Saturday, March 11, 2006

Property - Chapter Nine

Inuyasha was sitting against the wall across from Kikyou's bed when she woke up. His head was bowed and he remained silent, but from past experience, she knew that he was also acutely aware of his surroundings. He probably realized that she was awake.

"Good morning, Kikyou," Inuyasha confirmed her suspicions.

"Good morning," Kikyou replied. The routine was comforting and safe, but she knew that soon enough, they would be on shaky grounds. So, she might as well say what needed to be said. "I have decided that it is unfair to hold you to the blood-bond."

"Did you plan to repudiate me again?" Inuyasha's voice remained carefully neutral.

Kikyou looked away from his piercing gold gaze. "There's no other way."

"The hell there isn't!" Inuyasha shouted suddenly, startling Kikyou into looking at him again. "Do us both a favor and stop thinking you know everything because you don't. I've told you this and I'll tell you again: I don't want out from the blood-bond. If I did, I'd've killed you last night, when I was human."

"Your ownership would have simply reverted to Kagome."

"Exactly," Inuyasha said. "And she dislikes the thoughts of blood-bounds."

"Fine, then," Kikyou yelled at him. "Kill me if it'll make you happy."

Inuyasha sighed. That was a dangerous order that she gave him, since he would have had to obey her command. If he would have been happier with her dead, he would have had to kill her. "Kikyou, you're not listening to me. I'm saying that I'm your blood-bound because I want to be. I don't want out."


He heaved another tired sigh. "Look, let's just pretend that none of this happened."

"I—" Kikyou was about to protest, but then she thought about what he had said. He was right in that she didn't know everything. But was he right in that other people might make better decisions? Maybe, but only if they were looking out for her interests in the first place, and she knew that this was a world of each for his own. But maybe, maybe... she'd listen to Inuyasha this once. "I'll try."

Inuyasha smiled gently, and it felt like Before again.

"I thought that Taiyoukai and Higurashi aren't on good terms," Miroku broke the awkward silence.

Sango sighed and took in the little room. It was clean and serviceable, but the ceiling hung low and the plaster was starting to come off the walls. She was relieved that he chose a safe topic. "They aren't. Apparently, there might be war soon."

"Is that why Sesshoumaru is traveling with them?"

She frowned a little at the odd phrasing of the question. "He's Kagome's blood-bound."

"So she's accepting Taiyoukai's condition," Miroku mumbled more to himself than to Sango. After a thoughtful pause, he added, "I wonder if it was better if she hadn't. Now, Taiyoukai will know for sure that Higurashi lied."

"What?" Sango understood Miroku's words, but they weren't adding up. "What are you talking about?"

"Kagome's blood-bound," Miroku replied with patience. At her continued blank stare, he clarified, "Sesshoumaru Taiyoukai. The Taiyoukai heir."

"What?" Sango's voice squeaked unnaturally high in the confines of Miroku's borrowed room. "Sesshoumaru... Taiyoukai?"

He nodded solemnly, unable to understand why she was in shock.

"Are you sure?" She pressed.

He nodded again. "The mark of the Moon is the line marking of the Taiyoukai family. There was only one Taiyoukai born in the last thousand years without the marking, and he was a hanyou."

Sango grabbed onto one of Miroku's wrists too tightly. "Then we have to go tell her now."

Miroku's purple eyes widened in surprise. "You mean, she doesn't know that Sesshoumaru's Sesshoumaru?"

Sango shook her head in affirmation.

"I had thought that he traveled with her willingly... but if he's a blood-bound, things can become... complicated."

"You mean dangerous?"

"Complicated," Miroku repeated himself. "And maybe dangerous."

Sango thought about that for another moment. "Would it ameliorate the situation if he weren't a blood-bound?"

"Repudiation?" Miroku suggested skeptically. "Considering the tales about the Taiyoukai family and Sesshoumaru in particular—which you should know, since you're a taijiya—I doubt that anybody, most youkai included, would survive Sesshoumaru's wrath at being a blood-bound and treated like a slave. Not to mention, repudiation often releases the violent side of a youkai completely." He paused and looked at his hands in his lap. A guard covered one of them, spelled to keep the curse from spreading. "Frankly, I'm surprised that she's still alive, even if Sesshoumaru's still a blood-bound. I've heard rumors... about how he kills his owners. Most blood-bounds can't do that."

Sango stared at the table as Miroku fell silent. Sesshoumaru was violent, he had reminded her suddenly, though she couldn't imagine how she had forgotten it in the first place. Maybe it was his stoic silence. Or his urgency at taking Kagome to safety when she had been injured. Or maybe it was how he had worried, his normally impassive eyes clouded with anxiety as he had waited for Kagome to wake up.

