Sesshomaru's brush missed the ink entirely.
"What do you mean, he is dead?" he asked carefully, certain that he'd misheard, as he turned his gaze away from the scroll he'd been writing to his vassal before him.
Jaken remained fully prostrate on the ground, though his voice was shrill enough not to be muffled. "InuYasha has died, my lord."
The brush snapped in Sesshomaru's hand, though he scarcely noticed. "When?" He felt the pulse of Tenseiga even now, imploring him to see if it would be too late to use the late on his half-brother.
"A w-week ago," Jaken stammered and Sesshomaru could smell the waft of sweat beading on Jaken's body as he began to shake. "Forgive me, my lord. We only received word this morning."
Sesshomaru ignored the rest of Jaken's pleading. A week, he mused, glancing over at his two swords hanging in the study next to him. The pallbearers would have already taken his soul to the afterlife by now. Tenseiga would not be able to restore him.
Without another word, Sesshomaru rose from his cushion, tucking his swords into his obi before he left his shiro altogether to seek out the truth of Jaken's words for himself.
He arrived at the village within the hour, his feet touching the ground as his orb dissolved. It was not his preferred method of transport but he had been unwilling to delay further. Using his nose, he searched out the lingering scent of his half-brother's wife, confident that the priestess would have the answers he sought.
He found her but stopped short at the sight before him. The priestess, donned in his half-brother's firerat armor, had curled in on herself, crumpled against the wall as one of her human companions tried to convince her to eat. Rin was there too, he realized in surprise, helping to prepare some mixture to give the younger priestess, toiling away under the careful eye of the elder priestess.
"Lord Sesshomaru," the elder priestess called out, noticing his arrival. "We had wondered if ye received the message. We were unsure where ye lived."
It explained who had sent the message and why it had been delayed but he filed away that information without bothering to give it consideration now. He had come in search of answers.
"The village was attacked on his human night," the elder priestess continued as if she knew what he'd been about to ask. "Everyone rallied for a fight but it was InuYasha who drove them off." Her gaze softened as tears brimmed in her eyes, making him distinctly uncomfortable. "We didn't know how injured he was until after the bandits had left. He was bleeding from over half a dozen different wounds."
Then the village is no longer safe, he concluded, eying Rin and his half-brother's wife. Though the monk and slayer had once been formidable allies for his half-brother, they now had children and were no longer able to provide the same level of protection. He had been comfortable in the knowledge that his half-brother would safeguard the village for Rin to grow up safely with her own kind, but now he was unwilling to allow her to remain unless Rin insisted.
"If ye would like to pay your respects, he has been buried under Goshinboku." The elder priestess hobbled her way over to the doorway as if to show him the way.
He allowed her to do more because he wished to see InuYasha's grave. Though InuYasha had been brash and uncouth, he was still the son of their father and deserved to be buried with honor and dignity. Sesshomaru would allow the villagers to do no less for InuYasha.
The grave she led him to had a small shrine already built on top, though it was clear that it had quickly been put together with whatever supplies had been readily available.
"The villagers believe that he will continue to protect the village, even in death," the elder priestess said as if to explain the shrine's presence.
"Was he buried with Tessaiga?" It was the only question he had for the elder priestess.
"It was given to Kagome." The elder priestess sighed heavily as Sesshomaru recalled that the younger priestess had been curled around something. "We could not bear to remove it from her for the burial."
In a way, he decided that was just as fitting, if not more so, than if InuYasha had been buried with it. She had been the one to pull the sword out, after all, and he recalled that it had protected her on more than one occasion.
But whether she was protected by the sword or not, it would not discharge his duty to her. Now that his half-brother had died, she was his responsibility and though he liked it not, the priestess had, by default, become Sesshomaru's own wife. He suspected that she would be as displeased by the idea as he was, but he would not shirk his duty and honor simply because the idea was distasteful.
After all, the marriage could simply be in name only. He was under no further obligation than that. He had no need of heirs now and even if he had required them now, he was not required to sire them with her. He wouldn't even be prohibited from taking another wife if he so chose, though the priestess would be first amongst said wives.
Not that it would matter for long. The priestess was human, with the short lifespan that accompanied it, and he would soon be discharged of his duty soon enough.
He made his way back towards the priestess and Rin, unwilling to remain in the village any longer than necessary.
"Rin." He looked down at the young girl who used to accompany him as soon as he reached the hut. "Gather the priestess' things."
She was quick to act as he bent to take the priestess into his arms. If she had been well, he would never have dared to do so, but he could hardly expect the priestess to follow after him in her current condition.
"Stop!" the monk protested, rising to stand in front of him as his wife moved to do the same. "Where are you taking her? She needs rest, Lord Sesshomaru!"
He could find no fault in their possessiveness and for that alone, he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "She will be cared for," he said simply and continued on his way with the priestess slack in his arms.
They made no attempt to stop him, not that they would have succeeded. He stepped onto his cloud as Rin followed suit, her arms full of the priestess' possessions. Rin had brought nothing of her own with her, but that didn't worry Sesshomaru. Whatever either human was missing, he would replace.
With that thought, he made his way back home, uncaring of what the humans may have thought.
Sesshomaru had deposited the priestess into the arms of one of his servants almost as soon as he'd landed in the gardens of his shiro, uncaring that the servant had been caught off guard and had barely managed to keep from dropping Sesshomaru's new wife to the ground.
He'd ordered the servant to take her to the lady's chambers before ordering another to see to Rin and then had left, uncaring of what his servants might think of his actions. The priestess would be his new lady once she awoke so she could see to the servants herself, as would be her right.
Frankly, Sesshomaru was secretly pleased that he'd no longer have to keep his own house in order, though he was less thrilled at the why. Still, if he must have a human wife, then she might as well be useful for the remainder of her days. The priestess could instill Rin with similar habits, which would increase Rin's own value for marriage.
