Kagome heard a scream so loud it left her ears ringing.
She looked to InuYasha but was surprised at the lack of emotion on his face. There was no doubt in her mind that he'd heard the scream, too—it was too loud for him to ignore, especially with his sensitive hearing—but InuYasha didn't seem inclined to seek the source out.
Then again, when did InuYasha ever go rushing into trouble that didn't directly involve Naraku, Kikyo, or his own half-brother?
She shifted her bow and notched an arrow as she rushed off towards the source of the scream.
"K'gome!" InuYasha's bellow followed after her, but she ignored it as he screamed for her to come back. She wasn't going to turn her back on someone who needed help and that was that.
Of course, it wasn't in InuYasha's nature to let her go on her own anymore than it had been in hers to go try and help. Though they were no longer a couple, InuYasha still seemed to think he had rights to her that he didn't. They'd slept together exactly once, not long after she'd returned, and it had been the most miserable experience of her life. In the heat of his passion, he'd called her Kikyo and it had been loud enough that it had killed both her passion and their relationship.
She raced on, ignoring the hanyo's shouts for her to stop, and found herself in the middle of a clearing. Before her lay the bloodied and torn body of a beautiful yokai, though it was hard to make out her coloring as she lay in pools of her own blood. Before her was a large bird yokai currently tearing off a strip of her flesh to eat.
Kagome didn't even stop to think. She let the arrow fly and it found its home in the yokai's breath. The yokai staggered and she managed to shoot and hit it a second time as the bird yokai began to charge her, blood from its meal spilling from its lips as skin caught on its teeth.
InuYasha reached her then and made quick work of the yokai with his sword.
"You're always rushing towards trouble," he complained as he slid his sword back into his sheathe. "C'mon, K'gome. We're leaving. Ain't much we can do; she's already dead."
Kagome looked at the beautiful yokai and her heart went out to the female. "Not before we bury her," she said, giving InuYasha a mutinous expression as she waited for him to protest.
He did, but she glared and finally he seemed to accept she wasn't going to change her mind. He quickly dug a hole and before she could try and help, he lifted the woman to drop her in the hole.
That's when she heard a quiet cry.
"Stop!" she said as he dropped the woman’s body in the hole. He stopped, hands full of dirt to bury her, as she wondered if the yokai was somehow alive. After all, they had advanced healing abilities so it wasn't outside the realm of believability. She rushed over and shoved InuYasha aside as she inspected the woman for signs of life. To her disappointment, there were none.
She sighed but before she pulled back, she noticed the woman's abdomen moving. Curious, she pulled aside the lapel of what had once been a very fine kimono and gasped.
There, tucked against the woman's breast, was a tiny baby, no more than a few days old. She reached out, ignoring InuYasha's attempts to pull her back. "How do you think he managed to survive?" she asked, cuddling the baby to her chest. He'd managed to escape uninjured, though his mother's blood had soaked into the bottom of his wrap.
"Keh. Hell if I know. But without her, he's as good as dead anyway." InuYasha tried to take the baby from her.
Kagome pulled back as she looked down at the baby. He looked at her, cooing softly, as if he knew she was his only chance at survival. His hair was as black as her own but his eyes were an inhuman violet color and he had the pointed ears that practically screamed that he was full-blooded—though what sort of yokai he was, she didn't know. There were two vertical darker blue stripes on each of his bottom lids, one a little longer than the other, that touched his plump cheeks, and a third that lined his top lid. He didn't look like any yokai she knew, not that that likely would have meant much to her anyway. She didn't know a lot of yokai to start with.
The clothing he'd been wrapped in was high quality silk, which told her far more than his looks did. He'd come from wealth and money, though that hadn't stopped him from losing his mother.
"Where do you think his dad is? Do you think he's alive somewhere?" She looked around but saw no signs of any other, living or dead. She wasn't really listening to InuYasha. "If so, we should take him to his father, right?"
InuYasha again tried to take the child from her but when she refused, he sighed, loudly. "The runt's father's dead, K'gome. No pack yokai would leave his mate to give birth without protection. If she's dead, he is, too."
Kagome looked down at the baby who yawned widely, showing off perfect pink gums. "Then he's coming with me," she said, making the decision quickly. If he had nowhere else to go, she'd look after him. She wasn't sure she was ready for a baby—but then who was?
At the very least, he needed her.
"No." InuYasha took one look at the yawning baby in her arms and snorted.
"What do you mean, no?" Kagome glowered at her friend. "I don't recall asking for your permission, InuYasha."
"Don't matter if you did." InuYasha glared right back. "I said no and that's that. I'm not taking in someone else's brat."
Kagome's ire rose. "You don't have to," she said pointedly, stomping past the hanyo.
"Like hell." InuYasha chased after her, unwilling to let her have the last word. Not that that was anything new. "It's not your choice to make. I'm the head of the household here and I said no and that's it. Put him down and let's head home before more yokai show up."
Kagome stopped short at that. "Head of the household?" she repeated darkly as he moved to block her from taking another step forward. "I don't remember marrying you, InuYasha, and you certainly aren't my father. You don't have to like it and that's fine, but you are not stopping me. Now move before I purify your ass."
She stormed past him, ignoring him completely as she tucked the baby against her breast. He immediately tried to nurse, to Kagome's shock, and she realized he was likely hungry. "I don't have any food for you," she told him regretfully, shifting him away from her breasts, "but I promise you'll have something to eat soon."
"K'gome!" InuYasha caught up with her again but he didn't try and take the baby from her. "Listen, I meant what I said. You don't know how to raise him and yokai children are different from human children. Without his parents, he's not going to make it. Please, K'gome, put him down. I don't want to see you hurt when he dies."
She whirled to glare at her friend, irritated by his lack of faith. "Maybe I don't know what to do with him but I know several yokai who might be able to help. I am not going to leave him to die, InuYasha."
InuYasha finally gave up, though he was quick to remind her any time the baby screamed all the way home that she could always hand the baby to him to take care of.
Kagome pretended not to hear him.
Hikaru—Kagome had named the baby just minutes after she'd realized he was alone in the world—wouldn't take milk from any of the nursing human women in the village. From the moment she stepped into the boundaries of the village by the well, he'd become moody and irritable.
After just one miserable, sleepless night in the village, Kagome had left, intent on finding Koga and Ayame to help. At least when she'd left the village, he'd finally stopped wailing nonstop, though his whimpers tore at her more than the screaming had.
Instead of reaching the wolves, however, not long after she'd left the village, InuYasha an annoying shadow at her heel, she found Sesshomaru.
He took one look at the child and tried to walk past as if he hadn't seen her at all, but Kagome stopped him. "Sesshomaru? I—I'd like to ask you a question."
Sesshomaru looked down at her and kept going.
"Please! I really need your help!" she shouted, rushing after him. "Hikaru won't stop crying and—"
"Keh. Give it up, K'gome," InuYasha said, tucking his hands into his sleeves. "That cold bastard wouldn't know the first thing about babies. Ain't like a woman would even want to touch the asshole in the first place."
That stopped Sesshomaru and she had the feeling he was going to help to prove a point, not because he had any desire to listen.
She quickly explained how she'd found Hikaru and his fussiness and refusal to eat.
Sesshomaru listened, a blank expression on his face. When she finished, he said simply, "He imprinted himself on you."
She blinked. That was the last thing she'd expected him to say. "What?" she asked stupidly.
Sesshomaru immediately looked annoyed. "He is inuyokai," he explained slowly, as if she was too stupid to understand. "With his parents dead, he would normally bond to another pairing in his pack. Often, it is another family member but if there is none, he would bond to the alpha pair. He seems to have recognized you as the alpha female."
Kagome looked over at InuYasha, her mind drawing a conclusion she wasn't sure she'd like. "Then he sees InuYasha as the alpha male?" she asked cautiously, unsure who would take the news worse: Kagome herself or InuYasha.
"No." He seemed to sense the next question because he sighed and continued, "You are not his mate. The reason for the child's insecurity is that instinct tells him his alpha is missing. Without a protector, his mother cannot keep him safe. And without safety, he will not thrive. It is best if you abandon him, priestess. The child will not live. His yoki is too weak."
"Like hell," she ground out, tired of both of them telling her to abandon Hikaru. "I just have to convince him he's safe and he'll eat, right? That's not hard to do."
Sesshomaru raised a brow. "You have to convince his instincts," he reminded her though he wasn't sure why he bothered. The priestess had her mind quite made up, though he found it curious that she was so willing to take in one of his own kind to raise as her own. "He can tell by your scent that you are alone."
