AN: pokes head out of hole I am soo bad. But this timeI have a real excuse! Which is unusual. I have three jobs! Which is no fun, as I spend my days tired. However, I have toiled through the days and still written this chapter. Which I keep looking at and going "wow that sucks" anyways. I'm thinking there might come a day where i rework this entire freakin' story. But that's not the important thing now. The important thing is that after a long absence I have returned. Oh and I almost had the beginnings of a cult! but she decided that would be weird and I was cultless. This,of course, makes me sad. Anyways, thank you again DarkDragonFemale for betaing me...I'm really working on the contractions, promise! and Melissa I miss you! Be home soon!
The Path of Pins
A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
Women are possessions. They are given value, not only by who owns them but also, by what it is that they can bring to their owner. Are they a beautiful ornament? Will they bear strong sons? Will they keep a clean home? That is, for the most part, the extent of it. A keen and sharp mind means nothing if housed in the body of a woman.
And therein lay my greatest strength.
I am a possession and above all I have no honor. Sold to the highest bidder my body became, for all intents and purposes, a defiled temple. Having been taught differently this mattered little to me, but those who employed my services believed me to be just what they saw.
I had a spine of steel and wits as sharp as the keen edge of a katana's blade, all sheathed in soft flesh and pretty clothes. I was a weapon to be cast with delicate precision and that is what Naraku did.
He knew the truth. Men speak around women. Even more around immoral ones. They think women too stupid, too weak, and I used that. I could dissemble until I looked as though I had not one thought in my head and they would believe it. They spilled their secrets and I stored them away in a memory trained for years never to forget.
Even so, it had been months since I had heard anything about the Shikon Shards. The months had not been empty. I had spent time happily plying my trade and visiting with Inu-yasha and his friends. I had enjoyed the time, found contentment in the everyday and the secrets whispered at night. When it finally came to an end though I felt the delicious anticipation of adventure.
I was kneeling on all fours in nothing but a leather collar and rubbing against Hojo's legs like a cat when the time of waiting came to an end. That was when the Shikon Shards walked back into my life, literally.
"Yo, Hojo!" The yell came from behind the doors of Lord Hojo's private rooms. Hearing it Hojo stilled in the act of running a hand along my naked back. "Your servants wouldn't let me in!"
I made myself small beside Hojo's throne as the doors were thrown open. In came a wolf in human form. His hair was black and wild, his teeth sharp and canines pointed, and his eyes were a color of blue I'd never seen before, dark as midnight in one moment and the color of Ajisai petals in the next. The color seemed off to me until I saw the look in his eyes, a look that would have been more at home in a wolf's head.
A fur kilt wound about his hips and left his long legs bare. I watched them, muscles bunching and releasing in a beautiful ripple beneath golden brown skin. There were boots, also made of fur, that covered his calves and it took me a moment to realize that they were glowing above his shins.
"They tried to keep you out for a reason," Hojo told him nervously. I had expected him to be angry but he just seemed to twitch a little.
"What could have been more important than—" He stopped, sniffed gently, and his eyes descended slowly to where I was crouched, covering as much of my body as I could without being obvious. He smiled, flashing fangs. "Oh, I see. I didn't realize you had it in you," the wolf said crouching down in front of me. "I'm Kouga." No title, nothing else, just a name.
"Of the Northern wolf tribe?" He smiled, looking like a little boy just given a sweet cake.
"You've heard of me."
"Hard not to, m'lord. It is said that yours is the strongest wolf tribe in our land."
"True." He reached out a hand, the fingers long and bones delicate but strong, and touched my cheek. "What's your name, little human?"
"Her name is Kagome." Hojo stood, forcing Kouga back. Hojo was still fully clothed and his robes swished around him gently as he glared at the wolf. "Now is not the time to get to know my companion."
For a moment it looked like Kouga might protest but he closed his mouth with a snap and grinned. "I'd want her all to myself too." He stood. "When you're done I've news of whispers you should hear about."
"What kind of whispers?"
"The kind where I get to kill things. There's talk of a band of demons that need to be dealt with." He sauntered from the room with one last glance over his shoulder. "I'll see you again, Kagome."
I would have laughed except Hojo was glaring after him, a sound gurgling in the back of his throat. Anger or frustration or both I did not know.
