A/N: This fic was originally posted to Dokuga in 60 chapters. In crossposting it to FF and AO3, I have divided it into three acts and will be posting it in three sections as I finish editing. I have chosen to rate the fic 'T' here as I feel that is the most appropriate rating overall. However, on Dokuga the site policies dictated a rating of MA due to the suggestive (non-graphic) sexual content of Chapter 44.
Awards Won: Tied 1st Place Best Drama in the July 2013 Feudal Association Awards. 1st Place Best Canon; 2nd Place Best Portrayal of Sesshoumaru; and Tied 1st Place Best Portrayal of Kagome in the 2013 1st SemiAnnual Dokuga Awards. 2nd Place Best Romance in the October 2013 Feudal Association Awards. 1st Place Best Action/Adventure; 2nd Place Best Drama in the 2013 2nd SemiAnnual Dokuga Awards.
Warnings: Fantasy Violence; Canon Typical Gore; Implied Sexuality/Sensuality; Some Coarse Language.
Art/Supplemental Materials: There's several pieces of art, as well as maps and family trees that go with this story. To see them, go to my profile and click on "Fanart for my Fics". The art I'm using as a cover on FF is by NicoRavenPen.
ACT I: CHANGE
A change of the wind
May toss a ship upon rocks
Or to safe harbor
Kagome stood in the clearing by the Bone Eater's Well, the Shikon Jewel in her hands. It was whole. Complete.
So much had led to this moment, and yet she still didn't feel ready. She didn't know what would happen next. Would the well close? And which side would she be on when it did?
She'd said goodbye to both of her families, just to be sure.
She raised her eyes from the softly glowing orb cupped in her hands, unaware of how she looked in the moment – a priestess of power and purity, the Shikon Miko, with eyes like the sky. Wind blew through the clearing, bending the grass and pulling at Kagome's red hakama.
She looked to Inuyasha. He gave her an encouraging nod, his hand on the hilt of Tetsusaiga.
He was still certain then. The wish should be hers.
She turned from him, scanning the faces of the rest of her friends. Miroku smiled, meeting this newest change just as he faced everything else. Sango looked on with quiet acceptance, her shoulders tensed. Shippou was in her arms, green eyes filled with tears. He was afraid of losing Kagome most of all.
Even Sesshoumaru had seen fit to attend. He stood further back, just in front of the trees, his eyes focused on Kagome.
He probably wanted to be sure the jewel was properly disposed of. Kagome blushed under his scrutiny, but nodded to him politely.
He gave no sign of having noticed.
Searing all of their faces into her mind, just in case it was the last time she would see them, Kagome took a deep breath and looked back to the jewel.
An unselfish wish.
She had spent days thinking about it, and had come up with only one thing.
I wish for everyone who was harmed by the jewel, and the battle to control it, to find peace and happiness, in this life and the next.
It seemed like a pure wish. After all, Kagome would have never met her friends in the Feudal Era without the jewel's intervention.
For her, it was a blessing. An often times painful one…
But a blessing none the less.
She watched as the jewel grew brighter and brighter, until she couldn't bear to look at it. It left her hands, flying into the air.
The was a sound like thunder, and then hundreds, maybe even a thousand pink lights streaked through the sky. For a horrible moment, Kagome thought the jewel had shattered again.
But then she felt it. The spirits of Midoriko and the youkai she had been trapped with within the jewel for all these years. They ghosted by Kagome's skin.
Thank you, came a whisper inside her head.
Yes, thank you, came another, this one in her heart.
The spirits danced around her, unseen but clearly felt. And then they slipped away, finally to rest.
All except one.
It laughed along her skin, a wicked, mischievous bubbling.
And then it filled Kagome's nose and mouth as she inhaled, forcing her lips into an odd laugh.
Wish granted, was said with a silent chuckle as the spirit settled in her throat.
The consciousness faded, but the power remained.
Inuyasha saw Kikyo, after the jewel flashed with light. And she was Kikyo again – warm and loving. She smiled her small smile, and granted him forgiveness.
"Live for us both now," she said, as she faded into mist.
When she vanished, Inuyasha knew it wasn't to go to hell.
Miroku's father clapped him on the back, his spectral hand somehow warm.
"You did it, boy. You broke the curse."
Miroku flexed his hands, both of them bare. There was no longer a Wind Tunnel to bind with beads.
"Is that her? The one you've told me about in your prayers?"
Miroku looked to Sango, and nodded.
"She will give you many fine children!"
Together, they leered.
Sango spoke with her family again. She assured the spirits before her that she had avenged them, and that the village would be rebuilt, in time. She would not let their ways be forgotten.
With a sidelong look to the monk and a blush, she also promised that their line would not end with her.
Sesshoumaru heard his father's howl at his back, an undulating dog song that sang of pride in two sons. He told himself he was above needing such childish reassurance, even as he stood straighter, contentment flooding him.
There was a flash and a tingle, a sudden rush of youki that he could not control, and then Sesshoumaru bent over double, blood flying to pepper his sleeve as bone and sinew jutted from his shoulder.
There was much pain in the rapid growth of the limb he had lost. But as Sesshoumaru raised his newly restored fingers, green poison glinting at the ends of his claws, his face reflected only dark pleasure.
Kagome choked on something beyond the physical, her hands on her throat as her heart pounded.
Was her death the price of her wish? Was the end of her adventure to be so very final?
Deaf and blind, she staggered, falling to her knees. There was pain in her spine. She groaned, ripping at her hakama.
Until the lights of her wish faded, and the spirits stirred by the jewel returned from whence they came, Kagome writhed upon the ground, a keening cry in the back of her throat.
Finally the pain lessened. Tentatively, Kagome climbed to her feet.
All eyes were on her.
"What?" she asked weakly, feeling odd in her own skin.
She looked down at her hands to see them tipped with delicate claws. The wind blew her hair in her face. She pushed at it, only to find that the strands were bright red.
A chill went through her, a tremble of fear. Something swished behind her.
Shippou launched himself into her arms just as she turned and found three tails protruding from the back of her hakama.
Three red tails.
She was a kitsune.
"Damn, Kagome! What the hell kind of wish did you make?" Inuyasha demanded, starting toward her.
Then her world went mad.
Danger! Danger! Kagome's instincts screamed as the hanyou approached.
It's just Inuyasha. He's a friend, came a small voice, from far away.
Kagome shook her head, retreating, her senses overloaded with scents and sound.
The fox kit in her arms was Shippou, she knew. He smelled like her. He was a fox. Fox was good. Fox was safe. Was he hers?
Yes, mine. My kit.
She held him close, tucked under her chin.
The hanyou moved closer. He smelled of power and violence, raising her hackles, something deep within screaming that he would rend and tear, that she must get away.
Kagome snarled, warning him away from her kit. Her three tails thrashed behind her, every hair standing on end. Her eyes – still blue – flashed the same green as foxfire.
"What the hell, Kagome?!" the hanyou demanded in answer to her warning. She warned him again, backing away from his approach.
A den! She needed a den. Where was the den? Her kit would be safe there.
"Kagome?" her kit mewled, tapping his little claws against her cheek. "It's ok. It's just Inuyasha."
She nipped his ear with her teeth, a reprimand to be quiet until they were safe.
Movement attracted her attention. There were humans behind the hanyou. Humans were fun. She could trick them. Distracted, she took a step toward the man, thinking to steal his shiny staff and give it to her kit to play with.
The hanyou moved again, and she stopped, remembering his presence. Every muscle tensed to run, she raised her hands, trusting her kit to hold onto her. He did, his little paws around her neck.
In a flash of foxfire, she made her escape.
Sesshoumaru had been prepared to leave once the spirit of his father faded, and the blood on his newly restored limb dried. The troublesome Shikon Jewel was gone. He cared no longer for what happened in this clearing.
As was his habit, he pulled his youki in tight, deftly hiding his scent. He preferred not to be found unless he wished it.
That was when he smelled the vixen.
Blinking, he looked up, surprised to find a kitsune powerful enough to have suddenly appeared by the well without Sesshoumaru sensing her approach. Such a kitsune would have at least seven tails.
Inuyasha shouted and Sesshoumaru raised his brow. Kagome? Was that not the name of the Shikon Miko?
He turned to look, and indeed it was. The hair and scent were different, but the rest of her appearance was much the same.
Snarling at his brother, she disappeared in a green haze.
"Kagome!" Inuyasha called, echoed by the monk and the slayer.
Sesshoumaru flexed his new hand.
"She is as a pup. Only instinct to guide her," he said.
Inuyasha whirled to face him, frustration and fear plain in his face and scent. "What's it to you?!"
Sesshoumaru blinked. "She will seek a den. To protect the kit from you."
"From me?!" Inuyasha demanded, his voice climbing and cracking.
Sesshoumaru shrugged one shoulder.
Waving his arms in his bluster, Inuyasha bellowed, "Why the hell would she run from me? She's probably scared of you!"
"This one is adept at stealth."
Sesshoumaru watched as his brother puzzled it out, his ears flattening and a whine only Sesshoumaru could hear coming from his throat when he realized.
"What is it, Inuyasha?" asked the slayer, looking between them.
Inuyasha sighed. "Kagome could smell me. I smell scary, I guess." He jerked his thumb at Sesshoumaru, "She couldn't smell him cause he was hiding it."
"But how did Kagome-sama become a kitsune in the first place?" the monk wanted to know.
Inuyasha growled. "That damn jewel. Come on, we'll figure it all out after we find her!"
The hanyou raised his nose in the air, his nostrils flaring.
Interested, Sesshoumaru waited.
"Damn!" Inuyasha cursed. "I can't tell where the hell she went!"
Sesshoumaru felt smug.
"Come," he said, turning in the direction the vixen had gone.
"You can still find her?"
Despite his question, Inuyasha followed, apparently too concerned about the former priestess to argue.
"No kitsune of a mere three tails may hide from this Sesshoumaru."
Sesshoumaru cut his eyes at his brother, halting in his tracks.
"Sheesh, ok ok. I don't know why you're helping, but if you're helping I guess… thanks."
"Hn," was all Sesshoumaru said in answer, a dog song of pride in two sons echoing in his ears.
Kagome found a small, shallow cave cut into the side of a hill. A den. Her kit would be safe. She shooed him inside, a sharp yip warning him to stay put. He went quietly, and Kagome smiled her approval.
Leaving the mouth of the den for a moment, she wrapped both hands around the trunk of a small tree and yanked, uprooting it. Carrying it back to her den, she laid the tree against the opening of the cave mouth, arranging the branches to obscure it. Once satisfied, she crawled in herself, pulling her kit into her arms and crooning to him.
He was upset, tears leaking from his precious green eyes. Thinking that he was frightened because of the hanyou, Kagome began running her claws through his hair and tail, trying to calm him.
"This is my fault," he sniffed, burrowing into her chest. "I musta wished too hard and the jewel granted mine instead of yours. My dad appeared and said I'd have a mom again. And then… Kagome, I'm sorry!" the kit wailed.
Alarmed, and not understanding all of his words, Kagome raised her kit in her arms, scenting his neck to check for injury. Finding none, she went back to grooming, her kit's tears sending already powerful instincts into overdrive.
"Kagome," her kit hiccupped.
Shippou, a faraway voice said, inside.
"Shippou," she repeated. When this calmed her kit, she said it again and again, turning his name into a lullaby.
"You're still Kagome," he said in a tiny little voice, as if reassuring himself.
"Kagome," Kagome agreed, pointing to herself. She tapped her claw against Shippou's cheek. "Shippou."
He smiled, and she smiled back.
Sesshoumaru calmly led Inuyasha through the forest, following the path the vixen had left behind. While she had hidden her scent and tracks through some instinctual grasp of a kitsune's powers of illusion, she had left telltale marks of her youki behind. It was those that Sesshoumaru followed.
He stopped when he caught sight of the den, waiting to see if Inuyasha would see it too.
Inuyasha followed Sesshoumaru's gaze, his eyes lighting on the entrance.
"She's in there?"
The tree covering the cave mouth made the new den obvious. With only instinct to guide her, the kitsune vixen had not thought to shake the dirt from the roots, or mind the claw marks she left upon the bark. Sesshoumaru's first den had been much the same.
Of course, he was a pup at the time.
"How we gonna get her to come out?" Inuyasha pondered, his brow furrowed.
Sesshoumaru was pleased to see that his brother wasn't going to simply charge the entrance of the den. Perhaps there was hope for the whelp after all.
"Bring the monk," Sesshoumaru said, thinking quickly.
"She is a vixen," Sesshoumaru said, his amusement hidden behind his usual placid mask. "He will be bait."
The monk stood just outside the vixen's den, fishing in the nearby stream. Sesshoumaru watched from the trees, Inuyasha at his side. After ordering his half-brother back, and being refused, Sesshoumaru had relented and now hid the both of them from the vixen. He did not care enough to argue the point, and Inuyasha was, after all, only showing concern and desire to protect a packmate. It was not a sentiment Sesshoumaru could fault.
His alliance with Inuyasha to defeat Naraku had served to bury much of the enmity between them.
But not all.
"Is she ever going to come out?" Inuyasha groused, his ears twitching.
"It begins now," Sesshoumaru shushed him, sensing a change in the youki within the den.
At first, there was no sign of her.
Then a playful laugh could be heard from the treetops to the monk's left. He turned in the direction of the sound, only to spin back around when splashing came from the stream to his right. His fishing line was gone, snatched from his hand.
The bushes behind him rustled, and the fishing line reappeared, tangled in the foliage. With a theatrically confused grumble, the monk laid his staff on the riverbank, and bent to untangle the fishing line.
In a flash, the vixen appeared, snatching up the staff. Her tails snapping, she stood behind the monk and shook the staff, obviously delighted by the sounds the many rings made and the way they caught the light.
The monk stood and faced her, excitement in his eyes.
Sesshoumaru wondered at that excitement. Was the monk a good actor, or was he falling under the vixen's spell?
"Pretty man," the vixen purred, running her hand across the front of the monk's robes.
The vixen grasped the monk, drawing him in for a kiss.
The monk placed one of his ofuda charged with holy power upon the vixen's head, freezing her in place.
Danger! Kagome's instincts screamed as soon as she felt the sizzle of holy power. But it was too late. The man with the pretty lavender eyes had tricked her! Treachery, treachery, a trickster was tricked!
Unable to even utter a warning to her kit, her eyes darted to the den. She couldn't move. What if the man wanted her kit?
"Good job, Miroku," a gruff voice sounded behind her.
The pretty man leaned forward and gently took his staff from Kagome's hand.
Miroku. Yes. That was the man's name. A vague feeling of embarrassment filled her.
Her nostrils quivered. She was confused.
The wind shifted.
She smelled the hanyou!
But worse than that, bigger than that, she smelled another. His scent made her heart hammer in her chest. Predator. Powerful.
She didn't know enough to associate that scent with a full blooded male inu youkai, but she knew enough to be afraid.
Her kit! The Other would devour her Shippou!
"So how do we snap her out of it?" the gruff voice was saying.
"Perhaps we should just get her back to the village? Kaede might be able to do something."
"Keh. You go get the runt. I'll carry her."
The man – Miroku, a voice supplied – headed toward the entrance of Kagome's den. In the same instant, the hanyou wrapped his arms around her, surrounding her with his terrifying scent.
No! Not her kit!
She redoubled her efforts to move, to save him, dread rising in her chest along with her youki. Her eyes glowed the color of foxfire.
"She is fighting the seal," a deep voice that sent chills through her said. She could not see the speaker. Was it the Other? The terror of terrors?
"Oi, monk! Get over here and slap another ofuda on her!"
Kagome wished she could cover her ears. Everything was too loud! With a primal scream, she broke through the magic that held her imprisoned, striking out at her captor. Her claws drew four bloody furrows across the hanyou's chest as she pushed herself away from him.
She raised both hands for another wild assault, this time on the man that threatened her kit, but she never got the chance.
Quicker than she knew how to move, the Other appeared before her. He was terrible, and beautiful, with his long white hair and the crescent moon on his brow. The silk of his sleeves fluttered in the wind. There was something familiar about the image he made.
His aura unfolded around him. Heavy. Impressive. Dreadful. Kagome lowered her arms, her blood pounding in her ears.
Though she did not know what a demon lord was, she knew that she could not fight, run, or hide. Not from this being, with the power he wore like a cloak. Her only hope, for herself and her kit, was submission.
She remembered his name when she bowed at his feet, her face in the dirt by his boots.
"Sesshoumaru-sama," she murmured.
Sesshoumaru looked down at the vixen that had abased herself before him. It was impressive, what she had done, with so little knowledge.
It was impressive that she had broken the monk's seal so quickly, being a kitsune of only three tails. Her maternal instincts must be especially strong.
Sesshoumaru was not easily impressed.
He rested the claws of his new hand against the back of the vixen's neck, squeezing lightly. It was fitting that he do so with the arm he was quite certain she was responsible for restoring. All that had happened could surely be tied to her wish on the Shikon.
He rumbled low in his throat, giving her permission to rise.
She did, her red miko hakama looking out of place with the three tails that protruded from them. Odd, to see a youkai in a priestess' clothing.
"Come," he told the vixen, turning to lead her away.
She whined at him, plainly distressed, her blue eyes pleading. She looked toward the den.
He nodded, allowing her to retrieve the kit.
She did so quickly, clearly not wanting to anger him. The kit visibly trembled in her arms, his eyes so wide that the whites showed. The kit had been frightened when Sesshoumaru unleashed his aura.
As it should be.
"Come," he said again.
This time the vixen began to follow him without complaint.
"Oi, bast- Sesshoumaru," Inuyasha called, clearly stopping himself from insult because of what Sesshoumaru had just done. "Where you taking her?"
Sesshoumaru didn't pause. "To learn."
Sesshoumaru flexed the fingers of both hands. "Honor," he said simply, wondering why he bothered to explain himself at all.
There was blessed silence for all of a few moments. Then Inuyasha ran to catch up. The vixen cowered behind Sesshoumaru, rightly treating him as her alpha and protector since he had accepted her submission.
Sorrow laced Inuyasha's scent. "Look, I'm gonna tag along. Miroku will explain to Sango and Kaede."
Sesshoumaru looked between the vixen at his back, her kit in her arms, and his brother. Familiar things may help the former miko regain herself more quickly. He would be rid of her sooner, and his debt repaid.
"Do as you please," he said to Inuyasha.
Inuyasha chattered at the vixen constantly, making Sesshoumaru grind his fangs together. He should have forbidden the whelp from accompanying them. Then he wouldn't have to listen to his brother's rambling accounts of times he had shared with the miko, the kit occasionally piping up with additions and corrections to the story.
The kit, he was surprised to find, he did not mind so much.
For her part, the vixen kept Sesshoumaru between herself and Inuyasha, her instincts overwhelming the memories of the human life she had led. Inuyasha's scent made him dangerous, but Sesshoumaru's status as alpha made him her place of safety.
If he hadn't been so thoroughly irritated, Sesshoumaru might have enjoyed the reversal. At last, he had something that Inuyasha desperately wanted back, but the vixen clearly preferred Sesshoumaru.
It was petty, but Sesshoumaru allowed himself to feel such things. It was only folly if one acted upon them.
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" the kit addressed him.
Sesshoumaru tilted his head to indicate he was listening.
"Is Kagome going to be ok?"
Upon hearing the kit say her name, the vixen giggled and pointed to her chest. "Kagome."
