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.