Chapter 5: Interloper

Inuyasha walked sedately beside his mate as they marched through the thinning forest. Ever since the revelation of Inuyasha's pregnancy, Sesshoumaru had insisted that Inuyasha be close at all times. It was a situation Inuyasha was wary of, as he waited for the other shoe to drop.

Inuyasha was more than a little confused about his situation with Sesshoumaru. That night by the river, they had lain on the bank, Inuyasha dozing against the larger inu's chest and pleasantly sore until the stars had come out. At some unseen signal, Sesshoumaru had decided that it was time to go back to camp.

Upon their return, Shippo had shot into his arms, his worry evident in the way he clung silently to Inuyasha's red robes. The hanyou knew the young kit must have been truly frightened for him as he cuddled and trembled lightly against him. Inuyasha shushed him and ran his hands down the kit's back as he made to find a place to sit and spend time with the frightened child at the base of a tree at the edge of camp that he had spotted, when he was unceremoniously tugged down to the ground by a hand on his arm.

He snapped his head in the direction of his assailant only to find that it had been Sesshoumaru. The Daiyoukai simply stared at him, daring Inuyasha to protest. Inuyasha quickly assumed a submissive posture, hunching his shoulders and lowering his eyes to the ground and pinning his ears back to his head. Once he could no longer feel his brother's eyes on him, he made himself comfortable, leaning against the fallen log his brother was seated on, and rubbed the kit's back until the little one was calm enough to ask all the questions that he had been holding in about Inuyasha being pregnant until he had fallen asleep, his little head resting on the still flat stomach of his acting big brother/father figure.

Since then Sesshoumaru had silently stood vigil at his side. The older youkai always demanded that Inuyasha stay close to him or ordered him to stay put in their makeshift camp. The insults had dropped off dramatically and he had not raised a hand against Inuyasha either.

Not that Inuyasha would let his guard down for a minute. No, Inuyasha was not falling for that. He still caught his brother glaring at him every once in a while. He suspected that Sesshoumaru was just reluctant to risk harming the life within him. He was certainly not deluded enough to believe the youkai had and a sudden change of heart about his status as a stain upon the earth.

Still, there had also been times when he had caught his brother gazing at him with an indiscernible, but distinctly not hostile expression on his face. He had never touched Inuyasha like he had by the river again, yet there were often gentle and fleeting touches out of nowhere; a hand on the small of his back, or fingers feathering over the nape of his neck.

It all combined to leave one very confused hanyou.

Sesshoumaru was feeling much the same. He had finally allowed that maybe his inner youkai was right. He loosened his tight hold on himself and allowed himself to give in to his instincts… on some things. The most notable of those instincts was the one that demanded that his pregnant mate close at hand in order to properly protect him. It would drive him quietly mad to not have his mate within sight at all times in this vulnerable time.

With that relinquishment of absolute control, other less necessary feelings sprang to the surface. Hunger for his little mate bubbled up from his youkai depths and battled his ingrained prejudices. Now that he had acknowledged his younger brother as his mate sexually, it seemed that everything about the hanyou evoked hot bolts of lust to shoot through his body and straight to his ever ready member.

His little mate was fit and healthy, a fact confirmed in his every strong and powerful movement. The sight of the hanyou's hips swinging as he walked, an act of seduction wholly subconscious on Inuyasha's part, drove Sesshoumaru to distraction all day. Inuyasha's scent overwhelmed the daiyoukai, flavored as it was with the warmth of pregnancy.

Sesshoumaru had more than once caught himself reaching out to touch Inuyasha's soft looking and oh so fragrant wisps of clean white hair, or staring at him with desire.

It always put him in a bad mood.

He could not even explain to himself how he could desire such a creature as a hanyou, let alone come up with a convincing story for his council. He was disgusted with himself for his perversion; to find such an abomination attractive. Though, he had to admit (even to himself!) that Inuyasha truly wasn't at fault. His uke nature left him helpless to a powerful and worthy seme such as Sesshoumaru. The fact that to have become an uke, Inuyasha would have had to hold all of the most desirable traits one looks for in a breeding mate, such as health, beauty, and strength only made his inner struggle all the more complicated. Could Inuyasha truly be a coveted uke and still be an abomination? How was Sesshoumaru supposed to deal with that?

