Sunday, March 19, 2006

Property - Chapter Eleven

"Father," Sesshoumaru called just as his father was about to enter the room where Kagome waited to discuss the terms of Higurashi's release.

"Yes, Sesshoumaru?" Touga answered. Perhaps he had lost his son for five hundred years, but he still knew how people thought, and he knew--he hoped--that his son's psyche was not so warped and deviated from five hundred years or forced blood-bond. "Is there any particular condition you'd like to ask for?"

Sesshoumaru looked away and then back at his father's gold eyes. Both he and Inuyasha had inherited their eyes from their father. "Don't... make it too hard on her."

Touga's eyes widened in surprise, but it was already too late for Sesshoumaru to phrase his request differently. He wondered if he had helped or hurt Kagome.

After a reassessing gaze, Touga asked, "You're not a blood-bound anymore, are you?"

Sesshoumaru fixed his stare on the wall behind his father. "I'm blood-bound."

At this, a frown crossed his father's brows. "But you are no longer a blood-bound. I wonder..." Much to Sesshoumaru's irritation, his father didn't finish the sentence. Instead, he said, "I can try to honor your request, but the whole of the Western Lands is at stake."

After a slight hesitation, Sesshoumaru nodded. It was the best his father could do, and Sesshoumaru was already being selfish by asking even this much leniency to be shown to a mere human. Still... "She never did anything wrong."

Touga nodded. "But her father still lied."

"Her father didn't know."

His father put a consoling hand on Sesshoumaru's arm. "Let me handle this. I have experience."

Reluctantly, Sesshoumaru nodded. He understood why he couldn't join the negotiation. He was biased, if not for his father, then against him. He would upset the balance between Kagome and his father by making the negotiation two against one. He would...

But damn it, he thought, Kagome would be worried. He knew he would be able to feel her anxiety through the bond and he wouldn't be there to comfort her. He wouldn't be able to do anything about it. He wouldn't even be able to lie by her side platonically, because it would cause a scandal.

His hands fisted in frustration, but he walked away. If he couldn’t do anything about it, he would rather be somewhere far away. Preferable with wooden blocks or trees he could blow apart.

"Don't worry," his father soothed in vain. "But I want to talk to you afterwards."

Again, Sesshoumaru nodded. He wanted to talk to his father too, if only to know exactly what would transpire during the negotiation. But for now, he forced himself to leave the corridor.

Kagome had no idea of how to begin the negotiation. Touga Taiyoukai was an imposing figure, tall with broad shoulders and a commanding air like Sesshoumaru. However, unlike Sesshoumaru, she didn't know if she could trust him. Certainly, he would have the Western Lands' best interests and if she wanted something against that...

The question, then, she supposed, was if having her father released and maintaining peace conflicted with Touga's agenda.

"I suppose you knew that your father traveled to the Western Lands." Touga knew he had startled her, but he didn't intend to wait forever for her to speak. He almost wished that he had simply dealt with the elder Higurashi instead of this completely inexperienced girl. Still, he had to negotiate with her. "I did not ask for his presence; I asked for my son's."

Kagome nodded dumbly.

After a slight pause in which Touga determined that Kagome didn't have anything to add, he continued, "And now my son is here."

Again, she nodded.

"Which was what I asked had asked for originally." After a significant pause, Touga leaned forward. He was glad that Kagome seemed compliant, but he wondered at how intimidated she felt. He wanted to impress on her that he was letting her off easy, which he was. "But why did your father lie about my son's presence in your house? What did he hope to gain? And how can I let somebody lie to me so blatantly? If I do not punish him, my people will lose trust in me."

Kagome looked at her fisted hands in her lap, doing her best to keep away the frustrated tears. "He didn't know," she told Taiyoukai. "He never met Sesshoumaru before he left for here."

"'Met,' huh? I am quite aware that blood-bounds are often dirty little secrets kept out of sight." He saw Kagome's face flush in embarrassment, maybe because he had hit the truth or because she was completely innocent. "However, even if you speak the truth, your father should have searched the household more thoroughly."

