Chapter 51: A Pity, a Tête-à-tête, a Siege with a Glozing, a Murder, and A Party
Chapter 52: Arrangements
“Another?” Inuyasha asked, barely managing to keep his words clear. The fact that Natsou was obviously struggling to keep his posture straight was promising. “Or can dragons not hold their liquor?” The only answer was a snarl and a porcelain cup pushed toward him. Inuyasha nodded to Tomago and the hatchling sprang forward with a new bottle of sake. The crane poured two cups with a deft hand, despite his age and the nervous excitement roiling off of him. Inuyasha sniffed and had to hold back a sneeze. Egg should be a good server by now, he thought sourly, sixth damn bottle and the asshole still hasn’t said anything worthwhile.
Natsou slammed back his drink and kept his chin up and eyes closed while the burn worked its way down his throat. Inuyasha looked into his own cup with distaste before following suit. “Fuckin’ southern sake,” he muttered. The hanyou hadn’t intended to voice his complaint aloud, but the immediate attention of the dragon sharpened his senses.
“This is from the Southern Lands?” He nodded his dark head toward the bottle in the hatchling’s talons.
“Yeah, picked it up off some traders,” Inuyasha replied. A beat later he remembered he was supposed to be a ruthless asshole. “They didn’t need it anymore.”
The dragon let out a bark of laughter, startling most of the youkai that had settled in a respectful circle to watch. None but Tomago were close enough to overhear the conversation, but Natsou’s outburst drew attention. “Didn’t need it,” he repeated. “Hirimoto might – he’s wishing now, or will soon, that he had this bottle.” The dragon continued to chuckle to himself, and Inuyasha wracked his mind for clever phrasing.
“Hirimoto.” Inuyasha paused, trying to determine how much information he would be expected to have of noble youkai if he hadn’t been on speaking terms with Sesshomaru. The vague fuzz of sake on his brain made it more difficult. “That some other fucker you’re thinkin’ of sending after the ice prick? I ain’t sharing my kill.” He bared his teeth and gestured for another cup. The dragon captain seemed to think the conversation had become even funnier. He smiled widely, making Inuyasha want to claw his mouth right off his face.
“Oh, no half-breed. The Western Lord is all yours. Hirimoto is nothing – less than nothing by now.” The smile turned vicious and Inuyasha’s stomach tightened painfully. The hairs on the back of his neck rose in anticipation. “Just some weyr-less bear with nothing but empty lands and a half-burned hovel to his name.” Natsou leaned in, sharing his personal space with an air of gleeful secrecy and Inuyasha realized that the dragon was far drunker than he had let on. “Perhaps you will meet the pathetic creature in battle.”
“How would I know one lumbering bear from another?” Inuyasha held his cup carefully and breathed out evenly. His usual scowl felt frozen on his face. His jaw ached from clenching it and his throat and lungs were hot. His nose was wreathed in the vapors of alcohol, but he could still make out the carrion scent of the captain’s malice.
“He’ll be the one wild-eyed with vengeance and drenched in the taste of sorrow.” He threw back another cup with a loud smacking of his lips and held it up in the air. “Vengeance!” His yell was echoed by about half of the dragons present, and quite a few of those seemed more bewildered than enthused by the battle cry. The delicate blue and white cup cracked with the force Natsou used to slam it onto the ground. “I’ll finish that bottle, half-breed, and you can make it up to me for missing the feast.” Tomago poured again, this time his hands were shaking enough that several drops spilled onto the dragon’s claws. Natsou did not notice. His dark eyes were unfocused, his broad face flushed with sake. “Admit defeat, little whelp, admit that you can drink no more, and I will tell you a tale of hot meat and death before the greatness of the North.”
“The bottle is yours,” Inuyasha said woodenly, sending the hatchling back to camp as soon as he set down the sake. “Not that I couldn’t keep drinking.” The bravado sounded flat to him, but he couldn’t make himself snarl and bluster. Luckily, the dragon did not seem to find it odd.
