Chapter 6: (Lemon Warning!)
Battle filled their days and most of their nights, but once in a while there came a evening of peace. And in those few evenings, two of the unlikeliest of kindred spirits sought each other out.
Sesshomaru tucked the book of haiku into his sleeve with haste as he sensed the approach of the miko. He contemplated the meaning of the poem he'd just read as Kagome sat in the grass near him on his left. He found them fascinating. They drew insight and elegance in a couple measures. Pain and passion, two things ningen seemed able to capture well in the meager span of their short lives. Far from the rage and hate that his kind tended to glorify.
Kagome broke into his reverie. "Would you like some tea, Sesshomaru?"
He took the cup she offered with a grateful nod. The aroma of the tea teased his nose and before he could stop himself, he sneezed, holding the tea away from him so it wouldn't spill on his kimono. Giving himself a full body shake, he sipped the warm and soothing liquid. Only then did he notice the way Kagome held a hand over her mouth. The way her eyes danced told him that she stifled a laugh at his expense. He raised a brow in question.
"Just now, you reminded me of Inuyasha." Then she did giggle.
Mood souring, he set the cup in his lap. "This Sesshomaru should not like to be compared to that hanyou."
"I-I know. I just, you know, it's hard sometimes to believe you're related. You're polar opposites." She shrugged, her hands waving to illustrate her point. "He's hot-tempered where you seem . . .."
"Cold? Merciless?" Interested in how she saw him, he pressed the issue. "Does the miko find it off-putting?"
"No, not really. We need more level-headedness around here, I think. Plus, I don't think you're all that cold." She eyed him out of the corner of her periphery. "Or merciless."
His first instinct told him to refute her, to treat her words like a challenge. He did not want to be thought weak. Sesshomaru drawled, "I have been both. And more."
"I don't doubt that, Sesshomaru-sama." She set her bow aside and lay back in the grass, looking up at the stars that twinkled in the firmament. "I've thought about it a lot. About how you think."
"Oh?" Her presumption compelled him to ask.
"And I think . . . distance, and detachment are the key. You hold yourself far away so as to seem untouchable and powerful."
"Am I not, then? Powerful and untouchable?" Unprepared, he twitched as her hand came out to rest over his newly re-grown left hand. He felt a warm rush glide up that arm and swim around his chest cavity, lighting little fires in its wake. Sesshomaru fought a dozen conflicting primal urges then, at a loss as to what to do. "Miko . . .."
"Can you not call me Kagome? After all the time we've spent in conversation, does my name still escape you?" her voice chided with a warm playfulness. He let her draw him down by his arm until he lay prone at her side. "Come. Watch the stars with me."
He could hardly do so for the weight of his awakening awareness of the soft female form so close to him. He felt an uncharacteristic nervousness flood his mind and body. Never could he recall being more unsure. He felt immobilized by indecision and lay still and quiet, in case something should topple him into the strange abyss that seemed so near somewhere within him. His senses buzzed, the stars seemed likely to dazzle him with their intense luminosity.
Then a shape rose up to eclipse them and he found himself looking deep into blue eyes as deep and mysterious as the sky behind her head, unable to look away. She froze over him and he trembled.
What power did the tiny woman have over him to make him do so? He did not care to name the fear and delight that warred in him, and suddenly that abyss did not seem so terrible. If he should fall, would it be with gladness?
Swallowing past a tongue that felt thick and clumsy, he managed, "Kagome, you are not watching the stars."
She smiled down at him with aching tenderness. "Yes, I am."
The dam broke and he reached for her, rolling them in the soft grass. It should have shamed him how the hunger for her blossomed and grew until it encompassed the world. Her lips he captured in his, nipping them until they swelled and tasted of her spicy blood. He worried for a moment about having harmed her, but then she moaned with such want that his beast roared for more and he dove back in, nuzzling and licking every part of her that lay exposed. Soon that didn't satisfy and he all but ripped her clothes off to be nearer her flesh. His own kimono and hakama lay in a heap nearby.
Running his hands over her unbelievably soft skin, he quaked and panted. Everything about her filled his senses to the brim. Her scent, her welcoming embrace, the little sounds of pleasure he could draw from her with a simple swipe of his palms down her body. Over the sweet mounds of her breasts, the delicious swell of her hips, his fingers danced. His nose led him down to her center, where he breathed deep, eyes rolling back into his head. Obeying a voice at the core of him, the song of his canine soul, his long tongue swept over her glistening sex.
Sesshomaru moaned, low and deep as she bucked up under him. His cock grew so hard that it pained him, weeping his essence onto the grass below. She tasted so sweet, so pure. He could do this forever and be grateful. Her sounds grew frantic and he watched her come undone before his very eyes. The walls of her quim contracted on his tongue in waves and he had trouble thinking past the idea of what that might feel like around another part of him. When she pulled at his shoulders, he crawled up her body until they met eye to lust-clouded eye.
He rested the tip of his manhood at her entrance and growled, "Submit."
And she did not, much to his mounting frustration. He growled and nipped at her chin. The light of confusion made her eyes even more beautiful, though she remained defiant. "Sesshomaru-?"
"Submit!" he growled, even deeper, his beast taking control. His youki started to escape in magenta streamers around his striped cheeks and no doubt, his eyes bled red fire. Again, he nipped her jawline.
This time, understanding seemed to strike her and with deliberate care, she bared her throat to him. He lunged, holding her sweet flesh between his fangs, but taking care not to puncture or tear. With a single thrust, he broke through her maidenhead and filled her. She cried out in pain. He licked her neck in apology and stroked her dark hair until her body relaxed under his. He ran his hands over her shaking limbs, kneading and trying to comfort. When she gave an impatient little wriggle of her pelvis, he smiled against her neck before taking it between his teeth once more.
