The Mating Ball

May all of you be well, for the words of praise you have sent made me cry from utter joy.


Take me home

"Did you hear what happened to poor Sesshomaru-sama?"

"Oh, yes, that dreadful Northern barbarian, thank goodness he's dead."

"I heard a soldier of the Higurashi Fortress killed him at the cost of his own life."

"Nonsense, I heard from the maids that he was alive."

"I heard it was a woman."

The room of elder demons exploded into a frenzy, going ballistic over the rumor. Exclamations of horror, disgust, and anger were made, along with proclamations of the shame the Western Lord must feel. Instantly, they became dead set on the execution of the soldier and his or her master. They should be put on trial before a crowd, publically humiliated, and slain for the good of their lands.

Their heads should be show-cased, they agreed, to prevent future misgivings. On the Southern end of the round table sat the oldest of the group, wise beyond any of their years, the Lord of the South tugged at his robes thoughtfully, wondering how he pup of the West was going to handle this mess. He was positive the young prodigy would come up with something absolutely genius, but he was beginning to fear that the lad would never overcome the shock and fright of that night. Even he, from his crystal ball, had felt the despair, the anguish, and he was unsure that their young Lord could rise from the experience.

Speak of the devil, in he burst into the room, an unnecessary display of strength as he threw open the large, wooden doors that ten lower demons, only one level below his class, could barely open with every ounce of power they had. The doors banged loudly against the walls, and the room went silent. There stood Sesshomaru, clad in white, as per usual, his clothes pristine and his armor renewed. His hair was uncharacteristically tied back, revealing his natural tattoos as the Western heir, and his resemblance to his late father was uncanny. He stood, a strong, formidable, unforgettable presence in a room filled with old men with too much time. He was at his peak, and their prime was long gone. As he spoke, they knew they could never nay-say his words, for he was vastly stronger, and he looked extremely ready to manhandle anyone who dared disobey.

Sesshomaru scanned the room, golden eyes icy and steely as he analyzed each demon present. Like the cowards they were, none met his gaze, half of them lowering their heads to present their throats in a pacifying gesture of trust. Sesshomaru felt his stomach curl in on itself at the audacity of the old demons, distaste flooding his bloodstream like poison. He kept his face blank and controlled this reaction to the physical minimum, since their noses were bound to catch the subtle changes in his scent. Inu Yasha had once told him that even if he did react, he was damn near unreadable, but the taiyoukai would not trust his judgment one bit. The hanyou had a good nose, but his senses were in need of vast improvement to match up to Sesshomaru's own, much less that of an ageing wolf youkai. His displeasure was founded on the fact that his keen ears had allowed him to spy on the conversation and that gave away exactly how big a room of hypocrites he had under his claws. The Lord of the South had dropped all aspirations of matchmaking upon his arrival with a corpse in his arms, but it seemed the Old Wolf was far from done in trying to interfere with the younger taiyoukai. It bothered him greatly that the ancient demon was trying to meddle in his affairs, treating him like he knew not what he was doing.

With that malicious, angry refusal in his mind, Sesshomaru spoke up, his voice issuing a wordless command as his entire body language put every demon under his heel.

"The soldier of the Higurashi Fortress is to remain untouched and honored, he saved the life of this Sesshomaru, and no rumors of his sex would ever hope to make someone of this Sesshomaru's standard to lower himself to the level of a moral lacking scoundrel." His voice was even, his speech polite, but his intent was clear. "All of your doubts can be put to rest. Though human, he was a valiant warrior, faithful to his Lord and to his Lands. Anyone who dares to claim otherwise can come to this Sesshomaru now, and we shall settle this matter quickly. He died for his lands and his sacrifice I shall credit." The threat was crystal, and everyone was silent.

Someone cleared his throat, and Sesshomaru turned his stormy gaze upon the Southern Lord, feeling a slight twinge of unease at the mischievous twinkle in the old demon's winter blue eyes. "Might we have some proof of what you declare?"

Shouts of agreement arose, all of them gaining courage just after Old South spoke, and none of them noticed the way Sesshomaru's eyes flashed briefly to a bright sapphire blue of his canine form. His marks became more pronounced, and his fangs elongated. The room became drenched in the scent of sweet poison and vibrated with the intensity of the growl emerging from his breast. He was on the verge of slaughter, but the controlled voice and that cold, frigid smile was far more frightening. "My word is not enough?"

