It appeared that having a mate would present constant challenges, not the least of which was battling his own instincts when she was stubborn.
“Miko.” Sesshoumaru watched Kagome shake her head several feet in front of him, small, feminine feet quickening in their path over the grass, Ears burning scarlet, she attempted to put as much space between them as possible. He glared at her retreat. “Miko, you are—"
“We are not talking about this, Sesshoumaru.”
Baring his teeth at her back, he squashed the urge to lift her off her feet and make her see sense. “You require assistance.”
“No, I don’t.” Her speedy gait wobbled a bit as she walked, hands rubbing gingerly at her backside.
Infuriating, stubborn, nonsensical…
Sesshoumaru felt the prick of something white-hot deep in his chest, and it unsettled him to realize her insolence teetered on the edge of provoking his baser self. This was not just any woman mulishly refusing his help. It was his mate—a mate quickly threatening to topple his control.
With more restraint than he felt, he pushed his rising anger back. “You will have to stop blushing at some point and allow me to help, Miko.”
Sesshoumaru snarled then, at his limit with her resistance. “You are being foolish!”
Kagome whirled on him, eyes blazing. “No! I was foolish when I”—her voice dropped to a whisper, eyes darting about to assure they were alone—“when I screwed you on that fallen tree!” Rubbing at her backside, she winced. “Now I have a splinter someplace unmentionable, and it hurts.”
“Then allow me to help you before it becomes infected.”
“Again, no.” Her cheeks pinked as she scowled, and she set off ahead of him again. “I think my backside has been on display enough for today.”
Grinding his teeth together, he followed, barely keeping hold of the frustration sparking under his skin. Her unrest and discomfort crackled through him like wood burning too hot too fast, and he felt the compulsion to resolve the matter grow.
His eyes hardened. “Miko, there is nothing you have that I have not already seen. You—”
“That is different!” Whirling back around, the scent of her paranoia peaked as she once again looked around for would-be eavesdroppers before hobbling back to him.
He looked down at her angry, flushed face and arched a brow. “And how is it different?”
“I am not turned on right now!” she hissed, peering around his back.
His incredulity with the situation won, and his voice rose just a bit. “What does that have to do with your injury?”
Satisfied that no one else was near, she looked up at him, though her look turned annoyed at the slight display of temper. “Do you see me naked if we’re not…unless we’re…” Dropping her eyes, she turned red. “You know!”
“Having sex?” he deadpanned.
Kagome glared, and Sesshoumaru gave in to the urge to roll his eyes.
“Really? You didn’t even try to hide that.”
“What would you rather I have said?”
Exasperated, she threw her arms up in the air. “I don’t know!”
The last of his control snapped. A growl ripped out of his chest, and she jumped, paling when she looked up and took in the red eyes seething down at her.
“Hey, now wait a minute,” she said, backing up. Eying him warily, the issue plaguing her backside seemed to have slipped from her mind as she sought to put distance between them. “Sesshoumaru”—she tripped and stumbled—“this isn’t fair!”
And there wasn’t anything Kagome could do after that.
“There’s a whole herd of deer staring at us.”
Kagome, the skirt of her kimono up around her waist, tried to ignore the cool breeze against her bare skin as she glared sullenly at the edge of the woods. There were at least thirty of the ruminant mammals, watching curiously as she laid over Sesshoumaru’s lap while he tried to remove the splinter.
The daiyoukai, however, couldn’t be bothered.
“The deer do not care.” He pinched lightly with the tips of his claws, trying to grasp the delinquent piece of wood, but it was still too deep, and he missed.
“They’re giving me a look.”
“Doubtful.” Going just a bit deeper, he tried to get the splinter again.
Huffing, Kagome turned her head long enough to give him her own look, said look darkening when he merely returned it to her and went back to trying to remove the evidence of their little late afternoon rendezvous.
Not willing to get into it with him, she just groaned and let her head fall. “This is so embarrassing.”
“I am your mate.” Pinch. “There is no need to be self-conscious.” He narrowed his eyes, leaning closer. It still wouldn’t budge.
“Oh?” Craning her neck around again, she raised her brows. “So, you’re telling me you’d be fine with your rear in the air like this?”
Sesshoumaru lifted his eyes for a moment, finding a defiant blue staring pointedly at him, and for a moment, silence passed between them.
“Well?” she asked, impatient.
Turning back to her injury, he smirked. “Consider that it was just prior to your injury, Miko.”
“Or did you forget how we were engaged when this occurred?”
Kagome tensed, something like fire rolling off her, before she finally gave in and sulked. “You suck.”
“On the contrary, Miko. You—“
Before he could finish his sentence, Kagome whirled around and sat up in his lap—skewed kimono be damned—and clapped a hand over his mouth. “If you finish that sentence, it will never happen again, Sesshoumaru.”
Behind her hand, he chuckled, and she leaned closer to his face, eyes narrowed.
“Ever. I mean it.” She moved her hand then, still glowering at his display of humor. “Why are you still laughing?”
Unable to suppress his smile, he held up the splinter caught between his claws. “I believe you humans typically say got it.”
Her eyes widened as she took in the sliver that was at least a quarter of an inch long. “That was huge!”
“Hn, yes.” He flicked it aside. “Your discomfort was quite justified.” Setting her on her feet, he quickly pulled her koshimaki and kimono to cover her once more before her preoccupation with the splinter wore off and led to another round of female indignation over modesty.
Her cheeks pinked a little as she smoothed her hands down over her clothing, but she looked up at him from underneath her lashes and gave a small smile. “Thank you.”
Dipping his head slightly, he pulled her arm through his and started back down the road. “I am glad to help you.”
“I do appreciate it.” Falling into step with him, she peeked up shyly. “Sorry for the theatrics.”
“It is fine.” Her other hand came up to rest on his arm, and a sense of contentment washed over him.
“Also”—she cleared her throat—“I’m sorry we didn’t, um, finish.”
A sudden rush of heat effused from her whole person, and he couldn’t stop his smile as he glimpsed her flustered face. “Miko, I would not have you hurting.”
“Oh.” Her face screwed up with her confusion. “So, you’re okay? Like, really okay?”
He laughed aloud then, unable to keep it in. “This Sesshoumaru will survive.” A different kind of energy rushed through his body as he glanced down at her rattled, agitated visage, and his smile widened. “But your concern is charming.”
Predictably, she turned redder.
Taking pity on her nerves, he pulled her closer. “Come. The smell of sulfur lingers not far from here.”
She perked up at the mention of that. “A hot spring?”
“Yes. And your wound requires cleansing.”
“I’m glad Mushin gave us soap.”
The thought of the monk seemed to sober her, but as they continued walking, her steps grew noticeably lighter.
He supposed the promise of a bath helped.
Losing himself to his thoughts, Sesshoumaru mulled over the many recent changes and how strange it was that such a spirited woman had taken such a prominent place in his mind. But though unpredictable, the realization was not unpleasant.
“What are you thinking?”
His face grew thoughtful. “I do not even quite know myself.”
Biting her lip, she nodded and squeezed his arm. “I keep wondering if things will ever feel normal again.”
“Indeed.” He covered her hand with his but kept his eyes ahead, watching the way the dried autumn leaves tumbled and swirled in the winds. “Normal has become an elusive notion.”
She stumbled and he caught her, and she murmured her thanks. “Will being back at home help?”
“Perhaps.” Memories of Rin sprung up in his mind, and he swallowed around a sudden knot. “Though there will be differences there as well.”
Kagome laid her head against his arm. “I’m grateful you’re still here.”
“Miko.” A bittersweet pang pierced through him, and he couldn’t finish.
She just smiled. “I know.”