He knew of little else to do with the girl himself. Rin had always been the one to follow after him. He simply knew little about childcare and less about human childcare in particular. Rin had cared for her own needs, to his silent relief, so he had never before really considered the matter in depth. When the human monks had attempted to take her from him, he'd realized that she'd needed more, though he hadn't known what that had entailed. So, he'd left her with his half-brother's village in the hope that they would be able to meet the needs that he couldn't.
But the priestess, he figured, would know what to do with the girl and would ensure that Rin was cared for. When Rin was of age, the priestess could aid him in finding her an appropriate husband—if not amongst the humans, than perhaps amongst those of his kind who might be open to such an idea.
Either way, it was something he would worry about at a later date. For now, he had a missive he needed to finish—one he'd been interrupted in writing when he'd gone to retrieve his half-brother's wife.
"My lord!" Jaken's voice once again interrupted the solace of Sesshomaru's study. He flung open the door a moment Larter and threw himself on the ground. "Forgive me, my lord!"
Sesshomaru set aside the brush—he had no desire to break another one, not given the value of the one he'd already destroyed—and resigned himself to the interruption. "Speak," he said simply, hoping that Jaken would at least be quick about it.
"The servants say you took the filthy half-breed's wife as your own!" Jaken looked up and blanched at the small scowl on Sesshomaru's face. "Forgive me, my lord," he said quickly. "I mean your honorable sire's second son's wife." Jaken coughed into his hand. "My lord, she is human!"
Sesshomaru turned his attention back to his scroll, dismissing Jaken. The imp had nothing of importance to say so Sesshomaru saw no further reason to indulge his vassal.
After a moment, Jaken swallowed and seemed to understand Sesshomaru's mood for the imp slowly backed out of the room and left Sesshomaru to his scroll.
Sesshomaru silently picked up his brush again and returned to his missive.
"Lord Sesshomaru!" Rin's chipper voice sang out from the other side of the door. "Master Jaken said that you'd be here. May Rin come in?"
"Hnn." Sesshomaru set aside the scroll he was reading. He was uncertain how long he'd been alone in his study, but it had been long enough to get through the majority of the scrolls and missive that had required his attention. There were only three remaining, including the one in his hand.
Rin took that for permission and slid open the screen door and bounced inside his study. "Rin is happy to be here," she said, standing firmly in the doorway though even he could sense that she wanted to run around and explore the room. But Rin hadn't received permission and so she kept herself to his doorway. "But Rin is worried."
Sesshomaru looked at her with no small amount of surprise, though his expression revealed little. He'd assumed the girl would be delighted to be brought to his shiro. Not only would she be able to be with him, as she desired, for he'd long since determined the girl loved him with all the affection she might have bestowed upon her own family—had they survived—but the shiro itself was new and designed to cater to every human desire. It had been built by his father to one day welcome InuYasha's mother, though his father had never had the chance to do so.
When Sesshomaru had grown weary of traveling the land aimlessly after Naraku, he'd visited the shiro and had found himself suddenly being charged with its management and upkeep. Though he didn't keep his residence full-time, as he still preferred to wander, he often resided in the shiro more nights than not.
"Lady Kagome hasn't eaten," Rin explained as he studied her dejected expression. "Rin even made food for Lady Kagome but she wouldn't eat. Rin thinks Lady Kagome misses her husband."
Sesshomaru considered the matter. It wouldn't do for his new wife to starve to death within the first few days of his care, but he knew little of what to do about the situation. Finally, at a loss though he wouldn't admit it aloud, he murmured, "Hnn."
"Rin thinks Lady Kagome needs a friend," Rin added, her gaze drifting to her feet.
Sesshomaru ignored the last comment, dismissing it as human sentimentality. Instead, he rose to his feet and decided to seek out the priestess to gauge her health himself. He made his way to the priestess' room, aware that Rin followed closely behind. When he arrived, he slid open the door without ceremony to see the priestess had remained curled in on herself, not even bothering to change her clothes into the clothing that had been made available to her.
Nor did she utilize her bedding. Instead, she curled in on herself on the floor and stared off vacantly into space.
Sesshomaru approached her without preamble. "You will eat," he told her, indicating the tray with his gaze.
The priestess didn't move nor did she show any other signs of acknowledging him.
"You will eat," he demanded again.
Still, he received no response.
Finally, in resignation, he turned to Rin. "Find Jaken," he told her, certain the task would keep the girl preoccupied for some time. Jaken had likely hidden himself away to avoid his lord's ire, so he would not be easily located.
"Yes, Lord Sesshomaru!" Rin ran out of the room, her steps cheerful as she hummed to herself, content that her lord would handle the matter for her.
Sesshomaru turned back towards the priestess and eyed the bed. After a moment, he decided that the wood flooring would do her no service and he effortlessly picked her up and settled her upon the futon.
She made no protest as he did so.
He then moved the tray of food Rin had prepared over to her and placed it before her again. His own mother had been upset when she'd received word of Sesshomaru's father's passing, but she had drawn upon her pride to carry her forward.
The priestess, it seemed, had done the exact opposite. Whatever pride she'd held within her had evidently disappeared.
"You will eat," he told her calmly, deciding that he would not allow the priestess to continue to ignore him, "or this one will see to it himself that you do."
She made no move to eat.
He stood, pulling her once again into his arms, and strode for the hot spring outside their connecting rooms. Without a word, he slid open the door that led outside to the spring and approached the water. As soon as he reached the stones at its edge, he let the priestess fall from his arms straight into the water.
She immediately panicked as self-preservation took over. She flailed as she forced her head above water, sputtering and spitting as she tried to breathe.
Sesshomaru watched her impassively as the priestess made her way over to the stones and grabbed them to pull herself out of the water. But to his surprise, instead of returning to her usual boisterous self, she simply sagged against the stones as if she once again had no energy left.
"Why?" she asked him in a quiet, tiny voice.
He stared at her, both surprised that she'd spoken and bemused at her question. Why indeed? "Hnn."
She didn't say anything else. She simply hung there on the rocks, uncaring of how her wet priestess clothing clung to her body or the way she shivered in the cool night air.
