Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters on the InuYasha side of this crossover... especially for the one whose history I'm about to overwrite. Again. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Claimer: I do hereby claim all rights and responsibility for the characters in the other part of this crossover because the Amaranthine Saga is mine. Which puts me in a tricky position, since anything I say might be taken as canon. But this probably isn't. (Unless it's head canon, which doesn't involve infringement.) Indulge the lot of us, especially the one with much to protect.
Author's Note: This crossover was concocted for my Fandom Anniversary on September 22, 2020. Whether you stumbled across my storytelling here in fandom OR because of my original stories (like the Amaranthine Saga), I hope you'll enjoy these efforts at blurring lines and blending realities. Makes the most sense if you've already read Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox and Lord Mettlebright's Man, both by forthright.
Cross and Crosser
InuYasha x Amaranthine Saga
Crossing the Threshold
Jacques had been a butler long enough to rise to any occasion. Still, the stranger in their foyer was a new breed of daunting. And daring in the fashion department. Trotting out the Japanese he liked to pretend he couldn't fathom, Jacques politely inquired, "May I take your … stole?"
An arched eyebrow challenged his presumption.
The pupils, points, pomp, and prettiness added up to Amaranthine, but there were no identifying crests in evidence, and Jacques didn't recognize the vivid floral pattern on the stranger's kimono.
"Are you expected?" Jacques inquired. Foolish question, given the formidable barriers that kept Stately House both pest- and paparazzi-free.
Falling back on even more basic courtesies, Jacques presented his hands palm-up. "I am Jacques Smythe of the Uppington Smythes, and I am Lord Mettlebright's man. May I know your name?"
"And your clan?"
"I do not require one."
Right. That was a new one. Jacques had a certain fondness for impolite Amaranthine. And silver hair. Dropping the formalities, he remarked, "You're a colorful chap. Dragon clan, perhaps?"
The newcomer simply peered around the grand foyer with its marble floors and double staircases. "This is a home for children?"
He did disdain very well.
But to ask about their youngsters? Very bad form.
Warning flags flying, Jacques placed himself between Sesshoumaru and everything he held dear. "This is the posh bit. Other rooms are more family friendly. Really, sir. Do you have an appointment?"
Most Amaranthine tried a little harder to ingratiate themselves to humans.
This one must be from some obscure enclave. Maybe even one of the uncharted islands. Isolationists and traditionalists rarely interacted with humanity, but something wasn't adding up. Strictly speaking, Argent's appointments weren't always on the books. But those arriving for secret meetings never came through the front door.
"Where are the children?" asked Sesshoumaru, whose nostrils trembled faintly.
Mon dieu. Sniffers were almost always predators. Jacques knew when he was out of his league. "My lord," he called evenly. "I need you, please."
An instant later, the lord and master of Stately House stood between him and Sesshoumaru. Argent hailed from the winter fox clans, all silver-haired dignity and icy blue glares. His stance was both proprietary and protective, and Jacques allowed himself to bask a little in his inclusion among those the silver-haired fox chose to protect.
Lord Mettlebright archly inquired, "Who might you be?"
Golden eyes flicked to Jacques, and a brow quirked.
He expected to be announced? Barely containing his amusement, Jacques acquiesced. "He is Sesshoumaru, and he seems interested in the children."
Jacques was pleased to relay, "He does not require one."
Argent retreated to Jacques side and treated him to one of his blandest looks. "Anything else you would like to convey?"
With a sly look at their guest, Jacques offered a cheeky, "Hnn."
Argent would have preferred to keep this newcomer away from every crosser in his care, but his best intentions were almost immediately undone by the very youngsters he fought to protect.
Jarrah burst into the hall, furry hindfeet skittering over marble as he swung toward the stairs.
Hoofbeats followed as Nonny and Gilen charged after the brat. Their shouts clashed—one in English, the other in French—yet they understood each other enough to split, each taking a staircase.
Argent approved of the strategic flanking, but not of Nonny's swearing. Tsumiko had often talked to the lad about his temper, but Jarrah had a gift for riling the goat crosser.
Gilen was much more patient. His striped tail flicked dangerously, but his growl was pointedly playful and sent his prey into peals of laughter.
Cornered, Jarrah ran in tight circles on the landing above.
Mercifully, he didn't leap for the chandelier. This time.
"One!" called Nonny.
"Deux!" answered Gilen.
Nonny shouted, "Three!" And they pounced.
Triumphant, they hauled Jarrah downstairs together, Nonny carrying the squirrel crosser's feet, Gilen supporting the brat under his arms.
Jarrah hung limp, hugging his bushy tail and sucking his thumb. But he left off long enough to wave at Sesshoumaru in passing.
Argent tried to gauge their guest's reaction.
Sesshoumaru's gaze followed the boys, but he'd made no move to intercept or interact with the children throughout the melee.
Quirking a brow at Jacques, who rolled his eyes, Argent addressed their unscheduled guest. "Why are you here?"
"How did you hear of us?"
"A passing mention." Sesshoumaru's nostrils quavered, and he seemed altogether too interested in the door through which the boys had disappeared.
"You are not going anywhere near our children until I am satisfied that you are no threat to them."
Attention back where it belonged, Sesshoumaru said, "Satisfy yourself."
Argent eyed him critically. Clanless Amaranthine were uncommon, but not unheard of. "In truest form, what animal do you resemble?"
Strolling to the front door and opening it with a flourish, Argent asked, "Could you please demonstrate?"
It was an order.
One Sesshoumaru accepted.
Argent would have congratulated himself more if the front lawn wasn't suddenly overrun with children embroiled in a convoluted game of keep-away. Their guest was clearly more interested in observing them than in obeying orders. Making his compliance incidental.