“Won’t say it, huh? I did not expect any better. But I promised a tale – and you should know the might of the North.” Inuyasha poured another cup for the captain. Clear alcohol seeped out of the crack along the side of the cup. Orange light filtered through the trees along the ridge; the sunset catching in the droplets and casting them in fire until they dripped down and fell into the dirt. “It would have been better if I had been there,” the dragon began, sipping at his drink. “My Lord confided his plan in me, before I left, and there is no harm in telling it now – it will have already been done. Ah – how I wished I could have tasted the blood…”
Natsou spoke until night fell and the sake was nothing but vapors in the bottle. Two of his soldiers came and assisted him to return to his tent. The captain called out insults to Inuyasha as he stumbled away, accusing him with a drunken laugh of being unable to stand. That much was true – of all of the insults that had been thrown his way during the disastrous week of negotiations. By the time Inuyasha was able to get his feet under him and turn back to his own camp, it was fully dark and he was stone cold sober.
“Egg,” he called softly as he crossed the line of watch. The hatchling was startled from a doze and immediately flapped and rustled until he was almost jogging to keep up with the hanyou’s purposeful stride. “Wake the Lieutenant, and have him meet me in the medical tent.”
“The Slayer-san is resting there, waiting for you. She arrived in the late afternoon.”
Inuyasha didn’t respond, but his jaw tightened further. He hoped Sango had word from Sesshomaru that they didn’t need to hide their alliance any longer; he doubted it, but he still hoped. He had wanted to kill Natsou from the beginning – just for being a prick. After his drunken confidence, Inuyasha wanted to rip out the dragon’s throat. Then again, perhaps he should ready Tessiaga even if Sango didn’t have good news. If Sesshomaru had not advanced the plan, from where Inuyasha was standing circumstances had still changed.
“Bring me the munitions expert, and find the ameonna, Niji.” He snagged the back of the hatchling’s collar before he could bolt away. “And Egg, get me paper, ink, and brush.” He had news to send to his brother, and there would be no joy in the telling or the hearing.
Sesshomaru sat in his private study, reviewing the work Kagome had completed while he was in meetings and considering orders for supplies, protection, trade agreements, and any number of other things that were required to ensure prosperity for a large territory. It was not lost on him that the task was less tedious that ever before – due in part to Kagome’s assistance, and in part to the recent council discussions. Few endeavors would not benefit from a comparison to days spent listening to youkai and human nobles bicker and deliberate. He also admitted to himself that the work was a welcome distraction for the strange tension that had been growing within him since he woke that morning.
As had become usual, it was still dark out when he had opened his eyes. The faint glow from the moon outside was enough for his preternatural eyesight to make out the smooth curve of Kagome’s cheek and wild mop of dark hair that spread across his bicep. Her breath was warm against his chest; her hands buried in the fur of mokomoko. A smile had tilted his lips at the sight. He was unused to binding his hair, but the long tail secured at the base of his head had prevented her from becoming completed tangled again. Instead, he had wrapped himself around her. Her legs tucked between his, her cool skin absorbing his heat. Her torso and head pressed against him. His right arm acted as her pillow, his claws light against the back of her head. His left arm circled her waist and kept her close. He had savored the moment, despite his frustrated desires, and inhaled her scent before extracting himself and preparing for the day.
The first grey light of dawn was cast against the shoji screens as he had precisely knotted his obi and leaned down to kiss his intended. When he stood to leave, he caught sight of her kimono out of the corner of his eye. It was exactly as he had commissioned it, which was expected. Aki was a perfectionist. The delicate silks and carefully chosen colors reminded him that he would formally present Kagome before his court that night. It was welcome, satisfying, and made him anticipatory in more ways than one.
Hours later, as Sesshomaru pressed his seal to another document, he reflected that Kagome would soon be bound to him. Not permanently, only a mating and the desire to forge and protect such a bond could do as much, but the use of power that the ceremony required would be the penultimate blending of their life energy. She would accept his claim and make one of her own, before all of those that held power in Japan. He had been working toward that goal since she had agreed to heal Rin. Even before he realized that was his intent, even when his mind had clouded the issue and couched his desire, his need, in terms of political power, honorable obligation, and strategic alliance he had been seeking a way to keep her at his side. The heat that was always present at the thought of his miko surged and tightened, pressing against his organs in a way that was still unfamiliar, but not unpleasant. His instincts, too, were eager, pacing tightly inside him with obvious restraint.
