Sesshomaru gave her a slight nod. There were few secrets that were not known to his mother’s spy network. Fewer still that they could not find out, given incentive. If Ryukostokken had another powerful youkai that could thwart Inuyasha, Kimi would know soon enough.
“You appear confident of the plan, Sango-san,” Kento remarked blandly.
The slayer replied with an equally cool tone, “I am confident of Inuyasha, Kento-san.”
Sesshomaru had always found Inuyasha’s group irritating and brash during the hunt for Naraku. It was not until near the end that he had learned to appreciate their individual skills and cohesive group tactics. Sesshomaru admitted that his half-brother, despite his abhorrent manners, was an excellent judge of allies.
“Is he…” Kagome trailed off, biting her lip and trying to find the right words. “Inuyasha is very…truthful…about his feelings towards enemies.” Her attempt to protect the hanyou’s reputation was amusing. “Do you really think he can pull this off, Sango-chan?”
The slayer set down her tea cup quietly, and composed herself before answering. “I do. Inuyasha has matured tremendously in the time we have known him, Kagome-chan. And in these last few weeks…I think that the responsibility has pushed him into what you always believed he could be.” The two human women shared a look, and Kagome relaxed, her scent mellowing until there was only an underlying hint of concern. Sesshomaru found himself wanting to ask what Kagome believed the hanyou capable of. He could smell the curiosity of the other demons in the room. It came to him, however, without the need to voice the question. A leader. Sesshomaru felt something settle in himself. He had not known that he had any concern for the future of his younger sibling, but the knowledge that he would follow in their father’s footsteps and forge a path to victory was right and natural. Sesshomaru felt pride in Inuyasha.
It made his regrown arm tingle with discomfort.
“The West must prepare to take advantage of this act,” he directed the conversation so that he would not have to dwell on any feelings toward his half-brother.
“I will see to it, my lord,” Hisao bowed his head shallowly.
They spoke for a while longer, regarding the reconfiguration of several squads of soldiers. The slayer offered insight that Hisao appreciated. It was not long, however, before the woman began to smell of fatigue. Kimi and Kagome, he knew, also needed to prepare to receive Hirimoto, so he excused them – although not before producing the teapot and pushing his empty cup closer to Kagome. She took the hint, pouring for him and smiling sweetly. But she also smelled of irritation and something close to deception. Just before he could take the cup from her hands, she pulled it back and sipped from it with a pink blush, running her lips along the entire edge. No one else saw the action, and Sesshomaru found that it was several minutes after she left before he could focus on the present. Hisao and Kento were discussing supply routes, but he was tantalized by the taste of his intended mate each time he sipped his tea.
The arrival of the Southern Lord was both more and less than Kagome expected. More, because elegant kimono had been laid out for herself, Rin, and Shippo. Aki helped her dress in three successively thick and dark layers of blue material that were softer than cashmere and almost as light as silk. The hem and trailing edge of the long sleeves had been embroidered with a forest scene in greens and browns. Tiny golden and silver animals darted through the intricate vegetation and miniscule birds flited through the treetops that gradually thinned towards her waist. A contrasting lavender obi had been left unadorned. It was the comb, however, that left her speechless. Rin had been bursting with excitement when she announced that it was a gift from Sesshomaru, and Aki had admired it as she secured it in Kagome’s elegant twist of hair. The metal had been worked by a master, and although it contained no jewels, it was a work of art on its own. Two gold trees, their roots making the tines, interlocked their branches. Magnolia blossoms, almost too small for her human sight to make out, had been punched into the leafy surface. The casual wealth and craftsmanship shocked her as much as the obvious thought warmed her heart. He said I smell of magnolias.
