A/N: I do not own Inuyasha or any of it's characters.
I am soooo sorry that this update took forever. I recently launched my own side business and my boyfriend decided to switch careers so that ended up eating way more time that I thought it would. Then two of my friends lost their place to live so I let them crash on our couch while they got back onto their feet and I spent a bunch of time apartment searching with them. I really really really appreciate everyone's patience with me! I promise I haven't given up or abandoned this story! I will still be continuing to work on it until its complete. Updates may just take a little while unfortunately.
Upon entering their cabin Kagome collapsed onto the bed with a "humph." Channeling her powers so much and so often was beginning to take a toll on her energy, while ironically at the same time she felt strong. The extra use was tiring but she could tell her endurance was building, her stamina increasing. She imagined this was how athletes felt after a satisfying workout.
Sesshomaru was silent as he slipped in behind her. The locks of hair grasped in his hand were dull and lightless, opposite of how brilliantly they shone upon contact with the miko's fingers. He could hear the labored gasps escaping the girl's chest and briefly wondered if he should ask her if she was okay. Before he even had a chance to decide Kagome sat back up, looking straight at him.
"I might have something in my bag that we can keep the strands of hair in so they don't get scattered inside our belongings. Like a Ziploc bag or something." Standing up the girl moved over to her possessions and started sifting through them, searching for anything suitable to store the hair in while they completed the rest of their quest.
"What is a 'ziplock bag'?" The demon questioned. His eyebrow was raised quizzically while he waited for the answer.
The miko offhandedly responded, not even looking at him. "It's just a mass produced convenience item from the future. Not really anything specia…" The girl's sentence trailed off as she pulled something clear and rectangular out of her bag. It looked like there was some sort of food residue still inside it.
"This will have to do." Still not looking at Sesshomaru, Kagome pulled the cover off the object and it made a small popping sound as she did so. She tipped the container upside down and shook out the crumbs that lingered. Reaching her hand out behind her towards the demon she silently asked for him to hand her the golden hair. The inu youkai placed the locks into the miko's outstretched hand, his fingertips gracing the skin of her wrist. The girl didn't even flinch but the demon shivered slightly. The hair instantly illuminated the dark room until Kagome placed it safely within the clear container, plunging the room once again into mild greyness.
The demon moved around the girl hunched over on the floor and towards their wood stove. He could see just fine in the diminished light, but the human's vision was probably strained. Stoking the dying fire with some new wood the small room slowly brightened. The girl still hadn't even glanced up at him. She seemed concentrated on rearranging the things that she carried in her bags. Sesshomaru seated himself in the corner chair and watched the girl continue. She yawned deeply after several minutes, closing her bag she seemed satisfied that she had made everything fit appropriately.
Sitting in his chair the dog stared at the female, who finally looked back up at him and returned his gaze.
"My body feels exhausted, but my mind is abuzz with excitement. I don't know if I'll actually be able to sleep. That probably sounds silly." Sesshomaru could see a mild blush spread across the girl's cheeks.
"Hnn." Was his only reply.
Kagome got up and sat on the bed, she had left out one of the books, which she picked up and started flipping though. Laying down she placed the book flat in front of her so that the fire from the stove could light pages while she read. Flipping to a page that had been marked the girl started to concentrate on the paper in front of her. The demon continued to stare.
Even though the girl could feel the eyes of the demon lord fixed on her she decided to ignore it and just work her way further through the book of folklore searching for clues. Right after the "Tale of Two Frogs," where she had last left off a new section began, called "Tales of the West." Laughing inside her head she wondered briefly if she'd find a story about Sesshomaru or any of the other members of his and Inuyasha's lineage. However she was trying to read up on Izumo and since that was more southern Japan, this chapter probably wouldn't help. Skipping to a later chapter Kagome found a section relating more to mythology than regional folklore. She thumbed the pages until she reached a passage about Yumi and Izanagi's trip to the underworld.
The demon could see the girl's eyes moving swiftly across the pages. Her concentration was so intense that she didn't even acknowledge his gaze upon her. Even as a human he had to appreciate her dedication to the task at hand. She was very adamant in her mission to save Rin and it showed all the time, even in this silent moment. He thought back to the discussion he'd had on Onogoro with the deer.
"I've always believed that humans were nothing, meaningless. But I am wrong. At least I am wrong when it comes to her. She is different. She is honorable. She is an exception."
The deer smiled at him. "There are always things to learn oh great and powerful Sesshomaru."
"This Sesshomaru does not think he can admit that openly to her."
"It is not necessary for you to say anything. All that matters is that you can acknowledge it to yourself. What you do with that information is yours to decide. Do you feel less conflicted?"
