Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this story, which shall hold true to itself by ending in a flurry of snippets. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
What a Good Boy Am I
They'd tried to tell her. Hisoka hinted. Shippo teased. Inuyasha had flat-out said as much, but Kagome truly hadn't understood what they meant until the day after their trip to visit Bokuseno. With the renewal of his promise, Sesshoumaru changed. Or... as was more likely considering the knowing looks being exchanged between cat and kit, he changed back.
The eggshells that Inuyasha had mentioned were swept away, leaving Kagome with a dazzlingly presumptuous suitor. If he hadn't been equally sure of his own abilities as a boy, she might have been more surprised by the alteration. As it was, she found that Sesshoumaru was still very much himself... only moreso.
Somewhat to her relief, his aim didn't appear to be immediate consummation; instead, the consummate strategist watched for opportunities to get closer to her. He was both persistent and insistent in his attentiveness, and Kagome hardly knew how to react... though he seemed slyly satisfied by the involuntary responses he managed to evoke.
Warm fingertips brushed her elbow, and Sesshoumaru slipped a chunk of roasted rabbit onto her plate before solicitously inquiring, "Do you have enough?"
"Plenty," she assured.
Teasing her, touching her, tending to her every need—Kagome found it virtually impossible to ignore a taiyoukai who wished to be the center of attention... or at least at the forefront of hers. It was unsettling, but in a nice way, and the inu-youkai practically thrummed with satisfaction over his many minor accomplishments.
"You're not eating," he pointed out.
Eyeing the overly generous portion he kept adding to, she sighed and said, "I'm guess I'm just not that hungry."
Sesshoumaru tipped his head to one side and solemnly declared, "I have heard that growing attraction can affect a human's appetite."
He defines confidence, she decided with a small huff. Kagome shot a pleading look at Hisoka and Shippo, whose faces were far too straight and whose plates were far too fascinating. Guess I'm on my own.
"Humans need food," Sesshoumaru murmured, and another bit of rabbit found its way onto her plate.
"What about youkai?" she demanded crisply.
"Youkai eat more during courtship," he replied loftily, as if this behavior was superior.
Selecting a tender strip of meat from her over-full plate, she turned to the inu-youkai who was sitting just a shade too close and pushed it into his mouth. Given Sesshoumaru's stunned expression, her actions probably meant something, but that was okay. It was immensely satisfying to surprise the cocksure dog. "You'd best keep your strength up, then," she said breezily.
Shippo choked. Hisoka chuckled. Sesshoumaru chewed slowly, his eyes never leaving her face, and once he swallowed, he gave her a small, anticipatory smirk. "Hnn," he agreed.
Kits, Cats, Sacks
Very little coaxing was required in order for Kagome to wrangle a visit to Inuyasha's village. She simply asked, and Sesshoumaru graciously agreed. One phone call and two days later, three dragons arrived to carry them north. Katashi grinned broadly as he handed off Ah's and Un's reins to their master. "They've been chomping at the bit to get here since Miss Rin told 'em you'd be bringing your little lady." With a sidelong glance at Kagome he murmured, "If you don't mind me saying so... you've done right by her."
Sesshoumaru straightened, touched by Katashi's approval. "Promises are for keeping," he declared quietly.
Clapping the silver-haired inu-youkai's shoulder, the stableman bid, "Keep her well, milord."
"Hnn." A large green dragon nipped playfully at Shippo's tails as he joined Hisoka in her saddle, and once all their baggage was slung aboard his mount, Katashi swung onto the big black. All eyes turned to Kagome, who had lapsed into high, sweet baby talk while petting Ah and Un. Stepping to her side, Sesshoumaru prompted, "They will carry us."
"Yes," she replied, eyes sparkling with excitement. "I can't wait!"
You are the one we are waiting on. Taking her hand, he led her around, then effortlessly lifted her onto his dragon's broad back. Fitting himself snugly behind her, he gathered the reins, effectively caging her between his arms.
She leaned forward to give the dragons' manes a gentle tug and pat, saying, "This is my first chance to ride them!"
"So it is." Her enthusiasm pleased him, though he would have been happier if it was directed more firmly in his direction. As the dragons took to the skies, he thought perhaps it was enough that she was happy.
This I Know, and Know Full Well
As soon as Sesshoumaru swung down from Ah-Un's saddle, he murmured, "Wait a moment," to Kagome and strode away.
She couldn't imagine why he'd leave her behind with the luggage, but Hisoka strolled over and rested a hand on Ah-Un's shoulder. Meeting her puzzled gaze, he said, "This may take a few minutes."
"The welcomes," the neko-youkai replied with a nod towards the buildings that seemed to march right up the side of the mountain. An excited murmur reached her ears as a bunch of youngsters appeared at the top of the stairs leading down to the caves where Katashi obviously stabled his dragons. Sesshoumaru planted himself between her and the oncoming tumult, and in a trice, he was mobbed by children, several of whom had silver hair. As cries of 'Uncle' rang out, Kagome suddenly felt a little shy about meeting people who also considered the taiyoukai theirs.
Gazing around at Inuyasha's village, she felt as if she was very far from home, for the sturdy buildings and stark landscape seemed to belong to another time and place. The layout actually reminded her strongly of the Western Fortress, and she said as much to Hisoka.
The neko-youkai smiled faintly. "That is only natural since these people are led by a son of the West."
The hanyou himself appeared at the top of the stairs, then took a shortcut by dropping straight down the sheer cliff face, slowing his descent with a few well-placed kicks on narrow ledges. Kagome leaned down and whispered, "Is Inuyasha a good leader?"
Hisoka shook his head and quietly corrected, "He is a great leader."
Kagome watched him greet his older brother with a growing sense of amazement. Neither of the Inu no Taisho's sons had experienced what she would consider a normal childhood. Sesshoumaru had been forced to live up to everyone's expectations as the future lord and leader of his people, and Inuyasha had defied the expectations of all, becoming the leader of everything before her. As the half-brothers stood there, side by side, her lip trembled, and her eyes blurred.
Hisoka swiftly joined her in the saddle, radiating concern. "What is wrong?"
"I'm glad I never knew that this future hung in the balance," she confessed. "If I had messed up even a little bit, all of this would be spoiled... all of you might be gone."
With a soft huff, the neko-youkai pulled her into a loose embrace. "That burden was mine alone, and I bore it as best I could."
"Were you afraid?"
"No, Cricket," he gently assured. "On this end of time, I could follow your example."
"Knowing what had gone before, you had unshakable faith in his lordship, and he has lived up to that trust." Hisoka whisked an errant teardrop from her cheek and calmly declared, "All I had to do was place my faith in you."
Mix It Up and Make It Nice
Sesshoumaru backtracked to reclaim Kagome and led her through a veritable sea of orphans. Sweet faces, curious sniffs, twitching ears, and even a few swishing tails helped her nervousness to fade. They're so cute!
When they reached Inuyasha, the pudgy-fisted toddler riding on his shoulder blinked at her with deep blue eyes, then held out his hands, begging to go to her. Keeping a firm hold on the youngster, Inuyasha announced, "This here's the latest orphan... a wolf hanyou. The little guy doesn't talk much, but he's not hard to understand." Pulling the child around, Inuyasha held him at eye level. "Oi... want your auntie, runt? She's human, so you'd better mind those claws." A wee tail tucked between the boy's legs, and Inuyasha smirked before passing the hanyou to Sesshoumaru, casually adding, "Only way to get to her is through this guy, so ask nice."
The child's eyes widened considerably as he stared up into the Western Lord's impassive face, but then, he scrabbled upward enough to swipe under Sesshoumaru's chin with a small, pink tongue. A brow quirked, and the taiyoukai inquired, "Your mother was human?"
He whined softly.
"Then you understand to be gentle?" he asked solemnly.
Squirming under the inu-youkai's gaze, the boy's tail wagged hopefully.
Sesshoumaru nodded once and placed the youngster in Kagome's waiting arms. "Hello, sweetie," she murmured in welcome. With a tiny gurgle that might one day grow up to be a growl, the wolfling butted his head up under her chin, then laid his head on her shoulder so he could gaze adoringly into her face. It was almost more than her heart could take.
She gave Sesshoumaru a melting look, and he bent low to murmur, "This one is spoken for, but I will give you as many as you wish."
Jolly Friends Forevermore
Rin was waiting for them on the front porch of a large house, and Kagome hardly knew what to say. The woman before her was no longer a child, but she'd known Rin would be grown up. Still, it surprised her that the girl she remembered wasn't closer to her own the hanyou stepped to his wife's side, she decided the couple looked about the same age... younger than their years, but mature.
"Rin, you remember Kagome," Inuyasha prompted gruffly.
With a sweet smile, the woman replied, "Yes, I do. Welcome back, Kagome-sama." Glancing at her first protector, she added, "And to you, Sesshoumaru-sama. It has been too long since your last visit."
