Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Property - Chapter Seven

Sango would have expected to see more buildings crowding together, reaching higher and higher into the sky as she walked toward the center of the village. Instead, the buildings looked more and more misshapen and crumbled when she approached the village square. She and Kirara picked their way through the debris that lay across some of the streets when they finally saw the village square. It reminded Sango of the aftermaths of youkai attacks on human villages.

Ah, Sango thought, people. Upon closer inspection, though, she realized that they were all youkai, which probably explained why they had ignored her. On the other hand, though, if a youkai had attacked the village, it had been a strong youkai. Or just a lot of youkai.

That thought made Sango uncomfortable. Few youkai would dare to attack a youkai village, especially one so close to the wolf territory. Unless the wolves attacked them, but she thought there had been an alliance between the village and the wolves. Or perhaps it was the Lord of the Western Lands who had attacked, but he had no motivation, since the wolves' mountain divided this village from his lands.

Sango looked around. Men and women of all ages were helping to clear the debris. Boys ran around, helping where they can. Girls carried food to their parents and giggled as they gossiped.

"Uh, excuse me?" Sango interrupted one group.

"Yes?" The girl answered politely. She looked only a couple of years younger than Sango, with long chestnut hair and pretty honey-colored eyes. She looked completely human.

"I was wondering..." Sango considered how to phrase her question.

"Yes?" The girl looked around her friends. The three of them focused their attention on Sango.

"Have you seen a man—a human man? He's taller than me, with black hair, probably in a short ponytail. He usually carries a staff with him..."

"Oh, him." The girl turned to look at Sango speculatively. "You mean the guy with the pretty purple eyes?"

"Yes, he has purple eyes," Sango agreed, wondering how the girl had had a chance to look into Miroku's eyes.

"They are so pretty," another girl gushed and giggled. "I wonder if he's married. He's so sweet."

"But, Yoko," the third girl admonished. "He's human. You can't actually marry him."

"Do you know him?" The first girl asked. "Is he married?"

"Yes, I'm acquainted with him," Sango answered to the first question. She considered telling them that he was married. Or that at least he was engaged. But he hadn't shown up to the wedding, and only the gods knew why he was lingering in this village. Although, Sango thought she could take a fair guess just seeing these young gushing youkai. "I don't know if he's married."

"Really?" the girl name Yoko asked.

Sango refused to debate further. She'd have her talk with Miroku first. "Do you know where he is?"

They shared a glance. "Sure," the first one answered. "I saw him walk that way."

Sango thanked the three girls—youkai girls, she reminded herself—and followed where the girl had pointed. Seeing those girls had been unsettling, because they had appeared so... human. If youkai could be blood-bound, then these girls could be, too. But if these girls could be blood-bound, what would stop humans from enslaving other humans? Only the fact that humans didn't have youki? But humans were ingenious, Sango mused darkly, and she was sure there could be some way to bind humans.

Sango found Miroku at near the rice fields. Funny, how she had never thought that youkai would eat rice. He stood in his usual purple robe, holding onto his staff and staring serenely over the bare fields waiting to be planted.

"Miroku," Sango greeted to his back as she approached him.

She saw Miroku jump, hesitate a little, and then turn around to face her. His expression was so pleasant that it made her want to throw something at him. Sometimes, she wondered if he was naturally cheerful or it was all a mask.

"Sango," Miroku replied. "It's a... surprise to see you here."

"I'll bet it is," Sango muttered under her breath, but made sure that it was loud enough for Miroku to hear. Then, she asked, "Well, do you want to tell me why you weren't at the wedding? Our wedding?"

Sango had been worried for him. She had thought that something awful had happened to him because she couldn't believe that he would voluntarily miss the wedding. Apparently, she hadn't known him as well as she thought because he was here, whole and well, and not there, where there should have been a wedding.

"I..." Miroku scratched his head as he kept the smile on his face and tried to think of a plausible excuse. "I'm... I was..."

"Distracted," Sango filled in for him. "I know. I saw those youkai girls, too."

"Sango," Miroku tried to placate. "Don't be like this."

"Don't be like what?" Sango found herself shouting despite her plan to talk it out. But she had trusted him, and now he was here. Frolicking with insipid youkai girls. "Don't be upset that the groom didn't show up for my wedding? Or don't be upset that you are here flirting with other girls? Well, you know what? I can tell already what kind of marriage we would have had and I'm glad that we weren't married."

"Sango..." Miroku tried to interject as she took a breath.

She plowed right through, though. "You want to sleep with someone? You want to have that precious heir? Well, that Yoko girl was perfectly willing to elope with you. Marry her! Have your heir with her! Though I don't know what you would give the child."

Miroku shook his head. "Nothing good," he answered quietly.

Sango had run out of things to say. So she glared at him belligerently. "Well?" she demanded. "Aren't you going to give me an explanation?"

Miroku's head shot up. She still wanted him to explain? But what could he say? He hadn't realized the extent of his curse, but his hand had started to throb persistently since he arrived at the village and tried to counter the youkai who had attacked it. Should he answer that he had decided that marriage with her would be too cruel for her? That he would have to die early? That their child would be cursed for life? He looked away again, unable to face the hope that still shone in Sango's eyes. No, he wouldn't to marry her.

"I have no excuses," Miroku said quietly.

Sango felt herself washed over by disbelief, a numbing, almost cleansing feeling. He was not even going to try to explain? He made a job conning people, and he couldn't even find one little paltry excuse to make it better? Was he that sick of her already?

Sango clenched her fists by her sides. Well, she didn't care. If he wanted one of those demure little youkai girls, fine! She had always known that being a taijiya would hinder her love life, but she had thought that Miroku looked past that. Well, apparently he did and decided it wasn't worth it—she wasn't worth it.

"So you didn't think that I deserved to know that our wedding was canceled?" She asked, her voice more calm. She hated the slight tremble, but she couldn't help it. "When did you decide this anyway?"

Miroku had turned back to looking over the bare fields. "Here."

"So, it's Yoko."

For a long moment, Miroku remained silent. His purple eyes gazed calmly at the bare rice fields, and she didn't know if she was more upset with him for leaving, angry at him for abandoning her, upset with herself for not suspecting, or angry at Yoko for... doing whatever she had done.

Then, Miroku broke the silence. "Youkai attacked this village."

Sango looked away from Miroku back to the bare fields. "How many?"


"Two bands?"

She saw Miroku shake his head out of the corner of her eyes. His little ponytail waved. "Two," Miroku reiterated.


How could only two youkai tear apart a youkai village? Especially since these youkai were obviously powerful enough to have humanoid shapes as their base form. Sango tried to understand what had happened in the village—it was safer than thinking what had happened with Miroku.

"It was... horrible," Miroku continued. "People running everywhere when the fires started. Then the woman started throwing things with her fan and the little girl just stood there, still as a doll, while her mirror sucked the souls out of the youkai. They stopped suddenly and turned to leave. The little girl returned the souls—or the mirror can't hold them very well. I think some people might have died, but most are just dazed and upset."

"I see."

Miroku sat down. "I think they were looking for something—or somebody. They didn't find it. Or maybe they just got bored and decided to have some fun. I don't know. But the little girl... she was pale as anything, and she just stood there and sucked the souls out of people. I could hear their souls wailing."

"So, Taiyoukai decided to attack the village."

Miroku shook his head. "It wasn't Taiyoukai."

"Then, who? The wolves?"

Again, Miroku shook his head. "I think... they might be Kagura and Kanna. I've never met them before, but I've heard about them."

Sango wondered if she was supposed to recognize these names. As a taijiya, she was required to know all of the important and powerful youkai, but she had never heard of their names, or anybody like them. "Why are you telling me this?"

Miroku hesitated before answering, "I don't want you to get hurt."

"Well, too late," Sango replied caustically. He had no right to act as if he cared. "Because I already did."

Kagome snuggled closer to the solid warmth. The steady heartbeat comforted her.

Wait... heartbeat?

Reluctantly, Kagome roused herself from sleep. She wasn't quite lying down, she noticed. Instead, she lay... against Sesshoumaru.

This was so embarrassing, Kagome thought. She wasn't just lying next to him which seemed to happen often; she was sleeping in his lap. How was she supposed to explain that? To gain time to think of an adequate excuse, she tried to remain still. Maybe he wouldn't notice that she woke up.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

He didn't sound upset, Kagome was grateful to note, but scrambled quickly out of his lap just in case. She winced when her wound hurt her. "Yes, thank you," she answered politely. "I'm sorry about..." Feebly, she gestured in his general direction.

Sesshoumaru nodded. "I don't mind."

Kagome felt herself blush harder. Now she felt like she had taken advantage of him even more, since he was being so nice about it. "Um... what now?"

"Now you eat and then we train," he said.

"You mean, I don't get to rest and heal my wound?"

Sesshoumaru's smile was amused, making his amber eyes sparkle. "You're a priestess, you heal fast. Besides, you asked me."

Kagome thought about it. "I guess you're right."

"Of course," Sesshoumaru answered gravely. "I, Sesshoumaru, am always right."

Laughing at his serious expression, Kagome swatted at Sesshoumaru's arm. "Nobody's always right." Then, before he could protest, she added, "But this time, you're probably right."

At Sesshoumaru's clap, a servant brought food into the room. Kagome was curious to note that the servant was human. Then, she thought about how youkai enslaved humans. If youkai treated humans the same way most humans treated youkai, this human would be living horribly...

"They made you something easy to eat," Sesshoumaru interrupted her train of thought. He scooped a spoonful of the miso soup. "Here, try some of the soup."

Kagome opened her mouth obediently. The soup was good. She tried to take the spoon so she could feed herself, but Sesshoumaru pulled it away. "I can feed myself," she told him.

"But you're sick. You need to be taken care of."

She glanced at Sesshoumaru, but he seemed in earnest about taking care of her. Then, she just needed to let him know that she could handle herself fine. "I can still feed myself."

Reluctantly, Sesshoumaru handed her the spoon and she started eating. She hadn't thought that she was hungry, but that first sip of soup had awakened her appetite. After some more bites of food—the fish was good and the noodles tasted divine—she noticed that Sesshoumaru was looking at her quite intently.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing," he answered.

"Why are you staring at me?"

"Well..." Sesshoumaru pretended to ponder and grinned. "You are the most beautiful thing in this room, and I accept nothing less than the best. So, I have to look at you."

"Oh." Kagome tried really hard not to stare back at Sesshoumaru. Apparently, he hadn't noticed the mirror in the room, because with his lean body, his beautiful face, and his languid grace, she was not competition. And when he smiled... her heart fluttered.

