A/N: This is a continuation of my one-shot, "My Obligation" from ages ago (under "The Cricket's Cage" collection on FFN and Dokuga). You don't need to have read that in order to understand this short series.
I'm writing this series for the Dokuga LJ comm's Child's Play Challenge - nine stories that go along with a children's rhyme or game. Since there were nine prompts, I couldn't resist - the titles are all Nine Inch Nails song titles.
Prompt: Ring Around the Rosie
Genre: Romance, Drama
AU/CU: Canon, as long as you ignore the last bits of the manga :)
Warnings: Mention of character death, fluff later on, angst
Word Count: 2522
We're In This Together
It was all so lovely. The shrine had never looked so good - drenched in cherry blossoms and flowering sprigs of dogwood, it rivaled the city's festivals. The God Tree stretched out above her head, hung with white paper lanterns that emitted a soft light, so that every guest glittered. Everyone smiled and danced and blushed prettily in the warm spring night.
And they all kept glancing at her. Kagome had refused several gracious offers from dress-makers around the world and had chosen to wear her mother's kimono. Her mother's reaction as she had come down the stairs had been enough to tell her that she had made the right decision. She knew she was just as lovely as the shrine, just as she should be.
Yes, it was everything that a little girl would dream of for her wedding day. Except the groom, of course.
She looked up at him, where he stood quiet and listening to the group of men that surrounded him. They were throwing back drinks and trading off the job of going to the open bar, but the one in the center - her husband - stood with only one glass of white wine which he did not lift to his lips at all. He kept his wits about him. Even now his clear eyes flickered towards her, meeting her gaze for a moment before moving back to his companions. He didn't miss much.
The miko - former miko, as she was married now - blinked and saw Ayumi standing beside her. "Oh, hey."
"Why don't you join us over there?" suggested her friend, gesturing towards Yuka and Eri, who were watching them. "You look lonely! The bride shouldn't be lonely!"
Kagome gave her a faint smile. "No, I'm not lonely. My feet hurt, is all." She got up, gathering the folds of her blue, embroidered kimono in her hands. She no longer wore the bridal kimono - tradition dictated that she change multiple times during the ceremony to show off her family's wealth, and her groom had ensured the illusion of a far more prosperous shrine than they actually had. She was fortunate, she reminded herself, that her new husband was generous with his money. Her family would never want for anything again - reason number two-hundred-and-seventy-three why this had been for the best.
"Well, you've had enough relaxing," Ayumi said, linking elbows with the bride and leading her through the crowd. "There are so many people here! Do you know them all?"
"No. I barely know anyone here. They're mostly... um, my husband's business contacts. Once we invited one, we had to invite them all." She shrugged. "The whole thing got a bit out of hand, actually. I was thinking of a small wedding."
Ayumi shook her head. "No way! You couldn't have done that. A big wedding was just what you needed. It must have been..." She faltered.
"Distracting?" Kagome suggested.
"Fun," Ayumi finished firmly. "It must have been fun to plan."
Kagome nodded. "My mom had a blast." She saw Ayumi's saddened glance out of the corner of her eye. "I liked eating the cake samples," she added.
Her friend pressed her lips together into a line, but said nothing. It was usual for Ayumi to keep silent rather than to press for information. Yuka and Eri were not so delicate. "Kagome, there you are!" Yuka exclaimed, although they had been watching her all this time. "You need to introduce us to your new husband, you know."
"I can't believe we were gone for all the wedding planning. Ayumi has been telling us all about it, and we're so jealous! You could have waited a little longer and let us help you know," Eri chided with a grin. "So, how about that introduction?"
It was possible that her friends had become even more brazen now that they were off to college. Kagome gave them an indulgent smile that she didn't quite feel. "I will. Later. He's busy right now."
"Those are people he works with," Ayumi supplied.
"Oh," Yuka said, looking over at the group of men. Kagome realized that her husband had been less of the object than his companions. It was far more difficult to worm one's way in with a friend's husband's coworkers than his friends. Yuka's shoulders slumped a little. "Well, tell us about him then. Ayumi doesn't tell us anything good."