The room went abruptly silent, and his smile widened a bit, showing off those magnificent fangs that could tear even dragon flesh apart. Everyone we well aware of Sesshomaru's breed, of his canine bloodline, and were given the vague impression that he would go out tooth and nail to protect what is his just like his more animalistic counterparts. Silence remained, and Sesshomaru gave an aura of savage satisfaction as he watched them cower quietly.

"This Sesshomaru thought not." The words hung in the air, stinging them like a blow.

In a flurry of elegant silks and silver hair, he was gone.

Only years of battle experience managed to save Lord Hiten from gulping audibly under the heat of Lord Sesshomaru's gaze. The Lord of the Western Lands was sitting on his special guest cushions with a regal air that could stifle lesser beings. Back straight, legs spread the perfect angle for the occasion, hands on his knees and toes overlapped… Lord Sesshomaru was the poster boy of propriety and distant disdain. The tea that sat before him on the low table was completely untouched, disregarded by the Elite Demon for the matter at hand.

Beside him, his wife shifted minutely is discomfort. He cut her a glance and she lowered her gaze demurely. He returned his eyes toward the demon before him, mouth twitching in an effort to contain inappropriate comments that could very well lead to his death.

"Pardon?" he said finally after a long moment of silence, unable to believe what Lord Sesshomaru had just asked him.

"Explain yourself on behalf of the actions you took twenty years ago concerning your newborn twin girls," said he, blinking lazily. Lord Hiten was struck with how his liege resembled a contented feline, watching his prey as it struggled beneath his paws. The soldier tried not to feel panic as it dawned on him he was the captured mouse, writhing with futility in the claws of a merciless hunter.

The Killing Perfection.

Hiten cleared his throat to mask the chill that crept up his spine, along with the memories of fighting alongside this particular demon. Unbidden, the distinctive scent of carnage, venom and death came to mind. He vanquished these thoughts to respond something other than a whimper of fright to the question.

"If I may ask, what has caused my Lord to become interested in such trifles of the past?" he ventured to ask, and almost instantly regretted it as the markings on his Lord's face began to darken and turn jagged, ripping across Sesshomaru's pale skin in answer to an angry spike of his youki.

"You will answer this Sesshomaru, Hiten." The threat was almost palpable, rubbing against his vulnerable skin in waves of poisonous youki, and Hiten decided it was best to comply. In the face of Hiten's resignation, Sesshomaru tilted his chin higher smugly, inordinately pleased by it. He will not lie to me.

"Hatori…" he began, hesitating for a moment. Sesshomaru did not move, his markings back to the usual smooth lines ending in fine points, but something in his posture told the Lord of Higurashi Fortress it would not be a good idea to try this demon's patience more than necessary. So, he shooed everyone in the Main Tea room out, telling them to clear out the adjoining halls and gardens. The guards and servants obeyed, puzzled, and the silence became deafening for a few short moments as the surrounding rooms emptied of people.

Hiten remained silent, organizing his thoughts, and raised his gaze to meet solemn golden eyes. "When the girls were born… it was an unmitigated disaster. We had not expected twins, much less of the same gender. The original plan had been to kill the second child." Hiten spoke with confidence, his gaze straight and unrepentant. "My wife nearly died during childbirth and I held no love for either child. The choice was clear, especially since I had been forced to inform other families inflicted with the same curse to follow the traditional example."

Sesshomaru remained quiet, merely a silent observer. The wife beside Hiten was also mute, sitting primly beside her husband. Sesshomaru could sense the subtle changes in her scent as she relived the string of events all over again merely by her husband's citation.

"We separated the children, Kikyo went to directly to her mother, but the second child was put into isolation, cared for only by my mother, who insisted we observe tradition by letting the child age somewhat." Hiten said without a hint of emotion in his face or voice, though his scent betrayed him. Sesshomaru was interested to note that the man seemed almost… sorrowful. "It was not until weeks later that my mother, our resident priestess, claimed it was time. I demanded she bring the child to me. My mother refused on grounds she would not kill an innocent babe or bring her to slaughter. I went to fetch the baby myself…" he paused significantly for a moment, seeming to collect himself before he could continue, the hoarseness in his voice selling him out.

"The child lay in her bedding… the moment she laid eyes on me, she laughed. Barely two months old, hardly an age for laughter, the baby reached for me energetically and blew bubbles. Her sister was taciturn, but Kagome…" the admittance of a name was monumental and Sesshomaru's eyes widened when he realized what had transpired in that single moment when shockingly blue orbs had met her sire's gaze for the first time.

