Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this autumnal adventure... especially for the one who's used to getting his own way. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Author's Note: This fic was written for the Dokuga Halloween Challenge hosted by D.S Anno and Rikayu-chan. They called for a Sess/Kag oneshot appropriate to the holiday, so I decided to tell a ghost story... of sorts. ::wink::
Kagome strolled slowly along the busy avenue, taking in the autumn festivities that had been organized in the shopping district a few blocks from her family's shrine. Today was the last day of October, and she'd been coaxed out of the house by Souta, who'd gently pointed out that since everyone would be in costume, no one would recognize her. With Mrs. Higurashi's added urging, the young woman had donned several layers of kimono; her mother also helped her with traditional makeup—white face, kohl-limned eyes, and rosebud lips. The touch of pink blended across her lids picked up the blushing hues in her ornately-knotted obi.
During the first half hour after they arrived at the street festival, her younger brother and his date hovered at her elbow, but Kagome finally waved him away, saying, "I'm a big girl, now... in spite of appearances. You two go have fun!" With a quick nod of understanding, Souta escorted his girlfriend in one direction, and she'd chosen another.
Strands of lights and the glow of lanterns gave the illusion of warmth to an otherwise chilly night. The air was filled with cheerful calls from booth owners, the laughter of excited youngsters, and spicy smells emanating from dozens of food carts. Kagome wasn't exactly having fun, but she was in the vicinity of it, which was nice for a change. With no particular purpose or destination, she wandered... watched... and wished for impossible things.
Ever since she'd reclaimed the Shikon no Tama, she'd been existing on the fringes of life... and wondering if she'd made a terrible mistake. At that last moment, when her decision was demanded, she'd wished away everything she thought she'd wanted. Returned to her own time, Kagome had been suddenly and irrevocably free to resume life as a normal girl. She'd attended classes, gone out with her girlfriends, graduated from high school, enrolled in university, and tried very hard to believe that this ending was for the best.
However, 'normal' was proving as elusive as ever for the Shikon Miko; the Jewel had returned to her, sealing itself deep within. How many years did it take us to notice? Six...? Eight...? Certainly by ten. An unforeseen consequence of her adventure in the past was putting a strain on her whole family. Kagome wasn't aging. For the girl who'd transcended time, time had stopped.
Initially, she hadn't realized there would be repercussions. Her friends began saying things like, "You haven't changed a bit!" and "I don't know how you keep your girlish figure!" Such flattery was easy to explain away... at first. When her baby brother started treating her like a kid sister, she'd put up with Souta's teasing ways, but when people started assuming that he was the eldest, the Higurashis began to realize the extent of their quandary. People who long for eternal youth are short-sighted idiots, Kagome grumbled to herself. In another decade, they'll have to pass me off as a distant cousin. When that happened, she'd have to give up her name, and the Shrine that was her haven would become her prison.
Kagome Higurashi was a pale shadow of herself, having lost much of her former vibrancy, already withdrawing from those who knew her. She was sick at heart over the prospect of outliving her loved ones, and the only thing that was certain about her future was that it promised to be a lonely one. Sadness wasn't something she normally indulged in; for her family's sake she wore a smiling face. But here... in the midst of so many strangers, she mourned her fate. So long as no tears were shed, she could give free rein to her sorrow, knowing her makeup gave the illusion of a perfect, porcelain doll. No one is watching.
As if to prove her assumption, a tall man who obviously wasn't watching where he was going nearly collided with her. Kagome gasped as she teetered on her wooden sandals, but the masked man reached out and steadied her. His hand lingered briefly at her elbow, and then he murmured a hasty, "Excuse me," before striding away.
She watched him go, her melancholy momentarily forgotten as the echo of a memory tugged at her heart. He reminded her of the past, somehow. I wonder why? Maybe it's simply that he's wearing a yukata? Or is it the long hair? He couldn't be a demon, for the Shikon no Tama would have reacted at the first sign of a threat. I'd like to feel the brush of youki again. Kagome craved its dark thrum... the way it used to buffet her senses, letting her know she was in the presence of someone fearsomely powerful... or infinitely dear. Fighting her welling emotions, she cast about for a distraction and turned towards a display of unusual vegetables that had been cleverly combined to create whimsical faces.
Before long, Kagome became aware of an odd prickle. She glanced self-consciously over her shoulder to see whose regard she was attracting... and caught a whisper of movement in the shadows between two nearby booths. Something gleamed against the surrounding darkness—pale and fleeting. Spooked, Kagome turned on her heel and moved into the relative safety of the crowd.
Twice more, she was sure she was the object of scrutiny—an overwhelming sense of being the center of someone's attention... of being stalked. Trying not to broadcast her growing discomfort, she desperately searched for her brother. It was like this right before the Well opened for the first time. Something's going to happen! Dread mingled with a building sense of expectancy that sent the young woman flying into her brother's arms. Souta and his girlfriend didn't outright dismiss her vague premonition, but she could feel their underlying uncertainty.