Except now he was feeling conflicted again. Things were happening both slowly and quickly. They only had three of the objects so for him that particular progress was slow. But the speed at which the miko's abilities were increasing and the way he felt less disgusted by her seemed to be happening too quickly. The ease at which he accepted her excellence over other humans and the behaviors he witnessed by her interactions with the lesser ningen was so very contradictory to how he had previously viewed humans. He was witnessing compassion and intelligence from them and it didn't seem to be impacting their lives as negatively as he was sure it should have. The high priest of the shrine seemed strong even though he shouldn't have been because he was ningen. The girl that had attacked them in the village had been able to call forth her powers quickly and could have been potentially dangerous, not lethal but still dangerous. That should not be because she was human, a human shouldn't be that capable. They coexisted more peacefully than he had noticed in the past. Sure, he had been to many ningen villages on his travels, but had he really not noticed how functional they were? Or had he just been so set in his ideas of their inferiority that he hadn't discerned it. They weren't as dumb as he had been so sure of for so many years. What the girl had done in the village was arguably stupid but still he hadn't expected her cloud of reiki to grow so quickly after tackling Kagome. In a way the offending miko wasn't so stupid because she potentially had the power to back up an attack on two taiyoukai. The monks on Awajishima had been mostly gracious and courteous to the miko while she walked amongst them and for a small community they appeared to be thriving and expanding, not sniveling and weak and desperate like he often imagined ningen were in his head.
And then there was Rin. Beautiful, sweet, innocent, compassionate Rin. She was only one human and a child, so it had been easy to write off his affection for her despite the fact that she was human. She was a defenseless child and initially he'd been curious over her motives of trying to help him in the woods a lifetime ago. That and it had given him the opportunity to test out the power of tenseiga. Rin had grown on him to a point where he knew in his mind that he loved her like a daughter. Admitting that out loud was a different story, it was something he could never do. His enemies would target her. Children, both youkai and ningen weren't to be slaughtered. He may have disdain for humans but one doesn't kill a defenseless child, it was barbaric and dishonorable to stoop so low. But even the highest ranking youkai were sometimes capable of dishonorable acts. He may have been above such actions but others obsessed with usurping power were unpredictable in their potential actions.
The girl on the bed made a strange noise, bringing the demon out of his thoughts. Kagome looked more rigid, like something was bothering her that she hadn't yet voiced.
"What is the matter miko?" He inquired.
"I think we may have a problem." She looked up at him. The position she had taken on the bed, flat on her stomach facing the stove, left some of her chest exposed while she craned her head up to look at him. The scene from the previous night flashed into his subconscious, a glorious vision of her half naked and bent over flooded his mind before he crammed it into the recesses of his brain.
"What problem do we have?"
"Well, um, I kind of forgot this detail in the story about Izanagi leaving the land of Yumi. It's so minor that when we talk about it at the shrine sometimes my Grandpa doesn't even mention it since the story is already so ingrained into most people's memories."
"Izanagi seals the entrance with a giant boulder and magic after he leaves Yumi, so Izanami is trapped. Even if we find the actual entrance how are we supposed to get in if he sealed it? Using my miko powers to find things is one thing but I don't think we can use it to UNDO an enchantment by the Kami. That's just insanity!" The girl's tone reached a higher pitch even though she was quite yelling or shrieking.
"We will figure it out. Perhaps there is another way in. It's pointless to begin panicking about it. The story could even be wrong."
"I suppose you're right. It still makes me nervous though." Kagome yawned and sat up. 'I guess I'll try and get some sleep now. Good night Sesshomaru." The girl repositioned herself so that she lay the correct way in the bed and pulled the light blankets over herself. It took almost no time before her gentle snores were picked up by the youkai's ears. Closing his eyes, the demon attempted to take a short nap of his own. Demon's needed sleep every once in a while too.
Sesshomaru and Kagome were greeted by Hayato upon exiting their cabin. The sun had been up for a short amount of time already but they were only a few minutes late for the morning feast. Sadao smiled widely at the three as they took their places. Kagome waved and smiled back before digging into the food. Her stomach had immediately been growling upon waking, which seemed perfectly normal considering how much energy she kept expending with the use of her abilities. When they finished eating the three tried to slip back to their cabins so that they could make a quiet exit from the shine grounds but Sadao managed to catch them on the path.
"Lords! Priestess! Are you leaving us already?" The elderly man was pleasant in his questioning.
Hayato was quick to give a clever answer.
