A/N: Thank you all so much for the reviews and wishes! My finals went well. Now results will reveal all. Bigggg hug to brz for saying "good luck on your Masters finals. Ace those suckers because well you know you can." It made me grin from ear to ear and actually buckle down and study.
Shout out to my anonymous reviewers - Kate, tella, Donnita, iris, Hattaru, DeidaraLikesArt, Kuroinosoeki, and Kawaii koinu 101
Kawaii koinu 101- I'm afraid you'll have to wait a while for that but there will be lots of lemony goodness soon.
Special thanks to Hattaru for reviewing both, chapter 2 and 3. I agree with you that without servants, a noble household just would not run. Good servants play a very important role in a royal family's comfort and prestige.
Iris - You can PM or email me if you want to talk about graduate studies or anything else. My email ID is ace_f_spades yahoo . com
Since I'm updating this on Mother's Day, this chapter is dedicated to dragonzombie333, my partner in crime in many of my fics and a kickass mother, who deserves our sympathies because she is a Dramatic Uke with a seme child to raise. She is also my reference for all things mpreg in Sunset Secrets.
I hope you all enjoy the chapter!
Inuyasha rested his chin on his knees and watched the sleeping form of his seven year old master, tapping his foot impatiently on the carpet that was his bed.
Moonlight fell on the silver hair fanned around Sesshoumaru's face, making the pale skin glow like the moon itself. Inuyasha thought the demon Lord looked more like a helpless human than a youkai while sleeping. He slept as if an earthquake couldn't wake him. Inuyasha glanced outside the window and sighed irritably.
It was an especially beautiful, cool night. The palace gardens were bathed in moonlight. The hanyou longed to go outside, to see the beautiful palace grounds at night but it seemed his master never stayed up past his bedtime.
The palace walls, beautiful though they may be, felt like they were closing in. Inuyasha had never thought freedom could mean more than safety but the palace sometimes felt like a prison, especially on beautiful, moonlit nights. The hanyou had never in his life had much freedom to do as he pleased but he had at least had the open sky above him when he slept. In the cold and the rain and the snow, every slave had longed for a roof and warmth, but no one had told Inuyasha about what he would be losing in return for those - the ability to breathe freely.
Bare shoulders were left uncovered by the blankets and Inuyasha reached out to catch a strand of silver that fell across the milky skin. The silky strand slipped through his fingers. Inuyasha caught hold of it again and placed it carefully off the demon Lord's chest. His finger brushed lightly against the bare skin and Inuyasha watched carefully but Sesshoumaru didn't stir. Even, slow breaths told the hanyou that the demon Lord was still asleep.
Inuyasha let his eyes to move over the thin silk blankets covering Sesshoumaru. Under the thin blankets, Inuyasha could see the strong, lean lines of muscle. Inuyasha wished the blanket wasn't there.
A cloud slipped across the moon and pitched the room in darkness. Inuyasha sat back on his heels and waited for the light to come back. He fell asleep with his head resting on his knees.
"Nnnh," Inuyasha complained, closing his eyes tightly miserably.
Sesshoumaru smirked from where he sat in a red silk chair preparing for his next lesson. "That bad?"
Inuyasha opened his eyes to glare but that lost its impact as a whimper slipped out.
"Worse," he wailed. "I can't move."
The first day of training wasn't what Inuyasha had been expecting. Instead of flashing swords and death-defying moves, the three hours had mainly consisted of a series of exercises that involved Inuyasha using every muscle in his body to the fullest to determine his strength. He'd been made to contort in ways he hadn't even thought possible.
The demon who was his instructor looked deceptively gentle and nice; at the end of his first day, Inuyasha determined that he wasn't nice at all. How was it possible for simple exercises to make everything hurt so damned much? His legs were so wobbly, be couldn't walk straight and his arms weren't strong enough to pick up a pin. And it hurt to breathe.
The demon Lord turned his eyes back to the book in his hands. "You will get used to it."
Inuyasha groaned and flopped down miserably on the carpet. "I'll never be able to walk again."