I mewled softly, the barest whisper of sound and watched as the tension flowed out of his shoulder. He turned to me smiling at the way I watched him through my lashes. "Where were we again?"
Two days later found me back at home and waiting for Naraku to let me see him in his study so I could report anything new I had learned. I was waiting in my rooms, Kanna putting my hair into intricate braids that looped about my head in swirls of liquid black. Her slow repetitive movements were slowly lulling me to sleep. Kohaku was idly tossing a ball and catching it, now and then letting it hit the ceiling jarring me from my almost trance. It was the kind of calm that I longed for even as I yearned for my next assignation.
Kagura entered the room without a knock and smiled at the way we all started. It was always a surprise to see her when you weren't expecting her. Her beauty would capture your eyes and breath for a heartbeat; such was the way with most upper level demons. She smiled at me and I got the rare treat of her smile reaching her eyes. It was like the first touch of spring on the frozen ground left after winter.
"Hello, little sister," she said to me and gently tapped the top of Kanna's head with her fan to get her attention. She motioned to the door and shooed a protesting Kohaku out.
"Good morning." I said to her.
"I wanted to see you before Lord Naraku," she told me, drifting gracefully to her knees beside me. She idly touched a braid approvingly. "It suits you," she murmured.
"It has been some time since we last had the chance for a talk," she answered.
"I have missed you," I ventured tentatively glancing at her out the corner of my eye. She nodded with a smile.
"Did you get anything pretty this time?"
"Jade earrings that droop like tears," I reached into a drawer kept near the table and pulled out a cloth wrapped package. After unfolding the earrings I held them out for her to see. They were pale green almost translucent and shaped delicately.
"These are beautiful. Worthy of you." She sat back and looked at me, searching my face for a long moment before nodding, almost to herself. "How are you liking your new role in life?"
"I find it both entertaining and fun." I lowered my head to hide my smile. Her chuckle was warm and soft.
"I thought you might find it so." She lifted my chin, her face smooth and serious once again. "I hear you have found friends in the Inu-taisho's household." I would have smiled except for the look on her face like the mountains in the distance, proud and strong and immovable.
"That is both good and bad." Something around the edges of her face softened, eyes the color of poppy flowers drifted to her hands. "You should have joy. Also you fulfill one of Naraku's wishes. These are good things." I wanted to touch her shoulder, find her sadness with my fingertips and sooth it away but she sighed instead and changed my world. "Do not get attached."
"You belong to Naraku. His word is law, always." She wasn't looking at me any more; she was looking out my window. Her eyes moving as though she was searching for some distant thing on the horizon. Searching. "Someday they might be cruel and harsh. Someday they might ask of you something that will be painful to give, and you will still have to give it."
"Naraku would never—."
"Make it easier on yourself." She hurried on rushing to lay her words over mind, make them not real. "You can not afford love or true friendship. We have nothing that is truly ours. How can we afford such expensive things?" Her eyes never stopped searching and I tried to speak but my words were a sharp thing in my throat. To speak would be to bleed.
"You've been spending time with Inu-yasha, known him some months now…"
Of course she would see Inu-yasha as a threat, and in so many ways he was. He was loud and rough and kind. When I was with him I smiled and laughed and enjoyed the easy way I could make him blush. Kikyo was still just a name, a face I had never seen, and had no real claim on reality. It would be so easy to grasp Inu-yasha in my hands and make him mine. Of course Inu-yasha was a threat.
There were other dangers too.
One followed me like a shadow. He paced in my footsteps and his eyes grew darker and sadder with each bed I filled. He had been with me since I had first come to this place and I would cling to him with all the strength in my small pale hands. Though not even he was the biggest threat.
Though, of course, we did not know it yet.
Kagura took a deep breath and turned to me. "There is an offer from the Inu-taisho's household for your services."
"Inu-yasha would not—."
"It is not from Inu-yasha."
"Miroku would but he does not have the funds."
"Sango?" Kagura glared at me and I did my best to look serious.
"It is a large sum," she seemed to make a decision to ignore me even as she spoke to me. "Though it is almost an insult compared to how much Hojo offered for you, but…"
"Turn it down."
"Kagome, you can not let your own affection get in the way of what you need to do."