She took another bite of the udon. "Thanks," she remembered to mumble. Then, to change the topic and because she really wanted to know, "Where are we?"


Kagome swallowed the bit of noodle. "And where's that?"

"It's a youkai village."

"Hmm," Kagome thought about that. They were being treated fairly well by the youkai, considering that there were two humans in the entourage. "Is it the youkai village you wanted to go to last night?"

Sesshoumaru nodded once. "I should have insisted, but I plan to exact vengeance from him anyways."

Kagome thought he actually sounded dangerous. "It's okay." She didn't want him to get into any fight and endanger himself, especially since he had already saved her life. Besides, seeing the look on Sesshoumaru's face, she thought she felt rather sorry for whomever he planned to take revenge on. "I mean, we have to thank him for finding the Shikon on Tama, right?"

But Sesshoumaru's good mood was gone. "It's going to be more dangerous now that your powers can't conceal the jewel completely anymore."

She sighed. Then, an awful thought occurred to her. "It's not Taiyoukai who attacked me, is it?"

Sesshoumaru looked surprised. "No, it's Naraku. He's a filthy hanyou."

"Is it... bad... to be a hanyou?" Kagome asked tentatively. "Do youkai marry humans so rarely?"

He looked back at Kagome for a long, indecipherable moment before answering, "No, it's not bad to be a hanyou. They are rare only because most youkai mate instead of marry, and it is rare to find humans who are... compatible.

"Naraku is a different story. He used to be human. He was poor and ugly and old. He stole and lived in a cave. One day, he went in a rich man's house to steal. He thought the rich man would not notice as easily, and he was right. But he wasn't prepared for the rich man's excesses. The gold and silver were everywhere, but so were candles that lit the hall. He knocked one down, accidentally, and burnt the whole house down.

"The rich man and his family escaped the fire fine. But Naraku had been stealing, and so he tried to sneak out of the mansion. His clothing had caught on fire, though, and in his panic, he only tried to run from himself.

"In the end, he collapsed on his way towards his cave, tired, hurt, and burnt. It was a priestess who found him. The priestess was gentle and kind. She took pity on the poor thief and brought him to his cave. She knew that the villagers would offer no sympathy for him. So, each day, she went to the cave herself to tend to him until he became better."

"And?" Kagome asked when he had stopped.

Sesshoumaru smiled at her child-like curiosity. "I'll tell you if you continue eating."

"Oh." She hadn't realized that she had set the udon and the chopsticks down.

When she started eating again, he continued, "So the priestess went to the cave and healed the poor thief. And every day, the worthless thief watched the priestess' beautiful face as she healed him. And he came to want to keep her to himself.

"One day, he said to her, 'Will you stay with me?'

"The priestess was surprised, and she replied, 'Until you are well.'

"The thief persisted, 'And after?'

"The priestess replied, 'I go where I'm needed.'

"The thief pleaded, 'You are needed here, for you hold my heart.'

"The priestess replied, 'But my heart is already given. I am married.'

"A dark countenance came over the thief then, and he shouted, 'To whom?'

"The priestess replied, 'To my husband, a great youkai.'

"And every day after, the thief and the priestess remained silent as she came to heal him, until one day, he was as well as he his old, abused body should be. As she had promised, the priestess left him and never returned. The thief railed at this 'injustice' and refused to believe her. He thought she must have been denying him because he was merely human.

"So, when Death finally called to him, he grabbed onto dear life. He soaked his thoughts in evil and welcomed all the lesser youkai to feast upon that black heart. His thoughts were so evil, that they overcame the youkai, and he stole the power of the youkai and became a half-youkai, half-human creature.

"That is the story of the birth of Naraku," Sesshoumaru concluded.

"Did he ever go after the priestess?" Kagome asked. She had finished her udon and started feel tired again, but she felt that the story hadn't finished yet.

"He did," Sesshoumaru answered grimly. His voice had lost its lyrical quality. "She rejected him, and he tried to kill her and her husband. Only her husband survived."

"That's... grim," Kagome observed with a yawn. "I'd hoped he'd become a good person. Or at least, give up."

"He had already turned evil when he stole from the youkai. Or maybe even before," Sesshoumaru reminded her.

She shrugged a little. "Well, there's always hope."

He declined to answer. He would let her keep on believing that if she wanted, but he knew differently. He had seen people turn evil and revel in it. There was no turning back for them.

When Kagome yawned again, she decided she needed another nap and told him so. She snuggled down in the blankets this time and fell asleep before he even had time to reply.

Sesshoumaru knew that he should leave now, as Kagome had fallen asleep on the bed instead of on him this time. The youkai would not harm her because she was under his protection. Besides, it wouldn't be gentlemanly to watch her sleep.

But he hadn't been a gentleman for five hundred years. And if another attack occurred, he was still the one who could protect her best, and he needed to be here if something did happen.

He surveyed the room. It was clean and serviceable, as most village elders' homes were. A simple framed calligraphy adorned the white walls. A few brushes lay on the table and their bags piled around the chair. A plain rug covered most of the wood floor. The unfinished portion of Kagome's food was on the nightstand.

Sesshoumaru was just about to call somebody to take the food away when the bags rustled. He stilled... and sensed a faint youki. A youkai hid in one of their bags.

The bag continued to rustle as Sesshoumaru pulled in his own youki so that it was undetectable. He stalked the bag silently. Then, with one swift movement, he pulled out a bundle of orange hair.

A kitsune was attached to the hair, tears swimming in its wide brown eyes. Sesshoumaru clamped a hand over the kitsune, who looked a bit familiar, before it had a chance to cry out and wake Kagome.

He narrowed his eyes at it. It sniffed and tears leaked down its cheek.

Right, Shippou was its name, Sesshoumaru remembered and relaxed slightly, but its reason for hiding in the bags was still suspect. It had lived in the Higurashi house. He wondered if it had followed Kagome to spy on her. Or maybe it spied on him.

The kitsune made some more muffled noises, gesturing wildly in the air.

"Be quiet," Sesshoumaru ordered it and it nodded fervently a couple of times before he set it down.

"I'm hungry and you're a brute," was the first thing out of Shippou's mouth. Although he whispered it, none of the spitting anger was lost. "I'll tell Kagome."

"What, you think she'll punish me?"

Well, Shippou considered, the inuyoukai didn't really look intimidated by Kagome. Still, Kagome must be able to do something... "You like her," he declared, and had the satisfaction of seeing the inuyoukai's face become impassive, even if it scared him a bit. But Shippou was a brave youkai. "And I'll tell her that she can't marry you."

"Oh?" Sesshoumaru asked quietly.

Maybe it was because Shippou had been raised by Kagome. Or maybe it was because he had grown up with humans. But either way, he lacked the common sense to back down when the inuyoukai's attention was entirely concentrated on him.

"Yup," Shippou declared proudly.

"She wouldn't listen to you," Sesshoumaru stated.

"Of course she would," Shippou argued. "She's my mommy."

There was a long, tense silence. Well, tense for Sesshoumaru. Shippou smirked for his imminent victory.

When Sesshoumaru growled deep in his throat, Shippou scampered back in alarm.

Shippou looked up to see the inuyoukai's eyes glowing red, just like the evil youkai that had killed his father. But Kagome wouldn't let an evil youkai near her. So, was this inuyoukai hurting his mommy? Then, he'd have to protect his mommy, Shippou thought.

Sesshoumaru felt his anger flare out of control, and he didn't care. The kitsune's father deserved death—worse than death. Gods, if this kitsune was five or eight—Seshoumaru wasn't very good at judging children's ages—then Kagome must have been ten or twelve when she had slept with the father. Worse, she must have loved him—or at least thought she did—if she had retained her priestess powers...

"Where is your father?" Sesshoumaru demanded, the urge to growl making his question barely coherent.

"U-uh..." Shippou stuttered. He didn't know—how was he supposed to know? The evil youkai had killed his father and taken the skin. He didn't know where the evil youkai was. "I-I... uh... d-d-d-don't know."

Sesshoumaru took one step toward the kitsune. His red eyes gazed coldly down his nose at the kitsune. "Then where did she meet him?"

"Huh?" The inuyoukai looked scary, Shippou felt himself thinking. Why would the inuyoukai ask such a weird question? "He... uh... n-never... uh... met her...?"

Sesshoumaru took another step toward the kitsune, making it squeak. It didn't wake Kagome, though. He lifted a mocking eyebrow, saying that he heard the question mark at the end of its answer "Then, how come you are here?"

"Um..." Shippou didn't like telling people about what happened, but that being known as a former blood-bound is better than death. He said in a rush, "My daddy died and I became a blood-bound and Kagome found me and freed me and now she's my mommy."

It took a moment for Sesshoumaru to process what Shippou had said. "Then she adopted you. You're a youkai."

"Duh!" Shippou gathered the nerve to say. The inuyoukai's eyes were gold again, and it gave Shippou courage. "What, did you think I was a tulip?"

"No," Sesshoumaru answered with a snort. "But your intelligence is comparable."

Shippou felt his eyes watering again at the insult. The inuyoukai didn't know anything about him and was insulting him. "Kagome, Kagome!" He called out as he dodged away nimbly from the inuyoukai's hand and jumped onto the bed. "Kagome," Shippou wailed. "The inuyoukai is being mean to me!"

Kagome grumbled in her sleep. Then, Sesshoumaru heard her say, "Sit."

Still puzzled, he listened as Shippou explained hurriedly, as if something was holding Sesshoumaru from attacking and that something would stop soon. "It's another inuyoukai, Kagome. It's not Inuyasha."

"Huh?" Kagome grumbled. It felt like she had just fallen asleep and that she had an awful nightmare of being attacked. Or maybe the whole thing of Sesshoumaru was in her imagination.

"Kagome," Shippou persisted. "If you marry this inuyoukai who's not Inuyasha, you have to make him be nice to me."

"What?" she opened her eyes to find Shippou and Sesshoumaru hovering over her, both looking at her expectantly. Marry? What? Kagome found that her side still hurt. Guess it wasn't a dream. "What?"

Shippou couldn't believe what grogginess had done to his usually intelligent mommy. "He likes you, but he doesn't like me. So you have to make him like me before you marry him." He paused and thought about it. Then, he added, "Of course, if you don't like him, you can always marry someone else."

It took a moment for Kagome to process what Shippou had said. When she understood, she felt the blood rushing to her face and pulled up the blanket to hide under it.

After a while of silence, Kagome decided that Sesshoumaru hadn't left tactfully and that she might as well face him.

A wry smile was on Sesshoumaru's face. "You don't have to say anything," he saved her. "Children only blurt out the truth they see."