She tapped the kit on the cheek with one claw, "Shippou."
Then she pointed. "Sesshoumaru-sama."
"Hey, wench, forgetting anyone?" Inuyasha piped up hopefully.
The vixen hissed at him.
Sesshoumaru's lips twitched.
They reached the rest of Sesshoumaru's pack at nightfall. Jaken made his usual obsequious fuss. Sesshoumaru paid him no mind.
That was, until he scented for Rin and could not find her.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" the little girl's voice rang out before Sesshoumaru had had time to punish the imp. She slammed into his legs.
Much, much harder than usual.
Sesshoumaru looked down at the pup clinging to him. She had Rin's voice, and Rin's hair. But she did not smell like Rin.
She turned her face up to him and Sesshoumaru's breath caught at the crescent moon on her brow. Delicate stripes, like his own, adorned her cheeks. Her hair was still black, and her eyes still brown, though the pupil was now a slit. She was still Rin.
But she was an inu youkai pup.
"Rin is like Sesshoumaru-sama now! Watch how high Rin can jump!"
Agog, Sesshoumaru observed as his ward stepped back and launched herself into the air, then landed a bit clumsily.
"Good, Rin," he heard himself say, after a long moment in which he forgot how to breathe and his heart lodged itself in his throat.
He looked to the vixen who stood by his side. It seemed his debt to her had increased.
He might never be able to sufficiently repay her.
The thought was somewhat unsettling.
"Hey," Inuyasha approached, drawing even to walk next to Sesshoumaru. He gestured ahead, where Rin and the kit played a game of chase under the vixen's watchful eye. "How come Rin ain't all. You know. How Kagome is."
Sesshoumaru had been pondering that question since being presented with his transformed ward.
"Age," he posited, not offering more of an explanation until Inuyasha grumbled at him.
It was so easy to bait the whelp.
"Instincts and youki grow stronger with age. The vixen – "
"Call her Kagome. Might help her remember," Inuyasha interrupted.
"The vixen," Sesshoumaru continued, "is overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of the instincts and powers of a mature kitsune. Rin is not."
"You just made that shit up, didn't you?"
"Inuyasha-sama said a word Rin is not supposed to hear!" Rin called back to them, her advanced youkai hearing making her privy to their conversation. As Jaken took her to task for eavesdropping, Sesshoumaru leveled his gaze on his brother.
Inuyasha muttered, his ears flattening against his head. "Kagome woulda yelled at me for that."
Sesshoumaru chose not to respond. Repaying his debts to the vixen did not include extended conversation with his brother.
Kagome followed Sesshoumaru-sama, not caring where he led. She had nowhere she wanted or needed to be, and he brought food and kept enemies away. She still didn't trust the hanyou, not with the way his scent screamed of danger, but she knew that Sesshoumaru-sama would protect her. He had accepted her into his pack. She was his now.
If only she had some humans to play tricks on, she would have been perfectly content.
A squeal made her look up, alarm in her eyes, but it was just the kits. Her Shippou played with Sesshoumaru-sama's girl, Rin. Their laughter made Kagome happy. She grinned and laughed along with them, clapping her hands.
"How come she don't mind Jaken and your dragon, but she still hates me?"
Kagome ignored the voice of the hanyou. He said many words she didn't understand.
"Everyone hates you."
The hanyou laughed. "I'll be damned! Sesshoumaru the Ice Dog made a joke!"
"This one was not joking."
"Come on, be serious."
"She has seen them acknowledge this Sesshoumaru as alpha and knows she is safe with them. They are loyal, and you are not."
Kagome did listen to Sesshoumaru-sama. He was alpha. He said many things she didn't understand as well, but she had learned to listen for certain words. 'Come,' 'Vixen,' and 'Kagome' were things to obey.
"Keh! I ain't submitting, if that's what you're after!"
"It was not."
Kagome could tell when they passed near a village. She could hear and smell the humans. Oh, what fun! What fun! Her tails swished in anticipation of all the merry tricks she would play.
Sesshoumaru-sama looked at her, saying firmly, "Come, vixen."
She whined, taking a step towards the village and all of the lovely humans.
"Come," Sesshoumaru-sama repeated, punctuating his command with a growl.
Kagome made her eyes big and beautiful, unknowingly employing the seductive spell female kitsune were known for. She wanted to go trick the humans. And maybe steal their pretty things.
She ran her claws delicately over Sesshoumaru-sama's wrist, then stood on her tiptoes to graze her fangs along his jaw, crooning in a sultry voice, "Sesshoumaru-samaaa…"
He growled louder, his aura expanding as he showed his displeasure.
Kagome whimpered, and submitted, prostrating herself on the ground and baring the back of her neck to her alpha.
It seemed a long time passed before she felt his claws rest against her skin. But they did. He forgave her.
The hanyou started to laugh. "She'll have a fit when she realizes she tried to put a love spell on you when she was like this!"
Not understanding his words, but not liking that he laughed at her, Kagome snapped, "Osuwari!"
She didn't know why she said that word, or what it meant. It just came to her.
The hanyou cringed and braced himself, his puppyish ears flattening to his skull. When nothing happened for several minutes, he opened one eye.
"Huh. Guess the rosary doesn't work since she ain't a priestess anymore."
Sesshoumaru sat with his back to a tree in the dark stillness of night. There was no campfire. Rin was no longer human and no longer needed one. Sesshoumaru found he missed the glow. He had become… accustomed to it.
He would adjust.
Inuyasha perched above him, in the branches of the tree. He had taken to staying infuriatingly close, for it was the only way he could be near the vixen.
Every time Sesshoumaru felt his patience pushed to the limit, he looked to Rin. Somehow, Kagome's wish had granted him both his missing arm, and Rin's continued life.
For that, he would endure Inuyasha.
There was rustling as the vixen and her kit approached, Kagome thrusting something into Shippou's hand and then nudging him forward. The kit knelt before Sesshoumaru, waiting to be acknowledged.
Sesshoumaru raised his brows.
The kit held out his tiny paw-like hand, presenting Sesshoumaru with a river stone, polished smooth by the flow of water. Little crystalline grains picked up the light of the full moon, sparkling.
Sesshoumaru rumbled his thanks, laying his hand on top of the kit's head for a moment. Shippou grinned a kitsune grin, then scampered away.
The vixen was next, kneeling and waiting for acknowledgment. Sesshoumaru gave it to her. She held out a black lacquered comb inlaid with mother of pearl. He took it, and gave his approval, though he wondered when she had had time to steal it. It was a human item, and not one he had seen her with before this moment.
He would not punish her for her thievery. It was kitsune nature. So long as she stole only from humans, he cared not.
"What they give you that junk for?" Inuyasha asked after the vixen had moved away, drawing Rin and the kit to her for sleep.
Sesshoumaru refused to look up at his brother. He also refused to answer, busy studying his gifts.
So the vixen realized she had displeased him in some way, though it was unlikely that she knew that it was because she had tried to ensorcel him. He very much doubted that she even recognized that she had tapped into one of her kitsune abilities.
Kitsune were drawn to things that sparkled. If Sesshoumaru were the reynard of a leash of foxes, the gifts would be most appropriate to regain his favor. As alpha of an inu pack, the objects held little appeal to him.
But he was pleased by the intent.
"Alright, I'll do it," Inuyasha said, standing in front of Sesshoumaru as dawn lightened the horizon.
"I'll acknowledge you as alpha. If it means helping Kagome."
Inuyasha's ears flicked back and forth, projecting his unease at the idea for all the world to see.
The new moon would be rising soon. The nights when the power of their father's blood flowed out of Inuyasha's veins, leaving him as vulnerable as any mortal. Sesshoumaru did not deny that Inuyasha cared enough for the vixen to finally submit to Sesshoumaru's superior might, but the upcoming nights of humanity were certainly an added incentive.
Though it remained unspoken, it was pleasing to Sesshoumaru for Inuyasha to seek his protection. A guarantee that Sesshoumaru himself would not slay the hanyou turned human in his weakened state.
"Proceed," Sesshoumaru replied, letting his enjoyment of his brother's predicament show in his voice.
It was high time Inuyasha accepted his place.
With a long suffering sigh, Inuyasha knelt and let his head fall forward, exposing the back of his neck to Sesshoumaru.
Slowly, so as to savor the moment, Sesshoumaru drew his claws over Inuyasha's skin, and squeezed none too gently.
Sesshoumaru-sama was teaching the kits how to smell things. Kagome trailed behind them, trying to simultaneously stay out of the way and see what it was Sesshoumaru-sama was doing.
Every so often, he would stop walking and say, "Come, Rin." Then he would have her sniff something and memorize the scent, teaching her what it meant. The second time he did it, Shippou watched and learned too. It was on the fifth time that he noticed Kagome lingering and staring and said, "Come, vixen."
She joined them, amazed to learn that something smelling safe didn't always mean it was, and something smelling dangerous didn't always mean to run.
She looked at the hanyou. He stood with his back to them, guarding the rear of the pack, his triangular ears erect and twitching towards the slightest sound. Sesshoumaru-sama trusted him.
After memorizing the scent of snake youkai to Sesshoumaru-sama's satisfaction, Kagome approached the hanyou. Standing facing the red-clad warrior, the closest she had ever willingly been, she inhaled his scent, nostrils quivering.
He still smelled like danger.
But so did Sesshoumaru-sama.
"Inuyasha," she said, pointing at the hanyou, memorizing his scent.
He grinned, one fang protruding rakishly over his lip. He pointed back at her. "Kagome."
It seemed that teaching the vixen to make sense of the scents all around her was a key in bringing her back to herself, something that should have occurred to Sesshoumaru earlier. It was the way most youkai pups first interacted with the world around them, after all. If he himself cast his mind back, to his earliest memories, all he could recall was the feeling of warmth and the scents of his mother – milk, home, comfort – and father – safety, strong, alpha.
As Sesshoumaru taught the vixen, she began speaking more, remembering and picking up words at a rapid pace. He was glad of that. They had been near his shiro for quite some time, but he had begun leading them on a circuitous path, preferring to keep the vixen isolated in the countryside until she made more progress.
He watched as Inuyasha dragged her all over the clearing where they had slept, pointing at things and demanding she say the word for them. She seemed frustrated with him, but understood he outranked her in the pack. She had to obey.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin burst from the nearby trees, distracting Sesshoumaru from his brother's antics. There was blood on her face and her hands, but Sesshoumaru was unfazed. He could tell by scent the blood was not hers, and had been quietly keeping track of her youki from the moment she left his sight.
"Rin caught a rabbit! Rin hunts just like Sesshoumaru-sama and Inuyasha-sama!"
Examining the mess Rin had made of her prey – and her kimono – Sesshoumaru decided it was time for another lesson.
He paused for only a moment before saying, "Come, kit. Come, vixen."
The more things Sesshoumaru-sama taught her, the more Kagome came back to herself. Placing names to scents gave her back her words. Learning to hunt, how to stay downwind until the strike, gave her back her independence. And being forced to sit and meditate while holding a ball of foxfire burning steadily in her hands returned to her control of herself.
It was like waking slowly from a dream in which she knew she was dreaming. Her mind screamed at her to get up, to move, but her body was slow to respond.
Until one day it seemed that she opened her eyes, and knew who she was.
"How long?" Kagome asked, studying her face in the side of the kettle Jaken was using to boil water for tea. She sat with her… pack… as the imp prepared for the mid-day meal.
It was weird, seeing herself with red hair. Like looking at someone else's reflection.
She stared at her claws, then reached up, tracing her fingers over the delicate points of her ears.
"Since you made the wish on the Shikon."
Kagome blinked, looking at Inuyasha. "How long ago was that? I didn't care about time at all until this morning. I just wanted to follow Sesshoumaru-sama."
"You have followed this one for five moons," Sesshoumaru answered before Inuyasha could. He seemed smug, unless Kagome was imagining it. "Inuyasha began hiding from you on his human nights," Sesshoumaru added with absolutely no inflection, as if it was an afterthought.
Kagome blanched, assailed by the memory of throwing herself at Inuyasha, telling him he was a 'pretty boy, sweet boy' and trying to reach into his clothes, to see if he had anything worth stealing.
"Sorry," she mumbled, absolutely mortified. She found she had an urge to run her claws along Inuyasha's wrist. Feeling like she wouldn't be able to get rid of the nagging sensation until she did it, she reached out with a mental sigh.
Inuyasha accepted the gesture. Her apology.
"Does what I just did mean 'sorry'?"
"Yeah," Yasha smiled at her. "It can mean 'sorry' or 'thanks' depending on when you do it."
"So… five months."
"Yeah," Yasha said again, his smile fading.
"I'm a kitsune. Rin is inu youkai. Sesshoumaru-sama has his arm back. Anything else?"
"Aside from the spirits that showed up when you first made the wish? Nah."
"What wish did you make, vixen? You will tell this Sesshoumaru."
Kagome didn't like being called 'vixen,' but now that she was youkai, she understood why he did it. She was new to his pack, and had not yet earned the right to be addressed by name.
And he had done so much for her, she didn't want to argue with him.
Closing her eyes, she repeated her wish.
"I wished for everyone who was harmed by the jewel, and the battle to control it, to find peace and happiness, in this life and the next."
There was a contemplative silence as they all mulled over the changes wrought by her wish, and what others they might find.
"Do you think there's any way to turn me back?" Kagome asked, only to find two pairs of gold eyes fixing her with intense stares. Sesshoumaru abruptly stood and pulled Rin behind him, obstructing her from Kagome's view.
It was Inuyasha who said, "Why would you want to be human again?"
Kagome suddenly realized that the Shikon Wish had granted her the very thing Inuyasha had always wanted for himself: she was full youkai. She curled her hands into fists, then winced when she sliced her palms with her own claws.
Unthinkingly, she raised her claws to her lips and licked the blood away.
"What now?" Kagome broke the silence again.
"What do you desire?" came Sesshoumaru's rich baritone, still keeping Rin behind him, as if he feared her being stolen. "This one is in your debt."
Kagome was about to tell him not to worry about his arm, because really it was partly her fault he'd lost it in the first place, when she realized that his eyes were on Rin.
She'd turned his little human ward into a youkai daughter, and somehow she felt guilty about that, like she'd made their relationship less special. But Sesshoumaru… Kagome frowned to herself, realizing the reason he had put himself between Rin and the rest of them as soon as Kagome mentioned being changed back.
He wanted Rin to stay youkai, and he would slaughter them all to keep her that way. Not that there was much danger. Kagome doubted she'd ever be able to find a spell powerful enough to undo what was done by the Shikon. And even if I could, she thought with a sinking feeling, I wouldn't. To undo one part of the wish might be to undo it all. I won't sacrifice the happiness of my friends just because I don't like being forced to be something I'm not.
Looking down at her tattered clothes – the same ones she had been wearing since first becoming a kitsune – she quietly made herself accept that there was no going back. Never mind that she had been fine just the way she was. She wasn't human anymore. And she was here, in the past. She'd need a way to support herself, and Shippou. She couldn't be a miko, obviously.
It was easier than it should have been, to let go of everything she'd ever known. But she had been preparing for this moment for years, always hyper aware that the well could stop working at any time. She had even anticipated stepping aside to allow Inuyasha to be with Kikyo, and steeled her heart against the ache.
This was just a different kind of surrender.
"Do you know any kitsune, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome asked at last. "I need a teacher."
"It will be done," was his definitive answer.
They went to Sesshoumaru's shiro the next day. Kagome was surprised at how close it was. Sesshoumaru must have been avoiding taking her there when she was still… lost.
The kits and Jaken rode on Ah Un, Sesshoumaru flying ahead of them on his youki cloud. Kagome and Inuyasha ran.
She was surprised when she realized he had to push himself to keep up with her.
They skidded to a stop when the shiro came into sight, Inuyasha panting to catch his breath. Kagome gave him a triumphant grin, her lips stretched inhumanly wide.
"Keh. Course you're faster," he said once he could speak. "You're a vixen. Won't ever be as strong as me though."
"Sure, Inuyasha," she replied, saying his name in singsong.
Sesshoumaru landed between them, forestalling any more banter. "Come," he said simply.
They fell into step behind him, as they had so many times before.
Sesshoumaru's shiro was built into the side of a mountain. Up they climbed on a path too steep for a human to navigate, made all the more treacherous by the massive stones that had been cut flat and laid along the hill. It was a traditional protection against siege, Kagome remembered from the few history classes she had attended in her era.
The palace itself was beautiful, rising majestically from the side of the mountain like a crown upon a dark head. The outer wall was made of blue stone, topped with dark wooden arches. Kagome could see sentries posted at intervals along the top of it.
Once they passed through the Great Outer Gate, there was a moat filled with koi, and still more sentries. The warriors were all inu, as far as Kagome could see. They crossed an arched wooden bridge, built in the same style as the outer wall, and reached the Inner Gate. At this time of day, the gate was open, giving Kagome a clear view of the palace.
It was white, with black roofs that sloped and curved outward, and more balconies and levels and paths than Kagome could see, being so close. It was like standing at the foot of a massive beast. One could only see the nearest toe, but knew there was much, much more where that came from. Kagome had heard Rin describe her home in the West, but had thought the little inu was exaggerating. But this… It was daunting. Imposing.
It was clearly Sesshoumaru's palace.
When they passed through the arch of the Inner Gate, there was a massive procession waiting to greet them, or rather, Sesshoumaru, in the big open courtyard inside the wall. Warriors of the West, servants, and visiting high born youkai all made for a confusing swirl of scents and youki. Panicking for a moment, Kagome pressed herself to Sesshoumaru's back and whined.
He looked down at her, one brow raised.
Realizing what she had done, she blushed, sheepish, and ran her claws over his wrist in apology before stepping away.
But her heart still pounded as she tried to take in all the youkai standing before them. Most dressed like warriors and nobles were inu, though Kagome occasionally spotted a different sort of youkai among them. But it was far more likely that if she saw a water sprite, or a snake, or an imp like Jaken, that they would be wearing a servant's uniform.
In a show of grace that it would be impossible for humans to imitate, the gathered youkai all bowed to Sesshoumaru, the Lord of the West.
Kagome calmed immediately. These youkai were loyal to Sesshoumaru.
And she was his.
It was strange to be so comforted by a thought that would have enraged her before. But it was a different kind of belonging. She was not his to trade or sell, as many women were to men in this era. She was his to protect.
She had never fully understood when she was still human.
Ruefully, she reflected that Inuyasha and Kouga's fights over her where much more flattering than she had ever realized.
Sesshoumaru showed his new pack members to their rooms himself, in order to shield them with his presence. He would be sure that the servants who had not attended the welcome in the courtyard were aware that the two kitsune, and Inuyasha, were under his protection.
They would also need to learn Rin's new scent.
The interior walls of Sesshoumaru's palace were a mish-mash of rice paper screens, wood paneling, and stone in the kitchens and other places where there was likely to be fire. The floors were wood or stone, with woven reed mats in the bedrooms. While Sesshoumaru himself preferred wandering his territory to soft palace living, his late father had delighted in such comforts, even going so far as to have furnishings imported from China and other far lands across the sea. Because of this, Sesshoumaru's palace was full of chairs with silk cushions, four poster beds, strong oak tables, and colorful carpets that he was largely indifferent to.
But Kagome was making appreciative noises, so he supposed that was something. He'd accepted her into his pack, and that meant seeing to her comfort.