Yet again, Sesshoumaru did not approach the children.
And oddly enough, they failed to notice him.
Quite the mystery. However, all of Argent's instincts pointed to something that was universally true of the Amaranthine people. The clans counted their children as precious. And the canine clans were generally more accepting of children of mixed heritage.
Still, that didn't explain how Sesshoumaru had pushed past manifold barriers.
Catching Jacques by the wrist, Argent quietly ordered, "Text Harmonious. Now."
"Oui. What shall I say?"
"That a rogue dog slipped past my boundaries, and I am most displeased."
Jacques tapped his phone while Argent stalked after Sesshoumaru, who had moved away from the children, onto an open patch of grass beyond the double row of ginkgo trees lining the walk.
"Here?" The inquiry held a note of challenge. Or perhaps it was only confidence.
"Please." Argent folded his hands over his chest, senses alert. Ready.
Power surged and spiked. A lot of power. Enough to raise Argent's hackles, but he resisted the urge to produce an answering display. For the most part, the transformation followed the usual course, but as Sesshoumaru's hair swirled upward, his eyes bled red.
The shift was dramatic enough that it finally caught the attention of the children, who paused to gape at the enormous silver dog now dominating their play area.
Not a wolf.
Argent knew many dog clansmen, and every last one of them looked like wolves when they transformed. Wiry fur. Bushy tails. Peaked ears.
Sesshoumaru's fur cascaded in long, silky waves, and he had drop ears. Unlike a wolf. Exactly like a dog.
"Impossible." Argent wondered if he should contact Glint Starmark.
While Argent's thoughts were racing, Sesshoumaru lowered himself to his belly, rolled onto his side, and pointedly turned his face away from the children.
It was a trick Argent had used himself.
One with universal appeal. Abandoning their game, the whole passel of crossers mobbed Sesshoumaru—laughing, climbing, petting, pleased. He answered with drooping eyelids and the occasional twitch of his tail. And in true canine style … sniffing.
"My lord?" Jacques tittered nervously. "I fear there has been a small … mistake."
Argent glanced at his manservant, whose eyes were wide with worry. "Are you going to blame spellchecker again?"
"Not this time. Though that was also an unfortunate incident."
"What have you done?"
Jacques handed over his phone and murmured, "I apologize, my lord."
Argent scanned the exchange with Harmonious once, then twice. Jacques had relayed the message almost verbatim. He'd only missed one word. One very important word.
Rogue slipped past the boundaries
Argent is *most* displeased
Harmonious had replied one minute later. With five words.
We are coming
Argent swore softly.
On the bright side, Argent had always wondered how long it would take reinforcements to arrive from Keishi, should Stately House ever be in need.
He double-checked the text's timestamp and compared it to the angle of the sun. With a sigh, he turned to Jacques. "If you would be so good, warn Michael that his wards are imperiled. Harmonious—and whatever force he's gathered—will undoubtedly try to bash through."
"Yes, my lord."
Minutes later, Michael appeared, staff casually propped over a shoulder. Its crystal served as anchor for many of the estate's boundary wards. Concern faded from green eyes as the fair-haired man took in the scene on their lawn. "What's all this, then?" he inquired cheerfully.
Argent curled his lip and showed Michael the phone.
Humming his agreement, Argent pointed out, "Harmonious, at least, can pass freely through the barriers."
"But we don't know who his 'we' may be?" Moving off the sidewalk, Michael struck the ground with the base of his staff. "How much time do you think we have?"
"If he takes more than six additional minutes, I will be embarrassed on his behalf."
Michael's gaze drifted out of focus. When his eyes closed, Argent stepped closer and unleashed half a dozen tails, fanning them around the man. It would not do for any harm to come to Stately House's ward while its defenses were lowered.
When Michael opened his eyes again and found himself wreathed in silver fur, he smiled crookedly. "Is there a threat?"
"Probably not." Argent nodded toward Sesshoumaru. "Have you noticed?"
"Unusual to see a blaze upon fur." Michael's thoughtful frown deepened. "That looks like a dog."
"Glint Starmark has competition."
"All of the Amaranthine dog clans were formerly wolves. Their customs vary a great deal from those of the packs, but a dog clansman in truest form still resembles a wolf."
"Sesshoumaru appears to be the equivalent of an unregistered reaver. Unknown to the In-between. Proof the Maker made no oversight among the ancients." Argent's gaze flicked skyward, and he raised his voice. "Sesshoumaru, I suggest you take speaking form before our next guests arrive."
The children protested.
Argent sent them packing.
After introducing Michael, Argent resumed his inquiries. "Can you provide a permanent address?"
"I go where I please."
"Surely you reside somewhere. Where do you take shelter during sleep?"
He remained silent.
Sighing, Argent tried again. "If you embrace a nomadic lifestyle, how can you offer stability to a child?"
Sesshoumaru didn't even hesitate. "I am strong."
Used to Harmonious' idiotically cavalier attitude toward outcomes, Argent decided to try a neighboring line of inquiry. "When you must go deep, who would watch over the child?"
"Are you alone?" Argent tempered his tone. "Is that why you wish to adopt?"
"Why do you want a child of mixed heritage?"
He answered this time. "Few do."
Argent wished he hadn't brought out his tails. It was excessively difficult to keep them from lashing. "What can you offer such a child?"
Something Argent already provided. And was loath to withdraw. "How would you describe your parenting style?"
This time, the silence had a decidedly blank quality. As if the dog clansman didn't understand the question.
"Argent?" murmured Michael. "Perhaps you should meet the oncoming drove before they tear up the lawn?"