Sesshoumaru ignored the dramatics. After a few minutes of being ignored, Inuyasha sat up quietly and crawled over to the other boy.
Sesshoumaru looked down at the white head level with the top of his book. "Yes?"
Inuyasha sat on his haunches and blinked up at him in a way that reminded Sesshoumaru of a puppy. "How was your day?"
Sesshoumaru put his book down to look down at Inuyasha properly. "It was fine. My training for the day is done as well."
An insect flew near Inuyasha's ear and the ear flickered to fend it off. Inuyasha winced; his ear hurt too.
"Was your first day of training as hard as this?" he asked Sesshoumaru.
The demon Lord nodded, vaguely remembering his first official day of training with his father and the various hurts all over his body that had resulted.
That wasn't his first day of training ever. His very first day of training had been with a renowned instructor, who had come to Taisho's notice when he began to gain a name for himself in the Western kingdom for his discipline and ruthlessness in training. The Lord of the West had been gratified to find someone who wouldn't cut his son any slack just because he was a prince.
The celebrated sensei lasted all of a day. He even managed to land a few hits on the unsuspecting child till said child sank its claws into his sensei and pumped him full of poison.
That was the day Sesshoumaru had begun to train with his father; the king of the West realised that though young, his son could not be handled by anyone else. Though it was painful, it was nothing compared to the first day of sparring with his mother.
"The first few days of training are the worst," Sesshoumaru said, "Except the first few days of sparring."
Inuyasha scowled. "They can't be any worse than this."
Sesshoumaru looked him up and down carefully. "He didn't strike you, did he?"
Inuyasha shook his head then winced as that hurt the muscles in his neck. "He didn't hit me at all. I don't get it. How am I supposed to become strong if he doesn't teach me how to fight?"
"You will learn in time," Sesshoumaru assured him. "First, you must train your body to withstand blows."
Inuyasha flinched and this time, it wasn't from the pain in his body. Memories came, of brutal strikes that he wasn't allowed to protect himself against.
"I'll do my best," he promised quietly.
Sesshoumaru returned to his book and Inuyasha patiently waited to be paid attention to again. The silence was broken only by the sound of Sesshoumaru turning pages of his book and Inuyasha's occasional groans and whimpers.
A few pages later, Sesshoumaru realised he couldn't concentrate. The hanyou sitting morosely at his feet like a puppy was too much of a distraction. Enduring the aftereffects of training uncomplainingly was something a king had to do; there was no reason the little hanyou had to do the same.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Sesshoumaru asked, closing his book.
Inuyasha's head shot up in surprise. "Help?"
Sesshoumaru gestured in the general direction of his body. "You look like you are in a lot of pain."
Inuyasha blushed. "I'm sorry for complaining so much. It's not that bad, honest."
Sesshoumaru knelt fluidly, then leaned his head in to be at eyelevel with the hanyou. Inuyasha's eyes widened as the demon Lord's narrowed. Sesshoumaru leaned in closer.
Inuyasha toppled over and fell on his bum. Quickly, he scooted back and away from the scrutiny of the demon Lord. But the movement put weight on his arms and legs and Inuyasha couldn't help a pained whine. A strong hand helped his arms take his weight; Inuyasha looked up miserably at the demon Lord. The prince had given him an incredible opportunity to grow strong and this was how he was repaying him - by being a whiny bitch.
"I'm really sorry," Inuyasha mumbled.
"I don't want you to be in pain," Sesshoumaru replied.
Warmth was spreading low in Inuyasha's belly. His chest felt light. No one had ever cared about his pain before. And the demon Lord's proximity was doing strange things to his already overwrought body. He could smell thunderstorms and electric power.
"There is one thing Master can do," Inuyasha said suddenly. "Only i-if you want to, that is," he added quickly.
Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow. Inuyasha blushed, lowering his eyes.
"Master could give me a foot massage."
"What is that?" the young demon Lord asked. He had never had any kind of a massage.
Inuyasha smiled happily. "It's very easy. It's to help with aches and pains. Here, I'll show you."