But the fact that he was the Taiyoukai heir changed things considerably. Ulterior motives sprang up where Sango had only seen concern—and maybe even a little bit of affection—between Sesshoumaru and Kagome, especially since Kagome now held the Shikon no Tama...

And the memory of her very first meeting with Sesshoumaru became vivid in her mind: his careless threats, his easy puff of poisonous smoke, the eerie glint in his cold, gold eyes, and the cruel slant to his smile as he taunted her and dared her to tell on him...

And he was not a blood-bound. Sango had thought Kagome safe with Sesshoumaru, because she had thought he wanted to keep Kagome safe. And he might still want to keep her safe, but what would happen once he reached his own territory? Once he regained his lost status and power, how would he discard Kagome?

The only other people traveling with Kagome were Kouga and Shippou. Kouga might have good intentions, but he refused to take risks, and certainly not when a confrontation with Sesshoumaru was sure to bring the worst repercussions. Besides, Kouga's territory bordered the Land of the West. Shippou, too, would want to protect Kagome, but he was so young that he would probably need more protection than he could provide for her.

Sango clenched her fists in sudden agitation. She looked at Miroku carefully. "What if Kagome had somehow freed him already?"

Miroku was startled into meeting Sango's eyes. "She's already repudiated him?"

"Yes," Sango nodded. Then, she reconsidered her answer. "Well, maybe not. He's not visibly angry or unstable. And he's still around her. Most repudiated blood-bounds stay away for at least a year, because of the pain of repudiation."

Miroku sighed as he tried to puzzle it out. "Are you sure that he's no longer a blood-bound?"

Sango frowned at the question. "He said so himself. Kagome... never confirmed it, though."

Miroku rubbed his forehead. "Maybe he told the truth. But he could have lied, too. It's not difficult, since Kagome does not have experience with blood-bounds."

Sango nodded in reluctant agreement. "I need to tell her."


"About the possibility that Sesshoumaru lied to her... and who Sesshoumaru is. Kagome doesn't know. I have to leave as soon as possible. There are still a few hours of sunlight left."

Miroku pulled on Sango's wrist as she stood up. "You shouldn't."

The spark that still jumped between them had surprised her and it took her a moment to respond. "What? Why not?"

Seeing that Sango would hear him out, Miroku let go of her hand quickly. It was uncomfortably warm and soft and smooth under his hand. "You shouldn't tell her. He... Youkai have very good hearing, and it would not do to make an enemy of the Taiyoukai heir, especially if he's already free. Besides, there are probably reasons that Sesshoumaru did not tell Kagome of his real identity... especially since it's probably the easiest way for him to gain freedom. You shouldn't risk it."

"So I should just keep my friend in blind danger?" Sango asked angrily. "I knew you are about self interest, Miroku, but I am not. Besides, I'm not stupid. I wouldn't tell her when he can hear us."

"But she would still act differently. She's not very good at deceptions."

"Unlike you," Sango responded bitterly. The bitterness had taken her by surprise, since she had felt very professional when they were just talking about Kagome and Sesshoumaru. But now that Miroku was revealing all the little personality faults to which Sango had been blind before, she felt a great pressure pushing in on her.


"I don't want to listen to your paltry explanations," she decided suddenly. It wasn't worth it to get upset over somebody like Miroku. Not even if she had thought that he was the love of her life. "I'm leaving now."

This time, Miroku didn't stop her as she stood up to leave the table. As she was just about to step outside the door, though, she heard him say, "I'm coming with you."

"I don't need you," Sango shot back.

Miroku didn't argue. "But Kagome might."

Sango didn't bother arguing, because Miroku was a very strong adversary against youkai. Besides, only he could change his own mind once it was made up. Always a protector of the defenseless, she thought. He had once said that he admired her strength, but now Sango wondered if the admiration made him feel inferior. Maybe that was why he decided against the marriage.

Marriage, marriage, marriage. Spending time with Miroku would only remind her of being stood up at her own wedding. But she couldn't worry about that now, not with the Taiyoukai heir, free for the first time in five hundred years, shepherding the Higurashi heir to the Western Lands for unknown reasons.

Sango would be strong. For her friend's sake. And for humanity's sake. And she would accept Miroku as a traveling companion because Miroku could make the difference between death and survival if youkai attacked them.

Once it was all over, though, Sango would have her good, long cry in the comfort of her own room.

After she castrated Miroku.

Kagome couldn't help it. She looked around a bit suspiciously as Kouga proudly announced, "Home, sweet home."