She looked down at Hikaru as he wiggled in her hold. His tiny fists raised up as if he was trying to tell the daiyokai himself that he was strong enough to live, though the yoki within him was so faint that Sesshomaru could barely sense it. The child was not far from death, no matter how animated he seemed. "I'm not abandoning him," she ground out though her hands were gentle as she snuggled him close. "Tell me what I have to do, Sesshomaru. I'll do anything."
Sesshomaru considered the situation. It was odd enough to capture his interest, something that was difficult to do as of late. He found himself curious—the priestess claimed she'd do anything, but as the child in her arms grew, would she still be as accepting?
His eyes dropped down to meet the child's. Could a child with no pack, no parents, and no future truly have any hope at all of thriving?
"There are situations where the alphas in a pack are not mated," he said, considering the odd pair and knowing it would rile his brother if he agreed to help. "It is possible a pack tie with a strong alpha would give him the reassurance he seeks and access to what he needs to grow strong and healthy."
He sensed his brother's anger and smiled. The hanyo hadn't marked or taken the priestess and Sesshomaru knew he had no interest in raising the child. It was obvious from InuYasha's scent alone that he wanted the priestess but disliked the child and just as obvious that the priestess had no interest at all in the hanyo.
"So how do I do that?" she asked, drawing his thoughts back to the situation at hand.
"This one will scent mark you as pack," he said, decision made as his half-brother glared. "But this one will need to keep close to ensure the child's yoki grows. It is too fragile to be left alone and will need constant bolstering from this one's yoki if the child is to live."
"Okay," she agreed quickly and he sensed the desperation leaking through her scent. "But for how long?"
He considered the question, weighing how much to reveal to her. Finally, he said, "Until the child is old enough for the yoki to sustain itself." That didn't happen until most inuyokai were adolescents but somehow that didn't bother him. It gave him something to do and, he realized now, he was bored enough to latch onto it. Though he'd never admit it aloud, Kagome and the child had saved him from boredom now that he'd surpassed his father.
"Come," he said, beckoning the girl forward. "This one will take you to his shiro where the child will be safe."
She didn't hesitate as she stepped forward, ignoring how InuYasha screamed at her to stay back, and as he'd known she would, she stepped onto his cloud and let him take her and the child away from the hanyo.
As soon as they’d arrived in his shiro, Sesshomaru found Hikaru a inuyokai wet nurse and, with his reassurance, Hikaru finally began to nurse.
Kagome sat in the room with the wet nurse, her arms suddenly bereft. She knew she couldn’t feed the child—she had no milk and no other way to sustain him while he was so young—but a part of her resented the need for a wet nurse.
She already loved Hikaru so much she couldn’t help but feel like his mother. She couldn’t quite quell the fear that Hikaru would prefer the wet nurse to Kagome herself.
After all, the wet nurse, Sayori, was mated and had a daughter of her own, not much older than Hikaru. Sayori had everything Sesshomaru told her a young inuyokai child needed.
But every time Hikaru finished nursing, he would turned away from Sayori’s breast and whine for Kagome to come get him. And every time he did, Kagome was secretly relieved.
After a few weeks, her anxiety lessened, though she was by no means secure in her position as his mother.
Sesshomaru maintained his scent mark weekly and she’d grown used to the nuzzling feel of him against her neck whenever he did. It never took long and since it was for Hikaru, she pushed her discomfort away.
Still, she never thought InuYasha would pursue her after she’d left him the way she had. But she should have, she reminded herself. InuYasha wasn’t known for giving up.
”Lady Kagome, you’ve been summoned to the lord’s hall.” The servant didn’t move from his place on the floor, keeping his forehead pressed to the wood as he spoke.
The subservience of Sesshomaru’s staff made her uncomfortable, no matter how Sesshomaru explained that it was her due as a member—however temporarily—of his pack. As he had no other adults in the pack, and certainly no other adult females, she was the alpha female by default.
”Thank you,” she murmured, hoping the servant would get up. She rose, cuddling a sleeping Hikaru to her, and was once again relieved that she’d held her ground and refused to give up wearing her priestess garb. The ceremonial clothing women wore in this era was just too much for her to ever be comfortable in.
”Ah, my lady—” the servant called after her but she ignored him. Likely he intended on lecturing her about the propriety of bringing her son to the hall and she had no intention of listening.
If she didn’t hear him, she could pretend she didn’t know it was wildly inappropriate.
She made her way towards Sesshomaru’s grand hall quickly, worried her hanyo friend might have already started a fight. She slid open the door and stepped into the hall and then stopped as she started at the sight of InuYasha brandishing his sword in front of his brother.
“I mean it,” InuYasha growled, glaring at Sesshomaru. “The brat’ll be fine with you so I’ll take K’gome and leave.”
Sesshomaru’s golden gaze flickered to meet hers for a moment before he returned to meet InuYasha’s heated eyes. “It is not your place to demand anything of this one,” Sesshomaru returned, his tone calm and his expression flat. “The priestess desires to be with this one, InuYasha. She has chosen the child over you.”
Kagome winced. She still loved InuYasha and suspected she always would. Sesshomaru’s words pained her and made her feel like she’d abandoned her friend.
“Like hell she did.” InuYasha snorted as he raised his sword a little higher. “That damn woman just feels responsible for everything that crosses her path. She didn’t choose nothing; she can’t help herself. But now that she knows he’s safe with you, she’ll leave him and come back to me.”
InuYasha was belligerent but that didn’t lessen her own feelings. It wasn’t her intention to betray him, but he was right: she hadn’t been able to stop herself from wanting to help Hikaru even before she’d adopted him as her own.
And yet, even knowing all of that, her guilt was almost as strong as the love she felt for Hikaru.
Why can’t he understand? she thought wistfully. Why won’t he stay and help?
InuYasha likely couldn’t, she admitted to herself. He’d never been paternal, even with Shippo, and he’d never really had a father figure or role model.
“InuYasha,” she spoke up before Sesshomaru could, “you are important to me.”
InuYasha shot his brother a triumphant look.
”But so is Hikaru,” she finished, mentally willing her friend to understand.
InuYasha’s ears flattened as he put away his sword to glower at her. “He’s just a kid, K’gome. He ain’t gonna remember who took care of him. ‘Sides, he’s yokai and you don’t know the first thing about caring for him. The bastard does.”
He folded his arms across his chest and his expression dared her to argue.
Hikaru whimpered and she looked down for a moment to check on him. With a sigh of relief, she realized he was still asleep.
”Sesshomaru has been a great help so far,” Kagome agreed, “but he’s just helping me out. Hikaru is my responsibility, not his.”
”Keh. Shows what you know.” InuYasha shoved his hands in his sleeves. “By takin’ in the runt and acceptin’ him as pack, Sesshomaru as good as adopted the runt himself.”
Kagome looked over at Sesshomaru to gauge the truthfulness of InuYasha’s words but the daiyokai remained impassive.
”InuYasha.” Kagome sighed. “I’m staying, okay? You can either stay here and help—”
InuYasha snorted in disgust.
”—Or you can leave without me,” she finished.
”If you choose to stay, InuYasha, remember that you are our honorable father’s son, not mine,” Sesshomaru broke in. “You will be expected to train and earn your keep in the manner of many second sons. Perhaps,” he allowed, his tone haughty, “you may even finally honor our father’s great lineage.”
InuYasha bristled but to her surprise, he held his tongue. “Fine,” he agreed, “but I’m only staying ‘til the wench comes to her senses.”
Kagome hid a sigh. She was too mentally exhausted to continue a fight InuYasha had no intention of letting her win.
”Take the hanyo to the barracks,” Sesshomaru said, waving some of his servants forward. He sniffed delicately and added, “Ensure he is bathed and made presentable for training.”
“Keh. Like you’d look any better after a week of travel, bastard.” InuYasha snorted as he followed the servants out of the room.
Kagome turned to Sesshomaru. “Thank you,” she said quietly. She wasn’t sure what she was thanking him for, but she had the feeling he was looking for acknowledgement.
He inclined his head. “The child is doing better,” he said, observing the baby in her arms. “He has put on weight.”
Kagome beamed, pleased he’d noticed. “He has,” she said, holding Hikaru out for further observation. “He’s even beginning to communicate. Just whines and babbles,” she added quickly, aware Hikaru was too young to communicate meaningfully in words, “but it’s a good start.”
”Hnn.” Sesshomaru’s eyes left Hikaru and met her own. “Young inuyokai often communicate thus until they have matured enough to use words.”
”Oh.” Kagome was briefly astonished but then remembered her own brother. Sota had a babbling phase as a baby but their mother had been convinced she’d understood what some of his babbles had referred to, like when he was hungry or wanted love. “I’m just happy he’s healthy,” she added lamely.
”Hnn.” Sesshomaru’s gaze left hers. “You should take the child back, priestess. He requires your attention.”