Inu no Taisho passed a tired hand over his face. At the edges of his hearing, he could hear the young male servant's sobs.
It had been a trying few days; having a hanyou in the castle was more trouble than he had anticipated, not that he would ever let his mate know that. But it had made him realised just how much power those puny idiots thought they had; they dared judge his decision to allow a hanyou into the castle. It was time they were reminded of their place anyway.
He was careful not to let any of that reach Sesshoumaru's ears; he did not want his young child's ears filled with all that nonsense. Sesshoumaru was too young to learn of these hateful things that no child should grow up knowing. Besides, his mate would no doubt have a lot to say to Sesshoumaru on the subject when she returned.
One of Sesshoumaru's personal servants, Maki walked into the prince's chambers with the announcement for tea and found the demon Lord standing on Inuyasha. She stopped and stared.
The hanyou was lying down on the floor on his stomach and the prince seemed to be walking barefoot up and down his back, pausing to dig his heel in here and there.
"My Lord?" Maki said carefully, wondering if this was one of the times when it was expected of her to turn a blind eye. But she had known Sesshoumaru since he was an infant and she felt that afforded her the privilege of asking some questions.
"I'm giving him a foot massage," Sesshoumaru explained, a rare grin on his face.
Maki gaped. She was pretty sure this was not what a foot massage looked like. She peered carefully at the boy on the floor. He looked to be in utter bliss, face resting on his crossed hands.
"It's for his aching muscles," Sesshoumaru supplied, digging his heel into a tendon in Inuyasha's back.
"Mnnh," Inuyasha concurred, smiling drunkenly.
Maki blinked, staring from one to the other. "I- I see," she said finally. "I just came to inform my Lord that tea is ready."
Sesshoumaru nodded, walking a few steps forward on Inuyasha's back. "I'll be there as soon as I'm done."
"Very good, my Lord," Maki said doubtfully, turning away.
As she headed towards the servant's quarters, she could faintly hear the hanyou's voice saying, "A little to the left, please."
Inside, Sesshoumaru took a step to the left, pressing down with the balls of his foot, balancing effortlessly on the hanyou's back. It helped that Inuyasha was completely motionless and all of his bones seemed to have turned to jelly because he couldn't feel a single one under his feet.
"Are you sure my weight's not hurting you more?" Sesshoumaru asked for the third time.
"Mmmhm," Inuyasha assured him. "'T feels great. I wish you could do it forever."
The young demon Lord didn't weigh much but the first step on him had felt like being pinned under a ton of bricks. Over the years, Inuyasha had experienced many things in the course of travels and being bullied, but he had never had another person step on him. It should have felt horrible, but it didn't.
"I've never heard of such a massage before," Sesshoumaru said.
Unseen by him, Inuyasha turned slightly pink. "It's very common," he lied. "People do it all the time."
He had seen it being done, though he didn't want the demon Lord to know the circumstances in which it had taken place. Above him, Sesshoumaru moved to his lower back and Inuyasha shuddered. His aching muscles really did feel better but more than that, the hanyou cherished the feeling of being connected this way. The prince's stormy scent, the unique heat radiating from his body, his youki that was a vital force, thrumming rhythmically like a heartbeat - they ensconced him and Inuyasha felt like a part of the floor, part of the unyielding earth.
The demon Lord stepped lightly, precisely; unlike the other youkai he had seen doing this. He didn't totter or lose his balance, as if he'd done this all his life. Inuyasha wondered if the demon Lord walked on the ground also this way. His own gait was rough and nowhere near as even as this. The hanyou resolved to work on it sometime.
The weight on his back moved. The demon Lord seemed to know exactly which parts hurt the most and where to apply pressure. Inuyasha could feel the tension on his body melting away. Sesshoumaru was careful not to step directly on his spine or neck; the bones would snap like chalk. The rest of his thin back received equal attention.