"I'll bring you back," her brother offered, and he held her icy hand all the way home.
Someone's there. Kagome was sure of it, but she was too busy glancing over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of the wispy form of an enormous dog leaping ahead of them, bounding unerringly towards the Sunset Shrine.
Mrs. Higurashi patiently divested her daughter of her finery, then sent Kagome to the bathroom to rid herself of several layers of makeup and hairspray. After a lengthy soak in the tub, the young woman pulled on seasonally-appropriate pajamas—purple pajama pants decorated with bright jack-o-lanterns and an orange hoodie. As the hour grew later, Kagome retreated to her bedroom and tried to occupy herself with a magazine, but she flipped pages without focusing on them. Her mind was too busy racing through possibilities. There isn't a single trace of youki, so it can't be a demon. I know that humans can seek the Jewel, but I doubt anyone in this day and age can sense its presence. Maybe... maybe the Well is going to re-open? She quickly banished any thought of that coming to pass. False hopes are also for idiots. Still, the choking sense of impending doom drove her to distraction... and made sleep impossible. Gah! I wish something would just happen, already!
A flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye drew her gaze to the window. It's... red? The whole window glowed scarlet, and Kagome blinked in incomprehension... until the lurid eye that filled her entire view blinked back.
With a small yelp, she tumbled out of her desk chair and scrambled backwards along the floor. Darkness had reasserted itself behind the glass, but she knew what she'd seen. Why didn't I feel something that big coming? Wait... I still don't feel any youki. What's going on here? Thinking fast, Kagome hurried to her closet and rummaged frantically through its depths. "How many times do you have to screw up before you learn to be careful what you wish for," she berated herself. Finally, she found what she was looking for, and with an exultant little cry, she pulled her old bow free from the accumulation of clutter.
"That won't do you any good," announced a deep voice.
Kagome whirled, and her scream died on her lips. Instead, she opened and closed her mouth several times, completely at a loss. A regal figure in a white kimono stood in the center of her bedroom, dwarfing the space with his imposing presence. He was a lot to take in—silver hair... golden eyes... heavy brows... pointed ears... cheek stripes... and a voluminous pelt that fell in soft abundance from both his shoulders. Demon... definitely a demon. Though she couldn't sense him, he certainly looked solid enough. "H-how did you get in h-h-here?" she stammered, clutching her bow to her chest and earnestly wishing she'd grabbed her quiver as well.
Her visitor tilted his head, and the shining length of his high topknot swayed into view. "The barrier between this world and the next is quite malleable on this night. I stormed the breach and met with success."
"A-are you a ghost?"
A low chuckle sent a thrill through Kagome's already-trembling body. He folded his arms into his voluminous sleeves before answering, "I am no longer living, if that's what you're asking, little priestess."
She bristled at the diminutive and straightened to her full height... for all the good it did. Her visitor's nose twitched... then the corner of his mouth quirked in amusement. He doesn't seem dangerous, but... I think he's laughing at me! Annoyed, Kagome tartly demanded, "What are you doing here?"
The would-be specter smiled benignly and answered, "I have need of you."
"Me?" she squeaked, unnerved by the gleam in his eyes. However, just as quickly, she put two and two together and said accusingly, "Hang on... have you been following me?"
"I have," he freely admitted as he slowly stalked around her. "I wanted to see 'the lay of the land' for myself."
"I knew someone was watching me!" she exclaimed, triumph sparkling in her eyes as she momentarily forgot the bizarreness of her situation.
"Oh, very perceptive," he replied in gently mocking tones. With a soft hum, he mused aloud, "Yes, I can see how the mischief was managed." The youkai laughed softly to himself, and then... he smirked at her.
Immediately recognizing the familiar expression, she gasped, "I-Inuyasha?"
"No, little priestess," he chided, though not unkindly.
The resemblance was striking, and suddenly she laid hold of what should have been obvious from the start. "I know who you are," she breathed in awe.
His smirk was back, and he replied, "Perhaps. My reputation often precedes me, though I daresay few remain who can recall my name."
"Why are you here?" Kagome asked.
"I go where I please," he retorted, and in that moment of aloofness, she caught a glimpse of Sesshoumaru's overbearing nature.
"You really are their father?"
He inclined his head. "I am."
A sudden thought occurred to her, and Kagome needed to ask. "Are you here to try to take the Jewel?"
"What if I was?" he replied with deceptive casualness.
"Then... I would stop you," she answered with more confidence than she felt.
"Do you think so?" he challenged. "I am accustomed to having my way."
"I'm a miko; if you fought me, I could purify you," she wagered.
