Second Alliance – Chapter 53

Chapter 52: Arrangements


Thanks to Ao3 reader ButtercupRifle for her review of North Sea Dawn on Amazon. This chapter is posted early because of her! If you would like this posting speed to continue, please see my blog post, Second AllianceIncentives, for instructions. Thank you for reading!

Chapter 53: Pall Bearers and Feasts

Sesshomaru studied the ameonna before him with an expression as cold and unreadable as he had ever worn. She did not flinch under his gaze, but stared at a space over his shoulder. Her spine was straight, her posture that of a soldier at attention, despite her generous feminine figure and the natural penchant of her kind to the sensual, frivolous, and intimate. Her dark skin, usually on display among rain demons, was covered mundanely in a short red kimono and matching hakama. The dark blue obi at her waist was narrow and functional; the entire ensemble a reversal of his own livery. The lord doubted his brother had done it on purpose, doubted Inuyasha even cared or noticed what those that fought with him wore, but it was a statement that could be interpreted many ways.


“Speak,” he ordered.


“I am instructed to do so to you alone, Saidai Mao.” The words were enough to warrant his wrath, and the female bowed low in deference. However, she did not flinch or smell of fear.


“Who has given such an order?” Hisao’s eyes were narrow, but neither he nor Kento appeared affected by the faint pheromones that swirled around the youkai. The captain already knew, or could guess, just as Sesshomaru did. The scent of his half-brother was easily identified. The female remained silent, but her jaw clenched and Sesshomaru’s ears picked out the tell-tale increased speed of her heart. Interesting.


He turned his eyes to Kento, then Hisao. “Leave This One,” he said coldly. They did not argue or hesitate, knowing, as he did, that she was no threat to him.


The moment the screens slid closed, she spoke, “If it would please you to raise a barrier, Sesshomaru-sama.” His curiosity intensified, but he did as requested. His half-brother had finally found retainers that understood the intricacies of war – or perhaps the monk and slayer had trained them. The youkai met his gaze, and the stench of apprehension began to seep from her pores. It was mild, as all scents from her kind, but it spoke of the gravity of her assignment. Sesshomaru placed his hands flat upon his desk and nodded, inviting her to speak.


“Inuyasha-sama has met with the northern captain, Natsou.” The respect she held for his half-brother was evident, but Sesshomaru did not dwell on it as she continued, “The dragons have attacked the South.”


The rest of her message was relayed quickly, concisely, and then she waited patiently as he summoned Hisao and Kento back. Once they had absorbed the shocking information, the ameonna was questioned and sent to rest and refresh while Sesshomaru formulated a response. He did not have the time nor the counsel that he desired. His war council was waiting on him, waiting for a celebration. His intended, his mother, and the most respected youkai – the friend and advisor to his own father – was waiting on him. Hirimoto had left the South at Sesshomaru’s request, had agreed with keenness to join in a war and committed his own army to Sesshomaru’s command. Even at that moment, he was watching over Kagome, protecting her and waiting to present her before the youkai and human lords.


It would be Sesshomaru’s responsibility to inform him of the death of his sister.


It would be Sesshomaru’s responsibility to inform him of the slaughter of every demon at the Southern shiro.


It would be Sesshomaru’s responsibility to command Hirimoto to stay in the West, to summon his army and leave the bodies of his people to rot in the winter sun.


He closed his eyes, for the briefest of moments, and breathed in through his mouth. This was the burden of leadership, of ruling. He needed Hirimoto and his army to defeat the North. He needed the support of the Southern Lord to ensure that the other daiyoukai and the human lords agreed to an alliance. Sesshomaru knew he would have to force the issue. Every instinct the bear had would be screaming at him to mourn his dead, to honor those that had fallen, and to seek revenge. The Saidai Mao would reign him in, for the good of Japan. With force if necessary.


It gave him no pleasure.


“Go,” he ordered his two most trusted vassals. “Assign a guard to the ameonna. She does not leave her rooms or speak to anyone without my permission. Have food, hot water, and bathing supplies sent up, but no servants shall see her.” He stood, smoothing his hands over the precise folds of his black kimono. “Control yourselves, before you move among the guests. The matter will remain unknown, until This One has spoken with Hirimoto.”


“My lord,” Kento began, then paused. His distress was evident. The secretary forced out a harsh gust of air, and his scent smoothed and lost all but the merest trace of disturbance. “Shall I retrieve Hirimoto-sama?”


Sesshomaru did not respond directly, “The ceremony continues as planned.”


It was Hisao who understood his meaning first. “The old tea house would be best, Sesshomaru-sama. It is far from prying ears, and the mountain walls there are solid.”


Kento nodded, perceiving his intent. “Tea shall be prepared and waiting at dawn, if that is acceptable.”


“Let Hirimoto know to escort This One’s mother.”


“Additional guards-” Hisao began, but Sesshomaru interrupted him with a raised hand.


