1575, early Azuchi-Momoyama Period, early
The seasons passed slowly for Sesshoumaru. Kintsuke required time, he knew, but as Spring gave way to Summer, to Winter, and around again to a fading Autumn, he began to wonder if she would come at all. He listened for rumors, but there were none. He reached out with his senses, trying to find that ghostly echo just beyond their reach that had haunted him in the past, but it was silent. Whatever her responsibilities and endeavors were, she was not meeting significant resistance.
Autumn chilled into Winter, and before the ice and snow set in, Sesshoumaru made his way once again to the colony in Musashi where his Rin remained nested. The years were showing in her features now and it pained him, even as he was again welcomed by the cheerful chorus of 'Sesshoumaru-sama' from herself, her mate, and her two children. Only these humans, and only this home, were proper, acceptable, and he spared her two quickly growing pups a pat on the head before departing once more.
As he made his way to the place where he'd left Jaken and A-Un, he felt the stirring just beyond his senses that he'd been waiting for. He paused, scanning the horizon to the south until he saw it; the fluttering of a black haori and white hair in the biting wind. The figure strode along leisurely, leading a horse along by the bridle, and he quickly found its scent on the air; rich, molten.
It was her her. She had finally come to him. His inner demon growled with satisfaction as she drew closer to stand before him.
"Two years, female…" he cooed, almost chiding.
She offered him a simple smile.
"Everything is in order now."
He took a moment to scrutinize her form, finding everything exactly as it had been when last they'd met; flowing black haori and hakama, a pure white kimono crossed and pressed neatly under the form-fitted cuirass crafted in the style of the mainland. When the breeze curled around her, he could see the strips and loops of leather and metal peeking out from behind her hips where her tonfa were poised, ready, and waiting. His gaze shifted to the beast she held steady.
"Such a creature will only serve to slow our pace."
She pursed her lips just so but did not argue, releasing the creature before falling into step behind and to the side of the path Sesshoumaru made in the slowly freezing tall grass. There were no words as they walked, for none were needed. The sounds, the scents, the sensations of the other being nearby was enough for now, and neither was willing to disturb the fragile tranquility and contentment they each found in their long-awaited reunion.
Jaken bolted up from his snoozing perch atop A-Un's saddle as he became aware of his master's approach.
"Lord Sesshoumaru! You've retur-…!"
His words fell short as he spotted the female tagging along beside his master at a respectful distance.
"Jaken, is A-Un prepared for travel?" Sesshoumaru asked simply, scrutinizing the two-head and the imp for any signs of trouble that might have transpired in his absence.
"Er..that is, yes, m'lord, he is," Jaken's goblin-like face wrinkled even more as he found Kintsuke's scent, "but what is a half-demon doing here?"
Sesshoumaru ran a hand through the dragon's manes as it lifted its heads to greet him.
"Kintsuke will be traveling with us from now on."
Jaken nearly guffawed even as Kintsuke offered him a polite inclining of her head.
"What!? A half-breed; travel with you?! Preposterous! Such a creature would only serve to slow us-"
Sesshoumaru's voice was soft, almost sing-song, and the imp recognized the promise of severe reprimand in its deceptively sweet tones. He whimpered as he dropped his head.
"Please forgive my unsightly outburst, master, it was most uncalled for."
Kintsuke had looked elsewhere during the exchange, as was deemed polite to do, but watched from the corner of her eye to gauge as much as she could of their dynamic from the scene. While she felt something akin to empathy for the imp, for she had once been where he was now, she couldn't deny that the whole thing seemed almost comical in a way.
"Acquaint yourself with A-Un." Sesshoumaru said to her smoothly, stepping away from the creature. "We will be leaving shortly."
Jaken shot her a venomous glower before hopping down to follow after his master. Left with only each other, the dragon and half-breed considered each other warily, and Sesshoumaru watched from nearby with obfuscated interest as lightning began to spark from A-Un's snarling maw at the approaching stranger.