With a longsuffering sigh, Argent pointed at Sesshoumaru and ordered, "Stay."
A brow arched, but their guest simply turned to gaze impassively into the southern sky.
Flicking his tails, Argent leapt into midair, placing himself between Stately House and a cross-country stampede. Four canines bore down on him—all friends, all familiar. Choosing the simplest expedient, Argent crossed his forearms and shook his head.
Harmonious pulled up short, auburn hair wild, copper eyes ablaze, breathless from his exertion. "Well?"
"False alarm," Argent said flatly. "Jacques apologizes."
Merit and Valor, two of Harmonious' sons gripped at stitches in their sides and looked relieved. Argent wondered at their father's wisdom in choosing them for any sort of fight. They were good boys, not good soldiers.
Boonmar-fen Elderbough was another matter. The wolf clansman wasn't even winded as he quietly resheathed a sword. It looked out of place, jammed through a worn loop adorning his faded jeans. "The pack two minutes behind us." Elbowing Merit in the ribs, Boon added, "Just in case Penny here required backup."
Merit growled weakly.
Valor huffed a low chuckle. "Leave it to Jacques."
"I did want your opinion on a matter," said Argent. "And we do have a rogue of sorts. A rogue dog."
Boon's yellow eyes flicked to the lawn below, and his tail lashed. Dropping, he stalked purposefully, though not in Sesshoumaru's direction. He was aiming toward two figures coming from the woods.
For a moment, Argent thought his son was playing tricks.
One was definitely Ginkgo. But his red-clad companion was a stranger.
Argent reached his son at the same time as Boon, and Ginkgo casually addressed them both. "Found this guy lurking just outside the barrier. Brought him through. Says he needs to collect his brother."
"You're a crosser," remarked Boon.
The newcomer's peaked ears flattened before flipping forward. "So?"
Brushing at his shoulder, the wolf adopted a conciliatory tone. "I thought I knew all the canine crossers in the area. Been around long?"
"Long enough." Shoving his hands into the sleeves of a vivid red haori that had been spun on the same loom as his hakama, he looked right past the looming wolf. "This is the place, huh?"
"Welcome to Stately House." Argent frowned at the mixed messages he was picking up from the crosser's scent. "Are you also a dog?"
"Half. Yeah." And raising his voice, he bellowed, "Oi! Bastard! Didn't I tell you not to do this on your own?"
Sesshoumaru, who apparently answered to bastard, drifted slowly their way.
"Keh. He's hellbent on this adoption scheme." He raised his voice to add, "It ain't like I need another runt. Baka."
Clinging to patience, Argent introduced himself. Usually, his name meant something, but neither of his unexpected guests seemed to know or care about the Amaranthine Council.
"I'm Inuyasha. His brother."
"Half-brother," corrected Sesshoumaru in bored tones.
Indicating them in turn, Argent asked, "How is it that you were able to bypass our barriers, yet you were not?"
"Barriers aren't a problem for him. Walks right through." With an accusing look, Inuyasha muttered, "Stranding some people on the outside."
"Unusual," remarked Argent, his displeasure multiplying. There were no less than twelve layers of protective sigilcraft along the boundary.
"Me and Tetsusaiga coulda bashed through." Inuyasha patted the sheath at his hip. "But Ginkgo flagged me down, first."
"A sword?" Ginkgo, who was a fox crosser, bumped shoulders with Inuyasha. "That means you're a tribute, yeah?"
"A what now?"
Ginkgo covered his surprise with a laugh. "Guess not. No worries."
Argent was quite ready to toss the pair of them at Harmonious. Let the dog clans sort out their own. "Shall we go inside?" he inquired smoothly. "As it happens, Harmonious Starmark is here."
The brothers reacted with blank stares.
"Harmonious Starmark," Argent repeated slowly. "His father is Glint Starmark, First of Dogs."
"Come on, doggos," drawled Boon. "We'll let the Spokesperson get a whiff. Might help us sort things out."
Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru joined the procession toward the house.
Argent overheard the former grumble, "Who the hell's he talking about?"
The later simply lifted one shoulder in a minute shrug.
Dogs who'd never heard of the First of Dogs? Where had they come from?
Inuyasha slowed to walk with Argent.
"So … you're sheltering half-breeds." Inuyasha was looking at him with cautious respect. "Wish I'd had something like this when I was a runt."
Argent indicated Ginkgo. "I have my sons to consider."
"Lucky bastards." Inuyasha's lips quirked in a half-smile. "Damn, look at 'em all."
Word had clearly spread through the house, which was quickly emptying onto the front steps and spilling across the lawn.
Harmonious and Merit stood off to one side with Michael. They'd been joined by Deece, who seemed particularly interested in Inuyasha's weapon. Sansa eased through the door, casually shouldering a crossbow.
That's when Tsumiko came to the door. "Argent?"
"Here." He waded to her side, tucking her to his.
"We have guests?" she inquired.
Argent inclined his head and would have begun yet another exchange of names. But both Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha had drawn themselves up with matching expressions of disbelief. The brothers traded a look, only to quickly avert their faces. Shock faded to something palpably woebegone as they both subtly shifted into more submissive stances.
While Argent didn't approve of the glances they were stealing in his bondmate's direction, he chose to be pleased. Tsumiko had just handed him control of this situation.
Sensing Argent's disgruntlement, Tsumiko tucked her hand behind his back, sliding her fingers up between his tails. A shiver rippled through them. Raised fur settled, and Argent retaliated in kind, winding them around her from ankles to waist.
A casual intimacy. More telling than words.
The gleam in his eye also meant good things.