“If Kimi and I are unable to hold him, no number of your soldiers would suffice.” It was a testament to how difficult the news had been to hear, and how unpalatable the task before him, that Sesshomaru dropped his formal speech. He breathed deeply again, re-centering his thoughts. “Go,” he repeated. “This One shall join you in the courtyard momentarily.” They bowed and took their leave. Sesshomaru spent a few essential minutes cordoning off the portion of his mind that was considering the strategic ramifications of the news. Another few minutes were required to tamp down his fury over the audacity and dishonor of the North. Precious time was dedicated to setting aside the sorrow and anger he knew his miko would feel when she was told. He was quite late already, when he had finally suppressed the pain in his chest at the thought of Hirimoto’s face when he told him of the desecration of the South, and how he must wait for vengeance. Sesshomaru knew, far better than any other, what it would mean to set aside personal desires for the larger goals of his people. As he stepped into the corridor and began making his way to the gardens, he was still working to control his own desire to fly north and melt every dragon he found.





The crowd was growing curious, but not overly restless, as they waited for the ceremony to start. Sesshomaru was late, Kagome knew. A shiver danced along her spine. She tried to tell herself it was from the cold winter night, but the excuse fell flat in her mind. Braziers had been strategically placed in the garden to address the comfort of human and more delicate youkai guests, and the warmth of one nearest to the dais was a welcome comfort even through the thick layers of her kimono. Hirimoto’s bulk radiated heat at her side, so it was not the chill air that had her uneasy. A hum, like the buildup of static before a small shock, tingled under her skin. After a moment she realized it was Sesshomaru’s youki. She had not been without at least a small measure of his energy since she had returned from her time, but the power was usually dormant – lying warm and protective at the core of her.


He is coming. The thought no more than occurred to her then a murmur at the back of the crowd alerted her to Sesshomaru’s entrance. She turned her head with everyone else. His white hair stood out sharply, even among the exotically colored youkai, and he was tall enough that he was easy to spot even without the way bodies moved aside, bowing and parting before his approach. The tension under her skin became stronger, and she wanted to chalk it up to nerves and anticipation, but as he drew alongside her she caught sight of the tightness around his eyes and mouth and the hard clench of his jaw. Kagome doubted anyone else could recognize the minute changes in his stoic façade, but she knew something was wrong. She ached to reach out to him, to drag him to a quiet room and demand answers. She wanted to soothe him, not just because his tension made her uneasy, but because she did not want to see him more burdened than he already was.


There was no time for it though. The crowd closed behind him, and Sesshomaru stepped onto the dais that had been constructed in the garden. The full moon glinted off his silver hair – loose and contrasting sharply with the black of his formal clothing. The ice covered pond behind him fairly glowed, and the picture was framed by boughs of cherry trees – blooming and glowing faintly pink with kitsune magic. Her distress was forgotten for a moment as she took in his beauty. The pale skin and delicate markings of his heritage were an elegant wrapping for the deadly power underneath. His golden gaze sought out hers, and for a moment her breath caught in her chest. This is mine, she thought, and then his eyes continued over the crowd. Never had she known anyone as honorable, as responsible, as driven, except maybe Inuyasha, as sexy, no one comes even close, and as perfect as Sesshomaru. She also admitted to herself that she had never known anyone that could hold a candle to him as far as arrogance and ability to infuriate were concerned. She was getting engaged to him. She was going to marry him. To mate him.


She loved him.


Unbidden, her reiki stirred and washed over the youki buzzing under her skin. This was right. This was what she wanted, needed, what Sesshomaru wanted too. Even as she felt her own tension ease, she could see a marginal relaxation of his jaw. Kento approached the dais and bowed to Sesshomaru before standing on the first step. He was lower than his lord, but tall enough that everyone in the crowd could see and hear him.


“Esteemed guests. Western youkai. Welcome. The House of the Crescent Moon honors you, and asks for your blessings in return, at the Courting Ceremony of the highest in that pack.” There was shifting and some quiet murmurs in the crowd. Kagome could not miss the few pointed and considering glances that were aimed at Kimi. She felt a giggle building in her chest. Sesshomaru was considered so distant and cold by even other youkai that they were more inclined to believe his position had been slighted than to think he was announcing a future mate of his own. Kento continued, raising his voice slightly to be heard above the whispers, “The Saidai Mao, greatest of the Cardinal Lords. Ruler of the Western Lands, Tashio Iwakura Sesshomaru of the House of the Crescent Moon, has chosen a mate.”


Whispers fell into dead silence. “House of the Crescent Moon, name your worth.” Kimi glided to the dais, leaving the children with Aki, Aina, and Hisao to watch over them. Her faint smile and sparkling eyes were not affected at all by the poleaxed crowd. She gestured with an elegant hand, and Kento bowed and removed himself.


“The House of the Crescent Moon is among the oldest of the noble youkai lines…” Kimi’s voice was smooth and pleasant as she repeated her family’s history, from the first recorded inu that founded her House, to herself, to Sesshomaru. Kagome worked hard to take deep, even breaths and remain calm. Despite Hirimoto’s assurances, she had no concerns for her own safety. There was no one, no group, present that would dare to do more than speak out against the Saidai Mao. Sesshomaru would kill anyone who attempted her harm, she knew. And words couldn’t really hurt her. Kagome had travelled around feudal Japan in a mid-thigh skirt with two unmarried men. She had heard every derogatory name in existence leveled at her. And she had gone to junior high school. There was no possible way that high-born youkai and human aristocrats could outdo fifteen year old girls for sheer meanness.