'Pin the female. Ravage her!' spoke the beast and he grunted in refusal of that base creature. Instead, he worked a slow and easy rhythm, exerting what tremulous control he still possessed. He felt he might go mad with such a pace and whined, hot and needy.
"Sesshomaru," she called, cradling his face in her hands. He pushed his raging instincts back long enough to pull away and look at her. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but the smile she bestowed on him glowed with a blinding radiance. "It's okay. Let go." Then she pulled his mouth back down to her throat and smoothed both palms over his shoulderblades.
With a muffled shout, he plunged into her with abandon, losing that last little bit of restraint. How he kept from breaking her in half with his wild rutting, he did not know. He groaned against her, repeating one word over and over, just, "Mine!"
Her tight tunnel pulled and milked at his member, threatening to make him spill before she found completion. His pride would not allow that and used his hands to roll and tweak her nipples, sliding one down to work the bundle of nerves at the apex of her cleft. The way she arced under him told him she approved and soon, she called out his name breathless and quivering. He closed his eyes at the sensation of her squeezing him with her inner muscles. It felt just as wonderful as he'd imagined and with one long, ululating howl, he joined her in bliss. His heart seemed likely to burst in his chest with the force of it. Sesshomaru couldn't remember a climax anywhere near as potent in all his life. It consumed him.
He came to his senses, a gradual climb back to rationality. Kagome's hands traced figures over his skin, tingling and teasing. It felt so very nice, her legs and arms cradling him.
Then it struck him just what he'd done and he jerked away from her, lifting himself clear. She looked up at him in alarm, brows drawing together.
Sesshomaru felt terror coil in his guts as he stared down at her. He'd just lain with a ningen. And liked it. No, he'd loved it. His body still sang with pleasure, though he tried to deny it. Had he not said to others that one might as well hump the beasts of the field as seek pleasure with human women? All the spite and bitterness he felt before rose up in him then. He cast about for blame, his pride demanded a culprit for this heresy. But she looked so beautiful, still, with the starlight kissing her sweat-adorned skin and her ebony hair making a perfect fan of black satin under her paleness. He shook it free with a growl and a snap of his teeth.
Kagome lay her hand over his heart and he saw her confusion escalate into true worry. "Sesshoma-"
"No!" He interrupted. Then he made his face cold to her, though his heart beat a mad rhythm against his ribs at what he knew he had to do. "No. You will not rule this Sesshomaru."
Her face fell at his words, mouth dropping open in dismay. He turned from it before it destroyed what little resolve he had left.
The taiyoukai stood and dressed, feeling more and more secure as the layers of cloth draped over him. His inner defenses, shaken that they may be, fell into place with familiar implacability. He made to walk back to camp to gather his followers and leave this place of uncertainty and doubt before it became his undoing. Some distance, that's what he needed. And with distance, some perspective might find him.
Her soft voice stopped him in his tracks. "I was wrong. You are merciless."
No power in the world could have kept him from wincing then. But he kept walking. He knew his duty. To his people and to his legacy. Where his heart lay in all that was of no consequence. None, whatsoever.
The assembly around him argued in a loud and vehement assortment of yowls, hisses and hooting calls. For the most part, he ignored them as he dipped a brush into his bowl of ink. He held his sleeve back with his off hand. An old, beaten book lay open before him, held that way with a heavy golden figurine. With a few masterful strokes, he composed his latest thought in prose-
'Left with strange bounty.
A curse becomes a blessing.
Winning a future.'
With a sigh, he realized the latest questions had been directed at him. He thought back to what they might have been and found that he didn't care. "Lords and ladies of the West, what would you have of me?"
An old boar demon snuffled and grumped, "See, our lord cannot even be moved to satisfy the simplest inquiry."
"Take a care how you speak to this Sesshomaru." He did not have to speak loudly to show how deadly the edge of his temper could be. "Have I not been a good lord? Do you and your peoples not prosper?"
A cacophony of shouts went up after he spoke. Some saying, "We need more territory! Push south-" "No! East!" "Baka, we should war on the North!" Others demanded, "The humans grow ever more insolent! They spread like a wasting disease! What will you do about this!"
Though he did not show it, he despaired for them and their short-sightedness. They had plenty, yet they wanted more. Always more. Even if they owned the whole of the world, they would dig deep and eat its heart, too. He said, with a note of sarcasm, "We war on the East already. Shall we split our efforts on three fronts?"
Byakko, wearing his father's white-striped pelt over green lacquered armor, stepped forth, an ingratiating smile on his tiger's face. He purred as his tongue flicked out to wash his whiskers. "As your general, I would not recommend such a course. Our numbers dwindle. Too many fall and not enough rise to replace them."
This caused a new outcry among the people of his court. Sesshomaru listened with half an ear to problems of which he had already been aware. Low fertility among the pure-blooded along with higher defects from the inbreeding. The search for the virtues of pedigree made his people go to extreme measures. He no longer wondered why there had been no youkai in Kagome's stories of the future.
Their very natures made that reason apparent.
But Byakko had another card to play, it seemed. He bowed before his lord and said, "If only Sesshomaru-sama would take a female to wife and whelp on her a litter, then the future of the realm would be secured."
He wanted to laugh. "This Sesshomaru's activities in his bed-chamber are not for you to speculate upon. When I feel the need, then I shall wed and whelp."
"Why the hesitation, my lord?" said a buzzard youkai in the third tier of this round room in which Sesshomaru sat the chair of eminence. Flames licked out of his mouth with every word, "Does it have anything to do with the mysterious boy child you were seen leaving your estate with ten moons ago?"
"Yes! Give us news!" "Who is this pup?" "Whose brat is he?" The shouting fast wore on his nerves, but he kept his serene mask in place.
