Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this gentle diversion… especially for the one who must remember something they've always known. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Release Day: I am celebrating the publication of an original series (written especially for my readers and published under the name FORTHRIGHT) by giving this story its long-awaited finale. If you trust my storytelling, please consider purchasing Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox, Book One in the Amaranthine Saga. But first, here is Imperceptible's "ever after."
The Lord and His Retainers
Empty days, like leaves,
Cling to limbs as they wither—
No longer needed.
Little more than lifeless husks,
Shadows of their former selves.
—Taishoumaru Kaname, Surcease of Souls (1726)
Golden eyes skimmed neat rows of tallies that decorated a centuries-old scroll. The earliest strokes were faded, but legible—more than three hundred in all. Slowly, he dipped his brush into ink and, with careful deliberation, made his annual addition.
It gleamed accusingly.
Old promises whispered and fretted and grumbled with voices from his past. These were his longest companions, his solemn duty, his deepest regrets. And he was their messenger.
Saito had made a few discreet inquiries on his behalf, and it was later than he'd realized.
No. He'd known, but he'd been putting off the inevitable. A poor strategy. Unworthy of one who had sacrificed so much. Yet he justified himself. He was giving her the time she didn't know she would need. Allowing the silence to prepare her for the messages that weighed so heavily on his conscience.
He would face her one last time.
Then everything could end.
"Mm." Takeshi shuffled through manuscript pages that sported dozens of bold slashes and neat corrections. "I'll bring your edits to the publisher tomorrow morning. I think there are fewer changes than usual," he noted brightly.
"The new editor is learning restraint."
Takeshi chuckled. "This new editor has been assigned to your books for eight years now, Mr. Inoue."
"Hnn. It has taken him that long to resist the urge to tamper with my wording."
"You'll have him completely trained in after another book or two," his agent joked. "A few inconsistencies are to be expected. Not many writers turn in handwritten manuscripts anymore. Which reminds me…." Takeshi held up his hands pleadingly. "The publisher is asking if you would consider learning to use a computer."
"They're eager to bring you into the modern age."
"Understood, sir. I only ask because I promised to speak to you about it," Takeshi said with an apologetic grin. "Now, I can face them with a clear conscience. Are you working on the new collection?"
With a flick of clawed fingertips, he slid a single sheet across the desk.
"Mm." Takeshi perused the lines of poetry. "Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, but you certainly make it sound depressing."
"I had no idea your optimism was such a fragile thing."
"No worries on that score. One of us has to look on the bright side!" Takeshi countered amiably. "Thankfully, no one seems to mind that your 'rare and insightful perspectives' are delivered with a melancholy twist."
Taishou huffed softly. "I do not write for their sakes."
Takeshi leaned forward. "Who do you write for, then?"
Restless golden eyes gazed out the window, but the only answer he offered was a one-shouldered shrug.
"I wonder what your readers would say if they knew that the famously reclusive Taishou Inoue, acclaimed for having wisdom beyond his years, is actually more than a millennia old?"
The youkai watched the drift of falling leaves in the garden beyond his office. "I do not care for autumn; it is a dying season."
"Ah," Takeshi sighed. He quietly gathered papers and slid them into his briefcase. Standing, he inquired, "How is your research coming on the anthology?"
Taishou's lips turned down slightly. "There will be a delay."
"Oh? Do you need more books? I'm sure I could locate anything you might…"
"I need to make a trip."
Stunned silence stretched, but finally the man stammered, "W-what?"
"I am going to Tokyo."
The man was completely aghast. "Sir, you never leave this place!"
"I am aware of my habits, Takeshi."
He lowered his eyes, clearly chagrined. "I meant no disrespect, Mr. Inoue."
The taiyoukai nodded, excusing the outburst, and after a few moments, he offered the barest of explanations. "I have a promise to keep."
A nondescript black sedan idled on the side of the road, blinkers flashing, one of its rear windows rolled halfway down.
"Are you sure you'll be all right, Nishi-sama?" inquired the driver uncertainly.
Golden eyes regarded him with a trace of amusement. "Are you actually concerned for my safety, Saito?"
"It's not that…" protested the gentle-eyed young man.
Reflected in the rear-view mirror, Saito's gaze was earnest as always. "I don't like dropping you off in the middle of the city in broad daylight. What if you're seen? What if you need something? What if…?"
He huffed quietly. "While it is true that I prefer my home, I am not so far removed from society that I am incapable of functioning within it. In any case, I do not intend to be seen."
"At least let me stay with you," Saito countered. "I could help you search."
"Indeed?" he asked coolly. "Have you forgotten who I am?"
"N-no, Nishi-sama." His repentant retainer bowed his head.
"Besides, I do not need to search. She is still here."
"Oh." He peered unhappily past the torii gates.
"Saito, it is highly unlikely that I will commit any social faux pas between here and the steps to the shrine." This seemed to ease the man's mind, and the youkai was satisfied to see his boyish countenance brighten. With a gentle rumble of approval, he reached for the door handle.
"Wait! Let me!"
So he folded his hands and waited until Saito hurried around to open the door for him. Emerging gracefully from the car, the youkai scanned the quiet street in both directions. "I will meet you here in two days' time."
"Do not linger," he warned, knowing the man would be tempted to do just that. "Go directly home and see to those who remain there."
Taking a deep breath to get his bearings and settle his nerves, the taiyoukai approached the steps to the Sunset Shrine, ready to revisit the piece of his past that had tied him to this future for five hundred years.
The Miko and Her Shadow
Died without death.
Lives without life.
Lost in the past.
Found in the future.
—The Long View, Tsukiyomi Rin (1884)
At the top of the stairs, his steps faltered, and he gazed fixedly at the enormous tree dominating the shrine courtyard. Goshinboku still bore the mark of his brother's sealing, and he found the scar oddly comforting. Our scars may not be visible, but we bear them nonetheless.
Withdrawing a small journal from his sleeve, he jotted the thought for later consideration. Pursing his lips, he added another. What hatred hasn't taken, time had worn away. Rereading the lines, he huffed. Autumn really did have drear effect.
The distant scratch of bristles on stone led him to the corner of a building.
A woman with graying hair swept leaves into small piles. She was thickly bundled in a woolen sweater, and her scent stirred faint recollections of a time when he'd poached new scents with every passage the miko made through the Well. Her mother, then.
With a burst of inhuman speed, he darted to the far end of the compound, where paving stones gave way to wooded paths and the scent of earth. The natural elements were a relief after the long drive through vast expanses of concrete and asphalt. Several taller buildings were visible on the surrounding hills, but the Sunset Shrine offered a haven. Evergreens that were the meager descendants of a once-proud forest muffled the constant hum of traffic. Not the absolute seclusion of home, but the mood is pleasing.
Scanning the empty courtyard with a calculating eye, he crossed to the likeliest outbuilding. No sign. But no lock, either. He let himself in.
Light pricked through hairline gaps between boards, slicing into the darkness without driving it back, and a faint creaking overhead betrayed the presence of an overhanging limb. Down a set of stairs, the Bone Eater's Well was right where he'd left it, though it was a husk of its former self.
He approached with care, senses straining.
Placing his hand on ancient timbers, he confirmed an old suspicion. The power that once defied the constraints of time no longer pooled in its depths. Not even a whisper remained. This explains, at least in part, why the miko never returned to us.
His sigh stirred the cobwebs that hung thickly from the ceiling. Dust lay undisturbed on the boarded-over shaft. Even she did not come here any longer.
Before long, the walls pressed in, driving him into the open.
He paced slowly along the edges of the courtyard and soon discovered a spot the miko clearly favored. A small bench tucked into a quiet corner, in plain view of both Goshinboku and the well house. The concentration of scents spoke of long habit. She spends time here... drinking tea.
Sensitive nostrils flared as he registered another pertinent detail.
This blend... it was my favorite.
Sesshoumaru swore silently and wished his brother hadn't doomed him to this encounter.
He was confident in his reconnoiter. Kagome lived here, but she was not home.
Seeing a chance when the woman led some visitors into the shrine's gift shop, he leapt into Goshinboku's branches.
Casting about for a good refuge, he settled on a limb still sheltered by leaves. All around him, the dry rustle of leaves created a gentle cacophony The soothing rasp drowned out less pleasant noises. Journal in hand, he let his eyes drift shut.
For the first time in centuries, he waited in the intersection between past and future.
So this was … now.
The sun set, and he knew the dinner hour had come and gone. Even so, there had been no sign of Kagome. Tapping his pencil against the page, he scanned the wistful wanderings his thoughts had taken.
No longer travels this road;
A wish barred the way.
Lengthening shadows deepened into a darkness that would make it easier to remain inconspicuous. Dropping from his hideaway, he landed lightly on booted feet. Perhaps a walk. To stretch his legs. And to track down the confounding miko.
She had always been a source of vexation. Apparently, she still lived to inconvenience him.
Buttoning her sweater and shouldering her bag, Kagome called a last goodnight to her co-workers and stepped into the chilly evening. She didn't have far to walk in order to go to and from work. The office complex was only a few blocks down and one block over from the shrine's back gate. An easy stroll.
She took her time, almost wandering past the quiet alleys of their neighborhood. All the shops and 24-hour convenience store were one street over. Lights and voices came from that direction, but she shied away. Everyone knew her. And she didn't have the strength to smile and answer the same old questions. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.
Drifting past garbage bins and locked gates, Kagome searched the sky for an evening star. Only a passing plane rewarded her efforts. The stars were dim here. Even on a new moon night.
Her steps dragged, but there was no rear guard to match stride with. Any more than there was a reason to hurry ahead.