“Saidai Mao,” the charge in Kimi’s voice pulled Kagome from her thoughts, “name your intended.” There was a collective inhalation; as one, those gathered held their breath. Kagome raised her eyes, and met Sesshomaru’s warm golden ones.


“The Miko no Mao. The Shikon Miko. Higurashi Kagome of the Sunset Shrine of Edo.” His deep baritone spoke with unhesitating intent. The shock of the crowd was both audible and tangible in a surge of youki. Murmurs became clear snippets of conversation, some outright denying the possibility, but most expressing astonishment and disbelief that the Western Lord had chosen a human. A miko. That the Western Lord had chosen anyone at all. There was also resentment and envy – a great deal of it for the human woman that had caught the daiyoukai’s eye. Hilariously, one older youkai, of lesser power, noted loud enough for human ears to hear, that he felt pity for the ‘poor little girl’.


Kagome resolutely kept her eyes fixed on Kento’s shoulder. She was afraid if she met his gaze, or Sesshomaru’s, she would not be able to help grinning. Or possibly making some startled, undignified sound and darting off to hide from the eyes she could feel boring into her back. Happiness, exaltation nearing giddiness, and trepidation warred inside her.


“House of the Shikon,” Kagome could feel her eyes widen as Kimi, with four little words, gave her family the respect due nobility. “Name your worth.” Hirimoto stepped forward, and Kagome went with him, just as they had discussed. Hirimoto stopped next to Kimi, but Kagome carefully tread the last two steps to stand beside Sesshomaru. She turned her eyes to the crowd, but kept her gaze above their heads. Breathe in, breathe out. The reassuring presence of Sesshomaru’s youki brushing against her did more for her nerves than the calming breaths.


“The House of the Shikon has guarded a most powerful relic since the time of the first of that line, the priestess Midoriko. The descendants…” Kagome had discussed it all with Sesshomaru in advance, of course. They had reviewed the tales her grandfather had often told her, embellishing and making conjecture into fact where human histories had lost names to time. Kimi had told it to Hirimoto, and he would repeat it as a truth; no youkai would scent any hint of a lie in his words. The biggest discrepancy, of course, came between the last recorded descendant, Kikyo, and Kagome’s own family. Saying the two were sisters, or even cousins, was an outright lie that Kimi had immediately scented but had not pressed Kagome to tell her the truth. Kagome wasn’t certain how the issue had been handled, until she heard it herself. “…born to that priest three children. Kikyo, the last guardian of the Shikon. Kaede, the wise. And Jirou, the vigilant….” Just like that, Kagome’s grandfather became Kaede and Kikyo’s brother, and the rest of the lineage was true, if a little earlier than reality.


“Miko no Mao,” Hirimoto turned his eyes to Kagome. He was not smiling, but she could feel the encouragement in his gaze. “Name your intended.”


She took a deep breathe. Her stomach was twisting weirdly, flopping a little in her belly. Several hundred youkai and humans were staring at her. There was outrage, sympathy, envy, happiness, and dumb shock in the crowd, but she tried to ignore it and focus on the solid presence of Sesshomaru at her side. Her voice did not shake, which she was grateful for, but her palms felt sweaty. “Tashio Iwakura Sesshomaru. Highest of the House of the Crescent Moon. Ruler of the Western Lands, greatest of the Cardinal Lords. The Saidai Mao.” Sesshomaru turned to face her, and she followed suit. He held out his hand, and she took it, a little embarrassed of the clamminess of her skin.


“Outrageous!” Tsukahara’s voice was clear and disgusted, and it broke a dam in the crowd. Whispers turned to loud conversations. Arguments and pointed gestures broke out in the crowd. Kagome’s nerves skyrocketed. She tried to control it, knew her scent would give away her fear and uneasiness, but there was nothing she could imagine to take her mind off of what was happening. They hated her. Hated that a weak human would get her fingers into a powerful daiyoukai – feared that she would drag him down into the dirty, mortal struggle that they viewed as the human fate. Those warlords in the crowd that found their tongues called out in response. A holy person, a pure miko, should not sully herself with a demon. Kagome flinched.


Then, she got angry. Kagome hated judgmental attitudes. There were few things more petty, more hateful, than denigrating another person for failing to meet standards that were not their own. She thought up every dirty name she had ever heard, and having been Inuyasha’s constant companion for nearly four years, there were a lot of them. She wished at that moment that her reiki could impact humans. Think they are better than him, than Sesshomaru! Idiots! I’ll tell them a thing or-


“Miko,” Sesshomaru said quietly. Kagome looked up, and saw not only the fury etched in his cold expression, but felt the warning clasp of his youki around her wrist. She knew what he was saying, without him having to say it. They needed to finish the ceremony. Once it was complete, then they could deal with any who still opposed their mating. She bit her lip, trying to reign in her temper, and nodded. Sesshomaru sent out a wave of youki – sharp, biting, and threatening. The youkai in the crowd, no matter their concerns, recognized it for what it was and immediately settled down. The humans were slower to react, and with more fear. Her anger was still bubbling under the surface, and Kagome recognized that she also felt disappointment. Nothing ever seemed to go normally for her.