"If you're seeking a boy, Itsumade, look to your own harem of catamites." In the mocking laughter that followed, Sesshomaru swept his gaze all around the chamber. "Where I go and what I do are my business alone. It is my right and none of yours to question. Any who disagree are welcome to challenge this Sesshomaru for the Western Lands. Singly or all at once, if you so dare. Do not think me unaware of your concerns. Rest assured I will always have my people's best interests in mind."
"But who exactly are your people, my lord? You spend weeks far from your lands. You let the humans encroach on our territories. We heard you even leased them the fertile fields of the Kobe delta." Byakko, always the sly one, genuflected with oily ease, even as his words incited. Sneaky old tiger, using 'our' and 'we' so as to make the source of these accusations vague and unclear. As if the inu lord didn't know.
"Enough." Sesshomaru tested the ink on the page before him to see if it dried and well pleased, closed the book with a snap, tucking it away. He stood and the assembly held their collective breath. "Someone must grow the rice and see to the trusting beasts. If not the humans, then who? Our youths who itch for battle? The lords who encourage them? Perhaps we should focus on breeding, well and diversified, instead of warring for a few generations-"
They didn't even hear his words, so wrapped up were they in who offended who and who deserved to be decimated. He didn't expect them to, in any case. Some habits never change. Saddened, he flared his aura and roared, "Silence!"
He said into the silence that reigned thereafter, "We diminish and refuse to see why. Our society has grown stagnant for lack of outside stimulus. I shall do all that I can, for as long as I can. As I have always done. Use your reason, august beings of infernal might that you are. See to your future or we will soon have none."
Sesshomaru left them then, passing missives to his assistants. Orders for resupply and re-deployment for his troops at the front. Byakko met him in the hall. He eyed the tiger youkai with wary appraisal before nodding a greeting. No, Byakko would not strike yet, not so early in the game anyway.
His general said, "My lord."
"Byakko. I do not suppose you had anything to do with Guhin's betrayal." The unsubtle accusation did not so much as cause a waver in the general's confidence. Sesshomaru applauded the demon his audacity from behind a polite facade.
"I would be a fool to say I had, but no, that baka acted on his own as far as I am aware of."
Not likely. But that thought remained locked behind many mental barriers. "I want the mountain tengu to know that their leader's traitorous actions did not go unnoticed. Make an example of a few of them. We need to keep the tribe alive to fill the ranks, do we not?"
"Yes, Sesshomaru-sama." Byakko bowed at the waist with a flourish. Really, the tiger was wasted on the battlefield. He should have been a courtier. As cunning and conniving as any snake in his stable of vipers. The general paused before turning to leave. Sesshomaru gave him permission to speak with a wave of one hand. "Lord, when heirs were mentioned at assembly, I couldn't help but notice a complete lack of worry from your esteemed self. So lacking as to be inverted. Is the legacy secure?"
He debated a moment on his response. Such roundabout inquiries remained pretty standard among youkai, as hiding one's young until they reached maturity tended to be the prevailing fashion. He let a smirk alight on his face and decided on an ambiguous answer that should have the old tiger chasing his own tail for months. "Very. One might say . . . tremendously so."
Byakko let drop a salacious wink and purr as he left. Let him think Sessomaru had dozens of whelps out there to succeed him. The longer it took for the general to pinpoint Kenshin's location, the more ready and able the boy would be to defend himself. Demons tended to think in the long term so the probability of Byakko rushing out in force to ransack every ningen village . . . probably dwelt down there at next to nil. Plus, he wouldn't want to draw attention to himself any more than he had to. Such a thing could provoke his lord into taking retribution.
It'll take years, no doubt. Sesshomaru hummed a low pleased sound as he exited the courtly wing of his estate and headed into his own modest, personal residence. Jaken rained praises on him from the moment the imp saw him come through the doors. The lord ignored his servant and went to his inner sanctum. With refreshment in the form of rice wine and clean parchment at hand, he set to work. Like all great swordsmen, he took pleasure in out-thinking an opponent, letting his enemy work themselves into a corner before he struck the decisive blow. This game promised to be an interesting one.
He thought long and hard about which strategy to employ and set things into motion with a few short messages. No doubt this plan might take decades to come to fruition, maybe a century. But what is a century to one such as I. No time at all. A blink of a golden eye.
He addressed the imp who still waited on his pleasure, "Jaken."
"Would you ever bow to a hanyou master?"
"Sesshomaru-sama! Please do not say such things! I would never want to be brought so low as to be pressed into the service of a filthy half-breed."
"Even if he were worthy?"
The imp stuttered and coughed, disgusted. "I find it hard to believe that such a thing is possible!"
"Hn," he said, copying out the letter to some of his southern governors for information regarding the expansion of human provinces and who led them. It did pay to keep tabs. Maybe he could spot the tipping point before it happened. "Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not."
"Sesshomaru-sama, why the strange questions?"
"No reason that should concern a servant."
Thus rebuked, Jaken slouched in on himself in misery. Despite being loud and prostrating himself to the point of idiocy, Jaken had an eye for survival, Sesshomaru knew. The imp became a virtual weather-vane for how conflicts turned out. Sesshomaru need only look opposite the way the little youkai ran to find trouble. Though, in recent years, Jaken grew something of a backbone. Loyal, but cowardly. The lord could depend on the imp to be consistent in that regard.
"Ready Ah-Un. I go east for the winter. And I wish to take presents."
"Presents? For whom, Sesshomaru-sama?"
"You will find out. Someone must tend the beast, after all."
The way the imp groaned fed a tiny smirk on his lord's face that lasted til long past the first gatepost.
He tried so very hard to stay away. It didn't help that their two groups seemed to meet at every crossroads. Fate pushed them together in their mutual struggles against Naraku and his abominable minions. Further and further out of his control, his path always led him back here.
Sesshomaru reflected on failing to be the master of his own destiny as he, Rin and Jaken crested yet another hill to find a too familiar sight before them. The nekomata who played companion to the demon slayer raised her feline head and bobbed it in greeting to the demon lord. Rin ran past him to embrace Shippo. The two children laughed and spoke fast-paced to catch each other up on what happened to them while they had been parted.