With that line of thought, Sesshoumaru decided that that would be what he would tell the council, even if he wasn't sure if he believed it himself.

It was a good thing, though that he had settled the matter because the Daiyoukai knew that he and his band were nearing the royal territories. Beside him, Inuyasha stiffened and crouched slightly, reaching one hand up to brace the kitsune riding on his shoulder, and placing the other of the hilt of his sword. His ears flicked forward at a distant sound of someone approaching. Sesshoumaru, who knew well who was approaching, retained his stoic mask and regal stride. Neither was conscious of how the older youkai automatically took position slightly in front of the pregnant hanyou, or how Inuyasha kept a step closer to his seme.

Inuyasha's eyes flickered up to Sesshoumaru without his consent, looking to him to see if he sensed any danger, and relaxed slightly at his lack of concern. He did not, however, fully let down his guard. He could hear many youkai approaching at a jog and he had no trouble believing that Sesshoumaru would find an angry mob nothing to be concerned about while not putting any effort into stopping them if they decided that a hanyou was an easier target for attack.

Out of the woods, however, emerged a band of Ashigaru, foot soldiers uniformed in red tatami chest armor and jingasa*. Upon seeing Sesshoumaru, the group froze and straightened.

"My Lord!" the one in front called out in surprise. That one was summarily pushed aside by a much bigger youkai who had come up behind him. This one's uniform was decorated with a dark blue sash tied around his waist. Inuyasha knew enough that the red of their uniforms signified their affiliation with the Seiyou Inu* kingdom, the dynasty of their father and forefathers. The blue was the color of the moon that decorated Sesshoumaru's forehead and represented his connection to the house of the moon, or the noble house of his mother's family.

Inuyasha scowled at the daiyoukai's back. The bastard hadn't said anything about the fact that they were nearly to their destination. Granted, the bastard hadn't said much of anything since That Night, not that he was the most talkative guy anyway.

His scowl lessened, however when he felt a tiny clawed hand on his cheek and looked down into large concerned eyes that peaked at him from where Shippo had bent over from his position on his shoulder to see Inuyasha's face. "What's wrong, Inuyasha? Who are those guys?"

"Nothin's wrong, squirt," he mumbled, "I guess those guys are Sesshoumaru's castle guards and we're almost to his place."

"Oh," Shippo responded, sounding as if he had a million more questions lurking behind that one sound. He knew, though that Inuyasha didn't like it when he asked so many questions at once and always told him to just pay attention and learn instead, even when he was in a good mood. Now, however, he could tell that Inuyasha was definitely not in a good mood, nor was it the right time to bother him, if the tension he could feel through his feet in the hanyou's shoulders were any indication.

Ahead of them, the lead guard made a fist and pressed it to his chest as he bowed before Sesshoumaru.

"It is good to have you home, Sesshoumaru-sama," he said, still bowed low.

Sesshoumaru merely inclined his head and asked in an uninterested voice, "All is well at the gates, Constable Yo?"

"Yes, My Lord, all is well. Shall we escort you and-," the constable paused to throw and slightly hostile glance back at the hanyou, "- your traveling companions to the castle."

Sesshoumaru again only inclined his head in affirmation, before walking on, knowing that all would follow after him.

The constable accompanied his lord walking beside him, while the rest of the troops formed a protective ring around the hanyou, kappa and dragon travelers. Inuyasha wondered just who was being protected, the travelers from would be assassins or the people of the approaching town form the monstrous hanyou, as a majority of the guards seemed to have gathered close to him. He certainly didn't miss the barely restrained animosity in their warning glances and subtle attempts at intimidation. He fought off the urge to call them on it (with his fists), knowing that it would only lead to far more trouble than he could handle at the moment.

Inuyasha's unease, which had been rising throughout the day, tripled at the sight of the magnificent castle in the distance. Sesshoumaru walked tall and confident with long strides ahead of him with the captain of the castle guards next to him, the shorter and more bulkily muscled bear youkai having no trouble keeping up.