Sesshomaru’s control was tested again, and in the back of his mind he questioned how much more strain he could put on it before he lacerated a few major arteries out of frustration. He had prepared for the ceremony, knew what would most likely be said, thought, about his miko. About their mating. He had planned for that reaction, and for the display that would follow and put an end to all but the most foolhardy of detractors. He had not foreseen going into the ceremony agitated and with the weight of Hirimoto’s news on his mind. It was an enormous effort to restrict himself to warning the crowd with his power, rather than overwhelming them and forcing submission.


Kagome’s scent was not an ally to his cause. She was nervous and unsettled prior to the vulgar comments; afterward she was angry and sad. Ashamed. Those youkai that called her honor into question, that made her feel less – he would have taken great satisfaction in removing their discourteous tongues for the way they had made his intended feel. The ceremony should have been a moment of satisfaction, of triumph, of happiness, but Kagome would remember it tinted with slurs and disrespect. It was not what he wished for her, however, the ceremony had to continue. It needed to be finished, he needed to publicly claim her as his in the traditional way. Then he could threaten, subdue, and maim as he saw fit.


She understood the import of the event, and controlled herself admirably. As soon as he had warned the crowd and regained silence, Kento stepped in to continue the ceremony.


“The House of the Crescent Moon offers a gift – a symbol of the respect they hold and the value they place upon Higurashi Kagome.” A servant stepped forward and with two simple wooden boxes for Kento. Despite the anger still simmering under his skin, he had to suppress a smirk. Sesshomaru had made a misstep with Kagome when their courting began. More than one, he could honestly admit to himself. In this matter, he had spent considerable thought. He had taken into account not only her preferences as he had come to know them, but also the values she placed on various physical things and gestures. He felt that his gift would be well received, and in the supremely improbable event that it was not, he had all of eternity to improve upon it.


Kento, with the servant following, walked to stand behind Kagome and Sesshomaru, facing the crowd over their joined hands. He looked to the lord for permission, and Sesshomaru nodded. Kento selected the thinner of the two items first, as he had been instructed. The box itself was made of a rare wood from far across the sea. Age had darkened it to near black, and a craftsman had fit the lid so well that the seams were completely hidden. With gentle pressure at the corners, the lid slid open, and Kento held the box at an angle so that everyone could view the contents. Sesshomaru could smell Kagome’s confusion.


“This One offers eight cho, the land and all that it produces, all that stands upon it, all that lies under it, as well as the sky above it. Sold to the West by Lord Kuren, fifty-three years past.” He spoke loud enough that even the humans toward the back of the garden would be able to hear. Kagome’s eyes widened, and she glanced from him to the ornately inked paper in the box and back again, but he doubted she truly understood. He lowered his voice and clarified, watching her closely, “Edo. The place of your shrine. The forest around it. They are yours.”


Her eyes widened and her lips parted. Sesshomaru inhaled, and savored the changing notes in her scent. She was happy. Pleased. Trusting. Surprised. The sweet flowers of her emotions mingled together and made a soothing vapor that stirred a rumble in his chest. He denied himself, there in front of an audience, but committed her enjoyment of his gift to memory. It was of significant value, to both the demons and humans present. The size alone was remarkable, and deeding her the rights to all upon, under, and above the ground represented a wealth that would be envied by any but a most prosperous lord. It was the location that he had carefully chosen, however, to catch her interest. The village where her friends resided, Inuyasha’s forest, and the well that linked her to her home. Those places held a special place in her heart, and in another time, far distant, it would be the place of her birth as well. Sesshomaru was satisfied that he had finally come to know his miko, and what she desired. He had given her home. Her blue eyes shone with moisture, but she did not allow it to fall. A tremulous smile tilted the corners of her red lips.


With another brief nod, Kento closed the box and exchanged it for one heavier and more square. It unfolded, carefully constructed to create a display for the contents once open. There was a gasp in the crowd, but he kept his gaze trained on his miko. A slight frown marred her brow, and her eyes were wide, but he had anticipated that she would not understand. This second gift was intended for political results, not to soften his intended’s heart.


“This Sesshomaru offers the seal of the House of the Shikon, and all rights, privileges, and responsibilities attached to such.” The weighty silver block had been molded with the tale of the Jewel of Four Souls, and the handle shaped to resemble the orb whole and unbroken. The lower portion of the box slid out; a container of dark golden-yellow ink paste ready for use. Her scent was difficult to interpret, but the commotion in the crowd was not. All present understood that the Saidai Mao had used a power held only by him – his position – to grant the Higurashis’ nobility in more than name. With the seal and land under title, they had political power. A mating with the House of the Crescent Moon ensured that they would be able to hold and expand that power if they chose. Sesshomaru listened to the comments below him with only one ear, and lowered his voice again. “It is-”


“I know,” she interrupted him softly. She reached out with one hesitant hand, but withdrew before her fingers could touch the metal. “Just like grandfather’s,” she whispered, and Sesshomaru had a moment of confusion. “It is his.” She turned her eyes back on his, and he understood. The winding, twisting paths of fate and time un-spiraled before him – allowing a brief moment of clarity – and then knotted up again. There was much he could discuss with her, when they had privacy for such a sensitive dialogue. He subtly squeezed her fingers, and waited until her expression had been cleared of wonder and fear before nodding again to Kento. His gifts were put away, and his intended lifted her head proudly.