Just then, the pungent smell reached her own nose and it wrinkled instinctively as she agreed.
”Don’t be too hard on InuYasha, Sesshomaru,” she said, turning to leave. “He’s all bluster but I’m sure he’s worried in his own way.”
Sesshomaru didn’t reply but she had the feeling he would think on her words as she left the hall and returned to her own room.
Kagome sat in the garden, Hikaru snuggled up and dozing in her arms. She was convinced some exposure to sunlight was as important for him as it was for humans and he did seem to be doing better these last few days since she'd started taking him out.
It also got her away from InuYasha's overwhelming presence. He wasn't allowed in the pack wing or the attached private gardens so she often took to relaxing here after dinner in the waning hours of daylight. It was the only time of day InuYasha had free and he'd been relentless in his determination to convince her to change her mind.
Her comfort wasn't the only reason she'd been avoiding InuYasha's lectures lately. Hikaru had taken to whining in InuYasha's presence, as if he somehow knew he wasn't wanted by the hanyo, and often Hikaru would resist her attempts to quiet him back down. The last episode he'd had, it had taken Sesshomaru to calm him back down and even then, he'd looked ready to cry when InuYasha had opened his mouth to continue the discussion.
She knew InuYasha meant well; she'd die well before Hikaru was full-grown, but she couldn't bring herself to think that far in advance. She didn't want to abandon him, though she knew her own mortality would leave her no choice.
Kagome wiped a tear away as she snuggled Hikaru close as her son whimpered.
"He is responding to your emotions," Sesshomaru said, his voice low as he stepped into the gardens. "You must learn to control them better for the child's sake."
"Right." She sniffled, feeling guilty. "What brings you here, Sesshomaru?"
"It is time to renew the scent mark." Sesshomaru approached her with the same air of nonchalance as he always did. He took Hikaru from her, brushing his cheek against her son's to settle Hikaru before renewing the mark. "His yoki is growing stronger."
He handed Hikaru back to her.
"He'll be fine, right?" she asked, voicing one of her biggest fears. "What happened to him... It won't damage his yoki or power later on, right?"
Sesshomaru studied the child in her arms. "It is too soon to tell," he said, his expression flat as her own fell. "However, you have cared well for the child and he shows no other ill-effects from his early trials. It is possible it may have no effect on him whatsoever. After all," he sniffed, "this one's yoki is the strongest in the west and has done much to strengthen the child's own."
His arrogance was slowly becoming normal to her. She didn't even blink at his words, instead finding the reassurance in them that she was sure he intended. "Does mine need to be renewed as well?" she asked, remembering how he often renewed hers when he renewed Hikaru's, though he didn't always do so.
She wasn't fond of the experience and suspected he wasn't, either. He always took great care to keep as much distance between them as possible and any physical contact was kept to a bare minimum.
It was just as discomforting for her. She didn't love Sesshomaru and though everyone in the shiro saw her as the alpha female of his pack, she had no feelings for him besides gratitude for helping Hikaru. And without any real affection between them, his scent-marking just made her feel all the more like she didn't belong.
His eyes dropped to her right shoulder and she saw him subtly scent the air. "It has grown fainter." He looked lost in thought. "You are an adult female; it shouldn't weaken on you as quickly as it does on the child who is constantly growing. It lasts but days on him but should last twice as long, if not more so, on you. Perhaps it is your reiki that purifies the scent away."
Her eyes widened. "It shouldn't," she protested. "I haven't used it once since I took Hikaru in. It's been dormant within me so it shouldn't be purifying any scents away—and I'm not even sure reiki can purify scent in the first place. It wasn't really designed for that."
"Hnn." He continued to stare at her shoulder as if it would somehow tell him the answer he sought.
"You won't find the answer there, Sesshomaru," she said, wondering where her daring came from. She thought she saw his lips twinge as he looked up towards her face.
"Perhaps not." He held out a hand and she let him pull her to her feet so he could renew the mark.
He drew her to her feet and then onto her tiptoes to compensate for their height difference. His cheek made its way to the usual place on her right shoulder and she forced herself to stand still as he renewed the mark. He lingered a little longer this time, as if willing it to hold.
"If that does not hold, this one may need to consider an alternative," he said as he pulled away.
She thought she understood what he wasn't saying—that he was tired of renewing the mark so often and wanted to seek another alternative. Her nose wrinkled as she thought of all of the ways dogs in her time scent-marked things, though she couldn't imagine Sesshomaru enacting any of them with her.
Instead, to distract herself, she asked, "What all does an alpha female do?"
He blinked. For the first time in their acquaintance, he looked visibly surprised. "Why do you ask?"
She shrugged, trying not to let on how she felt. Sesshomaru dealt with emotions about as well as Hikaru did—without the crying. "I like taking care of Hikaru, but right now he doesn't need much and I'm used to being busy, I guess."
"You wish to act as the alpha female?" He spoke each word carefully.
Kagome raised a brow. "Aren't I already doing that, Sesshomaru?" She indicated Hikaru with her free hand. "And besides, everyone already thinks I am, anyway, right?"
"Hnn." He was silent for a moment and then said, "If that is what you wish."
She nodded, relieved that she'd finally have something to do. Before she'd returned to this time, she'd alternated between studying and helping her family in her own era and being useful as a priestess and shard-hunter in this one. Now that the jewel was gone, and her powers were no longer needed, she'd lost her sense of purpose.
"Very well." He inclined his head. "Inuyokai are not like most yokai. The alpha pair rules the pack and their territory as a pair. If you choose to accept this role in full, you will be expected to do the same and assist with this one's patrols and other duties of a lord. This will include seeing the shiro properly supplied and maintaining adequate and appropriate supply logs."
From his tone, he expected her to back down and she could guess why. Most women in this era, yokai or not, couldn't do much in that regard without a lot of training first.
Kagome shrugged. "I'm educated, Sesshomaru. I know how to read, write, and do math. It doesn't sound too hard."
This time, he hid his surprise more quickly. "The shiro will also expect you to relocate your lodgings. You could hardly be seen as alpha from the other side of the pack wing."
She knew her room were on the other end of the shiro and hadn't been surprised when Hikaru and she had been moved into a room so far away from Sesshomaru's own. It would be inconvenient to move now that she was settled but then again, she doubted she'd be allowed to do any of the actual moving anyway.
"To the lady's quarters?" she asked, trying to hide her surprise. She doubted Sesshomaru was thrilled to have her move into the rooms adjacent to his own so she'd have to step up her game and show him the trade off was worth it.
"That's fine," she agreed quickly, not wanting him to change his mind. "Hikaru will probably sleep better closer to your aura, anyway."
"Hnn." He didn't comment further and from that, she gathered it was as good as done. Likely her new room would already be set up before she and Hikaru retired for the night in the next few hours.
"Thank you, Sesshomaru," she said, offering him a small bow. "I promise I'll do my best to help."
He didn't reply. He simply stared up at the moon as it began to rise in the sky over the setting sun and Kagome settled back down to watch the sky's colors change. It was an odd experience, to settle down beside Sesshomaru, but not an uncomfortable one.
She would have to make this work, anyway. They'd be together for awhile—longer than she'd expected if Hikaru's current growth was anything to go by. And if that was the case, then she needed both to prove herself to Sesshomaru for her own sanity but also to ensure their relationship remained satisfactory so Hikaru would get the help he needed as he grew older. When she died, Hikaru would need Sesshomaru's support so he didn't suffer like InuYasha had. Without parents, he'd have no protectors if she didn't prove to Sesshomaru now that he was needed in that role.
For Hikaru's sake, she would do anything, even if it meant the rest of the shiro treated them like a mated pair.
The work was easier than Kagome had expected. It wasn’t easy, but she’d been exposed to this sort of work before and had some idea of how to do a lot of it.
For the first time in her life, she was grateful for story math problems. She’d complained before—more than once—about why she needed to know how many barrels of apples some math problem person needed in school. Never did she think it would be useful until now that she was actually trying to puzzle out food stores and personnel.
The people of the shiro, at least, seemed grateful for her involvement. Evidently Jaken had a lot of the work before, and while he was good with numbers, he wasn’t great with people. She hadn't been surprised to learn that he'd alienated most, if not all, of the shiro personnel and that they generally did little more than tolerate his presence.
Even Sesshomaru seemed relieved to have some of his duties lightened. He hadn't said anything, but after he'd seen her work over the span of a few days, she found her duties had vastly increased and Sesshomaru himself seemed less stressed. He stopped hiding away in his study and began to be more active in his presence in the shiro and surrounding lands.
