Chords of the band could be heard nearly a block away and Kagome's body hummed with anticipation of kicking up her heels and dancing the night away. Tightening her grip on Sesshomaru's arm, she smiled up at him, her grin widening before looking ahead of her at all the cars parked along the side of the street and filling the drive of the dance hall.
Kagome had decided on walking to Ayumi's formal and she had been hard pressed not to laugh the entire way. While she had chosen to wear a mask, Sesshomaru had gone against it. The demonic markings and the pointed ears, on this night of the masquerade, seemed more of an elaborate costume than an oddity. His tall frame, arrogant stance and his remarkable features drew all sorts of stares and Kagome pressed closer, proud to be the woman on his arm.
Pausing at the door to be signed in, Sesshomaru marveled at the glow across Kagome's face; the sparkle in her honeyed eyes, the excited tremble in her body, her beaming smile. Laying a hand on the small of her back, he lead her through the doorway and down the wide staircase to the main floor.
To their left, rectangular tables; filled to over flowing with punches and edibles stood the entire length of the wall, to their right; round tables with cream-colored lace tablecloths and chairs spread across the floor. High above their heads, hung from the intricately designed plaster ceiling, six chandeliers shone bright and filled the large expanse of the room with a soft glow. Directly ahead, the hired band was playing a mellow tune from behind a make-shift wall of lattice, decorated with strings of lights and mulit-colored boughs of leaves to resemble a forest wall.
Early yet, already the floor was covered with throngs of colorfully dressed people all mingling and laughing. The chatter became a buzz to their ears and Kagome laughed as a couple dressed as a monk and priestess passed by them.
Shifting through the masses they slowly made their way to the punch bowls. Filling a short-stemmed wine glass for Kagome and then ordering sake for himself, they sipped from their drinks and once more they pushed through the crowd and sat at a table. Crossing her legs, Kagome's foot tapped to the beat of the music, her eyes constantly shifting from face to covered face trying to figure out who each person was. She thought once she recgonized Hojo, dressed in a black tux with a half-faced white porcelin mask, but the man had laughed and Kagome winced. Hojo's laugh had never been that loud or obnoxious.
Sesshomaru was hard-pressed to not growl out loud with all the stares Kagome was drawing. From across the room, a group of men dressed as white striped tigers openly oogled his mate, one was so brazen as to sneer at Sesshomaru before turning his back to him.
Sipping the rest of his sake, he set the dish on the table and rising, he held his hand out to Kagome.
"Would you care to dance, my love?"
Her eyes lit up and shrugging the shawl off her shoulders, she rose to her feet and daintly laid her hand in his.
Kagome had been mildly surprised that Sesshomaru could dance, but she had been stunned that he actually enjoyed it.
Every gathering of the Cardinal Lords had been in the guise of a ball and attending her first, Kagome had moped thinking that she'd end up standing at Sesshomaru's side while he talked war strategies and argued bitterly with most of the guests. Instead, she had been swept to the dance floor and kept on her toes as she had been swirled around until she was dizzy and begged for a break.
Tonight, she was ready and wanted nothing more than to show off her mate.
Flushing, Kagome smiled seductivly, her gaze burning into his over top her hand; pressed to his lips. Raising her arm up high, he lead her out to the middle of the floor, pulling her close with his hand on the small of her back.
A quicker rhythm flowed through the hidden speakers and Kagome grinned as she recgonized the song. Humming along to the words in her head, she laughed as she was spun out and back in.
One hand on his shoulder, the other held tightly in his, with his hand high on her back they glided with the music. Her fingertips tapped against his shoulder, her feet stepping in time, her head swaying as they swirled.
Onlookers gasped at the perfect unison of the couple, the natural grace of the man made jaws drop as he side stepped in swirls. The deep red of the woman's dress flowed with her, exposing her long legs as it lifted with the bounce of her dance steps.
Couples surrounding the pair paused mid-step to watch them, some with jealousy, most in awe.
The slightest dimple creased Sesshomaru's cheek when he smirked and leaned in to Kagome to whisper in her ear.
"It is my belief that I may have competition for your attention this evening, my love"
Off to the side, Ayumi, Eri and Yuka gasped as the woman's laughter rang out, knowing right away that the dancer was Kagome and the unknown man could possibly be the mysterious father of her child.
Waiting for the song to end and the next to begin, the trio manevered through the mass of swaying bodies until they stood around the ring surrounding Kagome and the tall, almost beautiful man dancing with her. Ayumi stepped forward but stopped still when his eyes raised to her, the golden iris's flashing as he leaned in to Kagome.
