Disclaimer: I own nothing that does not belong to me. This includes the Endeavor space shuttle, Gerry Butler's knickers, and Inuyasha. Regrettable, but true.
A/N: I'm baa-aaack! You all thought I'd abandoned you, didn't you? Well shame on you for thinking that! And while we're at it, shame on me for making you wait seven whole months! Right, so… here's the next chapter. It's not especially long or epic, but I wanted to get back into this now instead waiting even longer. I've got a vacation coming up in a few weeks and I'm hoping to get some good writing time in then as well. So without further ado…
One more thing! Many thanks to Mistress of Deceit and all my other recent reviewers who gave the the metaphorical kick in the pants I needed to update. muah Kisses for you all. (Unless you don't like kisses, in which case, I nod my head in respect.)
Chapter 29 – Unexpected
"Not so high!" Kagome shrieked as Sesshoumaru climbed another six meters in the air.
The inu merely rolled his eyes and soared higher still.
"No!" Kagome bellowed. She tightened her arms around his waist, leaning as much of her body into his taller frame as possible. "To high too high too high down down Down DOWN!"
Sesshoumaru descended, even if he was somewhat loath to bring an end to their current state of her practically embedding herself into him. Apart from helping her to conquer her fear of heights, he also enjoyed the way her scent would linger upon his person afterwards. It was quite…invigorating.
However, he had learned where her limits were. He felt he was finally beginning to earn more of her trust, and he wouldn't give that up by pushing her too far.
"Oh Kami thank you!" she muttered when here feet hit the ground again. "Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!" She took some calming deep breaths.
"This past week you have not allowed me to reach the same heights we have in the past. Are you unwell Kagome?" His eyes drifted over her body, taking in the slightly worn appearance about her person. She had felt as if she'd lost weight as well.
The first few weeks after the ceremony she had succeeded in returning her body to its former state of health. As they trained together while Shippou was at school he could see she put on more muscle mass, and the haggard looked she'd gained from forcibly exhausting herself in her pursuit of alchemy had faded.
Now, four weeks later, she was getting thinner again. It was difficult to tell because the refiner's fire had altered her enough that the signs of sleep deprivation and anxiety were not easily apparent; but she couldn't hide them from him no matter how hard she tried. Not only that, but occasionally she would hiss in pain and grasp her left hand when her ring scar would inexplicably begin to glow. Sesshoumaru wondered if she was keeping things from him again. The thought made him frown and narrow his eyes.
"Don't look at me like I'm being a naughty school girl!" she half teased, half snapped. "Honestly, I'm perfectly fine. Yes I'm eating all my dinner, and no, I'm not engaging in any kind of illicit doings behind your back. Kami Sesshoumaru, it's natural for humans to have slight regressions or even some behavioral extinction when trying to overcome fears as innate as mine."
Sesshoumaru turned from her, a small smirk crossing his face.
"What!?" demanded Kagome.
"Nothing," he replied as he headed for the forests beyond the garden they were currently training in. Sesshoumaru had discovered that it helped her to rejuvenate a bit after their 'flying lessons' if she was surrounded by trees or went for a dip in the lake. Since he still had things to go over with her, he preferred she not be sopping wet.
"I don't believe you!" she accused. "Your aura is all self-satisfied right now. I don't know what is going through that little Sesshoumaru brain of yours right now…"
'For once, thank Kami,' he thought resignedly.
"…but I assure you I'm just fine. No," she declared, "I am more than fine. I am currently enjoying an impeccable state of health!"
"I am well aware that you are your usual self at the moment," he sneered, albeit in a teasing way.
"Oh really?" she snorted. "And how has the great Sesshoumaru-sama come to this conclusion, because you can't sense deceit from me?"
"No. You could sincerely believe yourself to be in good health even when you were not, and therefore your honesty would be a moot point."
"Then how?" she demanded as she placed her hand on her hips and tapped her toes in a mock show of impatience.
"I know that you are well from your rude comments which you attempt to hide behind a mask of humor," he replied, turning to face her with a smug expression.
"When you are truly upset or in pain your speech becomes limited to quick, repetitive patterns that consist of one or two words," he explained.
Kagome opened her mouth to argue, but stopped when she realized he was right. Not five minutes ago her speech capabilities were limited to "Too high," and "Down." She looked around uncomfortably.
"Oh," she whispered. She worked so hard to be unreadable, and here was something she hadn't even noticed before. Her shoulders sagged and she dropped her gaze. "Sorry."
"There is no need to apologize," he informed her, disliking her forlorn expression. "While this is a shortcoming for many, you are so unpredictable in your actions it will be of little consequence if they know what you are feeling. Your emotion does not drive you to make mistakes or overlook things as it does in others."
Kagome smiled at him, and he felt a twinge in his stomach.