Inuyasha was glad he was lying on his stomach; he was in no position to have the front of his hakama exposed to his master's eyes. Sesshoumaru actually cared for him, a hanyou. He remembered the first time he had seen the demon Lord in the shop. He had been enthralled by his incredible strength, his fierce aura, and the kindness in his eyes. He remembered irrationally wishing to be close to him in any way possible. Although he had got some of his wits and his pride back after recovering from fever and the abuse he had endured from slavers and shop keepers, that irrational feeling came back to him every time Sesshoumaru was close. He didn't know if it was something about the demon Lord or if he was finally losing his mind, but he had never been the kind of person to feel ecstatic under someone's feet.
"I cannot imagine how it could be pleasant in any way," Sesshoumaru said from above. "The aches and pains of training are much preferable to this form of relief. I do not think I would ever want this massage."
Inuyasha smiled softly. "And you never will," he whispered. "Some people are only meant to give it."
Moonlight reflected off the glass windows of the Palace of the West in the far distance, making them glint dully in the dark night.
The kingdom, as far into the distance as Sesshoumaru could see from his perch, was quiet and black; the lamps had been extinguished long ago as people had finished their evening meals and taken to bed.
Silver hair blew gently in the wind and Sesshoumaru turned his head towards the large moon suspended like a teardrop caught in the sky. The cool air stung the wounds on his body and Sesshoumaru closed his eyes, feeling the day's tensions and griefs melting away.
The rock on which he was sitting was his favourite outcropping deep in the huge mountain ranges that surrounded the kingdom of the West on two sides. His parents would have a fit if they found out he'd been coming here alone in the middle of the night but the spot had become his favourite haunt and he wasn't about to give up one of the few pleasures a king's son had because of his parents' misplaced sense of his safety.
The wind whistling through the mountains made their own music, aided by the shivering trees and the calling of wolves in the distance. If he closed his eyes, Sesshoumaru could imagine that the sound of the wind changed as it passed over the surface of the glowing moon.
The faint sound of small rocks rolling down the mountainside was his only warning. Sesshoumaru flew down gracefully from his perch and caught the wrist of the small dark boy who had clambered up the mountain and would have fallen if it weren't for the hold on his wrist.
"Thank you," the boy panted, purple eyes glowing in the darkness. Even in the pitch darkness, Sesshoumaru could see sweat beading on his forehead, trickling down the sides of his face.
"Are we the only ones?" the boy, whose name was Aki, asked squinting around.
"So far," Sesshoumaru answered.
Aki nodded, finding a flat rock safely away from the ledge and sitting down cross-legged. Sesshoumaru returned to his perch on the jutting rock right over the yawning abyss.
Before long, other small shapes could be seen clambering up the sides. Sesshoumaru paid no attention till the small clearing was filled with seventeen children, some bigger, some smaller than him, all of them younger.
After everyone had found a seat and the fidgeting had quieted down, Sesshoumaru turned away from where he had been staring at the moon and turned his attention to the convened meeting. In dark, they could see his predatory golden eyes glowing dangerously.
"We will begin," Sesshoumaru announced. "Since Aki was the first one here, he gets to go first."
Aki bowed his head solemnly and got to his feet.
"Yuki is better now," he said, raising his head to look up at the demon Lord. "The healer my Lord sent worked miracles." Aki sat down.
Sesshoumaru nodded. The next to speak was a tall girl who sat close to the ledge like Sesshoumaru but a little lower.
"I don't think Taro will be bothered again." Her voice was deep but sharp, hinting at the no-nonsense attitude that was characteristic of her. At her waist, a simple but razor sharp dagger caught the moonlight occasionally. On the other side of the semi-circle, the small boy called Taro nodded fervently.
"Yes, she took care of it, alright." Admiration was clear in his voice; the girl, whose name was Shigeko, ignored it.
"There is a problem though," Shigeko said, staring out over the abyss lit sparsely by moonlight. In the darkness, her jewel-like orange eyes glinted like flames. "Travelling all the way to Taro has finished the last of the money I was able to save. I have no more left for Yasu's training-"
"Don't worry about that," Sesshoumaru ordered. "How is your own training proceeding?"