I stared at her, making my face into a mountainside. "I am not. Tell him my schedule for the foreseeable future is already spoken for. Arrange a visit with Inu-yasha; I assume that Kohaku will be busy as he always is when I go to Inu-taisho's. Also," I straightened my shoulders and smiled. "A request for me should be coming from a wolf demon. He seemed interested. Accept it."
"Sesshomaru will not ask again," she tried.
"He will and he will offer more."
"And the wolf?"
"I was told to find the shards before I was told to befriend the dog demons."
"You know what you are doing?"
I swallowed holding my hands very still because in truth I wasn't sure. "You trained me," was my only answer.
"But you are so young," she whispered before standing and bowing. "Naraku will see you now."
I left to tell Naraku of shards and whispers that I knew next to nothing about but the memory of Kagura's searching eyes stayed with me.
I had almost forgotten them a week later as I was leaving for an afternoon with Inu-yasha when Naraku entered the courtyard. I occurred to me that he flowed when he was not paying attention, like his feet did not really touch the ground though I could see clearly they did. It made me shiver, but I smiled and bowed. "My lord, what brings you here?"
"Kouga has been captivated by you." He laughed and held up a piece of paper thick and coarse but bright in the glare of sunlight. "You'll make me the richest man in the world soon."
"I can only hope you such good fortune." Though it was coarse I grinned wide enough to show teeth unblackened and perfect. He reached up and fixed a pin more securely in my hair.
There were moments I believed myself in love with my master. With the sun touching the edges of his black hair so that it was gilded and glowing and with the look of pride in his eyes this was one of them. I would do anything for him, I thought. What need had Kagura to fear Inu-yasha when Naraku stood before me? "You wish to accept this proposal, I hear."
I shook myself and nodded. "You hear correctly." They were the merest fancy of a teenage girl, but at times I was taken with a fine trembling in the pit of my stomach knowing that danger lurked around the corner.
"Then I hope you the best of luck charming jewels from him."
"I can only do my best."
"Then the jewels are as good as yours in a few days." With that he bowed his head and left.
I watched him go then turned to the carriage. Kohaku was suddenly there offering me a hand up. I let my hand linger on his before drawing it away slowly. He watched it before whispering so no one else could hear. "He does not have me do anything. He simply will not let me go with you."
My mouth fell open. I had not asked what was so important that Kohaku could not come whenever I went to Inu-taisho's, too afraid of the threat of loosing him. This was something I had not come close to expecting though.
Kohaku cupped my head and drew me forward gently; his breath was a soft heat against my ear that made me shiver. "Except today. Promise me you'll forgive me."
He was suddenly gone from the carriage, leaving me cold and afraid. My brow furrowed as the carriage started forward. I turned to watch Kohaku disappear into the palace, his head bent and shoulders rounded.
In the months since I had come and gone from the Inu-taisho's palace Sesshomaru was suddenly everywhere. Reprimanding a servant. Resolving minor disputes. Stepping on Jaken. As I learned the many twists and turns of the hallways I felt eyes on me but if I looked directly at him he was always engrossed in his work. I could even have believed I was imaging the sensation if not for the tenseness in his shoulder and the way he clenched his fists. When I entered the palace that day the air was so heavy it took me a moment to learn how to breathe it.
The air crackled faintly, I expected any stray hair not tucked away to stand on end. The youki was so angry I almost turned around and went back to my carriage. I wanted to demand Kohaku come with me, though what even he could do against such power was hard to say. I would have felt safer nonetheless.
Especially knowing I was the cause.
Then he was there in a cloud of youki so thick I could see it. He was as devastating as ever, gold and ice and gossamer. I was sure if I touched him it would be cold enough to burn. He did not look angry; not with the controlled mask firmly locked in place. As he looked me over with a critical eye, my gray yukata with the distant peeks of mountains painted on it suddenly felt stained and ugly.
I bowed then raised my head with my chin up and shoulders straight. "It is as much a pleasure as always to see you, my lord."
"I am amazed you have so much time to play with my half-brother."
I smiled, sharp as thorns, "One must always make time for those we deem important."
His eyes narrowed and he let out the deep rumble of a "hm."
"Stop talking to Kagome!"