“Higurashi of the Sunset Shrine of Edo, of – of the House of the Shikon,” she added with a small smile, “offers a gift with respect and honor for the House of the Crescent Moon.” A second servant stepped forward, and Sesshomaru was irritated by the scent of expectation that rose from the crowd. The young inu female was trembling with excitement and nerves, her tail alternately dropping near her ankles and swishing in the air behind her. She bowed and lifted a small, rectangular box for Kento to take. Sesshomaru was admittedly curious. He did not recognize the shape or make of the container, not that he was aware of every item in the vast storerooms of the West, where he had assumed she would find a gift for the ceremony. A discreet sniff revealed that it, like many of Kagome’s personal belongings, carried the strange mixture of odors and trace of magic that signaled an origin on the other side of the well. His curiosity spiked. What has my miko brought? The lid was removed; two mismatched pearls were nestled into a bed of white cotton.


Sesshomaru froze for a moment, unblinking. “Two are not enough to replace what was recently so well spent.” Her reference to the punishment of Ryukostokken’s bounty on Rin was noted, but he did not respond to it. He thought he recognized the jewels, even if the crowd did not seem to. Swiftly, he confirmed his supposition with a cautious prod of youki. He refocused on his miko, astonished. Her anxieties were apparent, but unnecessary. There were few gifts, few things in his vast treasury, which compared to her offering.


“Ebb and Flow,” she said hesitantly. He realized she was unsure of his reaction, and so allowed his face to relax – unsmiling, but accepting. Her tension eased as well. “Watatsumi’s tide jewels.” There were stirrings in the crowd, some understanding, others still questioning the value of the gift. Sesshomaru determined to put any questions to rest. With a minor application of youki, he stirred the power in the pearls. The green orb pulsed, slowly growing in power and brightness until the entire garden was bathed in a soft glow. As it dimmed, the purple companion became brighter, casting its light out. Those gathered to watch erupted in discussions and exclamations of awe. A relic of so much power, such legend, was rare beyond belief. To see one given so easily, so humbly, was impressive. The pearls continued to mold his borrowed power and their strength increased. His sensitive ears caught the first cracks of the ice in the pond behind him and the distant swell of the river that surrounded the shiro and village. He swiftly pulled his power back, allowing the deity-blessed jewels to fade.


Kento’s voice rang out above the disquiet, “A courting has been announced. Gifts exchanged and accepted. The couple will mark their intention.”


Sesshomaru had to hold back a fierce sound of possession. He wanted to mark his miko as a mate, but such things could not be done at this time, in this place. There were far too many eyes and ears. Too many clothes, and too little time had passed to ensure that Kagome knew her desire. To ensure that her heart was wholly his. He denied the most base and strongest of his instincts and did as was expected. A small measure of his youki became visible, twining from their joined hands up and around Kagome’s arm, over the sleeve of her kimono. She responded with a warm pink ribbon of reiki. Trepidation was obvious in the demons present, particularly those close enough to sense the purification of her power. Sesshomaru was suffused with a savage pride. The scent of a warm ocean breeze tantalized his nose, but he knew that only he could experience her in that way without being harmed. She was his. Meant for him and only him.


The display of power, of their acceptance of each other, should have ended there. But before Sesshomaru could call back his youki, Kagome increased the energy she had sent out. The ribbon of reiki thickened and widened, the end slipping under his skin and burrowing into him. Their eyes locked, but she did not seem surprised. Her smile was soft and expectant, as though her action was required. Sesshomaru did not have time to question her intent or wonder how she might have concluded that the ceremonial display should become an actual testament to their power. Her reiki urged him, teased him, and his youki responded.


Green light flared around him, surrounding her and forcing Kento and the two servants to step back. The lord’s gratification – possession – was momentary as her holy energy retorted. It blossomed like a flower around her, pushing against his power and enveloping him momentarily. The ceremony was forgotten. The pressures of the war, of the decisions and situations ahead of him cast aside for the satisfaction – the, he recognized the emotion faintly, sheer joy of matching her. Being matched by her. A battle of wills took place on the stage, and Sesshomaru was only dimly aware of Kento herding the lesser youkai servants to safety, out of the range of both purification and suffocation. The crowd drew back from the dais, but did not flee – too entranced by the display of raw power. As Sesshomaru was entranced. The heat and energy of her power under his skin always stirred him, but it combined with the gravity of a millennia-old ceremony and those words – mark and intended – to bring his passions blazing forth.


Kagome’s eyes shone with the same heady elation that was swelling in his chest. Her smooth skin was cast in rosy hues and soft shadows – from without and within. Her lips, red and shiny, were parted on the beginnings of a smile. He pushed more power between them, around them, into her, and she did the same with a short laugh. The scent of her desire, cinnamon and citrus, was strong and blended with his own rising musk. Beads of sweat glistened along her hairline, and one dripped down her temple to cascade along her jaw and neck, disappearing into her collar. His lust surged, nearly slipping his control, but it was that which brought him back to his senses. Sesshomaru wanted her. Bare, panting, wanton before him. He wanted to take. To claim. To mark. To mate. Soon, not here. He calmed his power, soothed it over the dancing waves of her reiki. Intentionally or not, pink light wrapped around him, shaping his energy into a sphere of green swirled with holy bands. Their power did not merge, it was not one thing. Nor did one or the other find supremacy. They leaned upon each other, drew from one another, strengthened one another. It was a display that could not be misinterpreted by any. Kagome was Sesshomaru’s as he was hers, and together they were a force unlike any the world had seen.


