Kagome hummed as she left the village by the Bone Eater's well, her heart light and happy. Kaede received word from a runner that a neighboring village had come down with an unknown disease and, since InuYasha and Miroku had already left a day earlier to slay a yokai bothering a distant daimyo, Kagome had taken it upon herself to help them.
The other village wasn't far away—she'd be there by nightfall—so she wasn't worried about making the journey on her own. After all, she had her bow and arrows with her, along with some ofouda, if any yokai crossed her path, but she doubted she'd see them.
They'd seen no traces of bandits or yokai for weeks. InuYasha's regular patrol seemed to have chased most of them off.
She mentally catalogued her herbs as she walked, hoping she'd remembered to bring everything. Since she didn't know what the village had been infected with, she'd brought anything and everything that she'd thought could help, though it meant that she'd be forced to prepare the medicine there.
It was at midday when she'd stopped for a short break and a meal that she began to feel like something was wrong.
The land around her was silent. No cicadas, no birds, no wildlife at all made a sound. It was more than a little spooky.
But she hadn't been able to find anything or anyone when she'd looked around and, after a few minutes of searching, had finished up her meal and then pressed on. She really wanted to make it to the village before it grew too late.
No matter how hard she traveled, however, she couldn't shake off the feeling that someone or something was stalking her, though her reiki found no lingering traces of yoki around her.
Maybe I'm just a little jumpy, she thought to herself. It's the first time I've traveled on my own without InuYasha and the others in years. Yeah, that's probably it. It's just a case of nerves, that's all. She took a deep breath and pressed on.
As dusk began to settle over the land, she found a man ambling along on a crutch, his left ankle shoddily bound up. Instantly, Kagome's desire to help kicked into gear and she rushed forward, ready to help.
It looks like it might have bled, she thought as she studied the bandage. As soon as she was in earshot, she called out a greeting and as she did so, the man turned and his ankle nearly gave way.
She rushed forward to support him before he stumbled and fell. "Careful," she said as she helped him regain his balance. "Do you think you can stand?"
He looked down at her, a little dazed. "I think so, Lady Priestess," he said, his words slow and carefully spoken.
She reluctantly pulled way and let him balance himself, knowing how proud men could be in this era. From the look of him, she guessed he was probably a samurai, but one that clearly either worked for an impoverished house or had fallen on hard times, given the worn look to his clothing and the slight fraying of his armor.
"I'd be happy to look at that ankle, if you'd let me," she offered, unsure if he would accept her offer but unable to do anything less. This man clearly needed her help.
The man looked around and, instead of answering her, said, "Lady Priestess, where is your entourage? Surely a small girl like you cannot be traveling on your own."
She flushed, though it wasn't because she was embarrassed. Instead, she was annoyed at the insinuation that she couldn't take care of herself. She was twenty-four years old and more than capable of looking after herself—in this era or her own. "I'm a traveling priestess," she explained, wanting him to understand that she could take care of herself.
"Hmm." The man looked down at her for a moment longer and then nodded his head. "I would appreciate it if you did look at my leg."
She helped him sit down before she gingerly took his ankle and lifted it. "How did you injure it?" she asked, beginning to unroll the bandage wrapped around it. She didn't bother to look up at him, still a little annoyed at his insinuation that she couldn't protect herself.
"A battle with bandits," he answered her after a moment and she sensed more than heard his distraction. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, girl?"
She met his gaze then, pressing her lips together until she felt calm enough to respond. "I have been studying for almost a decade. You're in good hands, sir." She then looked down at his unbandaged ankle and stared.
Though the bandage had been bloody, there was no sign at all of any injury on his ankle, let alone any bleeding.
A horrible feeling washed over her as she met his gaze again. "You aren't injured."
He grinned at her as lust dilated his pupils. "No, I'm not. But we'll thank you for looking after us with such...care, priestess." He licked his lips. "I've always wanted to be the one to soil a pure little girl like you."
She jumped back and rose to her feet, intending to flee, but never got the chance. She was surrounded by eight men, not including the one sitting before her, and she was thrown to the ground before she took more than a step. A moment later, her clothing was ripped and cut off of her and her weapons were tossed to the side, just out of reach, and then she felt their hands everywhere.
Oh gods. She squeezed her eyes shut in fear as her hands scrambled to find anything she could that might be used as a weapon to defend herself.
But all her hands found was dirt beneath her fingertips. She could do nothing at all to stop them, for against evil men, her reiki was almost useless.
At some point, she realized she was screaming as they plowed into her in turns. At first, they chuckled at her screaming and her struggles to free herself, but when she didn't stop, she felt hands slide around her throat, squeezing her flesh until she was gasping for air.
Moments later, she lost consciousness entirely.
Kagome awoke to a lump on her head and blood drying and clumping to her legs. She could still feel the hands squeezing her throat as others grasped and tugged at her body, forcing her to service them again and again.
Whether it was the memory, the pain, or the inevitable concussion, she didn't know, but she rolled her battered and bruised body to the side and vomited, expelling everything left in her stomach. When she finished, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and winced at the pain that raced through her at the simple gesture. Worridly, she looked down at herself and noted that the bandits hadn't even bothered to cover her up before they'd left her.
They'd left her for dead, she realized, staring at the bloodied cuts and bruises that covered her skin. They'd left her for dead, uncaring about what anyone would think when they found her. In this era and in this condition, she might not even be buried properly and even if she was, her friends likely would never have found out what happened to her.
It was that thought that had her pulling herself up and forcing her battered body to move. She was much closer to the other village—the one she'd gone to help—but all she could think of in that moment was home. She began the long, arduous task of dragging herself home, hoping that her movements wouldn't reopen the scabs forming over the cuts they'd left behind.
Kaede will know what to do, she reassured herself. And Sango and Miroku. They'll help.
It was that thought alone that kept her walking all through the night and when she finally saw her village appear in the distance, she collapsed at the sight, too worn out to take another step.
She never even heard the screams of her friends.
"What's he doing here?" Sango hissed, glowering at the daiyokai as Sesshomaru stepped into Kaede's hut.
Miroku pulled his wife into his embrace, more to keep her from doing anything rash as her hands had moved for the weapon she no longer carried on her back. "Patience, my wife. I'm certain he means her no harm."
"No harm?" Sango glowered at her husband. "She is practically dead, Miroku! She won't eat, she won't drink—she won't even move! We're lucky that you and InuYasha were just returning to the village and found her or she might have bled to death and we wouldn't have even known what had happened until it was too late!"
It had been more than obvious what had befallen their friend when they'd found Kagome's battered and bloody body on path to the village. InuYasha had flown into a rage the moment he'd smelled the dried semen between her legs and his bloodlust had calmed long enough to drop Kagome off at Kaede before the hanyo had left to enact revenge.
InuYasha had returned covered in blood and no one had asked what happened.
They hadn't needed to.
Kaede had quickly tended to the worst of Kagome's injuries and then had brewed a strong tea. "It is kinder this way," she'd said, enticing the unconscious woman's body to drink as she'd fed Kagome the drink.
Miroku had immediately understood. Kaede had ensured there would be no unwanted reminders of this night for Kagome and he was grateful for it.
After that, Kaede finished treating Kagome's wounds and then had brewed willowbark tea for the pain, which she'd administered the same way, and had continued to do so until Kagome regained consciousness the following morning.
But though Kagome's injuries had been treated, she'd shown no signs of acknowledging anyone once she'd awakened. She simply lay where they'd put her, curled up in on herself and staring lifelessly at the wall before her. Though they had all coaxed her to eat and drink, Kagome acted as though she could neither see nor hear them.
Miroku himself was at a loss. As a monk and as a friend, he desired to help Kagome but he couldn't reach her. He'd spent the last few days sitting by her side, along with Sango, InuYasha, and even Rin, but no matter what he said, it was as though she couldn't hear him.