Miroku, the priest with the ravenous hole in his hand, said, "Won't you join us, Sesshomaru-sama? It is late and there is room."
Unable to help himself, he looked to the miko, whose turned back said everything. A strange, bereft feeling flickered in him. He sublimated it with effort before answering, "The dark hanyou moves on the South. This Sesshomaru has pledged to the Southern lord to assist. I should not tarry."
Inuyasha snorted and laid a glare upon him, full of disdain and impudence. "You heard him. He's too good for the likes of us. Go on, then."
Sango turned a frown on Inuyasha. "Shh! Be polite. He's saved us from death many times."
"As many times as we've done the same for him and his!" Inuyasha shot back, jabbing a talon in the taiyoukai's direction. "But he's never going to admit he needs us. He's never going to say, 'thank you,' is he? Peh!" The hanyou threw his hands into the air.
"Kagome-chan! I was just telling Rin about that story you told me the other night. Won't you please, please, please read it to her?" The fox kit made a show of begging, kneeling in the dirt and wringing both hands together in the air. Rin copied him with comical accuracy and the kit tackled her. The pair wrestled around in a mass of flailing limbs and laughter.
Rin broke away to stand before Sesshomaru, pleading with him with her eyes. "Can Rin not stay to hear these fables, Sesshomaru-sama? Rin promises to be extra good."
As though she'd been bad. He appraised his ward with sharp eye and saw in her a fear of this. Did she think their groups' separation somehow her fault? He'd forgotten that she noticed things, sometimes showing startling insight. If she'd noticed his reluctance to remain near Kagome's pack, no telling what conclusions the child drew on her own. It wasn't fair to her to let her continue believing she caused the rift that divided them.
He dropped a hand on her head and said, "This Sesshomaru will only stay if the miko allows it."
In his periphery, he saw shock ghost over the adults' faces. All eyes turned to Kagome, who finally turned to face him with calm and serene countenance. In a voice, both placid and cheerful, she said, "Of course, he can stay. Far be it for this miko to tell the great lord whether he may stay or go."
Barbed, that remark cut him. He frowned at how he seemed to bleed with no wound. His response, of which he knew he really had none, got cut off by the loud and boisterous exclamations of the pups as they danced in a ring, swinging each other around and singing the miko's praises. When his eye thought to seek her out again, the miko had gone. He breathed deep of the evening air to locate her. She'd not gone far, though, only a few paces outside of the firelight and into the trees.
Sesshomaru debated following her for much longer than he really should have, but decided not to tread those waters if he could help it. As the others made ready to bed down for the night, he pulled the book of poems from his sleeve. He pondered the pages that had wrinkled even more from his frequent handling and the strange metal cylinder that he found out became some sort of writing utensil with a twist. He did this now and turned to a blank page.
Writing with the device felt strange to him, the way he could feel the very grain of the paper with every swipe. Nothing like drawing with a brush. He wrote-
'Cold hands mean cold heart.
A lord must be vicious; cruel.
Or so I've been taught.'
Truth, but an unsatisfying one. It made him wonder if he could ever be more than the sum of his learnings. He flipped back a few pages to read the one of the first he'd added-
'Strange, scholarly child.
Frustrating me thus.'
Sesshomaru sighed and closed the book. A soft voice from above made him look up to see his half-brother lounging on the low branches, "You hurt her."
The taiyoukai readied himself for battle. If the hanyou felt truly incensed, no meager and weak blood-tie would keep him from trying to destroy Sesshomaru. Nor did the lord expect it to.
"I don't know the details, nor do I wanna, but you hurt her," Inuyasha accused, "I told her you would, but she wouldn't listen to me. And now . . .. Well, let's just say the last few weeks have been downright depressing."
"You warned her away from this Sesshomaru and she did not heed?"
"That's what I said, isn't it? Anyway, so now, I appeal to your common sense, since she seems to have lost hers somewhere near Edo. Stay away from her. Keep to the youkai way. No good can come of it. I mean," Inuyasha said, then swept a hand to indicate himself in self-deprecating manner, "just look at me."
Part of him bridled at the hanyou's presumption. Another heard his own words flung back at him with growing dismay. Yet another, a deeper voice said, Ningen live close to death every day. They strive and toil to spite it. Does not the book in your pocket prove that they can do wonders? How, then, are they value-less?
The hanyou spoke on, "Soppy human onna. Mooning over your girlish looks day and night. I mean, what did she see in you anyway? You're such an asshole. It's a wonder she even thought there could be something under all that pompous arrogance. Probably imagined it. Sucks that you proved her right, but at least now she knows, ne? What you see-" Now Inuyasha gestured at him head to toe before finishing, "is what you get. Just a whole lotta asshole."
"You would do well to be quiet," Sesshomaru cautioned, his patience nearing its end.
"Or what? You'll fight me? Keh, as if I'm scared of you. If she hadn't made me swear to keep the peace, I'd be trying to make you eat Tessaiga right now." The hanyou leapt down to stand in front of the seated lord. "You're an idiot if you think hurting my best friend didn't put me in a killing mood. You're lucky she's generous or you'd be wormbait by now."
"Your concern for the miko is noted. This Sesshomaru would not have her harmed further." It shook him how true that statement felt. It pinged off deep places in him, causing dissonance.
Inuyasha looked at him askance. "Good. Keep it that way. And if you're going to stick around this time, take care you don't end up pissing her off. Even I'm scared of her when she's mad."
"Now it seems you are concerned over what might become of me. This Sesshomaru is touched."
"No, no, that's not what I mea-. Just. I want her to be happy, is all." Inuyasha bit his lip and scowled. "For a long while there, it didn't seem like she'd ever be happy again. I had a lot to do with that. Then she was for a bit. And then she wasn't again."
