Edited by thyme is a cat

Disclaimer: Don't own it.

Chapter 17 – Dressed for Success

Sesshomaru was plunging down into the forest full tilt boogey when he realized that several other scents warranted his attention. One was the tangy, coppery scent of blood, and his vision burned as red as the liquid in question to think that it might have been spilled from Kagome. The other scents were those of lesser rodent youkai – nothing more than snacks, really. And eat them he would if there were any way he could pin Kagome's kidnapping or injury on them. Even if he couldn't, he might just eat them on principle. Flying made him peckish.

He had just broken the canopy of bamboo, deciding that Rat Tar-tar with Wolf Sauce would make a fine lunch, when his sharp eyes caught a glimpse of the source of youkai scents. A group of five mice was darting through the thick, green stalks of bamboo, pointed snouts twitching over the ground as they tracked their prey. It didn't take much effort to come to the conclusion that they were hunting Kagome. Grinning with murder in his golden eyes, Sesshomaru changed course to meeting them, willing energy into his fingertips and drawing back his right hand to let fly his acid whip. Unfortunately for his surprise attack, Inuyasha entered the forest on his tail, crashing into the trees with an obscenity loud enough to wake their long dead father.

The mice youkai squealed and scattered, darting into the forest in random directions. One particularly stupid rodent attempted to cram himself into a small hole in the forest floor. With hastily (and belatedly) applied youkai magic, he managed to widen the hole enough to wiggle half of his body into his makeshift sanctuary, but Inuyasha chose that spot to land, and booted his furry, gray ass.

Deciding that he'd leave the mice youkai to Inuyasha and Shippo (who had yet to make an appearance), Sesshomaru, who had halted his descent when Inuyasha had fouled his attack, landed silently and then darted into the trees after Kagome's scent. He was now quite certain that the blood-scent was hers because all the mouse blood was freshly spilt, and he had yet to catch the scent of another human. He was a bit embarrassed to think that he was so out of practice hunting that it had taken him so long to come to that conclusion, and he added that to the list of things to which he wouldn't admit. He was just consoling himself with the reminder that Inuyasha had yet to pick up her scent at all when a ferocious hanyou roar startled the birds out of the nearby trees, and his ears picked up the sound of Inuyasha tearing through ancient stalks of bamboo toward him.

Ah, well. He simply had to run a little faster.

Panting, sweaty, and covered in red, stinging scratches, Kagome sprinted through the bamboo forest congratulating herself on an escape well-accomplished. She figured that if she just kept running (or walking, because she also had a stitch in her side that was threatening to pinch her in half), she would eventually find a road. They had brought her here in a van, after all, and vans needed roads to travel. A road would mean kindly strangers (or not, but she could deal with them), clothing, and breakfast. Sakishima would get hers, just as soon as Kagome was properly dressed, fed, and had an appropriately pain-inflicting weapon.

The only real flaw in her plan was her still-bleeding hand and the fact that she was running from a pack of youkai that could smell blood. Well, she assumed that they could smell it; it seemed to be a common trait among youkai. However, her captors were incredibly dense, and the fact that she had managed to escape into the woods bleeding meant that they probably couldn't hunt down a jar of peanut butter in a sack of groceries.

Oh, did a peanut butter sandwich sound good.

Unconsciously slowing to a walk as she clutched her cramped side, Kagome was pondering whether she would prefer jam, honey or sliced bananas on her sandwich when the ground in front of her exploded upward.

Baring tiny, sharp teeth at her in a hiss that was meant to be intimidating, the mole youkai that lunged out of the hole waved ten enormous, claw-tipped fingers at her. This youkai was an odd blend of animal and biped, having human-shaped eyes and a long, thick mane of brown hair. It had too many teeth for its slightly pointed jaw, and its hands and feet were twice as big as its face, not even counting the claws. As if in compensation for its extremities, it had stubby arms and legs. In blue jeans and a black tea-shirt, it resembled a Killer Klown in civvies.