"Oh?" he inquired, stealing closer. "And do such methods work on the dead?"
"Erm... in that case, you're not really here at all; ghosts can't hurt people," she ventured, talking fast and edging backwards.
"Is that so?" the Inu no Taishou purred as his large hand carefully closed around Kagome's neck. Claws scraped lightly over vulnerable flesh, and there was an underlying growl to his words when he quietly said, "Though death has diminished me, I could still devour you, little priestess."
"I th-th-thought you liked humans," she stammered as her bow slipped from her fingers.
Fangs flashed in a terrifying grin. "I have very selective tastes."
"Y-you said you n-n-needed me," she dared to point out. "If that's true, then you shouldn't harm me."
"Do not doubt my determination; I will have what I desire... even if it means haunting you for all eternity."
"You would do that?" she whispered, eyes lowered. If he'd intended to coerce her, his threat backfired in a monumental way. Someone else untouched by time... if he were to stay with me, I wouldn't be alone.
With a soft grunt, he released her throat, resting his hand atop her head for a moment before stepping back. "No, child... not me," he sighed. "Though, I'm flattered that you would welcome my company."
"Oh," she managed, battling against disappointment. "Then... what do you want... Inu-no-otosama?"
The demon barked with laughter at her cautiously-offered address, then said, "There is a message I want you to deliver."
Kagome took some time to absorb that before politely explaining, "I'm very sorry, but the Well closed; I can't get back to the Sengoku Jidai."
"If death cannot stop me, I don't see why you expect time to pose a problem," he countered gruffly.
"You can travel into the past?" she exclaimed, hope glimmering again in spite of everything.
The dark sweep of his brows lifted. "I am where and when I wish to be in order to accomplish the task at hand."
"R-right," she nodded.
Further explanations were interrupted by a tap on Kagome's bedroom door. "Sis? You okay in there?" came Souta's call. Without further warning, the panel slid open, and her brother's head poked in. "I saw your light on. Can't you sleep?"
"Erm... no?" she replied as she leaned to one side in order to see around her guest.
Souta stepped into the room and unconsciously mirrored his sister's tilted stance. "I'm going to grab something from the fridge; you want anything?"
Kagome glanced up at the demon who'd turned to inspect her sibling, then back at Souta. "No thank you," she answered in a faint voice.
"Okay," he shrugged. "Thought I'd ask. G'night, Sis."
"Good night," she echoed... and the door closed. Silence stretched for some time before she finally said, "He couldn't see you?"
"So... I'm seeing things?" she muttered morosely.
"You see what you are meant to see, little priestess," he replied. "And very soon, you will see something that has been hidden for far too long. Come." The former Lord of the Western Lands swept to the window, and after a brief inspection of the catch, he pushed the panel open.
"Out the window?" she asked, shivering as cold air sent her curtains swaying.
"Since your brother is awake, this route is preferable," he remarked. "Fewer questions will be asked if you are not seen leaving."
"I can't jump that far on my own."
"You aren't on your own," he said brusquely. "Please extinguish your light so your brother does not return after his meal." Kagome did so, then pushed her hands into her pockets and proceeded to drag her feet. Fixing her with a look that brooked no refusal, he once again declared, "I will have my way, so you may as well accept your fate with dignity."
"You call this dignity?" she mumbled as he scooped her into his arms.
"Would you prefer to be thrown over my shoulder?" he inquired as he leapt from the second story.
It wasn't until he set her back on her feet that Kagome realized she was still wearing her fuzzy bedroom slippers. It's too late to change now. She scuffed hurriedly across the courtyard, trying to keep up with the long strides of Sesshoumaru's and Inuyasha's father. When he walked right past the small building that housed the Bone Eater's Well, she hesitated and called out, "Aren't we going this way?"
He wheeled around on booted feet, then slowly shook his head. "I have no use for a path that refuses to be traveled."
"Is there another way back?" she asked in a small voice.
"There is only forward," he firmly replied, leading her towards the torii arch that framed the Shrine's entrance.
"We're leaving the grounds?" she asked worriedly when he paused so she could catch up. "I'm not really dressed for travel... and it's very late."
He eyed her garish ensemble under the light of a nearly-full moon. "I concur, but that cannot be helped. We do not have far to go, and I can fend off unsavory elements... should the need arise."
"How are you supposed to scare them off if you're invisible?" she asked, more out of curiosity than contrariness.
A confident show of fangs preceded a boastful, "I can make my presence felt."
Much to her relief, the Inu no Taishou slowed his steps to accommodate her shorter legs and shuffling gait. As they strolled down the sidewalk, she stole glances at him out of the corner of her eye. It's odd... he's solid and warm, yet he doesn't cast a shadow. She wanted to believe he was right there with her, and yet she feared she'd somehow conjured him up. Come on, Kagome... you're too old to start inventing imaginary friends. The tall demon met her gaze and smirked in the face of her curiosity. I don't think I could make this up.