As it turned out, Sesshomaru wasn’t just responsible for his shiro and its surrounding castle town, though the bulk of his duties did revolve around one or the other. It was also his responsibility to maintain the West in the degree of care his father had left it in, which evidently was easier said than done. Every once in awhile, Sesshomaru would leave the shiro to deal with a territory dispute, rogue yokai, or a band of human raiders that came too close to his lands for comfort.
In Kagome's mind, Sesshomaru simply had enough work to do without adding hers to it and she was impressed he'd managed on his own for as long as he had.
Maybe if I teach Hikaru how to do these sort of things, Sesshomaru will find it easier to justify keeping him around, Kagome thought to herself, eying her son as he slept on a cushion next to the desk she’d borrowed from Sesshomaru. She'd all but taken over considerable space in Sesshomaru's study, not that he was there as often now to notice. It’s something he can start learning when he’s young and he'll be able to get a good handle on it before I die. Plus, no matter what path he takes in life, it’s a valuable skill set.
She smiled, decision made. Sesshomaru himself didn’t enjoy the work she did and it didn’t appear likely he’d mate anytime soon so a mate could take it over for him. Hikaru would functionally run the house and while that wasn’t as elaborate a role as a lord or advisor, it would be status enough.
She’d make sure of it.
”Can’t believe the stupid bastard is making you work,” the hanyo grouched in the empty dining hall before dinner one night.
Kagome rolled her eyes as she moped up the rest of her spilled tea. No matter how many times she’d explained that she’d offered, InuYasha refused to listen. He continued to believe that Sesshomaru was forcing her to earn her keep just as he'd forced InuYasha to do.
”Keh.” He shoved his hands into his sleeves. He’d been forced to adopt the uniform of the palace guard instead of his usual firerat garb but as soon as he was off duty as well as any other chance he got, he changed back into his old clothes. “You just let me know when you’re ready to quit, K’gome. I’ll get us out of here and you’ll never have to work again. I'll take care of you just like I promised.”
Kagome felt her temper begin to fray. “InuYasha,” she warned, carefully choosing her next words, “in case you forgot, I was working even before I adopted Hikaru. Even if I didn’t want to work—and I do want to work—you couldn’t afford to support me with what you and Miroku make yokai cleansing anyway. It was barely enough to feed all of us and that before Sango had her last baby and with Sango and I supplementing the food you earned with the herbs we found and the vegetables we grew.”
InuYasha snorted. “‘Course it wasn’t,” he said, full of bravado. “I wasn’t really trying all that hard.”
She glowered at him. “You mean that back when we almost starved all those months ago because you didn’t 'do well' yokai slaying was because you weren’t trying hard?!”
InuYasha leapt to his feet. “Hey! You ain’t never starved with me, wench! You always had plenty to eat!”
Kagome counted to ten and then made herself so it again when it still didn’t work. She was ultimately saved from answering when Sesshomaru gracefully walked into the dining room.
”Kagome,” Sesshomaru greeted her, with a small movement of his head. He didn’t bother to greet the hanyo, who should have been dining with the palace guard, but had once again defied his station and his orders to go and harass the priestess.
Not that, he reflected with minor annoyance, InuYasha ever did as he was told. Perhaps even the strict life of the guard wouldn’t change that in the hanyo, though the captain of his guard would certainly try. For all of Sesshomaru's disgruntlement, he had to admit that in that, at least, the hanyo took after their honorable sire. The great Dog General had never cared for others' expectations and frequently took great delight in defying those same expectations.
It had been that same trait that had attracted Sesshomaru's mother long ago and it was the same trait that had led to the burial and final requests of their father, including the bequeathment of their father's swords.
But it was not a trait he was inclined to indulge in his younger half-brother, especially not when it upset Kagome's own child.
"Sesshomaru-sama," Kagome greeted him politely, to his quiet pleasure. Ever since she had taken up a more permanent role in his pack—one that he found himself all too content to relinquish to her—she had grown more respectful, showing him honor in turn for the honors he had given her.
"Where is the child?" he asked, abruptly noticing the absence of Kagome's son. He couldn't scent the child anywhere near the room, which meant he hadn't been there for some time.
He saw the quick, irritated look she shot the hanyo. "InuYasha walked in and startled me while I was drinking tea," she explained quickly and he could tell she was trying to push back her annoyance. "I spilled tea all over Hikaru's swaddling. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but a maid offered to take him and clean him up while I..."
She trailed off but Sesshomaru thought he understood. The priestess had chosen to remain behind to deal with InuYasha herself before her child was returned to her.
"Hey!" InuYasha blustered, looking just as annoyed as the priestess. "It's not my fault the brat got soaked. I just came to talk, that's all. You're the one who went and screamed for no reason!"
She looked ready to snap back and for Sesshomaru's own sanity, he intervened. "InuYasha, you should be taking your meals with the palace guard. Are you so uncouth as to sit with this one's pack when you are not, in fact, a member of it? You have not been invited here by the pack alphas and so do not belong. Return to your quarters and learn your place, InuYasha."
InuYasha turned, claws flexing with his desire to fight. If he charged in the dining room, spacious as it was, it would likely sustain damage severe enough to prevent its use for several days, at least, and they ran the additional risk of injuring Kagome in the process. The priestess had proved herself useful in more ways than one and he would not allow InuYasha's brashness to damage her unnecessarily.
"InuYasha. Sit, boy," Kagome said tiredly before Sesshomaru could intervene yet again.
InuYasha flinched. The beads had been removed, but the old habit remained. His gaze flickered over cautiously to Kagome and then his nose rose in the air. "Keh. Like I want to look at the bastard's face while I eat. It's enough to make me lose my appetite," he scoffed, his hands sliding back into his sleeves.
"Then you will not mind skipping dinner and patrolling the shiro town to ensure our borders are safe," Sesshomaru replied easily.
InuYasha tensed but glanced over at Kagome and evidently thought better of starting a fight. "Whatever," he grumbled, leaving the room with loud footsteps.
"I'm sorry," Kagome apologized as soon as InuYasha left.
Sesshomaru's brows raised, unsure why the woman felt the need to apologize. He knew she hadn't invited the hanyo, nor had she encouraged him to stay. Before he could ask, however, the maid returned with a clean and babbling Hikaru and he lost the opportunity to ask.
After dinner, Kagome did something Sesshomaru never once expected. Though he'd agreed to take the place of sire for the child, it was in name only. So when she placed the child in his lap as they quietly drank tea together in the empty dining room, he faltered, unsure both of what she'd wanted and what he was supposed to do.
"Hold him like this," Kagome said, gently positioning the boy in his lap. "See? It's easy."
Sesshomaru looked down at the child, his amber eyes meeting sleepy violet ones. He wasn't sure what he expected, but it wasn't for the child to begin babbling at him. The baby's hands waved around in the air with wild abandon yet the rest of his body squirmed, settling down in Sesshomaru's lap as if he belonged there.
His gaze flickered back to the priestess, though the child wasn't fully out of his sight. "Why?"
She bit her lower lip. "W-when I die, he'll still be part of your pack, right?" Her voice was quiet, so low that he doubted a human would have heard her. She couldn't meet his gaze as she stared down at her lap, her fingers twitching.
She worries about his future after she dies. His gaze flickered back to the yawning child.
"I-I'm going to teach him to do what I'm doing now," she continued on nervously when he didn't immediately reply. "He'll be able to do all of it, I promise. I know he won't be your heir or anything, but he'll still be a great asset, Sesshomaru, I promise, if you just let him stay."
"You can teach him all of that in such a short period of time?" he asked her curiously. In his experience, yokai often studied for decades, if not longer, to master all that was needed to properly run a house and its surrounding lands.
"I can," she said confidently, her chest puffing slightly with barely disguised pride. "it only took me a few years to learn it myself, Sesshomaru, so I'm sure I can and he will."
"Hnn." Sesshomaru considered her request. Kagome evidently hadn't realized that he'd already accepted both Kagome herself and her child into his pack and that neither one would lose that position short of an act of betrayal. He wasn't sure saying so would reassure her, either, so he debated whether or not to explain the yokai understanding of pack to her. Finally, he decided against it. She didn't need to know any more than she already did. She was human and she would ultimately die well before any problems arose. Hikaru, on the other hand, wouldn't, but he would be young enough even after his mother died that Sesshomaru would have plenty of time to teach the child later if he chose not to now.
"Do as you will, Kagome. He is your son," he said finally, knowing she would take his words as unspoken permission. It would, after all, do him no harm to let the boy be trained in areas other than combat. Kagome had done well with his household and if she was able to pass the skills onto her child, Sesshomaru would never need to take the onerous burdens on himself, as he doubted he would take on a mate any time soon to help him with it. A yokai with her skills would be highly valued and would only add to the statue of his house, even if Sesshomaru did mate by the time her child was old enough to be of any assistance.