He was right, Kagome realized. But... "Can we settle this peacefully?"

"Of course, I don't want a war either," Touga spread his hands in a magnanimous gesture. "And I do not find satisfaction in debasing others. So, my conditions are quite simple."

Kagome felt hope lifting in her chest. Maybe she could do it.

"These are the conditions," Touga continued. "As you know, Sesshoumaru is the Taiyoukai heir. I want him fit to be the Lord of the Western Lands, which means without burdens. I want you to release him from his blood-bound."

"But he says he's not a blood-bound anymore."

"He's not," he agreed easily. "But he is still blood-bound."

Sesshoumaru had mentioned that before. "Then, how do I release him from his blood-bound?"

Touga looked at the girl in front of assessingly again. "Tell him, 'You are unworthy to protect me and I severe all ties with you.' It's not so much the words but the sentiments behind it that would release the bond."

During Touga's explanation, Kagome's eyes had widened steadily. "But," she barely managed to choke out. "That's repudiation."

He answered gravely, "It's the only way to free him from you."

Free him from her. She was a burden, she knew. She couldn't travel fast enough. She didn't know how things worked. She was ignorant and oblivious a lot of the times. But to be told that she was a burden...

Except all of it was true. All Kagome could object was, "I heard it hurts."

Touga grinned with a self-deprecating edge. "Like hell," he answered. "Still, this pain lasts only a while. If the blood-bond is not severed, he will always be tied to you. The blood-bond forces him to protect you, if not obey your every whim. It forces him to want to be near you so that he can protect you. And he cannot be the Lord of the Western Lands like that."

There, Kagome thought vaguely. There, Touga Taiyoukai explained it all: why Sesshoumaru was nice to her, why he had rushed her to the village, why he protected her and comforted her. None of it was of his own free will, but an inclination resulted from a blood-bond forced upon him.

At least, Touga didn't ask for war. But she felt her ribs constricting around her heart as she agreed to his proposition.

"I'm glad you can see it my way," Touga said. "And I hope you won't alienate him from his own father by telling him that I asked this of you."

Kagome shook her head blindly. "Of course not," she managed to whisper.

Sesshoumaru wasn't hers, Kagome told herself. One person can't own another. And it's not like she was in love with him or anything. It was just a silly little infatuation. And even if it wasn't, nothing could come of it, because neither youkai nor humans would want hanyou heirs. Kouga was exception because he led only a tribe, but for Sesshoumaru... youkai would think that it was their own self-interest to rebel. And even if all that wasn't true, Sesshoumaru didn't love her. He already had Rin.

"I'll have someone show you to your rooms, then," Touga's announcement drew Kagome back to the bleached reality.

"Rin," Sesshoumaru greeted as he entered the private dining room, which was always filled with hors d'oevres, even if it was not meal time. Guests showed up all the time and even the residents of the house enjoyed always having snack available.

"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin looked up from the table. Her newest hobby was ikebana and she was fiddling with the centerpiece on the long table. "I really did miss you."

He smiled at that sentiment. They had not seen each other for ten years, since she was eight years old and the bastard child of a servant in a house he had served. Once, when he had been punished for an imagined transgression, his mistress had told him not to ask for food. The servants had not served him unless he had asked and he had almost starved to death despite his demon heritage because of his profusely bleeding wounds caused by his mistress in the first place. It had been Rin who had seen him and brought him kitchen leftovers. Not gourmet, but beggars couldn't be choosers.

Later, her mother had died. Her mother's protection had been flimsy at best, but after her mother's death, nothing shielded her from the sick attentions of some of the residents and guests at his mistress's mansion.

Sesshoumaru had managed to find a loophole in one of his mistress's orders and had pointed Rin to the direction of the Western Lands with a lock of his hair as token for safe passage. He had wanted her out—he had owed her a debt and came to see her as his daughter or little sister—before he went in heat and crumbled the castle with his bloodlust. He had not seen her since, but he was glad to know that she had made it.