"Hnn," he replied noncommittally. Then, he scruffed Kagome's wolfling, tucking the little guy into the crook of his arm before giving Kagome a small push towards Rin.
Very conscious of two pairs of golden eyes, she glanced shyly into the face of Inuyasha's wife. Brown eyes shone with gentle amusement as Rin quietly announced, "I think they're hoping we'll get along."
Kagome managed a wan smile, for she honestly never would have recognized the other woman. This was Sesshoumaru's ward... and Inuyasha's wife... mother to more than half a village... and she was familiar with everything that was strange and new to her. More than a little intimidated, Kagome tentatively asked, "Is it really you... Rin-chan?"
"Yes, Kagome-sama." A movement off to one side caught her eye, and with an encouraging smile, Rin waved forward a little girl with silver hair, puppy ears, and big golden eyes. The child padded forward, bringing a small bunch of flowers, which she passed to her mother without once looking away from Kagome's face. "Thank you, darling," the woman murmured, then extended the bouquet to her guest. Dimpling prettily, she said, "Rin is Rin."
With a bittersweet lurch of her heart, Kagome stepped closer and was welcomed with open arms. To her surprise, she found that Rin was shorter than she was, but her embrace was a comfortable, motherly place. "I don't know what to say," Kagome confessed in a sheepish whisper.
"It's hard to say anything when there are so many eyes and ears on us," Rin replied, sending scolding looks to the looming pair inu-youkai. "We'll have time to become friends, big sister."
Kagome pulled back and protested, "Oh, but... you're older now."
"Let me call you big sister," Rin urged. "It's how I've always thought of you, and it will make things easier."
Following the woman's gaze to the brothers, Kagome asked, "Why?"
"Oh, pack dynamics," she replied with a fond glance at the taiyoukai. "You are Sesshoumaru-sama's, and he's alpha. They'll be more comfortable if I defer to you."
The matter-of-fact blending of youkai instincts into casual conversation with another human put Kagome further at ease. "I always wanted a little sister," she admitted with a glance in Inuyasha's direction.
The hanyou's arms were folded over his chest, and he seemed... relaxed, content, and maybe even a little smug. "Told ya it would be fine," he said confidently.
Sesshoumaru quirked a brow at his brother. "I did not doubt they would be well-suited."
Hisoka, who'd quietly watched the entire exchange, blandly interjected, "Perhaps because their protectors are well-suited to one another?"
Inuyasha's ears shot upright. "Oi... let's not go overboard, Sensei."
Sesshoumaru tapped his squirming wolfling's nose and said, "Agreed."
"They agree!" Shippo said in a stage whisper.
"Enough words," warned the Western Lord with a quelling look at the beaming kitsune.
Inuyasha snorted and accused, "You just want the last word."
"Not a chance," the village's headman retorted. "I'm the last word around here."
"If you say so," Sesshoumaru replied loftily.
Dark brows lowered. "I just did."
The exchange might have gone on far longer if Hisoka hadn't lifted both hands and firmly demanded, "Enough."
Rin giggled softly and slipped her arm around Kagome's waist. "We might as well start the rest of the introductions without them; they'll be at it for hours."
It was probably true... and it was treated as normal... and Kagome was delighted to learn that such things could be normal. Finding her place in this future no longer seemed quite so daunting.
Take a Key and Lock Her Up
Sesshoumaru was very rarely lured into what was loosely dubbed the Puppy Pile, a blatant misnomer considering how many species were represented by Inuyasha's orphans. Every so often, when a niece or nephew asked nicely or when a newcomer took to him, he would bed down with the youngsters. There had been little doubt in his mind that tonight would be one of those nights.
"Comfy?" inquired Inuyasha.
Normally, Sesshoumaru wouldn't dignify the jibe with an answer, but the last word was still on the line. Edging minutely closer to the young woman seated beside him on the scattered futons, he rumbled, "Very. You?"
His younger brother didn't have the chance to answer before he winced and complained, "Oi, pipsqueak... I ain't a cat!" The small neko-hanyou who'd been trying to clean his ears ducked her head and stuck her thumb in her mouth. With a soft grumble that sounded more like reassurance than anything, Inuyasha nodded to the corner and said, "Why don't you go check the Sensei's ears. He's all cat, but he's real fond of halfers like us." Orange eyes flashed their way, and the leader of the youkai world crooked his fingers, inviting the little one to join the lapful of feline hanyou he was calmly grooming.
It wouldn't be long before the lights were doused and the youngest members of Inuyasha's ridiculously large family were tucked in. In the meantime, there was lots of vying for choice spots near the handful of adults who had designated themselves as protectors. Despite his gruffness, it was obvious that the village's headman was a great favorite.
Sesshoumaru watched with considerable amusement as his brother's littlest grandchild tried to pull herself up onto unsteady feet using fistfuls of his silver hair for leverage. He well remembered the brash, uncouth adolescent of long ago, but to all these young ones, Inuyasha was the strong leader who held their world together. Having grown up without, the hanyou made damn sure he was there for everyone in his pack. Including me.
Three of Inuyasha's grown children were in the room, for they had little ones of their own in the midst of the pile. The rest of the adults were on a loose rotation, taking turns with the youngsters. Jun was there, dutifully overseeing the new wolf-hanyou for his mother; the boy's job was made easier by Kagome, who cuddled the wolfling while trying to engage Jun in conversation. "Who is this little guy?" she prompted curiously.
Kagome tried again, asking, "Do you know his name?"
With all the eloquence of both is father and uncle combined, Jun shrugged and replied, "Nope."
Giggling softly, she changed tactics. "How old do you suppose he is?"
Huffing softly, Sesshoumaru chided, "You should know your brother's name, Jun."
His nephew toed the floor and cut a look in his father's direction. "Papa doesn't know either," he defended.
"Go ask your mother," the taiyoukai directed. "Otherwise the child will grow up thinking his name is runt."
"Shut up, bastard,"Inuyasha grumbled.
"Language, little brother."
The hanyou bared his teeth, but catching Kagome's eye, he quickly traded his scowl for a sheepish smile. "Rin does the picking if no one knows their name," he explained. "She was hoping to find out what the little guy's mother called him. Sometimes, a name is the only thing they have left from their folks."
Kagome tickled the orphan's tiny ear and cooed, "You'd tell us if you could. Isn't that right?"
The boy only gurgled happily and went back to clumsily grooming his tail.
Jun trotted back into the room to report, "Uncle Hakkaku isn't back."
Inuyasha waved a hand, saying, "Didn't think so. Until we hear from him, runt works."
With a start, Kagome asked, "Hakkaku, the wolf youkai?"
"Yeah, that's him," Inuyasha confirmed. "A bunch of the wolves from Kouga's pack consider us family. I'm not sure if it's more useful than it is annoying, but we're stuck with them."
"Did one of their children marry one of yours or something?" she asked guilelessly.
Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha traded a long look. "Keh. They're sorta like in-laws, I guess... but that's not how it started."
With a soft snort, Inuyasha asked, "Kagome... what did Ginta and Hakkaku always call you?"
"Little sister," she promptly supplied.
"Exactly." Shaking his head, the hanyou said, "When it comes to wolves, once a packmate, always a packmate. Their claim to us is you."
Kagome glanced up at Sesshoumaru. "I'm the member of a wolf pack?"
"Hnn... the capacity is honorary. I have prior claim."
"Hakkaku and his family have lived here almost since the first day because he took a human mate," Inuyasha commented. "Once he's back, I'm sure he'll be anxious to get reacquainted."
"Wow," Kagome breathed. "I'd like that."
Bedtime was announced, the lanterns were snuffed, and soft giggles and loud whispers interrupted the hush. After some wriggling and whimpering, Sesshoumaru and Kagome settled down with Jun and the wolfling between them. Under the cover of silvery fur, he laid claim to her hand, threading their fingers together. Long after she and the children were asleep, he watched her face. A part of him couldn't wait to get Kagome back to the peace and privacy of his small pavilion, but he also dreaded the return journey. It would signal summer's end, which meant Hisoka and Shippo would be taking her back to her family's shrine in Tokyo. A part of him desperately wanted to lock her up and keep her forever.
"You really gonna let her go?" inquired a low voice from across the room.
Like their father before him, Inuyasha had always had an uncanny ability to figure out where his thoughts were dwelling. Sesshoumaru met his brother's gaze and quietly replied, "Yes."
"Is that what you want?"
A foolish question. "No."
Silver ears quivered as they caught his answer, and Inuyasha suggested, "You could go with her."
He'd considered it, but the weight of centuries-old responsibilities were not easily cast aside. "I do not belong there."
His younger brother breathed a sigh, then nodded once. "She'll come back to you."
"I think so, too."
Inuyasha stared right into his eyes, then pointedly closed his, letting him have the last word. With a faint smile, Sesshoumaru determined that it felt less like a victory and more like a gift.
She Heaved a Sigh and Wiped Her Eye
Mrs. Higurashi watched with a measure of concern as her daughter trudged wearily up the stairs towards her bedroom.