Dodging out of the way of an uprooted stalk of bamboo that bounced from trunk to trunk as it fell, Kagome wondered at the propensity of youkai, both lesser and greater, to announce their arrival in the most dramatic method possible, then give their opponent time to prepare with a demonstration of their offensive attributes. Verily, the mole was still wiggling its oversized claws at her when she snatched a longish, dead branch of bamboo from the forest floor and infused it with purifying energy, swinging before the youkai decided to attack.

With a startled squeal, the mole youkai dodged her blow, diving back into the ground and burrowing out of sight. The ground rumbled beneath her feet, and Kagome turned a cautious circle in place, weapon held at the ready, her eyes scanning the vibrating earth for the mole's next egress. The forest waited with her, the vibrant green canopy oddly still and hushed.

Behind her, the ground burst upward and then cascaded down in a shower of dirt and debris, and Kagome spun in a crouch, lashing out with her charged stick. Simultaneously, a blue and white blur shot between her and her enemy, and her weapon connected with something that howled in pain as the white blur and brown mole collided and struck the ground hard. Not waiting to see what this new horror sent to capture her could be, she gave the tussling pile of youkai a good wallop with her glowing branch of bamboo. It was then that she recognized the singed scrap of midnight blue fabric lying on the forest floor.

In Kagome's defense, no human, not even a miko carrying the Jewel of Four Souls in her side, that tired, hungry and in pain could think clearly. Nor was she used to being rescued by a silent savior, Inuyasha being the type of youkai to give his enemies plenty of warning by shouting a lot. Turning horrified eyes back to the fight, Kagome finally placed the youkai that rolled past her like a magenta-and-white-striped dinner mint as he tore the arms off the mole all the while it screamed bloody murder.

"Oops!" she squeaked and then flinched as pieces of mole were flung away from the battleground and out of sight. Sprinting toward the taiyoukai that had ended up sprawled on his back on the forest floor, she dropped to her knees beside him. Arching over one white, muscled shoulder was a wide, angry welt of blackening flesh. "Oh, Sesshomaru, I'm so sorry!"

Sesshomaru had intended to rise gracefully to his feet, flex his well-developed pectoral muscles, and pretend that he hadn't noticed her miko's burn. However, he found that this position, with her on her knees staring concernedly into his eyes as she smoothed white hairs out of his face… Holy hell, what was she wearing? His fantasy had been made flesh!

His eyes fixed to the swell of breasts that were fighting to fall out of a contraption made of burgundy lace and boning, leaving her shoulders and midriff bare. A matching triangle of lace did little to hide her feminine mysteries, but quite a lot to his masculine sense of purpose. Circling her creamy thighs were bands of black lace attached to shimmering black hose, which now had several runs to the tops. Sesshomaru made a commitment to tongue each and every one of those runs (there were sure to be more where her legs where folded beneath her) before removing the stockings.

"Sesshomaru?" she asked, her voice trembling the tiniest bit. Was she afraid that she'd truly injured him? A Taiyoukai? He groaned quietly as her gentle fingers smoothed over his chest, fluttering over the smoldering flesh. "Sit up so that I can take a look at the wound on your back."

She rose to her knees and urged him to sit up by pulling on his shoulders. This new position put her cleavage directly under his nose, and not one to spurn such opportunities when they presented themselves, he simultaneously rose to a sitting position, planted his nose between her breasts and hoisted her onto his lap with a firm grip on her bare buttocks. She was wearing those kinds of panties.

Kagome squealed and squirmed, and Sesshomaru sighed in bliss to have this armful of warm woman-flesh unhurt in his lap. The tang of her blood was still sharp in the air, but it had come from a slice on the palm of her hand and was in no way life-threatening. If fact, he looked forward to some palm licking in his near future. He would clean her palm first, then move onto her stockinged legs, then—


Inuyasha came crashing through the trees like a stampede of buffalo, and with his typical acumen and attention to details, assumed that Kagome was in dire need of rescuing. If Sesshomaru's hunting and tracking skills were a tad dusty, then Inuyasha's were buried under three feet of peat moss. With a deafening war whoop, Inuyasha bounded across the forest floor… and stuck his foot in a mole hole. His momentum threw him forward through the air, and the whoop turned into a wail as he sailed ungracefully toward them. Twisting her neck to see the commotion and hopefully stop Inuyasha before he did something stupid, Kagome had enough time to shriek before he plowed into her back and pushed both her and Sesshomaru to the ground.