If the daiyokai could help, then Miroku would be forever grateful. He feared that if they didn't find help for her soon, Kagome would be lost to them forever. "Sango—"
"Why are you here?" Sango demanded, ignoring her husband as she glowered at the daiyokai.
Sesshomaru didn't even stop as he stood before Kagome and looked her over. "Rin asked it of this one," he rumbled, ignoring Sango's gasp of surprise as he bent to take Kagome into his arms.
"Hey!" Sango protested, moving to step in front of Sesshomaru's path. "You can't have her! She's hurt!"
"And you are ill-equipped to care for her properly. Rin was correct in requesting assistance." Sesshomaru simply stepped past Sango, forcing the slayer to step out of the way or risk being trampled. "You would allow her to die in your ignorance."
Miroku pulled his wife face-first into an embrace to muffle her angry protest and fought to keep his wife there for the moment. He didn't care who helped. He simply wanted his friend to live.
And there was a quiet, confident air as Sesshomaru walked off with their friend, but it wasn't that air that reassured Miroku. It was the quick look of tenderness directed at the priestess Sesshomaru carried that told him their friend would be cared for.
As Sesshomaru left the hut, he turned to the young teenaged girl waiting patiently outside it and seemed to make a decision. "Come, Rin," he said to the young woman and with her hands clapped together in delight, she did.
Miroku watched them leave, followed by a sullen Jaken and their two-headed dragon yokai companion.
"You let him take her!" his wife accused, finally pulling free to glare at him as she punched his chest.
He winced at the sharp blow. "She needs help, Sango."
Sango's eyes narrowed. "And we're her friends, Miroku!" she hissed angrily. "We know her best. If InuYasha was here, he wouldn't have let his brother take her!"
But InuYasha wasn't there. He'd been out hunting to try and redirect his rage at Kagome's condition and for once, Miroku was grateful that the hanyo had difficulty coping with Kagome's condition. He might well have stopped his half-brother from aiding their friend.
"Sesshomaru-sama will look after her." Miroku was confident about that and he decided to share his musings and observations later when Sango had calmed.
"If he doesn't, I'll kill you and then him," Sango promised him darkly as Miroku swallowed, knowing that Sango's ire was about to transform entirely into another passion that he was better suited to sate. She grabbed him and backed him up against the wall of Kaede's hut and the last thought Miroku had for awhile was that he was really quite grateful that Kaede had left to gather more herbs to treat Kagome.
"Something's wrong with Kagome-sama," Rin said after they'd left the village behind.
"Hnn." Sesshomaru eyed the priestess, who had been laid down upon Ah-Un, who would ensure the priestess' seat upon him and her safety since she would not do so herself. Jaken, for once, had not protested, not when he'd realized what had befallen the priestess. Instead, he'd taken it upon himself to guard the girl upon the dragon, catching her once or twice along with the dragon when she might have slid off.
Rin was silent for a moment and then probed, "What's wrong with her? Is she sick?"
He eyed his ward for a moment in contemplation. She had aged, he realized, and was perhaps old enough to know of physical intimacy, but never old enough to know the darker side of it. "She is unwell," he finally settled on, unwilling to expose Rin any further.
He'd brought Rin with him because it pleased him to do so but now he believed that he'd instinctively made the right choice as Rin hovered by Kagome as they walked. Rin had a kind heart and may yet prove useful in restoring the priestess to awareness.
He was relieved, however, that no one had taken it upon themselves to taint Rin by explaining what had befallen the priestess. Rin might be an adult in the eyes of the mortal world, but in his eyes, she would always be the small child who had smiled at him when he was at his most low.
Rin nodded, accepting the explanation without argument as she had been wont to do in the past. "But you'll fix her," she said confidently. "Where are we going?"
"Home," he answered succinctly and Rin nodded again.
That was something he'd always appreciated about Rin, her easy acceptance. She never required lengthy explanations and her trust in him had always been all-encompassing.
Yet it was odd to say the word aloud. He'd left his mother's home over a hundred years before and had put little effort into seeking out a home of his own until recently, when the urge to settle down had accompanied the reckoning of his power. The house he'd commissioned was new and still not fully finished, but it would suit his purposes well enough and allow the priestess the time and space she would require to heal.
She deserved that much after all she had done. The Shikon Priestess was owed a great debt by all of yokai, but Sesshomaru in particular owed her a life debt. She had saved Rin's life once and he was honor-bound to return the favor.
His actions today might not fully discharge that debt, perhaps, but he could not turn his back on her when he'd learned of her plight, having stumbled upon InuYasha when the hanyo had sought her attackers for a blood-price.
He had no doubt that InuYasha had extracted that price in full.
Yet it had not been for romantic intent and that had intrigued Sesshomaru almost as much as the puzzle the priestess herself was. He had been under the impression the two had wed and yet the hanyo had immediately denied such allegations.
InuYasha would no doubt be advised of Sesshomaru's actions when the hanyo returned to the village and Sesshomaru had no doubts that InuYasha would come after the woman he called a friend.
Only to find that Sesshomaru had the priestess fully in his grasp. Too long had he denied the feelings below the surface. There were no longer any barriers in their way save her own healing and he was content to wait for that. There was no need to rush now that she was in his possession and she would soon learn that what he took, he kept.
She would have every need provided for, every pain eased, every hope realized, all in the hopes that she might never see him as the dark yokai he was. He would prove to her he was capable of all that she desired so that she might choose to stay with him after she recovered.
If she left him after he had her, his heart might never survive it.
That thought alone had been the strongest in keeping him away and yet in the end it had all been for naught. Once he'd learned the truth of her relationship with InuYasha, he had lost the one remaining barrier between them that had held him back. It was only his desire to see her well that had stopped him from accompanying InuYasha in the first place to demand revenge for her suffering.
His gaze drifted back over to the priestess though he never lost his step. He desired to reach his home as soon as possible so that she might begin her recovery. Out here, she would be vulnerable and on edge, furthering her own deteriorating condition. Once she reached his home—now to be hers as well—she would need regular care until she was capable and in the proper state of mind to look after herself. He would need servants who could care for her, he realized, as Rin alone could not handle the task.
He would select the servants himself once she was safely situated in his home.
He couldn't help but smile at the thought of her in his home. Nothing would further cement her place in his life than her installation in the quarters of his mate, surrounded by all that he provided for her.
She would be his at last.
Kagome dreamt that she was being devoured by monsters.
They came at her from the shadows, first appearing like men before their features shifted, taking on a grotesque form.
They looked like wraith. They looked like vampires. They looked like every nightmare she'd ever had, all rolled into one. Their skin was blackened by soot and she could smell the ash clumped into their stringy hair. Their eyes were red, their nails were yellow, and their tongues a sickening green.
And suddenly, they were everywhere.
She ran, knowing what they'd do if they caught her. She knew.
But they caught her anyway.
They tore at her clothes, laughing as the fabric ripped. Their sharp claws and wicked teeth tore into her flesh, leaving bloody trails in their wake. Her skin burned, her insides clenched, and her entire body felt like it was being torn in two.
She couldn't breathe.
She couldn't scream.
The monsters faded like smoke, carried off by a swift breeze. She jolted as her eyes opened and an unfamiliar scenery came into view. Though the room itself was ornate, she paid its extravagance little attention as she searched the brightly lit room for the source of the voice.
She found it sitting beside her on a cushion, form perfect, with a scroll resting in his lap, now unattended as his hand pulled back from her shoulder where he'd shaken her into waking.
Kagome stared at him, trying to reconcile this odd reality before her with the Sesshomaru she knew. Had he waited beside her bed this entire time she'd been sleeping?
Curiosity warred with her desire to turn away from him. Though she'd bathed since her attack, she couldn't help but feel he must be able to scent what had happened to her and she was immediately reminded of her own failing.
She had not perceived the risk until it was too late. She'd misjudged and had paid dearly, with no one to blame but herself.
She turned away from him then, unwilling to let him be a witness to her private shame.
"Kagome," he repeated, his tone gentle despite the strength of his unspoken command. Turn to me.