Kagome sighed in relief. She made no move to take Hikaru, however, and he didn't ask it of her. For the first time, he really considered the child he'd adopted, along with its mother, into his pack. The boy would grow into a handsome man and, now that he had regained his health, it was obvious his yoki would be strong. Likely it was due to Sesshomaru's own strong yoki infusing the child's, but it didn't matter. Hikaru would be a boon to his pack in every way.
Yet as he studied the child's face, he lost his thought of the boy's potential. Instead, all he saw was a cherubic face that oddly reminded him of Kagome, though the woman was not the child's true mother. What would a child of hers look like?
His hand moved of its own accord to gently caress the tiny tufts of black hair on Hikaru's head. The child rumbled and curled into him, contentedly babbling at him to continue. Amused, Sesshomaru did, his lip twitching as the child's foot kicked in time with the slow speed of Sesshomaru's touch.
When Hikaru fell asleep, he looked up at the priestess and she reached out to take Hikaru from him. Sesshomaru missed the child's warmth and comfort, but he wouldn't ask for the child back. He would be the child's alpha, his surrogate sire, but he wasn't the boy's father and he would never be.
But he couldn't stop his expression from softening when he saw Kagome cuddle the boy close and gently leave the dining room with the child.
Kagome had dared to give Sesshomaru Hikaru to hold and it had paid off. He'd held the boy, gently caressing the baby, and she swore she saw his expression soften.
It was everything she'd dared hope for and more. If she could ensure that Sesshomaru cared for Hikaru, her son would never be turned away. That care Sesshomaru would extend to her son would last for his lifetime, as it would for Rin.
She carefully brought Hikaru further and further into Sesshomaru's life over the next few months. At first, it was subtle as she kept Hikaru situated between them whenever he wasn't in her lap, but as he began to crawl, she would gently encourage him to move towards Sesshomaru by any means possible.
By the time Hikaru began walking, he was actively seeking out Sesshomaru of his own accord, babbling at Sesshomaru as though he expected the daiyokai to understand him.
And to her delight, Sesshomaru indulged the boy. He never openly encouraged the behavior but neither did he rebuke Hikaru for his attempts to gain Sesshomaru's affection or attention. Instead, Sesshomaru kept an air of resigned tolerance about him, though she often caught that same small smile upon his face when he thought she wasn't looking.
During that time, she could sense Sesshomaru's growing frustration with the weak scent bond upon Kagome. He hadn't brought up the subject again, so neither had she, but his aura had grown increasingly tense whenever he arrived to reaffirm their scent bond. She carefully avoided the subject every time he renewed the scent, sensing that he would bring up the topic when he was ready to do so.
"Hikaru managed to stumble into the pond this morning," Kagome informed Sesshomaru one night as he was renewing their scent markings. "He just toddled right in, Sesshomaru! I thought my heart was going to give out."
Hikaru, sensing his name, gave her a small, toothy grin. Baby teeth had begun peeking through, much to his displeasure, and he had no qualms about keeping his teething misery to himself. On the other hand, Kagome was just relieved Hikaru was proving to be a vocal child. She'd been worried when he hadn't begun speaking words yet, though he was happy to babble his nonsensical sounds at her, often accompanied by growls and huffs.
Sesshomaru had reminded her that human speech often took young inuyokai longer to utilize, as they communicated first by their own natural language—that of the Inu.
Kagome felt her irritation melt away, as it had when he'd grinned at her that morning. Hikaru already had her thoroughly wrapped around his pudgy fingers, though he was slowly losing the baby fat as he began walking about, especially since he'd already begun to wean himself, rejecting the milk offered to him all too often in favor of baby foods Kagome had begun to prepare for him.
"Young inuyokai often swim before they can fully walk," Sesshomaru replied, his expression thoughtful as he eyed Hikaru stumbling about the room.
Kagome didn't even try to stop Hikaru. She was just hoping the boy, now almost a year old, would tire himself enough to sleep through the night.
"Well, human babies don't," Kagome replied as Sesshomaru dutifully scooped up the boy and renewed his scent mark.
"He is not human," Sesshomaru reminded her, returning a squirming Hikaru to the ground so the boy could continue his exploration of Kagome's room.
Kagome kept a careful eye on Hikaru, positive he was about to go for the tansu and start pulling out her clothing again. He seemed to think a pile of her clothing made for a better bed than the very expensive one she'd procured for him in the midst of her duties. "I know that," she replied seriously, not wanting Sesshomaru to find her lacking as a mother, though why it mattered so much to her, she didn't know. "I'm not trying to make him human, either. I just...I just worry."
"Hnn." Sesshomaru beckoned her forward. "Come. It is time to renew your mark as well."
She made her way over to him, steeling herself for the discomfort she was about to experience.
"The hanyo approached you again today," Sesshomaru said to her surprise, instead of immediately renewing his scent.
Kagome pressed her lips together, weighing just how much to share with the daiyokai. "He still wants to return home," she finally said with a shrug. "He accepts that Hikaru is part of my life, but I think he's just trying to protect me. None of the humans we met ever did well for loving a yokai nor to yokai for loving a human. Not that InuYasha would admit anything like that."
She snorted at the thought of InuYasha being so open with his feelings. In his typical brash manner, he simply opted for what he thought was best and figured everyone else would just fall into line. No matter how often Kagome refused him, InuYasha was stubborn and he was adamant that leaving was for her own good—though he was careful not to say why.
But InuYasha was about as subtle as a brick and she knew her friend well enough to know that he believed he was protecting her—even if that meant protecting her from herself. Once her ire at his interference had calmed down, she'd been able to deduce that much.
"It is foolish."
Sesshomaru's comment caught her off guard as she blinked up at him. "Huh?"
Sesshomaru's expression remained calm. "It is foolish to love one who will die so soon. It is like trying to love a ripple in a pond—it will be gone while your life continues on."
Well, that's a depressing way of looking at it, Kagome thought to herself gloomily. I hope Hikaru never feels that way about me. I think it'd break my heart.
"I don't think love is ever foolish," Kagome said instead, choosing not to rub Sesshomaru's own feelings for Rin in his face. Though he admitted nothing, she suspected that he'd come to care for Rin as though she were his own family. A younger sister, perhaps. "Maybe we humans die too quickly in comparison, but I don't think it's wrong to love. After all, you could as easily die in combat long before my own life were to end."
Sesshomaru looked displeased by the very idea that he could be slain in battle. "Hardly," he sniffed. "This one would not be so foolish as to be killed by an inferior being."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "That's not my point, Sesshomaru. I just meant that life is unpredictable. It's not like anyone knows their fate in advance so for all you know, you could die before I do. It doesn't diminish your value either way."
That seemed to mollify him enough, though she had the feeling he'd wanted to push back again at the idea of an untimely demise. "The hanyo has grown more disciplined lately," he said instead.
She gaped at him, unable to believe he'd just complimented his own half-brother.
"In another fifty years or so, he might just learn how to hold that fang of our father's properly." Sesshomaru's lip twitched and she had the feeling he was teasing her.
Her jaw fell further as she stared, unable to find a single thing to say in response.
Sesshomaru's grin almost seemed diabolical as he added, "Until then, it is best to give the hanyo a wide berth, lest he take your own head off along with the enemy's."
"Okay," Kagome agreed hesitantly, more so because she couldn't fathom what sort of kitsune had the daring to sneak in and impersonate Sesshomaru.
"Now. It is time to renew the mark." He rearranged her body so that she was closer, her neck exposed, before bending down to complete the task as quickly as possible.
"Thank you," she said as he pulled away.
He raised a brow. "It seems that your reiki is purifying this one's mark without conscious effort," he commented as casually as if he were discussing some blasé task that needed doing. "This one has come to the conclusion that he will, indeed, have to take further steps to keep from repeating the onerous task."
She opened her mouth to ask what that was, but the odd look on his face had her reconsidering. "Okay. When?"
"When the moon is in the same position as this one's markings," he said, his gaze drifting over towards the window where the full moon could be seen in the sky. "Until then, the scent-marking will have to become daily. It is likely even the hanyo could not scent it upon you this morning."
Well, she thought to herself, that explained why InuYasha kept subtly sniffing the air and why he'd seemed particularly driven to change her mind, claiming that she wasn't wanted here.
"Right." She nodded.
Just then, she heard the telltale thump of Hikaru tugging open a drawer in her tansu. Sighing, she walked over to collect him, soothing his angry cries for being denied.
"I just don't understand why he wants to sleep on my clothing," she grumbled, shifting Hikaru to a more comfortable position.
Sesshomaru raised a brow. "It is your scent, priestess. In lieu of sleeping with you directly, he will instinctively sleep where the source of your scent is the strongest. It reassures his instincts that he is safe."