"Oh," Kagome said and returned to hiding behind the blanket. She wasn't quite sure how to take that last comment. Perhaps, she thought, she was just thinking too much about what he had said. It was just probably a bit of wisdom he had learned from his long, youkai life.

He must've lived a long time, Kagome thought. If he were a taiyoukai like the Taiyoukai family, he could have lived for hundreds of years already, way longer than her own measly sixteen.

"You need more rest," Sesshoumaru said, interrupting the silence. "I'll make sure the little turd doesn't disturb you."

"Hey," Shippou yelled, full of indignation. "I'm not a turd."

Sesshoumaru picked Shippou up by the collar of his shirt and took him outside the room. "Of course not; you're a tulip."

"Hey!" Shippou's voice filtered back into the room.

Kagome smiled. Shippou always knew how to liven up the day. She had wanted to keep him safe in the Higurashi house, since she didn't know what Taiyoukai would do. But she realized that she should have expected him to find a way to tag along.

"Be nice to him," she requested of Sesshoumaru.

"Of course," he acquiesced regally.

With this assurance, Kagome found herself drifted back to sleep. She hoped she got well soon, because she did not like the drowsiness that hung persistently over her. She figured, though, that the more she slept, the sooner it would probably go away.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Property - Chapter Six

Kagome actually found the rhythm of their travel quite soothing. Not to mention that most of the snow had already melted and left only the crisp, clean air behind. She thought that this was the essence of nature and that none of the other seasons could be any better. Of course, she thought this every winter, and was proven wrong every year when spring gently tucked away winter. But nothing, she thought, could be better than this winter.

It wasn't that Kagome didn't worry for her father. Or liked the thought of the impending marriage with Kouga. Of course she wished that Miroku was already married with Sango. And that Sesshoumaru could be freed from whatever bond they had become tangled within.

But even so, there was that frizzle of excitement of actually deciding something, of doing something, and of going somewhere. She had traveled with her parents before, but those trips had lacked the immediacy of things happening and the weight of importance. Besides, she had only tagged along those times, whereas this time, she would make decisions about where to stop and when to go.

Well, not really, Kagome admitted to herself. It was more like the other three agreed on something and asked for her approval. But at least they asked, right?

"So, what do you think?" Sango asked sharply, bring Kagome out of her reminiscence.

"Huh?" Kagome replied intelligently.

Sango shook her head and sighed. "We're a couple of hours away from the next village. Sesshoumaru says we should go for it."

Kagome glanced up at Sesshoumaru's stoic face. "And you and Kouga disagree?"

"The sun's setting," Sango informed Kagome, and Kagome found that the sun indeed hung perilously close to the horizon. "So, we thought we should probably find a place here and camp instead traveling in the dark. And it's a youkai village, and we thought the less we tangle with youkai, the better."

"Why does Sesshoumaru disagree?"

Sango shrugged. "Why don't you ask him?"

When Kagome looked at Sesshoumaru expectantly, he looked anxiously ahead on the road. "It's not safe," he started. "I may be able to deal with stray youkai, and maybe Sango and Kouga, too, but—"

"So I'm the liability, then," Kagome concluded for him.

"It would not be comfortable for you to camp outside," Sesshoumaru added stiffly.

"Don't worry about me," Kagome shot back. "If you can handle it, I can, too. In fact, I insist that we camp somewhere in the woods."

There was a moment of silence before Sesshoumaru bowed shallowly. "As you wish, my lady."

"So, are the Western Lands far from your territory?" Kagome asked Kouga as they started making camp. She was still upset about Sesshoumaru's attitude—and though she couldn't quite pin down what had made her upset, she knew she was upset. Besides, she needed to know more about Kouga's territory if they were to be married, a possibility that Kagome kept in mind since she really had no proof that Sesshoumaru's persuasion would succeed.

"It's right next to the mountain range," Kouga replied as he stomped on another nail. As far as Kagome understood, the tents would be tied down to these nails stuck into the ground. "If it really came down to Taiyoukai and humans, we'd be caught in the middle of it."

"And you would choose to side with the humans?" Kagome asked.

Kouga shrugged as he worked on another nail. Then, he straightened and winked at Kagome, showing a boyish charm that she hadn't noticed before. "Can't let a cute girl down, now, can I?"

Kagome grinned. It felt refreshing to be with somebody who knew how to have fun—and Sango didn't count because she was understandably worried about Miroku. "No, really."

"Well," he said as he started setting up a tent. "The dogs and the wolves have never gotten along, I guess. Something that one of my ancestors did, Touga Taiyoukai told me once. But he wouldn't tell what it was." Kouga shrugged again. "It's not like I can do anything about it now."

Kagome tucked her feet closer and wished that somebody would set up a fire. Then, she realized how useless she really was. "Oh," she replied and got up. There must be something she could do, like collect firewood.

So thinking, she set off for the trees around the camping site. A few fortunate pine trees still looked green, but the other trees stood pitifully bare. There must be some dead branches they could use for a fire, even if she didn't know how to make one.

Suddenly, she heard a weird noise. "Look out," Sango shouted, her voice strangely urgent.

"Get down!" Kouga's voice sounded strained against Sango's voice.

"Kagome," Sesshoumaru shouted simultaneously—a smooth, deep voice even when he sounded worried, Kagome noticed. He sounded much closer than the other two and a moment later, she felt him pull her down.

Kagome felt the breath slammed out of her. She thought she might have sprained an ankle, too, because of the odd way she fell. She was just about to ask Sesshoumaru what the hell he thought he had been doing when a sharp pain on her side shut her up.

In an effort to stop the pain, she put her hand to her side, only to draw it back quickly. The prodding had hurt, and her hands felt sticky and gleamed darkly under the moonlight.

Blood, Kagome thought distantly. I'm wounded.

"What the fuck was that?" Kouga asked rhetorically.

"Shit," Sango cursed, too. It must be serious. "We need to get her to a village. Quick. Here, Kirara can probably carry the both of us."

Instead, Kagome felt herself scooped up by strong arms against a hard chest. Strands of hair--gleaming silver—tickled her face.

"I'll take her." Sesshoumaru asserted, his tone still calm. "I'd be faster."

"It's a youkai village," Kagome heard Sango point out.

"They're not going to like having a wounded human in their mist." Kouga.

"They'll contend with her." Sesshoumaru. Arrogant.


Kagome echoed the thought in her head, but then she had the strangest sensation of flying. Her eyelids were heavy. The words became muffled...

Sesshoumaru sat quietly in the corner of the room as she waited for Kagome to wake up.

The healer had said that she would be fine, but Sesshoumaru could still feel her pain even if her sleep granted her respite from it. He could choose to not feel her pain, but it was almost comforting. Logic dictated that if he could feel her pain, she must still be alive.

And she had to live through this, Sesshoumaru determined. She was his mate—or as good as. She was the Higurashi heir and all the humans counted on her.

If she didn't... if something worse happened... he didn't know what he would do. He knew he should have been more forceful about going to the village. He could have forced them. He shouldn’t have kept his identity a petty secret, especially since Kagome might lose her life over it.

Resolutely, Sesshoumaru kept himself still as he waited.


He started at her groan and almost jumped to go to her, but then he realized that he had nothing to say. No adequate apologies to offer. He stayed in his seat and waited for her to act first.

Kagome opened her eyes and shut them quickly again. Her side hurt a lot, but less than she remembered. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes carefully and settled for squinting.

She was on some kind of bed or a fairly comfortable pallet. The window—where the winter sunlight burst through—was made of wood, plain but comfortable. The off-white walls were simple and clean. The room was small compared to her own, but probably considered a fair size in this village.

Somebody was well-off, but that still didn't give her a clue as to where she was.

And her side hurt. A lot.

"Where am I?" Kagome wondered aloud.

To her surprise, Sesshoumaru answered. "The village elder has graciously accepted to house us while you recover. I expect him, Sango, and Kouga to be back soon."

"Oh." It felt awkward to hear Sesshoumaru but not see him. When Kagome tried to move, though, her entire side burnt up, and so she thought she would just stay still. Besides, Sesshoumaru's voice was nice to listen to. "Thank you for saving me."

Sesshoumaru kept his eyes on the wall next to Kagome's bed. There was nothing for him to say. He hadn't saved her—he had caused this in the first place. He could have... He caught himself before his thoughts followed the same spiral down to how his selfishness might have cost her her life. It was all he had thought about since last night.

Kagome was saved from having to say anything when the door opened.

"Kagome, you're awake," she heard Sango say. "Don't move too much. We're going to have to change the bandages, too."

"I brought back some food," Kouga said. "The youkai were all really helpful. Must be 'cause they know I'm the Wolf Prince."

Another voice that Kagome didn't recognize said, "If you would like, I can change Miss Higurashi's bandages."

"It's okay," Sango said for Kagome. "I can do that."

Instead of leaving, though, the voice asked, "Taiyoukai?"

For one frenzied moment, Kagome thought the man was referring to Taiyoukai or the Taiyoukai heir. But, then she realized that the man must be referring to a taiyoukai and expected Kouga to answer, since he was the Wolf Prince and probably most qualified as a taiyoukai. Instead, Sesshoumaru's voice replied, "Let the taijiya female do it." She supposed that Sesshoumaru could be powerful enough to be a taiyoukai, too. Taiyoukai, in its most general meaning, referred to any youkai with enough power to take on a humanoid form.

"As you wish." Kagome had the distinct feeling that the youkai had bowed before she heard his footsteps leading him out of the room.

"Shoo, shoo," Sango admonished. "I'll call you guys back when I'm finished changing the bandages."

Kagome heard more footsteps and door opening and shutting before Sango's face swam into view.

"Can you sit up?" Sango asked.

Kagome shifted a bit on the bed. It hurt. "If you help me."

Sango proceeded to gently help Kagome sit up. Her shirt was bloodied and the bandages underneath were soaked. Kagome leaned against the wall and Sango unwrapped them. "It looks like it'll heal."

Kagome bent down her head to look at it, and all she saw was a lot of brown stuff—dried blood. But as she looked closer, she saw a faint pink glow. "What's that?" she asked.

"What?" Sango looked at the wound and didn't know if her friend was referring to the bandage, the salve, the blood, or something else.

"That." At Sango's continued confusion, Kagome tried to point to the glowing part on her side. She misjudged the distance, though, and ended up poking herself quite painfully. The pink glow left her side and turned out to be a ball of some sort. "What's that?"

"I don't—" Sango started to answer before she took a closer look at it. "Oh sweet gods!" Sango exclaimed.

