Prompt: Popularity
Word Count: 1500
Summary: Another box is opened.

*****

The blood drained from Kagome's face, already pale.

'Oh gods, Sesshoumaru thinks I'm infatuated with Jaken! I can't believe the rotten little imp told him… I thought for sure he'd keep his beak shut, if only to save his own warty hide.'

The extreme desire to defend herself and explain her little joke caused her to temporarily forget about her poor abused body. She quickly tried to sit up, then cried out in pain as her cracked ribcage vehemently protested any movement. In a flash, Sesshoumaru had her gently eased into a sitting position, overstuffed pillows placed behind her back. Once settled, Kagome closed her eyes, taking a few moments to adjust to the new arrangement. She opened them again once she no longer felt like screaming.

"The doctor said broken ribs are no longer wrapped, and that they should heal in six weeks. During that time, you must breathe deeply to avoid complications. You may take any of these," Sesshoumaru gestured at an assortment of ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen on the nightstand, "for pain."

Teeth clenched, Kagome nodded carefully, testing to see which parts of her were as yet uninjured. She indicated one of the bottles, grinding out "Three, please!" Her mate obliged, handing her the warm mug of tea so she could wash them down.

Just trying to breathe hurt horribly, so she spoke haltingly, "Sess, I need you to understand…"

He stopped her, holding up a hand. "Please let me speak, I have a confession you must hear first."

Kagome was shocked into silence. 'A confession? What's he talking about?'

He looked down at his clasped hands, pausing to collect and arrange his thoughts. The wording had to be just right to help alleviate any embarrassment.

"I realize many humans hold some strange superstitions. They often believe peculiar items, such as actual body parts, will ward off evil or keep the owner immune to misfortune. Since you had one in your possession, but never spoke to me of having these particular beliefs, I assumed you were ashamed to admit a well-educated woman like yourself adhered to them." He glanced up, trying to gauge her reaction.

Her eyes grew huge and mouth went dry. 'Oh crap!!! This isn't about me being love-struck by Jaken! Sesshoumaru knows about the hand… Grandpa and I are SO dead.'

Dismayed to see her horrified expression, Sesshoumaru rushed on before losing his resolve to tell her everything.

"Though I felt your own 'lucky charm' was barbaric, I did promise you replacements for what was destroyed in the fire.

I thought if I gave you the talisman directly I would risk you believing you had lost face with me, so I positioned it in the flue, hoping your curiosity would lead you to investigate.

The events that followed convinced me there may be something to that charmed appendage. Whenever tragedy struck, you thankfully survived, though unfortunately your amulet did not. It was always lost or destroyed while protecting you.

Each time this happened, either Jaken or I searched and found another… but we can no longer do this. That aquatic animal has ceased to exist. The popularity of its limbs must have led to the eradication of the entire species.

Jaken was unable to retrieve the last talisman given to you, so we believe it is lost now too. I am sorry… I will not be able to replace it."

Kagome spoke slowly, trying to understand what she just heard, "Wait, what again? You've been replacing it… and the animal it came from is now extinct?"

Sesshoumaru nodded morosely. He expected her to be stunned initially, followed closely by sloppy sobbing. Even so, the rapid flickering of emotions crossing her features alarmed him. Just then, a light knock at the door allowed him the excuse he needed to temporarily escape her bedside. He really couldn't stand to see her distraught or crying and if that knock signified what he hoped it did, he might not have to deal with the copious tears and runny nose brought on by his inability to replace a treasured amulet.

Kagome was stunned alright.

'The contributor of that… those… stupid hands isn't kappa, or even youkai? No wonder nothing happened when I tried to purify it! I should have known Grandpa would be dealing in fakes, just like those ridiculous glass Shikon Jewel keychains! Now what? Should I tell Sesshoumaru everything that happened was the result of me purposely trying to rid myself of that disgusting hunk of faux toad jerky? He's going to think I'm an idiot!'

Her mind whirled in a confusing maelstrom of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

*****

Jaken stood quietly in the hall, waiting for Sesshoumaru-sama to answer the door. The kappa believed he reaped all this bad karma for the misery he inflicted on the mistress, and he now knew for certain the Daiyoukai could indeed invent a fate worse than death.

