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Born of Fire

Chapter Text

There was blood in the water.

Heavy, copious amounts of blood that seeped from several injuries. With the brutal pressure of the ocean held at bay by a simple barrier of energy, the Guardian severed the tentacles of the sea monster and heard its wail of agonized fury reverberate through the waters. The thick, dark ooze of its own blood joined its fallen limbs on the soggy floor of the ocean that the Guardian stood upon, the air swirling around her form, so much smaller than that of her opponent. But the sea monster had not learned its lesson that size didn't matter in this case and struck yet again. The Guardian was starting to lose count at this point and was surprised that it hadn't run out of parts to hack off.

By the gods, how she hated being in the water! It made her slow, an easy target, even in her protective shell, which the sea monster had so far used to its advantage, a matter she had underestimated. The sheer strength of its tentacles pierced through the barrier as if it was nothing more than a curtain of paper, and the Guardian raised her sword once more, gripping with only one hand, as the other hung useless at her side, compliments of the seeping wound that was her shoulder.


It was staring at him.

Large yellow eyes were fixed, unblinking, upon his face, peeking up through a mop of dark hair. He glimpsed the sight of fangs sticking out of its mostly toothless mouth as it grinned widely at him. Tiny claws scraped at his hands while the legs kicked out. It let out a high pitch noise that was not quite a laugh, and then reached out. A pudgy fist managed to seize a lock of his hair before he was able to pull away and he frowned as it delighted itself with a new game of tug. Mindful of what his own claws touched, he shifted his grip so that he held it by the back of its clothing, pried the fingers off with his other hand, and swept his hair free, even as it made another grabbing motion in his direction.

Damn that priestess! Where had she gone? How dare she leave him with this thing! He was not here for her convenience. She had no business forcing this creature on him. He did not have the means to care for it, nor the interest to do so. With a growl of frustration, he set it on the ground in front of him, only for it to lift its head and grab a fistful of his hakama. Had it been Jaken, he would have kicked the thing down the hill for being so irritating. As it were, he could only endure until its mother returned.

"Oi! Sesshomaru! What are you doing here?"

Or the father.

In the overhead branches of the tree he rested against, Sesshomaru heard-and smelled-the arrival of Inuyasha long before the hanyou jumped down into his field of vision. Inuyasha looked between the daiyoukai and the thing near his foot, which was currently attempting to chew on his hakama. Sesshomaru gave his younger brother little more than a perfunctory glance, arms folded within his sleeves, before he peered out at the landscape, where he could see a procession of people gathered on the far side of the village, the faint resonating of bells and chanting rising from their midst, almost lost to the winds even for his ears.

"Why do you have Asami?" asked Inuyasha. "Where's Kagome?" 

"She saw fit to abandon the infant here when the old priestess called her away," Sesshomaru said as he ignored the insistent tugging on his leg. 

"Ah, that's right. The burial for that girl is today," Inuyasha muttered. "But Sango was supposed to be the one to watch-" 

The sudden sound of tearing fabric silenced Inuyasha, who slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a noise that would have had him killed on the spot. Sesshomaru closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, waiting a moment or two before he spoke. "Get your beast away from me, hanyou." 

There was no answer, only the heavy clearing of a throat. And then something was pulling against his hakama. Sesshomaru looked over to see the infant being lifted up, her hands and mouth still clamped tightly to the material before Inuyasha was able to loosen her grip and brought her to lay in the crook of one arm. "When did your fangs get so sharp?" he asked, though she could not possibly provide an answer, as he inspected her mouth for himself. "We'll have to try these out on Shippo the next time he tries to steal my food." 

"Were you in need of something, Inuyasha? Otherwise I do not wish to hear your inane prattle," said Sesshomaru. 

"Fuck you, asshole," was the dismissive reply. The words certainly lacked the bite of anger that the daiyoukai was accustomed to and he glanced at the hanyou to find that he had walked off a short distance with the infant held above his head in both hands. Nonsense noises of excitement filled the air, so loud for something so small. And the expression on Inuyasha's face conveyed a calm bliss, perhaps happiness, a rarity for one such as him. And it was quite clear that Inuyasha was thoroughly ignoring his elder brother. He was completely indifferent to a presence of one who had once meant fear and danger and that to drop his guard in such a manner would be a death sentence. And now that idiot hanyou willingly turned his back on the daiyoukai, who had been seen as little more than a convenient watchdog by said hanyou's wife. 