Why did time pass so slowly here?
To think, she used to leap through it, easy as falling. Or flying. Once upon a time.
Her heart clenched around its store of bottled up longing, and she determinedly turned her thoughts to simpler things. She was off tomorrow, so she'd help Mama with the laundry. Then see if Souta needed help stocking shelves in the gift shop. And autumn meant sweeping.
Caught up in ordinary plans, Kagome didn't immediately realize that she was being followed. She wasn't even sure how she knew. No footsteps. No flicker of movement. No figure in the shadows. But her heart sped as she stole glances at the empty sidewalk behind.
The brush of another's presence sent a half-forgotten thrill through her heart. After weeks had turned to months, and months had become years, she'd concluded that youkai hadn't survived to her era. They were a thing of the past. Lost to time. Lost to her.
But she could feel something.
Tightening her grip on her purse strap, she quietly called, "Who's there?"
From the shadows stepped a tall figure. His shapeless silhouette suggested traditional attire—a half-coat or kimono over hakama. A deep, mellow voice came soft as silk. "Are you well?"
She could only stare.
He looked away, jaw working. "Are you well?"
How times have changed. He always hated repeating himself.
And after years of feeling nothing because that's all she had, emotions came crashing into the emptiness of her existence. No. Not like this! How dare he come skulking into a back alley? How dare he treat her like a stranger? How dare he stand there, sounding so dispassionate?
She was sure he flinched.
"I'm sorry." Kagome knew she sounded surly when she asked, "Do I know you?"
He stepped forward, and light fell across silver hair. Gold flashed in a wary gaze. One that held no welcome for her. No gladness. Only a plea she'd seen so many times, so long ago—begging her not to cry.
"Sesshoumaru-sama," she said stiffly.
A single nod.
"Why are you here?" Why had something she'd dreamed of have to happen all wrong? Queasiness and trembling. Rising dread and a terrible certainty.
He kept his distance. "I made a promise."
"To make sure I was all right?" she asked.
Again, a nod.
"And what if I'm not?"
Fury surged through her soul, and her powers spiked. Zinging along her fingertips, crackling over her skin—it was almost good, knowing she still had the capacity.
Suddenly, clawed hands closed around her shoulders, a harsh grip, even through her coat. "Miko," he said sharply. "Calm yourself."
She would not. She could not. After all this time. After she'd given up hope.
"Miko!" He was looming now, his grip sliding down to her elbows. "Kagome."
And at the way he said her name, she hesitated. Was he still forcing her to read between the lines, even after so many years? Even though she needed something surer. Blunt. Brash.
Sizzling purity ebbed away, leaving her dull. Ordinary.
She asked, "Were you just going to ask … and leave?"
A curt nod.
Still honest to a fault. Still a bastard to the end?
"Not fair, Sesshoumaru-sama."
Everything was crumbling now, and she wavered on her feet. His hold on her arms shifted again, supporting her. But the reluctance was still there, and she thought it might destroy her.
"Who did you promise?" she asked softly.
He looked away.
"If you're here, it must be because he can't be here. And there's only one reason he wouldn't come." It was getting harder to breathe, but she demanded her answer. "Who did you promise?"
Sesshoumaru didn't answer. Not really. "I am here."
Tears were already blurring her eyes, and she made an ineffectual swipe. Why did he have to come when it was so dark? So much of what Sesshoumaru-sama said was a nuance of expression. Nighttime and tears obliterated any chance of seeing what he meant by what he'd never say.
Her voice quaked. "Is he…?"
She couldn't finish the question, but he answered it anyhow. "Yes."
Heart hammering, she struggled to fill her lungs. Ringing filled her ears and the world grayed. And she knew what must come next. Sesshoumaru was going to let her fall.
The last thing she heard was a muttered curse before she slipped into roaring darkness
The Brother and His Pain
He took what was mine—my father.
He flaunted what was mine—my legacy.
I hated him for living.
He took what was mine—my place.
He paid for what was mine—my mistake.
I hated him for dying.
—Something to Protect: The Collected Works, Sesshou Nishi (1656-1682)
Kagome stirred and stilled, for she was unaccustomed to the feel of strong arms, to the sound of another's heartbeat. Cautiously lifting her face, she met Sesshoumaru's waiting gaze. She was in his lap—across it really—her cheek pressed to his chest, her feet swathed in warm fur.
"What happened?" she whispered.
A gentle hand atop her head. Had he been stroking her hair? "Erm… where are we?"
"On the roof of a building." She could feel his shrug. "I am not familiar with this neighborhood, so I could not say which. But I can see Goshinboku from here."
"Oh." She glanced about, orienting herself. "Yes."
Sesshoumaru was here—solid and silent, pale and perfect. He gazed off into the middle distance, just as he'd always done when he was pretending not to pay attention. Despite the intervening centuries, his face hadn't changed much. Only his hair was a little different, clipped at an angle near his face and arranged to mostly hide his markings. Was it still just as long?
He let his gaze slant her way without moving his head.
The gesture was so familiar, Kagome's throat closed, and tears prickled at her eyes. She whispered, "I'm very glad to see you."
An eyebrow arched skeptically.
"You're really here."
Sesshoumaru only stared at her, as if waiting for her to realize the foolishness of her request.
"For a little while," she wheedled. "Mama will want to meet you. And my brother. Please?"
Very slowly, he inclined his head. "I will return you to your home."
He set her down on her own doorstep and moved back, but she caught his sleeve and pulled him inside. Without much choice, he followed her inside and stepped out of his soft boots. She was staring at his feet, clad as usual in white tabi. Why such a small thing should make happiness wash through her scent, he couldn't fathom.
And then her mother was there.
"Oh! Oh, my!" The woman gathered herself for a low bow. "You must be Sesshoumaru-sama. Please consider yourself welcome in our home."
It was strange, hearing his own name spoken so naturally. No one called him that anymore. Few remembered. He found the warmth it inspired a little unsettling. "I am known as Inoue Taishou at the moment."
"Inoue… Taishou?" Mrs. Higurashi put a finger to her cheek. "The Inoue Taishou?"
"I cannot say that there are no others," he hedged.
Brightening, she hurried to a bookshelf at the far end of the hall. Lifting the glass case, she withdrew two volumes and practically skipped back. "This Inoue Taishou?"
"My father-in-law was very fond of your work, Mr. Taishou. Or… may I call you Sesshoumaru-sama? That's how we know you from Kagome's stories."
"Do as you please."
Meanwhile, Kagome had taken the books from her mother. "Poetry. You write poetry?"
Her expression wavered in the vicinity of disbelief, but then her mother took charge, ushering him into a dining area as if she were accustomed to entertaining youkai.
Kagome brewed tea in the very same pot she'd used five centuries ago, and Sesshoumaru's nostrils quivered, for the blend was not the old favorite that had become her habit. No, this was a new variety. As he accepted the cup with both hands, he wondered at her choice.
Always doing the unexpected.
Still piquing his interest.
The last time she served him tea, they had known it was the last time. Was this a reprise of goodbye? Or had they come full circle, beginning anew with unfamiliar scents and flavors?
He savored the drink slowly, peering at her over the rim of his cup. Now that she'd removed her coat, it was easier to see the alterations of time. Kagome was no longer the skinny middle-schooler who'd first appeared at his brother's side. Nor was she the youthful woman who had baffled and beguiled him by turns.
A decade's lapse meant she wasn't yet thirty. Still young—especially by youkai standards—but past the usual age at which humans chose partners. He thought perhaps her face had thinned, and her figure tended more to curves. But the years hadn't added much; rather, she'd lost pieces of herself. Could she re-find and reclaim these shards?
She chattered as much as ever, but her smile couldn't hide an underlying loneliness. Even so, both mother and daughter had risen to the task—gracious, respectful, hospitable.
"You'll stay here, of course," Mrs. Higurashi said. "We have a spare room."
"Please!" Kagome laughed a little. "I'm pretty sure I found all of Grandpa's wards and youkai traps."
Sesshoumaru heard steps on the front walk before the door opened and a male voice called a casual greeting. Mrs. Higurashi was only partway across the room when the newcomer spoke in a voice gone high with surprise.
Sesshoumaru rose to face the young man who hovered in the doorway, gawking like a schoolboy. "No," he said softly, challengingly.
"No way." He looked between the two women, clearly gauging their mood, then hurried forward. "Someone finally came?"
"My younger brother," Kagome offered. "This is…."
But the young man interrupted. "You're him, aren't you? His brother?"
The Higurashi sibling quickly crossed the room, stopping before Sesshoumaru to peer searchingly into his face. "You look a little like him, but not really. Hair color. Eye color. But… you're totally different."
"I should hope so." He affected a haughty air, but the boy only grinned. Utterly fearless. Openly curious. "Inuyasha looked quite a bit like our Father. It is said I favor my mother."
The young man's smile faded.
So he noticed the past tense. More gently, Sesshoumaru said, "You have your sister's… courage."
"Sorry. I'm being rude." He thrust out a hand. "Nice to meet you, Sesshoumaru-sama. I'm Kagome's brother Souta."
He accepted the gesture with a firm clasp. It really was uncanny, hearing his true name on so many lips. That a string of syllables meant he was known.
Souta's scrutiny hadn't ended. "You didn't come through the Well."
"No. I survived."
His volume dropped. "Kinda late, aren't you?"
Well, that was blunt. So the boy was protective. "Hnn," he allowed.
"It's been ten years," he said, low and stern. "She's had a rough time of it, not knowing anything. Sis doesn't talk about it much, but she's been… really, really sad."