Quirking a brow, her bondmate drawled, "Behold, a mystery. Two dogs who have never heard the name Starmark."
"Surely, that's not possible." Tsumiko had become a student of the clans ever since her arrival at Stately House, especially with regards to their sacred beliefs and oral history. Comparatively speaking, the rise of the dog clans was recent history. "Every dog clan is kin to the Starmarks."
"That's why I requested reinforcements." Argent nodded to the side.
Harmonious Starmark, spokesperson for the dog clans, radiated confusion. His father held the title "First of Dogs." Indeed, all the dog clans' various houses had been founded by Harmonious' younger brothers and sisters.
"Did I hear you right?" Harmonious asked. "Dogs, you say?"
"They are brothers." Argent spread wide the fingers of one hand. "Inuyasha is the crosser. Sesshoumaru has the appearance of a dog in truest form."
Harmonious strode forward, looming over the strangers even as he offered his hands in welcome. "Surely we are cousins? Which clan?"
Jacques cheekily piped up. "He does not require one."
"Perhaps because his brother is pack enough?" suggested Argent.
"Oi," protested Inuyasha. "Don't go making stuff up."
Sesshoumaru simply murmured, "Half-brother."
Harmonious beckoned for Boon. "This isn't right. Were both your parents dogs?"
"Keh. Just his. What's got you so twitchy?"
Boon circled behind Sesshoumaru, nostrils flaring. "He's toxic."
"So?" Inuyasha scowled defensively. "It's not like he'll use his poison claw strike. No demonstrations, either. Wouldn't be safe for the runts."
"Dogs don't use poison." Harmonious looked to Argent, clearly hoping for explanations.
"And yet …!" Argent fluttered the fingers of one hand at their guests. "Harmonious, if you will pardon my saying so, in truest form, you resemble your sire, much as he resembles his. However, Sesshoumaru is a fine figure of a dog."
Tsumiko grasped the significance immediately.
As did Boon. "Not a wolf? That's new."
"Or very old," Tsumiko whispered.
Argent met her upturned gaze and agreed with a tiny smirk.
She raised her voice. "If you're brothers, that means you share a parent?"
"Our old man." Inuyasha's cheeks went pink.
"Perhaps we should take this conversation indoors?" Tsumiko had so many questions she wanted to ask, but their answers might be too private for a public airing. "But first … Sesshoumaru-san?"
He dragged his gaze to hers and waited.
Tsumiko smiled. "I must confess to being curious. I'm sure we all are. Would you be willing to display your truest form once more? Please?"
Sesshoumaru wavered and whirled, took a few steps, then looked over his shoulder. Right at her. "Come," he ordered.
She eased from Argent's side, and he let her go, though he followed a few paces behind. As did the rest. When Sesshoumaru stopped and turned, the crossers fanned out, each child wanting a good view.
With a dazzling surge of power, he transformed into a beast that was more fierce than friendly. Yet he was—as her bondmate had declared—a fine figure of a dog. Delighted whispers and a smattering of childish applause approved the change.
Boon was near enough that she heard his grunt of surprise.
Harmonious muttered, "Maker bless."
Tsumiko could only agree.
Crossing a Line
The noisy arrival of an allotment from the Elderbough pack distracted the children, for the wolves were counted as friends. Boon said, "I'll sort them out," and strolled off, most of the youngsters trailing after.
Tsumiko invited the rest inside, leading the way to one of the tatami rooms. By their expressions, she gathered it was the right choice. Their new friends were more comfortable with traditional things.
Valor, who dropped by more often than Harmonious' other sons, opened the sliding screens, which offered a lovely view onto the garden.
Sesshoumaru looked ready to move right through and escape outdoors again, but Tsumiko stopped him with a word. "Tea?"
He drew up and half-turned. His expression had lost some of its rigidity, and there was the barest flutter of lashes. "Hnn."
Jacques whisked away in the direction of the kitchen.
"You got a name?" Inuyasha stood with his hands tucked into his sleeves.
Argent stepped to her side. "Lady Mettlebright. She is my bondmate."
"Figured as much." He muttered something else she didn't quite catch. Part of it may have been "lucky bastard."
"My name is Tsumiko," she offered, along with her hands. "We … haven't met? I'd remember."
"Nah. Not us." Inuyasha clumsily reciprocated the greeting and retreated to his brother's side. "We keep to ourselves. Don't meet a lot of people."
Sesshoumaru's gaze slid away.
"It's weird, though. You look a little like someone I … we knew. From way back. Probably a coincidence, Lady Mettlebright."
Argent smoothly inquired, "A relative perhaps?"
Tsumiko was well aware he'd been looking into her ancestry—without much success. Any lead, even from an unexpected source, would be welcome.
"Dunno about that. Her people were … are shrine keepers in Tokyo." Inuyasha glanced up into his brother's face and quietly added, "It was a long time ago."
He looked so sad. Tsumiko allowed the matter to drop.
Harmonious spoke up then. "Are you boys all right with questions?"
"I don't care," said Inuyasha, who stood a little straighter. "But don't get pissy if I don't have answers. I only heard stuff about my old man secondhand."
Tsumiko was intrigued by their abbreviated history. Although their father may have originally come from the continent, his sons had always lived in Japan. Probably because the great Dog General had fallen in love with Inuyasha's mother, who'd undoubtedly carried a strong reaver bloodline.
"Was she a Hajime?" Tsumiko asked.
Argent's eyebrows shot up, and he prowled toward Inuyasha.
The dog crosser's ears flattened nervously. "Oi," he muttered, crowding closer to his brother.
"Now, now." Argent's manner shifted into something darker and more dominant. "I should not even need a taste to tell."
