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Life After Loss

Chapter Text

The tall, orange flames danced before her. Their hungry roaring filled her ears, the smoke made her eyes water. The heat of the great pyre fanned her dry cheeks.

She almost wished to walk into the flames, to turn to smoke and float away.

She stood perfectly still as she watched the fire burn. Her back was straight as a rod and her shoulders rigid.

She couldn’t fathom how or why she was there. She still refused to believe it all had really happened. After all, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. This was not the happily ever after she had always dreamt about. How could it all end so soon, end like this?

He had vowed to stay by her side forever, so how had he dared to leave her like that?

She could not feel any pain.

She could not feel the overwhelming sorrow.

More than anything she wanted to cry, but she could not do even that.

‘Broken-hearted’ could not even begin to describe how she was feeling. All she felt was emptiness. She felt completely numb, as if none of this was happening, or as if she was watching it happen to someone else.

Here she stood, all alone, watching the fire with eyes so empty they failed to see anything, feeling like her heart had been torn out of her chest, trying futilely to cling to the tattered remains of the severed bond.

 




 

Kagome did not know how long she stood there trying to make sense of her life. When she finally came to, the fire had burned out and there was nothing left but ash. The fire-rat haori she had been squeezing like a lifeline fell from her numb fingers, the red looking unnaturally vivid against her stark white kimono.

Like in a trance, she watched as they carefully gathered the ash from the funeral pyre. She knew that at the top of the flight of stairs, there was a freshly dug grave waiting, right beside that of Kikyo’s. They would bury the ashes there.

Years ago, the thought of the two of them resting side by side would have made her miserable and upset, but now she could not feel a thing. She was no longer an insecure teenager and the time for jealousy was long past. Kikyo might have been his first love… But it was her he had mated.

The men carrying the ashes started to ascend the stairs.

She turned away. She did not want to watch them bury him.

She did not want to acknowledge that he was gone.

A friendly hand squeezed her shoulder gently, breaking her out of her musings. She turned to see Miroku. The monk’s eyes were tired and full of sorrow. Like a lost child, she allowed the man to walk her into Kaede’s hut, where he sat her down as the old miko offered her a bowl of hot soup.

The young woman looked at the food and her stomach turned. She had no appetite, even though her stomach was aching in its emptiness. She hadn’t been eating properly for days. She did not want to eat; she wanted to lie down, sleep and forget. But she knew that she would be spending the night staring at the ceiling, trying desperately to escape the painful loneliness that haunted her in the dark.

Miroku looked at Kagome, worry for the woman evident in his expression. He glanced at Kaede, and the miko shook her head slightly, a sad look in her old eyes.

Miroku sighed.

“I have to go to see Sango now,” he told the old woman.

Kaede frowned but nodded. As the monk left the hut, she turned to regard the unresponsive young woman, who was dully staring into her untouched bowl of soup.


 

Miroku entered his house and found his wife there, serving tea to their guest.

“How was Kagome-chan?” Sango asked, concern and grief shining in her eyes.

Miroku shook his head.

“Still the same. I do not think she has yet even overcome the initial shock.” The monk sat down and then turned to their guest.

“I am glad to see that you came to attend the funeral,” he said with a polite bow of his head.

The male sipped his tea before he answered.

“My personal feelings towards him aside, we still share the same blood.” the golden eyes flashed, as he met the monk’s gaze. “And while you may not believe it, I did not wish for his death.”

Miroku did in fact believe him. He still remembered how the two brothers had fought side by side – on more than one occasion.

“Besides, I needed to see the miko.”

Sango frowned.
“Kaede? She has been taking good care of Rin,” she assured.

Sesshoumaru scowled.

“No, the Shikon miko. I wanted to see if she was still alive.”

Miroku looked like someone had just doused him with cold water as he stared at the demon.

“What do you mean?” he asked, trying to remain calm and quell his sudden alarm.

Sesshoumaru was silent for a moment.

“Not everyone accepts mating between the youkai and the ningen.” he began to explain in his deep voice. “Certainly, it is not commonly practised. Yet, it undeniably happens. The mating bond is such a strong and perfect union between the two partners that the death of a mate can drive even youkai insane. It is a loss greater than you humans can fathom, and that is why they do not usually survive the anguish.”

The demon paused and glanced at the couple who was raptly listening to him.

“And often”, he continued, “to compensate for the inequality between the humans and the demons, the mates will bind their lifespans together. This will grant the human the longevity of their demon partner. It will also without fail result in the death of the human when their demon mate dies.”

Sango’s hands trembled as she set down her tea cup. The thought of losing Kagome, too, tightened her throat so that it was painful to swallow.

Miroku was frowning.

“I know she has not been eating or sleeping properly, but that all belongs to the normal process of mourning,” he pointed out.

Sesshoumaru nodded slowly.

“Inuyasha was only a half-demon. And the miko has considerable power. She might survive.”

Miroku studied the demon lord in silence.

“There is something you are not saying,” he prompted after a while.

The look in the golden eyes hardened as Sesshoumaru once again levelled his gaze at the humans.

“We have a tradition through which we honour the deceased by saving their beloved human mate.”

“It is possible to prevent the widow’s – or widower’s – death, then?” Miroku asked, one brow raised. “How?”

“By tying their lifespan to that of a demon’s.”

Sango blinked, and then gasped loudly as she understood the implication behind the daiyoukai’s words. Her hands fisted in her lap.

“You do not mean the human has to mate again?” she asked incredulously.

Sesshoumaru’s lips formed a thin line as he nodded.

“Preferably within the family, pack or clan for the new bond to form correctly,” he dryly added.

Miroku stayed silent and continued to closely study the daiyoukai.

“Surely there is no need to go that far!” Sango protested, visibly upset. “Kagome-chan is doing just fine.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow rose, implying his doubts about the taijiya’s proclamation.

Sango seemed to realise it herself, for she blushed slightly. Remembering how Kagome had just stood there for the entire cremation, the emptiness in her eyes, not having shed a single tear, it was quite obvious that the young woman was not doing fine at all.

“And if something happens,” she continued on a softer tone, “I am sure the Tenseiga would – “

“Not work,” Sesshoumaru cut in tonelessly. “The blade cannot call back the miko’s soul without her consent. If she is reunited with the hanyou in the afterlife, do you think she will wish to return?”

Pained silence filled the hut.

They all knew the answer.

“You may have no reason to concern,” Sesshoumaru said then, taking a careful sip of his tea.

“No reason for concern?” Sango echoed incredulously. “After telling us that Kagome-chan is dying?”

“She may not be,” Sesshoumaru coolly cut in. “As I said before, the miko does have a considerable power.”

Miroku gazed at the demon lord thoughtfully.

“I am guessing this lifespan binding is related to power, then?” he voiced his astute observation.

Sesshoumaru nodded, and met the monk’s eyes.

“You are correct. It is the weaker one who will adhere to the lifespan of the more powerful being. When a human and youkai mate, this would always mean that the human would be given the chance to live as long as their youkai mate. But Inuyasha was a hanyou… And he mated the Shikon miko. It may well be that the miko was the stronger one, and if that is the case…”

“She would still detain her own lifespan,” Miroku replied. The man was quiet for a while, before he frowned. “But the danger still exists, does it not? The loss of her mate might still be too heavy a blow.”

Sesshoumaru nodded.

“She still lives, which makes me believe that she can master her own lifespan. But she does not look well,” Sesshoumaru said pointedly, glancing at Sango.

The taijiya glared back defiantly, until her shoulders started to shake and she had to lower her eyes.

Having proven his point, the daiyoukai turned away. There was no reason for him to torture the female further. He could scent her grief, her fear, her desperation.

From the times he had visited this village to see his ward, he had noticed how close the two women had been, the demon slayer and the miko.

For the slayer, the priestess was pack. It was only natural for her to feel concerned.

Miroku cleared his throat.

“I think it is time to cut through all this and get finally to the point of the matter.” His piercing violet eyes pinned down the demon. “Why are you here, telling me and my wife about all this?”

Sesshoumaru stiffened, and impassively held the monk’s gaze.

“A year after they had mated, Inuyasha came to see me.”

Sango gasped softly.

“I was surprised as well,” Sesshoumaru admitted. “Having a mate had changed him – you who stayed at his side surely also noticed this. He was not as immature. He was no longer as brash. He was more thoughtful.”

Miroku nodded, and smiled somewhat wryly.

“Kagome-sama must have rubbed off on him.”

“Indeed. The mating is the joining of souls – occasionally, over time, the mates may begin to resemble one another.”

The daiyoukai paused for a moment.

“He had become more careful. He now had a mate that depended on him. And he was often away from her. Helping the humans defend their homes from demons, travelling, with you,” Sesshoumaru noted, inclining his head at the monk. “He came to me to ask a favour. He wanted me to look after his miko… if anything was to happen to him.”

“So now you’re here,” Miroku said on a neutral tone.

Sesshoumaru nodded.

“I am aware, that when Inuyasha made his request, he did not realise what he was asking of me. Because of his mixed blood he was not taken into the youkai society; it is highly improbable that he was ever aware of the existence of this particular tradition.”

“And yet you would be willing to follow the tradition and save Kagome.” Miroku stated, studying the demon lord. “Why?”

“Because I gave my word,” was the rather simple reply. “And because I respect the miko.”

“That is most charitable of you.” Miroku acknowledged. “And I do not wish to be impolite, but I still feel somewhat sceptical. Taking a mate is a lifetime commitment – would you truly go so far just because you gave your word to your brother?”

Sesshoumaru’s posture had grown rigid as the monk had voiced his doubts, and now the daiyoukai was glaring at the man coldly.

The monk sighed. He was not a fool, and knew which battle to fight and which to fold. Sesshoumaru had been accommodating so far, but the demon lord was growing irate with the delay.

He was not sure if Sesshoumaru’s proposal would be in Kagome’s best interest, but at this point he was desperate to try anything. As a monk, Miroku had experience of grieving widows before, and he knew that she would need to snap out of her sorrow, or it would never really lift. He had seen it happen too many times, and he did not want the miko to become a slave to her sadness. It was a gamble. Sesshoumaru could either make everything worse, or save her. But there was only one way to find out which it would be.

“Sango, would you please go join Rin-chan and the kids?”

The taijiya did not look happy, but nodded. Miroku turned back to Sesshoumaru.

“I’ll bring Kagome here so you can discuss this.”

Sesshoumaru inclined his head and watched as the monk and his wife left the hut.


 

After a moment, the shikon miko came in, wearing the white kimono of mourning. She sat down on the tatami.

She had never looked more like the un-dead miko. Her skin had a sickly pale cast to it and her eyes were empty and soulless. She had lost weight and there were dark circles under her eyes. She moved slowly, sluggishly, listlessly, as if she was in a dream.

An endless nightmare she could not awake from.

Sesshoumaru felt oddly unsettled, seeing the miko like this. He remembered her as a brave, cheerful and strong-willed person, but the woman in front of him had none of those qualities left.

Just by looking at her, he could tell she had not been sleeping or eating properly for the past several days. The lively spark was gone from her deep blue eyes. 

Those were not good signs. She seemed to have given up.

“What do you want, Sesshoumaru?” she asked him bluntly in a tired, broken voice.

“To fulfil my brother’s request. He sought me out some years ago, to ask me to look after you. I am sure he was unaware at that time, that I would be bound by tradition to take you as my mate if something were to happen to him.”

“Excuse me?” the priestess asked lamely.

“Undoubtedly Inuyasha told you how a mating works. You bind your souls and your lifespans. The human usually succumbs to their mate’s lifespan, so if the mate dies, so will they. To prevent this, a tradition began for one of the demon’s pack to mate the widow.”

“So you come in here, state your business and expect me to follow your stupid little custom?” she queried incredulously in a raw voice.

Despite her current lifeless state, it seemed her old temper was still there, lurking beneath the listless surface.

“I came here, because I gave Inuyasha my word. And because I believed such union would be in our mutual interests,” Sesshoumaru stated calmly.

“Well with this lifespan-thing you explained I can see why you think such madness would be beneficial for me, but I don’t see what you will get out of it, save for the chance to coddle your sense of honour.”

“To be frank, miko, right now I may well need this mating more than you do.” he paused, his scoff a clear indication of his distaste. “Someone has decided that I need to be mated, and is looking for suitable matches, but none so far have been acceptable to me. While I would not object to an arranged mating, I would wish it to be with a female I at least could respect.”

Surprised, she raised her head to meet his steady gaze. Soon, though, her shoulders hunched, and she averted her eyes from him.

“I am sorry that you are in such a situation, Sesshoumaru. I really am. And I’m honoured you would ask me. But I have to decline. I can’t be your mate.”

“Yes, you can,” he countered imperiously, “and you should.”

“I don’t need your help, alright?” she huffed, beginning to grow agitated.

“Yes, you do,” he retorted. “I can tell you are not eating. You are not sleeping. You are letting the grief take the control of you. You are giving up on life, miko, and that is unacceptable.”

Again, she turned her gaze away from him, and stared at her thinned hands, clasped tightly in her lap. She did not wish to argue with him, she felt exhausted and just wanted to be alone.

“Go away, Sesshoumaru,” she pleaded. “Leave me be.”

Sesshoumaru had never expected the miko to comply to his proposal easily; he knew she was too struck by the death of his brother. Right now, he could tell she was not sure if she wanted to keep on living, taking a mate was the furthest thing from her mind.

But he was not going to back down, nor would he accept no for an answer.

“Would you rather stay here, daily haunted by the memories and living in the past, unable to let go your sorrow? Would you rather wither away and willingly succumb to death? If so, the years have truly changed you, miko,” he spoke in a cold, unyielding tone. “You have lost your perseverance and grown weak. How despicable.”

And then, there was finally a sign of life in the blue emptiness of her eyes. Her anger sparked, as the short-tempered woman rose to his bait.

“What do you know?” she shrieked at him. “You could not possibly understand what I feel, so just fuck off!”

Her small hands had balled into fists. A slight flush of anger tinted her waxy cheeks. Her chest was heaving from her heavy breathing. She looked alive again, but to him the most intriguing thing was her anguish, so clearly etched onto her features. For the first time, she had allowed it to show on the outside. He had studied her during the cremation, and knew she had not shed a single tear.

Sesshoumaru briefly closed his eyes and inclined his head.

“You are correct. I have never been mated, and thus cannot fathom your loss.” he paused, his piercing amber gaze boring into the very corners of her soul. “But I know my brother would want you to live. He would not wish you to waste your life because of him. He, of all people, would understand. He, too, loved and lost once. But he got past that pain and he found you.”

Kagome sat still as Sesshoumaru’s words sunk in. She knew he was right. Inuyasha would want her to move on with her life, he would not want to see her repeating his past mistakes.

But she was not sure if she could do that. She had lost too much. She had given up everything for Inuyasha; it had been because of him she had returned through the well. And now he was gone and she was forever stranded to the past, cut off from her family and the world she had been born in. Sure she still had her friends, but they were not enough to fill that horrible vacuum inside of her, born out of her loneliness.

Confused and afraid, she fingered the long sleeve of her kimono.

The demon lord was sitting before her, patiently waiting for her answer. She watched him under her bangs, and he looked just as regal, composed and powerful as always.

Only he could march in and so arrogantly propose to her on the day she had buried her mate. Not that he ever actually had. Not once had he presented her the question, no, Sesshoumaru had simply stated the proposition as it was.

She shook her head.

“I… I need to think about it,” she finally rasped, her voice so soft that he might not have heard her if not for his superior senses.

He gave her a graceful nod.

“Very well.”

Then, he stood up and exited the hut, leaving the forlorn miko alone with the painfully heavy fragments of her heart. 

Chapter Text

Kagome lay still on the futon, staring into the wooden ceiling in the darkness of Kaede’s hut. She had stayed over in the old miko’s residence ever since… She could not return to her home, it had been a place she had shared with Inuyasha, and now it just felt empty and wrong and it hurt.

It was not the first time she was lying awake in the dead of the night. She had not been sleeping for several days.

Yet, tonight was different. This time, it was not the painful memories and her staggering loss that were stealing her sleep, but the puzzle called Sesshoumaru. Inuyasha had been the love of her life, and she had no intention to mate ever again – least of all with his older brother.

The notion was utterly absurd. For some reason, she could not really imagine the regal daiyoukai to take anyone as his mate – and yet he had come to ask her, right after his brother’s funeral.

He was unbelievable!

Then again, she had never felt that she could understand the demon lord. At first he had tried to kill her, later he had saved her. When they had still been travelling and collecting the jewel shards, their paths had occasionally crossed. But all those times, she had mostly studied him from afar. They had not really stood side by side, until that final battle, and those dreadful moments when they had been trapped in the spider hanyou’s body. 

After she had come back through the well and mated Inuyasha…

Her thoughts scattered and there was that cold emptiness again, the one she tried to desperately ignore. She stared at the ceiling with listless eyes, suddenly feeling so tired. Yet, she struggled, trying to get back in control of herself, to will away the pain.

She closed her eyes, drew a quivering breath, and tried to focus. She felt the power course in her veins, cold as ice, seeking in vain for the familiar presence forever lost, for the piece of her soul that was no longer there.

Then, suddenly, she felt a dark pulse, coming from outside. Her powers latched on it, it was different but it was familiar, and somehow the sensation was soothing.

She opened her eyes and breathed a little easier.

Kagome rolled onto her side, curling up under the blanket.

She did not know if she was doing the right thing or making a mistake. But right now, she did not even care. In the state that she was, it was excruciating enough to live in the moment. Even taking everything day by day was a struggle, so she couldn’t possibly fathom any far-reaching consequences at the moment.

For better or worse, her decision was made.


 

It was early in the morning; the sun was still climbing the sky. Kagome sat in seiza, on the cool green grass. She looked at the smooth white stone.

It still felt surreal, but she was trying to understand that it was really there.

That there was no going back.

I never thought it would come to this. You were supposed to be here, with me. What should I do now that I’m alone?

The stone before her stayed silent.

Her throat tightened. She slumped forward, falling to her hands and knees. Her fingers dug into the grass as she struggled to breathe.

It was too much. It was so overwhelming. She could not take it, she was too weak, too confused, too broken. As she knelt there, gasping for air, the world stood still. It was dead to her; it did not matter, not now that he was gone.

He was gone, and yet somehow expected her to go on.

And still the tears would not come, even though she had finally allowed the grief a full reign. The pain forced her on her knees, strangled her throat, stole her breath and crushed her heart.

After what felt like an eternity, she surfaced. The grief was once again under her control, the pain had dulled. But neither had gone anywhere, they still lurked in the dark corners of her soul, biding their time.

She slowly straightened herself, drawing back into a composed seiza, folding her arms into her lap. She prayed fervently in her mind, even though she could not force a single word out. Then, she lit incense and bowed in respect, before she stood up and turned around.

He was there, at the top of the stairs, watching her. She knew he had been standing there for a while. Her jaw clenched, and she forced her eyes to meet his appraising stare.

“Are you ready?” the daiyoukai asked in his deep voice. “Or do you still need more time?”

Kagome shook her head.

“I have decided,” she replied apathetically, wondering if she ever truly had a choice in the matter.

“Then come. We have much to discuss.”

Sesshoumaru turned and started to descend the stairs, back to the village.

She hesitated but a moment before she followed, her rigid back growing more aware of the grave she was walking away from with every step she took.


 

Sesshoumaru was surprised at the miko’s strength. Sure she was haunted and stricken, confused and broken. Even if her mind had given up, her instincts were still struggling, clinging to life so desperately, though the miko was growing feebler every day. Still, she was doing surprisingly well.

The priestess had always been very… emotional. She wore her heart on her sleeve and she let her feelings run rampant.

His mother, on the other hand, had always been reserved, as suited a lady of her rank. She had emotions too, of course, but she kept them tightly under her control.

And then his father had died.

Sesshoumaru had been a teenager, but he would always remember that night. He had known even then that his parents had been a suitable match and had deeply cared for one another. But they had never been in love with each other. Still, that night, his calm, reserved mother had howled her grief to the skies, hour after hour. She had trashed her apartment and then lain in a boneless heap in the corner of her destroyed room for three weeks.

His regal, powerful mother had become a complete wreck after losing her mate. It was odd that in some sense, the miko was actually faring better. His composed mother had fallen apart, but the miko who usually let her emotions have a free reign now had brought them under her control. But then again, the priestess felt everything so keen and deep. Maybe she knew she wasn’t ready to face all the sorrow yet, that she wasn’t strong enough to defeat it in this moment.

Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes bore into her, piercing, searching, assessing.

She was haunted and stricken, confused and broken. She had given up on life, had nothing left to keep her afloat. Still she sat there in front of him and held her head up, her dulled sapphire eyes meeting his gaze.

Even when she was so broken, her strength shone through.

That was really why he was drawn to her, why he had made his proposition.

She was the Shikon miko, one of a kind.

“You said we need to discuss,” she spoke in that tired tone that didn’t sound like hers. “A discussion would require you to speak, not sit there in silence and stare at me.”

The corner of his lips quirked upwards.

“You have come to your decision?” he asked.

“I have.”

“Do you consent to mate this Sesshoumaru?”

Silence followed the regal question. She studied him with those lifeless blue eyes. He could not tell what she was thinking.

“Yes,” she said hoarsely. “I consent.” She had nothing to lose. She had already lost everything.

He inclined his head, relaxing a little.

“Thank you,” he told her. The words rather surprised her, as one of her eyebrows arched.

“So what now?” she questioned him.

“We will form the union and leave this village.”

“How? I mean… with Inuyasha…” she paused, trying to swallow down the painful piece lodged in her throat.

He sat there, watching her patiently.

She wrestled the pain down again and managed to subdue it.

“When Inuyasha and I mated, it was during… Uh, we were…”

“For most it is easiest to bind yourself in spirit while being physically intimate. However, the physical intimacy is not necessary as long as you are in control of your powers and can form the bond as needed.”

“Alright,” she agreed tiredly.

“I must touch you, to establish a proper connection, but that touch does not need to be intimate.”

“Very well,” she muttered.

“You should be aware that while it is a mating, it is mainly a partnership I am suggesting to you. A mutual agreement of sorts. I do not offer you love, nor expect such sentiment from you. But I can give you my respect… and my friendship, if you will.”

Kagome just nodded indifferently.

The miko didn’t appear to care about what would happen to her, even after announcing that he would be taking her away from the village, she had not asked where they were going. Sesshoumaru really hoped that a change of scenery would do the priestess good. He sincerely wished the woman to regain her usual spirit, though he knew her recovery would take its time. The mating would secure her from physical threat; his energy would help to fuel her body despite its lack of food and sleep. But only she could overcome her broken heart.

“Come, your friends worry for you.”

He stood up fluidly and offered her his hand. She looked at him dully but took it, allowing him to pull her up. She followed him out of the hut.


 

Miroku was sitting on the tatami, thinking back to the conversation yesterday and pondering the situation. Kagome had been visibly upset after Sesshoumaru had made his proposition, and she had quickly excused herself and went back to Kaede’s hut where she had curled up on her futon.

He strongly felt that while Sesshoumaru had spoken true about why he wanted to mate Kagome, the daiyoukai had another, hidden motivation for pushing the union. But the monk could not even begin to guess what that motivation might be. They had remained allies even after defeating Naraku. The demon lord would come to the village every now and then to visit Rin, and on occasion had spent some time with his half-brother as well, even if the two of them had still fought more often than not. Perhaps it had become a habit, their only comfortable form of brotherly interaction. But despite the visits, they had always remained distant; the inudaiyoukai had always remained a mystery to everyone.

Miroku was not convinced that Sesshoumaru was a suitable match for Kagome. In fact, they were very mismatched. He was formal and collected, while Kagome was somewhat erratic and definitely on the clumsy side. He was so cold and withdrawn, whereas Kagome was friendly and open. He was a demon lord, she was a miko. He had been born centuries ago and she hailed far from the future.

Still, Rin was a living proof that Sesshoumaru indeed had a heart, hiding somewhere deep beneath his icy exterior. He was also mature, unlike his younger brother. And above all, the daiyoukai was honourable. That was the most important reason why Miroku was willing to entrust his friend to Sesshoumaru, he would not mistreat his mate.

He knew a mating between the two would be a gamble. But he was willing to take it for that small chance of it bringing Kagome back. To him it was quite clear that Kagome was already well on her way to wasting away before their very eyes. And at this point Miroku was ready to try anything to save his friend from that fate; he would even strike a deal with Naraku if that was what it took to snap Kagome out of her apathy. Seeing the miko so lifeless before him wrenched his heart every single time, almost as painfully as it had when he had found Inuyasha.

They were supposed to travel together, but he had been forced to stay behind. Sango and the twins had all fallen ill, something which Kagome had called a stomach bug. So Inuyasha had gone ahead, bound for the village that had requested their aid. Miroku had promised to set out a day or two later and had told the hanyou he’d catch up to him. Too late they had realised that the trip had coincided with the night of the new moon, and by the time Miroku had rushed after his friend it had already been too late. He had found him on the side of the road, highwaymen by the looks of it. They had taken the few belongings he had carried, even the Tessaiga. His undefeatable half demon companion was lying in the dirt, bloody and broken. The sunrise had not transformed his lifeless body. He had carried Inuyasha home on his back, his heart growing heavier with each step.   

Inuyasha was already lost to him, and he mourned his passing and hoped the hanyou had at last found peace. He would not allow Kagome to be dragged down with her mate, however. She deserved better than that.

It was Rin’s shout which snapped Miroku out of his deep and troubled thoughts. The moment there was movement at the door, her “Sesshoumaru-sama!” filled the quiet hut, although the greeting was stripped of its usual cheer. Kagome entered the house after Sesshoumaru.

Now the monk could once again sense the nervous tension in their crowded hut. The children were out, playing together with other kids of the village, but his wife, Kaede, Rin and Shippo were all there. The news of Sesshoumaru’s intentions had spread, and everyone was anxious to hear the verdict.

And now the two of them had arrived at last.

Sesshoumaru seated himself on the tatami. Kagome followed in suit, sitting down next to him.

The silence in the hut was heavy and deafening. It stopped everyone from voicing the question they were begging to ask.

Kagome sat there, waiting for Sesshoumaru speak. He didn’t. She glanced at the daiyoukai out of the corner of her eye, and found him staring at her expectantly.

He wanted her to tell everyone. In a way that made sense, after all they were her friends, but it still surprised her, because Sesshoumaru was the one who had waltzed in, taken control and told people what was to happen. Maybe now that he had got what he wanted, he was feeling more lenient towards her.

Kagome sighed and squared her shoulders, raising her gaze to meet her friends’ questioning gazes.

“I suppose you are all aware that Sesshoumaru proposed to me,” Kagome said tiredly.

Well, more or less. If a bold and arrogant statement of ‘You should be my mate’ counted as a proposal.

No one spoke, but Kagome could clearly feel the strained anticipation in the room.

“I have given him my consent.”

Miroku quietly nodded his acceptance and Rin smiled at them excitedly.

Kaede didn’t say anything, but the thin line of her lips was a clear sign of disapproval.

The rest were not afraid to be vocal with their opinions.

“What?!” Shippo shrieked in disbelief.

“Why?” Sango hissed.

Kagome’s hands balled, squeezing the hem of her kimono. She felt tired and vexed, almost wishing that Sesshoumaru would step in again to take control of the situation. She did not like to be in the spotlight just now. She had known her friends would not understand and she doubted they would even if she tried to explain. It just was so bothersome and she really didn’t want to deal with any of this. Not now.

But Sesshoumaru remained silent, seemingly content with her put on the spot.

“Because Sesshoumaru told me that it is what Inuyasha wanted. And I believe he’s right. Out of all people, he asked Sesshoumaru to…” Kagome fell silent and lowered her eyes, staring hard at the tatami. The pain she was feeling flashed in the blue depths for just a second. “I can’t stay here,” she choked after a moment.

“That I can understand,” Sango hurriedly assured her friend, feeling sad at seeing her so broken. “But I don’t think making a lifetime commitment is the right answer.”

“Yeah!” Shippo echoed, glaring at Sesshoumaru. “And with him! Why does it have to be him?!”

Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru again. His expression was unreadable, but the aura around him was calm – almost soothing. She turned to look at her friends and shrugged.

“He needs me,” she offered simply.

Miroku smiled slightly. That sounded almost like the normal Kagome, willing to do anything to help her friends as well as complete strangers.  

We need you!” Shippo protested, scowling. He was not at all happy about this development.

“No, Shippo-chan, you don’t,” Kagome sighed. “You’re away most of the time in the kitsune school. Sango and Miroku, you have each other and your family. Kaede has Rin-chan to help her. There is nothing for me here anymore.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Sango said, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. “But I can accept that.   Still I don’t think you should rush into something like this.”

“Sango, I’m tired,” the miko pleaded with her broken voice. “Tired of being empty and alone. Feeling like a part of me is missing. You don’t know what it feels like.”

“I lost my whole family!” Sango said, her voice rising. The tears were now rolling down her cheeks. “How can you say that to me?”

“Because you were not bound to them with a bond so deep it takes a part of your soul to form it.”

Sango’s deep frown was a clear indication of her disagreement, but the taijiya just glared at her friend in silence.

Kagome’s shoulders hunched in resignation. She drew herself up, her hands trembling.

“I don’t care what you think,” she said tonelessly. “The decision was mine and I have made it.”

Kagome turned and left the hut.

The silence reigned again. It was heavy with tension, hurt and sadness.

Sesshoumaru sat still a while longer, his golden gaze assessing the people in the hut. The corner of his lip curled up in a small sneer.

“Even if you were upset over the miko’s choice or believed she was making a mistake, challenging her decision shows an appalling lack of common sense,” Sesshoumaru said coldly, speaking for the first time that evening.

Sango’s eyes flashed in anger. This was why she could not accept it, that youkai arrogance, that insulting tone of his, that contempt in his ruthless golden eyes.

“Kagome deserves better,” Sango spat, glaring at the daiyoukai.

“Indeed she does,” the demon lord replied, returning her glare in full force. “She is a grieving widow, and you are her friend. Yet the only people here who supported her were Rin, the monk and I.”

Sesshoumaru rose from the tatami and walked away, leaving behind a pained silence laced with guilt.


 

Kagome trekked down a path heading to the forest. She wanted to be alone, so going back to Kaede’s hut was out of the question. She had made up her mind; she had told Sesshoumaru she would do it.

Kagome knew Inuyasha had wanted Sesshoumaru to look after her, that was partly why she had agreed to the daiyoukai’s proposal. But she doubted that Inuyasha had intended her to actually mate his brother.

But then, maybe on some level he had known, maybe out of instinct or because he had at least suspected there would be some kind of pack obligation for his brother to take care of her. After all, he had gone to make his request to Sesshoumaru, and while their relationship had not been hostile for years, it had always remained distant. Miroku was one of Inuyasha’s closest friends - he would have been an obvious first choice.

She was not sure if she was doing the right thing. Making such a big commitment, and with a person she did not really even knowwas very frightening.

But she needed to get away from this village. Sesshoumaru had been right in that, she could not stay here dwelling in the memories of happier days and allow her grief to take control.

And there was something in Sesshoumaru’s proposal that had tempted her. He had offered her friendship. She would have a partner for a lifetime without ever having to fall in love again. Inuyasha had been the love of her life, and now that he was gone and her heart was broken, that feeling had been buried in her for good. Sesshoumaru had promised her respect and friendship, and Kagome had sensed that the demon lord had been sincere. He was intimidating and Kagome did not really know that well what kind of a person he was, but she knew that he had a gentler side underneath his cold exterior. It had briefly surfaced sometimes when she had seen him interact with Rin. They would learn to get along; with his lifespan they had plenty of time to do that.

Kagome stopped at the edge of the clearing. She had not been planning to come here; she had just wanted to walk a while to clear her head and to be alone. But it seemed her feet had automatically sought out the familiar path and now she was here where it all had started. Slowly, the pit of her stomach twisting painfully with each step, she walked across the clearing and stopped to stand in front of the huge tree.

She gazed up at the Goshinboku, her eyes fixating on the spot where he had been sealed.

She remembered that day so clearly even know. The wonder and fear, how ethereal Inuyasha had looked when pinned to the tree in his deep sleep, how the arrow had tingled the palm of her hand as she had pulled it out.

She also remembered the times she had passed by the tree at home at the shrine.

But they were both out of her reach now, the past and the future. She was stuck here in the nightmare that was the present. The loneliness overwhelmed her, and she raised her hand to touch the ancient tree, trying in vain to seek solace in its presence. It only brought her pain, memories she was not yet ready to face.

She could almost see him lying there, pinned down by the arrow. He had looked so otherworldly, so beckoning with those adorable ears.

He had appeared to be completely at peace.

She really hoped that he had found peace at last.

Her trembling fingers glided up to caress the pale scar on the ancient tree’s rough bark.

“I miss you,” she whispered into the dark night, her broken voice falling to the ears of the dead.

Chapter Text

Kagome stared at the ceiling of Kaede’s hut, and slowly turned over to lie on her side. It was early in the morning, she could hear the muffled sounds of villagers outside, facing a new day, going about their lives. Kaede had already got up and left the hut some time earlier, and Kagome knew that she, too, would have to get up soon but she’d much rather just stay here, on her futon. She felt exhausted; it had taken hours until she had managed to fall asleep, only to keep waking up repeatedly. After such a night of tossing and turning, she felt like she had got no sleep let alone rest.

What reason had she to get up in any case? What point was there to continue repeating the same dull cycle over and over again? Her life was empty, and it was so strenuous to struggle onwards. People kept saying it would get better, she could read it in their pitying eyes even when they didn’t utter the words aloud. It had been a week since his death, and it hadn’t become any easier to deal with.

Underneath her blanket she curled up, her body was worn out from the stress, the lack of sleep and food. She welcomed the dull ache of the muscles, though; it was much easier to bear than that residing in her heart.

She heard footsteps. The straw mat hung in the doorway rustled when it was brushed aside. A tray, settled carefully down onto the floor, entered her line of vision. Kagome looked up to see Sango kneeling down on the tatami by her futon.

“Good morning,” the taijiya wished her.

“Morning,” Kagome echoed listlessly. It wasn’t particularly a good one, in her opinion. In fact, it was a rather lousy, wretched morning.

“I made breakfast and thought you might want some, too,” Sango continued.

Kagome sensed her nervousness. She recognised the peace offering for what it was. Her tired gaze swept the tray and found a bowl of okayu, rice congee. Kagome snorted lightly, finding the dish oddly befitting in the current situation.

She sat up and accepted wordlessly the bowl from Sango. It was pointless to stay angry or keep arguing with her, it took too much energy, and right now she needed all the strength she could gather to simply stay standing, to stop herself from being swallowed whole by the darkness looming in the corners of her soul.

Sango sighed, her shoulders sagging with relief when Kagome accepted the food.

“I am sorry about last night. I should have been more supportive. I know how hard everything is for you right now, and I did not intend to hurt you.”

“It’s alright,” Kagome said tonelessly and took a sip of the water.

“No, it is not,” the taijiya sighed. “I was being unreasonable.”

“You were upset,” Kagome shrugged.

“I was. But not with you, even if it sounded like that.”

“I know. It’s Sesshoumaru you have a problem with, isn’t it?”

Sango nodded.

“We do not really even know him. All he allows us to see is the surface, and frankly it is not a good sight. He is cold, arrogant and ruthless, and I do not think he is good for you.”

Kagome hummed.

“I know how he appears to be. But a surface is just a surface, and in time I will learn to know him. There was something he said, when I told him I accepted the proposal, something that made me feel like I had made the right choice.” the miko paused, and glanced at her friend. “He said he did not offer me love nor expect that from me. He said he would give me his friendship and respect. And I think I need that. I don’t think I can love anyone again, but neither can I be alone. With Sesshoumaru, I can have that.”

“I understand,” Sango said quietly. And she did. She knew the need to share one’s life with someone. But she still worried for her friend, and she had to voice those worries.

“Are you sure that you will never love again? What if one day, years and years from now when you have accepted and got over Inuyasha’s death, you are ready to love? What if you fall for Sesshoumaru, who has already told you he will not give you love? What if you fall for someone else, when you have already bound yourself to Sesshoumaru?”

“I can’t answer those questions, Sango.” Kagome said, her voice tired, hurt and lost. “I can’t see that far ahead, I can barely manage living through one day at a time right now.” The priestess smiled wryly. “Every morning, I expect to wake up and find it was all just a bad dream.”    

Sango did not say anything. She looked at her friend and it broke her heart to see her in such a pain, to hear her voice the dark thoughts that sounded so unlike her.

“It is hard for me to accept death as easily as you do, even after all the years I have been here, in this era.” Kagome continued after a while. “You know, in the future, we call this time the warring states period. A befitting name, isn’t it, full of chaos and death. But in the Japan I grew up in, we had no war or famine. There were no demons preying on us humans. The diseases and wounds that are deadly here, can be cured with modern medicine. Death does not lurk around every corner.”

“I understand what you mean, Kagome-chan, and it must be difficult for you… But Inuyasha’s death is hard for us all to accept,” Sango spoke gently. “It was so sudden. None of us saw it coming.”

Kagome nodded limply.

“You are right,” she whispered into the room. “But the suddenness wasn’t the worst part,” she confessed softly. “His death itself, though devastating, isn’t the worst part.”

Kagome turned her pained eyes to finally meet Sango’s sympathising gaze.

“The worst part is to realise how much I gave up on just to be with him, and how little I have left to myself now that he is gone. My childhood home and my family are lost for me forever. It feels like I have nothing left.”

“We are here for you,” Sango replied.

“Yes, but your family must come first.” Kagome was silent for a moment. “If something happened to Miroku, you’d have reason to go on. You would still have your children and they would need you, they would pull you back from the darkness. But I can’t come up with such reasons, I feel like there is nothing between me and the darkness, nothing to stop it from swallowing me whole.”

Sango looked at her friend. She felt her pain and sorrow so keenly. She, too, had lost so much in her life, but she had also gained much. The silence stretched. There were no right words to say, nothing that could make the grief more bearable. Words were shallow and empty, they were completely useless.

Slowly, hesitantly, the taijiya drew her friend into a comforting embrace. That she could offer freely, and maybe it would even help in consoling the miko. The priestess’ thinned hands clutched her shoulders; the grieving widow trembled in her arms. Sango simply held her there, shielding her from the world, whispering that everything would be all right, that she could get through this, the empty words neither of them could really believe.


 

Kagome actually felt somewhat better after her talk with Sango. She had even finished her breakfast, for the first time ever since Inuyasha passed.  The talk had helped to steel her resolve, and it had been comforting to know that even if the slayer did not fully accept her decision, she supported her. Kagome really cared about Sango’s opinion – they had grown so close during the hunt for the Shikon, being the only women in the party. The taijiya was like the sister she never had, and Kagome knew that Sango shared the sentiment. Before Sango had left with the tray and the breakfast dishes, Kagome had asked her a favour. There were things in her house she needed – clothes and her bow and arrows, for example – and Kagome couldn’t go into the hut. It was too painful of a reminder from the life and happiness she had lost.  She was not sure if she could ever cross the threshold again. The house had been built by Inuyasha, it had been their place, and going there alone did not sit right with her. She wanted her last memories of the house to be happy ones, she did not want to remember it as it was now: empty and permeated with loneliness.

Kagome got up from her futon. She changed out of the light yukata she had slept in, into a simple kimono. Then she took a comb to the matted mess of her hair. She had not really tended to her appearance this past week, it felt so very unimportant now. An idea began to slowly form in her mind as she worked the comb through her inky locks. After she had fought all the snarls and stood victorious with her hair once again smooth and silky, she tied it at her neck. She stood up, her eyes searching the hut until she finally found what she was looking for. Grabbing the small item from the table, Kagome sat back down onto the tatami, took a firm hold of her tail, and then in one determined flick brought the knife to her hair. The short locks, now barely reaching past her chin broke free from the tie and fell around her face. Her head felt oddly light, and Kagome stared at the blue-black tresses littering the floor around her, wondering for a moment if she had finally lost her mind. She shrugged that thought away and gathered the loose strands to her lap. She tied them together at one end, ran her fingers carefully through them, and then set to braiding them. Once she was finished, she put away the knife and gathered the severed braid. She left the hut.

If any villagers stopped and stared at her as she walked between the huts, heading for the long stair case, she didn’t notice. She was fully set on this task that had suddenly possessed her, making her blind to everything else. She ascended the stairs and stopped briefly when she reached the top. She walked straight towards that accursed white stone, knelt on the grass, lit the incense and bowed her head in a prayer. Then, she deposited the braid to her lap and sank her hands into the freshly dug ground, shifting the soil, feeling the small grains sting under her fingernails. The pit was small and shallow, but that was alright. It was the gesture here that mattered. Gently, she laid the braid of her own hair into the ground, and pushed the soil back in, covering the grave once again. She sat there for a moment, looking desperately for the right words to say, but coming up empty. She sighed, and caressed the smooth white stone with longing.

Then she rose and walked away. She felt a little lighter. She had needed to do this. In a few short hours, she would be mated to Sesshoumaru, and soon after that the two of them would be leaving the village.

She would venture forth from this place as a changed woman, but she left a piece of herself behind. A piece that would always be his.


 

When Kagome came back to Kaede’s hut, Sango was there, waiting for her. She gasped at the sight of her friend.

“Kagome-chan! What did you do to your hair?” the slayer asked, bewildered.

“Something I felt was necessary,” was the cryptic answer, followed by an indifferent shrug.

Sango bit her lip and let it drop without a further comment.

“I got your things,” she said, gesturing to the items she had laid down onto Kagome’s futon.

Kagome turned to look at the neatly folded piled of clothes, resting next to her bow and quiver. There was one more thing on the mattress, next to her bow. She knelt down onto the tatami and her hand darted out, almost involuntarily. The beads were perfectly round and smooth in her hand, cold to touch and surprisingly heavy. They had once glowed dark purple, but they look almost black now, the glow had faded when the spell had died. She had almost forgotten about the necklace. Inuyasha had removed it five years ago, on the day of their mating. After all, the spell had been conjured to protect her life, after Inuyasha had attacked her when they had first met. But over the years, Kagome had given him her heart, and he had fallen in love with her. He had sworn to protect her, and when he finally took her as his mate, his role as her protector and provider had been made official, and the subjugation beads had been rendered useless.

Seeing them now made Kagome remember the early days, the constant travelling and hunting for shards. It had been a trying time, but it had been during those days when they had gradually discovered their feelings. She smiled sadly, and then gently picked up the necklace.

“I thought you would want to save it,” Sango spoke quietly.

Kagome nodded, gifting her friend with a wan smile, before she pulled the necklace over her head.

The straw mat in the doorway rustled dryly, and the two women in the hut turned to see Miroku.

“I think our daiyoukai guest is growing restless.” he informed them.

“Then I guess we should go and get this mating over and done with,” Kagome said in a mirthless tone, rising up from the floor. Sango glanced at her husband, but followed the priestess out of the hut.

Sesshoumaru was waiting just outside. His eyebrow quirked up at the sight of the miko’s changed appearance, but he did not comment on it. Rin stood next to the demon lord, smiling and obviously excited for the upcoming mating. Shippo was waiting, too, though he was frowning. Kaede would stay behind to look after the children, Miroku quietly told his wife, just as Kagome stopped to stand in front of Sesshoumaru. Idly she noted that he had removed his armour.

“Come,” he rumbled in his deep voice, starting to walk out of the village.

“Where exactly?” Kagome questioned, as the others fell in after them, insistent of witnessing the mating.

“Away from the village. Both of our energies will need to be unleashed to accomplish the joining, and the experience can be… unsettling to bystanders.” Sesshoumaru spared a glance at the miko who was following him.

“Fair enough,” she muttered with a listless shrug.

They left the village and entered Inuyasha’s forest, walking between the tall trees until Sesshoumaru deemed they were far enough from the villagers.

He settled himself onto the grass, heedless of his white kimono and hakama. Kagome followed his example, sitting down before him. Her friends also sat down onto the ground at a slight distance, nervous and unsure of what to expect.

Sesshoumaru reached forward to touch the priestess. Kagome tensed when his hands slipped in under her kimono. A second later they settled on her shoulders, easily cupping them, his deadly claws resting against her skin. Her blue eyes bore into him.

“It has to be skin on skin,” he answered the unvoiced question, and then tersely nodded towards her hands. The miko raised them hesitantly, and then pushed the lapels of his kimono aside, setting her thin hands on his chest.

Sesshoumaru held her gaze and nodded.  

“Good. We may begin. Try to relax.”

Relaxing was easier said than done, because the second after Sesshoumaru had imparted that instruction to her, he discarded the constraints of his youki. His power instantly exploded around them, sending dark shivers down her spine.

Danger! Kagome’s instincts screamed, feeling the oppressing weight of his youki. Her heart beat wildly in her chest, adrenaline rushed through her body, and her reiki instinctively came alive, to protect her from the demonic threat.

She saw Sesshoumaru’s lips twitch, and in a sudden moment of clarity she realised that the daiyoukai was smiling. The bastard was actually enjoying this!

“Follow my lead,” he growled at her, and then somehow poured forth even more youki.

In that moment, she finally understood how powerful Sesshoumaru truly was. It had nothing to do with the sheer weight and overwhelming vastness of his demonic energy, it was in the precision with which he was able to control even the most minute aspects of his strength.

His dark, malicious youki danced against her senses, goading her to respond in kind. He managed to keep his energy threatening, so that her powers instinctively flared up in response.  Yet she could feel there was no real threat to her here, he was not trying to oppress her, and that allowed her to finally relax.

Her holy powers burst forth, bright and brilliant and colder than ice, matching and contending with the dark and primal inferno that was Sesshoumaru’s youki. The powers danced and twirled, winding closer and closer to one another.

Miroku was glad he had sat down onto the ground, if not; the sheer pressure of the incredible powers warring on the clearing would have forced him down on his knees. It was indeed an intense and magnificent display. Yet even though the two opposite powers warred in the air with a lot of sizzling and crackling, in the heart of it all, the couple sat completely still. Their eyes were closed and they appeared to be calm and relaxed. How they could manage that, Miroku did not know. His own limbs were shaking just from witnessing all this raw power.

Kagome focused on her breathing, falling into an almost meditative state. She felt somehow open and connected, now that she had poured out her holy powers. She felt the weight of Sesshoumaru’s hands on her shoulders. They felt surprisingly warm against her skin. She felt the steady beating of his heart under the palm of her hand. The beat of her own heart seemed to slow down, in a response to his, until their rhythms finally synchronized and the two hearts beat as one.  The very moment that happened, Kagome felt a tentative tug at a corner of her soul and she instinctively answered. The next thing she knew, he was flooding into her and she was pouring out to him, and for a split second they could wholly see one another.

Kagome gasped for air, and the holy powers instantly receded back into her, as she hunched forward, leaning against Sesshoumaru and gulping to catch her breath.

The daiyoukai did not appear to be similarly affected, though his eyes burned red for a second before he called back his youki, putting his usual restraints back in place.

Miroku released a breath he had not been aware of holding.

“Is that it?”

“The joining is complete.” Sesshoumaru confirmed, rising from the ground and pulling the miko to her feet with him. It had taken a little longer than he had anticipated, the priestess had been stronger than he had expected. He wondered if she had ever truly unleashed her power in full before.

“I understand now why you warned bystanders would find the experience unsettling,” Miroku quipped with a wan smile. “Is it always so intense?”

Sesshoumaru shrugged his shoulder.

“Under usual circumstances, mating will happen during coupling and is thus achieved fully on instinct. To form a mating bond, one must be able to bare one’s soul to the partner, and to induce a state that is receptive enough for that to be possible outside the usual circumstances requires a bit more effort.”

“It has to do with defences,” Kagome muttered in a sudden insight. She did not realise that her hands were still resting against Sesshoumaru’s chest even though the two were now standing up. “The power has to be released in full, lest they interfere with reaching the right state.”

Sesshoumaru nodded, impressed by the woman’s perceptiveness.

“The power has to be released but still under control and eventually one will become open enough to bare one’s soul and receive what the partner offers in return.”

They were walking back to the village now. Miroku was still interested in the technicalities that Sesshoumaru tried his best to explain in concepts humans could understand. Kagome, however, had lost her interest in the conversation and had fallen behind her friends. It had been completely different from what she had expected. The whole thing had probably only taken minutes, but they had felt like hours to her, like for a moment the time had stopped, trapping her into a world where only she, Sesshoumaru, and their warring powers existed. It was nothing like her mating with Inuyasha, and yet it was almost the same. With Inuyasha, too, the world had faded away, but with him it had been so sweet, and there had been much more skin on skin. In that moment they had been close not only emotionally but physically as well, and when they had found their rhythm together she had felt that insistent tug at her soul and that had been it, they had completely become one.

It had not been as intimate with Sesshoumaru, for obvious reasons, but still it had been very personal. For that fleeting second she had seen him, all of him. That the daiyoukai, who was such a private person, had been so accommodating, so completely open and disarmed before her, filled her with kind of an awe.

Kagome raised her gaze when Sango fell into a step beside her, worried by her silence and engaging her into a conversation. Kagome knew for sure that something had indeed changed between her and Sesshoumaru, when she looked at him. All she could see was the wealth of his silver hair and his perfectly postured back, yet she could tell without doubt, that the demon lord was pleased.   

Chapter Text

”Are you feeling better?” Sango asked, drawing close to her friend as they walked back to the village.

“Yes, I feel better, but I am not better.”

Sango frowned in confusion, her incomprehension clearly showing on her face.

Kagome sighed and tilted her head as she pondered how she could explain it to Sango. She felt that bonds like mating could not really be understood until one had actually experienced them.

“It is like I lost my bow and was given a sword to compensate for that loss,” she began softly. Her voice was still as tired and broken as it had been the whole week. “I don’t feel as weak, having a sword is better than having no weapon at all – but a sword is not a bow, nor can it ever become one. I don’t feel as empty as I did before, with this new bond. But it is not something that would magically fix me. A part of me died with Inuyasha, and that part is now forever lost to me, no matter whom I mate.”

Sango nodded gravely. She didn’t really know what to say, she just hoped that the time would ease Kagome’s pain and sorrow.

“I don’t like this mating,” Shippo commented sullenly. His hackles were still up from Sesshoumaru’s display of power.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rin chirped from Sango’s side. “It’s so sad that Inuyasha-sama died… But Sesshoumaru-sama will take care of Kagome-sama, and now neither of them needs to be alone.”

Kagome glanced at the young woman. Rin was sixteen now, and the villagers all considered her an adult. Despite that, she seemed to exude the kind of purity that could only be found in the young. Watching the ward, Kagome smiled sadly and wondered if she had ever been that young herself, so innocent and full of hope. Probably she had been, but it was difficult to remember such times, or recognise the girl she had been back then.

Of course, even now, she was only twenty-three, but she keenly felt the weight of every single one of her years. So much had happened to her in her fleeting lifetime that she had grown more mature than most women her age. Life in the Sengoku Jidai was tough, and when facing the continuous war, famine, disease and death, one grew up quickly. Thus, Kagome was glad that Rin had managed to retain such a positive and hopeful outlook on life despite her troubled childhood. She was also sure Sesshoumaru had closely guarded his ward’s innocence.

Kagome finally broke away from her musings, to find Sango studying at her intently.

“Your hair seems a little uneven to me,” the slayer said ponderously. “Would you like me to cut it for you so that it’d be nice and neat?”

“That would be great,” Kagome replied. She did not really care about her appearance, especially now after everything that had happened, she had not spared a thought to something so trivial, let alone been able to summon the energy she’d need to care for it. But now she was mated to Sesshoumaru, and it would not do if her unkempt appearance would reflect on the daiyoukai. Although she probably looked horrible at the moment, due to the combined lack of sleep and food, the least she could do was to make sure that her hair would not look like a haystack. She probably had to take a look at her clothes, too. She would need to dress properly for the road, which was something she had not done in quite a while, having spent the past two years mostly tied to the village and helping Kaede. Some villagers would probably be sad to see her leave, but then again, it was not like Edo really needed three mikos. Kaede was old, and her body had started to betray her already, she always got persistent coughs during the winters now. Yet, she was already training Rin as her successor.  There wasn’t really any need for Kagome, and for a moment it stung her heart that still after all the years she had spent in the past, in so many ways she was still an outsider.

It might be better not to take her miko uniform with her. She was not sure if Sesshoumaru would get in trouble with taking a human mate, after all wasn’t he some sort of a lord? He probably had a reputation to maintain, so her mortal status was bad enough to swallow. No need to make matters worse by broadcasting her holy powers. Besides… The miko uniform reminded her of Inuyasha, and of Edo. Of the happy days after she had returned to the Sengoku jidai.

They arrived back to the village. Sango beckoned Kagome to follow, so she did. Before she stepped into Sango’s and Miroku’s house, she noted out of the corner of her eye that Sesshoumaru seated himself on the ground next to Kaede’s hut. Inside, Sango bid her to sit, and Kagome obediently lowered herself onto the tatami, into a controlled seiza. She squeezed her hands in her lap when she felt Sango’s fingers run through her hair. For a moment the sadness welled again, when she remembered all the sweet, quiet dark nights when she had lain in her mate’s arms and felt his clawed fingers in her hair. Abruptly, she felt an insistent tug in the corner of her soul, a darkness that did not belong to her pulsed, and the pain was gone so suddenly that a gasp escaped her lips.

“What is it?” Sango asked immediately, pausing in her work with Kagome’s hair.

“Nothing,” Kagome murmured to reassure her friend, even if her brows drew together into a puzzled frown.

Had Sesshoumaru done that just now? Had he felt it? She knew, instinctively, that whatever had so swiftly and effortlessly brought the pang of her loss back under control had not come from her. It had to have been him, but the knowledge of that only confused her further. How had he done it? And why?

Her hands twitched in her lap, twisting into the fabric of her kimono as she came to her conclusion.

It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t look the gift horse in the mouth, she would just be relieved to know that her grief had subsided for now.

The grief terrified her. It was like the flames of the funeral pyre that had turned Inuyasha into ashes; insatiable and merciless. She was afraid of being devoured, and even more frightened by those fleeting seconds when she wanted to throw herself to it. It was like teetering on a brink of a cliff, looking down into the abyss, knowing she had to back away to save herself, but secretly just wanting to take the plunge and disappear into nothing.

“All done!” Sango announced cheerfully.

Kagome thanked her friend and masked her disturbing thoughts with a small bland smile. There was no use in upsetting the taijiya any further after all. 


 

 

Kagome smoothed down the front of the travel kimono she had changed into. She stopped and glanced around the hut, absently rolling one dark bead of the subjugation necklace between her fingertips, before she shook herself out of the wistful melancholia. She grabbed her pack and slung her bow and quiver over her shoulder. Preparations made, few possessions packed, all was ready. She was ready to leave.

Her shoulders sagged. She supposed she should feel daunted by the prospect of leaving off like this – with Sesshoumaru of all people and to gods knew where, leaving her friends behind. However, the only emotion surfacing in her mind was relief. She wanted to go and not look back. She could not stay here, she could not remain haunted by the memories… And more importantly, she could not bear witness to how her friends’ lives went on. As much as she wanted to be happy for them, she feared she would only grow bitter and resentful in the long run. She knew that Sango and Miroku of all people deserved their happiness at long last, but seeing their family would be a constant reminder of what she had always wanted for herself, and now could never have.

Her hands twitched involuntarily, brushing against her obi. Yes. Leaving was a relief. She could only keep looking forward now. In one smooth move, she stood up.

Her friends were waiting for her when she emerged from the hut. Rin rushed to hug her, and cheerily wished her well, vowing that Sesshoumaru-sama would take care of her. Kagome’s lips twitched in spite of herself. She returned the ward’s hug, and told her to study diligently.

Shippo was still visibly upset by the whole ordeal – not only by the shocking downfall of his hero, but also by Kagome’s decision to accept Sesshoumaru’s proposal. To her relief, though, he did not voice any objections he might still be harbouring. He embraced her fiercely, with all the strength his small body could muster – though the fox kit had grown tremendously, the top of his head barely topped Kagome’s waist. When he finally pulled back, he made a vehement promise that if Sesshoumaru ever gave her any trouble, he would come to her rescue. Kagome mussed his hair affectionately.

“Then you must grow strong, Shippou,” she cautioned him gently, and the child replied with a resolute nod.

Kaede was next. Kagome clasped the hands of the frail old woman, and thanked her profusely for everything she had done for her. The words could never really repay that debt, but the old miko accepted them nonetheless.

Then, Miroku’s and Sango’s children were circling her, and she knelt onto the ground to bid her goodbyes.

She had barely straightened back up when Sango collided against her. The taijiya wound her arms firmly around her friend and held her close. She wished her the best from the bottom of her heart, and hoped that Sesshoumaru would keep her afloat, although personally she still had her doubts about the demon. Aloud, though, telling her friend to take care of herself was the only thing she managed before the tears choked her up. Kagome looked back at her with a small, wistful smile and nodded slowly. Sango gave her a watery smile in return, and then reluctantly let go. Kagome turned to Miroku, who flashed her his usual grin and pulled her into a hug. She felt his fingers twitch against her back, but they did not stray below her waist.

“You will be fine,” the monk murmured into her ear.

“I hope so,” she sighed in reply.

He shook his head.

“I know so.”

He released her, and looked at the silent demon lord standing on the side while the group wished their heartfelt goodbyes. The monk’s violet eyes met his golden ones squarely. Then, the daiyoukai slowly nodded in response to the man’s unvoiced plea.

Keep her safe.

He did not need the monk to tell him that, she was his mate, Sesshoumaru mused, as he watched the miko approach him. She was his to protect.

The woman stopped in front of him.

“Let us go,” he commanded in his monotone and turned his back to people gathered to see them off. Her footsteps followed him out of the village, unwavering.

He silently nodded his assent. She was his responsibility now.

He would protect her – even from herself.


 

The sunlight dappled through the branches bowing in the light breeze. Though it was August, the weather was hot and humid, as it had been ever since the rainy season had subsided. It was the third day since they had left Edo, and Kagome had learned that Sesshoumaru did not care for roads – a fact which Kagome silently blessed as she wiped the light sheen of sweat from her forehead. At least the forest trees provided shade for them. That was probably not the reason he had opted to walk along the forest paths; he walked where he pleased. Privately, she suspected that the primary reason for his apparent aversion to roads was because he wanted to avoid other travellers, and that was fine by her. She remembered the vary suspicion and sometimes open hostility she had faced when she had been travelling with Inuyasha and their friends. People did not react well to the sight of youkai and human travelling together. She was sure that it would be even worse now, as Sesshoumaru was a full-blooded demon, and they were travelling alone, just the two of them.