On occasion, Sesshomaru loathed these changes in his life. How long ago was it that Kagome would never have dared to speak with him on her own, let alone push a child into his arms when summoned to perform a burial ceremony? Next time he would refrain from being out in the open upon his arrival where he could be spotted by passersby. The one he waited for, after all, did not need to search by line of sight to locate him. 

"Where's that wench of yours, by the way?" the hanyou abruptly called out, as if he'd sensed the trail of Sesshomaru's thoughts. 

His claws clicked together. Yet before he could strike out at the wretched mongrel, a movement low in the air interrupted them as Jaken swooped down into their midst on the back of Ah-Un. The imp, holding the reins in one hand, adjusted his hat with the other and fixed Inuyasha with a disapproving glare. "Show some respect!" he admonished. "You will address her properly when she arrives. Right now Lady Lucidity is delayed by her duties and is currently at the bottom of the ocean, trying to-" 

"Enough, Jaken," ordered Sesshomaru, rising to his feet. "Did you locate Rin?" 

Jaken immediately bowed from his spot on Ah-Un's saddle. "Yes, my lord! She was busy with preparations for the festival, but she should be here as soon as she is done."

Sesshomaru's mouth pressed into a thin line of irritation, blatant enough to Jaken, who began apologizing profusely and offered to bring Rin to him promptly, proclaiming that he should have done just that from the start. And while Sesshomaru did not disagree with that statement, he said nothing in response, but turned and walked off, to find a spot that was more secluded where he would not be bothered by those he had no desire to be near. The attempt was rendered useless, however, when Inuyasha began to follow. 

"Hold up, Sesshomaru! What was Jaken talking about? Did I hear him right? She's at the bottom of the ocean? What the hell is she doing?" 

"What difference does it make to you, hanyou?" he replied, Ah-Un's shadow passing over him, as Jaken left to fetch Rin. 

Inuyasha fell into step beside him, the infant cradled in one arm. "Not much, but if she's not here, the kids are gonna have a fit. I, for one, don't want to listen to them whine and I'm sure you don't either. I guess we could tell them to ask Jaken and he can explain where she is." Sesshomaru stopped his descent from the hill and peered over at what remained visible of the village. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Inuyasha do the same, but soon the hanyou glanced back at him. "What is it?" he asked.

"She said she would return before the festival," Sesshomaru murmured. 

Inuyasha was silent for a moment before he spoke again. "You gonna go look for her?" 

His gaze flicked up to the sky, but there was nothing to suggest a hint of her presence. And the lack of it filled him with a frustration he would never voice aloud. If he'd been able, he would have searched for her long before now. Yet he did not have the means to do so. Her preferred form of travel was nigh impossible to track. There was no scent to follow and her aura was so well obscured that he would have believed her human, had he not witnessed the gradual transformation himself. And to add to his ever growing discontent, she had not informed him of where she was going, blatantly admitting that she didn't know the exact location of her destination. "Beneath the ocean" was all she could say, had even compared it to a vague scent that one must follow in order to discover the exact origin.

An abrupt silence in the distance drew his attention. He spotted people breaking from the burial procession, making their way back into the heart of the village, and took note of the two females dressed in white and red clothing with the unmistakable silhouette of the monk beside them. How often had he caught Lucidity observing them and their other allies in the waters of Sagashite? She studied the entirety of her domain within that reflecting pool, but always she would keep close watch on this village. If he had the ability to do the same, he would go to the Isle here and now by way of the ferry; however, Sagashite answered to no one but the Guardian and was, therefore, completely useless to the daiyoukai.

"It's bad luck you got here after that girl was cremated," said Inuyasha, pulling Sesshomaru from his thoughts. "Kagome has been really broken up about not being able to help her. Tenseiga would have-"

"The girl's life is of no consequence to me," Sesshomaru cut in. "I will not be your tool to resurrect every human you fail to save."

"Keh! I can't imagine Lucidity would be very happy with you if she heard that," Inuyasha said, adjusting the now dozing infant in his grasp.

"You seek to use her against me to sway my decision? Are you so weak that you need a woman to win your battles?"

Inuyasha scowled, but there was something about the sight of his holding a baby that lacked in menace. Sesshomaru merely continued on his way, too distracted to bother with his brother. He was uninterested in this interaction and was doubtful that even Rin would be enough to placate his foul mood.

