Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Property - Chapter Ten

"We shouldn't leave," Kagome objected when Sesshoumaru suggested that they start traveling again. "Sango's not here yet."

"We have been here for three days already," Sesshoumaru pointed out reasonably. "The longer we take to reach the Western Lands, the more danger your father will be in."

"Yes," Kagome agreed reluctantly. "But... what about Sango?"

"She can do well enough on her own. She's a taijiya," Sesshoumaru said. The words sounded like a compliment, but the way he pronounced "taijiya" made it seem as if he were disgusted with Sango's profession. Well, it made sense, since taijiya exterminated youkai.

"I can escort you," Kouga offered unexpectedly.

"Oh, thank you for the offer," Kagome started.

Sesshoumaru cut in, "But we won't come to harm in the Western Lands."

Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru sharply. "How do you know that? Anyways, the offer is very gracious, but we shouldn't impose on you more than we already have."

"We shouldn't," Sesshoumaru agreed blandly.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like to me to accompany you further?" Although Kouga's question was directed at the both of them, he was looking at Kagome.

Kagome hesitated a little. It would be nice to have an extra person along in case something did happen, but she already felt guilty for depending on Kouga so much even though they probably wouldn't form an alliance. Besides, Sesshoumaru seemed rather capable of defending all them... but sometimes, like right now, he would ride a strange mood and act completely... unsociable? Grim? Ruthless and callous? None of those were quite the right words, but they came close.

Sesshoumaru treated Kouga to a harsh stare. "Do you not trust my ability to handle situations in the Western Lands?"

It was a simple and valid question, Kagome thought, especially since Kouga was the Wolf Prince and Sesshoumaru was... well, a former blood-bound. To her surprise, though, Kouga stiffened up before backing up a step. "Of course I do," his tone was placating, at odds with the tension that she felt emanating from him. "I was simply offering my assistance to Lady Kagome, since it can be dangerous for a human to be in a hostile youkai territory. I have full confidence that you are completely capable of protecting yourself in the Western Lands."

"I can protect her," Sesshoumaru asserted.

Kouga gave Sesshoumaru a stare which Kagome couldn’t decipher. "Make sure that you do."

It was early afternoon when the mountainous terrain finally eased into flat grasslands. Kagome would not even have noticed it except that a strange youkai ran towards them and inquired after their business.

"What is your business?"

Unsure of quite what to say—she had never been outside the human territory—Kagome looked at Sesshoumaru for advice.

For a moment, Sesshoumaru seemed to glower at the youkai, and then he responded, "We are traveling to the Taiyoukai House."

"You can't do that. It's closed except for important things," the sentry responded immediately, making Kagome's heart sink. She had never really thought that they would convince the Taiyoukai Lord to release her father easily, but to be stopped so soon from their mission...

In her arms, Shippou tensed, pulling Kagome's attention back to the two youkai. She looked over to Sesshoumaru to see his eyes fading back to gold... from red?

"I can't?" Sesshoumaru inquired softly.

"O-o-o-of c-c-c-course, y-you c-c-can," the sentry started stuttering. He leaned away from Sesshoumaru, his eyes frightfully large. "I-I h-have n-no-no right t-to stop y-you, L-l-lord T-t-t-t-t-taiyoukai."

"Oh, and you needn't bother informing anyone of my arrival," Sesshoumaru added.

"Y-y-yes, L-l-lord T-taiyoukai," the sentry replied. He gave Kagome a suspicious look before scampering off.

"Shall we?" Sesshoumaru gestured to the path through the field.

Kagome nodded and followed as Shippou hopped onto the ground again, now that the strange youkai was gone.

"I know that you are a taiyoukai," Kagome finally asked, unable to rein in her curiosity anymore. "But why do all the youkai refer to you as Lord Taiyoukai? I mean, there are other taiyoukais around. All youkai with human forms are taiyoukai. The sentry was a taiyoukai. Even Shippou is going to become a taiyoukai."