"The hanyou has learned how to take responsibility, then?"
"I own my mess. And I can't go back and fix what's broke. Nor would I. But she knows me. She knows I'm sorry." The hanyou shook out his hair with a grunt. "Hn. For whatever good that does."
Sesshomaru sat in pensive silence as his half-brother walked away. Meanwhile, Kagome returned and sat with the children telling stories til they became too sleepy to listen any more. He found his eye kept catching hers at odd moments and without his meaning to. Though Inuyasha's words still rang in his ears, he found himself trying to devise a way to explain to her his actions. He owed her that much, at least.
Do I? The thought blindsided him. He, who never made excuses or ever felt the need to, now sought to earn forgiveness, of all things. The irony struck him then and he snorted to himself in aggravation. For one who expounded the virtues of responsibility to his brother, he sure didn't care to do so himself. Part of taking responsibility is admitting one's mistakes. He started to miss his simple existence of yore, when all that mattered was the strength of his arm and finding victory in his enemy's defeat. Though, then he wouldn't have Rin. Or Bakusaiga. He'd have remained as purposeless as a sword without one to wield it.
His ruminations took him well into the night, and soon he alone remained awake. Sesshomaru could stand it no longer. Something must be done to quell the riotous anxiety within him, even if that meant inviting more turmoil. He withdrew the tome and flipped to his latest haiku. The one about lordship. With hurried hand, he added another in the margin and tore the page free as neat as he could. He then folded it into a paper lily.
Sesshomaru crept to where Kagome lay asleep, her hair spread across her pillow. He had an insane urge to run a hand through that dark mass, but stopped himself from doing something so foolish. The lily he set just under the edge of her covering, then all but ran back to his vacated seat at the edge of the clearing. His thoughts turned to the words he'd added-
'I might have been wrong.
I might have never known you.
I might never change.'
He knew she'd found his message when she pressed a note into his hand as they parted ways the next morning. Sesshomaru spent a long while during the trek just staring at it, the simple folded square of paper. What did she write? Did it contain something to calm and comfort his ceaseless confusion? Or was it something else? A denial or confirmation? Forgiveness? Understanding?
His imagination painted all sorts of fanciful scenarios until he finally unfolded the message and read. His heart grew heavy and dark, thudding from some unnameable feeling. He kept wanting to call it . . . sorrow.
He lamented the passing of years, as they had the habit of flying by much too quick for his taste. Only in the stolen moments with his progeny did it all slow down enough for him to count. Then he counted every second lost between visits as well.
Sesshomaru forgot how fast youkai pups matured, slower than ningen, but there existed a biological imperative for children of such a volatile race to fast become able to stand on their own. So when five years went by almost without his noticing and he showed up to find a whelp already showing his father's height tussling with Inuyasha in Kaede's yard, he stopped in shock. Where had the stumbling two-year old of his last visit gone?
The demon lord paused under the trees before approaching and just watched, keeping his aura and scent cloaked. The pair cavorted, chasing one another with that mindless joy dogs have, living in the 'now'. Kenshin seemed happy, if the perky set of his ears and the glitter of his blue eyes told a true story. Nearby, the demon-slayer and her husband, the priest, laughed at their antics from the porch, their small ningen children at their feet.
Rin, now a woman, called encouragement from the sidelines. At her side, the kitsune, Shippo, grown tall and lanky, stood with cocky grin plastered across his face. Such a charming domestic scene called to Sesshomaru, starting a warmth in his chest that made him almost wish to leave it untouched. But he knew that it wouldn't stay that way for long. Opposing forces already slithered in the shadows, ready to strike. Time for Sesshomaru to take his son's education in hand.
He decided to let them have another hour of dalliance as he watched, indulging himself as much as they. Suddenly, a presence made itself known to him and his gaze cut to one side to see a face almost identical to his own, only softer and feminine. The last person he'd thought would find this place, or even want to search it out. He nodded and said, soft and careful, "Lady-Mother."
"Sesshomaru," she answered with a regal tilt of her head. Then she chuckled. "Do not look so surprised, my son. I have known of this place since you fought for Rin's soul in Hell. I was curious what could change my son so, or hold his attention for so long. You did get bored so easily when you were a pup."
His head bent to concede to her point and her tenacity.
"I see he bears the mark." She baited him with quirked brow. So that's where he learned it from. One could say all sorts of things with a judiciously tilted brow. How intriguing.
He decided to take control of the conversation. "Have you ever heard the word 'extinction,' lady?"
She volleyed, "Oh, do call me 'kaa-san', like you once did."
Sesshomaru retorted, "This Sesshomaru might think 'babaa' is more appropriate."
"Now that's just cruel," she said, pouting at him, "how did I raise such a heartless boy? 'Old woman', indeed."
"It is from you that I learned heartlessness."
"It is also me that showed you how to take one's heart back."
He smiled a wry smile into her golden eyes. "Not a line will ever grace your face, kaa-san. You will always look as though you sprang from the earth fresh and new at the start of every season."
"Oh, stop." Yet she hid a pleased smile behind her fan. "I should have known flattery lay in your arsenal along with your swords."
"One finds weapons for every arena." He took her hand in his and lay a kiss to her cold palm. "Now this Sesshomaru desires an answer to his question."
"Well, I recall having heard it once or twice. Why do you bring such unpleasantness up? Such a concept reeks of finality."
"A . . . learned onna this Sesshomaru knew once told him about massive beasts that existed millions of years ago. They dominated every other beast of their era, they owned the world. Then the world changed and, unable to adapt, they were sloughed off its skin, never to walk upon it again."
"Hn." Far from stupid, she drew the parallel he knew she would. For it had once been her dream. "Sounds familiar."
She watched the boy with him and he saw wheels upon wheels turning in her eyes. A dainty finger stroked her bottom lip as she thought. Then she turned a wondering gaze on him. "Oh, my son, you play a deep, deep game."