"My lord!" Jaken scurried into the room, followed by Rin. "How can your most honorable servant help you?"
Sesshomaru stared pointedly at the soaking wet priestess.
"Lady Kagome!" Rin gasped just as Jaken paled and squawked, "Of course, my lord."
Confident that Jaken would see to it that the servants removed and changed the priestess into dry clothing, Sesshomaru strode out of the room, deciding that he would seek the confidence of another, though he liked the idea not.
But if he did nothing, the priestess was likely to prematurely expire in his care and that simply would not do.
"Mother," Sesshomaru coolly greeted his mother as she eyed him from her place atop her throne.
"So you have finally decided to pay your mother a visit." His mother sniffed as she absently rearranged her outmost layer of clothing now that they'd both returned to their human forms upon his arrival to her home. "Have you lost the little yokai and small humans who accompanied you?"
"No," he responded shortly. "This one has come to seek your assistance, Mother."
His mother favored him with a dubious look that he was all too familiar with. "Tell your mother this, beloved son. Have you come seeking another way to weaponize the fang your honorable father left you?" She sighed dramatically. "And here your mother thought that you'd finally learned your lesson, Sesshomaru, and accepted the wisdom your father left for you."
"Father's fang no longer concerns me," Sesshomaru said easily. He had no desire to remove it from the priestess, not when the blade at his side was far stronger than the one his father had left for InuYasha. Relying upon its power now would only suggest that he was too weak to rely upon his own. "This one has received his own."
"Hnn." His mother's gaze dropped to Bakusaiga with a faint hint of pride. "The blade at your side is most pleasing, Sesshomaru," she remarked, looking back at him with a faint smile.
Sesshomaru allowed himself to bask in her pride, if only for the moment. It was the first time in centuries that she'd been so obviously pleased with him. Though she had never been secretive about her love for him, she had nevertheless made sure that he understood that his goal was to one day surpass his own father.
She had not, however, ever directly interfered with his own plans, whether she'd agreed with them or not.
"Hnn," he echoed her before deciding to change the subject. "The hanyo has died." He did not add that it was too late for Tenseiga to revive InuYasha; there was no need to vocalize the words to his mother in the first place.
His mother's eyes widened slightly, the only visible sign of her astonishment. "Then you intend on taking his sword for your own?" Her gaze again shifted to the two swords at his hip, taking careful note that Tessaiga was absent among them.
He heard the challenge in his mother's voice with the challenge she'd put to him. "It has been left to his human mate," he informed his mother, recalling how the priestess had clung to the sword for the majority of his interactions with her. She had only been parted with it once, when he had picked her up and carried her to the hot spring.
His mother eyed him carefully. "What do you intend to do with his mate, Sesshomaru?" she asked him after a moment had passed.
"This one has already taken her as his own." There had been no ceremony to commemorate it, but a ceremony was not required in this case. All he'd had to do was bring her to his home and install her in his own mate's quarters and the rest would be understood without question.
His mother sighed dramatically again. "Truly, you take after your father in the most unusual ways," she commented lightly, but he did not sense any disapproval in her tone. "So what do you ask of your mother, then, beloved son?"
"The priestess has become unresponsive after the loss of her first mate. She will not eat or drink, no matter what sustenance is provided to her." He paused, recalling Rin's words earlier that day and then continued, "This one is unaware how to aid in her recovery, but it has been suggested to him that one who understands her pain might be of benefit to her. This one has thus come to seek his mother's wisdom in the matter."
"You would have your mother wait upon a human?" His mother raised a brow but her expression was otherwise blank.
Sesshomaru, seeing no other way to explain his actions so that his mother would understand, said simply, "Hnn."
"You so rarely ask for anything," his mother mused quietly, a sardonic smile on her lips. "Did you think your mother would refuse you, Sesshomaru?"
He couldn't completely keep the surprise from his face as she rose from her throne.
"Come," she said, stepping towards him as he felt her yoki begin to form around her in the way that told him that she was about to take to her true form. "Let us see this new mate of yours."
She shifted, rising to the air, and Sesshomaru shifted to follow after her.
"Truly, Sesshomaru, she is in a most wretched state," his mother observed as she entered the room to eye the priestess.
Sesshomaru was not inclined to disagree. The priestess had yet again huddled in on herself, curled around the sword as if it was the husband she'd lost, with her gaze vacant and lost as it stared off into the darkness. Not a candle had been lit for her—he made a mental note in resignation that he was going to need to address the matter with his servants himself—and the tray of food that had been provided lay untouched.
His mother approached the priestess, kneeling beside the human to get a better look at her. She made no move to touch the priestess but Sesshomaru knew that her inspection would be no less complete in spite of that.
"Human," his mother said after a moment, her gaze firmly trained on the priestess' face. "Look at me."
Whether it was the command in her tone or something else, the priestess responded—if barely. Her gaze flickered over towards Sesshomaru's mother, though she made no other movements.
"I am Sesshomaru's mother." His mother indicated Sesshomaru not more than two steps from her with a grand gesture. "You were the mate of my husband's second son, were you not?"
The priestess seemed to curl further in on herself at the reminder.
His mother's lips pressed together for a moment but she did not give in, nor did Sesshomaru expect her too. "What is your name, human?"
The priestess lay there for so long that Sesshomaru had begun to resign himself to the fact that perhaps the priestess was too damaged for even his mother's wisdom to aid. Finally, she whispered, "Higurashi Kagome."
"Kagome." His mother seemed a little puzzled at the name, but she nevertheless used it and Sesshomaru wondered if the priestess knew the honor she had received in his mother doing so. "Do you understand all that has happened, Kagome?"
The priestess did not respond as her gaze drifted back towards the darkness.
"Kagome," his mother commanded and the priestess dutifully looked back at her. "Do you understand what has happened?"
The priestess did not look away nor did she respond, and Sesshomaru was unsure if that should be counted as progress or not.