That crossed a line. A warning growl began, and Sesshoumaru's arm slid around Inuyasha's shoulders.
Argent immediately relented. "I have a longstanding familiarity with reavers of the Hajime line, to which my bondmate and sons belong. Perhaps you are kin?"
Elbowing his brother in the ribs, Inuyasha grumbled, "Damned foxes. Get on with it. Do what you gotta."
Everyone waited breathlessly for a verdict.
After close scrutiny, Argent frowned. "Perhaps."
"Only perhaps?" countered Harmonious, who looked ready to dive in and give the brothers a thorough sniffing.
Argent lifted a hand and addressed the older brother. "Sesshoumaru, I am curious about your blazes."
Tsumiko found them fascinating herself. Two dark pink bands tapered to points on each of his cheeks, and his bangs parted to reveal an indigo moon at the center of his forehead. She had been under the impression that blazes came in a single color. She'd have to ask Argent about it later. But that crescent moon reminded her of something she'd read in Amaranthine scriptures. Was it possible?
Inuyasha was saying, "Bastard's got them all over—wrists, ankles, and so on."
"Hnn." Sesshoumaru lifted one arm, and his full sleeve fell back, baring a pair of twisting blazes at his wrist.
Harmonious, who'd developed a case of the fidgets, blurted, "Was your family ever involved in the affairs of dragons?"
"You could say that." Inuyasha's brows drew together in a scowl. "One killed our old man. Ryuukotsusei."
Tsumiko, who'd been educating herself about dragon culture for the past few years, exclaimed, "I recognize that name!"
Argent turned to her, awaiting more.
But she didn't want to speculate further. Not without checking a few scrolls. "I need to look up some things in the library. While I do that, please be welcome. Rest, or get acquainted with the children."
"May I assist?" offered Michael.
With a grateful smile, she agreed. And while Gingko suggested a tour and some pastimes, she drew Argent aside.
"Yes?" he inquired.
"Is he a Hajime?" she whispered.
Argent brushed his cheek against hers and nuzzled her ear. "Quite likely."
Why would he withhold that from Inuyasha?
"I will follow up on the Tokyo shrine keepers, but the maternal lines are of secondary importance." His fingers traced little patterns on her back, sigilcraft to keep secrets safe. "I took the time to peruse Sesshoumaru's scent. For brothers, they are very … unalike."
Argent usually left this variety of cavorting to Ginkgo, but a trek to the beach meant more time with Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha. And ample opportunity to see if his initial assessment was correct.
Predictably, Jacques was in ecstasies. "May I assist with your fundoshi, my lord?"
"Do you even know how?"
His manservant wavered and glumly admitted, "Non."
Selecting a spare from the line of cloths flipping and flapping in the breeze, Argent descended the cliffside stairs to the private beach below. Their older boys—charter members of their Fundoshi Swim Club—were already sporting in the shallows. The crossers had coaxed several wolves into the traditional bathing attire. No surprise there. Wolves weren't shy about showing skin.
Harmonious chose to participate in trust form. Again, no surprise. Dogs tended toward modesty. However, Ginkgo had somehow managed to coax Inuyasha into a red fundoshi … and Sesshoumaru into a dark blue one. Argent tallied up several more stripes. Rather ornamental for a dog. He'd want Harmonious' opinion later.
One thing was abundantly clear.
The children took to Sesshoumaru.
Why was a mystery.
Inuyasha's appeal was easier to grasp. He might bluster, but he was every crosser's ally and champion. Not to mention mediator. He was capable of translating Sesshoumaru's every blink and twitch into something that reassured even the shyest tagalong.
Argent had to wonder if they realized what they were doing.
They traded slights and insults, but the bond was right there, under the surface. Sesshoumaru was clearly the source of his brother's confidence. And prickly as it was in presentation, Inuyasha was his brother's comfort. They'd found their balance. They were denmates.
To Argent's astonishment, while he looked on, one of the Elderbough wolves gripped Inuyasha's elbow in passing and offered a casual greeting. And an insult.
Concerned—and curious—Argent made his way over. "You know some of these wolves?"
"Guess I've run across a few of them before. Hard not to." Inuyasha shuffled his feet in the sand. "They know where we're holed up. Even patrol our boundaries, sometimes."
"Did I mishear?" Argent angled his chin towards the wolf clansman who'd waded into the shallows with Gilen on his shoulders. "He referred to you … unkindly?"
"That?" Inuyasha cracked a grin. "That's just wolves. Used to piss me off, but it's what they all call me now."
Argent realized what he meant. "Mutt-face is your pack nickname?"
Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "You should hear what they call the bastard."
When he did, Argent's lips twitched. And since he had the younger brother's attention, he asked, "Why does Sesshoumaru want to give you a child?"
"Dunno exactly. He's not big on explaining himself." He looked away, watched the children. "Guess I miss the runt."
"You've raised a child before?"
"Pretty much." Inuyasha's ears pricked forward, and his nose twitched. "You're a fox, right?"
"Fox clan, yes."
"Then you know what kind of a hassle we had with our kit. What a brat, y'know?"
"Your runt was a fox child?"
"Shippo. Yeah. He's grown now, and he's something else." A crosscurrent of pride warmed his tones. "He's the one who made it so nobody can find us or Bokuseno."
"And that is …?"
"Just a tree we know."
"You are protecting an Amaranthine tree?" Argent wondered how many more times he'd have to revise his opinions.
"Well, yeah. He's kind of a friend of the family."
"So you do have a permanent residence?"
Inuyasha's gaze cut to his brother. "Lemme guess. 'I go where I please'?"