"Ah, yes houji-sama. It is still a long ways to the western palace and winter is here. As we get further north the trek may become more dangerous. Now is the perfect time for us to make our way and possibly avoid snow squalls. I was under the impression that cold weather and humans don't always mix well." The bird had a good natured smile plastered across his face that made the older monk laugh.
"Too true my Lord! Is there anything we can get you before you leave? Are you well stocked on food and all other supplies?" Sadao's gaze glanced between the trio. This time Sesshomaru responded.
"I believe we have all we need. We did pick up a few things in the market yesterday. I will make sure to tell others in my court about the graciousness of the priests and priestesses at Amano-Iwato. I think I know enough youkai that have taken too long since their last pilgrimage in honor of Amaterasu."
The monk laughed heartily and shook the hands of all three individually before moving along down the path to allow the odd trio the availability to finish gathering their belongings and leave. All three were already prepared to leave anyway but they lingered for ten minutes to give the impression that they weren't in a massive hurry to exit the grounds. On their way out they ran into several other monks and mikos who offered goodbyes and thank yous, most of them directed at Kagome more than the demons. She was almost exclusively referred to as the 'Fire Priestess.' The attention made the girl blush profusely.
Once in the wood, the three kept an eye on the distance between themselves and the shrine. Kagome estimated they had almost traveled a mile before Hayato and Sesshomaru turned to each other.
"I believe this is where I leave you mutt. I do have other business that needs attending to." The bird chuckled at the dog's grimace. But the two shook hands cordially anyway.
"I do thank you for your… assistance falcon."
"At least now you know sneaking into my lands is futile. I will find you. Until the next banquet Sesshomaru." With a smug smile across his face the bird leapt into the air and took flight.
The human and dog demon were alone once again.
Sesshomaru had been carrying Kagome on his back throughout most of the day as they traveled north. Since the entrance to Yumi was still a wild card as to whether or not they could access the underworld the dog demon had decided that their next mission should be to find the gravesite of the Yamata-no-Orochi. That was where they would find the dirt they required.
The dog demon estimated it would take the two of them three days to get to Izumo. They would need to cross the Suo Nada Sea. There was a peninsula which almost connected with Kyushu (the island that Takachiho resided within) with the mainland where they could get to Izumo. They would have to travel to the northern point of Kyushu but that was probably the best place at which they could cross the sea. When they camped for the night Kagome was going to look up in her texts where in Izumo they should search. Sesshomaru remembered from his lessons that Susanoo landed on the Hii River when he'd been expelled from the Heavens. It was shortly after that, when the Kami had slain the dragon.
Running at full speed the demon and priestess made excellent time through the lush forested island. When they stopped for lunch an idea came to Kagome. She had been carrying her bow and arrows with her but had done literally nothing with them other than fight that bear youkai, had it been a week ago? Maybe she could convince Sesshomaru to do a little training with her? He'd probably say no. Was it worth asking? Chewing on the fish that they had caught and she had cooked, the girl mulled the idea over in her brain. They were getting along quite well, at least as well as a human possibly could with a demon like him she supposed. Her face grew hot at the thought of him laughing at her for even daring to ask. The miko decided to continue thinking on it. There was a chance that he'd say yes and surprise her. Sango was the one that had given her any sort of knowledge on how to use the weapon, Inuyasha wasn't much help, and while Sesshomaru had never brandished a bow in her presence he was still trained in many weapons. It wasn't too much of a stretch to think that he had experience with one. So lost in her head was the miko, that Kagome didn't even notice the demon in question staring at her. He had already put out the fire they had used and put away the few things they had taken out while eating.
"Miko, I can tell from your scent that something is disturbing you."
Snapping her head up to look at him the girl responded, "It's weird that you smell me."
Raising an eyebrow the inu answered back, "It's perfectly natural for me to do so."
Sighing deeply the teenager stood up, "Sorry, it's nothing. I was just thinking that's all. Let's get going." The girl smiled reassuringly and climbed back up to her perch on his back.
The sun was beginning to go down when they reached the sea crossing they were looking for. The demon took flight across the channel and landed solidly back onto the main land. They decided to make camp right there that night. Darkness descended quickly while Kagome lit a fire and stoked it to a good height. Sesshomaru had hunted down a small boar. The miko went to pull out a knife so that she could prepare a piece for herself but was surprised when Sesshomaru began skinning and dissecting the animal himself. She stood awkwardly with the tool in her hand watching while he used his claws to skillfully gut the boar.
"Uh, I can do that. It's fine."
The demon looked up at her and responded evenly. "I have already taken care of it. You have the books to look over. I will do this."
Still feeling awkward the girl turned back to her bags and seated herself on the ground again. She pulled out her book light, the copy of Legends or Reality and skimmed through until she found the passages related to the Yamata-no-Orochi. She found that there was a lot of information pertaining to this particular story. Digging in to read she figured that an excess of information could be either a good or a bad thing.