Rin was outfitted in new clothing as well, although the color of her kimono was undiscernible under the bright flowers that adorned it from hem to neck. Discrete ivory sticks swept her hair off of her nape and made her look quite grown up. Shippo preened almost as much as his friend, showing Kagome his new kimono and pants. The cloth was a blue-green at first glance, but when her eyes moved away, it seemed to disappear. Not that Shippo appeared naked, nothing so commonplace for a creation of Aki’s. Rather, the cloth seemed to catch and bend the light until the little kit disappeared altogether if she wasn’t looking directly at him. All in all, the finery and the idea of the pack gathering to greet the guest seemed more elaborate to Kagome than she had expected, given that there was to be another, more formal reception after the remaining attendees of the Council arrived.
Kimi personally fetched her and the older children and led them to the broad platform in front of the shiro to wait – outside. From there, she had an excellent view of the courtyard and the gate through which their guests approached. It was their arrival that seemed incongruent with the reception. Rather than soaring in on clouds of youki or bounding over the wall in their true forms, the party from the South appeared rather mundanely. They walked.
There were several pack animals, carrying luggage and lead by a two servants, and a secretary or high-born attendant of some sort. Four soldiers, no more, followed the group. Although the soldiers were quite obviously demons, their size made it apparent – one even had fur on his face, the daiyoukai at the front could have been mistaken for human royalty except for his markings. The male walked in front, taller even than Sesshomaru and twice as broad. His hair was short; it was pulled into a tail that only reached his shoulder blades. His face was mostly jaw and eyebrow, his mouth wide and hinting at a smile that revealed fangs. His skin was darkly tanned, and contrasted – not beautifully, but strikingly – with a gold band that stretched across the bridge of his nose, bracketed his eyes, and bled into his hair leaving a pale honey streak at each temple.
As he approached, he blinked for a long moment, intimating a nod and spoke, “This One accepts the hospitality of the West.” Then he winked, Kagome was fairly certain, at Kimi. The Lord of the South had interrupted Sesshomaru’s greeting before he could even begin.
Sesshomaru replied dryly, “This One offers such.”
She couldn’t help it, Kagome giggled, and then promptly tried to stifle it, managing only to snort. A hot blush erupted on her cheeks, and Sesshomaru’s clawed hand was quickly at the small of her back. Whether to reprimand or pat her if she started to choke, she wasn’t sure. Rin tucked her small hand into Kagome’s and squeezed in reassurance. Two younger youkai, the male somewhere near Inuyasha’s age, looked up, startled. Their coloring and the richness of their clothing announced their relationship to the lord.
“Hirimoto Oda, of the South,” Sesshomaru began, and Kagome wondered if he was about to make a speech. It would easily be the strangest thing she had ever seen, if that were the case. “Come.” That was the end of the formal reception, and an oration befitting the daiyoukai’s personality. Sesshomaru swept into the shiro, propelling Kagome with him. The children and Kimi followed closely. Somewhere behind her, she could hear laughter that followed them to a reception room. Kagome decided that she liked the Southern Lord.
That feeling was firmly entrenched during the meal. The formal diction fell away once the servants had laid out the food and retreated behind closed doors, for which Kagome was grateful. Hirimoto and his children were pleasant and cheerful and not at all what she had come to expect from powerful youkai – aside from Sesshomaru and his mother. Makoto, the son, smiled a great deal and surreptitiously made funny faces at the younger children, much to the little kitsune’s delight. Mitsu, the daughter, was painfully shy, but the little beauty was soon whispering and smiling with Rin as they ate.
The lord was a contemporary of Kimi’s; it became apparent as she teased and lured him into a game of baiting and taunting Sesshomaru. Despite being of a slightly lower status than the Saidai Mao, Hirimoto had no qualms about treating the inu like a disappointingly serious nephew.
“It has been too long, Sesshomaru-san, since you have visited the South.” The bear youkai pointed rather rudely with his chopsticks and sent a wicked grin Kagome’s way. “Although I can see why you have been absent these last few decades, with such occupation in your own territory.” Kagome desperately wanted to point out that she wasn’t nearly old enough to have been distracting Sesshomaru for twenty years.
“Hn.” Sesshomaru’s youki remained under tight control as he took measured bites of his food. His eyes, however, glinted dangerously when Hirimoto leaned closer to her.
“I did not think I would ever see the day when a female would take that one into consideration.”