I guess that's why Hikaru stole one of Sesshomaru's obis to sleep with, she thought to herself with mild amusement, though she didn't bother to tell Sesshomaru. It delighted Hikaru to sleep with the obi and she had the feeling Sesshomaru would demand its immediate return.
"It's not that I don't want to sleep with him," she confided as Hikaru yawned loudly, interrupting his tirade. "I just toss and turn and I worry about shifting and hurting him."
It was easier to have him sleep with her when Hikaru didn't move. She could tuck him into his portion of the bed beside her pillow, assured he would be safe, but he had the propensity now to roll and move in his sleep as much as Kagome herself did.
Sesshomaru's expression was blank as he looked down at Hikaru. "Then give him one something with your scent upon it to sleep with and he should cease purloining your clothing."
She felt like an idiot for not thinking of it herself. "That's a good idea," she admitted, feeling foolish.
"It is late," Sesshomaru said and she sensed that that was his way of stating he was leaving.
"Thank you," she said, watching him leave as she began the trial of getting a sleepy but adamant that he wasn't Hikaru to bed. Sometimes, she admitted to herself, it was nice to have a helping hand.
She just wished Sesshomaru was involved more to help out.
Perhaps, she reflected, it was time to get Sesshomaru even more involved.
As it turned out, within the next few days, Hikaru sought out the matter before Kagome herself could think of a fool-proof way to get Sesshomaru more involved in her son's life by the simple and expedient means of seeking out the daiyokai on a daily basis.
No matter where Sesshomaru was or what he was doing, Hikaru made a game of seeking out his alpha, babbling contentedly whenever he managed to find him. He would race over to Sesshomaru, toddling about with all the grace a toddler could manage, and tug at Sesshomaru's legs until Sesshomaru finally deigned to obey the babbled commands and picked Hikaru up.
Hikaru would then bury himself in the furry boa Kagome had learned was called mokomoko-sama, though Kagome suspected that was its name, not what it was. Twice he'd even managed to fall asleep in Sesshomaru's arms, though Sesshomaru himself had been quick to return Hikaru to her once the toddler had dozed off.
That morning, Hikaru had more difficulty in searching out his alpha. He'd checked all of Sesshomaru's normal places, with a watchful Kagome following after him. She'd already learned that trying to stop him resulted in a tempter tantrum only Sesshomaru himself could soothe, so she didn't bother to try and stop him.
Sesshomaru, for his part, seemed to indulge the play, leaving Kagome to privately wonder if such behavior was common with inuyokai babies. Maybe they all felt the need to chase and pounce, just as mortal puppies did on their playmates when they were young.
Still, Hikaru grew more and more irritable when he failed to locate Sesshomaru. He refused his snack and the offer of a nap, preferring to continue to chase down Sesshomaru, and Kagome could only hope that he would either eventually find Sesshomaru or tire himself out.
She followed Hikaru as noon drew closer until Hikaru gleefully pushed open a door that Kagome knew all too well led to Sesshomaru's private rooms. There was a connecting door between her room and his, as well as a shared bath, but she'd never used that door and neither had he. She'd also been careful with her own schedule to ensure they would never encounter one another in that bath, whether she was using it herself or to bathe her son, or when Sesshomaru himself used it. He, evidently, was as fond of cleanliness as Kagome herself was.
"No," she told her son sternly, moving to scoop Hikaru into her arms.
Her son managed to evade her with a speed she hadn't suspected he was capable of.
"Hikaru!" she hissed, reaching for him once again.
She failed to stop Hikaru from opening the door and toddling into Sesshomaru's room, though to her relief, he wasn't inside.
That didn't stop Hikaru, however. Instead, he tried to be more stealthy as he made his way to the doors she knew, as the room was a mirror of her own, led to the shared bath.
Kagome's eyes widened in horror as she realized what was about to happen. All of her hard work to endear her son to Sesshomaru was about to fall apart right before her very eyes—and there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it.
She didn't even manage to shout his name before Hikaru slid back the door, Kagome on his heels, to reveal a very, very naked Sesshomaru sitting in the hot water.
Kagome froze, her arms still outstretched to grab her son, though she made no move to do so.
Sesshomaru, lounging in the water, looked more like one of the kami than a yokai. His silverly hair floated in the water around him, pulled back from his face so that the crescent moon on his forehead was completely exposed to her eyes. His chest, far more toned than InuYasha's had been—her mind had quickly but guiltily made the comparison—was completely exposed to her, down to his navel, and it was all completely devoid of any hair. Only the steam of the heated water kept her from seeing further than that, though her eyes, without her conscious thought, had attempted to do so anyway.
He had lounged back against the wood of the bath so that he lay sloped in the water, exposing far more of himself than she knew intimately that the tub would have otherwise allowed, but within moments, his eyes widened in surprise as he took in the sight of Kagome and her son in the doorway.
"Priestess," he said at the same moment Kagome blurted, "Hikaru!"
Sesshomaru's gaze immediately dropped to her son as Hikaru toddled over towards Sesshomaru.
Before either could react, Hikaru had clambered into the tub and plastered himself in the best mimicry of a hug the inuyokai child could manage. He babbled at Sesshomaru, waving his arms as Sesshomaru stared at him in disbelief.
It was her son's speech that seemed to trigger Kagome back to full consciousness. She blinked and then, horrified, rushed forward to retrieve her son. "I'm so sorry, Sesshomaru. He spent all morning looking for you and well, it never once occurred to me that he'd find you in the bath of all places, let alone that he'd want to rush in on you! I'll make sure this doesn't happen again!"
She tried to pull Hikaru from Sesshomaru but Hikaru only burrowed in deeper, clutching fistfuls of Sesshomaru's silvery hair. "No," he said, splashing about in the water as he fought to cling harder to Sesshomaru, and if Kagome hadn't been in such a panic, she might have been amused that her son's first human word was 'no.' Amused—and exasperated.
To her surprise, Sesshomaru chuckled. It was a low, seductive sound, that did things to her that no man's laugh ever should, as his gaze drifted from the child in his arms to Kagome squatting down next to him.
"You have become soaked, priestess," Sesshomaru observed, mirth coloring his voice.
Kagome only then registered the hot water cooling on her flesh and she shivered as her clothes began clinging to her. She blushed as she fell back, torn between a desire to cover herself though she was still adequately covered and a desire to grab her son and flee.
"So are you," she blurted and then blushed harder at her own stupidity.
Idiot! she reprimanded herself. Of course he's soaked; he's in a bath for heaven's sake!
He raised a brow. "Perhaps the two of you sought to join me?"
If he had been anyone else—say Miroku, for example—the words would have been positively lecherous, but they seemed wrong coming from Sesshomaru's own soft lips.
Kagome froze, uncertain of the direction her thoughts were going but not liking it, either.
Hikaru sought to answer for them, happily bobbing his head in answer as he splashed around in the water. Kagome just stared at her son, wondering what on earth had possessed him to chase down Sesshomaru in a bath of all places.
"Unfortunately," Sesshomaru said slowly, gently extricating Hikaru from his person, "this one has finished bathing. Perhaps your timing will be more precise next time. However, you will find the water is still warm should you still wish to bathe."
He handed Hikaru to Kagome, giving her son a surprisingly affectionate pat on his head before he reached for a towel next to the bath and stood, draping it on his body with a nonchalant air at their presence in his bathing room.
And, with more dignity than Kagome herself could ever possess, Sesshomaru strode out of the room, leaving behind a stunned Kagome with her rambunctious son in the now-empty bath.
She swallowed a hard lump in her throat, wondering if she would even survive the next few days until Sesshomaru took the next steps to renew her scent mark. If Hikaru continued as he was now, she privately suspected she would die of embarrassment long before that day arrived.
Kagome spent the next morning in Sesshomaru's office sorting his missives and mail. It was an easy enough task, more mindless than anything else since she rarely responded to any of them herself. Any that related to the maintenance of the household were her responsibility, but most pertained to other areas.
Every once in awhile, Sesshomaru would receive a request from another yokai requesting that Sesshomaru visit, often with the solicitation of a daughter or niece at the perfect age for marriage. Kagome never asked what Sesshomaru did with them, though she could barely keep herself from doing so.
Though Sesshomaru showed no interest in marriage, if he did marry, it could potentially cause problems for her son. Another yokai might not tolerate an orphan in the household, let alone one adopted by a human priestess. Part of her had selfishly contemplated tossing out those letters as they came in, but she had decided against it. She'd promised to help Sesshomaru and she wouldn't lower herself to lie to him simply because she didn't like the content of a letter.
Fortunately, there was no such letter in the pile this morning.
