Kouga stared down at the small figure against his chest, eyes wide and face rapidly reddening to rival the crimson of Kagome’s juni-hito. Under the bright gaze of the vibrant grey eyes peering up at him, he faltered. The Lord of the Eastern Wolf Tribe was, perhaps for the first time in his life, truly at a loss for words.
In the utter blankness that her words had reduced his mind to, he could only gape down at her as the moments dragged on and her ecstatic expression dimmed. At length she drew back a short distance, a frown creasing her powder-pale brow.
The trance stupor he had fallen into cleared, and Kouga's thoughts whirled forward in a torrent of flurried color and emotion. Before even the wolf himself could process it, his arms were wrapped almost crushingly about Kagome.
But Kouga paid no heed to her surprised cry or her wriggling struggles, a rush of elation pumping fiercely through him and blinding him to all else. He tightened his embrace about her, taking in the scent of her hair and the feel of her small, warm frame joyfully.
"I knew it! I knew you'd decide to be mine, Kagome!"
Kagome suppressed a cry that she knew would call forth unwanted attention. Pushing futilely against his firm hold, she prayed with all of her heart that none of the court women would suddenly feel inclined to take a walk near the stream.
"Kouga-sama, no! No…what?….Whatever you've got, you've got it all wrong!" she hissed in consternation, though it was clear enough that all of her protests were raining down on deaf ears.
With a huff, Kagome went limp in his hold. Struggling only seemed to tighten the vice around her anyway, and she was certain he would unwittingly snap one of her ribs soon.
She forced herself to calm down enough consider what blunder had ended her in this position yet again with the wolf Lord. Somehow the two of them never quite seemed to be able to connect correctly.
Skimming quickly through her memories of the last few moments, she gasped as she compared the words she had meant to say with the ones that had actually sprung from her mouth in her excitement. With all of her might she abruptly shoved back against the wolf Lord, and thankfully he was surprised enough to release her.
Holding his armor-covered shoulders firmly at arm's length, Kagome gazed sternly into Kouga's ecstatic eyes. She felt a quick flinch of guilt, realizing that she truly had misled him this time. Silently she scolded herself for not being more self-conscious even after all that she had learned, vowing to work harder at controlling her impulsive reactions.
"I meant, 'I need you to help me', Kouga-sama," Kagome amended, leaving no room for miscommunication. "I need your help."
Kouga's face-splitting grin slipped a notch and he seemed to process this for a long moment, his eyes shifting to and fro as if to trace the path of his own thoughts. He scowled then, raising his gaze back up to meet her own accusingly.
Kagome released her grip on his shoulders and moved back a step, slightly disconcerted to find anything like ire from the wolf Lord directed at herself.
"That's not what you said," Kouga objected, something almost petulant in the twist of his mouth.
"It is what I meant, though," Kagome returned, her tone slightly more apologetic.
He glared at her for a silent stretch before turning his back to her with a snort. Kagome frowned and chewed her lower lip, worried that she had really upset him this time. Truly her several informal encounters with Kouga had made her less cautious than she should have been around him.
"Well, what if I don't want to help you, huh?" he huffed.
She blanched slightly. She really had upset him this time.
"I truly am sorry, Kouga-sama," Kagome said pleadingly, bowing despite the fact that he could not see her. "It was not my intention to mislead you. But I really do need your help-"
"I'm not really in the mood," he cut her off childishly.
"Kouga-sama, please, I-"
"I guess I could be persuaded, though," he interrupted again, glancing at her from over his shoulder. "If you promised me compensation."
"Compensation?" Kagome echoed, frowning slightly. "I do not really have anything of much value, Kouga-sama…"
"It's not some piece of crap court trinket I want," Kouga snorted.
"Then…what, Kouga-sama?" Kagome said, wary even as the words left her lips.
Kouga’s look grew decidedly wolfish, his eyes roving from the hem of her juni-hito to the crown of her head. Kagome flushed under the suggestive gaze, fighting the urge to cover herself despite the fifteen layers already draped over her frame. Surely he could not be thinking…
"A kiss," Kouga declared. "That will be my reward."
"Kouga-sama!" Kagome exclaimed, barely remembering to keep her voice down. "That's hardly a proper thing to-!"
"Then I'm not doing it," he said, turning away from her once more.
She gaped, her face reddening further in her upset. On the one hand, whatever Kouga's standards might be, a kiss was hardly any small thing in her estimation. It was not something to just be given away so casually, and it might further mislead the wolf Lord as to her feelings for him.
On the other hand, a chance as perfect as this one might never come along again and he was absolutely essential to her plan. A glance back at the edge of the trees and a passing thought of Inuyasha decided it for her.
"Fine," she huffed out, truly feeling the weight of the word in her chest. "If you do this for me, I will…give you a-a…kiss…."
"Then we have a deal," Kouga said, whipping around to grab her hands. "Just tell me what you want me to do. I'll finish up in a flash and be back for my reward."
Kagome cringed, wondering what exactly she had just done. She sighed, shaking her head and deciding not to think about it for the moment lest she lose her nerve. She slipped her hands from his to gesture at the stream.
"I need you to find the source of this stream. How quickly do you think can do that?"
He tilted his head back slightly, nostrils flaring as he scented the air. He sifted through the various smells contemplatively until he found the right one.
"Smells like it's not far," he concluded aloud. "I could be there and back in a matter of minutes."
"Alright, then," Kagome said, nodding more to herself than to him as she considered this. "I need you to go to the source and remove whatever is blocking its flow. I am assuming that the water is frozen, so you will need to melt it.”
“Run around it until you have heated the surrounding air enough to melt the ice all at once. I need it to come down in one big rush, alright? Do not forget that.”
“After that I need you to follow its progress as the water flows back towards here. When you think it is about seventeen minutes or so from here, run ahead of it and come tell me. Do you think you can do all of that, Kouga-sama?"
"Anything you want, Kagome," he responded readily, eager to be off that he might sooner return and claim his prize.
"Good," Kagome said, though the look on his face did not do much to ease her nerves. "You should get going now. And make certain none of the women see or sense you, alright? It will all be pointless if any of them catch you."
Kouga nodded and then was gone in a blast of wind that had her stumbling backwards. She sighed, kneeling carefully down on the ground and patting her head to make certain that the intricate pinning of her hair had not been ruined. Feeling that it was still intact for the most part, she settled in to wait with as much patience as she could muster.
With all of her heart she prayed to the kami that this plan of hers would work. No one should question the elements or seasons, after all. And so long as no one caught on to Kouga's presence, everything would be alright.
Absently Kagome realized that the wolf Lord, in his eagerness, had not even bothered to question why she was asking him to do all of this.
She sighed, shaking her head bemusedly. She could never quite comprehend what it was that went through Kouga’s head. Then again, perhaps it was just that he was so utterly simple that he seemed complicated.
And to demand a kiss of all things! Some kind of noble he was, to ask something like that of her. But then again, that kind of decorum most likely did not matter much in the intimate, rural setting in which Kouga and his clan lived.
Kagome sighed, shaking her head. There was no help for it. Though she did not relish the idea, a kiss was no great thing in comparison to what she was aiming to do here.
If she could pull this off-no, when she pulled it off, Inuyasha would finally be forced to trust her fully. On top of that, the court would be in just the position necessary for her to begin working as she truly wished to. She could finally begin to put things into motion.
Kagome nodded to herself, affirming in her mind that her mission was a worthy one and that she was in the right in doing everything necessary to further it. She closed her eyes, spreading her spiritual sense out and slowly up the bed of the trickling stream.
Her senses would not stretch far enough to touch either the source of the stream or Kouga, but still she waited patiently. She kept a portion of her senses concentrated on the tree line, as well, just to make certain there were no surprises on that end.
From what she could feel, almost all of the women seemed to still be sitting on the sheets spread out that they might enjoy their meals. That was good thing. It would be much easier to get their attention if they were all still arranged in so orderly a manner.
Abruptly her focus shifted back to the stream as she felt a rush of water burst over her spiritual senses, roaring and sloshing and overflowing its banks in jubilation. In quick succession followed the familiar prickle of Kouga's youki, slowing his usual speed slightly to keep pace with the rushing water.
Kagome bit her tongue to hold back a cry of joy, continuing to follow the course of the wolf and the water with her second sight. It was much more water than she had even dared to hope for, and Kouga seemed to have done a perfect job of melting it quickly enough to cause a huge surge. It would have exactly the dramatic effect that she was hoping for.
Now came the real trial. What sort of announcement would have the most impact of the noblewomen?
Kagome sifted quickly through every lesson Kaede had ever given her on the kami and courtiers. A common link between the two…
Poetry! Such rhythmic and elegant endeavors were of course dear to the kami, as they put the soul of the individual more in line with the flow of the universe. Courtiers, too, valued it as a way by which to showcase refinement. It was the perfect!
On the downside, Kagome's lessons in poetry were anything but extensive. Really Kaede had only given her the proper format of a few styles of basic verse and a handful of odd examples. She certainly did not want to come out sounding more boorish than some already thought her by mangling the spiritual art of disciplined verse.
Still, it was too perfect a medium to pass over. If she stuck to a simple shichigon-zekku form of Shigin chant poetry, she should be able to keep her blunders to a minimum. Nodding, Kagome began working out the words and rhythm in her mind.
A few minutes later Kouga came skidding into the clearing, calling her back into the present moment. He beamed at her, obviously quite pleased with his efforts.
"I did it just like you said, Kagome," he said. "I'd say you've got about nineteen minutes or so before the water reaches here."
Kagome nodded and got to her feet, not quite finished polishing what she wanted to say but well aware that it was to be now or never. With a deep breath and a cursory glance down at her juni-hito to make certain it was not overly rumpled or stained, she started back towards the tree line.