"You must accept what you have lost, Kagome," his mother said and though the words were stern, her tone was not unkind. "You have lost your husband. I understand this feeling all too well, for I have likewise lost my own. But you have not been abandoned, Kagome. Amongst our kind, it is not uncommon for a brother or another male relative to take the widow into his own household so that she will be provided for. Sesshomaru has done this for you, but now he requires your help. He has not lived amongst humans and does not know how to do so. He has taken up his residence at a shiro for you and the human child, but he is at a loss on how to proceed. Do you understand?"
Sesshomaru shifted, uncomfortable with how blunt his mother had been in her assessment of the situation. He'd had no reason to understand how humans lived before and so had never believed it to be a shortcoming until now.
But hearing his mother voice that aloud did nothing to help his own pride. It made him feel as though he had nothing to offer the priestess, which was a harsh blow to his pride.
"I don't want Sesshomaru." The priestess' voice sounded pitifully weapon compared to the tirades he had become accustomed to hearing from her in the past. "I want InuYasha."
His mother's expression was kind though her words were not. "InuYasha is dead, Kagome," his mother said bluntly. "Whether you desire Sesshomaru or not does not change that fact. Your husband would not have wanted you to waste away your life like this so you must accept his loss and move forward."
His mother's words were another blow to his pride. Though he himself had never put any thought into desiring the priestess, it was an insult to hear that the priestess would have likewise felt the same. He was desirable, he knew, with much to offer, and so he'd had his share of admirers in the past. Though he hadn't returned any of their feelings, it was irritating to hear that the priestess could not only not comprehend the honor he'd given her, but hadn't even desired him in the first place.
"He was supposed to outlive me." The priestess' expression was suddenly haunted. "He was going to tell my family about our life together when he... after I... when he made it there. He wasn't supposed to die. We were going to have children. I was going to grow old with him."
"Life does not follow our plans." Sesshomaru looked at his mother to see a sad smile tugging at her lips and he wondered for a moment what his mother had desired and lost with his father. Had they intended for more before his father's untimely demise?
"He was the only one... The only one I'd ever loved." The priestess curled in tighter on herself and began sobbing. "I miss him so much."
His mother looked over at Sesshomaru with an expectant look.
He met her gaze with uncertainty, not understanding her expectation.
After a moment, she huffed quietly, reaching out to soothingly rub the priestess' back. Now that the priestess had begun crying, she couldn't seem to stop herself. She cried until she began to hiccup and even then, she didn't stop. Her face and clothing was soaked with her tears and her eyes slowly began to swell and turn red. Though he had never really considered her attraction before, at the moment she looked more like a lost child than a woman who was supposed to be his wife.
As if his mother knew his uncharitable thought, she glared at him and huffed.
Finally, the priestess had cried herself to sleep, quieting down as his mother pulled the blanket from her futon over her.
"She will sleep for some time," his mother said, rising to her feet. "She has not cried since his passing, but it is the first and critical step for her to move forward. You cannot allow her to slide backwards, Sesshomaru. She will be more receptive to your aid now but it will need to come from you and you must not allow her to deviate from your instruction or she may return back to where she was before. I will warn you, my beloved son, that this care will likely bond her strongly to you, but if you wish to keep your honor, you can do no less."
Sesshomaru mulled over the words as he eyed the slumbering human. "Hnn," he answered after a moment. He wasn't fond of the idea of being the one to care for the priestess; it was why he'd sought help in the first place. He'd hoped that his mother would be the one to give him the aid he required so he could turn over the priestess' care to his servants, but it seemed now that that would never happen.
"Tell this one what he must do." He met his mother's proud gaze.
"If you do exactly as your mother says, the girl will recover," his mother began and then spent the rest of the afternoon instructing him in all that he would have to do if he wanted the priestess to survive.
Sesshomaru could honestly say that he was not looking forward to it.
The easiest of his mother's suggestions had also been the first one required of him, though he found the idea itself distasteful.
She feels alone, Sesshomaru. You must teach her that this is not the case and that she can rely on you for comfort.
He stood at the door that separated their two rooms, the screen that covered it a poor substitute for a barrier. He wore a simple nemaki, his usual nightwear kept in the shiro for the few instances that he'd chosen to sleep in the shiro before.
Now, however, it seemed all of that would change.
With a heavy sigh, he slid open the door, refusing to back down. He had agreed to help—his honor would accept nothing less. Silently, he padded into the room on barefoot, clawed feet, and found that the priestess had once again curled in on herself.
This time, at least, she had chosen to do so on her own futon, at least, though he noticed that the futon would be too small for their mutual comfort. He, at least, could do without, but he made a mental note to have servants enter her room in the morning and fix the oversight so that he would not have to do so going forward.
If he was going to spend the night here henceforth—or her in his own rooms, though that was far too great an invasion for him to ever consider—than the room would have to be modified to include his own preferences and comfort.
The priestess, at least, had finally worn herself out. She was breathing evenly, without the quiet sobs that had wracked her small body earlier when his mother had prodded her. With quiet resignation, he stretched out beside her, pulling the woman into his arms as his mother had dictated.
She went willingly, allowing him to maneuver her into a more comfortable position. The most comfortable, he quickly found, was when he lay on his back and pulled her half on top of him as he wrapped an arm casually around his waist. The other options were less comfortable, with either his leg or arm sacrificed for the woman's comfort.
It was odd, he reflected, how comfortably she fit into his arms. For such a small human, lacking the muscles and strength of his own kind, she fit well against him, and her softness did not impede his own comfort in any way.
He doubted that he would find sleep in such a pose restful, but before he knew it, the exhaustion of the past few days fell upon him at once and he dozed off.
"I've missed you," a soft voice breathed in his ear as he suddenly awoke, though not to full alertness. "I love it when you cuddle, InuYasha."
At his half-brother's name, he was jolted into waking fully.
He found Kagome wrapped completely around him, her body pressed fully against him as she sprawled atop him. Every part of her body seemed to be pressing against his in a way that seemed far too intimate and personal to allow, though he couldn't see any immediate way to extricate himself.