Kagome had welcomed him, sunny and friendly from birth, with a wide, wobbly smile and laughter. Her father, no matter how rough and tough he claimed to be… had been taken and defeated by his child's giggle. The Lord of the Higurashi Fortress was soundly and completely conquered by a baby. In a single decisive moment, Kagome had guaranteed her own survival.

Hiten cleared his throat belligerently and continued. "Of course, I could not keep Kagome, not on record. If my people knew of what I had done, they would have my head in swift retribution. So, I dealt my daughter a fate worse than death. I killed the medicinal man and the midwives who knew of her true sex to keep them quiet and put Kagome through conditioning. She was taught to live and breathe the life of a warrior-priest, hidden beneath armor, herbs and steel since a young age. My wife came up with the pseudonym Hatori and that was who she became." The human lord raised his gaze, eyes clear and accepting of his fate.

"I destroyed my daughter and turned her into nothing more than a personality hidden beneath spells, training and herbs." He finalized his tale and Sesshomaru could not refute that statement.


"Sesshomaru-sama," Shippo said in a voice that wobbled, hanging onto his shoulder as the elder demon strapped Kagome's body to Anko's saddle. A hum was interpreted as permission to speak and Shippo obeyed. "Why aren't you…"

The taiyoukai understood, his youki flaring as he surrounded Kagome's body in it. He removed his only sword from his golden obi, tying it directly on Kagome. Once in contact, the sword seemed to whistle, and Shippo shrank back from it in awe.

"Because this isn't over, kit."

Shippo dried his tears on his sleeve and hopped onto the saddle with the corpse, mouth set in a firm line as his foster father instructed him to keep the sword in contact with Kagome at all times.

"The ride will be rough," he informed the kit unnecessarily. He received a solemn nod for his troubles and Sesshomaru pivoted on his left foot, heading for his mount, bringing him and tying Anko to the larger steed. "Tensaiga will be of use."


For the first time since his father's untimely death in the fight against the previous Lord of the Northern Lands of Japan, Sesshomaru was thankful for the Fang of Heaven's gift. He was a warrior and he'd had no use for the ability to defy life. However, now, in these circumstances and Tensaiga willing, he could put the sword to use. He'd made use of it before, to save the life of a human girl, but that moment could not come to compare. Already, the blade was pulsing, a high, sweet song sounding in his ears as it begged to be the key to save Kagome's life. Its fierce glow kept the servants of the underworld at bay, and lent the power to see souls by the blade, Sesshomaru was surprised to see how large the young priestess' soul was.

Swinging up to his saddle, Sesshomaru assured himself the party was ready and willing to part. A simple glance did its job, presenting a ready, grim company, poised to ride. A mere tilt of his chin sent Inu Yasha and Kouga galloping ahead of him, becoming the point of his entourage. Miroku and Kohaku followed with Sango and Kikyo close on their heels. Sesshomaru waited a beat then kicked his mount into a full gallop, his hair and fur trailing in the welcoming breeze.

The ride to the citadel was a short one, since the capital of the Southern Lands was a mere sunrise away from the borderlands. Sesshomaru stormed in without asking for permission, his face set in a cold mask of fury. The guards posted at the gate shared glances and could only look on as Sesshomaru decimated the entrance with his poison whip, sitting proudly on his mount. The Southern Lord had hurried out, protests ready, but a single glance from Sesshomaru had the old demon swallowing it all and bowing in deference.

Head held high, Sesshomaru had all but conquered the capital in seconds and was assigned a suite along with his guests. Inu Yasha and Kouga headed off with the humans to see to their mounts, Kikyo and Shippo stuck with him.

Once in the room, Sesshomaru laid Kagome down gently, unraveling her from her travel bedroll and laying her out with unmasked care. Drawing Tensaiga, his eyes narrowed.

This isn't over.

With a frown, the blade sang in dulcet tones as it was swung in a clear, elegant sweep. Finally… and Sesshomaru agreed.

"This Sesshomaru's tea is cold," Sesshomaru informed Lord Hiten, not even lowering his gaze from Hiten's own. Hiten shuddered minutely, realizing the threat behind the steady, continued eye contact. He lowered his head as a whole, presenting his neck in a submissive gesture he'd been taught by the wondering monk Mushin during his many travels to the Higurashi Fortress with his apprentice. Sesshomaru's gaze sharpened and he nodded minutely in approval.