She glanced back, startled. Kouga eyed her expectantly, a too-wide grin splitting his face.
"My compensation, remember?"
Kagome flushed hotly, recalling her promise. For a brief moment she considered asking to postpone payment, but quickly dismissed the idea. There was no use in just delaying the inevitable, and she could not afford to waste the time that Kouga would undoubtedly spend arguing with her over it.
Thus Kagome, in a highly unladylike gesture, picked up the hem of her juni-hito and marched purposefully over to the youkai, stopping when she was about arm’s length away. Kouga's eyes widened slightly, as if he had expected her to put up more resistance.
Still a promise was a promise, and Kagome was a woman of her word. Trying hard not to think about it, she went up on her toes until she was as near to face to face with the wolf as she could get. His eyes met her own and she flushed scarlet, her gaze sliding down a bit to his lips.
She forced herself to lean forward and willed her fluttering heart to be calm, absently licking at her own lips. Glancing once more up into those keen ice-blue eyes, Kagome was struck by a sudden notion.
Swiftly she leaned in and kissed the youkai Lord.
Right on the cheek. Though she made sure it was near enough to the corner of his mouth that he was momentarily stunned.
With that, Kagome turned tail and hurried away as fast as her geta and juni-hito would allow. She grinned slightly to herself, realizing that it was a rather cheap trick.
"It counts!" Kagome called back, not bothering to turn or slow her pace.
She knew that he would not bother to follow her. Whatever else he might be, Kouga was a warrior and lived by the way of a warrior. Payment had been given, albeit not in quite the anticipated form, and so he had no reason to further pursue her for the moment.
Her grin widened as she reached the tree line and felt the aura of the youkai Lord fade behind her. Just as she had anticipated.
Still all of her good feelings curdled as she peered out through the trees at the groups of women kneeling primly on fine silks across the clearing from her. Nerves fluttered like the wings of a humming bird through her stomach, and a hint of embarrassment even dared to rear its reticent head.
It was such a juvenile feeling for such a serious moment, and Kagome scolded herself roundly. Still the thought of so many critical eyes on her as she did something so outrageous was nothing if not embarrassing.
Taking a deep breath in through her nose, she concentrated on the feel of air sliding into and then back out of her lungs. Slowly she slipped back into her memories of the character that she had played so many times before in the Dengaku, telling herself that this was just another one of the many dances done in celebration of the harvest.
It was time to give them a show they would not soon forget.
Forcefully Kagome thrust herself out from the cover of the trees, staggering and clutching her head with purpose. She dared not raise her eyes to look, but she could feel several gazes turn to her.
With all of the grace that years of moving through the steps of the Dengaku had given her, Kagome made as if she were going to tumble to the ground. At the last moment she twisted, turning quickly so that the layers of her juni-hito twirled about her feet.
She tottered forward a few more steps before standing still for a long moment, swaying to and fro while silently congratulating herself on having pulled off such a move in such a cumbersome outfit.
From the corner of her eye she could see several of the figures across from her rise, and she clutched once more at her head as she tripped forward a few steps. She let out a small wail, just loud enough that she was certain the women would hear her, before rolling her eyes forcefully back into her head.
Abruptly she surrendered all control of her muscles, crumpling to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Lying perfectly still, Kagome could hear the shocked and horrified cries of several women echo through the clearing. She kept her eyes closed and her expression carefully lax, listening as many of the women rose and some ventured nearer to her prone form.
"What is happening?"
"Is she ill?"
"Has she gone mad?"
From amidst the numerous chattering voices one emerged, loud and scared. Kagome pushed down a twinge of guilt, reminding herself that this was exactly what she had been hoping for.
She listened carefully to the dull clomping of a pair of geta as the figure to whom the voice belong hurried over as quickly as her juni-hito would allow, dropping roughly to her knees at her side.
"Kagome! Kagome, can you hear me? Kagome!"
She could feel the nervous fluttering of her dear friend's hands, roving carefully up and down her form in search of injury. Still she did not move, waiting for just the right moment. She vowed that she would apologize thoroughly to Sango just as soon as she got the chance.
Anxiously Kagome continued to lay and listen, allowing none of her inner turmoil to manifest in either her limp frame or her placid expression. The nervous fluttering of fans and the muffled thud of geta grew louder as more and more of the women came to crowd about her. She felt keenly the weight of each of their stares upon her.
There was a gentle rustling as a second figure came unexpectedly to kneel at her side.
"What is wrong with her, Sango-sama?"
It was Kikyou's voice.
"I am not certain, Fujiwara-sama. She just collapsed… I am afraid to move her. I might make it worse if I cannot figure out what is ailing her first."
Now was the time, Kagome knew. The women were gathered as closely as they were going to get and there would not be a better one.
Letting out a low, keening sort of wail, she began to clench and unclench every muscle in her control rapidly in the mimic of a shaking fit. She forced her body to shake and spasm and writhe about, pleased with the gasps and exclamations that rippled through the surrounding crowd. A few of the women even screamed.
Vaguely Kagome felt as Sango was pressed to the side. Then a pair of slender arms wound themselves about her convulsing shoulders, hauling her up against a slight chest.
It was Kikyou, Kagome realized. She was so shocked she almost fell out of her character, but managed just barely to turn her surprised flinch into yet another contortion of her body.
"You need to lay her on her side and loosen the neck of her juni-hito!" instructed Sango, seeming to regain some of her wits.
Kagome went limp then, knowing that she wanted no such thing to happen. The whole crowd went silent as the miko sagged back lifelessly into the future Empress' hold. A long moment stretched past and then the chattering resumed twofold, the air all around dancing with the swishes and flicks of numerous fans.
"Can you tell if she is alright, Sango-sama?" came Kikyou's voice softly from above her.
"I do not know-"
Sango cut herself off as Kagome slid her eyes open suddenly. She stared blankly up into the gray sky, her eyes as wide as she could make them. In her periphery vision she could vaguely see the faces of the women all around her, their excited babbling and exclamations filling her ears.
"Kagome?" Kikyou said, shaking her shoulders slightly. "Kagome? Can you hear me?"
Kagome shifted her wide, all-encompassing gaze to meet the anxious brown eyes of the future Empress. Summoning up a bit of her spiritual energy, Kagome drew it like a film across her eyes. Through the blue glow she saw Kikyou's eyes widen a fraction.
There were several gasps and squeaks of surprise from the other women nearest to them. Sango crept forward to peer over the shoulder of the future Empress at Kagome in what almost looked like awe.
But Kagome did not focus her gaze on any of them, remaining carefully disconnected. Rather she called forth another tendril of her power, drawing it up like air into her throat. Her every breath crackled with the force of it.
Now for the finishing touch. Opening her mouth, the miko intoned the words she had so hurriedly conjured up with all of the gravity of delivering the second message of Kiyomichi-sama,
"In the cage of Winter's grasp sleeps
The water of man's higher life, although
In this season of ice they shall,
In divine hands, joyfully drown all banks."
Each word crackled with the raw power that came of summoning up her abilities without a medium, licking and lashing statically at the air all around Kagome. Women gasped and shrieked and stumbled backwards at the otherworldly spectacle. Judging by a few dull thuds, Kagome thought that some might even have fainted.
Kikyou, amazingly enough, held on to her through the whole ordeal, her eyes intensely focused on Kagome's glowing orbs. Truly the woman seemed unshakeable, intently taking in each word that sizzled through the air around her with something like awe blooming in her stoic face.
Kagome gave the future Empress one last long, wide-eyed look as she finished speaking, shifting her gaze slowly and with purpose between Kikyou's eyes and the tree line and then back again. Silently willing to noblewoman to understand, Kagome allowed herself to go limp once more.
A heavy hush had fallen over the group of women once more. Gently Kikyou laid Kagome back down on the cool ground. Kagome resisted the urge to squirm or open her eyes to take a peek, forcing herself to hold still and praying that Kikyou would get the women moving quickly. There was not much time left.
"Wh-what in all of Japan was that?"
A shaking voice broke the silence at last. It sounded like the Minamoto woman that Kagome had met earlier, though it was hard to be certain.
"Has your girl gone mad, Fujiwara-sama?"
"Maybe she is possessed!"
"Possessed! You mean an evil spirit! No-!"
From there the talk degenerated into a cacophony of nervously excited squawkings, so many women speaking so rapidly that one word was hardly discernible from the next. The sheer force of will it took Kagome to keep from groaning was almost painful.
Her mind darted about like a nervous bird beneath the closed lids of her eyes, trying frantically to think up some way to salvage the quickly deteriorating situation.
Kikyou's voice rang, loud and clear like the peal of a bell, over the others. Slowly the chaos died down, and Kagome could almost feel it as all of the anxious and expectant eyes turned to the future Empress.
"Now, cousins, you must calm down and consider this rationally. You are true ladies, after all, and true ladies do not succumb to such unseemly behavior."
She paused, allowing time for the women to take this in and compose themselves appropriately. Kagome could sense it as they all forced themselves into a semblance of equanimity for at least the sake of appearances, their fans resuming the leisurely wave characteristic of 'true ladies'.
"Now, Sango-sama. You are taiji-ya and familiar with such things as possession, are you not?" Kikyou said.
"Yes, that is true, Fujiwara-sama," came Sango's voice, and Kagome was surprised to hear that she was still on the ground near to the miko's prone form.
"And would you say that what just occurred looked like a possession by an evil spirit, Sango-sama?"
"No," Sango answered softly, her hand coming up to rest on Kagome's shoulder. "That was definitely not an evil spirit, Fujiwara-sama."
"And Kagura-sama," Kikyou pressed on. "The aura coming from Kagome just now, it clashed with your youki?"
"…It did," Kagura admitted begrudgingly.