"Look, we both know that if she asked, you would do it," Inuyasha said as he followed once more, and Sesshomaru could hear the mocking grin in his voice. "So don't pretend like you're above what your woman wants."

"You are under a false impression if you believe she would make such a request," said the daiyoukai, and the statement rendered Inuyasha mute, if only for a moment.

"She would," he eventually countered. "I know that if we asked her, she would, for the sake of that girl's family."

There was much that could be argued on that point, much that might be debated. Yet Sesshomaru had no interest in discussing the moral characteristics of the females in their lives. He was not interested in discussing anything at all. Being in this village, when he could do little more than roam the area, not knowing what had happened and with no immediate answers that were forthcoming or how to find them, left him agitated and restless. He had no wish to sit beneath a tree, to watch the humans celebrate some custom with yet another festival, to linger in the hopes that she might-

Sesshomaru froze as Inuyasha spun around. The sudden movement jarred the infant awake. Her cries echoed through the air, but the sound did not vex as it usually did in the wake of what had arrived. Hidden by the sleeve of his haori, Sesshomaru's hand clenched into a fist at his side as he turned around. Already the hanyou was heading in the direction of the village, but stopped to glance back. "You coming or what? Isn't she the reason you've been moping around?"  

The hanyou dodged the Whip that cracked near his ear. He cursed at Sesshomaru as the infant wailed louder and bounded off, while the daiyoukai walked the winding path around the hill at a slower pace, following the unmistakable aura to the center of the village. It had been a long time since that mutt had been given a proper lesson of boundaries. He was becoming too familiar with Sesshomaru, acting is if his company was desirable when, in reality, it was barely tolerable. To some extent, he found this to be Lucidity's fault. She was too friendly with the village, with the priestess, daemon slayer, and everyone else who lived here, which forced him to interact with his brother and the others more than he had in comparison to a year ago, when Rin was the only reason he ever graced this human settlement with his presence. Prior to meeting Lucidity, he and Inuyasha had dealt with one another only in passing during his visits. Now it was impossible to return to the old ways. Sesshomaru had imagined that, given her aversion to people, Lucidity would avoid the crowds of the village. Yet it seemed that she had forgotten their treatment of her, of the ostracism she had lived in. 

It was a conclusion that strengthened when Sesshomaru caught sight of a yellow-haired figure standing amongst a small horde, which included more than Inuyasha and his pack. She appeared to be whole and unharmed, laden with burdens and talking with several villagers, and soon handed over a large sack that was accepted with many bows of gratitude. Another was on the ground nearby, being torn apart by a brood of children, who were digging into its contents. It wasn't long until some began to rush off, clutching newfound possessions to their chests, which included brightly colored stones and an endless array of seashells. Sesshomaru glanced down at one small boy who ran by, completely oblivious of the daiyoukai, and recalled the first time he'd witnessed children interacting with Lucidity. It had been a drastically different display than what he saw here. 

She was lowering the last parcel that had been tied to her back when she spotted him and a smile curved her lips. "Sesshomaru," she greeted when he reached the cluster of humans and youkai, most of whom were giving him a wide berth. "I figured you'd be here." 

"You're late," he replied, ignoring the crowd. 

She shrugged a single shoulder and gave a sheepish grin. "I know. I didn't mean to be. There were extenuating circumstances. Did you know that krakens are a real thing?" And suddenly she kicked open the parcel at her feet. What unrolled created an onslaught of gasps and even Sesshomaru took a moment to consider the amputated limb that slithered free, as thick as his body and twice the length. "Who wants calamari?" Lucidity announced to the dumbstruck crowd. 

Inuyasha, who had handed his infant over to the priestess, came forward to stand over the tentacle. "Where did you find this?" 

"The ocean?" Lucidity offered. 

"Dammit, I know that! Where in the ocean?" 

"About fifty miles from the eastern shoreline. It attacked while I was trying to work," she said, rotating a shoulder. "A very determined creature, too. This was all that I could carry back." 

"It's dead?" spoke a voice from the crowd. 

"Very much so," she said. 

"What's a kraken?" someone else asked, but it was Kagome who answered. 

"It's like a very large squid," she said. "There are stories about them dragging whole ships into the ocean. I thought they were just a myth, though." 