They turned a corner, reaching the wing the Lord of the West always occupied with those who were close to him. Unlike the rest of the palace, all of the walls here were of stone and wood panels, to make things more difficult on a would be assassin.
There were ten spacious rooms in the wing. At the end of the hall, tall blue double doors painted with a mural of a white dog running through a field of snow led to the enormous master bedroom with the balcony that Sesshoumaru occupied. Save for his room and Rin's, all in the hall were empty. Sesshoumaru had never seen fit to form a pack for himself, until now. He had always relied on his own strength.
Until he had his wounds tended by a tiny human girl.
He placed Inuyasha in the rooms he himself had occupied when their father was still alive. Sniffing at the furnishings, his brother grumbled.
Sesshoumaru ignored him, sliding the door shut.
The vixen gave him pause. As the oldest female in his pack, she was an alpha by default. And she had instinctually assumed the role as much as she was able, without truly knowing what she was doing. She groomed and cared for the pups, made sure they ate before herself, and protected them fiercely.
Sesshoumaru looked down at Rin. His pup was standing happily at the vixen's side, leaning into her legs. Her new found inu nature pushed her to act as an inu pup did. Having no mother, she had turned to the alpha female of her pack for comfort and closeness. It was not unusual for inu pups to sleep with their mothers until their hundredth year.
Making a decision, Sesshoumaru led the vixen to the room closest to his, the room that until now had been solely Rin's.
"This is Rin's room!" his pup chirped happily, at once moving to show the kit her toys.
"Now you will share," he informed her. She nodded her acceptance, already busy engaging the kit in play.
The vixen turned to him, opening her mouth before snapping it shut, giving him a glimpse of her dainty fangs. A look of confusion went over her face.
No doubt her lingering human sensibilities told her this was inappropriate. Yet , it would feel natural to her as a kitsune.
"More suitable attire will be brought," he said simply, before leaving her to puzzle things out for herself.
Kagome wore an elegant kimono, the nicest she had ever owned. It had three layers. The bottom layer was a plain pale gold. The middle was a light pink, patterned with a depiction of teal foxfire that shimmered in the light. The top layer was exquisite silk, green with white flowers spiraling along her sleeves and hem. All the layers were held closed with a wide golden obi, extravagantly knotted at her back. Her hair hung free down to her waist behind her, as most youkai wore it, the red strands making a striking contrast against the colors of her new ensemble.
Her new teacher, Inari-sama, a golden kitsune of nine tails, glided across the room, demonstrating how to walk in such an elaborate outfit. Her kimono was as golden as she was, her sleeves decorated with stylized white fox tails. White and gold markings curled around her green eyes, giving the impression of a fox's mask. With her cherubic face and hair like corn silk, she resembled an angel much more than a kitsune.
Inari-sama was a daughter of the royal house of the Eastern Lands. She had come all the way to Sesshoumaru's palace in order to teach Kagome and Shippou.
"I think my uncle hopes we'll make a match of it," she had confided when she first arrived, winking cheerily.
"You and Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome replied, concentrating as she turned. She was youkai, but still clumsy. She did not stumble, did not fall – a human would never notice her mistakes. But for other youkai, they were plain to see.
"Yes," Inari said, correcting Kagome's posture.
Everything Inari did had an edge of wicked cheer, as if a laugh was always waiting just behind her lips.
"But I doubt anything will come of my being here," Inari went on. "However powerful and beautiful Sesshoumaru-sama is, dogs and foxes don't mix."
"What makes you say that?" Kagome demanded sharply, offended on Sesshoumaru's behalf. She mixed with him and Inuyasha just fine.
"His scent is terrifying!" Inari said, flinging her hands wide. "It takes all my will not to jump from the window every time he's in the room. Aren't you afraid, when you smell an inu?"
Kagome blinked, remembering her blind terror when she had first scented Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru, the overpowering urge to get away and hide. "Well I was," she began. "I guess I got used to them."
Inari laughed, a sound like coins spilling onto a table. "I don't think I could. Not even if I lived here a thousand years. Come on, try again."
Kagome returned to pacing across the room, trying to manage her kimono. "My tails keep getting in the way."
"Here, wear them like mine."
Kagome blushed as Inari helped her arrange her tails so that they looped through her obi, becoming part of the decorative knot at the back. It was very intimate, having another adult touch her tails. Kagome had to fight to keep from squirming.
"It's not very comfortable," Kagome said dubiously, turning to look at her new obi knot, and comparing it to the mass of golden fur and silk that was Inari's.
"No, but it is fashionable!" Inari declared.
Kagome decided she didn't like being fashionable, but didn't argue about it.
"I have a question," Kagome told her teacher. She shifted in her chair, trying to find a way to be comfortable with her tails bundled into her obi.
"About the spell?" Inari asked. She leaned over the table, inspecting Kagome's work, her lips pursing when she saw Kagome's crumpled rice paper. Kitsune magic was a totem magic. Their spells had to be anchored to an object. Inari used origami, folding paper into different shapes depending on the spell she was casting. She was teaching Kagome the same method. "You must make your folds neater," Inari scolded. "An uneven spell anchor makes for a weak spell."
Kagome unfolded the paper box she had been trying to make, smoothing her palms over the paper to flatten it. The delicate paper tore, one of her claws catching. She sighed, reaching for a new piece from the stack at the end of the table.
"Not about the spell," she said as she started folding anew. "About Sesshoumaru-sama."
"And what would I know about Sesshoumaru-sama that you do not?" Inari had a meaningful look on her face, her tone suggesting that she thought Kagome had feelings for the Great Dog.
Kagome wrinkled her nose, snorting at the thought. "Not like that. It's just… Pack. I know I'm part of his pack. And that Inuyasha, Rin, and Shippou are also part of the pack. I understand here," she put her hand over her heart. "But not here," she finished, tapping her temple with one claw-tipped finger. "Being pack means being under the alpha's protection, and protecting and serving him in return. But Sesshoumaru-sama is the Lord of the West. Isn't the whole kingdom his pack?"
Inari giggled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. She shook her head, her golden hair rippling. "Pack is different. Though it's funny to hear you say 'pack.' We kitsune use the term 'leash.' But they are the same." Inari paused, raising her fingers to tap against her lips. Kagome recognized it as her thinking pose.
"Humans have family, isn't that right?"
"Yes," Kagome said, even as she suppressed a sigh, her gut clenching.
"Well pack is like that. A human lord has his village, but also his family. You see?"
"Yes," Kagome said again, her face blank.
Sesshoumaru had made her part of his family?
Not knowing what to say or how to feel, Kagome went back to practicing her origami.
She tore three more pieces of paper before the lesson was finished.
Sesshoumaru sat in his study, reviewing the day's scrolls. As always, he was determined to deal with this irritating part of ruling the West as quickly as possible, so that he might resume traveling his lands. He much preferred the stars overhead to the roof of a shiro.
Picking up the next document, he let a small smile twitch his lips upward.
Against the advice of all of his counselors, he had begun grooming Rin as the heir of the West. When they had protested that she was female and not of his blood, he had simply pointed out that they had been suggesting he take a mate and beget an heir for the past decade. Now they had the heir they wished for.
And Sesshoumaru had not had to make himself ridiculous chasing after a female.
One of the counselors, an old turtle youkai, had then pointed out that Inuyasha might try to dispute Rin's claim. It would be prudent, he said, to betroth them.
Sesshoumaru had not dignified that with an answer.
A loud squawk, followed by kitsune cackling, brought him out of his thoughts. Rising, he went to the window that overlooked the private gardens below. It seemed that Inari of the Nine Tails was holding lessons outside this day. As he watched, three kitsune assumed the guise of Rin, and joined the real pup in tormenting Jaken.
They surrounded the little green imp, tossing flowers and rushing around him in a circle, daring him to guess which was the real Rin.
Sesshoumaru could tell the two lesser kitsune were not Rin, but he could not distinguish her from Inari of the Nine Tails. Not at this distance, at any rate.
Neither could Jaken, it seemed. The imp chose incorrectly, and the three kitsune bopped him on his bald head. Then they all laughed, save the imp, and the game began anew.
Sesshoumaru watched as they played again. The younger kitsune, Shippou, had a greater command of transformative disguises than Kagome. But he did have more practice.
The former priestess excelled at foxfire and illusion, as well as the seductive spells that vixens used to lure men and male youkai alike. He gathered that those skills were similar in execution to the miko powers she no longer possessed, and so all the easier for her to master. But her transformations lasted minutes only, and she had difficulty getting her shadow to change to match.
Sesshoumaru was not worried. Kagome had an adult mind, and more power at her disposal than Shippou. She would surpass the fox kit soon if she kept training. Sesshoumaru wouldn't be surprised if she didn't gain another tail or two before Inari took her leave.
Only vaguely familiar with the habits of foxes from his dealings with the Eastern Lands, Sesshoumaru had questioned Inari as soon as she had arrived. He had to understand the kitsune in his pack, if he was to do his duty by them.
Inari of the Nine Tails had told him that a kitsune's first three tails were for age – in the usual case, it was one for each hundred years of life. At least three tails marked a mature fox.
The other six were for cleverness. A kitsune gained tails by perfecting skills and gaining wisdom. For them, knowledge was quite literally power.
Sesshoumaru was determined that both Kagome and Shippou would achieve a full nine.
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome said meekly. She hadn't seen much of him since they had arrived at the shiro.
She wondered if it was because he was busy, or simply that didn't enjoy her company and was glad he no longer had to put up with her.
That meant he was willing to listen.
She couldn't decide if he was easier for her to read now because she had spent so much time traveling with him, or if it was because she was youkai, picking up on things her human senses never would have.
She hoped it was the first one. She refused to think of herself as better or more skilled now that she was a kitsune. She was different, yes, but not better.
She bowed, then took a seat in the chair across from Sesshoumaru's desk. The armrests were carved with images of ning-ya youkai. Mermaids. Kagome ran one claw over the lines of their tails.
"Sesshoumaru-sama," she started again, trying to gather her thoughts and express them in some semblance of order. He always made her so tongue-tied with his stoic beauty and massive aura, sitting as still and expressionless as if he were carved from ice. She almost wished for the days when she had communicated with him solely with whines and growls.
"I wanted to say that. I thank you for everything you've done for me, and Shippou. The clothes, and the lessons and… That is, I don't want you to feel, well. Trapped with us. If you would rather we left, I'd understand. I consider your debt repaid."
Sesshoumaru had never liked her. He hadn't seemed to hate her, either, but still. It was a bit much, to expect him to let her remain part of his pack now that she didn't need him anymore. After all, the only reason he'd ever traveled with her to begin with, back during the quest for the Shikon, was because Rin had asked him to.
She was shocked when Sesshoumaru growled at her, more forcefully than he had since well… that time with the love spell she always tried very hard not to think about. She was even more shocked when he blinked, seemingly taken aback by his own vehemence.
Refusing to be sorry for caring about his feelings on the matter, she firmly locked her hands together to keep herself from reaching for his wrist.
"Do you wish to go?" he asked once he had calmed himself.
"Well, no," she said honestly. She loved Rin, and she needed help to learn to control her magic and function in youkai society. And she'd never seen Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru spend so much time together without trying to rip each other apart. They still fought from time to time, of course, particularly about Inuyasha's determination to sleep in a tree outside the bedroom window of the room Kagome shared with Rin and Shippou… But they weren't being serious. It was play more than anything else.
She wondered if it would seem playful to her, if she were still human, and frowned, hating that those sorts of thoughts – comparisons of herself before and after – kept flitting through her head.
"Then you will stay until you wish to go. You will always have a home here. Honor demands no less," Sesshoumaru told her.
"Because my wish made Rin youkai," she said, trying to keep resentment at bay. Sesshoumaru, Inuyasha, and Shippou all expressed such joy at her and Rin's lost humanity. As if they'd had a disease they were now cured of.
"No," Sesshoumaru intoned, his voice deep and filled with more feeling than she'd ever before heard. "Because your wish made her live."
Kagome sighed. "What is it Inuyasha? I'm trying to practice."
And indeed she was. She was in the practice courtyard outside the dojo, wearing the blue cotton yukata and black hakama that were issued to trainees for the palace guard. Her sleeves were tied back to her shoulders, to keep them out of the way.
In her hands she held a bow gifted to her by Sesshoumaru, made from one of the spines of a dragon he'd slain. Targets ranged along at various distances, some burning, and others scorched. Sesshoumaru had been all too happy to accommodate her request to improve her meager combat skills, and arranged for her to join one of the classes of female trainees. She'd found she had a knack for imbuing projectiles with foxfire, so that they exploded on contact. It wasn't so different from firing an arrow of purification.
Once she could consistently strike the centers of the targets with bow and arrow, the training masters had promised she could move onto shuriken – throwing stars with four sharp points.
"I'm thinkin' of taking off for a while. Go see how Sango and Miroku are doin', back at the village. Maybe stop by the well…"
Kagome shook her head, putting another arrow to her bowstring. "Thanks for the invitation, Yasha, but I can't."
Inuyasha snorted. "You mean you won't."
She slowly exhaled, then loosed the arrow on the string. It hit one of the midway targets with a bloom of emerald flames. "I just need more time. To be honest, I don't really trust myself around a lot of humans yet."
And she was afraid of being too far from Sesshoumaru. Part of her worried about losing herself to her youkai instincts, as she had before. It had happened once, and so could happen again. What if it did, and Sesshoumaru wasn't there to take care of her?
She would never say so out loud, but she didn't think Inuyasha was powerful enough to cow her in the way Sesshoumaru had. Not without it coming to blows.
"Well alright," Inuyasha said, his ears drooping. He'd been awfully sweet, in his own way, since her world had been turned upside down. "Want me to tell them anything? Or I dunno. Write them a letter or something? Miroku can read."
She smiled. "I will. Thanks. And I mean it. Really, thanks."
"You're welcome, Kagome."
Inuyasha hesitated, but then he took her bow out of her hands and leaned down. He didn't seem as tall as he used to, now that she'd spent so much time with the even taller Sesshoumaru.
Then Inuyasha's face was close to hers, his long white hair tumbling over his shoulders, the ends tickling along her fingertips. Kagome closed her eyes, her breath catching as Inuyasha rubbed one of his fangs along the edge of her jaw. Heat pooled in her belly, excitement making her tails tremble. She whined, more out of confusion and… something else, than fear.
Inuyasha stepped back, a blush turning his cheeks red. His scent had gone spicy. "I'll be back soon."
"Right," Kagome said dazedly, her heart still hammering.
As soon as Kagome gathered her wits, she went straight for Inari-sama. Clearly, there were some things Sesshoumaru hadn't taught her about youkai etiquette, either because he found telling a vixen about them embarrassing, or didn't think of her as old enough.
Whichever it was, she didn't care. She was finding out now.
Dismissing Shippou with instructions to see if he could sneak into Rin's lessons undetected, Kagome lowered herself into a chair across from Inari, determination shining from her fox-face.
"Inari-sama, I have questions that are somewhat embarrassing."
"You don't smell embarrassed," the golden haired vixen responded.
Kagome blinked at that, realizing that she really wasn't. Rather, her mind told her she was supposed to be embarrassed. But kitsune were very sensuous youkai, well known for seducing humans and taking lovers. Kagome sighed.
Another thing about her that was different now.
Plunging ahead, Kagome asked, "What does it mean when another youkai rubs their fangs on your chin? Like this." She demonstrated on her hand.
"It depends," Inari told her, obviously comfortable discussing such things. "From a child it is a request for affection, or food. From an adult, it can be a request for permission, a plea, or an overture to sex."
"How do you know which is which?"
Inari shrugged, somehow making the motion graceful. "You just do. Sometimes it's even all of them at the same time. Think of it as asking if there is interest. If an overture is spurned, then many will pretend that wasn't what they meant, to save face."
Kagome sighed. It seemed she had a lot of thinking to do. Oh, Inuyasha…
"What else do I need to know? Things that Sesshoumaru-sama wouldn't know, or wouldn't tell me."
Sesshoumaru was strolling through the privates gardens reserved for his pack to escape the noise of his court when he saw the vixen, Kagome, meditating beneath a tree. She sat with her legs folded beneath her, an ember of foxfire burning in each of her upturned hands. As he watched, she wriggled, then took a deep breath, her flames flickering. Like all kitsune, she was naturally rambunctious, but the progression of her magical abilities depended on her mastering that nature.
Hiding his scent and youki, he approached.
When he was standing directly over her, she started, the embers of foxfire growing into flames that licked along her fingers. He could hear her pulse quicken. But then she recognized him, and smiled one of those toothy kitsune grins, letting her foxfire go out.
He was pleased that she did not fear him. But why shouldn't he be? He would be a poor alpha if his pack cowered at his approach.
Still, he was pleased.
"Sesshoumaru-sama! You startled me."
"One must rely on their ears as well as their nose," he told her.
She nodded, accepting his lesson.
He folded himself down next to her, assuming a meditative pose.
All was quiet for several moments.
"You are wearing your hair black today," he observed.
His mother had often grown upset if his father did not remark on her changes in clothing and hairstyle. He did not think Kagome was the same, but if a simple statement could save him dealing with an angry vixen later, he didn't see the harm.
Blue eyes opened, regarding him. "Oh? Yes." She ran her claws through the glossy black strands. "Inari-sama says that maintaining a small change for a longer period of time is good practice. And, well… It makes me feel more like myself."
Sesshoumaru rumbled his understanding, and returned to meditating.
"We haven't seen a lot of you since we've been at the shiro."
He inclined his head. "There is much to be done, to rule the West."
"The kits miss you."
He turned his head to look down at her. "The pups," he corrected.
The twinkle in her eye told him this was a point she would not concede. But she was kitsune, and bound to rebel. At least it was manifesting in something that mattered little.
"And you, vixen? Do you also miss this Sesshoumaru?" He'd meant it as a simple question, something to fill the silence. But now his ears strained as he waited for her answer.
She blushed, her hair streaking red as she lost hold of her transformative magic. Sesshoumaru silently fingered one of the red strands, bringing it to her attention. She closed her eyes, her brow wrinkling in concentration.
Her hair turned uniformly black once more.
"I guess I do," she admitted, boldly looking up at him.
She was a strange creature, alternating as she did between fumbling shyness and almost foolhardly impudence. Perhaps it was her human and kitsune natures at war with one another?
But no. Sesshoumaru had traveled with Inuyasha and his humans when they were hunting for Naraku. He remembered Kagome as a human miko.
She had been much the same.
"We leave soon," he told her, after doing some mental calculations. "To patrol the West."
If he worked through the nights without sleeping for the next seven days…
Perhaps when Inuyasha returned he would appoint the hanyou as steward. Then Sesshoumaru would be free to spend his days wandering, honing his skills on what opponents he could find.
Hn. It is unlikely even Inuyasha would fall for such a trick.
"Do you promise?" the vixen sighed happily, batting her eyes at him. "You have to promise! And you know what they say about breaking a promise to a kitsune," she teased.
But he promised.
Seven days later, Kagome walked behind Sesshoumaru. They'd just left the shiro, where Jaken had been left holding Sesshoumaru's seal. The little imp had almost fainted when presented with it. And the other council members had grumbled and growled, hating that Sesshoumaru entrusted one of the few non-inus with the rule of the West until his return.
"You did that just to irritate the old dogs," Kagome had accused as they went through the Great Outer Gate.