"Then it was obviously a spiritual aura," reasoned Kikyou, and Kagome would have hugged the woman could she have moved. "My cousins, I believe we have just been allowed by the kami a glimpse at the divine. Come now, follow me."
Kikyou's footsteps turned towards the tree line, a swish of air indicating that she had motioned with her fan for the noblewomen to join her.
There was a moment of hesitation among the noblewomen that seemed to stretch on forever for Kagome. At the edge of her spiritual sense she could feel the waters rushing torrentially along down the riverbed, and she knew that if they did not go now the impact that she had been hoping for would be lost entirely.
Still Kagome could do nothing more lest she betray her own ruse, and so she concentrated all of her will into not tensing up. It was in the hands of the kami now to pass judgment on her charade.
At last she felt movement as Sango gave her shoulder a meaningful squeeze before rising up from her side. She started out quickly after the future Empress.
"Cousin, wait for me!" called a voice, followed by hurried, clomping little foot falls.
It was Hisana from earlier, Kagome realized. With her cry the dam seemed finally to break. The ground on which Kagome's head rested resounded with the steps of noblewomen making their way towards the stream.
Kagome remained motionless even as the sound faded behind the tree line. Briefly the urge to rise and go watch the reactions of the women rang through her limbs, but she dismissed it quickly. It would seem odd if she were to get up now. Better that she play at being unconscious until they took her back to the court, however frustrating it might be.
To satisfy at least a bit of her curiosity, she stretched out her senses beyond the line of the trees to where she could feel all of the women gathering. It was not quite as good as actually seeing and hearing their responses, but it would have to do.
Kikyou and Sango stood at the head of the group, Kagura, Kanna, and Hisana just slightly behind them. From what Kagome could sense most of the women seemed confused, their gazes straying this way and that and the next for whatever it was that had brought them there. Kikyou, on the other hand, was focused with no small amount of intensity on the tiny trickle of the stream.
The future Empress had understood, then. And if the intensity of her concentration was any indication, Kikyou obviously thought her vision to be an authentic one. That was certainly a step in the right direction.
Stretching her senses little further, Kagome sought out the flood of water once more. She was pleased to find that it was only moments away from the women. They could probably hear the roar of it by now.
Kagome followed its aura as it came roiling and spilling fiercely down into the river bed just before the women, branches and stones and rocks and mud caught up in its flow. So intense was her focus in her excitement that she felt even the waves that jumped the bank and washed over the hems of the robes of several women.
Shifting her concentration back onto the auras of the women, Kagome waited tensely for a reaction. Her second sight was a pure white blank.
And then there was an explosion of color so bright that Kagome wanted to cover her already closed eyes. Surprise, disbelief, even a bit of fear were the feelings that seemed to dominate the group as they began to put together everything that had gone on.
All positive reactions in her mind. Only something they were taking seriously could be made to evoke such a strong reaction.
There was a thread of something else, though. It was such fierce, writhing emotion that its color shifted by the moment in Kagome's second sight, but when pressed she had to call it some kind of desperate relief. It was Kikyou.
Kagome was not quite certain what to make of this. Fighting down a frown, Kagome withdrew her senses from the women. She had done all she could and it seemed that she had gotten the response she was hoping for. Now she had simply to wait and see how the rest would unravel.
Mentally exhausted from all of her frantic efforts, Kagome allowed her mind to drain slowly of all thought. Half-dozing she rested there, a vague sense of contentment stealing warmly over her despite the chill air.
She had done her best. Whatever happened now, she had done her best. She could hardly wait to tell Inuyasha.
As far as she knew, it could have been hours or minutes before the light thudding of footsteps penetrated her haze. She roused herself slightly to listen, refraining still from giving away her consciousness.
The women came to stand in a rough circle about her, and she could feel the force of almost every eye upon her form. Yet they all remained several lengths away from her, none of them daring to come any nearer. Weighty silence reigned for a time.
"I believe, cousins, you all understand well enough what has occurred here."
There was something strange about the future Empress' voice, Kagome thought. It was subtle, very subtle, but it was there. Somehow it almost seemed…firmer. More certain. Silently she wondered at this.
"There is no way," retorted another voice quickly, sharply. "There is no way…not in some common born upstart. Some ice melted. That is all. Nothing more than that."
That was Kagura. She sounded uncharacteristically disturbed. Still a few women murmured their agreement, fans flicking agitatedly at the air. Most of them were Kagura's relatives, Kagome guessed.
"You know as well as I do that the kami are responsible for all things in nature, Kagura-sama, even 'some ice melting'," Kikyou said. "Besides, how would you account for such a torrent of water? Nearly all of the tributary ice would have had to have melted almost in an instant, and in this season and weather, too.”
“And even were we to presume that this was merely some playful whim of the kami, why would Kagome be privileged to their whims before they went through? How else would you explain her fit, or her fore-knowledge, Kagura-sama?"
Kagura could only trail off into frustrated silence. There really was no argument against the nearly flawless logic of the future Empress. Inwardly Kagome applauded Kikyou, truly appreciating her inflexible disposition for perhaps the first time.
Still Kikyou was silent for a protracted moment, obviously waiting for any other objections the women might think to voice. They made not a sound, though, stunned as most of them were by the gravity of what had just occurred before them. Kagome could feel Kikyou's sense of victory wrapped firmly about the future Empress' form like a set of new armor.
"Cousins, you would all do well to mark this day," Kikyou said. "For on this day you have been allowed to witness the divine. On this day you have seen the birth of a Seeress.”
“On this day you have seen the renewal of the ancient promise of the kami to in all ways support a righteous Tennō-sama, in the form of their blessing of his Majesty's servant. On this day, cousins, you have witnessed a vision."
Soon after this declaration, Kikyou made it known that it was past time that the group return to the Heian-Kyō. No one argued this, all of them having gone silent and thoughtful in the wake of Kagome's performance.
The future Empress had the servants clear the grounds and load Kagome carefully into her carriage. No guests joined the two in their carriage on the way back, and the ride passed in silence. The entire time Kagome could feel Kikyou's eyes on her face, and Kagome could not help but wonder what was going through the noblewoman's mind.
It was not until some time later when she awoke in an unfamiliar room that Kagome realized she had actually fallen asleep at some point. Groggily she wormed her way out from beneath the blankets of the expansive futon in which she had been placed, sitting up to yawn and stretch.
Scanning the large room, only slightly smaller in size than that of the future Empress, Kagome wondered absently where they had placed her. There were a couple of folding screens placed here and there, and the walls were adorned with three of the most intricate ink paintings that she had ever seen.
There were shoji screens both behind and in front of Kagome and, peering around the edge of one of the folding screens, she found a low wooden table and a set of cushions. A trunk of dark cedar wood and a small mirror rested in the far corner of the room.
Overall it was very well set up. Too well furnished for them to have simply placed her in a random room, anyway. It seemed that this room had been prepared specifically for someone's use.
Her clothes had been changed, too, Kagome realized. It was lovely, light sleeping yukata of the softest cotton, patterned appropriately enough with flowing streams. Certainly Kagome had grown accustomed to the sight of such finery here in the court, but all of this together seemed far too grand for the likes of herself.
Curious, Kagome crawled over to the shoji screen directly behind her and slid it open just the slightest crack. Peering out, she was surprised to find a long, low wooden sitting porch and a garden just outside of her room. Both seemed to be empty of any other people as far as she could see, and the short surrounding wall kept anyone else from entering.
Cautiously she slid the shoji open a bit further, glancing about once more to make certain that no one was coming. Finding that the place was truly empty, Kagome stepped out into the pale morning light. She shivered, pulling her yukata tighter about herself against the bite of the crisp winter air.
The garden was not an exceptionally large one when compared with others that Kagome had seen, but it had a peaceful, cozy sort of feel about it. At its center rested a large koi pond, filled with drifting water lilies and lined all around with various stones. Sparse but well-managed vegetation dotted the ground here and there.
Directly opposite her, resting almost against the enclosing wall, was a small wooden shrine of some sort. On either side of it sat a small stone statue, one of the Buddha and the other of Amaterasu. Both figures were in poses of deep meditation.
The quiet, intermittent clacking of the kakei as it was filled and then emptied its water into the koi pond echoed through the small space. It was nice, thought Kagome, closing her eyes to listen for a moment.
Reluctantly she disengaged herself from the tranquil atmosphere, deciding that it was time to figure out what was going on. She slid the shoji screen closed behind her, going to the opposite screen and sliding it open a crack. Peeking out into the long hallway just outside, she jumped back with a squeak of surprise.
There were guards posted on either side of the shoji just outside of her room. But why in all of Japan would there be guards for her? Kagome raised a hand to touch her brow, scouring her mind for even the vaguest of memories of what had led up to this situation.
"Is something the matter, Miko-sama? Was there something that you needed us to get for you?" came a voice through the screen.
It was male, obviously one of the guards. He had probably been alerted by her little cry, she realized. She crept forward to peer at him through the opening in the shoji.
"Yes…um, I am sorry to bother you, but could you possibly tell me where I am and what I am doing here? You see, I just woke up and I am a little bit lost…" Kagome trailed off sheepishly.
"Yes, of course, Miko-sama. My apologies," said the guard, and she saw him bow low before the screen. "You are in one of the disconnected quarters of the Chūwain. The Tennō-sama thought it best that you go into ascetic isolation for a time that you might reflect on the vision that the kami gave you.”
“We are here to serve you should you require anything, but otherwise there will be no one allowed to see you. Ah. Actually, the future Empress gave me this to give to you when you finally awoke. I believe it is from his Majesty."
A piece of folded paper was slipped beneath the door. Kagome picked it up, opening it and reading:
Looks like you really did it, you insane wench. You’ll need to stay here until everything gets sorted out. I will call for you in a week, so suck it up and stay put until then. If you need something, let the guards know. I made sure to pick a pair of loyal ones this time.