"There appears to be a black furred pest seeking your attention, Kagome"
Sesshomaru kissed her cheek and Kagome turned around to find herself facing three masked women. One dressed as a winter blizzard with an ice blue kimono and fake snow in her hair, another, she assumed was a fire maiden in an orange and red kimono embroidered in flames, and the other, a black cat with a striking black evening gown, cat ears on her head and whiskers on her face.
Blinking, Kagome eyed the three women until the cat spoke up.
"Kagome? That's you, right?"
"Uh..yah...wait a sec, Ayumi? Eri? Yuka?!"
Squealing, the four girls jumped together and hugged. Disentangling, the trio began sending rapid-fire questions at Kagome until she threw her palms up in a time-out.
"Hold-up! Okay, first of all, Ayumi, thank you for the invitation and you three look amazing!"
Sharing bewildered glances, they turned on Kagome again.
"Us? Look at you!, I'd never guess that you had a child!"
"That's right! Gosh, the last time I saw you, you still had a couple months to go! What did you have? A boy? Or a girl?"
"Don't forget to introduce us to that hottie glaring at us from over your shoulder, Kagome!"
Sweatdropping, Kagome turned to Sesshomaru, smiled, and grabbing his hand she brought him forward.
"Ayumi, Eri, Yuka, this is Sesshomaru; my husband. We have a ten-month-old daughter; Hinagiku"
The three girls screeched in unison.
Far off in a corner, dressed in black dress slacks and a white long sleeved dress shirt with a red silk tie, a black haired man snickered, downed a cup of sake and slowly made his way through the crowd toward the group of screeching women in the center.
Kagome cringed and sent an apologetic glance toward Sesshomaru, who in turn raised a brow and smirking, bowed his head to the girls and excused himself.
Fuming that he would leave her to defend herself against her sorely nosy friends, she turned back to them and with a sheepish smile, let them drag her off to the side for interogation, wishing she had a full drink in her hand.
Releasing her ridgid grip on Kagome's arm, Yuka placed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips.
"Well, Kagome? Spill it! And don't be evasive, I want the whole story! Right girls?!"
Sweatdropping, Kagome searched the sea of dancers for Sesshomaru and coming up short, she sighed heavily.
"Alright, do you remember Inuyasha?"
"I think so, the bossy boyfriend we met at your place? The two-timer?"
"Uh...yah, that one. Well, we had a fight, a bad one and I ended up staying with Sesshomaru; his brother. Long story short; he and I fell for eachother and we, uh, married"
Raising her hand, the three girls squeeled as they inspected the ring, so enthralled, none of them noticed the addition to their group.
"Kagome?" Gasping in recgonition of the voice, Kagome turned, her eyes widening.
"Hojo?!" The corner of his mouth turned up, revealing faux vampire teeth.
Dressed entirely in black, his violet satin lined cape draped over his left shoulder and fell to his knees. His hair had grown and wisped the outer corner of his eyes and the nape of his neck. Twitching, Kagome realized that she only came to his shoulders. All in all, she thought the years had been nice to Hojo.
"Indeed, it's been a while, Kagome. You seem to have fared well"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so" Neither picked up on the snickers behind them.
"Kagome, would you do me the honor of a dance?"
"Uh, sure?" Flinging a mock glare at her 'tsk-ing' friends, Kagome laid her hand in his and was led out to the floor.
Facing eachother, Hojo laid his hand on the small of her back and held her hand in a loose grip. Stepping softly to the slow tempo, Kagome smiled sweetly to hide her amusment of Hojo's unsure motions in comparison to her mate's natural grace and dominance. The sharp scent of his cologne nearly choked her, as she was used to Sesshomaru's fresh woodsy aroma and she turned her head discreetly to take a breath.
"Hmm, I never would have thought you'd be one to get a tattoo, Kagome. Your eyes are different too, contacts?"
Kagome frowned in confusion for a second, then she laughed lightly when she remembered her mate's mark on her neck.
"Uh yeah. The tattoo was an...impulse...thing, and, uh yeah, I wear contacts now, not that I need them, but I like the color"
"Hmm, I see"
Drunken slurs drew their attention in time to see a sloshed angel stumble through the crowd and in passing them by, tripped over her shimmering white dress and elbowed Kagome between the shoulder blades, driving her straight into Hojo's chest.
"Whoops!" Giggling, the blond straightened herself and clumsily walked away.
Mortified and blushing deeply, Kagome braced her hands on Hojo's chest to push away, but felt his arms sneak around her and pull her closer.