It was a cave on the side of a mountain, just as he had promised. But after all the "Wolf Prince" business, she had expected... well, not this. Hidden on the side of the mountain, behind some trees, was an inconspicuous little opening. She would have to bend down to get through. She didn't know what to expect inside, but it seemed rather dark. Not a flicker of light showed from inside.

Kouga led the way through. Shippou huddled in her arms. And Sesshoumaru shepherded them from behind. Resolutely, Kagome bent at the waist—quite low—to enter the cave. She would not add her own anxiety to Shippou's.

And she was surprised. The inside was unlit, but the sun lit the cave surprisingly well. Although, Kagome suspected that was just because of the time of the day. It was roomy and airy. Skins lay on the stone ground for people to sit on and the wolves who sat on them look quite comfortable. A simple but imposing stone chair was seated at the far end of the cave. She rather suspected that it was the throne.

Kouga hurried towards the chair and sat down just after Sesshoumaru came inside.

Sesshoumaru bowed his head slightly toward Kouga in acknowledgement. "Nice lair."

Kouga smiled, a bit strained. He had hoped that he would be sitting in his throne by the time Sesshoumaru came through, in which case Sesshoumaru would have had to bow to him and acknowledge him as the one with the higher rank. At least, Kouga thought, Sesshoumaru had acknowledged them as equals. He hadn't had to.

Kouga replied evenly, "Of course, it is nothing compared to where you live."

The wolves, who had lain about lazily, perked up at this. Those in their wolf forms swiveled their ears to make sure that their proud leader had just humbled himself.

When no answer was given, a wolf spoke up, "And where's that?"

Before Kouga could answer, Sesshoumaru spoke up, "At the Higurashi house."

One of the wolves whistled lewdly.

Kouga decided to ignore the wolf. He would deal with the wolf later. Instead, he decided to formally announce Sesshoumaru first, as he had the highest ranking of the visitors. "This is Sesshoumaru—"

Before he could finish, though, another wolf asked loudly, "We don't care about the dog. We want to know who the good-looking lady is."

Even though the wolf had referred to Kagome as a "lady," there were obvious implications in the wolf's question, mainly if she was Kouga's and if the other wolves could "share." Kouga watched Sesshoumaru stiffen beside him and felt a tendril of apprehension.

But Kouga wasn't going to apologize for the behavior of the wolves. They were exiled to this strip of the mountain because of a long-forgotten transgression. They acted as buffer between the humans and the Western Land. They had a hard enough time scraping enough food to survive. The mere fact that Kouga's father had educated him at all before his father's death had been a near miracle.

Sesshoumaru Taiyoukai probably lived in a palace and had had two hundred years to learn from the Lord of the Western Lands. Well, Kouga wasn't going to apologize and that was that. Still, he kind of wished that the wolves at least knew what the personal item of a youkai—in this case, Sesshoumaru's hair—on another meant.

Instead, he answered the wolf's question, "She's Lady Kagome Higurashi. Mind you treat her respectfully."

At their leader's strict tone, the wolves nodded, even those in wolf form. The wolf who had asked the previous question, Ginta, asked another one, "So she's the lady you went off to collect for the alliance?"

Kouga nodded rigidly, and if he hadn't been looking carefully for warning signs from Sesshoumaru, he would have missed the momentarily narrowed eyes.

"You marrying her?"

"We... haven't discussed the alliance yet," Kouga answered evasively. He felt more than saw the tension knot even tighter in Sesshoumaru. The Taiyoukai heir took a menacing and proprietary step toward Kagome, and Kouga knew that if didn't change the subject soon, his caves might get a fresh coat of red paint. "I believe the guests are tired. I will show them to their rooms."

"This is unacceptable," Sesshoumaru voiced his opinion of the room in front of him.

Honestly, Kouga didn't know why he had expected Sesshoumaru to be accommodating. It would be nice, though, for Sesshoumaru to have shown some respect due to the host. "What is your complaint?"

Sesshoumaru surveyed the room again. It wasn't really a room, just another chamber in the labyrinth of caves, but Kouga thought that Sesshoumaru couldn't complain about that, since all the rooms were part of the cave. If the Taiyoukai heir had complaints to that nature, he should have objected when shown to Kagome's room. After all, Kouga's entire stronghold was the cave.

"I wish to remain beside Kagome in her room," Sesshoumaru intoned.

Kouga flashed a quick look at Sesshoumaru to see if he was in earnest. He was. "You can't." Before Sesshoumaru could threaten Kouga, Kouga continued, "You are not a child, like Shippou. And you're not married to her. It's not good for her reputation or yours. Or mine. Especially mine, and these are my people."