Kagome scowled at the note, huffing softly. That was hardly any sort of thanks for all of her effort. He did not even sound slightly pleased with her. Still he did not seem too angry at her either, and with a sigh she decided that that was probably all she could expect from him for the moment.
Even more disappointing than his reaction, though, was the fact that Kagome had not gotten to announce to him in person what she had done. She had really been looking forward to it, too. Finally she could force him to put some real faith in her.
The idea of a week in isolation was hardly very appealing, either. What would she do with an entire week all alone? It reminded her uncomfortably of the week she had spent in near segregation after the spread of the rumor regarding herself and Kouga. Having been raised in the tight community of her village, she was hardly accustomed to much privacy and was distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of being left on her own for such a stretch of time.
That, and Kagome had been anticipating being able to visit with Miroku and Sango once more. She was not certain if she should explain what she had done to them or not, but she at least wanted to get their reactions on what had gone on. Besides which she missed being able to speak with them, and she had yet to thank them properly for all that they had done for her during the rumor incident.
It would also have been nice to go out among the courtiers to gauge how they were dealing with her little spectacle. That way she might be able to act if it seemed the tide of general opinion was flowing somewhere undesirable. But now she was simply cut off from it all, though a small part of her grudgingly admitted that she could understand the reasoning behind it.
All in all, Kagome's leftover good feelings from her victory were quickly souring. Absently she sighed again, wondering what exactly she was supposed to do now. It was disconcerting to have no immediate purpose with which to occupy herself.
"Ah, Miko-sama? I apologize if I am disturbing you or prying, but is something the matter?" the guard spoke up from outside of the screen, concerned at the second burdened sigh in the span of several moments.
"Oh, no. It is nothing, really," Kagome said, forcing her voice into a semblance of cheerfulness. "I was just thinking about…various things. I apologize."
"Not at all, Miko-sama," the guard returned kindly. "I…I am more than willing to be of service to you in any manner that I can. Perhaps you would like for me to fetch some food for you? It must have been awhile since last you ate anything."
"That would be wonderful," Kagome said, recalling suddenly how long it had been since her last meal. "Thank you so much…"
"I am from the Hojo clan, Miko-sama," the guard filled in when she trailed off expectantly. "Hojo Akitoki, at your service. I will go fetch your meal straightaway."
She could hear his eager steps padding off down the hall before she could so much as open her mouth to thank him. Kagome blinked several times, bemused at the man's behavior. She tilted her head, trying to recall any previous mention of the Hojo clan made to her. She could not, meaning it was most likely a minor clan.
She was slightly startled by chuckling just outside the screen, remembering after a moment that there was a second guard posted at the door. Peeking once more through the opening in the shoji screen, she gazed at the mirthful dark haired man.
"Is…something the matter?" she asked.
"Oh, no, not at all, Miko-sama," the man guffawed, trying to compose himself. "I beg your pardon. It's just…he's so eager."
"I suppose so," Kagome replied warily as the man degenerated back into choked chortles.
"Truly I am sorry, Miko-sama. I have known him for some time, and the kid hardly ever ceases to amuse," the man explained. "He requested this job, you know? Went as far as to beg the Tennō-sama to be allowed to guard you."
"I…see," said Kagome, not quite sure what to make of this. "Ah, I do not suppose you would know where I could get a set of clothes to change into?"
"There should be a few sets of robes and some other things in the trunk in there, Miko-sama," the guard said. "Please feel free to tell me if you require anything else."
"Yes, of course. Thank you."
Sliding the screen fully closed once more, Kagome rose and went back to the trunk. She pulled from it a set of miko robes, pausing at the sight of a stack of papers and writing utensils just beneath them. Struck by an idea, she undressed and redressed quickly.
Tying her hair back into a long tail at the nape of her neck, Kagome pulled out the papers, ink stone, and brushes to bring them over to the dining table. She knelt before them for a moment, looking about thoughtfully. On a whim she rose and slid open the shoji that led out into the garden, nodding in satisfaction as the cadenced beat of the kakei filled the room. Returning to the table, she settled in to do a bit of writing.
First off she penned a letter to Miroku and Sango, assuring them that she was perfectly well and apologizing for having scared the noblewoman. She requested that they keep her updated on the goings on in the court while she was in isolation and promised to explain everything more thoroughly when she was allowed to see them in person once more. She was not quite ready to either lie or reveal everything to her friends yet.
Setting that letter aside, she entertained the idea of writing to Inuyasha. At length she dismissed the idea as an unproductive one. She doubted she would get a response any more in depth than what she had already gotten from his letter.
Besides that, she was not quite certain what she even wanted to say to him. It seemed he already knew anything she might have to tell. The urge to have some sort of contact with him lingered, but she decided it was best to just ignore the feeling for the time being.
There was a light tapping at the shoji where the guards were stationed, and Kagome rose to open it. The young guard from before bowed in the doorway, a tray of food placed before him. The other guard, still standing, looked on with amusement tilting up the corners of his mouth.
"Thank you so much, Hojo-sama," Kagome said. “I am glad you were so quick. I am famished."
"Not at all, Miko-sama. I am glad I could be of service to you. I hope all of the food is to your liking," he said, pushing the tray slightly towards her.
Kagome smiled and reached out to bring the tray the rest of the way into the room, accidentally brushing the guard's hand as she did so. Immediately his face flamed brighter than the red of her hakama. Kagome frowned, puzzled, and the other guard smothered a laugh.
With a slight bow, she took up the tray and slid the shoji screen shut. Outside she could hear Hojo stuttering some nonsense while the other guard erupted into full-blown snorts of glee. She bit her lower lip thoughtfully, wondering if there had been some subtle joke she had missed.
Shrugging mentally, she decided that their odd behavior was not really her concern. She had Inuyasha’s assurance that they were both loyal, after all.
She returned to the table and set the tray down, digging into the food with vigor in the absence of anyone to critique her manners. Despite all of the negative aspects of this sudden isolation, it was a bit nice to be freed for a time from the scrutiny of the courtiers.
As she ate she considered what she should do next, mentally sorting through all of the things she wanted to get done and picking out the ones she knew she could accomplish while in the confines of the room.
As she finished she decided that it would be best to do a mental review of her lunch with the noblewomen. That way she might begin to sort through all that she had seen there.
Setting the tray aside, she drew another sheet of paper towards herself. Kaede had always preached to her the value of writing things out as a means of organizing tangled thoughts. That seemed the most effective manner of dealing with the complex relations that the court women had displayed.
For a long moment she simply stared at it, trying to organize her thoughts enough to find a starting point. At last she picked up her brush, dipped it in the well of the ink stone, and began to list the name of each clan she had encountered.
First off was Sango's clan, the Tachibana. Their loyalties seemed straightforward enough. None of them had been hostile towards herself or the future Empress, and from what she had heard it seemed that many of them were out employed in the service of the Tennō. That was well enough. She had at least one set of allies, then.
Next were the Minamoto. They were a bit harder to pin down. The Minamoto woman she had ridden with in Kikyou's carriage had seemed quite supportive of the future Empress, but the clan as a whole seemed to want little to do with the Tachibana.
If the Minamoto were in favor of the Tennō, they should logically have no problems with a clan sharing the same loyalties. Perhaps a clan rivalry for higher status, then? That, however, did not entirely explain their willingness to associate with the Taira clan, though they obviously seemed to have no great love for the members of it. What was the commonality that connected the two?
She did not yet have enough information to pass judgment on their position. Resolving to keep an eye on them for the time being, Kagome simply left room on the parchment for anything she might learn in the future.
Which brought her to the Taira clan. Kagome scowled, Kagura's smirking face surfacing in her mind's eye. At least the youkai woman had made it abundantly clear where their loyalties had been placed. They were in favor of the elder brother.
Dipping her brush to write this out, she paused. Suddenly she was struck with a thought the likes of a stone wall being dropped unceremoniously in her path. The two guards that had attempted to kill Inuyasha! They had claimed connection with the Taira clan!
A combination of reluctance to even think about the events that had taken place on that fateful trip and the fact that the guards had been human had kept her from ever making the connection. But from what she had seen, all of the Taira clan seemed to be composed of youkai. How, then, had two humans come to be associated with the clan?
Perhaps the claim of the guards had been false. Scrambling up from her place, she hurried over to the shoji screen. Pushing it open slightly, she peered out at the guards.
"Um, excuse me," Kagome began.
"Is there something you require, Miko-sama?" Hojo asked politely.
"Ah, Kagome is fine, if you do not mind. Miko-sama feels…a bit too formal," Kagome said, noticing uncomfortably the high honor of such an address. "I just had a question, and I was wondering if either of the two of you could help me."
"Of course. We are here to serve you, Miko-…K-Kagome-sama," Hojo faltered, the tips of his ears going pink at being allowed to use her given name.
"Well, then, do either of you know what the symbol is that the Taira clan uses?"
"That would be Susano-o-no-Mikoto, divinity of the rainstorm," the young guard answered promptly.
"Ah, I see," Kagome said thoughtfully, considering this. "Thank you, Hojo-sama. That was just what I needed."
"Not at all," returned Hojo, looking pleased. "I am glad to be of service to you, Kagome-sama."
With a slight smile she bowed before sliding the screen closed once more. Slowly she resumed her place at the table, chewing her lip as she contemplated this.
It was safe, then, to assume that they had not been lying about their ties with the Taira. That, however, only made things that much more puzzling.
The Taira clan was a clan of youkai and was blatantly pro-youkai in its sentiments. They seemed to want not the slightest trace of human blood anywhere near the throne.
But then why would they employ two human guards for such an important mission? Why would the guards even consent to such a mission, knowing as they must that at the end of the road it would gain them no status?