"That's his story, but truth is … we've got a place. It's ours and it's quiet and it's safe. Nothing fancy, though." He waved a hand dismissively. "Not that any of the kids we took in ever minded."
"Others besides the kit?" Getting information out of these two was a chore. But Argent had always liked a challenge.
"Every now and again. Sesshoumaru's always picking up strays. But human kids grow up fast, and we gotta let 'em go. I mean, they're grateful and all, but they're gone. Gets to you after a while." Inuyasha huffed. "So here we are."
Back in the privacy of his closet, which was also Jacques' domain, Argent pressed his manservant for opinions on the newcomers.
"Inuyasha is everything I'd want in a puppy—earnest, energetic, eager to please." His gaze drifted out of focus. "The way he blushes, it makes me want to fluster him. Despite the dangers."
By which he probably meant growly siblings.
Argent hummed. Despite Jacques' penchant for innuendo, his insights were surprisingly useful. "And the elder brother?"
"Those stripes are criminally seductive, and he fills out a fundoshi admirably."
"But he is always watching the children."
Jacques stopped fussing with the fold and flow of Argent's traditional attire. Brown eyes showed traces of humor as he pointed out, "So are you."
"That is different."
"Non, it is the same." Whisking behind to adjust the drape of cloth that parted to accommodate Argent's flourish of tails, Jacques firmly added, "Sesshoumaru isn't a creeper. He likes looking after little ones. I think they amuse him."
Argent arched a brow.
"Privately," Jacques amended. "He almost smiled several times."
"If you say so."
"I'd be more worried about the long looks he's been casting Tsumiko's way."
"According to Inuyasha, she looks like someone they cared about. And lost." Argent flicked his fingers at Jacques breast pocket. "Ginkgo pried the family name out of Inuyasha. It was not difficult. I believe he likes the idea of finding distant kin."
Jacques readied his phone.
"Contact Scribe Yonvu Dimityblest at Tokyo's Office of Ingress. He is the one we worked with last autumn. A specialist in matters of genealogy."
"He has been tracing the Hajime line?"
"Attempting to, yes."
Jacques flicked through his contact list and murmured, "The message, my lord?"
"Find out if the Higurashi shrinekeepers of Tokyo's Sunset Shrine are unregistered reavers." Argent pondered while Jacques tapped. "Have Yonvu check for a Hajime connection, while he is at it."
"You think they're Tsumiko's kin?"
Argent sighed. "I believe things happen for a reason. I am merely trying to find it."
Jacques showed the message—error free, this time—before sending it off. "Which guest room do you want me to put them in?"
"Is that necessary? Indeed, is it wise to put them together?"
With a salacious wink, Jacques said, "Packmates rarely sleep apart."
"They refuse to acknowledge their sibling bond."
His manservant scoffed. "Can you blame them?"
Argent considered that leading remark—and Jacques' smug expression—for several long moments. Refusing to be drawn in, he simply said, "I doubt they came to us at low ebb. They will not require sleep."
"But they may want privacy." Again, that suggestive inflection, though he quickly added, "A place to escape the merry band of misfits who already adore them."
"Are you serious?"
"About the children? Certainly."
Argent shook his head. "What do you think you have detected?"
Jacques pressed a hand to his heart. "Subtext and simmering need."
"Surely not." He hesitated, swiftly replaying several moments from earlier in the day. "I will concede a bond. And I fear our meddling could shake it."
"Meddling? Shaking?" Jacques leaned closer, as keen as ever for juicy details. "What have you uncovered?"
Argent told things to Jacques he would tell no other. Such was the trust they'd found. So he had no qualms about sharing his suspicion. "Harmonious has probably realized, as well. I do not think they are brothers."
"Lord. How do you know?"
"It is difficult to describe to people who cannot differentiate nuances." He tapped Jacques' nose. "Despite your differing physiques and proclivities, I would know that you and Bon-Bon are brothers because of your scent. In a similar way, I know that while both Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha are dogs by lineage, they do not share a parent."
"Lord," Jacques repeated. "Talk about having your wires crossed. And they haven't a clue?"
"One of them may be adopted. Fostering is common enough."
"Oh, but this is my kind of drama!" exulted Jacques. "There they are, holding back with everything they have, and here you come, about to snatch away their only reason to do so!"
Tsumiko fidgeted while Argent dressed her for dinner. To honor their guests, they would wear traditional attire—him in the Amaranthine style of fox clans, her in a kimono strewn with the silvered ginkgo leaves that were part of the Mettlebright crest.
Pressing a kiss to the nape of her neck, Argent asked, "Why can you not hold still?"
Her mind reeled with all she'd discovered among Michael's books. "How do you decide if you should share something that is fascinating … when you know it has the potential to hurt the people involved?"
Argent nuzzled her ear. "Have you also reached the conclusion that Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha are not blood-related?"
She whispered, "How did you …?"
"If brotherhood is all those two have left in this world, I don't want to take it away from them."
Argent turned her to face him. "Blood ties do not define families. You know this better than most."
Going up on tiptoe, she wrapped her arms around his neck. With a hum of approval, he unfurled his full flourish and surrounded her in silvery fur.
"I believe those two are strong," he said. "And I believe their bond can withstand the truth. Who knows? It may set them free."
She believed that, so she believed him.
"I have the beginnings of an idea." Argent's voice lilted playfully. "May I hear your thoughts on the matter?"
"What do you propose?"
Argent whispered in her ear, and his plans were good.
"Oh," she breathed. "Oh, please!"
Kisses and collusion only made them a little late for dinner.
When they reached the banquet room that had been prepared for the evening meal, Sansa gave them an assessing look and bluntly declared, "He is good for you. Puts color in your cheeks."