"This one definitely wasn't," Lucidity muttered. Again Sesshomaru noticed the shifting of her shoulder. And when she saw his frown, she raised a brow. "What?" 

"You smell of fish," was his reply. "It's revolting." 

She let out a derisive snort and stepped over the tentacle to approach him. "You battle a sea monster and try coming out smelling like a basket of roses." 

"I am not the bleeding heart of a fool who brings food to lowly humans undeserving of my attention," he sneered with open contempt that had her blinking and drawing back. A sharp intake of breath could be heard by more than one onlooker as a tension filled the watching crowd and there was a soft, rebuffing note of his name from the priestess. Yet he had no regard for the disapproving or anxious reactions of the ones surrounding Lucidity. It was her response of alone that held any import for him. And she did little more than let out a sigh and close her eyes, brows knitted together, before she disappeared in a single breath, leaving behind a crowd gaping at empty air.

"How could you say that, Sesshomaru?" came the immediate, admonishing demand from Kagome as she stepped forward. "She's your wife! You can't-"

The daiyoukai turned his back on her and the others, striding away from a scene he had no desire to be part of. "Do not lecture me, miko, when you are the one who subjugates your husband with prayer beads."

"That's not-"

"Drop it, Kagome; it's none of our business," he heard Inuyasha say.

And yet she ignored the rare and sound advice of the hanyou as she called out to Sesshomaru. "If you keep treating her like that, she'll leave you in the end!"

"Kagome! Knock it off!"

The noise of their bickering followed Sesshomaru back down the path. While doubtful of the predictions of the priestess, he was aware that he had upset Lucidity; he knew she would be the second the words escaped him. He would not be surprised if the reason she had left so abruptly was to avoid a public argument as Inuyasha and his wife were wont to do. And though he caught her scent a moment later when she took her physical form in another part of the village, he did not search her out. He was still...inexplicably angry that she had taken such efforts to provide food and gifts for people who had considered her beneath them not so long ago, people who had banished her to the outskirts of their village, attempted to assault her.... He did not understand and had not bothered to ask for an explanation as to the reason she went to such lengths to please these humans. He'd let her do as she wanted without interfering, regardless of how ridiculous he found it.

Then, why did it anger him now? He paused along the path, a frown creasing his lips. This had delayed her, yes, and he'd had no way of locating her to find out what had kept her. Being set upon by a monster of the ocean was no fault of hers, but the gifts.... She should not have bothered with the gifts if it meant that she would return later than promised. She had made him wait, made him.... Sesshomaru closed his eyes as comprehension finally dawned on him. For the briefest moment, he felt the fool this time for not realizing it sooner.

"Sesshomaru-sama!"

The daiyoukai looked up as Jaken descended from the air once again and saw that he was still absent Rin. Immediately, Jaken jumped down from Ah-Un and dropped the Staff of Two Heads before prostrating himself into a low bow on his knees. "Please forgive me for returning without Rin!" he begged. "She refused to come with me. She wanted to inform you that she promised to come see you as soon as she is able, but that she could not be pulled away from the festival preparations. I know this is not what you want to hear, my lord. If you like, I will show you where she is. But...but that would be an insult, your having to search her out when she is the one who has been called here. I can't imagine that her respect for you has waned, but she is certainly becoming a willful child."

No, that was inaccurate. Rin was not willful, nor was she a child any longer; she was near the proper age to be married, though Lucidity had often said it was madness and that thirteen years was far too young. Rin's refusal to jump at his summons was more than that, though. This unwillingness to abandon her duties to the village rather than choose him showed an inclination towards a life with humans, one that was more logical, safer, a choice that should have been made long ago. This minute shift of their dynamics brought matters into sharp focus. If Rin was to build a life with her own kind, to become a wife and raise a family, a daiyoukai had no place here. In spite of that, he knew would continue to return. He was too...invested to disregard Rin so easily. 

"What shall we do, my lord? What are your orders?" 

Sesshomaru peered down at the imp, who was watching him nervously, still upon his hands and knees. "Do as you want, Jaken," he said. "We will depart after the festival."