The formal announcement had implications beyond his own personal goals. Although, those were no less important to him. Mating a human, a holy human, was an irrevocable statement. It declared his steadfast decision to accept the humans as allies, as potential equals. It denied that there was any force or fate that Sesshomaru could not overcome. Even his natural enemy, a miko, would be brought into the West and serve to protect and defend as Sesshomaru commanded. That was the message he would send to all in attendance. It was a message that would be carried to every corner of Japan within a fortnight. A satisfied smile split his face as he followed that thought to its logical conclusion: Ryukostokken would know that Kagome belonged to Sesshomaru. The Saidai Mao would make a claim, and none would challenge it – or they would die at end of his claws.
A polite pulse of youki and unnecessary throat clearing brought his attention to Kento, who stood at attention near the door. Sesshomaru did not bother concealing his grin, to which Kento raised a brow. The guard on duty in the antechamber caught sight of it through the open door, and blanched. Regretfully, Sesshomaru schooled his features into his usual blank mask. It would not do to have his soldiers fearing that he might decapitate someone in his own house. It did not stop his thoughts from playing out in his mind, however. Even as he nodded to Kento to encourage him to speak, he was imagining the many ways he would imprint his scent and claim on his miko once the ceremony was complete. The tension in his chest increased minutely.
“My lord,” Kento bowed deeply. “The honorable Matsudaira Nobutada requests an audience.”
Sesshomaru could feel the strong, controlled aura of the human war lord in the outer chamber. He smelled of the soaps that had been provided to all guests, a simple meal of miso and rice, and patience. The Saidai Mao nodded. He was interested to hear what Matsudaira had to say. The quiet lord was cunning in his reticence. His opinions had been purposefully absent from many discussions, but Sesshomaru knew from reports provided by Kimi as well as his own excellent observations of expression, words, and scent that the human was not given to announcing decisions until both the situation and the timing were orchestrated to optimal benefit.
“Sesshomaru-sama,” the war lord bowed, and the daiyoukai gave a calculated nod in response. It would be beneficial for the human to feel that he had the respect of his host. Not that Sesshomaru would have considered giving that impression if it were not true. He did not waste his effort on false accolades or attitudes. He was not his mother. The human sat where Kento indicated, on a cushion placed before Sesshomaru’s desk. The floor had not been raised in the room; but while they were on even ground, the youkai was still a head taller. Kento poured tea, and the youkai enjoyed the scent on the steam as he waited for a point to be made. He was not left to wait long.
“I must again express my gratitude for your invitation. I am honored to be welcomed within the home of such a noble daiyoukai. It is in the best interests of Japan, to have ties between our people. And our houses.” Matsudaira sipped, his face complacent.
Sesshomaru allowed one brow to quirk in interest. Direct, perhaps even disrespectfully forward, if this were not cutting to the heart of the matter, he thought to himself. Not even Hirimoto had drawn the conclusions that Sesshomaru had seen so clearly from the time he first proposed inviting the humans. The Full Moon Council was not merely a means to a temporary alliance against the North. It was precipice upon which the future of youkai balanced. Only a long-term association, forged in blood and power, would ensure that the West had no enemies among humans that could not easily be defeated. There was more than one way to spill blood. More than one way to secure power. Sesshomaru had never given the alternatives particular consideration, before recent events, but he was well aware of the utility.
“Indeed,” he responded shortly.
“I have hope that one of my sons, perhaps my oldest, may be able to continue to secure that interest.”
Sesshomaru set down his cup carefully. He speaks of Rin. It was intended as a compliment, he was aware. Despite the fact that his station and power were significantly higher than Matsudaira, the human would view it as an offer of the highest respect and providing advantage to both lords. Humans valued female children less than males, and adopted children below those born of blood. The daiyoukai knew this. Knew that Matsudaira was offering his oldest son, one who would have easily been accepted as a match to any firstborn daughter of a human lord with appreciation. Sesshomaru controlled his first response, which was to wrap his youki whip around the man’s neck and press him to the floor until he learned his place.