Maybe they had been promised some special reward. Or perhaps they had been deceived and made to do so that they alone might take the fall if they were caught.
But there were simply too many questions to rest on any assumption firmly. Truly the Taira clan was quite a tangled web, grinning fangs and shining claws peeking out from every angle.
The only thing she could decide with certainty was that they were a threat. She made a note to inform Inuyasha that they should be placed under surveillance, if they were not already.
As a passing thought she included the clan of the future Empress in her list. She had not met any others from the clan besides Kaede and Kikyou, but according to Midoriko they had been faithful to a fault when in power.
It stood to reason that whatever remained of the clan still retained such loyalty, considering Kikyou's status in the court. Such loyalty, even in a number so small, would likely come in handy in an emergency. She made careful note of this.
She gazed thoughtfully at the column she had compiled on the Fujiwara as she completed it. It occurred to her for the first time how truly unwise a move it was for Inuyasha to keep Kikyou on as his future Empress.
Kaede had explained to her that the majority of noble unions were made on the basis of securing some kind of power or support within the court. At the time she had been very young and the thought of two people marrying for any reason other than love had seemed detestable, but here in the court she could see why such a thing might be necessary.
It seemed unlikely that Inuyasha was keeping her purely out of stupidity, though. He could be quite an idiot, but he was not stupid.
It stood to reason that the arrangement had been made before the fall of the Fujiwara clan, but there was only one real reason that Inuyasha would have carried on with the engagement after the clan's near decimation.
He was in love with her, then. It was not as if Kagome had been unaware of this before, but somehow it was shocking to actually form the thought fully in her mind. She wondered at her own reaction, shrugging it all off after a long moment of uncomfortable agitation.
Spreading all of her lists out before her on the table, Kagome nodded in satisfaction. It was good to have a bit of a feel for the position she was in here in the court. It could hardly be called conclusive, as it included none of the minor clans at work within the capital, but even so it was a start.
Abruptly Kagome frowned, realizing she had already run out of things to occupy her time. With a huffy little sigh and small grumble directed at the hanyou who had imprisoned her, she gathered her papers up and folded them neatly. She tucked them carefully away beneath her futon for safe keeping.
The small shrine out in the garden caught her attention, and she decided that she might as well meditate. That was what she was supposed to be doing while holed up in the room, anyway.
Besides which she had quite a few things that needed to be cleared with the kami. She was not sorry, certain as she was that she had taken the best course of action available to her.
Still she had claimed associations with the divine that she did not truly have, and for that she had to at least offer her apologies. She would submit herself humbly to whatever punishment they would see fit to put on her.
Kagome felt the need to re-harmonize with the rhythm of nature, as well. She had been feeling slightly off ever since her entrance into the court, her sense of innate balance obstructed by the numerous buildings that separated her from nature and the abundance of negative feelings that filled each one.
Now was certainly not the time to be losing her grip on the divine gifts the kami had given her. Not when it was finally time to put them all to full use. Nor did she particularly enjoy the feeling of isolation that sometimes crept up on her due to the loss.
The week's isolation hardly seemed such a bad thing after all, now that she was more in the right mind to consider it. It would be good for her to have some alone time to reflect on everything that had gone on.
Feeling more at ease with her unexpected situation, she pulled off her tabi socks and padded barefoot out into the garden. A broad, uncesored grin stretching the length of her face, Kagome flopped down lightly at the edge of the koi pond and slid up the legs of her hakama past the knees.
Slowly she slipped her feet into the greenish waters, a delightful shudder coursing down her spine at the stinging chill.
Ah, how she had missed this feeling of complete connection. For a brief moment she allowed herself to close her eyes and pretend that she was back in her village, waiting on the bank of the river as Souta fished for dinner.
The moment passed and Kagome chuckled quietly, the fond memories warming her.
Leaning back against her arms with her feet still dangling loosely in the water, Kagome took a deep breath and let her mind slip gently down through her body into the waters. The light, consistent clacking of the kakei lulled her. For the remainder of the day she stayed there, swaying gently in an age old dance around the fish and the water lilies.
As the night began to slip its soft, dark veil over the world, Hojo Akitoki crept timidly into her room. Worried at the lack of any sound coming from inside for so long, he had brought food as an excuse to enter.
At the sight of her, hakama rolled up to reveal slim, pale legs and leaning back in a pose of the utmost ease and vulnerability, he nearly turned tail to run.
Still he pressed on doggedly, fearing for the state of her health as she was exposed to such low temperatures. Reaching his hand out, he shook her shoulder lightly to wake her from whatever daze she had fallen into.
Wrapped in a lingering sense of complete peace, Kagome was not able to muster any embarrassment at him having caught her in such a state. She merely smiled hazily up at him. She was also only mildly concerned when she found she could no longer move her cold-numbed feet.
Alarmed, the guard, with much stuttering and many apologies, scooped her up and carried her back inside. Fetching a towel, he fought not to faint as he dried off her legs and chafed them until circulation returned and chased the mildly blue hue from her skin.
With a sleepy, absent smile Kagome thanked him. Following which she promptly crawled into her futon and fell fast asleep, losing all memory of the event amidst her dreams of talking koi fish and rivers flowing towards the ocean.
Hojo Akitoki, on the other hand, would carry that memory like a precious gem with him to the end of his life. In his recollection it would forever be the night when he first learned what it was to be in love.
The following morning Kagome awoke to a faint voice from the other side of the shoji screen. Sleepily she crawled out from the comfort of the spacious futon, sparing only a moment to wonder how she had gotten there. She decided that she must have moved herself out of the garden at some point and had simply forgotten in her post-meditation haze.
Pausing to re-tie her hair and straighten out her sleep-rumpled robes, she slid open the screen. Hojo was there, looking more bashful than ever she had seen him before with a breakfast tray placed before him. He bowed low to her, his face nearly touching the tatami mats.
"G-good morning, Kagome-sama," he stuttered, his words muffled by his proximity to the ground. "I hope I did not disturb you. I-I thought you might be hungry. You did not eat lunch or dinner yesterday."
"Thank you," Kagome said, slightly touched by his attentiveness. "That was very thoughtful of you, Hojo-sama. Oh! Hold on just a moment, would you?"
She stood and traipsed quickly back into her room, picking up her letter to Miroku and Sango from its place on the table. She returned and held it out to the guard is askance.
"If it is not too much trouble, could you perhaps deliver this to the Tachibana residence? It needs to go to Tachibana Sango-sama."
"Of course, I will be-"
"I will do it, Kagome-sama," the other guard interrupted, taking the letter from her hand before Hojo could. "You stay here and guard her, Akitoki. Y'know, just you and her."
The guard chuckled as the boy flushed scarlet. He bowed to Kagome before turning to leave, tossing a wink at Akitoki before he was entirely out of sight.
Kagome frowned, confused. Akitoki kept his gaze trained on the floor, red up to his hairline. A long moment of awkward silence passed.
"It…must get boring, standing out there all day long," Kagome said at length, wracking her brain for anything to break the tension.
"Not at all," Akitoki returned good naturedly. "As long as it is to protect Kagome-sama…"
He trailed off sheepishly, ducking his head again to cover his embarrassment. Kagome wondered if it was perhaps her new status that made him so bashful around her. It was rather puzzling. Shrugging it off as unimportant, she smiled at the guard.
"Would you like to come sit with me while I eat, Hojo-sama?" she said, feeling it rude to continue to talk with him in the doorway. "Ascetic isolation is all well and good, but I really would enjoy some company."
"Ah…If it would please you, Kagome-sama," he said, looking a little awed at the offer.
He bowed once more before stepping slowly into the room. Kagome took up the tray and went to the table, kneeling upon a cushion. He followed suit, coming to kneel timidly on the cushion opposite her.
"Your friend told me you requested a position as my guard," Kagome said, vaguely curious.
She picked up her hashi and began to eat, hoping he would keep the conversation going. His face coloring yet again, he bowed his head and nodded shyly.
"That is true. You probably do not remember this, Kagome-sama, but I was among the guards at the outer gate when you first arrived," he said. "I was privileged enough to see your very first miracle here. It was amazing, the way you healed the head guard as if it were nothing. I…I had been hoping to meet you again since that time."
"Really?" said Kagome, her face warming slightly at the praise. "But it was just a small healing. Nothing all that wonderful."
"Of course it was wonderful," objected Hojo, raising his head at last to look at her. "Your powers are truly amazing, Kagome-sama. You should give yourself more credit. I mean, you even turned out to be a Seeress. You are a link to the kami themselves."
"Ah, yes…" said Kagome quietly, the earnest awe in his face bringing forth a quick twinge of guilt.
He frowned, seeing her sudden downward shift in mood. He silently berated himself for whatever indelicacy had just come from his mouth, scouring his mind for something that might please her.
"Many people have been asking to see you, Kagome-sama," he settled on at last.
"Yes," he said readily, pleased when her gray eyes turned towards him once more. "They all want you to read their futures or bless their children. But the Tennō-sama has forbidden anyone from coming near you until things are all settled in the court meeting next week."
"Is that so…?"
Kagome trailed off absently, considering this new bit of information.
It was certainly a good sign if people were taking her that seriously. Although from the sound of it her vision had also stirred up a bit of chaos within the court, if it required Inuyasha keeping her isolated for an entire week. A small warmth seeped into her chest at the thought that the hanyou was indeed keeping his promise to protect her.
"Thank you for informing me, Hojo-sama," she said softly, raising her eyes to meet his.
Her expression was so gentle and her eyes so warm as she turned her face to him that for a moment Hojo could not properly draw another breath. His heart beat in odd tattoo, reminding him of the previous night's realization.
"You can call me Akitoki, if it pleases you, Kagome-sama," he managed to get out at last.