Sesshoumaru still led the way ahead of Kagome and Shippou. He seemed confident of where he was going and since Kagome had no idea, she simply followed. Besides, they had been heading in the right direction so far. Without turning around, he answered casually, "Taiyoukai is also a name."

"I know that," Kagome answered a bit impatiently. "We are going to see the Touga Taiyoukai."

Sesshoumaru forced himself to continue walking. There was no reason for him to be tense. He was in his own land, with his own people, and Kagome could no longer hurt him. But she never had. And if she left him... or became scared of him... Sesshoumaru didn't want to think about that. What did Kagome matter, now that he had his land and power again?

But a tiny part of him asked what did land or power matter, if he had to lose Kagome?

Which was really stupid, because he had only known Kagome for such a short time... but he felt as if he knew her inside and out. But she still shouldn't be important to him... except although he could think that rationally, his instincts clamored for him to act differently, as if she was important to him.

She should know who he was, he thought. He had told himself this. And he had told her. But the silly girl would not let her mind wrap around the idea that he was the Taiyoukai heir, for whom Touga was looking.

Was it her obstinate need to be right? It didn't seem so, as she had listened to Sango and him various times. Was she being protective about her father's innocence? But his secret identity would not change her father's ignorance.

Or was it hat she simply could not believe that he had deceived her? But she didn't know him very well and he hadn't indicated that he was trustworthy. It would have been stupid of her to believe him.

But she had listened to him. She had even trusted him when he was explaining to her about himself. She might have been skeptical or wary or aghast or anything else, but she had trusted that he would tell her the truth.

And he would have. He remembered deciding to reveal his identity to convince her of the necessity of this trip. But he also remembered the strange... inclination to refrain from telling her. He had wanted to interact with her as her equal. He had wanted her to trust him and listen to him without the mantle of power. He had expected for her to find out eventually.

Except she was being willfully oblivious. He even told her that Taiyoukai was a name, and she didn't react.

"I know that you're a taiyoukai and all," Kagome went on behind Sesshoumaru, not sensing his internal turmoil. "But honestly, with their trembling and differential treatment, it almost makes me think that you are the Lord of the Western Lands or something."

Not quite, but close, Sesshoumaru thought. He tried to think of a way to answer her that wouldn’t seem condescending but would make her realize the truth.

He was spared that by a shout from behind them. "Wait up!" Sango shouted. Kirara flew in the sky, catching up with them with her great youkai strides. When she caught up, Sango jumped deftly off of Kirara before Miroku got a chance to grope her.

"Sango," Kagome shouted happily and gave her friend a hug. "I thought you wouldn't catch up. And... hi, Miroku."

"And you are as beautiful as always, Kagome-sama," Miroku replied, as he would have normally. Funny, Kagome thought vaguely, she had expected Miroku to have changed now that he stood Sango up. Instead, everything seemed to have returned to the way it had been before their engagement.

"Taijiya," Sesshoumaru acknowledged with a slight nod. "Priest." He was not nearly so generous with Miroku, merely turning back around after an assessing stare.

Kagome followed Sesshoumaru, chattering to her friend, as if they had been apart for years instead of days. Miroku followed them grudgingly with Kirara. Shippou wandered, sometimes hopping in front of Sesshoumaru and sometimes riding on Kirara.

"You looked so mad when we just caught up to you." Somehow, the conversation had turned back to earlier this afternoon.

"I was," Kagome agreed readily and with much vehemence. "I hate it when people make cryptic comments."

"People? Cryptic comments?"

"I just asked him why the sentry called him 'Lord Taiyoukai' as if the sentry himself wasn't a taiyoukai," Kagome expected, using copious gestures to express her frustration. "And all he'd say was that 'Taiyoukai is a name.' As if I don't know that! Of course I know that! Touga Taiyoukai is the Lord of the Western Lands and I'm going to see him. And there are Touga's sons, who would both be Taiyoukai—Taiyoukai! See, I know it's a name. The Taiyoukai heir is a Taiyoukai."

