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."