Shigeko's hand slipped unconsciously to the dagger at her waist. "It's going well, thank you. Yasuko sensei is tough but it will make me strong so I am doing my best."
The unlikely band of children was composed of the strongest young youkai, excellent each in their own way. Wherever Inu no Taisho had taken Sesshoumaru on his travels, the young demon Lord had made friends with a few unusual youkai children who were not spoilt and empty-headed like most of the brats of noblemen at the castle. Although some were of low or common birth, Sesshoumaru made sure that they all possessed the qualities of strength, courage and loyalty in addition to their own unique talents. Just coming to these meetings at a precarious mountain top in the middle of the night took both strength and courage and making sure they remained a secret took integrity. Each member's loyalty was established over time as they helped each other and accepted their help in return and followed their leader's orders, which, they had found, were always to their benefit in some way.
Established members were allowed to bring others if they deemed them fit to be a part of the elite team. Ultimately, it was Sesshoumaru's call on whether to allow them; he never turned anyone away without reason. Anyone could leave at any time, but once they left, they no longer had the right to seek the other members' help, no matter what. Sesshoumaru was ruthless when it came to hangers-on, who only showed up when they needed something. And the prince knew enough of their secrets to make sure that even the ones who left wouldn't dare blab to anybody.
A small whimper was heard and everyone's attention turned to a small boy who was the newest addition to their little group and who had never yet spoken at any of their meetings. Feeling everyone's eyes, on him, he flinched, instinctively trying to hide into the shadows at his back. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.
"Yes?" Sesshoumaru encouraged.
"Umm…m-my f-father, h-he -" the boy swallowed hard, "H-he made me promise not ta say 'nything but - "
Sesshoumaru waited quietly, allowing the boy to make his own decision as to whether it was worth breaking his word. In the silence of the night, the boy finally seemed to gather his courage.
"M-my father has been removed from 'is job. And it wasn't fair coz the foreman was the one who was smugglin'! A-and he just fired dad coz he didn' wan' his secret to come out."
The full youkai children could plainly hear the tears in his voice.
"An- an' I heard mommy and him sayin' we wouldn't have 'nough ta eat soon an' dad never did nuthin' wrong!"
Silence greeted these heartfelt words as everyone waited for Sesshoumaru's response.
"Do you know who your father's foreman is?" the demon Lord asked quietly.
The boy, whose name was Kioshi, nodded desperately. "I-I know b-but dad said he might hurt us if I tell neone -"
"He won't hurt you, I promise," Sesshoumaru said quietly, holding the frightened boy's eyes. "If you want to help your father, you need to tell me his name."
"Saburo," Kioshi whispered, hypnotised by the calm golden eyes.
"Saburo of the 38th district," Sesshoumaru repeated. The 38th district, where Kioshi lived, was almost on the other side of the kingdom. He'd been to the place once; it wouldn't take much to order an investigation. "If your father is innocent, he will have his job back."
"He is!" Kioshi exclaimed, then quickly shut up when he realised he'd just yelled at the prince. "S-sorry," he muttered.
Some of these children had known Sesshoumaru for years. The demon Lord knew his parents worried about his solitude and unwillingness to mingle with the palace children but inane talks and empty boasts grated on his nerves and he refused to subject himself to their company. These children, on the other hand, though not quite his friends, were as close to it as he had ever gotten. Over the years, he had bonded with them and learned a lot from them, while the children had grown and honed their own skills with the help of their capable leader, who could provide them with opportunities they would never otherwise have got.
Every full moon night, the young prince held these meetings in a location of his choice. He made sure to pick a spot that was an equal distance to travel for most. Most of the children were youkai powerful enough to cut the distance across the kingdom swiftly and distance and height meant nothing to the prince born of two Taiyoukai.
Through them, he learned the inner workings of the kingdom of the West in a way that second-hand teachings from a tutor could never have shown him. With them, he learned to solve problems and take decisions and accept the consequences of these decisions, good or bad. The children became his friends and his spies, keeping him informed of all that was happening in the different parts of the kingdom from whence they came.
There was silence again, broken by a thin, frail girl with large curls and dull brown eyes.