Deftly, Hiten rose and gave a call, gesturing to a guard and ordering his people to return to their post, plus a second pot of tea. Since Sesshomaru had not touched his green tea, Hiten decided to order a different flavor, instead asking for sweet jasmine. The guard nodded and scurried to comply, exiting the guest area and repeating the message. Quickly, the area was once again full of activity, a maid entering the Main Tea room and removing the previous cups of tea and the pot. Nervousness made her hand wobble and Sesshomaru's tea cup toppled. With blinding speeds, Sesshomaru caught it before the drink could slosh out and stain his clothing, shooting the hyperventilating woman a cool look.

She lowered her eyes and flinched when Hiten growled softly in displeasure, knowing she was going to get punished for erring in the presence of the Lord of the Western Lands. A pale hand holding the cup appeared in her line of vision. She raised her head shyly, meeting Sesshomaru's gaze. The demon's demeanor had not changed and he merely offered the cup without reprimand, waiting patiently for her to take it. Smiling slightly, she took the cup, placed it on the tray with the rest of the set and practically ran out of the room, only just remembering to observe the rules of proper etiquette by kneeling by the door, opening it, passing through with the tray, kneeling again on the other side and closing the sliding door behind her with a snap. Quick, shuffling footsteps sounded, echoed and vanished.

Sesshomaru turned to face Hiten, who resumed kneeling in proper seiza position, and faced his Lord and Master dutifully. Sesshomaru remained silent as they waited for the tea, apparently completely comfortable in putting their conversation off in lieu of his beverage, and Hiten was quite content to remain mute as well. Beside him, his wife's hands fidgeted in impatience, but she did not speak. Hiten could not reach out to pacify her and he could only inhale, trying to convey calm to her. She graced him with a smile, raising her head just a little to allow him to see the curl of her painted lips.

Sesshomaru watched the exchange with flickers of curiosity, having never witnessed the depth of a marriage bond between human beings. Intrigued, he took a deep breath, identifying and mystified by the scents in the air. When it came to his nose, Sesshomaru's curiosity was positively feline and it interested him to note that his presence seemed to unite the two humans before him, treating him like a threat to their pack. In agreement with their assessment, Sesshomaru approved.

Perhaps… not so different after all, he conceded.

The tea arrived, carried by an older, calmer maid. She served them whilst kneeling in traditional shikko style, a smooth and uniform movement the taiyoukai took the time to admire. It seemed his hosts considered him deserving of such attention and Sesshomaru favored their line of thinking. Properly, the woman presented the cups upon the three important figures present and served the guest first, the steam wafting and tickling the taiyoukai's nose. Inwardly pleased, Sesshomaru took the time to sniff the alluring scent, noting the connotations of the wood, the herbs and the fine state in which they had been before they had been dried under the sun. Humans did not have much to boast, but their tea was nothing to demean and Sesshomaru was pleased to note that the Higurashi Fortress seemed to value even the art of tea. The mixture was carefully cultivated, steeped and prepared. It mildly displeased him the lady of the house did not prepare it for him, but he understood that this was not the proper room for the ceremony and allowed for the misstep.

Now served, the taiyoukai allowed it to cool before picking it up carefully and taking a small sip. Once he tastes his tea, Hiten and his wife followed suit, each taking a moment to savor it before bringing it down on the low table. Sesshomaru used his pinkie to support the cup and set it down noiselessly, now directing his attentions back to the Lord of the Higurashi Fortress. Hiten, noticing his scrutiny, put his tea down and straightened, ready.

"Your son has passed away," Sesshomaru informed him in a soft voice, ignoring the vague gagging noise Hiten's lady made when she understood him as she drank her tea. Color drained from Lord Hiten's face and he shooed the maid, who quickly left the room, the news and the tray with the pot behind. That was, until he realized the words Sesshomaru had used, and he managed to calm his quickly beating heart, leveling the taiyoukai a calculating stare.

"My son passed away," he parroted, and dropped his gaze when Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed in annoyance at having his words repeated to him. The Lord of the West remained silent, clearly expecting the human to understand. "My son Hatori passed away," he clarified, and tolerated the scathing look his wife shot him. He was acting like he was stuck in the news, but he knew the demon lord was driving at something when he'd worded it like that. Sesshomaru was an avidly intelligent being, and his every word was a word well spent. Nothing was said in excess and Hiten realized just then what was being said. "How did my son die?"