She ignored him. What did she care if he waited beside her? She owed him nothing. They were not friends or even allies. If anything, they had been reluctant comrades in inopportune moments, a relationship as fleeting as her own dreams of the future now were.
She curled in tighter on herself, willing him to go away.
She heard movement and footsteps but ignored it until she realized he was simply moving to the other side so she could not avoid looking at him. He didn't say a word, simply lifting a single eyebrow in a silent dare as he settled back down.
Kagome rolled to her other side, determined to ignore him.
Again, he simply picked up his cushion and moved so she could not avoid looking at him.
She tried a third time and once more, he moved.
Finally, in irritation, she lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling, though she missed the comfort that curling up in the fetal position on her side had brought. He couldn't move to her side if she simply refused to look at a side.
She closed her eyes and tried to will herself back asleep. Perhaps he would go away if she was determined enough.
Instead, to her horror, he rose, efficiently wrapped the blanket around her, firmly enough that she could not move, and carried her, blanket and all, out of the room and into a garden where he sat down, her body stiff as he maneuvered her to rest against him, one arm wrapped around her to keep her stable.
The blanket was too tightly wrapped for her to do anything but stay where he'd posed her, staring off into the distance at the moon and the stars before them.
After a moment, he said, "There is nothing to fear in the dark." His voice was low and deep, with a melodic cadence that, had she been in her right mind, she might have expected someone else to use on a small, scared child or a wounded animal.
Despite herself, she listened.
"There is no one else here," he continued soothingly. "It is just you and me. Listen. There is a breeze. It is there, rustling the lotus in the pond. Relax your senses, Kagome; there is no one here that would do you any harm."
He was silent for a moment. "In the morning, you will wake and rise. You will eat, you will be strong. But for now, there are no expectations of you. You may sit here in silence, if you wish. You may cry. You may rage or scream. But," his voice deepened, "I will not allow you to ignore me and I will not allow you to remove yourself from this world. You must live and you must survive."
"Why?" The word escaped her, raspy, soft, before she'd even realized what she'd done.
She couldn't read the odd expression on his face, so at odds with the callous and often sarcastic daiyokai she'd known before. "Because you must," he said simply.
She remained silent after that but he refused to allow her to withdraw fully back into herself. He kept his voice low and soothing as he spoke to her in great detail, describing everything in the garden before her so that she saw it as clearly as if it had been midday.
When she finally dozed off, it was in his arms, with the understanding that he was determined to force her back to face the world once more.
And Kagome was simply too weary to fight him on the matter.
Sorry for the delay in writing a new chapter, everyone! I wanted to finish When Peace Falls before circling back to give more attention to my other longer WIPs. But I'm excited to say it's done now!
That said, this will likely end up being a longer fic. Perhaps not as long as WPF, but it will likely end up being longer than Instinct. Recovery isn't a straightforward, linear process—as much as we might dearly wish otherwise. It's backwards, forwards, step to the side, and all around chaotic, and even when you get to the end, you're not really sure if you ARE at the end.
Thank you all for your kind words as you read this—it means a lot.
When Kagome awoke again, it was to Sesshomaru's gentle hand on her shoulder as he said, "Kagome, you must wake and rise."
The tone was commanding and as disrupting to her exhausted brain as the sunlight streaming in through the screens were. But despite his quiet order, she lacked any desire to do so.
Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that she had no energy to care. She didn't care that he was there, let alone that he'd issued an order that he clearly expected to be obeyed. She didn't care that it was morning, that the sun had risen, or that her stomach was rumbling in anticipation of breakfast. She didn't care that he'd held her the night before and had attempted to soothe her.
Those feelings his actions inspired had been brief, fleeting, and fell away like mist through her fingers. Whatever had happened the night before was now a distant memory, overshadowed now by her own misery and memories.
She felt listless, unattached, like she didn't belong in this world anymore.
Maybe I don't, she thought to herself ruefully. I couldn't even protect myself when it mattered most. She thought of Sango then and knew her best friend would never have allowed them same to happen to her. Sango would have been able to fend them off. She's stronger than most men, even without her hiraikotsu. She never would have been—
She felt tears well up in her eyes but she blinked furiously, not wanting to let anyone else see her cry. Her tears had made InuYasha flee and they'd made Sango and Miroku feel the need to treat her with kid gloves.
She blinked again, having forgotten Sesshomaru was still waiting on her.
"You must rise, Kagome," Sesshomaru urged, his tone more cajoling now than demanding.
Kagome curled more in on herself, wishing he wasn't there. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? I don't want to talk, she thought to herself miserably. I don't want to talk. I don't want to move. I don't want to get up. I don't want to do anything.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sesshomaru's lips thin, though she hardly paid much attention to it. "I told you last night, Kagome," he said, his voice dropping to a low rumble, "that you will not be allowed to ignore me and that I will not allow you to ignore the world."
Why? she wailed in her own head, both angered and exhausted by his words. She didn't need a caretaker—she didn't need anything at all except to be left alone.
Perhaps he understood the question she didn't voice aloud because he continued, "You must."
It abruptly brought to mind the conversation they had the night before.
"In the morning, you will wake and rise. You will eat, you will be strong. But for now, there are no expectations of you. You may sit here in silence, if you wish. You may cry. You may rage or scream. But," Sesshomaru's voice deepened, "I will not allow you to ignore me and I will not allow you to remove yourself from this world. You must live and you must survive."
"Why?" The word escaped her, raspy, soft, before she'd even realized what she'd done.
She couldn't read the odd expression on his face, so at odds with the callous and often sarcastic daiyokai she'd known before. "Because you must," he said simply.
He had certainly upheld his unspoken promise to ensure she had woken and that she would rise. But why?
For the first time that morning, she turned to fully look at him but his expression gave little away. It was the same unusual expression he'd worn the night before, but she was no closer to understanding what it meant now than she had been then.
"You must, Kagome," Sesshomaru repeated as if he thought the message needed reinforcing. "If you do not rise now, you may never find the strength to do so."
She resented the words the moment they left his lips. Who was he to come into her room and tell her how to live her life? Who was he to come and deliver such ominous threats? She wasn't a child to be dictated about. It was her choice, and hers alone, to lay there in bed and it would be her choice alone to rise—if and when she chose to do so.
But the tightening of his lips told her that arguing with him was a waste of time so she simply turned her head away and strove to ignore him.
To her astonishment, Sesshomaru's response was to allow his yoki to slip free of its confines within him. It began to storm around him, crashing about the room like lightning, and yet, despite its intensity, she felt no sense of danger. Her own reiki—she hadn't stopped to see how it might have been impacted by the abuse—didn't so much as flutter as his yoki pressed down on her.
Yet, despite the fact that his yoki was the natural enemy of her own power and despite its intensity, it wrapped around her, giving her a sense of security she never would have thought possible. Not only because of who it emanated from but also because of what it was.
No one would dare challenge Sesshomaru and succeed, she thought to herself glumly. He would have destroyed anyone who had the audacity to attack him.
Whereas Kagome's own bow and arrows and reiki had proven useless.
Then, to her surprise, she felt his yoki shift, pressing against her, urging her to move as its owner had bade, and she found herself sitting up in response. Yet, for all its chaotic energy, the sensation was gentle, like a warmed blanket wrapped around her in winter.
She didn't know why Sesshomaru was helping her nor why he was so invested in ensuring she was functional, but what was clear was that he had every intention of ensuring that she healed and moved forward.
And it tapped into that feeling she'd pushed down ever since the attack. When she'd awoken in Kaede's hut after her collapse, she'd wanted to rush into InuYasha's arms and cry. She'd wanted to feel his strong, warm arms wrapped around her, giving her back the sense of security she'd lost in the attack.
But he hadn't been there. Miroku had explained, when she'd awoken, that InuYasha had something to take care of first. She'd been angry, then resentful, and finally resigned to the notion that InuYasha still, after all of these years, couldn't put her first. There was always something more important.