"Kagome," he said, recalling his mother's instruction that he refer to the woman by name only moving forward. He reached out to cup her neck with the intent of pulling her head back from where it had snuggled against his neck and shoulder, but his touch only made her sigh and press more fully against him.
To his surprise, she began kissing his neck. The kisses were soft at first, but surprise alone had him jolting. When she changed to nipping and then biting, he nearly surprised himself by yelping in shock at the sensation and only his strong desire for control kept him silent.
Just the notion alone that he almost made an undignified sound had him irritated, but the priestess seemed oblivious to his mood.
"Stop," he commanded her, apprehensive about what might happen if he allowed her to continue without censure.
"Oh, hush," she purred against him, her hot breath sending shivers down his spine. "You know you like it when I take control, InuYasha, so be quiet. You can be the boss next round, okay?"
He flinched as she bit him, this time hard enough that he jumped.
"Enough," he ground out, forcefully pushing her off of him. He was no longer in the mood to indulge her, let alone treat her as gently as his mother insisted. In all fairness, he forgot all of his mother's warnings entirely in his rush to remove her from him and the odd sensations she was causing within him. "InuYasha is dead," he reminded her harshly.
She had sprawled out next to him, staring at him with as much shock as he felt himself. "Y-you..." she trailed off and glanced away, her face flushing as her expression became horrified.
He rose up, desiring to put as much space between them as possible. "You will not...bite this one again," he stressed, his tone flat.
He ignored the way she glanced down at herself and clutched the lapels of her own nemaki together, though he was mildly surprised that she'd changed clothing at all. Perhaps his mother had more of an impact than he'd realized.
At that, his ire retreated and he suddenly recalled his intentions and his mother's lectures. He only hoped the strength of his response hadn't undone anything.
"Kagome..." He trailed off when the priestess still wouldn't look at him. "Kagome." This time it was more of a command, but to his relief, she met his gaze once more, though she continued to fidget with her lapels. "This one apologizes," he told her stiffly. He didn't bother to expound on what, assuming that she would already know.
"You're right," she said quietly and he found that he didn't like how flat her voice was. "InuYasha is dead."
Sesshomaru remembered his mother's warning about not letting the priestess retreat back into herself and quickly began shuffling through his mother's advice, trying to find some way of forcing the priestess back to the present.
After a moment, he recalled his mother's comment that touch brought comfort, which is why his mother had encouraged Sesshomaru to spend his nights with the priestess—distasteful as the idea was.
He acted instantly, not even giving her time to react. He simply sat down next to her and pulled Kagome into his lap, figuring that it was the most expedient way to ensure the most contact possible. He ignored her slight struggles to get away, listening instead to her heart beat and the sharpness of her breath to tell him when she'd calmed down.
As soon as she had, he released his grip on her.
She didn't move.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "I know I've been...difficult."
"Hnn." He eyed the top of her head in puzzlement. Was this admission of hers progress? He simply did not have enough experience himself to gauge and his mother had retuned to her own home after her lecture, confident that Sesshomaru would be able to manage the human.
Sesshomaru had been equally confident the night before, but now he was no longer sure he was qualified to care for an adult human female, let alone one so obviously damaged.
She sighed. "Just...sit there for a minute, okay?"
He considered the request, unsure of the timeframe she was seeking, but ultimately decided it did not matter. He had promised his mother and himself that he would ensure that the priestess would recover and he would do so, even if it was not something he was comfortable with.
"Hnn," he repeated.
She sighed again as she relaxed against him and he decided this was a good sign. He recalled something else; his mother had recommended that he encourage Kagome to leave her rooms and only return at night to sleep.
"This one is accustomed to a morning walk," he said after a moment. It was more of a patrol than a true walk, but he would adapt his routine if it meant her wellbeing. "You will join him."
She was quiet for a moment but to his relief, she said, "Okay."
He promised himself that she would not return to her room until night had fallen—and he would return with her to sleep again. As his mother had said, it had proven beneficial in helping the priestess.
Dammit this was supposed to be the very LAST chapter and now look what's happened. One more will be written but I swear by all that's holy, that'll be IT.
If Sesshomaru had been a lesser yokai, his shiro's servants would have been in uproar over their lord tending to a human woman as if she was a child.
He brought her food, took her on walks, and did his best to keep her occupied during the day. He taught her to play Go and the koto, establishing a routine that he hoped would keep the priestess distracted. After she ate breakfast, they would stroll through the shiro grounds and retreat at mid-morning to play the koto or read in the gardens until lunch. After the midday meal, they would play Go, with some games lasting an hour or longer. Depending on how well they played, they would play until dinner, which was more often than not the case. When the priestess played a game poorly, however, she would become moody and so he would often insist that she relax in a hot spring until dinner.
When they didn't play Go, they would patrol his territory on his cloud, returning to the shiro after the sun set. He'd ensured she had a bow and arrows at her disposal, more so to allow her to feel as though she had a purpose in accompanying him than because he felt she had any real need to defend herself. Still, he admitted to himself that he was more comfortable with her accompanying him when she was properly armed, even if no one would be foolish enough to attack them.
And every night, regardless of how they spent the day, Sesshomaru would pull the priestess against him to sleep. Each night, it grew easier to do so until he found that he could not relax without her next to him. It comforted him, allowed him to feel powerful, to have her curl so trustingly against him and sleep. After a few days, she finally relinquished the sword, but it was always nearby, close enough to touch if she desired at any point during the night.
And so time went on.
Rin accompanied them at every meal and occasionally joined their walks as well, but more often than not, Rin entertained herself as she was want to do. With Jaken watching over her, Sesshomaru was unconcerned by the girl's roaming. Jaken would sooner die himself than allow any harm to befall Rin. And Rin, to her credit, remained on the shiro grounds and generally tried to remain out of sight when possible, as if she somehow understood that the priestess required his full attention for the moment.