Inuyasha had not lived in such a heavily populated place since he was but a pup, living with his mother's human family at their estate, and even then the two of them had kept mostly to themselves and away from the fear and loathing that looked out at them from many of the faces they saw. Inuyasha was not sure he was prepared to face the amount of scorn and ire he would come across in a place with as many people that lived within the castle let alone the surrounding castle town, especially if the reaction from the castle guards were any indication.

Within moments, they had reached the gates of the cobbled-stoned walls that surrounded the jokamachi*. About a mile into the town stood the impressively massive castle, appearing to be watching over its charges in the distance. Inside the gates, the town was a crowded metropolis. The small wooden buildings packed onto cramped blocks along narrow roads. The markets bustled with activity, shops offered every kind of service and stalls showed off brightly colored foods on offer to the equally brightly dressed patrons.

Inuyasha noticed little of this. His attention was on the increasing amount of attention he was attracting from the gathered people. He knew that most of it was not actually directed at him, he was traveling down the road with the Lord of the Western lands after all. Another part, was the fact that he was so obviously related to their Lord as well. However, the years of being glared at, ostracized, and run out of town had conditioned him to be wary of any attention, and while most of the attention was not directed at him specifically, he made note of every pair of eyes that swung to his furred ears. He knew from experience that it would not take long for news to spread of the hanyou that traveled with the lord. What that meant for him, considering that he was mated to said lord and pregnant with his pup, he did not know.

With the last of his nerves fraying, the group finally made it to the castle grounds. The building was elevated on a hill separated from the jokamachi by a winding mote. The castle itself was built on a large stone base. the castle was in fact an interconnected complex of 23 buildings, including storage, stables, servant's quarters, towers, and a place to conduct the business of ruling the Western lands. The tallest and primary living quarters was four stories high and sat in the center and highest point of the bailey.

Inuyasha was awed, having never been this close to a castle before and never even seeing one this big.

Immediately upon entering the main castle, servants met them at the entrance way.

"Sesshoumaru-sama! Welcome home," the serving girls bowed low before the Lord of the Western Lands.

Sesshoumaru ignored their greeting and with a dismissive wave toward Inuyasha ordered, "Take the hanyou and his kit and get them settled into a room. I have duties to attend to." Without giving Inuyasha second look, he turned and made his way to a building across the courtyard.

Inuyasha stared after him in disbelief. The bastard had just dumped them on the servants and left! He couldn't dwell on the retreating back of his brother for long as one of the servant women straightened, holding herself tall and clasping her hands in front of her. "Come along then," she snapped with hints of exasperation and resignation in her voice. Her lips pursed and she glanced down her nose at him in matronly disapproval, as if addressing him were one of her more distasteful duties, right up there with emptying bed pans and raking out the pig pens.

Inuyasha tiredly followed the woman, who walked as if she were trying to lose him in the maze of hallways. The growth of a pup within him was taking its toll on his body, causing aches and pains and leaving him more tired at the end of a day of journeying than he usually felt after a good fight. He imagined how wonderful it would feel to soak in a hot spring right then and almost groaned.

The servant woman finally stopped before a door at the end of a long hallway and held open the door. Inuyasha walked past her into the room and whirled around as the door slammed shut behind him. He snarled in anger as he tugged at the door only to find it was securely locked. He gave it a final petulant thump before turning and leaning tiredly on it.

"Inuyasha! How're we gonna get out of here?" Shippo squeaked, grasping a fistful of Inuyasha's hair tightly in fear.

Inuyasha sighed. "I don't know Shippo, but I ain't gonna try again until I get some rest," he said sullenly, Sesshoumaru's words rang in his ears. "The hanyou" he had called him, as if he were old dirty robes to be taken care of when Sesshoumaru returned from his journeys. Inuyasha smirked without pleasure to himself. He had called it, didn't he? He knew he could never trust that asshole. He knew that he would be in a bad situation once they reached the castle, once they were safely ensconced within Sesshoumaru's territories, not that he was much safer anywhere else, but there was now no one to turn to and it was going to be much harder to escape the scorn for even a little while.

He stood to find someplace to sleep. His demon eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness. They were in a bedroom, to Inuyasha's relief, though it had obviously not seen visitors in a great while. It seemed to be a room that had been used to store old or extra furniture, as there were about five tables stacked in one corner and a couple dusty and broken chairs in front of the empty fireplace.