"What?" Kagome was starting to get annoyed. She reached out and picked up the pink ball and it stopped glowing. She tried looking at it carefully, but really couldn't tell what was so special about it. It looked like a plastic bead on an eight-year-old's necklace.

"It's—" Sango started answering but was interrupted by the entrance of Kouga and Sesshoumaru.

"You've got it," Kouga said, although Kagome thought that it sounded more like an accusation.

"What has the taijiya done to you?" Sesshoumaru demanded.

For a moment, Kagome could only look wildly between the two of them. Finally, she answered intelligently, "Huh?"

Sesshoumaru tried to calm himself down. Only Kagome and the taijiya were in the room when he had felt the sudden flare of pain and power. But Kagome trusted the taijiya, and so he was going to give the taijiya a chance before he skewered her. "I felt your pain. What has the taijiya done to you?"

"Oh," Kagome replied sheepishly. "I sort of did that to myself. I was glowing funnily and so I kind of poked myself. I don't glow anymore."

At Sesshoumaru's narrowed amber eyes, she added hastily. "It was because some pink ball got stuck in me. See?" Kagome held out the pink ball—still not glowing—in her hands for the youkai to examine.

Sesshoumaru took a step back. Kouga's pale eyes narrowed and lunged at Kagome—or maybe at the little pink ball—shocking her into pulling her hands back, but he was stopped by an invisible wall. Sango shifted her weight so that she was in a crouched position from where she could attack easily.

Kagome looked at the three people. Suddenly, the youkai were complete strangers. Even Sango acted as if on high alert. She felt the increase of tension in the room along with the unnatural stillness.

"Where did you get the Shikon no Tama," Sesshoumaru asked, his voice as cold as the first day she had met him.

"The Shikon no Tama?" Kagome repeated. Why would he think that she had the sacred jewel? Wouldn't she actually save her father and stop the impending war if she did? Instead, she was going to plead to the Taiyoukai.

"Don't you even think about it," Sango cut in, pulling out knives that she had hidden in her clothes.

Sesshoumaru chuckled, a dark, chilling sound. He wasn't interested in playing games. He had refrained from killing Kagome. He had even agreed to try to convince his father to let hers go. And all the while, Kagome had been hiding the Shikon no Tama, which, if destroyed, could stop all the disagreements between youkai and humans.

"You think you can stop me?" Sesshoumaru taunted. "Even if your whole taijiya village were here, you wouldn't be able to stop me."

"You're a blood-bound," Sango continued determinedly. She turned to Kagome. "Tell him not to attack."


"She can't," Sesshoumaru cut in. "I'm not longer a blood-bound."

He had distinct satisfaction of seeing the taijiya's eyes widen. He also felt Kagome's panic and confusion. She could have spared herself, Sesshoumaru thought, if she had told him, but that he had to find out this way... That she thought to have both the jewel and peace...

The taijiya turned to Kagome. Sesshoumaru felt Kouga getting ready for another attack and knit a web with his youki to hold the wolf prince. He did not need distractions.

"Kagome?" Sango questioned.

Kagome blinked twice. She peered down at the innocuous-looking pink ball in her hands. "This is the Shikon no Tama?"

"So you didn't know?" Sesshoumaru's caustic question dripped with sarcasm.

Kagome shook her head earnestly. "I poked myself because the wound looked weird, all pink and glow-y and it fell out."

Sesshoumaru took a moment to consider what Kagome had said. It was possible, he supposed, even if it was improbable, and this explanation was congruent with everything else he had learned about her. It explained how she could keep it a secret—because even she didn't know about it. And he wouldn't have to berate himself for believing a beguiling woman so easily.

He approached her carefully and sat down next to her on the bed, as if that invisible wall had never been there. Indeed, it was made up of his own youki. He could sense Kouga struggling, but Sesshoumaru's youki net still held him tight. If the wolf became too annoying, Sesshoumaru could always simply strangle the wolf with the net.

Sango shifted to do something, but stilled with one cutting glare from him. He brought on enough of the demonic haze to let his eyes glow red before he subdued it and turned to Kagome. "May I see the Shikon no Tama?"

Kagome looked at the gentle gold eyes and listened to the soft voice. She glanced around at Sango's tense expression and Kouga's frustrated face. Something was going on. Sango didn't trust Sesshoumaru—but she never had. Kouga didn't either, but Kagome wouldn't place too much stock in Kouga's judgments. Besides, Sesshoumaru had always been gentle to her, even when he had been in heat... and she really oughtn't to stop trusting him just because other people didn't.

Carefully she held out her hand with the Tama.

Sesshoumaru couldn't believe his eyes. The sacred jewel, after being lost to the youkai for hundreds of years, was finally within his reach. He could feel the power radiating off of the jewel and his hands itched to grab at it. But he stopped himself, because he knew that the insidious jewel took over the youkai instead of giving the youkai power.

Besides, he had the answer. Kagome really wasn't willfully hiding the jewel, or she would not have shown him the jewel. He had seen her glancing around and felt her indecision, but she had still trusted him enough to show it to him. Perhaps she didn't really understand the enormity of it all, but Sesshoumaru refused to betray her trust.

"Thank you," he said. "You can put it back now."

"But I have nowhere to keep it," Kagome replied, startling Sesshoumaru. "I'm not going to put it back in me. Since you seem to know more about it, maybe you should keep it. Besides, I can't protect it since I'm not a priestess."

"No," Sesshoumaru said, more forcefully than he had meant to, but he needed to tell himself this as much as he needed to tell her. She had no idea of the jewel's temptation. "You have to protect it. You are the priestess who has enough power to hide its presence and you need to continue doing that."

"I don't have priestess powers," Kagome protested. At Sesshoumaru's chiding look, she added, "Even if I did, I don't know how to use them."

"It's okay. I can teach you," Sesshoumaru offered.

"Oh," Kagome thought about that and accepted. "Thank you"

Sango, though, had more protests. "You can't teach her," she said and refused to back down despite the glare Sesshoumaru was giving her. The crescent moon still scared her shitless, but she realized that she had to protect Kagome from her own naïveté. "You're a youkai. Your youki will fight hers, and one or both of you will get hurt if she unleashes her powers."

"Taijiya," Sesshoumaru said calmly and smelled her fear. Although, he was a bit impressed that she had gainsaid him at all. "Whoever taught you didn't teach you enough."

"My father knows all about youkai," Sango replied hotly.

Sesshoumaru only raised one disbelieving eyebrow and waited.

Soon enough, Sango sighed. "Well, all that any human knows about youkai. You're not very forthcoming about these things. But what he does know is always right."

"Well, then," Sesshoumaru shrugged off her comment. "I guess this is the exception that proves the rule."

Sango was not about to give Sesshoumaru any excuse to spend time alone with the Higurashi heir and the sacred jewel. Especially now that she knew he was no longer a blood-bound. He was dangerous, even if Kagome remained oblivious, and Sango intended to keep her friend safe.

She narrowed her eyes dangerous at Sesshoumaru. "Explain."

Sesshoumaru considered shutting the taijiya up with simpler means, but then Kagome would be upset. Besides, it would probably be better if the taijiya thought of him as an ally. Kagome did listen to the taijiya's opinions. "Simple: our auras accept each other."

Sesshoumaru was tired of this, having to keep everybody content. He let go of the youki net and asked Sango forcefully over whatever expletives Kouga was sprouting. "Did you meet your Miroku yet?"

"Of course not," Sango answered impatiently. Why was the youkai suddenly changing the topic? "I'm on this trip looking for him."

"Well, a traveling priest introduced himself to me as Miroku. Black hair. Purple Eyes. A powerful staff."

"Really?" Sango asked, forgetting that she was upset at Sesshoumaru. Besides, she didn't really need to hold a grudge. Sesshoumaru hadn't hurt Kagome. He had been helpful—suspiciously so... "Where?"

Sesshoumaru pointed vaguely in the direction of the center of the village. Sango jumped up to look for Miroku, but managed to say, "I'll see you later, Kagome."

"But, but..." Kagome sputtered. What was she supposed to do with the jewel?

"I don't think Sesshoumaru will actually hurt you," Sango misunderstood the question in Kagome's voice.

Kagome looked woefully at the jewel in her hands and then looked to Sesshoumaru for direction. "What am I supposed to do?"

To Kagome's surprise, Sesshoumaru's nails sharpened into claws and cut himself some bangs. Skillfully, he braided his hair he had cut and wound it around the jewel before braiding the rest of the hair. When he finished, he shifted to sit behind her and tied his hair around her neck like a necklace.

Slightly embarrassed, Kagome muttered, "Thanks." She didn't know if hair meant anything to the youkai, but Kagome had been growing hers out for years, and she thought she wouldn't be nearly generous.

"It's okay." In truth, cutting his hair had hurt, because youkai hair acted as reservoirs of power. But Sesshoumaru's hair would re-grow fast enough and this had been the perfect opportunity to give Kagome something personal, as mating traditions dictated. It wasn't a step in the actual mating process, but other youkai would sense him on her and leave her alone. He had had nothing on him because he had been a blood-bound, though, so he had to cut his hair. Even better, because of the jewel's importance, he could be sure that she would always keep the necklace with her. And sensing his youki on the necklace, stray youkai would stay away from her. If they knew what was good for them.

For example, Kouga stiffened with indignation. After all, Kagome had considered marrying him. "You can't," Kouga gritted through his teeth. "What do you think you are doing, you bastard?"

Sesshoumaru hadn't moved since he tied Kagome's necklace for her. So Kagome didn't see him when he grinned maliciously at Kouga, showing off his canines. "I'd prefer for you to call me Sesshoumaru."

"Keh," Kouga spat. "You don't deserve that name."

"Oh?" Sesshoumaru replied quietly.

Kagome looked between the two, not understanding the undercurrent between them. Must be youkai business, she thought. Or maybe just male business.

"You don't," Kouga stood his ground. "My father respected Sesshoumaru, an inuyoukai—a Taiyoukai. You, on the other hand..."

Kouga fell silent as he realized what he had just said. His father had told stories of Sesshoumaru the Lost Taiyoukai that had been passed down through the generations. But the youkai were long-lived, even if the wolves seemed to experience misfortune every twenty or forty years. And Sesshoumaru was an inuyoukai. Furthermore, he was powerful, as the alarming youki net had proved.

"Yes, what about me?" Sesshoumaru prompted softly.

Oh... Fuck! Kouga thought. Not only had he doubted and insulted Sesshoumaru—the Sesshoumaru—he had been pursuing the woman that Sesshoumaru had marked. Now that the Taiyoukai heir was free again and probably traveling to reclaim his rightful place, Kouga couldn't afford to be on his bad side. His pride, though, wouldn't allow him to grovel. Finally, he settled for, "I shouldn't have doubted your identity, Sesshoumaru."