Their romantic relationship had already fallen apart not long after her return to this era, but she'd still hoped that he'd at least come to see her as a best friend, someone they could each rely on and trust.
Instead, InuYasha had abandoned her when she'd needed it most.
And now, she had Sesshomaru standing before her, offering her comfort that shouldn't have come from him, caring for her in a way that she'd have never expected from the sarcastic and often stoic daiyokai. His actions had kindled a desire to seek comfort from him in place of another but her own sense of guilt would not allow her to use him in that way.
Even at her lowest, she knew he wouldn't appreciate being anyone's surrogate—especially InuYasha's.
"Why?" The word was torn from her lips as she tried to resist the urge to rush into the arms of one who shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Crimson tinted eyes met her own but she sensed no hostility from him. "Because you are Kagome," he answered simply, as if that were answer enough. "Because you are worthy."
Her left hand came up to cover her lips as her other hand moved to rub her arm in an unconscious self-soothing gesture. Her mind raced with a possibility of responses, but each were discarded in turn, unable to fully voice how she felt.
"Rise," he encouraged and if he sensed her inner turmoil, he didn't comment on it further. "There are servants beyond the door waiting to attend to you."
Her eyes widened. "That's not necessary," she rasped, her voice cracking from dehydration. She couldn't recall the last time she'd drank anything.
"It is not up for debate." He straightened and she followed suit, her legs wobbly as she pulled herself to her feet. Her body was as weary as her heart but the yoki wrapped around her left no room for illusion. Sesshomaru had no intentions of leaving until she'd headed his command and rose on her own to ready herself for the day. "Come," he said a little louder.
The screen door to her room slid open and in walked two women, one human while the other was obviously a hanyo, if her appearance and yoki were anything to go by. Her hair was a golden color that wasn't natural for Japanese women, especially in this era, and topped by tufted golden ears that looked almost identical to InuYasha's, save for the two hoop earrings pierced through her left ear. Her eyes were a bright green that reminded her of Shippo and Kagome suddenly missed the kit she'd come to think of as a little brother.
The human woman looked about Kagome's age but seemed a little uncertain as she walked into the room behind the hanyo but voiced no protest. There was nothing overly remarkable about her appearance, but her determination shone through despite her uncertainty.
They came to stand before her, both dressed in kimonos far richer than Kagome would have expected to see on servants in this era.
"Introduce yourselves," Sesshomaru commanded and they immediately complied.
"Hasegawa Isome," the human woman said, bending in a deep bow.
"Sakino," the hanyo woman said, inclining her head respectfully but there was a brashness to it that suggested she wasn't used to bowing.
Kagome licked her dry lips, feeling the skin cracking beneath her tongue. "I'm Higurashi Kagome," she said, wishing the air was less formal. She wasn't a wealthy or titled woman and it didn't feel right to have anyone acting subservient to her. "But please, call me Kagome."
Both women before her immediately looked to Sesshomaru, who inclined his head silently as though giving permission.
"Of course, Kagome-sama," Isome said, giving another bow, though this one wasn't as deep.
"You will attend to her," Sesshomaru said then, "and ensure she has joined us for the morning meal within the hour." He then turned and left the room without waiting for a response, taking most of his yoki with him and bottling it back down.
But she felt a small warmth wrap around her and realized he'd left some of it behind, as if sensing that she still needed the comfort but would not seek it out herself.
"We have already prepared your bath, Kagome-sama," Sakino said, her voice a little stiff. "If you would follow us."
Sighing internally, Kagome followed Sakino and Isome as they led her to the bathing room. She just had to make it through the day and then she could return to her bedding once more and now that Sesshomaru had left her alone once more, that was all she wanted to do.
Kagome found herself getting bathed by two women whether she wanted it or not. Isome, for all her reserved nature before Sesshomaru, had been surprisingly forceful once they were alone. She had directed Sakino to help strip her and Kagome found herself ushered into the bath in spite of her own protests.
They had been quick but thorough, not allowing Kagome any time to relax and enjoy her bath—even if she'd been so inclined, though she found she hadn't—but whatever products they'd used on her had her skin feeling softer than ever and her hair far silkier than even products in her own time would have, and carried with them the faint scent of lilies and lotus.
Once dry, she'd been ushered back into her room. Isome had moved to the north-east part of the room and slid open the wall, revealing it was only then that she noticed the numerous tansu and kimono stands that had been tucked into a hidden compartment within the wall. The large wall itself had been split into two, revealing one side made up of cupboards and shelving and the other side had kimono racks installed with tansu tucked in between them.
Not all of the racks had kimonos on them, but there were three kimono on display before her and she wondered idly whose room she was using.
Kagome couldn't help but stare, at a total loss for the wealth on display before her. It almost looks like a closet from my own era, she thought to herself faintly. Whoever's room this is must really like clothing.
Isome stepped forward and removed one and, with a nod at Sakino, they stripped the towel from Kagome's drying body and dressed her, ignoring her surprised protest.
Within an hour of starting her bath, she was dressed in a three layered kimono that held different hues of blue in each later, with the darkest outermost layer a deep midnight blue that was accompanied by a white floral, hexagonal patterning on one shoulder and had sleeves that ended in long furisodes. Sakino tied the black and white obi in front, leaving the ends to dangle just above her feet. Isome then drapped a light but dense white fur around her shoulders as though it was some sort of sheath.
The outfit was completed with a long, crescent moon pendant from one of the tansu that was draped around her shoulders and neck to rest just between her bosom.
Kagome then was led out of her room and down the wooden platform to, past several other silk lined sliding doors before Isome and Sakino both stopped and offered her another bow. "The dining room, Kagome-sama," Isome said just before she slid open the door and waved Kagome inside.
Kagome sighed but stopped short when she saw Rin and Sesshomaru seated at the table. She'd expected Sesshomaru and had been unsurprised to see him at the head of the table, but was as surprised by Rin at his right hand as she was by his own clothing.
While Rin wore a baby blue and pink rose floral kimono, with a pink and then white layer below it, there was nothing overly remarkable about her attire aside from the sakura hair pin in her hair.
Sesshomaru, on the other hand, looked completely different from the daiyokai she knew. His customary clothing was nowhere to be seen and instead he wore a midnight blue kimono layered as hers was over a light blue and then white one. It had the furisode sleeves that had been customary in his travels before but the crest on them was now inverted in white on his shoulder. Though he wore no armor, his swords were still tucked into his golden obi, long and tied in front, that ended in blue and purple waves at its tips just above the boots for his midnight blue balloon shaped pants.
She couldn't help but stare at him in shock. Her clothing resembled his. Had that been intentional? Why?
His golden gaze met hers, his countenance calm even though she could see flickers of pink in his irises.
Just then, Rin seemed to notice Kagome's presence and perked up. "Kagome-sama!" Rin grinned. "You are awake!"
Kagome nodded, too drained to bother making conversation, though Rin didn't seem to mind. She stood and made her way over to Kagome. "This is your place," she said as she guided Kagome down to the cushion on Sesshomaru's left.
Kagome glanced over at Sesshomaru to gauge his reaction but to her surprise, the daiyokai simply nodded his head in silent assent.
She settled down uncomfortably as Rin made her way back to her own cushion. Rin pressed her lips together as she poured a cup of tea for Kagome and finally, as she handed Kagome the tea, blurted, "Are you still hurt, Kagome-sama? Sesshomaru-sama said that you'd been hurt really badly."
Kagome flinched, unsure how to answer the teen's question and even less willing to go into specifics. She opened her mouth but no sound came out just as she heard a low rumble reverberate through the room.
She jolted as she glanced over at Sesshomaru, but there was no indication that the sound had come from him. "Rin," he said, his voice a low timbre.
Nothing else was needed. Rin flushed and with a sullen tone that only a teenager could muster, said, "I simply wanted to make sure she was well enough to see the gardens today, Sesshomaru-sama."