"He's very handsome," Eri said, leaning to the side a bit to catch a glimpse. "He looks like..."
"They're brothers," Kagome cut in, before anyone could say that name. "Sesshoumaru is his brother. Half-brother, actually."
"What's with his arm?" Yuka asked, and they all looked at the prosthetic at the dog demon's side. She bit her lip, looking abashed for a moment. "Sorry. I mean, was he in the car too, with you and... and...?" She bit her lip.
Ayumi brushed her hand across the back of Kagome's arm, letting the bride remain quiet. "No. He lost his arm a long time ago, before Kagome's accident."
"How?" The word was hushed, as if Kagome wasn't still standing there.
"A car accident," the former miko said, wincing inwardly at how ridiculous that all sounded. That had been Sesshoumaru's explanation for so long, and her grandfather didn't exactly confer with the dog demon when he had to make up an excuse for Kagome's injuries. The supposed coincidence was one they would have to live with. "You know, another one. Earlier. Much earlier. They have really bad luck with car accidents in his family," she added with an uneasy smile.
"I guess so," breathed Eri.
They all stood in silence for a moment. "Do you love him?"
"Yuka!" Ayumi's mouth dropped open. "She's married to him!" She looked at new bride. "You don't have to answer that, Kagome."
Kagome took a breath and then smiled at her friends. "Don't be silly, you two. I would only get married if I were truly in love."
His entire staff had the night off - the next two weeks off, actually - so it was Sesshoumaru that fetched the extra linens from the hallway closet. He put the bedsheets down on the dresser, a carved oak piece that, although beautiful, didn't quite match the modern art on the walls. The entire room was a mish-mash of style. It was surprising to see in the house of someone so particular as the taiyoukai, and he didn't miss her glance around the large space. "Gifts," he explained.
"Someone gave you a dresser?"
He nodded. "In celebration of when I took my last mate."
Kagome didn't waste time on sympathy for either of the two females that Sesshoumaru had taken into his household before her - he certainly didn't. "Well, I don't think we have any dressers in that pile of presents we left at the shrine," she said.
"One can hope. I only keep it because the youkai that gave it to me still visits on occasion."
The bride flipped back the duvet and shook out the fitted sheet. "Maybe you can use me as an excuse. I can develop a sudden hatred of nineteenth century furniture."
"Perhaps." He bent and tucked his side of the sheet underneath the mattress with sharp efficiency.
Kagome unfolded the flat sheet, and Sesshoumaru took the other edge automatically. She gave him a shy grin. "I never thought I'd see you doing something as mundane as making a bed."
"I have done a great many mundane things in the last five centuries," he commented, although the lift of his eyebrow told her that he wasn't being snide. "I expect this will be the last time you witness it, however. I have maids for a reason."
"I guess they just didn't expect that I would be sleeping in the guest room tonight." She flushed and turned her face away under the pretense of creasing a hospital corner into the sheet. "I didn't expect it either, to tell the truth."
He stood straight and studied her for a moment. "I thought that for the first night..."
"I appreciate it," she interrupted with a smile. She pulled the duvet back over the foot of the bed and sat down, letting her high heels slip off her feet. Her going-away outfit was a smart, little, red dress that she adored, but her shoes had been killing her. She flexed her feet and winced as one calf protested her movement.
"Is it bothering you?" Sesshoumaru came around the edge of the bed.
Kagome drew her knew up to her chest and ran a finger along the ridge of scar tissue that wrapped almost the entire way around her lower leg. "It just gets stiff. The doctor said it would do that for at least a year."
"Longer," the taiyoukai said. "The demon that tore your muscle was poisonous. I told you once that it will always feel weak in comparison to your other leg."
She nodded, remembering that conversation from the very first night they had been reunited in this era. It created a mixture of guilt and relief that the physical pain Sesshoumaru had warned her about now outweighed the wrenching depression that the scar had once sparked. She could still see that battlefield in her mind when she felt the ridge of tough tissue, and she could hear Inuyasha begging her to live and to stay as she made her wish on the completed Jewel. She remembered the terrifying sensation of literally fading away, out of the Feudal Era and into the well house of modern times. It had taken the better part of year for the memories to not cause an outburst of tears.