“If I might interject, my lords,” Kento said smoothly.
“Hn.” Sesshomaru breathed deeply, reminding himself that he needed alliances. Ignorance is not insolence.
“Rin-yojosan is first in the House of the Crescent Moon. She has been adopted of his blood. Among inuyoukai, she will inherit unless Sesshomaru-sama names another child of his line.”
There was a strained pause, during which a variety of emotions flashed through Matsudaira’s scent. All were subdued and quickly repressed, but Sesshomaru gained enough insight to know that the human recognized his misstep, and would attempt to correct it. It was a balm to his honor. “Forgive me, Sesshomaru-sama. It appears I am less knowledgeable in the ways of your kind than I had hoped.”
That was enough to allow Sesshomaru to forgive the slight. The idea that his oldest child would be considered suitable for an alliance mating with a human lord- despite his wealth and political power – could be considered merely distasteful if it was suggested out of misunderstanding. “This One has others within the West better suited for such calculations.” Kento’s relief was palatable, at least to an inu, and Sesshomaru repressed the urge to cut his eyes to his secretary. He might have enjoyed the mental image of punishing the human, but he was far too controlled to act upon his desire.
“I was not aware there were other children within your House, Sesshomaru-sama. My heir was born fourteen winters ago; my next son is only six. Do you have another daughter or niece of appropriate age, or would you consider promising your next born daughter to my youngest, who is just teething?”
“The other females in This Sesshomaru’s pack are too young for your sons. They will not be appropriate for mating for several centuries.” Matsudaira’s eyes widened fractionally, but he nodded with acceptance. “A female youkai of lesser station and power would be appropriate.”
“Lesser?” Matsudaira’s expression gave away nothing, but his scent carried a quickly buried spark of irritation.
Kento would have intervened again, but Sesshomaru held him back with a raised hand. “It is no disrespect This One offers your House, Matsudaira. The least of those that you might be offered for consideration may bring wealth, power, and years to a son of your line.” He placed his emphasis with a light touch, but Matsudaira proved himself to be as astute as the daiyoukai had hoped. Kento smelled of surprise and interest.
“Years? How is such a thing accomplished?”
“It will become clear at the ceremony tonight.” Sesshomaru picked up his cup again, and waited for the war lord to consider his offer. It was not done lightly. Should Matsudaira agree, he would need to procure at least two females for the man to choose from. There were quite a few rather distant relations that were unmated and of appropriate age, but they would also need sufficient power to succeed in a blending of youki and spirit, as well as an open mind regarding union with a human.
“I have also a daughter, similar in age to Rin-yojosan,” he said slowly. Sesshomaru listened with attention. Surely he does not suggest a union with the kit? The girl-child will be stooped with age, if not dead, before he is mature. “This courting would give a measure of youki life to a human?”
“Perhaps,” Sesshomaru answered, still curious as to what end the lord was suggesting. He had already explained the difference in growth and maturity between humans and demons. Uncharacteristically, he found himself elaborating, “It is rare. But it may be done.” His voice was sterner than he had intended, but that was acceptable. He had already sensed some changes within Kagome; changes that assured him that his youki had begun to sustain her, to nourish her body as it did his, promoting long life and resiliency. However, he could not be certain of success until the mating was complete.
“She is…dear to me.” Sesshomaru could sympathize with the sentiment. He too, had ones dear to him. He had even considered placing some of his youki within Rin, to ensure her lifespan. He had not yet attempted it, as he wished to discuss the potential effects with Kagome. He had concerns for how human growth might be negatively impacted. He had determined he would wait until after the mating to solicit his miko’s opinion once she had evidence of the process and results for comparison. Matsudaira continued, “I have heard of your half-brother, and his deeds in pursuit of the Jewel of Four Souls. He fared well with human companions, and I understand he has been welcomed in your House.”