As Kagome took a breath, Sango muttered, "I see." The question was how to tell her friend that the Taiyoukai heir and the "Lord Taiyoukai" were one and the same.

"So he called him Lord Taiyoukai," Kagome continued. "Like the Taiyoukai Lord. Or maybe what the Taiyoukai heir would... be called." She had trailed off lamely as she just figured something out.

Kagome forced herself to breathe evenly as she reevaluated her logic. Sesshoumaru had been a blood-bound for a long time. The Taiyoukai heir had been a blood-bound for a long time. Sesshoumaru had come to the Higurashi house. The Taiyoukai heir was in the Higurashi house, supposedly. Youkai were frightened of Sesshoumaru and deferred to his authority even with Kouga present. He was called "Lord Taiyoukai." He even claimed that Taiyoukai was a name.

"Oh, my gods," Kagome whispered as her feet planted themselves into the ground. "He is the Taiyoukai heir."

Sango watched her friend worriedly. "Um, yes."

"He is the Taiyoukai heir!"

"You've mentioned that." Sango wondered if she should have tried easing Kagome into the idea differently.

"He is the Taiyoukai heir!"

"Er, yeah, you've said this and I've agreed with it." Ahead of them, Sesshoumaru had stopped. Miroku and Kirara were catching up as well. Sango was feeling strangely panicky and claustrophobic even though they were in open grasslands.

Slowly, flushed disbelief replaced the pale shock on Kagome's face. "Why didn't he just tell me? I would've just freed him."

"Well," Sango tried to placate Kagome. "He didn't know—"

"And I would have known for sure that he could save my father. I wouldn't have interrogated his motives so much if I knew he was the Taiyoukai heir!" Kagome's voice was rising from the high range to the painful. "And here I was worrying if we'd run into bad trouble without Kouga, but if Sesshoumaru had only told me that he was the Taiyoukai heir, I wouldn't have worried and argued."

"Aren't you upset that he lied to you?" Sango prompted.

"Of course I am!" Kagome fumed. She marched on ahead of Sesshoumaru and hoped the path didn't fork. She didn't know where she was going. "I am spitting mad. I am so mad that you can put a log on me and see it light on fire."

It took two stomping steps forward before Kagome started up again. "Why couldn't he have just told me? It's not like I was going to hold it against him or anything. And it would've saved us so much trouble."

"Well..." Sango searched in vain for an adequate explanation. Part of the difficulty stemmed from the incongruity of how Sango had expected Kagome to react and how Kagome had actually reacted.

But Kagome either didn't hear the taijiya or decided to ignore her. She kept walking onward. Sango sighed as she and the rest of the group followed the Higurashi heir.

Kagome learned something today: Stomping—especially continuous stomping—took a lot of energy. She tired long before nightfall. Part of it was the mere physical exertion, but a lot of it was that she had thought about the situation and calmed down.

Okay, so Sesshoumaru hadn't told her his identity earlier. But she really oughtn't to have expected a blood-bound to give his owner something she could use against him. Then, he hadn't told her even when he was free, and Kagome thought perhaps he had thought that she would not travel with him if she had known. And he would have been right. Or at least, she would not have agreed as easily. Instead, she would have doubted his motives and the authenticity of his claims.

But afterwards, he hadn't told her either, and that made her upset. They were already on the road and he should have known her well enough by then to tell her that. Except apparently he had tried to tell her that, very subtly. The youkai in the village knew and called him "Lord Taiyoukai." Kouga almost said it, but stopped himself when he had figured it out. And apparently, sometime since the youkai village, Sango had figured it out, too. Or maybe Miroku told her. Miroku knew a great many things.

So, she was still very upset over it. But she found it a little more difficult to blame it on Sesshoumaru. After all, he wasn't vocal like her and she shouldn't have expected for him to announce everything the way she did. She wondered if there were other things that she had missed.