Kagome had little desire to go to the gardens, but she had no desire at all to have a conversation about why she didn't. Instead, she silently sipped the lotus flower tea she'd been given but made no move to eat the food set before her.
Lotus flower. She studied the tea rather than answer Rin, thinking of how she'd also had lotus scented bathing products with her bath that morning. Someone in this place certainly has a penchant for lotus.
"Hnn." Sesshomaru evidently took it upon himself to answer Rin on Kagome's behalf. "If you are careful," he cautioned, "you may both find it pleasurable to spend the morning by the pond after you eat."
It should have been odd to hear Sesshomaru sound like a mother hen, but it was no less odd than anything else Kagome had been exposed to since her arrival. If anything, she resented how he seemed determine to take over her life.
"No," Kagome said, her tone curt enough that Rin immediately looked hurt.
Sesshomaru raised a brow as he set aside his own tea cup. In spite of her own hurt, Rin instantly moved to fill the cup for him and then topped off Kagome's half full cup as well. "Is there some other business you must attend to?" he asked her, his voice calm and even though she could feel his yoki sparking slightly at her refusal. "You are at this one's home, under his protection. If there is something you require, you need only to ask it of this one."
"Oh!" Rin clapped her hands together before Kagome had a chance to formulate her thoughts into words. "Perhaps she would rather have a tour of the house first, Sesshomaru-sama! It is beautiful."
"Hnn." Sesshomaru considered that as he reached for his full cup. "Then this one will give her a tour."
Rin grinned at Kagome, her sullenness evidently forgotten. "Sesshomaru-sama's home is beautiful, Kagome-sama. You will love seeing it! And when you are done, we can spend the rest of the morning at the garden pond. Jaken-san said that Sesshomaru-sama tends to the lotus himself!"
Lotus again. Kagome picked up her own cup and took a sip to give her a reason not to immediately reply. Sesshomaru doesn't strike me as the religious type so there must be another reason lotus is so prevalent.
She glanced at the daiyokai out of the corner of her eye only to find him studying her in turn, an odd expression on his face.
"You should eat, Kagome-sama, so you can heal faster," Rin spoke up. She then looked to Sesshomaru, indicating her own empty cup and chopsticks. "May I go to the gardens now, Sesshomaru-sama?"
Sesshomaru briefly glanced at Rin, as if evaluating if she'd eaten enough, and then gave his permission with a wordless nod. Rin rose to her feet and all but bounced out of the room.
"You will eat," Sesshomaru reinforced Rin's suggestion, indicating Kagome's untouched chopsticks beside her cup.
Kagome's stomach churned at the thought. "I'm not hungry," she protested though she wasn't sure what good it would do.
His gaze narrowed as the pink faded from his gaze. "You must," he said once again and she was getting tired of hearing that from him. "You must eat and regain your strength, Kagome. I will not allow you to neglect yourself."
She slammed her half full cup of tea on the table. "You have no right," she hissed, suddenly so full of anger that she could feel her own reiki leek out. My reiki, she thought faintly, astonished at the strength and purity of it. It's untainted. But how?
And then, to her shock, she felt yoki rise but it didn't come from Sesshomaru. Or, rather, not from within him. Instead, yoki had been curled around her reiki as if protecting her reiki from becoming corrupted by the recent circumstances.
"Yoki isn't supposed to do that," she murmured, her voice wavering as her reiki abruptly settled back down in the wake of her own confusion, pushed back within her by the pressure of his own yoki.
She turned back to Sesshomaru, accusation in her eyes. "What did you do, Sesshomaru?"
His reply caught her off guard. "What you needed me to do."
She stiffened. "Don't treat me like a child, Sesshomaru," she hissed, glaring at him. She hated the insinuation that she was weak, that she couldn't protect herself. She'd heard it from InuYasha before and knew all too well how she'd recently failed. It was a slap to the face, delivered by someone who shouldn't have even cared in the first place. "You're constantly telling me to do this or to do that and I don't need you to. I can look after myself."
"You are strong," he surprised her by agreeing, the pink once again returning in tiny flecks to his eyes, "but even the strong occasionally need help, Kagome."
She scoffed, unable to picture Sesshomaru himself asking for help from anyone. But her anger had begun to fade under the weight of her weariness and depression and she lost any desire to continue the argument by reminding him of that fact.
He seemed to sense his impending victory. "Eat," he commanded, indicating her chopsticks once again with his hand. "And then I will show you our home."
Too mentally drained to argue, she picked up the chopsticks and mechanically began to eat, even as her brain tried to process his words. Ours? Her brain repeated the word over and over, trying to figure out why Sesshomaru had referred to his home as such.
Who else lived here with him aside from Rin—and Kagome herself, however temporarily?
A/N: As many of you many already know, there were no chapters for any of my fics in November as I always participate every year to work on my own novels.
As it is, here's this month's chapter!
The tour of Sesshomaru's home proved to take far longer than she'd expected, partially because she hadn't anticipated Sesshomaru's quiet explanations whenever he seemed to think them necessary.
She'd expected him to be brusk, quickly showing her through the house before ending the tour, but instead, it seemed almost as if Sesshomaru had wished to show off his home to her.
She wasn't entirely surprised by that—Sesshomaru was, after all, prone to showing off, especially when he believed he was superior in something—but she hadn't expected him to care that much about her opinion. He kept his eye on her as he explained the history of each room, though Kagome herself found her thoughts wandering on more than one occasion and she hoped that he didn't expect her to remember much of what he'd told her.
Each room was as grand as to be expected with someone of Sesshomaru's caliber and ego, though Kagome paid little enough attention to the details. She wasn't expecting to stay long and so didn't see a point beyond humoring him. In fact, she had every intention of leaving the shiro as soon as she thought she could get away from Sesshomaru and whatever sense of duty he'd seemed to arrive at with her.
Well, she’d leave as soon as she figured out what he'd done with her reiki. If it truly wasn't lost to her, she'd need it at full strength to travel on her own.
There was no escaping the truth, however, no matter how gentle Sesshomaru might be with her now.
This wasn't her home and it would never be. She didn't belong here, but even though she felt uncomfortable, as though she was intruding, she also admitted to herself that even if she left, she wasn't sure where she would go. If she went home, she would have to deal with her friends fussing over her, but if she didn't, they would only come looking for her.
Perhaps, she reflected in resignation, this is the only place I'd be able to find any peace at all.
If she could at least convince Sesshomaru that she didn't require his help.
She followed him around, trying to figure out how best to go about communicating that message, but if Sesshomaru sensed her distraction, he said little of it. He simply continued his tour as though she were attentively listening.
Still, it was a little odd to think Sesshomaru lived in a home that wasn't fully finished, but if he'd explained why that was, she hadn't been fully paying attention. One part of the shiro was still under construction and so Sesshomaru had bypassed that part of the tour entirely.
Yet it seemed it was his gardens that he was most proud of, which perhaps explained why he had left that area for last on his tour.
"The servants dwell beyond the gardens," Sesshomaru had explained as soon as they'd walked out of his shiro and into the gardens themselves. He had just finished showing off the common bathing areas, though he'd been sure to note that Kagome had access to her own private area to bathe.
It seemed there wasn't a path that didn't lead through the gardens, as if Sesshomaru wished to show off the vegetation to anyone who came to his home. And yet, though the garden was truly more elaborate than she had words for, she didn't see an abundance of the lotus growing within it. The pond, though surrounded by flowers, had few of the flowers themselves, and nothing that seemed worth mentioning.
Kagome, though she didn't wish to speak aloud more than she needed to, was curious. Was there another part of the gardens? Perhaps hidden away for his own use?
As if to answer her unspoken thoughts, Sesshomaru continued, "However, these are the gardens for common use and any who stay at the shiro may visit here and relax within the gardens." He paused for a moment to look down at her. "There is a separate garden for private use that can be accessed from your room, Kagome."
There was an odd look in his eyes that she couldn't entirely read, though she didn't have much of a chance to before Rin blurted out, "Aren't the flowers lovely, Kagome-sama?" Rin clapped her hands together in delight. "The lotus isn't in bloom yet, though."