The two of them walked on in silence. Kagome didn’t even know where they were going, but that didn’t bother her. His silence didn’t bother her either. She had noticed a long time ago that Sesshoumaru was one of those people who clearly thought that one should not speak unless they actually had something to say. Maybe his silence would have upset her before, maybe she would have tried to break it with cheery chatter. But now she was comfortable staying as quiet as he was. And perhaps it was because of their mating bond, or because she was slowly getting used to his presence, but his silence did not feel cold or distancing, like it once had. It was relaxed and companionable.

She rolled her shoulders, stiffened from the weight of her meagre belongings. She paused in her steps to dig around her pack for the water bottle. Finally finding it, she unscrewed the cork and took a good long sip. She felt slightly more refreshed as she carefully packed the bottle again. She looked up, to see Sesshoumaru standing still a few metres ahead.

To an outsider, it probably appeared as if the daiyoukai was completely indifferent towards her, as if he was blatantly ignoring her meaningless existence. But Kagome knew that was not the case. Even if he was not engaging her in a conversation, even if he kept walking ahead of her, even if he never glanced at her over his shoulder, she could tell that he was aware of every step she took. Why would he need his eyes to confirm that which he already knew by scent and sound and the indistinct aura? To her, it was clear that any indifference he had towards her was feigned – he was clearly attuned to her. After all, he had stopped nearly the same second she had, and was now patiently waiting for her to finish her little break. Kagome shook her head lightly as she once again began following Sesshoumaru. Her deep blue eyes bore into his straight and perfectly postured back. Through the bond they shared, she thought she knew him a little better now. At times she got flashes into what he was feeling in that moment, and she found the miniscule variations in his gestures and expressions easier to read. Still, for the most part the daiyoukai remained as he had always been to her – an enigma. His motivations for example were something that completely eluded her. But then again, to be honest, she didn’t really care about his motives. In any case, the deed was already done and could not be reversed. Kagome stretched, chased the thoughts out of her head and resumed walking. 


 

 

Later that evening, they finally made camp. That meant, Sesshoumaru stopped at a spot he found adequate, and then seated himself onto the ground while Kagome settled down. She set down her packs and first headed out to the little stream just behind the grove they had stopped in. She knelt by the water to fill her water bottle and then washed the sweat and dust from her face. Her feet were aching, but it was a good ache. Her life had been very settled for the past few years, her body would have to get used to being on the road again. Not that she minded much. The less her life would bear resemblance to the past, the better. She stretched and rolled her shoulders as she stood up. Sesshoumaru’s eyes flickered towards her as she seated herself by her pack. She felt very refreshed after eating a portion of the provisions Sango had packed for her. Having dinner and a short rest filled her tired body with a new energy. It made her too restless to just sit around in this little grove, doing nothing. Besides, it was still too early to go to sleep; the sun would not set for at least another hour. Kagome got up again, and paced around for a while, trying to appease the restlessness.

After a while, her gaze flitted to her pack, and it struck her – the perfect way to occupy herself. She knelt onto the grass and picked up her bow in both hands. She hadn’t really kept up with practice, and now that she was out on the road, there was no telling what kind of things she would encounter. She was not afraid, at this point she would welcome death if it chose to grace her, as a bridge that would reunite her with the man she loved. She also was fairly certain that Sesshoumaru would protect her from any harm, out of obligation if nothing else. Yet, she had never really been the type of a person who felt comfortable relying on others if she could help it; she had been raised to believe in her own strength and abilities. A small smile touched her lips as she picked up the quiver and straightened herself.

The smooth wood of her bow felt warm in her hands, it settled against her calluses like an old friend. She was a bit clumsy notching the first arrow in place, but soon she found the rhythm and the comfortable ease of the well-practised, routine manoeuvres. Holding the long-bow in a relaxed grip and drawing an arrow out of the quiver on her back. Notching the arrow and drawing the string taut. Taking aim at a tree across the small clearing, and taking a deep breath while trying to keep the restless whirl of her reiki under her control. Purification arrows would be overkill for a basic target practice. The string gave a loud twangwhen she finally released the arrow. It embedded into the targeted tree with a solid thud. A smile twitched her lips, and she completely lost the track of time as she followed the familiar movements, raining more and more arrows on the poor innocent trees. She was so immersed into her practice, that she was badly startled when she was promptly reminded that she was not alone.

“I think that will suffice for one evening, miko,” Sesshoumaru’s raised voice drawled to break her concentration.

Kagome yelped in surprise and accidentally let an arrow loose. It burst, burning brightly with the errant reiki  that had escaped from her control. The arrow landed in a shrub.

Kagome turned, to find Sesshoumaru regard her with a carefully neutral expression, though she could faintly sense the amusement bubbling under the surface.

“You need the rest,” he continued calmly, ignoring the unwitting display.

At first she wanted to object, but the unintentional release of her powers had left her wearied. Her fingers ached from handling the string.  She set down her bow and stretched as she walked across the clearing to collect her arrows, conscious of the way the demon lord’s languid gaze bored into her back.

 

Chapter Text

Sesshoumaru sat, comfortably propped against the trunk of a tree, listening to the miko’s breathing. It was not calm or steady. It had taken her hours to fall asleep, and she still was not restful. The woman had not appeared to be as lethargic as usual these past few days, but Sesshoumaru was not fooled. He suspected she was only temporarily cheered by the change of scenery. It was too soon for her yet to start recovering from her loss. It had only been ten days since the funeral – it was way too early for her. She still had not signalled that she had accepted her mate’s death; she still had not let herself grieve. She still had not shed a single tear.

That was just one of the reasons why Sesshoumaru had decided to travel back to the West on foot, even though he had much faster ways of travel in his disposal. To allow her time to heal. That was something she had to go through herself. He had no intention of disrespecting her by becoming her crutch – that was why he had offered her no help. The woman was strong, stronger than she probably realised herself. She would pull through, she just needed time.

And as they were really not in any kind of a hurry, time was what he would give her.

Of course, travelling in this slow manner also allowed them to become acquainted with one another. In a normal mating, a courting period would precede the union, to determine that the couple was compatible. After all, a mating bond was for life. They had not had the luxury, due to the pressing circumstances. He knew that the miko was kind and caring. He knew she was strong and wilful. He knew she had a temper and a quick smile. He knew she was tidy and smart. He knew both her looks and her scent pleased him. But all that were gleaned from very short and limited interactions and across many years. The woman was far from simple, and he was aware that so far he had only seen the surface. As he was to spend centuries with this woman, he also wished to learn her mind.

His train of thought was lost when the woman whimpered in her sleep. She curled up on her strange mattress and suddenly he could feel the anguish and turmoil welling behind that pale, pained face. His own feelings echoed it.

He might not have lost a mate, and he might not have been close with the whelp… But he had been his blood and his pack. He had lost the same as her.

The daiyoukai sighed and raised his hooded golden eyes to regard the dark night sky. It felt odd to think that his half-brother was gone. He would have never thought that the hanyou would pass so young. He had barely managed to reach adulthood.

The most regretful part was, that only after his brother was gone, Sesshoumaru realised that deep down, he had hoped – no, expected – to reconcile with him. After defeating the spider hanyou and mating the miko, Inuyasha had started to change, started to finally grow up a little. They had been almost getting along these past few years. And Sesshoumaru had thought there would be all the time in the world for them to patch things up and get to know each other.

Maybe it was the arrogance of a daiyoukai; maybe for one moment he had forgotten that his brother was in fact a half-breed. He didn’t have all the time in the world. His human blood had been the death of him.

His fist clenched, and his golden eyes were drawn to the hunched lithe form swathed in her blanket. He knew what-ifs were useless, but that did not make them any less painful.


 

It was shortly after noon on the following day, when the idle wandering of Kagome’s thoughts came to an abrupt stop as Sesshoumaru, who had been walking in front of her, halted. His face was upturned, his eyes narrowed, and Kagome could sense he had stiffened. His expression was bland, but she noticed the miniscule marks of a frown.

“What is it?” she called to him, wondering why they had stopped so suddenly.

He didn’t reply, but the signs of a frown grew more prominent.

Kagome bit her lip.

“Sesshoumaru?” she tried again.

He turned, his golden eyes hard as he glanced at her over his shoulder.

“It reeks of smoke and blood.” he spoke on an emotionless tone.

Kagome felt a sick lurch in the pit of her stomach.

“Is it near?” she questioned, fingering the hem of her sleeve anxiously.

He nodded grimly, his lips a thin line.

Kagome bit her lip for a brief moment.

Sesshoumaru studied the woman, noting her nervousness starting to give way for determination.

He huffed and turned towards the direction of the sickening stench.

“Let us go, then,” he called to the miko. It was obvious she was not going to let this go. Perhaps she wanted to help, maybe she just needed to see if there were any survivors. Either way, Sesshoumaru lead her right to the scene.

The forest began to thin, and soon they were standing on a field, facing the burnt ruins of a fortified manor on top of a hill. The scorched wood was still smouldering, and the bitter tang of smoke hung in the air. Kagome’s eyes watered, and for a moment her breath was painfully stolen when the smell briefly brought back the memory of standing by Inuyasha’s funeral pyre. She gritted her teeth and marched forward. Bodies were scattered at the foot of the hill, bloodied and broken, arrows sticking out in the weak joints of their armour. Kagome took the sight of the death and ruin, her heart heavy in her chest.

The daiyoukai stepped to stand beside the miko.

“There are no survivors here,” he said, voicing what Kagome already had guessed. She wrapped her hands around herself, in a futile attempt of comfort.

“I hate it,” she spoke dejectedly. “This mindless war. I wonder why the well has to be linked to this particular era, the darkest period of our history, filled with blood and suffering. A time where family members are given away as hostages or married off to secure alliances, which will be broken the next moment. Clan against clan, family against family. It is madness.”

Sesshoumaru did not reply, even if the priestess’ comment had quirked his interest.

“Come. There is nothing we can do here.”

With a final look at the desolation, Kagome nodded and followed the daiyoukai back into the forest.


 

He noticed that the woman was distraught for the remainder of the day, long after all the traces of smoke had faded from the air.  He knew that the sight of the battlefield could not be behind the priestess’ sombre mood – having taken part in plenty of battles, they really should not upset her to such a degree. That evening, after she had made her camp and eaten her dinner, he finally decided to try and snap her out of her bleak mood.

“Do you wish to talk about it?” he prompted, startling the miko who was busy packing away her cooking utensils.

“Talk about what?” she asked, confused.

“Whatever it is that has been occupying your mind all day. You are upset.”

The miko stilled, her movements slowed as the silence between them stretched. Finally, she turned away from her pack and sat down on the grass, facing him.

“I suppose it’s the war,” she started ponderingly. “I don’t think I can ever get used to it. I just miss home, I guess.”

“And where is ‘home’?” he inquired, trying to appease his curiosity.

Kagome’s brow furrowed and she cast a baffled look at him.

“Oh right…” she mused to herself. “I guess you never were told.”

She fell silent and studied him closely.

Her speculative gaze only increased his innate curiosity. Finally, she rewarded him with an explanation.

“You ask where my home is, and I can tell you it is in Edo, right by the Goshinboku and the Bone Eater’s Well. Answering a question about where I’m from is a child’s play; the difficult question would be when.”

As far as explanations went, her words were far from clear-cut. But Sesshoumaru understood her right away. The moment she uttered the key word – when – all the various tiny clues slipped into their place, and finally everything about her oddities and foreignness made perfect sense to him.

Sesshoumaru mulled over the revelation for a moment, but then broke the silence, wanting to continue the conversation they had started.

“You do not have war in your time?” he asked her.

Kagome was somewhat startled at how quickly Sesshoumaru had grasped her implication – but then again, maybe she shouldn’t have been so surprised.

“As long as there are humans there will likely be war,” she sighed. “But the Japan I grew up in was peaceful.  Even the crime rates were low. Are. Will be.” she shook her head and continued after a pause. “It gets too confusing to think about it, because it hasn’t yet happened, it’s all still to come. But to me it is in the past, and just as out of reach.”

“It must have difficult for you,” he murmured. “It is an unpleasant feeling when your life as you know it changes forever and you realise there is no going back to how it was.”

The miko smiled; a dry, wretched twist of the lips, more self-depreciating than amused.

“The first time wasn’t too bad,” she replied readily. “I got used to it. In a way my life here became more real to me than my life at home. I spent more time here for certain, and only went back home to visit. It’s curious, how quickly one adapts. This time, though…” the miko turned away from him, escaping his scrutinizing golden eyes, “this time, I’m not sure if I can pull through. This time, I don’t even want to adapt. I don’t want to accept this change in my life, because once I do, I’m admitting that he’s gone. And I don’t want to make peace with the fact that I lost my mate.”

“You can shy away from the reality, for as long as you wish. But in truth you are just a trapped animal, vainly struggling in its snare. It is futile, and it will only bring you more pain. Because in the end, no matter how stubborn you are, a day will come when you will have to face his death and accept it. The healing can only come after that.”

Kagome shot up from the ground and whipped around to face him, the indignant words dancing on the tip of her tongue. How did he dare to belittle her, to tell her to give up and give in to the grief! But the words died the moment she saw him. She noticed the distant look in his eyes, and knew that his words had not been directed to her.

“I can only speak from my own experience, however,” he continued. “And I did not lose my beloved mate, so the experience is bound to be different.”

Kagome shook her head. She walked up to the demon, her eyes scanning his face, reading the tiniest hints of expression.

She had seen him in battle. She had seen him in rage. She had seen him proud. She had seen him nonchalant. She had seen him arrogant and mocking.

But now for the first time, she felt that she was truly seeing him, the elusive personality beyond the bland surface. Her hand darted forward. It grazed his cheek.

“The loss of a parent changes your world, too,” she spoke softly.

Neither of them spoke after that, but they held each other’s gazes, and maybe for the first time, understood.


 

That was how the line of communication between the two of them was opened. Kagome grew more talkative, and was pleased to learn that Sesshoumaru was not nearly as scarce with words as she had always assumed. Of course he weighed his words and was a quiet companion in general, but he was hardly a monosyllabic conversation partner once she – or occasionally, he – would break the initial silence.

Their conversations made her grow more comfortable around him and helped her grow bolder. There was something she had wanted to ask him, something she needed to know. Yet she hesitated to voice her question, unsure of how to approach the subject.

It was a warm day, shortly after noon. They were having a break from the travel. She had refilled her water bottles and was sitting on the grass, nibbling on an apple for a snack. She stole glances at Sesshoumaru, until he purposely turned to catch her staring.

“Speak your mind,” he commanded. It was obvious that there was something on her mind.

Kagome swallowed and just decided to take the plunge.

“I was just wondering to which degree our mating runs,” she spoke, finally meeting his eyes. “I mean… I know we bypassed the usual… intimacy when we formed the bond. And I know you would not force your rights on me… But I was wondering if it became necessary eventually.”

“You are right, I will not bed you without your explicit consent, but I fail to see why this would become… necessary.” Sesshoumaru replied, studying the miko.

She bit her lip.

“Well, don’t you need an heir? I mean, aren’t you a lord or something the like? Ruling over the lands in the West?”

For a moment, Sesshoumaru simply stared at the miko. She was enduring the silence, twisting the hem of her sleeve.

“That is just the typical human arrogance,” he finally snorted.

Of all the possible answers, this one took Kagome completely by surprise. Her eyebrow twitched. Sesshoumaru was scoffing at human arrogance?

“What do you mean?” she questioned, trying to keep the bite out of her voice.

“I can understand about territories. We have them too.” he replied, almost in a lecturing tone. “But ruling the land? That is a backwards way of thinking. It is the land which rules us; it is the land that feeds us. The land was here long before any of us were born, and the land will be here when our bones turn to dust.”

Silence fell again, as Kagome digested his words. It was curious to see this glimpse into his thoughts. It was clear his view of the world was very different to hers.

“Alright,” she consented with a nod, “you don’t rule over the Western lands. But you’re still a lord, right?”

Sesshoumaru sat down and folded his arms.

“I am highborn, if that is what you mean. My mother is the heiress of a prominent clan. But our society is not like that of you humans. We have our hierarchy: there are the lesser demons who cannot take a human form, and then there are the demon lords or ladies who command formidable strength. And the plethora of demons that fall in between these two extremes.”

Kagome nodded, listening raptly. Inuyasha had never taught her about the demon society, having grown as an outcast himself.

“We do have clans, or packs or families, some of which are more powerful than others. And these clans or packs or groups usually have a certain territory.  But for a single demon to rise above all others is preposterous, because we are different from you. For even if they are peasants or daimyou, merchants or monks, you are all human. But a wolf is not a tanuki, a dragon is not a bear, and a kappa is not a crane. Different breeds of youkai have different customs, different culture, different instincts, and different diets.”

“I never thought of that,” Kagome admitted. “But it does make sense. I can see why it would be difficult.”

“Many youkai have tried. Some have succeeded, but it is far more common that they only reign over their own kind, or over the weaker breeds. Different breeds of predators such as tigers and wolves do not mix well. And only one inu youkai has managed to unite the territories of different clans and to be elevated above other breeds of youkai. But his reign collapsed with his death.”

“Your father,” Kagome said softly. The look in Sesshoumaru’s eyes told her that louder than any words.

He nodded a confirmation.

“I was too young to take his place, so the alliances he had secured fell apart, and his vassals chipped away the lands. In time, everything sort of reverted back to the way it was. I was left with an estate that used to belong to my father’s clan.”

“What is your father’s clan like?”

“It was a small clan. They were not of aristocratic roots, but were thought to be fierce warriors. There was a territorial dispute with a certain clan of dragons around the time my father was rising to the power. The estate survived, with the servants, but my father’s family did not. The clan is down to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Sesshoumaru shrugged his shoulder and rose smoothly.

“There is still a long walk ahead and the day is wasting.”

Kagome nodded and scampered up, grabbing her pack and her bow. When she started to walk, her eyes kept studying the straight steady back of the daiyoukai leading her way. She wondered what it was alike, for him to be alone. To not have a clan or a pack to which he would belong. Was that why he was always travelling with Jaken?

She felt the stab of pain in her chest and her heart went out to Sesshoumaru. It seemed that they had more in common than she had originally imagined.

 The burden of solitude was a heavy one. That she knew only too well.  


 

A few days later, they set up their camp as the evening fell. Or rather, Kagome set up the camp. Sesshoumaru announced that he would go to hunt. She nodded her assent in passing, and continued setting out her cooking utensils.

When her sleeping bag had been unrolled and her kettle ready, she turned around, about to go gather some wood for a fire.

At the edge of the clearing, someone was watching her, and for a moment she felt startled. However, she relaxed when she took a closer look and realised it was just Sesshoumaru.

“Well you’re back soon,” she hummed as the demon walked towards her. “Did you forget something?”

He stopped in front of her, standing very close, almost too close to comfort. Kagome’s brows creased in puzzlement, and then his hand lashed forward, swift as a snake. She felt the sharp tap of his clawed fingers contact on the inside of her wrist. The second tap landed directly above her heart, and finally the fingers were pressing the back of her neck. In a split second, two things became very clear to Kagome. Whoever the demon was, it was not Sesshoumaru. But even more unsettling than that was the wave of weakness that crashed over her. She could not tell at first what it was, why everything suddenly felt duller, why she felt so vulnerable. But finally she realised that the lulling hum of power had quieted down.

Somehow, this demon had bound her powers.

Kagome’s eyes narrowed, and she glared at the intruder as his disguise flickered away, revealing a slim, youthful demon with flaming hair and sea-green eyes.

Kitsune, Kagome immediately placed the youkai in her mind. A trickster and illusionist.

“I am terribly sorry, my lady. But I am sure you can understand the necessity for precautions.”

“You’re making a mistake, fox,” Kagome spat, as the demon’s clawed fingers closed around her wrists. “You are in for a world of trouble when my mate gets a hold of you.”

The kitsune shrugged his shoulders.

“I am merely following orders,” he offered, his tone bordering on apologetic.

Kagome was still glaring at him, when her vision begun to swim. Then everything went black.

Chapter Text

Sesshoumaru was stalking an unsuspecting pheasant, when suddenly a keen sense of distress jolted him. He cursed and turned on the spot, speeding through the forest. For the distress was not his, it was from his mate. And then he felt nothing. Try as he might, he could not feel Kagome’s mood. That only made him more worried, and he picked up his speed.

Soon, he burst through to the clearing where he had left his mate, but she was gone. Her pack, her bedding, her bow – all lay scattered and forgotten on the ground. A growl rumbled from his throat with dark intensity. It was very faint, but he could just catch the slightest whiff of kitsune in the air. The trickster had masked his scent, but he could not hide Kagome’s. Not from him.

Sesshoumaru carefully picked up Kagome’s possessions from the ground, and then set on the trail.

The hunt was on; he would retrieve his mate, and then teach a lesson to the insolent youkai who had captured her.

The kitsune was lithe, and light on his feet. Sesshoumaru soon realised that even with his speed, he could not catch up to him. But sooner or later, the fox would have to stop to seek out his lair. And Kagome’s scent would lead Sesshoumaru right to his door.

His teeth bared in a snarl, Sesshoumaru doggedly kept on her trail. Until a day and half later, he came to a stop.

The trail ended. Just like that. Kagome’s fading scent was suddenly gone.

Sesshoumaru stood rooted in the spot, fighting back the growl, his mind whirling. Had the kitsune used some kind of magic? Had he managed to mask Kagome’s scent after all this time? Had he used teleportation of some sort?

There had to be an answer, there had to be a reason. They could not simply have disappeared into thin air.

Sesshoumaru’s eyes widened. His head whipped up, his golden eyes trained to the swirling grey clouds above. As the sudden realisation took firmer root in his mind, he felt a sick lurch in his stomach.

This was bad.


 

She had to fight through the disorienting haze to regain her consciousness. Her lids felt heavy, but finally she managed to open her eyes. Her head felt fuzzy, as if it had been stuffed with feathers. She blinked, trying to gather her bearings. Staying awake was another struggle.

As she became more aware of her surroundings, she also noticed the familiar vulnerability. Her powers were still lost to her. She hated feeling defenceless; it was like standing naked in front of the crowd.

She was indoors. Her gaze swept across the spacey room. Slowly, she sat up on the thick futon, squeezing the edge of her quilt. She wondered what had happened to her travel kimono, the only garments on her were her underwear and the white under-kimono.

She was still sitting on her futon, contemplating whether she should try leaving the room or stay put, when the door slid open and two youkai stepped in.

They were both female, dressed in identical brown kimonos.

Kagome clutched the blanket closer as the two of them approached her. When they laid their hands on her, she immediately began to interrogate them. She asked why she was here, where she had been taken, what they were going to do to her, who gave them their orders. But her questions went unanswered; the two demonesses went about their work, silent and efficient. One of them pulled Kagome out of the futon and cleared away the bedding, while the other went to the back of the room and opened a shoujiscreen, revealing a portion of the room that had been hidden until now. There was a kimono hanging there. The two servants proceeded to dress her and brush her hair. Kagome sat through it all reluctantly. She had no idea what was going on, or why her supposed kidnapper was so keen to have her wear such fancy and expensive clothing. But so far, she had not really been harmed or threatened, unless she counted the binding of her powers. Still, Kagome doubted that struggling would improve her situation, so she let the youkai servants doll her up.

The kimono only had two layers, but the uchikake they draped on top of it felt heavy and bulky. It draped along the floor as she walked along the corridor flanked by the two demonesses, the soft whisper of silk following her footsteps. She was afraid she’d step on the train and stumble.  Finally, they stopped in front of door. The servants slid it open, and gestured Kagome to step in.

She did so, without glancing back.

"Just you wait," she huffed to herself as she walked into the empty room. "Sesshoumaru will come for me."

At least she hoped he would. He was too honourable to leave his kidnapped mate behind - even a mate he had been saddled with to appease a custom.

An amused, unconcerned voice rose to answer her lame threat.

"Oh, I am sure he will sniff out your trail and follow it here. And then he is welcome to butt his head against my barrier for as long as he likes."

Kagome whirled around to face her captor, and her eyes widened at the sight that greeted her.

The woman stood in the doorway, eyeing her with unveiled curiosity. Her red lips twisted in some private amusement, and she strode in as if she owned the place - which, Kagome hazarded a guess, she probably did. She seated herself across from her, and turned her piercing eyes to regard her.

"I do apologise for this very uncouth way I had to extend my invitation to you -"

Kagome's brow rose incredulously.

"- but I was afraid I would never get a chance to meet you unless I took the matter into my own hands."

Kagome squirmed uncomfortably and studied her captor. She was elegant and graceful and very beautiful, in a way only a demoness could be. Like all inuyoukai of noble blood Kagome knew of, this lady too had the silver hair, citrine eyes and peculiar facial markings of her breed. Next to her, Kagome felt like a country bumpkin, despite all the unwanted finery she had been decked in.

“I think blue is your colour,” the demoness murmured ponderously. “It brings out your eyes.”

The absurdity of that statement finally loosened Kagome’s tongue.

“Who are you and why did you bring me here?”

“Talk can wait,” the demoness dismissed her questioning with an imperious wave of a hand. “Please, sit.”

Kagome glared at the woman but did seat herself onto the cushions. As soon as she did, a group of servants entered the room, carrying trays. As they set out the breakfast table before her, Kagome realised how hungry she was. The aching emptiness of her stomach quickly eroded her wariness towards her peculiar circumstances, and she filled in her bowl and dug in under the amused gaze of her tea-sipping hostess.

After Kagome had finished eating, the servants came in again to clear out the dishes. She leaned back in her seat and locked eyes with her abductor.

“Now can we talk.” it sounded more like a demand than a question.

“Certainly,” the demoness agreed with a smirk.

“Great. Who the hell are you?”

“My, how rude,” the lady chuckled. Then she gave a graceful bow of her head. “I am Chiyo of the Mikazuki. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Kagome, miko of the Shikon.”

Kagome’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“And what reason would a high born inuyoukai lady such as yourself have to kidnap me? I’m assuming it has to do with Sesshoumaru.”

“Oh, it has everything to do with Sesshoumaru-dono. But the primary reason, I would say,” the demoness pursed her lips, “is curiosity.”

Kagome crossed her arms.

Chiyo shrugged her shoulder and started to explain.

“Some time ago, word started circulating among certain highborn inuyoukai houses and clans that Sesshoumaru-dono’s esteemed mother was looking for prospective mates for her son. And as the son of the Great General and the sole heiress of the most prominent inu clan of the West, Sesshoumaru-dono was quite the catch. I heard the Houses were practically stumbling over one another, presenting their daughters, sisters and aunts to the esteemed Lady Mother.”

Kagome snorted.

“I can see that happening,” she commented dryly.

“Quite,” Chiyo smirked, before she continued. “Likewise, I have to admit that I had personal interest in the matter as well. And I believe the esteemed Lady Mother had also made her mind and chosen her preferred prospect… But it seems like Sesshoumaru-dono had his own plans.” Her citrine eyes bored into Kagome’s.

“He does seem the type to do according his own bidding,” the miko replied, almost challengingly.

“Indeed,” the demoness agreed, her eyes sparkling. “Spurning all the young inuyoukai ladies and their powerful Houses in favour of a miko, of all beings! How inappropriate!”

“I’m sure everyone was most disappointed,” Kagome said dryly. “Not to even mention how his mother must be feeling.”

“It is quite the scandal,” Chiyo replied. “Everyone is busy making witty comments of how the son takes after his father. But I am not disappointed, I cannot be. Because Sesshoumaru-dono mating with you, the widow of the late General’s bastard, his half-brother, is completely legitimate. Indeed, as per our own traditions, it was expected of him! Therefore no one can object to the match, not even his own mother. All in all, it is rather brilliant.”

Kagome maintained her cold smile, but inside, she felt sick to her stomach. The political intrigue and the implications of her whimsical hostess’ words were quite disconcerting. Had this been Sesshoumaru’s intention from the beginning?

He had told her that he wanted to avoid an arranged mating, but he had made it sound like there had been no acceptable matches. But surely among the candidates would have been someone worthy of his respect! What about Chiyo? She was beautiful, intelligent, powerful, high-born and had a noticeable sense of humour. Kagome could see no reason why Sesshoumaru could have found the inuyoukai lady an unacceptable match.

Had mating her only been his way of besting his mother?  Was she just the lesser evil – a necessary compromise – to a bachelor driven into a corner by his meddling mother?

Her blunt nails dug small crescents into the flesh of her palm, but she could did not feel a thing – the numbness came from her very soul.


 

High up in the sky, the cold wind teasing his long tresses and the sleeves of his kimono, Sesshoumaru gazed at the castle below. He could feel the crackle of sheer power emanating from the barrier surrounding the building even though the force field was not visible. It made the hairs in his neck stand.

He had not tried to break through the barrier. He was keenly aware that any attempt to that end would be in vain. The barrier absolutely reeked with the youki of the Mikazuki heiress herself, and though he was loath to admit it, he knew her power would well exceed his own in this regard. The Mikazuki was not an opponent he would wish to brave alone.

He growled in frustration. Helplessness was not a feeling he was often forced to experience, and he did not relish the sensation in the slightest. He had no idea what the accursed demoness intended to do with his mate, and the possibilities that popped into his mind did nothing to reassure him. He could only hope that the miko was unharmed. Knowing what a devious bitch the Mikazuki was, he was certain that she would have taken steps to ensure that she was safe from Kagome’s powers.

A snarl was burning, deep in the pit of his heavy stomach, but he fought to keep it contained. Losing his temper here and now would not be a sound tactic to pursue; he needed to remain patient, and above everything, he needed to remain in control.  Throwing a tantrum would not help his position in any way. His hand twitched by his side as he tried to quell the ire and frustration storming in his mind.


 

Kagome lay in the corner of her room, curled up on the tatami. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her breath came out in erratic pants. Her hands, hidden in the long sleeves of her kimono, were balled so tight her knuckles were white.

The darkness in her soul was creeping closer. Her broken heart was heavy in her chest, its weight unbearable, its pain crushing her. The grief lurked in the corners of her mind, ever greedy, looking for the slightest opening. Kagome dreaded the day it would finally win and swallow her whole.

She had almost started to believe she was getting better, when she had once again slipped back into the pitch black abyss of her loss. She wondered if the travel and getting to know Sesshoumaru had merely managed to distract her from the pain, or if she had been deluding herself, believing she was slowly crawling out of the hole. Because right now it was obvious that she wasn’t, she was only sinking in deeper and it terrified her.

She whimpered, trying to grasp the bond that tied her to Sesshoumaru. It had been her lifeline before, it had helped to pull her out from her hopelessness. But she could not feel it, her dulled senses could not find the calming familiarity of his aura. Her fingernails dug into the soft skin of her palms, but the physical pain did not even register. She gulped for air and one clear thought suddenly registered in her mind.

She had to get out. She had to get out now.

Kagome did not know where she found the strength to push herself off the floor. She struggled to get on her feet through the haze of her anguish and the heaviness of her limbs, the numbness in her soul and the terrifying burn of her grief.

She stumbled across the room, slid the door open and started walking along the corridor. She did not know where she was going, and she did not care. She only knew that she had to keep going, that she had to keep moving, or else the storm of emotions would devour her.

She did not know how long she walked, following the twisting corridors of the big castle. Eventually, however, her breathing started to come easier and her frantic steps slowed. She was starting to find her balance again. Her hands no longer trembled and the agony was slowly ebbing away, though the fragments of her heart weighed in her chest, heavy and painful.  

But then again, they always did.

She stopped and took a deep, calming breath.

“Are you lost?” a curious voice inquired from behind.

Kagome whipped around. Her eyes widened when she recognised the demon standing in the corridor. Idly, she wondered how long he had been there, how long he had trailed her steps. She narrowed her eyes in sudden suspicion. Had he been ordered to follow her around? Make sure she was under guard at all times?

Kagome scoffed at him, but after a stretched silence, she grudgingly answered his question.

“Yes.”

The youkai grinned, and bowed to her with flourish.

“If you wish, my lady, I will escort you back to your quarters.”

Kagome considered the offer. She thought about the room, the corner where she had been lying. She could see her there, curled up in a helpless heap. Her throat tightened, a small tremor shook her hands.

The youkai seemed to pick up on the sudden change of her mood, as all traces of amusement faded from his face, replaced by earnest concern.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice oddly gentle.

She looked at him, her eyes locking with his sea-green ones.

A garbled, bitter chuckle rose from her throat and she wrapped her arms around herself.

“No. I’m not alright.” she replied, fighting to keep her voice steady.

The fox frowned.

“Come with me,” he beckoned.

For a moment Kagome wanted to object. This youkai had been the one to kidnap her. But then he had said he was only acting under orders, and he seemed to be genuinely worried about her. Hesitantly, Kagome fell into step behind the demon. They walked for a while along the corridor, until he stopped. He slid a door open and stepped inside. Kagome paused, but then followed him into the room.

She had never been in the room but recognised it immediately. She forgot about the heaviness in her chest. All the negative emotions whirling on her mind gave way to the startled surprise.

The kitsune had already seated himself in front of the hearth, and gestured for her to take the opposite seat. Kagome sank onto thetatami and then stared, mesmerized, as the youkai began the elaborate dance, picking and cleansing his equipment. His movements were sure, precise and graceful.

“So what are you, fox,” she asked, curious in spite of herself. “A servant or a trickster or tea master?”

“Rather than ‘fox’, my lady, I would prefer for you to call me by my name; Moriyasu.”

Kagome nodded her assent.

“Very well, Moriyasu-san. What are you?”

“All foxes are tricksters,” he shrugged, before carefully administering powder into the cup. “I would not call myself a tea master, though I find joy and solace in the practice. I learned about the way of tea when I journeyed in the mainland.” he paused for a moment, before adding “During those travels I also learned of different arts, like that of the pressure points.”

The piece of information slipped into its place and Kagome gave him a wry smile.

“Like how to utilise them in order to disrupt one’s flow of ki?” she asked him pointedly.

He grinned apologetically at her.

“As I told you, my lady, it was a necessary precaution. I knew Chiyo-hime would not bring you harm, and I needed to ensure you would not bring harm to Chiyo-hime.”

Kagome let the matter drop as another question popped into her mind, begging to be asked.

“How did a kitsune end up being the errand boy for an inu lady, anyway?”

“I owe Chiyo-hime a debt I can never hope to repay. I owe her my life.”

Kagome’s curiosity perked, but she did not poke the subject further. Silence fell, except for the soft scraping of the bamboo whisk against the ceramic bowl.

With a respectful bow, he presented the cup of tea to her, placing it onto the tatami in front of her.

Kagome accepted the cup and turned it in her hands. It felt warm. 

 “Thank you,” she whispered softly, raising her eyes to meet his. They were studying her, bearing no hint of their usual amusement and laughter. Now, boring into the depth of her sapphire gaze, his blue-green eyes were serious and intent.

And she knew that he understood – that her gratitude was not for the tea, but for the consideration he had showed to her, for the distraction he had provided, for helping her pull away from the darkness and back into herself.


 

Nearly a week into her detainment, Kagome had to grudgingly admit that while she did not trust the lady Mikazuki, she could not truly dislike her. The inuyoukai lady was poised and elegant, yet seemed to possess a youthful playfulness and a quirky sense of humour. She would often invite Kagome to dine or drink tea with her, and these occasions were usually followed by conversation. She was a witty and knowledgeable person, and Kagome found herself being drawn into their discussions in spite of herself. The conversations gave her insight to inuyoukai and their society, and she found the subject fascinating. Moreover, the demoness never failed to treat her with cordiality and respect, so she could not help but to respond in kind.

But the more time Kagome spent with the demoness, the more a nagging sense of familiarity started to plague her. She felt like she should know the lady, that the similarities ran deeper than just the typical features of high born inu.

It was in the way the corner of her lip curled upwards, how she tilted her head to a side as she listened, in the care she took in choosing her words, the regal attitude she exuded.

All that made Kagome wonder. She had first believed the demoness to be a young lady, suggested by her personality, which was rather whimsical and playful. But it was impossible to tell the age of a youkai. And perhaps, her hostess was much older than she had first assumed.

Kagome tried to replay their earlier conversations in her mind, desperately searching for overlooked clues as to her captor’s true identity. What she discovered was that despite all the information the demoness had fed her, she had always remained rather vague in her choice of words.

The longer she mulled over her suspicions, the more certain she grew.

They were in the West. She was the heiress of a prominent clan. A clan called Mikazuki. She took personal interest in Sesshoumaru’s mating – enough so that she would even resort to kidnapping in order to appease her curiosity and meet his mate.

There were too many pieces in the puzzle, and they fit too well together for it to be a coincidence.

So many little clues that finally forced her to acknowledge the inevitable.

Her mind made up, Kagome strode into the room and seated herself at the breakfast trays. Her blue eyes sought out the demoness, as she calmly voiced her greeting.

“Good morning, Lady Mother.”

Chiyo levelled her citrine gaze at the miko, and flashed a fanged smile.

“Good morning to you too, Kagome.”

Chapter Text

Chiyo sipped her tea carefully, and peered over the rim of the ceramic cup at the miko sitting across from her. Her piercing citrine eyes studied her closely – noting the pale cast of her skin, the sharpness of her cheekbones, the dark circles under her eyes. Despite these physical signs of grief, Chiyo thought the young woman was doing remarkably well for someone so recently widowed. Especially considering that based on all that she had heard, the woman’s mating with Inu no Taisho’s younger son had been a love match.

Love did not always play part in the life-bonds the higher youkai created. In the world of politics, there was little room for love. Chiyo had personal experience in that. Her match had been purely a political move, cementing an alliance with the Great General who then, with her clan’s support, came to rule over the entire West. Although it had been a mating of convenience, it had not been uncomfortable. In fact, Chiyo had quite enjoyed it. Inu no Taisho had been attractive, honest and honourable. She had been genuinely fond of him.

But there had never been any great romance between them; they had been friendly with one another more than anything. Love had certainly never played a part in their relationship. The human hime Izayoi was the one who had won the General’s heart and Chiyo had accepted that, she had been genuinely glad for the brief happiness the two had found.

But this priestess had loved her hanyou with fierce devotion, and barely a moon ago she had been forced to bury him. Yet here she sat, sipping the miso soup for breakfast, looking almost unaffected. But appearances were deceiving – even her paleness and thinness were just a mere scratch on the surface. Chiyo knew that the real damage was underneath, in the priestess’ soul and in her heart. It was in part why Chiyo had instructed Moriyasu to bind the miko’s powers. She was extremely vulnerable right now, and should she succumb to the grief that lingered in the depths of her eyes, should she fall into the darkness looming in the corners of her mind, the effects it would have on her reiki may well be disastrous. The demoness was well aware that the human girl did not appreciate having her powers taken from her, but Chiyo did not want to risk it, not until she was certain that the miko could handle her loss. After all, healing from something as devastating as losing a mate was, took a lot of time and effort. It was a true battle. Chiyo knew that more keenly than anyone else.

After all, she had personal experience in the matter. 


 

 

Kagome finished her breakfast. She set down her empty cup as a servant appeared to clear away the dishes as if summoned. She took a deep breath, raised her eyes to meet those of her mother-in-law, and took the bull by its horns.

 “May I be blunt?” she said, trying to keep her voice even. She felt nervous, she did not wish to offend her mother-in-law, but she really needed to talk things through with the demoness, this time without going around in confusing circles.

The golden eyes sparked and the corner of the inu’s red lips twitched.

“You may,” she consented with a graceful nod.

“How truthful were you with me earlier?”

Chiyo’s lips twitched again, and this time her amusement was more pronounced.

“I may have withheld certain details,” she began, “but I assure you, my dear miko, that I have been entirely truthful to you. Curiosity is why I sent Moriyasu to get you. I heard the news that my son had finally taken a mate, so naturally I wanted to meet the chosen lady. I also knew that Sesshoumaru would not bother stopping by to introduce you to me.” She shook her head, her silver hair rippling with the movement. “It is also true that I do not begrudge him for mating you instead of the inu youkai lady of my choosing. I am also glad that by the laws of our society, his mating with you will be not be disputed, and the clan of his chosen fiancée cannot openly show any possible affront or voice their objections – after all, Sesshoumaru only adhered to the longstanding tradition.”

“That is the part I have difficulty believing,” Kagome pointed out. “You had already selected someone for him. Sesshoumaru holds an important position, I am sure you could have secured a good alliance with another clan.”

Chiyo gave an indifferent shrug.

“Politics are just that – politics. The Mikazuki are strong enough as is. I did not insist on Sesshoumaru taking a mate for the sake of forming alliances or uniting clans.”

“Then why?” Kagome questioned.

“For his sake, more than anything,” the demoness hummed. Her golden eyes were suddenly piercing Kagome, and the priestess shifted uncomfortably. “He is my heir, but officially he belongs to his father’s clan, which is no more. I wanted him to settle down. It breaks my heart to see him wander about on his own. Only the silly toad for company, now that his little human pet has gone to live with her own kind. He needs support, he needs a pack. So I thought it was best he started his own.”

Kagome bit her lip.

“Therefore, I am not the least bit disappointed that my son chose to mate you. You being a human and a miko is of no consequence. After all, my true goal has been fulfilled – Sesshoumaru is no longer alone. And that is all that matters to me. I am his mother, and I want him to be happy.”

Kagome nodded limply. Her brow creased as she idly pondered the demoness before her. Her mother-in-law was obviously more complicated than she had imagined.

She took a deep breath.

“I want him to be happy, too… Though I am not sure if I can be much help to him in that regard.” Her lips upturned in a bitter smile, and she dared herself to meet Chiyo’s astute eyes.

For a moment, her broken heart skipped a beat. She found no pity in the level golden gaze, no sadness, no judgement, no discomfort – only understanding.

And suddenly she was jolted with the realisation that it was true, that Chiyo actually did understand. Kagome’s eyes widened in awe, as they drank in the sight of the first person she had encountered since Inuyasha’s passing, who actually knew what she was going through, who had also lost her mate.

The two females continued to regard one another in the silent room.

No words were needed. It was all in their eyes, the weighing gaze, the pain, the sadness, the loneliness, the emptiness that never really went away. And in that moment they both knew that they shared a bond that went even deeper than that of simple in-laws.


 

“Not even all demons survive it,” Chiyo explained softly, as they leisurely strolled in the gardens. “They lose their will to live and simply wither away. And sometimes even though they do survive, they are greatly weakened. They become shadows of their prior selves. Like my father,” she added.

“Really?” Kagome asked, full of curiosity and yet hesitant to pry into private family matters.

Chiyo simply nodded.

“Since my mother’s death, it is like he no longer has the strength to brave the world. There is nothing wrong with him, physically… But he hardly ever leaves his rooms. He has fully thrown himself into scholarly pursuits, locked himself away into a world where only he and his books exist.”

“I understand,” Kagome muttered quietly. “It is too tiring sometimes to see how everything goes on… How life goes on.”

“… While you feel like you are frozen in this single moment of agony that never fades,” Chiyo hummed in agreement.

The silk of her kimono rustled as Kagome hugged herself.

“I cannot grieve yet. I can’t accept it. I just need to keep going, try to get through the days one by one. I can’t stop. Because I am not ready, if I face it all now, I fear I can’t pull myself back.”

“It was the complete opposite for me,” Chiyo murmured, a faraway look in her eyes. “I raged and stormed. I completely wrecked my room. And then I collapsed, I froze, I stayed still for weeks, unable to find the strength to get up, to sleep, to eat.”

“That’s what I wanted to do at first,” Kagome admitted. “To stay asleep forever and hope it all was just a bad dream. But my friends were there, they forced me to eat what little I could, they made sure I would get up and get dressed every morning. And later I realised they were right, that I have to keep moving, because as painful as it is, it is the only way to go on. I can’t give up. He would never forgive me if I did.”

A silence fell as they continued their leisurely stroll. It was good to be outside, Kagome decided. Seeing the blue sky above and around them calmed her. She liked the way the wind whispered against her neck, how the sunlight warmed her skin.

“I imagine it is even worse for you than it was for me,” Chiyo said after a while, glancing at the miko out of the corner of her eye.

“Why, because I’m a human?” Kagome retorted.

Chiyo shook her head.

“No. Because you loved him.”

Kagome stopped suddenly as the words struck her.

“Oh.” it was a small, strangled sound. Her shoulders slumped and shook.

And then Chiyo was there, wrapping her arms around her. She was warm and Kagome burrowed closer to the fine silks lined with fur. She was trembling all over now, and Chiyo’s clawed hand rubbed soothing circles on her back. She wanted nothing more than to cry, to let it all out in the safety of the warm, motherly embrace. But try as she might, she could not cry. She just shook and clung to the demoness, and whimpered from the pain that tore her soul.

“Hush little one,” Chiyo whispered into her ear in her calm voice. “It will be all right. You will be fine.”

And with all of her broken heart, Kagome wanted to believe those words; she wanted to believe that the inu demoness was right. But she feared she couldn’t.

The faith and hope she had once relied on were both dead, they had died, along with him and her happily ever after. 


 

 

Kagome sat on the tatami, drinking in the graceful, precise movements as Moriyasu once again prepared the tea for her.

“You and Chiyo-hime seem to have grown close,” the kitsune remarked as he mixed the tea and the water, the bamboo whisk making scraping sounds against the sides of the bowl.

“We have more in common than I realised at first. She is the first person who actually knows what I’m going through right now.” Kagome paused, idly fingering the silk sleeve of her kimono. “You know how people always try to comfort you, saying they understand. But it’s just making you feel worse, it makes you angry because you know they’re just saying that, that they don’t understand at all. “

Moriyasu hummed his assent as he carefully turned the cup in his clawed hands, before setting it down before Kagome.

“It makes me feel better to know that with Lady Mother, it is actually true. She does understand. I just feel like she’s the first person I’ve been able to really talk about this all.”

“You did not discuss your loss with Sesshoumaru-sama?”

“I did, a few times. Sesshoumaru is a good listener and he tries to help me, I can tell that… But I know that he does not really understand either. And sometimes I feel too guilty to talk to him.”

Kagome frowned, clutching the ceramic cup tighter in her hands and staring at the steaming, green liquid within.

“Guilty?” Moriyasu questioned aloud, sounding genuinely puzzled.

Kagome shrugged.

“Just because of this inuyoukai tradition, he is now saddled with me for the rest of his life.”

“It is not your fault you lost your mate, and the decision to follow up with the tradition was Sesshoumaru-sama’s,” Moriyasu said reasonably after a while.

Kagome sipped her tea in silence, shifting slightly under the kitsune’s level, studying gaze. She knew he did have a point. Although she did not really know Sesshoumaru too well – he had always been a shaky ally at best – she did know him enough to tell that he did as he pleased.

Kagome lowered the teacup from her lips and sighed.

“It’s true,” she muttered in a low voice.

Moriyasu offered her a fanged smile, and Kagome raised the teacup once again. There was a small frown on her face as her mind kept reeling. She still had doubts, both about Sesshoumaru and their mating. She could already tell that the mating had had a very positive effect on her. She felt stronger now, though at times the pain and loss still overwhelmed her. But the bond she had forged with Sesshoumaru helped to keep her grounded, the powerful daiyoukai’s silent support lent her strength. There was little doubt in her mind that Sesshoumaru had indeed saved her. Still, on those rare moments when the grief did not force her to live entirely in the present, she worried about what the future might bring. She remembered Sango’s warnings. And she was afraid that the mating that had brought her back from the edge was nothing but a burden on Sesshoumaru. He had been tied to a distraught, mortal miko though he could have had a polished, elegant inuyoukai lady. Sesshoumaru had said he had given his word to Inuyasha that he would look after her. He had told her that if he must take a mate, he wanted to have a female he could respect. Kagome was still baffled at the statement. She could have never even imagined that she had held Sesshoumaru’s attention let alone his respect! What had she ever done to gain either?

Kagome emptied her teacup. The decision had been made, the agreement had been mutual. The responsibility did not rest solely on her shoulders. It had been Sesshoumaru who had come and made the suggestion to her. So she should respect that. She should accept that they were in this together now, and that Sesshoumaru had made his own choice. She shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

But the one thought that reassured Kagome the most, was the conversation she had had with Chiyo-sama. Sesshoumaru was tied to her for the rest of his life, but that didn’t have to be a bad thing. At least now, he was no longer alone.

Setting the ceramic tea cup back onto the tatami, slowly, hesitantly, Kagome returned Moriyasu’s smile.


 

Sesshoumaru was losing the track of time. He could not tell how many days he had spent, prowling, pacing, snarling, waiting outside the Mikazuki castle. He had inspected every inch of the protective barrier surrounding the castle, looking for a weak spot, something he could use to force his way in, even though he had known from the start that the task would be futile. His mother was not one to make mistakes, and she had always carefully paid attention to details. The barrier was impenetrable, and Sesshoumaru grew more and more frustrated with every passing hour.  He had tried pushing his youki against the barrier, he had tried slashing at it with his claws, he had tried attacking it with Bakusaiga – all to no avail. He knew his efforts were fruitless, he knew that his mother’s barrier would be able to withstand him, but he still needed to try. He needed to do something, he could not bear the waiting. Flexing his claws instinctively, balling his fists, Sesshoumaru paced the perimeter, a constant low growl rumbling from his throat. But then, right as the sun reached its high point on the sky, the barrier flickered. Sesshoumaru was so caught up in his frustration, that he took several more steps until he came to an abrupt halt.

The low hum of power was gone; the subtle flare of aura was no longer there. The barrier had been dropped.

For a few stretching seconds he stood still, frozen to his spot but his mind speeding a mile a minute. Why had his mother dropped the barrier? Why now? What had she done to Kagome? Had Kagome done something to her? Improbable, but not impossible, given the miko’s temper… His heart uncomfortably plunged somewhere near the pit of his stomach, Sesshoumaru lunged forward and sped towards the castle, past the startled guards, speeding along the twisting corridors, fully focused on the two energy signals belonging to the two females. He would have probably torn right through the door into the room, but the sound escaping from Kagome’s throat stopped him in his tracks. Stilling his breath, he stared incredulously at the closed door in front of him, wondering for the umpteenth time what his mother was playing at. He yanked the door open, almost pulling it off the rails. He peered into the room, his gaze immediately flitting to the miko, who sat hunched, doubled over. She was clinging to his mother’s arm for support, and gasping for air as if she had trouble breathing. And then he heard that alien sound again, and blinked as a new fit of helpless giggles overtook his mate. An amused smirk was playing on his mother’s lips, as she raised her piercing golden eyes to meet his.

“Do not just stand in the doorway like that, Sesshoumaru. I raised you to be better-mannered than that.” she scolded him, but the corners of her lips kept twitching.

Scowling, Sesshoumaru slid the door shut again and he strolled into the room, seating himself on the tatami across from the two women. He felt shaken, and utterly confused. During the long days he had spent, trapped behind that barrier, a thousand horrid scenarios had run through his mind’s eye, as he had restlessly speculated what was happening to his mate, in that castle right in front of him but completely out of his reach. And yet, nothing of that imagined horror had prepared him for the bizarre reality.

To his mother sitting there, her arm comfortably wrapped around Kagome’s shoulders and the miko laughing and clinging to the demoness.

Somehow, the sight greeting him unsettled much more than anything else could have.

The bubbly laughter slowly dying down, Kagome straightened. Her sapphire blue eyes finally gracing Sesshoumaru, her lips twisted and then the laughter suddenly burst forth anew.

His scowl deepening, Sesshoumaru kept glancing between the two females, and wondered what his mother had done to unhinge his mate. The miko had been in a delicate, frail state, it would not have required much to push her over the edge, and he knew how masterful the clever bitch could be with her manipulations.

But he completely lost the train of that thought, when Kagome suddenly spoke.

Her voice was breathy from all her giggling, and she was still having trouble keeping a straight face as she stared at him.

Something in the look of her eyes greatly worried Sesshoumaru, but he did not realise what it was until the words left the miko’s full lips.

“I can’t believe you went and stole your mother’s make-up box!”

Chiyo’s lips started twitching again and the demoness shook slightly from repressed laughter. Kagome burst into giggles again.

Sesshoumaru sat still, and suddenly wished he could be somewhere far, far away as the first wave of utter mortification washed over him.

 

Chapter Text

”I had to tell him that markings were something to be earned, not painted on,” Chiyo said, and then, finally, joined Kagome in the laughter.

Sesshoumaru sat there, frozen, staring at the giggling females.

This was worse. Reality was more terrible than any nightmares or horror stories his mind had been offering to him. He had never even considered the kidnapping scenario ending with his mother and his mate befriending one another. But hindsight was painful with its piercing accuracy. Now that he saw them together, shaking uncontrollably and clinging to one another, he realised this had always been the only possible outcome.

Slowly, when the utter mortification started to ebb away, he started to recognise the other feeling that his embarrassment had shadowed. Relief. Kagome was alright.

He had feared for her, not only for what his mother would do to her, but what she would do to herself in his absence, how her grief would weigh on her. But here she was. Laughing. All thanks to his mother.

Suddenly, the sharing of embarrassing childhood stories felt like a burden he could bear, if that meant his mate would laugh. Their souls were irrevocably bound; her pain was his pain, her sadness was his sadness.

He knew the pain was still there, hiding in the sapphire depths of her eyes. But this Kagome before him now was closer to how he remembered her. Smiling. And her happiness was his happiness.

Sesshoumaru shook his head lightly. He couldn’t believe that, for once in his life, he was grateful for his mother’s meddling.

Even in the midst of laughing, Chiyo’s sharp citrine eyes did not miss the slight show of warmth in her son’s gaze. She reined in her mirth, and straightened herself, supporting the miko who was also quieting down.

“Well, you did earn your markings in the end,” she said with a small smile, her eyes boring into Sesshoumaru’s.

For a brief moment, he held his mother’s gaze, before he dipped his head, gracefully accepting the compliment.

“Kagome, be a dear and show Sesshoumaru to your room. I am sure you two want to catch up. I would love if both of you joined me for dinner later.”

“Of course, haha-ue-sama,” Kagome agreed easily, and rose from the tatami.

Sesshoumaru stood up as well, and followed his mate out of the room. They walked in silence along the twisting corridors, until Kagome stopped and opened one of the shouji doors.

Sesshoumaru stepped into the room, surveying with a glance. It was spacious. The fusuma partitioning the room were exquisitely painted with flowing landscapes.

Kagome came in and seated herself on a cushion by a table. Sesshoumaru lowered himself to a seat across from her. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then, Sesshoumaru cleared his throat and Kagome fidgeted nervously.

It felt weird, they had not been that close before, they had barely started to get to know one another, and somehow it seemed as if it had been ages since they had last seen each other. So much had happened in the short time they’d been separated.       

Sesshoumaru cleared his throat again and finally broke the silence.

“I hope my mother has been treating you well.”

“Oh, she has been great,” Kagome said warmly. “She’s been helping me a lot, with a lot of things.”

“I can see that,” Sesshoumaru hummed. He raised his gaze, staring straight into his mate’s blue eyes. “I was relieved to see you laugh. Even if it was at this Sesshoumaru’s expense.”

The miko’s lips twisted, but her expression seemed bittersweet rather than amused.

“Like I said, Lady Mother has helped me a lot. She’s explained to me more about the youkai society at large. She told me about inu clans. We talked about losing one’s mate.”

Sesshoumaru’s face sobered and understanding flashed in his eyes.

“But I have to say, your mother is very interesting. You know, when I first came here, she was answering all my questions so vaguely that I actually for a moment thought that she was your fiancée.”

Sesshoumaru’s brow quirked. Ah yes, mother. It would figure she would have started off by playing her tricks. Perhaps she had wished to test the miko, perhaps she had just wanted to have a bit of fun at her expense.

“She can be frustrating sometimes,” Sesshoumaru replied dryly.

“Mmh. It took me a while to realise who she really was – of course it didn’t help that I always thought your mother would be dead.”

A slight crease appeared on Sesshoumaru’s brow, belying his puzzlement.

“Why would you assume such a thing?”

Kagome stared at him, now appearing as puzzled as he felt.

“Erm, because of Inuyasha?”

“What has Inuyasha got to do with any of this?” he questioned, wanting to steer away from the painful topic.

“Well I thought that if your mother was still alive, your father would not have been with Izayoi.”

Ah. Understanding dawned at last. Sesshoumaru hummed softly.

“All the great lords keep concubines, do they not?” he asked the miko with a raised brow.

To his surprise, the woman actually flushed slightly in response.

“Well it seems obvious now,” she grumbled. “But sometimes I just forget. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a completely different world.”

Sesshoumaru felt his curiosity rise.

“They don’t keep concubines in your time?”

“Not as such,” Kagome frowned. “Some people have lovers but they are kept in secret, as such practices are generally frowned upon. They view it as a betrayal to your partner.”

“How peculiar,” Sesshoumaru mused. “I do understand the value of loyalty, it is something I respect as well… But secrecy is just another kind of betrayal, is it not?”

Kagome nodded thoughtfully.

“I guess so. Sometimes the lies and deceit are harder to forgive than the actual misdeed. ”

“In any case, you have nothing to worry about,” Sesshoumaru said evenly. “I have no need for concubines.”

Kagome lowered her gaze and the scent of her embarrassment and guilt reached him.   

Sesshoumaru studied her for a moment in silence.

“Why does that make you uncomfortable?” Sesshoumaru asked, tilting his head.

“Because… Even if we are mates, that’s in name, only. Our relationship is not intimate, we are barely even friends. And I would not want you to limit yourself on my account.”

“Even if it is only in name, we still forged the bond.”

“Out of sheer necessity,” Kagome said tersely.

“That is no reason for me not to honour it,” Sesshoumaru replied evenly, his steady golden gaze boring into the miko’s tormented eyes.

She sighed and lowered her gaze.

Sesshoumaru’s eyes narrowed. He reached over the table and took a hold of the priestess’ chin, careful not to pierce her skin with his claws. Reluctantly, the woman met his eyes.

“Have you forgotten, woman?” Sesshoumaru spoke firmly, his voice dropping lower. “It was I who made the proposition.”

Sesshoumaru let his hand drop, but Kagome’s widened gaze was still glued to his. Her quickened heartbeat sounded loud in his years and he could smell the slight, sharp tang of fear.

“While I do appreciate your concern, it is not necessary.”

He paused, and then added on a softer tone.