Sesshomaru could easily say that he had never been so completely taken by surprise in his entire life. The human lord sipped his tea. Kento buried his face in his work, although his covert sniffing was not unnoticed by the Saidai Mao. Sesshomaru stared, stone-faced. Matsudaira Nobutada was suggesting that his family be allied with the West through a mating between the lord’s cherished daughter and Inuyasha. It was Sesshomaru’s right, of course. The hanyou was his younger sibling, a member of his pack. The alpha could arrange any courtship he desired for those under his power. Although an actual mating could not be forced, in practice many couples had entered into such a state with little else but familial and political pressure. Sesshomaru tried to imagine what Inuyasha would say to that decree.
The corner of his mouth tipped up, unbidden. Matsudaira did not miss the unusual expression. “Have I offended you in some way, Sesshomaru-sama?”
The daiyoukai continued to smirk, unable or unwilling to control his features. Inuyasha, dragged into a political mating. The idea was…humorous. And prospectively destructive. But also rife with potential for taunting his half-brother. He forced the strange notion away for later consideration, instead focusing on the more immediate issue in Matsudaira’s suggestion.
“Inu no Tashio’s hanyou. In this house. Where would you hear such a tale?” They had been depending on the elimination of the spy and Inuyasha’s reputation to secure the interest of the North. If word of Inuyasha’s amicable stay in the West, or worse, Sesshomaru’s acceptance of him into his pack, had become so widely known that even human lords were aware of the situation, Inuyasha would be in grave danger. The entire strategy that had been constructed could fall apart.
“Only from Miko-sama, I assure you.” Matsudaira seemed aware that there were deeper concerns at play, for he did not mince words. “Until I reached your shiro, I was unaware that the Shikon Miko, companion of the inu hanyou that helped defeat Naraku, resided here. Nor of any connection between that warrior and your House.” He spoke seriously, and Sesshomaru returned it with an appropriate measure of respect. As well as a small ration of trust beyond what he had ever given outside of his pack, excluding Hirimoto and Bokuseno.
“Inuyasha-san cannot be known to have This Sesshomaru’s respect.” Sesshomaru paused, “Not yet.”
Matsudaira moved his broad shoulders in a motion that seemed to convey understanding, “Of course.” The human set down his cup, and Kento poured for both lords again. “However, should there be a respected male of your House, of appropriate age, in the future, I would make considerations for my daughter.”
“That One, should he materialize, would not be welcomed by you unless he was of willing heart,” the daiyoukai warned. Reassurance that his plans were well in hand allowed Sesshomaru to dwell on the subject of alliances again. “But it shall be noted favorably.”
Matsudaira nodded in acceptance. “Until then, perhaps we may consider the other matter.”
Kento discreetly laid a sheaf of papers at his elbow, detailing the lineage of those unmated females on the fringes of his family line. Sesshomaru wondered what Kagome would say to the notion of mating off Inuyasha. She will smell of pepper. It would be several hours until the ceremony, but if he finished the business with Matsudaira quickly, he might find time to discuss it with her while she ate. The heat in his chest flared again.
“Hn.” He picked up the papers, determined to construct a bridge between two peoples, as well as satisfy the human lord before the next meal. Then he might satisfy some of his own needs as well.
Kagome breathed slowly, calmly, trying to achieve something close to a state of meditation while Aki fussed with her hair. More like designed, she admitted to herself. Despite being a spider demon, Aki did not have eight appendages, but one would never guess from the rapid way she constructed and deconstructed hairstyles. After the first three attempts were declared ‘not quite right’ Kagome had stopped counting. She had finished lining her eyes with kohl before the youkai arrived, and had anticipated that there would be tea and chatting before they began getting ready for the ceremony.
Wishful thinking, Higurashi, she thought with longing, glancing to the tea tray that still sat on the low table in the anteroom. She realized that it had been foolish to think that anyone would expect it to take less than three hours to get ready. At home, in the future, Kagome could have been ready for a black tie event in less than an hour – not including her bath, of course. Considering that her outfit was already chosen and cosmetics had been restricted to a rouge powder, kohl, and lip gloss the prep time seemed excessive. I bet Sesshomaru doesn’t have to go through this, she grouched to herself. She felt justified in placing her bad mood on his shoulders. He had stopped by as she was finishing lunch and helped direct children to naps and lessons before secluding her in their room. Ten minutes of leading caresses and kisses, and one comment that suggested he had something quite funny to tell her – and then Kento was at the door, politely notifying Sesshomaru that several of his guests had requested audiences prior to the ceremony. The daiyoukai had not been pleased with the interruption. His youki made that clear to everyone in a hundred foot radius. But he still left with a searing kiss that had Kagome tingling and bothered.