"How can I not when one's opponent is Death?" He hummed. "Certain things must occur. We must disappear so that the right future happens, but I do not think the world will be done with us just yet. I think we'll be needed again someday."
"And he?" She pointed to his son, who laughed so carefree out there. "Will he know you use him so?"
"Did I? No, I did not see your fingers tangling the skein of my fate until it was already too late. Only, unlike you and my father, I will play it better. I won't fail."
His Lady-Mother looked upon him with awe and a sad smile lit her features. "Yes, my son, I believe you shall. When my grandson is old enough, bring him to me. I have yet a few things I can teach him better than you."
"This Sesshomaru shall do as you say." He bowed to her and when he looked back up, she had gone.
The boy learned quickly. Already, he'd countered the advance of Sesshomaru's lances. Pretty good, considering the pup had only learned how to play this game in the last week or so. The shogi board lay between them, father and son. The demon lord caught a few shy glances in his direction and admonished, "Concentrate, whelp. Looking at me instead of the board will not help you be victorious."
His son's ears went flat in dejection. A habit that would have to be corrected. Kenshin tapped his fangs with his claws as he focused on the game. Then one ear began to flick with dubious and sly intent. No doubt, the boy had finally spotted the opening Sesshomaru left on his right flank. With a decisive flick, the hanyou pushed his knight forward, forking a bishop and a promoted rook in the process. Then he looked up at his father with a smug smirk and crossed his arms as though to say, What now, oh, high and mighty Lord of the West?
How unfortunate for the boy that moving that knight opened his king up for check, which Sesshomaru did, gliding his silver-general into position. The jaws of the trap shut. "Ote."
Disappointed, Kenshin conceded defeat and sat, sullen and silent.
Sesshomaru raised a brow at him. No, he would not be allowed to wallow. "Where did you go wrong?"
"I . . . I was too eager, tou-san. And didn't think ahead." Shame colored Kenshin's cheeks in a light pink and his gaze dropped to his own hands where they wrung together on the edge of his jacket.
"Hai. You give yourself away before you even move the pieces. The way you sit, your face, your posture should present a blank slate to all who look upon you. They will think to write their own motives upon it and thereby tip their hand to you." He demonstrated the point with absolute stillness.
"I thought you said to not look at your opponent." A flash of confusion mixed with a tiny touch of anger filled the eyes that flitted up to meet his.
"You listen to your enemy to hear what he does not wish you to do. Then you would be wise to defy him."
"But I thought you were teaching me." The boy's tone said it lacked fairness, not letting him know at the outset what was expected of him.
Very few things in the world possessed fairness. A lesson he'd teach his son very well. "You have learned the moves. Now you must teach yourself with each failure and success."
He watched the boy puzzle this over and felt a flash of pride when Kenshin met his gaze with an understanding beyond his years. "Again?"
"Set up the board, my son." The spark of pride he'd felt before bloomed into full-blown exultation with the next few games. Oh, Kenshin would grow into brilliance. His moves remained raw and untempered, but no longer did he twitch or fret and he watched his father with a keenness that bordered on hostile appraisal. Finally treating his father like an enemy. Good.
And in one audacious move, when the boy captured his gold-general, that serene countenance lifted to his and one brow arched up under the pup's silver bangs. Sesshomaru felt a bubbling laugh rise up in his throat. He stopped it before it could escape, but let himself reach out and tousle his son and heir's curly locks. The boy's face broke out in a wide grin which he answered with a smirk.
"Tomorrow, the sword."
All that careful control shattered and dropped to the wayside as Kenshin leapt to his feet in an excited scramble. "Really?!"
He nodded, then watched the boy sprint away. Excited shouting sounded throughout the priestess's house, followed by the raucous addition of Inuyasha's laughter. If he knew his brother, then the hanyou probably warned Kenshin that he might regret his exuberance by this time next eve. Probably would, thought Sesshomaru with a small feral grin.
The fox youkai, who'd been watching them play from the shadows under the house's eaves, approached and bowed with graceful courtesy. Sesshomaru pondered its meaning before nodding in greeting. "Kitsune."
"Sesshomaru-sama." Shippo sat opposite him and picked up one of the shigo pieces. Mysteries lurked in the young demon's eyes and the lord felt a wave of unease for a moment. Until the fox said, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were setting yourself up to be his foe when he grows up."
"This Sesshomaru is a traditionalist. Should I not wish for my son to surpass me?"
"Only, I know how most youkai do it. Not the fox way. I only would have had to prove myself cleverer."
"And would you have?"
Youki flared on the kitsune's fingers for a moment and Shippo turned the piece in his hand so Sesshomaru could see the kanji on it. A 'promoted' gold-general? The letters twisted and writhed so that they almost said 'king' as well. Shippo drawled, "Oh, yeah."
"Your confidence is admirable." Sesshomaru said, amused. "I gather from your tone that you might have issues with what this Sesshomaru hopes to accomplish?"
"You could say that. You could say that no one here wants to see Kagome's kid in trouble. Or hurt. Or . . . killed, even." The fox made his tone flat and threatening in an obliquely non-threatening way. "I'm just saying. I know that pup. I don't think he can be as heartless as you."
"Shippo," He said, taking in the kitsune's shock with hidden amusement. How easy it was to unbalance them with a few well chosen words. If he could find a word that could kill, he'd be tempted to give up the sword forever. He continued, "this Sesshomaru is counting on it."
Later on, inside Kaede's crowded house, Sesshomaru sat at his son's bedside and looked down into the young face that slept such a profound sleep. Would he ever sleep so after he found out what life had in store for him? In his memory, he heard the boy ask-
"Tell me about my mother, tou-san." Only natural for a child to ask such a thing.