"She's back, safe and sound," Shippo declared earnestly. "Just like we promised."
"And...?" the lady inquired, looking from face to face.
"He marked her!" the kitsune blurted. "Sesshoumaru renewed the promise he made to her when he was just a little boy!"
"A betrothal," Hisoka helpfully interjected. "An engagement, in human terms. They are not yet bound to one another, but that is his lordship's intention."
"It's just like he's been saying all along," Mrs. Higurashi said in a pleased voice. "Kagome is his."
Hisoka exchanged a long look with Shippo, who shook his head furiously. "Nope! No offense, ma'am... but this is completely different."
"Is it?" the woman inquired dubiously. "How?"
"Sesshoumaru-sama has always considered your daughter to be his," the neko-youkai replied. "However, this is the first time she has agreed with him."
The good woman's heart must have been overfull at the news, for she dabbed at her eyes as she asked, "So... when?"
"That is a very good question," Hisoka replied delicately.
"They haven't set a date?" Kagome's mother inquired in surprise.
"Hnn. There may be some delay."
Mrs. Higurashi looked between them, puzzled. "But why? We already gave Lord Sesshoumaru our blessing... provided Kagome gives her consent."
"That is so," the neko-youkai agreed. "And in due course, I am sure he will forge the necessary bond."
"Sesshoumaru kinda blew it for himself back when Rin wanted to marry Inuyasha," Shippo glibly supplied. "He made them wait."
"So he wants to wait until Kagome is older?" the woman asked, trying to clarify things.
"Wants?" the kitsune-in-disguise echoed with a snicker. "I don't think he wants to wait."
"He plans to stand on precedent," Hisoka explained.
"Plans being the operative word," muttered Shippo under his breath.
His mentor shot him a look, but Mrs. Higurashi simply nodded to herself before asking, "And how old was Inuyasha's bride?"
Hisoka glanced towards the stairs where Kagome had disappeared. With a sigh, he quietly answered, "Nearly twenty."
Thirty Days Hath September
After her first night back in Tokyo, Kagome started sleeping in her own bedroom again. Sleeping as a pack just wasn't the same without Sesshoumaru, and she didn't like the idea that he was being left out. Shippo claimed to understand, and Hisoka calmly encouraged her to do whatever she thought best.
As promised, the good sensei unveiled an ambitious plan for Kagome's schooling. She had a little catching up to do, and he augmented her standard high school courses with youkai curriculum. History of the youkai-human alliance, inter-species diplomacy, the rights and responsibilities of persons of youkai descent-it all sounded like it would go straight over her head. As she stared in growing disbelief at the fat syllabus Hisoka provided, Shippo leaned over and whispered, "I hope you're ready to cram half his library into your brain."
"You speak from experience?" she murmured back.
Green eyes rolled expressively, only to widen in dismay when a hand dropped heavily onto his shoulder. Hisoka's brows lifted challengingly as he remarked, "You could use a refresher, Shippo. I'll prepare a second set of materials for you."
The kitsune swore, and Kagome elbowed him. With a sympathetic smile, she offered, "Study buddy?"
"Only if you let me copy off your homework," he groused.
Wheezy, Sneezy, Freezy
Late autumn turned drizzly, and despite the watchfulness of Kagome's two youkai protectors, she came down with a nasty cold. She peered blearily out from under her pink comforter at Shippo, who had taken up Hisoka's usual post in the chair beside her bed. Kagome was grateful that she didn't have to try to concentrate on the weighty history books the neko-youkai insisted on reading to her, but his absence was unusual. "Where's Hisoka-sensei?"
"Oh, off somewhere," the kitsune replied breezily, immediately making her suspicious.
"Earth-shattering, impossible things."
In spite of all his cheerful nonchalance, Kagome could tell Shippo was completely serious."That sounds like something he'd try to do," she mumbled, reaching for a tissue.
"Anything for you, Kagome," he said with a knowing smile, extending a steaming cup. "Now, drink your tea."
"Tastes nasty," she protested.
He peered dubiously at the murky concoction and admitted, "Smells nasty, but it's good for you."
"According to who?" she demanded petulantly.
"Then it must be," Kagome sighed.
"Yep." Giving her an encouraging pat, Shippo said, "Drink up and get some sleep. I'll stay right here until he gets back."
In no time at all, a hand shook Kagome's shoulder and she peered disorientedly at her window. The murky grey light meant it was daytime, and freezing rain pelted against the panes. "What time is it?"
"Dinner'll be ready soon," Shippo replied. "But more importantly, Hisoka-sensei is back, and he's accomplished the impossible."
Distantly, Kagome noted that whatever had happened must be momentous if it outranked dinner in the kitsune's mind. The redhead produced his cellphone, pressed a few buttons, then handed it over. Baffled, she held it to her ear in time to hear someone pick up on the other end.
"S-sesshoumaru-sama?" she gasped.
"You have a phone?"
'Hisoka-sensei was most insistent,' he replied in a put-upon tone. 'Are you well?'
"No," she whined.
After a careful pause, Sesshoumaru asked, 'What is amiss?'
"I have a cold."
'You are ill?' he asked, his voice tight.
"It's just a cold."
'No one told me you were ill,' he said in ominous tones.
Ashamed to have alarmed him, Kagome soothed, "It's a tiny little cold... nothing to worry about."
This time the pause was longer. 'Should I come?'
Oh, how she wanted to say yes, but one earth-shattering event was probably enough for the day. "I'm not in danger from a cold. Really," she promised. "Besides, I wouldn't want you to get sick, too."
'I would not succumb to illness,' he retorted haughtily. Then more softly, 'Are you certain?'
"Yes. Mama is taking care of me."
'I want to take care of you,' he countered solemnly.
With a small sniffle that was mostly post-nasal drip, Kagome replied, "I want to take care of you, too."
She could almost hear the wheels of his brain turning. Finally, he announced, 'I do not need a caretaker.'
"I could check behind your ears for you?" she offered coyly.
'That might be acceptable,' he conceded.
With a small giggle, she whispered, "I miss you, Sesshoumaru-sama." The soft grumble on the other end of the line was certainly intended to offer comfort where words failed. Kagome blinked back tears and asked, "May I call you sometimes?"
'It pleases me to hear your voice.'
"Does that mean yes?"
'Yes,' he replied firmly. 'As often as you wish.'
"That's pretty often," she warned wryly.
She heard his soft huff and knew he was amused. 'Good,' he rumbled, his voice filled with the affection she sorely missed.
When the call ended, Kagome didn't relinquish the cell phone; tucking it up under her chin, she drifted off with a smile on her face. From his perch in the chair beside the bed, the redhead glanced towards Hisoka, who leaned casually against the frame of the bedroom door. "Do your plans always work out this well?" Shippo inquired rhetorically.
"Hnn," the neko-youkai replied in a tone that neither confirmed nor denied anything.
When I Get All Steamed Up
Sesshoumaru hadn't expected a visit in the middle of winter, but he wasn't complaining. Shippo turned up in time to join him for his usual morning ritual, sparring with characteristic enthusiasm... and uncharacteristic ferocity. It was a nice change of pace, so Sesshoumaru didn't ask questions; for his part, Shippo didn't offer any explanations. In any event, the distraction was a welcome one.
Afterwards, the kitsune filled the bathhouse with a largely one-sided conversation, sharing random tidbits of things that had happened at the Higurashi's over the last few weeks. The news wasn't new, but the process of telling it was a balm. While the telephone allowed Sesshoumaru to hear his betrothed's voice, it irked him not to be able to see her or smell her. He found himself relaxing by increments as Shippo's scent reassured him that he was telling the truth; Kagome was safe, busy, and happy.
Water droplets hit his face, and Sesshoumaru blinked at the audacious redhead who asked, "You had enough of this self-imposed solitude yet?"
With a soft grunt, he replied, "These lands are mine."
"You could visit once in a while, you know," Shippo pressed. "I could help."
"Stubborn idiot," the kitsune sighed, then let the subject drop. Instead, he announced, "I have it on good authority that tonight's kinda special. Your birthday was always celebrated on the night of the waning crescent in the deep of winter... and that's tonight."
Sesshoumaru huffed. "No one has marked the day since my childhood."
Swishing one hand through the steamy water, Shippo replied, "Yeah, I know, but someone was all interested to know when your birthday was. Sensei-dono might have let the date slip."
"Slip?" he challenged.
"More like blabbed, but what's the harm?" the kitsune said with a grin.
They lingered a little longer in the bath, but finally Sesshoumaru began the long process of wringing out hair and sifting through damp fur. Shippo shook much of the water from his tails, then settled down to groom them. As the companionable silence stretched, the inu-youkai pondered the kitsune's remarks and frowned thoughtfully. Kagome wished to know my birthday, but then why is Shippo here? Does he bear a message? Perhaps a gift? Curiosity piqued, he studied the redhead and decided that he was definitely up to something. The question was... what?