"Hojo? I'm fi-"
Her words were cut off when he tilted her head and kissed her softly.
Tearing her mouth away, Kagome smashed her hand against his mouth and hissed, the sharp tingling in her neck irritating and worrisome.
"Hojo?! What do you think your doing?!"
"Hands off her, buddy! Or I'll remove them for you!"
Gasping, Kagome spun around and nearly collided into Inuyasha.
His hand shot out and grasping her upper arm, he gently tugged her away to stand behind him, never breaking his violet eyed glare at Hojo.
"I'm not sure who you are, but this is not your affair. I was protecting Kagome from furthur injury"
Inuyasha scoffed. "Whatever. You can explain that one to Sesshomaru, he'll be here in a sec"
Sure enough, Kagome caught sight of him passing through the sea of dancers in their direction.
Hands held in tight fists at his sides, Hojo's gaze locked onto Kagome's.
"Who's this 'Sesshomaru'? I've never heard of him, what's he to do with this?"
Flinging her left hand over Inuyasha's shoulder, Kagome flashed Hojo her ring.
"He's my husband, Hojo. He's the father of my child!"
Blood drained from Hojo's face. Sputtering, he stared at the band on her finger and flinched with the cool aura of tension rippling off the man stepping into the fray. He had to tilt his head to peer into the narrowed eyes of Kagome's 'husband', eyes the same color as hers.
Kagome stepped into Sesshomaru's arms and turned to give Hojo a sympathy-filled glance.
"I'm sorry, Hojo"
Blinking, Hojo bowed his head, more to hide his blush than in apology.
"No, it's okay. I understand. That was very presumptious of me, Kagome. I apologize"
Flinging his cape, Hojo turned away and stalked off. Sesshomaru ignored him and hugged Kagome tighter. Inuyasha crossed his arms and growled under his breath.
"I never did like that 'hobo' guy..."
Giggling, Kagome sighed heavily against Sesshomaru's chest before turning around abruptly and backhanding Inuyasha against his shoulder. Recoiling from the strike, he stepped back a couple steps and threw his arms up in defence.
"Oie!, what was that for?!"
Trying hard not to smile, Kagome glared and planted her hands on her hips.
"For not telling me that you'd be here! I don't get it! I mean...Gah! Explain! Now!"
Grinning, Inuyasha dusted off the sleeves of his white dress shirt, straightened his red tie and pointed at Sesshomaru.
"Didjya think I'd miss the chance to see that stuck-up dress like a human and parade around amongst a bunch of 'em, dancing? Nah unh!
"I had your mom help me get ready for this thing, and since I knew I'd be...like this..." He indicated his black hair and violet eyes. "...it made coming here all that much easier. I waaas just gonna come in my kimono, but your mom wouldn't hear of it and decided to strangle me with this thing instead"
Tugging on the tie, he stuck out his tongue. Kagome burst out laughing.
"Well, guess what, Inuyasha..." Glancing up over her shoulder at Sesshomaru, she winked and let a smug grin settle on her lips. "To make it up to me, you are going to dance with me"
A look of pure horror flashed across Inuyasha's face, Sesshomaru chuckled into Kagome's ear.
"Take care, Love, for your feet may well be punished severely"
"I heard that, Sesshomaru!"
Grinning brightly, Kagome snatched Inuyasha's sleeve and drug him out to the center of the dance floor.
Inuyasha, unsure of where it was safe to put his hands, waited for Kagome to place them on her hips and flinging her hands around his neck, she urged him to lead them into a slow dance. Humming softly to the music, she sashayed a few steps when the music held it's note and kicked up, the beat pulsing and rapid.
The lights dimmed slightly and new ones flashed from behind the fake wall; Kagome grinned.
"Kagome?" Inuyasha's eyes widened when she threw her arms up in the air and began to sway to the beat. Laughing at his startled look, she grabbed his hands from her waist and leaned in to him.
"Are you scared Sesshy won't approve?"
"Like I care what he thinks!"
"Well then, come on! Dance with me!"
The corner of Inuyasha's mouth turned up and a startled Kagome was dipped so low, she felt her hair touch the ground and was raised back up and brought flush against him.
"You asked for it..."
Spinning her around, his hands on her stomach and hip, he pulled her back against him, his body swayed, hips twisting. Kagome blushed as she was nearly brought to grinding and was spun out and back in to face him. His hand held hers with ease and confidance and grinning feral, he brought her closer until she could feel his chest rising and falling against hers.