“You should worry about yourself.”

Kagome scoffed, crossing her arms tight across her chest.

“I can’t help it. I worry about others.”

“Yet you have plenty worries of your own,” Sesshoumaru shook his head. “But I do admire your compassion.”

“Thank you,” Kagome replied, squirming a little. She knew Sesshoumaru was right, but she also really could not help how she felt. Yet, one thing was certain. They were two, consenting adults, and for better or worse, they were in this together.

They talked things through that afternoon. And those discussions helped to clear out most of the awkwardness between them. Yet, Kagome still felt some lingering discomfort. It was probably a silly thing, but she felt a bit guilty. It was oddly unsettling for her to see Sesshoumaru here in the Mikazuki Castle. She felt like she was stealing a glimpse of something secret, she was seeing a new side of him.

Of course, Kagome would readily admit she did not know Sesshoumaru very well. With all the animosity between him and Inuyasha, there had never really been a chance to properly learn to know him. Yet, over the course of years she had observed him, she had formed her own conceptions. One thing had always remained constant, especially after Rin had become Kaede’s apprentice. Sesshoumaru was a lonely wanderer, or that’s at least how he had appeared to her. It was like a shock to the system, seeing him like this. Even so, though he navigated the ancient, extravagant halls with ease, he did not really belong in the Mikazuki castle either. He was not of his mother’s clan. But Kagome had never thought he even had mother, or any of this family looking out for him.

It would take her a little while to reconcile this new side of Sesshoumaru with her old conceptions of him.


 

Later that day, Sesshoumaru and Kagome left the room, and headed for the dining hall.

Chiyo was already there, seated at the table. The servants hovered near the walls of the room, holding trays.

Kagome and Sesshoumaru sat down onto the tatami, side by side. Chiyo gestured to the servants and they came over, laying down the bowls and plates. After the table was set, the servants bowed and left the room.

For a while, Chiyo, Sesshoumaru and Kagome simply concentrated on eating, while catching up and making polite conversation.

“Since you are here, you should go see your grandfather. Introduce Kagome to him,” Chiyo suggested. “After all, you have Mikazuki blood in you, and he is the leader of the clan.”

“Everyone knows that he is the leader in name only. You, mother, have been steering the Mikazuki since grandfather started his isolation,” Sesshoumaru replied, putting down his chopsticks.

“Perhaps,” his mother shrugged, ”but the regent is still not the emperor.”

“Fine,” Sesshoumaru nodded his assent. “We’ll go visit him.”

“I look forward to it,” Kagome offered with a weak smile. Although she was curious about Chiyo-hime’s reclusive father, formal situations made her nervous. And introducing herself to the head of Mikazuki clan had to be formal.

“You know, if you had any maiden you preferred you should have told me,” Chiyo was telling Sesshoumaru.

“My preference was to be left alone, so naturally you had to interfere with my life and start making my decisions for me,” Sesshoumaru spoke evenly, keeping his face indifferent.

Chiyo hummed, her eyes full of amusement.

“Well of course I interfered. I am your mother, that is what we do.”

“Indeed. So who did you choose?”

“Ah, are you curious after all?” Chiyo smirked slyly, and gave Kagome a wink.

Kagome had to fight to keep a straight face and busied herself with her drink, as Sesshoumaru regarded his mother through narrowed eyes.

“Kinyuubae no O-Yumi,” the demoness spoke, gauging her son’s reaction.

“Kinyuubae’s first daughter?” Sesshoumaru’s eyebrows shot up.

“Do you approve?” Chiyo asked gleefully.

“The question is how did you get the clan leader to approve? Such match would be below any of Kinyuubae’s daughters.”

“Well, you are still my heir. You may come to inherit the Mikazuki one day, even if you are the head of Tsumekiri clan now.”

“Calling me the head is rather useless, though, as Tsumekiri clan consists of just myself.”

“And Kagome.” Chiyo reminded. “Thankfully, you had the good sense to mate your half-brother’s widow. I was able to waive away the agreed match with Kinyuubae with no ill feelings. We cannot go against tradition, after all.”

If Chiyo hadn’t just patted Kagome’s shoulder in passing, the miko would have thought that the two daiyoukai had forgotten she was even there at all. She was barely able to follow the conversation about the various inu clans, and now they were talking about her like she wasn’t present.

“And in the end you still got what you wanted,” Sesshoumaru said dryly. His golden eyes bore into the demoness. “Are you happy now, mother?”

“Delighted,” Chiyo smirked. “Now if you could only give me a few grandchildren to dote on, I’d be fully content.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow rose, but Kagome paled.

“Grandchildren?” she echoed faintly.

“Oh, I am sorry my dear. I know it sounds tactless since you are still in mourning, but you are young, you have plenty of time and maybe eventually, when the time feels right…”

“No,” Kagome breathed. “That’s not it. It’s… I’m…” She wrung her hands and took a long, steadying breath. “Inuyasha and I were mated for five years, and we never… I never… I mean that’s not normal, is it? There must be something wrong with me, because I can’t…”

Kagome bit her lip. She swallowed, but the lump in her throat didn’t budge.

“You silly girl,” Chiyo chided, but there was no bite in her tone. She reached across the table and clasped Kagome’s hands in her own.

“It is highly unlikely you and Inuyasha would have ever had children, but that is not on you.”

“How can you know that?” Kagome asked, frowning.

“The hanyou are half-breeds.” Sesshoumaru spoke evenly. “As such, it can be hard for them to produce offspring – especially for the unstable ones like Inuyasha.”

“My late mate was powerful,” Chiyo explained, “But Izayoi-hime was not. Their union was not on an equal ground, so Inuyasha’s blood was unbalanced. That is why he needed Tessaiga as his seal.”

“He was a threat even to himself. Because of that, I am quite certain that his seed was… lacking.” Sesshoumaru intoned calmly. His golden eyes were suddenly boring into Kagome’s. ”You have seen it, what his blood did to him,” he added.

Kagome nodded slowly. Her mind, prompted by Sesshoumaru’s words, replayed the times she had seen Inuyasha lose it, when his unbalanced blood had reduced him into a mindless monster. She remembered vividly the fear she had felt looking into those red eyes that couldn’t recognise her.

She shivered and her hands twitched, still held in Chiyo’s clawed ones.

“But if there ever will be any grandchildren, won’t they have the same problem, being hanyou as well?”

“That is hard to predict,”Chiyo shrugged. “Every hanyou is different, and much depends on their parentage. You, my dear, are not like Izayoi-hime.  You are the Shikon miko.”

“Our power levels are much more equal,” Sesshoumaru intoned firmly. “You must have felt it, when we formed the bond. Neither of us reigned over the other that day.”

“I think that bides well for you to bear offspring whose blood is balanced.” Chiyo smiled and stroked Kagome’s hair. “But in any case, now is not the time to worry about such things,” she said, effectively ending the conversation. “Have some more rice, dear. You need to get some meat on those bones.”

Kagome gripped her chopsticks, and smiled in her sleeve when she saw Sesshoumaru roll his eyes.


 

Kagome was following Sesshoumaru down the long corridors. They were deeper in the Mikazuki castle she’d ever been before, slowly making their way up. She had been able to forget about this impending meeting over breakfast, when lady mother had tried to educate her about the different inuyoukai clans and their hierarchy. But now, walking the corridors and climbing up the narrow stairs, the nervousness settled anew in the pit of her stomach. She was glad that Sesshoumaru knew where they were going, she couldn’t keep track of all the turns and staircases. She could only say for certain that they were heading up. They were only a few floors down of the top, when Sesshoumaru finally slowed his steps. There was an elaborately decorated fusuma ahead, with guards posted on both sides. Sesshoumaru halted in front of the door. The guards bowed to him, and one of them disappeared into the room to announce him. A moment later, the doors were slid open to grant him entrance. Sesshoumaru inclined his head and strode into the room. Kagome hesitated only a second, and then trailed after him. The doors slid shut behind her, and she felt a momentary spike of panic. Sesshoumaru’s aura washed over her, cloaking her, soothing. She took a deep breath and let her gaze wander around the room. The painted screens were exquisite but somewhat faded, the dark wooden beams not as polished as in the lower floors. The tatami was worn. She peered ahead. At the back of a room, a part of the room was raised. The partitions were left open, so she could see the man bent over the table. The floor around him was littered with scrolls. He was reading something intently, his brows furrowed together. Sesshoumaru stopped and seated himself on the tatami at a respectful distance. Kagome sat down beside him, studying the old daiyoukai under her lashes.

His hair was silver and his furrowed brows were thick. Like with most demons, it was hard to determine his age, and the colouring of his hair did not help. Still, it seemed his skin was paler and his face more lined, the hue of his silky locks dimmer. His amber eyes were dull and weary.

“Grandfather,” Sesshoumaru greeted, bowing down formally. Kagome immediately followed suit, and was silently envious of her mate’s fluidity. Her own bow was rather hurried and clumsy.

Her fingers twitched, the tatami felt coarse against her palms.

The old demon straightened. As he turned from his scrolls to face them, Kagome noticed that his posture was still slightly hunched. She flushed, and kept her eyes firmly on the threadbare tatami.

“Maru, it is rare for you to visit,” the old daiyoukai spoke. His voice was deep but soft. Kagome had to strain her ears.

Sesshoumaru straightened, and met his grandfather’s eyes.

“I have some important news,” he spoke evenly. “I have taken a mate.”

“Indeed?”

“May I introduce her to you, leader of Mikazuki?”

Kagome felt the weight of the old daiyoukai’s gaze on her and felt a sudden lump in her throat.

“I would be delighted.”

“Grandfather, this is my mate, Kagome,” Sesshoumaru announced in formal tones. He turned his head to address his mate. “Kagome, this is the father of my mother, Mikazuki no Shinobu.”

“Raise your head, child.”

Kagome swallowed, and slowly straightened. Hesitantly, she raised her eyes to find the old daiyoukai watching her. His eyes may be dull and weary, but they were every bit as piercing as those of his daughter.

“She is young.” he noted in his soft voice. “And a human. I am surprised, Maru… Ah!” At last, there was a spark of life in those old amber eyes, they suddenly were alight with curiosity.

“Pardon my mistake, dear child. Not just a human, but a miko!” 

 Kagome squirmed and her fingers fidgeted with the silk of her kimono.

“That is remarkable. I know only of nine cases of youkai mating with miko before – and none of them were inuyoukai. Two were kitsune, though.” He looked from Sesshoumaru to Kagome. “How did you come to choose her?”

“I have known her for some years now. I have fought alongside with her, and she won over my respect. She mated Inuyasha. My half-brother entrusted her in my care, so I came to get her when I heard of his passing.”

“Ah,” Shinobu nodded sagely, ”keeping alive the tradition. That is well; it warms this aged heart when people respect the old customs. I have a soft spot for history,” he explained to Kagome with a small smile.

Kagome smiled shyly back.

“Well, I am sure you young ones have better things to do than to keep company to an old daiyoukai. It was lovely to meet you, Kagome, please take care of my grandson.”

Kagome bowed, this time more smoothly.

“I will, Shinobu-sama.”

“Maru, it was good of you to visit. And thank you for introducing your mate. You have my blessing.”

“Thank you, grandfather.”

Sesshoumaru bowed down, then stood up. With one more brief smile, Kagome turned to follow him out of the room.


 

“I hope my summons did not cause you offense, my lord,” the fox spoke, once Sesshoumaru had seated himself on the tatami.

“I am not so arrogant that I would see presumption where it was not intended,” Sesshoumaru replied, studying the creature whom he had tracked to this castle.

“I am glad. My name is Moriyasu, and I am Chiyo-hime’s humble servant.”

 “I did hear rumours that my mother had picked up a stray kitsune. I was not sure of what to make of it, given my mother’s whims.”

“Well the rumours are true, my lord,” Moriyasu replied jovially. Then, he bowed down. “The reason why I summoned you here, my lord, is because I felt that I owe you an apology. I am sorry for impersonating you and spiriting your mate away so rudely.”

“Spare me the needless apologies,” Sesshoumaru huffed. “Both of us are well aware that you were simply following my mother’s orders.”

“As you say,” Moriyasu agreed easily, inclining his head.

“You bound her powers when you took her,” Sesshoumaru stated.

“I did. It was a necessary precaution.”

“Then why are her powers still bound even when she no longer is a captive?” Sesshoumaru inquired in a low voice.

“I told you,” Moriyasu said with a slight smile. “It was a necessary precaution. Still is. Your mate is grieving, my lord. And she is not just any mortal, she is a miko. Do you realise how vulnerable she is in her sorrow? How easily her purity might succumb to darkness?”

“I understand that she is fragile,” Sesshoumaru spoke slowly, weighing his words. “But I also know her strength. Her resilience, her stubbornness. I feel her pain and sadness eating away at her. The darkness lingers in the corners of her soul. But deep down, her light still shines.”

“That is good,” Moriyasu commented, “yet I worry for her. She looks better, but she is not. She still avoids it.”

“These things take time,” Sesshoumaru intoned curtly. “And I will look over her.”

“You cannot protect her forever,” Moriyasu warned. There was no longer was any hint of a smile in his expression. “It is her grief. She will have to face it on her own.”

“But she will not be alone,” Sesshoumaru said in a low growl.

“I fear that in the face of the inevitable, we are all alone,” Moriyasu mused.

Sesshoumaru glared at him. He had no patience for the tricksters’ mysticism.

“She will yet require your support, I am sure,” Moriyasu smiled. “She still has quite a ways to go.”

Sesshoumaru studied the observant fox. Then he inclined his head and sighed.

“You are right, fox. And I worry as well. She told me knows she is not strong enough to accept her loss. And I know I cannot force her. But hiding from the reality does not make it go away. She cannot truly heal, until she allows herself to accept.”

“She is afraid of giving in to her loss. And avoiding pain is a very natural reaction.”

Sesshoumaru hummed in agreement.

“If you wish, I can release the bind I have placed on her. We only sealed her reiki because Chiyo-hime was afraid that she would fall to the darkness and her soul would be tainted from her pain.”

Sesshoumaru considered the offer in silence.

“No,” he spoke quietly at last. “If mother felt it necessary, it might be best to leave her powers bound. Of course, I ought to ask my mate’s opinion in this.”

“As you say, my lord. I can unbind them at any time, just bring her to me when the time is right.”

Moriyasu bowed fluidly, and Sesshoumaru gave him a deep nod in return.

Chapter Text

”I met with the fox today,” Sesshoumaru said in the evening. He was sitting on his futon, watching as his mate prepare for bed.

“Oh?” Kagome hummed, struggling to untie her obi. Sesshoumaru got up and crossed the room, swiftly undoing the silken knot. Kagome thanked him, and he resumed his seat on his futon.

“The fox wished to apologise for his trickery.”

Kagome’s lips twitched. She shrugged off the kimono and bent to carefully hang the cloth so it would not crease.

“Sounds like a tiger apologizing for its stripes,” she commented, straightening her white under-kimono before sitting down onto the tatami.

“Indeed,” Sesshoumaru paused for a moment. “Did he ever tell you why he bound your powers?”

“No, and I never thought to ask,” Kagome confessed, reaching for a comb. “I just always assumed it was to protect Moriyasu-san in case I decided to resist my capture.”

“That was certainly a part of it,” Sesshoumaru agreed. His golden eyes followed the comb as it weaved through his mate’s short locks. “But the fox said the actual reason was to protect you.”

“Me?” Kagome asked, startled. She lowered her comb and turned to meet her mate’s eyes.

“Apparently, my mother was concerned how your grieving might affect your reiki. She feared your powers could be tainted if you were to give into the darkness in your soul.”

Kagome bit her lip and a scowl creased her brow.

“I never even considered that,” she breathed after a moment. “But Lady Mother is right, that could happen.”

“How does it feel?” Sesshoumaru enquired,curious.

“To have my powers sealed?” her fingers were absently toying with her sleeve. “At first it was terrible. I hated it, I felt naked and vulnerable… Of course that was also because I didn’t know what my captor’s intentions were. Now, though, I’m used to it. And there is no threat for me here.”

“If you wish, the fox said he could release your powers at any time.”

Kagome seemed to consider it for a moment. Her fingers twitched, and she picked up her comb again.

“I suppose it is better to be safe than sorry,” she decided, pulling the comb once again through her hair.  “I can still loose an arrow.  And although I can’t feel youki now, you have better ears and eyes than me anyway.”

“As you wish,” Sesshoumaru acquiesced.

Kagome set down her comb, and walked onto her futon, sitting down and pulling the covers over herself.

 “How often do youkai have servants of other youkai species?” she asked.

“That depends,” Sesshoumaru said. “Usually the retainers that are not your own kind, are lower level demons seeking for the stronger’s protection. I have Jaken. And Ah-Un. They have served me well.”

“Then what about Moriyasu-san?”

“Moriyasu is an… anomaly. He is very likely a daiyoukai. They hardly need protection so it is rare for a daiyoukai to offer himself as a servant to another – especially outside of their pack and crossing the lines of their own breed.”

Kagome mulled over this, idly twirling a lock of her hair.

“He said he owed his life to Lady Mother.”

Sesshoumaru shrugged.

“It could be anything, or nothing. The fox seems loyal, though.”

“How old do you think Moriyasu-san is?” she wondered out loud.

Sesshoumaru snorted.

“It is impossible to tell with the foxes,” he replied.

“Ne, Sesshoumaru… Do you think Lady Mother and Moriyasu-san are… you know, close?”

For a moment Sesshoumaru looked stunned, then he pulled a face.

“I would rather not ponder that,” he growled emphatically, shooting his mate a glare.

Even without her powers, Kagome could feel their bond, and through it, Sesshoumaru’s fervent disgust.

“Fair enough,” she spoke on a light, mirthful tone. “Good night, Sesshoumaru.”

“I will likely be seeing nightmares.” the daiyoukai grumbled, as he moved to extinguish the lanterns. Returning to his futon, his mate’s light chuckle echoed in the dark room.

 


 

“Thank you for the dinner,” Sesshoumaru spoke formally.

“You are welcome, dear. Now hurry along.” Chiyo waved her hand impatiently.

Sesshoumaru rolled his eyes but rose to leave. Kagome was about to get on her feet as well, when Chiyo spoke again.

“Oh, not you, my dear Kagome. I would wish for you to keep me company a while longer.”

Sesshoumaru fixed his mother with a long stare, but she merely smiled placidly. Kagome met her mate’s eyes and shrugged her shoulders. Sesshoumaru huffed, but left the room.

“Come,” Chiyo prompted, straightening gracefully.

Kagome obediently followed her. Chiyo led them to a terrace overlooking a small walled garden. Two zabuton had been placed near the edge, in between them stood a tray with a bottle of sake and two dishes. The clouds were whirling on the sky all around them, aglow with the moonlight.

“Sesshoumaru is growing impatient,” Chiyo spoke, as she seated herself on the cushion, “so we better make use of all the time we have.”

Kagome sat down on the cushion next to hers. Chiyo took a cup in her clawed hand, and Kagome picked up the bottle of sake, pouring the clear liquid onto the dish. Chiyo took a sip and leantback.

“I have something I want to give to you,” the inudaiyoukai said, and set down the dish. Kagome put the bottle back onto the tray. Chiyo pulled a small, lacquered box out of her sleeve, and handed it over. Kagome held out her hands and accepted it with a bow of her head. The box was near weightless, she wondered what it could be.

“Go on,” Chiyo said, bringing the sake dish once more to her lips, “open it.”

Kagome set the box in her lap and carefully pulled off the lid. On a bed of dark blue silk rested a slender bracelet. It was made of fine strands of silvery white silk that had been braided. Set onto the braid was a rectangular plate of mother of pearl, in the middle of which a single embedded sapphire gleamed, shaped like a crescent moon.

“It is to mark that you have the favour of Mikazuki clan,” Chiyo explained, sipping the sake. “May I?”

Kagome nodded, she looked to Chiyo, as the demoness leaned over to bind the bracelet around her wrist.

“Thank you so much, Lady Mother.”

“No need for thanks, little one. You are family.”

Chiyo pulled away, and Kagome gingerly fingered the bracelet. The silk strands felt smooth against her skin. She had a closer look.

“Wait, is this actually made of…?”

“A lock of my hair,” Chiyo supplied, nodding. “That way, a small piece of my youki will remain infused with the bracelet. A mere clan crest would not be enough to confirm your association with our clan.” Chiyo motioned to the dish left on the tray, and Kagome hurriedly picked it. Chiyo hummed, and took the bottle, filling Kagome’s dish to a brim.

Kagome bowed her head in thanks and then took a sip.

They sat there for a moment, side by side, enjoying the view and the drink. The alcohol loosened their tongues and dulled their pain.

“It took me a long while, but I have come to terms with it now.” Chiyo spoke softly. “I think the healing started when I finally managed to acknowledge the truth: I am a widow.”

Kagome shook her head.

“I can’t do it,” she said, sipping more sake, “not yet. I’m not strong enough yet.”

Chiyo hummed.

“I think, that you cannot move forward until you allow yourself to be weak. You cannot fix something until it has been broken. You are like a cracked vase, little one; you have suffered the blow but it has not shattered you.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Kagome mused, “but I also think that people can’t begin to heal until they’re ready to. And I’m not.”

Chiyo nodded slowly.

“I suppose that is true. But do remember this: when the time comes, when you will finally shatter, do not think you are alone. I will be here for you, little one. And do not hesitate to lean on Sesshoumaru. He has wide shoulders and an earnest heart beneath the surface.”

“Sesshoumaru has been good to me,” Kagome smiled a little. “Without him, I would have already broken down.”

She paused, and an idle thought entered her head.

“Did you ever consider mating again?”

Chiyo shook her head.

“Frankly, I am quite comfortable in my current role. I have grown used to the independence I have gained. And I am not sure if my old, scarred heart can be stirred any more. In that respect, perhaps you mortals are more resilient.”

“Has no one been interested in mating you or courting you?”

Chiyo laughed.

“Of course they have. After all, I am the acting head of my clan. That makes me a very desirable match. Some people have even encouraged me to take a new mate and bear the Mikazuki an heir,” Chiyo said. “I do not much care for the idea, though. I would not wish to tempt fate.”

“What do you mean, tempt fate?” Kagome asked, puzzled.

“Sesshoumaru was born with that crescent moon on his forehead. It is as clear a sign as any, is it not? He is my firstborn son and he is marked with the crest of my clan, same as I.” Chiyo’s clawed fingers fleetingly touched her forehead.

“Why didn’t Sesshoumaru become Mikazuki, then?” the miko enquired.

“It was one of the conditions of my mating arrangement with Inu no Taisho. I was to gift him with an heir. Any other pups he would have sired with me, would have been Mikazuki.” Chiyo paused. “Seeing though as Inu no Taisho is dead and all that remains of his kingdom are sweet memories, I am planning to adopt Sesshoumaru into Mikazuki. Tsumekiri as of now, only consists of you, Sesshoumaru, and your retainers. It would be easy enough for us to accommodate Tsumekiri. Merging of clans is not unheard of.”

“That does sound like a sensible plan,” Kagome said.

“I am glad that you should find it so. Mind you, I am not stepping down any time soon. I enjoy my position too much to give it up quite yet.”

They sat for a while longer in comfortable silence, until Chiyo spoke again.

“It is getting late, little one. You need your rest.”

Kagome nodded, then acting on an impulse, hugged the demoness tight.

“Thank you, haha-ue-sama. For everything.”

 


 

Kagome had not even realised how the sake had affected her, until she was walking along the long corridors back into her room. She felt decidedly light-headed, and a half-forgotten melody was bubbling on her mind, flowing to her lips with ease. She started to hum to herself, as she stumbled down towards her room. She slid the door open a bit haphazardly and staggered a little as she stepped into the room.

Sesshoumaru was sitting on his futon, and looked up from the book he had been reading when he heard her giggles. Kagome shut the door and turned to her mate.

“Hii!”

The corner of his lips twitched almost imperceptibly.

“You seem to be in a good mood,” he hummed. “What did my mother want?”

“To say goodbye, I suppose,” Kagome mused. “She thinks you want us to leave soon.”

“I was thinking we might depart tomorrow.”

“Already? I didn’t think we were in a hurry.”

“We are not, particularly… I just wish to get back on the road,” Sesshoumaru muttered.

“Oh, your mother wanted to give me this,” Kagome exclaimed, crossing the room and holding her wrist out to Sesshoumaru.

Sesshoumaru inspected it in silence. Kagome could feel his surprise through their bond. Somehow, she could feel him much clearer than usual through their mating bond.

“Well, she seems to have really taken to you,” Sesshoumaru spoke after a moment and let go of her wrist.

“Yeah,” Kagome agreed. She hummed to herself again, restlessly moving about the room. She sensed the amusement bubbling beneath her mate’s impassive surface.

But all too soon, the giddiness wore out, and Kagome started feeling tired.

“It is getting late,” Sesshoumaru pointed out, noticing the sudden swing in her mood.

“Mmh,” Kagome replied, yawning widely. She sighed in relief as she shrugged the heavy uchikake off her shoulders and onto the floor. Next, her hands came down to the obi.

“Bloody knot,” she muttered irritably at the tie her fumbling fingers were failing to pry it open.

“Come here,” Sesshoumaru commanded and Kagome complied. She plopped down to his futon, settling in a seiza. She felt his knuckles brush her back through the silk. With a few decisive yanks, the knot came undone. Kagome sighed, and pulled down the two layers of dyed silk, leaving her in the plain white under-kimono. She left the expensive silk garments lying on a heap on the floor, too lazy to get up and hang them properly. Sesshoumaru let it slip; his amusement over his mate’s intoxicated condition winning over his sense of neatness and order. Kagome stretched lazily, and then curled up on the futon. Sesshoumaru blinked down at her, his brow raised.

“You are aware that your own futon is laid out just a foot to the right?”

“Mmh, I know. But I’m comfortable here,” she replied. And she meant it. She truly felt at ease, and safe.  

Seshoumaru shook his head, but pulled the blanket off his lap and draped it over the miko.

“Then sleep,” he murmured.

Kagome burrowed her cheek into the pillow and closed her eyes. She felt his gaze on her. Warmth bubbled in her chest, as she gave herself to the sleep.    

    


 

Kagome shifted, pressing closer to the heat radiating against her back. She found comfort in the body lying next to her. She revelled in the warmth, the safety, the love that filled her.

In these fleeting seconds between waking and dreaming, she could forget that Inuyasha was gone, and imagine that the male she was sharing the futon with was him.

All too soon, however, she stirred and reality came crashing. She felt sick and her head pounded.

And Inuyasha was dead.

Her shaking hands came to cup her face, and she felt the weight on the futon shift, the heat that had been pressing against her disappeared. Sesshoumaru left the room, and Kagome stayed put, curling up under the quilt in misery. She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, trying to calm her stomach and ignore her aching head. The door slid open and footsteps padded across the tatami. She stole a peek through her fingers and saw Sesshoumaru kneeling down by their futon, setting a tray on the tatami.

“Here,” he said, offering her a cup of cool tea. “And try to eat something.”

“Thank you,” Kagome said, struggling to sit up. She gratefully accepted the cup.

“How are you feeling? Should we postpone our departure?”

“No, we can still leave today, I’ll be okay.” Kagome spoke hoarsely and took a sip of the tea. “Could you get me the red silk pouch from my bag?”

Sesshoumaru nodded and soon returned with the pouch. Kagome opened it and pulled out a small lacquered container of ground willow bark. She took a liberal pinch and sprinkled it into the tea.

“It’ll ease the pain,” she replied, seeing her mate’s raised eyebrow.

Sesshoumaru took her at her word, after all she was a miko, and she knew the ways of healing.

Kagome stirred the tea making sure the powder mixed in well, then downed the drink. She grimaced, and laid herself down on the futon. After a moment of rest, the medicine started to work and Kagome sat up slowly. She accepted the bowl of miso soup that Sesshoumaru handed to her.

She ate the soup slowly, feeling better after every mouthful. The food settled the queasiness in her belly, and after the breakfast she was almost back to normal.

“I think I’ll go wash myself,” she mused aloud, getting up from the futon. “Who knows when I’ll next have the opportunity to bathe.”

Sesshoumaru hummed.

“I shall call the maids.”

“Don’t, I can manage myself,” Kagome told him.

“As you wish,” her mate replied.

Kagome took her time in the baths, enjoying the warm water.

A small part of her was reluctant to leave the Mikazuki castle. She felt like she had really grown close to Chiyo, the older woman’s presence brought her comfort. She did not have to hide her pain from her, because Chiyo knew it, she had gone through the same experience. And from time to time, in brief glimpses of comforting gestures and warm hugs, Chiyo could appear very motherly, which in turn alleviated some of Kagome’s desperate longing to be in her own mother’s arms.

Still, it would be good to be back on the road with Sesshoumaru. She was curious to see what Tsumekiri would be like. And after this brief immersion in the demon society, she wanted to learn more about Sesshoumaru and the world he belonged to. Because as his mate, she was a part of that world now, as well. Besides, it would be something to distract her, something with which she could fill her mind.

Idleness was her worst enemy right now, having nothing to do left her thoughts free to wander.

Kagome ran her hands through her hair and squeezed out the water. She put on a clean under-kimono and headed back to the bed room. The maids had been in while she had been gone, the futons had been cleared and new clothes had been laid out to wait for her. It was different from all the other outfits she had worn during her time here at the castle. The kosode was a simple one and it was matched up with a pair of dark hakama. There was no heavy, embroidered uchikake to be seen.

The time for finery was over, these were travel clothes, plain and practical.

“Do you want help dressing yourself?” Sesshoumaru asked.

“No, I’m good,” she replied, idly fingering the fabric of the kosode. It still was of a high quality weave, though it lacked all decoration.

“Very well,” Sesshoumaru nodded, “I will be waiting outside.”

As the shouji doors closed behind him, Kagome cast one last lingering look around the room. Then, with a sigh, she began to dress herself.

 


 

Their last goodbyes were formal, and vastly different from the intimate chat Kagome had had with Lady Chiyo the night before. Now, the heiress was regally sitting on her throne outside the castle, and looking down at them from her high dais. The skies above and around them were blue, and her silver hair gleamed in the sunlight.

“I shall pack the kosode and uchikake you have worn during your stay here, and send them over to Tsumekiri. Your clan may be small, but you are its lady, Kagome-chan, so I expect you to dress the part.”

“I will, Lady Mother,” Kagome replied easily and gave her mother-in-law a small smile. “Thank you for looking after me.”

“Of course, it was my pleasure,” Lady Chiyo spoke. “I leave my son in your care.”

Kagome clasped her hands together and bent in a graceful bow.

Chiyo inclined her head in an answer, and then turned to Sesshoumaru.

“Sesshoumaru, my son. May your journey be swift and safe. Please take good care of yourself and your mate.”

“Thank you, mother. I will.”

“Then, farewell. I hope to see you both again soon.”

“I’ll come to visit,” Kagome promised.

Chiyo’s red lips quirked into a small smile.

“I shall look forward to that.”

 


 

They had barely started travelling on the fourth morning after leaving the Mikazuki Castle, when Sesshoumaru abruptly halted.

“Sesshoumaru?” Kagome asked tentatively. “What is it?”

He did not reply, he stood stock still, fixedly staring ahead.

Somewhere, far ahead of them along this very road, he felt something. It was only a faint, fleeting flicker, but he would have recognised it in his sleep.

‘This aura… Inuyasha!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Sesshoumaru, what's wrong?" Kagome's hesitant voice sounded more worried this time.

Sesshoumaru shook his head; his senses still honed to that faint aura flickering ahead, his half-brother's aura. Of course, the second he managed to overcome his initial shock of having sensed Inuyasha, he had realised what was going on. The insistent pull on his hip only confirmed his suspicions.

In that same instant, he had also understood the implications of the aura he sensed. He knew what was waiting ahead of them. The only question that remained now was what he ought to do.

He glanced at the miko out of the corner of his eye.

He would have to go, he knew that at once. The problem was Kagome. The encounter would badly shake her, and he wanted to shield her from all harm. Yet, he wouldn't feel comfortable leaving her behind while he would scout ahead and deal with the situation at hand.

Besides, Kagome, if anyone, had the right to look the man in the eye.

Sesshoumaru heaved a sighed, and turned to fully face the woman.

"There is trouble ahead," he told her. "And though usually I would strive to avoid it, this time we have to go and face it."

"Why?" Kagome asked, he brows knitting.

"You will understand when we get there," Sesshoumaru replied cryptically.

Kagome bit her lip, the worry gnawing her guts increasing. She did not like the look on Sesshoumaru's face. She saw the determination in his eyes, his lips pressing into a thinner line, his jaw setting, his clawed fingers brushing the hilts of his swords in passing. Her own fingers twitched, itching to grasp the bow slung over her shoulder, to pull an arrow out of the quiver on her back.

They set forth, and nervousness bubbled in the pit of Kagome's stomach. Cold fingers of trepidation ran down her back and all her senses were on full alert as she followed Sesshoumaru through the forest. Somehow, she was convinced that they were walking straight into a battle.

The woods were thinning, and Sesshoumaru slowed his steps. The edge of the forest was right ahead, and he halted, turning around to face her. Bakusaiga slid from its sheath with a whisper of steel and Kagome instinctively reached for her bow.

"I want you to stay in the cover of trees," he spoke in a low voice. "I will not forbid you from taking part; that is your own choice to make. But I do not wish you take any unnecessary risks."

"Alright," Kagome promised, squeezing the smooth, firm wood beneath her fingers.

Sesshoumaru nodded and then began to walk to the edge of the wood. He was planning to take them unawares, his whole manner had shifted. Right now Sesshoumaru was a predator stalking his prey, his steps were slow, silent and purposeful. The sword was ready in his hand, the tip of the blade pointing downwards in a relaxed grip.

As he reached the treeline, he seemed to stop completely – and then in a burst of his inhumanly speed, he vanished right before Kagome's eyes. Beyond the trees, the air was suddenly full of shouts and shrieks, groans and grunts and the clang of steel. Her mouth pressing into a grim line, her heart pounding in her chest, Kagome rushed forward, sliding the bow off her shoulder and pulling an arrow out of the quiver as she ran. As the woods around her thinned, she could catch glimpses of the fight ahead. It was a group of bandits, maybe twelve, fifteen men armed with spears and bows and swords, wearing chainmail jackets or stolen scraps of armour over their threadbare kimono and hakama.

Kagome leaned against the trunk of a tree and took a deep breath. Her hand trembled slightly, squeezing the shaft of her arrow tighter. She watched Sesshoumaru, his sword flickering swift as a snake, downing one man and wounding another. His movements were elegant and controlled; almost lazy.

He's playing with them, Kagome realised, noting the way his lips had curled into a small, spine-chilling smile.

Determination set in. With practised ease, she notched her arrow and took aim.

Bakusaiga flashed, and one bandit's sword hand was lopped clean off. The man scream as blood gushed from the stump, but a second later Kagome's arrow sank into his chest and he fell silent.

There was a queer flutter in her gut. She had purified lesser demons on a countless occasions, fighting alongside Inuyasha, Sango and Miroku… But this was the first man she had killed. Her steady fingers were already getting another arrow at the ready.

Shouldn't she feel something? Guilt? Remorse? Resignation? Shock? Revulsion? But her mind was blank, and the only sensation left was the blood rushing in her veins, the adrenaline coursing through her body.

She went through the familiar motions as if she was running through another kata. Notch. Aim.

The only difference was that these targets were living, breathing, and moving.

Kagome gritted her teeth and let the next arrow loose.

There were only four of the bandits left, and Kagome had just pulled a new arrow from the quiver, when gloved hand shot out from behind her, enclosed around her mouth and yanked her back so hard she almost lost her footing. Her breath left her in one, quick woosh when the hard leather and the iron plates pressed against her back. Kagome struggled, squirming against the tight hold, but stilled the instant the man raised his dagger. The steel was cold against her skin, and she could feel the sharp edge resting against her quickened pulse.
"There's a good wench," the man growled. "Now let's go see your youkai friend."

They came out from the cover of the trees, and Sesshoumaru stilled, his golden eyes burning cold when they glared at the man holding Kagome captive.

"You, demon," the bandit called. "You drop that sword now or the wench dies."

The dagger pressed tighter against her throat and Kagome hissed.

His lips drawn in a silent snarl, Sesshoumaru tossed Bakusaiga to the ground. The remaining bandits quickly snatched it and then backed away from the daiyoukai, sneering.

Just a moment before, the ragged highwaymen had been trembling in their boots before the deadly demon lord, but now their backs were straightening, mouths stretching into grins, their cruel eyes gloating. Sesshoumaru schooled his face into the familiar impassive mask, but Kagome knew that inside he was still raging.

She, herself… She supposed she should be afraid. But she wasn't; she felt oddly numb and calm.

"I'm in a generous mood," the bandit holding Kagome hostage drawled. "I'm going to let you go. Leave, now, demon."

Kagome froze, her surveying glance had stopped on the back of the thief standing in between her and Sesshoumaru. The sword in his hand was a piece of junk, its edge nicked in several places and spotted with rust.

"I think the wench will stay, though." the bandit grinned. The hand that did not hold the knife to her throat travelled down to cup her breast. "We're going to have a little fun."

Sesshoumaru's eyes flashed red, but Kagome barely even registered the words or felt the rough hand squeezing her. She was staring at the tattered, rusted sword the bandit in front of her was holding.

Her ears were ringing, as the pieces snapped violently into their place. Why Sesshoumaru had been so cryptic earlier, why he had insisted that they confront these robbers, why instead of disposing of them quickly and neatly he had chosen to toy with them, slowly slicing them apart…

Her breath escaped her in one long hiss. Her hands shook and balled into fists, squeezing around the shaft of the arrow she was still holding in her right hand.

Without any kind of warning or conscious thought, fuelled by the adrenaline rushing through her body in a wild torrent, her hand jerked in a swift upwards thrust. She heard a queer, almost wet sound, felt the point of her arrow pierce the soft surface without any resistance. She yanked the arrow back and the sticky, hot spray of blood hit the back of her head, soaking her hair.

How lucky, she thought idly as the man behind her crumpled to the ground, letting out a piteous groan as the life escaped him with the blood draining from the severed artery on his neck, that her blind, erratic stab had struck so true.

Screams filled her ears, as Sesshoumaru's green whip glimmered and sliced apart the four remaining men.

The daiyoukai took a few steps and then crouched to pick up Bakusaiga, as well as the tattered sword one of the bandits had dropped. He untied the sheath of the beaten katana from the dead robber's waist, tucking it under his own belt. He inspected the rusted blade in his hand, turning it in the sunlight, as his other hand lazily rested on the hilt of Tenseiga.

Anger was still pulsing in Kagome's body, but a whisper of sadness bled out to mix with the hot red rage as she strode over to her mate. Mutely, he offered her the old, battered sword and with her heart heavy and aching in her chest, she accepted it.

The moment her hand wrapped around the hilt, the sword changed. All the nicks and spots of rust disappeared from the blade, leaving behind bright, flawless, sharp steel. Kagome gasped softly, almost dropping the sword in surprise.

"It transformed," she whispered dumbly, her voice laced with awe.

"It must have responded to the remnants of your bond with Inuyasha," Sesshoumaru suggested. "It was re-forged from his fang after all."

Kagome's lips twitched and twisted into a sad smile. Her fingers trembled as she ran them along the cold gleaming steel in a soft caress.

"I suppose Tessaiga is yours now," Sesshoumaru spoke, pulling the sword's sheath from under his belt and handing it over to the miko. She took it, absentmindedly, still studying the blade in her hand.

"It's different," she said at last. "It looks almost like a normal katana."

"Perhaps it is because you lack the demonic energy for it to transform into its proper form. Perhaps it simply recognises you and decided that its prior form would be too unwieldy for your stature. Who knows." Sesshoumaru's brow was furrowed.

Gingerly, Kagome sheathed the sword and hugged it close to her chest.

"Let's get out of here," she said, glancing around and seeing the death and carnage around them. The dead corpses littering the ground did not make her feel sorry, or guilty, or sad. They only made her angry.
They killed Inuyasha, a voice reminded her sharply from a dark corner of her soul.

"I need a bath."


 

L-A-L


They stopped at a small forest pool. The water was murky but it served the purpose. Kagome disrobed and knelt in the water, scrubbed her neck and back and washed the sticky blood from her hair. Still sitting in the pond she grabbed the kosode laying on the moss by the pool and set it on a flat stone near the water's edge. It had a rather large, visible stain on the back. The underkimono had been dark red, so the blood that had stained the fabric didn't stand out so much, but the kosode was another matter. She did not have any soap with her, but she tried to rinse the garment the best she could. The blood had soaked deep into the fibres of her light brown kosode, so the stain did not budge. But at least the dark rusted colour seemed to become a shade or two lighter.

Sesshoumaru seated himself, and leaned against the trunk of a tree. He glanced at the naked miko out of the corner of his eye. She was completely immersed in her task, and through their bond her determination radiated to him. It made the daiyoukai feel wary.

The miko had always been an emotional creature. From almost at their first meeting, he had seen her temper, but also noticed that gentleness which seemed to draw others to her.

Of course, the woman had not been herself ever since Inuyasha's death, but even so it felt odd that she could remain so calm after the fight with the highwaymen, after the ordeal of having a knife held on her throat. Furthermore, he wasn't sure if she had even killed humans before; Inuyasha's pack had typically fought youkai.

Sesshoumaru cleared his throat, earning a quick side glance from the miko.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, his voice deep but not unkind.

"I don't think there's anything to talk about," she shrugged. She wiped her brow, gathered the kosode in her arms, and climbed out of the pond.

"Are you certain? This morning must have been trying for you."

"I appreciate your concern," she replied as she pulled on the underkimono and tied it at her waist. "But I'm fine. None of the blood I was just washing off was mine."

It is not your physical well-being I am worried about; he wanted to say as he watched the miko wring her kosode dry. In the end just shook his head.

"Battles have their way of leaving marks," he said in a low voice.

"I'm not going to feel bad or sorry for those bastards," she snapped. Her blue eyes found his, and they were blazing in anger. "They got what was coming to them," she spat venomously.

"That they did," Sesshoumaru agreed. Anger was not the emotion he had expected from the miko, but it was better than the seeming calmness from earlier. It would do for now.

"You fought well," he told her evenly. "Your aim has got better and your arrows lent good support."

That seemed to have taken her aback, for she blinked at him.

"Thank you," she breathed at last, her voice soft and surprised.

Sesshoumaru nodded and got up.

"Get dressed," he told her, turning his back to her. "We still have a ways to go."

Kagome hummed in agreement, and reached for her hakama.


 

L-A-L


Dark thoughts kept Sesshoumaru company during those dark hours of the night. His golden eyes had bored into the miko who was curled up across from him, frowning in her sleep. He had clenched his hands so tight that his claws had sunk into the fleshy heels of his palms. And for three long seconds, he had resented the human wench.

All he had wanted, all he had asked for, was to have what was rightfully his, as his father's heir and firstborn son. But his sire had chosen to spurn him and leave Tessaiga to Inuyasha. And though the half-breed was now dead as well, the sword still was not his as it had passed to the hanyou's human mate.

Is this your way to mock me from beyond the grave, Father? Deeming this human more worthy of your fang than your own son? He could see the old dog and Inuyasha laughing at his expense in the afterlife.

The miko had gained the fang through her bond with the half-breed, a dry embittered voice whispered silkily at the back of his mind. And now he was bonded to the priestess in turn. Perhaps his father's sword could finally be his – after the girl's death.

A rumbling growl rolled from his lips and Sesshoumaru bit down to the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood. He stood up and paced across the clearing, his hand coming to rest on Tenseiga's hilt and wrapping around it. The darkness was there, lurking in the corners of his soul. The old wounds, the resentment, bitterness and scorn. The bloodlust.

But he was Sesshoumaru, the head of the Tsumekiri clan, and he knew better than to allow these emotions and baser instincts rule him.

.

.

.

In the light of the morning, back on the road and travelling with his brave miko, Sesshoumaru felt shame for the resentment that had come over him last night, for the brooding, unsavoury thoughts that had flitted through his head. Even if he felt wronged, it would not do to cling to such petty bitterness. He would not let that outrage consume him. And although it still stung to see his father's heirloom in the hands of another, if it could not be him, who better to wield Tessaiga than his lady?

At a first glance, it felt queer to see his father's sword strapped to the miko's waist. But the longer he thought about it, the more fitting it seemed. The fang had a connection with Kagome from the start, he mused, absentmindedly rubbing his upper left arm. She was the one who passed the barrier and pulled it free. And the sword had not transformed until Inuyasha made his promise to protect her.

Yes, he decided, Tessaiga belongs to her.

And perhaps it is time she protect herself.

Sesshoumaru stopped and turned to his mate, giving her an appraising glance.

"What?" she questioned, her brow rising.

"I think we should give you lessons." Sesshoumaru told her, his voice firm. "Now that you have a sword, it would be best you knew how to wield it."

"Really?" Kagome blinked at him, taken aback.

Sesshoumaru shrugged.

"In these uncertain times, it would be only prudent if you knew how to defend yourself."

"I suppose… " Kagome bit her lip. "But still, is that quite proper?"

"Why would it not be?" Sesshoumaru asked, genuinely puzzled by such a notion.

"Well… Because I am a woman?"

Sesshoumaru frowned. Again, with these silly human conceptions.

"I fail to see how your sex would hinder you from wielding a weapon. You humans are so nonsensical with your notions of propriety. Is not the fiercest warrior of all a mother who is protecting her young? Demonesses are born with claws and fangs, same as the males."

Kagome crossed her arms across her chest.

"In case you have missed the obvious, I am not a demoness," she spoke dryly.

Sesshoumaru fought down the urge to roll his eyes.

"Some human women have taken up arms. Are we not living in a war that has already spanned for decades? A war in which everyone is fighting everyone? This is an age where even the peaceful monks are gathering armies to their temples. So why should not a miko learn how to wield a sword?"

"I give up," Kagome sighed. "You win."

Chapter Text

 

 

”You are too stiff.”

The large hands ran down her spine, coaxing her to relax. They splayed on her hips, tilting them ever so slightly to the left.

“Better,” Sesshoumaru spoke, approval lacing his voice.

It felt decidedly weird in Kagome’s opinion, to actually have someone instruct her. There were tons of things she had needed to pick up and learn in order to cope in this war-torn era, but she had always been fully self-taught. No one had taken the time and effort to show her how things should be done, so to her it had always been a process of touch and go and some quick thinking on her feet.

Really, it was a wonder she had made it this far, some kami must have been smiling down at her.

Another odd factor about this was that Sesshoumaru actually appeared to be an apt teacher, which was something Kagome had not particularly expected of the aloof daiyoukai.

He slowly eased himself into a position mirroring hers.

“Try to keep the tension out of your muscles,” he advised. “The key is to be alert but fluid.”

Kagome let out a breath, flexing her sweaty hand.

“It is not entirely unlike dance,” Sesshoumaru continued, his voice deep and smooth. “There are steps one needs to learn and also a kind of rhythm to it. And like dance, it is first and foremost a form of art.”

 A form of art designed to kill, Kagome thought to herself.

“Over time you will develop your own flow but you should not worry about that yet, it comes only with practise.”

Kagome looked at Sesshoumaru, and the ease with which he carried himself. How many hours had he practised to reach such graceful perfection? How many years?

“Now, try to follow after me.”

And Sesshoumaru started a simple kata. He took a single step forward while pulling his katana out of its sheath, ending in a stand, holding onto the sword with his both hands.

Kagome tried to match his movements, and while she lacked the daiyoukai’s grace and poise, she didn’t think she’d done half bad. As she moved, Sesshoumaru followed her motions with a critical eye.

“Try to make your movements more decisive,” he said at last. “Be bolder.”

Kagome set her jaw and tried again.

“Do not grip the sword so hard,” was his next comment. “Use a gentle hand like you do with your bow.”

Kagome exhaled, all the bits and pieces of his advice flitting across her mind one after another.

She tried again. And again. And again.

When Sesshoumaru finally called a halt, her bangs were glued to her sweaty forehead. Her breathing was a bit heavier as well, her limbs tired from repeating the forms.

“So, how is it?” she asked her teacher, stretching her arms before plopping down to sit on the grass.

“We shall make a swordswoman out of you,” the daiyoukai replied with smooth confidence Kagome couldn’t quite match.

It wasn’t that she doubted Sesshoumaru’s teaching skills or regarded herself inadequate. Rather, she had just never considered herself a swordswoman or entertained the thought of becoming one. The bow had always been enough for her, a suitable weapon even if it had initially been rather forcefully thrust at her.

Then again, she hadn’t exactly asked for Tessaiga, either.

She cradled the sheathed sword in her hands, her muscles beginning to ache ever so slightly. The katas had been oddly meditating, much like her bow practise usually was. Concentrating on the physical activity, repeating the same movements again and again had cleared her head and left her mind blissfully blank. Now that the training was over, however, her scattered thoughts were swarming, rushing to fill the void. Her emotions flitted through as well, starkly conflicted.

Suddenly, she needed to be alone. She muttered something about a bath to Sesshoumaru. He helpfully pointed a path to her, telling that it would lead to a small stream up ahead. Kagome nodded and set on the path, soon disappearing into the cover of the trees.

She had been suppressing her feelings for a few days now, ever since the fight, and now they were bubbling back to the surface with vigour. Her brow creased as she walked, still clutching the sword in her hand as she tried to sort out the messy tangle of her mixed thoughts.

She was both elated and forlorn that she had Tessaiga. She was glad that Inuyasha had been avenged. Though it had been more a bloodbath than justice, it had lent her some closure to see those murderers’dead.

At the same time, however, the fact that the fang had transformed in her hands had been a bitter pill to swallow. Accepting the sword as hers meant that she had to accept that Inuyasha was gone. The acknowledgement filled her with distraught aching; almost as if she had lost him all over again. It almost made her want to curl up and cry, but she knew that she couldn’t, even if she wanted to.

Finally, Kagome reached the stream. She set down the old katana and shed her loose-fitting clothing. She waded into the shallow water, hissing and gritting her teeth at its crisp bite. The water was murky but it had to do, and she bent down to scoop some into her cupped hands so she could wash her face.

Through their bond she could still feel Sesshoumaru, a tiny, lonely speck of calmness in the distance.

She sat down on the rocky bed of the little stream and drew her knees to her chest.

She still felt conflicted about the prospect of learning to wield the sword. It would be yet another difference.

She had changed. The day she had heard the news, the second her heart had shattered, her life had ground to a halt and she had become someone else.

A part of her had always known that going back wasn’t an option. She simply could never be the same again; she could no longer become the Kagome she had been with Inuyasha.

She had to make her own way, learn to be just herself, on her own… But every step she took lead further away from the had beens. And although that was oddly exhilarating, it was freeing and it stayed the pain, it also made her feel guilty.

How could she do all these things? How could she travel to new places, meet new people, learn new things? How could she just keep going, walk her own path when the man she had loved was gone?

How could her heart still be beating in her chest when it was so irreparably broken?

 


L---A---L


 

 

“We will be arriving today.” Sesshoumaru had told her early that morning as the two of them had set forth. Kagome had been riddled with anticipation and anxiety all morning as they trekked across the wooded lands. She was eager to get there, their journey had been long and she was curious to finally see their destination. Yet at the same time she felt apprehensive. This was Sesshoumaru’s home, which meant that it would be her home. What if she didn’t like it? What if she wasn’t welcome? She was the lady of the Tsumekiri clan now, as Lady Mother had reminded her, several times. What would Sesshoumaru’s servants and retainers think? Having a human as their lady, and worse still, a miko? Would they accept her?

And what did she know about being a lady, anyway?

The life she had lead with Inuyasha had been simple. They had their small hut in the village of Edo, a humble house, really, with dirt floors and straw roof. She had helped the villagers, gathered herbs, given Sango a hand with the children. She had cared for the orphans of the village and helped to feed them. Sometimes, she had gone with Inuyasha on one of his trips to visit other villages to rid them of troublesome lesser youkai. None of her daily tasks had really required her to don fancy, heavy silks or govern a household consisting of –

How many people there even were, in Tsumekiri clan? She knew Sesshoumaru was the only actual clan member, but to keep up a palace there had to be retainers, servants, guards. She doubted that Jaken and Ah-Un were the only ones she had to worry about.

“How many are there?” she found herself asking her mate.

“How many what?” he asked, puzzled.

“You know, servants, guards, retainers, how many are there in Tsumekiri?”

“Sixteen, including Jaken,” he replied on an even tone.

Kagome mulled over the answer. Sixteen wouldn’t be too large on a household to run, even though it was much bigger than what was used to. Maybe she could do this.

It was early afternoon when she first glimpsed it, nestled in the side of a mountain. The building was hiding behind tall white walls, so she could only really see its black tiled roof. Her throat became just a smidge dryer with every step they took towards the structure. Her steps started to feel heavy, and not just because they were now ascending the hill.

Two guards were standing at the big, wooden gate. They both bowed to Sesshoumaru and welcomed him back. One sent Kagome a curious look but said nothing. The heavy gate swung open, letting them in.

Kagome curiously stared at her new home.

It was not a castle like the seat of Lady Mother and Mikazuki had been. It was a low, wooden, single-story house, rather like those of the samurai class. It was well-fortified and appeared very sturdy, the dark pillars supporting the curving roof decorated with carvings.

The gate closed behind them with a dull bang, and Kagome flinched, her anxiety returning and overtaking her curiosity. She tried to take a deep breath, to root herself in the calm, cool, impassive presence of the daiyoukai standing by her side. 

Demons could sense her nervousness, she reminded herself. She held her head up high and clenched her jaw. She would not give a first impression of a cowering, fearful girl. If she did, how could she ever hope to gain their respect?

She felt the weight of Sesshoumaru’s golden gaze briefly on her. Then he strode forward, and she had little choice but to follow. Before they had reached the building, however, the doors slid open and Jaken waddled out, followed by a youkai Kagome did not recognise.

“Sesshoumaru-sama!” the little kappa cried, as self-important as always. “Welcome back! We are happy that you have returned!”

Then, Jaken noticed Kagome, and came to a jarring halt. His eyes bulged comically and his small beak of a mouth opened and closed, before he finally managed to croak: “What is she doing here?!”

The other youkai stopped as well, and knelt, bowing deep.

“Raise your head,” Sesshoumaru told him, ignoring Jaken’s sputtering.

“Welcome home, my lord,” the demon spoke. “We are pleased of your safe return.”

Sesshoumaru turned to Kagome.

“This is Nobuo,” he introduced the servant to her, “the steward of the Tsumekiri estate.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Kagome said with a small smile and inclined her head.

“Nobuo, this is my mate Kagome.”

Jaken screeched, but one cold glare from Sesshoumaru effectively silenced him.

“Welcome to Tsumekiri, my lady,” Nobuo said, bowing again. “We have been expecting you. We received a note from Chiyo-hime of the Mikazuki, informing us from your arrival. She also sent my lady a package.”

“That must be the kimono that Lady Mother mentioned,” Kagome nodded. “Thank you, Nobuo-san.”

Almost as an afterthought, Kagome turned to the kappa. “Nice to see you again, Jaken.”

Jaken croaked but held his tongue under his lord’s cool gaze, even though his face darkened until it seemed more purple than green.

“Please come in, my lord, my lady. Akie-san is expecting you.”

“Akie-san?” Kagome echoed in a small voice.

“The head of the servants,” Sesshoumaru readily explained. “She makes sure that the household runs smoothly.”

Definitely someone she would have to get along with and win over to her side, the miko thought, swallowing a sigh. Keep your head up high, Kagome, she reminded herself. You’re a lady now.

She squared her shoulders, and followed Sesshoumaru into the house.

After the two had disappeared, Jaken stomped his small foot.

“What is Sesshoumaru-sama thinking?” He wailed. “Bringing that half-breed’s woman here!”

“My lord chose to honour a long practised tradition. When he heard of Inuyasha-sama’s passing, my lord nobly went to attend his funeral and to accept his widow,” the steward said curtly with a disdainful glance to Jaken’s direction. “It is not our place to question our lord’s decisions.”

Inside, Akie-san greeted them and welcomed them home. The servant pursed her lips and her sharp brown eyes gave the miko a once over before she nodded briskly. She informed Sesshoumaru that everything had gone well in his absence and announced that the dinner would be served at five. Sesshoumaru inclined his head and asked Akie-san to show Kagome around, and then he took his leave.

 Kagome tried not to squirm after being left alone with the head servant, who frankly seemed like an intimidating person. Perhaps it was the way with which she carried herself; she had a quiet dignity that commanded respect. 

“It is just as well that my lord chose me to show you around,” Akie-san boasted as she led Kagome along the corridors towards her room.  “I am the best person for such a job anyway, having been here the longest.”

“Really?” Kagome’s brow quirked in earnest curiosity. “You don’t seem that old to me. Although I can never really tell with youkai.”

“Oh no, my lady,” the head servant chortled. “When I first came here, lord Sesshoumaru’s father had only just learned to walk.”

Kagome let her gaze travel as she followed the servant through the house. The seat of the Tsumekiri clan appeared to be very clean and well-taken care for. It was a simpler residence than that of the Mikazuki’s had been. The dark wood of the floors was rich and polished, the paper in the shouji screens and fusuma was thick and of high-quality. It was beautiful but also plain, lacking the embellishments and the adornments she had seen at Lady Mother’s castle. Frankly, Kagome felt more at ease here. Simple, plain and humble suited her better than rich decorations. 

Before Kagome knew it, the elder youkai halted.

“Here we are, my lady.” She knelt on the floor, and slid the door open.

Kagome held her breath, and stepped into the room she would be living in from now on. Like the rest of the house, it was clean and modest. The rich kimono Lady Mother had sent her had been hung on their racks. Thewood surfaces of the room were so well polished that they gleamed.

“It looks very nice, thank you,” Kagome breathed.

“I will give you a proper tour of the house later,” the servant promised, “for now I am sure my lady wishes to refresh herself after her travel.”

“That would be lovely, yes,” the miko readily agreed.

“The bath house has been prepared for you. Kasumi will show you there.”

 Kagome turned and saw a young hanyou kneeling in the doorway.

“Go on then,” Akie-san shooed her. “I will be here when my lady returns.”

“Alright,” Kagome agreed, amused at the bossiness of her servant. She took off her bow and quiver, and then pulled Tessaiga out from under the belt where she had tucked it.

She was home now. She wouldn’t have to carry her weapons here.