"Untrue," Sesshoumaru replied, his carriage suggesting he was affronted at the mere idea. "Jaken is more loyal than they. That they do not like this is no concern of mine."
"You won't make any friends that way."
"I am a lord. I may be liked, or I may rule well. I may not do both."
That statement sent Kagome into a contemplative silence. No wonder Sesshoumaru seemed to dislike being at the palace. There, he had to be the Lord of the West all of the time. Wandering the land, he could be just Sesshoumaru, an inu male traveling with his pack.
She had to admit that she hoped they didn't return to the shiro for a good long time. A break from formal lessons and the stifling influence of court was more than welcome, and not just for her. The kits gamboled around them, and Kagome could actually feel Sesshoumaru's aura relaxing.
They made a pretty picture, Sesshoumaru silently leading them, Kagome and the kits a few paces behind, the three of them dressed as befitted their places in Sesshoumaru's pack. He had provided Kagome and Shippou with rich outfits of gold and green, and Rin wore a kimono of white, patterned with a magenta the exact shade of the stripes on her cheeks.
Ah Un brought up the rear.
Watching Shippou turn cartwheels while Rin stooped to pick any flower in her path, Kagome wondered if Sesshoumaru would prefer to be a title-less wanderer. His pride would never allow him to give up his birthright, but still, he seemed much happier outside the shiro walls.
It was a revelation, that she wasn't the only one who pretended. Wasn't the only one pulled between two selves. And it made her ashamed of the nights she had spent cursing the kami and Midoriko and the jewel and her wish. To have spent so much time convincing Inuyasha that he was fine as a hanyou, to have put sweat, and blood, and most of all tears upon tears into proving that her humanity did not make her helpless, did not make her weak... Only then, at the end of her quest, to be transformed into a youkai?
It was a slap in the face. An unwanted reward.
The price she paid.
Some days she fumed, a silent scream echoing in her skull, her thoughts filled with every swear word she'd ever heard. She wanted to rant, and cry, and demand someone fix her, because she wasn't supposed to be this way. She was broken now, couldn't they see that? She had been fine before. If no one else valued her as a human, she had at least valued herself.
But they were all so happy, in a way she had never seen before, in a way that Kagome could not allow herself to be...
Every time she found herself delighting in foxfire, in the easy strength of her limbs, in the subtle scents of the gardens, it was all she could do to hold her temper in check. For that was the worst, the very worst.
When she was glad to be a kitsune, it was a betrayal of who she was. Had been. Would never be again.
But she never let on. Never uttered a complaint. Kept it all locked behind the mischievous mask of a fox.
She didn't want to seem ungrateful.
Did Sesshoumaru get angry too? Did he howl out his rage, his anguish, at being fated from birth to be the Lord of the West?
Did he like it?
Was the calm expression of indifference always on his face a mask, just as hers was?
Gazing at his back, letting herself admire the hypnotic way his hair swayed with his steps, Kagome didn't know.
There was a quiet serenity to traversing the borders of the Western Lands, before crisscrossing their way through the territory. When they called a halt for the day, Sesshoumaru hunted, alternating taking Rin and Shippou with him. When the erstwhile hunters returned, Kagome cleaned, gutted, and skinned the kills, her sharp claws making short work of the job.
Sesshoumaru and Rin ate their meat in raw strips. Kagome and Shippou often ate theirs raw as well, but more often cooked it with foxfire. The pelts Kagome kept, amassing a stack of them on Ah Un's saddle. Sesshoumaru gave a long suffering sigh, making remarks about kitsune being hoarders. Kagome rolled her eyes at him.
She just didn't want to waste anything they might need later.
A human trade caravan passed near them after they had been traveling for a fortnight. Drawn by the sounds of their camp, Kagome watched from a perch in a tree as the human men ate dinner around a campfire and told each other bawdy stories. The light of their campfire turned their faces orange, making them seem like the preternatural creatures, not she.
She wondered if most youkai found humans as mysterious as the humans found them.
Her nose twitched when Sesshoumaru alighted on a branch next to her. The paleness of his skin and kimono sleeves stood out in the darkness, the wood creaking under the weight of his tall frame.
"You are distressed," he said, his voice penetrating the fog that had enveloped Kagome as she watched the traders.
She was silent for several long minutes, doing nothing but stare at the human men who went about their business below. The traders had no idea two youkai watched them. It would be so easy, to upset their little camp. Kagome could frighten them with illusion, or kidnap a man when he went into the forest before assuming his guise and taking his place. The possibilities were limited only by her grasp of her kitsune magic.
Their fear would be sublime.
Panicking at the turn her thoughts were taking, Kagome grasped at Sesshoumaru's sleeve. He was a lifeline. An anchor that kept her tethered. The only thing that stopped her from acting out her dark fantasies.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm still me anymore," she whispered, her lips barely moving.
She returned her gaze to the group of men. "I want to play tricks on them. And steal. And maybe seduce one of the men, only to deny him." She pointed, indicating one of the younger men with a tan face and attractive little beard. "That one." He looked delicious. "That is the one I would take."
"And will you?"
There was no judgment of her desires in Sesshoumaru's tone.
Kagome shook her head, Sesshoumaru's sleeve still clutched in her hands. She shouldn't. She wouldn't. And yet something inside whispered and wanted, demanded.
Steal them, trick them, seduce and laugh, playthings, gold, blood…
Unbidden came an image of the bearded man, a ghastly grin on his face as she murdered him while in the throes of pleasure.
"No. No, I won't!" she gasped in a hoarse whisper.
She said it like a promise, though she wasn't sure who she was promising: Herself, Sesshoumaru, or the humans below. "Not any mean tricks. Not unless I see someone who deserves it."
Like a spell, the words made the night stop suffocating her. That inner voice fell silent. Kagome loosened her grip on Sesshoumaru's sleeve.
Kitsune always had to keep a promise, once made. To break a promise was to lose a tail.
"You are not so different."
"What?" Kagome asked, startled by Sesshoumaru's sudden pronouncement.
"You were a miko who would not harm youkai unless you had no other choice. Now you are a kitsune who will not play tricks on humans unless they deserve it. It is not so different."
Kagome's heart fluttered and tears pricked her eyes, but she hid both behind a wide kitsune grin. Inside her soul, something that had been crushed began to mend.
From the moment she had awakened to her new life, she had followed Sesshoumaru out of loyalty and gratitude. But now?
Now she would follow him for the sake of friendship and love.
"Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama."
Words were not enough, so, risking life and limb, she wrapped an arm around his neck to steady herself, then stood on her toes and rubbed her cheek against his.
The next time they were near humans proved to be too much for Kagome to resist. Once the kits were asleep, she struggled with herself for what seemed an eternity before getting up. She'd promised not to play any mean tricks, but maybe a few of the more harmless variety wouldn't hurt? She had to do something, or she'd go mad. The human village in the distance sang a siren song.
She could feel Sesshoumaru's eyes upon her. Mutely, she waited for him to say 'Come, vixen.' He'd always stopped her, before.
This time, he didn't.
Instead, he left his post at the entrance of that night's den, taking Kagome's place next to the kits. Sensing his warmth in their sleep, Rin and Shippou curled into him, Rin wrapping herself in one of his sleeves. Regally, Sesshoumaru inclined his head.
He trusted her to go amongst the humans.
Glee gave her feet wings as she ran through the trees, her hair blowing back from her face. Her tails thrashed against her obi, making her whole kimono ripple with her excitement.
It was dark in the village, but she could see just fine.
There were rows of small huts, a few farms, and a manor house, no doubt where the headman lived.
She went first to the manor house, thinking that with a house so big and fine, the headman wouldn't notice if she stole a trinket or two. A spark of kitsune magic, and she walked unseen, save for the shadow with three tails that danced along the walls. A servant, up late, spotted the disembodied shadow and squeaked. Kagome laughed a kitsune laugh, watching as he ran back to his room.
Quiet again, she tripped up the stairs, hoping that the headman had children. She wanted toys for Rin and Shippou.
There were two doors in the narrow hall. She opened the first to see a man sleeping between two women. His wives, no doubt. Or maybe his concubines. One of the women stirred. Kagome froze, forgetting that she had made herself invisible. The woman gave a little moan and rolled over. Kagome let out the breath she'd been holding, and shut the door.
The next door led to a room that obviously belonged to a child. Kagome was in luck. The headman had a young daughter. A futon filled the floor of the small room, the little girl lying upon it, her hair splayed over her pillow. In the day, the futon would be rolled and stored in a corner. But for now, Kagome carefully stepped over the girl's sleeping form to get to the chest sitting against the far wall.
The chest held clothes, neatly folded in the bottom drawer. The shallow top drawer contained the child's few toys – a porcelain doll, a few games, a little wooden spinning top…
Looking through the child's things, Kagome finally settled on a hanetsuki set. The balls, with their bright feathers, and the fine wooden paddles painted with images of birds in flight, appealed to her. She stuck the paddles in her obi and tucked the balls into her sleeves.
But looking at the little girl's sleeping face gave her pause.
Remembering her conversation with Sesshoumaru the last time she had been tempted to play tricks on humans and the promise she had made, Kagome went to the window. Opening it, she plucked a leaf from the tree just outside. After closing the window so that the child wouldn't catch cold, she went to work.
The tree was a loquat, a yellow plum tree, and its leaves were broad. Using one razor sharp claw, Kagome cut out a square shaped section, then started folding, letting the rest of the leaf fall to the bedroom floor.
First a diagonal fold, and a sharp crease. Then twice more, make the square smaller, a box.
Then there was the mountain fold, resulting in three layers. Separating the layers on the left side and executing a squash fold formed the face and ears. All that was left to do was for Kagome to crease the tail, and use the point of one claw to poke two holes in the face, for eyes.
When she was done, she held an origami fox of lush leafy green. Bringing it close to her face, she took a deep breath and exhaled from her nose, letting her breath play over the figure, granting it a semblance of life. The origami fox shook its tail, and nodded its head, its pinprick eyes blinking. Satisfied that this was an adequate trade, Kagome left her creation in place of the hanetsuki set.
She quickly explored the rest of the house, pocketing a double handful of coins and eating a dumpling she took from the kitchen. Once bored, she returned to the village.
One of the farmers had left out milk and honey for any spirits that visited in the night. Kagome drank the milk and took the little jar of honey, thinking to share it with Shippou. The two inu they traveled with probably wouldn't like it.
The other farmers hadn't left anything for her, so she tied their plow reins in knots, little giggles escaping her as she thought of their faces in the morning. They deserved it, for not paying their respects to the fox.
That done, she moved on to the huts.
Most she ignored. They either had nothing she wanted, or were so poor otherwise that she felt bad for bothering them. But still she looked, taking her time.
At last she came to a prosperous house. She thought they must be wood carvers, for all of their furniture, really everything made of wood, was exquisitely crafted. Too nice for a family in a house this size to have bought, but perfectly affordable if they made it themselves. Pleased, Kagome inspected the smaller things she would be able to carry away.
A delicate set of wind chimes dangled outside the door, carved from bamboo. The warm tones would be lovely in the private gardens of Sesshoumaru's palace. Taking care not to clank, Kagome took the chimes down, trying to work out how to carry them. Finally she stuffed them in the back of her obi, using the fur of her tails to muffle the noise.
Next she took an ink well from the chest in the center of the room. The little wooden pot was carved with relief images of dragons that reminded her of Ah Un. Pleased with herself, she smiled, barely remembering to hold her tails still so that the wind chimes wouldn't make noise.
Grateful for the gifts she was taking, she left the gold she had stolen from the headman's house in a pile on top of the chest.
Sesshoumaru hadn't meant to sleep. In the normal course of things, he never would have succumbed. But in his haste to be able to leave the shiro, he had foregone rest for many nights.
And it had been very long since he had slept with pack around him. The feel of the two pups burrowed into his sides had lulled him into a doze.
That was how the vixen managed to return without him seeing. She must have crept back into camp, using her kitsune magic to keep her scent from waking him.
When Sesshoumaru opened his eyes, he found she had laid her spoils out in the grass, her youki pulsing with pride and exhilaration. He looked to her face, and she bared her fangs at him in triumph.
He found himself baring his in return.
The pups woke up not long after, wasting no time in exclaiming over their gifts. Sesshoumaru observed as the vixen showed them how to play the game she had stolen for them, clapping her hands as she watched them bat two feathered balls back and forth.
Sesshoumaru approved of this game. It would hone their agility and reflexes.
Once the pups were occupied, the vixen approached him. "For you," she said, sliding gracefully to her knees and bowing her head. But she kept her eyes up, locked with his. They danced with anticipation, two jewels in her face.
He had expected a gift, if for no other reason than because he had given the vixen permission to play her silly tricks. But he was surprised at the ink well. He'd thought to receive something golden and shiny, or perhaps a mirror, for kitsune were notably vain.
But this was something he could use. Something uniquely suited to him. He ran his fingers over the carved dragon relief, his eyes going to Ah Un.
"You like it?" Her voice was breathy and light.
He rumbled his pleasure, the sound vibrating through his chest.
The vixen cackled and skipped in place, unable to contain her boisterous pleasure at the reception of her gifts.
Seeking to amuse himself, Sesshoumaru looked askance at the set of wind chimes that still lay in the grass. Seeing the direction of his gaze, the vixen hurried over to them and quickly hid them among the pelts on Ah Un's saddle, guarding them jealously. She was keeping those for herself, as he had guessed.
They spent a lazy day, a day of the sort Sesshoumaru hadn't enjoyed since he was a pup. Rin and Shippou alternated playing their new game with chasing orbs of light the vixen conjured for them, her tongue protruding from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated. Sesshoumaru basked in the sun, and occasionally called the pups to him to impart knowledge of strategy that could be utilized in their games.
When the vixen wasn't entertaining the pups, she lazed beside him, within touching distance, though she didn't touch.
But of course, he was alpha. She knew that he had to be the one to invite contact.
He did not because he did not want to become accustomed to such things.
No other reason.
Kagome luxuriated in a hot spring, a happy sigh escaping her lips as heat sunk into her bones. Bathing in cold water no longer bothered her, as most youkai weren't as sensitive to extremes in temperature as humans were, but she still preferred a good warm spring to an icy river.
So when she'd scented water with the particular underlying smell of minerals that meant the source was bubbling up from some hot place deep underground, Kagome had enlisted Rin's help in getting Sesshoumaru to stop early for the day. It didn't take much: Kagome made the sneaky fox-face that promised mischief and Rin followed up with puppy eyes, and then Sesshoumaru was silently changing direction, though the look he gave Kagome spoke volumes.
Must you teach her such bad habits? seemed to be implied in the curve of his brow.
Kagome wrinkled her nose and winked at him. Yes, I really must.
With that, they all stripped down to their undergarments and slid into the water.
As always, Kagome forced herself to keep her eyes on Sesshoumaru's face. The first time they had all bathed together this way, she'd been momentarily scandalized, having expected Sesshoumaru to bathe apart from her and the kits, then briefly melancholy over yet another relic of her humanity falling away. Because of course it was proper for her alpha to bathe with the pack.
And then she'd made the mistake of letting her gaze fall over sculpted chest muscles and powerful thighs that were decorated with slanting magenta stripes, and her bitter thoughts were replaced by a lust that heated her cheeks.
Sesshoumaru's smug smirk had made it obvious that he'd notice her perusal and the change in her scent.
So now, Kagome took great pains to keep her eyes – and everything else – to herself. Sesshoumaru's ego was big enough without her turning into a hormone addled idiot every time he took his shirt off. And it just wasn't fair that Sesshoumaru didn't seem to have any problem looking at her without a similar reaction.
Either I'm an ugly youkai, or he hasn't got a pulse, she mused. Probably the second one. I mean, he barely ever moves his face. Even his smirk is more of a lip twitch.
Drawn from her thoughts by the kits splashing, she moved to wash Sesshoumaru's hair. Rin and Shippou always fought for the honor if Kagome didn't direct Shippou to help with the washing and Rin to help with the combing.
For his part, Sesshoumaru stared at a point in the distance, apparently unconcerned and untouched by the two kits wrestling and arguing over who served their alpha best. With the way Shippou pulled on the white mass of Sesshoumaru's hair in his enthusiasm and the high pitch of Rin's voice, Kagome was impressed both with the tai youkai's patience and concentration.
Once Kagome had declared Sesshoumaru's hair clean and combed, he quickly left the water and dressed, taking up a guard position on the bank. He never lingered, or joined in their bath time antics.
Kagome and the kits, well used to Sesshoumaru, turned to bathing each other, and then played Tentacle Tails, a game in which Kagome chased the kits around in a circle, wrapping her tails around them and jerking them under the water whenever she caught one of them. They kept at it until all of them were red faced and breathless. In moments like these, Kagome couldn't help but be completely happy.
At a lull in their splashing, Sesshoumaru unceremoniously pulled Shippou from the water by one little arm. Shippou squeaked and curled in on himself. Traveling with Inuyasha had trained him to expect a pull to the tail or a thump on the head.
"Dress," Sesshoumaru ordered. "We hunt."
Shippou's green eyes sparked, his single tail twitching. He cautiously straightened up. "We hunt," he agreed in a childish imitation of Sesshoumaru's tone.
Kagome watched Shippou scramble into his clothes, his little chest puffed out proudly. Her little fox kit was flourishing with a true alpha to look up to. Seeing him now, it was plain just how many things he'd needed before that Kagome and her friends just hadn't known how to give him.
Even Inuyasha had been more of an obnoxious older brother, with only a vague instinctual grasp of youkai interaction. Really, Inuyasha needed an alpha as much as Shippou…
"Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome said quietly, knowing he would hear.
Sesshoumaru paused and looked back at Kagome. "It is this one's duty to provide for his pack." His eyes narrowed. "Watch Rin."
Then Shippou leapt onto Sesshoumaru's back, clinging to his fur and hair, and they were gone.
"I hate it when he does that," Kagome muttered to herself. It was disconcerting that Sesshoumaru could still move faster than she could see.
"One day Rin will be that fast," Rin smiled. "And Rin's brother Shippou can ride on Rin's back."
"Come on, Rin. Let's take off Ah Un's saddle and give him a bath too."
Sesshoumaru could find no prey large enough to sufficiently feed four youkai and a dragon. He would have to range farther to see that his vixen and pups did not go hungry, but he hesitated to go so far from Rin and Kagome without leaving them extra protections.
He would take Shippou back, and then enclose them all within a barrier while he hunted.
Decision made, he turned on the spot.
"We're going back already?" Shippou questioned from his perch on Sesshoumaru's shoulders.
Failure was a feeling Sesshoumaru liked not at all.
The young kitsune looked in the direction of their camp. "Are Kagome and Rin okay?"
"All will be well," Sesshoumaru reassured, pleased at the care the kitsune showed for his pack. He'd only taken the kit into the pack because of his debt to the vixen, but Shippou would be a credit to the West, given time and proper training.
With that, Sesshoumaru put on a burst of speed, eager to see Shippou into his mother's arms and the pack safe within a barrier.
He arrived to the scent of fear and soft babbling, gurgling sounds.
Sitting with Sesshoumaru's pack were two human females, both obviously terrified. A third human, a baby from the size and smell, was cradled in Kagome's arms.
"Ooooh, he's so cute, yes he is! Yes he is!" the vixen cooed nonsensically.
Shippou jumped to the ground and trotted over to inspect the human child. The human females started, and upon seeing Sesshoumaru, one of them began to cry.