Dwelling on a manufactured irritation with Sesshomaru was vastly preferable to thinking about the evening ahead of her. Kento and Kimi had coached her on the ceremony and she was sure she knew the process – she just felt completely inadequate to the execution. Nerves were wrestling in her belly. Naked, raw, nauseating nerves that made her squirm uncomfortably.
“Oh, Kagome-sama,” Aki said with disappointment. “I’ll have to start over now. And that one showed real promise too.” Kagome apologized and returned to fuming about her unsatisfying afternoon. At least she hadn’t been forced to sit through any more meetings. Unlike Sesshomaru. She squashed any pity for the daiyoukai.
The time to head downstairs was drawing close when Aki finally sat back with a smile on her face. She refused to allow Kagome the opportunity to check her reflection, but bustled her into the new kimono and escorted her past the rock brothers to the ima where Hirimoto was waiting for her.
“You look ravishing, little one,” he smiled broadly as Aki bowed and disappeared. No doubt to dress herself. All of Sesshomaru’s important vassals and their mates had been invited to the reception that would follow the ceremony. And the big event, Kagome felt her nerves growing again, would be outside so that everyone at the shiro could attend.
“Thank you, Hirimoto-sama,” Kagome tried to smile, but she wasn’t sure she succeeded.
“After tonight, you must not speak to This One so formally, Kagome-san,” he said gently. He presented his arm to her and Kagome carefully lifted her hand to hover over his sleeve. Given their height difference, she had to hold her arm high, more so even than with Sesshomaru. She swiftly realized that even the comparatively few layers she was wearing would feel like a lead weight by the time they reached the reception hall. As if he could sense her train of thought, Hirimoto unbent his elbow to lower his arm. “You will be held as an equal with other nobility. Once the mating is complete, your station will be above all but the Saidai Mao.”
Kagome was aware he was probably trying to make small talk, to help calm her nerves. The idea that she was effectively becoming a princess in one evening did not settle the razor-winged butterflies that were stirring in her stomach. She made a non-commital sound.
“Of course, there will be a great deal of shock when you are presented.” Hirimoto looked down at her, his dark eyes sparkling with mirth, “Kimi-san was correct, as usual, that making the participants in tonight’s ceremony a surprise would garner more attention. Sesshomaru-sama’s guests are buzzing with-”
“They don’t know?” Kagome interrupted. She could feel a frown forming, and forced her face to smooth out. It said a great deal about how her confidence in Sesshomaru, in his feelings for her, had grown and solidified recently. It did not occur to her that he was ashamed of his engagement to a human. That did not mean, however, that she understood his thought process.
“No. Of the Council members, only Kimi-san and This Hirimoto are aware. It will be a test, a way for the West to better gauge which lords will fully support a long-term association with another race.” They were approaching the division between the private, family portion of the shiro and more public areas where guests were allowed. Hirimoto lowered his voice, “You must maintain your honor and dignity, regardless of what happens. The future may be decided tonight,” he said seriously.
You have no idea, Kagome thought with a wry smile.
They began the long, careful journey down to the main level of the castle, and additional guards fell in behind them. Hirimoto offered a last consolation, “If the situation should become…tense…please do not fear. No harm will come to you.”
The time for open conversation was at an end, but Kagome could not help but murmur, “Of course not. I will be with Sesshomaru.”
“Your attempts at subterfuge grow repetitive, Tsukahara. This One may become insulted if you are unable to expend more effort.” Kimi flicked open her fan and hid her smile behind it. The eagle daiyoukai was obviously frustrated, but he was baring the suspense better than she thought he might. His relative patience, and that of the other lords, was due only to their ignorance, she was certain. If they had known that the upcoming ceremony was for Sesshomaru they would have been significantly more eager to discover the identity of his intended. If they had known it would be the Miko no Mao, well, there was nothing like a little posturing and perhaps a minor bloodletting to liven up a party.