Kagome would have been more surprised if it was, seeing that it was only the beginning of spring and very few flowers had begun to germinate just yet. It would be at least several more weeks, she thought, before any flower buds would be seen amongst the lotus. She had initially been looking forward to the formal end of winter just days before, but that seemed like a lifetime ago now.
Suddenly all she could smell was crushed grass and dirt and without realizing it, Kagome's thoughts circled back to the attack. She barely heard anything else Rin said as the girl chattered away around her because all Kagome could think about then was that she could barely breathe and her heart was racing too fast.
She was suddenly too cold and she struggled to think as her teeth began chattering in spite of the warm air around them.
"Rin." Sesshomaru's quiet voice interrupted her thoughts, but not enough to help ground herself. "Go check on Ah-Un."
If the girl protested, Kagome couldn't hear it. She didn't see Rin leave at all.
What Kagome did see was hands reaching for her and she screamed in alarm, pulling back, only to find that there weren't any hands reaching for her at all.
She was alone.
And then...she wasn't.
Sesshomaru stood to her side, not reaching for her as though he knew it would only add to the terror racing through her. "I am here, Kagome," was all he said. He didn't rebuke her for her terror nor her extreme response, but stood there patiently, as though sensing she needed someone.
In that moment, as she had the night before, she didn't care that he wasn't someone who loved her. He was there and he was willing to offer her comfort and for now, that was enough.
She fell into his chest and only then did his arms slowly move to wrap around her, giving her plenty of time to move back if she needed it. Even then, he did not cage her with his embrace but was careful to hold her so that she could easily step back if she needed it.
Nor did he protest when her fingers dug into his clothing and his skin with more force than she'd intended, but then again, he was yokai. Perhaps he hardly even noticed the strength of her force.
"You are not alone, Kagome," he said quietly, soothing her with his touch as she began to sob. He rubbed her back with his hands, careful to keep his claws from entangling with or shredding her clothing. "There is nothing to fear here. It is only you and I and the flowers."
She struggled to take in deeper breaths, heard her lungs wheeze as she tried. She knew, intellectually, that she was safe enough, but she still couldn't calm her body's reactions, either, to the stimulus around her.
"It's hard," she managed out shakily, resenting how panicked and emotional she was and, in an odd way, both resentful and grateful that it was Sesshomaru who was here now.
"There is no need to rush or force yourself. If you are not comfortable being here, you do not need to be." Sesshomaru deliberately kept his voice at a soothing cadence as though he was fully aware of the turmoil within, and he even turned, gently turning her with him, to escort her away.
"No." The word rushed out of her, but she didn't want to back down and leave. She'd stand here until she felt better because she wasn't going to be afraid of the smell of dirt.
And yet she was also relieved that he was willing to leave rather than forcing her to face her fears as InuYasha might have done. She both wanted to leave and wanted to stay in equal measure. The longer she stood there, the more the feelings warred within her, and it was only Sesshomaru's physical presence that kept her grounded. She instinctively dug in her fingers even more so so that he couldn't pull away from her.
She shifted just enough to see Sesshomaru looking at her in surprise at the vehemence of her tone.
And before he could attempt to change her mind, she gritted her teeth and took a deep breath before blurting out the first thought that came to mind. "Why lotus?"
For the first time in years, she saw him look truly astonished and, if he had been anyone else, she might have said he gaped at her.
Before he had the chance to answer her, however, she heard a familiar voice bellow out, "Get the fuck away from Kagome, Sesshomaru!"
Kagome jolted as Sesshomaru moved to stand protectively in front of her.
InuYasha was the last person she wanted to see her like this.
"Hello, InuYasha," Sesshomaru said, with far more civility than she would have expected of him, all considered.
"Bastard," InuYasha ground out with about as much hostility as Kagome had expected. InuYasha and Sesshomaru were still adapting to what their relationship might hold in the future, but neither had really worked out what that would be yet.
The tension was a bit too much for her, especially after she'd been so vulnerable and open. It hurt to see him now, just as it had when InuYasha had abandoned her right after finding her, and it hurt that she was still so raw and that Sesshomaru of all people had been the only witness.
He had been gentle, perhaps too much for the precarious relationship between them, but he was the only comfort she'd had since her attack and so she instinctively pressed closer to him, her hands moving to grip his clothing as he stood between her and InuYasha.
"Let me see her," InuYasha finally growled.
Kagome's fingers dug in tighter in Sesshomaru's clothing.
"You may," Sesshomaru replied slowly as Kagome dug in her fingers a little tighter, "if that is what she wishes, InuYasha."
"Keh." InuYasha snorted. "Come here, Kagome."
It took her a moment to find her voice. "No," she said, wincing at how hoarse she sounded. Would InuYasha be able to tell that she'd been crying? He'd never been able to handle her tears before and she couldn't handle it if he went and ran off on her a second time in a matter of weeks.
Everything was hard enough as it was without him abandoning her—again.
"No?" InuYasha repeated, sounding incredulous. "Why the fuck not, K'gome? I've been fucking worried ever since Miroku told me the bastard went and kidnapped you from your home!"
Your. She felt the word lance through her. Though it had been the home they'd shared until recently, it was clear that InuYasha had never really considered it his.
Sesshomaru spoke then, as if he'd known she couldn't find her own voice just then. "Lower your voice, InuYasha. Kagome is here to heal and you are agitating her."
It felt more than a little odd to have Sesshomaru defending her to InuYasha, but she was relieved that he was.
"Can we talk later, InuYasha?" she said before the hanyo had the chance to respond. She wanted some time to herself, to compose herself, before she had to deal with him, and she wasn't ready for anyone else to see her so vulnerable.
Least of all InuYasha.
If he saw her face, swollen and red from her tears, he would know she'd been crying. InuYasha had simply never really dealt well with her tears. He would be upset that she was crying and more upset that she couldn't seem to stop crying and she had the feeling he'd like it even less that there wasn't anything he could do about the tears.
She heard InuYasha grumble something but couldn't quite catch what it was.
Evidently Sesshomaru heard it because he said, "You may stay here in our home so long as you do not upset Kagome further."
Kagome pulled back just enough to try and see Sesshomaru's face, but he hadn't taken his eyes off of InuYasha and so there was little she could see to read his expression.
"Fine." InuYasha didn't sound thrilled at the prospect. "Whatever. But I ain't stayin' long. The village needs us. Kaede is fuckin' old."
Kagome winced at the reminder. Kaede was getting on in her years and wasn't able to complete most of her duties any longer without Kagome's and Rin's help—both of whom were now at Sesshomaru's home.
She felt the tension in Sesshomaru's body at that.
"Perhaps you should take a moment to find assistance for the elderly miko, InuYasha," Sesshomaru said mildly.
Kagome herself was grateful for his comment, though it did little to assuage her guilt.
InuYasha himself snorted as he immediately rejected the suggestion. "Keh. Miroku ain't entirely useless; he and Sango can handle things for now."
I wish that he'd gone, Kagome lamented to herself, if only because it would have given her more time and space to think about what to do with InuYasha now that he'd arrived.
She didn't want to go back and face her friends. She wasn't sure if she could, but she definitely wasn't ready to return to the village where someone always needed something from her.
It was nice to be needed, but it had begun to drain her dry, emotionally speaking, especially considering she often shouldered it all herself without any help. Miroku tried to help when he could, but between his slaying and purifying responsibilities with InuYasha and his growing brood with Sango, both he and Sango rarely had the time to do much.
It wasn't a lack of caring on their part. They were just busy.
And they would be even more so if they were expected to take up Kagome's and InuYasha's duties while they were gone. Her heart went out to her friends.
"Please, InuYasha," Kagome managed, though her voice still sounded hoarser than she'd have liked. "They need help."