The rapidity with which Kouga departed vaguely amused Sesshoumaru.

He turned his attention back to Kagome when she started leaning back into his chest.

"Is Miroku really in this town?" Kagome asked quietly with her eyes closed. She was too tired to keep them open.

"What, you don't trust me?"

"Not that," Kagome replied. "Just... that's really good for Sango."

Sesshoumaru found himself smiling at her sweet naïveté. "Kagome?" he questioned, but didn't know what he meant to ask. He wanted to listen to her talk some more, though.

"Can we do priestess training later?" Kagome murmured, apparently assuming that he wanted her to train. He supposed that she was too tired to think clearly, because that was the last thing on his mind. "I'm really tired right now."

And she should be, Sesshoumaru thought. She had had a near fatal wound and survived. The fact that she woke up so soon spoke much for her priestess powers. He hadn't planned on pressing her to start her training anyways. The Western Lands were far away, and they had more time together.

If he had his way, they would be mated and they would have a whole lifetime together. Sesshoumaru opened his mouth to ask her what he thought about the mating bond they shared, but stopped when he realized that she was already asleep.

He shifted his weight carefully so that her neck looked less uncomfortable and sat down for a long wait.

After all, the new, untrained priestess had just fallen asleep in the presence of a youkai with the Shikon no Tama on her. If he were a lesser man—like Kouga—he would be taking advantage of her right now. So Sesshoumaru had to agree with the taijiya that somebody needed to look out for Kagome, and he was the most qualified. As a taiyoukai—and a Taiyoukai—he had enough power to stop anybody who would hurt the stupidly trusting priestess. And he would.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Property - Chapter Five

Kagome opened her bleary eyes to meet Sesshoumaru's gold ones.

He had tested the bond while she had been asleep. He could still feel her emotions, but he could choose to not feel them as well. He found himself almost waking her up several times, despite her earlier declaration that she didn't want to talk. As a slave, he would have felt the pain of disobedience which had been strangely missing. Yet, there had been no mind-numbing, organ-tearing pain which was rumored to accompany repudiation. And that had left only one possible way for the bond to shift.

"We're mated," Sesshoumaru stated plainly.

"Oh," Kagome squeaked in shock to his sudden declaration. "You... found out." She had been so sure that he didn't remember any of what had happened. He had acted so nonchalant when he had come out of heat.

He gave her a droll stare.

"Well... Kikyou told me that youkai don't remember when they go in heat..."

Sesshoumaru's face became devoid of expressions, but his shoulders tensed.

Kagome frowned. "What's wrong?"

But for a long moment, Sesshoumaru remained silent. He knew of only one way in which to get mated, but he couldn't remember doing that with Kagome, which was why he remained skeptical and tried to think of other possibilities. But this... this explained everything.

Sesshoumaru looked at her again carefully. Through the bond, he could feel her confusion and uneasiness, but there wasn't anger or fear. That was good, at least. He didn't remember what happened while he was in heat, but he had seen the devastation he had left every five or ten years in the last five hundred years of his life. He knew what he was capable of and was only glad that Kagome was not a mangled body like so many other women he had used while he had been in heat.

No, Sesshoumaru decided. He didn't mind being mated with Kagome, if it meant saving her from that kind of fate. It said something that she survived the mating. He still remembered the lurid mixture of pain and ecstasy etched those women's faces—and he had enjoyed seeing them, too—but Kagome did not deserve that. Kagome was a woman to be kept and taken care of.

Which even his demon side had agreed with, apparently, because usually youkai cannot even speak coherently when consumed in their demonic haze, much less begin the two-part vow in an ancient and convoluted language learnt in adulthood. Until he spoke the second half, they could still separate and go their own ways. The mating bond would fade and he would be free from the blood-bond.

Kagome took the long silence as his attempt to accept the circumstance. So before he could force something polite through his lips, she placated, “It’s okay. Nothing’s changed.” She didn't want him to feel as if they were stuck with each other. After all, Kagome had planned on freeing him. She certainly didn't want him to be mated to her for life just because she had made a decision without knowing the full consequences. She added hesitantly, "Besides... I'm promised to Kouga. For an alliance"

Sesshoumaru snarled and rolled on top of her. He found himself looking into startled brown eyes, but he didn't care. Despite that they could still go their own ways, Sesshoumaru felt his anger flare suddenly at the thought of her with another man. "You are not promised to anybody but me. You are my mate."

"Maybe there's something we can do to undo the mating," Kagome tried a while later. "I mean, you weren't really thinking rationally at the time."

Sesshoumaru gave her a stare that spoke volumes about how ridiculous he thought that suggestion had been. "We're mated. Nothing can change that."

"But... it's completely my fault. You were in heat."

"We're mated," Sesshoumaru repeated drolly. Now that it happened, he didn't feel so bad about it. If only she could just accept it. She had obviously accepted him in his demonic haze, so why did she hesitate now? "Just because you humans go around being unfaithful doesn't mean that it works the same way between youkai. I hope you are not thinking of actually marrying that whelp."


"No but's," Sesshoumaru cut her off sharply, his mood worsening steadily at her continued protestations. "Or am I good enough to bed, but not enough to wed?"

"You know I have to marry Kouga," Kagome tried to explain again. Sesshoumaru seemed to have calmed down a bit, and though Kagome supposed she could feel for his frustration, this was something she had to do. If she only had to think of herself, she wouldn't marry Kouga either. He was an absolute Neanderthal. But she had all of humanity to think of. The marriage could make the difference in the war. And if Taiyoukai had kidnapped her father, Kagome was fairly certain that he meant war.

"You know I can't let you do that," Sesshoumaru countered easily. A bit too easily, Kagome thought wearily. "My mate is not going to go near another male sniffing at her legs. Not even going to look at him."

"Sesshoumaru!" Kagome was outraged at the crudeness of his language. He had always seemed so... polite... correct... formal... but now he was blunt and demanding. She had encouraged him to be blunt and demanding, but she hadn't been prepared to feel intimidated by his arrogant confidence. "You have no control over what I do. Besides, I'm not marrying him because I want to marry him. I need to marry him so that the humans don't die."

Sesshoumaru stepped toward her menacingly. Although she still couldn't read the emotion in his gold eyes, there was a strange intensity and an unnatural glint. "Of course I can control what you do. You're my mate."

"Well, isn't that great! And I always thought the girls were the clingy ones." Kagome clenched her fists by her side but refused to take a step back. She refused to be intimidated. True, he was bigger, stronger, more powerful, and speaking very quietly the way only truly angry people do, but she was pretty sure it was just for show. Besides, she could be angry, too.

Although... the red was showing through the gold in his eyes.

"Well, you're my blood-bound," Kagome shouted. It was a low blow, but what needed to be done needed to be done, and he needed to realize that she was not going to give in just because she slept with him. They were on equal footing—she was not inferior just because they had mated or something or other.

However, Sesshoumaru just smiled so that the candlelight reflected off of his red and gold eyes eerily. His teeth gleamed white. "Wrong," he countered coolly. "The blood-bond is one of the bonds in the mating bond, where the male agrees to protect the female. If the entire mating bond is completed... let's just say that the dynamics have changed. You have no control over me now. That's what you get for sleeping with me, little human."

By the end of Sesshoumaru's explanation, Kagome's eyes were wide as saucers. "But..." she managed to say. "None of your previous owners mated..."

"No." Sesshoumaru agreed and snorted derisively as he stepped toward her again. "They died."

He had mated with his previous owners whenever their games pushed Sesshoumaru too far. None of them had been priestesses though—or their powers had been long gone—and his youki had easily overwhelmed their non-existent human spirits, snuffed them out as the cover over the glass jar might put out the candle. It had hurt enough to have the raw mating bonds broken that Sesshoumaru always thought he would never do it again. But the pain had never been debilitating, and although the bonds had simply reverted to blood-bonds to the owners' next-of-kins, Sesshoumaru had had the satisfaction of his owners' grisly deaths.

As Sesshoumaru was still remembering, Kagome found herself backing into a wall despite her earlier determination not to back down in front of Sesshoumaru. Gold eyes peered into her own brown ones. "Scared?" Sesshoumaru taunted.

Kagome debated with herself quickly the merits of lying and gave up. It wasn't as if he couldn't smell her fear or see her backed up against the wall. She nodded once, not taking her eyes off of Sesshoumaru.

For a moment longer—it seemed like an eternity as Kagome held her breath—Sesshoumaru continued looking at her. Suddenly, he turned and stalked out of her room.

Alone in her room, Kagome put both hands over her chest, feeling her heart beat twice—three times—as fast as usual. She remembered to start breathing again when she felt lightheaded. With her relief, her legs gave out unexpectedly under her, leaving her sitting with her back against the wall.

She sat there, wondering what had happened. What would happen.

"Look," Kagome tried to tell Sesshoumaru when she gathered her courage again. The fact that Sesshoumaru hadn't actually hurt her had helped. After all, some dogs' barks were worse than their bites. "Say I agree to be your mate and forget about the alliance with Kouga, what will happen to humans?"

"Why would anything happen to humans?"

"Sesshoumaru!" Kagome said, exasperation clear in her voice. "Taiyoukai might declare war on humans. We need all the allies we can have, and right now, Kouga is the only one."

There was a pause as Sesshoumaru seemed to seriously consider what Kagome said. "Is it really just because you need the alliance to fight against Taiyoukai?"

"What do you think?" Kagome asked and realized that Sesshoumaru could think of a lot of ulterior motives. That he probably thought it was a silly excuse. She sighed and gritted, "Yes, that is the only reason."

"Fine," Sesshoumaru bit out. "We are going to see Touga."

Kagome stared at Sesshoumaru for a moment before understanding what he had just said. Grammatically, she had understood his sentence, but logically... "You want to see Touga Taiyoukai? As in, travel to the Western Lands? Just skip in and hum a ditty as we enter where my father is being held hostage?" Kagome's voice rose with each question.

"Exactly there."

"We are going to where all the bloodthirsty youkai are waiting impatiently to kill humans? Where Touga is sitting and plotting the fall of human civilization and trying to get my father to talk? Gods, he might be torturing my father!"

"You're getting the idea."

"Taiyoukai's going to kill me on sight," Kagome declared. "You have no idea how furious he is at the Higurashi house."

"He'd have to get through me," Sesshoumaru said. "And even if he did, he wouldn't."

"Why? Because you're so special?"