“Forgive me, Kimi-sama.” Tsukahara nodded deeply, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. His ease was partially due to the sake Kimi had insisted Sesshomaru offer the male guest prior to the reception. Two cups was not enough to get any youkai, or thankfully, it appeared, any human, drunk. It was enough to smooth tensions and lift the mood. The secretary at his side was equally genial. “You cannot deny that this is your doing however. It has been many years, but I well remember the intrigue and excitement your gatherings were infamous for. It was not so long ago that a Blossom Festival was punctuated by an execution, an elopement, and at least two claim challenges.”
“Your memory betrays you,” Kimi brushed a silver lock over one shoulder, to emphasize how little involvement she had in any of the happenings at that particular gathering. Which was, of course, patently untrue. “The execution was only sentenced, not carried out – and the guilty party was only one third of the elopement.”
“Ah, yes,” the eagle’s secretary chimed in, “I believe the males managed to both successfully mate her before the Eastern soldiers caught up with them. It was all quite scandalous.”
Tsukahara smiled wider. “Yes, Kuren-san was nearly overcome with humiliation that his cousin had taken a kitsune to her bed. To find out there were two – brothers – that had him refusing to even speak her name for decades.” The secretary laughed, but Tsukahara turned knowing eyes on Kimi. “It does give one pause – to wonder – how those two managed to get into a holding cell secured by the renowned inu soldiers of the West.”
“An interesting question indeed,” Kimi waved her fan lazily. She did so love a party. “The answer is unfortunately lost to all but the individuals in question.”
“It would be quite a tale,” the secretary considered, “if they could ever be found to relate it. It was rumored that they had sailed east-” His musings were cut off as Hirimoto entered with Kagome on his arm. Kimi’s smile grew more sentimental and less mischievous. She hid the expression with her fan. The human looked exquisite – enough so that she was the equal of even youki beauty. Her cheeks were a soft pink, her skin smooth, her lips glistening red like cherries covered in dew. Aki had outdone herself with the miko’s hair as well. It looped and swirled softly on the top of her head. The whole concoction appeared quite delicate, as though it might come tumbling down at any moment – or perhaps had recently been displayed so wantonly. She was the perfect dichotomy of purity and desire. Elegance and untamed spirit.
The kimono Sesshomaru had selected enhanced the image. The outer robe was golden yellow, the exact shade, Kimi reminisced, of Toga’s eyes. Belatedly it occurred to her that Kagome would no doubt have said it matched those of the current Western Lord instead. Pink and red cherry blossoms danced along one shoulder, stitched petals fell down and gathered in realistic whorls towards the bottom. At the collar, hem, and side splits a green under kimono was revealed. The black and green obi was tied simply, emphasizing the miko’s figure. Her hair sticks were jade, and even from across the room Kimi’s keen eyes could make out the carvings of the tale of the Jewel of Four Souls. The colors and pattern were a statement, to any who cared to think on the matter. Kagome had been arrayed as a symbol of growth and power. Purity and nobility. Eternal life.
My son does nothing by halves, she thought proudly. Aloud, she said, “You must excuse This One. A most honored guest of This House must be greeted.” Her companions nodded and made polite noises, and Kimi circled the room as she approached her old friend and his charge for the evening. Snippets of conversation floated to her sensitive ears, and she watched carefully the reactions of those gathered. It was good that Sesshomaru had been called away by an urgent message. One delivered by a breathless rain demoness whose dark skin and red hair carried the faint scent of an army. Although Kimi was eager to hear what news the other son of her mate had sent, it was better that the Saidai Mao dealt with that matter while she handled the milling crowd. A jealous inu was outpaced only by one that felt his pack was being threatened. The few disrespectful comments straddled a fine line. Those in the room admired her beauty and form; Date considered that an alliance might be formed with the West by taking the miko as a third wife. Kimi suppressed a chuckle at the thought. Not only would Sesshomaru have been strained not to skewer the lord for such a suggestion, the Lady knew Kagome well enough to imagine her response. It would be less violent, but far more disgusted.