Sesshomaru skewered some of the boar meat onto a stick and positioned it over the fire so that it could cook appropriately. He glanced around their site for the night, double checking that there were no suspicious auras around them. He detected nothing out of the ordinary and his eyes settled on the girl. She had her head bowed over the book in her lap. The "electric" light was illuminating the pages while she read. Minutes dragged on as she maintained silence and he glanced at the things they carried with them on a daily basis.
His eyes landed on the bow and arrow that she had propped up against the tree nearest her, they were within reach if she needed to grab them quickly. This prompted him to think back on his own training as a pup. While he had never particularly taken to the bow, preferring the sword, he still had had to learn how to use them. He'd actually been quite good but had just never taken a keen interest in the weapon. Hand to hand combat, swords, spears those were his weapons of choice. Bloody, masculine and visceral, they spoke to the innate beast within him.
A loud crackle and snap from the fire drew his attention and he checked on the meat to make sure that it was cooking. The silence was actually beginning to bore him.
"Are you finding anything useful in the text miko?"
Without looking up at him the girl answered back, "Yes and no."
She stretched her legs out from the cross legged position, brushing the hair out of her eyes so that she could glance in his direction.
"There are a lot of shrines along the Hii River dedicated to different parts of the story. But they don't mention the exact location of where the dragon was killed. There's at least one shrine where a piece of the dragon's tail is buried. And then they mention where the dragon supposedly lived, where the eight heads are buried after Susanoo chopped them off. And then there's something about where some of the special secret saki that got the dragon drunk is buried, I don't think that will be particularly useful. I don't know where to start. Based on what's here the sample of dirt we need could be anywhere along the river I guess."
"Happon-Sugi is where the eight heads are buried right?" The demon questioned.
"Yes, it's called Happon-Sugi. The tail is at Orochi Shrine which is a smaller section of the larger Iwatsubo Shrine. And the dragon lived at Ama-ga-Fuchi. This stupid book has a bunch of pictures of the sites but no map. So I don't even know where along the river all these places are."
"I've been to Happon-Sugi, I know where that is. The other places I have not taken pilgrimage. But the Hii River begins at Mt. Sentsukan. As tedious and time consuming as it will be we will start there and follow the river towards Lake Shinji where it empties. Depending on what we find and if you can sense anything it may take a full day or two."
Kagome bowed her head again. "I'm sorry that I couldn't find anything more definitive." The smell of sea salt and vanilla hit Sesshomaru's nostrils. She was sad and embarrassed he surmised.
"Ugh, I'm so stupid!" The girl twisted her fingers into her hair near her temples, she looked defeated.
The inu youkai wasn't sure what to do. If one of his wards or retainers had behaved this way he would have harshly corrected the useless behavior. But he didn't want to do that with her. There was no urge to thrash her about and tell her to stop, Jaken would've been treated that way. He almost wanted to comfort her. Then he realized he didn't know how to actually comfort a female effectively. The other women whom he had experience with were either his mother, step-mother, Rin, servants or women that he had bedded. The miko didn't fit into those categories. Even the royal females, ningen and youkai, whom he hadn't bedded he had never spoken to other than for introductions.
Thankfully the girl started laughing, lifting her head back up. "I'm so dumb that earlier I thought to myself 'Hey! You should ask Sesshomaru to train with you with your bow because he would totally waste his time doing that.' Time is getting shorter for Rin. We've already been out here for a couple weeks at least and the healer said we may have only two months. What if it's shorter?" Her face went back into her hands.
"I can do that." He almost whispered it.
"Huh?" Kagome picked her head back up with a confused expression on her face.
"I can do the bow."
"Huh?" The miko repeated.
Shaking his head Sesshomaru grabbed the piece of boar meat that smelled fully cooked and gave it to the girl.
"Eat first miko."
Stepping over to the tree where the girl's weapon rested, he casually picked the bow and arrows up and handed them to her. "I can teach you. It may be beneficial to me if you are more proficient with your weapon."
"Oh. Oh right, yes there could be self-gain for you in the long run. It's always got to be beneficial to you." She almost sounded disappointed that he had surprised her with an affirmative answer.
Kagome devoured the piece of meat fairly quickly. Standing up to her feet, the girl wiped the tears that had tried to escape from her eyelids and took her weapon from his outstretched hand.
"So where do we start?"
"With your stance. Pull your string back and just aim at that tree across the way. Let me see your current technical stance."