Once they were both dressed, Shippo preceded him through the door and gave its lintel a casual slap; it was as if a bubble burst, allowing in a new layer of sounds and scents. Taken aback, Sesshoumaru muttered, "A barrier?"
"You didn't even notice, did you?" Shippo needled.
"No," he admitted, greatly chagrined. It wasn't often they were faced with the fact that their resident kitsune had earned every one of his tails.
"It's like I always say," the redhead drawled. "I'm really good at hiding things... and plans... and people."
Pushing past the younger demon, Sesshoumaru hurried to the edge of the ridge and gazed down towards his home. There were tracks all over the previously-pristine snow, dragons milling on the edge of the wood, and noise... so much noise. Amidst the clamor, one voice seemed to reach out and seize his heart. "Kagome," he breathed.
"Yep!" Shippo cheerfully confirmed. "She cooked this up for you, so go be happy."
She Will Sit By My Side
No one saw Sesshoumaru enter the pavilion, so great was his haste to reach Kagome. For an instant, conversation lulled, but then everyone went on with what they had been saying, politely pretending not to notice the reunion taking place in front of the kitchen sink.
Heedless of the gathered members of his family and hers, Sesshoumaru slipped his arms around Kagome and pulled her back against his chest. She squeaked in surprise, but quickly smiled up at him. "Are you surprised?" she asked eagerly.
"Pleasantly." Breathing deeply, he inquired, "Are you well?"
Having given his future mate her priority, Sesshoumaru dutifully greeted his many guests. Inuyasha and Rin had come with several youngsters, and Hisoka was introducing Mrs. Higurashi and Souta to Katashi. Food and drink had been brought, and extra fires had been lit in braziers for the benefit of humans, who needed the warmth. Winter days being short, the afternoon was barely spent when darkness fell, but light and laughter spilled out of the pavilion beside an ice-covered lake.
When dinner was served, Sesshoumaru tugged Kagome snugly against his side, wrapping the trailing end of his pelt around her feet. She chatted excitedly with Rin and reminisced with Inuyasha and Katashi by turns, barely touching her food. Though he placed choice morsels on the edge of her plate and tutted insistently, all his inu-youkai subtlety was lost on the young woman, so Sesshoumaru finally resorted to feeding her.
"Mmph!" she protested when he pushed a dumpling into her mouth.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Higurashi murmured. "Is that usual... for youkai, I mean?"
"Courtship traditions vary," Hisoka calmly replied, though his eyes danced with amusement.
Rin laughed softly and said, "It's worse during pregnancy."
"Oi!" Inuyasha protested. "I didn't act like that!"
His wife favored him with a long look. "No?"
"Much," he conceded.
Shippo grinned. "Oh, you were much, all right. Much worse!"
As the teasing and tattling circulated around the table, Sesshoumaru jostled Kagome's elbow, and she finally took the hint. "I'll eat, but I can feed myself," she declared, a determined light in her eyes. He graciously inclined his head, but scrupulously counted every bite she took. She noticed and gently prodded his ribs. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Starved," he replied gravely.
Concern flashed across her features, and she quickly plucked extra dumplings from the simmering pot in the center of the table, adding them to his plate.
He huffed softly and reached for his chopsticks. Food wouldn't satisfy his cravings, but he could contain himself until bedtime was announced. In this crowd, he was certain he would end up under a wriggling pile of his brother's assorted progeny, but that mattered little so long as Kagome was in his arms again.
The hour grew late enough for the children to begin rubbing eyes and pulling ears to stay awake, so Rin sent them all scurrying into pajamas as the fires were banked for the night. Some guests availed themselves of the extra rooms off to the side of the main living area, but most chose to arrange their futons in the warmth of the large central room.
Shippo and Hisoka somehow managed to marshal the youngsters into their corner of the room, allowing Sesshoumaru to secure a measure of privacy as he claimed his place by Kagome's side. Closing his eyes, he tuned out whispers and giggles and focused on the young woman who fitted so neatly into his arms. At first, she was tense, and he could smell her embarrassment, but it never took long for Kagome to adjust. Tucking her under his chin, he quietly waited for her shyness to fade.
By the time the others had dropped off to sleep, she nestled cozily against him, whispering odds and ends that hadn't been shared over the phone. Firmly but gently, he turned her in his embrace and tilted her face upwards. "I am pleased you are here," he declared solemnly.
"Did you have a nice birthday?" she asked hopefully.
"I was going to bring you a present, but I couldn't think of anything you might want..."
"Besides you?" he supplied with a faint smirk. She blushed, and he knew he'd guessed correctly. More than anything, he wanted to kiss her, but he didn't quite trust himself; he trusted her, though. Lying back with his free hand behind his head, he tugged her closer and gravely demanded, "Kiss me."
Propping herself up on one elbow, she did—soft and sweet and far too short. "There," she said with a smile. "A birthday kiss."
"Another?" he begged. She hummed her agreement, and offered another, quick and playful. "More," he whispered huskily.
Kagome bit her lip, a teasing light dancing in her eyes. "I wonder," she began, dipping her head lower to tickle his ear with her breath. "How old are you, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Does it matter?"
Her lips briefly caressed his cheek, and she replied, "If I knew, I could kiss you once for every year."
Sesshoumaru's heart began to thud in anticipation. "You may begin," he magnanimously allowed. "I will let you know when to stop."
She rose to the challenge and kissed his nose, and he let her hear his sigh. As she sprinkled his face with more, he whined softly, urging her on. When her lips sought his again, Sesshoumaru blissfully lost count.
Gold and Silver I Have None
In early spring, Inuyasha turned up on Sesshoumaru's front porch. The taiyoukai sighed and asked, "Did Rin send you to check on me?"
"Not exactly," he hedged. "I mean... she did, but I was planning to come down anyway."
"What? Is she expecting another child?" Sesshoumaru inquired, managing to sound bored. It was a reasonable guess, since news of that magnitude was always given in person.
"Keh." Inuyasha pushed past him through the door, saying, "It's about Kagome."
"It ain't nothing bad," the hanyou groused, already working at building a fire.
Sesshoumaru wasn't particularly reassured. His brother only fell into old verbal habits when he was flustered or furious.
Inuyasha soon had a blaze going and put on water to heat. "Don't you remember the Sensei's lecture about keeping this place warm? Even if you don't need it, the plumbing does."
Sitting across from his brother, Sesshoumaru felt his nerves go on edge. The hanyou only rambled when he was avoiding the one thing he wanted to say. "The pipes placed under my protection have survived."
"Still... this place is barely habitable in winter," Inuyasha pointed out. "Not by humans."
"Is that why you are here?"
"Not exactly," he admitted again. "I mean... Eiji did start drawing up some plans for you, but... look... about Kagome. Her eighteenth birthday's almost here."
"I know it."
"And you're getting her something." It was more of a statement than a question, which threw Sesshoumaru off. On those rare occasions when Inuyasha took charge, it made him miss their father. The hanyou held his gaze and quietly asked, "You ever given her something?"
"Many gifts have been sent to both her and her household."
"Yeah, yeah," the hanyou said with a dismissive wave. "Kagome's mom was going on and on about all your courting gifts, but aren't those just a demonstration? There's no question that you can provide for Kagome. I'm talking about giving her something nice. Something personal."
"Personal," he echoed flatly. More intrigued than annoyed by his brother's intentions, Sesshoumaru tipped his head to one side and waited.
Inuyasha snorted. "Let me guess... you're gift enough?"
"Figures," he muttered, sounding amused despite the awkward droop of his ears. "But... if you wanted a suggestion, I have one."
"Share your counsel."
"Well, I was thinking," Inuyasha said in a low voice. "You're courting. Engaged even. You don't need one, but she might want one... being human and all. Rin did, once they came into fashion."
"One what, little brother?"
Inuyasha held up his left hand. "A ring, bastard. You should think about giving Kagome a ring."
Sesshoumaru gazed thoughtfully at the silver band, then hummed softly. "I will consider it."
Laden with Pretty Things for Thee
"Are we there yet?" inquired Shippo from the back seat.
"Hnn," Hisoka replied blandly. "Perhaps we should add remedial geography to your studies in the fall?"
The kitsune's eyes widened. "You wouldn't!"
"I would," the neko-youkai rejoined calmly.
Kagome laughed, glad to see her two friends in such high spirits. Summer had arrived, and Mama had enthusiastically agreed to let her daughter spend her study break at the lake with Sesshoumaru. To her surprise, the quiet countryside was much noisier than usual. "Is that hammering?" she inquired as they came even with the stables beneath the fortress ruins.
"Sesshoumaru's feathering his nest," Shippo replied, blithely swinging Kagome's heavy suitcase.
"Milord's pavilion is ill-suited to human habitation in winter," Hisoka expanded helpfully. "He has agreed to certain renovations."
"He never told me!" she exclaimed.
"Perhaps he did not wish to complain," the neko-youkai suggested.
"Is it that bad?" she ventured.
"Hnn... I believe he spends a lot of time with Bokuseno these days."