"Fine," InuYasha capitulated with a grumble. "If we're here longer than a couple of days, I'll find 'em some help. Gotta be someone who'll help the old hag," he added, though his grumble was laced with affection. "That cranky old bitch is too stubborn to die, anyway."
Kagome felt a strong sense of relief at that. InuYasha might not have always kept his promises to the letter to her in the past, but she heard his conviction and trusted that.
But she wasn't surprised that InuYasha had ignored the mortality of his companions because it wasn't the first time he'd either made levity of it or ignored it altogether. Kaede's inevitable death would be hard on all of them, but probably hardest on InuYasha.
Kaede was, after all, his last surviving tie to Kikyo.
Kikyo. Kagome's own thoughts turned bitter as Sesshomaru began to shepherd them both indoors. Kikyo would never have let herself—never would have let anyone—
"Kagome," Sesshomaru's voice broke into her thoughts with a suddenness that startled her. "You expressed a desire to bathe, did you not?"
She blinked, realizing that she'd absently followed him right to the door of her own room and was grateful at the sudden out he was giving her to escape the conversation. InuYasha must have already been shown to his own room because she didn't see him anywhere, but she wasn't entirely ready to be on her own, either.
Morose as she felt then, she would only sink further if she was left alone.
"Will you join me?" she blurted, catching onto his long sleeve with one hand in her urgency.
For the first time, she saw him look absolutely flabbergasted as he gaped at her.
It took her a moment to realize why and then she flushed, both at the thought and the horror he must have felt at the very notion. Why would he—or anyone else—want her now after all she'd been through?
"Not in the bath," she explained quickly before she offended him any further. "I just—well, I—that is—" She hesitated before summoning her courage to force out, "I don't want to be alone, so would you sit nearby?"
She still felt too vulnerable and exposed being out on her own and since the bath was an open air hot spring, she had a sudden desire to keep him near. He was the only thing that made her feel safe since the attack.
No one, after all, would dare challenge the daiyokai and live.
He looked conflicted. "I will summon your attendants—"
"No," she blurted. She liked them well enough, she supposed, but she didn't know them. "Please, Sesshomaru." She couldn't bring herself to say that she only felt safe with him. Such a statement would leave her feeling too exposed.
He stared at her for another moment and then glanced away. "Very well," he conceded.
He's probably not happy about it, she thought to herself with a sigh, but at least he agreed.
Perhaps it was wrong of her to depend too much on him, but he was the only stability she had and right now, she desperately needed that stability and comfort.
Thank you for all of your kind words on this fic. As many of you have noted, this is a hard and painful fic. It's a long road to recovery and there's a lot to work through before Kagome is in the place she needs to be for her own happily ever after, but she'll get there.
After all, she has Sesshomaru at her side!
Thank you again for everyone who has reviewed this fic, truly. I wasn't sure how well received it would be and I appreciate every single comment you each have taken the time to leave—and I'm so glad to hear that it's touching and helping some of you.
It should have felt awkward or embarrassing to have Sesshomaru there while Kagome made her way into the water. The hot spring was deeper than she'd thought and had built in benches into its rocky surface to allow guests to sit if they so chose.
And yet, she didn't feel awkward or embarrassed, though he was only a few feet away, sitting on one of the rocks as he kept himself turned away to afford her what little privacy he could.
Instead, she felt like crying again.
It wasn't because of Sesshomaru; if anything, his presence gave her some semblance of sanity when she might not have even had that much.
Bathing had once been her favorite thing to do to relax and now, suddenly, it was more than she could handle.
The way the water lapped at her bare skin felt too much like hands against her body, touching her in places she didn't want to be touched.
Why didn't I keep my clothes on? She wanted to wail; she felt too vulnerable, too exposed. Too naked in ways that went far beyond the lack of clothing.
She sagged into the water, too drained to keep her body upright. Falling down, however, only made the water lap around her with more fervor.
It's just water, she tried to tell herself. It's just water, it's only water, there's no one here but Sesshomaru and me, it's just the water—
Her teeth began chattering though the water itself more than warm enough to offset any chill the air might have otherwise brought but at least the water had stopped lapping at her.
Twice in one day. She couldn't stop her trembles nor her own feeling of humiliation. Am I ever going to feel normal again? Or is this who I am now?
She sniffed but she could no sooner stop the tears that began to fall any more than she could have stopped the sun from setting before her eyes.
Suddenly the water began lapping at her skin again and she screamed at the sensation.
A moment later, she felt warmth encompass her as Sesshomaru pulled her into his embrace. He hadn't even stopped to remove any of his clothing, but had entered the water, boots and all, to pull her into his arms.
The unexpected gesture only made her cry harder.
"Why are you being so nice?" she sobbed against him, digging her fists into his back, uncaring that she was pulling on his hair in the process.
He gently tucked her against him, resting his head against her own as he settled her onto his lap. "Because you are worthy," he told her quietly, soothing her with gentle hands rubbing across her back as he had before.
She didn't feel worthy.
She felt broken.
There has to be some reason he's helping me, she thought to herself, burying her face against his chest as she sobbed. She couldn't seem to stop crying.
And yet she couldn't pull away. Kagome curled in tighter, nearly wrapping herself around him as he held her in the water. He was warm—warmer than the water, actually, and she needed the comfort he gave so easily.
His touch comforted her, though she couldn't explain why.
"You are safe, Kagome," he murmured quietly.
His kind words only made her cry harder.
I don't deserve this.
She sniffled as she tried to pull back but she had no energy to do so. Crying had taken every iota she had left within her and, after a moment, she sagged against him again.
He didn't try to prevent her from leaving his embrace, even though he easily could have, nor did he seemed bothered to continue to hold her. He didn't insist that she stop crying nor did he make her feel guilty for her emotional breakdown, either.
Instead, he continued to hold her close enough that she felt the warmth of his body against hers through his wet clothing but not so tightly that she couldn't leave if she wanted to.
She didn't understand why he was so nice but as he gently rumbled soothingly to her, she began crying all over again.
"I'm sorry," she said and once she started talking, she couldn't stop herself from repeating the words over and over again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I really am. I'm so sorry, Sesshomaru—"
She didn't even know why she was apologizing. For crying? For depending on him? For her own pain?
Maybe it was all of those and maybe it was none of them. She didn't know, but suddenly she wished once again that he'd left her alone.
Alone was something she'd become accustomed to. She could retreat from the pain that seemed to be everywhere she looked within herself before but now that he'd jolted her back to awareness, she couldn't seem to find that place of numbness where her pain couldn't touch her.
It's not fair, she wailed to herself. I wish Sesshomaru had never helped me. I wish he would stop helping me. I just want to be alone!
She should have felt guilty for feeling that way, but she couldn't. As comforting as his presence was, she wished with all she had that it hadn't been necessary.
All she wanted was to curl up and be left alone, something Sesshomaru refused to allow her at every turn.
"Why did you have to get involved, Sesshomaru?" she choked out, clutching him closer to her even as she wanted to push him away. "Why did you have to show up and get involved? Why couldn't you just leave me there?"
She kept asking him that question, though she didn't know why she did. Was she expecting his answer to change?
Maybe she was. Maybe she kept asking because she was waiting for the moment when he would abandon her to herself, too, as InuYasha had, and it would devastate her if he left as soon as she could stand on her own again.
I never want to feel alone again, she thought, but she couldn't bring herself to speak the confession aloud.
"Because you needed me to," he answered her quietly, surprising her. It was different from any answer he'd given her before.
Different enough, in fact, that she managed to pull herself free just enough to look up at him. She could only imagine the picture she must make, with swollen red eyes and a runny nose, but she needed to see his expression.
It was...inexplicably tender.
She didn't understand why he was looking at her that way. It didn't make sense, nor did she feel worthy of such tenderness, either.
She tried and failed to come up with a reason as to why his expression seemed so tender, but as though he noticed her scrutiny, the expression suddenly fell away.
He simply looked calm and she immediately began to doubt what she'd seen. Within a few moments, she rationalized away the expression.