Sesshoumaru was aware of Kagome and her mother in the background, clearing the table, bringing plates, brewing more tea, giving them space. But Souta was a demanding presence… and perhaps within his rights.
"Did you know she kept trying? Gramps finally had to nail the Well shut." Souta edged closer, radiating pain, closer to tears than showed. "After she broke her leg."
This young man must have been a boy then. Frightened. Confused. Overlooked. I neglected this one. I let another boy suffer. Sesshoumaru placed his hand on Souta's head, gently mussing and smoothing. "I am here."
Souta's mouth thinned in a way that couldn't hide emotion. "Is… is Inu-no-niichan…?"
Regret lanced through him, bringing grief and pain and a clawing desire to howl. This is why he hadn't wanted to come. To relive this pain. Bending until his forehead touched Souta's, he murmured, "I could not save him."
The Poet and His Promise
—Something to Protect: The Collected Works of Sesshou Nishi (1656–1682)
Kagome led Sesshoumaru to their bathroom and hesitated. "Do you…? That is… well, I had to teach Inuyasha how to use the faucets and the lights."
"I am familiar with such things."
"That's just so odd," she mused. "It's hard to even picture you in my time."
Sesshoumaru took in their entirely typical facilities without a trace of surprise. "This is my time as well."
She showed him into her grandfather's old room on the first floor. Was the room too shabby for a famous write? Or would he have preferred to remain outside? Kagome knew she was dithering over nothing since Sesshoumaru always did has he pleased, but… she couldn't bring herself to leave. "Erm… I'll be right upstairs."
His gaze was passive. "Thank you for your hospitality."
And it was just so awkward, because these empty words were nothing like the ones she needed to say. None of the important things had been discussed. Like what happened. And… what would happen now. So instead of excusing herself, she stepped closer and caught his sleeve.
"You'll be here in the morning, won't you?" Her grip tightened, crushing silk. "I won't wake up and find that you were nothing but… wishful thinking?"
His gaze didn't falter. "I am hardly a figment of your imagination."
Kagome knew that, but how many times had he gone without saying goodbye? She didn't want to be left behind. Not again.
"You're real," she said. "I can sense you. I can see you when my eyes are closed."
"You see me. You hear me. We can touch." A hand closed around her wrist, tugging her nearer. "Do you need to satisfy your other senses? I have a scent."
She was so startled by his offer, she held utterly still. Faint vibrations buffeted her, and golden eyes gazed half-lidded. "Are you teasing me?" she asked.
"Hnn. Perhaps if I had offered a taste."
Either this was an imposter, or Sesshoumaru had spent too much time with Miroku. Or—and this was really more feasible—he was giving her permission to reassure herself. By any means.
Sesshoumaru's sigh ruffled her hair. "I am here, Kagome, and I can assure you that I am quite real. I give my word that I will be here when you wake."
"Tomorrow, will you tell me… everything?"
"That is why I am here." With another soft sigh—which might have involved surreptitious sniffing—he added, "I will not go without your leave."
Sesshoumaru stared at the closed door. This woman had always managed to force matters. For decades—no, centuries—he had offered no promises. Even his publishing contracts were filled with conditional clauses and loopholes. Yet here he stood, having finally fulfilled his last pledge, only to make another.
With a huff of annoyance, he surveyed the room.
The space betrayed its former occupant in dozens of ways, a shrinekeeper's shrine. Kagome's grandfather had truly taken pride in his place. The furnishings were generations-old and well-kept, and an entire wall was taken up by crowded bookshelves. Histories, folk lore, classics, and… yes, a large collection of poetry. With a faint smirk, Sesshoumaru acknowledged that Kagome's grandfather had indeed had excellent taste.
He found a few rare volumes that he'd been hoping to acquire. Selecting two, then three, with which to pass the night, he attention snagged on a familiar title—Forgotten Myths: An Oral History by Nishi Satoshi.
That one had first been published in 1833. This one was a reprint, of course. That had been a difficult time, during which Saito had arrived in his home—what was left of it—and refused to leave. Stubborn man still called him Nishi-sama.
Further investigation turned up two slim volumes—dusty with age and fragile, but quite legible. He turned the pages slowly, skimming lines that had cost him dearly and kept him sane. Shards of Ambition, circa 1560, was a collection of poems by Taromaru Inoue, his first penname. The edition was rare, and it had clearly been here for decades.
Sesshoumaru wondered what Kagome would think if she knew that her grandfather—or one of his predecessors—had been collecting the messages she had asked him to deliver. Long before she'd wrested the promise from him, she had lived—in a characteristic state of blissful ignorance—with the proof of his loyalty and dedication.
After long minutes of inner debate, he culled through the shelves, making a small pile. Along with the two books her mother had pulled earlier, the collection was nearly complete. Only one of his seven pennames was missing. Unsurprising, since his one foray into fiction hadn't fared well. These were the important works.
Her emotions had become his words.
They had won him accolades and critical acclaim, but prizes and print runs meant very little. A small qualm made itself felt. An uncertainty that trembled perilously close to… not anxiety, surely. Anticipation, perhaps. Because the miko's good opinion mattered.
Would she approve of the way he'd kept his promise?
She'd smuggled the two poetry books up to her room. Maybe it was silly to feel like she needed to hide what she was doing, but she tucked them under her pillow while she readied for sleep. But sleep was the farthest thing from her mind as each turn of the page pulled her deeper into Sesshoumaru's writing.
The poetry in Untold Riches by Taishou Inoue was spare, relying on few words to communicate startlingly vivid impressions. Without a frame of reference she would have found his style frustratingly cryptic.
Except she recognized everything.
These were moments she'd lived through. These were memories she still cherished.
And in many cases, these were the words she'd never been able to say.
Each poem transported her into the past as faithfully as the Bone Eater's Well had once done. And with every turn of phrase, she knew who Sesshoumaru was talking about… or where they had been at that moment… or what they had been doing… or most perplexing, how she had felt. How had he known?
Kagome hadn't realized how closely he had been paying attention. Or how perceptive he could be. She was still trying to decide if he'd been that in touch then… or if hindsight had given him some kind of clarity… when she reached the collection's end.
Her eyes were tired, and her cheeks were stiff from the salt of slowly trickling tears. But she wasn't ready to stop.
Lassitude, Taishou Inoue's second volume, was unlike his earlier work in one very important respect. The first book had been written from her perspective. This one was from his.
She only made it a quarter of the way through before her silent tears became sobs.
Her window slid open with a crack.
Sesshoumaru crouched barefoot on the sill.
The Survivor and His Scars
Red and red and red
half of whole, fire and brand
White and white and white
pale as death, moon and silk
Green and green and green
fierce of heart, bow and blaze
Red and red and red
pyre of flame, blood and tears
White and white and white
snow of ash, loss and scars
Green and green and green
wide with fear, tear and bind
Red and red and red
howl of rage, last and lone
White and white and white
days to spare, stark and slow
Green and green and green
pledge to keep, life and long
—Surcease of Souls by Taishoumaru Kaname (1726)
Catching sight of Kagome's choice in reading material, Sesshoumaru's growl vibrated ahead of his lunge. He snatched the book from her hand and tossed it aside. Kneeling beside her bed, he managed not to haul her close. Words and whipping youki would have to be enough.
"Miko," he said sternly. "Calm yourself."
She scrubbed at her cheeks, trying to hide her face, but her sobs only worsened at the sight of him. Mess and misery.
Her bedroom door opened a crack and Souta peeped. The young man looked pinched and pale, but Sesshoumaru wasn't sure if it was because of his sister's emotional collapse … or a demon's presence in her bedroom. He may already blame me for allowing his boyhood hero to die. Now I have made his sister cry.
"Bring tea," Sesshoumaru said, infusing the order with more confidence than he felt.
Souta stubbornly stayed put, the beginnings of a scowl on his face.
Sesshoumaru could only approve of the boy's protectiveness. "Three cups," he quietly added, reaching for a box of tissues.
The implicit invitation made the necessary difference.
"Yes, Inu-no-niisama." And steps thudded down the stairs.
Sesshoumaru blinked. So I am afforded a place in my brothers' stead. He blinked again when he realized that Souta might be offering more than he knew. Does he anticipate a return of consideration?
It might be interesting to have a brother again.
He pulled tissues, and Kagome cried on, though with lessening wildness.
Grief will have its out. Better to lay waste to a box of tissues than to an entire forest—as he had.
Sesshoumaru knew quite a bit more about dealing with females since the last time he'd faced Kagome's tears, but her sadness discomfited him. And instincts clamored.
"Miko. Calm yourself," he repeated. And knowing the impulse would probably shock her out of her tears, Sesshoumaru moved to her side and wrapped her in his arms.
Kagome sucked in a startled breath, and for a few moments, he gazed into wide eyes fringed by wet lashes. But then her face crumpled, and she hid it against his shoulder.
She was still clinging and crying softly when Souta returned with a tray. He had brought the familiar teapot. And three cups.
With a gulp and sniffles, Kagome pulled back. "I'm sorry. I know you don't like people touching you."
Sesshoumaru huffed. "That was a long time ago. Many things have changed."
She laughed weakly. "You've certainly changed."
"Does this surprise you?"
"You always seemed…"
He arched a brow. "Inflexible?"
Kagome rejected that with a frown. "Constant."
Souta offered his sister a cup of tea, and she eased away from Sesshoumaru before taking it. He let her have more space, but he remained where he was on her bed. When the young man extended the second steaming cup, Sesshoumaru captured his hands. Souta quickly looked up, allowing the youkai to confirm his suspicions. Red-rimmed and stark. He has been crying.