"Idiot," Sesshomaru growled below her. Kagome wheezed in agreement against his very naked chest, the wind having been knocked out of her by an inuyoukai sandwich.

Inuyasha groaned above her and shifted slightly. "Why didn't you get her the fuck out of the way?"

He seemed to be in some sort of discomfort, but she couldn't figure out why. After all, it was he who had fallen on her. Them, she reminded herself as Sesshomaru shifted and nudged her with his hips. She would have protested had she been able to form a sentence or, perhaps, breathe.

"Get off," Sesshomaru grunted and smacked Inuyasha in the back with one long, white arm. Kagome wondered why he was still laying there so complacently instead of pushing them both off with a scathing comment. He nudged her again, and Kagome came to the realization that he liked this position. A lot. And from the feeling of things above, so did Inuyasha.

"Come to think of it, why was Kagome in your lap?" Leveraging himself with his arms, Inuyasha slid up her body to look down into the bored face of his brother, bringing his groin directly in line with Kagome's bottom. She managed a horrified squeal and squirm, and Inuyasha groaned again and flexed his hips. Sesshomaru seemed to come to the same conclusion Kagome had, rather belatedly in her opinion, and grabbed the hanyou by the scruff of his neck and tossed him to the side.

Gasping in great breaths of sweet air, Kagome relaxed against the firm muscles of Sesshomaru's chest, finally able to enjoy the pectorals under her cheek now that she wasn't being squashed into a miko pancake. By the gods, was she tired.

Both ignored Inuyasha's cursing until he shouted her name again from several feet away.

"Kagome! What the hell are you wearing? Get off that bastard!"

Kagome sighed. "Sit." Inuyasha hit the ground with a loud, hollow thump and a strangled shout, and Sesshomaru's rumbling chuckle vibrated through her body. It was then that she remembered what it was that she was actually wearing. Her face flamed in mortification, and she hid her face in her hands as she tried to slide from atop Sesshomaru. One of his arms caught her about the waist to prevent her from moving, but before she could protest, the other snatched his shirt from the ground and draped it over her shoulders.

"Thanks," she mumbled, touched by this gesture of concern for her well being far more than she had been by his botched rescue. Oh, she was still furious with him for betting that he could beat his brother into her pants, but she was very, very tired, and for a shirtless demon lord, he was very, very comfortable…

"Kagome…" Inuyasha growled, and Sesshomaru turned his head to watch a dirty hanyou climb out of a deep hole; the mole-tunnel-ridden ground had collapsed when the magic of the necklace had pulled him down.

"Quiet, hanyou. She's asleep," he hissed as he carefully raised her sliced palm to his nose and gave it a good sniff. It really did need a good cleaning to avoid infection. He gave it an experimental lick, grimacing at the dirt that collected on his tongue, and then rolled the flavor of her essence over his tongue. Not half bad. He could get used to it.

Inuyasha scowled disbelievingly at the blue silk-covered form lying on his brother's chest, a messy tangle of black hair tumbling over flawless, white demon-skin. "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Still lying supine and jostling the woman on his chest as little as possible, Sesshomaru fished a stone from the forest floor with his free hand and lobbed it at his idiot brother, pegging him between the eyes. "I said quiet!" he hissed as Inuyasha smacked a hand over his bruised forehead and bared his teeth in a silent snarl.

Closing his eyes, Sesshomaru dismissed him. He was busy doing protective mate things; things that even a degenerate half-breed like Inuyasha should recognize. He'd never done them before, obviously, but he found that he quite liked them. Her body was cool where the breeze caressed her skin and slick with sweat where they touched, and her quiet breathing was a mesmerizing rhythm that coaxed his body to ebb and flow along with hers. To his consternation, he was getting sleepy, and he yawned widely a moment after that realization, as if in proof.

"No fucking way," Inuyasha grumbled, but softly this time. "Don't we have rodents to fillet?"