"And I am glad to see that you are safe." He paused trying to gauge her mood. "I do object to the insinuations..."

Rin blushed at that and for one crazy moment, Sesshoumaru thought she was going to admit to a crush on him. "Oh, that, well, I know how you don't really like... having woman demand things of you and she... well... looked like one of them. So, I just thought... maybe I could... you know... help you keep her away."

"Oh." Sesshoumaru ran a hand through his hair. "I appreciate it..." He wondered how he should explain that he was not a blood-bound anymore. And more importantly, how if Kagome did have some... demands... they would not be unwelcomed.

Thankfully, Rin figured it out without his explanation. "You like her!" She turned back to her ikebana arrangement. Quietly, she apologized, "I'm sorry. I thought..."

"It's all right." It wasn't like Kagome had had "demands" anyways.

At that moment, a servant entered the room. He coughed politely and announced, "Your father would like to see you in his study, Sesshoumaru-sama."

Sesshoumaru nodded. Then, he said to Rin, "I will see you later."

"Yes, father?" Sesshoumaru stood in the study with his father. His shoulders felt tense.

His father walked over to a cabinet with a strong ward over it. He grabbed a sword from within the cabinet. "I wanted to give you your sword."

"My sword?" Sesshoumaru was unaware that his father had kept his sword. It was a wooden one, after all, just for practicing, since he had not yet finished his martial arts training when he became a blood-bound.

"The Tenseiga," Touga elaborated, holding out a simply but elegant sword. It was not Sesshoumaru's wooden sword. "I had two swords made from two of my fangs after both you and Inuyasha left. I knew that I could no longer protect you, but my fangs are powerful, and they would be able to aid you."

Touga handed Tenseiga to Sesshoumaru with both hands. Carefully, Sesshoumaru drew the shining, unblemished blade from its scabbard. A strong sword with a sharp edge, which meant it was a superb sword, but Sesshoumaru did not see any special qualities at which his father had hinted.

"It's made especially for you." Touga moved to sit behind his desk. "Just as Tessaiga is made for Inuyasha. The Tenseiga can channel your destructive rage so that you can think rationally in a fight."

With this new information, Sesshoumaru examined the sword again. He still couldn't feel any special wards, but he supposed that it might be inherent in a sword made from a piece of a youkai. Besides, even if it had no magical qualities, it was a good sword, and Sesshoumaru was in need of a good sword, among other weapons.

"Thank you," he accepted graciously. "And what does the Tessaiga do?"

Touga sighed and looked at the other sword still in the cabinet. "It's difficult to be a hanyou, because they are not truly half and half. Instead, they are both youkai and human, with two separate auras, and the two parts are always warring for supremacy. So, like your sword, his lets out his youki, but his does so completely, so that only the human remains in him."

Sesshoumaru pondered over that for a moment. Then, he asked, "So, it would be like the new moon of the month."

Touga nodded. "Go practice with your sword. You probably need to get used to it."

Obediently, Sesshoumaru left the room to go to the courtyard. The moon lit up pale flowers that blossomed so early in the year. He couldn't remember what the flower was called, but he remembered how his mother, Izayoi, had loved them. She used to say that they were the most beautiful because they blossomed in the harshest conditions. He supposed he understood her sentiment now, although it had always confused her when he was a child. Women were supposed to like roses. Izayoi had been one of the winter blossoms, too.

It wasn't until he was halfway through the first basic set that he remembered he had forgotten to ask his father about the negotiations. He wasn't too worried, though, since Kagome would probably tell him in the morning.

"You're leaving already?" Rin sounded aghast as Kagome, her father, Sango, Miroku, Shippou, and Kirara prepared to leave the next morning.

"We have to," Kagome replied. She couldn't understand why Rin sounded upset. They had barely spoken two words and if she was in Rin's position, she wouldn't want Sesshoumaru's former mistress around. "Besides, I'm sure you can take good care of Sesshoumaru."