Sesshomaru and I both turned to see Inu-yasha storming down the hallway, it was becoming a familiar sight and I smiled. Sesshomaru looked as though he had found something disagreeable in the air.
"Inu-yasha," I said softly, biting back a bigger smile when his ears twitched. "He has the right to speak to anyone he wishes in his own home."
"I don't like it." Inu-yasha growled at his half-brother, looking even more frustrated when the only response was a raised eyebrow.
"Your possessiveness of this female seems particularly absurd." Came the deep rumble of Sesshomaru's voice making something deep in my bones shiver.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Inu-yasha looked ready to launch himself at the taller youkai until I threaded my arm through his, effectively holding him in place. He had to either stop or drag me forward. He chose to stop. "Let go!"
"Inu-yasha, stop it."
"He started it!"
"How old are you again?"
"I—." His teeth snapped shut audibly and I swallowed.
"It is no matter." I said running a comforting hand over his arm. I looked over to Sesshomaru, who looked almost amused. "We should spend our time on things that are less trivial, yes?"
Sesshomaru's eyes snapped up to my face but his expression stayed the same. Exactly the same; like a carved block of ice.
"Time to go. You were planning on showing me more of the gardens, were you not? I believe you also promised me lunch."
"Yeah, I was." Inu-yasha puffed out his chest and with one last glare at his half-brother turned, my arm still in his, and marched off.
We sat together in the gardens. They were the traditional 'Tsukiyama' gardens, mountains and streams made in miniature. I loved these moments listening as Miroku and Inu-yasha bickered, sitting back and feeling flower scented breezes stir my hair. My home was a beautiful place, it's gardens filled with exotic plants that bloomed like the sunrise and drooped with the weight of their blossoms, but it was quiet. A hush was settled over Naraku's palace, which was wholly unlike the Inu-taisho's.
There was always noise there, servants bustling about and chatting, Rin's tutors running wild through the halls to find her, the distant rumble of the Inu-taisho's laugh. It was comforting, these sounds that pervaded the air.
"Can you just try not to be a letch?" Inu-yasha huffed, folding his arm over his chest and dropping next to me cross-legged.
"Maybe you should try to be more of a letch?" Miroku's descent was more graceful as he folded his legs beneath himself.
"You are arguing about what this time?" It was an effort to lift my head to look at them.
"Miroku was bothering the kitchen staff."
"I was merely offering my services to relieve any stress. It is hard work, for them, feeding us gluttons."
"How considerate of you."
"I believe it is my duty as a monk to help others." Inu-yasha wasn't talking anymore; he was just making inarticulate noises of barely suppressed rage.
Every once in a while I wondered if he had perhaps chosen the wrong companions with which to spend his time. A lecherous monk and a courtesan were odd friends to such a one who seemed to be, for lack of a better word, a prude. I was continuously looking for signs that it was a clever act. That he occasionally stole a glance at a servant's backside or the bare skin of a neck, but it never seemed to happen. Each time I found myself even more endeared.
This didn't stop me, however, from occasionally stirring up trouble.
"How is the fair Sango?"
"As curvaceous and beautiful as ever," Miroku sighed, managing to convey a longing that could break a soul. "Sadly she has left for a few hours to take care of a bear demon.
"Did she go alone?" I asked, my brows pulling together. "Is that not dangerous?"
"She's fine." Inu-Yasha huffed. "Said she could handle it on her own when I offered to help."
"When she comes home I should offer her a massage." I said barely suppressing a smile at the way Miroku's eyes gleamed.
"Why would you do that, Kagome?"
"Demon fighting is hard work." I nodded my head solemnly and bit the inside of a lip.
"Do I get one if I fight demons?" There was a gurgling noise.
"Inu-Yasha does not count." There was a low deep rumble of growling.
"I think you should give Sango a massage. You should also let me watch." Inu-Yasha jumped him, snarling, and Miroku let out a surprised yelp. What part of it still surprised him escaped me but for some reason it always seemed to.
They rolled across pebbles made into a beach for the pond and I stood. "I am going to see when she'll be back." I told them not sure if they heard or not but not very concerned either way.