"Yes, I am so special. I—" Sesshoumaru stopped as he was about to divulge the fact that he was the Taiyoukai heir. But for some reason, he didn't want Kagome to come with him because that would be a good political move. He wanted her to come with him because she was willing to. Because she trusted him. She had trusted him, damn it, and why would she trust him less now that she was his mate? "I can convince him."

"Oh, you can 'convince' him. Well, I wish I could do that. Or better yet, my father is the best human diplomat there is, and he didn't 'convince' Taiyoukai," Kagome ranted. Did Sesshoumaru think that she liked sitting idly and waiting for news of her father? Of course she wanted to help, but he thought he could just waltz into the palace of the Lord of the Western Lands and 'convince' the angry Taiyoukai?

"Your father is human. I'm youkai," Sesshoumaru replied. Somehow, his nonchalance only served to irritate Kagome more.

"And what do you expect to happen at the Higurashi house?"

Sesshoumaru grinned at her question. It meant that she was actually willing to go, but she was just being silly and resisting to something risky, which Sesshoumaru supposed he could understand. Humans were always worried when they try something for the first time.

"Let your mother and Kikyou take care of it," he suggested.

"And Sango's wedding?"

"Let her come with us to look for her groom," Sesshoumaru suggested easily. At Kagome's surprise, he added, "You didn't think I actually believed your lie about his sick mother, did you?"

"I..." Then, Kagome decided that there was no point trying to explain to him why she had lied. He had probably already figured it out anyways. "What about Kouga?"

Sesshoumaru's countenance darkened. "Send him back. He's not needed."

Kagome's look told Sesshoumaru how much she appreciated his attitude toward her guest. "His lair is on the way. Why don't we travel with him?"


Kagome narrowed her eyes at Sesshoumaru. "Why not?"

Sesshoumaru simply repeated himself. "No."

"Fine," Kagome snapped. "I'll go with Kouga instead, then. Since he's a youkai, too, he ought to be able to 'convince' Taiyoukai."

Sesshoumaru took a slow step toward Kagome, his clothes rustling to break the tense silence. "Don't you even—"

"Don't you dare tell me what to do," Kagome cut Sesshoumaru off. "Maybe we're mated. And maybe that means something to a youkai. But I'm not a youkai. I'm human. And it doesn't matter a whit to me."

Sesshoumaru's face smoothed out, until only his usual expressions remained, which was really no expression at all, but just a set of well-sculpted features. As he continued looking at Kagome with patent disinterest and hauteur, Kagome fought to not gulp in trepidation. Even she realized that she had probably pushed too far this time.

Kagome sat on her bed, hugging her legs and debating what to do. She hadn't really meant it when she said that she would travel with Kouga. Especially not alone. Just the thought of a week alone with that barbarian made her want to throw something.

Besides, Sesshoumaru had spoken with so much confidence that Kagome thought he must know what had to be done. She realized that he could have been bluffing, but Kagome was no fool and if Sesshoumaru managed to convince her, maybe he could bluff his way through Taiyoukai, too.

And there was a very real chance that Sesshoumaru could actually do something. Maybe he could convince Taiyoukai that the Taiyoukai heir really wasn't in the Higurashi house. As a blood-bound—former blood-bound, Kagome reminded herself and remembered his change in attitude vividly—he might be more convincing than she.

Or, there was always the distant possibility that Sesshoumaru actually knew Taiyoukai or the Taiyoukai heir. After all, youkai lived for a long time. Sesshoumaru might have even grown up in the same courtyard as the Taiyoukai heir. After all, he had had been about to admit something about his past life before he had decided to clamp up again. Improbability didn't equate with impossibility.

Kagome wished that she had more time to decide, but Sesshoumaru was in the sitting room between her and eating dinner or strolling through the gardens, and she should probably make a decision before she saw Sesshoumaru again.

Fine then, Kagome told herself firmly. Right now, she needed her father back, as did the rest of humanity. She was not ready to lead humans and certainly not ready to lose her father. If there was anything she might do to help... She would ask for Sesshoumaru's help, maybe even acquiesce to go without Kouga.

With the decision firmly in mind, she opened her door carefully. Not too fast so she wouldn't betray her anxiety. Not too slow so that he would think she had some ulterior motive for trying to save her own father.

"Sesshoumaru," she said, not quite looking at Sesshoumaru but at the wall behind him.

When she stopped to fortify herself and consider carefully what to say next, Sesshoumaru replied, "Yes, Lady Kagome."

There was something in his voice—maybe the lack of inflection or the lack of emotions of maybe just the mocking 'Lady' he put in front of her name—that drove all the polite words out of Kagome's head. In a burst, she said, "What is your problem with Kouga?"

Sesshoumaru answered with a look that said she should remember the crude words he had spoken earlier... or would she like to hear them again?

Kagome sighed gustily. "Look," she said a bit impatiently, realizing that the scene had already deviated very far from what she had imagined in her head, where she compromised, he agreed, and they made plans to rescue her father. "We're all going in the same direction anyways, and if Taiyoukai's people decide to attack us or something before we see him, Kouga can probably help."

Sesshoumaru opted to stare at her some more as tried to think of an adequate reply. She had been reasonable considering the information she had. Even believing that he could do anything at all had been a leap of faith, and unless he told her that he was the Taiyoukai heir...

He grimaced inwardly at that thought. She could react in several different ways to that revelation: anger for not telling her earlier, fear because he would be powerful, or joy because then the bond would be the perfect way to make peace with Taiyoukai. In any case, she would lose the casualness she acted with him—even if it was by getting riled up so easily.

He would not tell her that he was the Taiyoukai heir—never mind that she would have to find out eventually.

Having no other logical arguments—and knowing that Kagome was actually placing quite a bit of trust in his ability to negotiate with Taiyoukai—he decided that he might as well allow the wolf runt to travel with them. There were other ways he could keep the runt away from her that she would not need to know about.

"Fine," he agreed, more sharply than he had intended.

Kagome opened her mouth for an angry retort, but closed it with an audible click when she realized that he had agreed with her. She had been all ready to say something cutting... and now what was she to say? Finally, she settled for, "Okay, I'll tell Mom, Sango, Kouga, and Kikyou and we can leave as soon as possible."

"Okay," Sesshoumaru repeated Kagome's assertion.

Kagome found that making arrangements to leave was actually quite frustrating and tiring. She wished that she could simply hand off her responsibilities to her mother as her father had done to her, but she actually needed both Kikyou's and her mother's cooperation, and if Kagome put only one in charge, she would definitely offend the other.

So she had gone to her mother first, counting on her mother to make it somewhat easy for her. And it had gone fairly smoothly, even when her mother asked gently what in the world Kagome thought she was doing to trust Sesshoumaru and then patted Kagome on the arm and told her that she should do as she thought best. Kagome was growing up, Mother had said fondly, shaking her head.

So it had gone well... until Kagome had mentioned Kikyou.

"That...?" Had been her mother's exact, incredible reaction. "You want me to lead even though I'm not a Higurashi by birth, fine. You ask to leave with your blood-bound, and I let you. You even think you ought to trust him, and I decide to trust you. But you ask me to cooperate with Kikyou?"

Kagome had tried to hold back a sigh; she had expected this to happen. "Mom, she is a Higurashi by birth, and the priestess, too. And," Kagome had added forcefully when her mother had been about to cut in, "I don't see why you can't cooperate with her."

Then her mother had sighed. "It's not that I refuse to cooperate with her; it's that she refuses to cooperate with me."

"Okay," Kagome had accepted easily. Schadenfreude had always come to Kikyou easier than sympathy. "But will you cooperate if she does?"

Her mother had crossed her arms and huffed a little and then looked at Kagome some more before finally agreeing grudgingly. "I suppose, only for you, but don't keep your hopes up too high."

And then Kagome had had to convince Kikyou.

Kagome had started the conversation with, "I have a favor to ask you."

Kikyou had sat meticulously on her chair and raised one sarcastically solicitous eyebrow. "Oh, do you?"

Kagome had sighed but hadn't rolled her eyes, which she thought spoke remarkably about her self-control. "Yes."

"Hmm..." Kikyou hadn't moved, and acted nonchalant, but Kagome swore she had almost felt Kikyou's anticipation. It had been the aura-kind of thing that priestesses feel, except Kagome didn't have priestess powers. "Let's hear about it."

Kagome had refused to be baited, and in truth, she had had a favor to ask which Kikyou could conceivably decline. "I need you to... take care of the Higurashi house while I'm away."

"Oh, really." Kikyou's voice had smacked uncomfortably of disdain. Like Kagome had always known, Kikyou enjoyed others' misery. "So you've finally decided that you need a Higurashi bastard after all, dear cousin."

Kagome felt the muscles on her face twitching, pushing her to retaliate, but she really did need Kikyou's help. Besides, Kikyou's disdain pushed Kagome away, not the fact that she had been born out of wedlock. "Don't talk about being a bastard—"

"It's unseemly for somebody who might lead the Higurashi house, even temporarily, right?" Kikyou cut in, with a cynical smile to her lips.

"Look," Kagome said forcefully, determined not to have a sparring session. "I already asked mom to take care of the paperwork and stuff, but I would like to have your cooperation, too."

Then, Kikyou had made a couple of jibes at Kagome's mother, about being egotistical and an opportunist. Kagome didn't really care to remember the jibes and she had gotten tired of it soon enough. She had stood up and walked to the door. "If you don't really want to help, that's fine, too."

"Kagome," Kikyou had called Kagome back just as Kagome was about to walk out the door. "I suppose that I should help the Higurashi house if my services really are needed."

"Yes," Kagome had replied. She was glad that Kikyou had agreed, but honestly, Kikyou did not have to act like Kagome had begged and pleaded. Kagome kept the sarcasm out of her words. "I wouldn't know what the Higurashi house would do without your aid."

Kikyou nodded regally and Kagome had left.

Convincing Sango had not been any easier.

"Where do you think you are going to look for Miroku?" Kagome had started off by asking.

"Hmm..." Sango had pursed her lips as she had thought about the answer to that question. Honestly, she hadn't thought about it much, still hoping that Miroku would just show up, explain that something or other happened, she would smack him silly, and then they would get married. Instead, her boomerang had shown up with Kirara, and her world remained conspicuously Miroku free.

"Well," Kagome had continued when Sango had stopped to speculate. "You know, you might want to look to the west."

"You mean, the Western Lands?"

Kagome had winced at Sango's incredulous tone. The plan had sounded like sheer folly when she thought about it. After all, she had just informed Sango that Mr. Higurashi was very probably held against his will at the Western Lands.