“Let’s go then,” she smiled at the hanyou serving girl.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Over the next few days, she saw Sesshoumaru only in passing. They would dine together in the afternoon and spent some time in the evenings enjoying a cup of tea out on the verandaoverlooking the garden. But other than those few moments, the daiyoukai was practically locked in his study with the steward, sorting out the estate’s affairs. Kagome had quickly gleaned that the steward and the head servant were the two key players of the Tsumekiri. And if Sesshoumaru was spending his days with Nobuo, Kagome was stuck with Akie-san.

It was not a terrible fate or anything, Kagome found herself rather liking the old youkai. She was bossy; an immensely practical woman who suffered no nonsense. She was good at what she did, and she had been doing it for a long time. Akie-san knew the Tsumekiri house and its residents inside out. Kagome was sure that she could have just sat back and let the head servant run the household if she wanted to. But the idea made her feel restless and ill at ease. A lady she might be now, but Kagome was not made to spend her days sitting idle. A stationary life did not scare her – although her youth had been filled with travel, she was older now. She had been happy to settle down with Inuyasha, and she didn’t yearn for adventures like she might have eight years ago. She was glad to be here at Tsumekiri, and she wanted to get involved. This was her home now. These were her people.  So she had asked for Akie-san to show her the ropes, and the older female had readily agreed.

She had given Kagome the tour of the house and she had tried to memorise all the rooms and the corridors. Early the very next morning, Akie-san called all the servants in attendance, so that she could introduce them to Kagome.

There were three servants in all, working directly under Akie-san. One of them was Kasumi, the shy hanyou girl she had met the previous day. Then there was Ran, the cook, and her two kitchen maids.

None of them appeared to be openly hostile towards Kagome, or unwilling to welcome a human in their midst, for which the miko was glad. Yet, it was difficult to gauge what they really thought of her. There had been a few long stares, but mostly their eyes had been downcast, the polite subservience efficiently masked their inner thoughts. Still, it hardly mattered in the end. Kagome had come here to be their lady, not their friend. The only thing she needed of them was their respect, and she had a feeling that as long as she was able to win Akie-san over to her side, the rest would follow.

“And what about the other seven?” she asked Akie-san that afternoon as the servant served her tea in her room. “Sesshoumaru told me there were sixteen in total.”

“The rest are guards, not servants,” Akie-san explained as she laid the cup of tea before her lady.

“That seems like a lot,” Kagome frowned at Akie-san.

“Perhaps,” the head of servants had acquiesced. “But Tsumekiri was a warrior clan. For centuries, they were renowned for their prowess in the battlefield and were held in high regard. If there ever was a conflict, Tsumekiri were sought-out allies. That is why even a greater clan such as Mikazuki was happy to join their blood to ours.”

“It makes me feel sad,” Kagome sighed, picking up her cup and gazing down to her tea. “To think that once this house was full of life and now these rooms are mostly quiet.”

“Times change, my lady,” Akie-san said simply. “That is the way of life. And the Tsumekiri line still continues.”

Kagome hummed and sipped her tea. She felt the weight of the servant’s gaze on her, and looked up, her blue eyes locking with her sharp brown ones.

“I know this, my lady,” Akie-san spoke in a firm tone. “My lord may carry the crescent moon on his brow, but he is as much his father’s son as he is his mother’s.”

A dry smile touched the older youkai’s lips then, and the knowing look in her eyes twisted in Kagome’s gut like a knife.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It did not take long until Kagome understood just why Tsumekiri had such a small household. Having met all the servants and the guards, she soon realised that the vast majority of them were not much older than Sesshoumaru. Most of those who were left were those who had been too young to take part in the battle against the dragon clan 150 years ago. And as they were young youkai, most of them had not yet mated or started a family of their own.

All in all, Kagome rather liked the clan. The people were courteous enough, and the smallness of Tsumekiri meant it was very close knit. Everyone knew each other very well, and there was that cosy warmth of family present in their interactions. She loved the house itself, the rich but simple architecture and the gardens surrounding it.

Adjusting to this new life was still a work in a progress though.

Even though Kagome had decided to get involved, it was easier said than done. She felt reluctant to interfere with how the everyday things were run, she saw no reason to fix something that wasn’t broken. After all, Tsumekiri had fared well without her for decades, and everyone seemed to have their own roles to play in caring for the house. Of course she wanted to do her part, but she couldn’t help but wonder if the clan really even needed her input. It just felt a bit backwards, that she was the one ultimately calling the shots even though she was a newcomer. She was trying her best and gave her opinion when she talked everything over with Akie-san, but nonetheless she didn’t feel quite at home in this new role.

One of the things that bothered her was that she suddenly had all this time on her hands. As the lady of the clan, however small, there were none of the usual chores to fill her days. The servants saw to the cleaning, fetching the water and the firewood. The cook prepared their meals. It felt weird, to have other people do these things for her when she had been independent for years. She had been responsible for the upkeep of her own household but now she had to sit back and turn to something else to occupy her.

The lessons were one thing that helped in that. At Kagome’s request, Akie-san had agreed to continue what Lady Mother had started, and taught her etiquette, lectured about the demon society, told her about the different clans.

Another way to stay the boredom was the sword training. Kagome had taken to practising her swordsmanship with vigour, spending a few hours at it every day. Sometimes Sesshoumaru would come to teach her. Sometimes she would train on her own. Sometimes she would gain an audience out of the Tsumekiri guards, who would frown at her. Hadn’t they ever seen a miko with a sword before?

Well, probably not.

Sesshoumaru had argued that women had also taken arms in this era, but Kagome knew that for the most part women only fought in self-defence and under extreme circumstances. And even then they used naginata; the sword was not a woman’s weapon.

But then again, that was only true for humans. The demons appeared to have a different mind-set. She had been noticing some of those cultural differences already when she had been travelling with Sesshoumaru, but here in Tsumekiri, surrounded by demons, they became much more evident.

None of her spectators scoffed or said her place wasn’t in the training yard. The only thing the guards seemed to be expressing towards her was curiosity.

Odd as it was, and though she still was uncomfortable with her new status, she felt hopeful that with time and patience, she could one day call this place her home.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Sesshoumaru sighed and set down the piece of parchment. He padded across the room and seated himself on the veranda, taking a deep breath of the fresh air and letting his gaze rest on the garden.

He enjoyed travelling, and it was always a pleasant change in his normal routine to leave his home for a short while. But coming back home was always unpleasant, it always seemed like things had the cruel habit of piling up in his absence, and his first few days back were always busy and filled with paperwork, learning about everything that had gone on while he had been away.

Like now, while he had gone to Inuyasha’s funeral and travelled with Kagome, there had been a minor altercation between a pack of wolves that resided nearby and a flock of bird youkai.  Another report had arrived from one of the inuyoukai clans northeast, complaining about a temple near their territory and how the monks residing there had been growing more aggressive. Neither matter involved Tsumekiri, at least as of now, but Sesshoumaru had to be aware of what was happening in the area.

Of course this time, the business that always followed his return made him feel even more frustrated than usual. Although he had full confidence that Akie-san would look after Kagome, he felt guilty that he hadn’t been there himself to show his mate around, to guide her through the first days at her new home. A part of him felt that it might have been better this way, to show Kagome was not reliant on him, but he couldn’t be sure if that was what he really thought or if it was just one of the rationalised excuses he offered himself to alleviate his guilt. He trusted each member of his household, and he knew that they would welcome his mate and treat her with the respect her station required… But some of them might feel reservations about having a human as their lady. Some might feel she would weaken the Tsumekiri line, some might feel that the history was repeating itself. The last time the Lord of the clan had chosen a human woman, she had ultimately been the death of him. And while Kagome was no Izayoi, and while Sesshoumaru’s reasons for mating her were undisputable, some might still hold his father’s mistakes against her.

His father had defeated Ryuukotsusei and then rushed to save Izayoi, and had forfeited his life saving her. The word of his death reached the dragons and they instantly seized the perfect opportunity to avenge their leader.  They had attacked Tsumekiri and many good people had died, the castle had been razed to the ground.

Inu no Taishou had been great general, one of the few who had risen to rule over the West, but all he had left for his son to inherit had been the ashes and smoke of his rule, and a useless sword meant to drive in one of his pointless lessons.

Sesshoumaru huffed, determinedly banishing all thoughts of his father. The past was in the past, and he had to focus on the now.

As he looked out at the garden, there was a flare of familiar youki and Sesshoumaru turned towards the door.

“Come in,” he called, and then watched as the screen slid open. Akie-san stepped in, and then knelt on the tatami to shut the door, before she turned to face him.

“My lord called for me,” the servant said, bending in a fluid bow.

“That I did,” Sesshoumaru bit back a sigh. “Come here, Akie-san.”

The servant stood up and crossed the room, taking a seat on the veranda at a respectful distance.

Sesshoumaru turned back to the garden, and decided to get straight to business.
“How is Kagome doing?”

“The lady is still adjusting, my lord,” Akie-san replied honestly. “It will take time until she will grow comfortable enough to call this her home, until she will feel at ease in her position.”

Sesshoumaru nodded, expecting as much. The life the miko had led was hardly a conventional one. It would be difficult for her to get used to the demon society, let alone the sudden change in class. Sesshoumaru had visited Edo often over the years, keeping an eye on Rin. He had seen what Kagome had built for herself with Inuyasha, he knew she had found happiness in a humble setting. She had always been modest, Sesshoumaru mused to himself. Perfectly content with what she had, never yearning for more.

“And what do you think of her?” he asked next, half-dreading the answer. On occasion, Akie-san’s word had even more weight in the house than his did. After all she was more than just a servant; she was one of the fixtures of his childhood, having served the clan since his father had been a small child. If she approved of Kagome, the rest would come to accept her as well, no matter their doubts. But if she did not…

“She appears to be a bit unsure of herself,” Akie-san said, pursing her lips. “Still, she is not afraid to ask for help and seems willing to learn. I think you chose well, my lord. She will be a good fit, once she has grown accustomed with the clan and her own role as its lady.”

“That much is to be expected,” Sesshoumaru sighed. “The life she had with my half-brother was very different from that of a clan’s lady.”

“That accounts for some of it, of course,” Akie-san agreed, “but I suspect her grief to be a bigger reason for her insecurities.”

Sesshoumaru felt a wave of relief, both because Akie-san was able to read the situation so well, and because her words affirmed Sesshoumaru’s own thoughts.He had been worried about Kagome ever since the fight with the bandits. Her reaction to the bloodbath had disquieted him. Outside, she appeared to be coping well, but Sesshoumaru knew how deceiving appearances could be. He could feel the upheaval brewing underneath the surface. There had been something off about Kagome, ever since they had retrieved Tessaiga. He suspected that the sword itself had upset the precarious balance his mate was struggling to keep, serving as a constant reminder of their loss. 

“She is still in mourning,” he told the servant. “She could use your support, so please keep a close eye on her. I fear the worst is yet to come.”

Akie-san nodded firmly.

“It comes and goes, the sorrow. You think it has left completely but it is only bidding its time, ready to wash over you anew when you least suspect.”

Sesshoumaru’s jaw clenched. He had never lost a mate like Kagome or Akie-san had, but he knew grief – he had mourned for his father, for his clan… even now, he was mourning for his brother.

“What about the others?” he asked in a brisk tone, eager to escape from his gloomy thoughts.

“They treat her well enough, though I believe there is some dismay.” Akie-san paused and gave her lord a fleeting side-glance. “Some will inevitably think back to Izayoi-hime.”

Sesshoumaru’s lips formed a taut, grim line. He had known as much, but he still didn’t like it. Izayoi had been beautiful and kind, a prime example of the delicate lady the human aristocrats preferred. Kagome was different, all fire and steel. Or at least she had been.

“Some of the guards are warming up to her, though. She has gone down to the yard to practise her swordsmanship, and sometimes archery as well, and that has caught their attention. My boys were both curious about her, asking all kinds of questions. They can tell she has seen battle.”

“Good,” Sesshoumaru muttered.

“You need not worry, my lord,” Akie-san said. “Things have a way of falling into place.”

“Thank you, Akie-san. You may go.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

After a week at Tsumekiri, Kagome was slowly starting to fall into a routine. There was still a lot to learn and she still felt uncomfortable in her role of a lady, but she was getting the hang of this, one small step at a time. For one, she had decided to let Akie-san handle the finances. Math had always been the bane of her existence and the less she had to do with it, the better.

She saw much more of Sesshoumaru now that he had managed to work through everything that had piled up in his absence. They would have meals together and enjoy tea every afternoon. He would train her with the sword whenever he could spare the time from his own training. He did seem a bit more formal towards her during the interactions, though, now that they were no longer alone with just the two of them. She suspected it was a way to show the servants his respect towards her. He was good to her, as he had always been, but he gave her space, and had never even set his foot in her room.

Until that one fateful afternoon, that is.

To fill her days, Kagome had decided to start a new hobby, and had quickly settled on flower arranging. She had always liked flowers, and the simple traditional aesthetic. Besides it made for a pleasant past time, one that kept her hands busy while leaving her mind free to wander.

It was flower arranging that she was doing that afternoon, humming to herself as she carefully worked on her current piece.

A smile was playing on her lips as she slowly turned the vase around, when with a sudden start she had an epiphany.

In a fleeting, unbidden moment of clarity, she realised that she was glad she had accepted Sesshoumaru’s proposal. She was glad that she had followed him here.

She felt relieved. She felt free here, the way she never would have in Edo.

But as soon as she came to this realisation, Kagome was drowned by a tsunami of guilt. Because even though she knew she couldn’t help the way she felt, she thought she shouldn’tfeel relief. She shouldn’t feel hopeful about building a home somewhere else. With someone else.

The lotus bud fell from her limp fingers and her gaze frantically wandered around the room, landing on the katanakake proudly resting on a low side table.

She was on her feet and crossing the room before she even realised she had decided to move. Her hands desperately reached for the sword, curling tightly around the hilt and the scabbard, lifting it off the stand. She clung to it, a hollow ache spreading in her chest.

It was Inuyasha she should have shared her life with, she thought numbly. She gritted her teeth and pulled off the sheath. It fell to the tatami with a clatter as she watched Tessaiga transform.

But Inuyasha was gone.

She felt something shatter and suddenly it was hard for her to breathe. She stared at the sword in her hand until her eyes were burning and her vision starting to blur. Her fingers ran down the blade and blood beaded, dripping to the floor from the tips of her fingers. The cut didn’t even register in her mind. The sharp sting did not come anywhere close to the deep, soul-wrenching ache that had suddenly consumed her.

Her mouth agape, gasping for air, she tasted the bitter tang of salt on her tongue as the sobs wracked her body. Her knees felt weak and she crumbled onto the floor in a tangle of heavy silk, but she still held onto the sword, its sharp edge biting deeper into her hand.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The scent was faint but there was no mistaking that copper tang. Akie’s head turned sharply and the cloth dropped from her hands.

“Kasumi.” her voice cracked liked a whip, startling the hanyou servant. “Fetch the lord. Now.”

The serving girl scrambled to her feet but Akie was already moving towards the lady’s room. Forgoing the proper manners, she yanked the shouji door open so hard the wooden frame rattled.

The lady was lying on the floor in a listless heap of trembling limbs. She held her sword to her chest – the one that had once proudly hung on the former lord’s hip. Her hand was red with blood that was slowly dripping onto the floor, staining the tatami.

Akie quickly crossed the room and knelt next to the young woman.

“My lady,” she called to her, earning no response. Akie’s lips pursed and she reached for her, grabbing a firm hold of her hands and pried the limp fingers loose. She offered no resistance, and the sword fell onto the straw mat with a dull thud.  

Akie held the small, cold hands in her own, using the soft sleeve of her kosode to wipe away the blood. The lady did not react in any way or even acknowledge her presence. She stared at the floor with unseeing eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks and dropping into her lap.

On the far side of the house, youki flared in a steep incline, and Akie felt a wave of relief. She was not sure if even lord Sesshoumaru would be able to snap the lady out of it, but at least he could use their bond to keep her from getting any worse. Grief was a powerful thing, and according to her lord, lady Kagome had been trying to shy away from it. It must have been even worse for her now, having to finally face it in full. Akie had at least had her sons to ground her and keep her moving. And she had not been alone in her sorrow either, the entire clan had been in mourning. They had lost their lord, their friends, members of their family to the dragons, so Tsumekiri had come together to lick their collective wounds.

But lady Kagome was alone. And the only one who could anchor her was the lord.

Akie looked up, and met the hard golden gaze of lord Sesshoumaru. He stood in the doorway, his posture stiff and his jaw clenched, appraising the situation. Then, he shook his head.

Akie let go of the lady’s hands. They fell limply to her sides as her chest heaved and the tears poured down.

Akie got up and walked over to the doorway.

“Send word to Mikazuki,” the told her once she stood by his side. “Tell mother to come.”

“Yes, my lord,” she replied. Her lord strode into the room, his swelling youki filling it. Akie lingered long enough to see lord Sesshoumaru crouch down on the tatami and place his hands on the lady’s shaking shoulders.

Akie knelt and quietly slid the door shut, just as a keening wail pierced the air.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The tears kept falling. There seemed to be no end to them. She had not cried at the funeral, not when she had visited his grave, not once since she had heard the news of his death. But now the tears came pouring out, fat and wet, streaming down her cheeks.

Her nose was running, the snot carving its own trails down her face. Her mouth hung open, her sobs were loud and desperate. Everything hurt, and a broken wail tore from her throat, a raw heart-breaking noise that sounded strange and grated even her own ears.

The dark swirl of emotion consumed her; pain, grief, guilt, loneliness. Those feelings latched onto her soul, they clawed at the broken pieces of her heart. The world around her was spinning madly, and she felt like she was falling, down and down in an endless spiral, down into a black, bottomless pit.

And then the strong arms wrapped tighter around her shoulders and she clung to them, her nails digging into the slippery silk of his kosode. His hands were warm, she felt the heat through the layers of her clothes as he held onto her so tightly it hurt. It took her a while to hear the constant murmur in her ear. She couldn’t make out any of the words, not when the loud broken sobs racked her body and filled the room, but the sound of the deep, soothing voice was enough.

The touch, the voice, the steady tug of her bond with him… they grounded her, anchored her. He would not let her fall into that pit. The darkness still lingered. The grief still burned in her veins. Her heart was still shattered and broken. The loneliness still chilled her soul. The horrible ache of her loss was still there, but eventually her breathing came easier, and the pained sobs grew smaller and quieter. Eventually, the torrent of her tears thinned down to a trickle.

And finally, the tension left her body and she slumped in his arms.

Weariness washed over her. She felt empty and drained. Her head was sluggish and pounding.

With a faint rustle of silk he shifted, releasing his hold of her and then gently wiped her cheeks with his sleeve. The fabric felt smooth and cool against her puffed skin, and a small sigh escaped from her lips.  

He focused his attention on her hand next, and she was a bit surprised to see the wound on her palm. He used the same sleeve, wet from her tears, to dab away the blood staining the heel of her palm.

She sat still and limp, allowing him to go through his ministrations. She saw him, felt his clawed fingers brush her skin, felt the steady pulse of their bond and the heat radiating from his body. Yet, she felt detached, like there was an invisible wall separating her from the rest of the world; a veil of grief that shrouded her.

 


L---A---L


 

 

She landed, her slender paws light as a feather as they touched the ground. Her youki flared and rose, wrapping around her in a bright light. When the transformation was complete, the light faded, and she raked her claws through her silver-white hair. She adjusted her heavy uchikake, gathering its hem in her hand so it would not drag through the dirt as she continued up the hill on foot.

The two guards posted at the gates sprung to attention at the sight of her and bowed low, before opening the gate. Out in the yard, Akie was waiting for her.

“Chiyo-hime,” she greeted with a polite bow.

“It has been a while, Akie,” Chiyo replied, inclining her head in turn. “How is it?”

“It is quite grave,” Akie said. She turned and began to lead Chiyo into the building. “The lady seems truly broken. The crying has stopped for now, but she has not really slept or eaten.”

“Why now, though? Was there something to set her off?”

Akie pursed her lips.

“Personally, I believe it was the sword. She was holding it when I found her. Tight enough to cut herself.”

“The sword?”

“Tessaiga. The lady was carrying it when she arrived with the lord.”

“Truly?” Chiyo said, unable to keep the surprise from her voice. “How remarkable.”

“It was quite unexpected,” Akie agreed.

“And how is Sesshoumaru?”

“You know the young lord, he does not reveal much of himself. He has not left the lady’s side.”

“That is good. She needs him right now. And he needs her, although he might not even realise it.”

“As you say, Chiyo-hime.”

“The floors are well polished,” Chiyo remarked. “You were always responsible and dutiful. You have taken good care of the clan. For that, and for looking after my son, you have my thanks.”

“I am grateful, Chiyo-hime, but I do not need your thanks. This is my job.”

Chiyo nodded, a fleeting smile touching her lips. They walked the rest of the way in silence, until they came upon a familiar set of doors.

The two women stopped.

Chiyo stared at the shouji screen and studied the minor fluctuations of her son’s aura.

“I will have a talk with him first,” she decided.

Akie gave her a firm nod and Chiyo waited out in the corridor, watching as the servant knelt, slid the door open, and disappeared into the room.

Then, her son came out, and shut the door after him.

He didn’t greet her, or nod, just looked at her, his golden eyes dull and conflicted. He started down the corridor. Chiyo straightened her uchikake and followed, the brocaded silk whispering as it trailed after her steps.  

They entered his study. He took a seat behind his desk, and then stared at the papers littering the low table in silence. She smoothed the hem of her uchikake and kosode as she sat down onto the tatami.

Her hands primly clasped in her lap, she levelled her piercing stare at her son.

“How are you?”

He scoffed, but she noticed the miniscule twitch of the corners of his lips.

“Worried,” he spoke, his voice wry and gruff.

“I suppose that cannot be helped,” Chiyo hummed. She leaned over the desk and set her hand on Sesshoumaru’s shoulder. “Kagome is strong,” she told him, her voice firm and full of conviction. “She will pull through.”

Sesshoumaru didn’t reply right away. He hung his head and his shoulders slumped as the stiffness left his body. “I have never seen her like this,” he admitted at last. His voice was laden with concern and his eyes were tired when he finally met Chiyo’s assessing gaze.

“Well, she has never been like this,” she tried to reason. “This is the turning point. The bottom of the pit. This is the worst we will let it get.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrows knitted.

“Let it?”

“It will not be an easy task, but it is a vital one. Now that we are here, she has to confront it. No more hiding or evading; no more running away from the sorrow. You will have to make sure of that. Do not let her turn her back on this.”

“Would it not be kinder for her to let her mourn however she wants to?”

“No, Sesshoumaru. You have to think of her well-being in the long run. If her arm was broken, you would set the bone so it could heal right. It is much the same with her grief. She will not heal right unless she faces her feelings and accepts them.”

“I suppose you are right, mother,” Sesshoumaru sighed.

Chiyo pursed her lips. She knew that Kagome was not the only one going through a difficult time. It was only natural that her distress would make Sesshoumaru feel anxious. His instincts nagged at him to be there, to support his mate, but clearly he was at a loss.

Well, luckily for him, she was here to tell him just how he could be of help.

“She needs to let herself feel the grief. She has to dwell on it and let it run its course. Only then can she put it behind her and move on. Do not let her withdraw and retreat into herself. Talking will help her to unburden her heart.”

Sesshoumaru nodded slowly. His forehead was still creased but there was a small spark in his eyes now, the same grim determination that had him clench his jaw.

Chiyo smiled, and patted his shoulder in approval. It would not be easy – on either of them – but she was sure Sesshoumaru would do his best.

“Get some rest for a while,” she told her son. “And keep your bond open and strong.”

“What will you do, mother?”

Chiyo tilted her head.

“I think it is time for me to see Kagome.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

Chiyo drew a deep breath and slid the door open. Tenderly she stepped in and hovered in the doorway, surveying the room. She had not been in this room for decades, but just standing here the memories came back, unbidden. Recollections of the time when she had established herself as the lady of Tsumekiri after leaving her own clan; of the late evenings when Inu no Taisho had called on her. They had drunk tea and sometimes chatted, sometimes sat in silence and taken comfort in each other’s company. She remembered cradling Sesshoumaru in her arms, drinking in the soft features of the sleeping baby.

But most of all, Chiyo thought as she looked at the forlorn woman sitting in the middle of the room and picking at the food on the tray next to her, she felt conscious about the corner to her left. She had spent weeks there, lying on the floor with her cheek pressed against the rough straw of the mat, staring at the wall with unseeing eyes and ignoring food, ignoring the concerned servants bustling about, ignoring Akie and Sesshoumaru.

Chiyo shook herself, and as she crossed the room she put a firm lid on the memories, willing the past back into the past. Right now was what mattered, right now was important. She knelt on the floor before Kagome and unceremoniously pulled her into her arms. At first she stiffened, her hands falling limply to her sides. But Chiyo did not care, she held her close and soothingly combed her messy hair with her clawed fingers. Soon enough, her shoulders started shake and her hands rose to fist the silk of Chiyo’s uchikake as the tears started to fall once again.

There was movement at the edge of her vision as Akie got up, but Chiyo levelled her a look over Kagome’s trembling shoulders and shook her head, bidding Akie to stay.

Once Akie had once again taken her seat, Chiyo focused her attention to Kagome. She rubbed gentle circles on her back, all the while allowing her hand to run through the short black locks.

“I know,” she whispered in a low soothing voice. “I know, little one. It will be all right. Just let it all out. Let it hurt.”

The minutes stretched and time lost its meaning. Kagome desperately clung to Chiyo, who calmly held on, continuing to whisper words of encouragement into her ear. Finally, the trickle of tears ran dry. Kagome heaved a heavy sigh, feeling drained and exhausted.

But Chiyo was far from done.

She slowly pulled away, holding Kagome at an arm’s length as her piercing golden gaze inspected her form.

“You need a bath,” she told the younger woman. “But first, you must eat something.”

Kagome stayed silent and Chiyo started scooping rice into a bowl. By now the food was lukewarm at best, but that did not matter. She would not let her daughter-in-law starve herself like she had. Unlike her, Kagome’s mortal body could not survive without sustenance for weeks at the end.

“I’m not really hungry,” Kagome spoke at last, her voice raw and quiet.

Chiyo shook her head, selecting some of the pickled vegetables as side dishes and carefully setting them on top of the rice in the bowl.

“I am afraid that is of no consequence,” Chiyo replied firmly. “You will eat, even if I haveto feed you myself.”

Chiyo offered her the bowl and Kagome met her eyes. Then, she lowered her gaze and accepted the food, her shoulders slumped.

Akie got up and walked over to the door, calling over a maidservant and instructing her to prepare the bath house.

Chiyo stayed put, watching Kagome like a hawk.

Her movements belied her reluctance and disgruntlement: she picked at the food and only took small bites, but nevertheless, she ate.

As Akie moved back across the room, Chiyo made a note to talk to her and the cook later. She still remembered her own loss of appetite, and though it might be easier to coax Kagome to eat if for the moment they would prepare light foods and small portions.

Finally, Kagome set down the bowl, almost empty.

Chiyo poured a cup of tea and offered it to her. She grimaced, but downed the drink under the daiyoukai’s watchful gaze. Chiyo nodded her approval and then broke the morose silence in the room.

“I think it is time for the bath now. We shall not require assistance.”

“As you will, Chiyo-hime,” Akie replied, and then with a polite bow, handed over two simple cotton kimono.

Chiyo took off her heavy uchikake and tucked the change of clothes under her arm. Then, she wrapped her left arm around Kagome’s shoulders and helped her up. Side by side, they left the room and then walked down the twisting corridors. Chiyo still had her arm around Kagome, who was compliant and allowed Chiyo to guide her toward the bath house. Chiyo pursed her lips. Frankly, she would have welcomed a little resistance or perhaps indignation of being treated like a child. This indifferent obedience only made her worry.

She may not have known Kagome before she had suffered her loss, but Chiyo knew her son. A woman who would not challenge Sesshoumaru was not likely to win his respect. The strong will and the stubbornness she had seen glimpses of were clear indicators of the fire in her heart.

This silent resignation was not Kagome. She would never go back to that person she had been before. Neither had Chiyo. But if she could survive this pain, she could be better for it in the end. Stronger.

They crossed the garden, and Chiyo let go of Kagome and slid open the door of the bath house.

Chiyo set down the change of clothes and then helped Kagome out of her kimono. Too thin, the inudaiyoukai tutted, as she gently peeled off the layers of baggy silk.

Kagome sat down on a wooden stool and hugged herself. Chiyo shed her own clothing and let her silver hair down. Several wooden buckets had been filled with water. Chiyo tested the temperatures and chose one, handing it over to Kagome. She kept an eye on her as shewashed herself. While her movements still were a bit listless, the deep blue eyes now bore the slightest spark.

That was good, Chiyo decided. Perhaps now she was finally ready to listen.

“Here, let me,” the demoness offered, taking the soapy rag from Kagome’s hands. She knelt behind her and hummed absentmindedly as she rubbed soothing circles on her back, mindful of her claws.

“I know it feels bad right now,” she said. She felt Kagome stiffen under her ministrations, but did not stop. “I know it is painful and that you feel like you are lost in a dark tunnel of despair and that you cannot see any light at the end of it.” Chiyo paused. When she continued, her soft voice grew graver and sterner. “I want you to remember two things, Kagome. You need to remember two very important things.”

Chiyo dipped a bamboo ladle in a bucket and poured the hot water run down Kagome’s spine, rinsing out the soap.

“First, even though it feels like it right now, the tunnel is not endless and the light is there.”

Another ladleful of water splashed against the shaking shoulders. When she was sure there were no traces of soap left, Chiyo circled around the stool and crouched in front of Kagome.

She clasped her hands in her own, she took in the clenched jaw, the wide, helpless blue eyes, and the tears gathering in their corners.

“I am not saying that it will be easy to find your way out and back to the light. It is one of the hardest things you will ever do. It will feel impossible. You might stumble and take a wrong turn. You might get lost again. It might feel hopeless or like you are going around in circles. But all of that is all right, because that is how these things go. As long as you stay strong, you will find your way.”

Kagome drew a quivering breath. She squeezed at Chiyo’s hands

“I don’t know if I can,” she confessed in a small voice. “What if I’m not strong enough?”

“You are,” Chiyo spoke with utter conviction. “I can see it in you, little one. You are stronger than this.”

The sharp tang of fear still lingered in the air, mixing with the scent of soap, but the tension was slowly seeping away from Kagome’s body. Chiyo let out an internal sigh of relief.

“What’s the other thing?” Kagome asked after a moment of silence. “You said there were two things I need to remember.”

“The second is that you are not alone.” Chiyo squeezed her hands and gave her a small smile. “I know it might not seem that way to you, because no one is going through what you are going through right now. No one can really understand the pain you carry, not even I.”

Chiyo raised her piercing gold gaze to meet the vulnerable blue eyes and continued in a gentle tone. “Even so, there are people who have their own pain to bear, who have been touched by the same loss. And while he might not mean to them what he has meant to you, there are people who knew him and who mourn his passing.”

The breath escaped from Kagome’s lungs and her shoulders sagged. She sniffed loudly, and wiped away the tears threatening to spill. Then, she tugged at Chiyo’s hands

The inudaiyoukai understood her silent plea and helped her up from the stool. She draped the dry cotton kosode over Kagome’s shoulders and smoothed down her raven hair. It had grown since she had last seen her, almost reaching her shoulders now.

Her clawed fingers came to cradle her face, warm against her pale sunken cheeks. She drew a breath and gave Kagome one last piece of encouragemet.

“Do not be hesitant to rely on the people around you. I am here for you, little one. And so is Sesshoumaru.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Kagome curled up under the quilt, and stared into the darkness of the room. The tears had ended. The painful sorrow had ebbed away, retreated back to the murky corners of her soul where, she knew, it would lie in wait. She was clean and fed, and that actually made her feel marginally better, despite the initial reservations and reluctance she had expressed towards eating and bathing.

She closed her eyes and drew her knees closer to her chest. The day had been long and it had left her feeling drained, utterly exhausted both physically and mentally. She would have loved nothing better than sleep, blissful, deep, dreamless sleep that would allow her a moment’s reprieve from the grief and the pain of the broken heart.

But of course, sleep would not come.

She remembered the early days, tucked away in a corner of Kaede’s hut, lying on a futon day and night, trapped in her pain. She hadn’t been able to sleep, she hadn’t had any appetite… She had simply laidthere, trying to make sense of it all, waiting to wake up from this nightmare where Inuyasha was gone.

It was much the same now. Lying on the mattress, huddled under her quilt and unable to sleep. The numbness eating her heart and soul, filling her with that crippling emotion, the one feeling that scared her the most.

It was not grief or sorrow. It was not agony or heartache. It was not shock or loss.

It was not even the loneliness.

She would have welcomed any of those, painful as they were, squirming and wriggling underneath her skin, they were still something.

And something was always better than nothing.

Because that was the only feeling left to her now: emptiness.

She drew a quivering breath and opened her eyes again.

“Are you all right?”

The sudden question startled her almost as much as the voice in which it was asked.

Soft. Kind.

She hadn’t even known he could sound like that.

Kagome could faintly make out his outline in the darkness of the room. He sat at a respectful distance, close to the wall. Keeping watch, looking after her.

Her broken heart trembled in her chest. Would she dare…?

He had been so good to her, better than she had ever believed possible…

Could she really ask for more?

Would she dare to be so selfish?

“Sesshoumaru,” she called out to him in a choked whisper. “Please…”

With a rustle of silk and the scuff of bare feet against the straw of the tatami, Sesshoumaru was there, kneeling by her side, looking down at her his golden gaze full of concern.

“What is it, Kagome?”

Her hand snaked forward, curling around his wrist. As always, his skin was warm to her touch, much warmer than her own.

“I need…” she whimpered, trying to find the words.

She needed to get away from the nothingness.

She needed to not be alone.

She needed him.

“I want to forget, for just a moment… I need to feel something, something other than this.”

His eyes – looking slightly wider than they had a few seconds before – stared down where her fingers were still wrapped around his wrist.

Kagome waited, her breath stuck in her throat and her heart heavy in her chest. Had she asked for too much? He might not even be attracted to her. From the very beginning, their mating had been a calculated decision in which feelings took no part; a mutually beneficial arrangement. He had only ever offered her respect. And that had been more than enough until this very moment.

He drew a breath, his gaze moved from her hand to meet her eyes.

“Are you sure?” His voice was inquisitive but even.

Her grip of his wrist grew firmer. “Yes.”

Kagome gave no consideration to consequences. She was too caught up in the now, unable to think of anything but the numbness she wanted to escape.

Sesshoumaru reached over the mattress and Kagome released his wrist, rolling to her back. His fingers brushed against her shoulder in passing as he took a hold of the quilt and slowly peeled it off. He leaned over her and brushed his cheek against hers. His skin felt surprisingly soft, but softer still were the few glossy silver-white strands that fell over his shoulder to tickle the side of her neck. The breath Kagome had been holding left her in a small sigh.

Sesshoumaru’s free hand splayed on her waist as his head dropped lower. Kagome heard the keen inhale as his nose pressed against the curve of her neck – just an inch to the side from the spot Kagome suddenly remembered had been Inuyasha’s favourite. She squeezed her eyes shut and grimly pushed aside the thoughts of the man she loved as Sesshoumaru tugged her belt loose and gently slid her robe open. He placed a kiss on her collarbone and allowed his hands to dance on her bare skin. His touch was warm, his caresses feather-light.

So respectful, even now.

A wave of gratitude washed over Kagome and her eyes fluttered open. She took in the way his eyes followed the paths his fingers weaved on her body and for a moment felt nervous.

Unbidden again came a thought of another pair of golden eyes that had shone in the dark, how alight they had been when Inuyasha had looked at her. Her heart ached, and wanting to chase away the bitter sadness, needing to feel closer, Kagome wrapped her arms around Sesshoumaru’s neck. In return, he planted a fleeting kiss on her shoulder. His hands cupped her breasts and gave them a pondering squeeze before continuing their exploration. They ghosted over her ribs and then glided down over the expanse of her stomach. Tracing the lines of her hip bones, his touch finally came to a stop.

Sesshoumaru raised his head and gazed at her. Her chin lifted as she resolutely met his hooded eyes.

He grabbed a hold of her thigh with one hand, while the other dipped down. Kagome’s back arched and her lips parted, her intake of breath a sharp hiss. As Sesshoumaru’s fingers continued their gentle coaxing, Kagome had to bite her lip to stifle a moan. Her heart was racing, her breaths growing quicker and shallower.

“I put up a barrier,” he murmured, drinking in her flushed face and the rise and fall of her chest. “There is no need to worry about making noise.”

The next time, Kagome allowed moan leave her lips. The numbness was ebbing away and she loosened her hold of Sesshoumaru, let her hands trail to his shoulders and then reach down to his waist. Her trembling fingers struggled with the knot for a moment but finally managed to pry it loose. His robe fell open, the soft cotton whispering against her sides.

He paused in his ministrations and for a moment Kagome wondered if she had been too forward. But then he growled in approval, a soft, low rumbling sound that felt familiar and foreign at the same time. She rested her palms on his muscled chest and fought away the bittersweet memories, allowed herself to be lost in the sensations Sesshoumaru’s skilled fingers brought to life. She basked in the heat he was radiating, his nearness, the feel of his smooth skin under her hands.

Sesshoumaru’s burning gaze bore into her blue eyes. His hand left her thigh and moved to the small of his back to untuck the ends of his fundoshi. Kagome reached down to join his efforts; her fingers brushed against his buttocks in passing as she helped unwrap the length of cloth.

Sesshoumaru let out another growl at the contact and his golden eyes flashed.

The last of the fundoshi came loose and he gently nudged her legs to part.

Kagome held her breath, her nerves on the end as he leaned closer. Her hands travelled up Sesshoumaru’s back, holding onto him as he positioned himself. She whimpered as he moved, feeling relieved and discomfited at the same time. His hands came to rest on the mattress on either side of her, caging her with his large frame. Kagome wrapped her legs around Sesshoumaru’s hips, pulling him closer and drawing out a low groan from him. His head fell to nuzzle against the side of her neck, his hot breath tickling the sensitive skin.

He was everywhere; above her, around her, inside of her. It was this that she had yearned for, the comfort one could only derive from physical proximity. No feelings of affection or primal need drove her, just the simple desire to connect with someone and feel safe in their embrace. And for just a short moment, Kagome allowed herself to forget about the love she had lost.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome’s eyes were half closed and unreadable when Sesshoumaru grabbed the quilt and pulled it over her, carefully tucking her in. He brushed her bangs aside and bent down to place a chaste, light kiss onto her forehead.

“Sleep,” he murmured.

She turned to her side and curled up under the quilt, but her eyes still stayed open and searched for his.

“You’re gonna stay, right?” Her voice came in a hesitant whisper.

“Of course,” Sesshoumaru reassured her. Through their bond he could feel her nervousness start to creep back.

“You could lay down,” she said after a moment.

“I am fine right here,” he reassured her, sitting on the tatami right next to her mattress.

Another short silence passed, before Kagome spoke again.

“I wouldn’t mind,” she said softly, averting her gaze. “I mean I’ve already asked too much of you tonight so I can’t…”

Sesshoumaru patiently waited as she drew a breath. She seemed so very fragile tonight, and yet she was so honest and open. That surprised him, but also made him feel honoured.

“It feels weird to sleep alone,” she confessed at last. “After all those years with Inuyasha, I got used to…” her voice choked and through their mating bond Sesshoumaru felt a sharp pang, one of grief and longing.

He got up and circled around Kagome. He eased himself down onto the mattress, though he did not slip under the quilt with her. Mated they might be, but he was careful of crossing any boundaries; he didn’t want to show her any disrespect.

Kagome sighed and shifted, pressing her back against his chest. He could feel her warmth even through the quilt. He could smell the slight traces of soap and sweat lingering on her skin. The room was silent, the barrier still in place blocked all the noise. The only sound filling his ears was Kagome’s breathing, growing softer and more even as the minutes ticked by. He heard her heartbeat slow down as sleep finally claimed her.

Sesshoumaru propped himself up on his elbow and leaned over her form, peering at her pale face. A lone tear gleamed, clinging into her long lashes but otherwise she appeared to be at peace.

He suddenly felt grateful to his mother. Whatever she had done or said to Kagome seemed to have worked. He was still worried and knew that the struggle was far from over, but nevertheless he had an unshakable feeling that this battle at least was won.

Sesshoumaru had always marvelled at the strength of Kagome’s spirit, though his admiration of her had not truly begun until they had finally faced Naraku. Her fearless determination as they had been trapped inside the foul spider hanyou had impressed him, and he knew she was to thank for their victory that day.

And now, the more he learned to know her, the more highly he thought of her. Broken though she might be, she still seemed to cope quite well with her loss. Sesshoumaru didn’t know how she did it. What he could feel through their bond were mere flickers of the emotions she was shouldering, yet sometimes they were so keen and painful they gave him a moment’s pause.

Sesshoumaru hoped they had not overstepped tonight. Their relationship was still fresh, they were still trying to find the balance. Her request had certainly caught him off guard, but he did not expect for it to happen again. He recognised it for what it was – a plea for the comfort of physical companionship, little different from her wish for him to share her futon.

Still he hoped that when morning dawned, there would be no lingering awkwardness, that she would not regret a decision made in a moment of weakness, or fear he had misconstrued it.

What Sesshoumaru sought more than anything was a partnership and he didn’t want what had transpired tonight to have a negative impact on their relationship.

He had proposed the mating because his mother had forced his and he had perceived it to be in the best interest of the both him and Kagome. Still, if he was truthful, Sesshoumaru had to admit that he rather enjoyed the union, even when it was in name only.

He hadn’t realised how lonely he had truly been until now, when he was no longer alone.

 

      


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome woke up. She let her gaze sweep across the room, taking notice of the light streaming through the paper screens before she closed her eyes again. She was in no hurry to get up, not when she was so nice and warm, lying on the futon and tucked under her quilt. She felt Sesshoumaru next to her and burrowed closer to the comforting heat he radiated.

Once again, he had been so patient with her and shown her such kindness that her weary heart ached. For a moment, Kagome almost wished he had mated Kinyuubae clan’s O-Yumi, like Lady Mother had intended. He certainly didn’t deserve to be saddled with someone like her, someone who was damaged goods.

Back in Edo when he had proposed this mating to her, he had said he wanted his woman to be someone he could respect. Kagome stared at the painted landscapes of the cupboard doors, her mind filling with doubt. Would he still be able to respect her after last night? After she had been so selfish, taken advantage of his consideration? After she had dared such a needy and desperate plea for comfort?

Or would he think less of her now that he had seen how broken she truly was; now that he had witnessed her at her weakest?

Kagome sighed and curled up. She wanted to fall back to sleep, sink back into that blissful oblivion, but she was too awake to drift off again.

“Are you not getting up?” Sesshoumaru spoke from behind her, in the hushed voice often used in the morning.

“I’m feeling lazy,” she replied as she stretched. “Though I suppose I should get up soon, I’m getting rather hungry.”

A moment later Akie-san slid the door open and knelt in the doorway, bowing to them. Kagome guessed Sesshoumaru had dropped the barrier and flared his youki.

“Is the breakfast ready?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord. I will send word to the kitchen right away.”

“Thank you, Akie-san.”

Kagome sat up on the futon when the maid servant came in with the breakfast tray.

“Thank you,” Kagome said, managing to flash a small smile as she set the tray down next to the futon.

The maid inclined her head and then left the room.

Kagome picked the bowl of miso soup. Though she felt better than she had the day before, she still didn’t have that much appetite… But she knew she needed to eat, and miso soup and rice were light enough.

She turned to Sesshoumaru. “Did you want any?”

He scooted over and reached for the bowl of rice, getting himself a generous helping. For a while they sat in silence and ate, but finally Sesshoumaru cleared his throat.

“I want you to know that I am here and willing to listen when you feel ready to talk.”

Kagome lowered her chopsticks.

“Talk about what?”

“Anything. Everything.” Sesshoumaru shrugged, and after a moment of hesitation, added “…him.”

Cold squeezed Kagome’s throat. Her heart skipped a beat, raw and bleeding.

She wasn’t sure if she could, if she dared to face the grief and loss and yet – a part of her wanted to talk, needed to tell someone how much he had meant to her.

She wanted to tell about all those little things, the irritating and endearing habits, the way he had smiled, how his eyes had sparked, the sound of his laughter… And how much she dreaded that she would come to forget these details, that time would steal the vibrant colours of her memories.

But the words didn’t come.

Instead, in a small, trembling voice came the simple admission.

“I miss him.”

“Yes,” Sesshoumaru said. He looked at her, his golden gaze grave. “I never believed that I would, but I miss him too.” A rueful grimace touched his lips. “There was a time I thought I would send him to the afterlife myself. But he changed in these past five years. He was better with you. If we had more time, then perhaps…”

“Why?” Kagome asked, unable to contain her curiosity. “I have a younger brother, too, so I know about the rivalry and the squabbles and how much they can get on your nerves. But I never could understand why you were so hostile to him. Was it because he was a reminder of how your father was unfaithful to Lady Mother? Or was it because he was a hanyou?”

Sesshoumaru was silent for a while, looking down at the floor.

“My resentment of Inuyasha did not originate because of his blood,” he said carefully, weighing each word. “It began with his mother.”

Kagome frowned.

“How is that any different?”

Sesshoumaru sighed.

“Because my father cast aside everything to save her and it cost him his life. It brought war to his clan. And while I might understood his reasons better now, I still find it hard to accept.”

“You lost your father because of her,” she stated softly.

“Izayoi was a good woman. She was noble and kind and demure – the perfect wife… for a human general.” Sesshoumaru’s hands balled into fists. “I am not saying she was meek – she had her own strength, a quiet dignity that survived even when her own people shunned her for giving birth to a youkai’s child. She was brave.”

“But?” Kagome prodded.

“She endured the position she was in, but she never questioned it. She never fought against it, or the people who put her there. And as you may have realised, we inu do not expect our females to be subservient.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“You have met my mother,” Sesshoumaru continued dryly. “She is a fine lady, all poise and elegance. And at the same time, she loves the politics and is fully comfortable being the acting head of one of the biggest inu clans in the Western region. Underneath all that finery, my mother has claws.”

“And Izayoi didn’t,” Kagome said, taking a breath. “You think she was not worthy of your father.”

Sesshoumaru looked down, his jaw clenching.

“No,” he finally admitted. “She was not.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Sesshoumaru sighed and moodily stared at his desk. He had not wanted to leave Kagome on her own, but the paperwork did not wait, and there was only so much the steward alone could do – no matter how capable Nobuo was. Sesshoumaru was the lord of the clan, and thus needed to stay on top of the affairs. For example there had been another message from the clan in north east, this time claiming that the leader of the warrior monks in the temple nearby had made threats against the youkai community.

Sesshoumaru shook his head and shuffled through the letters and messages as quickly as he could.

He knew that Kagome was doing well and had seemed to be in better spirits that morning. She wasn’t alone either, she had his mother for company.

Nevertheless, it irked him that his duties had pulled him away from her side. Though her mood had improved, Sesshoumaru knew she was still having a difficult time. She had managed to wrest the control back to herself – but the grief hadn’t gone anywhere, it was still there as it had always been. Sesshoumaru knew that Kagome was stronger than she often believed herself, and he was convinced that in time she would come to conquer her sorrow. But he wanted to be there to support her every step of the way; it was his role as her mate.

So he shut out all the distractions and threw himself into the work, breezing through as fast as he could.

Finally, having written letters in reply and gone over the ledgers, Sesshoumaru rolled back his shoulders and stretched. He got up from the floor and walked out, wandering down the hall to Kagome’s room. He could feel their bond clearer the closer he got, some of Kagome’s emotions spilling over as they often did. She seemed to be in a wistful mood, and Sesshoumaru paused for a moment, standing behind the paper doors. Perhaps she’d prefer to be alone? His hand twitched and he reached for the sliding door.

He would at least check up on her. Decision made, Sesshoumaru slid the door open, only to find the room empty. He breathed in her scent and saw the screens opened at the far right. Kagome sat on the veranda overlooking the small garden, staring out at the branches of the maple tree gently swinging in the wind. She appeared to be deep in thought, unaware of his presence as he crossed the room. As he neared her, her saw she was absentmindedly rolling the beads of her necklace between her fingers. When Sesshoumaru took a seat next to Kagome she snapped out of it; that faraway look left her eyes and her fingers abandoned the subjugation beads that had once been Inuyasha’s. He caught a glimpse of the faint red line on her palm as her hand fell to her lap and the words tumbled out of his mouth.

“How is your wound?”

She blinked, and turned to him.

“What wound?”

“On your palm. You accidentally cut yourself with Tessaiga, did you not?”

Kagome looked down at her hands and idly ran her finger along the smooth cut across her palm.

“Oh that. It doesn’t really hurt, a bit sensitive to touch maybe…”

“I am glad it is healing well.”

“Honestly, I had forgotten about it.” Kagome frowned. “Back then I didn’t even notice that I had cut myself.”

Sesshoumaru didn’t really want to pursue that line of thought, to remind her of the moment she had broken down, so he chose to steer the conversation to a safer topic.

“I thought mother was with you?”

“She was,” Kagome replied. “We had a good talk, but then I wanted to be alone for a while. Lately, it seems there’s always someone looking after me, and while I appreciate it I just wanted a bit of a break.”

“Well then, I shall leave you to it. I just wanted to see how you were doing,” Sesshoumaru said and shifted his weight to get up.

He stopped, when Kagome’s small fingers dug into the sleeve of his kimono.

“It’s fine. Please,” she said in a small voice.

Sesshoumaru nodded, and sat back on his heels.

She fell silent again. She looked ahead at the garden, not at him, and he could feel the wistfulness radiating off her, but it was different from before. She was no longer lost in her own world.

“You were right,” Kagome spoke at last. Her voice was quiet and tired. “What you said all those weeks ago, about how futile it is to shy away from the reality.”

“You had your reasons,” Sesshoumaru said softly. “You told me that you were not strong enough to accept that he was gone, that if you faced those feelings you would break.”

“I guess… though in the end I broke down anyway. I feel I might have done a disservice, both to myself and to him, by running away from it for so long.”

Sesshoumaru shook his head.

“Inuyasha would never fault you for that. He would understand.”

The corner of Kagome’s lips quirked, paving way to a sad smile. Her hand fell on top of his, and she gave it a light squeeze.

“I never knew you had such a gift, Sesshoumaru. Somehow it feels you always say exactly the right thing.”

“I know I cannot fully understand your position, not the way my mother or Akie-san might. But I am glad for what little comfort I can offer you.”

“You’ve offered me a lot of comfort, Sesshoumaru. I might already be dead without you. I had lost my will and my way and if I had stayed like that I might have wasted away.”

He clasped her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers.

“You saved me as well, Kagome. Had you not accepted, I would have been mated to someone of my mother’s choosing.”

“Are you sure that this was for the better, though?” she asked hesitantly. “Wouldn’t it have been better to tie your life to someone who was… stronger?”

“Do not belittle my mate like that,” Sesshoumaru scoffed. “I tied my lifespan to someone I chose myself, and she is strong.”

“Thank you,” Kagome breathed, her shoulders slumping.

Silence fell over them, calm and comfortable.

Kagome’s hand was warm in his. She took a deep breath and her fingers twitched.

“I don’t know how religious you youkai are, but if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to have an altar for Inuyasha.”

“Of course,” Sesshoumaru agreed readily. “It is not our custom to leave offerings for our ancestors, but I should have realised it was something you would want to do.”

“It’s all right. I should have thought of that myself, but I was too busy running away.”

“It is not too late.”

Kagome turned to him, and gave him a smile. Somehow, this one didn’t seem as sad as the one before, and Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes softened in relief.

Seeing that smile playing on her lips, that spark in her sapphire eyes, made him feel like he’d been allowed a glimpse of the miko he had come to respect, the woman buried under the sorrow.

Sesshoumaru knew he was not an easy man to live with. He was demanding and he couldn’t always give her as much attention as she deserved. His personality and his view of the world were both vastly different from hers.

Still… if somehow he were able to bring a smile to her face a bit more often, it would be good.

Her small hand felt warm and soft in his, as she gave it a slow, grateful squeeze.

Yes, it would be very good indeed.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome lit the incense and took a few steps back before she knelt on the tatami. Clasping her hands together, she bowed her head, closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. The motions were familiar, ones she had gone through in her childhood. She remembered watching her mother light up the incense, kneeling on the rough straw beside her, staring at her father who smiled at her from the photo frame. She had been too young to fully understand death back then; everyday she had looked at her father’s photograph and wondered where he had gone, when he was coming home.

She had tried her best to recreate the altar she remembered from her childhood home: there was the incense and the offerings to the dead. Of course, there was no picture of Inuyasha to be put up, so instead she had carefully placed the subjugation beads on the shelf. She had been a bit reluctant to take them off – she had grown accustomed to their weight around her neck. Still, she didn’t need the necklace anymore; it was something she had taken to appease herself, to remember Inuyasha by... but now she had something she had actually inherited from him, now she had Tessaiga.

Kagome lifted her head and looked at the dark purple beads and the slow swirl of smoke, wondering if Inuyasha could hear her.

If he did, he was probably scoffing at her. He had never cared about altars or prayers. But Kagome found comfort in the simple custom, it was something concrete to show she was in mourning.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promised in a soft voice, and with a small bow towards the altar she got up and left the room.

Kagome headed out to the yard and tied her hair at the nape of her neck – it had grown and was now almost brushing against her shoulders. She stretched her arms and did a quick warm up before she pulled Tessaiga from her hip and started going through the kata Sesshoumaru had shown her.

This was her new daily routine: she would start every morning by visiting Inuyasha’s altar and offering her prayers, then she would go out in the yard and practice. Some mornings Sesshoumaru might join her to observe her progress and maybe teach her a few more things, but usually he spent his mornings cooped up in his study. Today was no different, so she trained under the sharp watchful eye of Tsumekiri’s captain of guard, Saburou. He was one of the few youkai in the clan older than Sesshoumaru and had defended Tsumekiri from Ryuukotsusei’s clan. Kagome respected him, though the thing she liked the most about captain Saburou was that out there in the training yard, he did not treat her as his lady but as his equal. As someone still struggling to come to terms with her new position, she greatly appreciated that.

After her morning practice, Kagome stopped by the bath house to wash her face and splash herself with the cool water. Back in her rooms, she carefully set Tessaiga back on its stand, and changed from her short kimono and hakama into the baggy kosode and the heavy draping uchikake with Akie-san’s help. Properly attired, Kagome sat down onto the tatami and told Akie-san she was ready for the breakfast to be served.

Akie-san had barely left to inform the cook, when Sesshoumaru’s voice called at the door.

“It is me.”

“Come in.”

Sesshoumaru stepped into the room and walked over to her.

“How was your practice?” he asked as he took a seat next to her.

“It was good, Saburou-san is teaching me well. How was your paperwork?”

“A tedious but necessary evil.”

The servant arrived and laid out the breakfast trays and bowls before she bowed and left the room.

Alone with just the two of them, they sat in silence and ate. Though Kagome’s appetite still came and went, today she was hungry after her training earlier and filled her bowl with rice. She didn’t eat just to fill her stomach either, she actually enjoyed the flavourful side-dishes.

Sesshoumaru finished his miso soup and set down his bowl, turning to look at her.

“What are you planning to do today?”

Kagome lowered her chopsticks, her brow furrowing in thought.

“I think I should write to Sango-chan, let her know that I’m doing all right. It’s been a while since we left Edo and with everything going on I didn’t think to contact her before, she must be worried.”

“I sent a parcel to Rin when we arrived to Tsumekiri and included a note.”
A wry grimace twisted Kagome’s lips.

“I should have thought of that. I feel like I have turned into a very selfish person.”

“Nonsense. In your situation it is only proper to put yourself first. I am sure your friends will understand.”

“I suppose,” she sighed, twisting her hands in her lap.

“You will wipe that frown from your face immediately,” Sesshoumaru commanded, his tone of voice both lofty and stern. “Or do I need to call in mother to scold you?”

“Really?” Kagome stared at Sesshoumaru, her eyebrow arching. “You’d just leave lecturing to Lady Mother?”

“Why not? She is much better equipped for it in any case; her tongue is sharp and she wields it expertly.”

A peal of laughter rose up Kagome’s throat. Bubbly and warm, it escaped from her lips.

“That is true,” she admitted, shaking her head.

Sesshoumaru’s posture eased and he picked up his tea cup, sipping the warm drink.

“It was not much of a note in any case,” he told her. “Just informed everyone that we had arrived safely. I am sure a letter will be a much better way to let your friends know how you are really doing. They will be delighted to hear from you.”

“I guess you’re right,” Kagome said, pushing the last of her rice around her bowl. “I think Sango-chan would prefer to hear from me personally. And anyway, better late than never.”

“That is so.” Sesshoumaru gave her a small nod. “I shall let Jaken know that he is going to make a trip to Edo.”

“I don’t imagine he’ll like that,” Kagome remarked, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

“Perhaps not, but I have full confidence that he will do it.”

“I’m sure he will if you ask him to. Thank you.”

“Just let Akie-san know when you have finished your letter.”

“I will. What are you going to do then? Do you still have more paperwork to plough through?”

“I have spent enough time sitting at my desk,” Sesshoumaru said. “I would like to make a quick patrol around Tsumekiri’s territory.”

“Really? It looked like it might rain later.”

“A little rain is not going to do me harm,” he replied. “I have been inside too long.”

Kagome clutched at her teacup and looked up into those golden eyes.

“Have fun then,” she wished him, keeping her voice light. She noticed the creases on his brow, and knew he could tell her smile was forced. Probably he had felt her sudden stab of sorrow through their bond.

But Sesshoumaru, kind as he was, didn’t ask her anything. He simply got up to his feet.

“I shall.” He inclined his head, and left her room.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The wind had picked up. Akie-san had gone to close all the shutters, and now the howling gusts rattled the wooden panels. Raindrops peppered the roof tiles in sporadic splatters.

Kagome sat back on the tatami and cradled the ceramic teacup to keep her hands warm. The room seemed gloomy; without the sun streaming through the paper screens the only source of light were the two lanterns, casting tall shadows on the walls.

“There is nothing better than a warm cup of tea on a miserably rainy day like this,” Lady Mother commented, taking a delicate sip out of her own cup. “And to think Sesshoumaru insisted on going out there.”