Once the priestess was well, he would ensure Rin's future happiness had also been determined and allowed for.
For now, he stuck to the routine he'd devised.
Over the past few weeks, however, just as his mother had warned him, the priestess had opened to him, seeking his comfort and willingly opening up to him about her own loss. As his mother had instructed, he listened and prompted her to speak whenever she fell silent.
The more she relied upon him, the more he desired her to continue doing so. Feeling needed, knowing that he was the only one capable of assisting her, made him feel more powerful than his quest for power ever had. He found that caring for her as he had never cared for another endeared her in ways he had trouble processing but at the same time, filled him with indescribable pleasure.
The routine between them that he had once feared would shackle him needlessly to one place when he yearned to live free instead made him feel more in tune with the world. He had purpose now that went beyond simply protecting the lands he claimed as his own territory.
And so he stopped thinking entirely of a timeframe for her recovery.
One afternoon, the priestess surprised him by inviting Rin to play Go with them during lunch. Once settled, she began walking Rin through the basics she'd only recently learned herself while he watched with an indulgent eye.
She is a good instructor, he noted as he watched her explain each part of the game with a patience he hadn't expected. Whenever their paths had crossed when he'd hunted Naraku, she'd always been impatient and prone to outburst.
Once Rin had been shown the basics, the priestess insisted that he play Rin. At first, he'd been inclined to refuse. He was an adept player, with hundreds of years of experience. Playing the priestess was one thing—she was an adult both capable of understanding his rationale and of plotting out a strategy of her own—but Rin was an adolescent and still quite young and naive.
But when Rin looked up at him in quiet delight, he hadn't been able to refuse and so he found himself playing while the priestess looked on.
The games ended quickly; child or no, he wouldn't play poorly just to allow Rin a false victory. If she became experienced enough to claim it, the victory would be hers for the taking, but he doubted she ever would. Rin's mind had wandered more than once during the game—a fact he'd noticed with mild amusement early on. But the games delighted her and so he had continued to play until Rin had grown visibly agitated, shifting on her cushion with her need to move around.
He'd released her from the game they were playing and she took off, racing towards the lake that bordered the shiro gardens.
"She looks up to you," the priestess observed, moving to reclaim the cushion Rin had vacated.
That was more than obvious so he replied with a simple, "Hnn," to acknowledge that he'd heard her.
"In some ways, she reminds me of InuYasha."
He barely hid his astonishment at that comment. He turned to see Rin splashing in the garden with a delighted shriek as she splashed Jaken, who immediately began to complain even as he retaliated. The girl was in her adolescence but showed no signs of changing the quiet acceptance and happy demeanor that had intrigued him in the first place.
InuYasha, on the other hand, had always been loud and brash, rarely accepting anything or anyone. He was quick to start an argument and quicker still to fight.
What on earth did the priestess see in common between the two?
"InuYasha could never sit still either." The priestess chuckled quietly and he shifted his gaze back to see a small smile on her lips. "He was always so restless. Whenever we made camp, it was always a fight because he wanted to press on. If he lost the fight, he'd sit in the trees, twitching or sulking because he'd lost when he wanted to keep moving."
Sesshomaru considered that. He could see her point, though he still didn't see enough points of comparison between the two. Still, she was speaking of her husband and his mother had insisted that when the priestess was ready to do so, he should be encouraging and supportive. "Hnn. He was always active, even as a child."
Her smile grew. "Yeah, he was, wasn't he? I liked that about him, even from the very beginning. He was a take action sort of guy rather than being all talk." Her smile faltered for a moment as she continued, "But he was terrible at hiding how he felt. He was always so obvious, even when he tried not to be. He wore his heart right on his firerat sleeve. I liked that, too. Rin's like that too, you know. But sometimes, it hurt to know what he felt because...because I couldn't do anything about it."
"L-like Kikyo." She inhaled sharply. "He loved her first and I think in some ways, he loved her more. I accepted that in the end, but sometimes I could be so jealous of her, even though she was already dead. She reached him first. That was something I could never beat, no matter how hard I tried. She taught him to love again."
He watched as the different emotions flickered through her expressions, some so quickly that he didn't quite grasp them.
"We had our problems, too, you know." She wiped away a tear but more followed and he froze, unsure for moment of what he was supposed to do if she cried. "We fought, a lot. Both of us were headstrong and neither of us was ready to admit we were wrong. But we loved each other. We really really loved each other." She sniffled. "H-he was my first love."
He moved the table aside and reached to pull her into his lap, hoping that his warmth would settle her.
"I miss him," she whispered quietly into his haori. "But I can't stop thinking that he's happier now because he's finally reunited with Kikyo. I think that's what hurts me the most."
His hands moved through her hair without conscious thought as she buried her face against him and he continued to do so until she finally stopped crying.
Later that evening, the priestess was fidgeting when he entered her room to sleep.
"Y-you don't have to," she blurted, her hands tightly grasping her kimono. "Sleep here, I mean. If you don't want to. I know you don't like humans and it probably isn't comfortable sleeping like this, either. So, I mean, you don't have to keep sleeping here."
He stood in the doorway, filled with an uncertainty he hadn't felt since he'd first brought her to his home. Had he done something to make her suddenly uncomfortable with him? Erred in some way instead of following his mother's instructions to the letter? He thought back over the day's events to see what might have brought on this expression, but couldn't find anything that he'd done wrong per his instructions.
So what should he do then? Should he leave as she instructed?
He wasn't comfortable with the idea. The priestess hadn't healed from her emotional turmoil and he found that he desired to remain nearby in case something occurred. But how could he convince her of that if she wished him to leave?
She was staring at him, face flushing, and he realized she must have been waiting for his answer.
"Is this what you desire, Kagome?" he finally asked, not because he wished to obey, but because he wanted to understand.
She bit her lower lip. "Isn't it what you want? I'm just your wife in name only, right? So you don't need to sleep here with me."