"I heard he's back to sleeping in the stables," Shippo remarked with a chuckle.
"Both of you knew, and you didn't say anything?" Kagome scolded.
"It was supposed to be a surprise!" defended the redhead.
"Eiji's been working and living here since spring thaw," Hisoka interjected. "Do you remember him?"
"Inuyasha's Eiji?" she asked in surprise.
"Yep!" Shippo praised. "He's a carpenter... built half of everything in his home town, so he's had lots of practice."
"I remember him," Kagome assured with a smile. "The quiet one who married up."
Hisoka gave her a sidelong glance. "That's hardly polite, Cricket."
She blinked innocently. "That's how he introduced himself!"
Somewhat to Kagome's relief, when the pavilion came into view, it looked the same as always; whatever changes had been made weren't obvious from the outside. Sesshoumaru was waiting for them on the porch, looking as cool and collected as usual, but she knew better than to judge him by outward appearances either. He was barely holding it together, yet he managed to greet her calmly. "Welcome home."
His presumption made her smile even as a fresh round of hammering turned her head. "It sounds like you've been busy?" she inquired.
With a small shake of his head, he replied, "Eiji is capable."
Shippo leaned in to whisper, "An indirect admission that he's incapable."
An eyebrow rose. Five tails tucked. Hisoka cleared his throat and suggested, "A tour?"
"Hnn," Sesshoumaru agreed, and they were ushered inside.
They entered the main room, which smelled of sawdust and beeswax, and Inuyasha and Rin's second son turned and bowed in greeting. "Hello, Aunt," Eiji said with quiet formality.
The quarter-youkai's long silver hair was bound into a thick plait down the center of his back, and his mostly-human ears came to slight points, hinting at a heritage his golden eyes made more readily apparent. He was fast approaching his fifth century, yet Eiji retained a youthful appearance, due in part to the mating bond he shared with a full wolf demoness.
"Oh, my! I had no idea you were so skilled!" Kagome enthused, gazing around the room.
Eiji smiled faintly, saying, "I do what I can."
Just then, two adolescent boys ambled into the room, their arms filled with trim for the cabinetry that now took up most of the far wall. Kagome recognized the golden-eyed youth as Inuyasha's oldest grandson. Judging by the other teen's silver eyes, greyish complexion, and the odd ridges running along the center of his forehead and into his dark hair, he was another of Inuyasha's adopted children. Beckoning the two over, Eiji said, "You have met my son, Kin. This is his best friend, Gin."
The boys dipped their heads politely, and after a swift peek at Sesshoumaru, they added a synchronized, "Hello, Aunt."
"They're learning the trade," Eiji explained, a note of pride in his tone.
Kagome glanced between the boys, then tentatively inquired, "Is it rude to ask what kind of hanyou you are, Gin?"
"I don't mind," he replied in a light voice, though his cheeks darkened.
Kin jumped in and thumped his chest, brashly interrupting, "I'm not a halfer; I'm five-eighths youkai."
"Manners," growled Sesshoumaru, and both boys drooped.
"Yes, Kin. I remember," Kagome offered seriously. It hadn't taken long to learn that most of the hanyou in Inuyasha's village took great pride in the very heritage that made them outcasts. This boy's demonic features were much more prominent than his father's... right down to the silvery tail that swished about his knees. His cockiness might have been his age, or it might have been the wolf in him. Either way, he was obviously positioning himself to protect his shyer counterpart.
Gin touched his best friend's arm and declared, "I'm two-fourths dragon, Aunt. Both my parents were dragon hanyou."
"I see!" she exclaimed, studying the hint of scales marking the backs of his hands. "Thank you for indulging my curiosity. It's a pleasure to meet you!"
Hisoka nudged her shoulder and said, "These two are rather famous."
"For getting each other into trouble," remarked Shippo with an approving wink at his juniors.
"Hnn, that too," the neko-youkai wryly agreed. "However, I was thinking of their lineage."
"Oooh, that," the kitsune said breezily. "That's not such a big deal."
"I only bring it up because Kagome-sama will remember," Hisoka said apologetically.
Eiji's golden eyes sparked with interest. "I had not thought of that. You boys do not mind if the Sensei tells her, do you?"
Kin looked to Gin, who shrugged. The bolder boy shrugged, too, saying, "Everybody knows anyhow."
"You're all making me curious," Kagome protested.
Shippo chuckled and said, "Hopefully, Sensei-dono will give you the short version... and not the annotated historical version he made me write back when I was in school."
"There is not need to belabor the matter," Hisoka assured. Stepping around behind the two lads, he placed a hand on Kin's shoulder. "As you know, this boy is the Inu no Taisho's great-grandson." Placing his hand on the other boy's shoulder, he revealed, "This boy happens to be Lord Ryuukotsusei's grandson."
Kagome gasped softly as the pieces slid into place, then she smiled tentatively at Gin. "I did meet your father once. Now that I think of it, you have his eyes." Gin dipped his head, but his expression was wary. Unsure what to say, she asked, "Is it awkward?"
"No," he replied matter-of-factly. "Inuyasha-jiji raised my mother, and me, too... mostly."
Something else clicked, and Kagome looked at her teacher in amazement. "Ryuukotsusei-sama had a hanyou child?"
"More than one," Hisoka acknowledged. "If you will recall, dragons have herd instincts?"
"Oh," she murmured, wondering what had sparked the dragon lord's interest in her race. Glancing at Sesshoumaru she asked, "And Inuyasha took in the daughter of the dragon who... erm... Ryuukotsusei-sama's daughter?"
Shippo snorted and made free to mention, "Sesshoumaru's the one who left her on his doorstep."
The taiyoukai nodded once. "She was lost."
Eiji folded his arms over his chest and with a sly glance in Sesshoumaru, said, "Father always said hanyou should stick together, no matter who their old man happened to be. According to him, the real miracle was that he and Uncle made peace."
Kin and Gin eyeballed the looming lord, traded a speaking glance, rolled their eyes, then got back to work.
Curly Locks, Curly Locks
Sesshoumaru was gaining a reputation as the biggest pushover in the pack, but he couldn't resist the urge to meet Kagome's every need... and want... and whim. When she mentioned how much she loved plums, he pulled Hisoka aside and asked his teacher to suggest a good place for an orchard. When she tentatively asked if he'd allow Eiji to build a water slide, all he could think of was how much he would enjoy counting all the new freckles she was sure to attain from playing in the sun.
Shippo said he was wrapped around Kagome's little finger, but Sesshoumaru shrugged off the kitsune's teasing accusation because he knew it was the same for her. Late at night, he would play with her long, black hair, watching the trailing ends curl around his pale fingers. True, he wished to please her, but she was also looking for ways to please him. If he was wrapped around her finger, it was only because she was wrapped around his... just like the pinkie promise they'd shared.
Don't Say a Word
Under her first year of Hisoka-sensei's tutelage, Kagome endured a rigid schedule of review and remedial coursework. In record time, she'd gained enough ground that her teacher expressed confidence that she'd be able to sit for entrance exams to any university she set her sights on.
Her second year came with a determination to round out her experiences in different ways. The neko-youkai had never believed that learning should be limited to textbooks, so his plans for her final year of high school tended towards the practical. Just as he had when Sesshoumaru was a child, Hisoka planned numerous outings, and the travel itinerary had been mind-boggling. 'Meijin-dono' and 'Donguri-san' escorted Kagome through nearly every temple and shrine on the youkai registry, introducing her to many of the demons who lived alongside humans.
Even when they remained at the Higurashi's shrine, the leader of the youkai world welcomed guests from far and wide, representatives from nearly every youkai species. Hisoka made no secret of the fact that he wanted to bring out her diplomatic potential; he was always looking ahead, even now. Her days were interesting, even exciting, and autumn passed in a whirlwind; however, by the time winter break rolled around, Kagome longed for peace and quiet.
Of course, New Year's Day at a shrine was anything but. Normally, the Higurashis would have been running ragged by now, but Hisoka pulled a few strings. There were more than enough extra workers to help with the annual preparations, many of whom were actually kitsune in disguise. They made really cute shrine maidens.
The evening before New Year's Eve, Kagome sat at the table, idly flipping through her history notes, her thoughts miles away. Mama brought a tray of mochi and returned to the kitchen to make tea, but it seemed a shame to eat the sweets without Shippo. The kitsune had been conspicuously absent at lunch, and when she'd asked Hisoka about it, he'd simply said, "He had an errand to run."
"By himself?" she asked worriedly.
"Do you still think of him as a child?" the neko-youkai inquired curiously.
"Nooo," she replied slowly. "I guess I still think of him as mine."
"I am certain he would be pleased to know it," Hisoka said fondly. "Do not fear for your son; he is quite capable. I expect him to return sometime this evening."