“He said he didn’t mind the rain,” Kagome said mildly and shrugged. She stared down at the soft green surface of the tea and sighed.

“What is on your mind, little one?”

“It’s nothing.”

“I highly doubt that,” Chiyo hummed, her piercing golden eyes studying Kagome. “Go on.”

“He reminded me of Inuyasha,” Kagome admitted. “He never liked staying put for too long, either, he loved to go back on the road – until one day he didn’t come back.”

“Sesshoumaru is not going far, he will return in time for dinner,” Chiyo said, her voice full of conviction. “My mate always did. He was the same, you know, so I guess Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru have taken after him in this regard.”

“Inu no Taishou? I always pictured him to be more – well – placid than either of his sons.”

“Think of it as a form of meditation, that is how I saw it. I have noticed myself that a nice walk often helps to clear my mind. I simply prefer to do my walking out in the garden.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Kagome sipped her tea, and listened to the steady hum of rain. There always seemed to be something decidedly melancholy about days like these, when the world was dark and grey and the wind was crying.

“I heard you wrote a letter today?”

“Yes. It’s past time to let my friends back in Edo to know how I was doing.”

“And how is that?”

This time, Kagome met the assessing gaze of Lady Mother.

“Better than before.” She flashed a wry smile. “Though I’m still taking it day by day.”

“As you should,” Chiyo said and inclined her head. “But I do agree. You do seem better, Kagome.”

Warmth pooled in Kagome’s chest and the smile on her lips grew softer. “Thank you, I’m glad you think so.”

"You have started to learn to live with your pain, and that is good. You have done well these past few days, you have a routine and you are both eating and sleeping. I do not think there is much need for me here now.”

“Oh no, you’ve been a huge help!” Kagome set down her tea and reached to clasp Lady Mother’s hand. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Chiyo smiled, and gently squeezed her hand.

“I am honoured that you think so highly of me, little one… But you are standing on your own two feet now, are you not? And in case you stumble, you have Sesshoumaru to lean on.”

Kagome’s hands fell into her lap and she bit her lip. “Well, that’s true…”

“So since you are all right, I have little reason to stay here.”

Kagome’s smile faltered, and her gaze fell to the floor. “Of course. We shouldn’t keep you from your own duties.”

Two clawed fingers hooked under Kagome’s chin, and gently but firmly propped her head up.

“It has been a great pleasure to return to Tsumekiri after all this time and see you again – if even for a while. If you do not mind, I would love to come visit again someday.”

“Sure, anytime! That’d be great.”

“I shall leave for Mikazuki the day after tomorrow.”

“All right, I’ll let Akie-san know.”

“Then, if you wish, we can have all of tomorrow to spend together and chat.”

“I’d like that,” Kagome said softly, and offered Chiyo a small smile.

 

Chapter Text

 

The rain fell, steady and heavy, but Sesshoumaru paid it no heed, no matter how much it pelted him. He made his way around the perimeter of the Tsumekiri territory, flaring his youki, his senses on high alert. He didn’t really expect there’d be any trouble, he just wanted to make sure to establish his presence, to imprint both his scent and youki along Tsumekiri’s borders. It had been too long since his last patrol, it was one duty he’d been neglecting. First he’d had to make that trip to Edo, to see Kagome, then they had been on the road making their way back, and once they’d got home, he had to catch up with work and then look after his mate. But finally this afternoon he had grown too restless, had spent too many days within the walls of his home, too many hours turning the papers in his office. He needed to get out, so at last the time had come to patrol.

It took Sesshoumaru a few hours to cover the whole area; Tsumekiri’s lands were far from the largest in the West, but then, neither were they a large clan. Most clans of the same size had much less territory than Tsumekiri.

By the time Sesshoumaru satisfactorily concluded his patrol and started to head back, his kimono was soaked through and his head was starting to ache from the extra weight of his drenched hair.

Arriving at the palace, he headed straight for the bath house and took a quick bath. Once he had warmed up and washed off the dust from the road, he went inside and followed his mate’s aura to find her and his mother sitting in her room.

“Perfect timing,” his mother greeted. “We were just about to have supper.”

“Then I shall join you,” Sesshoumaru replied, and as he took his seat next to Kagome, he truly felt he had come back home.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

Kagome had spent all the following day with Lady Mother. Then, in the evening, to send Lady Mother off in a proper fashion, Sesshoumaru ordered a feast and invited Akie and Saburou to join them, as both older youkai had known Chiyo-hime when she still had been the lady of Tsumekiri. It had been a merry dinner, and Kagome had been fascinated to hear the youkai reminiscence of Tsumekiri’s golden days, when the clan had been strong and flourishing under Inu no Taishou’s lordship.

This was the third morning since Lady Mother had left back to Mikazuki, and without her vibrant presence Kagome found palace emptier and quieter – as if it had entered into a hushed hibernation.

Kagome sat on the tatami, her stare fixated on the cup of tea she was subconsciously cradling.

“You should eat,” Sesshoumaru said, his deep, even voice jostling her out of her errant thoughts.

Kagome shot him a quick glance and then, obediently, set her tea down and grabbed her bowl –only to lower her chopsticks half a minute later.

 “I dreamt of him last night. For the second time this week,” she said softly.

“Of Inuyasha?” Sesshoumaru asked, surprised by the sudden confession.

Kagome nodded.

“It’s strange. I hardly ever dreamt of him before, not while we were mated, not even during those three years we were apart after the jewel sent me back to my own time. But now that he’s gone…”

Sesshoumaru was quiet for a moment, frowning at his miso soup. When he finally spoke, she could hear the hesitation in his usually confident voice.

“What kind of dreams are they?”

“Peaceful. Happy. Dreams about what our normal everyday life was like. The dreams themselves aren’t bad. In a way I’m glad for them, they help me to remember the little things where my memories are already threatening to fade.”

“But?” he prompted.

“It’s the waking up that makes them painful.” Kagome lowered her gaze.

In the light of the morning, the happiness and warmth of her dreams turned to wistful sadness. Waking up to a world where Inuyasha was gone always felt so jarring, having to face the emptiness again, time after time… The dreams were a brief respite from the grief and pain, but in the end they were only smoke and mirrors, distant echoes of a past forever out her reach.

“It must be difficult for you,” Sesshoumaru said.

She felt his gaze on her and looked up, meeting those golden eyes that felt familiar and different at the same time. The look in them was grave and laced with concern.

“It is,” Kagome agreed, letting out a small sigh. “When you think about it, it’s fairly ironic. It hurts to remember those happy moments, yet at the same time you fear that one day you might forget them.”

“I do agree that sounds problematic and memory can be a fickle thing… but I do not think it is a serious concern that you would forget. Still, should you ever feel worried about such a thing, you can always tell me about them, those moments you do not wish to lose to time.”

“Thank you,” she said simply offering him a wan smile. “I might take you up on that offer.”

“Please do.” Sesshoumaru watched her and then, after a brief moment of hesitation, added: “Perhaps I might do the same.”

“Do what?” Kagome blinked, confused.

“Tell you about my memories with Inuyasha. Though they might not be as happy as yours…”

“I’d like that,” she breathed. She held his gaze and reached to take his hand. “I think we should definitely do that.”

Sesshoumaru gave her hand a light squeeze. “Then we shall,” he promised with a solemn nod. “But for now, you should eat,” he told her again, gently and firmly.

He gave her a pointed look and his steady, quiet determination pulsed through their bond. Kagome’s shoulders slumped. She lowered her gaze and pulled back her hand.

Sesshoumaru grabbed her bowl and half-filled it with rice. Kagome mutely accepted the bowl from him and picked up her chopsticks. Under her mate’s watchful gaze she carefully selected some the boiled sweet-potato from the tray of side dishes and started to eat. 

 


L---A---L


 

 

When Kagome woke up, she found her white underkimono stained with blood. For the past four years, the sight had been an endless source of grief to her, as she had hoped against hope that she and Inuyasha would have conceived. But month after month, that wish had been met with disappointment as Kagome’s monthly cycle ran steady like a clockwork and each time she had bled she’d been flooded with guilt and blame. However, if Sesshoumaru and Lady Mother had been right – and Kagome had no reason to believe they weren’t – that there was nothing wrong with her and that the true cause for their childlessness had been Inuyasha’s hanyou blood… then her one night of weakness with Sesshoumaru could have had drastic consequences.

Never before had Kagome been delighted to get her period, but this time she welcomed it with a wave of relief. She was just getting her own life back together; she was not ready to bring a child into this world, couldn’t even imagine doing that while she was still struggling with her grief. At the moment it took so much effort just to stand on her own two feet and keep herself from falling apart again, she didn’t have any energy to spare. And though she was faring better, she knew she was far from being in the clear. She had been grieving long enough to know it was not one long steady climb out of a dark pit of despair, the way was treacherous and she could slide back at any given time.

Kagome changed her clothes and went through her usual morning routine, kneeling before Inuyasha’s altar and then heading out into the training yard. The only difference was that she forwent the sword training and picked up her bow instead. Archery was familiar and calming, and more importantly, didn’t require as much moving around. After the training she washed up – more thoroughly this time than she usually would have. Though Kagome felt she had adapted into the life in the Sengoku era fairly well, feminine hygiene products were one modern comfort she sorely missed every month. That, and proper underwear.

When she returned to her rooms, Sesshoumaru was waiting for her, sitting comfortably in a flawless seiza in the middle of the room. Kagome greeted him with a smile, but was met with a quizzical frown.

“Are you all right?” he asked as she lowered herself onto the tatami with a grimace.

“I’m fine. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I can sense your discomfort through the bond,” he told her pointedly.

Kagome hesitated, studying him out of the corner of his eye. Inuyasha had always been a little ill at ease with her period.

 “It’s my time of the month,” she finally admitted. “And for me it often comes with muscle aches.”

“Truly? This is the first I have heard of such.”

“I didn’t think you’d be at all learned in female fertility cycles,” Kagome replied, her lips twitching. “Most men do not seem to care or even want to know.”

“You know mother,” Sesshoumaru said with a small shrug. “She was thorough with her education… But she never mentioned muscle aches. I am afraid her teachings did not include information on human females.”

“I’d be surprised if it had,” Kagome hummed, wondering just what kind of lessons Sesshoumaru had been forced to sit through.

“What kind of pain are you experiencing?”

“Nothing too bad, just stiffness in my lower back. It’s more uncomfortable than downright painful.”

“It must be irksome nevertheless,” he said, his golden eyes softening as he looked at her.

Kagome smiled wryly.

“It is – though ‘irksome’ is a good word to describe the whole bleeding process in general.”

Sesshoumaru tilted his head in thought. “Could I be of any assistance?”

“How?” Kagome blinked.

“Perhaps a backrub might help to relieve the pain.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly trouble you like that!” she bit her lip. “Like I said, it’s nothing.”

“It is not nothing,” Sesshoumaru countered, one silver eyebrow arching. “And you should not worry about troubling me. You are my mate, it is my duty to take care of you.”

“I know,” Kagome hung her head. Her hands balling into fists in her lap. “But I’ve already been relying on you so much.”

Sesshoumaru shook his head. “If you feel so strongly about it, you may return the favour later.”

“Fine, if you insist,” Kagome shrugged, “but it really isn’t that big of a deal.”

“It matters not even if it is only a minor inconvenience. My instincts insist I look after you, allow me to indulge them.”

Kagome scooted a little closer and turned her back towards Sesshoumaru.

“Go ahead, then. It’s all yours.”

His hands were warm and firm as they settled on her lower back. Even through the cloth of her kimono, she could feel the heat he radiated. His thumbs moved in slow circles, moving along the curve of her spine. Patiently, he kneaded the muscles in the small of her back, and Kagome soon found herself relaxing under his ministrations. She shouldn’t have put up such a resistance, but it was hard to accept help, especially for Sesshoumaru. She knew he didn’t mind that she relied on him, that in fact he expected her to – but she really didn’t want to be any bigger of a bother than she already was, with her broken heart and emotional baggage.

Sesshoumaru’s steady touch was soothing and pleasant as he slowly coaxed the stiffness out of her muscles. He’d been right once again, the massage was helping, her earlier discomfort nearly gone, melted by his skilled hands. If only her heart could’ve been mended as easily as that.

 


L---A---L


 

 

“Here,” Sesshoumaru said, pushing a small object into the palm of Kagome’s hand. He settled onto the futon, his back turned to her.

Kagome’s fingers curled around the smooth surface as she blinked down at it. Her eyebrows rose and disappeared under her bangs.

“What’s this?” she asked Sesshoumaru, staring at his broad back and the wealth of hair running down his spine and pooling on the mattress. Their usual silver-white hue was tainted with dim gold from the paper lanterns lighting the room.

“This is how you repay me for that backrub from earlier,” he replied.

Kagome hummed, and the corners of her lips quirked.

“Not quite what I was expecting,” she muttered. But if this was what he wanted, who was she to deny him –after his endless kindness? Kagome sat straighter and scooted closer to him on the futon. With tentative fingers and gentle care, she pulled the comb through his hair. It slid easily through his silky locks and his shoulders slumped as the stiffness melted from his body.

“I’m not even sure why you’d need me to do this,” Kagome mused aloud as she gathered the ends of his long tresses into her lap and began to comb through them, her movements meticulous.

“I can’t see a single snarl or a tangle. One more perk of being a youkai, I guess… If I had hair as long as yours and wore it unbound like you, it’d be just one huge knot.”

“That would be a sight to see,” Sesshoumaru murmured, and Kagome could hear the smile in his voice. “However, grooming is rarely a matter of necessity. It is an indulgence; an act to show trust and affection.”

Kagome’s hand halted in the middle of the familiar, calming movements.

“Oh,” she breathed, looking at the silver-white strands piled on her lap. Gripping the comb tighter, she hesitated for a brief moment before she resumed running it through his hair.

“Is grooming a common practise between mates?”

“I would imagine so – though of course that would depend on the couple. Did Inuyasha ever wish to be groomed, or to groom you?”

“No…” Kagome shook her head. “It never really came up.”

“Well, he was only a half-demon… and more importantly, he grew up clanless. He was ignorant of many of our customs.”

“That’s true,” Kagome agreed, trying to ignore the pinprick of pain in her chest as her fingers worked mechanically, up and down, up and down.

“You’ve never asked me either, not until tonight,” she pointed out.

He shrugged a shoulder as the teeth of the comb brushed against his scalp.

“I do not indulge often,” he replied. “Furthermore, you are not a youkai. You lack our instincts and it would be foolish to expect you to blindly follow traditions that are not yours.”

“I suppose,” she said softly. “Though I don’t mind this particular custom. It seems simple and straightforward enough.”

His shoulders shook, accompanied by a low, warm rumbling chuckle.

 “I shall keep that in mind for future reference,” he promised, his voice light with amusement.

Kagome smiled, staring at her hands and the comb that rose and fell in a steady rhythm, but it was a bittersweet smile. She couldn’t quite shake off what Sesshoumaru had said earlier. She drew a deep breath to still her racing heart and ventured in a soft, cautious voice: “Do you think he was worse for it? For having no clan to claim him.”

Sesshoumaru didn’t reply right away. He bowed his head and Kagome bit her lip, waiting.

“That is hard to say. It was true there was much he was secluded from – and perhaps he did long for a place of his own – but having never been part to begin with, would he know what he was missing?”

Silence answered his words, and Kagome’s fingers trembled a little around the comb.

“Some days I do think we did him injustice, not accepting him into Tsumekiri… But with my father’s death our clan was left weakened and in chaos. With such an abrupt end to my father’s reign as the General of the West, everyone scrambled to grab their own piece of the power vacuum he left behind. My mother was called back to Mikazuki. I was Tsumekiri’s new lord, but barely of age myself.”

“I can understand,” Kagome murmured, continuing to run the comb through his long hair in soothing arcs. “It was difficult for you and everyone, and accepting a hanyou into your midst at such a time would just have added to the confusion. Besides, he still had his mother.”

“That was our reasoning as well, to leave him in Izayoi’s care.” The words came too quick, and though Sesshoumaru sat still and without squirming, Kagome could sense his doubts and uneasiness.

She set the comb down in her lap and slowly, hoping she was not overstepping, ran her fingers down the length of his hair.

“Inuyasha had a rough life, but he always had confidence in himself. He was not the kind of a man to harbour regrets.”

Sesshoumaru sighed and leaned back. Kagome’s fingers brushed against his back and she could feel him relax.

“At least we have that in common,” he said in a low voice. “There is never any uses for regrets. Time does not stand still, therefore we should be looking forward, not back.”

“That’s true. But some sorrows haunt you and letting go… It is not something you can force consciously. It needs to happen with its own weight, in its own time.”

“I believe you are right.” Sesshoumaru shifted, and turned to look at her over his shoulder. His golden eyes glowed faintly in the dim room, the look in them gentle as he regarded her. Her fingers halted and held on to the slippery strands.

“That is enough for now,” he decided softly. “Thank you for indulging me.”

“No problem,” she said, untangling herself and scooting back on the futon. “It was the least I could do.”

He shook his head and slanted a look her way.

“I know you feel differently on this subject, but I will remind you once again – in my eyes, you owe me nothing. If anything, we are equally indebted.”

A small smile touched her lips.
“Perhaps if you keep reminding me of that, I will believe you one day.”

“Then I shall.” He rose lightly to his feet and padded across the room. “The hour is growing late. You should rest.”

“Will you stay?”

The hesitant plea was barely a whisper but Sesshoumaru halted and turned, then inclined his head.

 

  

 

 

Chapter Text

The dark small hours of the night of the new moon found Sesshoumaru sitting at the foot of Kagome's futon. He had tried to rest earlier but to no avail. The candle was burning low inside the paper lantern, throwing long shadows on the painted walls of Kagome's room.

It did not matter, Sesshoumaru thought, folding his arms across his chest. He could make do with little rest. He slanted a look out of the corner of his eye, studying his sleeping mate, taking solace in her soft even breaths. As long as Kagome was sleeping peacefully, he would be content.

He remembered those early days they had spent together, on the road towards Tsumekiri right after Inuyasha's funeral. She had been so pale, the skin under her eyes dark like bruises. She'd lie awake into small hours and when she would sleep it had been troubled and fitful.

Indeed, she was doing much better now – and yet, there still were frequently nights like this when restlessness plagued her. Though she was fast asleep now, she had been awake well past midnight. Her head had been too full, she had said, her mind lacking the ease it needed for her to slip into sleep. 

Perhaps it was the moon... or rather, the lack of it, Sesshoumaru reflected with a wry twist of his lips. The nights of the new moon had been an important time for Inuyasha – and in the end the moonless night had played a hand in his demise, with stealing his youkai blood and leaving him vulnerable.

Given that, it wasn't all that surprising that sleep would not come easily, either to Kagome or Sesshoumaru himself.

They had sat on the futon together, talking about Inuyasha until her lids had finally grown heavy, recounting memories and exchanging stories – little fleeting glimpses of the past forever out of their reach.

Sesshoumaru sighed softly and got up to his feet. Unease coiled tight in the pit of his stomach, and deep in the dark corners of his soul guilt stirred. Soundlessly, he padded across the room, over to the pair of decorated fusuma doors. He slid one open, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Kagome’s sleep was still undisturbed. Then, he stepped into the small space partitioned off from the rest of the room and shut the door after himself.

His golden eyes glowed in the darkness – he had left the candle in the main room, but his sight soon adjusted, and his head slowly turned.

He had seen Kagome come here, several times, to say her morning greetings. But this was the first time he himself had dared to enter the space.

Bitter regret tightened his throat, always quick to follow in the wake of the surging guilt, and he sank onto the tatami. For a moment, he stared hard at the dark beads resting on the altar Kagome had built.

Then he bowed his head, his silver-white hair falling in a curtain around him. His hands balled into tight fists against the rough straw of the mat.

He should not have clung so hard to old grievances. He should not have been so easily aggravated by his rough demeanour. He should not have let a petty jealousy over their father's inheritance strain their relationship any further. He should have got to know his own half-brother while he still had the chance.

“I believed we had time.” The words rolled off Sesshoumaru’s pale lips, half a sigh, half a hoarse whisper. The heels of his palms throbbed, he felt the warm well of blood from where his claws had punctured skin.

Perhaps it was his failing as a daiyoukai. Humans lived under constant threat, with death looming over their heads every step along the way: war, famine, pestilence... and even if they managed to survive to reach an old age, their lives were short compared to those of daiyoukai. Like moths that were there one day and gone the next.

Illness hardly touched youkai, and famine was not as large as a threat to them either – if the situation was dire they could always consume their own youki to sustain themselves. War was always a concern, but it rarely reared its head. And such conflicts rarely lasted long. This kind of a nationwide civil warfare spanning for decades and continually pitting one clan against other as the one the humans were currently involved in would never happen with youkai. Some days Sesshoumaru wondered if the country would ever see peace.

Yet, even youkai acknowledged that the sole constant thing in life was death: the natural cycle to which all living creatures were forced to succumb in the end. Sesshoumaru should have learned his lesson two centuries ago, with the death of his father and the following destruction of Tsumekiri. Not even daiyoukai were immortal and even the strongest could – and eventually, would – fall.

But given the budding hope hidden deep within his heart, one he had only realised after hearing of Inuyasha’s passing, it seemed Sesshoumaru had yet to learn the lesson of the long-reaching clutches of death.

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and drew in a long, quivering breath and then another, willing himself to calm down. He pushed away the bitterness and squished down the regrets, but the grief lingered. He allowed it to remain, squaring his shoulders under its weight. He straightened himself and looked up, folding his hands in his lap. He lifted his gaze to the subjugation beads and thought for a moment that he could almost catch a faint whiff of Inuyasha’s fading scent.

His jaw clenched.

“I am sorry,” he said at last, talking in a low voice so as not to wake Kagome. “I am sorry that I never allowed you close, and that I am only getting to know you now when it is too late, through Kagome’s stories.”

He paused and his golden eyes flashed; for a fleeting second he felt silly, talking to his half-brother’s old necklace – but these were thoughts he had been carrying for quite a long while. It was time to attempt to lighten the load, and if voicing them in front of Kagome’s altar would help him to accept his loss and to let go of his regrets, even a little bit...

“Kagome is doing much better now,” he spoke again in a soft whisper. “I have full faith in her; I believe in time she will reclaim her happiness, though I am certain she shall always keep you in her heart.”

His shoulders slumped as his breath left him in a slow exhale that took away the tension that had been mounting in his body.

“I try to be there for her as much as I can. To honour the promise I made to you. I will take care of her.”

Sesshoumaru’s grief had not lifted, though perhaps it had grown a little lighter. He laid his palms flat against the straw of the tatami and then bent into a graceful bow in front of the altar on which the subjugation beads rested. Then, he got up and slipped back into the room, and watched his mate sleep until, at last, he himself fell into the restful lull and his golden eyes slid shut.

 


L---A---L


 

  

Sesshoumaru made his proposal on a balmy summer afternoon when the birds chirped out in the garden and warm wind whispered in the branches of the maple trees. Kagome sat in the shade, her bulky kosode pooled around her waist, fanning herself in a vain attempt to keep cool. She looked up, her brows drawn up in surprise.

“Really?”

“Yes,” he replied, his voice even, though a faint amusement had crept into his expression. “It is about time, is it not?”

“I think it’d be lovely,” Kagome beamed. “When are we going?”

“As soon as the weather allows,” Sesshoumaru said, glancing at the light blue sky. “This heat does not make me that inclined to travel.”

“I second that,” Kagome grimaced, resuming her fanning more furiously.

That was pretty much the gist of the talk that day, but it left Kagome feeling expectant for the next few days to come, hoping that the weather would cool down. Unfortunately, the heat persisted, smothering the earth and all the living things on it like a heavy blanket, and yet Kagome still sweated out in the practice yard under captain Saburou’s hawk-eyed stare. She went through the routine she had established weeks ago, even when it was hard for her to sit still. The anticipation of the promised trip had her giddy with excitement; it would be an exception in their peaceful routine. Though she had found a place – even to her own surprise – at the mansion and carved a space for herself in the Tsumekiri clan, though she had settled down years ago and lived a happy, domestic life in Edo, her sense of adventure still reared up its curious head on occasion. She may not have felt as contained by the four walls as Inuyasha or Sesshoumaru seemed to feel, but she rarely turned down an offer to leave their safety in the favour of the open road.

A few days later she laid in her dim room as the evening deepened around her, trying to sleep, when she suddenly realised something. It was peculiar that she had never even considered the prospect of this trip before Sesshoumaru had brought it up. She had been in Edo for years, living her happily ever after. She should have been well aware that Sesshoumaru visited the village routinely. Kagome had witnessed first-hand his frequent check-ups on Rin – after all, it wasn’t rare that somewhere in the course of these visits, he would inevitably end up bickering if not outright crossing swords with Inuyasha.

Blinking into the shadows of her room, Kagome was flushed with embarrassment. How had it never crossed her mind that she and Sesshoumaru would someday visit Edo together? It was such an obvious thing once she stopped to think about it. With a sigh she burrowed under her cool silk sheet – the room was still very warm, and the quilt much too heavy for the summer heat. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come, though it was hard to calm down when her heart was still racing, her mind whirling, suggesting her what all she could do once she’d get to Edo with Sesshoumaru. But eventually, her mind grew sluggish and her breathing slowed and before Kagome even realised what was happening, she was waking up to a new day – and Sesshoumaru was sitting by her futon. That gave her a bit of a jump, since he hadn’t been in her room when she’d gone to sleep… not that he wasn’t free to come and go as he pleased. He was her mate after all, and Kagome didn’t mind.

“Morning,” she murmured, her voice cracking. She sat up and wondered what time it was.

“Good morning,” Sesshoumaru replied. His face appeared as impassive as ever, but Kagome could tell he was in a good mood, could feel through the mating bond the eagerness bubbling under the calm surface.   

“You seem chipper,” she commented, rubbing her eyes. How come Sesshoumaru never had a hair out of place no matter how early it was in the morning? Life was so unfair.

“I am sure your mood will improve in just a few short moments as well,” he said.

Was he now? Kagome’s eyebrow quirked as she stifled a yawn.

“Really? And why is that?”

“It rained last night. It will still be a warm day but the air has cooled down from what it was before – and the clouds still veil the sky.”

Though Kagome had been awake only a short while, she caught Sesshoumaru’s meaning right away.

“Travel weather,” she whispered breathlessly, her blue eyes glowing as they met his.

Sesshoumaru nodded, a small smile touching his lips.

“We can leave as soon as we have had breakfast.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Kagome jumped up, a wide grin on her face. “Call the kitchens.”

 Sesshoumaru chuckled and though he didn’t move a muscle, soon enough a servant arrived with the breakfast trays. She laid out the dishes and, as Kagome and Sesshoumaru ate, cleared out the futon. Almost as soon as the servant had left, Akie arrived.

“The cook has prepared and packed some provisions for you,” she announced after wishing Kagome and Sesshoumaru good morning.

It was really happening! Kagome sipped her tea and was suddenly filled with restless energy. Her fingers tapped against the smooth ceramic surface of the cup and she downed a bowl of miso soup in three big gulps. She saw the amused twinkle in Sesshoumaru’s eyes but didn’t care – he was just as keen to get going, she felt his impatience through their bond, mirroring her own.

 


L---A---L


 

  

After the quick breakfast, Akie helped Kagome dress. The kosode was plainer than usual to befit travel, and Kagome was glad to be able to leave the heavy and awkward uchikake behind. Despite all the time spent at the Tsumekiri, she still wasn’t used to the finery and how the bulky outer layer trailed after her steps. She felt more at ease donning the garb of a miko than she did that of a lady.

Soon enough, they were at the gate, with Akie, Saburou and Nobuo all standing by to see them off.

“We should return in a few days,” Sesshoumaru spoke to them, earning respectful bows in return. He didn’t tell them to look after the clan; that much was given so there was no need to state it out loud. Even Kagome knew all three of them to be trustworthy though she had known them for much shorter a time. She simply offered them a smile and a wave, and with a last cheery “Bye!” the guards closed the gate.

With a skip in her step, Kagome set out on the journey. She was half-way down the hill before she realised that Sesshoumaru wasn’t following her. She stopped and looked over her shoulder, meeting his golden eyes gazing steadily at her from under his quizzically arched brows.

“Aren’t you coming?” Kagome asked, hesitation eating away her sudden burst of cheer.

“Did you think we would walk all the way to Edo?” he asked her in turn, making his way over to her. “We certainly can, if that is what you prefer… but there are faster ways of travel at our disposal.”

He stopped before her and held out his hand. Kagome’s cheeks glowed hot from embarrassment. How could she so easily overlook that Sesshoumaru was a daiyoukai? It wasn’t exactly something you could just forget.

She shook her head and stepped closer. She looked up at him and clasped his hand. He wrapped his arm securely around her shoulders, tucking her against him. With her powers sealed, she did not feel the youki but she could see it rush through his body – his silver-white hair whipping around them and then they were no longer standing in the rolling grass of the hillside but on something soft and sheer that was rising, lifting them into the air. Kagome’s stomach lurched, part in fear and part in excitement as the world below grew smaller and smaller. Sesshoumaru’s calmness grounded her, and as the minute flew by the fear ebbed away. It was exhilarating to see the mountains at the distance, the gleaming river, the forest spreading next to a meandering road.

“Are you comfortable?” his low voice murmured by her ear.

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Then, I shall increase the speed.”

The world far beneath their feet became a blur as they sped towards Edo, and Kagome marvelled at how fast the miles trickled by. It was a very convenient mode of travel, despite the cool edge of the wind. Much better than walking, in any case. And then, a thought occurred to her.

“Sesshoumaru?” Kagome asked hesitantly, and then, after his hum of confirmation, continued: “Why didn’t we do this before?”

“What do you mean?”

“We had a faster way of travel at our disposal all along, so why did we walk from Edo to Tsumekiri after our mating?”

“Because being faster does not necessarily make it better,” he replied.

Kagome bit her lip, her brow creasing in a frown.

“You wanted to give me time, didn’t you?” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. For him to show such concern from the very start… it boggled her mind.

“I wanted to give the both of us time,” he corrected her. “The mating was a big adjustment to the both of us; being together, getting used to the soul bond, coming to terms with our loss... I thought walking would serve us better, give us more opportunities to get to know one another.”

“I think you were right,” Kagome sighed.

She let her head fall forward, resting her cheek against his chest. The wind whipped at her hair and like the units of distance of the shrunken world below, time lost its meaning.

 

 


L---A---L


 

 

Eventually, they moved slower, dropped lower, and Kagome started to recognise some landmarks. Her stomach churned, and she wasn’t sure if she felt more nervous or excited about returning to Edo.

Sesshoumaru landed gracefully on the road just outside the village, whipping up a cloud of dust. Kagome’s legs seemed to have a will of their own, she walked up to the village, sensing Sesshoumaru following behind her. Her chest tightened, a quivering gasp lodged in her throat. It felt like coming home. It felt eerie. So much had changed, yet everything seemed exactly the same. Her gaze was drawn to the hut she had shared with Inuyasha, and a wave of gratitude washed over her. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to remain here, what her life would have been like if Sesshoumaru hadn’t taken her away. Her breath caught, tears burning in her eyes, she drank in the place that had been her home.

And then they were no longer alone. Rin was hurrying towards them, Kaede stood at the steps of her hut. A group of children giggled and ran, with teary-eyed Sango on their heels.

“Kagome-chan!” she cried out a moment before she reached her and pulled her into a crushing embrace.

“Sango-chan,” Kagome breathed, her heart flooding with warmth. She had missed her.

Sango pulled away, keeping her at an arm’s length, her brown eyes searching as if she was trying to see into her soul. “How are you?”

“I’m well,” Kagome replied – but as glad as she was to see her friend, something felt a little off. “And I want to hear all about how you are doing… but if you don’t mind, there’s someone I need to greet first.”

Sango’s eyes softened, her grip of Kagome’s shoulders fell.

“Of course.”

“I’ll be right back,” Kagome promised, glancing at Sesshoumaru, who nodded.

Then, with a quick, tight smile, she turned around and walked over to the steps of the shrine. She felt a sudden stab of homesickness when she made the climb. How many times had she walked up the old worn stone stairs five hundred years in the future? Briefly, she wondered how her family was doing, but as she reached the top and passed through the red torii, her thoughts were pulled from modern day Tokyo, back into the present in the feudal era.

She knelt on the grass and her hand darted forward in a light caress. The stone felt warm against her palm, having soaked up the heat of the summer sun.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Her voice cracked and a lone tear finally rolled down her cheek. “I’m sorry it took me this long to come to see you, Inuyasha.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Glad as Kagome was to see her friends again; to sit with Miroku, chat with Sango, drink tea with Kaede, play with Shippou, gather herbs with Rin… She was grateful that her and Sesshoumaru’s visit to Edo had been short. When they had made their leave and walked out of the village, she had let out a small sigh of relief.

Perhaps in time she’d be able to remember her past happiness with a smile as fond as it was wistful, but at this moment the memories were sharp and painful, a million tiny shards of glass digging into the soft scarred flesh of her heart.

Edo had played the stage to an important chapter of Kagome’s life, but that chapter had come to an end with Inuyasha’s death. Difficult as it was – a continuous, daily struggle – she had to try and move on. Because despite the grief and the loss, the world kept turning. And so did she; her resilient heart beat its rebellious tattoo against her ribs.

The visit had also served an unexpected purpose: it had strengthened Kagome’s resolve and helped her realise that her place no longer was in Edo. Though she would miss her friends, the same reasons that had driven her away and made her agree to Sesshoumaru’s proposal still stood: they were all growing up. Their lives had changed and Kagome no longer was as big a part of it as she had been before, back in the days they had all been out hunting shards together. Sango and Miroku had their family now. Shippou had his training at the kitsune school, Rin and Kaede had each other. In Edo, only Kagome would be the odd one out, and had she stayed there, she felt she’d have forever been the widow. But in Tsumekiri, she was needed. She was the lady who oversaw the domestic affairs of the entire clan – her presence mattered. She had Akie, and Saburou… and Sesshoumaru.

It was late in the night when the two of them finally returned from their trip to Edo, and Kagome crawled right onto the futon the servants had laid out for her and promptly gave in to her exhaustion. She fell back into her familiar routine the next day, slipping into the everyday life at the Tsumekiri like a fish into water.

The stifling summer persisted, each day feeling hotter and stickier than the last. Kagome spent most days sitting in the shade of the walkway turned veranda, a tray of cool green tea beside her, and stripped down to as few layers as decency and her position as a lady allowed. She’d gaze out at the garden where cicadas chirped their loud and high-pitched concerto, or try to cool herself until her wrist felt numb from all the fanning. Sometimes, she’d be reading through a collection of poems and short stories, sent to her by Lord Shinobu, Sesshoumaru’s grandfather, whom she had briefly met during her stay at the Mikazuki clan’s castle. The texts had been a thoughtful gift, as Kagome did enjoy reading – anything other than a text book, at the least – though her progress was slow. She wasn’t really used to the old-fashioned writing beyond what they had covered in school when learning about ancient literature and poetry.

But mostly, she would pass the time by having idle conversations with Akie or Sesshoumaru, whichever of them was able to keep her company.

“It’s days like these when I most miss some of the modern comforts I always took for granted growing up,” she sighed one afternoon as she fanned herself and felt like she was only managing to move the hot stuffy air around, not cool it. “Like air conditioning. And ice cream. And the clothes! I almost miss my old school uniform.”

“It is the price of nobility,” Sesshoumaru hummed, his deep voice laced with wry amusement. “The peasants are free to walk around half-naked most of the time while we sweat in our silks.”

“And we’re supposed to be better off,” Kagome snorted, shaking her head.

“We may be wealthier, but people of lower standing have more freedom in certain matters than we ever will.”

Kagome slanted him a look, a corner of her lip curling. “Like marriage.”

“I never really expected I would mate anyone for love,” Sesshoumaru replied, meeting her gaze. “But thanks to you, I did manage to avoid mating for the sake of a political alliance. That is enough for me.”

“I think that’s sad,” Kagome said. “Everyone should be able to marry who they wish. Or not marry at all, if that’s what they prefer.”

“They should,” Sesshoumaru agreed. “But I am afraid that is not how the world works.”

“It will,” Kagome said firmly. “One day.”

A silence fell over them, filled by the chirping of the cicadas. Kagome looked at the lush greenery of the garden, feeling the weight of Sesshoumaru’s stare on her.

“It must be hard for you, to be so far away from home.”

“By now, I’m mostly used to it, after all the years I’ve spent here,” Kagome shrugged. “But I do get bouts of homesickness, often when I least expect them.”

“Have you ever tried travelling back?” Sesshoumaru asked.

“No. The well stopped working when we defeated Naraku. I’m still not sure why or how it opened again to allow me to come back to this era.”

“Perhaps if we consulted mother and grandfather, they might know of a way to reopen the passage.”

“That’s a sweet suggestion, Sesshoumaru, but I doubt there’s any way to open it again. The portal in the Bone Eater’s well was tied to the Shikon, and the Shikon is gone from this world, for good. Though… maybe by sharing your lifespan, I’ll be able to live to see my family again, five hundred years from now.”

“Five hundred years is a long time to wait,” Sesshoumaru hummed, casting a meaningful side-glance at Kagome.

“Yeah,” she shrugged. “So long that I can’t really even fathom it yet, what it would – will – be like, to live through all those centuries. But I guess I will find out.”

Sesshoumaru inclined his head and the two of them fell into a companionable silence. They sat side by side, looking out to the garden in its full summer glory and listened to the chirping of birds and cicadas alike, until Akie came to announce the dinner was ready.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

In the darkness of the moonless autumn night the bright red leaves of the maple trees in the garden looked black. In a stark contrast, Kagome’s knuckles were white as her hand squeezed the old sword’s tattered hilt in a tight death grip.

She stood barefoot in the tall wet grass and stared at the sword she was holding, the corner of her lip curled in a pained and bitter grimace.

Tessaiga was the best memento she had of the love she had lost, the only tangible link to Inuyasha she had left. It was a piece of him – literally, as his fang had been used to repair the sword. The blade carried his youki and it had recognised her, accepted her. She had inherited the sword that had once been his most prized possession, and on most days, that thought brought her a little comfort, a touch of relief from the pain.

Tonight, however, under the moonless and cloudy autumn sky, it filled her with anger.

Tessaiga had been made for Inuyasha; to protect him by stabilising his volatile blood. Yet, it had betrayed him. If Tessaiga had acknowledged his human blood, if it had transformed even when he was in his weakest state, then perhaps…

The ifs were endless: if he hadn’t left for the road so close to the night of the new moon, if Miroku hadn’t stayed behind, if the bandits hadn’t chanced on him… But it wasn’t the circumstances that woke her temper – she was angry at the world that had been so heartless and cruel it had taken him from her.

After all they’d been through, after all she had sacrificed to be with him, after helping to save the world from the dark clutches of Naraku and the Shikon no Tama alike… After wishing away the jewel and ending the cycle of misery and greed that followed it, she had deserved better. And so had Inuyasha! After growing up without never being accepted by either human or youkai, after losing his first love – twice even; after all the fighting and trials his life had mounted to, he had earned to be happy. As he had been, with her.

Kagome wished she would have been warned that the happily ever after always featured in fairy tales only amounted to a handful of years in the real world.

She gritted her teeth, gripping Tessaiga tighter. Tears prickled in her eyes, hot with rage. She brought the sword down in a sharp cut that flowed with practised ease into a swift leftward sweep. The unfairness stung and the anger burned in her heart as she spun and turned, hacking and slashing at imaginary enemies.

She fought with wild abandon, every movement made sloppier by her fury. Her current state of mind would not allow her to run through the rigid kata with the usual careful precision. But then, this was not another practice session in swordsmanship, this was an expression of pure rage; a way to vent. She kept going until her body screamed from exhaustion, until her fingers had grown stiff and her arms ached. Her knees finally buckled and she slumped onto the grass, panting for breath. Her heart beat in a violent staccato against her ribcage, as if it was trying to burst through her chest. With the exhaustion came the numbness – she didn’t have any energy left to feel.

Somewhere in the shadows of the mansion, Sesshoumaru stood watch. Kagome did not see him, nor could she feel his youki, but she did feel his solemn watchfulness through their mating bond and the back of her neck tingled from the familiar weight of his stare. Thankfully, he remained silent. Kagome was in no mood for softly whispered words or platitudes.  

Because even though the anger was gone, for now, its bitter aftertaste still lingered, choking her throat.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

Kagome sat cross-legged on her futon, cocooned in the thick quilt. Akie served her a cup of tea which she gladly accepted, welcoming the glowing warmth of both the drink and the small ceramic cup it was served in.

Winter was a difficult time; some days she felt at peace, while others were filled with melancholy. Outside, everything was silent and white as if the nature itself had dressed for mourning. Even the garden was sleeping under a soft think blanket of snow.

The summer days when she had sat out on the veranda complaining about the heat seemed lightyears away, now when occasional gusts of wind rattled the screens and a bitter cold had settled over the Tsumekiri mansion – one that only Kagome seemed to be able to feel. The youkai servants and guards seemed wholly unbothered by the drop in temperature, while Kagome was at last willing to wear the many layers her rank as the lady of the clan required – though she sorely missed her comfortable knitted sweaters.

It wasn’t just the mortal blood running through her veins that caused Kagome difficulties with the cold; the climate here was very different from what she was used to. The winters in Edo and Tokyo alike had been milder and snow had been a rarity that usually melted away as soon as it touched the ground. Kagome hadn’t really seen it pile up like this before, blanketing the ground for weeks at end. She marvelled at how soft and serene it looked – the way it gleamed silver in the moonlight or crunched under her shoes whenever she made the trip to the bath house or the outhouse.

Kagome sipped her tea and sighed as warmth finally spread in her body.

“Captain Saburou asked again if you would care to practice with him,” Akie spoke, sitting at the foot of the futon.

“Tell him thanks, but I don’t feel up to it today. Perhaps tomorrow.”

Kagome noticed the purse of Akie’s lips, but always the proper attendant, she said nothing, even though they both knew Kagome had told Saburou the very same thing yesterday and the day before. Maybe it was the cold or the winter melancholy – the thought of how the whole world was holding its breath, waiting to be awoken by the spring. Maybe it was the heaviness of her grief, the darkness that still lingered, shifting restlessly at the edges of her soul. Maybe it was because late December had always made her homesick; the approaching New Year had always been the busiest time for the Higurashi shrine. Even when she had been happy with Inuyasha in Edo, this time of the year her thoughts had always returned to her family five centuries away. Whatever the reason, Kagome had been feeling lethargic the past week or so. Even her heartbeat felt slow and sluggish.

She knew Akie and Saburou and Sesshoumaru were starting to show concern and she tried to put on a brave front for them, but every morning she was more and more tempted to just roll to her side and stay curled up under the quilt all day long.

If only humans could hibernate, Kagome mused to herself, sipping her hot tea carefully. It would be like killing two birds with one stone, since time was supposed to heal the wounds of the heart. She’d love to wake up in the spring, after a good long sleep, and find that the memories of Inuyasha no longer hurt, that the grey veil of grief had finally been lifted. She’d feel light and refreshed; she’d feel whole. And even if the cherry trees blooming in the garden would make her think of death, it would bring a smile to her lips, not tears to her eyes.

But alas, a magical healing sleep was nothing more than wishful thinking. She had to get through these long, dark winter days fully awake, she’d have to come to terms with her loss with her own strength. She’d just need to find the will to muster it.

She knew she could do it, eventually. She’d managed to fight off the anger that had reared its ugly head throughout the early autumn. She had managed to shed most of the guilt that had started weighing on her after the anger was gone and the autumn days grew shorter and darker. That had not been an easy task, either, since there had been so many layers of it – guilt for giving up on her family for Inuyasha, guilt for moving on without him, guilt for mating Sesshoumaru, guilt for not being a better mate to Sesshoumaru… These weren’t new feelings; she had struggled with her piling guilt before, too, and it was so exhausting to push through and rein it in. She had tried to tell herself so many times that it was normal to feel this way, even if she was not guilty of anything. But emotions did not listen well to reason.

Perhaps that was the actual reason for the listlessness plaguing her. It had been over eight months now, since… well. Eight months, so long and laborious that they felt more like years. Eight months of struggling with her loss, as well as with all those negative emotions that trying to cope with the death of a loved one brought forth: the grief, the guilt, the numbness, the anger, the loneliness… For eight whole months, her energy had been slowly and surely drained by fighting this losing battle. It shouldn’t be such a surprise that by now she had none left.

Kagome stared down at her dark, disjointed reflection on the murky green surface of her tea. It rippled and shattered as she brought the cup to her lips and took a good long sip.

She snuggled deeper into the blankets wrapped around her shoulders. She held her now empty cup out to Akie for  a refill.

“What day is it today?” she asked.

“Nineteenth, my lady,” Akie replied, keeping her gaze politely lowered as she poured more tea for her.

Kagome inclined her head in thanks, and stared at the tea. The New Year celebrations were several weeks away still; Japan wouldn’t adopt the Western date of January first for another three hundred years. But even in spite of all the cultural differences, she wanted to place Kagami mochi as an offering on Inuyasha’s altar on the twenty-eighth.

“Could you please inform the cook that we will have mochitsuki in a week?”

“Very well, my lady.” Akie gave her a small bow.

“Thank you.”

Kagome expected the conversation to be over and the lull of comfortable silence to return, but alas, Akie had other plans.

“What would you wish to do this afternoon, my lady?” the attendant asked. Her voice was cordial, as always, but Kagome could hear the prodding in it, the unvoiced expectation that she should, indeed, do something.

The mere thought made Kagome feel weary – her lids were already growing heavy.

“Rest,” she replied with a sigh, frowning at her tea. “I think I will just read.”

“Shall I bring the new stories Lord Shinobu sent along with Lady Chiyo’s latest letter?”

“Bring them later, please. I’m feeling too tired right now, I think I’m going to lay down for a bit.”

“As my lady wishes,” Akie replied, her tone of voice carefully void of either judgement or concern. That unwavering professionalism was what Kagome liked the most about Akie.

Kagome set her cup of tea down on the tray and then laid on her futon, curling up under the thick quilts.

“If I fall asleep,” she murmured against the sheets, “please wake me up in an hour.”

“I shall, my lady.”

Kagome allowed her eyelids to finally slide shut.

If she was low on energy, then she just needed to recharge. She might have been fighting a losing battle, but she was determined to win the war. For Inuyasha, and for her own sake.

 

Chapter Text

 

The Tsumekiri clan celebrated the New Year together and the festivities were enough to lift even Kagome’s spirits. The cook overdid herself with the feast, and everyone – except the few poor guards who were on duty – gathered in one of the banquet halls to eat together. It was rare to see all of their small clan together, though somehow that made Kagome all the gladder. She looked at them from her place on Sesshoumaru’s right, how the maids laughed and talked, how the guards poured each other drinks. It was a merry occasion, and she wished they would have cause to celebrate more often. It would be difficult to slip into gloominess with such joyful feasts.

Still, she felt a little relieved when after the dinner she retreated into her rooms, Sesshoumaru in tow. Though she had been at Tsumekiri for over half a year, she still felt a little restricted in her role of the lady of the clan. Sitting in the front of the room with Sesshoumaru, apart from everyone else, decked in more elaborate finery than usual – her shoulders had been stiff throughout the feast and she had felt all the more self-conscious of the clan member’s fleeting glances. She’d much rather have been sitting amongst them, pouring a drink to Saburou or conversing with Akie-san. To be so plainly elevated above the rest just didn’t sit well with her modern sensibilities, though perhaps in time she would grow more used to her status in the clan.

Despite the cold evening, Sesshoumaru opened the walkway into a veranda and they settled there, looking out to the wintry garden where a thin layer of snow still lingered, glimmering silver in the fluttering light of the lanterns. Akie-san entered, bowing to them before leaving a tray of warm sake beside them. Then, with a nod from Sesshoumaru she was gone.

Sesshoumaru picked up a dish and handed it to Kagome.

“Here,” he spoke quietly and filled it for her.

“Thank you,” she breathed, leaning closer to him, mostly a subconscious shift seeking the heat he radiated. She looked up at the dark sky, spreading above them, twinkling with stars, and brought the sake dish to her lips.

Happy New Year, Inuyasha, she thought, then squeezed her eyes shut as she downed the drink. It seemed to glow with warmth, heating her from the inside better than any serving of tea she’d had all winter. The taste made her grimace, and yet the drink felt soothing – though that might also have been thanks to her drinking companion.

She slanted a look at Sesshoumaru as he tipped his dish and drank his fill.

Funny, how natural it seemed, to be sitting here like this, quietly celebrating the start of yet another year, enjoying the beautiful winter night and the warm sake. To a complete stranger, they probably looked like an actual husband and wife.

She wasn’t sure if it was that queer train of thought, or the serving of alcohol in her system, but Kagome felt her heart throb and heat rushed to her cheeks. She held out her dish for Sesshoumaru and he obliged, filling it with another serving of sake.

“It has been an eventful year,” Sesshoumaru said, looking out into the garden.

“It really has,” Kagome replied in a murmur. So many things had happened, things she had thought would never happen… and yet life had moved on. “If someone had told me a year ago that I would be welcoming the next New Year with you, I would not have believed them.”

“I would have thought that implausible as well,” Sesshoumaru admitted, the corner of his lips twitching. “Though I confess I find this vastly preferable to last year.”

“Why? What was wrong with last year?” Kagome asked

“Nothing in particular, it was like any other year before that.” He turned to meet her inquiring gaze, the gold of his eyes reflecting the warm gold glow of the lanterns. “It is just that I have discovered how much more enjoyable moments such as this are, when you have someone to share them with.”

Kagome’s heart had ached a little before; bringing up last year had brought forth the recollections from a year ago, of laughing and eating together with all of her friends. After everyone had gone to bed, she and Inuyasha had stayed up, just the two of them, so they could see the first sunrise of the New Year together. But now, her chest tightened as Sesshoumaru’s words conjured a vivid picture, of him sitting by his room just like this, drinking sake while looking out to the winter night. Last year, when she had celebrated New Year surrounded by those she held dear, Sesshoumaru had been alone.

Kagome set down her sake dish, and with a rustle of silk, turned to face Sesshoumaru. She placed her hands carefully before her, the polished wood cool against her palms, and bent into a deep, formal bow.

“Thank you, for everything you have done for me this past year. For the next year, too, I will be in your care.”

Warm fingers gently caught her jaw and tilted her head up. Deep blue met soft gold and he withdrew his hands, the same fingers brushing against her cheek in a passing but deliberate caress. Jolted by the unexpected contact, Kagome straightened herself.

“Likewise,” he said, his voice deep and earnest. “Please look after this Sesshoumaru in the coming year, as well.” He bowed his head, his silver hair falling to frame his face.

Kagome’s fingers dug into the silk of her kimono and with a rush of warmth, a smile rose to her lips from the bottom of her heart.

“Of course,” she replied brightly.

Sesshoumaru lifted his head and looked at her. A slow smile spread onto his lips as well.

He should smile more often. He looked much more handsome that way.

This year, Kagome had focused so much on herself, relied so much on Sesshoumaru’s silent strength and gracious support… Next year, she should try to do better by him, try to pay back the kindness he had showed her.

In fact, she decided, watching as Sesshoumaru drank the last of his sake, she would start right now.

“Here,” she said, picking up the bottle. “Let me pour for you.”

With a slow nod, Sesshoumaru held out the empty dish, and Kagome filled it to the brim.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The invitation arrived two days later, and since it was personally delivered by the clan leader’s favourite errand boy, it wasn’t the kind that could’ve been refused. Not that they would have, even if they had the option.

“So this is something that happens every year?” Kagome asked, looking up from the formal letter. Her blue eyes were sparkling and a splash of colour had risen to her cheeks. She looked more animated than she had in weeks, and something heavy finally fell off of Sesshoumaru’s heart, leaving him feeling lighter and with an almost hesitant hope that the apathy that had plagued her all winter was showing signs of fading.

“Yes,” Moriyasu replied readily, nodding thanks in passing to Akie who had just served him tea. “It has become a tradition for Mikazuki clan to host a formal reception at the start of each year.”

“She will have to be properly attired,” Sesshoumaru murmured to Akie, his eyes still on his mate.

“Of course. I will take care of it, my lord,” Akie replied with a fluid bow.

“A formal reception?” Kagome was asking.

“Yes. It is a chance for all the retainers to come and pay their respects to their leaders,” Moriyasu explained.

“Retainers?” Kagome frowned. She glanced at Sesshoumaru. “Is that what we are?”

“No,” he said, his voice calm and deep. “We have an agreement with the Mikazuki, but Tsumekiri is an independent clan. Our territory may not be large but it is all our own. As for Mikazuki… They are one of the most prominent clans of the West, and as such, command enough territory to allow some lesser clans to reside on the land.”

“For a fee, I’m guessing.” Kagome’s eyebrows rose.

Moriyasu shrugged. “It is not an altogether different agreement from such as the humans have with their provinces and ruling clans. And most of these lesser clans Sesshoumaru-sama mentioned are more like branch families.” He sipped his tea.

“I see,” Kagome said slowly.

“Of course, the reason why you are invited is not because of your alliance to Mikazuki, but because Sesshoumaru-sama is lady Chiyo’s son.”

Sesshoumaru’s lips quirked as his eyes darkened. “Mother likes keeping her options open.”

Kagome blinked in confusion, but Moriyasu noticed, offering an explanation even before she had the chance to voice her question. “There are certain… tensions. With one of the branch families.”

“Tensions, indeed,” Sesshoumaru hummed, not bothering to keep the wry amusement from his voice. He looked at Kagome, meeting her confused blue eyes. “There has been some discussion about the succession of the clan.”

“Ah!” Kagome’s gaze flitted to the crescent moon, framed by Sesshoumaru’s silver-white bangs. “Your mother talked about it, before we left the castle. About possibly merging Tsumekiri with Mikazuki.”

“She did?” For once, the fox appeared surprised. The sight of his rounded eyes staring at Kagome was oddly pleasing.

“My mother’s aspirations are hardly a secret,” Sesshoumaru murmured.

“That may be so, but having her openly voicing them is remarkable,” Moriyasu insisted.

Sesshoumaru sipped his tea. Perhaps it was, he conceded silently. Mother tended to keep her schemes close to her heart.

“She said she didn’t want to tempt fate,” Kagome said. “Not after you were born carrying the mark of Mikazuki.”

“That sounds like her,” Sesshoumaru said, and for a fleeting second he wanted to roll his eyes. He didn’t have much interest in inheriting a clan as influential as Mikazuki. If he had the slightest inclination of involving himself in the politics any more than he already had to as the leader of Tsumekiri, he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to ask his half-brother’s widow as his mate.

“You see,” Moriyasu said to Kagome, “Lady Chiyo cannot appoint her heir at this moment, as – officially speaking – Lord Shinobu still holds the position of the leader of the clan. Lady Chiyo is the heiress herself, acting in our lord’s stead.”

“I get it,” Kagome replied, nodding slowly. “So there are people who are holding on to hope that Lady Mother will not choose Sesshoumaru.” She looked at him, her blue eyes assessing.

“That is correct. Sesshoumaru-sama has a cousin – the son of Lady Chiyo’s younger sister – who would be most likely to inherit Mikazuki clan’s leadership.”

Sesshoumaru’s lips curled in a sneer. He understood his mother’s dilemma, he didn’t have a very high opinion of his cousin, either – but that did not change the fact that he had no wish to be saddled with a clan as influential as Mikazuki. Tsumekiri was more than enough for him; it was the clan where he had grown up. It was also one of the last remaining links he had to his father, which only made him more reluctant to give up the clan and merge it with his mother’s.

“As fascinating as this subject of clan politics is,” Sesshoumaru said wryly, “there are some things I need to sort with Nobuo and Jaken before we can leave for Mikazuki.”

“Of course,” Moriyasu murmured, bowing his head politely.

“We shall leave in three hours’ time,” Sesshoumaru decided, and nodded to Kagome before leaving the room.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Moriyasu stood at a respectful distance as Kagome bid goodbye to Saburou, the captain of the Tsumekiri guards.

“Have a safe trip, lady Kagome,” Saburou said with a bow.

“Thanks. I’ll be with Sesshoumaru, so I’m sure I’ll be safe.”

“That is true, my lady,” Saburou replied, giving her a small smile, which Kagome returned.

“Are you ready?”

Kagome turned to see Sesshoumaru crossing the yard towards them, and for a moment her breath caught.

He was dressed as he had in the past, in his white kimono and chest plate, the generous sweep of fur trailing down his back. It was odd to see him like that, looking almost exactly the same as he had all those years ago when they had met for the first time. So much had happened since then. So much had happened since Inuyasha had passed. Besides, ever since Sesshoumaru had brought her to Tsumekiri, she had rarely seen him in the full regalia; he had little reason to put on his armour when they were at home.

Of course, Kagome too was dressed to impress. She was decked from head to toe in all the formal finery that went with her station, the kosode as good as vanished under the bulky deep red uchikake draped over her form. Red wouldn’t have been Kagome’s first choice of colour, honestly, but she suspected Akie-san had picked it so her outfit would complement the decorative pattern in the sleeves and shoulder of Sesshoumaru’s kimono.

And that was just as well. She suddenly realised that attending this formal reception at the Mikazuki clan’s castle would be the very first time she would be presented as Sesshoumaru’s mate in front of the youkai society.

She met Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes, noticed the hand he was holding out to her.

“I suppose I am,” she replied softly, curling her fingers around his.

In truth she was nervous, but the warm large hand engulfing hers gave her strength. She stepped closer, wrapping her arm around his waist, mindful of his armour. They would not be travelling by the road – Sesshoumaru would use his cloud of youki since that was a much faster mode of transportation. It also meant that she would need to stay in contact with him for his youki to be able to carry her. Kagome didn’t mind that, though. She took comfort in the quiet strength of his body, and the thrum of their mating bond.

It was time, she decided, as Sesshoumaru gathered his energy and they lifted off the ground. This reception at Mikazuki would be the perfect opportunity for her to play her part; to pay back for Sesshoumaru’s kindness by being a proper, supportive mate.

Higher in the sky, the wind was picking up as they gathered speed, and Kagome shivered from the cold. She pressed closer to Sesshoumaru’s warmth.

He seemed to notice, since he looked down to her and gathered his fur so he could drape it around her.

“Thank you,” Kagome said, giving him a small smile.