"Quite the contrary," he continued. "Your emotion only strengthens you and enhances your abilities. Do not fight what comes naturally to you Kagome."
She was almost beaming at him now, and Sesshoumaru took a moment to marvel over the difference between this woman and the one who threw him through her mother's window and blasted him off the property only a couple of months go. He found he quite enjoyed the change.
"And in fact," he added slyly, "were you not such a completely aggravating person to begin with, one might actually consider it an endearing trait."
"Hey!" Kagome huffed as she instinctively reached to slap the taiyoukai upside the head.
Unfortunately, Kagome still sometimes made the mistake of forgetting that Sesshoumaru did not take to being hit in the same jovial way as Miroku and Micah. In fact, he was quite…
"You struck me," he said in a cool voice, one that did not completely hide the anticipation in it.
'Damn!' Kagome swore inwardly. 'And that was such a nice moment we were having…'
She knew he wasn't angry per se, but he did not let things like this slide. Any time she slipped up and whacked him, deserved though it always was, it meant a strenuous workout for her. 'And I really am fatigued…'
"You asked for it!" she said aloud. Her eyes immediately swept her surroundings, looking for an escape.
"I do not recall making such a request," he replied smoothly, turning to advance on her slowly. "However, if you wish to start an altercation, I will most happily oblige you."
"I don't wish to start anything with you, youkai!" she sneered, though she was now backing towards the nearest tree, her hand reaching for a branch behind her.
"Then I suggest you run, miko."
Sesshoumaru lunged forward, striking out with his claws. With a grunt and a mighty lurch Kagome managed to free a huge branch, charge it with her miko energy, and lob it straight at him. As he dodged, she fled.
While this type of interaction had become a common occurrence for Kagome, she hadn't decided if she loved or feared it. On the one hand she knew Sesshoumaru wouldn't really hurt her, but this kind of training wasn't like anything she'd done before. There were no rules, no time limits, and she always felt a little like prey avoiding a ravenous hunter.
She was no novice; she had been in plenty of dire situations and come out fine, but she'd never had Sesshoumaru after her either. He had stripped away the comfortable veneer of the rules of engagement and stylistic fighting, and turned these little sessions into a kind of fight for survival.
Sesshoumaru knew that since her powers were in one way linked to her emotions, an effective way to progress her training was to get her a little worked up. He wasn't overly harsh, but he never made it easy for her either.
However, Kagome always felt afterwards as if she'd made more progress in that one block of time than in a month in the dojo. If only she didn't instinctually jump at the slightest sound for hours afterward she'd have no problems with these 'exercises.'
"You are slow today, miko," Sesshoumaru breathed in her ear from behind when she had turned to see if he was still behind her.
"Eep!" she squeaked. Stopping abruptly she ducked as he made a grab for her throat. Not even realizing what she was doing, she sunk into the earth and disappeared.
He stood staring at the spot where only seconds before she had been, not quite sure what to think. "Well this is new," he said softly, examining the lingering green light with both interest and distrust.
Suddenly a small hand shot out of the ground, grabbed his ankle and yanked him into the earth to the point where only his head from the nose up was exposed. Caught off guard, Sesshoumaru tried to fight; but he quickly found the soil around his body had solidified into rock, thickening in mass and girth, and freezing him in place. Ten feet away Kagome clawed her way out of the earth and gasped for air.
"Few, that was close!" she said, shaking dirt out of her hair. She turned and saw the burning glare from Sesshoumaru's exposed eyes, and the dust being blow from beneath his nostrils as he huffed angrily. "Ha!" she cackled with glee. "Take that Kemosabe! Score one for Tanto!"
If possible, Sesshoumaru's glare increased. He didn't know who these Kemosabe or Tanto characters were, but he was certain it wasn't a flattering comparison.
"I didn't even realize I could do that," she smiled at him. "Disappear into the ground I mean. Well, looks like I've won this round. Too bad, it wasn't really much of a challenge. I think I'll go track some mud into the house," she teased, her grin widening. "You know, give good ol' Jaken something to squawk about." She turned and headed back, a saucy jaunt in her step as she left the taiyoukai behind.
Unfortunately for her, in her surprise at having pulled that stunt off Kagome hadn't thought to charge the rock with miko energy. In another moment there was a loud, deep crack, and Kagome felt a slight tremor in the earth.
'Not good!' she inwardly screamed as she once again began scouting for an escape route. She knew it'd be another moment before Sesshoumaru was free, but she could also sense how very, very perturbed he had become from his imprisonment. "Not good!" she repeated aloud.
She guessed he would not be able to scent her easily as she was covered in dirt, and her Gaean powers smelled like the forest anyways. Reigning in her aura as tightly as she could, she gathered several stones for distractions and prepared herself to go the one place she didn't think Sesshoumaru would ever look for her. Up.