The 'discussion' was a quick and simple one, Kintsuke's jyaki flaring to meet the dragon's own and holding it at bay with relative ease. She didn't try to overpower it, however, for she did not seek to dominate the creature, only come to an understanding. She did not see the way Sesshoumaru seemed to smirk as A-Un released a full blast of its electricity at her, meeting it with a quick flare of her youki into a mass of her protective black and purple flames.
The dragon seemed puzzled, growling, and sparking at her once more only to have its power again deflected without a second thought. Twice more it tried before finally relenting and allowing this half-demon creature near enough to press her hand against one of its heads.
A sort of pleasure purred through Sesshoumaru's veins. While he had not seen those flames in quite some time, he distinctly remembered them having been far weaker than they were now, remembered how she'd struggled to use them. Judging from the lack of effort she needed to exert now, he could only imagine what other feats Kintsuke was capable of with that ever-curious demonic fire.
Kintsuke held tightly to A-Un's saddle as they glided swift and smooth through the clouds, trying her best not to consider just how high up they were. She hated the way it made her nervous. She focused instead on the fluttering ends of Sesshoumaru's mokomoko as he sped along ahead, Jaken clinging to one of them with practiced determination.
They were headed north, though Sesshoumaru had not specified to where. Eventually, great mountain peaks began jutting up through the wispy white, and Sesshoumaru finally began leading their decent onto one of the vast cliffs below. A small home had been built against the face of the mountain here, and Kintsuke blinked as she took in the familiar scent she suddenly found.
'Could it be…?'
She nearly lost her grip from the force of A-Un's thunderous landing, slipping from the saddle onto her own feet as soon as she was able. She ignored Jaken's haughty chuckle as she steadied herself before striding quickly to catch up with Sesshoumaru, who had begun making his way toward the home.
Rekkonji peered through the window slats; setting aside the dagger he'd been sharpening to go meet his guests.
"Lord Sesshoumaru, welcome back."
He exchanged respectful nods with his fellow daiyoukai before flicking his eyes to the female behind him. Rekkonji laughed heartily.
"Neither Heaven nor Hell could hold you, could they? Welcome home, Lady Kintsuke."
Kintsuke swelled with pride to hear him use her name, and even grant her a title! She gave a him respectful bow.
"It's good to see you, Warmaster. It has been a long time."
"Please, come in."
He waved a hand in a welcoming manner toward the small home, and they filtered inside and out of the cold.
As they settled around the fire pit, Jaken placed himself directly between Sesshoumaru and Kintsuke, not the least bit ashamed of the all-too-obvious power play. A bemused glance from his master, however, shuffled him back to kneel in his proper placement behind the daiyoukai, and Kintsuke bit her lip to silence the chuckle that was rising in her throat.
"Where are your attendants?" Sesshoumaru asked.
Rekkonji waved the question off.
"Tending to their assignments. Shall we begin?"
She listened, respectfully silent, as the two males reviewed the current state of affairs in the provinces. Rekkonji was not surprised by the news of the human general to the south and his slowly approaching forces, and Kintsuke offered what information she could on the matter when asked.
The East and West were securely under Sesshoumaru's personal control, the vast stretches of the North maintained through the efforts of both Rekkonji and Commander Hiken.
"Which only leaves the conquest of the South, if such is still your desire." Rekkonji commented.
"Might I suggest a hastening, in light of impending mortal conflicts?"
"I believe another may hold an opinion on that."
All eyes shifted to Kintsuke as he inquired about the current temperaments in the region. She told them as much as she knew, of the various lords and ladies around Lake Sagami and Mount Hachioka, their luke-warm opinions of Sesshoumaru's intentions, and the arrangement made in the meantime for her to act as a liaison of sorts.
"They have agreed to allow me to represent their interests directly for your gracious consideration."