“It will not be a long journey,” he reassured her.

Kagome nodded. She snuggled into the white pelt. It was not soft as it looked, but it was warm and that was all that mattered.

“Sesshoumaru…” Kagome looked up, trying to catch his eye. “I was just wondering… Are there any special duties I need to know about?”

“What duties?” Sesshoumaru asked.

“Well, I’ve never been to a formal reception of any kind before. I do not wish to reflect poorly on you.”

“You will not,” he said, his voice simultaneously both soft and firm. “I am sure you will do great, so do not be nervous.”

“I’m not nervous. I just want to do my part.”

“There is nothing particular that you would need to do as my mate. Just stay beside me and, if you wish, be attentive to me.”

Moriyasu, having heard their conversation even over the wind, joined in.

“You will present yourselves to Lady Chiyo and offer your greetings. Then everyone will join in for a meal. It will be held in one of the larger halls. If at any point you feel uncertain, lady Kagome, take your cues from Chiyo-hime. She is the highest ranking lady present.”

“That is good advice,” Sesshoumaru agreed with a little nod, then glanced at Kagome. “Just follow mother’s lead.”

“All right.”

Kagome licked her lips, hesitating for a moment before she asked her next question.

“Will… Will they think poorly of you because I am a human?”

Sesshoumaru frowned, and Kagome saw the lines of his mouth growing tauter.

“Lord Sesshoumaru did his duty and followed tradition by mating you, lady Kagome,” Moriyasu answered. “No one can fault him for that.”

“No one can fault me, but some might still not agree,” Sesshoumaru said. “There are many youkai who do not hold very high opinions of hanyou and they might feel the tradition would not have bound me in this particular case. It is easy for the ignorant to pass judgement.”

Kagome clutched the pelt closer with the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Sesshoumaru’s waist.

Sesshoumaru’s clawed hand cupped her cheek, and tilted her head up so he could hold her gaze.

“They do not know you, or Inuyasha. They know nothing of our situation. Therefore their opinions hold no weight.”

“You’re right,” she murmured. “Thank you.” She turned her head to the side to place a small, fleeting kiss on his palm, and his surprise flowed to her through the mating bond.

“They might be more shocked if they realised you were a miko,” Moriyasu pointed out. His voice was warm with amusement and playfulness, the way only a kitsune’s could.

“As your powers are currently under a seal I doubt none will be the wiser, however,” Sesshoumaru added, his voice reassuring.

“If you wish, lady Kagome, I can undo the seal for you; before the reception of after it, however you prefer.”

“Thank you, Moriyasu. But I’m not sure I trust myself yet.” Kagome shook her head. “I’ve been working through my grief; I have been sad and angry, I have been lonesome and guilty, I have been numb and apathetic. There have been so many powerful, dark, emotions that have at times taken a hold of me, and though I am better now, some of them might yet resurface.”

“As you wish, my lady.” Moriyasu bowed his head. “Just let me know when you are ready.”

Kagome smiled then, a small smile that almost reached her eyes.

“I’ve come to realise that in order to best this darkness in my soul, I need to let myself feel it. I can’t control it if I simply ignore it all try to bottle up all that negativity. Every now and then I need to give myself a permission to wallow, and it’s been a relief to be able to do just that without having to worry about the darkness of these moments corrupting my reiki. So thank you, Moriyasu, for the seal.”

“You are very welcome, my lady, though I only followed lady Chiyo’s orders.”

“I’ll need to thank Lady Mother then, as well.”

“You shall, soon enough,” Sesshoumaru said in a low voice, his clawed fingers twitching against the small of Kagome’s back. “We are almost there.”

 

Chapter Text

 

They landed on the stone steps of the floating castle of Mikazuki, and Sesshoumaru placed Kagome gently to the ground. Though the wind was no longer frightfully strong now that they’d stopped moving, she missed the warmth of Sesshoumaru’s body. But then, she could hardly show up all wrapped up in Sesshoumaru’s fur. For first impressions, appearance was everything. She smoothed down her kosode and wrapped the heavy uchikake better around her, making sure the hem would trail properly after her steps. Then she looked up and met Sesshoumaru’s steady gaze.

“Ready?” he asked her. He felt calm and determined through their bond, and some of the tension eased off Kagome’s shoulders.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied. She managed a smile, though it was a small and nervous one.

Moriyasu gave the both of them a sweeping bow, then lead the way up the stairs like any lesser servant would have. Sesshoumaru followed, and Kagome waited half a step before she started after them. They filed through the door, ignoring the two guards flanking it.

A part of Kagome felt glad to be at Mikazuki once more; despite their rocky start, she remembered fondly the time she had spent in Lady Mother’s care, and felt grateful for all the insight she had offered her, for those words of wisdom that had helped her recovery. Though – Chiyo-hime hadn’t been the only one who had helped her.

“If we find the time for it,” she spoke aloud, “might I have another taste of your tea, Moriyasu?”

“It would be my pleasure, lady Kagome,” Moriyasu replied, flashing a quick grin over his shoulder.

Sesshoumaru suddenly stopped and glanced back at her as well.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his face carefully blank save for one questioning eyebrow.

“What do you mean?” Kagome asked, echoing his puzzlement.

“You walk so carefully, maintaining your distance. Is everything all right?”

Kagome frowned at him. “I’m fine. I just figured since we’re here, I should behave accordingly.”

Understanding sparked in Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes, and he shook his head.

“This behaviour,” he said, gesturing at the distance between the two of them, “that you are showing here is the propriety between human spouses. It is fine out here in the corridor where it is narrow, but once we reach the banquet hall, I expect you to step up. Your proper place is beside me, Kagome, not behind me.”

His words were soft and held no reproach, but embarrassment still flushed Kagome’s cheeks and made her want to squirm. The tension rushed back and she bit her lip as she looked at him.

“See, we’re not even all the way there and I am already making mistakes.”

“You will do fine,” Sesshoumaru said. “Just be yourself, that will be enough.”

“And if you feel uncertain, take cues from Chiyo-hime,” Moriyasu added. “You do not need to be perfect, my lady. I doubt most of the youkai gathered here will have high expectations of you, for you are not one of us.”

“They’re more ready to forgive me because I’m human?”

Moriyasu nodded.

Sesshoumaru’s expression remained unreadable, but there was a faint flicker of wry amusement through their mating bond before he spoke: “Perhaps I should not be giving this advice as I have great difficulties following it myself, but mistakes are something to be learned from, not feared.”

Her smile was a tight, sarcastic twist of lips echoing the wryness she felt from him. She met his eyes and they had one of those rare moments – one of a perfect understanding.

“Let’s go,” Kagome breathed. “Shouldn’t keep everyone waiting, eh?”

“If you will follow me, my lord, my lady,” Moriyasu said, slipping easily back into his role as a servant.

 


L---A---L


 

 

They stepped into the banquet hall, side by side. Kagome had never actually been inside the room; while she had been staying here with Lady Mother, they had dined together so a smaller room had been enough. But now, there were guests sitting along the walls of the large room, each of them youkai.

Kagome didn’t want to stare, so she kept her gaze up front, on Lady Mother. She was seated on a dais at the end of the hall, a splendid vision in her bright embroidered silks. She seemed proud, but then, as the heiress of the clan and in front of all these retainers who had come to pay her their respects, she should.

Kagome kept her head held up high, and her pace even with Sesshoumaru. The pep talk out in the corridor had managed to drive away most of her fears, but she was still nervous – it would not be completely out of character for her to do something clumsy or stupid.

But somehow, she managed all the long way across the hall without tripping over the trailing hem of her uchikake or making a fool of herself in any other way. She ignored the stares though some sent her skin crawling. She tuned out the low hum of murmurs sweeping the room as if it was nothing more than the buzz of insects.

Sesshoumaru and Kagome stopped before the dais, and bent into equal bows.

“Greetings, Lady Chiyo of Mikazuki,” Sesshoumaru spoke, his voice low but carrying.

Lady Mother inclined her head, and let a small smile curve her red lips. “Be welcomed into my home, Lord Sesshoumaru and Lady Kagome of Tsumekiri. My food will be yours this evening,” she replied formally. Then, with a quieter voice, she added, “I am glad you could attend.”

“We thank you for the invite, mother.”

“How could we not come?” Kagome added, reassured by the familiar spark of playfulness in Lady Mother’s eyes. If all of the other guests tonight did not like her, should it really matter, when she could call the acting head of the clan her friend?

“Be seated,” Chiyo said, gesturing to a spot right by the dais.

“A seat of honour, mother?” Sesshoumaru asked, raising his eyebrow.

“You are my son, and this is dear Kagome’s first taste of youkai society, so I considered it proper,” Chiyo replied with a small shrug.

“It is your party, mother,” Sesshoumaru replied, sounding almost bored. “We shall sit wherever you wish.”

He bowed again, and Kagome followed his lead. Then they walked to the side and sat down at the spot reserved for them.

Kagome smoothed the hem of her outfit and then placed her hands in her lap, trying her best to appear elegant and demure. Her skin tingled with the weight of someone’s gaze and she looked up.

The demoness sat across the hall from her, and Kagome could immediately guess who she was. The colouring was tell-tale enough, the delicate features and high cheekbones a mirror image of Lady Mother’s. But the face didn’t bear any markings, which made Kagome suspect she wasn’t as powerful as her older sister. The other obvious difference were the eyes: they were paler than Chiyo’s, more yellow than gold. And the look in them was unkind, a downright glare. They bore no trace of the playfulness that was so typical for Lady Mother, only anger.

Kagome bit her lip and then realised what she was doing, fighting to keep her face neutral and not to react to the unkind stare any further.

She turned to Sesshoumaru and leaned closer to speak in a low whisper, hoping the words wouldn’t carry in this room full of youkai with their superior hearing.

“I don’t think your aunt likes me very much.”

“I doubt my aunt likes anyone much,” he returned, his voice equally hushed; his gaze flickering across the hall. “She is the lesser daughter of a great clan. It has left her heart bitter.”

“It’s not easy, living in someone else’s shadow,” Kagome murmured, recalling all too well the teenage insecurities that had flared up every time someone had compared her to Kikyou. At times, it had almost been unbearable, but then she’d only had to put up with it for a year. She couldn’t imagine a lifetime of enduring such comparisons.

“That it is not,” Sesshoumaru agreed, and something in the tone of his voice made her reach for him, to lay her hand on his forearm.

His face remained as expressionless as a mask, but he clasped her hand, gave it a gentle squeeze.

She smiled at him, but then Moriyasu reappeared by their side, with a bottle of sake.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked.

Sesshoumaru nodded, and Moriyasu poured them both a cup.

“I shall attend you tonight. When you wish to eat, just call me over.”

“Thank you, Moriyasu,” Kagome said.

The fox bowed his head and grinned at them, then stepped back to sit behind them by the wall.

They had scarce had a sip of their sake, when the doors of the banquet’s hall slid open. Kagome felt Sesshoumaru tense beside her, and a wave of surprise washed through their mating bond.  

“What?” she asked, unnerved by his reaction enough for her voice to come out in a hiss.

Sesshoumaru didn’t answer. He didn’t have to, because the person at the door moved in, and Kagome could see who it was.

Her eyes widened, as she watched the old youkai cross the hall.

“I didn’t know he was attending,” she whispered.

“He was not supposed to,” Sesshoumaru replied. “In all the years I have come to mother’s little get-together, he has never bothered to come down. He does not usually leave his room.”

“So why has Lord Shinobu come now?”

Sesshoumaru shrugged. “I do not know any more than you do.”

Judging by the ringing silence that was filling the banquet hall – the murmured conversations that died as Lord Shinobu made his unhurried way across the room towards Lady Chiyo’s dais – the rest of the youkai in attendance were equally surprised by the elusive lord’s appearance.

The slight smile on Lady Mother’s lips never wavered as she watched her father approach her, and that moment Kagome realised that Sesshoumaru had learned from the best. Sesshoumaru had a habit of hiding his thoughts and emotions behind a carefully blank face, free of any emotion. Chiyo used her mild amusement much to the same effect. It was not as obvious a mask as Sesshoumaru’s, but it was just as unreadable. Kagome shook her head. Why hadn’t she ever noticed that before?

Had her grief dulled her wits?

Perhaps, she mused wryly, and took another sip of her sake. Or perhaps she just hadn’t had many opportunities to observe Chiyo before in her official role as the Lady of the Tsumekiri clan. Though she had been her guest in this very castle, with her, Chiyo had always acted in the capacity of her mother-in-law.

Lord Shinobu reached the dais, and gave one deep nod as a greeting to his daughter.

“Father,” Chiyo said, bowing gracefully in return. “I am delighted that you chose to attend.” She gestured to her side on the dais. “Please, sit.”

Lord Shinobu took his seat – not that far away from where Sesshoumaru and Kagome were sitting – and the servants hurried to prepare him a serving for food and to offer him a drink, while Lady Chiyo continued her feast as if nothing had happened, turning her attention to another new arrival, walking up to the dais to greet her.

Lord Shinobu’s unexpected arrival clearly was a much bigger object of curiosity than Sesshoumaru’s new mortal mate, and Kagome relaxed a little as the discreet glances and few outright stares slid from her to Lord Shinobu. She was glad to relinquish her place in the spotlight – enough so that the tight nervous coil in the pit of her stomach eased and she beckoned Moriyasu to serve their meal.

After the surprise Lord Shinobu had served everyone, the banquet was a rather dull affair, all in all. The food was very tasty, which Kagome made a point to comment on both to Sesshoumaru and Moriyasu. But there was only so much to entertain herself as she sat in a hall full of youkai – most of whom she did not even know.

Of course, Kagome and Sesshoumaru did turn to make polite conversation with the people seated next to them, exchanging empty pleasantries and answering a few of their curious questions. At one point, Lord Shinobu even bent to their direction to have a little chat. Kagome was glad for the opportunity to thank him for all the texts, poems and books he had sent her, as reading had been one of the few past times she had managed to immerse herself with over the long winter. Though, she noticed with distaste, that the little extra attention from Sesshoumaru’s grandfather earned her more dark and bitter stares from across the hall where Sesshoumaru’s aunt and cousin were seated.

In the end, though the dinner had been good and though the reception had gone way better than she had dared to hope with no mistakes made on her account, Kagome was very glad when at last, at a rather late hour, Moriyasu guided them to the guest room and bid them goodnight.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The morning following the New Year’s reception dawned quiet. Though perhaps that was only to be expected, after such a long and busy night. Kagome woke before Sesshoumaru did, which was a rare occurrence – sometimes she even wondered if he laid down to sleep just for her benefit, to make her comfortable. She knew he didn’t usually need as much rest as she did.

She lay still, for those short precious moments, studying his face.

Relaxed as he was in his sleep, she was struck by how young he still was. Perhaps it was the longer lifespan of a daiyoukai, having spent more years on this earth than she had, that made him seem older and wiser. Certainly he had a very mature outlook on life which Kagome admired… But perhaps, were he a mere human, he wouldn’t be that much older than she was.

He woke with grace Kagome had always envied; his eyes opened without the slightest trace of sleep, and he sat up on his futon, glancing at the door.

A moment later, Kagome heard the footsteps, then someone stopped outside the room. The door slid open a crack, and a serving girl, kneeling in the hallway, bowed down to them.

“Lord Sesshoumaru, Lady Kagome. My lady would like to invite you to break the fast with her.”

“Of course,” Sesshoumaru murmured, his voice wry.

Kagome sat up and ran a hand through her hair.

“I’d be pleased to join her for breakfast, as soon as I’m dressed.”

“Will you require any help with that, my lady?” the servant asked.

“I – yes. Some help would be lovely,” Kagome said. Dealing with the baggy kosode was so cumbersome – and as a visiting lady, she knew Lady Mother would expect her to dress formally.

Not too long after, Kagome sat down across the table from Chiyo, properly dressed up, uchikake and all. They had a relaxed breakfast, just the three of them, which was a nice contrast to the formalities of last night. Kagome ate lightly, listening to Sesshoumaru and his mother talk about the turn up to last night’s reception. Finally, Lady Chiyo put down her cup of tea.

“Well then. I think I shall go to the gardens and have a little stroll to help all this food go down. Would you like to join me, Kagome?”

Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru, but he was already getting up.

“I will leave you two to it, then. Enjoy your walk.”

Kagome got up and watched him walk away, wondering what he would do to pass the time, but then Chiyo was wrapping her arm around hers and steering her towards the gardens. Outside, the day was cold and sunny, and Kagome was glad for the extra layer the uchikake provided, bulky though it was.

“I heard you had trying time this winter,” Chiyo murmured at last, as the two of them stopped at the curve of the path.

Kagome looked down at the koi pond next to them. It was frozen over, the fish gone for the winter.

“I felt very out of sorts,” she admitted. “Perhaps it was only a matter of time for it all to catch up with me.”

“The season hardly helped. I have heard some people fall into low spirits for the winter months, especially up north. The colder and darker days put them in a dreary mood.”

Kagome nodded. “That may have been a part of it. Though I was also feeling a little homesick.”

She looked up, meeting Chiyo’s steady gaze. “In my time, they celebrate the New Year earlier, following the same calendar with foreigners. It makes things easier, since all the different countries across the world are in closer contact in the future. Anyway, New Year is an important day for my family. I don’t remember if I’ve told you this, but my family actually runs a shrine for a living.”

“That is very respectable,” Lady Mother commented. “And it is only natural for you to think of your home on holidays, as they often are times to remember one’s ancestors.”

“That’s true.”

Silence fell for a moment, and the two of them resumed walking, continuing down the path.

“Well,” Chiyo said after a while, “I am relieved to see you are feeling better. I was a little concerned earlier; you were so quiet this morning.”

“I didn’t feel like I had much to add to your conversation with Sesshoumaru,” Kagome said, squirming a little. “This was my first formal reception and I do not know any of the other guests.”

“I hope you still had a good time – as much as there was that to be had, in any case. Receptions get so dull.” Chiyo rolled her eyes, and Kagome bit her lip.

“I did have a good time, thank you for inviting us. I was so nervous I was going to embarrass Sesshoumaru so I was just very relieved I didn’t make any mistakes.”

Chiyo waved her hand dismissively. “I am certain Sesshoumaru would not have been embarrassed no matter what you would have done. He is a rather stubborn one, and does not care overmuch what others might think of him.”

“I’ve noticed,” Kagome said, flashing a small smile. “But I wouldn’t want anyone to think less of him because of me.”

“He is a better man for having taken you for a mate, little one.”

Kagome slanted a shy look at Chiyo. “Are you sure?”

“I have told you countless of times how delighted I am that he has you.” Chiyo shook her head, and levelled Kagome with a stern stare. “You are always so hard on yourself, little one. Chin up now, you have naught to be ashamed of.”

Kagome shook her head and looked at the bare, frosted branches of the cherry and plum trees lining the path. “Somehow, I always feel better after talking with you.”

Chiyo patter her arm. “That is what mothers are for.”

Kagome didn’t reply. She had to blink very rapidly for a moment, and swallow back the tears threatening to spill. It would be a long while still before she would be able to see her mother – that is, if she and Sesshoumaru would even survive all the long centuries ahead of them – but at least she had Lady Chiyo, and most days, that was almost as good.

 

 

  

 

Chapter Text

While Kagome and his mother were out on their stroll, Sesshoumaru had planned to go out to the practice yard to run through some sword exercises. Due to the New Year celebrations and now this reception, he’d been very neglectful with his practise. His plan was foiled, however, by a servant. He bowed in the doorway, telling Sesshoumaru that Lord Shinobu wished to see him. Sesshoumaru arched his eyebrow at the summons, but obeyed at once, following the servant upstairs to his grandfather’s rooms.

“Ah, Maru,” Lord Shinobu greeted him as soon as he walked in, “you came quickly.”

“You requested my presence, grandfather,” Sesshoumaru replied with a respectful bow.

“I was hoping you might indulge an old daiyoukai – it has been quite a while since I last had a nice game of Go.”

“Certainly,” Sesshoumaru agreed, walking over to Lord Shinobu and the awaiting game board.

“Splendid! I am sorry to say your mother has little interest in the game; she finds it tiresome. Your father, however… Now there was a worthy opponent!”

Sesshoumaru took his seat. A wave of nostalgia swept over him at the sight of the empty game board. He hadn’t always appreciated the game, either. He’d been younger then, and like with many of his esteemed father’s lessons, he hadn’t quite grasped the purpose of it.

“I never managed to win against father,” he murmured, running a finger over the lacquered jar holding the stones.

“There is no shame in that,” Lord Shinobu replied. “Inu no Taishou was a masterful tactician.”

Sesshoumaru nodded, and watched his grandfather place the first black stone on the game board.

Sesshoumaru opened his lacquered jar and picked a white stone with two fingers. He chose a spot and placed the stone.

And so the game went; his skills were rusty, his grandfather’s wits sharp. Soon enough, the black stones were cornering his white ones with alarming accuracy.

Sesshoumaru was holding his next stone in his fingers and considering his options, when he finally gave in to his curiosity.

“Grandfather, if you do not mind me asking… Why did you come down to the New Year’s reception? You have not usually cared to attend them, so why now?”

Lord Shinobu glanced up. His calm face betrayed nothing of his thoughts.

“I do not often bother to leave my rooms, and I have little wish to be involved in the affairs of the clan as they are in capable hands. But I thought others could do with a little reminder; that I still have some breath left in me, old and reclusive as I am.”

Sesshoumaru cocked his head and placed his stone on the board.

“Are you concerned over Mikazuki’s succession, like mother?”

“Not so much,” Lord Shinobu said as he studied the game board, probably thinking three steps further than Sesshoumaru was. “I am certain Chiyo will settle the matter to our satisfaction.”

Sesshoumaru inclined his head in agreement – his mother would die before naming anyone incompetent or unworthy as her heir.

“Perhaps, in another few years I should step down entirely and let Chiyo officially be the leader of Mikazuki. She has done so well, she deserves the full title.”

“Mother is admirable,” Sesshoumaru acknowledged.

He frowned, sensing his grandfather was laying yet another trap for his poor white stones. From the start, he’d hardly had hope to win; his grandfather was a very wise man, with a wealth of experience that dwarfed any Sesshoumaru had. Of course, given Lord Shinobu’s advanced age, that was only to be expected – and for a daiyoukai, Sesshoumaru still was rather young.

“What would you do then?” Sesshoumaru asked. “After you stepped down?”

“Much the same I am doing now.” Lord Shinobu smiled. “Collect these scroll sand poems and text. Translate some. Write something of my own based on what I have studied. These humans we have, the foreigners trading out at the Western ports, I would like to learn more of their lands and traditions.”

Amusement flickered in Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes. “I believe, had you been born a mortal, you would have been content with the monastic life.”

“Oh, I would have been very comfortable indeed!” His grandfather chuckled. “Although this mention of monks reminds me – have you heard from the inu clan in north east? Chiyo got a dispatch that they had had some trouble with a monastery bordering on their territory.”

Sesshoumaru nodded grimly. “I received a word months ago that the local warrior monks were growing restless.”

Lord Shinobu shook his head. “What wretched times are these, when even the men of faith have their own armies! Do not the humans ever tire of war?”

“One can hope,” Sesshoumaru said. “I am only glad that there is peace among youkai.”

He glanced at the board and put the stone he’d been holding back into the container. There were no more moves he could make, the game was over.

“Looks like the victory is yours, grandfather.”

“Thank you, for obliging me. It was a good game.”

“Any time. Though I am not certain I was much of an opponent.”

“For a youngling, you did more than well. I was happy just to have a partner interested in the game.”

Sesshoumaru considered Lord Shinobu for a moment. His mother wouldn’t play – and if she did, it would be reluctantly and only to please the old daiyoukai. Playing against someone who didn’t enjoy the game made the whole thing feel like a chore, but perhaps…

“Might Moriyasu serve as a practice partner, grandfather? His wits are apt.”

Lord Shinobu pursed his lips. “That is hard to say – he is a kitsune and it is their nature to grow bored easily. But of course, there is never any fault in trying. I shall ask him.”

Sesshoumaru bowed his head. “I hope he will indulge you.”

“Thank you, Maru. I shall not keep you longer from dear Kagome’s company. Give her my regards, will you?”

“I will,” Sesshoumaru promised. “She will be delighted.”

He gave Lord Shinobu a final, respectful bow, and left the room.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome and Sesshoumaru took time that afternoon to visit Moriyasu together. The kitsune led them to his tea room and Kagome sat back, ready to enjoy the ceremony. As she and Sesshoumaru watched Moriyasu start preparing the tea, surprise bubbled through the mating bond. Kagome spared a quick glance at Sesshoumaru. He stared at Moriyasu’s careful, ceremonial movements with a riveted expression.

Kagome hid her smile and turned back to admire Moriyasu’s work.

Later on, they dined with Lady Mother. The three of them talked well into the night, until Kagome could no longer swallow her yawns.

They left the next day, shortly after midday. Lady Chiyo came out to the castle yard to see them off and made Kagome promise she’d write often. Kagome mustered a smile and hugged her goodbye. Then, she once again snuggled into the warm fur trailing from Sesshoumaru’s shoulder and braced herself for the journey home.

It was a fast way of travelling, and she trusted Sesshoumaru with her life – but rushing through the open air vulnerable to all elements just wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in. Luckily, the trip wasn’t too long and she was glad when her feet touched solid ground again.

The guards posted at Tsumekiri’s gates bowed as she greeted them. Kagome and Sesshoumaru walked through the gates together, entering the courtyard. She stopped to watch the single-story mansion. Something stirred in her chest.

Her hands fisted in the sleeves of her uchikake as Jaken, Akie-san and steward Nobuo crossed the yard to welcome their lord and lady. Kagome glanced at Sesshoumaru, patiently standing by her side, then turned to greet Akie-san with a smile.

She was home.

 


L---A---L


 

 

With the new year, Kagome made a fresh start and dusted off the old routine she had so grossly neglected during the long winter’s apathy. She got up early and went out to the practise yard. She was clumsy at first with the sword, though the more familiar bow felt just right in her hands despite her long absence.

Some mornings, she trained alone, fumbling through the half-remembered kata.  Some mornings she trained with the guards – it was easier with them, because she could look how they moved and try to mimic them. Some mornings, the guard captain Saburou personally oversaw her training. His lessons were helpful and Kagome was grateful he took time out of his busy schedule to work with her. The mornings, few and far in between, that she was joined by Sesshoumaru were the best of all. She never stopped being amazed by him; the fluidity of his movements, the superb control he exercised as he went through the kata, the never-ending patience with which he taught her new moves and corrected her on the old ones.

No matter who she was training with or not, after her morning workout Kagome would quickly visit the bath house, then return to her rooms where Akie-san or the maid Kasumi would help her change into her kosode and uchikake. Sesshoumaru would join her soon after that, so they could have their breakfast together. Kagome took interest in the clan’s matters once again, governing over the domestic aspects of keeping their small clan afloat with the help of Akie-san.

Slowly but surely, she started to find her own place among the clan. She was hesitant at first, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, and was still more prone to give people around her suggestions, rather than outright commands.

It took her a full week from when the idea first occurred her, to gather her courage enough to voice it.

The evening was cold and dark, as most evenings were in early February. She and Sesshoumaru were sitting on the futon in her room, as the paper lanterns threw flickering shadows on the painted walls around them. She had offered to comb Sesshoumaru’s hair, which had surprised him, but she felt more comfortable speaking up if she didn’t have to face those piercing golden eyes.

Though she was Tsumekiri’s lady, she had never really meddled much with the clan’s affairs; she’d just overseen to her best ability that everything ran smoothly. She’d never actually dared to suggest they try something new. Not until now.

Running the comb soothingly through Sesshoumaru’s silky silver-white hair, she bit her lip, then drew a deep, fortifying breath.

“I’ve been thinking,” she began in a soft voice.

“Go on,” Sesshoumaru prompted, when she didn’t continue right away. He must have felt her hesitation and nervousness through the mating bond, if he didn’t outright smell it on her – but he made no mention of it, for which Kagome was grateful.

“We don’t farm, do we? Some of the guards hunt, some fish, but all of our rice is bought, isn’t it?”

“That is correct,” Sesshoumaru said.

Kagome kept the comb running through his hair. “Isn’t that expensive?”

“It is a necessary expense. There is scarce room on our lands to farm, even if we did have enough members in our clan to spare some to mind the fields.”

“Wouldn’t it save us some money if we made a deal with some other farmers?”

Sesshoumaru hummed. “What would you suggest, Kagome?”

“There are some human villages nearby, aren’t there?”

“A few,” Sesshoumaru replied, “none outright in our territory, but there are three that are not too far from our border.”

“Couldn’t we try to trade with them?” Kagome’s fingers trembled around the comb. “We could offer them our protection for some of their crops.”

“Hmm.” Sesshoumaru tilted his head, as Kagome’s movements faltered, then stopped completely. “We could easily promise them protection from other youkai. Few would dare to cross us. Protection against other humans, though… that may become problematic.”

“I’m sorry, it was just a thought –“

“Do not apologise, Kagome. I do not think your idea to be wholly without merit. The only problem is that humans do not always view youkai benevolently. The attacking force might not see our actions as defending the human village but of youkai once again battling against humans with could be cause enough for further strife.”

Kagome hummed. “You’re right, of course.” She really hadn’t thought her suggestion through. Sesshoumaru did have a valid point and she should’ve realised it herself. Even if she wasn’t youkai herself, she had seen the range of attitudes up close while travelling with Inuyasha – the suspicion he was always treated with in every human village.  

“Also, I imagine the village owe most of their crops to the daimyou, whose obligation it would be to defend the village… but then, with all the ruling clans constantly at each other’s throats, I doubt most of them could spare any soldiers for that.”

Kagome made no reply. With Sesshoumaru raising reasonable concerns, she was starting to regret voicing her suggestion before thinking it all the way through.

“Nevertheless, it is a fair proposition, it will not hurt us to give it a try.”

Kagome looked up, her hands curling around the soft strands of Sesshoumaru’s hair. “Really?”

“Of course. By all means, you should go to negotiate with the villages.”

“Eh? Me?

Sesshoumaru peered at her over his shoulder. His eyebrow was raised, his golden eyes alight with mild amusement.  

“It was your idea, Kagome. You are the lady of the clan, who better to represent us? Besides – I am certain the villagers will be more disposed to listen to you than any of us youkai. Of course you shall need a guard, but perhaps you had better leave them outside the village so they would not frighten the humans.”

Kagome bit her lip and resumed combing his hair. “All right. I guess I can go and try to negotiate.”

“I am sure you will do well. And perhaps you could take Nobuo with you.”

“That’s a good idea.”

He hummed, leaning back to enjoy her ministrations.

A small smile rose to Kagome’s lips. It was so rare, to see him show his appreciation so plainly. And once again, he’d somehow managed to put her at ease. For that, she owed him a lot more grooming.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome visited the nearby villages in the course of the next week, accompanied by Nobuo and two guards chosen by Captain Saburou. Personally, she had thought this excessive for such a short trip, but didn’t want to argue about it. It felt nostalgic to once again don the plain white kimono and red hakama that served as the uniform of a miko. As their primary bargaining chip was offering the village protection, Kagome had thought that she’d make a more convincing argument if she left her expensive silks at home – besides, in her miko garb she would travel all the more comfortably.

And so Kagome had mustered her confidence and commenced the negotiations, with her bow slung over her shoulders, her sword secured on her hip, and Nobuo by her side, lending her his full support. At first, the people were hesitant in all the three villages, but in the end they reached an agreement with each of them. Kagome couldn’t take all the credit though, even as they returned to Tsumekiri victorious; it had been Nobuo who’d discussed things through with the village headmen and ironed out all the practicalities of their agreements. Nevertheless, the Tsumekiri clan celebrated the news.

The remainder of winter passed uneventfully: Kagome and Sesshoumaru both stayed at home, swept up in their everyday routines.

It wasn’t until the winter at last bowed to the spring when Kagome next had any cause for excitement.

The weather was letting up and the worst of the muck and mud brought on by the melting snows and the early spring rains had vanished. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky – a perfect spring day, as one could be. Tired of being cooped up inside, Kagome had wanted to go on a stroll out in the gardens, accompanied by Akie-san, as she always seemed to be these days. They made their way through the garden at a leisurely pace, inspecting each shrub and plant; gardening was one of Akie-san’s passions, and she was curious how the vegetation had fared through the winter. At the southern side, they came to a small copse of cherry trees.

Kagome studied the branches for a moment, then gasped.

“Look, Akie-san! There’s already a few buds!”

“So it seems. Sometimes I feel they start blooming earlier every year,” the demoness replied, inspecting the few scarce buds.

“I can’t wait to see it, I’m sure it must be beautiful,” Kagome said, enjoying how the sun warmed her cheeks.

“If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, my lady…”

“Of course you can. What is it, Akie-san?”

“When our Lord General was still alive and Chiyo-hime was the lady of Tsumekiri, when these cherry trees began to bloom, she would hold a flower viewing party. They were very popular, at the time.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” Kagome sighed, trying to imagine what the bare branches would look like once the trees would be in full bloom.

Akie-san’s smile was kind as she carefully spoke her next words: “Perhaps it would be time to bring back the custom, my lady?”

“Perhaps,” Kagome replied with a slow nod – but the idea of a flower viewing party quickly took root in her mind.

It itched all day at the back of her head, like the annoying ceaseless buzzing of a fly trapped in a room. Finally, when she and Sesshoumaru lay on their futons in the flickering light of the sole lantern, she took a deep breath and broached the topic.

She rolled over to her side and peered at him, propped up on her elbow.

“Akie-san told me today that Lady Mother used to hold flower viewing parties here?”

“Yes,” Sesshoumaru admitted. “That grove of cherry trees… my father planted it soon after they were mated and my mother took great pleasure in it.”

“Flower viewing sounds nice. Maybe this year we could host a party, too. And invite Lady Mother.”

A small wry smile touched Sesshoumaru’s lips, his eyebrow arched as his piercing eyes bored into her – mesmerising and bright gold even in this dim light.

“You are the lady of the clan, Kagome. You are free to do as you please; there is no need to ask for my permission.”

Kagome’s cheeks flushed. “Maybe there’s no need like you say, but it would be the polite thing to do. Tsumekiri’s not my clan.”

She took a breath, her heart racing in her chest as a wave of sadness lapped at her through the mating bond.

“It’s our clan,” she continued, her voice soft and close to trembling, “and I wouldn’t want to host a party if you didn’t care for one. That wouldn’t be fun at all.”

She pouted at him, even as Sesshoumaru reached over and cupped her cheek with his clawed hand. His eyes were hooded, his lips curled.

Kagome stilled completely – she didn’t even dare to breathe.

“It will not be much of a party, though, with just the two of us and mother,” Sesshoumaru pointed out, his voice even warmer than the fingers resting against Kagome’s skin.

“Well… I thought,” she said, her throat suddenly dry, “that Moriyasu could come too. And maybe we could invite Sango and Miroku. And Rin and Kohaku. …Shippou, too, if he has the time.”

“That does sound more like a party,” he agreed. His fingers danced against her skin in a brief caress before pulling away completely. “I confess I have never been one for gatherings, but as this is only for our friends and family, and the thought of it pleases you so, I shall be happy to attend.”

Kagome’s heart swelled, filling her chest with giddy flutter. She smiled at Sesshoumaru, then flopped down onto her futon and burrowed under her heavy quilt. She stared at the ceiling and the shifting shadows, certain that she wouldn’t get a wink of sleep all night. Her mind was whirling with plans and ideas, abuzz with the party preparations. In the end, when she finally did succumb to sleep, a smile still lingered on her lips and her curled fingers rested on her cheek.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The cherry trees bloomed and spring finally arrived. The Tsumekiri clan welcomed the new season in celebration, together with their friends. But, inevitably and eventually, the month turned to April and the blossoms began to wither.

Kagome lit incense and knelt before the altar she’d made for Inuyasha. The purple beads of the subjugation necklace gleamed in the dim light of the alcove.

“I’ll see you soon,” Kagome promised in a hoarse whisper, her heart a heavy weight in her chest and her stomach in several knots. Her fingers twitched against the straw matting as she bowed to the altar. Then, she stood and stepped out of the alcove, sliding the door shut after her.

Akie-san stood waiting in the middle of the room, her hands clasped demurely around Tessaiga.

“Are you ready, my lady?”

Kagome straightened her plain white kimono and nodded.

“Here, my lady; your sword.”

Akie-san held out Tessaiga to her.

Kagome took it, her heart sinking a little deeper as she tied it to her waist. Usually, the familiar weight and aura brought her comfort – today she could only manage guilt and bitterness.

She left her rooms and walked down the corridors, Akie-san following behind.

“You have no cause to be concerned, my lady,” she spoke gently as they stopped at the entrance to slip on their zouri sandals. “I will look after everything while you and Lord Sesshoumaru are away.”

Kagome mustered a brief smile and inclined her head.

“Thank you, Akie-san, that puts my mind at ease.”

That, of course, was a lie – but it wasn’t the clan or its estate that Kagome was anxious or concerned about.

Sesshoumaru stood out in the courtyard, giving Nobuo and Jaken some last minute orders and instructions.

Kagome’s throat clenched, seeing him dressed in his armour again.

Just like the old times, she thought for a fleeting second. Her hand brushed Tessaiga’s hilt in passing. Nothing like the old times, she amended, her eyes burning with unshed tears.

She crossed the courtyard with short decisive steps and with her head held high.

“Are you ready?” Sesshoumaru asked. His voice was soft, the golden eyes searching hers reflecting back the same pain squeezing Kagome’s chest.

“Let’s go,” she said, taking his hand.

They travelled in silence, even when a light drizzle started falling half an hour into their journey. Their minds were too restless to allow talk.

Kagome’s thoughts where a whirling mess of flashes and recollections from a year ago: The funeral pyre blazing before her, the numbness that had stolen over her, standing there frozen and unable to cry, the absurd proposal Sesshoumaru had made.

She glanced at Sesshoumaru. A lot had changed since then. And now they could even be at ease in the silence; words weren’t always needed for understanding one another.

Sesshoumaru landed a little way from the village so as not to startle anyone, and they made the last leg of their journey on foot.

They walked into the village. Kagome’s friends were waiting, and they exchanged a few subdued greetings, before Kagome accepted a wooden bucket from Sango. Sesshoumaru stayed with everyone else as Kagome started for the well, to give her privacy.

After she’d filled the bucket with water, Kagome clutched it to her chest. She allowed herself a brief moment, to gather herself and square her shoulders.

Then she started up the stone stairs, climbing up to the shrine and to Inuyasha’s waiting grave.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The drizzle they’d passed on their way hadn’t fallen on Edo, but the sky was grey with clouds. Kagome was glad about that – much as she loved the warmth of spring sun on her cheeks, sunshine didn’t suit her mood today.

She set down the bucket of water and adjusted Tessaiga as she knelt in front of the grave. Sticks of incense had been lit, filling the air with savoury smoke and indicating that her friends had already been by, paid their respects.

Kagome smiled, even as the tears flooded her eyes. She blinked for a moment, taking deep breaths. The tears passed without spilling. Kagome’s shoulders sagged a little in relief.

She dipped a piece of cloth in the bucket of water and began to clean the gravestone, lovingly running the cloth over the engraving of Inuyasha’s name.

The cleaning done, she cleared away the now-burned incense sticks, then lit one of her own. She offered a short prayer, then lifted her eyes.

Kneeling on the cool grass, Kagome looked at the grave.

“It’s been a year,” she spoke, her soft voice barely a whisper. “And yet there are moments… It stills feels like yesterday.”

She paused.

“I hope you are happy,” she said after a while, after getting that quiver out of her voice. “And I hope you’re not worrying about me, because you shouldn’t. I’m fine. …Really, I am. Sesshoumaru’s looking after me, like he promised. He’s taken good care of me.”

Kagome offered a small smile, even as her throat tightened. She clasped her hands in her lap, dug her fingers into the white unadorned fabric of her kimono.

“The pain is slowly getting less,” she confessed. “With time and distance, it’s become easier to breathe.”

She brushed the hilt of Tessaiga, running her fingers over it in a comforting gesture.

“But I still miss you.”

Grasping the hilt like a lifeline, she squeezed her eyes shut, bent towards the grave in a formal bow.

Kagome picked up the empty bucket, rose to her feet.

“Goodbye,” she whispered, the wind ruffling her hair. It had grown in the past year, reaching past her shoulders – though not yet back to the length it had been before she had cut it off, to leave a part of herself behind.

How accurate that had been, she mused, forcing herself to turn around, to head back towards the stairs.

Her old life has ended with Inuyasha.

And Sesshoumaru had offered her a new one.

 

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

Her friends were still waiting on the outskirts of the village when Kagome came down the stone steps. Her heart lifted a little at the sight of them; she’d last spent time with them during the flower-viewing party she’d hosted last month at Tsumekiri. It had been a much more pleasant and merry occasion to meet everyone, than the anniversary of Inuyasha’s death… But at least, she drew comfort from the knowledge that she was not mourning alone.

Speaking of which – Sesshoumaru stood at the foot of the stairs. Kagome descended the last few steps, flashed him a brief, wobbly smile. He rested his hand on the top of her head for a stretching second, then started up the stairs. She watched his stiff back as he climbed towards the grave, then turned and walked over to her friends.

Sango pulled Kagome into her arms and held her tight.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice full of gentle concern.

Kagome pulled away and nodded. “As well as I can be, given the circumstances.”

She moved to hug Miroku. He patted her shoulders.

“Where’re the kids?”

“At home,” he replied. “Kohaku’s looking after them.”

Kagome managed another tight smile.

Shippou was next. His eyes were red from crying. His body trembled as he squeezed her and she half-wished he was small enough still so she could pick him up and hold him like she’d done so many times in the past. Instead, she rubbed comforting circles on his back.

“He would be proud of you,” Kagome breathed.

Shippou nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

Kagome cupped his cheek, then turned to Rin. She clasped her hands, then exchanged a few murmured words with Kaede.

Her friends all followed Kaede into her hut at the old miko’s invitation, but Kagome stayed outside, waiting for Sesshoumaru to return.

When he did, Kagome walked to meet him.

His face was a perfect mask, void of all expression. But though their mating bond thrummed a deep sorrow. It tugged at Kagome’s heartstrings, echoed her own pain.

She wrapped her arms around him, pressed her dry cheek against the cool metal of his armour.

His arm rose to circle her, his hand cupped the back of her head, his fingers ran through her hair.

She looked up to meet his golden eyes. “How are you holding up?”

The corner of his lips twitched. “Is that not something this Sesshoumaru should inquire of you?”

Kagome shrugged her shoulder. “I don’t have a monopoly on grief,” she told him. “Today is rough for everyone. We – all of us – lost him.”

“But you were his mate, bonded for life.”

“And yet somehow I’m still here, standing on my own two feet. Even though it’s hard; this day drags the grief back to the surface. And so we mourn, even you.” She reached cup his cheek, much as she had done earlier to Shippou, to offer what feeble comfort such a simple gesture could bring.

“He was your brother.”

Sesshoumaru did not reply. He did not cry.

He hung his head, held her tighter; looked down at her, his eyes full of anguish.

She held his gaze for a moment, then stepped back and took his hand.

“Come on. Everyone’s waiting.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

The evening was bittersweet, punctuated by both laughter and tears. All of Kagome’s former companions had gathered in the old miko’s hut. The place felt rather crowded, but for once Sesshoumaru did not particularly mind. He sat between Kagome and Rin, and avidly listened the stories everyone was sharing in remembrance of Inuyasha.

Even the wolf prince had arrived to Edo and joined them, flanked by his usual two followers.

Sesshoumaru did not offer many stories of his own, he was content just to listen to these humans that had become his half-brother’s pack. They had been privy to sides of Inuyasha that Sesshoumaru’s arrogance and prejudice had not permitted him to see. He’d held his grievances of Izayoi’s unsuitability against Inuyasha for far too long. And now it was too late – he could only shoulder his regrets and try to learn as much as he could about the person his half-brother had been.

The hour was late when the group finally broke apart. Kagome waved aside her friends’ invitation to stay the night.

Sesshoumaru could understand why: staying here where she and Inuyasha had made their home likely filled her heart with turmoil.

Sesshoumaru bid his goodbyes to Rin and nodded at Kagome’s friends. Then, he turned and walked away from the village.

Kagome fell into step beside him.

Sesshoumaru stopped and beckoned her closer.

She stepped readily into his arms, tucked herself against his side with familiarity that made Sesshoumaru’s heart swell.

He draped his fur around her, grabbed her shoulders securely and concentrated his youki to form the cloud that would transport them back to Tsumekiri.

Kagome sighed a little as they rose to the sky, looked up at the stars glowing above them.

“Inuyasha would’ve liked this,” she spoke into the silence. “Everyone gathering around, remembering him like that… He would’ve been all gruff and embarrassed on the outside, but secretly pleased on the inside.

“It was a memorable evening,” Sesshoumaru agreed.

Kagome burrowed deeper into the draping fur, pressed closer to Sesshoumaru’s side.

He drew comfort in that; her familiar scent, her warmth, the calmness that pulsed through the mating bond.

Frankly, he was amazed by her strength. He had felt the grief keenly today. Not just because of the anniversary, but because visiting the grave, kneeling down before what remained of his brother was such a strong reminder, an undeniable proof of his loss. He’d struggled with a wealth of emotions that had threatened to overwhelm him, but when he had come down the stony stairs, Kagome had quieted him down. She had reassured him, with her touch and with her words. She had been shouldering her own sorrow, and yet her concern had been for him. Yet, she had stood before him, her back straight and her cheeks dry.

A faint whiff of salt whipped in the night air as the travelled, the slender shoulder under his secure grip trembling a little.

He turned his gaze away from the starry sky and looked at her, in time to see the silent tears roll down her face, falling onto the white fur she was huddling under.

Careful of his armour, he bent down, resting his chin on the top of her head so he was all but cocooning her. He hoped the simple gesture might give her comfort – like she had comforted him earlier.

He didn’t think any less of her for crying now. They had both mourned for Inuyasha today, in their own ways. The feeling of loss was almost staggering as it spilled over to Sesshoumaru through their mating bond. And yet, Kagome’s emotions so sharply mirrored his own that for a moment felt that maybe her tears were partly his, too.

He almost envied her for them. Showing emotion was easily construed as a weakness, which was why, as someone who’d been raised to be the leader of a clan he had been schooled against it. And sometimes, hiding his private feelings behind a mask was necessary. Sometimes, it lent him a significant political advantage. And yet, sometimes… Sometimes, hiding what he truly felt too much like cowardice.

In his mind, the stronger person was the one who dared to show on the outside what they felt on the inside.

He offered her no words of solace. Some days, one simply had to wallow a little and let the tears fall – and on this day, if any, she was entitled to mourn.

Therefore Sesshoumaru simply held his mate against him, let her cry – and hoped that was enough.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Back in Tsumekiri, life went on – even after the anniversary of Inuysha’s death. Kagome fell to her routines, slipped into her new normal and tried her best not to look back or harbour too much guilt about moving forward. Each new step made her feel a little more at ease in her own skin – but they also made her feel further away from Inuyasha.

Kagome sighed a little, her fingers running over the rice paper, drawing strength from the wise words written in Lady Mother’s elegant script.

Moving forward is a necessity, the letter reminded her. It is what he would wish of you – to have a life, even after he was gone.

A fond smile graced Kagome’s lips. She always knew just what to say. And though it was just a letter, the words were comforting enough.

Kagome dipped her brush in ink, and started to compose her reply.

She glanced up from the letter she was writing to Lady Mother, when the door of her rooms slid open. Sesshoumaru strode in, and she didn’t need to rely on the irritated prickling of their mating bond to gauge his mood – it was all there in the stiffness of his back, the tightness around his eyes.

“Bad news?” she asked softly, putting down her brush.

Sesshoumaru took a seat on the tatami, across from her.

“Not bad exactly,” he said.

Whatever it was, he didn’t sound very happy about it.

Kagome tilted her head, waited for him to elaborate.

“Have I told you about the inuyoukai clan in the northeast who have been in contact?” he said after a moment of silence.

Kagome frowned and turned her full attention to him. “Maybe, but you’ll have to refresh my memory.” She offered him a small smile.

He did not return it, just pursed his lips.

Kagome clasped her hands in her lap. Whatever it was, he seemed worried about it.

“They have been having some trouble with a temple near their territory. Apparently, the monks’ sentiments are growing increasingly narrow-minded where youkai are concerned.”

Kagome made a face. “One of those people, huh?” she shook her head. “Warrior monks didn’t sound as bad in the history books, but having personally met some not-so-pleasant individuals…”

“Zealots tend to wear out their welcome quite quickly,” Sesshoumaru agreed, his voice dry and flat. “In any case, the clan is anxious and have been appraising others – Tsumekiri included – of the situation.”

“It sounds like they have a good reason to be worried… Though I’m not sure how exactly we’d be able to help?” She glanced at Sesshoumaru.

“Because our clan is a traditional warrior clan and our reputation precedes us. We might not be able to lend out many soldiers but every last one we have is highly skilled in both fighting and strategy. And because we are a small clan, we depend on our alliances.”

“Quality over quantity,” Kagome murmured, then focused back to the point. Whatever news were worrying Sesshoumaru, he hadn’t broken them yet.  “So, I suppose you have received a new word from this clan?”

Sesshoumaru nodded. “There has been no violence against youkai – yet – but the potential is there. The clan is restless and they are looking for advice from others. Which is why they have proposed a meeting.”

“A meeting?” Kagome’s hands dug into the silk of her kosode. She wasn’t sure if she liked the news either.

Sesshoumaru’s golden gaze slanted her way. “They have extended me an invitation, to come and personally assess the situation. I would imagine they have made similar offers to other clans as well.”

“I see,” Kagome hummed. She bit her lip, then looked up to meet Sesshoumaru’s eyes. They were searching, trying to assess her reaction.

“You should go then, if they’re asking for your help,” she said after a while.

“Are you sure?” he asked, studying her.

“Well it does sound like a precarious situation,” Kagome replied, her hands nervously twitching in her lap. “But I don’t think it’s anything you couldn’t handle.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow quirked. His expression softened, and at long last, a hint of a smile ghosted on his lips.

“It is not the situation in the northeast I am concerned about,” he said. “Will you be all right here, if I go? This is the first time I will be gone and leaving you behind to manage the clan.”

Kagome blinked. She wasn’t sure whether she should feel indignant or flattered. “Monks on a warpath are brewing trouble for youkai and you’re worried about me?”

“I cannot take you with me, but I am loathe to leave you here on your own,” he replied, his eyebrow raised.

“Sesshoumaru, I will hardly be on my own,” Kagome returned, offering him a small, teasing smile. “With Jaken, Nobuo-kun and Akie-san here, the clan will practically manage itself, I doubt they’ll need to rely on my expertise.”

There was a bite of dryness in the tone of her voice that earned a flash of amusement from Sesshoumaru.

“Be that as it may, you are the Lady of Tsumekiri,” he reminded her gently.

“I am,” she acknowledged. “And I will be just fine while you’re gone. I’m not so fragile, even if I am just a human.”

Sesshoumaru growled, and Kagome jumped a little, the sound unexpected. He reached forward, wrapped an errant lock of her dark hair around his finger and gave it a firm tug.

“I am well aware of your strength, miko,” he said, his golden eyes stern. “But very well, you have made your point.”

“Glad to hear that.” Kagome’s blue eyes twinkled. “And maybe if you promise to bring me a souvenir, I won’t even burn the house down.”

“Blackmail, mate of mine?” Sesshoumaru grumbled, but his lips were curved in a smile. “You must be doing just fine to resort to such deviousness.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Sesshoumaru contemplated her a moment in silence, then patted her head. “Very well. You are due a gift in any case, seeing as we have been mated for a year now.”

Kagome’s good humour wavered for a moment, pain pricked in her chest. As awed as she was by the reminder, the reason she had forgotten about the anniversary of their mating was because it had been overshadowed by a whole different anniversary.

Moving forward, she reminded herself, squaring her shoulders.

She mustered a smile and looked up at Sesshoumaru.

“I sure am, and you’d better make it a good one,” she told him.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The day Sesshoumaru was to leave for his visit to the north-eastern clan, he and Kagome had breakfast together.

It was part of their normal routine, something they did every morning; though the mood that day was more contemplative than usual.

Sesshoumaru sipped his miso soup thoughtfully, studying Kagome from behind his lashes.

She looked up, met his gaze and flashed him a quick smile.

He took in her apparent appetite as she ate her rice. He noted the brightness of her blue eyes, the ease with which that brief smile had risen to her lips. Her grief seemed a mere shadow now; lingering, but faint enough to be dispelled by light.

He’d been somewhat apprehensive to break the news to her of the north-eastern clan’s invitation, but her reaction had taken him aback. He hadn’t expected her to protest to such a visit, exactly… But he had thought she might have felt more apprehensive about managing Tsumekiri without him.

He was well aware how uncomfortable and slow Kagome had been to accept her role as the Lady of the clan – though he had to admit that she had really been stepping up ever since she’d managed to shake off the winter’s melancholy. He had been very pleased, observing her progress.

But though Kagome exhibited certain qualities of a leader, she did not put herself above others. Rather than giving commands, she made requests.

Sesshoumaru appreciated her even more for that.

Even so, though Kagome’s easy acceptance of Sesshoumaru’s upcoming trip had been a pleasant surprise, it had been her sense of humour that had finally convinced and reassured him that she would be fine even in his absence.

Such playfulness had been largely elusive during the course of their mating.  Seeing her spirits lifting enough for that twinkle to return into her eyes… She was healed enough.

Strong enough, to stand without his support.

As Sesshoumaru silently studied her while she enjoyed her breakfast, he admitted to himself that Kagome was starting to look more like the miko he remembered.

Though, of course, she hadn’t emerged from her ordeal unchanged.

She reminded him of the kintsugi some artists practiced to mend broken pottery – she carried her scars proudly and was all the more beautiful for them.

“Is there something on my face?” she asked, setting down her chopsticks.

“I am merely committing it to memory,” he replied smoothly. “I shall not see you for some time.”

She shook her head, the corner of her lip twitched. “You must have a pretty bad memory if you’re going to forget what I look like in just one week.”

“You are in the right; I shall not be away for long.”

“Just admit it – you don’t trust me to run things while you’re gone.”

He could tell that she spoke in jest. Her amusement bubbled over their mating bond. But this was no laughing matter, so Sesshoumaru met her gaze, his golden eyes serious.

“I have full faith in you, Kagome. You will shoulder the responsibilities of the Lady of the clan admirably. I have always believed so.”

She was silent for a moment. Emotions flickered in her face, too quick and subtle for Sesshoumaru to read, too tangled to make much sense of through the bond they shared.

“Thank you,” she said at last, dropping her gaze down to her lap. “I am honoured you trust me so much.”

He tilted his head, a small frown creasing his brow.

“I do not think there is any need to express gratitude for a simple statement of truth.”

His mate’s cheeks flushed. She fumbled with her chopsticks, then went to sip her tea without another word.

A small smile ghosted on Sesshoumaru’s lips, as they went back to eat their breakfast in a comfortable silence.

They finished their meal, and a servant came to clear out their dishes and carry them away. Akie-san appeared right on the serving girl’s heels.

“My lord, my lady, it is time to get dressed.”

“Of course,” Sesshoumaru murmured, rising to his feet.

“And I wish not to overstep, my lord –”

“Akie-san, you have known me since I was a pup. You could not overstep,” Sesshoumaru replied.

Akie-san bowed her head. “Please look after my boys, my lord.”

“I shall. Though they are supposed to be the ones doing the looking after,” he commented dryly.

Personally, Sesshoumaru would have been perfectly happy to go on his own, but captain Saburou – backed both by his steward and Jaken – had insisted on him taking two guards with him.

He could understand their concern, but it was rather blown out of proportion when he had been invited to visit a friendly clan’s territory and there was no sign of physical confrontation. Foolish humans like these war-mongering monks the north-eastern clan was fretting about seemed to him the type to prefer their preaching over taking action.

Sesshoumaru offered his hand to his mate, helped her up from the floor cushions.

“I will see you out at the yard?” he asked softly, running a finger over her knuckles.

Her smile wavered only a little. “I’ll be there.”

Sesshoumaru nodded, inclined his head to Akie-san, and left to his rooms where a servant was bound to be waiting to help put on his armour. 

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome obediently stuck her arms into the heavy sleeves of the uchikake Akie-san was holding up. She’d barely even noticed which one Akie-san had picked out for her to wear, her mind still whirling a little after Sesshoumaru’s declaration over breakfast. She had almost spluttered to his face, hearing him say he would trust his clan, his father’s legacy, into her hands. Yeah, sure, he’d made her his lady or whatever but still…

Kagome wasn’t sure if she’d been more shocked by the sentiment, or the perfect aplomb with which he’d delivered it. Perhaps the years of living with Inuyasha had rendered her quite incapable of accepting a compliment – especially one handed to her so unexpectedly and freely. Inuyasha had been gruff and rough-around-the-edges in the most adorable way; a marked contrast to Sesshoumaru.

“My lady?” Akie-san said, to catch Kagome’s attention. “If you would like to send lord Sesshoumaru off properly…?”

Kagome shook her head to clear her tangled thoughts and mixed feelings, and turned to look at Akie-san, who finished adjusting the uchikake and took a step back.

“Send him off properly?” She frowned. “What, is there like a ceremony or something that I don’t know about? A youkai thing?”

“Yes and no, my lady.” Akie-san smiled. “‘A youkai thing’ as my lady put it, does exist, but there is no ceremony as such. Merely a formal phrase that has become tradition. It is more of a symbol, a promise to act in the lord’s stead while he is gone.”

“All right then.” Kagome propped her hands on her hips, determination flashing in her eyes. “Tell me more.”

Some moments later, she was standing out in the courtyard.

Sun shone down at them from a clear blue sky; Sesshoumaru would have the perfect weather to travel in.

He stood regally in the middle of the courtyard, once again decked out in his red and white kimono, sunlight gleaming on his polished armour, his silver-white hair slowly stirring in the wind. Ah-Un was ready and saddled behind him, and two inuyoukai guards stood on both sides of the dragon. Akie’s sons, Kagome knew, and nodded at them in passing.

Kagome had guards of her own, in a manner of speaking; Akie-san stood to her left, the guard captain Saburou to her right.

Sesshoumaru’s gaze finally sought her out, and she took a breath and stepped forward.