"I would like that, Akitoki-sama," Kagome returned, pleased at the prospect of having made another friend.
She beamed at him, entirely oblivious to the feelings growing every moment within his heart towards her. He returned her smile shyly, and the rest of the meal was passed with pleasant chatter about things of no great importance.
The remainder of Kagome’s week of isolation did not pass quickly, but she could hardly bring herself to mind it very much. She spent the majority of the time in meditation and prayer. She knew it was likely that she would not find peace the likes of which the room and garden provided again once she was placed back in the rushing flow of court life.
And so she whiled away her time in silence and thought and harmony. Slowly she began to feel a bit more like her previous self, connected by innumerable threads to everything about her. Once more she could hear the quiet, omnipresent song of nature humming about her. It was a great comfort.
This return of harmony to her spirit she optimistically took to be a favorable sign from the kami. Of course she still expected some form of punishment from them somewhere down the line. One could not simply blaspheme the divine and expect no punishment, and she had done what she had done knowing that full well.
But that they did not cut her off from themselves completely meant that they most likely were not entirely displeased with her actions. If she were to be bold she might even assume that they approved to some degree. Either way it was a balm to her slightly bedraggled heart to think that they would not now turn their backs on her.
In the thoughtful, hazy hours of the early mornings, Kagome was also able to reflect on all of her actions in the court. She realized she had been rushing about in a frantic manner, caught up in the pace of the court life. She resolved to move more at her own speed from then on, lest she begin to allow life in the court to twist her into something she was not.
Admittedly she had also done things in the capital that she would never have considered doing back within the small circle of her village, but that much she could write off to experience. New experiences and new situations allowed one to act in new ways, and she had not done anything too peculiar to her personality.
With perhaps two exceptions. First the killing of the guards and then her prophetic ploy. But even these things she did not regret. Rather the small, slighted cry of morals she had been raised with from birth tugged at her, insisting that she not venture off in such unfamiliar directions.
The larger part of her, however, was at peace. She did not enjoy killing those two men. She did not enjoy deceiving so many people. For both actions she had suffered and would most likely continue to suffer.
Still a person could only walk the path that they felt to be right, understanding that sometimes it would be painful and most times it would conflict with other equally valid paths. Her father had tried to explain all of this to her when she was young, but only now was she truly beginning to understand what he had meant.
In the end Kagome knew that all of the things she had been taught were good and solid, and she had no intention of going senselessly up against them. But the time had more than come when she had to find the things that were right for her, rather than just the things that were right. She was choosing her own path now, and in that knowledge she was secure. She would not falter.
In the time she had she was also able to speak more with Akitoki. He was attentive to her needs to a fault, bringing her tea, regular meals, and even extra blankets when he felt that it was too cold for her to sleep through the night without them. A few times he even fetched herbs and tonics for her, stuttering out that he feared for her health now that the temperatures were truly beginning to drop.
They would talk through the screen during such times, or Kagome might invite him in to sit on the porch with her. She always invited the other guard, as well, though he consistently refused her offers with a sly nod to his friend.
Often times, left with so much time and so little to do, Kagome's thoughts would stray back to her family. It had been some time since she had had the leisure to think much on them, and in the silence of that room the homesickness that their memory evoked was often unbearable. Twice she picked up a brush and paper, the half-formed idea to write to Inuyasha of her troubles spurring her on.
In the end she always dismissed this notion as foolish, and in these times, too, she would go to talk to Akitoki. He was patient with her as she babbled on about the home and the loved ones she had left behind, and in return she asked him to tell her his own story.
It turned out that he was indeed the son of a lesser clan within the court and a second son, at that. He aspired to some day serve the Tennō as a commander among his guards.
He was truly a good man, and at the end of the week Kagome felt that she had gained another good, solid friend. At times, though, she would catch him staring at her so intently that it was unnerving. She had no notion of what to make of these instances and ended up dismissing them uncomfortably as some personality quirk of the guard's.
At last, though, the week did come to a close and Kagome received yet another brief note from the Tennō, telling her to be ready for a court meeting the following day. Several serving women then came to fetch her and she said her goodbyes to the guardsmen, promising to visit Akitoki soon at his clan's residence.
She was taken back to the future Empress' residence and cleaned up before being placed in a new, larger chamber. Half-expecting to finally be able to receive visitors, she was disappointed when a servant informed her that no one was yet allowed near her until after the meeting the following day.
Kagome had lain down to sleep then, figuring that she would need all of her wits about her to cope with whatever was to come. Sleeping, however, proved a bit difficult. Through the whole of the night she could sense several figures hovering just outside of the shoji screen enclosing her room.
It was obvious enough that they were servants eager to get a look at the newly revealed Seeress. That, however, did not make the feel of their intent gazes roving her supposedly slumbering form any less disconcerting. She passed a night almost entirely devoid of sleep, longing ironically enough for the confines of her peaceful room in the Chūwain.
Kagome was roused late the next morning, as the meeting was not until the afternoon. She was ushered into yet another room where the servants went about washing, brushing, and redressing her. She was glad to find she would be allowed to wear miko robes to the ceremony, being that she was appearing in the capacity of a spiritualist.
When she was finally deemed presentable the servants brought her food, but Kagome could hardly force any down. Her stomach already felt full with anticipation of what was to come. The memory of her first disastrous court meeting refused to leave her alone, flashing in broken bits and pieces through her head.
Morosely she wished for Inuyasha or Miroku or Sango to appear and work her out of the rut she was fast falling into, or at least to talk to her a bit about what to expect. Even Kikyou and her cool reprimands that it was foolish of her to be worried over such a thing would have been welcome.
No one came, though, and Kagome was forced to try and shake the cloud off all on her own when two guards came to fetch her. They led her in silence to the Daigokuden, instructing her to wait at the door until it was opened and the Tennō called her forward. It seemed that all of the courtiers were already situated inside, the meeting in progress.
She was left alone then. For a seeming eternity she stood there before the grand doorway, tense and ill. Silently she cursed Inuyasha, wishing he would hurry up and just let her in already. She wondered petulantly if he was punishing her for acting so freely on her own.
And then the doors were pulled open. Kagome thought her heart might burst as she heard Inuyasha's voice resound through the room, calling her forward. She took one wooden step forward before freezing.
Hundreds of pairs of curious and guarded and hostile and awed and expectant eyes were trained intensely on her every movement. The chamber was utterly silent save the flapping and flicking of fans, moving in so many varied gestures that Kagome could hardly make out a single one of them. In the midst of that sea of anonymous faces and violently bright colors, Kagome felt she might drown.
She forced her legs back into motion, ducking her head to stare at the wood floor beneath her as she went. Murmuring rippled throughout the crowd as she passed, but Kagome dared not look up again until she reached the foot of the dais on which Inuyasha and the future Empress were seated.
Kikyou, of course, wore the mask of utter apathy that seemed always to slip down over her features in the presence of groups of nobles, kneeling with rigid authority at the right hand of the Tennō. Inuyasha was concealed behind his slatted screen, but Kagome could clearly feel his gaze upon her.
"Take your place," came the rough order from behind the screen.
Kagome frowned, puzzled by the command. She noticed then a second cushion placed on the dais at the Tennō's left hand side. Her eyes widened and she hesitated, wondering if Inuyasha would really go so far as that.
"Your place, Miko-sama," Kikyou spoke, gesturing vaguely with her fan to the cushion.
Kagome fought not to gape at the two figures, bowing low to them to cover her consternation. A seat on the same level as the future Empress! Inuyasha was pushing things too far!
Still she did not wish to make a scene. Keeping her face carefully neutral, Kagome climbed the few steps of the dais and knelt solemnly on the cushion. The chatter of the crowd increased tenfold in noise, and it was not hard to tell that there were a number of courtiers who were far more outraged than Kagome had been at the move.
"Be quiet!" barked Inuyasha, loudly enough that it reverberated throughout the entire room.
The courtiers ceased their chatter and fell grudgingly silent, like small children scolded by a parent.
"You've heard an account of what occurred during the women's outing from Our future Empress," he continued, and Kagome could only assume he was referring to what had occurred before her entrance. "Now We will allow questions. Stand if you've got something to say."
Several courtiers rose up throughout the room.
"Minamoto Youji, speak," said Inuyasha, acknowledging the man.
"Your Majesty," returned the Minamoto man, bowing. "To the Miko-sama, I would ask if you have ever experienced such an occurrence before?"
"If you mean have I ever had vision before, then the answer would be no, Minamoto-sama," Kagome responded, intending to stick as closely to the truth as possible. "I can only interpret this new gift as a show of approval from the kami of my service to the Tennō-sama."
"I see," retuned the man thoughtfully. He bowed once more before sitting.
From the corner of her eye, Kagome caught a look from the future Empress that was almost approving in nature. Pride curled quietly inside of her, lending a bit more confidence.
"Michinaga Youhei, speak," ordered Inuyasha, acknowledging the next man.
"Your Majesty," said Youhei, mimicking the Minamoto man's bow. "I would also address the Miko-sama. How can she be certain that it was not some possession, some evil spirit's attempt to mislead us?"
"I have been performing exorcisms in my village since I was young, Michinaga-sama," Kagome said firmly, a little offended by the suggestion. "Never once have I myself been possessed. My body is holy vessel, and I would be aware should the likes of an evil spirit try to defile it."
"Taira Kagura-sama can attest to the fact that it was no evil spirit, as well," Kikyou added when the man did not look quite satisfied. "She told us as much after the vision took place. She could sense no jyaki. Rather Miko-sama's aura conflicted with her own youki. Is that not right, Kagura-sama?"
Kagura, already standing, turned a stony look on the future Empress.
"That…is correct, Fujiwara-sama," she admitted grudgingly, and Kagome could almost hear her teeth grinding in frustration.