"It's just Sesshoumaru-sama," Rin told the crying human, proffering a crown woven of flowers. When the woman didn't take it, Rin gently placed the circlet on the human's black hair.
Sesshoumaru suppressed a sigh. Of course the vixen would attempt to befriend stray humans, even those that wanted nothing to do with her. He supposed he should have expected it sooner.
"How came these humans to be here?" he asked once he was standing over the vixen.
"Rin heard crying, and Kagome-sama helped Rin find where it was coming from," his pup chirped helpfully. Sesshoumaru rested his hand on the crown of her head, idly stroking her hair.
"We had to help them, Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome picked up the narrative. "They were traveling to visit a relative, and their husband was killed, and they were lost! And just look at this face," she held up the pudgy-cheeked baby. "Couldn't you just eat him up?"
At that, the crying woman flung herself forward, her tears coming so thick and fast that she could barely speak. "No! Please don't eat him! Please, please, take me instead, only spare my son! Let my sister-wife take him back to our village!"
Kagome's mouth fell open in shock. "I wouldn't really eat him!" she tried to reassure the crying woman. "Why would you think I'd eat him or you?"
The woman didn't answer, her breath stolen by her cries. Kagome pressed the baby into the woman's arms, and took a step back.
"You're going to eat us because you're demons," said the second woman, the quiet one. "It's what you do."
It wasn't Kagome, but the pups who answered that.
"Hey! Being youkai doesn't mean we're bad!"
"Rin wouldn't eat a person! Rin was human once too!"
The woman returned to staring stonily ahead.
Kagome smiled, trying to reassure, but the women recoiled from the sight of her fangs. Her smile faltered, and Sesshoumaru's vixen raised a hand to her lips.
Sesshoumaru caught her wrist before she could complete the motion. She should never hide her fangs from sight, let alone from these two wretched mortals.
"Cease that noise," he ordered the crying woman, the scent of her fear and the wet, snorting sounds of her sobs filling him with contempt.
"Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome chided. "You're scaring her."
"She already fears."
Forgetting her place, the vixen turned the hand he still held, interlacing her fingers with his. "Yes, but she'll stop if we don't give her any reason to be afraid of us."
Sesshoumaru doubted that, but he conceded that Kagome knew more of humans than he. He nodded, and Kagome squeezed his hand before letting go.
"Now, we're going to help you. We'll take you back to your village, and we'll find whoever killed your husband," she told the women.
Sesshoumaru frowned. "This one cares not if humans make war on one another."
"Ah!" Kagome's blue eyes twinkled at him. "But it wasn't a human who killed their husband. It sounds like it was an ogre. And besides, they live in the West. That makes them your humans. Our humans. We have to help. It's our duty."
Sesshoumaru did not like other youkai hunting the humans who lived in the West. It invariably caused problems that he had to solve. He'd long been in the habit of exterminating those who were so brazen or low as to disturb the peace in his lands.
But he allowed the vixen to believe she had convinced him of this supposed duty. It made her happy, and caused no harm.
Kagome busied herself with making a fire to keep their human companions warm. After a period of silence in which Sesshoumaru had gazed at her, the humans, and then into the sky, he had seemed to come to some sort of decision. He told her to stay with the kits and the humans, and then to her great surprise (though perhaps it shouldn't have been that surprising), he used his youki to form a large dome-like barrier around their campsite. They'd be safe so long as they stayed inside it.
Then he left, announcing that he was going hunting in a low voice that told Kagome that it wasn't just their dinner he'd be killing. That brought a self-satisfied grin to her face. No doubt Sesshoumaru would easily dispatch the ogres that were terrorizing the humans.
A little coil of pleasure unfolded in her belly as she thought of her alpha – her male – and how strong he was, how he was killing because she had asked him to. The feeling was so natural, that it never occurred to her to be disturbed. To wonder if her human self would be so proud of how deadly Sesshoumaru was.
"Kitsune bi," Kagome whispered under her breath, lighting the careful pile of kindling she'd made. The green flames caught, and turned a cheerful orange.
Looking up, Kagome smiled at the human women who watched her warily, remembering only at the last minute that her smiles made them more nervous.
They stared at her. Kagome could smell their fear. Could hear their hearts pound. Was this what it had always been like for Inuyasha?
"I wish you'd tell me your names," she tried again to put the women at ease. "Surely, you can't like that we keep calling you 'the humans.'"
The woman with the baby just shook her head, rocking back and forth with her son. The quieter, fiercer woman answered, "And give you power over us? Everyone knows that once a youkai knows your name, that you're in their power forever."
Kagome tilted her head. "Really? I've never heard that before."
The woman's eyes narrowed. She didn't respond.
Kagome sighed, her tails drooping.
"Don't mind them!" Shippou called. Kagome turned to see him and Rin each sitting astride one of Ah Un's necks. "Some humans are just like that. Not all of them though!"
Her kit gave a bright smile, and Kagome found herself smiling back. She decided to take his words to heart. For all that Shippou looked younger than her, and treated her as his mother, he'd much more experience with this sort of thing than she did.
"When Sesshoumaru-sama returns, we'll escort you back to your village," Kagome told the women.
It did little to mollify them, so Kagome left them to their side of the fire, going instead to lean against Ah Un's side and watch the kits play hanetsuki.
It was growing dark when the attack came.
Rin noticed the scent first. She coughed and gagged, turning green and holding her nose. Kagome only had time to ask what was wrong before she started choking herself, her eyes watering.
It smelled like rotting corpses. Moldering flesh. Sickness.
It smelled like death.
The human women were giving them odd looks, unable to smell what had the youkai struggling to breathe. But then lumbering footsteps could be heard, and Kagome realized it must be the ogres. Hadn't Inuyasha always had trouble dealing with the stench when he'd fought them in the past?
"Everyone just stay still and don't panic," Kagome gasped, mainly addressing the humans. She sucked in a lungful of air through her mouth, then gagged worse than before. The closer the ogres got, the more horrible their stench, and now she could actually taste it in the air. "We're safe inside the barrier."
"We're not safe with you!" bemoaned the tearful woman. At that precise moment a hulking man-like creature with pebbly grey skin streaked with gore lurched through the trees. He was carrying a club.
"It's us or them!" Kagome snapped. Going to Ah Un's saddle, she retrieved her bow and a quiver of arrows.
Another ogre joined the first, and then another, and another. Soon there was a line of them, all halted by Sesshoumaru's barrier, staring down at the prey they couldn't reach.
Kagome put an arrow to her bowstring, a corona of foxfire spiraling around the head in an emerald haze. Remembering her lessons, she consciously controlled her breathing, seeking to calm herself and steady her hands. In, two, three, four… Out, two, three, four…
She loosed the arrow on an exhale, shooting through the barrier to the ogre standing closest. She missed the eye by a millimeter, but she was getting better. The arrowhead dug firmly into the flesh of the monster's face.
And with a little conscious twist of her youki, Kagome made the arrow explode in flames, wincing at the high pitched shrieks of pain that resulted.
One down, six to go, she thought, her ears still ringing.
That was when the humans broke and ran.
"Come back!" Rin shouted as the two women fled. At least they had the sense to run out the side furthest from the ogres.
But now the ogres were staring after the humans, and beginning to charge their way around the barrier in pursuit, literally plowing through the trees that stood in their way.
Kagome bit her tongue against a curse, and ordered the kits to stay inside the barrier.
If I die, Sesshoumaru is going to kill me! But she couldn't let those women be slaughtered. Not when she could do anything to stop it.
With that, Kagome put her mind to firing arrow after arrow into the retreating backs of the massive grey man-beasts. Two continued on after the humans, but the rest turned back, drawn by the twin stings of foxfire and steel. One swung its club, and Kagome was forced to leap straight up to avoid it. She tried to angle another shot as she was falling, but the wind whipped her sleeves into the way, fouling her bowstring. Why hadn't she thought to tie them back before engaging in battle!
The next thing she knew she was on the ground, ducking and weaving between legs like tree trunks and clubs and fists that tried to smash her. A hand grabbed at her, and she struggled, instinctively calling, "Inuyasha!"
But Inuyasha wasn't here. And she didn't need him. She was just as strong as him now, wasn't she?
She twisted in the grasp of the ogre that had her. She couldn't get to her arrows, but maybe…
She stabbed at his face with her bow, grimacing when the foul smelling creature opened its mouth, crushing her weapon in its jaws.
The odors emanating from those blackened, stump like teeth made her head swim. She couldn't see for the tears in her eyes. Her stomach heaved, and suddenly she was very grateful that she hadn't eaten yet. Her senses completely overwhelmed, she blacked out.
Only to come to what could have been minutes or seconds later to find herself lying in the grass. Weakly looking up, she saw that Rin was clinging to the arm of the ogre-creature that had held Kagome, and there was a viscous purple poison pouring from Rin's claws and mouth.
Shippou was running among the ogres as Kagome had earlier, leading them on a merry chase, though he squeaked in fear every time a blow got too close. Both kits seemed to have learned from Kagome's mistake: they breathed through their mouths, when they breathed at all.
They'd left the barrier to keep her from being crushed.
Danger! Kits! Need, alpha, kits, pack, kill, blood, kill.
Pulling herself to her feet, Kagome turned to look at Ah Un. "Find Sesshoumaru!"
Then, eyes a scorching green, she rejoined the fray.
Sesshoumaru had ventured far in his hunting trip, traveling in ever widening circles when he was frustrated in both his search for prey and his search for the youkai responsible for attacking the humans the vixen had befriended. Twice, he came upon caches of rotting corpses – animal, lesser youkai, and human. There were several kinds of youkai who allowed their meat to season thusly, but none were welcome in the West, for their eating habits offended Sesshoumaru's nose.
The last tribe of such youkai, kasha, if Sesshoumaru remembered correctly, had been banished to the East in the time of his father.
He was contemplating bringing up this matter with Myobu, the Red Fox of the East, when he sensed a familiar youki swiftly approaching.
It was Ah Un.
Sesshoumaru instantly knew that something was wrong.
Without waiting for the dragon to reach him, he coalesced into a ball of light, expending great amounts of youki to speed back to the campsite where he'd left his pack.
He found the area burned with foxfire, and the stench of kasha heavy in the air. His barrier stood empty, the detritus of camp lying abandoned inside it.
Gagging, Sesshoumaru held his breath to keep the foul odor of the kasha from knocking him unconscious. His senses reeled. Kasha were filthy creatures, a type of ogre resembling giant portly humans with grey, pebbled skin. Carrion eaters, they often killed and stored the bodies of their prey in their dens, waiting for the meat to spoil before they consumed it.
Unable to search by scent, Sesshoumaru reached out with his youki, probing for his vixen and his pups.
Eyes flashing amber, he clenched his jaw and forced himself to focus. He would track the footprints and other signs the kasha had clumsily left in their wake.
He'd not gone far when he spotted the first dead ogre, an arrow protruding from the beast's charred face.
A few feet away lay the vixen's bow, snapped in half.
Sesshoumaru growled, his stripes growing more vibrant as he pushed down the instinct to revert to his true form and lay waste to this place until his pack was returned to him. Destroy, blood, blood, poison, rend, tear, pack, pack, pups, called the inu beast inside.
No, Sesshoumaru told himself.
Eyes narrowing, he moved on.
The next kasha he saw was still alive, but lay gasping on its back. Sesshoumaru couldn't risk taking a breath to scent if there was poison at work, but he recognized the symptoms, and the purple sheen around the tiny punctures in the kasha's massive arm.
Pride and fury warred within him, for it was clear to him that Rin had poisoned this kasha with a swipe of her little claws.
He tore the unlucky fiend apart.
His legendary control was slipping, and he was quickly losing the presence of mind to care. His pup was missing. His kitsune were gone. His eyes glowed red, his youki rising around him, calling up an unnatural wind. The branches of nearby trees began to shake with the force of it. Any other inu would have lost hold of their humanoid form.
He held himself in a grip of iron, only the need to find his pack and centuries spent brutally bending his body and instincts to his will keeping him from losing himself entirely.
There was movement ahead. Sesshoumaru streaked forward in a silver blur, claws splayed wide.
Only to come face to face with himself.
He stopped short.
The other him tilted his head, lowering claws that had been poised to strike. "Sesshoumaru-sama," his Other said in a low, deep voice. "Thank the kami."
That was when Sesshoumaru noticed his Other's shadow.
It was the shadow of a kitsune. But not with three tails.
They stood out proudly from her body, rather than coiled through her obi knot as she had been wearing them.
"Kagome," he said when her transformative magic faded. He pulled her into his arms, bending to press his nose into her hair. Finally inhaling, he took in her scent, growling when he smelled blood.
It was her left forearm. He brought it to his mouth, lathing the injury with his tongue.
"It will heal, don't worry," she murmured to him.
"The pups?" he asked.
Kagome pulled an origami box from her obi and used a claw to rip it open.
The pups appeared behind her.
Sesshoumaru went to them, Rin clinging to his legs and Shippou climbing up his sleeve to perch on Sesshoumaru's shoulder, wiggling to hide beneath moko-moko.
They were both unharmed.
At last, the red began to fade from Sesshoumaru's vision.
"You assumed my form," he said to Kagome, looking at her over his shoulder.
She shrugged. "Couldn't think of anything scarier."
Sesshoumaru made Kagome and the kits stay with him while he dissolved the remains of the kasha with his poison, though Kagome worried for the human women and wanted to find them. She had been tempted to push him, to tell him she was going to find the humans and leave before he could stop her, but something in his eyes made her hesitate.
Ever since she'd known Sesshoumaru – first as an enemy, then an ally, and now as an alpha, and she thought, friend – it had never occurred to her that the Killing Perfection ever felt fear. What did he have to fear, after all? No one could defeat him.
She had seen him enraged, jealous, blind with hatred, indifferent, and on one occasion desperately sad. But only now did she realize that all of those things were an armor, a shield covering over a deep seated terror.
As frightened as Kagome had been that she wouldn't be able to hold the ogres off long enough, that she wouldn't be able to protect the kits, Sesshoumaru had been infinitely more afraid that he would not reach them in time.
It was so simple. So blatantly true, that she wondered how she had never realized before.
But she knew now.
So she didn't question Sesshoumaru's need to have them close. She just pulled her hair to the side, baring the back of her neck to him, and stayed always within his sightline. And once the kasha had been dealt with, she silently helped relocate their camp away from the smoldering site of the battle, and agreed to stay within yet another barrier with the kits while Sesshoumaru went after the humans.
It wasn't long before he returned. Kagome was braiding flowers into Rin's hair while Shippou dozed on a pillow made of her tails, both kits sleepy now that the excitement was over. Sesshoumaru descended from above on his youki cloud, Ah Un just behind him.
"The humans?" Kagome asked, brow furrowed. She could neither see nor scent the women.
"Returned to their village," Sesshoumaru answered, a slight curl of his lip revealing that he had not enjoyed the experience.
Kagome pushed the kits gently to the side, and stood so that she could run her claws along Sesshoumaru's wrist. "Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama."
He stared down at her for a long moment, and Kagome felt frozen to the spot. There was an intensity about his expression that made her stomach flip over, and then drop into her toes.
Sesshoumaru grasped her hand, and then slowly turned it over and ran his claws along her wrist. He did not say the words, but then he didn't need to. Sesshoumaru had a gift for expressing himself silently.
Kagome felt her cheeks heat in a blush, and knew she must be a bright cherry red.
Something changed, after Kagome got her fourth tail.
Sesshoumaru started referring to her by name, reserving 'vixen' for when he was teasing or giving a stern command.
More telling, Sesshoumaru started sleeping with her and the kits every night, or at least sitting watchfully as they all curled around him.
For the better part of a year, Kagome had laid at night with the kits tucked into her sides, and Sesshoumaru standing watch, or in his own room, when they were at the shiro. And then he had started taking her place on the nights when she went to play tricks, but Kagome had always assumed that was for Rin and Shippou's benefit.
But now, once he called a halt for the evening, they would hunt and eat, and then he would recline against Ah Un's side, a silent invitation. Kagome would lie next to him, and the kits would curl up between the two of them, sighing contentedly once Sesshoumaru draped his moko-moko across them all. His deep rumble would spawn a higher pitched one in Kagome's chest, and they would sit, watching each other as the kits fell asleep.
Some nights, Kagome slept. On others, Sesshoumaru did, trusting her to guard them. Still on other nights, they both stayed awake, speaking quietly and watching the stars.
Kagome did most of the talking, but Sesshoumaru was an avid listener. She told him of her era, of coming through the well, and did her best to describe things like cars and telephones and how they worked. She was amused and frustrated in turns by her own failure to grasp the ins and outs of the technology, and Sesshoumaru's persistence in calling it 'human sorcery.'
She figured he'd believe it when he saw it.
Occasionally Sesshoumaru would offer a story of conquest, or share a legend of inus past. He wasn't a very good story teller, using so few words as he did, but she paid attention, recognizing that Sesshoumaru never spoke without reason. It was soon apparent that all of his stories contained some sort of lesson he thought important, whether it was something as simple as always keeping one's claws sharp and clean, or some more complicated point of battle strategy that Kagome had to draw diagrams in the dirt to grasp.
Tonight, they discussed constellations.
"Inari-sama says that the kitsune are the ones who put the stars in the heavens. Each one is a ball of foxfire. Humans from my era say different. They're actually suns and planets that we see from billions of miles away." Kagome sighed, running her claws through Shippou's hair as he slept. She rolled onto her side, facing Sesshoumaru. "I like Inari-sama's story better."
Kagome giggled. "I take it that the inu have their own explanation?"
"They are the eyes of the dog demons who guard the gates of heaven," he said with a completely straight face.
Kagome yawned, remarking sleepily, "I like that story too."
Rin skipped ahead of Sesshoumaru when they drew close to that night's den. Sesshoumaru carried the body of a steer across his shoulders, as the creature's mass was too unwieldy for Rin to manage.
The animal had been domesticated by humans, and thus a very easy kill. But still, it was special, for it was the first big game Rin had brought down unassisted. Seeing how happy she was, Sesshoumaru elected not to steal her victory by scolding her for killing an animal too stupid to know it was hunted. An animal humans thought they owned.
Such a kill invariably roused the humans, but Rin would be in no danger so long as she was with the pack. Sesshoumaru would teach her this lesson another time.
The wind shifted, bringing to them the scents of Shippou and Kagome.
Increasing her pace, Rin tilted her head back and warbled out a howl, a pup's clumsy first hunt song that swelled as she grew more confident.
Rin hunts hunts hunts, Rin jumps jumps jumps
Suiting actions to words, she propelled herself forward in a flying leap, for once not stumbling when she landed. Ahead of them, a series of sharp, barking kitsune yips rose up, threading through Rin's song. Surprised that the fox youkai responded, Sesshoumaru listened.
Pride, pride, pride in my sister, came from Shippou.
Joy, joy, welcome home hunters, was Kagome's refrain.
Sesshoumaru had to stiffen his jaw against the urge to join his voice to theirs. He had not sung a pack song since he was a pup himself, and would not indulge in such frivolities at this late date. That he had not had a pack to sing with since that time was beside the point.
He would tell Rin of his pleasure in her skill quietly, when she came to him for sleep.
In moments, they cleared the trees, and then they were upon the kitsune, and the vixen and kit were dancing and juggling foxfire in some celebration that Sesshoumaru did not understand, but allowed since it was clearly in Rin's honor.