She closed the distance, stopped to stand before him and looked up.

His eyes softened as they met hers.

Not breaking the eye contact, Kagome fumbled to grasp both of his hands in hers. Her heart thudded nervously against her ribcage, as she hoped she wouldn’t mess this up, not with the whole clan watching.

After the compliment he had paid to her earlier, after everything he had done for her, this was a small way of showing gratitude, but an important one. Of that she had no doubts.

Gently squeezing his large, warm hands, looking into his puzzled golden eyes, Kagome lifted her chin and spoke.

“I vow to protect our hearth and home until your safe return.” Her voice didn’t waver, and the words rang clear across the courtyard.

Sesshoumaru’s fingers twitched in her hold. He clutched at her, his eyes wide with surprise.

And through the mating bond, something welled and surged, something that took Kagome a moment to recognise.

Pride.

… of her? Surely not!

But then Sesshoumaru smiled, a sincere, pleased smile that transformed his whole face and nearly took Kagome’s breath away.

“In my absence, my mate will lead the pack,” he replied, his voice even and carrying.

And perhaps it was just a tradition, like Akie-san had said, but with that phrase, Kagome actually felt like Sesshoumaru was transferring not just his responsibilities but his authority onto her shoulders.

Kagome stood straighter, suddenly aware that all these people gathered around them were actually depending on her.

Sesshoumaru let go of her hands. Ever so gently, he cupped Kagome’s cheeks and bent to place a single, light kiss on her forehead.

Then he stepped back from her and leaped to the sky, the two guards and Ah-Un following in suit.

Kagome stood out in the yard, shading her eyes with her hand and watched him until he was gone.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The life at Tsumekiri was not too different even with Sesshoumaru gone. That did not mean Kagome wouldn’t have noticed his absence – oddly enough she missed him even after only a day. His presence had become such a constant in her life that she felt a little unsettled eating her meals alone, going to bed at night in a ringing silence instead of their usual hushed conversation.

But even though Sesshoumaru was away, the routines of the clan remained much the same. Kagome still got up early and trained with the guards. She still visited the bath house after her swords and archery practice. She still was dressed by Akie-san in the normal kosode and baggy uchikake before sitting down for a breakfast in her rooms.

Really, there was only one notable difference – other than the obvious one of Sesshoumaru’s tangible absence, that is. As Kagome now bore all the duties and responsibilities of the leader of the clan, she would meet with the steward, Nobuo, as well as Jaken, in Sesshoumaru’s office after she’d had her breakfast. There were no mountains of paperwork as she had feared; just a pile of mundane every day matters, keeping up to date with the affairs of the other clans near to them, and so forth. Since Sesshoumaru would only be gone for a week, there was not that much for Kagome to do, no urgent matter requiring her attention – which suited her just fine.

She didn’t mind residing over the clan’s internal affairs, but she’d rather leave these external affairs to her mate. She didn’t feel confident or well-versed in youkai culture and politics enough to correspond with other clans and represent Tsumekiri to the rest of the inu youkai – unless it was in her capacity of the lady of the clan, as she had done at Mikazuki’s New Year reception. She didn’t envy Sesshoumaru or, indeed, Lady Mother for their positions! She much preferred lending her support to exercising any authority.

On the second day after Sesshoumaru’s departure, as she was cooped up in Sesshoumaru’s office with Nobuo and Jaken and slowly working their way down the agenda for the day, they were interrupted by Akie-san. She rapped at the wooden frame of the shoji screen and came in, crossing the room before politely bowing before Kagome.

“My lady, I am sorry to disturb while you are busy, but this just arrived.”

Kagome frowned, but accepted the letter Akie-san was holding out to her.

She folded it open, skimming the lines written in a bold and precise hand. A smile blossomed on her lips.

“It’s Sesshoumaru,” she informed her youkai audience. “He wanted to let me know he’s arrived safely at the north-eastern clan’s estate.”

“That is good news, my lady,” Nobuo said.

“Yes, it is,” Kagome replied. And very sweet besides! She hadn’t really expected him to correspond with her when he’d only be gone a week. Letters took their time to arrive, even when couriered by youkai.

She would have to work even harder now to lead the clan; that would be the best way she could think of to repay such a thoughtful gesture.

Although…

“Akie-san, would you go to the kitchens and have a word with the cook?”

“Kitchens, my lady?” Akie-san asked, her face a mask of polite surprise.

“Yes,” Kagome said firmly. “Please ask the cook if we have the time and resources to prepare mochi.”

Nobuo tilted his head. “Are we celebrating, my lady? What is the occasion, if one may ask?”

“Before Sesshoumaru left, he reminded me that we have now been mated for a full year.”

“Oh, of course. That is something you should certainly celebrate,” Nobuo said, inclining his head.

“No, I think the moment’s passed for that,” Kagome replied, her lips twisting into a rueful smile. “But to make up for forgetting about our anniversary, we should bring the clan together for a welcome home party for Sesshoumaru.”

“Indeed,” Jaken squeaked, nodding sagely.

“That is a lovely idea, my lady,” Akie-san said, smiling as she bowed her head. “I will go speak to the cook right away, I am certain she will agree once I explain the situation.”

“Thank you, Akie-san. And please tell her that I can help with the mochi, if any help is required.”

“Of course, my lady.” Aki-san bowed and left the room, sliding the door shut after her.

“Shall we get back to the matter at hand?” Nobuo asked politely.

Kagome gently folded Sesshoumaru’s letter and tucked it to the breast of her kosode. She looked up, met Nobuo’s eyes.

“Right, what’s next?”

 


L---A---L


 

 

It was a warm spring day, and Kagome was basking in the sunshine, sitting on the veranda overlooking the garden. She cradled a cup of tea in her hands and smiled when she saw a stalk floating upright on the green surface, remembering the first time her mother had explained that was a good omen. The fond memory brought on a bittersweet wave of home sickness as she was reminded of how much she missed her mom. The well was dead, though, and there was nothing she could do about it… but perhaps she should write to Lady Mother. That always seemed to help. It wasn’t quite the same as talking to her own mother would be, but it was the next best thing.

Her mind made, Kagome sipped her tea, and let her thoughts leap back to the tea stalk. If it indeed was a good omen, what good thing was there in store for her?

Perhaps Sesshoumaru was bringing her something splendid as an anniversary present? A giggle bubbled in her throat. Knowing him – and his track record with Rin – he’d probably spoil her rotten. Kagome couldn’t wait for him to come back home, she hoped he’d enjoy the surprise she was planning for him.

“You seem to be in a good mood, my lady,” Akie-san commented from her usual place by her side.

“I’m excited. He’s gonna be so surprised, isn’t he?” Kagome grinned.

“My lord will be delighted,” Akie-san said, her voice full of conviction.

Kagome turned and reached to squeeze her hand. “Thank you.”

“If I may be so bold, my lady…”

“You don’t need to mince your words with me, Akie-san.” She gave her hand another squeeze. “Speak.”

“I am glad my lord took you as his mate. Not only because with you, he got to choose; I truly feel you bring out the good in him.”

Kagome’s lips parted, but no sound came out. She drew a quivering breath and looked down at her tea.

“That’s…” She wet her lips and tried again. “That means a lot. Thank you. I’ve worried so much about being a burden.”

“You should not think that way, my lady. None of us feel that way. Least of all Lord Sesshoumaru.”

Kagome shook her head. She drained her tea, at a loss for words.

“Come,” she said as she got up. She toed her feet into a waiting pair of sandals. “Let’s have a stroll in the gardens.”

They made their way down the path in silence. Kagome enjoyed the sunshine warming her cheeks.

They circled around the pond and walked all the way to the wall of the garden where a lone blooming wisteria was creeping up the fence.

“I always liked wisteria,” Kagome commented, admiring the display.

“I believe maid Kasumi is the one who sees to the garden in between her other duties,” Akie-san said. “If my lady has any particular preferences regarding flowers, perhaps you might have a word with her?”

Kagome turned to her and flashed her a smile. “Thank you, Akie-san. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“It is so good to see you are smiling again, my lady.”

Kagome glanced down at her feet, her mouth tightening a little. “I’m sorry. I know you must’ve been worried.”

“No, my lady, please do not apologise. It was only to b –” The reassurances died as Akie-san stiffened, her head snapping up to survey the bright blue sky.

Kagome frowned in confusion, following her gaze. “What…?”

She could make out a small dark speck. It rapidly grew larger, and then Ah-Un dropped into the garden, collapsing on the grass just a few scant feet from them.

“What?” Kagome repeated, staring at Ah-Un. Both of its heads were drooping, its sides heaving as it panted for breath.

A ragged figure toppled down from the saddle, took a few lurching steps towards Kagome and Akie-san.

“Takeshi!” Akie-san cried. She ran to her son, helped him stand.

One of his legs looked burned.

Kagome’s hands clenched into fists as a sliver of dread slithered down her spine.

There was a touch of shrillness in her voice when she finally blurted out the words. “Why are you here?”

Her eyes were pleading when Takeshi raised his gaze. Pleading him not to say what she feared he would say.

“It was the monks,” Takeshi told them. “They attacked the north-eastern clan.”

Fear squeezed Kagome’s throat.

“And Sesshoumaru?”

“Taken, with my brother. The monks put up a barrier around the clan’s estate, they are holding everyone hostage.”

It was hard to breathe around the cold weight in her chest. Her voice came out small and breathless. “What do they want?”

Takeshi’s eyes met hers. They looked so grave. Grim, even.

“War, my lady,” he replied. “They want war with the youkai.”

Chapter Text

 

Kagome didn’t realise her knees had buckled. She simply found herself digging her fingers into the sun-warmed grass of the gardens. Her ears were ringing, Akie-san’s alarmed cry of “my lady” barely registered at the back of her mind.

Her brain was too busy processing what Takeshi had just told her.

Taken.

Held as hostage.

War.

She gasped for breath, panic rattling her heart.

They had Sesshoumaru.

Akie-san was kneeling in front of her, clasping at her hands.

Kagome’s stomach turned and churned. Her voice came out thin and trembling.

“They can’t purify him, right? I mean they – they can’t, I don’t think even I have enough power to… I mean, this is Sesshoumaru we’re talking about!”

“I do not think there is a single monk in their ranks who could rival Lord Sesshoumaru’s strength,” Takeshi replied. “However…”

Kagome understood well enough, though the grim sentiment went unspoken. There were many of the monks, and together they could well raise enough reiki to wreak havoc on the youkai they had taken. They wouldn’t fight fair.

Icy claws of terror wrapped around Kagome’s heart, gave it a sharp squeeze. Her thoughts spun into a frenzy.

Again.

It was going to happen all over again.

The pain, the loss, the –

From the back of her mind, a single word floated to the surface.

No.

And just like that, everything ground to a halt.

Kagome’s shoulders sagged. She drew in a deep breath.

No!

She would not go through all that again. She wasn’t going to let it happen.

Kagome pulled her hands free from Akie-san’s grasp.

She had buried one mate already and that had been one too many for this lifetime. She would not be standing by Sesshoumaru’s funeral pyre.

She took another deep breath, and smoothed down her kosode.

Then, she stood up in one fluid movement.

“Very well then,” Kagome spoke, her voice quiet and clipped.

Akie-san shared a quick glance with her son.

“My lady?”

“I need you to find Captain Saburou, steward Nobuo and Jaken. We will meet in Sesshoumaru’s study as soon as possible.”

Kagome didn’t stop to see if they obeyed; she began to march across the garden, back towards the manor.

She would bring Sesshoumaru back, safe and sound. If that meant going to war, so be it.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Everyone was already gathered in Sesshoumaru’s study when Kagome arrived. Youkai had the advantage of speed after all. Their hushed conversation broke the moment Kagome strode in. They paused to stare.

Kagome had taken a moment to change. The kosode and uchikake were gone, replaced by her trusted miko uniform. Tessaiga was belted on her hip, next to her fully stacked quiver. Her bow was slung over her shoulders.

Saburou recovered first and inclined his head.

“My lady, what is it that you wish to do?”

“I am going to get Sesshoumaru back. And to do so, I will raise an army. If it is war those monks want, we shall give them one.”

Jaken sputtered.

Nobuo shifted nervously. “My lady, I am not sure if –”

Kagome’s eyes flashed. “I will not let my mate die, do you hear me?”

“Of course not, my lady, but there must be more diplomatic means to –”

“I was there, steward Nobuo,” Takeshi interrupted. “Diplomacy will not help us with the monks, they are too far gone to listen to any voice of reason.”

Saburou paid their argument no heed. He kept his gaze steady and trained at Kagome.

“How do you plan to raise an army, my lady?”

Kagome drew herself up.

“Steward Nobuo. You will make use of Tsumekiri’s alliances. Write to other clans. Anyone who owes us a favour, we’re coming to collect. Takeshi, you can help Nobuo with the letters. Spread the word of what happened and what you saw and find me youkai willing to fight.”

“My lady,” Nobuo murmured, bowing his head.

“Yes, my lady,” Takeshi replied with a respectful bow.

“Jaken,” Kagome barked next.

The imp jumped.

“Once Ah-Un has rested enough to travel, you will go to Edo to get Miroku and Sango. Please appraise Kaede and Rin of the situation as well.”

He clutched his staff, puffed up his chest. “Of course. I will take care of it.”

Kagome turned to Akie. “Akie-san, I will entrust the clan to you in my absence.”

“And where shall you be going, my lady?” she asked, wringing her hands.

Kagome’s lips twisted into a tight, wry smile.

“Mikazuki.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

Lady Chiyo was fully engrossed in a collection of poetry, and was most cross when a servant appeared in the library to interrupting her.

With a sigh and a displeased frown she put down the book.

“Yes? What is it?”

“Lady Kagome of Tsumekiri is at the gates, my lady. She is requesting an audience.”

Chiyo’s eyebrows shot up. Kagome was here? Of her own accord? That was odd. With Sesshoumaru away, she was honour-bound to look after Tsumekiri… And in any case, why would she request an audience with her? Surely they were far beyond such formality.

Chiyo pursed her lips. There were too many questions. Too many things that did not add up.

She stood, and was already striding towards the door as she replied. “Show her to the main hall, I will receive her there.”

The very air around her seemed heavy as Chiyo made her way through the castle.

She sent forth a pulse of youki to summon Moriyasu. Whatever was coming, having support would not hurt.

He came at a run and caught up with her before she reached the hall. They entered the main hall together through a side door, then parted their ways: Chiyo took her place at the end, seating herself on a cushion set on the raised platform while Moriyasu settled by the right wall.

Two servants knelt on the tatami and slid the main doors of the hall open. Kagome strode in, the captain of Tsumekiri’s guards right on her heels, looming over her like a shadow.

Chiyo sat up straighter. She could tell that her unease had not been unfounded the moment she saw Kagome. Something must have happened, for her to wear such clothes, to carry both a sword and a bow in public. The fierce light burning in those blue eyes, usually so sweet and gentle, was the most worrisome sign of all.

Chiyo wound her youki tighter around herself, exercising control. 

Kagome stopped before the dais. She offered no greetings, did not take a seat. Behind her, captain Saburou bowed formally, but Kagome herself did not beat around the bush.

“Sesshoumaru has been taken.”

Chiyo’s hands twitched where they rested in her lap.

“When?” she demanded, her tone flat and cold. “By whom?”

“Two days ago, by the monks the North-eastern clan has been complaining about. I have a written testimony here, by a guard who was accompanying Sesshoumaru and who managed to escape and bring us the word.”

Chiyo accepted the letter, but barely glanced at the lines written by a hasty hand before raising her gaze to meet Kagome’s eyes.

“You plan to fight?”

“Yes.”

Chiyo studied her. “I never took you for one so eager for war.”

Kagome’s lips twisted. “Me either. But I will do whatever it takes to retrieve my mate.”

Chiyo nodded. That she could understand.

“Very well. You have my support. Mikazuki will fight with you, daughter-in-law.”

“Thank you, Lady Mother. But that’s not the only reason I came.”

“Indeed?”

Kagome whipped around to address Moriyasu. “I need you to remove the seal.”

Moriyasu raised his eyebrow, and looked at Chiyo for support.

Chiyo pursed her lips. Kagome had overcome her grief well enough during the past months, but this anger of hers… Were her mind and heart stable enough? Did the darkness she carried within shrink before the light?

If her powers were returned to her now, would they remain untainted?

Chiyo closed her eyes for two lingering seconds, and pushed the worries aside. She did not have the time to fret. And she should trust Kagome’s judgement, trust her to know what she could handle.

Chiyo met Moriyasu’s gaze and nodded.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome crossed her arms as she waited.

Moriyasu walked over to her. He slanted a quick look at captain Saburou and then bowed to Kagome before stepping to stand beside her.

“Pardon my intrusion,” he said politely. Then, quick and precise, she felt his fingers jab the back of her neck. He tapped the centre of her chest, above her heart. His clawed fingers pressed the inside of her wrist.

Then he stepped back.

Kagome took a deep breath to calm herself as she was suddenly slammed from three sides by powerful youki. She’d forgotten what it felt like, to be constantly sensing the energies.

Her skin erupted in goose bumps and the hair on her arms stood from the onslaught of sensations.

And then something surged from deep within.

Power.

Bright and cold and oh so familiar, she allowed it to course through her veins for a moment, before she tamped it down. It wouldn’t do to let her reiki flare up while visiting a castle full of youkai.

Kagome opened her eyes, not sure when she had even closed them. She met Lady Mother’s steady golden gaze.

“Thank you.”

Lady Mother shook her head. “There is no need for gratitude. And this is no time for pleasantries in any case.”

“Right,” Kagome said. She ran her hand through her hair.

Now that she had her powers back and was standing in the soothing presence of Lady Mother, her anger was slowly ebbing away and revealing the worry that had been simmering right underneath. All of a sudden, Kagome just felt tired.

Lady Chiyo must have sensed the change in her mood, because her golden gaze softened and her voice became gentler as she spoke to her.

“What are your plans, Kagome?”

That was a good question. Though she had been all confident and commanding earlier in Sesshoumaru’s study in Tsumekiri, she didn’t really know what she was doing. She hadn’t thought any plan of action further than just getting everyone together to discuss the situation. She was not a warlord, she wasn’t even youkai. Really, now that she actually stopped to think, she was in over her head.

“We’re rallying allies and calling in favours with the clans,” Kagome replied. “Spreading the news to gather everyone together. Then we’ll march against the monks and retrieve my mate.”

It wouldn’t be that simple. Couldn’t be.

But Lady Mother nodded her approval. “The best plan is a simple one. The details can always be worked out later.”

That was true. Once again, Lady Chiyo had made Kagome feel marginally better, and she flashed the demoness a brief smile.

“I will probably leave the details to Saburou,” Kagome admitted. “And others who are more experienced in both battle and strategy than I am.”

“A wise leader is one who seeks advice,” Chiyo said, a small smile touching her lips. Then, her piercing eyes flickered towards Saburou. “It is best to start planning immediately, even though it will take time to gather the clans.”

Saburou bowed his head, acknowledging Chiyo’s advice.

“Ours is a large clan, though we are not soldiers nor trained for battle as meticulously as the guards of Tsumekiri are. But we will lend whatever aid we can,” Chiyo promised.

“Thank you, Lady Mother. I – We appreciate it.” Kagome inclined her head.

“Moriyasu, please take Kagome and Captain Saburou to the tea room and offer them refreshments.” Chiyo turned back to address Kagome. “I know time is of essence, but I need a moment to advise my captain of guards and my father of this development, so I hope you can wait for a little while. We will then depart for Tsumekiri together.”

“Of course,” Kagome hurried to reply.

She hadn’t actually expected Lady Mother to be able to leave with them right away like that. Not because she wouldn’t care for Sesshoumaru, but because as a leader of such a big clan there must have been so many practical matters to see to and arrangements to be made before she would be able to take off.

Boy had she underestimated the will of a mother.

“Let’s go,” she told Moriyasu and Saburou.

Moriyasu bowed to his lady, then to the two of them, before escorting them out of the room.

 


L---A---L


 

 

“Oh, Kagome!”

Strong arms wound around her, pulled her into a loving embrace – and for a fleeting second, Kagome felt tempted to slump against the offered warm comfort, to let her shoulders sag and the tears spill forward.

But she was the Lady of Tsumekiri, welcoming guests into her house. She didn’t know much about ruling, but she knew she could not afford to show any weakness.

The clan depended on her.

Sesshoumaru depended on her.

Kagome pulled back, forced a tight, small smile onto her lips.

“I’m glad you could come,” she told Sango. Her gaze flitted to Miroku, standing behind his wife. “Both of you.”

“Of course.” Sango squeezed her shoulder, offered her a brief smile.

“Go on.” Kagome gestured at the open doorway. “Akie-san will show you in.”

Miroku grasped her arm, the touch a silent comfort, before wrapping his arm around Sango’s shoulders and walking towards the manor.

Kagome took a breath, squared her shoulders under the heavy layers of silk, and turned to welcome the next person, a cordial smile pasted onto her lips.

It was unusual, perhaps, for a ruler of the clan to be personally greeting arriving guests out in the court yard. But the situation itself was unusual, and Kagome wanted to at least meet Tsumekiri’s allies before facing them in the big meeting.

She might not be able to remember all of their names or clans, but that was why she had steward Nobuo just a step behind, ready to whisper into her ear.

Even more comforting than that was the silent but regal presence of Lady Mother on her right.

Tsumekiri were hosting the gathering, but if they were the retainer, then Mikazuki was the daimyou, and the ties between the two clans were close.

Having Lady Chiyo by her side lent authority to Kagome. Tsumekiri had accepted her, but to most of her guests she was a human, a miko, a stranger.

Kagome also felt a bit more at ease now that Sango and Miroku were here. It was a relief to know she’d have some familiar faces waiting for her inside. And perhaps, even more than that, it was a relief to have a few more humans fighting on their side when facing an enemy wielding powers the youkai would be susceptible to.

Sango couldn’t be purified, and perhaps Miroku, as a monk, could give them insight to the minds and powers of the war-mongers.

The representatives of the clans arrived in a steady stream. Some were lords or ladies, some were captains of guards, some were kin of the clan’s ruler. Kagome greeted everyone, trying to commit their faces to her memory.

All too soon, it was over. There was no youkai left to welcome.

Akie-san stepped out to the courtyard.

“Everyone has been seated,” she reported after a quick bow of her head. “Refreshments have been served. Everything is ready, my lady.”

Kagome gave a curt, stiff nod.

Chiyo looped her arm around Kagome’s.

“Let us go, then,” she declared.

In that moment, her regal calm reminded Kagome sharply of Sesshoumaru.

“Any last minute advice?” Kagome asked, trying to quell the nervous flutters in the pit of her stomach.  

“Just keep your head held high, little one,” Chiyo said, patting her arm. “Everything else will follow.”

The endearment soothed her, even more than the advice itself, and Kagome flashed Lady Mother a grateful smile.

“All right then. Time to roll.”

She and Chiyo stepped into the Tsumekiri manor, arm in arm, Akie-san and Nobuo trailing after their steps.

They made their way down the corridor, and walked into the main hall as the servants standing guard slid the doors open.

It was a big space, but Kagome had never seen it this full. She kept her gaze firmly on the dais at the end. Moriyasu and Mikazuki’s captain of guard were sitting in front it facing the hall, Saburou on the other side.

A hush fell over the crowd as Kagome and Lady Mother made their way across the room. They stepped onto the dais, took seats on the two cushions set out for them.

Nobuo and Akie-san sat down in front of the dais, on either side of Saburou.

Kagome slanted Lady Mother a look, and she gave an imperceptible nod.

Kagome sat straighter, let her gaze sweep across the hall, and tried not to be intimidated by the way everyone’s attention was focusing on her.

The words came easy to her, thanks to the pointers both Lady Mother and Steward Nobuo had given her when they had practiced for this earlier.

“Friends and allies, I’m glad to see you have answered our call.” Kagome paused, met a few of the intent stares aimed her way. “I am Kagome, Lady of Tsumekiri, and I welcome you all to this meeting.”

“You all know why my daughter-in-law has called this gathering,” Chiyo spoke. “But it is best to start off with a reminder. I call Tsumekiri’s guard Takeshi to relay his account of the recent events he witnessed when he accompanied my son, Lord Sesshoumaru of Tsumekiri, to his visit to the North-eastern inu clan.”

Takeshi walked to the front of the room, bowed to his audience.

Kagome breathed a little easier now that she no longer was under everyone’s intent scrutiny.

As Takeshi spoke of everything he’d seen happen at the North-eastern clan, Kagome studied the faces of her guests, trying to gauge the mood in the hall. Thanks to her close relationship with Sesshoumaru and Lady Mother, she’d learned to decipher the minute flickers of expression pretty well. She could detect concern, grim determination, outrage, and thirst for blood in the minor frowns, twist of lips, and set jaws of the youkai in the room.

Takeshi finished speaking, went to sit down as quiet murmurs began to ripple through the hall.

They quieted again as soon as Kagome looked up.

“The monks have declared war on us,” she told her audience. “They have laid siege on the North-eastern clan, our ally. They are holding my mate, Lord Sesshoumaru, hostage, as well as representatives of several other allied clans.”

The hall had gone perfectly quiet, every single pair of unblinking demon eyes trained on her.

“I say we give the monks what they want. Clan Tsumekiri will go to war, to retrieve its Lord. Will you fight with us?”

Kagome held her breath, feeling the tension in the hall, the tumultuous swirl of youki pushing against her skin.

And then, one by one, the youkai began to spring to their feet, their growls and shouts filling the room.

Kagome gripped at her mating bond, hoping the savage satisfaction of her victory would pulse over the bond to Sesshoumaru.

I’m coming, she promised silently, even though he couldn’t hear the words. Wait for me.

     

 

 

Chapter Text

Sesshoumaru breathed deep, willing his muscles to relax. It was no simple task; not under the present circumstances. Inside, his youki swirled and raged, agitated by the hum of holy power in the air, courtesy of the great barrier that kept all of them trapped. Around him were other youkai – several of them powerful – their faces grim, their eyes a little wild from their own struggles to maintain the control of their youki.

Sesshoumaru’s instincts were screaming at him to keep vigilant, to poise himself ready for the perfect opportunity to strike back – but cold logic reminded him that he’d be no use to anyone if he drove himself to exhaustion.

Which meant he had to force himself to sleep, or at least rest.

He did not know what these monks were planning. He did not know how long they intended to keep them trapped inside their damned barrier.

Leashed like a dog, he could do nothing but wait, so he ought to at least conserve his strength. Somehow, someday, that moment would come and he would put these foolish monks in their place.

“My lord?”

Sesshoumaru turned his head towards his guard. Makoto had been silent for a long while, but he hadn’t strayed from his side, not even once. Akie-san had named her son aptly.

“Yes?” he replied, keeping his voice quiet.

“Do you think Takeshi made it?”

“He was fast enough to avoid being trapped inside the barrier. That is all I know.” Sesshoumaru paused. “But I have full faith in your brother.”

Makoto nodded. “Then they will be coming.” His eyes flashed.

Sesshoumaru wasn’t so certain. Not that he doubted the loyalty of his people. But Tsumekiri was not a large clan. They alone could not do much against the monks. And with him gone, who was there to lead them?

Saburou was an excellent captain of guard, but his loyalty would be divided – between the lord taken captive and the lady tasked with the protection of the clan.

Hopefully, the word would spread. Sesshoumaru wasn’t the sole visitor from an allied clan who had answered the call of assistance in the north-east.

And Lady Chiyo of Mikazuki would not take well the news of her son’s capture. She would show her claws, and remind everyone just why she was the leader of one of the most prominent clans in the west – and that she’d been the mate of the Great General.

The humans might have forgotten, with the pitiful lifespans that they had. And the century and a half since his father’s territory’s collapse might have dulled the memories of some youkai, too. But even though the great Inu no Taishou had fallen, and his clan reduced to all but ashes, Chiyo had lived.

As had Sesshoumaru.

These monks might hold him for now, with the barrier they’d created from their combined energies. But they would not take him down.

Sesshoumaru took another deep breath.

Plotting vengeance didn’t much help him to relax and rest. He tried to steer his thoughts towards something calmer, something more pleasant… and found Kagome.  

The mating bond was a steady, soothing presence in his heart, although with all the distance between him and Kagome, the information the bond could carry to him was limited. There were no flickers of his mate’s mood that had become so familiar to him – only the enduring knowledge that Kagome was alive and well.

Relatively speaking, at least.

Sesshoumaru frowned, speculating how Kagome would react, if – when Takeshi would arrive at Tsumekiri and relay the news of the monks’ attack. Would she be angry? Would she be distraught? Would she be disappointed that he had been so easily captured? Would she despair?

Sesshoumaru folded his arms over his chest, let his eyes drift shut.

Kagome was strong. She would prevail.

His absence would be longer than intended, but Kagome would keep their clan safe until he would return.

Of that, Sesshoumaru had no doubt.

He only hoped she wouldn’t be too upset.

She had suffered enough pain, and, as her mate, he wanted to shield her from any further grief.

But now that he was being held hostage by idiotic zealots, he could not protect her – and would only cause her more worry.

Even so, Kagome would endure…

Sesshoumaru gritted his teeth, anger and frustration gnawing at him once again.

He did not want his mate to endure, he wanted her to thrive.

Stillness settled over Sesshoumaru, as he surrendered to grim determination.

He would conserve his strength. He would wait. The opportune moment would come – and the monks who had caged him would be hunted down like prey.

No matter what, Sesshoumaru vowed to return to Tsumekiri.

To Kagome.  

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome sat near the wall in Sesshoumaru’s study, watching the handful of lords debate tactics and strategy. Saburou and Lady Mother stood in the centre, both clearly in their own element. Miroku had got looks from the demons at first, but after a few careful comments here and there, most youkai were already nodding along.

Kagome sighed.

Sango, sitting beside her, turned towards her with a worried frown. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Kagome said, her reply as unenthusiastic as it was rueful. “Just wondering what I’m even doing here. I know nothing of battle tactics so I’m no help.”

“Leave the strategy to those who’re suited for it,” Sango said firmly. “You have done your part.”

Kagome frowned at her friend. “But I haven’t done anything.”

“Nonsense! You invited your allies here and they came. You spoke to them and made them commit to taking action. You’ve brought everyone together and that's everything.”

“Thank you,” Kagome said, and squeezed Sango’s hand.

She squeezed back. “Really, I should be the one asking myself what I am doing; I’ve spent all my life training how to best kill youkai and now I'm rushing over to save a bunch of them.”

Sango’s voice was so wry Kagome couldn’t help but laugh.

They lapsed back into a comfortable silence, watching the strategists in the room argue about how to best circumnavigate the barrier.

“Could you do something about it?” Sango asked.

“I doubt I have enough power to break it, not when the monks have united to hold it. I might be able to slip through – for all the good that would do to me.”

“What about Tessaiga? Could you use it to break the barrier?”

Ringing silence met Sango’s question.

Kagome turned once she realised everyone had stopped talking – and found every single demon in the room staring at her.

She got a dreadful urge to squirm.

“Tessaiga?” One of the lords repeated, as if he could scarcely trust his ears.

“You have the Great General’s sword?” Another asked, a hint of awe in his voice.

Kagome swallowed. “Ummm…”

“As I understand,” Miroku cut in smoothly, “the General left Tessaiga to his younger son, Inuyasha.”

The statement was met with nods and scowls alike.

“Inuyasha was Lady Kagome’s first mate, as I'm sure you know. After he passed, the sword came to Lady Kagome.” Miroku paused, gave Kagome a quick wink. “As is only right, since it was Lady Kagome who presented Tessaiga to Inuyasha in the first place after she had released the sword in the General’s tomb.”

Kagome fought not to blush under the intense scrutiny and incredulous stares of her allies. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Lady Mother’s smile and Miroku’s grin. Saburou stood a little taller, pride in his dark amber eyes.

Kagome licked her lips. “I have Tessaiga, yes. It knows me and recognises me. But it does not transform to its true form for me; I don’t have the youki to wield it in full like Inuyasha and Inu no Taishou did.”

“May we see it, Lady Kagome?” One of the lords asked, his voice respectful.

Kagome blinked in surprise – everyone had been accommodating and polite to her so far, despite her being both a human and miko… but respect?

And the lord was not alone; many of her allies now gazed at her, with considering looks in their eyes.

Kagome swallowed down her nervousness. “Of course, my lord.”

She pushed up to her feet, walked a few steps closer towards the group.

She eased the sheathed sword off her hip where she had tucked it under the sash of her hakama. She gripped both the hilt and the scabbard, bringing the sword to eyelevel. Then, in a smooth, practised motion, she unsheathed the blade.

Tessaiga pulsed, and Kagome felt the stirring of familiar youki emanating from the sword. The blade glowed when she pulled it free from the scabbard.

Tessaiga transformed, from an old tattered thing to gleaming perfection – but like before, it did not become the mighty fang of old. It looked much like any typical katana. Only the remnants of Inuyasha’s youki prickling at her fingertips revealed this was a youkai weapon.

“It is different,” one of the allied lord’s admitted. “But there is no doubt of that being the Great General’s sword.”

“Indeed. Thank you for showing it to us, Lady Kagome. You have honoured us.” The lord who’d asked to see the sword bowed his head.

Kagome blushed. Her fingers trembled as she sheathed Tessaiga and tucked it back to rest on her hip.

“Thank you, my lord,” she managed to reply. “You are most kind.”

“We have debated strategy long enough,” Lady Mother announced. “Let us take a break.”

Glad to finally have something she could do, Kagome clasped her hands, her shoulders slumping in relief.

“I’ll go and see to the refreshments,” she said.

Then, with a quick, polite bow, she swept away from the room.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Dinner had been held in the main hall; a formal affair with Kagome all alone at the front of the room, playing her part as the lady. It was harder, without Sesshoumaru by her side, to remember that she belonged there with all these people in the room, high-ranking demons from allied clans.

That was why she had retreated to her rooms as soon as she had finished eating, bidding her esteemed guests good night.

But she hadn’t gone to sleep, not yet. Instead, she was having tea, delighting in the company of her friends and her mother-in-law.

Kagome sipped her tea, closed her eyes, both relaxed and relieved. This here was more familiar, the mood cosy and intimate, a world apart from the dinner earlier.

When she opened her eyes, she met Miroku’s gaze.

“May I say,” he began, amusement twinkling on his face, “that you looked very striking tonight, Kagome.”

Kagome shrugged, mumbled her thanks.

“This is so much better,” Sango sighed, sipped her tea. “I could hardly eat a bite. Being in a room with so many powerful youkai just had me all tensed up…” She sat a little straighter, shot a glance at Lady Mother. “No offense, of course, Lady Chiyo.”

“None taken,” Chiyo agreed, her golden eyes dancing, her red lips up-tilted.

Kagome set down her tea and leaned towards Sango, gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze. “I was a nervous wreck too. All these high-ranking demons from allied clans… Without Sesshoumaru, it’s hard to remember I’m supposed to be one of them.”

“You are one of them,” Chiyo said, her tone cool and firm. “You are one of us.”

Kagome picked up her cup, stared down at her tea.

“It’s a relief to see that they seem to have accepted Kagome as well as they have,” Miroku commented. “I thought some might have objected to her being a human – and a miko.”

Chiyo shook her head. “They have no cause to object, when her mating bond was wrought with respect to our tradition. And after that little display with Tessaiga this afternoon, none will dare to oppose her. That was a stroke of genius, I should have thought of it myself.”

“Inu no Taishou must have been very impressive, for everyone to still have such respect for him, even after all this time,” Sango said.

Lady Chiyo sipped her tea and smiled, a faraway look in her eyes. “He was a legend,” came her simple answer.

Kagome’s heart stuttered in her chest, recognising that touch of wistfulness Lady Mother’s elegant voice betrayed. “I wish I could’ve met him.”

Lady Mother met her gaze, reached across the table to cup her cheek. Her claws cradled Kagome’s skin with both delicacy and gentleness. “He would have adored you, little one.”

A hush fell over the group, until Lady Mother broke it again, skilfully switching the topic by politely enquiring after Sango’s and Miroku’s children. The conversation bubbled easily from there, and Kagome loved to see Sango glow with pride and warmth as she talked of her family.

Too swept up in the women’s conversation, it took Kagome a moment to realise that Miroku had fallen silent. She looked at him, found him staring down at the teacup in his hands.

Kagome bit her lip, scooted closer.

“What is it?” she asked, worry creeping into her voice.

Miroku straightened himself, a quick and easy smile appearing to his lips. “Just deep in thought.”

“About?” Kagome prompted.

The question filled the sudden silence – Sango and Lady Mother had stopped their conversation and turned their attention to Kagome and Miroku instead.

Miroku shook his head. “I don’t want to spoil this evening. We’ve talked enough about strategy today, we all need to unwind.”

Lady Chiyo was instantly on the alert, her golden eyes sharp as they honed in on Miroku. “Have you come up with some idea?”

Miroku shrugged. “I was thinking of the barrier the monks have erected.”

Kagome set down her tea. “Go on. If you have come up with something that could help Sesshoumaru, help us…” She swallowed, the gnawing worry choking the rest of her sentence.

“Maintaining a barrier strong enough to contain youkai of Sesshoumaru-sama’s calibre is going to take energy,” Miroku said. “It must be a joint effort.”

Kagome’s hands twitching in her lap. “That’s why it would be so hard to break through it. My powers alone are no match to the powers of the many.”

Miroku nodded. “But fusing your energy with someone else’s is also very difficult. Unless these monks have had a lot of practise of joining their respective powers together, I think they’d need a medium.”

“A medium?” Lady Mother asked.

“An object, most likely,” Miroku explained, frowning to himself. “Something through which they can channel their powers, perhaps even amplify them.”

“You’re saying they’re all pouring their energy into the same object to keep the barrier up?” Sango’s eyes brightened, a slow smile bloomed on her lips. “Then, all we would need to do to free Sesshoumaru is to break the medium.”

“I can’t know for certain they’re using one, dear Sango. But if they are, breaking it would certainly work.”

Hope bubbled in Kagome’s chest. She clutched at it with both hands, held it close to her chest as she clung to it.

“Break the medium?” she repeated.

Miroku nodded.

“This changes things,” Lady Mother muttered, half to herself if the distant look in her eyes was any indication. “A task like that needs to be handled by covert means, not with an army. A small group of skilled people, to slip past defences without raising alarm…”

Chiyo’s claws clicked rhythmically as she drummed her fingers against the tatami matting. Her gaze snapped to Miroku and Sango.

“Something you two could handle, I imagine?”

Sango smiled, looking confident and perfectly relaxed. “Without breaking a sweat.”

“I believe we could,” Miroku replied after giving it a moment’s thought. “The barrier’s likely only keyed to demonic energy.”

“They want to keep their hostages in and their rescuers out,” Kagome said slowly, thinking out loud. “And bigoted as they are, they wouldn’t think some of those rescuers are human.”

Miroku nodded again. “It would be easier for them to maintain a barrier keyed to youki alone, than one able to block against anything and anyone.”

“Excellent.” Lady Chiyo’s eyes glinted.

A smile curved on her red lips, a smile that jolted Kagome. She had seen that same dangerous, predatory expression before, on Sesshoumaru.

“It is certainly something worth considering,” Lady Mother decided. “Would anyone like more tea? Tell me, how is young Rin faring?”

And just like that, Chiyo deftly steered them back to more casual topics.

Kagome sipped her lukewarm tea and slipped back into the conversation with ease, while in her heart the flame of hope flickered, small but strong.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The next day, they were once again packed in Sesshoumaru’s study. Kagome stood between Miroku and Lady Mother, and eyed the gathered high-ranking youkai with renewed appraisal. The plan had begun to form last night, and with it had come the hope.

Once more, Kagome had faith, and that was enough to keep her warm and tethered, to cast her insecurities into shadow.

“Last night, we had a private, casual discussion between friends,” Lady Mother began, addressing their guests. A slight smile quirked her lips. “And somehow, we managed to turn it to strategy, when Lady Kagome’s trusted friend gave us some insight to how the mind of a monk works. Miroku-sama, if you please.”

Miroku bowed. “Thank you, my lady. I suggested that as the monks holding our friends hostage must combine their powers to maintain their barrier, and because fusing energies with someone else’s is a highly particular skill, they might have opted to use an object.”

He paused, glanced around the room.

“This object would combine their powers, potentially even amplify them, and then feed the energy to the barrier.”

“This is all speculation, of course,” Lady Mother pointed out, “but the probability is very high.”

Miroku nodded. “It’s a logical assumption.”

“And if they are working through a medium, like Miroku and Lady Mother believe, we only need to break it to bring down the barrier,” Kagome added.

Murmurs broke out in the room. Spines straightened, a few grins flashed. But some faces remained grim and unconvinced.

“I am guessing this medium would be safely tucked away inside the barrier?” One of the lords asked, his voice sceptical. “If so, we can hardly get close enough to break it.”

“If we presume the medium exists, we may also presume that their barrier would only reject those with youki signatures,” Lady Mother said, sounding cool and calm. “Which means our human allies would be able to just walk in.”

More murmurs rose at that. Kagome tried not to squirm as long, considering looks were cast towards her, Sango and Miroku.

Miroku cleared his throat, and the room fell silent again. “Theoretically speaking, it could also be possible for youkai to pass through the barrier.”

Lady Mother raised her eyebrows, ignoring the storm of mutters and whispers that swept through the study once again.

“How?”

“If we erase your energy signature, the barrier would likely not recognise you as youkai.”

“Erase how?” Several voices called.

“We could try sealing your youki,” Miroku clarified. “Temporarily.”

“Seal our youki?”

“Is that even possible?”

“Could it work?”

“Would that be harmful?”

Kagome held up her hand, and was mildly surprised how quickly the youkai quieted.

“It’s not quite the same,” she spoke, a little hesitant at first, “but Moriyasu, Lady Chiyo’s retainer, sealed my reiki at her behest. It did not harm me in any way, and since the seal was broken, I have recovered my powers in full.” She looked at her audience, let the holy energy spike a little in demonstration. “So it should be possible, to find a way to seal youki as well.”

There were nods, now. Some smiles. Murmur of agreement.

“Well then.” Lady Mother smiled. “It seems to me we have a plan.”

 

Chapter Text

The dark purple beads of Inuyasha’s subjugation necklace gleamed in the flickering light of the lanterns. Kagome stared at them, her fingers burrowing into her lap.

“I know what you would do, Inuyasha,” she spoke in the hushed quiet of the night.

A small smile rose to her lips, unbidden.

“You’d rush in head first, duty be damned.”

She sighed.

“I can’t shrug off my duties quite so easily, however. He left his clan to me, you know. He trusted me with his people. How can I put that aside? How could I disappoint him in this, after everything he’s done?”

Silence met her words. Scented smoke from the lit incense curled at the altar.

Kagome could imagine only too well what Inuyasha would say, and her fingers clenched in her lap.

“It’s not an excuse,” she muttered. “It’s the truth.”

The silence was unforgiving, and Kagome lifted her hand to rub her face.

“Okay, it’s partly the truth. But I still have a responsibility to Tsumekiri. I did the vow-thing and everything.”

She ran her hand through her hair and grimaced.

“And none of that would matter to you, would it?”

Kagome shook her head.

“You would be reckless. And so, so brave. No matter what, you’d follow your heart.”

Kagome’s breath hitched in her throat; her fingers clamped around Tessaiga’s scabbard. The sword lay beside her on the floor, and she held onto it now, hoping it would lend her strength, give her an answer.

“I’m afraid,” she admitted in a strained, hoarse whisper.

She stared at the necklace resting on the altar she had built for Inuyasha. It was perhaps the oldest symbol of the bond between her and the hanyou who had become her mate.

Indecision weighed heavy on her shoulders, and guilt churned in her stomach.

“Am I allowed?” She wondered in a small voice. “To follow mine?”

The candle flames illuminating the room from inside their lanterns flared and danced. And against the palm of her hand, Tessaiga pulsed.

Kagome squeezed the scabbard, then let go as all the tension seeped out of her body.

She set her hands before her on the tatami, bent into a deep bow. Her hair whispered against the straw-mat as it fell around her face in a dark curtain.

She stayed like that for a long moment, and when she finally straightened, there were tears glittering in her eyes. She smiled through them, her gaze fixed on the altar, caressing the familiar beads.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

She brushed the tears away before they could fall. “Thank you.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome woke up early the next morning, and did not wait for Akie to come and help her dress. She got up, pulled on a white kimono over her plain underkimono. She stepped into her red hakama and belted them in place. She combed her hair and bound it on a short, low tail.

She sat on a floor cushion, and when Akie arrived with the breakfast tray, she was ready and waiting.

Akie crossed the room, placed the tray in front of Kagome, and knelt to pour the tea.

Silence hummed around them, as Kagome waited, forcing herself not to fidget.

Akie sat on her heels, gave her a long look. Then, slowly, her lips quirked in a smile.

“I knew my lady would choose to leave.”

Kagome’s shoulders slumped in relief. She reached for the tray, picked up the cup of tea Akie had prepared for her.

“You don’t mind that I’m going? Even though I vowed I would protect the clan until he returned?”

Akie shook her head. “My lady, you made that vow believing lord Sesshoumaru would visit an allied clan and return shortly. These monks changed that. And even so…” she paused, raised her gaze to meet Kagome’s eyes. “Your duty to your clan comes second to your duty to your lord.”

“That’s how I feel, too,” Kagome admitted. She sipped her tea. “I’m glad you understand. I hope Sesshoumaru will, as well.”

“Do not fear, my lady. You have made our clan and lord Sesshoumaru proud.”

Kagome shrugged, gazed down at her tea.

“My lord will need you more than the clan does. Before you were mated, Lord Sesshoumaru was gone for long stretches of time. Just roaming the lands. We made do without our lord then. We will make do without our lord and lady now.”

“I feel I’ll be more help there,” Kagome replied after a while. “And the monks won’t move against Tsumekiri, not when they have their hostages and believe they have the upper hand.”

“You go, and bring lord Sesshoumaru back. I will look after the clan in your absence.”

“Thank you, Akie-san.”

The demoness bowed, then left the room.

Kagome ate her breakfast, alone and in silence, and feeling more certain now that she had made the right decision.

She had her duty, she’d made her vow. But Tsumekiri was in no danger as far as she could see, and the servants there did not require supervision in their day to day life. The clan had Akie. The clan had Nobuo. The clan had Jaken.

But Sesshoumaru was alone.

It was clear to Kagome which of the two needed her more.

 


L---A---L


 

 

The army was ready; prepared and broiling for a battle.

Kagome sat, her hand wrapped around Tessaiga’s hilt for support. Her friends were all around her: Sango, Miroku, Lady Mother, Captain Saburou, and Moriyasu, talking amongst themselves and preparing for the covert infiltration of the monk’s barrier. Ironing out the last details.

Kagome listened to them with half an ear. Most of her concentration was sucked up by maintaining a barrier of their own; one that concealed their youkai army from the monks.

That had been Lady Mother’s devious idea, to take a leaf out of the monks’ own book.

Miroku had provided the medium for her, primed it with his own spiritual energy.

Kagome was focusing on the medium, feeding it a steady stream of her own reiki. The plan was to use it like one would use a battery; load the medium with energy, and then leave it to maintain the barrier by itself, for as long as it had any spiritual energy in store.

With the help of the medium, Kagome and Miroku would be able to be in the covert advance team sent to destroy the medium the monks were using. And their army would stay hidden and safe, while they were away.

“How are you holding up, my lady?” Captain Saburou asked.

He had been dogging Kagome’s steps ever since they had left Tsumekiri; a self-appointed bodyguard.

“I’m fine,” she told him, still focused on the medium. “I only need a few more minutes.”

Saburou bowed his head.

“You have finished it?” Lady Mother asked Miroku.

“I have,” Miroku replied. “With your permission, I would like to test it out.”

Lady Mother arched her eyebrow, even as her lips curved.

“By all means.”

She spread her arms, stood still.

Kagome felt the spike of Miroku’s energy as he dipped a brush in an inkpot, glanced over as he wrote the inscription on a piece of paper to make the ofuda. He blew carefully to dry the ink then peeled the paper off the portable desk, got up and walked over to Lady Mother.

Gently, he plastered the ofuda onto Lady Mother’s shoulder.

One second, Lady Mother’s strong youki had been a steady hum – a background noise to which Kagome was so used to she barely noticed it. Then, it was gone, as if someone had flipped a switch.

“It works,” Kagome gasped, meeting Miroku’s eyes. 

“Told you,” Miroku said, grinning back at her.

“How does it feel, my lady?” Moriyasu asked.

Lady Mother rolled her shoulders, tilted her head. “A little odd, I suppose. But not uncomfortable. Excellent work, Miroku.”

“Thank you, Chiyo-hime.” He bowed, and then peeled the ofuda away.

Her youki returned, and a smile rose to Kagome’s lips. Lady Mother was without a doubt the strongest youkai present. If Miroku’s ofuda worked on her, it would work on the others. After all, Lady Mother wasn’t actually a part of the covert advance team; she would lead their army into the battle once the monk’s barrier would come down.

Kagome sent a last pulse of reiki into the medium, then sat back on her heels.

“I’m done,” she announced, and wiped her forehead.

Lady Mother’s wide smirk showed just enough fang to be termed predatory.

“Wonderful. We are all set, then. Moriyasu, please go inform Lord Shigetomo that it is time.”

Moriyasu bowed, and went to find Lord Shigetomo. The canny lord of clan Kagenokiba had been elected as the final member of the advance team.

There would be six of them altogether, three humans, and three youkai.

Kagome took a breath, made sure her bow, quiver and Tessaiga were all in place, before she turned to Sango. It was weird to see her dressed for battle, but without Hiraikotsu. But then, such a huge weapon didn’t really suit a covert mission.

“Are you ready?” Kagome asked.

Sango shrugged her shoulders, flashed Kagome a grin. “I was born ready. Honestly, I just want to get this over and done with and go home. I miss the children.”

“I’m sorry I involved you in this.”

“Don’t be.” Sango grabbed her hand, squeezed it. “What are friends for, eh?”

“Thanks.” Kagome managed a smile.

Sango’s grave eyes caught Kagome, held her gaze. “You pulled away, after Inuyasha died. From us, from the whole world. I’m glad you reached out, Kagome.”

Kagome squeezed Sango’s hand back. “I’m glad you came to help.”

The mood changed the second Lord Shigetomo arrived with Moriyasu. The air became charged, and eager anticipation hung heavy around them.

“The medium should uphold the barrier until it’s burned through the energy I and Kagome have stored in it,” Miroku told Lady Mother. “We’ll signal you once we break the monks’ barrier. If our medium’s still powering ours, just break it and lead the charge.”

“I know, monk, we have gone over this enough times.” But Lady Chiyo’s tone was light and free of chiding.

She inspected the group of six, gave a nod. She rested her hand briefly on Kagome’s shoulder, inclined her head to Lord Shigetomo.

“May your hunt be successful.”

Lord Shigetomo bowed his head in reply. “May your enemies bleed.”

“Go now, and come back safely.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

They moved in a single file, light on their feet – even Kagome, by some miracle. All around them, the world was quiet; the day was at end and turning to night, with sun low on the sky and shadows growing long.

They wove in those shadows, a ragtag group of six: a monk, a kitsune, a demon slayer, a guard, a miko, a lord. All wearing dark clothes, that helped them blend better to their darkening surroundings.

Well, all except for Kagome, who was in her usual red and white miko uniform. She’d opted to wear it for the same reason Miroku wore his monks’ robes: they were familiar and would likely confuse their enemy – at least for a moment.

Kagome understood why she had been selected to the advance team. She wouldn’t have any trouble with the monks’ barrier, and wouldn’t be susceptible to their powers. Yet, she didn’t feel she was the best choice when their mission relied on stealth. She’d just have to hope she wouldn’t trip over her own feet, or something…

The demons, Lord Shigetomo in the lead, moved with their innate soundless grace. Luckily, none seemed unnerved by having their youki suppressed by the ofuda Miroku had prepared.

Kagome judged the distance ahead. Almost there; she could already feel the barrier, its energy buzzing in her ears, cool and pure.

Anger spiked inside her. How dare these monks twist the holy powers bequeathed to them into such a bigoted purpose? They were meant to shield and protect, not to destroy.

She gritted her teeth, ran her fingers over Tessaiga’s scabbard.

Ahead, Lord Shigetomo stopped at the edge of the barrier. The others followed, and stood waiting until Kagome and Saburou reached them. Miroku leaned on his staff, shot her a grin.

Kagome raised her eyebrow, but the others merely gestured for her to go ahead. Kagome squared her shoulders, and slid through the barrier. Saburou walked through a heartbeat later, then others followed.

Kagome and Miroku shared a look, then took the lead together. The youkai were unable to sense any energies for as long as their youki was sealed, so it was up to Kagome and Miroku to locate the medium by following its energy signature.

The terrain was uncomfortably open. Kagome kept waiting for someone to shout a warning, for them to get caught.

But the evening was quiet.

Ahead, the walls surrounding the North-eastern clan’s estate loomed.

Kagome stopped, her senses straining. Miroku halted beside her, bent his head to hers as the others huddled around them.

“What is it?” Saburou asked in a hushed whisper.

“I think there’s a second barrier,” Kagome whispered back.

Miroku nodded, his eyes narrowed as he stared ahead.

“They’re clever – inner barrier to confide the demons inside the building, the outer barrier to keep away anyone who’d wish to free them.”

“Then the medium must be here too,” Moriyasu pointed out.

Miroku nodded. “I’ll take point,” he offered.

Kagome nodded her agreement with the others, then followed Miroku, Saburou shadowing her steps like a true guard dog.

Luck was on their side, as they encountered no monks.

“They must be in the inner yard,” Lord Shigetomo guessed.

“No guards posted,” Saburou muttered under his breath. “Sloppy work.”

“They think they’re safe between their two barriers,” Kagome replied.

Lord Shigetomo’s eyes glowed in the dimming light. “We shall prove them wrong.”

Moriyasu spared them a glance and a grin, then scaled the wall surrounding the estate, nimble as a cat. He peered over the edge, dropped soundlessly down.

“All there. Near the main gate. If we circle around a bit, we can slip through from the rear.”

“Let’s go,” Sango said briskly.

They climbed the wall – with considerable help from their youkai teammates – and slid into the North-Eastern clan’s land.

The monks really had nerve, Kagome thought, to be camping here, inside the walls.

“Ready, Kagome?” Miroku whispered.

Kagome nodded. She sat down next to Miroku, trusting the others to keep guard. They wouldn’t be sloppy, like the stupid monks.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes – and concentrated on the pulsing energy in the air all around them. At first it was all a faint buzz in her ears; like static.

As her focus sharpened, the noise fell away – until only one bright spark of energy remained, shining like a beacon.

Kagome opened her eyes, got up and took a few steps towards what appeared to be a storage building some distance away from the main gate.

Fabric rustled, footstep followed, and then Miroku was standing beside her.

“You feel it?”

“In that shed,” Kagome replied.

Miroku nodded. “I’ll try to circle around it, see if there are guards.”

“Be careful.”

Miroku smirked, then walked away, the rings of his staff jingling softly.

It felt like he was gone a long time, but in truth it had barely been a few minutes until he returned.

“One guard by the door. Can’t tell if there’s any inside, the medium masks any holy energy around it.”

“I shall take care of the guard,” Moriyasu offered. At the others’ assent, he slunk away on quiet feet.

Kagome and the others followed after a brief moment. Miroku kept his eye on the monks gathered at the gates, while their small group slid inside the shed, Moriyasu dragging the now unconscious guard with him.

It was an armoury, Kagome realised with a start. A grin spread slowly to her lips. How appropriate.

With all of them – plus the unconscious monk – it was crowded inside, and it took Kagome a moment to notice the medium.

It was tucked into a corner like some forlorn bauble, glowing faintly with blue light.

It was spherical, perhaps some kind of stone and reminded Kagome of the Shikon no Tama.

She pushed aside the disconcerting memories, and stared at the medium.

“Would you like to do the honours, Lady Kagome?” Lord Shigetomo asked.

“Me?” Kagome’s voice squeaked in surprise.

Sango nudged her, as Lord Shigetomo inclined his head.

Kagome swallowed, and wrapped her hand around Tessaiga’s hilt as she walked over to the corner of the armoury.

The sword whispered against its sheath as she pulled it out, transformed into the gleaming katana that had become familiar to her.

Kagome hoped the monks wouldn’t feel the faint wisp of Inuyasha’s youki, and decided to be quick about it.

She breathed deep, assumed the position she’d practised a million times when running through the katas Sesshoumaru had taught her. Then, she swung the sword in one, precise strike.

Tessaiga struck the medium, and the force of the blow made Kagome grit her teeth as the jolt of it vibrated along the blade.

For one breathless second, nothing happened – then cracks appeared, spread in a spider web formation across the smooth polished surface of the medium.

As the object shattered and the dual barriers dropped, the weight of the released energy nearly brought Kagome to her knees.

Shouts of alarm echoed outside.

Miroku quickly ripped away the three ofudas as Sango pulled out her sword.

Moriyasu rolled his shoulders, his youki rising around him.

“Let us go,” Lord Shigetomo growled, his eyes already bleeding red and his mouth growing wide. “And show these monks the error of their ways.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

Sesshoumaru was somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, leaning against the wall in the great hall where they all had been contained since the monks’ scheme. His eyes were closed, Bakusaiga lying across his lap. Ever since the barrier had trapped them in, he’d kept the sword close… and waited.

And at last, his patience was rewarded.

Sesshoumaru’s eyes snapped open the moment the barrier around them broke. He was on his feet the next second, his unsheathed sword in his hand, and a feral smile stretching his lips.

“Makoto,” he snapped, his voice coolly calm, “prepare for battle.”

Makoto bowed his head, drew his sword. “My lord.”

Sesshoumaru was already rushing out of the great hall in a brisk half-jog.

Somewhere nearby, there was an explosion of youki as someone transformed into their true form.

Sesshoumaru wouldn’t bother with that. Trampling the pitiful monks wouldn’t be half so satisfying; he wanted to see their faces as he carved them into pieces. He wanted to feel the blood splatter.

His golden eyes flashed, as he yanked the door open and off its hinges.

He breathed the air outside, revelled in the panic-filled screams and shouts of the monks, scrambling in their camp by the gates.

Sesshoumaru raised the sword in his right hand, two fingers of his left starting to glow green as he called for the poison he’d inherited from his mother.