Thirty minutes later a now thoroughly frustrated Sesshoumaru had yet to find the errant miko. He'd followed her trail, ready to give her the challenge she seemed to crave not so long ago, but had come up empty handed.
Her foot steps had ended, so he assumed she had pulled the same stunt of disappearing into the ground again. He searched in circles around the spot, hoping to find where she'd resurfaced. Nothing. Every now and then he'd catch a trace of her aura, only to hunt it down and find a glowing stone she'd charged in the same manner she had the night she snuck out before the wedding. Nothing. There was a breeze flowing through the trees and he sniffed it eagerly, searching for the slightest hint of her scent. Again, nothing.
A small growl of disbelief and annoyance escaped him.
Twenty meters high in one of the trees that towered just over Sesshoumaru Kagome was biting her lip to keep from giggling out loud. At first she didn't think she'd be able to go this high, but she found that as she focused on Sesshoumaru's aura and keeping her own in check, it wasn't so bad. She was able to distract herself from her fear of being so far from the earth by filling her mind with the unmistakable and unmatchable presence that was the taiyoukai.
'Maybe if I focus even more I can hear read his mind again,' she thought. While she had inadvertently done so many times before, she had never made a determined effort to invade the inu's mind. Deciding to give it a try, she balanced herself securely against the tree and directed all of her thoughts and energies, or those not being occupied in keeping her own aura in check, at the taiyoukai. Surprisingly, everything around her ceased to exist as she got caught up in the sheer richness of his aura.
'Mmmm,' she sighed inwardly as his feelings and thoughts became clearer to her. After only a minute she could tell exactly what was passing through his mind.
'Clever girl,' he though in a somewhat proud manner. 'I know she has not left the area. I can sense her, but not through my usual abilities. There is no mistaking though, she is not far from me.'
He walked in a slow circle, never venturing more than ten meters from the trunk of the tree she resided in.
'Where are you, miko. You cannot hide from this Sesshoumaru forever. Sooner or later I will find you. I will always find you.'
Even in his mind his voice had grown silky and deep. It was surprising and exciting to Kagome. She had never before heard him sound so… well, sensual. It was almost as if his search had turned into another kind of hunt altogether…
Suddenly, she sensed him tensing. He began twisting around, almost as if he suspected her to be right behind him.
'I can sense you!' he half accused half triumphed. 'You are searching my aura, I can tell! Yes indeed, you have both ventured very far, but not far at all.'
A smugness entered into his aura and Kagome knew her game was nearing its end.
'I cannot win this with my youkai strength, and so I will use your own abilities against you. Prepare to be caught my little Kagome, do you hear me?'
Said miko had only but a second or two to wonder whether Sesshoumaru was indeed talking to her in his mind, or if he merely included that last line as an indulgence of fancy. Her time was short because without warning the taiyoukai released a large amount of the control he typically maintained on his aura. He knew she was supersensitive, and so he would assault her sense in the way smelling salts made Inuyasha gag.
"Oh!" Kagome gasped as her heart raced and her head swam. She had never been so overwhelmed in her life. It was as if she was cast into a raging river. Instinctively, her own bonds on her control snapped in response, and she began to give as good as she got.
The groan from the ground let her know that Sesshoumaru was not immune to this kind of influence either. Her keen awareness of time that she typically used to mark the seconds she was exposed to auras failed her. She had no sense of how long the two of them had been like this. It might have been one minute, it might have been twenty.
She felt raw, exposed, and in a way saturated. There was so much of Sesshoumaru's aura and ki surrounding and invading her, she didn't see how her body could possibly contain it all.
Trembling and breathing hard she fought to keep control on her aura. It longed to be fully released, and she somehow knew that it was all due to Sesshoumaru. She felt drawn to him, like her soul longed to join with his, to mingle their ki; and kami knew where else it would lead.
She had just gathered enough control and was about to call down to him, to beg him to pull in his aura or at least give her some kind of relief (she dared not consider what kind) when help in breaking her focus on Sesshoumaru became unnecessary.
"Oi Kagome!" Inuyasha shouted in her hear. "Just what the in the hell is going on and what are you doing stuck up so high in a tree?"
Startled out of her haze, but not physically or mentally recovered from it, she lost her balance and fell screaming towards the ground.
A/N: So there you have it; hopefully not too disappointing after the long wait. I'm really hoping to get some DETAILED REVIEWS after this. I'd like to know what everyone is thinking. Did you like it? Dislike it? What do you want to happen? What do you hope never happens? I of course plan to write whatever I feel like, but I find getting input from others helps my mind kick into a higher gear…if that makes sense. Anyway, just leave me a line to let me know I haven't lost all my readers who thought I'd given up!