"I care not about your reputation, and there are easier ways to stop wagging tongues." Sesshoumaru made a precise motion, slashing his nails sideways at neck level.

Kouga narrowed his eyes before he remembered that Sesshoumaru was the Taiyoukai heir. He gritted his teeth instead. "Surely, you would not be so discourteous to your host."

Sesshoumaru simply stared at Kouga for a moment, and Kouga thought he could see all the different, gruesome ways to gut a wolf demon in those gold eyes. Then, Sesshoumaru turned his gold eyes down the hall, and Kouga was careful not breathe an audible sigh of relief.

"Courtesy is a two-way street," Sesshoumaru stated. "However, in this case, you may explain to your subjects that I am blood-bound to the Higurashi heir."

"But you are not."

Sesshoumaru glanced down at Kouga's audacity. "I doubt they would be able to tell one way or another. In either case, I am blood-bound."

There was a certain implacability to Sesshoumaru's features. Kouga turned back toward Kagome's room. "I will lead you to her room and tell the other wolves that you are her blood-bound. However, I request that you do not enter the inner chamber while she is asleep, but remain in the outer chamber."

Sesshoumaru gave a curt nod. "That is acceptable."

Kagome curled tighter under the pelts. It was almost spring, but this high up the mountains, the air was still chill. Besides, there was no banked fire to warm the air, since it would only deprive the room of oxygen.

She whimpered as her nightmare assailed her again. The lucid nightmare felt strange.

Kagome had slept fine since meeting Sesshoumaru, since she had been occupied one way or another and her dream had been unable to intrude. Tonight, though, Shippou slumbered on a nearby pelt and Kagome was all by herself, with no fatigue, no injury, and no Sesshoumaru to keep the nightmares at bay.

Inuyasha and Kikyou. The nightmare was always about Inuyasha and Kikyou. The white-haired dog demon and the black-haired priestess. Kagome wasn't quite sure how she knew that, but then, she was dreaming.

There was war and pain. Fire and death. Love and birth and betrayal. The nightmare was trying to tell her something, Kagome realized, now that she was aware of her priestess powers, thanks to Sesshoumaru.

But if the dream was about a white-haired dog demon, the demon could be Sesshoumaru, too. And the black-haired priestess could be herself.

But no, Kagome's mind worked out. Because the dog demon had dog ears like Inuyasha—and an extra dog tail. The priestess wore a priestess outfit, which Kagome had never owned or worn.

The war was painful, though, and death and the fire and the betrayal.

Suddenly, she felt someone shake her by her arm and she flung out her hand to bat it away, only to have the hand grabbed firmly. Slowly uncurling, Kagome turned and saw Sesshoumaru looking down at her.

"A nightmare?" he asked.

Kagome nodded mutely.

Sesshoumaru shuffled around and finally lay on the pelt beside her and covered himself with the same blanket, which was also made of pelt. Kagome wondered exactly how many animals the wolves had hunted. Or were these youkai pelts?

"Would you like to tell me about it?" Sesshoumaru questioned gently as he slid an arm around Kagome.

She found herself snuggling closer into his warmth and his chest seemed awfully strong and protective. "It's... hard to describe."

"Sometimes, it helps to talk about such things."

Closing her eyes, Kagome tried to distance herself from her nightmare. It wasn't very difficult with Sesshoumaru next to her. There was something about the youkai, though Kagome wasn't quite sure what, but he made her feel safe. Safe enough to talk about her nightmare, at any rate.

"It's about a white-haired dog demon and a priestess," she started. "Inuyasha and Kikyou, I think. It's kind of hard to tell in dreams, but I've had them for about a year before you came to the Higurashi House. And there are war and pain. Fire and death. Love and birth and betrayal. And there's always someone laughing in the back. A human and a spider youkai—except they were one, and three. A man, a woman, and a little white girl, except they were all one. It's difficult to describe."

"I understand."

Kagome wanted to peer at his face to make sure that he did, but she felt too tired. "I... don't know what to make of it."

"Don't worry about it," Sesshoumaru's deep voice soothed. "Just sleep now and have sweet dreams."

She felt a little smile at that. Trust Sesshoumaru to think that he could dictate which dreams she had. But she was tired. It was late. The nightmare had been exhausting, and she slept.

Sesshoumaru lay awake for a long while after Kagome's breath fell into a deep, even rhythm.

It was painful to lie beside her and to feel her slight warmth and soft curves pressed against him. He didn't think she understood what he had meant when he had said that they were mated. Nor could he really imagine how she could have had intimate relations with any man—and especially him—and still fall asleep so easily beside him.