Yes, he supposed they did, but it was difficult to find the initiative to move with a mostly naked, soon-to-be mate sleeping on his chest. And why was it his obligation to dispatch them? Isn't that what delegation to one's inferiors was for? They weren't even worth his time. He had accomplished the most important part of the mission, namely rescuing Kagome, and now he had better things to do. Through an enormous, fanged yawn, Sesshomaru suggested, "Why don't you go fall on them?"

"Bastard. Fuck if I'm gonna leave you alone with her." Under his breath, Inuyasha muttered several other epithets, which were punctuated by hollow thunks of small stones hitting bamboo trunks. Sesshomaru's eyes had slid shut, and his mind was melding with the whisper of her breath and the rustle of the wind through slender leaves before the hanyou spoke intelligibly again. And typically, it was of no importance. "Where the fuck is Shippo, anyway?"

From his perch at the top of a tree, Shippo watched Inuyasha's red back disappear into the sea of green that was the bamboo forest's canopy, his hollering shaking the leaves. They must have caught up with their prey. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep up; they simply moved too quickly. Sighing, he gazed out across the endless, undulating, verdant waves…

Ah, but it wasn't quite endless! He narrowed his eyes, shading them with a hand cocked at his forehead, and leapt from treetop to treetop toward what appeared to be a thin, straight break in the trees.

It was a gravel road. Cutting through the trees, it stretched back to a small highway that they had passed and forward deeper into the forest. Glancing behind him to where he had last seen the dog demons, Shippo dropped from the trees onto the side of the road, just behind the first line of trunks. Kagome would be fine with those two charging to her rescue. Not that he truly believed that she needed rescuing; he hated the thought of her injured or scared, but Kagome could handle just about anything. If these youkai hadn't brought this situation down on their own heads, then he might have felt pity for them. With the dog demons hot on their trail and Kagome at the head of the chase, there wouldn't be anything left to pity. He would be of more use scouting out what could possibly be the bad guys' camp.

On silent feet, he darted through the trees that grew alongside the road, a reddish blur barely visible behind the screen of long, green trunks. It was only a matter of minutes before he caught a whiff of diesel fuel and the rumbling purr of a generator. Knowing that he was close, he took his fox form. It was larger than that of an average fox, and his coat shone a brilliant, burnished copper, but he had nothing close to the stature of a taiyoukai. He didn't mind; he had never wanted the power and glory associated with those mighty beings. In his experience, the Cardinal Lords didn't have it all that great, anyway. Boring meetings, constant squabbling, and sycophants underfoot: they could keep it.

Crouched with his belly to the ground and his bushy tail held low and still, he crept forward until he could see a fleet of white vans. They were parked haphazardly around a compound of traditional houses. One had the back doors thrown open and a small pile of gray dust in front of the bumper.

Yes, Kagome had been there.

The scent of drying, human blood reached his nostrils and he sneezed. Whining quietly with worry, he crawled toward the van, his ears twitching to catch the sound of other youkai. The place stank so strongly of rodent and snake that he couldn't tell whether there were youkai still here, or if they had all giving chase in the forest.

"What's taking them so long?" A sibilant, female voice issued from one of the houses, and Shippo's ears perked forward as he froze in place. "How hard is it to catch one human girl?" Another voice, this time male, answered her, but Shippo couldn't discern the words. The female spoke again. "I don't care what she did to Shoko! She's human! Weak!" More mumbling from the male, but it sounded upset. The female didn't seem to be making any friends. "Go be useful, will you? Find out what's keeping them."

Shippo heard the slide of a wooden door against its frame, then another slide and a slam as it was closed. Darting from behind this van to crouch behind the next, he was able to catch sight of a partially transformed rat demon as it lumbered down the steps of the house. For a moment, Shippo considered letting the rat enter the forest and meet the fate that awaited him with poison claws and acid whip, but his better nature persevered.