Although he'd given her quite a scare, she was pleased at this unexpected opportunity to meet Sesshoumaru's and Inuyasha's father. They're both a little bit like him, but at the same time, he's nothing like either of them. He's kind of nice... so long as you let him have his own way all the time. She doubted she would ever forget the feel of his claws at her throat—an object lesson in dominance.
"Let me ask you this, little priestess," he began once they'd rounded the corner onto a side street. "What did you wish on the Jewel that sleeps beside your heart?"
No one else had asked, which had been a relief in one sense. Still, it felt good to admit her blunder to someone neutral. "I asked for everyone's happiness."
"That was a dangerously vague wish," he scolded gently. "You did not specify how... or when... or who?"
"No, I didn't," she whispered.
"The Shikon no Tama possessed the power to grant whatever you might have asked of it, but you wished for intangibles, trusting their fulfillment into the hands of fate."
I prayed for everyone's happiness, but I didn't know it would come at the cost of my own. With a weary sigh, she said, "I realize how foolish that was... now."
"You are young," the Inu no Taishou commented. "Perhaps some decisions are best left to fate."
"Fate can be cruel," Kagome remarked bitterly.
"It can seem so, yes," he agreed. "But it is also wise enough to unravel seemingly impossible problems, finding solutions that are beyond the reach of mere mortals."
"What kind of problems?"
"Let us say, for instance, that the Jewel was asked to grant two wishes that stood in opposition to each other." He cast a sidelong glance her way. "How do you weigh the happiness of one soul against that of another? Who decides which heart will find joy swiftly and which must endure for a season?"
"Do you know?"
"I am old, little priestess, but even I cannot predict the dictates fate," he replied. "However, I can watch them unfold... and play my part."
"I often regret my wish," Kagome confessed.
The great Dog General nodded wisely. "I also have regrets, but I have known great satisfaction as well. A measure of each can be found in life, lending it balance."
He stopped in front of a small apartment complex, and Kagome squinted up at its shadowy silhouette. I used to walk past this place every day on my way to middle school, she realized. "Is this where we're going?"
"Close." With a wave of his clawed hand, he called attention to a nondescript gap in the hedge to one side of the larger structure.
On closer inspection, Kagome found a rusty postbox that bore no name or number. When she gave the gate a cautious push, it swung open smoothly on well-oiled hinges, and her companion once again took the lead. "Who lives here?" she asked as she picked her way through the inky shadows of the narrow lane.
"Didn't I say?"
"Erm... you have two sons."
A soft hum floated back over his shoulder, and he replied, "The one with the strength to endure."
"Oh... so... Sesshoumaru-sama?"
The demon paused, and bronzed gold eyes leveled on her with keen interest. "Why do you choose him?"
"He's the strongest person I've ever met... well, besides you."
As rolling laughter boomed around them, Kagome frantically tried to shush him, then realized that no one else could hear him and gave up. "I don't know whether he's strong or just stubborn, but yes... Sesshoumaru is the one," his father confirmed.
"You have a message for him?" she inquired as they passed under a gnarled tree whose branches seemed to reach for her.
"I will relay it in due course."
The overgrown path led to a tiny house, barely visible under a thick mat of ivy. "It looks kind of spooky," Kagome whispered.
"But it has a lovely view," the demon countered.
Kagome followed his line of sight, and after a moment, she recognized the landmarks. The cottage was backed up to a steep, treed slope, and she could just see the outline of a tiled roof against the starry sky above. "My family's shrine is at the top of this hill," she announced, shaking her head in wonderment. "Do you mean to tell me that Sesshoumaru-sama lives in my neighborhood... a stone's throw from where I grew up?"
"So it would seem."
"Why didn't Inuyasha ever notice his brother?" she asked. "The market he and I visited is just down the road from here, and I know he explored these woods to make sure we were safe."
He smiled faintly at the mention of his younger son, but simply asked, "Can you tell he's here, little priestess?"
"N-no," she murmured. "I can't sense any youki at all. Are you sure this is the right place?"
"A strong predator learns to mask his presence in order to catch his prey unawares; these are the basics of hunting. My son exhibits exceptional control, making him a deadly foe... and a stealthy stalker."
"How long do you think he's been here?"
"But... what's he doing here?"
"Why don't you ask him for yourself?" he invited, gesturing her towards the door.
Suddenly nervous, she whispered, "It's awfully late..."
She frowned up at him and grumbled, "Are you omniscient?"
"No, I just know my son."
"I'm not sure I want to bother him," she hesitantly admitted.
"What are you afraid of?" her companion asked in a silky voice.
Disappointment.... derision... rejection... revelation...