"Come, little brother." Sesshoumaru pulled him down to sit at his other side and returned the tea cup to him. "You have more need of this than I do."
The boy stared into his tea, blinking rapidly.
He turned to Kagome. "And you. You should not read my books out of order. There are better places to begin than autumn."
Kagome's scent shifted so rapidly, Sesshoumaru wasn't sure if her emotions would settle, let alone where. Eventually sadness took hold—unsurprising—but she smiled wanly through it.
"There are more books?" she asked.
"Taishou Inoue is my seventh penname."
She reached for the small book still resting on her coverlet—Untold Riches. "There are more poems like these?" she asked in a small voice.
"Many more." Sesshoumaru spared a glance for the volume into which he'd poured too much of his restlessness and despair. "My earlier works would be kinder, I think."
"I'll have to find them," she mumbled into her tea.
"You shall have them. But not tonight." Sesshoumaru considered Souta's weary face. "You need rest."
"I don't think I can sleep," said Kagome.
Her brother lifted pleading eyes. "What happened?"
Sesshoumaru sighed. "Tomorrow, when daylight makes the truth less a nightmare."
"I can't stand the suspense," he muttered. "Can't we get it over with so I don't have to dread tomorrow?"
Kagome whispered, "Please, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
He growled softly, then pointed to the bed. "In."
Several minutes of shuffling and running for extra blankets, and Sesshoumaru was satisfied that the Higurashi siblings were comfortably arranged. It is the only comfort I can offer. Kagome was tucked in, and her brother hunched against the bed's side, shivering under his blankets. As he sat facing them, Sesshoumaru allowed his fur to spill across both of them. He could feel cold fingers tangled in his fur. It is the only comfort they can offer.
He cut to the heart. "There was a fire. Inuyasha and I arrived too late, but we did try. My mate—or wife, if you prefer the human term—and two sons. He went after them, but even the robe of the fire-rat could not protect … "
Sesshoumaru's throat closed.
"He tried to save them?" Kagome asked. "That's just like him."
"Inuyasha was very close to them." Sesshoumaru steeled himself. "They were also hanyou."
She stirred. "You chose a human?"
"That's so … romantic."
"Nonsense." Sesshoumaru huffed. "It was a practical choice."
But Kagome's smile deepened. "No, it's perfect. You saved her life and kept her safe, only to fall in love."
He snarled, "I am the reason she died!"
She went still.
Souta's hand touched his, and Sesshoumaru grabbed hold before woodenly continuing.
"We did not notice at first, but once she became mine, Rin ceased aging. The villagers overlooked it for a generation or two. But by the third, stories began to circulate. She was unnatural. She consumed souls. She consorted with evil." Sesshoumaru's jaw worked. "Rin ignored the rumors. She was too trusting."
Sister and brother listened as he spun out a story Takashi had never heard and Saito never spoke about.
"Before his time ended, the monk Miroku drafted and alliance between my pack and the village. Inuyasha and I were its protectors." Sesshoumaru grimly continued. "We gave our word never to raise a hand against the village or its people, but human memories are short. Members of the fourth generation schemed and set a trap."
"Foolishly." Anger simmered in his soul. "But we could not retaliate, and they would not hear reason. By the time I smelled blood, smoke was in the air."
"They started the fire?" whispered Souta.
He inclined his head. "Every building aflame. Saito's grandfather—our staunchest defender—had died trying to put out the fire."
"One of the last of the slayers. Descended from that boy—Kohaku. But it was already too late. The attackers were only burning away all signs of murder." Sesshoumaru recalled the searing heat, the waiting trap, the chains, the choking air, and his brother's fatal mistake. "I believe he covered the boys with his fire-rat in the hope that I would be able to use Tenseiga."
"Your father's fang didn't work?" Kagome murmured.
"The kitsune found me," he said dully. "I slept for days, and by the time I woke, there was nothing left."
She was crying again, and Souta's face was wet.
Sesshoumaru was losing hold of his usual detachment, perhaps because this was the first time he was with people who not only understood the magnitude of his loss … they shared his grief, at least in part.
Kagome cried herself to sleep.
Near dawn, Souta gave in to exhaustion.
Only then did Sesshoumaru heave a shuddering breath and allow himself to yearn for lost things—his father's deep voice, his brother's foolish boasting, and the sons he had failed to protect.
Words could honor their lives, celebrate their moments, and mark their passing. But words couldn't bring them back. I am alone.
The Girl and her Wish
Countless autumns weigh
On a life trapped in amber,
Crushing every wish.
—Unspeakable Days by Tsukiyomi Rin (1880)
Kagome woke with a sluggish sort of reluctance, somehow certain that something sad was waiting. Or… someone sad. But didn't that mean they needed her?
Dragging her eyes open, she found Sesshoumaru gazing silently at her face. He still sat on the floor beside her bed, one arm draped casually across the mattress. When she stirred to sit up, he let go. Only then did she realize that he'd been holding her hand while she slept.
Once she was upright, she remembered that Souta had stayed over. At some point in the night, he'd slumped sideways beside Sesshoumaru. Kagome couldn't decide which was stranger—that her brother was using Mokomoko-sama like a body pillow… or that the taiyoukai's opposite hand was slowly sifting through Souta's hair.
Sesshoumaru glanced down, and his eyebrow quirked, as if he hadn't realized what he was doing. She had the impression he was surprised at himself, but he didn't stop.
He quietly said, "I should have come sooner."
The mellowness of his tone surprised her—so warm, so peaceful. And she found herself reaching for him. Halfway to touching, she hesitated, but Sesshoumaru bowed his head in oblique invitation. Startled by her own audacity, her heart began to pound, but she tentatively followed through with a light flutter of fingers through his bangs. "Sorry," she whispered.
He huffed softly and caught her retreating wrist. Holding her gaze, he laid his cheek against her palm. "You have nothing to fear from me."
"I know." At a loss for anything more intelligent to say, she mumbled, "You're warm."
A placid blink. "Did you think I would be cold?"
"Maybe. A long time ago." Lips curling upward, she echoed his sentiment. "You should have come sooner."
"Will you stay?"
Another lazy blink. "Are you asking me to stay?"
"Why?" he asked.
What a strange question. "You're all I have left."
"Your mother and brother are here."
Kagome thought that was rather the point. "Aren't we all you have left?"
"Close," he allowed. "But what would you have me do? I cannot exactly walk the streets of this city."
His gaze traveled around the room, as if assessing the prison she'd proposed for him. But he only asked, "How did my brother manage?"
The laugh bubbled up, surprising her with the depths of fondness inspired by the memory. "Would you prefer the cap or the kerchief?"
"I must reacquaint you with my preferences."
Souta stirred, and Kagome quickly gave the taiyoukai his space. "Does that mean you'll stay, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
Instead of answering, he tensed, he attention fixed on something beyond their room.
She reacted, automatically scanning for any sign of youki, but … well, of course there wasn't anything. Although if Sesshoumaru had survived to her time, maybe there were others?
"What is it?" she whispered.
"My ride." With a small frown, Sesshoumaru muttered, "He is early."
The Liege and His Retinue
Unwieldy, yet yielding,
He catches her gaze.
Unburdened, yet binding,
He touches her face.
Unwitting, yet willing,
He sets her ablaze.
Unsuited, yet fitting,
He forges a place.
Unending, yet endless,
He matches her days.
—Something to Protect: The Collected Works of Sesshou Nishi (1656-1682)
Kagome and her mother huddled together in their front entrance, peeking out the front door.
"Do you know who that is?" asked Mrs. Higurashi.
"Sesshoumaru-sama said that man was his ride."
"Are you sure it's a man? Is it possible that he's also a youkai?"
"I don't know!" Kagome tried to think of things that might identify this person. She supposed it was silly to expect fur, armor, markings, or weapons in this day and age. The man had a slim build, typical coloring, and his clothes seemed ordinary enough. "He doesn't look like any of the friends I remember."
"Yet he clearly knows your Sesshoumaru-sama."
"Clearly," she agreed. "But he seems like a normal human to me."
"You don't think they're arguing, do you?"
Kagome shook her head. "With all that bowing, I'd say he's apologizing."
"My!" Mrs. Higurashi gasped. "What could he have done?"
"All Sesshoumaru-sama said was that his ride was early."
"Oh! Here they come!" Her mom made for the kitchen. "I'll start tea. Invite him to stay for a meal."
Sesshoumaru crossed the courtyard at a leisurely pace that belied any need for secrecy. What if someone from the neighborhood happened to come by? Yet he strolled along as if dog demons with ankle-length silver hair and a fondness for traditional attire were commonplace.
"I must apologize for my retainer," Sesshoumaru drawled once he was closer. "He is often in a difficult position—caught between his lord's wishes and his mate's good opinion."
Kagome had fleeting impressions that didn't quite add up. This man's dark pants and shirt were nondescript, but non-standard, like the sort of thing one expected students in a dojo to wear. And now that he was closer, a jolt of recognition struck her dumb.
He was a little taller and a little older, but he still wore his hair in a high ponytail. Wide brown eyes met hers bashfully. And… yes, even freckles! "K-kohaku-kun?" she gasped.
He lowered his gaze. "No, miss. They did used to say there is a strong resemblance."
Sesshoumaru lifted a shoulder. "Saito is a descendant of that one."
The man bowed. "Kohaku was my great-grandfather."
"You look just like him, except more grown up. But…" Kagome may not have excelled at math, but the numbers didn't add up. "There must be a few more greats for you to be alive now?"
"Yes, miss. Normally."