The miko pointed her bow to the ground at a slight angle and nocked an arrow into place. She then raised the weapon to eye level and aimed for the tree that the western lord had indicated would be the hypothetical target. She froze in that postion, waiting for him to say something.
"Your feet are too open, pull your back leg in a bit, closer to your body to make your stance more neutral." She could feel the demon behind her nudging her back foot forward with his own to reposition her legs.
"To begin with you should remain neutral. More advanced archers can use open and closed stances, but until I see how well your aim is stay in neutral. Now un nock the arrow and repeat your pull back. Try to step back with your legs closer together than they were to begin with this time."
Relaxing her bow string Kagome pulled the arrow from its tether. She repeated the nocking process as Sango had shown her but this time she tried to make sure that she didn't step out so widely. Bringing her drawn bow back up to eye level she stepped back with her right leg, but something just didn't feel correct.
"Your foot placement was more accurate that time but now you're not facing the target properly. Your hips are off center." The girl felt a hand grasp her around her right hip as it pulled the center of her body to be more perpendicular with her target. The hand didn't remove itself from her hip and Kagome remained immoveable, unsure of what she was supposed to do next. Should she tell him to let go? Stay still? Her heart started to pound. She felt her face begin to flush as the sudden thought of his hand on her hip while she had been half naked the other night penetrated her mind. Would that be something that she would enjoy? His hand touching her warm skin? The few times that the girl had felt his hot breath on her neck when he whispered had made her shudder. Oh Kami, now she was thinking about being naked with him touching her in an arguably intimate place with his warm breath running down the back of her neck and down her spine. No, no, no, this needed to stop. She wasn't Miroku and the mildly perverted thoughts needed to go away.
As if he could read her mind, the demon's mouth suddenly seemed very close to her ear. Her body involuntarily reacted by quivering slightly.
"Release your arrow miko." Oh how his voice gave her goosebumps in this moment.
Letting go of her string Kagome shot the arrow at the tree she had been aiming at, frozen it felt like, for ages. Stumbling forward after shooting she managed to get herself out of his grasp and turned to face him. The girl faked a smile, pretending like an earthquake hadn't just erupted inside of her and that she was grateful for his help. Whatever was happening to her mind and her body because of his presence needed to get under control. There was no way that she could develop feelings for Sesshomaru. A little crush because he was attractive, sure, but nothing more than that. It just wasn't allowed, there was no way in a thousand years that the great and powerful Lord of the West would ever be able reciprocate anything like that towards her. She didn't need to set herself up for some sort of heartbreak. Kagome didn't need another episode like the one she had had with Inuyasha.
The demon's expression was blank, unreadable, did he know that he had almost melted her insides by just holding her?
"That was better, you even hit the tree but your aim needs work." Looking over for the first time to see if she had even hit the target the miko saw that indeed her arrow stuck out of the tree, but it was way off from the center where she should have hit the mark.
The demon strode over and pulled her arrow cleanly from the trunk, the arrow appeared to still be perfectly intact.
"Try again, feet in neutral, hips square."
Taking up her spot across from the tree the girl nocked the same arrow for a third time and took aim. She released the projectile into the air and hit the tree once more, closer to the center of the trunk this time. Sesshomaru stood back and observed without touching her this time.
The two continued on with this exercise for a long period of time. Occasionally the demon placed a hand on her to correct arm placement, elbow angle, her feet at least once, but never her hip again. And his touch only lasted for a few seconds. Quite a few of her arrows broke over the course of their session, to which Kagome was disappointed. She was surprised when the demon stated that the next village that they came upon he would have the arrows replaced for her.
The teenager wasn't sure how much time had passed before the yawning started but once it started she asked to conclude for the night in order to rest. Sesshomaru only nodded his agreement. The girl cleaned up her few broken arrows that were scattered around the tree, and placed her still whole arrows and bow back against the tree they had been stationed at earlier.
While she did this the inu youkai threw a few logs into the fire to rekindle the heat. The night was chillier than previous ones, excluding the one night where they awoke to a slight amount of snow in the morning. As the girl prepared to lay out her sleeping bag and blanket near the fire she had her back turned her companion. Bending over she began to spread out the blanket when a hand grasped her by the hip again and turned her around.
Sesshomaru just stared down at her, silent. Kagome wasn't sure was happening or why he had done that. Then abruptly the demon seemed to snap back out of whatever trance had held him there staring into her face. He let go of her and turned. He seated himself across the fire from her leaning against a tree of his own.
"Good night miko."
Confused and slightly afraid the teenager hurriedly got into her own bed. However her eyes stayed open, staring at the perplexing demon she was stuck traveling with.
Thank you again for waiting patiently for the next chapter! Happy reading!