Because he wanted her so much that it was painful for him. It didn't really make that much sense, since she wasn't really truly that remarkable. Pretty, but not beautiful. Strong, but too vulnerable. Courageous... maybe, or just blind and rash.

But that didn't matter much to him right now. Instead, all he could think about was nudging her awake. Or better yet, kissing her awake. And to feel her hands on him as he kissed her. To feel her trembling as he took her. This time, he would remember.

And he could do it easily, too. She would not refuse him if he asked. He had acquired enough skill and practice so that she wouldn't be able to even think properly until they were both well and exhausted.

Sesshoumaru seriously considered it.

But it seemed too much of a violation, even if she would be willing. More so of a violation because he could make her willing. She was too inexperienced to know any better if he decided to use his knowledge of bedplay on her.

And he wanted her willing... not just willing in the throes of passion, but also to know who he was and to choose him. It was stupid, because he was in pain, and he could make her more than enjoy herself. But in the end, he would be taking her choice away. Others had done that to him and he would have gladly punished them. But not Kagome. Kagome had never demanded anything of him... and he would not betray her.

Still, Sesshoumaru suspected that even the best intentions would have come to naught if not for the little kit sleeping on another pelt in the same room. So, he supposed that the fox was good for something, after all.

So, instead, Sesshoumaru decided to ponder.

First, he pondered about his current life. He had thought that freedom would simplify life. After dreaming of it for five hundred years—after degradation and humiliation for five hundred years—he was finally free. If he simply neglected to finish the second half of the bonding ritual, the half-formed mating bond would fade with time.

Although, he suspected that a part of him would always yearn for Kagome, because a mating-bond—even a half-formed one—would never dissipate entirely.

Still, freedom was within his reach. And a small yearning was a vast improvement over the compulsive obedience in a strictly blood-bound relationship.

Freedom was within his reach, and yet he didn't know what he wanted to do anymore. All his owners had been murdered by him or died of natural causes. Vengeance on Kagome seemed petty and unfair and more a stain on his honor than a declaration of her wrongs, since she had done no wrong.

Kagome was innocent.

Then, he should reconsolidate his powers. Back at the Western Lands, he would talk to his father. They would hunt down the bastards who ambushed the Lord of the Western Lands and his Lady. Naraku first. Inuyasha second—even if his father was reluctant. And the Wolf Prince last.

Except that the Wolf Prince was no longer the Wolf Prince five hundred years ago. A descendent, maybe, and a fairly distant one at that. Kouga was probably ten or fifteen generations down from the Wolf Prince who had led to Sesshoumaru's mother's death. And Kouga, no matter his faults, was innocent of that crime.

Besides, how would Sesshoumaru's own father react? True, Taiyoukai had demanded Sesshoumaru's freedom, bargained for it, and even taken the head of the Higurashi House hostage for it. But it said nothing of his father's disappointment in him, for not protecting his mother, for not thinking the plan through better, for getting himself in a stupid, fucked-up situation for five hundred years.

And his father might see Kagome as the summation of the causes of Sesshoumaru's unfortunately condition. His father might even punish Kagome for the imagined transgressions.

Imagined, because Kagome was innocent.

And Sesshoumaru was blood-bound to protect her, even if he was no longer her blood-bound. So he had to protect her from his father's wrath, but he still had to risk it, because without his place as the Taiyoukai heir, he would have nothing.

Then there was still that slight problem of Kagome being ignorant of his identity as the Taiyoukai heir. It was... different to be treated as an equal. To be neither groveled to, of which Kouga seemed on the verge, nor spat at like scum. It was refreshing... and relaxing.

But Kagome was still the Higurashi heir, which meant she had responsibilities, just as he did. Their responsibilities weren't compatible, though, unless they formed an alliance by marriage. Which would still have been a problem since humans and youkai would not mix willingly. Besides, both of them would have to stay at their own Houses, and what kind of marriage would that be?

If Sesshoumaru even mentioned the idea to his father, Kagome would probably be sent away—exiled—in rder to preserve the family and the youkai unity.

And Kagome was innocent. And he had to protect her. And he could not protect her if she strayed too far away from him. So he really ought to keep her by his side.

But at least one thing was clear, Sesshoumaru thought. He knew what Kagome's dream meant: it was the story of his own parents. Of the white-haired dog demon—his father had a magnificent snow white tail—and a Higurashi priestess. Theirs was a story of war and pain. Of fire and death. Of love and birth. And betrayal.

And the evil laughing two-one-three was Naraku.