This morning, however, there was a letter from Miroku. He was the only one aside from Kaede literate enough to write a full letter in the village, but it was the fact that he'd written a letter addressed to her as well as a second for Sesshomaru that caught her by surprise. Miroku had been notified of Kagome's new home not long after she'd arrived—Kagome had written the letter herself and Jaken had used its delivery as a pretense to visit Rin—but it was the first time that he'd written her since she'd left the village.
She opened the one addressed to her and scanned the contents. Kaede had passed away and they'd had a quiet funeral for her. Miroku had been efficient in his explanations that he hadn't wanted to delay a proper funeral for Kagome's visit, unsure as he was when that would be. He'd moved Rin into his home, commenting that it had become quite a full house now that Kohaku had also returned to spend the winter with his sister.
She looked over at her son, dozing peacefully on a cushion next to her. She had found Hikaru just before the first snows. She had all but forgotten the change of seasons as Sesshomaru's own home was located south enough in the west that it rarely snowed hard enough for her to take notice.
It's already been a year, she mused to herself before she turned back to the letter. Sango had given birth to her fourth and fifth children, another set of twins. Both boys, and Kagome imagined that Sango had been rather worn out by that revelation.
But she has Kohaku and Rin to help, she reminded herself. Sango keeps hoping that Kohaku will settle down in the village, too. It looks like Rin already is...
One of the village boys evidently had a crush on Rin, though Miroku didn't believe Rin returned his feelings. In fact, Miroku seemed to suggest that Rin and Kohaku might become an item in the future.
She set aside that idea to consider later and read the last line. Shippo-kun came to visit and was seeking you so I took the liberty of advising him of your new home and...situation.
From that, Kagome suspected that she'd have a visit from Shippo to look forward to and she smiled as she cuddled Hikaru closer to her. As saddened as she was by the news of Kaede's death, she was glad to hear the rest of her friends were doing so well. She was grateful that they hadn't delayed the funeral as it had taken several weeks to find its way to her and the guilt alone would have overwhelmed her.
She quickly wrote out a reply, knowing that Jaken would want to be the one that delivered it. She was tempted to open the letter for Sesshomaru but finally decided not to. If Miroku had taken the time to address each letter separately, then he had a purpose in doing so.
Hikaru stirred, whining as he stretched his tiny body.
He grinned as she looked down at him. He babbled at her, his hands outstretched, and she chuckled as she pulled him into her lap, cuddling him.
"How's my baby today?" she asked him, gently tapping his nose with a finger.
Predictably, he grabbed her finger and moved it down to nibble on it with sharp little fangs. He was still teething but fortunately he preferred to bite down on her finger with his gums and not the little canines that had already appeared.
"Maybe we'll visit them in spring," she said to Hikaru as he looked at her, eyes wide as if he understood every word.
He babbled as he released her finger.
She nodded. "Wise advice, my little terror," she told him with a mock bow. "We must indeed see how our friends fare after all this time. I'm sure they'd love to see you, too."
He grinned but after a moment, he rose to his feet and took off, racing for the sliding door as fast as his wobbly feet could take him.
There was only one thing that could motivate her son so quickly and she immediately scrambled after Hikaru.
"Hikaru!" she called out after him as he pushed the door open and kept on going.
He giggled but didn't stop as he began racing towards the garden. She nearly caught him twice but he squirmed out of her hold each time before she had a firm grasp.
"It's time for lunch," she tried to bait him, knowing that if nothing else, Hikaru's stomach seemed to have an internal clock built in.
He tumbled down off the raised platform of the shiro with a warlike cry and kept going, babbling the same sound over and over again as he ran. "Toutoutoooou." He didn't stop until he ran straight into Sesshomaru's legs as the daiyokai landed in the clearing, stepping off his cloud with a grace Kagome could only envy.
Sesshomaru looked down at Hikaru, who had firmly wrapped himself around Sesshomaru's legs and then he looked over at Kagome.
"He knew you were coming," she said apologetically as she stepped forward to try and pry Hikaru from the daiyokai.
"Hnn." Sesshomaru studied Hikaru for a moment as the toddler whined at Kagome's attempts to pull him free. "His hearing is more acute than his age would suggest."
Kagome froze. "That's... That's a good thing, right?" she asked hesitantly. It didn't sound like a bad thing, per se, but when it concerned Hikaru, she felt it was better safe than sorry to make sure.
"Hnn," Sesshomaru repeated.
"Maybe it's your yoki he senses?" she offered after a moment, more because she couldn't stand the silence.
Sesshomaru's expression grew thoughtful. "Perhaps," he agreed lightly. "It is instinctual in inuyokai to recognize the yoki of parents and alphas as a source of protection. He has been given enough of this one's that perhaps he has learned to identify it, even from some distance away."
Kagome returned to her efforts to pull Hikaru free and this time she succeeded. "That makes sense," she said as she stood, propping up Hikaru on her hip with a quiet grunt at his weight.
Sesshomaru's gaze flickered to her neck. "Your scent marking has faded," he observed quietly. "It was renewed the night before and already it has begun to fade."
"You said that the moon had to be into place for a more permanent remark," Kagome reminded him, pulling Hikaru back when he tried to reach for the white fur that Sesshomaru wore as decoration whenever he was armored.
Wherever Sesshomaru had gone that morning, he had evidently felt the need for both his weapons and his armor, for he had donned both.
"Hnn." Sesshomaru nodded, slight enough that if she hadn't been staring directly at him, she'd have missed the movement entirely. "It will be in the correct position tonight. This one will come to you and ensure a stronger scent mark takes hold."
She hadn’t realized it was already that time; she’d thought she’d still have a few more days for whatever he planned.
Evidently, she did not.
"Oh." Kagome fell silent, more out of awkwardness because she didn't know how to reply to that. But then she remembered the letter and changed the subject, to her own relief. "Miroku sent you a letter."
Sesshomaru looked at her blankly and it took Kagome a moment to understand why.
"Miroku was the monk who traveled with InuYasha and I—ah!" She screamed her panic as Hikaru launched himself from her arms towards Sesshomaru. "Hikaru!"
Kagome barely breathed as she scrambled to unsuccessfully try and catch her airborne son.
Sesshomaru seemed to recognize the situation's precariousness a moment after she did, but his yokai reflexes were far faster. He was able to catch Hikaru seconds before the toddler made contract with the ground. As he lifted Hikaru to give him a stern look, Hikaru began laughing.
Kagome's eyes widened at the realization that Hikaru had ended up in Sesshomaru's arms, just as he'd wanted. "Hikaru!" She wanted to glower at her son, but the look of delighted pride on Hikaru's face had her hiding a giggle instead.
He just looked so proud of himself, there in Sesshomaru's hold, that she couldn't bring herself to tell him no.
Sesshomaru lifted Hikaru until the two were eye-to-eye. He opened his mouth, no doubt intending to lecture the child, but Hikaru took the opportunity to put both hands on Sesshomaru's face, shoving several fingers into his mouth.
Sesshomaru sputtered in surprise, an incredulous look on his face, and Kagome lost the battle.
She howled with laughter, doubling over and laughing until she cried, as Sesshomaru had to pry each finger away from his face in turn.
To her surprise, no lecture came, either for Kagome or Hikaru. "The child is lively," Sesshomaru said instead, astonishing her. "And daring." There was a faint look of pride on Sesshomaru's face—a tiny smile that was there and gone just as soon as she'd noticed it. "He is strong."
Kagome sensed the yoki within Hikaru there. It was faint, but as Sesshomaru had noted, it was growing.
He nuzzled the boy, renewing the mark, before he handed Hikaru back to her.
"Toutoutoutou." Hikaru held his hands out to Sesshomaru.
Sesshomaru's relaxed expression froze and without a word, he turned and left Kagome standing there in bemusement, wondering what had just happened.
There have been so many lovely comments on this and I'm pleased as punch. It just brightens my day and, well, motivated me to give all of you a second chapter this month. Enjoy! :)
Hikaru settled down easily that night, without complaint, for which Kagome was eternally grateful for. She was already anxious enough about Sesshomaru's scent marking and odd actions earlier that any other stressors might have sent her, however temporarily, over the edge.
She ended up pacing back and forth in her room to try and settle her nerves as she waited for Sesshomaru to arrive.
He walked into her room when the moon was at its zenith in the sky. She didn't know how many hours she'd been waiting, frazzled as she'd been, but she nearly forgot to breathe when she saw him.
He wore nothing but a simple nemaki and from that she derived that this would be a fairly quick process as he no doubt intended to leave here and go to sleep in his own room.
"Hello, Sesshomaru," she said, hoping she sounded confident enough. "So how does this work?"
He moved towards the center of the room. "It is simple. You will sleep with this one."
She gaped at him. "What?"