"Not quite that far," Kagome amended. "Just, you know, a bit to the west. Near the Ookami Mountain Range..."

"You mean Wolf Prince Kouga's territory?"

Kagome had made a face at Kouga's title. He was not royal, in any sense of the word. "Well... he'd be traveling with us."

Sango had frowned at that. "Why would he do that?"

"Because... I... Well..." Kagome had tried to think of a way to phrase it tactfully and decided to speak bluntly instead. "He's a guest here because he's negotiating for an alliance, and since he has to go back, I thought he'd accompany us and grant us safe passage, you know."

Kagome had waited anxiously for Sango's reply, which turned out to be, "Wait. What do you mean 'us'? You're coming, too?"

"Well..." Kagome had sighed and decided to simply explain everything. Sango was her best friend, and would probably find out everything anyways. "I need to talk with my father before I can decide whether or not to marry Kouga, and he's probably being held hostage by Taiyoukai. Sesshoumaru said he can convince Taiyoukai, and I'm willing to give it a shot."

Apparently, that hadn't explained everything. "You're going with Sesshoumaru? You're trusting a blood-bound?" Then, before Kagome could answer, Sango asked the inevitable question. "You're marrying without love?"

"It's not for sure yet..."

"What about being a Higurashi priestess?" Sango had leaned forward and looked at Kagome closely as she had demanded. Higurashi priestesses lost their power on their wedding night unless they married for true love.

"I'm not a priestess," Kagome had protested.

Sango had ignored Kagome, and reaffirmed what Kagome already knew instead. "Priestesses have to marry for true love, or their spirits become contaminated. You know this."

"I'm not a priestess," Kagome had repeated.

"I'm coming," Sango had decided suddenly, still ignoring Kagome. "If nothing else, I have to tell your father not to let you marry Kouga. Gods, do you want to become a misanthrope like Kikyou? She probably did something stupid with her priestess powers."

"I'm not—" Kagome started for the third time.

Sango stood up. "When are you leaving?"

"I was thinking... tomorrow?"

Sango nodded sharply. "I'm coming."

Kagome had been too tired to argue her point about not being a priestess. She was the exception to the rule that all women born into the Higurashi house became priestesses. They had tested her and retested her since her birth and she had never manifested any priestess powers. They had finally understood that her bow was not going to purify the youkai when she had hit one straight in the eye and it had kept on attacking her.

The next day found the five of them—Kagome, Sesshoumaru, Sango, Kirara, and Kouga—standing outside the door, saying good-bye. Kikyou had said a quick farewell and left with Inuyasha trailing silently behind her. Souta hugged Kagome and asked her to be safe. Sango was assuring the guests that she was only leaving to visit Miroku's sick mother. Kagome's mother was having a "talk" with Sesshoumaru and Kagome really did not want to know what they were saying. They really shouldn't have anything to say anyways.

When Kagome broke apart from Souta, she ruffled his hair. "It's not like I'm going away forever, you know. Not even a very long time. Just a week or two."

Shippou barreled into Kagome. He round, brown eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "You're going without me?"

Kagome nodded. "It's not safe."

"But you're going," Shippou whined and pouted adorably. The kitsune definitely excelled in the cute department.

"Yes," Kagome agreed and looked for an explanation. "But I have Sesshoumaru and Sango and Kouga to protect me."

Shippou smiled sunnily. "Okay."

Kagome waited for him to say more, but he remained suspiciously silent.

Eventually, all the farewells had been farewell-ed and all the good-byes good-byed. They secured their packs and proceeded to walk out of the gate and towards the sun. Since they needed to go through a mountain range, they had decided to walk instead of riding.

"I can't believe it's afternoon already," Sango muttered. "I didn't know it'd take that long for you to say good-bye. Maybe we should've stayed another night."

Kagome glanced at Sango and continued walking. "It's not my fault that the sun sets early in winter."

"No, it's not," Sango agreed. "But we could've left in the morning. Geez, Your Highness."

Kagome lifted her chin to mimic hauteur. "Well, you are practically, too."

Sango laughed and lowered her voice. "Come to think of it, isn't Kouga a prince, too?" At Kagome's nod, Sango continued, "So, it's only Sesshoumaru who doesn't have the royal attitude."

"No," Kagome disagreed. "Sesshoumaru definitely has the royal attitude."


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Property - Chapter Four

Somebody—probably Sango—knocked on Kagome's door early in the morning.

"Hold on, I'm changing," Kagome lied. Hastily, she gathered her pale green sheet and tried to stuff it in the back of her bottom drawer.

Sesshoumaru hadn't done what Kagome had expected. Instead of finding a secluded spot in the gardens somewhere, he had instead led her to her room, quietly and steadily. If Kagome hadn't seen his red eyes, she would have thought that his earlier violence had been merely a figment of her imagination.

Kagome had never thought of herself as particularly reckless. Even as she had followed him docilely back to her own room, she had thought of the consequences of her actions. She knew that it might impair her eligibility as a bride, but she had always expected a political alliance, and nobody cared about her virginity unless there was a scandal. Especially since she would be expected to find love outside of her marriage.

Since they were in her room, there would be no scandal. Even if he announced it to the world, most people would just see her indulgence as her taking advantage of a virile pleasure slave. Most people wouldn't even consider him a person and would therefore think little enough of it. Sometimes, husbands even bought their wives pleasure slaves to "bring the spark back to their marriage."

Still, thinking back on it now, Kagome suspected that her brain and logic had had very little to do with the decision. After the kiss, her mind seemed to have stayed in neutral and let her body take over.

Certainly, the kiss had been superb. The kisses after that, too. Kagome felt herself blushing just remembering what had happened. She hadn't thought about it before, but she realized that she should have known that a pleasure slave would know what to do, even if he was only going on instinct and muscle memory.

Kagome turned aside from the thought of the countless women he had been with before and probably thought nothing of. She had gone into it knowing that he wouldn't remember. Depending on him not remembering so that nothing would become awkward between them. So that he wouldn't become angry at her for taking advantage of him.

Kagome didn't know that there was so much that could be done with his mouth and his hands. She remembered sometime during the night when he had held her hands above her with one strong arm. He had distracted her with kisses and she had forgotten everything else as she looked in his intense red eyes, with specks of gold showing through. His other hand had touched her in the most frustrating ways that left her wanting and she couldn't even remember where he had touched her. Everywhere, she thought. And it had been hard to remain lucid enough to remember not to cry out. She had kept her mouth open to pant quietly.

Particularly when he bit her neck. Kagome had never thought that she would enjoy somebody biting her, but there had been something erotic about the way he had done it. Maybe it was that she could feel his weight on top of hers. Or that she felt warmed by his body heat. Or maybe it was just because it was Sesshoumaru.

She thought she had heard him murmur something then, but it couldn't have been anything important. Youkai weren't coherent when their demon side deprived them of reason.

But then he had stuck a piece of him in between her legs, and that had been painful enough to wake her out of whatever daze she had been in. He had continued the touching and the kissing, but the stinging in between her legs had made it not as enjoyable.

When he had finally spent himself, he had left her bed quietly and fell asleep on his own bed in her sitting room. Kagome had felt the bite of the cold air on her bare skin and pulled up her blanket before falling asleep in her own bed.

This morning, she had felt sore, but otherwise fine. She had thought that all had gone well until she looked at her bed and realized that the red spot was bound to cause a scandal. She barely managed to stuff it all into the drawer and shuffled the blanket a little before Sango announced that she would enter no matter what.

"Hah! I knew it," Sango declared. "You were doing something fishy. You're all dressed."

"I was getting dressed," Kagome protested, but felt her face heating up at being so transparent. Of course, Sango was one of the few people who could always tell if something was up with Kagome.

Sango took a look around the room before her eyes landed on Kagome's bare mattress. "Why isn't there a sheet on your bed?"

"I... spilled tea on it last night," Kagome lied. At Sango's suspicious glance, Kagome added, "It was really late, and I didn't want to wake the servants, since it's just blanket, and you know how tired they always are, especially after what happened at dinner last and all. And I don't know where the sheets are, so I can't get them myself and—"

"You're babbling," Sango cut Kagome off. "Besides, I don't really care if you spilled tea or something else as long as you are going to be fine for my wedding. You know that you are my friend no matter what."

Kagome smiled weakly but knew that Sango would keep her secret. Still, Sango would tease her at every turn.

"So, when is Miroku coming?" Kagome asked.

Sango accepted the change of subject. "On the morning of the wedding, he said. Otherwise, he'd be too tempted to... visit me," Sango said with a grimace. "I hope he realizes that I'm not going to be anything special is bed."

"It's not what you do, but who you are," Kagome said.

Sango raised one eyebrow. "Oh?"

Kagome decided to ignore Sango's teasing and nodded seriously. "That's why it's true love."

"And you would know..."

"Because I come from a long line of priestesses, of course," Kagome said. "Everybody knows that priestesses don't marry until they meet their true loves."

Kikyou tugged at her priestess outfit as she stood and waited to officiate the wedding between Sango and Miroku. Even though she knew she looked no different, she felt as if the white shirt no longer fit her. After all, she was no longer virgin white.

Maybe she shouldn't even officiate this wedding. After all, she wasn't a true priestess anymore.

She'd never liked weddings. Killing youkai and healing the sick were things she could do, but weddings rubbed at her the wrong way. Maybe it was because her parents were never married—and therefore she became the charity case. Maybe it was because vows had been proven empty between Inuyasha and herself. Maybe it was because she thought the whole idea of it was rather silly.

After all, why tie yourself to somebody else? Forever? If two people were meant to be, nothing could pull the apart. And if two people grew out of each other, they would break free of even the strongest chains.

Still, officiating weddings were one of the functions of the Higurashi priestess, like most showy ceremonial bullshit.

Sango tugged at the pillow in the back of her kimono, jerking it awry. Kagome pulled it back in place for the umpteenth time.

"It's all right," Kagome tried to calm Sango down. "You said he is not going to be here until this morning. Maybe an axel broke or something."

Sango looked at the clock unhappily. "He's half an hour late for the wedding already, and he was supposed to be here two hours before the wedding. What could have held him up? What if there was a carriage accident?"

"I didn't say accident," Kagome corrected herself quickly. "I was just saying—"

"What if a youkai attacked him?" Sango seemed intent on following her own train of thought to its grisly end. "The woods can be quite dangerous, and he can handle a lone youkai fine, but what if some of them gang up on him?"

"You know youkai in that wood aren't intelligent enough to—"

"What if there were human bandits?" Sango continued. "They can be quite malicious and Miroku doesn't know what to do without his holy powers which would not harm humans. Bandits wouldn't even leave him with his cart. He'd have to walk the rest of his way. And if he were attacked by a youkai without even his staff—because that is quite an antique, you know?"