She would be here somewhere, he realised with absolute certainty. And she wouldn’t have come alone.

Behind him, there were rushing footsteps, as other demons who’d been trapped inside the building poured out and prepared to fight.

But Sesshoumaru paid no heed for them. He broke into a run, then sliced into the group of monks like a graceful whirlwind, cleaving through them with his sword, slashing at them with the burning green acid whip.

Around him, there were shrieks and moans. There was death. Bodies – or sometimes merely parts of them – fell to the ground. Blood sprayed, drenching his white kimono and hakama.

He continued his dance of destruction, until he heard the whistling of an arrow and turned too late.

The volley, glowing bright with purification energy, hung in the air mere inches from his face.

For a stretching second he was confused, even as the arrow clattered harmlessly to the ground. He reached forward and his questing fingers, the acid whip now gone, met with a barrier.

One humming with energy that was bright and pure – and familiar.

Determination pulsed in his chest; determination that wasn’t his own, because his feelings now were a tangle of worry, surprise and oddly, hope.

He turned, and there she stood, Tessaiga in hand, a bow slung over her shoulder, the white of her miko uniform stained with blood.

She sheathed Tessaiga, even as the battle raged around her. She locked her eyes with his, crossed over to him, and stepped inside the small barrier she’d erected.

She reached for him, her small hands cupping his cheeks.

“I did not think you would come,” was all Sesshoumaru managed to murmur, before her soft lips pressed against his.

Chapter Text

In the end, the monks didn’t have a chance. They found themselves stuck between two attacking forces – the army charging under Lady Chiyo’s command, and the youkai who had been trapped inside the barrier.

Even their holy powers didn’t save the monks. Under duress on the battlefield they couldn’t regroup, and none of them was individually strong enough; not against an army teeming with daiyoukai.

It was carnage.

Lord Shigetomo left wreckage behind him as he raged in his true form.

Youki was pitted against reiki time and time again – and then there were the claws, the swords, and the mayhem.

Strategy was what won most battles, and in that regard the youkai were far superior. They’d been fighting centuries before the monks had been born.

Now, at last, it was all over.

Kagome sat on the muddy ground, feeling weary to the bone. Her quiver was empty, but she didn’t want to try and find any of the arrows she’d shot. Tessaiga had been cleaned, oiled, and tucked safely back into its sheath.

Smoke hung heavy over the compound. The coppery tang of blood lingered in the air, joined by the smell of burning bodies as the youkai worked to gather the fallen monks into the pyres.

Across the yard there was laughter and sake, where the youkai celebrated their victory.

Lord Shigetomo stood among them, his arm wrapped around a younger youkai Kagome guessed was his son, now freed from his captivity.

Kagome allowed a small smile touch her lips. It was better to concentrate on those small glimpses, of families and clans reunited, than on the death and destruction.

She could feel pity for the monks now, but could not muster any guilt over their demise.

“Here you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Kagome started. She looked up at Sango.

“I wanted some rest and quiet,” Kagome said. She pushed up to her feet, ignoring how sore and tired they were.

Sango nodded. “I hear you. I just wanted to let you know that we’re leaving.”

“Oh.” She swallowed her disappointment. “You must be eager to get home.”

“We are. And you don’t need us here now. Everything’s under control.”

“Do you need Ah-Un? Since you left Kirara with the kids…”

“It’s fine, all taken care of.” Sango smiled. “Lady Chiyo asked Moriyasu to escort us home.”

“That’s good.”

Kagome hesitated for a moment, then hugged Sango.

Sango held her close, rubbed her back.

“You’ll be all right now?”

“I’m fine,” Kagome told her. “Travel safe. And say hi to the kids for me.”

“I will. I hope you’ll come to visit us soon.”

“We’ll come, I promise.”

They looked at each other, shared a smile, and parted their ways.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Sesshoumaru had not joined the celebration, but he did look at the battle field with fierce satisfaction. The demons had taken no hostages; they’d only offered blood and death.

Some of the lower-ranking youkai had been tasked with cleaning up. They were gathering up the dead bodies and tossing them into the pyre they’d kindled.

His captain of guards was one of those cleaners, so Sesshoumaru headed over to him.

On his way across the field, a wet cough stopped him. He glanced down, at a young monk lying a couple of yards to the left. Brutal jagged slashes marked his body, his entrails partly oozing from the gaping wound, but he was still drawing laboured breaths, his dark eyes were still filled with hate and trained on Sesshoumaru.

His wheezing voice was so faint, Sesshoumaru would not have been able to hear it, had he been human.

“Demon scum,” the monk rasped, and weakly spat blood to the ground between them.

Even in death, the monks stuck to their warped ideals. They had not earned any mercy from him.

Still, rather than walking away and leaving him to die alone, Sesshoumaru flicked his wrist. The poison green whip sprang to life and neatly beheaded the monk.

Sesshoumaru resumed walking, and soon reached Saburou.

“I would like to hear your report,” he told the captain.

Saburou’s spine straightened.

“Of course, my lord. Pardon that I did not come to report to you sooner.”

“You had other duties,” Sesshoumaru acknowledged, glancing at the dead and dying littering the ground. “However, I would like to know what happened in my absence.”

“Takeshi brought word that you had been taken captive and that the monks wished for war,” Captain Saburou began. “He told this to lady Kagome, while she was in the gardens with Akie-san. Lady Kagome gathered us in your study – Akie-san, myself, Jaken and Steward Nobuo. She appeared wearing her miko uniform and her weapons, and informed us we were going to war.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow arched in surprise. “Indeed?”

Saburou nodded. “She was afraid for your life, my lord. She told Nobuo to contact other clans and call on our alliances. Then, she went to Mikazuki to visit Chiyo-hime. Lady Kagome told her the news and received Mikazuki’s support. Then, she asked Chiyo-hime to remove the seal on her reiki.”

Sesshoumaru remembered the moment he had felt the spike of Kagome’s distinctive energy, when the barrier she’d erected had stopped an arrow aimed at him. None of the monks had been a match for his miko.

“Chiyo-hime and her men accompanied us back to Tsumekiri,” Saburou continued. “Representatives of our allied clans arrived to Tsumekiri, as well as Lady Kagome’s friends, Sango-sama and Miroku-sama.”

“I am glad to hear she had her friends’ support,” Sesshoumaru said.

“In my opinion, Lady Kagome played a vital role in forming this army. She called the clans together, asked them to fight alongside Tsumekiri, and won the other lords’ respect by showing her command over Tessaiga. Furthermore, her friend Miroku-sama’s ideas were crucial to the strategy we formed.”

“Tell me about this strategy.”

“We theorised that in order to fuel their barrier, the monks had to concentrate their energy with the help of a medium. By locating and destroying this medium, we would be able to shatter the barrier and free the youkai held captive. We chose an advance unit, consisting of myself, Lady Kagome, Miroku-sama, Sango-sama, Moriyasu-san and Lord Shigetomo, whose task it was to destroy the medium. Miroku-sama had devised a way to temporarily seal our youki, so each of us could slip inside the barrier.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow arched. “I assume your strategists also predicted that once freed, the youkai held captive would instantly turn on the monks?”

“Yes, my lord, Chiyo-hime and Lord Shigetomo were both counting on that to happen.”

“Of course,” Sesshoumaru murmured. He had no doubt his mother had lorded over every strategy meeting – and rightfully so.

His father had gained more than an alliance with the powerful Mikazuki clan when he had mated his mother. Her insights and penchant for strategy had been a great asset to Inu no Taishou’s successful campaign. And now, she had led one of her own, together with his mate.

Sesshoumaru’s gaze focused on Saburou, assessing him. Based on his report, the captain of guards had performed his duty admirably.

“Thank you,” Sesshoumaru said at last, “for keeping Kagome safe.”

“I am glad to have been of service, my lord,” Saburou replied with a deep bow.

Sesshoumaru nodded at him, and then walked away, leaving Saburou to his task.

He needed a moment to think over everything Saburou had just told him.

Perhaps Sesshoumaru shouldn’t have been so surprised by Saburou’s account. It had been Kagome’s bravery in their battle against Naraku with which she had initially won Sesshoumaru’s respect.

Yet, he had not expected her to come to his aid, least of all with an army she had gathered. As fearless as his miko was, she would rather make peace than ready her weapons.

So what had changed?

Sesshoumaru frowned.

Then, of course, there was the matter of the kiss.

Sesshoumaru was sure it had meant nothing. After all, it was very common for emotions to run high on a battlefield. Pitting your skill against that of another, risking your very life in a fight to survive… that brought forth a rush like no other.

But making assumptions could be a dangerous path to take. It would be best, Sesshoumaru decided, to have a frank discussion with his mate.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

When they walked through the gates of Tsumekiri, Kagome was both relieved and nervous.

On one hand, it was good to be home. To see everyone gathered around in the yard, welcoming her and Sesshoumaru with obvious delight, filled her with a deep sense of belonging.

Jaken actually began to cry as Sesshoumaru paused to glance at everyone and announce that they had returned. Akie-san was smiling, hands clasped to her chest. Steward Nobuo stood straighter, as if a weight had fallen off his shoulders.

On the other hand, however… While they had been travelling back, in the company of other youkai, there had not been many moments for Sesshoumaru and Kagome to be alone together. No opportunities to discuss things without their companions overhearing.

Now that they were back at Tsumekiri, however, they would have more privacy.

And Sesshoumaru was bound to have questions.

Kagome fought back her grimace.

How to explain her actions, when she was not sure she understood them herself?

All right, so, her motivations for going to war had been clear but the kiss…

The kiss had not been planned. Actually, it had scared Kagome a little bit.

Kagome shook her head, and pushed her concerns aside for the moment.

She walked over to where Sesshoumaru was greeting everyone.

Akie-san looked up with a brilliant smile.

“Welcome back, my lady.”

“Thank you, Akie-san. I’m glad to be back.”

“I had water heated for the bath house, if you wish to wash up after your journey.”

“That sounds lovely,” Kagome replied, suddenly conscious of her bloodstained kimono. “Thank you.”

Akie-san bowed.

Kagome nodded at everyone gathered at the yard, slanted a quick glance at Sesshoumaru.

“If you’ll excuse me,” she murmured politely, then headed straight for the bath house.

Kagome had a long soak in the hot bath, washed off all dust of the road thoroughly and left her miko uniform for the servants to wash.

She dressed in the clean kimono left out for her, and left the bath house.

Arriving in her room, she found Akie-san waiting for her.

“How was your bath, my lady?”

“It was great. I feel much better now.”

“I am glad to hear that.” Akie-san smiled. “Lord Sesshoumaru is meeting with Jaken and steward Nobuo in his study.”

“Ah, good to know,” Kagome murmured.

For now, it seemed, she would be safe from any potentially awkward discussions with her mate. Knowing that, Kagome breathed a little easier.

“My lady,” Akie-san spoke. “Do you recall, before all this happened, how you wished to celebrate your mating’s anniversary on our lord’s return?”

Kagome blinked. “I remember now that you reminded me.”

“We proceeded with the preparations in your absence.”

“You did?” Kagome shouldn’t have been surprised – it so often felt like Akie-san was two steps ahead in seeing to everything in the clan.

Akie-san nodded. “If I may suggest, my lady, since everything is prepared, we should have a feast tonight. Your victory and safe return are worthy of celebration.”

Kagome, having been in a crowd of demons for the better part of past week, would have been perfectly fine with retiring to her room for the night. Peace and quiet had been scarce since she had left to save Sesshoumaru.

But Akie-san was right. This was what the clan needed.

“That is a good suggestion,” Kagome agreed. “Go ahead and set it up.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

Akie-san bowed and left the room.

Kagome sighed. She would’ve loved to sink to the floor and take a good long nap.

Instead, she squared her shoulders and headed for the alcove where she’d placed Inuyasha’s altar.  

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome sat beside Sesshoumaru, sipping her sake as she surveyed the room. It had been worth it, to push aside her own weariness. The sheer joy bubbling in the hall was palpable. Everyone was gathered together to enjoy the marvellous feast, and making frequent toasts to their lord and lady’s victory in battle. As the alcohol flowed, the laughter picked up and the formalities and hierarchies faded.

Kagome hadn’t witnessed such a celebration before, with everyone so laidback and genuinely cheerful. It warmed her heart.

They must have been worried sick after Kagome had left with the army to get Sesshoumaru back.

Akie-san was right. Their safe return was worthy of celebration to everyone who depended on them. What would have happened to Tsumekiri if she and Sesshoumaru hadn’t returned?

Kagome shuddered to even think about it.

Sesshoumaru’s warm hand settled on Kagome’s shoulder.

“Are you all right?” he asked in a soft tone.

“Just tired,” Kagome replied. “It’s been a long day.”

“That it has,” Sesshoumaru agreed with a nod. “Do you wish to retire?”

Yes, the voice at the back of Kagome’s mind sighed in relief.

Kagome bit her lip and glanced over at the on-going and ever more boisterous celebration.

“The party’s still in full swing,” she said.

“I am sure they can manage without us,” Sesshoumaru told her.

Kagome met his eyes, felt her heart skip a beat.

It was time to stop skirting around the issue and to talk about it.

“Well, if you are sure.”

Sesshoumaru stood up and offered Kagome his hand. She took it, her fingers hesitating for a fraction of a second before curling around his.

On quiet feet, they slipped out of the banquet hall, leaving the rest of the clan to their merriment.

They were silent as they walked along the empty hallways, even as they reached Kagome’s room and Sesshoumaru slid the shouji screen open.

Kagome busied herself for a moment by slipping out of her heavy uchikake. Then, after a moment of teetering at the edge of decision, continued to take off the bulky kosode as well. She smoothed down her white underkimono, then sat on the edge of the futon already laid out on the floor.

Sesshoumaru crossed the room and took a seat on the tatami floor. Facing her, his golden gaze pinned her down.

Kagome’s nervous fingers dug into her lap.

“I was surprised to see you out on the battlefield,” Sesshoumaru said, offering no preamble.

The corners of Kagome’s lips twitched.

Straight and to the point – enough to be blunt. That was one aspect of Sesshoumaru’s character that she’d really come to appreciate.

Among many others, she admitted to herself, as the smile on her lips bloomed.

“I did not expect you to come for me,” Sesshoumaru continued.

“I was torn, for a moment,” Kagome said, staring down at her lap. “I had my duty to the clan, and my duty to you. But in the end I had to come.”

She lifted her gaze.

Took the plunge.

“I was very upset when I heard you’d been taken hostage.  I thought I might lose you. I thought I would lose my mate again.” She took a breath, rubbed her hands together in an unconscious gesture. “Even now I’m living without Inuyasha. So I knew that if I were to lose you I could live without you, too. And that’s when I realised I didn’t want to.”

Surprise flickered through the mating bond, even as Sesshoumaru’s eyebrows rose.   

“I haven’t made sense of it all yet myself,” Kagome admitted. “And I don’t know why I kissed you, back on that battlefield.”

“Bloodshed paves way for heightened emotions,” Sesshoumaru said. “I did not read any more meaning to the gesture than that.”

Kagome nodded, and fiddled with the end of the sash tying her underkimono in place.

“That’s true. But I think it might’ve been more than that.”

She sighed, tried to gather her thoughts.

“Back over a year ago, Sango was concerned when I told her about my decision to mate you.”

Sesshoumaru inclined his head. “I remember. She did not react agreeably to the news. She told me you deserved better.”

Kagome blinked. “She did? Huh. I didn’t handle the situation well either back then,” she admitted ruefully. “I wasn’t very considerate of her – or Shippou’s or Miroku’s – feelings.”

“You were grieving,” Sesshoumaru said, his tone firm.

“I was. It took most of my energy just to go through the motions.” Kagome shook her head. “Still I feel like an apology is in order.”

Sesshoumaru shrugged his shoulders, his silence a sure a sign of his disagreement.

“In any case, Sango asked me something, before we forged the mating bond. I told her what you’d said when you proposed the mating and how it had brought me comfort. But Sango… She asked me what I would do if I fell in love.”

Sesshoumaru still didn’t speak, but he listened intently, all his attention focused on Kagome.

Kagome’s hands balled into fists in her lap. “I couldn’t give her an answer. Back then, I couldn’t imagine ever falling in love again. But now… it doesn’t feel as impossible.”

“It has only been a year, but you have come a long way,” Sesshoumaru said.

Kagome bit her lip.

For a brief moment, they sat in silence in the flickering light of the paper lanterns.

She was like the shadows on the walls, Kagome thought to herself. Inside her, even now, something was shifting.

It was exhilarating.

It was terrifying.

Then, Sesshoumaru reached out and grasped her hand in his.

Kagome looked up and met his eyes.

“I told you I would not offer you love nor expect it from you when I asked you to be my mate.” His thumb ran slowly across her knuckles. “Because I believed you would not wish to risk your heart again. And because I was unsure if I would ever be capable of such an emotion myself.”

Kagome’s fingers trembled in his.

“I promised you respect and friendship.”

Kagome smiled in spite of herself. “You’ve kept that promise.”   

“I am glad to hear that,” Sesshoumaru replied, his lips quirking in the slightest smile in return. “In the course of the past year, however, you have also earned my admiration. Furthermore, I never expected to come to care for you as much as I have.” He squeezed her hand and held her gaze. “So now, same as you, I am beginning to feel I may have been mistaken.”

Kagome licked her lips. “Where does that leave us, then?”

“Open to possibilities,” Sesshoumaru replied.

Kagome smiled, and turned her hand to link her fingers with his. “I like that,” she said, her heart swelling with warmth. “I like that very much.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Despite all the excitement they’d had, life settled quickly back to its regular routine in the Tsumekiri clan. And although Kagome and Sesshoumaru had come to an agreement that they might be open to romance, their relationship hadn’t considerably changed, even as May bloomed into a hot and humid June.

To Kagome, that was perfectly all right – more of a relief, really. Even if she was starting to open up to the idea of falling in love and though she could tell her feelings for Sesshoumaru were changing, it still had only been a year since Inuyasha had passed.

Granted, it had been a very eventful year, but nevertheless… she wasn’t quite ready to pursue a new romance.

Even though the rainy season had arrived, Kagome and Sesshoumaru went out to the practise yard every morning, and ran through their kata, side by side.

Since the battle, after actually having to wield Tessaiga to defend her life, Kagome had been taking her swordsmanship practise more seriously than before. It had come in handy before, and the world they lived in was far from stable. She’d have to be ready to pick up the sword again, if the circumstances were to require it.

There was no way she was going to let Sesshoumaru fight alone.

Kagome practised with her bow as well. That had become much more interesting, now that her reiki was unsealed. It seemed the guards practising in the yard under Saburou’s watchful eye bowed deeper to Kagome now, though she couldn’t tell if that was because of what she’d done to bring Sesshoumaru back from to monks, or from reclaiming her miko powers. Either way, it had felt a bit weird at first, but now she was mostly accustomed to it.

There was a minor change into their routine, however.

Before, Sesshoumaru and Kagome had gone their separate ways after their morning practice. Sesshoumaru had retreated into his office with Nobuo and Jaken and Kagome had seen to necessary domestic matters with Akie-san.

Now, however, the lines were beginning to blur. Kagome would pop into Sesshoumaru’s study, and give her opinion on the external matters of the clan when asked. After calling in their allied clans and urging them to go to war with her, youkai and inu clan politics no longer seemed as daunting to her as they once had. And even Jaken was inclined to listen to what Kagome had to say, which had come as a positive surprise.

Likewise, Sesshoumaru would seek Kagome throughout the day – to check up on her, she secretly suspected – and on occasion weighed in on the more domestic matters discussed with Akie-san.

They would dine together, then spend the evening together. Often, they would sit on the walkway turned veranda, looking out into the garden. They’d listen to the rain, or watch the fireflies dance in the darkening night. They would drink tea – or even sake, sometimes – and converse in light tones. On occasion, Kagome would read to Sesshoumaru some of the texts Lord Shinobu still kept sending her. Sesshoumaru, in turn, might tell her of the correspondence between the inu clans, keeping her in the loop on all the youkai politics.

And some evenings, they sat in silence and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

 


L---A---L


 

 

It was a warm and sunny day in early September, and Edo was bustling. Wood for the evening’s bonfire was slowly piling in the centre of the village, and Miroku was overseeing the preparations.

Like most matters pertaining to death, the Obon festival was a Buddhist affair.

Kagome nodded to Miroku in passing and continued walking towards the stone stairs rising towards the shrine.

Inuyasha had been intrigued about human festivals, she thought to herself. He’d always been eager to participate – probably because after so many years, he had finally found a place to belong; in Edo, with her.

Sesshoumaru slanted her a glance, his eyebrow arched in a silent question.

Kagome shook her head as she started the familiar climb.

“Inuyasha really liked Obon,” she explained, Sesshoumaru’s presence a comfort at her back as he trailed after her up the stairs.

“And you?” he asked.

Kagome smiled again. Trust him to hear even the things left unsaid.

“I always felt like an outsider, even here in Edo,” she admitted. “Obon is a festival to celebrate ancestral spirits. I never felt right celebrating it; even if I knew my ancestors reaching as far back as the Sengoku era, they’d likely still be alive.”

They reached the top of the stairs.

“Still, Inuyasha and I found a compromise,” Kagome said.

She gathered her supplies: some cloth, incense and a bucketful of water.

“We came up with a tradition of our own.”

Sesshoumaru’s surprise bubbled through their mating bond, when Kagome stopped in front of the gravestone. He had probably expected her to pay her respects at the next grave over – and she would, in due time.

But this was Obon, and the tradition had been hers and Inuyasha’s, so this was respecting his spirit, too.

“We figured,” she spoke softly, starting to clean the grave of her once-rival, “that since I was Kikyou’s reincarnation, it would make her my ancestor.”

Sesshoumaru knelt beside her on the grass, and contemplated the silent gravestone.

“I suppose that is true. I am glad Inuyasha found some way for you to celebrate.”

Warmth flooded Kagome, and she dipped her cloth in the water, starting the scrub the gravestone clean.

“For youkai, the concept of ancestors is a difficult one, when a single generation spans centuries. But we, too, honour our dead. Obon is as good a time as any for that since it is not always easy to notice the passage of time,” Sesshoumaru said.

“I like that.” Kagome glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Using the human holidays to keep track. Like an anchor.”

Sesshoumaru stayed silent.

Kagome kept to her task. She could feel Sesshoumaru’s hesitation through their bond and suspected there was something he still wanted to say. She waited for him to speak – a small reflection of all the patience he had shown to her.

“I know,” he spoke at last, “that as his mate this would likely be your task but… May I take care of him?”

Kagome’s hands stilled. Her throat tightened and her eyes burned.

She had cried enough for a lifetime, but this was different.

He caught the tear rolling down her cheek with the tip of his claw.

“This Sesshoumaru presumed too much,” he said, bowing his head. “Forgive me.”

Kagome shook her head. She flung down the cleaning cloth and turned to cup Sesshoumaru’s cheeks.

“No,” she told him, meeting his eyes. “You do not.”

He frowned at her, displeasure written on his face.

“I made you cry.”

She smiled at him, soft and sad. She run her thumbs down to his jawline in a comforting caress.

“Not all tears are born from grief,” she said. “I’d be happy – very happy – if took care of him.”

His golden eyes softened. The tender look in them echoed another one that Kagome still carried in her heart.

Sesshoumaru grabbed her wrists and gently pulled her hands from his cheeks. He kissed the back of both of her hands before he released them.

He got up, and walked over to the grave next to Kikyou’s. He knelt before it, then started plucking out weeds and clearing out the old ash from burnt incense.

Kagome picked up her own wash cloth again, but snuck glances at Sesshoumaru as they worked.

All the times they had visited his grave together, he had always watched her tend to it. Sometimes, he had helped… But this was the first time he’d taken the task upon himself.

It felt right.

Kagome finished washing Kikyou’s grave. She lit fresh incense, and bowed her head in a prayer.

Down in the village, the sound of drums started, their steady rhythm filling the air like a heartbeat.

Sesshoumaru lit incense and rose. He set his hand on Kagome’s shoulder.

“Ready?”

She smiled up at him. “Yes.”

He pulled her to her feet. She put the cloth and the bucket back in their places, then spared one last look at the two graves.

Kikyou and Inuyasha, resting side by side.

That felt right, too.

Kagome laid her hand on Sesshoumaru’s arm. They walked over to the stairs and paused under the torii arch, looking down into the village. 

The bonfire was lit. The villagers, dressed in their better kimonos, had formed a circle around it. The drum beat a rhythm and the villagers stepped and turned, moving as one through the dance.

The steps might change, but five hundred years from now, people would still gather for the Obon dance.

Kagome drew comfort in that.

Despite death and the teeth of time, some things would last.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

Kagome waited with trepidation as the glory of autumn colours began to fade and the days grew shorter and darker. She remembered too well the depression that had taken over her last winter. That persistent listlessness was something she had no desire to experience again.

As the nature quieted for winter, and the garden outside her rooms grew bleaker, Kagome could feel a familiar gloom at the edges of awareness. She pictured it circling her, looking for a weakness.

Kagome gritted her teeth and carried on.

Then, early December with the wind moving in from the sea carrying a flurry, the world changed overnight.

Kagome stepped out for her morning practice and stopped. She looked at the thick white snow blanketing the ground. She took a few tentative steps and heard it crunch under her feet. The sun peaked through from the clouds and the snowbank glistened with silver.

Kagome smiled at the sight, and went to practise with an extra bounce in her step.

She ran through the kata with her sword. She tried practising with her bow, but her fingers quickly grew numb from the cold.

In the bath house, she found hot water waiting and sank into the tub with a blissful sigh. She soaked in the lovely warmth, grateful that there still were some luxuries to be had even in the Sengoku era.

Mating with Sesshoumaru had definitely come with perks. Kagome stifled a giggle, and sent a quick and silent apology to Inuyasha.

Though, she mused with a tender smile, he’d probably be glad to see her so well taken care of.

Kagome got out of the bath as the water began to cool, and quickly dried herself off and piled on multiple layers of clothing before she braved the cold outside.

The frozen air was like a slap against her cheeks. Kagome had never made the trip from the bath house to the main house so quickly. She made her way along the corridors down into her room, and once again found her needs anticipated – a charcoal brazier had been brought into her room, and was radiating warmth. It wasn’t as effective as the heaters she knew from the modern day, of course… but it was much much better than nothing.

Kagome felt tempted to sit down beside it, but instead veered towards the alcove where Inuyasha’s altar was.

She knelt before it, like many times before. Lit the incense and smiled at the dark purple beads on display.

“It snowed last night,” she told him without preamble. “It’s beautiful outside, but so cold. They take care of me so well here I fear I’ll be completely spoiled in a few more years.”

Kagome’s fingers dug into the fabric of her kosode.

“Still, I miss our little hut every now and then. Our life in Edo was simpler. I’m not saying it was better, or worse from living here in the Tsumekiri… Just different. I think both suit me, in their way. On days like these, though, I really miss the kotatsu. It was so cosy, keeping warm with you in the winter months.”

Kagome paused, tilting her head as a thought gripped her.

“Do you think Sesshoumaru could have a hearth built so we could have a kotatsu?” She shook her head almost as soon as the question tumbled off her lips. “You’re right, that was a stupid question.”

She looked at the subjugation necklace, smiled as she imagined the kind of expression Inuyasha might wear.

Or the kind of a comment he might make.

Kagome’s eyes sparked with amusement.

“I do not have him wrapped around my little finger,” she muttered under her breath.

Silence fell around her. Kagome closed her eyes, inhaled the fragrant incense.

“Goodbye for now,” she told Inuyasha at last. “I’ll talk to you again.”

Kagome stood up and left the alcove. She took a floor cushion and placed it by the brazier, sitting down to bask in its warmth, as the idea of having a kotatsu still buzzed in her brain. It should be too big a project, to make a hole in the floor for a small hearth.

Akie-san announced herself and came in a moment later. She checked the coals in the brazier and asked if Kagome wanted tea.

“Yes please,” Kagome agreed. “And thank you, Akie-san. You are too good to me, it’s like you know what I need before I do.”

Akie-san smiled and inclined her head. “I would not be able to care for the household well if I did not, my lady. I shall be right back with the tea.”

“Thanks again, Akie-san.”

Kagome hummed as Akie-san left the room. Yes, she most definitely would be spoiled. Smiling to herself, she picked a collection of stories Lord Shinobu had sent her. There was a lot of mythology and folklore in the eclectic collection, and not for the first time, Kagome thought how much her grandfather would have loved meeting Sesshoumaru’s.

She enjoyed the tea Akie-san brought her, and was swept away by interesting stories that filled her afternoon.

She didn’t put the collection down, until Sesshoumaru slid open the door.

Kagome looked up and greeted him with a smile. She set the story collection aside and clasped her hands in her lap.

“Hello, stranger. Haven’t seen you since this morning.”

His eyebrow arched, as he crossed the room. “It has been a busy day,” he replied, taking a seat next to her. His golden gaze studied her face. “How have you been?”

“Well, today in particular I’ve been very happy that I agreed to mate you,” she replied with a grin.

Amusement flashed in Sesshoumaru’s eyes. “Indeed?” He took her hands into his, ran his thumbs over her knuckles.

A happy sigh escaped Kagome’s lips at the warmth of his hand. “Yes. Akie-san has been making sure I won’t freeze.”

“I hope my retainers and servants are not your most preferred asset of mine,” he replied, his fingers dancing over the backs of her hands in a slow, teasing caress.

Kagome bit her lip, as goose bumps blossomed up her arms. “I might be persuaded to reconsider.”

“Well then.” Sesshoumaru leaned towards her. “How might this Sesshoumaru persuade you?”

“You could have a hearth built here so I could put up a kotatsu in my room,” Kagome suggested, her voice equal parts breathless and hopeful.

Sesshoumaru blinked, even as his surprise trickled through the mating bond. “If that is what you wish, you may have it.”

Kagome squeezed his hands. “Thank you.”

And then, because her chest was swelling with warmth, and because his face was still bent towards her, only inches away, she leaned in to close the distance.

His lips were warm against hers, and the quick kiss of gratitude she’d intended morphed into something different when he instantly responded to her.

Something languid and lingering and full of hope.

 


L---A---L


 

 

Kagome had been looking forward to ringing in the New Year with Sesshoumaru, but that plan was foiled when Moriyasu appeared at the gates of Tsumekiri deep in the winter.

Kagome felt him before she saw him, recognising the familiar flare of youki.

She slanted a confused glance towards Sesshoumaru, who shrugged, a frown marring his brow.

They waited, curiosity bubbling on both sides of the mating bond.

Finally, the shouji screen slid open and Akie-san, kneeling in the doorway, bowed her head.

“My lord, my lady, Moriyasu-san is here to see you.”

“Send him in,” Sesshoumaru told her.

Moriyasu entered a moment later, and greeted them with a bright smile and a polite bow.

Then, he pulled a folded letter from the breast of his kimono, and handed it over to Sesshoumaru.

Unable to wait quietly, Kagome leaned closer to read the letter Sesshoumaru had carefully pulled open.

It was an invitation to the New Year’s reception at the Mikazuki castle.

“Mother is early this year,” Sesshoumaru commented wryly.

“This year’s reception will be different,” Moriyasu replied, nodding towards the letter.

“Oh,” Kagome gasped, even as Sesshoumaru arched his brow.

She pointed at the letter. “She’s not calling in the retainers – she’s calling in the allied clans!”

“Lady Chiyo felt that we should welcome the New Year by remembering our victory earlier this year,” Moriyasu said. “She has invited everyone who participated in the battle to reclaim the North-eastern clan’s grounds.”

“Sounds like it’ll be a big party,” Kagome commented.

“Will Kagome’s friends be in attendance?” Sesshoumaru asked.

“Yes, I delivered their invitation right before yours and they gladly accepted,” Moriyasu replied.

Kagome’s hand jumped onto Sesshoumaru’s arm and squeezed.

Sesshoumaru’s hand splayed against her upper back. Then, he slanted his stare to Moriyasu.

“Tell mother we will be attending.”

“Wonderful, my lord, Lady Chiyo will be pleased.” Moriyasu bowed his head.

“If you require food or accommodations, Akie-san will provide for you,” Kagome told the kitsune.

“Thank you, my lady, but I will leave straight away and bring a word of your response to Mikazuki.”

Kagome scrambled onto her feet and crossed over to the small desk at the corner. She picked up two sheets of paper and let her gaze sweep over them before she carefully folded both many times over.

“If you don’t mind,” she told Moriyasu, as she knelt down before him and offered him the letters, “you might as well bring these to Lady Mother and esteemed grandfather.”

“Of course, my lady,” Moriyasu said, accepting the letters and securely tucking them into the breast of his kimono. “I will see to it personally that Lady Chiyo and Lord Shinobu will get them.”

“Thank you, Moriyasu.”

Moriyasu bowed one final time, and left the room.

Once alone again, Sesshoumaru’s warm fingers brushed the nape of Kagome’s neck.

“What do you think?” he asked, as Kagome leaned into the touch.

“It’s not how I wanted to celebrate New Year,” Kagome admitted. “I wanted to do what we did last year, have a party with the clan and then…” she peered up at him from under her lashes. “I wanted to welcome the New Year with just the two of us.”

Sesshoumaru slid his hand to cup her cheek.

“We can still do that,” he told her, his deep voice calm and soothing. “We can always slip out of the reception and retire to our rooms early.”

Kagome curled her hand over Sesshoumaru’s. She met his eyes and grinned.

“I’ll hold you to that,” she warned.

Sesshoumaru offered her a smile in return.

“I would expect nothing less,” he said, and leaned in to press a kiss on her forehead.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sesshoumaru stole a quick kiss before he set Kagome down on the stone steps of the Mikazuki castle. Kagome smothered her grin and turned to meet the servant who hurried to greet them.

There was no nervousness this time as she entered the castle by Sesshoumaru’s side. She walked down the corridors with a sure step and her head held high.

And she wasn’t trying to hide behind Sesshoumaru anymore. She felt at ease in her rightful place.

The banquet hall was half-full when they entered. Moriyasu walked down from the front of the room and came to greet them at the door. He bowed politely, his typical kitsune smile flashing, before he addressed them.

“Welcome, Lord Sesshoumaru and Lady Kagome. Let me escort you to Lady Chiyo.”

Sesshoumaru inclined his head, and Kagome fell into step beside him.

Curious, she allowed her gaze to sweep across the room.

This time, the guests’ faces were familiar. They nodded to them as they walked past, some even shouting greetings or raising their sake dishes.

The smile rose easily to Kagome’s lips. How different it felt to take part in the feast, this time around.

Like last year, they stopped before the dais and bowed. Then, they exchanged the formal greeting with Lady Mother, as was customary.

Once again, she welcomed them with a smile and bid them to sit at the seat of honour.

Neither Sesshoumaru nor Kagome were very surprised by that, and sat down gratefully.

Kagome fussed with the hem of the uchikake as she took her seat, spreading it around her the correct way. The garment was new, and an unexpected gift from Sesshoumaru, so she wanted to show it off to its advantage.

Sesshoumaru grabbed the bottle of sake on the tray set up for them and poured some for them both.

“We’re just going to start drinking right away?” Kagome asked, a smile teasing her lips as she accepted the sake dish from Sesshoumaru.

“It is a celebration,” he replied with a shrug. “And the others have already started.”

Kagome followed his gaze, and found Lord Shigetomo sitting across the hall from them, a sake dish in one hand, the other resting on his son’s shoulder.

The sight was sweet and Kagome hoped they would get a chance greet them and catch up with Lord Shigetomo.

She turned back to Sesshoumaru and raised the sake dish in a salute. “Let’s celebrate, then!”

Had they been alone, she was sure he would’ve grinned. As they were out in public, however, Sesshoumaru kept his face impassive – probably out of habit more than anything. But from the warmth radiating through the mating bond, as well as the faint glimmer in his golden eyes, she could tell he was both amused and pleased.

Together, they drank their sake and watched the guests file in.

Kagome perked up the moment Sango and Miroku walked in. Miroku had chosen to attend in his typical monk’s robes, but Sango seemed to have a new kosode, in a very flattering shade of red.

Like all the others, the monk and taijiya followed Moriyasu up to the dais where they exchanged greetings with Lady Mother. Then, they were shown to their designated seats – the ones right next to Kagome and Sesshoumaru.

Kagome reached over and clasped Sango’s hand in greeting as soon as they’d sat down.

“Hi! It’s so good to see you!”

Sango squeezed Kagome’s hand, flashed her a ready smile. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. In a celebratory mood.” Kagome grinned, feeling the vibrations of Sesshoumaru’s silent laughter. “How are you? And the kids?”

“We’re doing well. And the kids are great,” Sango replied.

“I like your new kosode.”

Sango’s cheeks flushed. “It was a gift.” She glanced at her husband. “From Miroku.”

“A little token of my appreciation,” Miroku said, feigning innocence.

“It looks lovely on you,” Sesshoumaru complimented, joining the conversation.

“Thank you,” Sango said. She shared a look with Miroku, then cleared her throat. “It might be a little soon to tell you this, but since we don’t know when we will see you next, we might as well…”

“The news are best shared in person than in a letter, anyway,” Miroku added.

“The news?” Kagome repeated her curiosity piqued.

“My Sango is expecting.”

Once, hearing those words would’ve sent a stab of jealousy, sadness and longing to Kagome’s chest.

But now, sitting next to Sesshoumaru, Kagome squealed.

“That’s great news! I’m so happy for you both!”

“Congratulations,” Sesshoumaru said, his calm and even voice in contrast with Kagome’s excitement.

Sango beamed at them, a little sheepish. “Thank you.”

Miroku was smiling too, his hand wrapped around Sango’s shoulders.

With a rustle of silk, Lady Mother stood up on her dais.

All conversation in the banquet hall quieted, and Kagome and Sesshoumaru turned from Sango and Miroku to regard Chiyo.

“Welcome, friends and allies,” Chiyo spoke, her voice carrying through the hall. “Everyone has arrived, so let us begin our celebration of the past year, of our great victory, and of the New Year and the possibilities it may bring.”

On cue, the doors of the banquet hall opened, and servants walked in, carrying trays of food.

Kagome extended her hand, linked her fingers with Sesshoumaru’s, and settled back into a conversation with Sango as the feast began in earnest.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

It had been a full moon cycle since their last visit to Edo for the anniversary of Inuyasha’s death, and Sesshoumaru had been growing restless. This morning, as the day dawned beautiful and sunny, Kagome had finally put her foot down and ordered him to get out of the house.

Naturally, he’d offered her the token protest, but she’d laughed at him.

“Go patrol or something,” she’d told him and kissed him on the cheek. “Now shoo!”

So Sesshoumaru had done as asked – and was glad for it.

It was a warm day, the air fresh and ripe with the competing floral scents – May was in bloom, the wisteria in their garden resplendent.

And here at last, out in the wilderness, strolling in the dappled sunshine of the forest, he felt a calm settle over him.

Before Kagome had come into his life, he’d regularly been wandering. He’d spent more time away from his clan than with them. He simply couldn’t stand staying put for long.

That, of course, had all changed with Kagome.

She’d been so fragile in the beginning. Teetering on the edge, struggling to hold in her grief even as the dam was already cracking. She’d needed him, so he had stayed by her side, restless or not.

Now, however… Now, she was better.

Changed, here and there, from all she’d been through, but better. She smiled and she laughed, and though the grief still overwhelmed her, those moments were rarer, the sadness duller.

But grief or no, Kagome no longer needed him, that was for certain. She’d proven that well enough – after all she’d done when he’d been taken by those moronic monks, handling the clan by herself for one day was a trifle thing.

And yet, when the restlessness had hit him, he’d been reluctant to leave. Even if he wasn’t needed, he had wanted to stay. She’d been the one to implore him to leave, after seeing how being stuck in the same old routine had started to wear on him.

She’d grown to know him so well, by now she might in some ways know him even better than his mother or Akie-san did.

A pleasant and light fragrance caught Sesshoumaru’s attention, interrupted his thoughts. He followed his nose to a snowbell tree, fully in bloom. The mild wind weaved through the branches, making the clusters of pure white bell-shaped flowers dance above him.

He stared at it, transfixed. It was a lovely sight.

And on the heels of that though, came another: he wished Kagome was here with him, so she could see it as well.

Maybe the next time he had the itch to get away for a while he could take his mate along. After all, it was from his study and the paperwork and the daily grind that he wanted to get away from, not her.

Sesshoumaru nodded to himself.

Yes, he liked that idea. He liked it very much.

For now, though… He stared up at the blooming branches and called on his youki, concentrating it around his feet to form a cloud.

He rose off the ground with a smooth, practiced ease and within a few seconds the flowers were in his reach. With careful but precise flicks of his claws, he gathered several clusters of the delicate white flowers before he let his youki-cloud dissipate.

Sesshoumaru dropped gracefully to the ground and turned back to Tsumekiri.

The walk back was pleasant and quick. He passed through the gate, headed straight towards the house and honed in on his mate’s energy.

He found Kagome by her rooms, sitting on the veranda overlooking the garden and surrounded by flowers.

How appropriate, Sesshoumaru mused to himself, even if he hadn’t planned for it.

Kagome paused in her work and looked up as he stepped into the room.

“Back so soon?” she asked, one eyebrow arching.

Sesshoumaru shrugged. “The walk served its purpose,” he replied, crossing to room to get to her.

He sat down beside her, careful to mind the flowers strewn across the floor around her.

“What a happy coincidence this is,” he said, amusement colouring his voice.

“What’re you talking about?” Kagome asked, a little distracted as she pondered over the selection. Finally, she picked a tall, purple iris and carefully placed it in the vase before her.

“That you should be arranging flowers,” Sesshoumaru answered.

She slanted him a look. “I arrange flowers every week now that there is plenty of material to work with,” she pointed out, choosing next a spring of wisteria.

Sesshoumaru leaned in, and dropped the flowers he’d collected in Kagome’s lap.

“I came across these snowbells and thought you might like them.”

She blinked at the clusters of white bell-shaped flowers in her lap, then looked up at him in surprise.

Her blue eyes were wide and overcome with emotion. When she finally spoke, the words came out in a soft, awed whisper. “You brought me flowers.”

Sesshoumaru shifted, irritated at himself for feeling so self-conscious. “Does that please you?”

A brilliant smile bloomed on her lips, more beautiful than any flower Sesshoumaru had come across.

Carefully, Kagome picked up the heap of snowbells and set it aside on the floor next to all the other flowers she was working with.

Then, she moved closer towards him and reached to clasp his hand. “Yes,” she replied, meeting his eyes. “Thank you, so much.”

She rose to her knees, moved in for a kiss, her lips soft and sweet as they settled against his.

Sesshoumaru’s eyes hooded. Such a simple, almost innocent kiss and already his blood was stirring. He responded in earnest, revelling in the intimacy that had become so familiar. He lifted his hand to cradle the back of Kagome’s neck, his fingers tangling with her silky hair.

Her hands fisted in the front of his kimono as he lightly nipped at her plump bottom lip before deepening the kiss.

Her small moan was music to his ears, the way she pressed closer to him made his body hum.

Sesshoumaru forced himself to ease out of the kiss, before his desire could override his better judgement.

Much as he would love to have his mate stripped out of her kosode and trembling beneath him, he didn’t want to presume too much from her responses to his kiss or overstep.

Kagome sighed and wound her arms around him, letting her head fall to rest against his shoulder. Sesshoumaru held her close and dipped his head to bury his nose in her hair.

He would have to bring her flowers more often.

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

The rain was starting to pound down harder, and Kagome was rapidly becoming drenched. Despite the warm early evening in August, a shiver ran down her spine as her fingers curled on the handle of the bathhouse door.

Do it, she told to herself sternly, her shoulders tense. You made your mind up last night, didn’t you?

Yet, she didn’t move – hesitation made her bite down on her lip, nervousness pinched at her belly.

And then, the silence was broken by Sesshoumaru, his deep voice laden with concern.

“Kagome?” he called from inside the bathhouse.

Kagome bit down a curse. He’d sensed her – and now he was worried.

He’s not gonna do it, Kagome reminded herself. That much had become abundantly clear in the past months.

Which meant it all rested on her shoulders.

Kagome took a deep breath, and slid the door open with a yank.

Water sloshed, as Sessshoumaru sat up straighter in his bath. He frowned as Kagome stepped into the bathhouse, his golden eyes pinning her down.

“Is something amiss?”

Kagome slid the door shut behind her, her fingers trembling only a little. Then, she turned to face him.

“Everything’s fine,” she reassured him – as well as herself.

She fumbled with her obi, undid the knots and pulled it off, peeling away the bulky kosode.

“Kagome?” Sesshoumaru asked again, his voice deeper.

She felt the weight of his gaze on her as she started removing her first underkimono.

Water sloshed again, and Kagome ignored it. She couldn’t look at him yet, or she’d lose her nerve.

The final layer of clothing undone, Kagome folded her clothes on the low bench near the door and stepped deeper into the bathhouse, gooseflesh erupting across her naked skin.

“Kagome, what are you doing?” Sesshoumaru asked.

The words came out a little choked, which made Kagome feel much better.

She bent to pick up a washcloth and a pail.

“I thought I would join you,” she said, starting to scrub herself clean.

At last, she looked at him: a coy side-glance she casted from beneath her lashes. “Unless you mind.”

“Mind?” Sesshoumaru asked, his gaze riveted on the washcloth moving down Kagome’s legs. “You are most welcome to join me.”

A smile bloomed on Kagome’s lips. “Good,” she said.

This was it, Kagome thought to herself, as she finished washing herself.

No more walking around eggshells. No more nights of frustration. 

For so long, they’d both been careful not to cross that one last line they had left – he had probably been restrained by his respect for her, whereas she… She’d been held back by her guilt.

Giving her body to him felt like a betrayal to Inuyasha, which was absurd because her daiyoukai mate already had her heart and because Inuyasha himself had bid Sesshoumaru to take care of her, inadvertently giving his blessing to their union.  

She might always carry a bit of that guilt with her, Kagome surmised. But she wasn’t going to let it hold her back anymore. Not when this was something that she wanted.

And this careful balance between her and Sesshoumaru, always careful not to overstep could not go on forever.

Something had got to give.

Kagome had to square her shoulders, take that one last step and get what she wanted.

She released the breath she’d been holding and walked over to the wooden edge of the bathtub. Sesshoumaru held out his hand and she took it, leaning on his steady strength as she climbed into the tub.

Still holding onto his hand, she eased into the hot water with a content sigh, her legs brushing against his. The rectangle tub was big enough to accommodate them both – although the fit was slightly snug.

Still, for what Kagome had in mind, that didn’t matter.

Meeting Sesshoumaru’s eyes at last, she crossed over to him, until she was kneeling between his parted legs.

She leaned in, pressed a kiss on his jaw, on both of his cheeks, on the indigo crescent moon on his brow. Her cheek slid smoothly against his, as she brought her lips to his ear.

“Turn around.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrows rose in question, but he didn’t resist or argue, simply inclined his head and turned while Kagome scooted away, giving him room.

Finally, he had his back turned to him. Kagome could feel the hum on anticipation in the air.

Water sloshed as she inched closer to him, as she rose onto her knees in the tub.

Her fingers brushed against his scalp, earning a growl in a response that was so resonant it was almost a purr.

“I decided to forgo the comb this time,” Kagome said, her voice a little husky as she started to run her fingers through his hair with slow methodical precision.

“Good,” Sesshoumaru replied, his voice gruff. “To what do I owe this courtesy?”

“Your patience,” she said, scooting closer as her fingers combed his wet, silky hair. “Your kindness,” she continued, her knees brushing against his buttocks.

Slowly, she began to massage his scalp.

“Because I wanted to,” she confessed at last, and that was the truth beneath it all.

For a while, they hovered on the edge, lost in the moment.

Then, Kagome braved herself to take leap and leaned in.

She pressed a kiss to the side of Sesshoumaru’s throat.

He growled and turned his head, capturing her lips.

Time lost its meaning as Kagome allowed herself to succumb to the sensations: the heat of his naked skin against hers, warming her more than the bath water did; the silky wet texture of his hair, still tangled between her fingers; the insistency of his lips as they moved against hers, the boldness of his tongue as it explored her mouth, coaxed her to respond in kind.

After an eternity, he pulled away, turned around in the tub, and wrapped his arms around her, his hands spanning the small of her back. His golden gaze was heated but serious as he met her eyes.

“Are you sure?”

Holding his gaze, she untangled her hands from his hair, slid them over his shoulders, let them travel down his chest, ghost across his abdomen, tease their way over his hipbones until they finally found their prize.

Her eyes hooded, her lips parted, and the answer came out breathless but firm.

“Yes.”

 


L---A---L


 

 

 

Kagome lit the incense and bowed her head in a prayer as the fragrant smoke curled towards the grey April sky.

She looked up and smiled at the weathered characters, carved on the gravestone in a vertical script.

“Hello, Inuyasha,” she spoke softly. “It’s been another year.”

Amusement flickered on her face, before she continued more cheerfully: “You might notice something different about me this time. I hope you’re happy for me. For me and Sesshoumaru.”

She slanted a glance towards her current mate, who was keeping a polite distance, to allow her and Inuyasha a semblance of privacy.

“When Obon comes this year, Miroku will hold a memorial service for you here in Edo, since it’s been three years,” Kagome continued. “I’m sure that will be lovely. Everyone will be gathered around to remember you.”

Emotion swelled then, tightening her throat. Kagome fell silent, and absent-mindedly toyed with her hair. It was almost the same length now, than it had been when she had cut it.

Funny, how time passed.

How these three years had gone by.

She thought back to the moment she’d sat in this very same spot, burying her braided hair in the ground so a part of her could always be with Inuyasha.

It felt like yesterday. The grief still found her in odd moments, the memories still sometimes drowned out the present for a fleeting moment.

It felt like forever ago. So much had changed, she had been through such a journey.

She wasn’t the same as the girl who had cut her hair back then. And that was all right, that was how it was supposed to be.

Because life went on, and so did people.

Thank you, she spoke to Inuyasha in her mind, her fingers caressing the kanji spelling out his name, for making Sesshoumaru promise to take of me. With him, I’ve come to learn that love can grow in small moments over time.

It’s a different kind of love than the one we shared… she smiled softly at the gravestone. But it can be just as sweet, just as strong.

She pressed her palm against the stone.

“You paved the way for me to be happy again,” she said, her voice trembling with gratitude. “Thank you.”

Kagome bowed her head, then moved to get up, only to discover she couldn’t maneuver herself past the rather awkward pose on all fours. She grimaced.

“Sesshoumaru?” she called out, her voice laced with frustration. “Could you give me a hand?”

Sesshoumaru walked over and gently helped her up.

Kagome groaned and rubbed her heavily swollen belly.

“I am so ready to pop this baby out,” she complained.

Sesshoumaru shook his head, but his lips twisted into a wide grin.

“It is only a few more weeks,” he reminded her. “The time will pass quicker than you think.”

“So says the youkai,” Kagome griped, but flashed him a quick smile. “I think you’re right – as always. The past three years feel like a blur.”

“Some times in life are more eventful than others,” Sesshoumaru commented.

“That’s true,” Kagome murmured. “And something tells me we’ll be having very busy times ahead.”

Sesshoumaru’s hand joined to cover Kagome’s, his long fingers splaying against her belly.

He wound his arm around Kagome’s shoulders, and faced the gravestone of his half-brother. Compelled by the sight, and the mate standing by his side, he repeated the promise he’d made years ago.

“I will take care of her as long as I live.”

Kagome nudged his side. “You’d better live long, or I’ll never forgive you.”

Sesshoumaru laughed, and leaned in to press a kiss on Kagome’s temple. “I shall try my very best then.”

“Good.” Kagome looked up at him and smiled, gently caressing the swell of her belly.

Her heart, once so terribly broken, was full of love.

 

 

Chapter Text

At first, Sesshoumaru hadn’t wanted to resume the usual routine of the morning practice so soon. For one, it did not feel right to run through the usual exercise without Kagome.

The bigger reason, though, was that his instincts insisted he rather hover on his mate’s bedside – but Kagome had grown irate of him, going so far as accusing him of fussing.

Such a mortal insult coupled with the way the young had been badgering him endlessly for their training to resume had persuaded him in the end.

Now, standing out in the practice yard, Sesshoumaru was glad he had given in. Yukimaru’s golden eyes – a mirror image of his own – were so serious in their concentration they made him look older than his actual years. He was so focused in the practise, that even his silver-white hanyou ears lay still atop his head for once. The boy brought down the practice sword over and over again, the movements a little choppy still.

But that didn’t matter. His moves would smooth over time, and he was only five years old.  Right now Sesshoumaru’s main concern was to teach him the correct stance and how to hold a sword, anything more elaborate could wait.

Kagome would have preferred to let Yukimaru grow a little older before the weapons training, but the boy had been too eager to follow in the footsteps of his father – and his older sister, so Sesshoumaru had relented and brought him along to the practice yard.

Sesshoumaru’s gaze moved to Mizuki, who was fluidly running through her kata. Though hanyou, she moved with grace of a full-blooded youkai. Sesshoumaru couldn’t have been more proud. And even though she had gained her colouring from him, as Yukimaru had, seeing Mizuki with the sword made Sesshoumaru think of her mother.

A flare of youki interrupted the moment of his fatherly pride, and Sesshoumaru’s attention snapped towards the skies.

His young, too, had stopped practising and stood alert now.

As the silver-white dog demon landed lightly on the plains outside Tsumekiri’s gates, Yukimaru’s practice sword clattered down. The boy started running towards the gate. His sister likewise abandoned her practice sword and started towards the gate.

Sesshoumaru shook his head and followed after them.

At the gates of his clan, he met his mother.

Chiyo had Yukimaru up in her arms, propped against her hip, her free arm wrapped around Mizuki’s shoulders.

She forewent all the greetings, and the first thing she said to him was about his mate.

“How is Kagome?” she asked, starting to walk towards the main building.

“She is well,” Sesshoumaru replied, falling into a step beside her. “I take it that you wish to see her?”

“Her and my newest grandpup, yes.”

Yukimaru perked up in her arms, but Sesshoumaru silenced him with a look. For once, he wished to see his mother surprised.

Mizuki caught the exchange and grinned.

They made small talk as they walked towards Kagome’s rooms, Chiyo asking Yukimaru and Mizuki how they were doing. Sesshoumaru was telling how well the young were progressing with their respective weapons training, when they finally came to the door.

Sesshoumaru glanced at his mother and then slid the shouji screen open, gesturing his mother to step in.

Chiyo strode in and set Yukimaru down.

Kagome was sitting up on her futon, greeting them all with a brilliant smile.

“Lady Mother, I’m glad you came.”

“Of course I did,” Chiyo replied briskly.

Then, she stopped short, staring at the newborn Kagome was holding.

Delighted to see his mother stunned speechless, Sesshoumaru walked over to his mate and sat down next to her.

Yukimaru and Mizuki followed him, crossing the room quickly while stifling giggles. They took seats by Kagome’s futon, Yukimaru mimicking his sister’s perfect seiza

Kagome looked up at Chiyo. “Come and greet them.”

Chiyo walked over and carefully lowered herself onto the tatami.

“You did not tell me there were two,” she said at last.

“We wanted it to be a surprise,” Kagome replied with a grin.

Sesshoumaru reached to take one sleepy newborn from Kagome, and held her out to his mother.

“This is Kirie.”

“And this is Sumire,” Kagome said, holding out the other.

“Greetings, my grandpups,” Chiyo murmured. She pressed her nose against Kirie’s forehead, then against Sumire’s.

When she pulled back, Sumire’s eyes opened and the black triangle ears twitched as she regarded her grandmother solemnly.

“Oh, they have Kagome’s eyes,” Chiyo breathed, a smile curving her lips. “How lovely.”

“They are precious,” Kagome said, smiling down at her daughter.

“This will make my proposition all the easier then,” Chiyo spoke.

Sesshoumaru’s eyes narrowed. “What proposition?”

“Since it seems you are not running out of pups any time soon, having birthed four in the past ten years, I thought you might spare one for me.”

“What?”

Chiyo’s gaze flicked to her eldest grandpup.

“I would like to adopt Mizuki and appoint her as the heir of Mikazuki.”

Silence followed the declaration, broken only by Mizuki’s sharp gasp.

“What would that mean, exactly?” Kagome asked, after sharing a long look with Sesshoumaru.

“I was hoping Mizuki would stay with me at Mikazuki for a season each year so that I might teach her and prepare her for the role,” Chiyo answered, her voice calm. “Once she would become of age, she would move to Mikazuki castle permanently.”

Sesshoumaru set his hand on Kagome’s shoulder.

Kagome shifted Sumire into the crook of her arm, and reached out to clasp Mizuki’s hand.

“I think the decision is hers,” Kagome said, meeting Chiyo’s eyes.

Mizuki shifted, as the attention of the adults focused on her.

She glanced at her parents and her grandmother and bit her lip – a nervous gesture she’d inherited from Kagome.

“I… I would like to think about it,” she said hesitantly, with a rising intonation that turned the sentence into a question.

“Of course.” Chiyo flashed a smile. “Take as long as you need, dear pup.”

“Perhaps you could try it out? Visit Mikazuki on your own for a week or two and see how you feel about it?” Kagome suggested, her tone gentle.

“That is a splendid idea,” Chiyo said. “What do you think, Mizuki?”

“Do I have to go now?” Mizuki asked, eyeing at the newborn pups out of the corner of her eye.

“You can go whenever you are ready,” Sesshoumaru said.

Mizuki nodded. “I think I would like that, then.”

“Good. Now that this is settled, may I finally hold my new grandpups?”

Kagome laughed and passed Sumire to Chiyo. Sesshoumaru handed out Kirie a moment later.

As Chiyo cooed at the little ones, Kagome leaned to rest against Sesshoumaru’s shoulder. Mizuki went around the futon to sit beside Chiyo and reached for Kirie’s small fist. Yukimaru scooted closer to Kagome. He’d decided he was too big for cuddles, now that he had a training sword and everything. Still, he leaned in, his small triangular dog-ears twitching, when Kagome petted his hair.

Sesshoumaru wrapped his arm around his mate and pressed a kiss to her temple.

He looked around, and decided that this must have been the true measure of happiness: to sit on a peaceful day in his home and to be surrounded by family.

Of course, there was one who was missing, but even so, his presence lingered. He was in their thoughts and in their hearts, and hopefully he was looking at them right now in the afterlife.

Sesshoumaru wished the sight would make his brother as happy as it made him.

 

The End.