A shiver passed though him involuntarily as he clearly recalled the great demon's words upon hearing Jaken's tale of woe.

"I refuse to share my mate's affections…"

Given a chance at redemption, he jumped at it, doing exactly as his lord bade him. The price cost him dearly mentally, emotionally, and especially physically, but he hoped his sacrifice would allow a state of normalcy to return to the household.

The door opened and Sesshoumaru stepped into the hallway, shutting the door behind him. He couldn't risk his mate hearing anything said. Jaken immediately bowed low, hand shaking slightly as he offering up a small ornate box. Sesshoumaru opened it and removed the contents. A simple delicate bracelet dangled from the tip of one terrible claw. Many fine golden threads were braided together to form the circlet and though it looked extremely fragile, it was almost unbreakable.

"Has it been properly empowered?" Sesshoumaru intoned darkly.

Jaken backed up a step, wincing. "Y…yes my lord! Once placed on her wrist it will reduce in size, preventing accidental loss!"

"Your many years of loyal service save you from the lingering death you richly deserve. This amulet will prevent her forced affection for you unless you evoke strong negative emotion from her. If that should happen, I will not hesitate to kill you."

Sesshoumaru threw the retainer his best glare and growled menacingly. Jaken blanched and retreated backwards, shuffling painfully and groveling profusely while bowing deeply over and over.

Sesshoumaru waited until the kappa was well out of sight before allowing his amusement to slip across his lips. Kagome wasn't suffering from aftereffects of the toad's secretion; he would have scented the residue in her blood. It must be a ruse she devised to stop Jaken's childish torment of her. He shook his head, laughing silently at her ingenuity.

Fortunately, her toad trick fit seamlessly into his plans.

Genuine articles of kappa are lucky for humans, but Sesshoumaru knew Jaken would never voluntarily offer anything for Kagome's welfare… and it must be freely given for the talisman to work properly. It also had to be something that didn't appear vile, or his mate would be repulsed and refuse to accept it.

As fate would have it, Jaken was one-eighth Hyōsube, the only kappa species capable of growing hair. Sesshoumaru knew his retainer had one discretely-covered, highly-prized patch of extraordinary hue. The golden 'threads' of the bracelet were actually strands of hair painfully plucked from this tender spot and braided together at the Daiyoukai's insistence it would short-circuit the miko's burning desire for amphibian love.

Composing himself, he returned to his mate's bedside bearing the gift. He was surprised, but gratified to note she seemed more… bewildered than upset. Presenting the box, he opened it for her, explaining that he had managed to procure a new amulet, one that would be almost impossible to lose.

"It's beautiful!" she exclaimed, as he gently slipped it over her hand. "Oh!"

The bracelet tingled slightly as it shrunk in size to comfortably rest around her wrist.

"This gift is from me, but I commissioned it from Jaken. Kappa items, given willingly, favor those who bear them."

Dubious, Kagome wrinkled her nose and shot him a questioning look.

"He was reluctant… doubtful at first, but I assured him it would block your 'love' affliction as long as he showed you proper respect. This means you will have to end that particular charade."

Kagome looked mildly embarrassed. "He told you, huh? I just wanted to give him a dose of his own medicine…"

Sesshoumaru smiled warmly. "I believe he has learned his lessons. You were very clever to use your strength against his weakness."

Though Kagome basked in his praise, it didn't sit well with her to leave him with any misconceptions. "Uh, some of those things might not have happened the way they appeared…"

Sesshoumaru silenced her quickly, "One day I would like to hear all about it, but not today. Keep your secrets for now, miko."

'And I will keep mine,' he silently added.

Perhaps someday they would both disclose all and then they will laaaaaugh…

*****

A/N: Th...th...th...that's all folks! Though my brain does wander to one final scene... What would happen should Kagome discover the gold bracelet she wears is not actually gold, but Jaken's hair? Hair plucked from a sensitive and highly personal area on his person? Hmmmm....

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed my mental wanderings! :)