Around and around, they capered in a ring, batting two balls of foxfire between them much like they were playing hanetsuki. All the while, Rin kept up her hunt song, and the kitsune kept yipping their chorus, and Sesshoumaru kept his jaw firmly clenched shut.
At last, when the song reached a crescendo, Kagome and Shippou froze in place and tossed their foxfire high into the air, where the balls exploded in a shower of green sparkles.
It was, Sesshoumaru had to admit, a visually pleasing display. It was good that Rin had such packmates to help celebrate her first kill.
Once the foxes had ceased their cavorting, Kagome took the steer from Sesshoumaru's shoulders and made quick work of skinning and cleaning it. When all was ready, the two kitsune and Sesshoumaru knelt to allow Rin to serve them from her first kill.
Expecting to eat first, as he always did, Sesshoumaru's brows climbed into his hairline when Rin pressed her palms against her thighs and bowed to him, solemnly requesting, "This Rin would like to serve Kagome-sama first, to give thanks."
The vixen's mouth dropped open, the sight of her fangs drawing Sesshoumaru's eyes. She began to protest, but Sesshoumaru shook his head to silence her, turning his gaze back to Rin.
"For what do you give thanks?" he asked her.
Rin straightened, flashing him one of her sweet smiles. "This Rin is thankful for her pack. This Rin is thankful she will never have to leave Sesshoumaru-sama. This Rin is thankful for Kagome-sama's wish."
His throat constricting, Sesshoumaru threw his head back and belted out the howl he had been holding in ever since Rin raised her voice in song.
Honor, honor, my pup brings me great honor.
"It is well," he told Rin, gesturing his permission that Kagome be served first.
Kagome crept through a sleeping village, a crescent moon hanging high above her. She was glad they had stopped so close to humans. In the wake of the celebration of Rin's first big kill, she needed time to herself to sort out her feelings. And ever since the incident with the kasha, the only time she was alone for long was when she went playing tricks.
She shivered, remembering the call to join in Rin's song, the sheer undiluted joy of crying out with her pack. She'd always known youkai felt things just like humans did.
It just never occurred to her that they felt more.
Her excitement at Rin's success had rippled through her, down to her bones, until there was nothing to do but dance and send foxfire arching through the air like green fireworks. Even Sesshoumaru hadn't been able to contain himself totally, and the power in his voice, the reaction his howl evoked…
She shivered again.
And then there was Rin's thanks. Even now, Kagome didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
She had stolen Rin's very nature without meaning to, and Rin was happy about it. But not, Kagome thought, because the girl had ever wanted to shed her humanity. She was happy because the change had brought about their little family. Because now Rin would live just as long, if not longer than Sesshoumaru.
Surely it wasn't a betrayal of their origins to be glad of that?
Frustrated with herself, Kagome shook her head. There was no changing any of it, so she might as well just stop thinking about it. It was good that Rin wasn't unhappy with being inu youkai, because she would be one for the rest of her days.
Just as Kagome was the Shikon Miko no longer. That woman was gone. In her place was Kagome of the Four Tails, the Red Kitsune of the West.
That thought in mind, Kagome let herself into an animal pen, determined to steal milk from one of the cows. But of course, she would leave a gold coin lying at the feet of the cow as payment.
She had just laid her hand against the flank of a likely looking animal when she smelled it. It was like rain in the air, though the skies were clear. She tensed, feeling as she did just before a lightning strike.
Then there was a flare of light that blinded her, and she was burning, burning, and there were human voices in her ears.
She growled, curling in on herself and covering her face with her hands, losing control of the spell that let her walk unseen.
"Is this the one?" said a woman's voice.
"No," answered a man. "The one that killed my plow steer was smaller, and there was a bigger one with it. But it looks like this one was about to get my sister's cow, so you might as well purify it too. Filthy beast."
"I dunno. I think it's pretty. And I bet you could get a lot for that kimono in the market."
Kagome opened her eyes to see a group of village men all staring at her. But that wasn't what made her mouth go dry.
Standing next to the men were three women dressed as miko, all of them with bows in hand.
And Kagome was trapped inside a barrier.
Not thinking clearly, she threw herself into the wall of holy energy, trying to escape.
It burned, burned, burned.
She could smell her own flesh cooking into dust, could feel the energy attacking the very core of her youki, seeking to unmake her one molecule at a time.
Sick with pain and sick at heart, she retched, thinking of all the times she herself had been the miko who cast the barrier. The miko who shot arrows filled with purity that scorched the air. Harsh tears fell from her eyes, leaving tracks of salt on her face.
"It won't try doing that again," one of the men laughed. "What is it, anyway?"
Snarling, Kagome answered before the miko could. "I am not an it! I am not a beast! My name is Kagome. Ka. Go. Me. I'm Kagome of the Four Tails, and you better let me go, you jerks!"
"It can talk!"
Kagome raised her purity-burned hands and licked them, soothing the wounds. "Of course I can talk," she sniped.
The miko that seemed to be in charge stepped forward, settling a cool gaze on Kagome. "I am Kiyoko. Are you the youkai who has been attacking this village?"
Kagome tilted her head, eyeing the priestess, then continued to lick her burns. "No one's been attacking your village. Sesshoumaru-sama wouldn't allow it."
She bit her tongue before she could finish that thought. Sesshoumaru-sama lets no one interfere with what is his.
These humans would not be happy to be told they belonged to Sesshoumaru by virtue of living in the Western Lands. They wouldn't realize the protection it offered. They wouldn't understand it for the great honor it was.
Just as Kagome had once not understood.
"Foul smelling ogres have been seen roaming the land. A man from a nearby village was murdered, and his wives kidnapped by a kitsune. Was it you, sly one?"
"Foul smelling ogres? You mean kasha?" Kagome smiled, forgetting that the sight of her fangs and the inhuman stretch of her lips did little to reassure the mortals. "They won't bother you anymore. Sesshoumaru-sama and I killed all of them. You're safe. And we didn't kidnap those women! We saved them."
"Lying demon!" one of the men spat at her, but subsided when Kiyoko gave him an irritated look.
"Sesshoumaru… the Great Dog, the one youkai worship as the Lord of the West?" Kiyoko asked.
"Well I don't know about worship," Kagome muttered, thanking the kami Sesshoumaru wasn't present to hear that. She hated it when he got smug. "But yeah. I'm really good friends with Sesshoumaru-sama. So you better let me out, or he'll be really angry!"
The second the words were out of her mouth, Kagome paled as she realized the truth of them. Anger and pain draining away, she spread her hands in a gesture of peace, and begged.
Not for her life, but for theirs.
"Please, you have to listen. If you don't let me go, Sesshoumaru-sama will come looking for me. And when he sees me in here, none of you will be safe from him," she told the miko. "He'll kill you to free me."
"You dare threaten Kiyoko-sama!" One of the younger miko raised her bow, knocking an arrow.
"Not threaten. Warn," Kagome corrected, even as her breath started coming quicker, her pupils dilating in fear. She could feel the holy energy emanating from that arrow, and it hurt her worse than even Naraku's miasma ever had when she was human. "And please, don't kill me. If you purify me, Sesshoumaru-sama won't stop at killing you. He'll destroy the whole village in his vengeance."
"Wait," Kiyoko said, holding up a hand. "If she speaks the truth – "
"Everyone knows kitsune are tricksters," the miko that had been silent up until that point spoke up. "She'll say anything to save her life, and the livestock will keep going missing."
With a gasp, Kagome made the connection.
The steer Rin killed.
"I was just going to take some milk," Kagome defended herself. "And I was going to pay for it." She dug a gold coin out of the little pouch sewn to the inside of her obi, letting it shine in the torchlight. "See?"
"A likely story," the third miko scoffed.
"How about this?" Kagome suggested, a nagging sensation making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She knew that feeling. Sesshoumaru was coming. Relief combined with apprehension made her nauseous. "How about, if you let me go, I'll promise to never bother your village again. You know kitsune can't break their promises without losing a tail…"
The blank look the humans gave her said that they knew no such thing.
Kagome was opening her mouth to explain when her eyes were drawn to movement in the distance.
In a blink, he was there.
"Please don't kill them! They don't understand. They're just protecting themselves!" Kagome called, contemplating throwing herself against the barrier again, though she knew it would do nothing but give her more burns.
He turned to glare at her, but then he jerked his chin down once and drew Tenseiga.
A sword that could not cut living flesh.
Kagome sagged with relief.
Only to be immediately consumed by horror.
In the time Sesshoumaru had taken to reassure her, the priestesses had raised their bows. Three arrows, all blazing with the pink light of purification, whistled through the air toward Sesshoumaru.
And all three found their mark.
One stuck in the fleshy muscle where his neck and shoulder joined, finding a gap in his armor. Another protruded from his bicep. And the third struck him in the leg, staining white silk with his blood.
Why didn't he move? was all Kagome could think. Why didn't he move? I know he's fast enough.
A haze of green-black clouded her vision, starting at the edges and creeping inwards, the opposite path taken by the blood on Sesshoumaru's clothes.
Why didn't he move?
Her eyes blazed, two lanterns of foxfire, an anguished howl coming from her throat as her teeth lengthened.
Why didn't he move?
Her claws grew thicker, sharper. The foxfire in her eyes spread outwards, engulfing her body in a cocoon of emerald heat.
Why didn't he move? was her last coherent thought. And then all she could think was, Alpha. Mine. Was to be mine. Fire. Blood. Burn them all. Kill them all. Vengeance.
Death by my jaws.
Sesshoumaru allowed the miko to strike him with their arrows, thinking the best way to end this battle without overly damaging the humans, as Kagome wished, would be to show them that their powers of purification were useless against him. Sesshoumaru had long ago developed an immunity to holy energy. He was mildly burned by the force of all three arrows hitting him at once, and his clothes were ruined, but all in all he was unharmed.
The effect on the morale of the priestesses was worth the minor inconvenience.
And then Sesshoumaru had no more thoughts for them, or strategy, for Kagome's youki spiked so violently that he was shocked into looking at her.
Before his eyes, a great ball of foxfire consumed her and then exploded outwards, dissipating the barrier that held her captive.
When the flames faded, it was to reveal a bright red fox with four tails, roughly the size of a horse. Her delicate paws were white, as were the tips of her tails, and her eyes were filled with a flat jade light. Lips pulled back in a snarl revealed a familiar set of sweetly curved fangs, much larger now. Heat emanated from her, the air shifting and wavering and occasionally igniting with cracks of lightning. Foxfire burned where she stepped.
Kagome's true form.
Sesshoumaru supposed it was impressive, for one so young, though it was plain that she was not in control of herself. The usual spark of intelligence in her eyes was missing.
All was silent for a moment that rested on a sword's edge, and then Kagome leapt, jaws wide, heading right for the eldest priestess. An aura of foxfire burned the miko's arrows into nothing before they could make contact with Kagome's hide.
In one smooth motion, Sesshoumaru sheathed Tenseiga and intercepted Kagome, wrapping one arm around her jaws and forcing them closed. Bracing his feet, he pushed his hip into Kagome's side and wrenched her head up, knocking her off balance and wrestling her to the ground. Once he had her down, he kept her there with a knee on her neck, even the strength of her true form unable to budge him.
Despite this, she continued to struggle, her hind legs kicking up great clods of dirt as her tails lashed Sesshoumaru in the back.
"Vixen," Sesshoumaru whispered in her ear. He stroked the fur of her side, absently noting that it was as luxurious as it looked. He could sense the movements of the humans, but he ignored them, dismissing them as no longer important.
"You saved us," came the voice of the elder miko – Kiyoko.
The three miko knelt before Sesshoumaru. The other humans had fled.
"We tried to slay you, and yet you saved us."
Kagome growled even more viciously when she heard the woman speak, renewing her struggles.
"It was not for your sakes," Sesshoumaru told the woman coldly, the look on his face more frightening than the ravening kitsune he restrained. "Be gone. And know you have your lives only because she would wish it."
If Kagome regained her reason only to find she had slaughtered the village, she would be disconsolate. And Sesshoumaru would find that very… irritating.
And he had already indicated to her that he would not kill these humans. Honor would not let him break his word.
The insults this one bears for a troublesome fox.
Once the three miko had removed themselves from Sesshoumaru's presence, he turned his mind to dealing with Kagome.
Rational words would not reach her.
Deciding there was nothing else to be done, he released her just long enough to get a good angle for the blow, and then backhanded her in the snout, sending her flying through a fence and into the side of a nearby building.
Dizzy, she shook her head, tottering on her paws.
Approaching her at a walk, Sesshoumaru calmly struck her again. This time he caught her on the side of the head, succeeding in knocking her unconscious.
She fell, the light leaching from her eyes and her form shifting with the sound of crunching bone and the flow of fur until Sesshoumaru's little vixen lay at his feet, her red hair fanned around her and her kimono in disarray.
Wordlessly, he pulled out the arrows embedded in his flesh, then tossed Kagome's limp form over his shoulder, careful to make sure the spikes of his breastplate didn't dig into her skin.
Kagome woke with a pounding in her head and the feeling that something horrible had happened. She groaned, squeezing her eyes shut, unwilling to face whatever it was that had left a ragged hole in her heart.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, she's awake," a voice stage whispered.
Kagome flung herself into a sitting position, then clutched at her head and tried not to throw up.
A sudden absence of motion made Kagome realize that she was being carried. Prying her eyes open, she found that she was on Ah Un, tucked in among the pelts they had amassed over their travels. Rin and Shippou sat on either side of her.
"I'm so glad you're okay, Kagome," Shippou squeezed one of her hands in both of his little paws. "Sesshoumaru-sama made us travel all night to get away from those miko that hurt you."
"Rin. Shippou. Make tea for Kagome," ordered a baritone voice that Kagome had thought lost forever.
"Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama!" they chorused, and then took themselves into the brush to gather kindling.
Then the Lord of the West himself was standing before her, and she was able to see the top of his head for once, thanks to the added height of sitting on Ah Un.
"Hi," she said dumbly, unable to tear her eyes away from his face.
"You are more powerful than anticipated," he informed her. "This one had to strike you more than once."
"Oh… Wait, hey! You're the one who hit me?" she demanded, feeling she should be outraged, but unable to dredge up any anger in the face of the impossible fact that Sesshoumaru was alive. "You're alive? How are you alive? And why didn't you move?"
He raised a brow. "No arrow may slay this Sesshoumaru."
"They were purity arrows. They burn! And how was I supposed to know they wouldn't hurt you?!"
Ah, there was the anger she'd been looking for.
Face rapidly turning red, she punched Sesshoumaru in the shoulder as hard as she could. "Don't you ever scare me like that again! Or so help me, I will find a way to make subjugation beads that a kitsune can use and I'll put them on you while you're sleeping and – "
And then it all came rushing back. Her transformation. Her thirst for the blood of those who had killed her alpha. What would have happened if Sesshoumaru hadn't stopped her.
Dissolving into sobs that turned into hysterical kitsune laughter and then back to sobs again, Kagome threw herself at Sesshoumaru, tangling her fingers in his hair and burying her face in the thick ruff of his moko-moko.
He was warm and solid beneath her hands, and that more than anything reassured her, though it did nothing to stem the flow of her tears. She was losing her mind, losing herself, her eyes rimmed with green fire as she experienced a churning mix of anger, relief, despair, and something else for which she had no name.
How long she clung there, half hanging out of Ah Un's saddle, shaking with emotion, she didn't know. Sesshoumaru stoically bore her hysterics, his arms held stiffly at his sides. After a time, one of his hands came up – slowly, oh so slowly – and patted her twice on the back.
I am not a beast, she had said to the humans. That thought set off another bout of laughter.
"I'm not a beast," she repeated between hiccups.
She felt Sesshoumaru's fingers on her chin, forcing her to look him in the eye.
"We are youkai. Unless we have discipline enough to master ourselves, we are beasts," he told her, something wild flashing in the depths of his golden gaze. "But… so too are they."
Remembering the stink of her own burning flesh and the leer of the man who had wanted to sell her kimono, Kagome swallowed and nodded to Sesshoumaru. His words weren't really comforting, but somehow she felt better anyway.
Sesshoumaru seemed to sense the change in her mood, the tension draining out of him. Kagome could feel the muscles in his shoulders relaxing. "Now come. Drink your tea."
She climbed out of Ah Un's saddle and settled quietly by his side, letting Shippou pour tea for them all when it became apparent that her hands were still trembling too hard. For the rest of the day, and well into the evening, she stayed close enough to Sesshoumaru to keep her hand on some part of him, to reassure herself that he was really there.
And he said nothing about her outburst.
When Ah Un's saddle began to overflow with the pelts and stolen objects Kagome had hoarded, Sesshoumaru started leading his pack back towards the shiro. He hoped to prevail upon Kagome's giving nature and persuade her to make gifts of most of the pile. Otherwise, he would have to build a new wing onto the palace expressly for her hoard within the next hundred years.
He thought his chances of convincing her to be good. With kitsune, thieving was often an end in itself; they cared little for what they took. Certainly, most of what Kagome brought back on those nights she ventured into human villages were gifts for the pups and Sesshoumaru. Of the cargo Ah Un was currently carrying, the only things she frequently cooed over were the bamboo wind chimes and a small circular mirror that he occasionally had to command she put away, lest she and Shippou stare into it all day.
Sesshoumaru was crafting an innocuous remark about a cold winter approaching and the servants needing ways to keep warm when he felt it.
He stopped in his tracks, looking straight up.
"What is it, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kagome tensed, pushing the kits behind her. She cast about with her senses, picking up the youki signature now that she knew to look for it. It was almost directly above them, and descending fast.
She caught a scent that was similar enough to Rin's for her to know it was a female inu. Her tails frizzed.
"Mother," Sesshoumaru said as a ball of white light appeared before them, coalescing into a demoness that was essentially a smaller, feminine version of Sesshoumaru. She had the same crescent moon on her brow, though she had only one magenta stripe on each cheek. Her kimono had three layers and was a pale violet, embroidered with gold thread that brought out her eyes. She wore her moko-moko as a shawl, letting it drape around her arms. A fan hung from her obi. Kagome was willing to bet it was a tessen – a war fan designed to look harmless.
"Sesshoumaru, my son," she crooned to him, much in the same way that Kagome crooned over Shippou and Rin.
Sesshoumaru actually sighed.
"What brings you here, Mother?"
"Why, I want to see my granddaughter, and meet your new mate, of course."
"This Sesshoumaru has no mate," Sesshoumaru told his mother with absolutely no inflection whatsoever.
Kagome wasn't certain if she should feel insulted.
"Really?" Sesshoumaru's mother continued archly, raising one of her brows in an expression Kagome had seen on Sesshoumaru's face many, many times. "I admit I was surprised when I heard you'd taken up with a vixen. Dogs and foxes don't mix. Especially with you, my son."
Sesshoumaru's mother looked over, a smirk twisting her lips. "Are you not going to introduce this one?"
Sesshoumaru drew himself up to his full height, towering over them all. Kagome thought maybe his mother made him feel small. "Mother, the vixen Kagome, and her kit, Shippou. Kagome, my mother, Yukiko-sama."
"And Rin is Rin!" the little inu piped up, peering around Kagome's legs, where she had hidden herself.
"So you are," Yukiko-sama agreed, beckoning to the girl. "We have met before, but you were different then."
"You let Rin wear your necklace." Rin pointed, indicating the heavy strand of precious stones that hung across Yukiko-sama's throat. Rin started forward, but Kagome held Rin back, looking to Sesshoumaru. But after a moment in which she couldn't read him, he inclined his head, giving his permission.