Sesshomaru squeezed her hand gently, and Kagome’s smile faded. Her happiness and stirred hunger was still evident, in her scent and the gentle tilt up of her mouth, but she calmed. As one they reclaimed what had been released until nothing but thin tendrils of power around their joined hands remained. That and the fading sensation of ocean breezes and lightning. He pulled her against his side so that their clasped hands were held in front of their bodies and he could wrap his free arm around her waist. He held his head bent for a moment longer, gazing down at her face until he was certain he had schooled his expression. When his mask was firmly in place once again, he lifted his head and assessed the gathered crowd. Satisfaction flooded him.


None present were not awed by the displays – of wealth and power. Kagome would be the next Lady of the West, and all would willingly acknowledge her right and the validity of his choice. “Celebrate,” he commanded. His voice was deeper than he would have liked, still affected by the desires his miko had stirred. Desires that were barely under his control. “Eat. Drink. Honor the intended mate of This Sesshomaru.”


He tightened his arm around her waist, carrying her weight so that his movement would not be slowed by her narrow steps. As he descended the dais, the crowd bowed and parted before him. He was intent on secluding Kagome in his study, or the nearest empty room, for as long as possible before he would be forced to rejoin the celebration – or perhaps he might manufacture an excuse not to do so at all. Kagome’s small, cool fingers gripped his hand and her warm, minty breath puffed against his neck. His blood was pounding in his ears and his jaw clenched so tightly only the strength of his youkai teeth kept them from cracking. He was nearly to the shoji screens that lead to a narrow corridor and tantalizing privacy when he picked up the silvery peal of his mother’s laughter from the other side of the courtyard.


“This One recalls your requirements, Tsukahara-san. A human has proven strength to match a youkai. She has produced artifacts of legendary power. Are you now ready to reenter the Council with a clearer mind and ready decision?”


His hesitation was obvious, and obviously delighted Kimi. “I also stipulated immortality,” the eagle smoothly recovered. Sesshomaru entered the shiro and slid the screens closed behind him.


His keen ears picked up Kimi’s response even through the barrier, “Time will prove that as well, Sky Master.” Yes, Sesshomaru growled to himself, certain of the truth of Bokuseno’s statements and eager to continue the process, it will.





Kagome was still coming down from a high of power when she found herself pressed against a wall in a narrow storage room. Her feet were not touching the ground; her weight was supported entirely by the unusually soft surface at her back and Sesshomaru’s hands at her waist and hip. His face was buried against her neck, nosing aside the collar of her kimono to breathe heavily against her skin. The near delirium and light-headedness that had followed her use of reiki during the ceremony eased and she became conscious that he was not moving. He did not kiss or lick or nip, as was usual when he had her in private. Warm air fanned against her, making her warm in other places as well, but Sesshomaru did not move.


She lifted her hands and placed one on his shoulder, sinking into the softness of Mokomoko, using the other to cup the back of his head. “Sesshomaru?” she called softly. He did not answer and her confusion became concern. His barrier fluctuated around them – holding, but thinner than usual. She rubbed her palm against his back and shifted slightly. He did not seem upset, but his passivity was strange. “Are you alright? Did I do something wrong?”


“Why,” he asked quietly after a long pause, “did you not stop when you were supposed to?”


Kagome was baffled. “Uh, I did? Kimi said I should use as much reiki as I safely-” His growl cut her off, and Kagome felt uneasy. She repeated, “Did I do something wrong?” If she had…if she wasn’t supposed to have…oh, how embarrassing.


“No, my miko,” his voice was deep and rough and followed with a near-brutal press of his mouth against her bare neck. “Never wrong, only unexpected.” He lifted his head and in the dim light that filtered through the closed rice-paper screen she could not make out the exact color of his eyes, only the way his lids remained half-closed and the dark slash of his markings on his cheeks and just over his lashes. His fangs fell over his lower lip – his expression hungry. She sucked in a breath, desperate for something to distract her from the heat pooling between her legs. “Such a trial you have become for me,” he murmured, squeezing his fingers around one cheek of her bottom. Her kimono felt more confining than ever, and far too warm.


A moment later his words registered, “Trial?” She was nearly certain he hadn’t intended to imply she was work.


“A test of my control,” his head bowed and his lips brushed against her jaw, “my commitment.” His tongue swept out, leaving a hot trail straight to her ear. “My dedication,” he nipped at her lobe and she shivered. The idea that Sesshomaru could lose his mask of composure, that his cold façade might break because of her was heady. Intoxicating. Kagome felt powerful in a way that was decidedly not holy.


“Are you passing?” Her whisper sounded breathless in the small room. She shifted again, trying to press closer to him and finding the narrow skirt of her kimono too restricting.