“My son has many admirable qualities, Hirimoto. The females have always admired his face,” Kimi said.
“His form,” Hirimoto shot back at her.
“His power.” Kimi’s argument was about Sesshomaru, and presumably in his defense, but Kagome could tell that her words were intended to irritate her son as much as they were to spar with the bear.
Kagome glanced at Sesshomaru, whose jaw was rigid with tension. She had to give him credit for ignoring his elders, although they did not seem to be willing to give up until they got a reaction out of him. “His charm,” Kimi’s voice was full of laughter and her eyes twinkled.
“Surely not,” Hirimoto sat back, as though perplexed, and looked the Saidai Mao over quite thoroughly.
“Ask the female herself,” Kimi suggested. “I doubt my son will satisfy your curiosity.”
Hirimoto leaned over, within twelve inches of Kagome’s skin. She was not frightened or uncomfortable, not for herself. Sesshomaru was at the end of the table and she was very conscious of his propriety over her scent and personal space – and the bear seemed to know that and enjoy pushing Sesshomaru’s buttons. “Tell me, does a female of your accomplishments not find life in the Western court rather cold?” The double entendre was not lost on Kagome, nor on the inu that was courting her, if the tight fist on his knee was any indication.
The miko could not help but join in the good natured teasing, albeit on the side of her choosing. “Oh no, Hirimoto-sama, I assure you I do not find heat an issue.” She continued sweetly, “Perhaps you are uncomfortable here? I understand the warm weather in the South breeds thinner blood. Shall I have a blanket brought for you?” There was shocked silence at the adult end of the table for a long moment, during which Kagome’s stomach dropped low and she wondered if she had overstepped. Again.
Kimi’s laughter broke the tension nicely. “Thin blood? Finally, something that detracts from your laudable form, Hirimoto. Yes, do let us know if you require anything for your delicate health.”
Hirimoto’s gaze turned to find Kimi across the table and his smile softened. “Your concern is most gratifying, Lady.”
Kagome leaned back with a strange sense of unreality, staring at the two daiyoukai. She might have fallen off of her cushion if Sesshomaru had not reached out to stabilize her. He righted her and pulled her seat closer to the corner of the table, and himself, all in one smooth motion. Her knee rubbed against his thigh under the table and his hand found purchase there, rubbing firm circles through the layers of kimono. Kagome found it difficult to breathe for a few moments, but her sudden silence was not commented upon. Thank heavens. Makoto chose that instant to lean over his bowl of meat and focus on Sesshomaru.
“Father has allowed me to train as his secretary, Sesshomaru-sama. I was wondering if I might beg some of Kento-san’s time tomorrow, before the Council begins. I wish to ask for his guidance.”
“That would be acceptable,” Sesshomaru allowed.
“You are rather young for such a position at an auspicious gathering, Makoto-kun,” Kimi noted. “Your sire must think highly of your skills.” Kagome tried not to smile as the boy blushed and murmured thanks.
Hirimoto boasted, “He has his mother’s quick mind, that is certain-”
“Fate does grant small favors,” Kimi noted into her cup.
Hirimoto grinned and continued, good-naturedly, “He spent most of the journey questioning our physician on all aspects of medicine. If I am not careful, he will be swayed into studying sciences instead of politics.”
“Mitsu is your heir, after all,” Kimi rejoined, “surely the boy should take up what interests him.”
“My heir yes, but Makoto should be prepared to support his sister.” The children had fallen silent, and Kagome noticed the wide eyes and uneasy expression on the female bear’s face. Her own mother had always been open-minded regarding what occupation her children would choose – easily referenced by Kagome’s current situation. But the miko remembered well the uncomfortable conversations in her youth where her grandfather would brag to visiting monks and priests that she would take over the shrine one day. It might have been the life she would have chosen, if she had not travelled through the well, but it was still unsettling to have someone else speak as though your future was predetermined. Kagome didn’t imagine that it felt any different in the feudal era. If anything, it would be even more suffocating if Mitsu was certain she had no other option.