"What about you, Sesshoumaru-sama?" she asked, fixing him with her calm, steady gaze. "How is everything with you? And Inuyasha…is his training going well?"
Sesshoumaru nodded. "Inuyasha's training has begun. He is sleeping off the effects of it right now."
The girl, named Tomiko, smiled. "You won't be disappointed, I swear. My father is an amazing teacher."
Sesshoumaru felt a smile come on his lips in return. Of all of the members of his little group, some of whom he had known for years, Tomiko was the only one to treat him as an equal, though she never failed to show the proper respect. From what Inuyasha had told him, her father had at least had the sense not to try and stupid dominance tactics on his puppy by beating him around on his first day. If he had, not even his friendship with Tomiko would have protected the man from meeting a horrible end under his claws.
"Is it true that he is hanyou?" Shigeko's sharp, commanding voice broke in.
There was a collective intake of breath and Tomiko tensed.
"Yes, it is," Sesshoumaru answered, turning towards her.
Shigeko hissed. "Lord, you must not."
"You forget your place, Shigeko," Aki said sharply.
"I forget nothing," she replied testily. "It is foolishness to voluntarily be close to a half-breed."
"My father trains him," Tomiko put in sharply. "Are you calling him foolish?"
Shigeko looked at her and said nothing. Tomiko turned full to face her. Her old, stained dress showed that she carried no weapon but there was something about her that made people uneasy. The moon was hidden behind a cloud and in the dark, her dull, glassy eyes looked eerie.
Shigeko also turned towards her, hand slipping to the dagger in her belt.
"That's enough," Sesshoumaru called, and both stopped to look at him. Sesshoumaru's eyes told them that a scuffle would not be tolerated. Tomiko relaxed subtly and Shigeko took her hand away from her weapon.
"What is your concern, Shigeko?" Sesshoumaru asked calmly.
Shigeko's orange eyes looked at him plainly. "He is a half-breed. He does not belong among youkai."
"And he does not belong among humans because he is half-demon. Where does he belong, then?"
Sesshoumaru's eyes swept over the others as he asked the question. The children shifted uneasily in their places and avoided his eyes. No one answered.
"We are just worried about your well-being-" a boy as tall as Shigeko mumbled.
"You speak as though being hanyou were contagious. Tell me, Fumio, are you afraid that I will turn hanyou if I spend too much time in his company?"
There were muffled gasps. Fumio shook his head frantically. "No, of course not but-"
"But what?" Sesshoumaru demanded, losing his patience, glaring at each person in turn. No one dared respond. Finally, it was Shigeko who said what everyone else was thinking.
"He will betray you, Lord," she said simply.
There was absolute silence in the clearing. Sesshoumaru turned slowly towards her and in the darkness, his cold golden eyes were more frightening than her fiery ones.
"He will not," Sesshoumaru asserted quietly.
It was a few hours before dawn when Sesshoumaru called an end to the meeting and the children headed for their homes.
In the kingdom, children lying awake in their beds saw a small white spot move across the night sky. Some tried to tell their parents what they saw, but nobody believed them; children have an overactive imagination, after all.
As quietly as the moonlight, Sesshoumaru flew in through the open window of his room at the castle. Inuyasha was curled into a ball, one arm wound behind his knees. His pillow was clutched in his arms like a teddy bear. The foot massage had not included legs and Sesshoumaru remembered from his own training, the urge to sleep in just that position to alleviate the pain. But a king's son does not compromise his dignity for the sake of pain, and he had soon gotten used to sleeping properly through everything.
Sesshoumaru got into his bed and got under the blanket; the whisper of silk didn't cause the hanyou to stir.
When Inuyasha woke up at dawn the next day, he found the demon Lord sleeping soundly in his bed.
A/N: I know there are parts of this chapter in particular that you will either love or hate. So I want to know your genuine reactions. Criticisms and flames are also welcome. Don't hold back. Tell me what you honestly think of this chapter.
Also, Happy Mother's Day to all mothers reading this. You guys totally rock.