"Then it is as you say, Fujiwara-sama," conceded Michinaga, bowing to her. "Thank you. And may I say, on behalf of my clan, welcome to you, Miko-sama."
He resumed his seat. Several others followed his lead. It seemed that Kagura's testimony was particularly convincing to many. Still the youkai woman remained standing, her red eyes smoldering.
"Taira Kagura, speak," Inuyasha called, acknowledging her.
"Your Majesty," said Kagura stiffly, giving the most perfunctory of bows. "I have no questions. Rather I have an assertion. And that is, that this vision is an inauthentic one. Merely a fluke. Some delusion or mad fit of the girl's addled mind."
The court erupted in a rush of noise. Fans flapped frantically about as the courtiers twisted this way and that to speak to their neighbors, everyone eager to voice their own opinion. Kagura stood above them all, observing the chaos she had created with satisfaction. Kagome gaped at the woman, blown away by her audacity.
"Shut up, all of you!" Inuyasha bellowed, rising to stand behind the screen. "What the he-…What do you base this opinion on, Kagura?"
"Merely the basic knowledge that all of us courtiers are given from birth," responded Kagura with a dismissive flick of her fan. "She was born low for a reason. The kami showed her no favor then. They certainly would not show anyone of her standing favor now. It was a fluke."
Kagome bit back a cry of indignation. There was no logic behind her claim at all. Not the slightest hint! It was like saying that a man afflicted by bad fortune could never hope to have good fortune by simple virtue of the fact that he had never had it before. Nor had she even attempted to explain the water flooding exactly as and when Kagome predicted it.
Though at least it meant the youkai woman did not know the truth of the matter, as Kagome had feared she might for a moment. She was merely trying to cast doubt on her any way that she could, stirring suspicions up among the coutiers. And from the look on her face Kagome would guess she knew full well that there was no reason to back up her objection.
She also knew that none was needed. Scanning the room, Kagome could see many fans waved in sweeping gestures of agreement and consent. The faces of many of the courtiers had turned suddenly suspicious at the reminder of her status in the world.
That the commoners of the world were not the favored of the kami was indeed something they had all been told from the days of their youths. They would no more think to question such a statement than they would the rising and setting of the sun each day.
Her heart sank in her chest. There was nothing she could think of to counter such an attack, ambiguous as it was. Inuyasha and Kikyou were silent, seemingly at a loss, as well.
"You would claim, then, to know the hearts and minds of the kami, Taira-sama?"
Many heads turned almost as one towards the figure that had just appeared in the open doorway of the Daigokuden. For a moment the person was obscured by the flood of light coming in from behind them, but then the figure stepped with stately purpose into the room.
It was Midoriko.
Gasps and astonished whispers fluttered frantically throughout the mass of people. Kagura's face fell abruptly, a vague snarl curling the corners of her lips. Midoriko paid no heed to any of the confusion her appearance had caused, stepping with serene authority up to the foot of the dais.
"Midoriko-sama," Kikyou addressed the woman, something like surprise arching her brows the slightest bit. "It is unusual that you would deign to grace us with your presence during a court function. Might I ask your purpose here?"
"Talk of the kami and prophetic visions," Midoriko replied. "If such things are not of my concern as the court spiritualist, then I do not know whose concern they would be. Besides which, Kagome is a disciple of mine. Her affairs are also my concern."
She bowed slightly before turning to face Kagura, her eyes trained with imposing steadiness on the youkai woman's face. Kagura held her ground, though her blood red lips curled further downwards in her obvious displeasure.
"To return to my previous question, you would claim special knowledge of the kami, Taira Kagura-sama?" Midoriko reiterated, her tone utterly placid.
The crowd had gone silent, even the fans having slowed to irregular little sweeps here and there. Kagome found that she was holding her breath.
"On this matter I believe we all know the minds of the kami. We have been taught it from the time of our youths," Kagura said stiffly.
"Ah, I see," said Midoriko. "Then you believe that the kami bend their divine will to whatever teachings that courtiers happen to agree upon? You would contend that the holy truth that they create follows only after the teachings of court scholars? You would argue that the will of the kami comes second to the will of man?"
"I did not say any of that," Kagura said, raising her voice slightly though there had barely been even a hint of challenge in Midoriko's voice. "I said rather that on this point we all understand what the opinions of the kami are, based on what knowledge they gave to our teachers in times of old and that has been passed on to us."
"Still you claim knowledge of divine minds, Taira-sama," Midoriko pointed out mildly. "You now would venture to argue that simply because the kami perhaps once told something to man, it has become a law restricting them.”
“You say, Taira-sama, though perhaps not so clearly and not in so many words, that divine will is a concrete thing. That it as soon as it is spoken by man, it never again alters.“
“That under no circumstances and in no situation might the kami see fit to work through different channels or in different manners than the ones which they might once have mentioned to our ancestors so long ago.”
“Is this truly what you believe, Taira-sama?"
"…Of course not," Kagura ground out after a long, tense silence. "I misspoke, Midoriko-sama."
It was clear enough that she was only conceding due to the fact that she would lose all credibility should she continue to try and defend what Midoriko had so clearly revealed to be a blasphemous assertion. Silently Kagome cheered, grateful to the elder miko for ripping apart Kagura's illogical statement when she could not.
"As the best among us sometimes do, Taira-sama," Midoriko allowed, the faintest of smiles gracing her lips. "Though in the future I would advise you not to question the work of the kami when the evidence of their will has been laid out so clearly before you. You will often find that they do not take lightly such offenses."
Not bothering even to bow to the court spiritualist, Kagura stiffly resumed her seat. Midoriko turned once more to face the dais. Show bowed again before the Tennō and the future Empress.
"I had another purpose in coming here, Tennō-sama," she said. "As I have already stated, Kagome-sama is my disciple. Therefore I wished to come and attest before the entire court, to any like Taira-sama that may have doubts, that her vision was a true one.”
“She is one beloved of and blessed by the kami. Her aura has told this to me truly enough since first we met. Regrettably I was not present to witness the miracle that occurred during the women's outing, but I have had many years to learn to listen to the voice of the kami when I feel they are trying to speak to me.”
“I am certain they are speaking to me now in various ways, telling me to support Kagome-dams in all of her endeavors. Thus I now give my word as to her authenticity and would take upon myself any claims against her. Her words and actions are now as good as my own."
Absolute silence. No one moved. It seemed that no one was even breathing.
"Does anyone want to bring their complaints up on this up against the O-Miko?" Inuyasha's voice resounded in the silence.
Fans resumed their tentative flapping, courtiers turning this way and that to see if any of their fellows dared rise and challenge the formidable woman. None did, and a long moment passed in silence.
"Then this meeting is over," declared the Tennō. "And you all understand where Kagome stands in this court now. As Our personal servant and Midoriko's disciple, she is not to be crossed."
There was a moment of hesitation before the courtiers began to rise and slowly file out of the building. From the bits and pieces she could see, Kagome could get no firm handle on the reaction of the nobles. She absently resigned herself to going about once things were more settled to find out.
More so, though, she was concerned with the O-Miko still standing at the foot of the dais. Inappropriately enough the woman was gazing up at her, her steadfast brown eyes trained on her face. As much as she wanted to, Kagome could not seem to look away.
This holy, revered woman had just lied for her to the entire court. Whether or not she was aware that she had lied was questionable, but nonetheless she had. On top of that she had given Kagome the ultimate vote of confidence by tying her reputation firmly to the village girl's own.
Kagome felt ill. She wondered if perhaps this was her punishment from the kami; to taint the name of such a holy woman. Silently she railed at the unjustness of Midoriko being degraded for her choices.
"Kagome, would you walk with me?" Midoriko asked as the last of the crowd exited the room.
"Yes, of course," Kagome replied faintly, rising and stepping down from her seat sullenly.
She was obscurely grateful to finally be able to break eye contact with the woman. She felt she might burst into tears like a fool were she forced to meet those bright, clear eyes any longer.
Kagome turned back to look at the screen. She could see the outline of Inuyasha standing behind it. She wondered distractedly if he was pleased with the way things had turned out.
"My chambers, tomorrow morning."
"Of course, Tennō-sama," she responded automatically, her heart sinking a little further at the fact that he did not sound pleased in the least.
She bowed before trailing after Midoriko out of the building, unaware of the hanyou peering uneasily out after her from behind the screen.
The two miko walked out into the sharp chill of the winter air in silence, wandering on along a random path. Kagome could not even bring herself to open her mouth to thank the older woman, despite how much she knew she owed her. Guilt sat heavily upon her shoulders, bowing her head towards the ground.
"You do not look happy, Kagome, despite this good turn of fate in your favor," commented Midoriko at last. "Perhaps you are not pleased with my interference?"
"No! No, nothing like that, Midoriko-sama," Kagome said hastily, shaken slightly from her miserable daze. "Truly I am more grateful than I can say to receive such support from you. It is far more than one in my position should be allowed to ask for, to have such a revered figure as yourself tie your honor to my own. But…"
"I do not want to know, Kagome," interrupted Midoriko gently.
Kagome frowned, coming to a halt. She scanned the elder miko's face questioningly.
"About the vision," Midoriko clarified, stopping as well to meet her searching eyes. "We discussed once before something possibly questionable that you were considering doing for the sake of your purpose here.”
“I do not wish to know if the vision was part of that. I do not wish to know if it was real. I do not wish to know if it was false. I will believe in you, Kagome. Whatever happens or has happened, I choose to believe in you."
Kagome gaped at the woman. She shook her head slightly, wondering if she had heard properly.
Midoriko had spoken up for her with the knowledge that she might very well be making a liar of herself. It was nearly incomprehensible.
"Did you think you were the only one choosing your own path, Kagome?" the noblewoman cut in, her expression softening around the edges. "I am choosing mine, as well, even at this advanced age. This is my decision, regardless of anything else. I made no false claim when I said that the kami are leading me to support you.”