"Saito is an exception," said Sesshoumaru. "Blame the aforementioned mate."
Kagome's eyes widened. "You married a youkai?"
"Yes, miss. My wife is a moth demoness. We have been living under Nishi-sama's protection for many years." With a sidelong glance, Saito shyly added, "My little girls call him Lord Uncle."
All throughout the remainder of the day, Sesshoumaru sat back, one wrist draped over his knee, watching over an unexpectedly boisterous meal. Kagome's excitement added a sparkle to the air, so bright, he could taste it. He could recall liking this flavor, craving it nearly as much as he'd craved her exotic teas.
Such happiness, and for such simple reasons. Why had he withheld this from her? The reasons were quickly fading in importance. And his priorities were shifting at an alarming rate… but in a pleasing direction.
Kagome coaxed Saito for family stories. And with such an appreciative audience, the man warmed to his task. He'd grown up in the same village she remembered, and Inuyasha had been considered a friend of the family. He'd admired the hanyou and had competed with his siblings for piggyback rides through the treetops. And he'd been trained by Miroku's and Sango's children and grandchildren.
"You're a slayer?"
"Not really," Saito demurred. "While I learned a lot about the weaknesses of youkai, I applied that knowledge a little differently."
"He is a healer." More quietly, Sesshoumaru added, "It might be said that he saved my life."
Saito blushed. "I only made Nishi-sama comfortable while he regathered his strength."
And on it went, with Kagome gleefully uncovering lost fragments of the past she'd been forced to leave behind. She seemed to sense them like shards, and with her there to share in the stories, they didn't darken Sesshoumaru's mood like a pall of miasma. They were purified with a touch and a smile. And the relief was… welcome.
"Are you ready to go, Nishi-sama?"
Sesshoumaru spared a glance for the darkened windows. It was the first time in his long memory that an autumn day had passed so quickly. And so pleasantly.
"Why do you call him that?" Kagome looked between the lord and his retainer. "It's not his name."
Saito stared at his folded hands. "Nishi-sama has always been Nishi-sama to me. I know it would be more proper to say Inoue-sama these days, but … Nishi-sama is Nishi-sama. Sorry."
"I have never complained." Sesshoumaru flicked his fingers dismissively. "That is the name by which I was known during the period when Saito swore himself into my service. His is the habit of centuries."
"What name?" asked Souta, who'd returned in time for the evening meal.
Mrs. Higurashi blinked. "The poet."
Kagome touched her mother's arm. "He mentioned that earlier. Seven pennames!"
But Saito wasn't distracted by the ladies' excitement. "Nishi-sama, are you ready to return?"
All at once, Kagome's eyes were fixed on him.
He had little trouble understanding her silent plea. She'd asked him to stay. But did she understand the potential complications—and consequences—of her impulsive invitation? Unlikely. In this, she had not changed.
Yes, her enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by disappointment, sorrow, and the passage of time, but he recognized the essence that had made her noteworthy. Even now, she stood out from the rest of humanity, as rare and riveting as the Jewel she'd once carried. He'd never succumbed to the Shiko-no-Tama's allure, but he'd wanted her.
He had let her go.
Yet… I am here. And my brother is not.
Sesshoumaru hadn't realized his fingers had begun their rhythmic flick and curl until Kagome came to his side and caught his sleeve.
"Stay," she begged. "Please?"
He stilled. "Why?"
"Everything is so ordinary, I was beginning to think I'd imagined it all—Inuyasha, the Jewel, my friends, our quest. But you came." Her grip tightened, whitening her knuckles. "You've given me back a little of what I lost, but it's like a dream. I think if you disappeared now, everything would fade."
"You require reassurance."
"At least for a little longer." She had his sleeve in both hands now, and she whispered, "Please? I need you."
Sesshoumaru met Saito's gaze over the top of Kagome's head. "My things," he said.
The man's expression wavered, but he said, "I would be happy to bring whatever you require."
"No. Have Takeshi do it." Sesshoumaru's decision was made. "I will be using this shrine's history as the basis for my next project. And the research may take some time."
The Maiden and Her Protector
We shared a father, a fate, an envy, and enemy.
Too often at odds, at blows, at throats.
He shared a pack, a peace, a trust, a truth.
Too late in step, in kind, in keeping.
I shared a blade, a bond, a home, a hope.
Too late, too late, too late.
— Songs of Abdication by Taromaru Inoue (c. 1568)
For the next week, Kagome pretended not to notice that she was being stalked to and from work. But she varied her route, curious to see if Sesshoumaru would reveal himself along one of the quieter paths. Youki fanned out before her and rippled behind her, though the effect was surely lost on the sea of commonplace humans. Still, Kagome felt more daring. And utterly safe.
Inuyasha used to do this too, but he'd been as awkward as he was endearing. Sesshoumaru might be a recluse, but he belonged to this time as much as she did. He knows I don't need to be saved from commuter trains or escalators or poor, innocent street vendors handing out free tissue packets.
Smiling softly, she turned onto a set of narrow stairs that led to a tiny neighborhood park. "Come out, come out, wherever you are," she called in a soft sing-song.
And he was simply there, a strong presence at her back.
She turned to find him standing two steps down, which set him at eye level.
"Good evening, Sesshoumaru-sama," she said sweetly.
"I thought you said you wouldn't be free to walk about my city," she teased.
"I take unconventional paths."
Kagome backed up a step. "So you're just out getting some exercise?"
He followed, maintaining eye contact.
"At the same time every evening?" She eased up another step. "Right as I'm getting off work?"
Sesshoumaru climbed wordlessly.
"You don't need to be on guard, you know. I'm not in any danger here."
A noncommittal hum.
Kagome stilled. "It's been a very long time since I had someone watching out for me. It's really very sweet."
"Sweet?" He climbed closer, looming a little. "I seem to remember your displaying an impressive talent for disaster."
Amazingly, he was teasing back. She could tell by the warmth in his eyes and the honeying of his tone. "That was a long time ago. Things have changed."
"Not you," he said, joining her on the same step. "You are the same."
"Compliment… or criticism?" she asked lightly.
Kagome's face warmed. "Well, I'm still grateful. Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama."
She turned and walked on, and he matched her stride in the narrow passage. Close enough that their arms sometimes touched, and his hair brushed against the back of her hand. Surreptitiously turning her palm outward, she enjoyed the sensation of it tickling across her fingertips and palm.
"You work with children," he said. "Are you a teacher?"
"Not really, no." Kagome searched for any hint of starlight in the evening sky. "I work in a daycare center. All of the children are little more than babies, so it's all building blocks and naptimes and diaper changes."
"I had noticed."
She smiled at the trace of distaste in his tone. "Does the smell offend you?"
"Only the soap."
"You should have said something sooner!" Kagome sniffed at her hands, which smelled strongly of the industrial-strength germ-defying soap they used on the job. "I'll have a bath when we get home to spare your nose."
"Not necessary." Sesshoumaru redirected the conversation. "You enjoy your work?"
"Yes." Her steps slowed as they reached an empty playground at the top of the stairs. "I kept my promise to Mama by finishing high school, but after that I looked for a job close to home. This place was perfect because I was lonesome for Shippo. It helped, being able to cuddle little ones as much as I want."
She drifted toward the swings and gave one a push. "Can I ask about your family?"
"I am surprised you have not before now."
"I was trying to be… tactful?"
"You knew Rin. She was very fond of you." Sesshoumaru beckoned to her. "There is no reason to hold back. Ask."
Kagome had worried that her curiosity might be too intrusive. Maybe even painful. But Sesshoumaru's calm gave her courage. So she asked all kinds of questions about the little girl who'd grown up to win a place at her protector's side.
And he answered simply, softly.
Finally, she ventured, "You said Rin's life was extended. How did that work?"
"I do not know." Sesshoumaru's gaze slanted her way. "Inuyasha speculated that his mother's life would have been similarly prolonged if our father had not died."
"Our bond lasted two hundred and twelve years."
Kagome might have found that stranger if she hadn't already met Saito. "And she still looked the same?"
Sesshoumaru hesitated, then huffed. "Motherhood changed her, but time did not."
"May I ask about your children?"
He seemed to brace himself. "Taromaru and Tsukiyomi."
There were so many questions she wanted to ask, but she blurted the first thing that came to mind. "Did they have their uncle's ears?"
Sesshoumaru's lips quirked, and Kagome ached for him. Someone who smiled so rarely shouldn't have a smile so sad.
The Historian and His Haunt
Rising temper, flaring power, scathing reason—
She took me by surprise.
I could not look away.
Sparkling presence, blazing aura, stirring senses—
She kept me in suspense.
I could not stay away.
Tangling methods, seeping poison, stinking battle—
She begged me to falter.
I could not break away.
Wresting triumph, quaking allies, shining mercy—
She held me too lightly.
I could not slip away.
Straining limits, stalling minutes, taking comfort—
She told me her secrets.
I could not turn away.
Breaking silence, finding courage, parting promise—
She gave me a purpose.
I must find a way.
—The Long View by Tsukiyomi Rin (1884)
He stayed, and the season took its inevitable turn. Days shortened, turning bitter, and Sesshoumaru indulged the instinct to establish a den. Not a traditional one, of course; he'd never managed anything resembling propriety by clan standards. Yet it pleased him to create a warm, welcoming space. A lure for those he wanted close.
Souta succumbed first.
Whenever the young man was free from other responsibilities, he'd make his way to the shrine's second-largest storage building, which housed an ancient and impressive—if obscure—archive. This was Sesshoumaru's chosen domain, rearranged to suit his needs. Bare boards and beams, paper screens, dusty with disuse, and a pair of antiquated lamps. With a low table, floor cushions, and a kettle softly steaming atop a battered space heater in the corner, he played host. And endured countless questions.