"Honorably," Sesshomaru responded simply, unwilling to delve into it with the wife looking like she was about to faint. He was not one to be lenient with his words for the sake of someone's delicate sensibilities, but his instincts begged him to spare the woman the horror her 'son' had been put through under his service. Pulling a scroll out of his voluminous, silken sleeves, he placed it on the table and pushed it toward his hosts. The contents of the scroll were self-explanatory if they were read, so Sesshomaru sat back to permit the man time to peruse their contents. Taking up his cup, he allowed himself to relish in the luxurious taste and scent of his tea, planning on asking for a batch to take home with him.

Hiten quickly scanned the neat hand-writing and had to swallow a gasp when he realized he was looking at the formal documentation of Hatori's death. At the very bottom sat Sesshomaru's distinctive signature, making the scroll legal in his lands.

Remembering himself, and sensing the gaze of the humans before him, Sesshomaru lowered his tea, placing it softly on the low mahogany table. Extracting four scrolls, two at a time, he presented them. Again, they were self-explanatory, and Hiten broke the official Land of the West seal on all three and read them, blinking a few times as he digested the words.

"They requested to become wards of my Lord Sesshomaru-sama?" He blurted, unable to contain the question or making it sound a little less incredulous as he openly stared in shock at the three scrolls he'd laid out before him on the table.

Sesshomaru allowed a single, imperious brow to arch elegantly in answer and when the wife herself turned to look at him, he deigned to respond in a more verbose manner. "They have been granted the favor and will from henceforth live under this Sesshomaru's protection," he declared with a mildly haughty tilt of his chin. Miroku and Sango has requested to come under his protection and soon after that, arranged to be wed with his permission, moving out of his Castle and into their own abode a day's journey from his formal home. Kohaku had also requested the transfer and was living among his soldiers, the shy boy managing to inhabit the barracks happily and peacefully with his army. It was an astounding turn of events, but Sesshomaru was pleased to bring him into his home, since the boy had a surprising loyalty and a kind heart. It also brought Rin joy to finally have a playmate of her own kind and it pleased Sesshomaru allow his wards happiness.

Now that the bridge had been made, he withdrew two more scrolls from his sleeves, presenting them to his hosts and returning to his tea. Hiten handed the other scrolls to his wife, who rolled them up carefully and set them aside a little to the left of her knee. This time, Hiten dropped the scrolls in his hands, staring uncomprehending at the parchments as he tried to digest the information in them. The Lady of the Higurashi Fortress peaked over his shoulder to read the scrolls and gasped, covering her mouth as she stared tearfully at the words.

Sesshomaru pretended to ignore their reactions, putting his empty cup down and speaking slowly as he inspected the clever sakura design carved into the low table. "Your daughter Kikyo has chosen to wed my brother and will soon be expecting the birth of her first child," said he, tapping his claw thoughtfully on the table. "You were not permitted to attend to the ceremony due to tradition, but you may visit your daughter whenever you please in their new home."

Hiten shook his head, raising glassy eyes to stare at the taiyoukai sitting before him. "This cannot be," he murmured, distraught. Beside him, his wife gave a small hiccup, carefully extracting a small square of cloth from her wide obi to dab at the tears that escaped her.

"You would do this?" The woman asked in a voice that trembled like a leaf in the breeze, looking surprisingly more collected than her husband.

Sesshomaru nodded obligingly, looking masterfully regal as he accepted the gratitude in her gaze. "It pleases me to do so," he replied and stood to leave, adding in a lofty voice. "This Sesshomaru had finished his business with you."

His hosts bowed in a deep dogeza, the wife touching daintily with three fingers and her husband beside her with both hands fully on the ground. Accepting the gesture with a bow of his own, Sesshomaru swept out of the room, head held high.

On the table, sat a birth certificate for a citizen of the West named "Kagome" along with a mating official documentation, clearly stating the bond between Inu no Taishou Sesshomaru-sama and Kagome-sama. Both scrolls were signed and stamped, legalizing the identity of their daughter and freeing her of her bonds to the Higurashi Fortress.

"Kagome, Kagome!"

The shout rang out, interrupting the general peace and making blue eyes lift from the words on the scroll to gaze at the fox child frolicking in the flowers, giggling as he chased and pseudo-hunted the butterflies careering on the breezes above his head.