"He might be able to tell you what happened to your friends," the youkai commented, pinpointing the source of her fear with deadly accuracy. "Don't you want to know?"
"Isn't it enough to know they were happy?" she asked, blinking back tears. The hardest part has always been knowing that they could be happy... without me.
"If it was enough, your regrets would not outweigh your satisfaction," he smoothly replied.
"I'm fine!" Kagome retorted, only to find herself nose-to-nose with a growling demon.
"You're a thousand centuries too early to deceive me, so save your falsehoods for those who want to believe them," he rumbled. "You are frightened... you are lonely... you are grieving... and you are going to deliver my message."
Kagome blanched... as much from the bald-faced truth as the fierce expression on the seasoned warrior's face. Though she'd grown more comfortable with him as they talked, she was reminded that she didn't really know him all that well... and that he could pose a serious threat. Without another word of protest, Kagome stepped up to the cottage's front door and knocked. Almost immediately, it slid open a few inches, making her wonder how long the occupant had been watching. Oh, my... he probably heard my side of the conversation! What did I say?
The clipped inquiry startled Kagome, and she peered intently through the narrow gap; there were no lights on inside the house, but moonlight slanted across the small porch, revealing the presence of a tall figure beyond the door. "Erm... trick or treat?" she offered lamely.
As the door began to close, Kagome caught the edge. "Wait... please? I'm sorry to intrude, but I was asked to come here by someone who seems to think that we've met before. D-do you remember me?"
"He's lying," drawled the Inu no Taishou.
Kagome glanced to where her persistent specter leaned against one of the porch's support beams and shook her head. "Sesshoumaru-sama doesn't lie."
"What did you say?" inquired the homeowner.
The door slid wider, and she gazed up into dark eyes. Not gold?
"Who are you talking to?" demanded the tall man.
"Erm...." Kagome glanced hopefully at her guide.
The Inu no Taishou's eyes sparkled with amusement. "He can't see me, and he won't believe you."
"It's difficult to explain," she hedged, searching the man's wary countenance for any sign of the demon he was meant to be. No moon... no stripes... no silver hair... All of his distinguishing features were wiped away, so she concentrated, trying to recall the shape of his eyes, the cut of his jaw, the line of his nose—anything to assure her that this was the Sesshoumaru she'd met in the feudal era. I'm just not sure....
The imperious arch of an eyebrow gave him away.
"It is you," she gasped.
"I said as much," the Inu no Taishou stated blandly.
No denial came, and Kagome took his silence for admission. Smiling tentatively at him, she said, "You do remember me, don't you, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Hnn... I know you."
"I have a message for you," she announced.
"What is it?"
Kagome fidgeted under his gaze. "I... don't know yet; he didn't say. Hang on." Turning to her companion, she whispered, "What did you want to tell him?"
Sesshoumaru's father shook his head and directed, "Ask him to invite you inside."
"Oh... erm... may I come in?" she inquired. "It's a little cold, and I get the feeling this will take a while."
His brows were drawn together in confusion, but Sesshoumaru slid the door wide and stepped back so she could enter. "There is no one there," he informed her gravely.
"I tried to tell him that, too," she muttered as she dropped her slippers in the corner.
"You will explain," Sesshoumaru announced, turning on a lamp and beckoning for her to follow.
More lights were switched on as she padded across smooth floors in stockinged feet until he led her into a sparsely appointed tatami room. Gesturing for her to take a cushion beside a low, square table, he claimed the seat directly opposite. Sesshoumaru's father assumed the seat to her right, and his knee brushed hers under the small table... a little too close for comfort. Choosing to ignore the father in favor of the son, Kagome asked, "Why do you look like this?" Briefly touching the center of her forehead and then her cheek, she added, "Your markings have gone."
Sesshoumaru glanced down at his hands, which rested on the table. They lacked both claws and the stripes that usually wrapped around his wrists. "Camouflage."
"My son, the conversational genius," the Inu no Taishou declared mockingly.
Kagome resisted the urge to roll her eyes and focused on her host. "I didn't recognize you at first; you look... strange."
"This wouldn't be the first time you didn't recognize him. Ask him how he enjoyed the festival earlier," prompted the ghostly inu-youkai.
With a soft huff, Sesshoumaru pushed back one sleeve of his yukata, revealing a band worn just above his elbow. When he slid it off, there was a brief ripple, and the taiyoukai was returned to his former glory. Kagome's heart did a little skip as she took in the vivid markings that decorated his pale face. They were jarringly inhuman... yet wonderfully reassuring in their familiarity.
Sesshoumaru's lips quirked slightly as he took in her reaction. "Better?" he inquired.
Caught staring, she blushed and smiled apologetically. "Much," she emphatically agreed.
"You should not be here," Sesshoumaru announced. "How did you find this place?"