“Hn.” His answer was garbled, but she didn’t mind. She understood what he was saying despite his mouth being full of her flesh. His hot tongue slid down her neck and swirled against the tender connection to her shoulder. He pressed a wet kiss into the hollow at the base of her throat, then gently seized her collarbone between his teeth. Kagome moaned, struggling to remain coherent enough to speak. He felt so good. Her fiancée. Her Sesshomaru.


She squirmed again and something soft tumbled from the wall behind her to land on the floor with a muffled plop. Sesshomaru did not pause, so she ignored it as unimportant. “You know-” she gasped as his hand squeezed again, kneading her bottom almost painfully. “You…you know…failure…” His body pressed heavily into hers, forcing the air from her lungs, but she welcomed it. Welcomed the weight of his pelvis against hers, the grip of his palm in the crease between her hip and thigh. He growled a second time, and the vibration passed from his mouth to her bones – making her muscles melt and then tighten again. She clutched at his hair and he thrust against her, causing more soft objects to fall to the floor. The motion was dissatisfying to them both. He snarled, and she struggled unsuccessfully to part her legs. He released her thigh and collarbone at the same time, only to seek out her lips with his. He kissed her furiously, and broke away only when she was desperate for air.


“It, ah,” his palm found her breasts through layers of silk and expensive cotton. “Failure,” she gasped, “builds character.”


“Pardon?” His polite inquiry was at odds with his frustrated motions to press her closer.


Kagome laughed, breathless and delighted and turned on beyond belief. “Your trial,” she explained. “If you fail to control yourself I am sure you will learn an important, character building lesson from the defeat.” His hands stilled for only a moment before she was roughly pulled to the ground. There was only a second to worry about her kimono and hair, and the anticipated hard contact with the floor, before she was nestled into a bed of silk cushions and mokomoko. Sesshomaru hovered over her, his face cast in sharp shadows and fierce angles. Silver hair caught what little light was to be had and made a glistening curtain around them.


“My character has no need for improvement,” he noted arrogantly. The half smirk on his face and the flash of white teeth kept her temper in check and the teasing easy. “But I am ever generous, with you, Ka-go-me.” He had found the end of her obi and pulled. Despite the narrow cord that held the kimono together underneath it, once the heavy fabric was loose around her waist the neckline gaped. “I will take time to help you build your character, if that is what you desire.” His nose and chin pushed aside her kimono. His lips found the aching mound of her breast.


“Yea-ah,” she breathed out, too far gone, too ready, to care that he had turned the joke on her. The sensation of his youki under her skin was still sparking against her reiki. “Ho-how…” His tongue circled her nipple and Kagome had never been so happy to have decided to leave off her bra for the evening. He sucked and her back bowed. Her hands fisted in his clothing and hair. “Wha- what’s the lesson?” While his mouth had distracted her, his hands had been busy on the ties of her garments. Three layers of kimono parted like water and Sesshomaru released her with a non-too gentle nip.


“One.” He blew across her wet flesh and she shivered, enjoying and tormented by the slick of wet heat growing between her legs. “How to repair kimono in the dark.” He pushed the sleeves off her shoulders, trapping her elbows against her sides but freeing her legs to wrap around him. In the back of her mind, Kagome was aware that she did not want her actual, first-time honest-to-goodness sex-with-Sesshomaru to be in a closet, but that did not stop her from bucking against him. They both groaned and froze at the contact of moist, naked flesh to clothed, hot hardness.


“Two.” His voice had dropped at least an octave, and she swore she could see a red glow from his eyes. He sat up abruptly, maneuvering her onto her side so that her head and shoulders were in his lap and her legs curled around him. His own kimono fell open, revealing a soft reflection of dim light on pale musculature. The rustle of clothing near her ear alerted her to the movement of his left hand, but she was far too preoccupied with his right to be concerned. His fingers slipped between her knees and pulled the top one into a bend, hooking her leg over the crook of his elbow. The first two fingers, suspiciously – whatever I have done for this good karma I promise I’ll do it again – free of claws, traced swiftly up her skin to the place where she ached to be touched. His left hand seized one of hers and led her to his own pressing need, even as his right traced her folds. “Two,” he repeated, desire making his tone gravelly, “The value of balance.” Her lower weight rested on one hip, while her upper body was suspended over his lap, one palm supporting her against his thigh, the other wrapped around his member.


She stroked him, moaning at the duel sensation of him against her palm and his fingers brushing across her clitoris. “How-” she swallowed hard, “how many lessons are there?”


“Three.” He spoke so low, she could barely make out the words. His eyes were most definitely glowing red, but whatever logical train of thought which should have followed that realization derailed as his fingers plunged deeply. His other hand cupped the back of her neck. His fingers twisted slightly, rubbing together inside her. His thumb found her clit again and she barely managed to keep her eyes open as he clenched his jaw and growled to the ceiling, “Three. The importance of silence.” His barrier wavered but held as she traced the head of his cock with her thumb. He retaliated by grinding the heel of his hand against her mound as he thrust his fingers again. At the last moment, she bit her lip, hard, to keep from crying out. Kagome could taste the faint copper of blood in her mouth. Sesshomaru must have seen or smelled it, because he groaned and swooped down to lick at her lips and kiss her, ravage her mouth with his. His fingers found that special spot and he pressed up. Kagome screamed into his mouth.