Souta idly tapped his pen against his school books as he peered around. "I don't think this place has ever been so tidy, even after one of Mama's cleaning frenzies."
"Hnn." Sesshoumaru scanned a book of folk lore that had been stashed between sixty-year-old ledgers. "Cleaning is progressing well enough. But ordering and cataloging these records may take all winter."
The young man brightened. "Good! Take your time. I mean… there's no hurry, right?"
"None whatsoever." Sesshoumaru quirked a brow at his loiterer. "I will proceed at a pace appropriate to the task at hand."
Souta asked, "How come you're so interested in our records?"
Sesshoumaru considered the crammed shelves. "Words can transcend time."
"Poetry maybe. But Gramps always complained that half these books hold accounts that don't quite balance and endless lists of repairs that still haven't happened."
"Some, certainly. But not all." Sesshoumaru held up the slim book. "Ordinary things cannot completely overwhelm the extraordinary. The half-forgotten lore of humans is often as strange as it is true."
He chose an arch tone. "Are you calling me strange, transcendent, or half-forgotten?"
Souta ducked his head, but he was still smiling. "Umm… only the ones that apply."
With a soft huff, Sesshoumaru said, "You remind me of my brother."
"I do?" Souta sat straighter. "But I'm just a human!"
Sesshoumaru whisked across the room, coming up behind the young man where he sat. He spoke directly into his ear. "Inuyasha never feared me."
He turned to gawk. "Man, you're fast!"
"Hnn." Sesshoumaru sat here his was, shoulder-to-shoulder with a rarity. Even Takeshi's boys were awed and jumpy during their family's annual visit. Souta's frank acceptance was either insulting… or refreshing.
"I know you used to be scary," Souta said consolingly.
Really. This entire household had a very skewed perception of reality.
"Sis was so relieved about your alliance. And even though Inu-no-niichan grumbled about you, it always seemed to be because… well, you know."
"What do I know?"
Souta shrugged. "He was proud of you. And a little jealous, but only about the good parts. Kinda like how I wish I could remember my dad like Sis does. Or that I could have an adventure in the past. But that past is finally catching up, and I'm not left out this time. Since you're here."
Sesshoumaru didn't often fall prey to nostalgia, but Souta's steady gaze was too familiar. He'd seen the very same expression a thousand times on his half-brother's face. For a fleeting moment, he considered the possibility that his brother's soul had followed Kagome after all.
"So do you," Souta said.
"You're a little like Inu-no-niichan."
Souta had a peculiar, pleading look. Or was that… hope? With another huff, Sesshoumaru asked, "What possible similarity have you uncovered?"
"Well, he kinda had a thing for Sis."
Sesshoumaru automatically schooled his expression, but what was the point? Souta's scent held no trace of concern or doubt. His posture wasn't combative. If anything, Sesshoumaru's first impression was gaining strength. He hopes he's right.
"I was just a kid, but I could tell. It was obvious."
Sesshoumaru inclined his head. "He hid little, but he said less."
"Too embarrassed, probably," said Souta. "It was funny how flustered he would get."
"My brother never declared himself, but Kagome knew."
"Yeah." He wavered then, lowering his gaze. "You're going to tell her, aren't you?"
Leaning more firmly into Souta, he said, "I will proceed at a pace appropriate to the task at hand."
Sesshoumaru maintained a steady siege against the dust and dishabille in the shrine storehouse. Sealed scrolls and crumbling cardboard, knotted twine and clinging cobwebs. But now that he had things well in hand, he curtailed his pace. Sitting beside the sliding screen with its paper-thin barrier against winter's bluster, he settled back to read old records.
The farther back he went, the more personality they took on.
Schedules and neighborhood committee minutes and projected budgets gradually faded in importance. Sesshoumaru found his way back to a century when the shrine kept records for the village it served—births, deaths, harvests, building projects. The expansion of the shrine. The commissioning of the guardian deities flanking the doors of the main shrine. He'd noticed earlier that they were neither lions nor foxes, but dogs.
If he went back far enough, would he find rumors of pale shadows in the forest that bore his brother's name? What of their youkai exterminators—children of the taijiya siblings? And would that monk have left records, perhaps even a message for Kagome to find?
Only a patient search would yield answers.
The door slid open with scrape of protest, and Sesshoumaru marked his place with a finger.
"Good morning, Sesshoumaru-sama." Kagome peered around curiously. "Would it disturb you if I spent a little while with you here?"
"I am not opposed to company."
Kagome slipped in out of the cold, pulling the door shut behind her. "Souta was telling us how much he likes to study in here. Oh, this really is very cozy! Are you getting work done?"
"I brought something to read." She held up a copy of the collected works of Sesshou Nishi.
"Make yourself comfortable."
Without another word, Kagome settled into his silence as if she belonged there.
Sesshoumaru reveled in the success of his lure and the singular pleasure her companionship brought. As ever, she stirred his interest and lent color to his daydreams. Ideas drifted into bright phrases, the beginnings of a verse, and he reached for his pen in order to make notes.
Scratch of pen. Hiss of steam. And a grainy patter from outside that hinted that the forecast for freezing rain was more of an icy mizzle. The whispery turn of pages came so slowly, Sesshoumaru suspected that Kagome was reading each poem multiple times, piecing together its place in their shared past.
Then a soft giggle, shortly followed by a sniffle.
Invitation enough. Rising smoothly, he crossed to her side and crouched to present her with a handkerchief. From upside down, he could see which poem had stirred her emotions. "The Cursed Hand" was one of his more foolish poems, a comedic taunt which celebrated the outlandish exploits of an amorous monk. Miroku's grandson had loved to recite the entire piece in a playful sing-song, acting out the whole saga, right down to the resounding slap that punctuated each verse.
"I meant to tease him. He was perversely honored."
"He would be." Kagome dabbed and mumbled. "Sorry, sorry. I cried so much those first years, I didn't think I had any tears left."
"Do not apologize. There are different kinds of tears. These do no harm." He dared to stroke her cheek. "Your happiness pleases me."
She laughed again and returned to reading, and he gave her space. He tidied a shelf while keeping a covert eye on her progress through the pages. Although he'd written them for her—on her behalf—he'd not realized how much they truly belonged to her. Watching her read them was like watching her unwrap a thousand gifts. And her reactions put him into fresh suspense.
Nearly an hour passed before she spoke again.
"Did you write this one for Rin?" Kagome showed him the page. "It's beautiful."
"I did not write for Rin. She was with me." He wondered how much to say, then realized which poem had caught her interest. "Saito's wife is called Natsume. 'In Summer' was written for them."
She spoke much sooner. "How did you know this is what I was thinking? Or feeling, for that matter?"
Returning to her side, he studied the page and offered a one-shouldered shrug. "If I was close, I am satisfied."
"But you guys were so…" Kagome fumbled for words. "Sensitivity didn't seem to run in the family. Oh! Was it Rin's influence?"
Sesshoumaru let his head tip to one side. "Perhaps. She was… complex."
Kagome frowned a little. "Do I remind you of Rin?"
"Not especially." He blandly added, "But after two centuries with her by my side, I did learn how to interpret feminine subtext. What is said and what is meant are rarely the same."
She turned back a few pages. "What about this?"
He scanned the verses, rich in a very different subtext, and volunteered nothing more than an arched brow.
"Is this… for me?"
"One might argue they are all for you."
She turned back a few more pages, and his heartbeat quickened. He'd almost left that one out of the collection, the brazen little thing.
"In this one, too. Who is she?"
He waited patiently for her to work up the courage for a question that had been rather long in coming, all things considered.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, do you still… erm… regard me?"
"Are you certain you want to know?"
Kagome hesitated again. "But… Rin."
On this point, he wished to be very clear. "I accepted her feelings, and I was loyal. I cherished my sons, and I do not regret my choice."
He paused, and his fierce gaze demanded a response.
She nodded to show she understood.
"Hnn." Then he flowed closer, his nose touching her hair, his answer low and sure. "Even so, I envied my brother."
The Agent and His Duty
Winter cannot bite
This traveler's empty hand—
Lady pouring tea.
— The Wishing Well by Taromaru Masashi (1912)
"But… but… but, Mama!" Kagome hissed, her cheeks burning.
Mama smiled calmly. "All I'm saying is that he's very protective of you."
"But that's part of an inuyoukai's nature. He's my ally, so I'm a responsibility." She was having trouble coming to terms with the implications of Sesshoumaru's confession. Yes, she expected constancy from him, but what did that mean for her?
She hadn't dared ask.
And he'd let her flee.
Mrs. Higurashi set a cup before her. "He clearly takes his responsibilities very seriously."
"Out of obligation." Kagome stared into her tea.
"Oooh, I don't think so." Her mother sweetly announced, "I've read those poetry books, too. You didn't notice any—oh, how should I put it? Any recurring themes?"
Kagome cleared her throat. "Brotherhood is a big one. And loss. And the passage of time—seasons, years, lifetimes."
"Loss," agreed Mama. "And what did he lose?"
"We know that, but all of Sesshoumaru-sama's earliest poetry—including The Collected Works of Sesshou Nishi—was written before that tragedy." Her mother shook her head. "Yet he was already writing about something lost."
"Me?" Kagome asked in a small voice. "But wait! He told me that he was writing on my behalf. So that means I'm the one who was missing everyone."
"We could argue interpretation for years. Or you could simply ask the author."