"She was fair and dark of hair. You have her eyes. She was a powerful miko and slaughtered many enemies." The lonely ache in his chest that had never gone away burned at his heart. "She was young and defiant and . . . and funny. She amused this Sesshomaru on many occasions."
"Did you love my mother, tou-san?"
His mouth dried and even though he'd told himself that this time of the day, the hour before his child slumbered, he would put aside title and bearing and be father only, he still found it so very difficult to admit the truth. "Hai, Kenshin. She ruled in the court of this Sesshomaru's heart."
"Only, uncle said that demons can't love. Is that true?" The boy's eyes, her eyes, looked up at him and seemed to demand truth. How could he deny it?
"Once this Sesshomaru had no use for softer emotions like love. It was no weapon he could wield in his hand. But he learned better." He leaned close to Kenshin and hissed, "Love is dangerous. And it is far more so in the hands of the one who possesses it within him than any who would seek to use it against the possessor."
He confused the lad, he saw. So he sat back and ruffled the hair that begged ruffling. The boy giggled under his hand. Then he said, "Shippo-kun says that my mother read them stories, he and Rin, when they were pups. Do you know any stories, tou-san?"
Sesshomaru sighed and thought back to those days. Then he intoned, "In a faraway war-torn land, there once lived a powerful daimyo named Arthur. And with him, he had a circle of samurai loyal only to his hand . . .."
Sesshomaru stood and walked back out into the common area. He took the cup Rin proffered with a grateful nod. Inuyasha eyed him from across the fire, but didn't turn his back. Progress. "He sleeps."
"So he does. And soundly, too. Must have gotten bored listening to you drone on and on." It seemed half-hearted baiting at best. The hanyou flicked a lazy ear in his direction and said, "There have been a couple incursions already. I took care of them."
"There will come more."
"Nothing I can't handle." Inuyasha cracked his knuckles in front of him and grinned.
"Still, it is best the whelp get trained as soon as possible. He will have many enemies." He already does. Sesshomaru sipped the hot tea and sighed, relaxing a bit.
"I'll make some shinai tomorrow."
"No. I will not have him get used to the weight and heft of bamboo when he should know the soul of steel. Find one for his height."
Kaede looked shocked and muttered, "But he's only a boy-"
Shippo flicked a piece of straw into the cookfire and drawled, "He won't be for long. At his age, I helped fight Naraku. Youkai grow up quick."
The taiyoukai nodded in agreement. "Or not at all."
Over and over, he read them, but they retained their power despite his best efforts to feel nothing. He tasted ashes as he thought of her answer-
'Do you think I weep?
Do you think you've broken me?
As if I'd let you.
Suffer not, oh lord.
Stay in your castle of ice.
Let pride comfort you.'
Shame, an emotion with which he'd started to become very familiar of late, clutched at his innards. He stayed in his lands for a long time after that, brooding. Sulking, his inner cynic told him. Pining, an even unkinder one chimed in. He had no answer for them, nothing to refute their claim.
He sorted out the mess to the south while skirting well clear the Eastern lands. Rin asked him everyday when they would go back to see the miko and her friends. He didn't know, but he told her the first lie he'd ever told her. "Soon."
Sesshomaru should have known that providence would intervene.
Flying far above the open grasslands adjacent to a swamp, he spotted a battle in progress below. Narrowing his eyes, he made out two figures, one much smaller than the other, fighting a desperate fight against a huge multi-form youkai that resembled a dragon crossed with an octopus. It coiled around the pair at its mercy and tried to dodge in past arrows that sparkled. In alarm, he thought, Glowing arrows?
His cloud swerved at his silent command and he dropped lower to see the conflict better. It confirmed his fears. Kagome pit herself and her bow against the monstrous demon, the fox kit at her back. Where the others happened to have got to, he couldn't tell. She held her own fairly well, but even he could see she tired. Blood striped her uniform in a dozen places. Yet, none of that touched the fierce determination on her face. It blazed with it. She snarled as one of her arrows flew into a mad, rolling eye. He knew then that she'd lay her life down for the fox kit without hesitation.
An angry growl of denial tore itself from his throat.
It shrieked and tossed its head. Sesshomaru grit his teeth and jumped from his cloud, pulled into action by something that welled up from deep within him. The thing couldn't be allowed to harm her further. Bakusaiga appeared in his hand as he plunged hundreds of feet straight down, right into the center of the mass of writhing coils.
Above the howls of the thing, he heard Kagome shout something to him and point. He shook his head at her, not hearing her. In that moment of distraction, a huge section of the beast's body swung around and hit him full in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He landed amidst the squirming, fleshy tentacles that made up its extremities. They gripped and pulled at him, keeping him from swinging his sword with any sort of effectiveness. Trapped, Sesshomaru felt the bonds holding his beast in check start to unravel.
He didn't want that to happen. Fully manifest, the beast within had trouble being discriminate. Kagome and Shippo could die by his hand and he may not even notice. No!
Light burst before his eyes and he found himself staring at a fiery arrow, sunk right where this group of sucking tentacles joined the belly scales. They dissolved from the purifying energies that imbued the arrowhead. Wrenching himself loose, he cut a swathe to where the miko and her kit fended off the worst of the seeking tendrils.
Kagome pulled him to her by his pauldron and shouted in his ear, "The tongue! Shard's in the tongue!"
He took off, leaping high to where that huge maw snapped and threw gobs of saliva to and fro. He sliced through as many of the reaching squirmy appendages as he could on the way to buy the onna behind him some time. The sizzle and stink of decomposing flesh from where his blade touched the demon's flesh reached his ears. There! In the back of its throat, something sparkled.
It saw him! The wild flailing of its head brought its regard upon the inu lord and it opened its mouth wide to devour him. He smirked and swung his sword around, releasing its energy attack right down its throat. Another earth-shaking scream split the air, ringing Sesshomaru's ears. He reached past fangs the length of his arm and grasped the offensive, flopping tongue in one fist and started pulling.