His eyes narrowed. He didn't like hearing the phrase come from her lips, no matter how accurate it was. "You are this one's wife," he said flatly. "He has every right to sleep here if he wishes or to bring you to his rooms to sleep if that is his desire."
Her gaze suddenly dropped to the floor.
He stepped into the room and slid the door closed behind him before walking fully into the room to stand before her. "You seek to avoid this one. Why?"
"I'm not trying to avoid you." Her heartbeat picked up, leading him to conclude that she was likely lying to him. "You've just done a lot for me that I'm sure you haven't been comfortable with. I appreciate it, but you don't have to keep doing it."
He stiffened. "Now you insult this one's honor." His lip twitched with a grimace of annoyance that he couldn't fully suppress.
"No!" Her head jolted up and she met his gaze with wide, pleading eyes. "That's not what I meant, Sesshomaru."
"Then explain." His tone was short but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"I don't think it's a good idea for you to keep sleeping here." Her face flushed but this time, she didn't look away. "T-the nicer you are to me, Sesshomaru, the more I'm going to want. I shouldn't. My husband just died and... And you're his brother. I shouldn't, but... I do. I mean, I will. You understand, right?"
He stared at her in total bemusement. The entire reason behind his actions was to help her recover and that meant she would depend on him; he'd already accepted that. What more could she want from him?
He wasn't sure if his confusion showed but the priestess blushed harder as she blurted, "You have to stay away from me, Sesshomaru, because if you don't, I might just fall in love with you, okay?"
His eyes widened. Love? She would fall in love with him?
Her gaze fell away from him again but he hardly noticed, lost in his own thoughts. What was he supposed to do if she loved him? He cared for her; it was his duty, but he had certainly not wanted more than that when he'd started this. He had sought only to maintain his honor in doing so.
Without conscious thought, his feet took him to the door once more and he opened it, absently walking outside the room and shutting the door before he thought better of it. Once again, he needed advice, and once again, he could only think of one source.
He left the shiro and took to the air, intent on seeking out his mother's advice yet again, not even stopping to think how his withdrawal might be perceived by the woman he left behind.
That's it. We're done. No mas. No epilogues. I'll go mad if I add another chapter; it's already run away so far!
Sesshomaru froze as his mother's rage washed over him.
"You left her?" She sighed dramatically. "How did this one manage to give birth to such a foolish child? To think he would take after his father to such a degree..." She raised her fan in front of her face as though she couldn't bear to look at him a moment longer.
He hid his own sigh at his mother's flair for dramatics. "Mother," he interrupted coolly, knowing another tirade was coming.
His mother sighed again as she lowered her fan with a disappointed look. "Really, Sesshomaru, what did you expect would happen? This one did warn you that the priestess would become attached if you chose to pursue this path. Are you willing to throw your honor and word aside because of this?"
His jaw tightened. No, he would not relinquish his honor; he simply sought guidance from his mother on how to help deter the priestess from developing such...affections for him.
"Really, Sesshomaru." His mother snapped her fan shut. "She is your wife now, human or not. What harm is there if your own wife cares for you?"
"She is human," he countered, miffed his mother hadn't taken his side as he'd expected her to. While she hadn't opposed his father's second marriage, he'd always know that she hadn't understood his father's choice for a human woman. He'd expected her to empathize with his position.
He wanted to aid the priestess, as per his duty, but he didn't understand her feelings, nor did he desire to. She was mortal and she would one day die, so what point was there in attaching himself to yet another human he'd lose? Rin alone would be enough; he had no desire to add another complication.
"She is yours," his mother countered, rising from her throne. And then, to his surprise, his mother simply left him standing there.
He made his way back to his shiro. His mother had quite clearly put an end to her involvement in the situation which meant it would be up to Sesshomaru to dissuade the priestess from pursuing anything further with him. He had no desire for anything more.
When he arrived back at the shiro, he was surprised to find Jaken waiting for him with an anxious expression.
"She left," he blurted, waving the staff wildly in his anxiety.
His first thought was Rin but he spotted her standing some distance behind Jaken with a worried look on her face.
"Lady Kagome is gone," Rin spoke up, approaching him without her usual bounce in her step. "Rin tried to convince her to stay but Lady Kagome said she was needed back at the village." Rin's hair fell in her face and he smelled the faint hint of her tears.
A lie, he suspected, since the humans in the priestess' village had not even been able to assist in the priestess' recovery.
"Rin." She looked up then, wiping away a single tear, and the command he'd been about to give Jaken fell away. Instead, he promised, "This one will retrieve her."
Perhaps it was for the best, he reflected, as Rin grinned at him in relief. If he retrieved her himself, he would be able to have the conversation with her in private about his intentions with her and if she didn't agree with him, he would simply delay their return a little longer until she did.
She was his wife in name, but she would never be more. He had surpassed his father and he had no intentions of taking on the same affliction that had seen to his father's downfall.
He ignored the tiny voice that quietly pointed out that he had no intentions of ever allowing her to leave him.
He found the priestess not a half-day's journey on foot from his shiro, though it had only taken him an hour to locate her. He had noted, however, with vague amusement that she was traveling in the exact opposite direction of her own village.
"If you seek your human village, you are traveling the wrong way."
She jumped at his words and turned around to glare at him but not, he noted with mild amusement, without turning to correct herself to walk in the right direction. "I can find the village myself, Sesshomaru, so you can consider your 'duty' done," she said callously, without giving him a second look as she stormed past him as he floated on his cloud before her.
His eyes narrowed. How dare she ignore him after he'd come all this way in search of her...
"Rin was in tears," he said, certain the knowledge would cause the priestess to rethink her decision to leave.
"And I'm sorry for that," she replied though he heard the catch in her voice as she spoke, "but I can't live with you. She can always come visit." The you're not was not stated but he understood the message regardless.
His ire rose at her cavalier dismissal and he moved to float next to her as she continued her attempt to walk away from him. "You are this one's wife and he has not dismissed you."
"I don't recall accepting your proposal," she snapped back.
"This one did not recall asking."