Transforming back to human form, he snatched a smooth, round stone from the gravel drive. He cupped it in his hands and blew on it, releasing it as it grew in size and translucence. Slowly, gracefully, it bounced silently after the rat until it resembled a giant bubble. On its final bounce, the rat realized that he was being tailed and looked behind him. Whatever he had expected to find, an enormous bubble wasn't it, for he stood stock-still and stared, his beady, black eyes wide and his whiskers quivering. The bubble enveloped him whole, and it was only then that the rat sprang into action, pawing frantically at the walls of his prison with hands and feet, his mouth moving but making no sound. All that he accomplished was to roll the bubble closer to the forest. Shippo gave him a little wave, then slunk up to the house from which the rat had exited and peered into one of the little windows.

A woman with reptilian, but oddly familiar, features sat at an overly ornate, carved-wood table surrounded by chairs upholstered in pink, rose chintz. Mounted on the walls were portraits of beautiful youkai with outrageously styled hair staring out of the pictures with sultry pouts. Boxes crowded the corners of the room, stacked almost to the ceiling, though the lettering on the labels was too small to read from the window.

Her forked tongue flicking in and out of her mouth, she was examining two plastic, toy rings in white and blue. The rings also struck a chord of familiarity, but he could place neither them, nor her face. She jerked in her seat, a movement that had Shippo diving for the ground just in time, for her head whipped around to face the window.

"Who's there?" she hissed, and Shippo held his breath, hoping that the hammering of his heart didn't give him away. He really hadn't missed all the fighting and bloodshed of the feudal era. He listened to the floorboards creaking under her feet; she was approaching the window. As silently as he could, he pulled a length of ribbon from his pocket (for windy days when his hair blew into his face) and held it to his lips, whispering fox magic into it. When the woman's face loomed over him as she leaned out the window, he whipped the ribbon up and it wound around her neck. In moments, it became a length of thick rope that twisted about her body. Shrieking, she tumbled through the window, struggling against the bonds as her form slimmed and lengthened to that of a great snake with a woman's head. Useless now, the rope slackened and popped back into a small ribbon, which was crushed into the dust by her scaled tail.

The snake-woman reared back, baring her fangs and hissing as Shippo straightened from his crouch and took a fighting stance. He hoped that he still remembered the moves that Inuyasha had taught him all those years ago. Pulling a small knife from his boot, he transfigured it back into the sword that the hanyou had given him when he had come of age. It had amused Inuyasha the first time he had seen the trick, and though he had never said so, Shippo suspected that he likened the disguising of the sword to his Tetsusaiga's battered, rusty camouflage. When the snake-woman lunged, Shippo swung the blade, wincing when he felt it hit its mark by the drag on his shoulder. Hot blood showered him, and she hit the ground with two distinct thumps.

Opening his eyes (he couldn't remember closing them, but there it was), he was surprised to see his opponent lying at his feet, her head severed cleanly from her body. Shippo wanted to go be sick in the bushes, but manfully swallowed down the bile with a grimace, knowing the shit he would have gotten for it later. Not that he wouldn't get shit, anyway – he had a feeling that he had just killed the ringleader of this circus. Inuyasha would be quite put out.

Despite all of the noise that they had just made, no one else appeared. Not even the rat-in-a-bubble rolled by. Sighing in relief, Shippo glanced into the window again, this time looking for a sink and running water where he could wash the blood off his hands and face. He didn't want to upset Kagome when he finally got to see her, and it was upsetting him a little, too. As his eyes wandered the room, the two plastic rings caught his attention, lying on the table where the snake-woman must have dropped them.

'Where have I seen those before?' Shippo wondered as he climbed the steps to the sliding door and opened it, so lost in thought that he didn't notice the bloody smear that he left on thick, white rice paper. Plucking them off the table, Shippo eyed them curiously. The blue one had the kanji for "dog" on the oval disc perched atop the band, but the white one was blank.

"Oh!" he exclaimed in sudden recognition. He had had one of these many years ago, but it had been incinerated during a battle. It had been orange, and Kagome had given it to him not long before she had disappeared. He had been heartbroken when he had realized that it had been destroyed. 'Didn't she have one like this, too?' he thought, examining the blue one. 'I wonder why the snake-woman had them?'

Shrugging, he closed his fingers over them and went in search of a sink. He had gotten them all bloody, too.

A/N: Thanks to all you have who started this fic with me and are still sticking with it! The end is in sight – probably another two chapters.