Sesshoumaru circled the tiny, round table in the middle of the room. Its single leg was so spindly that the vase of roses in the center wobbled from the moving air as he passed. "It would not hurt so much if you had not tried to jump through the well again," he said.
Kagome's cheeks blushed to match the flowers. "I'm sorry. I had to try."
"Time has been sealed," he said, continuing as if she had not spoken at all. "You know that Inuyasha died. Your friends had children and died, as humans do. If you went back, what do you believe would happen here?"
She lowered her head. "I don't know."
"Neither do I," Sesshoumaru murmured, "but I do not imagine it would turn out well. If you had succeeded and seen Inuyasha again..."
"Then he would never have told you to come find me when the Jewel transported me back here with my wounds after the battle. I would have bled to death in the well house." She shifted close to the baseboard of the bed, as if it would provide shelter from her husband's unwavering stare. "He never would have told you to ask me to marry you. If I had survived here, I would have been alone. I never would have known you were alive. Or Shippo." Her head began to throb with the possibilities.
There was a moment of quiet. "Do not do it again," he said.
"No, I won't." She turned the wedding ring on her finger, letting the light catch in the diamond so that it sparkled with blues, greens and reds. "What time are we leaving tomorrow?"
"We must leave for the airport by one o'clock," the dog demon replied. He placed his real hand into his pocket. "I am going to bed."
"Alright." She saw him hesitate out of the corner of her vision, before he walked to the door. "Oh!" she cried out as the door slid open.
Sesshoumaru paused again, looking back at her. "Yes?"
"I'd forgotten, but I still..." She trailed off and got to her feet, meeting him at the doorway. Without her heels on, she was at least a foot and a half shorter than the taiyoukai, but she craned her neck up to him. "My kiss. You promised."
"If you do not want to hold yourself to your own promise, it is fine."
She gave a firm shake of her head. "No, I do. I promised I would try to be the wife you want, and that means having a child. If you kiss me every night like you promised - like you love me - that will help. Please."
Sesshoumaru bent down, and she rose up on her toes to meet him, ignoring the twitch in her calf. Except for the exchange of rings, their ceremony had been entirely Shinto. They had not kissed today.
Their lips met, and she grabbed at his shoulders for balance, wrinkling the expensive suit he wore. He could smell the spices of their wedding feast on her body and in her clothes, and he brought her close to his body, pressing together for a brief moment. Kagome wrapped her arms around his neck, letting him lift her clear off the polished wood floors. She felt the beat of his heart through the cloth that separated them and the pulse of his aura as it tangled with hers. Soon, however, her feet touched the ground again, and she was released.
The door closed behind him with a soft click, and Kagome looked around the room that would be hers for one night. Tomorrow, they would be going on their honeymoon, because that was to be expected of newly married couples, and they would be sharing that room, because that was expected too. When they returned, the staff would be there, and she would move into the lush bedroom that she still labeled in her mind as 'his' and not 'ours'.
The ring was heavy on her hand. She walked to the table with the roses and pressed her palms against the dark wood, feeling it rock beneath her touch, before removing the white gold and diamond-encrusted band. It dropped to the tabletop, and her fingers covered it.
The blooms were fresh, and she wondered who had put them there, in a room that no one knew would be used tonight. Perhaps Sesshoumaru filled his home with fresh flowers as a matter of course - the propriety of their engagement, enforced by the strangeness of their situation, hadn't allowed for many visits to her husband's vast mansion. Her familiarity with what was now her home consisted largely of the cursory tour her entire family had received after they had announced the betrothal. She realized that she had no idea how he ran his household - the household that he expected her to run.
When it came down to it, her inexperience with this house was only rivaled by her ignorance of Sesshoumaru.
Her fingers flexed over the curve of her wedding ring, but she left it on the table beside the fresh roses as she went to ready herself for bed. Before turning out the light and crawling into bed, Kagome stared at the circle of gold for another moment. "Tomorrow," she murmured, flicking the switch.
She slipped into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. And although she had thought she would be spending the night studying the ceiling, Kagome fell fast asleep within moments.