Shippo laughed as he ran towards her, cupping something between his small hands. Delighted, he showed her the black and red butterfly he'd managed to capture, its wings moving as the bug stayed still in his steady grasp. Kagome smiled and laughed indulgently for her kit, praising him for his good work and soon convincing him to let it go. He pouted at this, but instead she challenged him into catching as many as he could, without hurting them. The small kit smiled widely and was soon back amongst the flowers, shouting energetically as he demanded the butterflies come closer and allow him to catch them. Kagome thought about scolding him for being so loud when he was supposedly hunting, but she left it as it was, choosing instead to allow the kit to have his fun.

"You're spoilin' him," a gruff voice informed, and Kagome smiled as she looked back at the hanyou. Inu Yasha strode forward to sit at her side, managing to make the act look like it was the hardest thing he'd ever done. Among her silks and finery, Kagome laughed invitingly, setting down her scroll as she smiled amiably at Inu Yasha.

"He's a boy. He'll have more than enough time to be an adult later," she informed him sagely, to which he rolled his eyes.

"That kit's got more sass than a street urchin and you know it, Kagome." Swathed in fire rat and righteous indignity, Inu Yasha turned his nose up… but he remained seated, his ears turning to listen as Kagome gave into free spirited laughter again. In spite of his behavior, the hanyou would come join her as much as he could whenever Sesshomaru was away for extended periods of time, keeping her company. Kagome was a kind soul and the hanyou enjoyed being around her, seeking the acceptance she freely gave.

A small smile softened the corners of his mouth and the hanyou shook his head. "How's my brother?"

Kagome hummed, a habit she picked out from the taiyoukai himself, and answered with a passive smile. "He's been out all week. The Northern Territories have been demanding his attentions since the death of Naraku, and since he was the one to kill him, there have been talks about uniting the lands but…"

"The other Lords ain't agreein', yeah, I get it." Inu Yasha nodded, and annoyed curl of his lips giving his face a mild look of scorn. "My bastard of a brother's a good guy, in his own way." That was as much of an admission of admiration Inu Yasha was going to give, tantamount when compared to his previous opinions of his half-brother. Kagome giggled into her hand, eyes twinkling merrily as she took his gruff disposition for what it really was. Inu Yasha gave her a side-ways glace and looked away, intent on the brat in the flowers, running gaily in the colorful plants.

Instead of pressing the issue, Kagome chose to tactfully change the subject. "How is Kikyou?"

Pleased at the mention of his mate, the hanyou smiled, red tinting his cheeks as he folded his hands in his sleeves, looking a little more relaxed. "She's doin' fine. The girls are as spirited as ever and she's expectin' again." A cheery gasp and a clasp of hands told Inu Yasha Kagome's positive reaction, and the hanyou awarded her with an amused glance. Heartfelt congratulations were in order and Inu Yasha accepted them with as much dignity as he could muster with half a smile softening his rough features.

"You're going to have a house as full as Sango's soon," Kagome declared confidently, another smile slipping out as she patted Inu Yasha's arm. The hanyou snorted, shaking his head expressively.

"It'll be impossible to catch up to that brood," he declared authoritatively, silver mane flying in all directions. "She'll have another set soon, twins too. With the girls and the boy, that'll total five brats underfoot." At Kagome's delighted expression, Inu Yasha's smile softened.

"You should go visit them sometime," he suggested, but Kagome shook her head, looking away. Her blue eyes gazed solemnly at the horizon, following the cut of the mountains far away as she inhaled.

"I can't," she informed him quietly, and the hanyou rolled his eyes, standing to leave and head home.

"Kagome, you have my bastard of a brother wrapped around your little finger," he told her magnanimously, crossing his arms again and looking out again as Shippo whooped and counted his twentieth catch of the day loudly, waving at his foster mother. Kagome smiled and waved back, reaching to tuck a dark curl back behind her ear.

She then looked up at Inu Yasha, patting her belly. "Not this late into my own pregnancy and you know that," she told him, gracing him with an amiable if not stern look. Inu Yasha laughed then nodded, shaking his own head.

"It's instincts, Kagome, he can't help himself." She shot him an amused glace, raising an imperious brow at his words. Inu Yasha dismissed it, shrugging unrepentantly and proclaiming the past was the past. With a nod at her and a shout at Shippo, Inu Yasha excused himself and left.