His father chuckled and remarked, "He's irked that his control may have slipped enough for you to detect him."
Kagome shot the amused youkai an exasperated look as she answered, "I had no idea you were here; someone led me."
"Who?" Sesshoumaru demanded, albeit calmly. "No one is left who knows this place."
"It's hard to explain..."
"Okay, but... it might sound a little crazy," she warned. "It's Halloween, and I'm being haunted... by your father. He wanted me to deliver a message to you, so here I am."
"My father," Sesshoumaru repeated, his voice flat with disbelief.
"Yes, he was very insistent," Kagome acknowledged.
"Hnn... describe him."
"Erm... silver topknot, golden eyes, one stripe on each cheek, double... uh... furry stuff," she floundered, using her hands to demonstrate the placement of his pelts. "He reminds me of you when he looks down his nose at me, but he smirks just like Inuyasha. And... he laughs more than either of you ever did, but when he smiles, it makes me a little nervous."
"He's not wearing armor."
"He always wears armor."
"Yeah, well, I thought you always wore armor!" she countered, gesturing demonstratively towards his lack thereof. Sesshoumaru's somber grey-brown yukata was knotted with a sash of muted blue that was spared from being completely forgettable by a subtle hexagonal pattern that suddenly looked familiar. Where have I seen that... oh, wow! Kagome gasped, "He said you were at the festival earlier! You're the guy who bumped into me!"
He didn't deny it, and his father piped up, "There's been a guard dog at your gates for centuries, little priestess."
She turned wondering eyes towards Sesshoumaru. "You've been here all along?"
Very slowly, he inclined his head.
"It may interest you to know that the Shikon no Tama saw fit to lump him in with your 'everyone'," the Inu no Taishou said conversationally. "However, his happiness is still at stake."
"How do you know this?" she demanded in an undertone, sending an apologetic look to Sesshoumaru, whose brow furrowed.
The Inu no Taishou folded his arms into his sleeves and said, "I believe it is time to relay my message."
"Message... right," Kagome sighed. "Sesshoumaru-sama, your father says he's ready to tell you whatever it is he wants to tell you."
Long, claw-tipped fingers wove together as the taiyoukai folded his hands upon the table. "I will listen."
His father nodded and began, "This little priestess..."
"Kagome," she helpfully supplied.
The former lord of the Western Lands leaned near and threatened her with a smile. "Word for word, if you please," he directed.
Ducking her head, she obediently began anew. "This little priestess..."
"...made a wish upon the Shikon no Tama without giving thought to the consequences."
She repeated the phrase, and Sesshoumaru fixed her with a keen look. "What did you wish for?"
"Happiness," she mumbled sadly.
He blinked. "Whose?"
She shifted uncomfortably and admitted, "Everyone's."
Sesshoumaru huffed and remarked, "How... ambiguous."
Clearing his throat, the Inu no Taishou resumed his dictation, and Kagome dutifully passed his words along. "It is well that you have found something to protect, but you fall short. You have found your strength, but you must add to it courage."
"That's it?" Sesshoumaru inquired.
Kagome glanced at her father for confirmation, and he inclined his head. "Yeah."
Sesshoumaru sniffed derisively. "It means nothing."
A growl caused Kagome to shrink away from her guide, and in a tremulous voice she relayed, "It means everything... f-f-foolish whelp." Wincing as Sesshoumaru's nostril's flared, she mumbled, "Sorry... I'm quoting."
"He calls me a fool?"
"Well, it certainly wasn't me," she assured.
"It is foolishness to lurk in the shadows, protecting from afar. What keeps you from telling this woman that she is precious to you? Stop denying yourself the happiness that lies within your reach!"
Kagome stared at the Inu no Taishou in complete disbelief. "Wh-what did you say?"
"Tell him!" demanded the irate father, flicking his fingers towards his son.
"But..." Kagome protested weakly. "You make it sound like..."
Sesshoumaru unclasped his hands and irritably tapped his fingers upon the table. "This is ridiculous. It is late, and you are obviously distraught."
"If I'm distraught, it's because I'm caught in the middle," she retorted unhappily. "I'm not sure which one of you to believe, and you don't believe me... This is too confusing!"
"Enough." Sesshoumaru shook his head. "I will escort you back to your home."
"That will not do," the Inu no Taishou declared. "I will not permit this willful stubbornness."
"You're both being stubborn," Kagome opined.
"I will have my way," the spectral youkai declared yet again, rising gracefully to his feet and circling around behind her. "Let us see how far he must be pushed before he acts upon his true feelings." She gasped when he yanked her to her feet and whimpered when he hoisted her up by the neck, one large hand fisted into the fabric of her sweatshirt to help support her weight. "Hold very still," he murmured in her ear, and she went limp in his grasp.