Kagome took pity and interrupted Hirimoto’s recitation of his daughter’s accomplishments. “You mentioned a physician?”
“Oh.” Hirimoto paused, “Yes, Sesshomaru-san requested that I bring him. My Isha is widely renowned for his deft touch with youki. He has been experimenting with healing energy for decades.”
Kagome felt her mouth drop open in surprise and she turned to her daiyoukai. Sesshomaru did not smile – that would have been too strange in front of others, even in such a casual setting – but the corners of his eyes crinkled and his tone took on a softness that he reserved for her and Rin. “You believe the issue to be wide-spread. You will need assistance.”
“Sesshomaru…” Kagome didn’t know what else to say. He had been so upset after she had healed Aki and Kento, she assumed he would flat-out deny any attempts she made to allow other youkai couples to have children. Not that she would have let him stop her, if she could help. Still, it was thoughtful of him – not just for her sake, but for his people, for the future of demons in Japan. She smiled and let her hand slip under the table to clasp around his fingers.
“What issue is this? You were too vague with your request, Sesshomaru-san.” Hirimoto’s question drew Sesshomaru’s gaze from her.
The daiyoukai looked to the children, and Kagome followed suit. Rin and Mitsu looked sleepy. Shippo was fighting his exhaustion, trying to stay awake by stuffing another rice ball in his mouth. Even Makoto had grown quieter, his bowl and chopsticks pushed away. A subdued flicker of Sesshomaru’s youki had a servant sliding open the screen and bowing, waiting for instruction. “Escort Those Ones to their quarters. Eiji and Eiichi shall take Those of This House.” He nodded and the servant rose and waited politely for Mitsu and Makoto. Others quickly entered and removed the dishes, replacing them with a fresh pot of tea and cups. The rock brothers appeared soon after, they must have been waiting close by, and each simply picked up Rin and Shippo and bowed to the lords before closing the shoji behind them.
Sesshomaru’s barrier snapped into place. “Reproduction has become difficult among youkai,” he began slowly. Kagome sat forward and began to pour, this time offering the first cup to the highest ranking among them. His youki curled around her wrist with wry thanks, and she smiled at the gesture, despite the serious topic.
She almost dropped the second cup of tea in Kimi’s lap when Hirimoto replied, “At your age, and with such a female, Sesshomaru-san, I do not believe you should find it overly demanding.” Kagome’s eyes widened. Her arms were outstretched across the table toward Kimi, a hot cup of tea in her hands. The liquid sloshed dangerously close to the rim. Face flaming, she lifted her eyes to Sesshomaru. His nostrils flared and his lips thinned. Kagome recalled that once, shortly after he had lost his arm, Inuyasha had insulted Sesshomaru’s masculinity with similar, although less subtle, phrasing – thankfully he had not brought any specific women into the conversation. The hanyou was left unconscious for almost two days.
“Be serious,” Kimi snapped, for once discarding her amused disposition. Hirimoto lost all vestiges of humor as well. “He speaks of our race. We are dwindling, Hirimoto.”
It was long hours of conversation later, mostly full of Hirimoto’s questions and Kimi’s explanations before they came to Kagome’s part in a potential solution. Sesshomaru saved her from having to try and censure her words, and instead explained in concise, clipped tones how her reiki worked. Hirimoto quickly realized why his physician had been requested.
“You believe you can teach my Isha to perform such healing?”
“I do not know,” Kagome answered slowly, as honestly as she could. The warm weight of Sesshomaru’s hand on her knee was a welcome reassurance. “Youki and reiki are not the same, but they have similar properties.” She nodded resolutely, “I will do everything I can.”
“Within reason,” Sesshomaru reminded her softly. Kagome squeezed his hand, but didn’t bother confirming or denying his restriction.
“Well, that’s settled then.” Hirimoto straightened his back and grinned at them all. “Perhaps when you are finished I might end up with a few more cubs as well.”
“Hn.” Kimi huffed. Kagome had to hide her mouth in her sleeve to keep from laughing.