Kagome sat in silence for a moment, not bothering to retake her reading as she watched her kit contentedly, hand placed protectively over her swollen stomach. A soft footfall alerted her and she smiled brightly as the sun was blocked by the tall figure at her side. White silk with patterned red sakura blossoms swayed in the breeze, boots claiming the territory of the taiyoukai. Silver hair caught the sunlight in shimmering displays and golden eyes slanted her way, warming minutely at the edges as they landed on her.

"I thought you weren't coming home for another week," she murmured softly as Sesshomaru crouched to have better access, snuffling her and reasserting her scent in his memory. Soon, he'd dragged her into his lap, nuzzling her neck, jaw and the roots of her hair at the base of her skull, humming softly. Nosing her thoroughly in his inspection, his hands were also working overtime to familiarize themselves again with his mate, noting the subtlest of differences in her shape and scent. Kagome was used to this treatment, after so much time at his side, and submitted to it trustingly, relaxing as he unobtrusively overlaid her scent with his own, marking his territory the canine way.

Soon, he found his way to her back, kneading the knots with gentle, warm fingers. The discomforts of her pregnancy were scarce, but the back aches from the weight of the baby were incredibly painful. Usually, Sesshomaru would submit her to an impromptu massage with clever hands, keeping the pain at bay. After a week without his loving gesture, the ache was impossibly wretched. Keen and aware of his mate, the taiyoukai wordlessly took care of the problem; rumbling comfortingly into her ear as he soothed the pins and needled that plagued her constantly. Kagome leaned into his ministrations with a gusty sigh, clearly seeking the comfort deprived by the distance between them. The expecting mother was human, though his shared lifespan would guarantee she'd live a long time, it still surprised Sesshomaru how she was able to pick up on his non-verbal cues so quickly. Her insight to his behavior enabled a smooth courtship that had lead to their mating and it soothed his instincts that she was able to pick up on his need to serve and protect her with ease. She took up the mantle as his Lady like a duck took to water and she handled him with love, affection and deference, which he returned.


His long, elegant hands came to rest possessively over her stomach, feeling the child within her moving energetically when it recognized the youki of its male parent. Pleased, Sesshomaru sat back, leaning against the tree Kagome had settled under to keep the afternoon heat at bay. As they sat there, Kagome placed her hands over his, lazily tracing the vivid striped that decorated Sesshomaru's hands, wrists and arms. He allowed these light explorations of his markings, his chest thrumming softly as proof of his contentment.

"The trip was uneventful," the taiyoukai informed her, but the cues of his body gave him away and the shaking in his youki told her a different story. Sesshomaru had raced back just for her and it warmed her to know that her mate cherished her thusly. The taiyoukai was taciturn and insipid in public, but once it was just them, he proved to be quite creative and assertive in proving just how much he loved her.

She was his and he was hers, there was no other way about it.

Sesshomaru's arrival had come to the attention of their foster son, who ran in loops before racing to join the intertwined adults, swarming into their embrace and sniffing at his father, bushy tail wagging in excitement. Sesshomaru's small smile was gift enough and Shippo went to tell him the adventures of the past week, both of his parents content to sit back and enjoy the energetic narration.

The day was lazy, a good day for idleness.

"Hnn," Sesshomaru shared after Shippo ended his mile-a-minute story and went back to catching butterflies, now chasing them with renewed energy and silence, stalking his quarry for a moment before giving in to childish excitement and merely storming his way into the fray. Sesshomaru watched with half-mast eyes, revealing the colorful markings upon his eyelids, curled up as he was around his mate. Yes, he decided with somber finality as he tightened his hold on Kagome.

The day was a good day.


Updated in record time AND managing to top my goal of 6,000 words. I'm pleased. Originally, it was 3,000 words long, but my story bullied me into doubling its length and presenting a much more complete ending for you all, because you deserve it.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU all so very much for sticking around. The Mating Ball was my baby, and you can see my growth (or reversal?) as time went by in-between chapters. I cannot believe how long it has been, but I could not have made it without you.

SPECIAL THANKS to xXKillorbeKilledXx and Yautja's Blooded Pet, whose words and conversation made my struggle completely worthwhile. You two prodded and put up with me, pushing me along even if you didn't know it.

You guys were the reason this story reached its ending instead of meeting an end and the eraser of doom from my hard drive.

My love, for ALL of you, is eternal and unrivalled.

Do I plan on looking back and fixing it? Maaaaaaybe, if I don't feel too sentimental or horrified about it.

Again, all of you, THANK YOU so much for your support. I plan to run that phrase to the ground and suck it dry, because even then, it would not be enough.