Grudgingly, Kagome let Rin go to Yukiko, then set about making camp when it became clear the female inu intended to visit with them for a while. Rin was delighted when Yukiko told the little inu to call her 'Honored Grandmother,' and began dragging the demoness about by the hand, excitedly showing her the games that she played with Shippou, and how high she could jump, and telling the tale of her first big kill, a story that still made Kagome's heart skip a beat when she thought of what had happened after.
She went to stand next to Sesshoumaru, discretely looking up at him. His expression, usually a smooth mask, was more than guarded, his youki pulled in tight. She could tell nothing of his mood.
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" she asked at last, starting to reach for him before stopping herself. It wasn't for her to offer him comfort. She wasn't his mate. If he wanted her touch, he would indicate it.
She fidgeted, chafing under what she knew was proper, and what she wanted to do.
Sesshoumaru cut his eyes to her and Kagome held her breath.
"Mother showed no care for Rin when she was human," he said at last, his lips barely moving, whispering low so that the kits wouldn't hear.
Kagome's eyes widened. That bothered him?
A ball of warmth came to life in her chest, the tips of her tails curling happily as she regarded him.
"Of course I wasn't interested when she was human," Yukiko said, having heard despite Sesshoumaru's whispering. She gracefully stepped over to them, the kits occupied playing hanetsuki.
Kagome dared to snarl. "Because humans are weak?"
She'd come across the attitude often enough. Especially with the ruling class of youkai. In fact, Kagome suspected the only reason she hadn't been treated with disdain while living at the palace of the West was because being in Sesshoumaru's pack gave her a higher status than all but visiting members of royal houses, and the Lord of the West himself.
And now, Yukiko-sama.
"No," Yukiko looked Kagome directly in the eye, so much old pain and grief reflected there that the vixen was taken aback. "Because they die."
Kagome had nothing to say to that.
Yukiko turned to Sesshoumaru with an elegant toss of her hair, flipping her fan open to hide the lower half of her face. Spotting the wickedly sharp ends of the spines of the fan, Kagome congratulated herself on guessing that it was a tessen.
"Are you not going to punish this vixen for behaving so to her betters?" Yukiko addressed Sesshoumaru.
Sesshoumaru slowly turned his head toward Kagome, as if he were considering. Finally he gave a lazy, "No."
Yukiko snapped her fan shut, narrowing her eyes.
Yukiko traveled with them as they roamed along the long border between the East and the West, walking arm in arm with Sesshoumaru, and glaring whenever Kagome asked them to stop so that she could go into a human village.
Kagome could tell there was something Yukiko did not say about her aversion to humans. A story that even Sesshoumaru didn't know. Maybe she'd loved a man once, and had to watch him grow old, or succumb to disease.
Maybe she blamed Inuyasha's human mother for the death of the Inu no Taisho.
"It is folly to love a human," Yukiko bluntly declared. "They are like sea foam – gone with the next wave."
Out of respect for Sesshoumaru's relationship with his mother, Kagome kept her mouth shut, though it got increasingly difficult the longer Yukiko traveled with them. She came dangerously close to piercing her tongue on her own fangs on more than one occasion. One evening Kagome even took Sesshoumaru's place in hunting their dinner. Sinking her claws into the neck of a wild pig as it squealed and squirmed went very far towards cooling her temper.
That was, until she returned to that day's den and Yukiko wrinkled her nose, exclaiming over the blood Kagome had gotten on the outer layer of her kimono.
"What a messy hunter! I see why you usually leave it to Sesshoumaru," the inu female said with disdain. "But then, what can one expect from a fox? Such uncouth creatures."
Kagome bared her fangs and threw the body of the pig at Yukiko's feet, then spun on her heel and left the den, climbing a tree to sulk. Sesshoumaru had been hunting for well over four hundred years! Of course he was better at it. And besides. I can get the blood out of my kimono with a simple spell.
She did just that, plucking a leaf from the tree she was sitting in and folding it into a fan. A few swipes over the blood stains, and they were gone. Bet she can't do that. Who's uncouth now?
Kagome stayed in the tree enjoying fantasies of Yukiko covered in mud and begging for Kagome to use her clean up spell until the moon rose, and Sesshoumaru came out of the den. He looked up at her, not saying anything, and she sighed, letting air puff out her cheeks. She was behaving like a kit, and she knew it.
"You must think I'm very stupid," she said to him, crawling out on a branch and sitting, letting her feet and tails dangle.
He tilted his head as he regarded her, raising one of his large hands to run one claw alone the bottom of her bare foot. She had tucked her slippers into her obi, the better to climb the tree.
Ticklish, she jerked her foot away.
"She is baiting you," Sesshoumaru said, his eyes on her other foot. "It is her way of being humorous."
Kagome wiggled her toes, silently daring Sesshoumaru to make a grab for them. "Well, she's not funny."
"Hn." Sesshoumaru's hand darted up. Kagome let out a muffled shriek, pulling her foot out of his reach. She was faster. He couldn't catch her.
She lowered her foot, inviting him to try again.
"Why doesn't your mother live at the palace?" Kagome asked absentmindedly while they played their game. She kept her eyes on Sesshoumaru's hands.
For a moment she thought he wouldn't answer, but then, "My mother was my father's wife, not his mate. When he died and I inherited the West, my mother no longer had a place in the pack, or the Western shiro."
Kagome's brows rose. She looked toward the entrance to their den. "I didn't know. How awful."
Sesshoumaru caught her foot, his thumb pressed firmly into her instep. "I do not think she considered it such. Her marriage to my father was arranged, and she has ever preferred living free to the life at court."
"Like you," Kagome said softly.
He hummed at her, tightening his grip on her foot and yanking her off of her branch. She tumbled, landing on her feet in front of him, knees bent.
Something could be said for kitsune reflexes.
"You're about as funny as your mother is," she told Sesshoumaru, looking up into his golden eyes.
Despite her words, she smiled.
Kagome sat with Yukiko, watching as Sesshoumaru played with the kits. Of course, Sesshoumaru insisted that he was training them, but Kagome knew a game of tag when she saw one.
She cut her eyes at Yukiko, trying to gauge what the demoness thought of their little pack.
Yukiko caught her looking.
"What is it, vixen?" Yukiko asked, her gold eyes narrowing.
Kagome's lips twitched, and she blushed, scrambling for something to say. "Your necklace," she blurted. "I can feel there is magic around it."
"And?" was the imperious reply.
Kagome forced herself not to fidget, reminding herself of her oft repeated promise to herself to try to get along with Sesshoumaru's mother. "Rin said you let her wear it once."
Yukiko raised a hand to lightly trace the heavy jewel that hung at the center of the string of gems. "The Meido Stone was a gift from the Inu no Taisho. He said that one day, Sesshoumaru would have need of it." Here Yukiko paused, giving a little sniff. "I tried to teach my son better, to make him stronger, but he is too much like… When he brought me the corpse of a human girl, I knew that the day had arrived. I hung the Meido Stone around Rin's neck to return her soul from the underworld."
Kagome kept perfectly still, feeling that if she moved, if she even breathed too loudly, this strange mood that had grown up between them would be broken, and Yukiko would reveal no more. Just when the silence had gone on long enough that she thought Yukiko had finished her tale, the inu flicked her fan open and used it to obscure the lower half of her face.
"I almost didn't do it. I almost defied my late husband's wishes and left the girl dead. She was human, and would only die again in a few short decades. Why should I prolong the inevitable?" Yukiko's youki spiked, just enough for Kagome to notice.
In the clearing before them, Sesshoumaru stopped dead in his tracks, looking their way.
"But a child's pain is difficult for a mother to ignore, even when it is the right thing," Yukiko finished.
Gracefully, she rose and went to join her son.
Kagome did not follow.
"I do not hate humans," Yukiko-sama told Kagome the next day, after Sesshoumaru had taken Shippou and Rin hunting.
Startled by the intensity of Yukiko's expression, and that she was addressing the issue at all, Kagome couldn't think of anything to say for several minutes. Finally, she managed a weak, "You don't have to explain yourself to me."
Yukiko waved a hand, her elegant claws glinting in the light. "And so I am not. I am giving advice."
"Advice?" Kagome felt tired. Dealing with the stylish inu made her so weary that she had started privately thinking that that was Yukiko's special youkai power. She was an energy thief.
"Yes, advice." Yukiko opened her fan, holding it in front of the lower half of her face. Her glittering yellow eyes seemed more penetrating with her mouth hidden. "Let go of your human notions. Put away human things. You don't have to hate crickets to know a cricket cannot be your friend."
"So humans are crickets? Sea foam?" Kagome snapped, ire making foxfire spark at her fingertips. She had been biting her tongue – sometimes quite literally – ever since Yukiko had arrived. All those feelings seeped to the surface now, escaping her in a half growl, half roar. "Who did you lose to become so, so… bitter? Was it a man? A human hunter who caught an inu's heart?"
Yukiko snarled, her eyes flashing over her fan as her youki expanded, pressing down on Kagome. Her tails frizzing, Kagome locked her knees to keep herself upright, terror making her hands tremble. She lost hold of the transformative magic she used to make her hair black, the strands rapidly flooding red.
Like blood against her kimono.
Yukiko took a step forward, and Kagome whined without meaning to. Sesshoumaru's mother was more powerful even than her son, but much, much better at hiding it. Kagome'd had no idea. Any minute she would fall to her knees, or take off running into the forest. She couldn't fight the kitsune instincts that screamed in her mind. Even now she panted, unable to catch her breath.
Abruptly, the pressure of Yukiko's aura lessened, the inu reining in her power until it was barely more noticeable than it had been when she first arrived. Kagome gasped in relief, tears streaming down her face.
"Her name was Sasa," Yukiko said, snapping her fan shut. The steel ribs of the tessen made a snikt sound as they slid closed. "She lived in the Southern Islands. By the sea. Her father was a human fisherman. And she was my best friend."
Trembling, Kagome put her hands into her sleeves and bowed from the waist, her red hair forming a curtain across her vision. "Yukiko-sama."
The pale inu youkai returned the gesture.
Still, whatever Yukiko's reasoning, three days later, after Yukiko had left them, Kagome pulled Rin aside.
"Promise me that you will never forget that you were once human," she said to the kit, her blue eyes intense. "And know you have to keep this promise. It's bad luck to break your word to a kitsune."
Rin stared up at Kagome, a dimple appearing in her cheek as she bared her baby fangs in a smile. "Rin promises. And Rin would keep her word anyway, Kagome-sama." She ran her little fingers over the stylized pattern of flowers on her right sleeve. Ever since being named Sesshoumaru's heir, Rin had worn his crest. "This Rin must uphold the honor of the West."
Sesshoumaru arrived at his shiro to hear his brother shouting.
"Inuyasha-sama is home!" Rin cried, in case any of the pack had somehow missed the sound of the hanyou's voice. "He promised to give Rin a ride on his shoulders when he got back."
Sesshoumaru directed Kagome to take the pups to the wing reserved for the pack before going to see just what his brother was screaming about this time.
He was surprised when Inuyasha's scent led him to the council chamber. He was more surprised to find that Jaken was by Inuyasha's side, the Great Seal of the West clamped tightly in his reptilian green hands.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Without pausing for breath, Inuyasha turned and told him the issue, then resumed shouting down the council members. The hanyou actually appeared to be enjoying it, this part of ruling that Sesshoumaru hated. His triangular ears were erect, his eyes sparking, and his heart pounding as he bellowed at the top of his voice.
Sesshoumaru was downright shocked to find that he agreed with Inuyasha.
Perhaps making the hanyou his steward was not so ludicrous after all. It would honor their father.
"It will be as Inuyasha has said."
Everyone stopped speaking, all turning to him with incredulity upon their faces.
Inuyasha recovered first. "Keh. You heard him."
Seeing that his brother had this council session well in hand, Sesshoumaru left.
That evening at dinner Sesshoumaru let Inuyasha be served first. Kagome's eyebrows climbed into her hairline. She wasn't sure what had happened to bring this on. It seemed Inuyasha had had a triumph, and risen in the pack. A triumph he was taking full advantage of, making a glutton of himself and clapping Sesshoumaru on the shoulder. Kagome shook her head, thinking that Inuyasha wouldn't be content until he finally irritated the Lord of the West into killing him.
After they had eaten, Inuyasha asked her to walk with him in the garden. Kagome smiled and went willingly, happy to see him again, her nostrils flaring as she took in his familiar scent.
It was strange to realize that she relied a lot more on her nose than her eyes now. Once, it would have been the sight of Inuyasha's fire rat haori that she thought of first. But the eyes were so simple to fool, as she well knew – by illusion, transformation, to name only a few ways. The nose was much less easily tricked.
"What's this I hear about you traveling all over with the bas- with Sesshoumaru, but not wanting to go see Sango and Miroku with me?"
Kagome's mood plummeted with a suddenness that left her dizzy. The garden walls seemed to hem her in, the sky pressing down with a force that crushed her lungs. She couldn't breathe around the dread that choked her.
Her gut twisted as she tried to find a way to explain to Inuyasha, when she couldn't even really explain to herself. All she knew was that she did not want to go, and he could not make her. She would get Sesshoumaru to stop him if he tried.
Inuyasha sensed her panic. His ears pressed back against his head, he lightly gripped her shoulders, turning her to face him. "Didn't mean to…" he mumbled. "Look don't cry or anything, ok?"
That startled her into a laugh, the feeling of being trapped gone as quickly as it came.
Kagome looped her arm through his, silently thanking him for not making her explain.
"How long have you been back?"
"Couple of months. No one was sure when you'd be back, so I stayed on to make sure Jaken didn't screw everything up."
Kagome snapped her fingers, a spark of foxfire amplifying the sound. "Aha! That's what letting you choose first at dinner was about! You must have done a good job." She patted his hand.
"Yeah, well…" Inuyasha actually looked bashful. "He made me his steward. I'm his second in the pack now."
"Weren't you before?"
"He made it official, I guess." Looking suspiciously bright eyed, Inuyasha turned away. "Sesshoumaru seemed to think the Old Man would like it."
Kagome let Inuyasha have the moment he needed, feigning interest in a nearby flower.
"Anyway. Sango and Miroku said to tell you to come visit them, when you can. They got married. Sango's already popped a brat out."
"What?" Kagome gaped, reeling. The earth tilted beneath her. She wished it would stop. It seemed like she'd had more ups and downs in this one conversation than there were stones in the palace courtyard. "Has it really been that long? Time just… doesn't seem to matter that much anymore."
Inuyasha met her eyes. "Take it from someone who knows, Kagome. Humans ain't around that long. You should visit them as much as you can."
That night, Sesshoumaru found he was restless. He paced his rooms, a yukata tied lightly around his waist, a sliver of his chest bared. Irritated with himself, he moved to stand on the balcony. He needed the feeling of air on his skin.
A small sound drew his attention to the hall door. Kagome stood there, the pups on either side of her.
"Father?" Rin asked, whining. It was the first time she had called him such.
"Big brother?" Shippou echoed softly, not quite so daring as Rin.
Leaving the balcony, Sesshoumaru settled himself on the massive four poster bed that dominated the room, and then said, "Do as you please."
The pups rushed in immediately, tumbling onto the bed and tussling until Kagome yipped at them. At her reprimand they quieted, curling up next to Sesshoumaru. Kagome came next, dressed for sleep, her tails splayed behind her in a fan shape, lightly swaying back and forth. Sesshoumaru preferred them that way.
She was avoiding his eyes.
Raising a brow, Sesshoumaru ran one of his claws along her jaw, tilting her face up so he could look into it. A shiver went through her, and her eyes darted to his exposed chest, then his face. Her scent changed, gaining an edge of heat.
Sesshoumaru had to admit to a certain sense of male satisfaction.
"You don't have to look so smug," she scolded, playfully swiping at him.
He caught her hand before she could accost him. "Be not ashamed. I am well aware of the effect I have on females."
She huffed her outrage.
Kagome was in the gardens, enjoying the sound of her bamboo wind chimes and practicing making spell anchors when Inuyasha found her.
"Yasha," she greeted, an uneasy guilt filling her as she looked up from the crane she was folding from leaves.
Somewhere between making her wish on the Shikon and returning to the Western shiro for the second time, she had fallen out of love with the hanyou. She still cared deeply for him, and always would, but that special spark that had made her tremble in anticipation of seeing him, had made her pine for him, was gone.
She worried that her fickleness was a result of her transformation. She'd been told again and again, and in fact, seen for herself, that kitsune were lusty and well known for taking many lovers over the course of their lives. Inari-sama was fond of repeating old folksy pieces of kitsune wisdom on that score. Things like: A fox who's had fewer lovers than they have tails has not lived.
Was Kagome's love for Inuyasha yet another thing she'd lost along with her humanity?
Or had she always been hopelessly inconstant? Did all girls have to deal with this, after they'd been so sure they would love one person forever?
It made her feel shallow and cheap.
"I've been looking for you," Inuyasha smirked at her, one of his fangs standing out over his lip.
"You're the one who's hard to find these days, Inuyasha-sama," she teased.
He lowered himself to his haunches next to her, running his claws through her hair.
Only the kits had groomed her since their pack had formed. Having Inuyasha do it was vastly different. Not even Sesshoumaru had ever taken such a liberty, when it would be well within his rights as alpha.
Inuyasha's confusion showed in his eyes and the movement of his ears. He shifted, leaning forward to run his fangs along Kagome's jaw.
She stopped him, her hand resting lightly over his lips. She couldn't let him complete the action, not with the reaction it evoked in her. She was still a healthy vixen, and Inuyasha was a powerful, handsome warrior of a hanyou – everything a kitsune female could want in a lover. There was lust between them.
Lust and friendship.
But Inuyasha deserved more than that.
"Don't," she said, her throat tight. She could barely force the word out.
She expected a fight. Maybe some insults and accusations as Inuyasha covered his hurt with anger.
But that wasn't what happened.
Inuyasha's ears drooped, and he leaned away from her hand, raising his own to take it. "Damn. I take too long?" His voice was hoarse.
Kagome sighed, tears spilling from her eyes to run down her cheeks. She didn't know when she'd started crying. "I don't know. I don't want it to be this way. It just… is."
He nodded, his breath changing as he fought tears of his own. He wouldn't weep in front of her.
"Inu, I'm so sorry. If you give me some time, maybe I – "
"No, Kagome," he stopped her, getting to his feet.
She nodded. It would be cruel to give him false hope. It was just that she wanted so much to love him again that she could almost convince herself it was possible, if she just had a few months to find a way.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you," she whispered.
"Yeah, me either," came his soft reply.
With a sudden bound, he vanished from her sight.
Once, he would have ranted and raved, calling her every foul thing he could think of, snarling and growling, maybe accusing her of being intimate with Sesshoumaru, though his nose surely told him that she was not. But now, he was gentle. Understanding.
His grace in handling her rejection gave her new hope.
Maybe Kagome hadn't lost herself when she became a kitsune. Maybe she still would have grown apart from Inuyasha, without their quest to hold them together.
After all, he had changed too.
"We'll always be pack," she said to the empty air in the garden.
She knew Inuyasha would hear.
The kits found her later, soaking in the bath house. She'd gone there to cry, it being one of the few places it was possible to do so and keep everyone from knowing in a shiro full of youkai.