“Besides which, I promised that I would care for you. The kami certainly can not look with favor on one who does not keep their promises."
For a moment Kagome could get no solid hold on any words. She floundered in the sudden upwelling of emotion in her chest, grasping around for any one feeling to hold on to.
At last her face crumpled, tears springing to her eyes at the kind devotion of this woman. She bowed low, hiding her pitiful expression.
"Thank you, Midoriko-sama," she said. "I will do my best not to disappoint you."
"My happiness will not rest on your actions, Kagome. I am merely making the decision I feel to be best," responded Midoriko, not unkindly. "Come, we will take tea together. After that we can meditate for a time, and you can clear your head."
"Yes," Kagome sniffled, nodding. "That would be nice, Midoriko-sama."
"Come along, then," Midoriko said, a sliver of affection slipping into her tone. "Dry your eyes. You are the Tennō-sama’s miko now. We cannot have anyone seeing you in such a state."
Kagome nodded, rising up from her bow to rub at her watery eyes. Midoriko caught her hand softly, lifting her own trailing sleeve to wipe at her face. Kagome flushed, chuckling slightly as more tears dribbled from her eyes. It was hard for her to believe her own good fortune at times like these.
As Midoriko had said, she must be one of the favored by the kami.
The following morning Kagome rose early. She ate, dressed, fixed her hair, washed her face, and quickly headed to the Jijūden to meet with Inuyasha. She had a feeling that he would give her a harder time than she was certain he already intended to should she not be prompt in her appearance.
At least the time she had spent with Midoriko the previous day had put her once more at ease, after having been so thoroughly shaken during the court meeting. Together they had discussed her aims in the court and how she planned on going about achieving them, the elder miko providing what bits of advice she could here and there. Midoriko had maintained that she would support her in all of her endeavors, and they had meditated with positive energy on their purposes until nightfall.
Now, confident in her aims and beginning to feel excited over the nearly perfect success of her ploy, Kagome strode through the gardens, the Shishinsen, and over the water walkway to the Jijūden where she was prepared to argue down the sovereign of her nation. The guard bowed out of her way without comment at the entrance to Inuyasha's chambers, and Kagome felt a small twinge of gratification at the obvious influence of her new status.
She halted in the entryway, surprised. There was no screen in sight, merely Inuyasha lounging on a pile of cushions with an official looking document held up before his face. She realized suddenly that they no longer had to bother with such things, and a smile stretched inexorably across her face. It was a rather wonderful sort of feeling, the sudden glowing sensation inside her chest.
"Good morning, Inuyasha-sama," she chirped, deciding to start the encounter off on a positive note.
The hanyou looked up from the paper, his scowl twisting incredulously at her. He glanced behind her at the entryway, apparently gauging the amount of light outside.
"You're early," he said at last.
Kagome's cheerful expression faltered slightly. It seemed there would be no distracting him from the ill humor he had fallen into. Nonetheless she gave a bow before coming to kneel down across from him.
"You said yesterday you wished to see me this morning, Inuyasha-sama."
"Yeah," Inuyasha agreed, putting the paper aside. "We need to talk about all the shit that's happened."
"You mean all of the things I made happen?" Kagome ventured.
"Yeah, that. I… I can't believe you went through with it."
There was something like disappointment in the way that he refused to meet her eyes. A pang shot through Kagome's chest, and she found herself leaning forward with a quick defense ready on the tip of her tongue.
"You told me that as long as I could pull it off it was fine," she argued. "I will apologize for perhaps acting too freely, Inuyasha-sama, but I acted nonetheless. It worked, too! I thought you would be pleased that-"
"That's not what I'm talking about!" Inuyasha snapped, his eyes flashing briefly in her direction. "I'm talking about the fact that you did it at all! The fact that your conscience never stepped in to stop you!"
"Yes, your fucking conscience!" Inuyasha snapped, becoming more and more worked up as he thought about it. "Or have you forgotten it already?! Dammit, woman! You weren't… like this when you got here!"
"I…don't understand, Inuyasha-sama," said Kagome slowly, searching his averted face with her eyes.
"You…you!..." Inuyasha said, rising to pace the length of the room in agitation. "What you did…it's the fucking same type of thing that any slimy courtier might've pulled to get power! I didn't want…!"
Unable to quite express the stinging, roiling sensation in his chest, Inuyasha flopped back down a good distance from her. He turned forceful gold eyes upon her at last, willing her to explain herself.
"You…fear that I am turning into one of them, then?" Kagome said at last, trying to puzzle through all the things he had said and all of the things he had not said.
"…Yeah," Inuyasha said lowly, his gaze dropping as his ire cooled a bit at her quiet tone.
"You are…afraid I will turn on you?"
"Maybe eventually. But now…you're just turning. This place'll twist you. If this is how it's going to be…I'd be better off just sending you back."
That was right. If keeping her as his servant was going to make her into just another blank face among the vicious, clawing masses of the court, then he wanted no part of it.
He could hardly claim to understand Kagome most of the time, but he knew enough to know that she would come to hate herself should she become like the rest. He would not watch that happen to her. He could not watch that happen to her.
It was…uncomfortable, though. True enough he had placed her in isolation that she might be away from the wrath of any of the courtiers who might be upset with the sudden turn, but somehow he had also wanted her to…repent, maybe. To come out of it feeling bad for what she had done. To show him that she was still the same girl he had first argued with that night under the Goshinboku.
But she was proud. There was no remorse. And it irked him, irked him so much that his chest burned, but he would not keep her any longer. Not to turn her into this.
"Inuyasha-sama…" Kagome said gently, pinpointing at last the unlikely culprit beneath all of the snarling.
He was worried for her.
"Inuyasha-sama," she repeated softly, willing him to look at her. "I think you've misunderstood me. I did not do this…with a heart full of the idea of gaining power."
"Oh? Then why did you do it, Kagome?" he said with biting skepticism, eyeing her warily. To his ears such words could only ring as similar to the beginnings of every other courtier's defense of angling for power.
"I…" Kagome began, flushing but still raising her eyes determinedly to meet his own. "I did it for you. I…want to help you, Inuyasha-sama, as your friend. Remember?"
The hanyou froze, struck dumb by the unexpected response. Her cheeks were tinted deeply pink, a painfully earnest kindness in her eyes as they met his own. It was so honest that it almost hurt to look at, and still Inuyasha could not turn away.
His heart gave an awkward, smarting jump in his chest. He raised a hand to rub at it absently.
"And I know it will likely be hard for you to understand, Inuyasha-sama," Kagome said, shaking her head. "But it was something I felt I had to do. It was a choice I had to make.”
“I feel terribly for having lied to so many people, truly I do, but I do not regret my choice to do it. And any punishment that I will receive down the line, I will humbly accept. But, well…ah, it sounds more complicated when I try to explain it all out loud."
"I think...I get it," Inuyasha murmured, finally managing to tear his gaze away. "I get it already. Just…stop."
It was too much. It was too much. He could not look at that expression on her face any longer or he might...he was not certain what he would do. His chest was tight with…something.
On the up side, there could be no courtier's malice or scheming behind such a face. That much he knew.
She could remain in the court, then. Inuyasha scowled as the odd flittering sensation started up again in his stomach. He wondered if the food he had eaten for breakfast had been spoiled.
"Are you alright, Inuyasha-sama?" Kagome asked, frowning. "You…don't look well."
It was true. He was red almost to the tips of his ears and had suddenly started clutching his stomach.
"I'm fine, wench," the hanyou bit out roughly.
He shook his head almost violently, forcing himself back into order. He turned a scowl on her, perhaps one more forceful than was necessary. She blanched slightly.
"I guess I'll take your word this time," he allowed snappishly. "You can go now."
"That…is all?" Kagome said, thrown by the abrupt dismissal.
"I have a Council meeting soon," Inuyasha said, eager to be done with this encounter. "Thanks to all the shit you've stirred up, it'll probably last 'til late tonight."
"…Alright, then," Kagome said, a bit baffled at the quick turn of things. "I suppose I will be going. Might we meet tomorrow? I would like to discuss the Council's reaction to things, and I'm sure we didn't quite cover everything today."
"Fine," Inuyasha said reluctantly.
"Good," Kagome smiled. "I will be going then."
She bowed before turning to leave, oddly pleased that she had managed to secure time with him the next day. The confusing encounter of just moments before had been awfully brief after a slightly more than a week's separation.
In the entryway Kagome paused, a thought occurring to her suddenly. She turned back to find the hanyou staring rather intensely after her. He quickly averted his eyes when she caught him, red dusting the ridges of his cheeks.
"Would you mind if we met somewhere other than your chambers tomorrow, Inuyasha-sama?" she ventured. "Maybe somewhere outdoors? Now that we don't have to bother with such pretenses and all…"
"Whatever," he snorted, staring hard at the wall.
"Good," Kagome responded. "Pick any spot you like and send a servant to tell me, alright? See you then, Inuyasha-sama."
Inuyasha grunted in response, forcing himself to keep his eyes on the wall as he heard her trot out of the room. She certainly sounded pleased with herself. He scowled, wondering how she could be so chipper.
He felt inexplicably unbalanced. At least his stomach had stopped acting up, though. He would really have to look in to picking another cook to prepare his meals.
Nodding to himself, Inuyasha rose to retrieve the document he had been going over before her interruption. As his eyes scanned the pages unseeingly, he tried to recall the last time anyone had done anything for him simply because they wanted to.
He could hardly recall a single instance. Kagome's straightforward grey eyes seemed to pierce him once more, and his heart twinged oddly in his chest again.
The hanyou growled. Now he had heartburn, as well. He made a mental note to definitely find a new cook.