There were kitsune aplenty at the table that night, but dinner came and went without any sign of her five-tailed favorite. Kagome sighed and fanned through her notebook, paying no attention to the material she'd hoped would distract her from her restlessness. I wonder how Sesshoumaru-sama is doing? It must be so peaceful out there. So quiet, you can hear the snow falling. A part of her wanted to pack her bags and spend the rest of the holiday with him. True, the pavilion would be rather cold in winter in spite of the improvements, but she was quite sure the taiyoukai would find ways to keep her warm.
Hisoka gently cleared his throat, and Kagome started from her daydream with a blink and a blush. "Shippo has returned," he announced, a knowing look lending a shine to his eyes.
"Oh? Oh," she replied, slapping her notebook closed. "I wonder if he's hungry?"
Just then, Shippo strolled into the room looking smug. Hisoka's brows lifted inquiringly. "It went well?"
The redhead sat beside the neko-youkai and reached for the mochi. "I survived!" he said with feeling, then popped the rice cake into his mouth. With his mouth full, he mumbled, "Less trouble than I expected, actually."
"Hnn," Hisoka murmured sympathetically.
"What's going on?" Kagome demanded, turning slightly at her mother's warm exclamation from the direction of the front door.
Shippo grinned and said, "I hid something! See if you can find it!"
"What did you...?" she asked, but a deep voice answered her mother's inquiry, and her jaw dropped. "You didn't!"
"I did!" the kitsune countered. "Sensei-dono isn't the only one who can accomplish impossible things!"
Heart pounding, Kagome scrambled to her feet and darted into the hall. In the entry, her mother stood before a tall man with black hair and hazel eyes. She stared uncomprehending into a face that was at once familiar and strange. "S-sesshoumaru-sama?" she stammered.
With jaw clenched, he stepped out of his shoes, nodded curtly to her mother, stalked towards her, snatched her hand, and all but dragged her deeper into the house, bound for the bathroom.
Slippy, Drippy, Nippy
The bathroom door snapped shut, and Kagome found herself pressed against it by a slumped demon. "I do not like this," he announced, his voice dull.
Kagome tipped her head to one side, trying to see the face Sesshoumaru was hiding against her shoulder. All she could really see was one ear, which looked funny without its elfin point. "You make a very handsome human," she soothed, giving his arm a pat. "And I'm sure it was easier to travel in disguise."
Sesshoumaru drew back, and his lip curled, revealing blunted teeth. From under his kimono, he withdrew the talisman that anchored Shippo's illusion, and with an impatient twist, he snapped its cord. Immediately, the taiyoukai was restored, and agitated youki buffeted her senses. "I do not like this!" he repeated with a growl.
"Pretending to be something you are not?" she ventured.
He stared at her blankly for a moment, then his eyes slid shut and he drooped against her once again. "Waiting," he muttered softly. "I am weary of waiting."
Her heart fluttered, but her face fell. "I'm sorry, Sesshoumaru-sama. All those years..."
With a huff, he said, "The years are behind me. It is the months that are troublesome now." After a moment's consideration, he gravely added, "Weeks and days as well."
"We talk on the phone almost every day."
"Hnn," he murmured, nuzzling at her neck and shoulder while taking deep breaths. "It is not the same."
"No, I suppose it's not." She gave his broad chest a small push, then said, "We can't stay in here. Do you want some dinner? Tea?"
He straightened and blinked down at her, then lifted his chin to a haughty angle. "A bath."
"Erm... okay. I can start running water, but then I should explain to Mama..."
"Hisoka-sensei will explain," Sesshoumaru replied. "He is good at explaining."
"He can hear us?" It was a foolish question. "Of course he can; he's only in the next room. That's fine, then." She passed into the tiled room with the tub and turned the taps. Pulling towels from the cupboard, she said, "While you soak, I can help Mama warm some food..."
"No?" she echoed, turning to study the inu-youkai's face. His expression was hard to read. "Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Stay," he demanded.
"In here?" Kagome gasped, quickly shaking her head. "I don't think that would be... erm..."
"I need..." Sesshoumaru began, his tone suspiciously gruff. "I need you to check behind my ears."
She opened and closed her mouth a couple times, then whispered, "Is that all?"
"I did not come to claim you in a bathroom," he said, looking rather offended at the very idea.
"Why did you come?" she asked softly.
"Because I could." Moving to turn off the water, he ran an assessing glance around the room, then nodded to himself. Sesshoumaru faced her and gave his finger a small twirl that brought back memories. "I require privacy. Turn around."
Oh my. She quickly complied, closing her eyes as the rustle of cloth was followed by the rush of the shower. Then, the tub water sloshed over onto the tiles as he settled into the bath.
"Kagome, please come here," he called. She glanced over her shoulder; Sesshoumaru faced her with his arms folded upon the rim, much as she had done when their positions had been reversed. Keeping her eyes carefully averted, she stepped over the slippery floor, hooking the squat bathing stool with her foot and sitting down next to the tub. At some point while her back was turned, he'd plaited his hair, and the long, loose braid coiled on the floor next to her feet. "Have I asked too much?"
"I'm okay," she assured. With a soft rumble of reassurance, he brushed his knuckles over the rosy flush on her cheek, then threaded his fingers into her hair and carefully drew her nearer. Tilting her head, he softly kissed the underside of her chin, an inu-youkai plea. "What do you want?"
"Whatever you can spare."
"Wouldn't it be simpler to just take what you need?"
Sesshoumaru flexed his hands but let them fall limp as he rested his chin on his crossed wrists. Steadily meeting her gaze, he confessed, "If I begin, it will not end until you are wholly mine."
Her lips formed a small 'o' as some things that had been puzzling her slid into place. "How soon after marking a female does the male usually... erm... finalize things?"
"Within days... sometimes hours."
"Does that mean your instincts are bothering you?"
His head tipped to one side and quietly said, "The attraction is strong, but the need for affection is stronger. I place myself in your hands."
Then, he turned and the water sloshed over the edge again as he settled with his back to her and sat with back straight and shoulders tense. So Kagome set about the enviable task of soothing her betrothed's jangling instincts in the most tactile fashion possible—grooming.
In the beginning, the only sound that echoed in the steamy room was the dripping of water, but as she smoothed her hands across his shoulders, Sesshoumaru grumbled encouragingly. Not wanting to tease away the control he was maintaining for her sake, Kagome used a firm touch. Weeks of pent up longing flowed from her fingertips, and she began to hum softly as she scratched at his scalp, stroked the stripes that adorned his cheekbones, and thoroughly checked behind each of his elegantly pointed ears.
At her request, he brought out the abundance of silvery fur that usually rode upon his shoulders; it spilled over the edge of the tub, across her lap, and onto the floor around her, and for the first time, she dared to indulge her curiosity. As she ran her fingers through its softness, Sesshoumaru went limp, and her soft crooning was lost beneath the deep thrum of his contentment.
When the water began too cool, he offered her a lazy little half-smile; when she kissed his quirked lips, his golden eyes darkened. Tutting softly, she pressed her lips to his again and again, mingling apologies, reassurances, comfort, and love.
"Kagome," he breathed, and she hummed inquiringly. Reaching up to touch her face, he solemnly said, "I apologize for my complaint. I will gladly wait."
For Want of a Nail
"What is he waiting for?" Kagome demanded when she was able to corner Hisoka in one of the storage rooms.
The neko-youkai set aside his year-end cleaning duties with a thoughtful expression. "Are you in a hurry?"
"Oh, no you don't!" she said sternly. "Diplomatic evasion is not an option here!"
Hisoka chuckled. "My apologies. I was only trying to give myself time to consider an answer."
He ran his hand through his hair, then nodded to himself. "His lordship cares little for the expectations of others, but at times, I believe he finds it difficult to live up to those he imposes upon himself. In this instance, it may be that milord is regretting the roadblocks he placed in front of his younger brother when he wished to wed."
"You mean... because he said Rin was too young?"
"Yes, and Inuyasha bowed to his brother's wishes," Hisoka confirmed. "Which means that according to his lordship's own decree, you are too young to accept a mate."
She understood, but she still shook her head. "He's waited so long; no one would blame him if... well, if."
Her teacher dipped his head, acknowledging her point, but his orange eyes betrayed a strong sense of hesitation. "If you declared yourself ready, I am certain he would acquiesce, but... bear one thing in mind, Cricket. No one would blame him, but in all likelihood, he would blame himself."
"For being weak?" she ventured uncertainly.
"Possibly," Hisoka allowed. "However, it may be that in waiting, he honors the sacrifice he so stubbornly required of his packmates. You could sway him, but I would rather see you support him."
It was rare for the neko-youkai to outright say what he thought they should do, so Kagome took his words to heart. Hearing him refer to Inuyasha and Rin as packmates made her wonder aloud, "Is Sesshoumaru-sama a great leader?"
He blinked slowly, and she knew she'd caught him off guard. Humming to himself, he gave her his honest opinion in a hushed voice. "Not in the same sense as his father and brother, for he is still a difficult person to understand. Milord's strengths are best displayed in private settings. One day soon, he will surely lead you and yours as a superior alpha, mate, and father."