Tsumiko accepted the battler's steadying hug and asked, "May I help in the kitchen?"
Flexing an arm, Sansa said, "Deece and Jacques have borrowed Valor, and we are enough. You use your gifts, and I use mine, yes?"
So Tsumiko moved off to greet Boon, who lingered by an open window. And Merit, who explained how the two of them—wolf and dog—had become childhood friends. Then Harmonious was looming affably, and Ginkgo dragged Inuyasha over to compliment her attire. Only Sesshoumaru remained aloof, though Michael had stationed himself at his side, chatting easily despite his companion's silence.
Because the children had an earlier mealtime, their dinner party was relatively small. Twelve in all. So Tsumiko didn't even have to raise her voice to be heard.
"There are a few mentions of faithful companions in the ancient readings and later in the Amaranthine psalms. It's a turn of phrase that humans have long associated with dogs. Yet their existence predates Wardenclave's founding."
Harmonious asked, "You think it means them?"
"I do." Tsumiko smiled at Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha in turn. "Dogs have always been numbered among the canines. I wonder how you lost touch with the rest of the clans?"
"Yes," seconded Harmonious. "Why aren't there more of you?"
"War," said Sesshoumaru. "My father was the last of his generation."
Merit sat forward, sadness in every line of his face. "Are there no others?"
Almost as an afterthought, Sesshoumaru said, "Mother remains in hiding."
"Would she consider taking a new bondmate?" Harmonious looked intensely awkward. "For the sake of your line …?"
"Hnn. I would not presume to speak for her."
Tsumiko thought it best to redirect the conversation. "Sesshoumaru-san? The blaze on your forehead. Are you aware that such markers were believed to indicate the moon's blessing?"
Boon fairly snapped to attention. All matters regarding the moon were of interest to the wolf clans.
"Mother has the same mark," said Sesshoumaru.
Inuyasha smiled crookedly. "He's mama's boy, all right. Looks just like her."
Tsumiko unfolded more of her research, choosing her words with care. "There's a chance that your mother's mother was a moon maiden. Which would mean your grandsire was likely someone of great nobility, charity, or … beauty."
Sesshoumaru gazed at her, either unimpressed or waiting for her to get on with it.
"If the stories are true, this could explain why you have blazes in two colors. And why you are exceptionally strong."
"Those markings," said Harmonious. "They're certainly … ah … suggestive?"
"That's what I said," murmured Jacques, who raised his flute of star wine in their guest's direction.
For the rest of the meal, Tsumiko and Boon discussed moon lore, and Harmonious was invited to share the story of his father, who'd left the packs and earned the name, "First of Dogs."
Argent had a word with Ginkgo, who invited everyone to reconvene in an adjacent room, where afters were being served.
"Stay back, you two," Argent said, forestalling Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha. "We would like a private word."
"Who's we?" challenged Inuyasha, whose ears wavered uneasily.
"Me, my lady, Michael, and Sansa." Argent gestured to the other couple. "I suppose you could call us the founders of this family."
The brothers traded a look and complied, standing so close together, Inuyasha was in the shelter of Sesshoumaru's spill of fur.
While Sansa slipped out, Argent and Michael began warding the room. Jacques returned with a tray of teas, star wine, and dainties, then excused himself with a wink. Before the final sigils secured the room's privacy, Sansa returned, a sleepy-eyed child snuggled against each shoulder. "Straight from the baths and missing us."
Michael closed the gap in his wards with a final flourish and turned to sweep up his daughter. "Come meet our new friends. See? Inuyasha-nii has puppy ears!"
While that introduction was made, Tsumiko hurried forward to claim Kyrie. Her foster son was three and some, but small for his age. Even so, she wouldn't be able to carry him around much longer. She brought her boy to Sesshoumaru and said, "My son."
Kyrie lifted a clawed hand, and Sesshoumaru gently extracted him and didn't object when Kyrie explored his stripes and moon crest. When Sesshoumaru ran a knuckle over a patch of speckled scales, the little boy fluted in a pleased way.
"This boy?" Sesshoumaru murmured.
"My son," she repeated firmly. "His mother could not keep him. She gave him to me, and he is mine."
"Sesshoumaru-san?" Tsumiko's voice was barely a whisper. Her heart was thundering. "I think you and my son have something in common."
He blinked placidly. "Say it."
"You're both crossers. You're both half-dragon."
"Oi!" Inuyasha bounded over. "Oi. What are you saying? Sesshoumaru, what's she saying?"
"I'm sorry." She hated the cant of Inuyasha's ears, the tension his posture radiated. She'd not only startled him, she'd frightened him. "We cannot confirm anything, but neither would I say this is pure speculation."
"The evidence does seem to support our theory." Michael joined them, and his daughter immediately reached for Inuyasha, who took her with enough ease to imply experience with children. Michael continued, "Ryuukotsusei comes up in a handful of the writings we have on dragonkind. He was a scandalous person who used his power and persuasion to amass a harem that rivaled that of any of his contemporaries. Where most dragon lords take four brides, representing the four winds, he was the first to boast seven brides, representing dragonesses of every color of the rainbow."
Tsumiko interjected, "A few of the forefathers followed his example, but the practice is considered unbecomingly greedy."
"Yes, bad form," agreed Michael. "But Ryuukotsusei didn't stop there. He took females from other clans, most unwillingly. Your mother may have been among his conquests."
"But that's just some story. You're guessing." Inuyasha's gaze bounced from Sesshoumaru's face to Michael's and back again, clearly hoping his brother would deny all. "His old man's my old man."