She whirled around so fast he nearly collided into her and it was only his quick yokai reflexes that saved her from being impaled on the armor he'd donned before he'd gone off in search of her. "Fine. Let me make this clear, Sesshomaru: I am not your obligation any longer. I'm fine now and I don't need your help so you can just go back to doing—well, whatever you were doing before all of this. I don't need you and I don't want your protection. You helped me out so your conscious is clear."
He reined in his yoki with all the control he had at his disposal. No one had ever spoken to him thus—and lived—but his obligation to her well-being stayed his hand. He could not kill her and keep his honor, but that same honor demanded that he take action for the dishonor she'd just given him.
He reached out to grab her elbow and pull her into his side away from the spikes on his armor. "You are this one's wife," he reminded her fiercely. "It is not your place to reject his help or his obligations. You will return to the shiro and—"
"And what?" she snapped back. "Sit around wanting something I'll never have? No thank you, Sesshomaru. I won't sit around again and pine for something I can't have."
His blood heated as she refused to back down, glaring up at him with all the passion she'd once given his half-brother. "You will—"
"I won't," she interrupted, trying unsuccessfully to pull herself free. "Let me go, Sesshomaru! I don't want to be with you!"
There was something about the furious way she denied him that had him pulling her closer to him even as the rational part of himself wanted to push her away. All of the feelings that had been welling in the background over the past few weeks suddenly came to the forefront, nearly overwhelming him with their intensity.
What is this...?
He didn't even know where to begin in processing how he felt; all he knew was that he did not wish her to leave him. The more she rejected him, the more he backtracked and forgot his own decision to let her go.
She pounded his chest with her fist. "Stop, Sesshomaru!" Her cry this time sounded pained rather than angry. "I don't want to love you! You left me!"
He narrowed his gaze as realization hit him. "And this is why you left?" he asked her, striving to keep his tone neutral.
She just shrugged.
"You will return." He didn't give her a chance to argue. He simply pulled her more fully onto his cloud and flew back to his castle, ignoring the small fist that pounded against his chest in protest.
The priestess didn't speak to him for several days after their return to the shiro. He reestablished their routine from before but now the priestess rarely made eye contact and if she spoke, it was only when he made it clear he would not leave without a response.
It infuriated him.
She would speak to Rin and occasionally even Jaken if they crossed paths, but the moment he made his presence known, she would shut down and avoid him.
Finally, he decided that enough was enough. He would not allow her to act this way and damage her recovery.
He entered her room, not bothering to take a moment to identify himself before doing so.
She screamed, groping around for her blanket in the dim lighting and it took him a moment to realize why.
She'd been changing into her namaki, but she hadn't done more than slip her hand into one sleeve when he'd walked into her room without warning.
"Get out!" she hissed, reaching for her pillow to throw it at him.
The pillow stopped short of his person by several feet. He raised a brow at her in mild amusement.
She glowered. "Out!"
He stepped closer, unwilling to allow her to dictate his actions. "You are this one's wife," he remarked casually. "Such a sight is hardly of any concern."
"Maybe not to you," she ground out, "but it is to me."
"Yet you have feelings for this one." The words left his lips before he even realized he'd spoken them but once said, he couldn't take them back.
She pressed her lips together. "The feelings will fade," she snapped, shoving her other hand into its sleeve. "So you don't have to worry that I'm going to pounce over you or throw my poor, unworthy human feelings at you. And besides, I meant it before, Sesshomaru. I want to go back home."
He stood before her now. "This is your home."
"No," she stressed, "it isn't. You made that clear the other day when you just disappeared. You don't want me. Fine, I get it, but I don't want to stay here while you rub my face in it!"
"You are human." He was reaching for her before he knew what he was doing but the sudden heat in his blood told him that he wasn't as unaffected as he'd believed.
She growled at him. "Dammit, Sesshomaru, I know that! You don't have to keep reminding me." She suddenly sniffled, catching him off-guard as she began to cry. "I lost everything, Sesshomaru! It wasn't supposed to be you with me. I was supposed to spend forever with him and—and instead I'm here, being a burden where I'm not wanted and I can't do it, okay? I need to be needed and I want to be loved. Is that so much to ask?"
The sight of her tears nearly sent him into a panic and so he did the only thing he could think of. Once again, he pulled her into his embrace, letting her cry as he did his best to soothe her. It should have felt wrong, holding her so close to him when he wore little and she wore even less. He had no armor, no weapons, and he felt defenseless as she sobbed against him.
"What are you doing to me?" he whispered and he didn't realize that he'd spoken aloud until she gasped.
She tried to pull back but he wouldn't allow her. He felt more exposed than he'd ever been in his life. "What?"
"Calm yourself and rest," he tried, hoping she would be soothed to sleep if he continued to rub her back as he had before. "Your body is weary."
But she shook her head against his chest. "Oh, no. You can't say something like that and pretend you didn't."
This time, she pulled back and he let her, seeing no other alternative. She stared up at him for several moments and he wondered what she saw. He didn't understand his own feelings then but he knew that he didn't wish to leave her then as she was. He was afraid that if he did, she would attempt to leave once more, insinuating yet again that she found him to be an unworthy protector and husband.
He acknowledged that feeling for the first time since she'd tried to leave.
Whatever she saw, the tension left her body then. "It's scary," she admitted, but he wasn't sure she was talking about herself as her voice dropped. "But Sesshomaru, I'm not ready to do this just yet either. But," she added with a tiny smile that he found gave him relief from the quiet anxiety building within him, "we have time. I'm willing to do this if you are."
And then, to his surprise, she kissed him.
And he let her. It was a simple, soft kiss, but he found himself leaning in, allowing her to deepen the kiss, and rationale left him.
Later, he would sit back and analyze what had happened; how he'd allowed the situation to go so far, but for now, all he could focus on was how much he enjoyed the feel of her lips on his and her soft body pressed against his own.
There would be time enough later to consider the ramifications of this moment and what it would mean for them both.