"Oh," she breathed, hardly knowing how to respond to Hisoka's commendation. His words would likely become the wish she made on the first sunrise of the new year. With a shy smile, she admitted, "I think so, too."
Coo Said the Turtledove
Kagome put it off until just before Sesshoumaru left with Shippo for his lakeside home. Begging the kitsune to give them a few minutes, she once more commandeered the bathroom. Wrapping her arms around her betrothed in a farewell hug, she calmed her nerves enough to speak her mind. "My birthday is this spring."
Long fingers sifted through her hair. "I know it."
"Sesshoumaru-sama, you've waited long enough."
He leaned back to meet her gaze, his brows drawn together. "I have?"
"I'll be nineteen in... oh, about ten weeks, I guess. I talked to Mama, and she agreed that it's enough time to plan a small wedding." His expression went strangely blank, but Kagome forged ahead. "Rin was also nineteen, so Inuyasha can't tease you too much."
"This spring?" he asked wonderingly.
"Yes," she confirmed with a hopeful smile. "If you're willing."
"I am willing." His lips brushed lightly over hers. "I will be ready."
In the kitchen, Hisoka and Shippo exchanged a long look, and the redhead broke into a broad smile. "Told ya Kagome would end up having to do the proposing!"
The North Wind Doth Blow
The snow was deeper than a dragon's bridle when Sesshoumaru decided it was time to pay a visit to his brother's village. Too impatient to wait for proper transport, he decided that the current snowstorm was heavy enough to provide cover and blazed a path north in a brilliant sphere of light. When he landed in an explosion of youki on Totosai's doorstep, it sent most of the village into a tizzy. Inuyasha would undoubtedly chew him out about it later, but for now, there was one thing on his mind. "Totosai!" he called, his voice ringing with authority.
With shuffling steps and a cautious peek, the old swordsmith blinked at him from the other side of a cluttered workshop. "That you, Sesshoumaru?" he called querulously.
"I have need of your skill," the taiyoukai replied, striding forward. "Will you take my commission?"
"Eh? Not a seal?" Totosai asked in confusion. "We haven't needed to seal a dragon in a while. Sesshoumaru is the only one whose fangs work for the dragon halfers."
"I know it old man," the Western Lord replied patiently. "This time, I require a ring."
Totosai looked him up and down and demanded, "Whose finger?"
"You have one?"
Sesshoumaru shook his head once. "I am betrothed."
"Wonder of wonders," the old man muttered. "She met you yet? Know what she's getting into?"
"She does," the taiyoukai replied evenly.
"Brave," Totosai opined, puttering around on his work bench and muttering about tools that wandered off when he wasn't looking.
The elderly smith crowed triumphantly and rounded on Sesshoumaru with an impressive set of extractors. He doddered over to a stool and patted it, and the taiyoukai graciously accepted his invitation. With as much dignity as was possible under such circumstances, he allowed Totosai to grasp his chin, turning his face towards the light. "Let's see the raw materials, then," he urged, and Sesshoumaru reluctantly opened his mouth. "Now, I might be wrong, but any chance this is what you've been saving that upper canine for?"
"No," he said, pulling away. "That is reserved for my firstborn's seal."
"Eh? What now? A hanyou's seal?" Totosai's gaze sharpened considerably, and he asked, "You found her?"
Somewhat startled by the inquiry, he answered, "I did."
"The same one your father spoke of?"
"Father did?" Sesshoumaru asked, more startled than he let on. "Surely you mean Inuyasha. You are under his protection now."
"No, no, no," the old man insisted. "Your lord father told me many stories while I forged Tetsusaiga. One of his favorites was the legend of a human girl with courage enough to face a demon as equal."
"Higurashi," he murmured.
"He boasted of your oath... and his own oath, the besotted dog, And there was something about a cat with a fire-breathing staff. Precious few of those around," Totosai rambled. "Did you know the lord minister has one?"
Tapping his extractors against his palm, he opined, "He would be pleased, your father."
Sesshoumaru's chin lifted. "Father acknowledged my choice before the clans."
"That's call for something special, then," Totosai declared, prying the Western Lord's mouth open with a bony finger. "Which shall I take? Fang? Molar?"
With a soft growl, Sesshoumaru pushed the old timer back, replying, "Neither. I brought these." Reaching into his sleeve, he withdrew a small pouch, and with a surly look, he held it out to the master swordsmith. "Can you make something of them?"
Working open the ties with the tips of his claws, Totosai blinked suspiciously into the bag, then poured its contents into his palm. With infinite care, he selected a tiny fang and held it up between thumb and forefinger. "Are these... puppy teeth?" he asked dubiously.
"Hnn." At first, Sesshoumaru had kept them because they were his. Later, he'd learned that fangs could be made into magnificent demon blades, so they'd been added to his treasure box. So small. So insignificant compared to what I could offer now. But with those tiny teeth he had claimed Higurashi, and it pleased him to think they might do so once again.
Totosai hemmed and hawed as he scrutinized the cast-off teeth of a younger lord, but finally, he announced, "They wouldn't make much of a weapon, but a ring? Possibly, possibly, eh? What's that?" He cocked an ear as if listening to the wee bits of bone, then laughed rustily. "Eager, are we?" he muttered, then faced Sesshoumaru squarely. "It can be done!"
Dipping his head gratefully, he asked, "How long will it take?"
"No idea!" Totosai cheerfully replied, already rummaging among his tools. "If the pup was half as stubborn as the dog, it could take until spring!"
"Spring," Sesshoumaru echoed. "Spring is acceptable."
First Comes Love
He was unhappy, but not for any reason that upset her. Cloaked in human guise, Sesshoumaru knelt beside her, solemn and stoic. His face bore no trace of his markings, his hair was black and bound, and his eyes had been dulled to an odd greenish-brown that didn't suit him at all. Everyone whispered about her groom's good looks, but they had no idea.
Kagome's heart ached a little over this newest proof of Sesshoumaru's patience. Youkai didn't need a ceremony like this one in order to form a lifelong attachment, yet he chose to honor human tradition. In the wedding pavilion erected under Goshinboku's spreading branches, within sight of the wellhouse, with humans, hanyou, and youkai looking on, the Lord of the Western Lands vowed to take a human for his own. Then, it was Kagome's turn to speak, and Sesshoumaru expectantly sought her gaze, eager for her acceptance, ready to hear her rote. With a small smile on her face, she gave him her pledge, and his rumble of approval vibrated gently through the ring he placed on her finger.
As Fast as He Could Caper
Sesshoumaru went ahead with Shippo, needing to shake off the constraints of city and ceremony. In a variation on an old youkai tradition, Hisoka would be bringing Kagome, but they would be a few hours behind. "I want to hunt," Sesshoumaru announced in a low voice.
The kitsune glanced at him in the rear view mirror and nodded. "Sure. I'll go with you."
When they finally arrived back on his own lands, the inu-youkai carefully folded away his expensive kimono, leaving it in the car. Without a word, Shippo also stripped to his hakama, and they jogged together into the woods. Sesshoumaru's blood was stirring at the recollection of the day's events. She is mine. My mark. My ring. My name. Mine. After so many long centuries, he was having a difficult time comprehending that his wait was truly over. Finally.
As he lengthened his stride and focused his senses on the familiar surroundings, he noted with approval that his companion had no trouble keeping up. The kitsune was swift and silent on his paws, and he was using some kind of fox trickery to dampen his presence, making it easier for Sesshoumaru to focus on potential prey. By rights, he should follow suit and clamp down on his own clamoring youki, but right now, he wanted to let loose. So he did. Power roared around him, bathing his lands in a fierce display that sent the forest creatures scattering. With a snarl, he darted after them, eager for the chase. One by one, he ran them down, but each time, he passed them by. This wasn't a hunt... not really. Sesshoumaru only needed to expend some pent up energy and settle his nerves before facing the human wife who would soon become his mate.
Oddly enough, Shippo said nothing, merely keeping pace, as if he was watching over the inu-youkai. Sesshoumaru was glad for his silent support. If his mate had been a demoness, she would have shared this hunt with him, but since Kagome was human, Shippo had stepped in. Her son, now mine. Not that a five-tail needed raising, but like every orphan Sesshoumaru had ever met, he needed to belong somewhere. Hnn.
"Come," he growled, changing course and streaking towards the cliffs. Springing lightly up the crumbling stairs, he slowed to a stop in front of the bathhouse.
"Done already?" Shippo inquired curiously.
"No." Sesshoumaru stalked inside and circled the steaming pool, eyes flicking restlessly from side to side. When he was satisfied, he reached back to grab the kitsune who was close on his heels and roughly hauled him up against the wall.
"H-hey!" he protested, green eyes wide with shock. The inu-youkai pressed him firmly into the stone, lifting slightly until Shippo was up on his toes. Radiating confusion, the redhead quickly dropped his gaze, submitting as he always did whenever Sesshoumaru pulled rank.