The precipice was close, she could feel it just out of reach. She panted for breath as he broke the kiss, and belatedly remembered she should be moving her hand. “Good, Miko,” he rumbled. His hand moved again and when she could see past the stars bursting in her vision it was the sight of his flushed cock and glowing eyes that reminded her why the lessons were important. They were in a closet. A few hundred humans and demons – who would no doubt be able to determine what had happened between the two of them as soon as Sesshomaru’s barrier fell – were mingling and eating. Waiting for them to return.


Screw it.


“Can you be good too?” She didn’t wait for his response, didn’t even make certain he knew what she was referring to. Kagome lowered her head and took him between her lips. His hand clenched, pressing down on her clit perfectly while the slightly calloused pads of his fingers went up and in. She might have screamed a little, but her mouth was too full to let the sound out. His shout and the jerk of his hips matched the clench of her own muscles and then she was soaring, sliding, tumbling in a free fall with barely enough presence of mind to swallow before she collapsed into his lap. The only sound for several minutes was of their harsh breathing. She might have fallen asleep there, content – if a little sticky, had Sesshomaru not nudged her hip gently.


“Yeah?” She pushed herself upright, her kimono hanging from her elbows and one leg still suspended on Sesshomaru’s arm. He was smirking. A self-satisfied, sated, arrogant smirk. Kagome didn’t have the energy to work up any indignation. He had just satisfied her tremendously well, in what she guessed had been ten minutes or less. His youki barrier pressed close around them, much more solid than before. The tips of mokomoko twined playfully around her bare ankles.


“Silence is impressively important to you.” His dry comment made her blush. The dichotomy was not lost on her. Naked and with the taste of his cum in her mouth she was perfectly fine, but he even hinted about her readiness to give a blow job and embarrassment flooded her.


“You’re not so good at it,” she pointed out in a mutter.


“Hn,” he agreed. “I was…distracted.” He leaned closer and brushed his lips against hers. “I would enjoy such distraction again, soon.” He was still mostly hard, and whatever acts he was imagining had him twitching and bobbing against her breast where she lay in his lap. “Perhaps, next time, I will distract you.” She spluttered, wishing her face didn’t feel so hot and that she could come up with something witty and sultry to say. His head tipped suddenly to the side, the teasing light fading. Through the one-way barrier, she was aware of footsteps in the corridor. She held her breath, but they did not even pause and continued down the hall. Sesshomaru sighed. “As you have learned two of the three lessons so well, I will assist you with the first.”


He helped her to stand, and began adjusting her kimono in the semi-darkness. His hands brushed, cupped, and stroked far more than was really necessary for the task. Despite the distraction, it became clear to her that he was expecting them to return to the party. Dread and growing mortification knotted in her stomach. Her thighs were sticky and slowly drying, she could still taste the musky flavor of him in her mouth. She was sure any demon would smell it on her, and told him so with a choked voice. “And I’m certain my hair is a mess,” she insisted when he didn’t immediately capitulate.


“I was far too considerate for my liking,” he said calmly and adjusted one of her hair sticks. His touch brought it to her attention that not a single lock had fallen from the elaborate style. Aki deserves a raise, she thought, surprised, then shook her head.


“But I still-”


“There is sake in my study. A small cup will remove the taste, if it bothers you.”


“It’s kind of nice, in the moment,” she said distractedly. “But I don’t really want to keep tasting-“ she made a frustrated sound. Her daiyoukai excelled at taking her off-topic. “That’s not the point. I smell, Sesshomaru,” she finished bluntly. “I am sure you do too.” Her face was flaming, but the facts needed to be stated.


“Indeed.” He sounded more amused than understanding. His next comment made her eyes widen, “It will be expected, after our ceremony.”


“You mean you- with me – because they would think-” He silenced her fury with an open-mouthed kiss, but Kagome was still fuming and humiliated. It was one thing to sneak away and have sex and leave everyone wondering. It was another thing entirely to have everyone know exactly what you are doing and then have to face them still reeking of the evidence.


“Many couples are intimate after a courting ceremony,” he explained quietly against her lips. “Did you not find it stimulating?” At her slight nod, he continued, “Such a display of power will have no doubt aroused many in the crowd as well. Others will seek solitude before the night is over, and no youkai would condemn another for it.” His hands left the half-done ties of her kimono to cup her cheeks. “We must return, and it will be a long night,” he suddenly grew cold and solemn, “and a longer morning.” He inhaled against her skin, and Kagome was left wondering at what weighed on his mind, and what had been concerning him when he first entered the garden. “However,” he kissed her again, and the warmth, exclusive to her, returned to his voice, “if you are self-conscious, I can assist you.”


Kagome nodded, relieved – up until he sank to his knees and parted her clothing. His tongue was on her thigh before she could protest. One, two…five long licks and he moved to the other leg. “Kagome,” he murmured against her skin, “control yourself or this will be counterproductive.” She was aware of the moisture seeping from her core and the hands she had thrust into his hair.


“Maybe just…a few more minutes?” Her breathless, blushing suggestion was met with a dark, wicked laugh that was quickly muffled. She enjoyed his laugh immensely.

Chapter 54: Mourning