Panicking, it snapped down upon his arm, one long tooth piercing his upper bicep. He hissed and used the pommel of his Bakusaiga to shatter that fang. With a mighty yank, he ripped his prize free. The demon disintegrated before his eyes, becoming just so much dust. He sheathed his sword just as he touched down, the jewel shard in his opposite fist. The bit of tooth embedded in his arm he pulled loose with a grunt of disgust.
"Sesshomaru!" The panic in her voice made him wheel and sprint to where she sat cradling the fox kit in her arms. Something was wrong with the kitsune. A green foam leaked out from between his lips and his eyes, bloodshot, rolled back into his head. "He's poisoned!"
"Where is Inuyasha and the others? Why are you out here alone?" He tried not to think about what might be thundering through his own veins at that moment.
"Too far. There is no time. Take him!" She thrust the boy into his arms. His head lolled limp against his bracers. She shouted, "Find help! Medicine!"
Stunned, he hesitated, looking down into her furious blue eyes. How they sparked with so much anger. How could he just leave her here injured and alone?
She screamed at him, "Go! Damn you! Go! Save him!"
Her voice galvanized him into action. His youki cloud formed at his feet and with one last look at her tear-streaked and bloody face, he took off. The shard he flicked to her. Kagome's hand came out to deftly pluck it from the air. His last glimpse of her, she'd sunk to her knees on the torn turf.
She looked so small then. He prayed she found safety before something else came along to kill her.
Healers. He had to find healers. Thoughts that used to run like quicksilver slowed to treacle. He spotted a temple on the horizon. His limbs felt so heavy, all of him turned to lead, it seemed.
Speed! He thought at his youki and saw that far dot grow larger much faster. Barreling at it at breakneck realized he had very little strength left to slow his fall. The cloud dissipated at his feet and he sped through sky on sheer willpower alone.
The roof of the temple rose up beneath him and he had just enough awareness left to curl his body around the small life entrusted to him before he crashed through it. Darkness swallowed him then.
Pain! His first thought, unpleasant though it happened to be, told him that he'd not expired saving a woman who hated his guts.
His second thought rose up in panic, Kagome! He sat bolt upright then fell back as agony lanced him like a spear. His whole body swam with tiny stings, but the source seemed to center around his left arm. Oh no, not again.
With effort, he turned and looked down at his shoulder, followed it past a blood-soaked bandage and felt relief when he spotted his hand, all five fingers intact.
A soft snort from the side drew his attention and he met blue eyes under black bangs. Kagome sat in a chair next to his bed and watched him with tired aloofness. A wry smile lifted a corner of her mouth. "Just checking?"
"Hn." Parched tongue clung to his soft palate. Pulling it free, he licked his lips and managed, "The fox kit."
"Alive. Resting. The monks here had a store of medicines for victims of that monster."
"Is . . . there water?" Even speaking so few words seemed to aggravate the skin inside his throat and he coughed, dry and painful. Someone placed a cup at his lips and he lapped at the liquid with shameless thirst.
When he finished, he leaned back on the plump coverings of the narrow bed someone had laid him in. He looked around for clues as to who lived here and found very little to base any sort of picture on. Ah, that's right. A temple. A place of asceticism.
His eyes snapped back to the miko as she cleared her throat. She smiled a wan little smile at him before saying in a grim tone. "I feel bad for making you fly in your condition. I didn't know you'd been bitten by that thing."
Sesshomaru waved it off. He felt his youki overcoming the last of the toxin, soon it would start to knit his flesh back together. He would be whole in a matter of hours. "It probably saved this Sesshomaru's life as well."
Her eyes flicked away from his in guilt. Then she turned back to him and reached out to grasp his hand. "Thank you, Sesshomaru-sama."
The use of the honorific pricked him, though he knew he deserved her distance. He turned his hand to interlace his fingers with hers. "You are welcome, Kagome."
He felt her hand tremble and released her. She pulled away with a touch of haste and stood, nodding her head to him in respect. As she approached the sliding doors, he called, "Kago-"
"Rin," she interjected, stopping there on the threshold. The miko glanced at him and stroked the doorframe with one finger. She seemed nervous as she continued, "Rin, she, uh, I mean, it's good for her to be around kids her age. Shippo misses her. Kohaku doesn't play with him. Too busy doing demon-slayer stuff and getting revenge on Naraku. I mean, we're all doing that, but, it's just-I-. Oh listen to me, I'm rambling. I mean to say, you're always welcome in our camp. Rin, too. And that Jaken, though he's a pain in the ass." With that she bowed to him and said from under her bangs, "I don't know how to express how grateful I am you saved Shippo."
Just as the door shut, he whispered, "I did it for you."
Was it just his imagination or did that door pause just a hair before clicking closed? He sighed and closed his eyes, feeling truly weary for the first time in ages. Then his golden orbs snapped open and he said, with a touch of annoyance, "Where are this Sesshomaru's clothes?"
He cast about for them, but didn't see them laid out anywhere. Perhaps they lay in the wardrobe in the corner. On the arm of the chair the miko just vacated, he saw a familiar brown hidebound book. He reached for it and pulled it to him. Now a touch of embarrassment ghosted up his spine as he thought of her reading his ramblings. He flipped it open to find that his marker had been moved. Under the silver writing utensil, he read the haiku she must have stumbled upon. The back of his neck grew hot as the words leapt out at him-
'The winter lies deep.
It fills me and binds my heart.
She is the summer.'
Seems he was found out. Sesshomaru thought about how she might have taken it. What she might have thought. It worried him a tad. Then he remembered that instead of mockery in her face and words, she'd welcomed him back into the fold. Perhaps she didn't detest him all that much then? The familiar unsteadiness filled him with nervous energy. But with it something else, something like hope.
End of Part One