Inuyasha wanted to be angry and affronted, but he had slept in trees for the past 150 years, so this was hardly the worst conditions he had ever been dealt. He tugged Shippo from his shoulder and climbed on the bed. He curled on his side, pulling the kit to his chest. Shippo nestled into his chest and sniffed the reassuring scent of his caretaker. The kit, having Demon energy without the drain of pregnancy was not nearly as tired as the hanyou, and so pulled his tiny fingers through Inuyasha's silky hair quietly as Inuyasha settled into slumber.

Despite appearances, Sesshoumaru's mind was focused mainly on Inuyasha as he walked away from him, to his rising indignation. His youkai snarled at him to go back and make sure his mate was unharmed and comfortable. A happy mate was healthy mate, it protested.

Yet Sesshoumaru continued, pace unabated, to the Lord's Building. It was so called because it was the building that most of the lordly duties were carried out in. There, his royal study, the offices of his council and other administrators, the war room, the Diplomat's Hall, and the informal meeting room, were stationed. He quickly made his way to his study.

Sesshoumaru could not afford to look weak at this precarious time. When he introduced Inuyasha as his mate, he would come under a lot of scrutiny, not because he was a hanyou- well not only because he was a hanyou- but because before now Sesshoumaru had been one of the most strident supporters of anti hanyou sentiment. This would obviously be a sudden and extreme turn around in attitude. Sesshoumaru worried that it would make him appear indecisive and weak willed, which could lead to political opposition within the council.

He settled himself behind his well-used office chair, and if he were alone in the chamber, he would have sighed at the stacks of scrolls piled on his desk for him to read through and sign. As it was, there were already a gaggle of administrators in his study waiting for an audience with him over some matter or another. It would be a long time until he would be free of them.

Sesshoumaru, not needing much sleep, worked through the night. By the next afternoon, he had made an acceptable dent in his paper work and was now listening to one of his councilors, Sanmi-san. She was one of his favorite councilors. The older woman was mature but still a great beauty, with powder blue hair and nearly white silver eyes that shown with wisdom and kindness. She was always fair and even-tempered; giving each issue due thought and consideration, even if that meant her decisions directly contradicted her Lord Sesshoumaru. Sesshoumaru felt a respect for the councilwoman that he rarely bestowed on anyone else and was almost a friend.

"My Lord, I have received notice from Lord Tokagefumi that he and his brother will be visiting when the sakura zensen* reaches the Western lands for the festival," she announced. She smiled faintly behind her sleeve covered hand as Sesshoumaru's eyes darkened. Sanmi shared Sesshoumaru's dislike of the Lord of the Western Fuji. He always made up some inane reason to come to the Western Lands to pick at the Western Lord and sound out any weaknesses, always looking for a way to gain power. As the Fuji territories did not have many cherry blossom trees, Tokagefumi was using the traditional bloom viewing season as an excuse to visit.

"Can we think of nothing to persuade that lowly idiot from coming? Perhaps we can declare war on someone before then?" he growled.

Sanmi gave a tinkling laugh and snapped her fan open. "No, sire, I think not."

Sesshoumaru, however almost scowled as his youkai suddenly reminded him that his mate would be heavily pregnant by then. Tokagefumi would certainly have something to say about his hanyou mate; perhaps even find a way to start some trouble. He growled low in his chest at the thought and stood abruptly from his seat. The much shorter rabbit demon gathered her sky blue silk robe about her and rose to bow before him, knowing that she was being dismissed.

"Very well, Sanmi-san. I will write to him tomorrow after the council gathering. I must go now," he forced out from clenched teeth. His youkai urged him to go to his mate. He had been away from him too long.

A/N: So there you have it. Sorry for the long wait! I've been out of writing mojo lately but I think I am getting back on track. Let me know how you liked it.

If you need a visual Google Himeji Castle, though my castle is significantly smaller

jingasa *- conical hats made of lacquered hardened leather

Seiyou Inu*- this is just one of the results I got when I used google translate to figure out how to say Western Dog in Japanese, so if it's wrong… well, sorry about that.

jokamachi*- "town below castle"

sakura zensen*- Cherry Blossom front. wiki it!