And then the daiyoukai left him there on the path with Ah-Un, retreating into the woods where some form of solitary existence was to be had. He did not find a spot to rest, but walked the hillsides. Aimlessly he wandered, biding his time and listening to the distant echo of village activity, the dull roar of voices, the scent of fires and the cooking of special meals for the occasion, and the overall energy of excitement for the coming celebrations. And always he returned his attention to one particular scent, the subtle trace of an aura that was not completely muted to those who knew how to search for it. To be angry, yet still want her was a predicament he was not unfamiliar with. This matter with Rin, however, he was not accustomed to and Lucidity would...alleviate his frustrations. Her presence alone had done so in the past, an aspect he'd come to acknowledge over the last year. Yet the question remained if she would be willing; he still needed to quell her fury with him.

The sun had begun its descent in the sky when he felt her aura shift and the source of her scent came from another direction. She had moved from the daemon slayer's home to the outskirts of the village and he followed what had become a familiar trail. Rarely did she return to this area, but for one purpose. And when he passed by the vague outline of what had once been her hut, which had never been rebuilt, he walked along the stream into another section of the forest until he came upon the small waterfall she favored for bathing. As he'd predicted, he saw her robes laid out upon the ground, along with the fresh silk of a yukata and an array of soaps and roots; however, there was no sign of her.

Yet as he came to stand at the edge of the shallow pond, he caught a glimpse of toes, then a pair of feet, sliding out from the hidden niche behind the waterfall. He was treated to the sight of nothing but long legs for the briefest moment before the rest of her emerged, leaning forward on her hands. Water cascaded around her, beating down on her shoulders, and wet hair plastered to her skin. Rivulets streamed along her body, trickling over bare breasts, running down a smooth, taut stomach, to disappear between a pair of thighs pressed together. The haughty expression of anger on her face would have been enough to give him pause, to consider his next move with care. Yet the image incapacitated him. He forgot, if only for the space of a heartbeat, the reason he had sought her out. 

"Have you come here to make demands or amends?"

Her voice returned a grain of sense to his fractured mind and he looked at her with renewed focus. "I do not care for your indulgence towards this village," he said.

She raised a brow. "I'm aware. And I'm also aware that human custom is not the issue here. You were worried and now you're pissed that I made you worry because I didn't get here when I told you I would, all over some silly exchange of goods. Though why you saw fit to insult me in front of everyone, I don't know."

"It was not my intention."

She let out a scoff. "As calculating as you are, I find that difficult to believe. What was your intention, then, if not to piss me off?"

"I had no other intention than to see what had caused your delay," he said. "As you were able to decipher the reason for my displeasure, does it come as such a shock that I did not restrain my response in the wake of your flippant behavior?"

A flicker of surprise crossed her face before she regained herself and scowled. "Flippant or not, that doesn't excuse your behavior either. Honestly, if you're upset about something, tell me in private. Don't parade it around. You know it was a mistake, otherwise you wouldn't be here trying to explain yourself." A hand tightened into a fist at his side. His jaw worked as he felt a dull ache forming in his temple, frustrated as he was with the transparency in which she saw him. "If I'm wrong, tell me," she continued. "If I'm not...." A sigh broke from her and she shook her head, a hand going to her shoulder, as she dropped her gaze. Some of the fire had gone out of her voice when she spoke again, sounding exhausted rather than angry. "Really, Sesshomaru, I was excited to see you. I'm sorry I made you worry, but gods be damned, you didn't have to embarrass me like that. It wasn't as if what I did was intentional."

"Enough, Lucidity," he murmured, and saw her look up just before he turned his attention towards the forest. His gaze wandered over the trees and foliage that were cast in the light of the late afternoon. "You have made your point." 

"...does this mean you agree with me?" 

"Yes." 

A silence elapsed, during which nothing but the sound of rushing water could be heard, until Lucidity let out another sigh. "Is that all?" 

Claws threatened to pierce the palm of his hand, his entire frame stiff with agitation. That he was reduced to this, that she would dare ask, that he would even consider indulging.... He closed his eyes, loathing every second. "This is not easy, Lucidity," he said, his voice rough. "I do not...admit mistakes to others." 

"Except me?" she pressed. 

He was surprised at the amount of willpower it took not to snarl as he forced himself to speak. "Except you." 

"So, you regret your actions, then?" 

His lip curled. If she continued to push.... 

"Sesshomaru?" 

"That is correct," he replied in clipped tones. 

"...will you look at me? Please?" came the soft question, sounding for all the world like an innocent request.