Mama turned to the very same poem Kagome had shown Sesshoumaru earlier. "And who is she?"
Her mother only hummed. But it was one of those all-wise, I told you so hums.
Mercifully, they were interrupted by a loud knock on the front door.
A man in a slightly rumpled suit beamed at them over to top of a large box. "Good afternoon! I must say, this is a distinct pleasure! My grandfather brought here on the sly of course, but never to your doorstep in any literal sense. My, my, you are beautiful!"
Kagome blinked. "I'm sorry, who…?"
"Many apologies! I'm Takeshi." His grip shifted on the box. "Would you mind terribly if brought this inside? Natsume will knock me into next month if I damage any of his lordship's delicates—ink stone, calligraphy brushes, tea chest, and his very favorite…"
With a rush of wind, the box vanished.
"Oh!" Looking back toward the shrine buildings, Takeshi called, "Thank you, Mr. Inoue!"
Mrs. Higurashi stated the obvious. "You are connected to Sesshoumaru-sama."
He blinked and absently loosened his tie. "Haven't heard that name in a long while, but yes. I act as Mr. Inoue's agent and solicitor. Now! Where shall I put the rest of his lordship's things?"
He levered several boxes and bags from the back of a sleek black van with darkened windows, but he never got far with them. Faster than Kagome could track, Sesshoumaru snatched his belongings, stashing most of them in the storehouse they'd all begun to think of as his.
Takeshi took the thefts in stride. "It's been years since I saw him so energetic!"
"How long have you worked for him?" Kagome asked.
"Always." He grinned amiably at her. "He's the family business."
There was something familiar about that smile. "Are you a retainer, like Saito-san?"
"He's a little stodgy, using old terms, but I suppose the essence is the same since the beginnings are similar. Which reminds me!" Takeshi glanced around as he straightened his tie, then squarely met her gaze. "Kagome-sama it's a real honor to be the one to reach you. Do you mind if I fulfill a family obligation?"
Kagome exchanged a glance with her mother. "Erm… please, feel free to do so."
"Thank you! Really, I'm far too old for you and quite happily married, but a promise is a promise." Takeshi took her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles. "Precious lady, you are both missed and hoped for. It would be a great honor if one so lovely could find it in her heart to hear an echo of my ancestor's affection. Kagome-sama, would you bear my child?"
Oh. Oh, of course. That's why she felt as if she knew him. And hiding her face behind both hands, Kagome sobbed.
An instant later, she was hauled up against growling chest. She was vaguely grateful that the taiyoukai no longer considered spiked armor a staple of his wardrobe as she tried to pull herself together.
"Now, now," soothed Takeshi. "No need to bare your fangs, Mr. Inoue. I meant no harm."
"Why are you still here?" Sesshoumaru asked.
Kagome recognized the tone as dangerous territory, but Sesshoumaru's agent wasn't the least bit alarmed.
"It was more of a greeting than a proposition!" With all the affable courage of his forefather, Takeshi added, "And if you'll pardon my saying so, Mr. Inoue, it seems to have had the intended effect. More or less."
Sesshoumaru's growl tapered away, but he didn't release Kagome.
"Tea?" suggested Mrs. Higurashi. "Please do come inside, Takeshi-san!"
Despite the subtle vibration of Sesshoumaru's displeasure, the man gamely replied, "I would be delighted!"
He followed Mrs. Higurashi inside, closing the door behind him.
Making Kagome very aware that Sesshoumaru still hadn't relinquished his hold. And that his embrace had a silken quality. He changed clothes? She pulled back enough to get a better look at his kimono, which was red and white with a bold pattern of leaves and flowers.
"Oh," she breathed. "This suits you."
"So he's a direct descendant." Kagome's heart was still leaping. "And Miroku-sama passed along a message through the generations."
"The monk always was a meddler."
She swiped at her cheek. "Which one of us was Miroku-sama teasing?"
"Does it matter?" Sesshoumaru lifted her face and smoothed his thumb over her cheek. The annoyance had melted away, leaving a much softer expression. "Words can transcend time, and if they are well-chosen, they can do some good."
He bent closer, and for one heart-racing moment, Kagome thought Sesshoumaru was going to kiss her. But he only rubbed his cheek against hers in a startlingly intimate caress. "Did his offer please you?"
"More than it should have."
Sesshoumaru huffed. "Incorrigible. If Takeshi offends you, I will send him away."
"Isn't he your friend?"
"He is in my employ."
Kagome couldn't believe it. "You can't get rid of Takeshi-san because of Miroku-sama's sense of humor!"
Sesshoumaru rubbed his face against her opposite cheek in a way that made Kagome wonder if there was some significance to the gesture for inuyoukai.
"His place has always been secure."
She smiled and tried to step back, but he was immovable. "Erm… Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"As is yours."
"I know. And thank you. That's very reassuring to hear." It was so strange, getting used to this mellowed version of Sesshoumaru. She hardly knew how to react during moments like these, when he shed his usual reserve. Touch feels important. And though he didn't go for idle chatter, he wrote beautifully. Words are important. And when he rushed to her side, even for the sake of a few tears, it left her with another lingering impression. I am important.
Her opinion of him had gone through dozens of tiny changes over the course of their alliance. She'd wanted peace, and she'd wanted to give him things to look forward to. She'd searched for ways to please him, thank him, to include him, to reach out until he began to reach back. Because he was important. Because friends are important.
But… this felt different. And in a very important way.
His hand stole into her hair. "Do I have a place in your regard?"
"Y-your place is… erm… yours." She couldn't bring herself to speak of regard. The word had come to mean something else between them. "And you have a place here for as long as you like."
He looked down at her and gravely said, "That is very reassuring to hear."
Is he making fun of me?
Sesshoumaru's lips quirked. "I wish to define my place."
"Ally. Friend. Messenger."
"We don't need to define any of those." She pulled back, but he still wasn't letting go. "You've held those places for a long time."
"Huh? Since when…?" Kagome's mind raced. "Did the others blame you for sending me home?"
"No." Sesshoumaru calmly said, "I was referring to your first kiss."
So that really happened? Given the pull of gravity and rush of wind and her emotional state at the moment, she hadn't been sure. And afterward, it had been easy to convince herself that she'd imagined the fleeting caress. Because there was no way Sesshoumaru-sama would do something so rash.
"Really?" she asked faintly.
"Hnn." His gaze flitted to her lips for a moment, then he shrugged a shoulder. "I am aware of your preferences. You need to know mine."
She wanted to protest this was too sudden. But it really, really wasn't. Five centuries, give or take a decade. She wanted to say that her heart belonged to Inuyasha. But she'd begun grieving him a long time ago. Because if he could have come, he would have been with her. She wanted to be shocked at Sesshoumaru's directness. But he had always done exactly as he pleased… and with swift assurance. And when it came down to it, she still wanted him to stay.
Which he must have known, since he'd sent for his things.
"Is that why you came back?" she asked.
"No." Sesshoumaru's gaze cut to the torii arch, where a pair of visitors appeared at the top of the stairs. Gently ushering her inside, he quietly said, "But it is why I will stay."
The Youkai and His Suit
Given in haste.
Taken in stride.
Driven to bless.
Waken to hope.
Riven by time.
Shaken by loss.
— Forgotten Myths: An Oral History by Nishi Satoshi
Most of Sesshoumaru's senses were trained on the tantalizing whirl of emotions coloring Kagome's scent. He found her reaction promising—neither too yielding, nor wholly rejecting. Even her surprise had nuances of acceptance to it, which meant his words had truly reached her. With patience and persuasion, she would surely come to his side.
"And is this the tea pot?" Takeshi's voice carried from the kitchen.
"You are surprised?" Sesshoumaru inquired, leaning in the doorway.
"But of course! This is the stuff of legends!" His agent placed a hand over his heart. "I've been hearing stories about the Higurashi Shrine since I was a twinkle in my forefather's eye! How could I not be moved?"
Kagome's scent warmed, and it pleased Sesshoumaru. He had not been able to carry everyone into the future where she'd been waiting. But these remnants helped. All was not lost. Her sacrifice had made this future possible.
"You had a photograph? I really must beg a look!" Takeshi's eyes swung Sesshoumaru's way. "All these years, I've had the sparest of descriptions, with nothing but a sheaf of crayon drawings for confirmation. And between you and me, the kitsune's early artistry leaves much to be desired."
"You know Shippo?"
Takeshi tapped the side of his nose. "By reputation. But if he's in this fabled photograph, I may be able to confirm his identity."
Sesshoumaru huffed, but Kagome practically flew upstairs, returning with a snapshot that put a pang in his heart. His brother's pack, all smiling. Sesshoumaru's gaze lingered longest on his brother's face.
"He looks so young!"
Sesshoumaru started at Takeshi's exclamation, which echoed his own thoughts. But of course, the man was more interested in the monk than the hanyou.
"And handsome!" And then Takeshi burst out laughing. "I look nothing like him!"
"Well, it has been several generations," said Mrs. Higurashi. "And resemblance isn't always about features."
Kagome nodded emphatically. "You look different, but you carry yourself like he did. It's so familiar, I feel at home with you."
Takeshi patted her hand in a fatherly way. "Maybe I have retained a little of old Miroku-sama's character. After all, my own wife resembles Lady Sango."
"Sango-chan was like a big sister." Kagome's eyes took on a fresh shine of affection.
And they traded tale for tale—both of the past and of the longstanding family traditions they'd inspired. Explosive laughter and teasing jibes. Winding narration and an impromptu performance of "The Cursed Hand." But Takeshi kept a close eye on the clock, and called an end to the visit long before the dinner hour. "I need a word with the illustrious Inoue Taishou. Boring matters of business, I'm afraid. And then I'll be on my way. But next time, I'll bring my wife and our boys."