"I—" Rin was about to explain when Sesshoumaru cut in.

"I'll escort you until Kouga's territory."

"Thank you, but there's no need, as long as you send word out to not attack us," Kagome's father declined the offer. He didn’t seem very much the worse for wear. The only obvious effect of his stay at the Taiyoukai house was his fatigue.

"Nevertheless, I will escort you," Sesshoumaru announced.

This time, Higurashi didn't object. Kagome had to agree that if Sesshoumaru had been intimidating before, he was doubly so now. He was dressed in what she supposed was his full regalia, complete with armor and a white pelt. A sword hung from his waist.

Another part of Kagome was not too concerned about Sesshoumaru's appearance. This part of her considered his insistence to accompany her. His worry for her had made her flutter strangely before she realized that it was forced upon him by the blood-bond, and it fell like an anvil, leaving her feeling strangely empty.

"Sesshoumaru," she said. She should do it now. Get it over with. Save him several days of pointless travel. "I would like to say something to you." She glanced around a little. "In private."

Nodding, Sesshoumaru led them to a meadow on the estate. He wondered what Kagome wanted to say. Did she hope to dissuade him? She should know his obstinacy and persistence by now. Or did she want to say good-bye? Tell him that it had been fun traveling with him? Or did she... He didn't want to think about the possibility because he wanted so much... but did she want to make promises? Tell him that she would return? He hoped she would. After all, the Higurashis and the Taiyoukais were not enemies.

"I..." Kagome started when they reached the meadow. The grass barely reached their ankles and tickled her softly.

Sesshoumaru found his heart hanging strangely in his chest. It must be beating... but everything seemed so still as he waited for her to finish her sentence.

Kagome took a deep breath to steady her thoughts. It was not the words but the sentiment. She had to think about what she was going to say, and it was difficult, because she didn't think that he was unworthy. And because after this... he would not want to be near her anymore or comfort her or protect her. Even if the blood-bond forced it on him, she had liked being able to depend on him to fight off the evil youkai and to be there when a nightmare frightened her awake.

Still, she was being unfair to him. And to his father, if she reneged on the agreement. But mostly, she was being unfair to him, tying him to her, even if he didn't think so.

She let out her breath and spoke quickly and quietly, "You are unworthy to protect me and I severe all ties with you." At the last moment, she looked away from him, not wanting to see the pain his gold eyes. Before he could react—she didn't want to know how he would react—she walked back to join her father and her friends.

It was unnecessary, though, since Sesshoumaru did not react visibly. All he could feel was the bond snapping like an old rubber band and hitting him in the chest, the agony forcing him to his knees. The pain was shattering, like a glass ball exploding from his stomach. Still, he could think and understand her words and wonder why she had repudiated him. How had he been inadequate and unworthy? It felt like betrayal... and worse...

And it was Kagome who had done this to him. He would have expected this from anyone but her. He supposed, though, that one can never know another person completely. Kagome, apparently, hadn't been what she seemed either.

And anger. How dare she accuse him of being unworthy when he had done everything—everything!—he could have done and ask for nothing in return? How dare she cut him off as if she were so much better than he when he was the Taiyoukai heir, and she nothing but a human woman? How dare she give him so much pain when he had only offered her comfort and protection?

A red haze started to rim his vision and he pulled blindly on a sword to do something—anything. And yet, the bloodlust was strangely empty as he let the tip of his sword sink deep into the frozen ground.

The Tenseiga, he thought bitterly. He couldn't not think, because the Tenseiga would take away his bloodlust.

For a long moment, he knelt there, his sword in the ground. His vision was red, but he didn't know what to do. He knew, though, that nothing would alleviate the pain except for time.

When he finally stood up, the sun had already set. He brushed the grass away from his knees, but they only sprang back up. He felt different, but it was not so bad, he decided. After all, he had survived five hundred years with this kind of hate and loathing simmering in his chest.