And she was very upset over her own obliviousness. So many clues and hints and she hadn't even noticed them. So, maybe the fact that Sesshoumaru was the Taiyoukai heir wasn't so important, considering that she would probably have found out when they reached Touga Taiyoukai. But if she was to lead the Higurashi House...

She probably needed to be subtle and discreet and sensitive the way Sesshoumaru was to his surroundings. Which was not going to happen in a hundred years.

And gah! Sesshoumaru must be well over five hundred years old! So he had had a lot of experience living life. And—gods!—doing other... blood-bound stuff, too. Kagome shook her head as she felt her face flame up. She would not think about things like that.

But that thought inevitably made her feel guilty, because although she acted normal, every time she looked at him, she felt her heart stumble a little to catch up with her breathing. And she thought very... unseemly thoughts as she remembered their one night together. Sometimes, she felt just a little awkward and off-kilter when he was around, as if she needed to do something, but had no idea what. If she was next to him, though, it was better, and touching him soothed the strange tightness, but it never quite went away. She had a notion, though, that if they did that again, she would feel all better.

But that was really selfish. Because, honestly, the man had been a blood-bound, probably for pleasure, for five hundred years. If there was one thing he didn't want to do, it was probably that. Especially with his former mistress.

And if logic wasn't enough, then evidence must be. He had lain next to her for many nights since then, but hadn't even tried to touch or hold her. Thankfully, he hadn't refused to let her cuddle with him. And then, there was the fact that they were mated, and he hadn't done anything about that.

But it was all wishful thinking, because if for some bizarre chance he did return her feelings—which she didn't even understand—she was still the Higurashi heir. She could not afford a scandal and neither could she marry for love.


Was she in love with Sesshoumaru?

No, of course not. She didn't know him that well. And they didn't dance together or share heartfelt secrets.

But she supposed that she could be infatuated with him. After all, he was handsome and strong. He certainly had the mysterious brooding personality down. And well, he was gentlemanly and didn't hesitate to make her feel better when she had nightmares. And they were going on this whole trip for her father...

So she was a lot infatuated. But infatuations passed soon enough, and had little to do with love.

The entire company had made camp. Kagome sat outside watching the stars while snuggled under blankets.

Sesshoumaru sat down quietly beside her. "You shouldn't be upset."

Kagome looked sharply back at him, the sharp contour of his face at odds with the flowing grass. His gold eyes shone bright and his markings still extruded that exotic air. "I'm not."

"Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier." Sesshoumaru continued at Kagome's fervent nod. "But you should have noticed as well."

Kagome pursed her lips in reluctant agreement. "Look, Sesshoumaru—" She stopped to check herself. "I mean, Lord Taiyoukai—"

"Sesshoumaru," he corrected. "I don't call you Lady Higurashi."

Kagome blushed and nodded. Why did she blush? "Sesshoumaru, I know that you are probably anxious to go home and all that, but will you still try to free my father, please? We really didn't mean to make you blood-bound and we can't really afford to wage war against you."

Sesshoumaru stared ahead of him, where the grass faded into the angular silhouette of the distant mountains. It made him angry—and he could feel the rage building in him—that she thought his agenda would change because she had discovered his identity. He might be manipulative and use others, but he wouldn't have done it to her. And unreasonably, he thought that she should know that.

And if he really was as cold-blooded as she thought he was, then she shouldn't have asked that of him. Didn't the stupid girl know that it could be used against her? If he wanted to wage war, what she had said would only encourage him.

Kagome pulled the blanket tighter around her at Sesshoumaru's silence. "Please?" She whispered again.

Somehow, his anger pulled and twisted at his guts. Humans made him blood-bound and reneged on their promise. Humans deserved to be punished. But Kagome had done nothing wrong, and that she was the only one who felt guilty for the crime which she didn't commit made him feel as if he should reassure her.

But what platitudes could he offer? Event the final decision of war would not be in his hands, but in his father's.