Rekkonji chuckled softly, exchanging a glance with the daiyoukai across from him. "Enterprising as ever, this one…"
Sesshoumaru hummed softly in agreement, and Kintsuke did not miss the slight smirk that pulled at the corner of his delicate lips. She simply bowed her head slightly in the expected humble, but not submissive, manner.
The most immediate matters handled, they dispersed to their various tasks; Sesshoumaru to tend to himself with Jaken in tow, Rekkonji to warm a bit of food for them all, and Kintsuke along with him to assist where she could. With Sesshoumaru out of earshot, she had questions for the old jackal.
"Warmaster," she began, using her talents to tend to the fire, "what happened to Zheng?"
"That one met his end shortly after you disappeared."
"Because of the Bifang?"
"In a manner of speaking…"
His tone told her there was more to the story, but she knew that asking directly would not reveal the answers she sought.
"He tried to kill me that day, tripped me when I was on the defensive."
Rekkonji paused momentarily.
"I am well aware."
"Did you know?"
"His attempt to kill us all off; myself and the other pups; to leave only the Lady Consort and Princess Shu-Ting alive for his purposes."
His silence frustrated her.
"I overheard the conversation that day when you arrived."
Rekkonji set down the clay bowl he'd plucked from the stack nearby.
"I honored my word to assist in slaying the Bifang to the letter, and not a bit more."
He read the question she was trying to put to words in her eyes.
"The struggle of birthright between yourself and Zheng was yours and yours alone. It was not my place to interfere, and I was unwilling to do you the dishonor. You were then and remain, for all intents and purposes, the eldest princess and heir of Shanghai Province. Zheng did not have a chance to disavow you or officially declare Princess Shu-ting his formal heir. This is all I have to say on that matter."
"And what of my 'grandfather'?"
"He admitted to what he had done. I challenged him; he lost."
Kintsuke smiled softly as the pieces fell into place, forming a panorama that, for all its flaws, pleased her. Rekkonji had made Zheng pay for his sins, had avenged her dishonorable death. It touched her deeply.
"Thank you, Warmaster."
He retrieved the bowl he'd set down, filling it with soup and pushing it into her hands.
"The Inu no Taishou is dead; Rekkonji will do now."
She noted the hint of bitterness in his tone as he settled himself by the fire pit with his own bowl, reading it for the muted pain that it was and for a moment she remembered Shinjirou.
'They must have been close. Rekkonji, I do not envy you your loss.'
Sesshoumaru blinked from the side room he had stepped into as the conversation came to an end. The walls were thin here, he could not help but eavesdrop.
'You have been busy, female, haven't you?'
He would have to find a time wherein they could examine her roguery on the mainland. For now, he finished shrugging into fresh shitagi, his kimono, armor, and obi before rejoining the others by the fire. The discussions were shallow and fleeting as they sipped their tea and soup, Kintsuke feeding the fire a bit of her youki now and again to keep it burning high without using up Rekkonji's wood stores. It was especially cold this season.
Sesshoumaru paid little attention as Rekkonji and Kintsuke reviewed various uses of her particular weapon of choice, his gaze resting lazily on his own knuckles wrapped around his cup. A familiar movement caught his attention, however; Kintsuke's graceful gesture to tuck back her sleeve as she reached for the teapot to fill her cup.
His reaction was sharp and immediate.
"Jaken," he snipped.
The imp shuffled forward. "Y-Yes, milord?"
The imp blinked at him for a moment, and Kintsuke's hand paused on the cast iron handle, puzzled.
"Can you not see their cups are empty?"
Jaken looked, finding Kintsuke's, indeed, empty, but Rekkonji's only half-so. The imp said nothing, however, and as Kintsuke relinquished the pot to straighten herself in a poised manner, Jaken glowered livid virulence at the floor and assumed the task she had attempted. While Kintsuke and Rekkonji cast awkward glances here and there, Sesshoumaru simply closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth and flavor of the liquid in his own cup.
Perhaps now, Kintsuke would understand his opinion of her.