The stunned expression on Sesshoumaru's face as Kagome was dangled before him only lasted for a seconds, but to her, it felt like an eternity. She could see his nostrils flare as he took deep breaths of air that carried no telltale scents. He trusts his nose more than his eyes, she thought randomly. He'd pushed himself up on his hands, and she noted deep scratches marring the table where he'd gouged its surface.
"Nearly there," said her captor with satisfaction. "He will submit."
"Inu... no... otosama?" Kagome whispered past the constriction, confused and growing increasingly frightened.
"Endure this, child," he gently urged.
When a clawtip pressed and pierced, she felt a warm trickle slid over her skin, and her eyes widened in shock. Blood.
Sesshoumaru's snarl ripped through the room, and his eyes blazed scarlet as he lunged over the table. The next thing Kagome knew, she was cradled protectively against his chest, which vibrated with the intensity of his growl. "I cannot see the enemy; where is he?" he demanded, eyes darting from side to side. With an ominous cracking of knuckles, he swore, "I'll kill him."
"He's already dead," Kagome mumbled into the front of Sesshoumaru's yukata.
A few paces away, the Inu no Taishou calmly licked the tip of his claw before remarking, "It's his own fault for being stubborn."
She closed her eyes to hold back tears of frustration. Why do I have to be stuck between two inu-youkai who are trying to out-stubborn each other? Next time, Inu-papa can just send a letter. Kagome sniffled and tightened her grip on Sesshoumaru's yukata when he suddenly rearranged their positions so that she was lying across his lap.
"Let me see," he murmured. Sesshoumaru took her chin and turned her head, then pulled aside orange fleece to examine the wound at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. A steady trickle of blood pooled in the hollow of her collar bone. Anger flashed in golden eyes, once more tinging them with scarlet, and his lips turned down at the corners. "I apologize," he stated flatly.
Kagome wasn't sure if he was sorry for doubting her word... or for what he was about to do. A squeak of shock escaped her when Sesshoumaru dipped down and swept his tongue across the crescent-shaped puncture. Slowly and methodically, he lapped away all traces of blood while Kagome quietly freaked out. This can't be normal. Well... okay, it's not human-normal. Is this youkai-normal?
His father hummed approvingly. "Relax, little priestess. Let him tend to you; it will help him calm down."
There are communication gaps on all sides, she grumbled inwardly. Sesshoumaru couldn't hear what his father was saying, and the Inu no Taishou seemed to be picking up on things that his son was communicating without words... leaving her out of the loop. She'd trusted Sesshoumaru's father this far, so she pushed down her mortification and tilted her head to give the taiyoukai better access. He does need to calm down. The taiyoukai she remembered rarely showed anger, so his violent display of emotion startled her; that he'd acted in her defense was as much a surprise as it had been a relief.
Sesshoumaru had his formidable youki back under control, but during his initial reaction to her pain, there had been a brief flare in his aura. The faintest tang of demonic power lingered in the room, and as she relaxed in his hold, Kagome reached for it, trying to gather the nearly-forgotten feel of bright darkness. There was just enough to tease her memory, but not enough to satisfy. She almost resented the fact that Sesshoumaru had locked his youki away from her. I wonder if it would be rude to ask him to let loose a bit?
While her mind wandered, the taiyoukai's growls tapered off, becoming a low hum that sounded anything but angry. Her breath caught when the unmistakeable scrape of fangs grazed her shoulder. For several more breathless moments, he nuzzled the underside of her jaw, moving back towards her ear, then into her hair.
"My son has always shown affection sparingly," commented the Inu no Taishou. Kagome opened her eyes to discover that their ghostly companion had also taken a seat on the floor. His chin was propped in his hand, and he looked on with an indulgent smile. "It is gratifying to see he is capable of self-expression."
"I don't really understand," she mumbled. Immediately, Sesshoumaru's head lifted, and he swiftly surveyed the room. When he met her gaze, all of his customary reserve was intact. He behaved as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, although he didn't relinquish his hold on her in the slightest. In fact, once he readjusted his grasp, she was pretty sure he'd managed to envelop her even more securely. "Better?" she inquired evenly.
He blinked languidly. "Much."
She laughed quietly, and Sesshoumaru's father chuckled along with her. "You almost look happy, little priestess. I am pleased."
Kagome tossed him a confused look, and Sesshoumaru inquired, "He is still here?"
Nodding, she said, "Your father is of the opinion that... well...." Unable to bring herself to put the youkai's assertions into words, she chose a safer path. "Sesshoumaru-sama, I thought you disliked humans."
He cocked a brow, then replied, "I am very selective."
Like father, like son. With a bemused smile, she let her head fall back to rest against Sesshoumaru's shoulder.
"How well do you know my son?" inquired the Inu no Taishou.
"Not very," she admitted.