His lips quirked. "Sleep, priestess," he stressed. "Calm yourself."
She glowered at him, certain that he'd deliberately spoken in such a way to elicit that very reaction from her for his own amusement. "You said before that sleeping with a scent increases familiarity," she said, remembering back to a conversation they'd had when Hikaru had been stealing her clothing to sleep on. "But if that's the case, why did we have to wait until the moon was in a certain phase?"
"This one did not state that all that would need to occur would be the sharing of a futon." There was a devilish look in his eye now that told her he was enjoying this and the inevitable conclusion her mind first jumped to.
She pressed her lips to try and stop her outburst, but ultimately failed. "You just said we don't have to have sex!" she blurted, flushing.
He raised a brow. "Did this one state that he would be required to bed you?"
"No, but you didn't not state it, either!" She put her hands on her hips. "You're doing this on purpose, Sesshomaru."
"Hnn." That tiny smile of his appeared again. "Perhaps."
"It's not funny," she groused petulantly. "So what do we have to do then so the scent mark lasts longer?"
"If you sleep with this one, it would perhaps last for a little longer but in the end, your reiki would still purify his scent away." He began to circle her, his eyes wandering her body as if he was searching for someone. "Therefore, your reiki must be shown that this one is no threat to it."
"And how do we do that?" She wasn't sure she liked how he was looking at her any more than she was certain she was going to like his answer.
He raised one shoulder in a simple shrug. "The simplest way would be if this one bedded you on a regular basis," he said easily. "But given the circumstances, the most expedient solution would be to expose your reiki to this one's yoki and instill a tiny piece of it within you. The scent marking would then be permanent, since the yoki would be embedded within your own body. It will not harm you, though the yoki will not be able to be returned."
She considered that but ultimately decided it was worth that small cost. She likely wouldn't even notice it was there. Besides, keeping Hikaru safe with her was worth any cost. "So why the moon phase then?" she asked, gesturing to the moon outside her window.
"The phase of the moon echoes this one's mark. It is an indication of this one's house and lineage." He stopped circling her and met her gaze once more.
"So it's symbolic," she guessed.
"It is more than that," he answered, running a hand idly through his hair. "All who have born the mark in this one's lineage have come into their power during the first day of the phase indicated by the moon."
"So then the waning moon is when you're most powerful." It made sense to a degree, since InuYasha's powers were also lost during a phase of the moon—a different phase, sure, and only that first night, but maybe it was influenced by the day he was born. She'd never thought to ask before, but now she resolved to check her theory the next time InuYasha tried to convince her to leave the shiro and her son behind.
"This one is consistently powerful." He sniffed. "But all personal ceremonies are conducted during the phase of the moon the individual bears."
From that, she deduced that it was seen as a measure of good luck, though Sesshomaru himself would never personally admit to relying on luck or fortune for anything. He had always been adamant that he was in pursuit of his own destiny, not one prescribed for him.
She nodded her understanding. "So what do we do, then? Do you summon your power and I summon mine and bam," she clapped her hands together loudly and then winced, hoping Hikaru didn't wake, "they're mixed?"
She quickly glanced over at Hikaru and smiled in relief when the child didn't so much as stir at the loud noise.
He sighed heavily. "In the morning, this one will see to it that you receive additional scrolls and tutoring, if needed, for your own reiki. It seems that your tutoring has been left dangerously half-finished."
In other words, he thinks I'm an idiot for even suggesting that idea. She sighed herself.
"You are to relax and be receptive; that is all that is required of you. The burden is on this one to ensure the task is completed." He waved a hand to the futon. "Sit."
She hesitated for a moment, not appreciating the command, but he raised a brow in response. Resigned, she sighed again and moved to sit down on the futon. "Now what?"
"Now you will be quiet," he answered in that maddeningly calm voice of his. "You will not speak at any point until this is concluded. Do you understand?"
Well, I don't know why he needs me to be quiet, she groused to herself childishly, but she wisely kept her complaints to herself, sensing that he wasn't in the mood for her petulance. She just nodded in response.
To her surprise, he sat down next to her and then, without warning, kissed her.
It was just the pressing of two pairs of lips together, his and hers, nothing more. He made no move to touch her nor was the kiss sexual in any way so after a moment's shock, she forced herself to relax. Somehow, the kiss must be part of whatever he needed to do to meld a piece of his yoki within her.
But nothing seemed to happen. It was as though he was waiting for something—or so it felt to her. She sat still, trying not to squirm, but the kiss, while not unpleasant, wasn't exactly pleasant, either. She'd only kissed a few men in her life—and one had been Sesshomaru's own brother—but even those kisses, given by an awkward teenaged girl, hadn't felt this awkward.
Finally, she gave up and pulled back, wondering if Sesshomaru had kissed anyone before. Did he even know what a kiss was, beyond the physical contact of two sets of lips?
The expression on his face was odd and she almost gave into the urge to ask him, but the reminder of his order to remain silent stopped her before she did much more than open her mouth.
Well, he said I couldn't speak. He didn't say I couldn't act. She grinned. If he was going to have to kiss her for the bonding of his power to hers, she might as well make it a kiss he wouldn't forget.
She leaned in and kissed him, but unlike his chaste kiss, she took it well beyond a simple pressing of lips. She used her hands to angle his head, though she was a little surprised that he allowed her to guide his body to where she wanted it. Once set, she then used her thumb to pull his chin so that his mouth would open and was again mildly surprised when he acquiesced.
She immediately deepened the kiss. She didn't involve her tongue or his, but what she did do was nibble on his lower lip, kissing and suckling it for a moment until he seemed to come to life before her.
He shoved her hands aside and before she could do so much as squeak in protest, he had taken full control of the kiss, returning her actions even down to the angling of her own head. She should have expected that he'd prefer being the one in control, but somehow, with the idea in mind that he didn't fully grasp the concept of kissing, she hadn't stopped to consider what she might be unleashing by kissing him back.
He deepened the kiss further than she had, exploring her mouth as she hadn't dared with his, and she was surprised by how quickly he had caught on.
Or had he? A suspicion crossed her mind that he was entirely too good at this to be new at it, but the thought vanished the moment he pulled her to him, letting her straddle his lap as her legs fell to either side of his. The moment her chest touched his, she completely lost her train of thought.
And then, before she could fully relax and enjoy the wonders of being kissed by Sesshomaru, she felt his yoki rise. It surged forth until it seemed to be pouring out of him, but she sensed the iron control dictating its movement. She nearly pulled away in surprise, but he stopped her before she did more than flinch. A tiny piece of his power moved into his mouth and then was pushed from his to hers by his tongue as he kissed her and suddenly she thought she understood as she felt him use his yoki and his hands on her back to help guide the piece towards her heart.
He had deliberately enticed her to deepen the kiss in a challenging way, knowing that she wouldn't be able to resist, all with the intent that by doing so, her body and reiki might accept his own power and touch as friendly and offer up little resistance.
It was a dirty trick, she thought, acting as though he had no idea what he was doing, but she also appreciated his cunning in doing so. He'd evidently planned this all for some time, right down to how to elicit the ideal response from her.
After a moment, his hands fell away as she felt the power settle down, a tiny warmth against her heart, before that warmth quietly melted away. After that, she couldn't sense the yoki within her and likely wouldn't be able to unless she mediated or actively searched for it with her own reiki.
"It is done." Sesshomaru pulled back and nudged her to move off of him.
Shaken, though she tried not to show it, she pulled back. She was as surprised by his kiss as she was by her own enjoyment of it, though she would never dare admit it aloud. She had no desire to alienate him as the protector of her child, especially considering the fact that he was the only one keeping Hikaru alive and well.
"Good." She nodded, expecting him to leave.
"This one will remain here," he said as if he'd anticipated her unspoken question before she'd voiced it aloud, "to ensure the yoki is not purified by your reiki. One night should be enough to convince it not to do so and it will allow this one to ensure that the endeavor was successful."
"Sure." She nodded again, suddenly weary. The entire experience had been odd and now all she wanted to do was sleep. She stretched out onto her side on the futon as he shuffled back, expecting him to perhaps summon a servant to fetch his own futon.
Instead, he moved closer and it was then that she realized he intended to share her futon for the night. She pressed her lips together once more, unable to think of a valid reason as to why he shouldn't. She would just have to deal with it for that night and that night only—and she could not, would not, let herself think of the kiss they shared, even when she felt the warmth of his body settle against her back as it had when he'd pulled her to him during their kiss.
It was only when he settled down beside her to sleep for the night and to ensure the scent took hold that she realized he hadn't once glanced at her son since he'd entered the room.
She only hoped that they hadn't somehow managed to undo all her hard work in bonding Sesshomaru to her son.