I walked back into the cool shade of the palace not sure who was the best to ask for information regarding the time it took to kill a bear demon. I did not think it was information that most servants would be privy to, so I went looking for one of the head servants. I had been coming to this palace for months and there were still halls I had not explored, rooms I had never seen. I had turned down one such a hallway when a shy servant had indicated that one of the head servants was down that way.
A woman was standing in the middle of the hallway wearing the robes of a priestess, white shirts and red pants billowing about her like a war flag. She stood tall and regal, dark hair falling down her back in shining waves, and her ivory face was impassive as she looked down at me. "What are you doing?" Her voice was deep and in the depths there was anger.
It was hard to breathe looking at her face. I knew that bone structure and pale skin. In two years this is what I would look like. "Forgive me," I bowed low. "I had not known anyone was down this way."
"Now you know." She strode forward, head high and face proud. "This hall leads to my chambers. Stay out of it in the future."
"I would not want it tainted." I swallowed and a horrible thought struck me.
"My lady Kikyo?"
"Lord Inu-Yasha speaks fondly of you." And the reason for his fascination with me was suddenly clear.
"I'll inform him in the future that he should refrain."
"Of course." I bowed and backed away. This was to be Inu-yasha's future wife? She brushed past me, calling for a servant.
I caught "I want these floors washed," before she was out of earshot.
Hostility was something I was still unfamiliar with, though each encounter with Lord Sesshomaru was making its better acquaintance. Kikyo's malice had no grounds that I could see and left me bewildered and slightly hurt.
I left the way I had come not wishing another encounter and went back to the gardens, my plans to find Sango's return forgotten. After what felt like miles of hallway I found Inu-Yasha holding a sword and cursing Miroku for a pervert. A strangely familiar sight.
"Did he touch you again?" I asked with a smile. Both men jumped and turned to me. Inu-Yasha growling and Miroku with a sheepish smile.
"No!" Inu-Yasha bellowed. "He wants to—." His mouth snapped closed. I raised an eyebrow and looked at the monk.
"I want to bask in your beauty." Miroku finished for him cheerfully.
"That's not what you said!"
"But it is what I meant." Inu-yasha raised his sword again and I was seeing visions of a wounded monk. I stepped in between the two. "I just met Kikyo."
Inu-Yasha's arm dropped, his sword carving a gash in the dirt of the pathway. "You met Kikyo?" I nodded. "Are you all right?"
I could not stop the laugh, it sounded bitter even in my own ears. "This does not bode well. I speak of meeting your future bride and you ask if I survived intact. Your future looks bleak."
"I-I just meant…she's—" He was red from chin to forehead, which looked surprisingly good against the white of his hair though it clashed horribly with his hakami. "Well, she's hard to handle at first."
"Do not worry, I survived the encounter."
"But you will need a rest, I am sure." Miroku came forward to guide me to a seat on a convenient rock. "Probably a refreshing drink as well."
"How delicate do you think I am?"
"You're human, you snap like a twig." Inu-yasha grumbled.
"You are an orchid growing on a mountainside," Miroku said with a glare at his friend.
"Hmm, don't they require a lot of care not to die?"
"I have met Kikyo, I am a monk trained in meditation and exorcism. I still need a drink after an encounter." I laughed and shook my head.
"A drink would be greatly appreciated." Thus did I meet Inu-yasha's betrothed.
By the time I had drunk my fill and rested I decided that the garden was not quite as relaxing as it had been an hour before. And it hurt somewhat to look on Inu-yasha as he slunk around me as though he had done something wrong. A dog with his tail tucked between his legs while he waited to be hit. Most days I would find this amusing but not that day, not after meeting Kikyo, not after the disturbing message Kohaku had sent me away with.
I was sick for home and quickly begged my leave. Inu-yasha looked troubles and Miroku simply knowing. He told me he would tell Sango I was sorry to have missed her and they both saw me to the carriage.
The ride seemed an eternity and I longed for Kohaku. When I finally arrived, heart sore and tired, I stepped from the carriage and staggered. A guard caught me calling out in surprise. I was too busy with the wild question 'Where had he found it?'
The doubled power of the Shikon beat at me for a heartbeat then faded becoming a soft hum as a flash of color caught my eye. I turned slowly to see Kohaku standing wide eyed and still across the courtyard staring at me. A line of red ran the length of his sleeve and his belt pouch glowed.