"You seem quite comfortable in his presence," he noted. "Why?"
"Erm... because..." she began, then frowned in consternation. "I suppose I'm relieved because he's like me... or rather, I'm like him... sort of."
"What are you talking about?" interrupted Sesshoumaru.
"The Shikon no Tama did something to me back when I made my wish," she explained. "Something awful."
"Is it truly awful?" countered the Inu no Taishou.
"What?" prompted Sesshoumaru.
"I'm not aging." The taiyoukai's eyes widened slightly, and then he lowered his head to breathe deeply of her scent. While he inspected, she continued, "My family keeps getting older, which means I'll outlive them. The Jewel is inside me, and I was sure I was doomed to go on and on forever... alone."
Sesshoumaru's curt response came with no accompanying explanation, and his father helpfully filled in the silence. "I already told you, little priestess. He is a part of the 'everyone' affected by your wish, and his happiness has been at stake for quite some time. It would be a cruel twist of fate indeed if he was to wait all this time to be united with the one he loves, only to outlive her within a handful of decades. Your plight is his providence."
"Then, it was on purpose?"
"What was?" murmured Sesshoumaru, his breath tickling the sensitive skin behind her ear as he continued his olfactory investigation.
"He says the Jewel did this to me... for you," Kagome explained.
"Hnn... an interesting theory."
"Unbelievable," huffed his father. "Even as a pup, he was contrary. I could tell you stories..."
Kagome giggled, and Sesshoumaru resurfaced, peering around the room suspiciously. "What now?"
"He's offering to tell me stories about when you were a pup," she admitted.
Sesshoumaru's horrified expression took a moment to shutter, but once he was back in control, he firmly said, "Enough. What will it take to get him to go away?"
The Inu no Taishou smirked and said, "I'll leave if you..."
"...tell this little priestess what you have been hiding," she relayed. Kagome gazed into Sesshoumaru's face expectantly; the taiyoukai opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it with a snap. Finally, he glared in the general direction she looked when speaking to her invisible companion.
His father heaved a longsuffering sigh. "I suppose I am asking too much. Let him know that I will settle for his showing you."
Kagome nodded her understanding. "He says you can show me instead." Sesshoumaru wasted no more time; choosing the direct approach, he firmly pressed his mouth to hers in a chaste kiss. Oh... well... yes, that's clear enough. If she was perfectly honest, Kagome was a little disconcerted to be kissed by Inuyasha's older brother. She'd never really thought of him as approachable before, and yet... on this night filled with impossible—or at least improbable—things, what was one more? Letting it happen was surprisingly easy. I don't know how I managed to earn his regard, but one thing is certain; we'll have plenty of time to get to know one another.
He drew back to gaze at her with golden eyes that had lost all vestiges of coolness. The heat that swirled in their depths caused her heart to race and color to rise in her cheeks. Something tells me we'll be getting to know each other after... rather than before. Gathering her courage, she dared to reach up and touch his face, wanting to prove to herself that this was real. Her fingers grazed a cheek stripe, smoothed through bangs, and then traced the edge of an ear to its tip. "If this all turns out to be a strange and wonderful dream, I don't think I'll be able to bear it," she confessed.
"I am here, and so are you," he replied.
"If you're sure," she murmured.
"Hnn," he agreed. Warm skin... warm breath... warm lips sought hers, and this time, she returned his kiss. Fingers tangled in her hair, and he deepened his explorations—urgent and unhurried. Fangs nipped without biting; claws scratched without tearing. And when the tip of her tongue found his, he groaned and lost hold of his restraints. Youki exploded around her, fierce and glorious; it washed over her in possessive waves, thrumming against her soul. She gasped and arched against him, breaking their kiss; he rode out a responding pulse from the Shikon no Tama, whispering her name.
Minutes or hours passed, Kagome wasn't sure. Sesshoumaru still hadn't released her, so she was tucked up under his chin, her cheek resting on the soft fabric of his yukata, listening as his heartbeat found a slow, steady rhythm. He idly sifted through her hair, and she hovered on the edge of sleep. "Will you stay with me?" she whispered.
The taiyoukai hummed and said, "I have always been here."
"Does that mean 'yes'?" she persisted, needing more.
Tendrils of youki coiled and caressed. "Yes," he promised.
The seduction was complete, and its witness drew near. Kagome felt the gentlest of touches upon her head, and a low, rich voice rumbled a benediction. "You have increased my satisfaction by ensuring the happiness of both my sons, and for that, I am grateful. Be happy, future daughter." A pale shadow slipped from the room, out into the darkness that comes before the dawn. With a burst of unseen radiance, the silvery form of an enormous dog leapt into the sky; light shimmered in his wake as he disappeared into the starry void, bound for eternity.
End Note: Pale Shadows was posted on October 18, 2009. 7,424 words.