Argent stepped forward. "Dragon crossers have decorative markings. Dragons can employ poison. Dragons have a certain scent about them."
Inuyasha's eyes widened further, but he protested, "The bastard's a dog. You know he's a dog."
"Half dog," Michael offered gently. "Half dragon."
Inuyasha swallowed hard, his eyes unusually bright. "But then he ain't … we ain't …?"
Tsumiko looked to Argent, whose tails brushed against her in silent support. At the same time, she felt him slightly loosen the hold he kept over her soul, allowing a little of her brightness to seep into the room.
Sesshoumaru stared at her, lips parted as he tasted the air.
Inuyasha gaped, and a tear slipped down his cheek.
"Listen," she begged, her hand slipping into one of Argent's tails. "Blood ties don't define families. Look at us. We are the heart of Stately House's family. And you're the heart of yours."
Cross My Heart
After the women left to tuck in their little ones, Inuyasha looked ready to bolt. Argent casually barred the door with a fanning of his many tails. "Let us have it all out. Now, while there is no one else to overhear."
Inuyasha swore, but he buckled first. "What's her deal. Is she a miko?"
"She is Tsumiko."
"I mean a priestess. She has holy power."
"That may be how such things were understood long ago." Every century or so, the lingo would change. Argent had been in a position to know. "We now call humans with such souls reavers, and those who maintain close ties with them benefit from the bond."
With a nod to Sesshoumaru, Argent answered, "We are strong."
Inuyasha's ears drooped, and for the first time, Sesshoumaru moved in his direction. A hand slipped up to grip the back of Inuyasha's neck. It struck Argent as proprietary, but he'd seen Lord Mossberne, spokesperson for the dragon clans, do something similar with Kyrie. Always when the boy needed comforting.
"Shall we resume negotiations?" Argent inquired lightly.
Argent liked these sorts of game. He played them well. He opened negotiations. "If your home is as secluded as Inuyasha claims, it might prove a useful haven. If not a permanent residence, then a … vacation home."
"Keh. We ain't running a kiddie camp."
"You say your fox grew up and went away?"
Inuyasha scowled impatiently. "Yeah, that's what I said. He stops by sometimes, makes sure we're set up."
"Are either of you capable of sigilcraft?"
Are you familiar with wardstones?"
"Uhh … yeah." Inuyasha shot a look at his brother. "Kinda."
"You use them?"
"There's the one."
Argent smiled. "It must be powerful if you only require one anchor for all your wards."
"You could say that." Inuyasha's ears were cockeyed, his gaze cautious.
"Rare," Argent drawled, amused that this line of questioning was enough to distract Inuyasha from his recent distress. "Size?"
Inuyasha made a circle with his thumb and forefinger. "Round like a ball, with a crack. There's a piece missing."
"Is it damaged? A shame if its remnant song is lost."
Sesshoumaru finally spoke. "It is best left incomplete."
"Long story," Inuyasha grumbled.
And an unhappy one, if Argent was any judge. He chose a fresh line of inquiry. "Boy or girl?"
Inuyasha just blinked.
Sesshoumaru smoothly interjected, "Either."
"How old?" Argent checked.
"Any age," Sesshoumaru replied.
"Oi. Wait. We're still doing this?"
"How many?" Argent asked, further amused at the sudden perkiness in Inuyasha's ears. He really was little more than a puppy.
Sesshoumaru tipped his head to one side, meeting his companion's gaze. "You decide."
Inuyasha's smile was a thing of beauty, even if it was accompanied by a muttered, "Lazy-ass bastard."
The balance was back. Comfort and confidence in equal measure. The makings of a good den.
Perhaps not entirely unsuitable. But Argent rarely settled for less than he could get. "Lady Mettlebright and I were wondering …."
Their attention was his.
"Really, it was practically her idea." Argent fluffed out his tails and studied his claws. "A show of good will. Something to foster the bonds of trust."
"What's she want?" Inuyasha asked.
"You. Both of you." Argent spread his arms wide. "Would you consider taking a position here for a few terms? Perhaps as teachers?"
"We've got responsibilities." It was a weak protest.
"Naturally, you can come and go as you please," Argent assured. "Even a single season would please Tsumiko."
His gaze fixed on Sesshoumaru's face, Inuyasha slowly said, "Guess we could think it over."
"Yes, of course. We have time." Argent folded his hands together. "Anything else?"
Sesshoumaru lifted his chin. "You will ward our room."
"Certainly." As he led the way, Argent scattered sigils along the passages, bits of foxish magic to discourage the kinds of mischief that came with a houseful of crossers. In the guest suite, he made absolutely certain of their privacy.
Inuyasha grew increasingly quiet while Argent worked. Sesshoumaru began a restless pacing, marking off the width and breadth of the room with measured strides. Two words kept popping into Argent's thoughts as he added finishing touches—subtext and simmering.
Finally, Argent said, "I can promise your room will remain undisturbed. Rest in safety."
Sesshoumaru merely hummed. Inuyasha looked tongue-tied.
Pausing on the threshold, Argent added a final sigil to the center of the door. "If you need anything at all, touch this. It will summon my manservant Jacques, whose discretion can be trusted. He has experience as an attendant, should you find yourself needing a long sleep."
He pulled the door shut behind him and added a barrier, closing off the entire hall. It was a courtesy he suspected they'd need. Jacques would be so pleased. He always was when he was right.
But Argent wasn't wrong. Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha would definitely stay, at least for a while. For as long as they lingered, their strength would be added to the Mettlebright den.
He could hardly wait to tell Tsumiko that they'd been right to open the way. She would be so pleased. She always was when her prayers were answered.
"Two more crossers are home."
End Note: 8,160 words.