"Yes, I know," Kagome agreed. "But you mustn't think that anything bad happened to him."

"Nothing bad has happened to him?" Sango repeated.

"Probably," Kagome said hesitantly. "You can't just believe the worst case scenario."

"Well, if nothing has happened to him..." Sango paused in thought and Kagome had a really bad feeling about what Sango would say next. Kagome was right. "Then, he must have decided that he doesn't want to marry me after all."

Sango sat down suddenly, her tears making her makeup run and ruining her kimono. "I knew it. I knew why he always wanted to sleep with me and said all those pretty words and..."

"Sango," Kagome tried to think of something appropriate to say. "You know that he loves you. He would do anything to have you in his life. You don't know what happened... So—"

"You're right." Kagome's last comment had brought energy and purpose back to Sango's expression. "I don't know what happened. So, I will find out. If he doesn’t get here soon, I'm going to find out why he isn't here, and it better be a good reason. Because I will have my boomerang and I know how to use it, too."

"Sango?" Kagome said when Sango finished.


"Just make sure you give him a chance to talk first."

Kikyou undressed herself and folded the officiating clothes carefully. Kagome had informed her that the wedding would be delayed. It would mean more anticipation. More anxiety. And more watching people who would be so happy that two souls were joined as one.

Kikyou snorted. As if anything in the world had the power to do that.

As she pulled on the last of her practice clothes, she heard the door to her room open. Turning around, she saw Inuyasha. "What do you want?" She demanded, harsher than she meant to, but he deserved it all the same.

Inuyasha's gold eyes looked away, as if he wasn't sure either. "I knew you weren't feeling very happy..." he started.

"Don't bother," Kikyou cut him off. "You aren't getting freed a second time."

"I don't want to be freed," Inuyasha said quietly, surprising Kikyou. "There's a reason repudiation is the harshest punishment." His gold eyes held Kikyou's brown ones. "Besides, I like knowing what you feel. I want to know how I can help you. I don't... want to be cut off from you."

"Sweet words," Kikyou said bitterly. "But they won't get you anywhere."

"I don't understand..."

"What do you mean you don't understand? Do you think I don't know what you are trying to do? Always trying to take advantage of me. Everybody's always trying to take advantage of me. You. The Higurashis. The people that want help from me. They all think I should just give every bit of myself away. But I'm not like that. I want some things for myself, too, but I guess priestesses aren't allowed that privilege."

Kikyou got a hold of herself and took a deep breath. "Besides, you don't think I've forgotten about Kaede, do you?"

Inuyasha looked away again. "I know you feel guilty for her death—"

"You know nothing!" Kikyou said fiercely, taking a step toward him.


"You don't know, do you?" Kikyou asked suddenly. Then, she laughed, a brittle, mad sound like a broken mirror. "You don't remember, do you? But of course you don't."

Inuyasha frowned in puzzlement. "What..." Then, his gaze cleared and he stepped back in shock. "You don't mean... that Kaede was... that I..."

Kikyou only nodded, calm again. "That you killed Kaede? Yes, that's exactly what I mean."

"But... I couldn't have."

"Oh, you're strong enough, no doubt, and she trusted you," Kikyou said, twisting the knife with her words, wanting Inuyasha to feel all the anguish and hurt she had felt for the past two years. "And I saw you with my own eyes. I couldn't believe that you would do that just after I had believed in you and freed you, but I guess I didn't know you very well."

"Kikyou..." Inuyasha took a step toward her and stopped. If what she had said were true—and it added up with all the other facts—then there was nothing he could say to her. If he really killed that easily, even in the aftermaths of repudiation, then she was right to bond him again. "I guess you were right to bond me then. You never should have freed me in the first place."

"Inuyasha?" Kikyou asked, a bit uncertain. She had been ready for disbelief and anger and accusations, but his simple acceptance pulled at a love that she had thought long dead.

"It's okay, Kikyou," Inuyasha said solemnly. "I lived only to serve you. And now I do. And you can never keep me too far away from you."


"Good night, Kikyou."

Kikyou let Inuyasha walk away without saying anything further. What was there to say? They both knew that an apology would be both worthless and meaningless, since Inuyasha was in a demonic haze when he had killed Kaede.

For some absurd reason, though, Kikyou felt as if there was something left to be said.

There was a guest waiting, the servant had informed Kagome, pulling her out of her stroll through the gardens. Kagome wondered what kind of guest. Most of the taijiya were staying in the Higurashi house, and she thought perhaps it was taijiya business, since she didn't expect anybody.

At the receiving room, though, she found a man sitting belligerently with both his arms and legs crossed. He dressed in what looked like rags of animal fur covering pieces of armor. His black hair was tied into a pony tail with a hair band to pull up any stray hair. Kagome suspected that he had not cut his hair in a long time. He eyed her insolently as she entered the room. Overall, he looked barely civilized and Kagome was impressed that he knew how to sit and wait at all.

"Hi, I am Kagome Higurashi," Kagome introduced herself, following protocol, something that her father had taught her so that she would not offend youkai.

"So, you are the daughter," the man—no, youkai, Kagome amended as she saw his pale blue eyes—said instead of introducing himself, as protocol demanded. He didn't even stand up.

"And may I inquire after the nature of your business at the Higurashi house?" Kagome demanded as she sat down across from him. If he refused to follow protocol, she could be rude, too.

"Oh, well, your father saw me several days ago, and said you'd be interested in an alliance," the youkai answered.

Kagome searched her memory for several seconds before she returned to staring at him. "You are Kouga?"

Kouga pointed a thumb at himself. "Yup," he answered, grinning wolfishly. "Wolf Prince Kouga, that's me. Pleased to see you."

Kagome sighed as she reached across to shake his hand. At least, he was starting to behave somewhat civilized. There must be hope still if he knew how to shake hands. Even if the hope was minimal.

"So, why isn't my father here with you?"

"Oh, that..." Kouga shifted his weight on the chair. Then shifted again before settling down. "Well, he met me at my lair, and then he left. I sent two of my men to lead him out of the mountains. They were both unconscious when I found them, and... somebody who didn't like your father took him."

"You mean, he's being held hostage?"

Kouga nodded reluctantly. "I don't know who did it, but the bastard is going to pay for messing with me in my own territory."

"And you are here because?" Kagome pushed him back to the subject at hand. She had decided that Kouga didn't know the meaning of elegance—he had used "bastard" in the presence of a woman he didn't know—and that blunt was probably the best way to deal with him.

"Oh," Kouga answered. "For that alliance your father asked."

"And how would that work?" Kagome asked, more than a little suspicious. Even if Taiyoukai was significantly more powerful than Kouga, what could possibly induce Kouga to ally with the humans temporarily? Unless he somehow planned to make it permanent, and Kagome didn't see how that would work.

Kouga grinned. "Why, you marry me, of course."

Kagome choked in shock. "Marry you?" That would certainly make the alliance permanent.

Kouga frowned at her inability to understand him. "You are the princess of the Higurashi house. I am the Wolf Prince. If our houses are allied, humans would stop hating us, and we'd be able to hide in villages without fear of youkai and humans attacking us."

"Wait. You plan to hide in villages from youkai? Then, what happens when the youkai attacks the village?"

"We run to another village."

Kagome sighed in exasperation. "And how, exactly, do you propose to help us?"

"Oh, that," Kouga said.

Yes, that, Kagome thought as she gritted her teeth and forced herself not to say it aloud.

"Well, we're youkai," Kouga explained, with a generous smile showing off his fangs. "Since your father wanted somebody youkai to fight alongside humans to boost their morals, we can do that."

"Yes," Kagome agreed warily. "Alongside humans, not behind humans."

Kouga shrugged. "All the same. So, when are we getting married?"

"Well, we are in the middle of something right now," Kagome said. "I don't know when this is going to be wrapped up. And for a political alliance like this, I really need to wait for my parents' permission and draft up all the legal documents. We still need to decide on the details—"

"It's okay for me," Kouga said, displaying obvious naiveté at handling anything political. "I can see you're cute."

"Well, I need time to prepare, then," Kagome restated. "And in the meanwhile, I'm sure that you are tired from traveling all the way from the mountains. I'll have a servant show you to your rooms."

"Sure," Kouga agreed easily. "Don't take too long, though. My brothers are waiting for my glorious return."

Kagome refrained from sighing as she left the room and Kouga followed the servant.

"You smell like youkai."

Sesshoumaru's comment stopped Kagome as she walked through the sitting room to sleep on her bed. It was still early, but she felt weary and let out a sigh. "I know."

"Who is it?" Sesshoumaru demanded, even though he knew he probably shouldn't, but since he had come out of heat, he had found that his attraction to her had increased instead of waning as he had expected. His blood was supposed to have cooled with the end of being in heat.

Kagome did not want to think about the encounter she just had. The "Wolf Prince" had not been what she had expected. He had caught her at a bad time, what was with Miroku not showing up. He had expected her to marry him... and started off with her on the wrong foot. Then, he had told her that her father was kidnapped, probably by the most powerful youkai in the world. "Just... don't talk to me about it."

Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed at her command, but his glare was lost on her since she was walking toward her bedroom again. And the fact that he smelled male, unmated youkai chafed at some part of him that he didn't care to analyze.

"So who is it?" Sesshoumaru found himself asking again despite her command. And without pain for disobeying her.

Kagome sighed. She just wanted to flop down on her bed and sleep for a week and wake up to find that none of this had happened and that it was still the day before Sango's wedding. "Kouga."

Sesshoumaru hadn't heard Kagome's answer; he had been too busy trying to understand why the blood-bond was... not acting like a blood-bond. He could sense her emotions—fatigue, trepidation, irritation—and so the blood-bond must still exist. But it had been altered somehow, sometime, and Sesshoumaru had had no idea.

"Who?" Sesshoumaru asked again.

"I'm sleeping. Don't want to talk anymore," Kagome informed Sesshoumaru before she dropped onto her bed and fell asleep, without even taking off her slippers.

The way she laid diagonally across the bed with her feet hanging off the edge looked extremely uncomfortable. Sesshoumaru found himself walking over and slipping the shoes off of her feet and gently placing her so that she could sleep comfortably. He pulled the green blanket—which did not match the navy blue sheet—to cover her a bit.

Sesshoumaru was about to leave when he found himself staring at her again and wondering how the blood-bond could have changed without disappearing. He knew of only one way, but it couldn't have happened...

Sesshoumaru tested the bond again...