"You smell like tears," Shippou said bluntly. He and Rin disrobed and joined Kagome in the water. Pulling Rin close, Kagome started to wash the little inu's hair for her.
Shippou moved behind Kagome, his claws picking through the fur of her tails.
"I've been crying for Inuyasha," Kagome told them plainly.
"What he do now?" Shippou demanded.
"Is Uncle ok?" Rin wanted to know.
"He didn't do anything, and he's going to be just fine," Kagome reassured them. "It's just everything is changing. Nothing will ever be the same again. I was crying for who we used to be. Sometimes you have to, to say goodbye."
"Why would Kagome-sama miss herself? You're still right here." Rin sounded genuinely confused.
Kagome laughed until she cried again.
Kagome strolled in the gardens with Sesshoumaru, the moon hanging full and bright above their heads. He had more leisure time, now that he did not take all the burden of leadership upon himself.
Kagome's conscience twinged at her happiness that Inuyasha had taken over some of the duties of ruling the West, but guilt was by far outweighed by relief. It meant she spent less time trying to avoid the hanyou as they let things between them heal.
And it also gave her more peaceful moments like these, with Sesshoumaru.
The kits were already asleep. They'd left them safely tucked together in Sesshoumaru's bed.
"You are wearing your hair black," Sesshoumaru told her, as he often did.
"I always wear it black. It suits me," Kagome replied.
He nodded, and she let her lips twitch up. Sesshoumaru was an odd little duck, sometimes.
She giggled at the mental image conjured by that thought.
Sesshoumaru's next words stole her laughter away.
"Inuyasha has said that you wish to visit the slayer and the monk. In the future, you will tell this Sesshoumaru of your desires."
Kagome's tails thrashed, making a mess of her obi. "You have important work here. There's no hurry."
Sesshoumaru turned to her, one brow raised.
Kagome bared her fangs at him, not knowing why she was being so so recalcitrant. She just didn't want to go visit Sango and Miroku right now. She could do it later. In another year, maybe.
"We leave in two days. Prepare yourself."
Kagome growled. "No," she told Sesshoumaru, her eyes flashing with foxfire.
He unleashed his aura, letting it fill the garden, his lips pulling back in a snarl that was as beautiful as it was deadly. His white-blue hair whipped around his face, tossed by the cold wind that stirred around him.
Kagome held her ground for as long as she could, remembering well the time she had stood up under the pressure of Yukiko-sama's youki. But Sesshoumaru did not stop, as his mother had. Eventually Kagome's knees buckled, her trembling muscles unable to hold her up, and the fur of her tails standing on end. When Sesshoumaru brought his power to bear this way, it was like her first confused days as a kitsune, when she'd been blind to everything but instinct.
She prostrated herself before Sesshoumaru, baring the back of her neck. He put his claws against her skin immediately, his fingertips digging into her tender flesh.
"We leave in two days," he repeated. "Prepare yourself."
Sesshoumaru's vixen did not speak to him for the entirety of the trip to the village of Edo where the monk and the slayer lived with the old miko, Kaede.
She was angry with him.
He paid her no mind. He was doing his duty as alpha.
They travelled quickly, having left the pups at the shiro with a promise that they would get to come the next time the pack patrolled the lands. Sesshoumaru knew his vixen needed to face whatever it was she feared in this place alone. He was going to escort her to the outskirts of the village.
Without the pups, there was no reason for them to sleep curled together. In fact, his vixen did not sleep at all, but sat, stiff and straight backed, through the night, refusing to look at him.
It was no matter. Sesshoumaru did not need her attention.
Not at all.
Kagome skidded to a stop, her paws tearing up grass as she dug them into the ground. This was neither a patrol nor a pleasure trip, so she had traveled in her true form and Sesshoumaru had flown. It was faster that way.
And now here they were. Edo.
Her stomach flopped with an unnamed dread. With a pop, she transformed, resuming her humanoid shape. Her tails twisted behind her, a manifestation of her distress. It took time to loop them through her obi knot.
"You are needlessly delaying," Sesshoumaru said in that unforgiving baritone of his.
Kagome didn't move, her hands fisted in her kimono sleeves. If the fabric hadn't been of youkai make, it would have been wrinkled, if not shredded to pieces by her claws.
A claw-tipped finger softly tilted her chin up. Who knew the bloodthirsty Lord of the West could be so gentle?
"What if they don't recognize me?" The words just burst from her, a strangled whisper making its way over her lips before she even knew what she was saying.
"They will," Sesshoumaru said, a low, reassuring rumble underneath his words.
She shook her head. "No. What if they don't recognize me?"
"They will," Sesshoumaru said again.
He let her chin go. "I will be here. Waiting."
Kagome took a deep breath, concentrating hard. Her hair was already black, but now she rounded her ears, getting rid of the points that marked her as something otherworldly. Her claws turned to blunt human nails. Her fangs shrank. One by one, her tails disappeared. Lastly, she changed her clothes, making her kimono more simplistic, the fabric coarser. She didn't want to draw the attention of the entire village.
As always, she couldn't get her shadow to change. It bobbed along the ground, giving her disguise away to anyone observant enough to notice.
Drawing her little round mirror out of her sleeve, she studied her reflection.
There was something tiring about wearing her old face.
"Here I go," she mumbled, heading into Edo.
"Kagome? Is it really you?"
Sango and Miroku were overjoyed to see her. They looked different. They'd both gained some weight, though not much. Married life suited them.
"It's me," she told them quietly, hugging each in turn. Miroku's hand started on a familiar path toward her rear, and Kagome sighed before – very carefully, very gently – smacking him upside the head.
They all laughed, even Miroku, the ice broken between them. "It's good to know some things don't change," she told Sango. Overcome, her eyes welled with tears.
Miroku put a kind, almost fatherly hand on her shoulder, and Sango bowed her head.
When Kagome was ready, they started down the main path through the village, heading toward Kaede's hut. Sango and Miroku had built theirs next to the old miko's.
"Is Sesshoumaru-sama going to be joining us?" Miroku asked brightly. "Inuyasha said something about how he always keeps you with him." The monk's expression turned sly, "I think he was a little jealous."
Kagome's heart skipped a beat. "Sesshoumaru-sama is waiting in the forest. He doesn't… do well with crowds," she finished tactfully.
Sango nodded. "And, while Miroku and I have been teaching them, some of the villagers wouldn't react well to having an adult, full-blooded youkai in their midst. Not one powerful enough to have a human form, anyway."
Kagome's steps faltered, and Sango's expression turned to one of chagrin. "Kagome, I'm sorry. I didn't think –"
"No, Sango," Kagome shook her head, her long black hair undulating with the movement. She gestured down at herself. "It's why I'm disguised. I can't blame you for forgetting, not when I've gone to so much trouble to maintain the illusion."
Miroku saved them from themselves by slinging an arm around Kagome's shoulders. "Yes, what do you really look like these days, my dear fox? If I remember correctly from the one time I glimpsed you, you're all fire red hair and shapely – " Sango glared, and Miroku gulped, obviously changing what he was oringinally going to say. "Shapely… ears."
Kagome laughed. "They are pretty pointy now."
Sango made a show of playfully snubbing Miroku, lacing her arm through Kagome's and forcing Miroku to walk in front of them so that he would be denied 'looking upon their beauty.' Kagome was still smiling at Miroku's protestations that he would die, like a man stranded in the desert without water, when Sango asked, "Is it true that you're the Lady of the West now, Kagome?"
Kagome's brow furrowed. "What?"
"We've heard tales from travelers of the Red Vixen of the West," Sango went on. "And we thought she was probably you, especially with what Inuyasha says when he visits."
"What does Inuyasha say when he visits?"
"That Sesshoumaru-sama is made of ice – "
" 'Has an icicle up his ass' is how Inuyasha put it," Miroku interjected.
"But that he seems to like you," Sango continued. "Which isn't really surprising, when I think about it. You've always had a way with youkai males."
Kagome felt her face heat. "And they say kitsune don't get embarrassed," she muttered.
Fortunately, before the conversation could go any further, they arrived at Kaede's hut, and the old woman was hobbling forward to greet Kagome.
"Yer young one has just woken from her nap," Kaede said to Sango, leading Kagome to conclude that the old miko had been watching the child.
Sango and Miroku showed Kagome their hut, and the work they had begun on building a shrine just outside Edo, by the well. They were going to start a school there, where they would teach new slayers, monks, and priestesses to respect all life, even and especially that of youkai. 'Kill only to protect' was their creed.
Then they introduced Kagome to their child, a daughter with Miroku's lavender eyes. He already despaired of keeping suitors away from her.
Overcome by a geas that she couldn't explain when she saw the baby, Kagome put her fingers in her mouth, yanking out one of her fangs to Sango's surprised exclamation.
Blood trickling over her lips and pain pulsing through her jaw, Kagome rolled the tooth in her hands again and again, compressing it with all her preternatural strength until it grew smooth, and round.
She filled it with foxfire from her heart, her eyes shining green as she breathed along the surface of the tiny gem.
Once it glowed with the touch of her magic, she gave it to Sango. "Pass this on, from mother to daughter. So long as someone of your blood holds it, Kagome of the Four Tails will bring you good fortune, protection, and luck. This I swear."
As Sango's face turned red with emotion and Miroku thanked her with his usual eloquence, Kagome held their child.
She was not to know it yet, but because of the wish she had made and the kitsune vow she'd just taken, the child in her arms would be the great great great grandmother of a girl named Suiko.
An Empress of Japan.
An empress with respect for youkai, and a kitsune to guide her.
Kagome stayed with Sango and Miroku for seven days and seven nights. The villagers soon began leaving out treats and trinkets for her, so that she wouldn't rummage through their homes in the night, making mischief and taking what she wanted. Those families that honored the fox were rewarded with gold begged from Sesshoumaru's purse.
For all seven days, Kagome wore her human disguise. It was only on the seventh night, when Sango and Miroku begged her to let them see her as she really was, that she let her transformative magic slide.
Her tails were revealed first, and then her red hair and kimono. Sango smiled. Miroku teased that he should have let her carry him off, that day so long ago.
They thought she was beautiful.
Sesshoumaru found his vixen in the clearing surrounding the Bone Eater's Well. She was sitting in a meditative pose, her back against the wooden structure.
He moved to stand over her. She opened one eye and smirked at him, her face full of kitsune mischief, and then shut her eye again. Ignoring him.
Knowing his patience to be greater than hers, he folded his tall frame down next to her, turning his palms up to join her in meditation.
He was well rewarded.
"It was good to see Sango and Miroku again. I needed this. I didn't even know it, but I was afraid they wouldn't see anything of the old Kagome in who I am now." She smiled. "But they're still my friends. And I'm still me. Thank you for bringing me, Sesshoumaru-sama."
A few moments of silence passed, wind blowing through the clearing. It picked at their hair and their sleeves, making them mingle together, white strands against black, white silk against green.
"The well doesn't work anymore. Inuyasha told me that it wouldn't let him through, when he was here. But I couldn't leave without checking for myself."
Sesshoumaru tilted his head, indicating she should continue.
"I suppose it's for the best. I don't know what my family would make of me. Or what a kitsune would do, in modern Tokyo." She giggled, the sound somehow containing a flavor of sorrow. "Join the circus, maybe."
"Groups of performers that do physical stunts and magic tricks."
"Ah. Human sorcery."
Kagome snorted, then shifted, raising a hand to her face. Sesshoumaru could smell the salt of tears.
"You will see them again," he told her. "Your human pack. Five hundred years is not so long."
She nodded, a tear flying from her cheek to land on his hand. Unthinking, Sesshoumaru raised it to his lips, licking it from his skin.
It tasted bitter.
"I've always wondered why the jewel made me a kitsune," Kagome choked out through the tears she was valiantly trying to keep at bay. "I thought I'd phrased the wish so that it excluded me. But maybe… maybe it made me youkai so that I wouldn't have to choose between my two worlds. This way, if I can manage to keep myself alive, I can have both."
Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes, considering. Her words made sense, but he thought it to be more than that. "Have you considered that it was not your own desires the jewel was fulfilling? Because of your change, not only will you see your human pack again, but Shippou has a mother and Inuyasha a mate who will not die and leave them after a few decades."
At that she buried her face in her hands and began to weep.
Flustered, though no one looking upon him would know it, Sesshoumaru did the only thing he knew to do.
He was a youkai of few words. He preferred the decisiveness, the unmistakable nature of action. And though he would never admit to such a failing, often he just didn't know what to say.
So he pulled his vixen into his lap, cradling her like a pup as she cried. She started when he began grooming her hair to calm her, his claws running lightly over her scalp, but then she relaxed, melting into him, settling against his chest and cushioning her cheek on the fur of his moko-moko.
Hn. This is becoming habit. But, he mused, it appears to be working.
He was unaware of the softness around his mouth as he thought, Troublesome vixen.
Rumbling to her as he did to lull Rin and Shippou to sleep, he was unsurprised when her eyes closed, her breathing evening out. She had not slept since they left the shiro. That was too long, even for a full grown kitsune.
He was amazed by how small, how slight she was in this moment. He'd watched her sleep before, while standing guard on their travels, but never had he seen her so… vulnerable. She was usually so vibrant, so alive, filled with a fire that was more than her kitsune nature. The force of her personality made her seem taller, stronger, a being that couldn't possibly be the same vixen propped against his shoulder.
Her hands were so dainty, her wrists so delicate. Her fingers were only half the size of his own. Catching himself staring, he tugged at her sleeves, pulling the teal silk down to cover her skin.
The sun had set by the time she woke.
She stretched in his arms, a yawn exposing petite fangs. Sesshoumaru loved the sweet subtle curves of her teeth. He found himself drawn to them.
"I'm not going to be Inuyasha's mate," was the first thing she said when she opened her eyes to find him looking down at her. There was fear in her scent.
Did she think he would be angry that she denied his brother?
If he had any feelings about her pronouncement at all, it was an inordinate pleasure that he did not care to examine.
He nodded his understanding, then helped her to her feet.
Act I Endnotes:
Reynard: Proper name for the leader of a group of foxes.
Leash: Proper name for a group of foxes.
Inari: Inari-sama is named for the shinto kami Inari Okami, the kami of foxes and fertility. I think within the universe of this fic, Inari is one and the same as Inari Okami - she's a youkai, but human history remembered her as a goddess.
Gold kitsune: According to several Japanese folktales, when a kitsune gains their ninth tail, they either turn gold, white, or black/deep red. Gold kitsune can fly; white can heal the sick and grant eternal life; black/deep red kitsune are malevolent/evil and cause death and destruction.
Dogs and foxes don't mix: I got the idea for this concept/phrase from reading various kitsune legends. In a lot of them, a kitsune will go into a house or business disguised as a human and then see a dog. Because kitsune are so afraid of dogs, they lose control of their disguise and run away. This concept gets a lot of play in this fic, because I used it as the basis for how kitsune and inu youkai interact - i.e. a kitsune is always going to be afraid of a dog demon and more likely to submit or run from an inu than a different kind of demon.
Kitsune lore: All of the kitsune lore that's thrown around by Inari and Sesshoumaru is based on several kitsune folktales, most notably The Fox Wife.
Aging: I'm operating on a system here where I've just decided that every 100 years = a youkai ages about 5 years, with the more powerful ones (like Sesshoumaru) slowing down to 100 years = 1 year after they hit their physical peak. A hanyou ages twice as fast, so they're at every 100 years = 10 years.
Fox-face, or kitsune-gao: Is an expression in Japanese that specifically refers to a woman with prominent cheekbones and delicate features who is so beautiful that she is likely a kitsune in disguise.
Kitsune being sensual beings: This is taken from various kitsune folktales. In most folktales, kitsune are either seducing someone, or pretending to be human so they can take a human spouse (or in some cases steal a human baby and replace it with a baby kitsune). Malevolent kitsune are known to lead young men into the woods until they're lost, and then deny them and leave them there to die. The word 'kitsune' is actually derived from the words "kitsu" and "ne," which in early Japanese roughly translated to "came to the bedroom always true."
Kitsune and promises: Based on several folktales, if a promise is made to a kitsune, and the promise is broken, bad luck and misfortune will follow the oath breaker, and the kitsune might pursue the person themselves to cause even more trouble. The flip side is that if a kitsune ever makes a promise, they have to keep it. If they break their word, they don't just get bad luck and misfortune - an oath breaking kitsune suffers a loss of power, which I have interpreted as the loss of a tail for the purposes of this story, since their tails are the seat of their power.
Hanetsuki: Is pretty much ping pong. Just with fancy paddles that are laquered and painted and balls decorated with feather ornaments.
Kagome's shadow/kitsune are vain: In the folktales, two ways to find out if someone is a kitsune is to look at their shadow, because only the most powerful kitsune can change it to match, and to get them to gaze into a mirror. In the mirror, they'll either appear as they really are, or become so enamored with their own reflection that they forget to keep up their disguise and just stand there admiring themselves. Another way not mentioned here is to draw them a bath that is either too hot or too cold, and when they stick a toe in they'll scream and revert.
Kasha: Japanese folklore describes the Kasha as humanoid cat-demons with the head of a cat or tiger and a burning tail. They are similar to other demons such as Nekomata and Bakeneko and get often interchanged with them. Kashas are said to travel the world on burning chariots or barouches, stealing the corpses of recently deceased humans, which were not yet buried and who had been sinful in life. They bring their souls to hell. - As you can see, I've taken some artistic license with what kasha are. My kasha are more ogre-like, and pretty much just store meat and let it rot, kind of like alligators. They're also not very bright.
Myobu: A title sometimes given to a fox, especially those associated with the goddess Inari. In this case, Myobu is the kitsune Lord of the Eastern Lands, and Inari's uncle.
Kiyoko: A Japanese name meaning "pure child."
Kagome and Shippou being entranced by a mirror: In the folktales, kitsune are often incredibly vain, as well as attracted to shiny objects.
Tessen: A war fan, usually carried by samurai, that has sharpened steel ribs so that it can be both fan and covert weapon. Yukiko tells me her fan is made from the Inu No Taisho's fangs, and was a gift presented to her upon Sesshoumaru's birth.
Yukiko: Is the name I have chosen to give Sesshoumaru's mother. The name is taken from the Japanese folktale, The Crane Wife, a story of a crane youkai who falls in love with a fishermen, and keeps giving him her feathers so that he can use them as sails. The story ultimately ends in tragedy.
The Meido Stone: Yukiko's story about the stone is lifted directly from Inuyahsa: The Final Act.
Sasa: The name means "to help." And Sasa's relationship to Yukiko is a twist on the Japanese folktale The Crane Wife.
The pearl Kagome gives Sango made from her fang and foxfire: Is a reference to what's called a 'power jewel' in kitsune legends. Thought to be a precursor to the western story about the frog with the golden ball, kitsune are often cited as saving some of their power in 'power jewels' and then hiding the jewel somewhere. Humans who find/steal the jewel gain control over the kitsune, or may make a deal with the kitsune to get something in exchange for the return of the power jewel. In other stories, the kitsune willingly gives the power jewel to a human, in order to become the human's spirit guardian. You may see me refer to the power jewel in later chapters as a 'ki-pearl.'
Kagome's vow: Kagome is essentially binding herself to Sango and Miroku's descendents, as the guardian of their house. Basically, she's their kitsune fairy godmother. This is taken from various kitsune legends.
Suiko: is the name of the first woman to rule Japan as Empress Regent.