"Please do," Kagome said. "I want to meet them all. After everything, we're practically family."
Takeshi chuckled. "My grandfather always said that once Mr. Inoue takes you in, there is no escape."
"Are you protesting your captivity?" Sesshoumaru inquired.
"Far from it." The man stood straight and thumped his chest. "Generation after generation, my family has cherished its ties to the Lord of the West, Bearer of twin Fangs, Keeper of the Tree, Shelter of the Remnant."
Sesshoumaru growled softly and collared the man, hauling him out the door without a backward glance. Naturally, Takeshi called farewells all the way to the van.
"That was unnecessary," muttered Sesshoumaru.
"Let's call it an ice-breaker." He fiddled with his tie. "Or had you already brought up your responsibilities to this country's remaining youkai population?"
"Well, then! Rich fodder for the long winter nights ahead." Takeshi hugged himself and scanned a gray sky that threatened snow. "About work, though. The publishers liked your latest proposal and want to move forward. Can you work here?"
Sesshoumaru led the man to the storehouse. "They allow me ample time and space for research."
Takeshi peered around with eyebrows arched. "Does Saito know you've established a den?"
"I am sure you will not leave him in ignorance for long."
"Nonsense. I have an instinct for this sort of thing." Takeshi drummed his fingers on the door frame. "Although I believe my venerable ancestor intended for me to give Inuyasha a hard time."
"Hnn. The monk knew my brother well. Inuyasha may have benefitted from your meddling."
"But you don't need it?" Takeshi ventured.
Sesshoumaru didn't dignify that with an answer.
"Will you get all snarly if I speak to her one more time before I go?"
"Do as you please."
"Nonsense. I was raised better than that." Takeshi smile held traces if mischief. "I'm only going to do my part."
Kagome was a little surprised with Takeshi tapped on the door before leaving. "Yes?"
"Only two things, Kagome-sama. If it's not too much trouble."
"First off, have you read Mr. Inoue's poetry?"
"Yes." She could feel the color creeping into her cheeks. "The books were here, so I've been taking them in order."
"Ah! Excellent." Takeshi cast a quick look over his shoulder and lowered his voice. "And are you at all familiar with inuyoukai… behavior? Because Mr. Inoue is radiating some serious intent where you are concerned. Please, tell me he's made an informal declaration at least?"
Kagome's jaw slowly dropped. "Erm… I'm not familiar. But he did sort of declare himself earlier. Right after you arrived, actually."
Takeshi rolled his eyes and pulled out a business card. Jotting on its back, he offered it. "My number. My wife's number. Call or text any time if you have questions on behavioral patterns of inuyoukai, especially those related to courting males. She's worked more with wolf packs than dogs, but the essentials are the same."
"There are still wolves?"
"Not so much here. But we still have the largest tanuki and kitsune communities." Takeshi winked broadly. "Mr. Inoue is a landowner, and his holdings remain the safest havens for youkai communities."
They weren't lost? They hadn't faded? Kagome's heart suffered another pang, this time for joy. "There are more?"
"Many more, so hang in there. I know his lordship can be stodgy, but he has his reasons." Taking her hands again, Takeshi said, "I know this isn't how it was supposed to turn out, but here we are. For what it's worth, you cannot give Mr. Inoue back the things he's lost. None of us can. But you could give him the kinds of things he knows he needs."
"That's for him to say. And if the state of his den is anything to go by, he won't be keeping you in suspense for long."
She glanced toward the storehouse on the other end of the compound. "You mean his office?"
Takeshi chuckled. "It's a den, and he's a dog. And a large part of my delivery provided him with the only thing it lacked."
Kagome hadn't seen inside any of the boxes before Sesshoumaru had whisked them away.
With a sly wink, Takeshi whispered, "A bed."
Kagome wound her scarf around her head until it hid her nose before leaving the daycare center for the day. Tonight was dark and blustery, with grainy snow whipping off rooftops and along alleys. Mindful of icy patches, she made her slow way home.
Am I happy?
Kagome's life was not at all what she'd expected. Then again, she'd lost her grip on ordinary and typical way back in middle school. Pulled into the distant past and mistaken for the priestess she'd been in a previous life, she'd fought and fumbled and made friends and found love.
Returning to the ordinary world had been jarring, especially because it felt as if she'd lost everything she'd gained. But all that fighting and fumbling had changed her forever. And love was still love, even after she couldn't go see the people she cared about.
I wasn't, but I might be.
Because of Sesshoumaru-sama. For an ordinary girl, it sounded way too far-fetched that the half-brother of the hanyou who had been her first love was interested in the dog demon equivalent of a marriage meeting. But for Kagome, it was one of the least shocking developments. And a welcome surprise. She did wonder what Inuyasha would have thought. Or Rin for that matter.
"Here you are."
Kagome turned toward the silk-clad figure, whose long hair swept forward to meet her, brushing her arm. "Am I late?"
Usually Sesshoumaru fell in step behind her, but this time, he took the lead. "What's happened to my trusty rear guard?"
"I am forging a new role for myself." He offered his hand. "Tonight, I am your guide."
His fingers were warm around hers, and she let him draw her along the quiet streets toward home. Only he didn't take her to her front door, nor to the warm office that Takeshi called a den. Sesshoumaru guided her to the well house and drew her inside. It was cold and dark, and the walls whistled with the wind's passage.
When he picked her up, she didn't protest.
When he carried her down the stairs, she couldn't have been more confused.
When he leapt onto something solid and stood there, she whispered his name.
"I am here," he said. And then he stepped off creaking wood and dropped into the well shaft.
Her protest came out somewhere between a scream and a whimper. But the only thing that happened was that Sesshoumaru's boots hit bare earth. And she knew they were at the bottom of the well, because the walls pressed sounds closer, and she realized that she knew the smell of this place. Cool and damp and breathless.
"It stopped working," she said.
"Yes." Sesshoumaru set her down. "We cannot go back."
She nodded. "Is this the part where we decide how to go forward?"
"Hnn." His hands settled lightly on her shoulders, and he pressed his warm cheek to her cold one. "Your wish will become my resolve. What role shall I take, Kagome?"
"Ally and friend aren't enough?"
"No." He nuzzled her ear, then switched sides, speaking into her other ear. "Do you expect me to become a family friend. An occasional guest. An irregular correspondent. Or do your hopes align more fully with mine?"
Kagome said, "Maybe your wish should become my resolve. Is there a role you want, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Hnn." Even speaking in low tones, his confidence rang against stone. "Eligible prospect. Welcome suitor. Lifelong companion."
Yes. I might be happy.
She was still trying to frame an answer when Sesshoumaru spoke again, his voice hoarse, its tone urgent. "I could not steal Tetsusaiga, but my brother trusted me with it. And in the end, it came to me. Neither could I take you from him. But I know he trusted me with you."
The implicit question hung in the air. Will you come to me?
"The last time we were here," Kagome said softly. "I needed you so much. I was afraid to go alone, but you stayed with me to the very last moment."
"I knew I was giving up my happiness." Her whisper quavered. "It was hard, Sesshoumaru-sama."
A hand touched her cheek. His lips found her forehead. "Hnn."
"And we're here again." Kagome's fingers found silk and hung on. "And I needed you so much. And I don't want to be alone anymore. Sesshoumaru-sama, are you offering to stay with me for the rest of ever after?"
Not the most resounding declaration of love, but this was Sesshoumaru, after all. I know he's capable, but I guess I'm glad he's not spouting poetry.
He tipped her chin, and to her surprise, she realized she could see him. Warm gold sparkles rose around him, shifting his hair. It was as if he were on the verge of calling up his light sphere, yet he was holding it back. The faint shimmer gave him an ethereal quality and put sparks in his eyes.
He hummed approvingly, as if her attention was now where it belonged.
"Your resolve cannot waver in this any more than it could for the wish." Sesshoumaru let the words sink in before adding, "I will accept nothing less than everything."
Those gleaming eyes narrowed, and he stiffly pointed out, "Understanding is not acceptance."
She smiled. Because at this wholly inappropriate moment, she was reminded of the time she'd forced Sesshoumaru to confess his favorite variety of tea. A little patience, a little suspense. And then the delicious triumph of full commitment. Well aware that his nose was reassuring her suitor of everything he hoped for, she waited to see if he had anything else to say.
"I have always considered you mine."
She slipped her arms around his waist.
Oh, how she loved the way he said her name.
He wound his arms around her, heedless of her heavy coat, and grumbled, "Reassure me."
"Can I make you happy, too?"
Sesshoumaru sighed in what may have been relief, then hummed in what must have been satisfaction. But all he said was, "Listen to me." And then he made himself plain with several hundred years' worth of very convincing kisses.
"That which is important never changes. That which becomes important changes everything." —Taromaru Inoue, Shards of Ambition
End Notes: Yes, I wrote all the poetry credited to Sesshoumaru's various pennames through the centuries. Posted on February 22, 2018. 15,000~ words.
Inuyoukai Traits: Many of you are grumbling, and that makes me sad. Have you forgotten that to an inuyoukai's way of thinking, loyalty is the essence of love? Nothing less than everything, m'dears. Like his father before him, Sesshoumaru loved twice.
Original Work: Many of you ask if I've published any original stories. Now that I've released the first book in the Amaranthine Saga by FORTHRIGHT, the answer is a resounding yes! Today is Release Day for Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox. Details, links, challenges, and much squee-ing can be found at ForthWrites dot com.