She'd simply confused the expression, seeing what she'd wanted to see rather than what was really there. She wanted someone to care about her and so she'd projected those feelings onto him.
I couldn't have picked a worse target, she thought, tucking her face back into his chest to hide her own humiliation. She felt even worse than as she had moments before and before she realized it, she was tensing in his arms.
"Come," he said after a moment. "You must finish your bath, Kagome."
She froze as the realization hit her that she was naked in his arms.
She fell out of his embrace as soon as she processed his words with more apologies. She knew the barely healed scars that covered her from her attack—both inside and out—and knew he wouldn't have enjoyed looking.
Even if he'd found a human woman attractive, and she didn't believe that he would, the scars would have instantly made her unappealing to his eyes and to his sense of perfection.
No, he was helping her out of some misguided sense of duty and honor.
The thought only made her feel worse. She paid him no attention at all as she quickly scrubbed and rinsed herself. She'd initially been surprised that the hot spring had no bathing set up nearby to clean herself until Sesshomaru had advised her that of the unique setup of the bathing area that allowed the waters to be regularly cleaned. Unlike her own indoor bath attached to her room, this spring was far larger and more natural than luxurious and yet it was tucked away in the gardens off her room for privacy. As though it was intended for private use.
She intended on leaving the water without touching her hair, suddenly too exhausted to bother cleaning it, but to her surprise, she felt gentle claws at her scalp, cleaning her hair for her.
"Sesshomaru—" she began in shock.
"Shh," he murmured. He paused and then continued a little hesitantly, "Unless this bothers you?"
She shook her head. She was too tired to protest the kindness she didn't deserve. It would be easier if she gave in and so she did, though his kindness made her feel all the more unworthy.
She withdrew further within herself, wanting to protect herself against any more pain, and absently followed her directions as he cleaned her hair for her and then led her out of the water to dry her off and help her dress.
She simply couldn't draw forth the energy to do anything about it.
Warning: the scene in italics circles back to her assault and has a violent moment. If this bothers you, please skip ahead past the italics.
The rest of the day passed by in a relative haze. Kagome hardly paid attention to anyone or anything and if anyone noticed or commented about that, it simply didn't register.
Lunch and dinner must have been uneventful because she hardly remembered eating, let alone what she ate or what happened during the meal.
InuYasha was quiet—or if he wasn't, she simply didn't notice—but she doubted that would last long. He was never one for keeping his thoughts to himself.
Unless, of course, those thoughts involved his past or Kikyo.
Still, she was grateful for the silence.
She'd eaten because Sesshomaru had led her to the meal and placed food before her, but she hadn't paid attention beyond that.
Hadn't wanted to.
She didn't want to do anything at all that involved thinking.
She still felt too exposed, too raw, after her bath, and she wasn't ready to face those feelings yet.
Kagome was grateful when dinner was over and she was led to her room. She'd wanted to lie back down ever since her bath, but Sesshomaru had insisted on accompanying her to—well, do something. She didn't remember what.
Not that it mattered, anyway.
Relieved, she collapsed onto her bed, uncaring that she was probably crumpling her clothing. Who did she have to impress, anyway?
She couldn't even bring herself to cover herself with the blanket. Instead, she just remained when she'd sprawled on the bed and didn't move until at last sleep finally claimed her.
Her attackers stood around her, forming a circle she couldn't escape from.
She tried to back away, tried to protect herself, pleaded with them to stop, but the men only laughed at her attempts to avoid what they all knew was going to happen anyway.
"What a weak attempt," one mocked her. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you wanted this."
One of the other men laughed as his hands reached for her. "I bet she does," he said, leering as he pawed at her. "She doesn't
even know how good she has it right now."
She closed her eyes and felt like vomiting but that only made them laugh harder. They were enjoying her pain and she knew without seeing that they were touching themselves as much as they were touching her.
When she opened her eyes again, she screamed. Her attackers, all mutilated and bloody, touching her with their bloodied and flayed flesh, covering her with their own fluids.
They laughed as she screamed in horror, trying to pull back from their mutilated bodies. The men were falling apart around her and still they reached for her.
One of their hands suddenly was sliced clean off by an invisible weapon and fell onto her bare breast, cupping her flesh with bloodied fingers.
She screeched in horror.
Kagome jolted awake, her voice hoarse.
She blinked in the dark room but she couldn't unsee the hand at her breast. Shivering with revulsion, she threw off her clothes, desperate to stop the sensation of anything at her breast.
I can still feel it touching me!
Even naked, the sensation didn't dissipate. The air was too much on her bare flesh and she screamed again in frustration and horror.
All she saw was blood and body parts everywhere.
Without thinking, she reached for the first thing she felt and threw it, barely noting as the pillow bounced harmlessly off the wall.
It wasn't enough.
She groped mindlessly and her fingers found her blankets, which she threw, and then the futon itself. Her clothes were after that, thrown one by one with all the strength she possessed.
All tumbled to the ground, unharmed.
She needed to feel in control of the chaos around her, needed something loud to shatter the men's voices she could still hear in her head, their groans—
Her fingers found a vase and she threw it.
There was a satisfying sound as it smashed into a wooden post and exploded into shards.
But when the sound stopped, she could hear their voices again.
She thundered around her room, throwing everything she could find to try and shut out the sound and find some semblance of peace.
Throwing things took some of the fevered energy from her, hid some of the sounds—however temporarily.
She threw her tansu, threw the clothes in them, uncaring of any collateral damage in the process. Anything at all she could find in the room, she threw, until there was nothing left to throw.
It was only then, as she sagged to the ground, that she was aware of two things.
Sesshomaru was standing silently in her doorway, watching her.
And she'd been wailing and crying the entire time and hadn't realized it.
"It hurts," she wailed plaintively as he slowly approached her.
"I know," he answered her quietly, pulling her into his arms and rocking her.
She clung to him, needing the comfort he offered, but hating that she needed it at the same time. Her hands alternated between grabbing at him and pounding at his back in misery as she cried.
He simply held her in silence until she finally sagged against him, spent.
"All I seem to be doing is falling apart, Sesshomaru," she said in a quiet, broken voice.
"You are not falling apart," he corrected her gently, pulling her closer so that she sat in his lap, her legs to one side and her upper body to the other. "You are healing."
His words made her cry all over again but this time he simply rocked her as she cried. "What if anyone else sees me like this? What if InuYasha saw?"
She couldn't bear the thought of InuYasha witnessing her breakdown. She already felt too exposed as it was, but at least until now, it was only Sesshomaru who had seen her at her worst each time.
Sesshomaru was silent for a moment. "He is not here," he admitted slowly, tensing. "He went out to hunt. Everyone else is in bed."
She didn't know if InuYasha had heard her rage or not. She began shaking at the thought he might have witnessed her outburst and fled from her again as he'd done before, the night of the attack.
"Would you like me to seek him out for you?" Sesshomaru offered suddenly.
"No!" She winced at her own volume even as she dug her fingers in tighter to his clothing. "No, Sesshomaru. Please don't. Don't leave me."
He seemed to relax. "If that is what you wish, Kagome."
She nodded her agreement.
"But you cannot sleep here. I will summon the servants to—"
"No!" She shook her head. "It's too late, Sesshomaru, and besides, it's my fault. I'll clean it up." She pulled away just enough to survey the destruction of her room and winced. It would easily take her all day to restore her room to rights and she wasn't entirely sure everything could be salvaged, either.
"It is late," he said, standing up and carrying her in his arms as he rose. "Your room will wait. For now, you need sleep."
Instead of righting her own bedding as she'd thought he'd do, he carried her out of the room and into another, setting her down on the futon there before moving away.
Her fingers clung onto him, preventing him from moving too far away. "Don't go."
He glanced down at her and, after a moment, nodded, stretching out beside her without touching her directly.
Her grip, however, didn't slack as she curled against him, needing the comfort he so easily offered her, but though she thought she couldn't sleep again after her nightmare, she'd exhausted herself out and within minutes, she dozed off.