Still, he could make sure that Kagome didn't get hurt. Even if there was a war, he would make sure that she wouldn't get hurt. She would live a good, full life. She would marry and have children and be with the ones she loved.

Frustration mingled with anger. He should be the one, he thought. He should be the one to be by her side. He should be the father of her children. He would be able to protect her and care for her properly. She was already his mate, gods be damned, and the necklace of hers proclaimed it.

He felt the power building in him and realized with a start that the red bloodlust was starting to cloud his vision. It felt almost like being in heat. Jerkily, he stalked away before he would rip through the tents and hurt somebody.

A strange tension settled. Or maybe it was just on Kagome, but she felt it strangling the words out of her mouth until it was awkward to even make small talk with Sango, who was her childhood friend.

So it was with relief that they finally arrived at the Taiyoukai house. At least something would be resolved.

Kagome still felt a bit of surprise when the guards merely looked at Sesshoumaru and opened the gate. When the rest of them tried to step, though, they found the sharp end of swords pointed their way.

Sesshoumaru treated everyone of them to a sharp glare. "They're with me," he declared.

When the swords were returned to their scabbards, Kagome breathed a sigh of relief and heard Sango and Miroku do the same.

"Lord Taiyoukai," one of the guards spoke up. "We were awaiting your arrival. Your father said that any humans arriving with you should be disposed of."

Kagome gulped in trepidation.

Sesshoumaru only waved his hand negligently. "I'm telling you to at least wait until I verify the situation with my father."

"But," the guard started. "How can we be sure that she"—here, he shot Kagome a patently venomous glare—"is not ordering to protect her."

"Just let me talk to my father first," Sesshoumaru reasserted. "Besides, if she really did order me to protect her and you try to kill her, you would be fighting against me. And I'm sure that both of us would sustain injuries."

After a slight hesitation, the guard nodded assent and Kagome breathed again. "I shall have Gurin escort you to your father, then."

Sesshoumaru nodded. He didn't need an escort. Even after five hundred years of absence, he still knew where the main rooms where, even if additions had been added, which was probable. But the escort was for his sake, so that Kagome does not order him to ambush his own father or something equally sordid. They all thought that he was still a blood-bound.

He could feel that Kagome was uncomfortable within the walls of the Taiyoukai house, but there was little he could do about it other than getting her father out as soon as possible.

They turned to enter house when a figure ran out of the palace and ran barreled into Sesshoumaru. "Sesshoumaru-sama," she exclaimed, hugging Sesshoumaru tightly. "You're finally home! I've missed you."

Almost immediately, she let go and stood demurely, her face flushed, either from the excitement or from cold. "Are you going to stay here with us this time?"

The girl was about eighteen or twenty, Kagome guessed, certainly older than herself. She couldn't help but compare the girl's pristine white kimono to her own serviceable yukata. She hadn't had a chance to change into her formal clothing yet.

The girl certainly knew Sesshoumaru and was close to him. The affection between them was obvious, in their actions, their postures, even their eyes. She didn't even know why she had expected Sesshoumaru to be unattached. He had the beauty, the power, the elegance... the everything. Of course he would already have a girl waiting for him.

Kagome felt an attack of what she recognized as jealousy. It was perfectly normal, though, since she was infatuated with Sesshoumaru.

"Let me introduce you," Sesshoumaru said gesturing to Kagome and drawing her back to the present. "This is Kagome Higurashi, the Higurashi heir. This is Sango, a taijiya. This is Miroku, a priest. And this," he said gesturing to the elegant woman, "is Rin. She—"

"—stays at the Taiyoukai house because Sesshoumaru-sama is here," Rin finished for him.

Sesshoumaru held back a frown at that. He had meant to say something else, but he knew it would hurt her if he corrected her now. Besides, there was no time for lengthy explanations. Instead, he could only see the shadows on Kagome's face as she turned to talk to Sango.

They went onward to meet the Lord of the Western Lands.