With a soft hum, he cracked his knuckles and said, "Hold still."
Shippo flinched at the sound but didn't struggle, and when the inu-youkai lowered him slightly, he simply stood his ground and waited. As the sweet scent of poison seeped into the air, the redhead lifted pleading eyes to his captor's face. Employing ruthless precision, Sesshoumaru dragged one claw across the wall over the kitsune's head, trailing just enough poison to sizzle through the stone. Satisfied with the mark, he released Shippo and stepped back.
The kitsune sagged against the wall and complained, "Why'd you...?" However, he trailed off when he turned and saw what Sesshoumaru had done. "M-me?"
"Hnn." Striding back towards the entrance, he called, "Come. I need to run."
Shippo stared at the line for a few more moments, a lopsided smile sneaking onto his expressive face, and then he scrambled after the taiyoukai, calling, "Coming!"
Comfits in the Cabin
For another hour, Sesshoumaru tore through the woods, chasing shadows and catching nothing. At the appointed time, Shippo escorted him to the bathhouse and ordered him into the water. "They're not here yet, so there's no rush."
"I know it."
"Relax," the kitsune urged. "Sensei-dono won't mess up his part."
"I was not concerned."
Shippo nodded and said, "Me and Sensei-dono will keep an eye on the boundaries, so don't worry about anything."
"Uhh... one more thing." The five-tail crouched beside the bath and ducked his head. "Take good care of my mom," he mumbled awkwardly.
"With all I have," Sesshoumaru pledged.
Flashing a glad smile, Shippo announced, "I'll keep an eye out and let you know when stuff's ready."
He padded out, and the taiyoukai lay back and closed his eyes, trying to hold onto the pleasant heaviness weighing down his limbs. However, the lethargy was already ebbing away, being replaced by a instinctual urgency to return to Kagome's side. Soon. Hisoka-sensei was always punctual, but though he strained his ears for some sign of activity outside, Sesshoumaru caught no hint of it. Resigned to rest while he could, his mind drifted off until a soft pop startled him to attention.
He did it again! Shippo had managed to erect a barrier without his noticing, and its release was undoubtedly the signal that his time had come. Lunging from the pool, Sesshoumaru started for the door, then reconsidered; grabbing towels, he hastily dried himself, slipping into one of the clean yukata from the cupboard. Swiftly gaining the rim of the ridge, he peered down towards his home.
The sun had long-since set, and the sky was ablaze with stars; moonrise was not far off, judging by the silvery bloom on the horizon. All was quiet, and Hisoka and Shippo had made themselves scarce. Sesshoumaru closed the distance to the pavilion in a rush and leapt onto the porch. Everything was still, and when he slid open the panel, he froze on the threshold. A horrible instant of déjà vu overtook him, for the scene was eerily similar to the day long ago. The room was dark, hushed, and empty, and on the table in the corner waited a single sheet of parchment.
Automatically, Sesshoumaru glanced to the frame on the wall that contained the first message Hisoka-sensei had left him so long ago.
Little lost cricket,
Cowering in the corner
Of our pavilion,
Sang sweetly for a summer
Of memories yet to come.
A riddle of sorts, meant to reassure him. Bearing this in mind, the grown lord slowly approached the table, wondering what this new missive would contain. As expected, the handful of lines were in Hisoka's familiar hand, and golden eyes skimmed the lines several times, testing the words and tasting their meaning.
The little cricket returns
To our pavilion.
Sing sweetly for her at dawn
Of tomorrows without end.
There was no mystery here, and the neko-youkai's message served as a final blessing for the bond that would be forged. Kagome had always been a part of his future; now, he could inextricably bind their futures together. In bare feet, Sesshoumaru crossed to the bedroom and tapped before entering. She waited on the futon, beautifully arrayed in something filmy and fascinating. Moving to kneel beside her, he found himself at a loss for words, but she reached for him, caressing the stripes on his cheek as she held his gaze.
Pleased beyond words, Sesshoumaru turned his face to place a kiss on her palm, and with that single touch, his restraint reached its limit. He caught her hand and turned it, keeping his eyes on hers while he kissed her wrist. Her breath caught. Her pulse fluttered. Her lips parted. He liked that.
Fitting his fingers between hers, he drew her closer, and she followed his lead, sliding easily into his embrace. He touched her hair. He tasted her skin. He whispered her name. She liked that.
Her arms wound around his neck, freeing his hands while hers teased their way through silvery fur, sending his senses spinning. He groaned softly. He nipped lightly. He tugged urgently. She whimpered.
Wanting to take his time, Sesshoumaru eased back and rested his forehead against hers, meeting Kagome's gaze while his hands slowly wandered down her back and onto her hips. "I will not stop until you are wholly mine," he warned.
There was a pleasing breathlessness in her soft answer. "Then I place myself in your hands."
That's What It's All About
A boy with chin-length silver hair gathered his strength and jumped. His bronze-gold eyes held a fierce light as he leapt to heights no human child could reach, but not high enough to wrest a rare compliment from his instructor. "Once more," Sesshoumaru solemnly urged.
Silver ears flattened slightly, then pricked forward. "Yeth," the youngster lisped, softly rounded cheeks made his determined scowl rather adorable.
Kagome rested with her back against the trunk of a blossoming plum tree, quietly braiding spring flowers into a coronet. A crown of nodding blooms already nestled against her dark hair, but she was determinedly making another. She always did. Coaxing Sesshoumaru to wear flowers for her was one of their little traditions. One he secretly enjoys. Glancing his way, she found her mate watching her with concern. Wrinkling her nose at him, she said, "Don't fuss."
"Watch, Favver!" piped up their little one, who executed another big hop.
"Hnn. Better," Sesshoumaru praised, earning a delighted giggle.
Kagome's cell warbled, and she plucked the pink phone from her cardigan pocket. Checking the display, she smiled brightly and answered, "Shippo!"
'Guilty as charged,' he quipped. 'You okay?'
"Of course," she assured. "Those plum trees you helped plant are all in bloom, so lessons were moved outside."
'Lessons already? Did Sensei-dono put Sesshoumaru up to it?'
"No," Kagome laughed. "It's just part of our day."
'Speaking of Sensei...' Shippo said more seriously. 'Can you help me out?'
"What's going on?"
'I'm planning to play a little trick on him, but I need your cooperation,' he said, talking fast. 'After dinner, I was thinking of sorta... well, I'm gonna hijack him. He'll wake up in your guest bedroom tomorrow morning if all goes according to plan!'
"You can do that?" she asked, bewildered.
'Suuure!' he cheerfully admitted. 'Piece of cake.'
"But... why are you resorting to cat-napping?"
'Mostly because Sensei-dono needs a nap,' the kitsune replied with a sigh. 'He's working too hard again, and you're probably the only one who can get him to be lazy for a few days.'
She glanced at Sesshoumaru, who shrugged a shoulder. "I'll expect you tomorrow, then," she agreed. "Inuyasha and Rin are coming down, too."
'Oh? That's good timing.'
"Mm-hmm. They're bringing Jaken-sama," she explained, resting her hand on her taut belly.
'Gotcha,' Shippo replied. 'So how's my little sister?'
"Now, now," she chided. "This one could just as easily be another boy!"
'Doubt it,' countered the kitsune. 'Sensei-dono says that Sesshoumaru-sama always gets what he wants, and I can tell he wants a girl. It's gonna be a girl.'
This wasn't the first time someone had mentioned her mate's ability to bend the universe to his indomitable will, and she laughed softly. "We'll know soon enough, I suppose."
'See you tomorrow!'
Kagome tucked away her phone and closed her eyes with a happy sigh. Tomorrow will be fun. The last time everyone was together had been the previous summer, so she was looking forward to having the pack descend and shake up their 'normal' for a little while. Her packmates could help Sesshoumaru distract her from all this waiting. Spreading her hands protectively over her swollen stomach, she rubbed tiny circles while mentally counting the days. Maybe you should come tomorrow, too, she coaxed inwardly. That would cause a stir!
Just then, something silky brushed across her nose... her cheek... the back of her hand. Opening her eyes, she discovered that Sesshoumaru was in the treetop, hovering on a radiant cloud of youki. His arm was wrapped around their young son's waist as the boy gave one branch a shake, sending down another flurry of snow white petals. "Pwetty!" he exclaimed in childish delight.
"Hnn," agreed Sesshoumaru, who was surprisingly creative in expressing affection. His golden gaze held hers as he proudly declared, "Beautiful."
Kagome's heart brimmed as she kept her solemn promise to the one she loved above all others, for when Sesshoumaru was near, she had reason to be happy.
End Note: Posted on June 13, 2011. 13,313 words. I want to express my appreciation for all those who've taken the time to read, re-read, and respond to this tale. Your many enthusiastic reactions, wild speculations, blush-inducing compliments, and gifts of artwork have been an enormous source of encouragement and amusement along the way, and I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. Your laughter has been my joy, and your tears have been my treasure. Thank you for caring. ~forthright