The sky is translucent, almost cerulean, and dotted with pure white clouds. It is spring, almost summer, and the sun is warm, but the wind is still cool. In the Western Hold, with its tall walls and lavish gardens Izayoi plays attentive wife with the zeal of a jealous paramour.

She oversees the servants and the household monies with quiet efficiency. The servants honor her, if only in pretense, leaving her ample time to attend her husband. This is, when he was home to be attended.

Today is such a day for the Inu no Taishou, tired, but in good humor, has returned from his campaigns in the East. Izayoi is not foolish enough to believe he is happy to be home.

Plucking an idle tune on her koto, she watches as he tends his first wife's roses. He snips curling leaves and prunes away dying blooms.

Snip, prune, snip, and the roses are perfect and beautiful. Just like Her. Them. But then, all inu daiyoukai were perfect. They are all so beautiful.

She watches as he climbs down on his hands and knees to weed. He uproots intrusive plants and casts them away without a second glance.

Uproot, cast, uproot, and Izayoi wonders if there had always been just two rose bushes.

"Will Amayami-sama come again?" she asks, trying not cringe as Inu-no-taishou shreds a limp daisy between his claws.

"The end of the week," he answers, climbing to his feet. He smiles, a dazzling smile, and pecks her cheek with cool dry lips. "Sesshoumaru will be happy to see his mother."

And you? she wants to ask, but the sudden warmth in his eyes is answer enough. Instead, she allows herself to be soothed and bites back thoughts she knows better than to voice.

"There is trouble in the East," he says, eyebrows knitting together as they do when he's upset. "Near the border of Amayami's territory." He meets her eyes, trying to smile and failing. "It's Ryuukossei."

Ryuukossei is a terrible creature with a body of iron and no sense of mercy. A guilty shred of relief creeps into her breast. "It'll work itself out," she says mildly, pleased that she sounds so calm. "It always does."

Inu no Taishou breathes, nostrils flaring. "If he refuses to back down. I may need to-"

-protect her. she finishes in thought. "I love you," Izayoi says, without thinking, only feeling. It is then she listens rather than hears.

He pauses. Just for a moment, quicker than the space between heartbeats, a silence so very small it escaped her for years.

"And I you," he says. His fingertips touch hers and she smiles at him as if she truly believes.

Smiling, she takes his hand. Can belief makes things real, she wonders not for the first time. If I pretend he loves me, will he?

Izayoi wants to believe, just as she wants him to love her. She wants more than their vows and a promise of loyalty.

He will never leave her, and although his heart might wander, he will betray her in body.

Izayoi wants to believe it's enough.