The muscles in his shoulder shifted beneath her hand as they turned and weaved, every step seemingly choreographed as they glided.
As the song neared it's ending, the beat picked up and Kagome gasped as she was literally lifted off her feet and spun, her hands gripped his shoulders to steady herself and she was flung back and draped over his arm. Rising up, she applauded with the crowd and with Inuyasha's hand on her waist; guiding her as she heaved for breath, they made their way to her table.
Seeing Kagome plop down in her chair and grasp the edge of the table as she nearly fell sideways, Sesshomaru raised a brow at his brother; pulling a chair from another table and setting it between the couple, he sprawled; one arm over the back and the other resting on the table top.
"Inu-Huff!-yasha, where-Huff!, did you learn-Huff!, to dance like that?!"
Eying the fresh glass of punch Sesshomaru had brought to the table earlier, Kagome gulped down half, then wisked her mask off and tossed it to the table.
"Feh, when my mother was still alive, she decided to teach me the basics. Then Ki...Kikyo tried to teach me, then last minute, your mom and Sota showed me a few things. Heh, it's not hard"
"Indeed" Sesshomaru's claws tapped the side of the empty sake bottle as Inuyasha took the liberty of tossing off the rest.
"I see you have finally succumbed to drinking away your woes"
Inuyasha snarled from the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, stuff it, pampered-purebred-poodle!"
"Well, this is where you're hiding, Kagome!"
Twisting in her seat with a gasp and an eye twitch, Kagome grinned sheepishly as Yuka, Eri and Ayumi eyed Inuyasha; eyeing them back.
"How did your dance with Hojo go?" Sesshomaru and Inuyasha growled under their breaths, Kagome hushed them both with a look.
"Heh, heh, don't ask"
The girls shared glances. Eri stepped forward and held her hand out to Inuyasha.
"Hi, I'm Eri. I don't believe we've met" He smirked and flintching when Kagome kicked him under the table, he shook her hand.
"Inuyasha, and yah, we have. At Kagome's"
Eri stepped closer, smiling sweetly. Kagome dropped her head on the table and groaned.
"Oh, wait! Inuyasha? You had that weird hair color then, I remember now! You must have dyed it"
"Oh, so...he's your brother? I guess I can see that"
"So now that Kagome's taken, this means you're on the market, right?"
"Great! Let's dance!"
The chair screeched across the floor as Inuyasha was hauled away by the fire maiden, watched from behind by four sets of blinking eyes.
Shoes, shawl and mask clacking together in her hand, Kagome hugged her friends and wearily turned away, nearly tripping, and waved her shoes over her head in another goodbye. Ahead of her, the brothers rolled their eyes and Inuyasha continued to wipe the remaining smudges of lipstick off his neck.
Passing through the double doors, Kagome shivered and winced as her bare feet hit the cool pavement. Sesshomaru reached forward to lift her but stopped when Inuyasha gripped his shoulder with his hand.
"Hey, I got 'er this time, kay"
Stepping around Kagome he gave her a smirk and knelt down. A thankful sigh escaped her as she threw her arms around his neck and was lifted into a piggyback.
Minutes into their treck home Kagome had fallen asleep, her arms dangling over Inuyasha's shoulders, her head nestled against his. Sesshomaru carrying her mask, shoes and shawl.
"Heh, think she was tired?"
Walking beside him, Sesshomaru glanced their way from the corner of his eyes. The bright street lamps buzzing, the traffic thin so late in the night as the odd car passed by. From behind, they could still hear the bass of the music.
"It appears so" A thoughtful sigh slipped from Inuyasha.
"Two years and I still can't get over it; you mating Kagome, or her choosing you for that matter.
"You had your chance, Inuyasha"
"I know, Sesshomaru. I never ment to hurt her, either. In a twisted sorta way, I'm thankful that you came when you did, that day. I could have killed her"
Turning a corner, Sesshomaru caught the pained expression written over Inuyasha's face before the light faded, and by the next street lamp his expression had gone vaguely blank.
"She has long since forgiven you, Inuyasha. The proof is in the absence of the necklace"
"Yeah" Spotting the shrine up ahead, Inuyasha paused.
"Take her, will ya. I'm gonna head back"
Gently transfering Kagome to Sesshomaru's arms so that she was carried bridal style with her head braced on his shoulder, they silently traveled up the stairs side by side. Reaching the top, Inuyasha made to cut across and head for the wellhouse when Sesshomaru's voice stopped him.
"Wha-" In turning, he saw Kagome slip from Sesshomaru's arms to stand on her feet.