Uesugi, who was not constrained by the need to politely acknowledge those in her path, beat Kimi to the miko’s side. Without either of the daiyoukai of the West to shield her scent, Kagome’s discomfort was obvious. Sour melon and the sharp tang of turnips perfumed the air around her, drawing interested stares from those nearby with keen senses. Kimi suppressed an eye roll at the otter’s behavior. Gorgeous and cunning the female was, without question, but her stubbornness was also unparalleled.
“Ah, there you are, my little egg with eyes,” Uesugi purred as she closed in on her target. Kimi gave the otter credit for boldness. Such an affectionate phrase was rarely spoken in public. The intimacy of the words did not seem to bother Kagome nearly as much as Uesugi’s next statement, spoken as she leaned within inches of the woman’s cheek, “You must stand by me during the ceremony. While the Saidai Mao hosts such a declaration, we will tease him with the notion that I might steal you away from the West. Do not worry, though, even if he were to take an interest in me, I could not leave you untouched.” Kagome’s mouth fell open and her cheeks flushed. Kimi reached her side and linked their arms just in time to create a barrier before the raw pepper of her fury could overwhelm Uesugi.
“This One must insist that you take a place of honor, Miko,” she smoothly inserted herself into the conversation. The double meaning was not lost on anyone present. Uesugi smirked, Hirimoto coughed, and Kagome blushed ever brighter. “That One will escort you to the ceremony,” she nodded to the bear with a quelling glance, “assuming he does not expire from amusement first.”
“This once I will allow you to be led away,” Uesugi bowed shortly to the miko, then licked her lips in anticipation. “But say the word and we shall steal away somewhere private after the ceremony.”
“The miko will be quite occupied, This Hirimoto is certain.”
Kimi prodded the bear discretely with her youki. Males could be so easily distracted at times. “Sesshomaru-sama is delayed, but will join everyone in the garden shortly. Come, Kagome-san.” The Western Lady ignored her antecessors questioning gaze and swept them both toward the screens that led outside, Hirimoto chuckling in her wake. A servant opened them promptly and soon the three were outside in the chill air. They were alone, for a moment, but it was all the time Kimi needed. “Go with Hirimoto,” she murmured. On impulse, she ran her nose along the human woman’s cheek. Sesshomaru would find the scent-mark irritating, but for once she was not concerned with getting under her son’s skin. She acted on her own desire, to claim the miko as part of her pack. “You look more beautiful than any youkai here. Remain calm,” she leaned even closer and whispered in Kagome’s ear, “and Welcome to the House of the Crescent Moon.”
The woman was smiling and blinking back tears as Hirimoto tugged her away, to a place near the dais that had been constructed for the ceremony. Kimi continued to move through the crowd that was making its way outside, and the servants and residents that were gathering in the courtyard that bordered the garden. Her own eyes felt suspiciously moist. When everything had been seen to and she stood in a place of honor with Rin and Shippo, then Kimi acknowledged, with a smile that was more real than any she had produced in years, that this was a moment of happiness. To see her son, her own Sesshomaru that had grown up too quickly, taken on a weight that should not have been his to bear and risen to meet his responsibilities with honor and nobility, find the one that would complete him – it was a joy to her heart. If Sesshomaru and Kagome could know only a moment of the connection she had shared with Toga in the early days of their union, it would change them forever more. And Kimi knew the young couple would have far more than a moment. Sesshomaru was not one to let anything he desired slip through his claws. Nor, she was coming to know, was Kagome.
“Kimi-sama,” Rin’s whisper was as soft as a human voice could be, and they were far enough from any others that none would over hear. The lady turned her face down to look at her adopted granddaughter. “You must not cry. Kagome-sama says it will ruin our makeup.”
Kimi noted then both the faint, appropriate, traces of kohl and rouge on the girl, as well as the sensation of liquid caught in her lashes. She snapped her fan into place so that she could remove the traces of very real emotion before any others noticed. “Indeed, little one,” she thanked Rin.
The girl nodded, and tucked her arm through the kitsune’s. “Yes, Those of the West must look most formidable tonight. And pretty,” she added.
Indeed. Kimi allowed a small chuckle.