At least that was what he believed it to be, until he turned his head and was instantly subjected to a face full of water. On impulse, he took a step back and ran a hand down his face, blinking through the wet strands of his hair at the water receding back into the pond. The sheer audacity of the act was the only thing that saved her from an immediate retaliation; he did not know how to respond to such a ploy of childish revenge. 

Lucidity leaned forward, the waterfall striking her back, that smile of mischief playing across her lips. "You're forgiven." 

This time, his reaction was instant, with no conscious decision behind it. His hand shot out and the green energy coiled around her ankle. She barely managed to blink and look down when he yanked back, jerking her out of the niche and into the pond below. He heard nothing more than a gasp before she disappeared beneath the water. The Whip retracted as she emerged, spluttering and shaking her head, looking startled, but only for a moment. With a questionable smile on her lips, she raked both hands through her hair and pulled the locks out of her face, completely exposed from the waist up. He considered the naked form in front of him, no longer veiled by the waterfall, but then paused when he noticed what it had hidden. 

"You're injured," he said, moving towards the edge of the water once more. Lucidity's hand went to the pink scar tissue of the shoulder she'd been favoring. And from this angle, he could see more on the back where she'd been pierced through. And then he spotted the other, albeit smaller wound on her side. "Why did you not mention this? Is this what delayed your return?" 

"I'm fine; I was just careless," she said. "It took me a couple days to recover full use of my arm, but I could have come back sooner, like you said, instead of collecting everything for the villagers." 

Sesshomaru let out a resigned sigh. "It escapes my understanding, your insistence on such pointless gifts. They have done nothing to earn your affections."

"Affections?" she repeated, and there was a lilt to her voice that he could not be certain of. "I'll admit, the children I like, at least the ones who hadn't terrorized my home when I lived here, but the adults I pacify. Some feel that I endanger their village, with the gaijin law still in place. Food and anything practical puts them at ease. Plus, you know, extra protection from the Guardian."

He frowned. "Did you not inform them that Guardians can hide their true appearance? That is the reason you are willing to come here, is it not?" 

"Glamour or not, I can't trust every single person to believe me," Lucidity replied as she moved towards the bank. "But I can trust that any objections they make will be easily overruled if the rest are kept happy." 

"I see," Sesshomaru said slowly, watching as she placed her hands on the grass and began lifting herself out of the pond. And yet her progress was impeded when he lowered himself onto one knee in front of her. She stared at him, upper body braced upon her arms and legs still in the water, as his fingers curled beneath her chin, tilting her head towards him. "You are a manipulative woman." 

"You're figuring this out now?" she asked, brows raised. 

His thumb brushed over her bottom lip and his eyes followed the movement of her throat as she swallowed. "A lesson, it seems, that I am still learning."

"Perhaps if you simply ask next time, instead of-" 

Her words were cut short in a sharp inhale as his mouth covered hers. He could taste the breath of excitement on her lips, the flames of home on her tongue. His arm wrapped around her waist and he rose, pulling her from the pond and onto her feet, never breaking the embrace. Her arms slid around his neck and he felt the press of her body against the length of his. His grip tightened as his other hand brushed along her side, over a thigh, and-

Sesshomaru drew back when he caught the scent on the wind and looked up. For a third time that day, the figure of Ah-Un was gliding towards him, yet this time was bearing a different rider. Alone and waving her arm excitedly in greeting, Rin beamed down at him. "Sesshomaru-sama! Sesshomaru-sama!" she called out. "I'm so sorry I couldn't come earlier, but I'm here now. The festival is going to start soon. I thought we could go together. Is that Lucidity with you? She can come, too!" 

A sudden cough from Lucidity did little to hide her laugh. "Of course, Rin," she said, shifting against him, as Ah-Un landed. "How about letting me get dressed first, and then we can both drag Sesshomaru into the village?" 

"Okay!" said Rin, sliding off of the dragon with the reins clasped in one hand. "I'll be over here with Ah-Un." 

As the girl wandered down the stream, Sesshomaru turned his glare onto Lucidity, his scowl barely suppressed. "I will not-" 

"Sacrifices must be made for our children," she whispered for his ears, that grin of hers back in place, one which he was coming to greatly distrust. 

"Insufferable woman," he said. "You will regret attempting to force this decision on me."

"Aye," she murmured, "but you still love me." 

He let out a soft growl, then turned on his heel and walked off.