She shivered away the chill and dashed straight for Inuyasha, throwing her arms around his neck in a tight hug.
"Thank you, Inuyasha. I'm glad you came, it ment a lot to me"
Stepping away, she turned toward Sesshomaru to gather her things.
"I'm gonna check on Hinagiku and head to bed, 'kay"
"I will be up in a moment, sweet" She nodded and walked into the house.
A draft blew across the yard, flipping silver and black hair over their shoulders as they watched her bedroom window light up and her shadow float across the room.
"Do you still pine for my mate, Inuyasha?"
Crossing his arms over his chest, he turned to face Sesshomaru.
"Not likely, I've known her longer than you have, is all. Despite what she might have thought, I loved her, Sesshomaru. I still do, but now, it's kinda like how I care for the squirt"
"You're quite fond of Hinagiku" A tiny smile drew Inuyasha's lips upward.
"Obviously, she's my niece, and a half-demon, but unlike me, she'll grow up surrounded by family. If I have anything to say about it, she'll never know what it's like to be alone"
Warmth filled Sesshomaru's eyes, unseen by Inuyasha.
"So, you have taken it upon yourself to protect my daughter?"
"Don't get all huffy!"
A sharp cry drew their attention to Kagome's window in time to see her walk by and back again, cradling Hinagiku, Kagome's songful voice carrying in the slight breeze.
"You're lucky, Sesshomaru" His eyes widened with Inuyasha's odd remark.
"Explain" Turning away, Inuyasha spoke over his shoulder.
"Kagome's waiting. I'll catch ya later"
"Inuyasha, you claim to be alone, but you have failed to consider one important detail"
"And what's that, hunh?"
"I am still your brother"
"Feh, big deal. If it weren't for Kagome, one of us would have killed the other by now"
Blinking, Inuyasha fell back a step when Sesshomaru vanished and reappeared to stand before him.
"Inuyasha, always the pest, once more you fail to grasp the situation"
"Look it, I don't care. Tell Kagome I'll drop back tomorrow to get my stuff"
"Why the rush, Inuyasha, per chance, do you have someone waiting?"
"No! Look it, I just don't wanna fight with you, Sesshomaru. Kagome's had a good night and I don't wanna mess it up"
Frustrated, Inuyasha swerved around him and stalked across the yard. Once again, Sesshomaru blocked his path. Cracking his knuckles, Inuyasha glared into his brother's narrowed eyes.
"Inconsiderate whelp! I sought to apologize for my ignorance of the past, but I see that you have no interest"
Inuyasha's breath escaped him and left him staring wide eyed at the ground.
Taking another step forward, Sesshomaru laid his hand on Inuyasha's shoulder, noting his brother's subtle flinch.
"It is my belief, Inuyasha, that I have long denied you the true bond of brothers. As of tonight, should you seek my council or aide, I will be there"
From her bedroom window, Kagome covered her mouth with her hand, the glimmer of tears shimmering in the moonlight as they spilled from her wide eyes. Her lips pulled up softly as she drank in the endearing scene down below.
Inuyasha staring, disbelieving, at the top of Sesshomaru's bowed head.
Turning away from the window before she was caught watching, she padded softly to Hinagiku's crib and removing the half-filled sip cup, setting it on the bed-side table, she brushed away the curls from her daughter's forehead. A tiny, silver, puppy ear twitched and smacking her rosebud lips softly, Hinagiku had fallen back asleep.
Pulling the pink blanket higher on her chest, Kagome kissed her fingertips and tenderly touched Hinagiku's cheek before turning away to the sound of Sesshomaru coming up the stairs.
Quietly entering and closing the door behind him, Kagome sauntered up to him in her baby-blue tank-top and silky pajama pants. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she smiled up at him, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Raising an arm, she patted the top of his head.
"Good boy, Sesshomaru"
Guess what... That's the end of LLPB! - Sobs uncontrollably, then snaps back. Yeah... I will admit that there were a few times that I wanted to pull out my hair because, seriously, making Sesshomaru fall in love while remaining in a semblance of his character is NOT easy! But! -crosses fingers- Hopefully I persevered!
Big, really BIG 'Thank you's go out to every single one of you that have read LLPB. To those of you that stayed with the story for all 13 months that I have been working on it, (o.O) You all get hugs! Bear Hugs for those of you that reviewed! Yayness! I love those things!
Special thanks to my lil' bro for listening patiently as I read out loud Every. Single. Line. Sometimes twice. Oh yes.
( And now I celebrate, alone, at 5am, while feeling the strings of a plot web stir in my frazzled mind)