Tales of the Crimson Cloak begin about a month after the funeral. Initially, Sesshomaru suspects his brother. The half-breed has never shown a shred of decorum before. It would make sense for him to be masquerading behind a false death report and his fire rat robe.
Their estrangement aside, Sesshomaru is glad for the rumors surfacing in court. Inuyasha may have been ignorant and foolish but he was still a member of the Taisho line and that made him pack.
As the weeks proceed, more stories leak in through the palace walls. Numerous sightings of the Crimson Cloak confirm the faceless vigilante in the forest is not a swordsman but an archer. Sesshomaru’s hope fades. His brother was never patient enough to master the bow.
But if he is truly gone, where is Tetsusaiga?
And who is beneath the hood?
These are questions that he ponders often. His routine is monotonous, giving him ample opportunities to consider the rising folk hero. Sesshomaru has to admit; he is envious of the Crimson Cloak’s freedom.
He longs for the days when he could wander through the unclaimed wilderness, a vagabond of no consequence to the mountains or sky. Those glorious days are behind him. As the only male heir to the Taisho line, Sesshomaru is bound by duty, caged by his obligation.
Between reviewing scrolls in his study and attending council meetings, Sesshomaru’s mind drifts over possible culprits, each as unlikely as the next.
The first is Inuyasha’s mate. She is a cold woman, though skilled with a bow. He believes her to be the crusading archer until word arrives at the palace that she met her end beside his brother.
His next consideration is a demon slayer. They are a rare group, nearly extinct these days but their versatility with weapons is impressive. Sesshomaru is aware of only two survivors in the slayer clan— a brother and sister. His scouts report that they were last seen traveling with a monk near Osaka. The most recent sighting of the Crimson Cloak was less than a mile from the palace. It cannot be either of them.
His last option is the elderly healer. Kaede is a tough human, forged from a difficult period and hardened by time. Sesshomaru has never asked her age and he never will. She is the one mortal who has earned his respect. He will not tarnish her opinion of him in search of useless facts.
Though strong, he has never seen the woman pick up her bow. Kaede had the weapon from her former life, one that she left behind when she agreed to come work with Lord Touga, Sesshomaru’s father. She has been at the Taisho’s disposal ever since and not once has Sesshomaru ever seen her handle a bow. Even if she could, he doubts she possesses the swiftness of the Crimson Cloak.
No, the hooded hero is someone younger and sprier than the aged mortal. He only wishes he knew who it was.
He continues to ruminate over possibilities as he spars. The early morning hours are reserved for training. None of his guards can match his prowess with a blade nor can they predict his movements. He is swift. He is agile.
He is tired.
It has been hours. The sun is now rising over the Western Palace, casting an orange hue over the terra-cotta tiled roof. After several sleepless nights, exhaustion begins to take a toll on him.
Stepping up onto the porch, Sesshomaru calls to his attendant, “Kagura.”
She is always near, awaiting his instruction. The demoness approaches and bows. “Yes, my lord?”
“I require a massage,” he tells her. “I would like to undo these knots before my meeting with the council. Have someone sent to my chambers. I expect them there before I return from the bathhouse.”
“Of course, Lord Sesshomaru.” She bows again and departs with her orders.
He ventures across the courtyard to the hot springs. The natural element is enclosed and gated for his privacy.
Sesshomaru shucks off his boots and strips free of his many layers.
Sinking beneath the scalding water eases some of the tension from his body. Losing his father was a blow. He had not expected to feel the same in regards to his brother. They had rarely seen eye to eye.
For many years, Sesshomaru viewed Inuyasha as an insolent pup. He acted rashly, more concerned with brute force than strategy. Sesshomaru never understood why their father had gifted Tetusaiga to Inuyasha. A blade with so much power should have been bestowed onto his firstborn.
The sword was the source of their disagreement. It had driven them apart; Inuyasha departed for Edo and Sesshomaru remained at the castle.
Though they had not spoken since that fateful argument, Sesshomaru followed the hanyou’s progression through the observations of his scouts. For years, his half-brother did as Sesshomaru expected— nothing remarkable or noteworthy. It was not until Inuyasha demonstrated maturity by taking a stand against Naraku that Sesshomaru regained an interest in his brother's movements.
The spider hanyou is the cause of Inuyasha’s untimely death and the demise of his mate. Like the others who have opposed him, Naraku ended their lives. Sesshomaru wonders if he possesses the sacred sword now. Is that why the Crimson Cloak keeps attacking him? Does the vigilante seek revenge?
Sesshomaru stares at the swirls of steam rising off the water’s surface. The tendrils dance above the edge for a moment before vanishing. They are impossible to capture just like the answer to this mystery.
He finishes cleaning his skin of sweat. Wrapped in a fresh towel, Sesshomaru exits the bathhouse to return to his chambers.
As he nears the room, there is a crash and a muttered curse.
He slams the sliding door open to reveal a girl on her hands and knees hurrying to gather up the shards of a broken vase. Her blue eyes go wide when she takes him in.
“Apologies, my lord. I do not possess grace.”
Sesshomaru does not recognize her as one of Kagura’s usual servants. He has allowed the demoness to select her staff because he knew she prized poise, discretion, and beauty. This girl only possesses one of those traits.
“Who are you?” he demands.
She bows. “Kagome, my lord. I work in the kitchens with Kaede.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Kagura requested assistance with cleaning,” the girl explains, keeping her head lowered.
Sesshomaru regards her long, ebony hair and her smooth skin which is the color of cream. There is a touch of sun to her cheekbones and calluses on her fingers, traits she has likely earned from hours laboring outside. Her scent is insignificant. It is a mixture of the kitchens, the laundry, and the servants' quarters. There is nothing noteworthy.
He does not recall Kaede mentioning a new addition to the staff but she seems able-bodied. It’s all he can ask for from a human servant.
“Clean that up and then arrange the table for my massage,” he commands.
The girl nods silently.
Her steps are almost inaudible as she moves about the room. Sesshomaru watches her, surprised she can maneuver in such a manner. Admittedly, the girl is accident-prone, though, from the looks of it, she appears as elegant as a dancer.
“Where are you from?” he questions.
“The East,” she replies.
He frowns at her ambiguous answer. She does not take notice. Her head is inclined forward so far that her chin nearly touches her collarbone.
“How did you come by this position?”
“Kaede offered me the role because of my talent with herbs,” the girl informs him.
“You are a trained healer?”
“No, my lord. I am merely skilled at finding the correct plants to produce effective remedies,” she says.
“That is a favorable quality,” Sesshomaru remarks. “Has Kaede offered to teach you?”
The girl nods. “Yes, and I am eager to learn.”
“What have you studied thus far?”
Another obscure response. She is practiced at avoidance. Sesshomaru wonders if her aversion to a conversation is because he intimidates her or because she is hiding something. He can scent fear but is unable to deduce the cause.
As she finishes dressing the table for his treatment, he traps her. The girl stills, pinned between him and the bench.
“Have you studied the stimulation of pressure points and the method of rebalancing energy?” he asks.
“I— I have, yes, my lord.”
“Then you will show me what you’ve learned,” Sesshomaru demands.
He hears her heart rate increase and sees the flush of color spreading across her face and neck.
“Is there a problem?”
“No, my lord, of course not,” the girl assures him.
“Good.” He steps back, smirking. When she does not move, Sesshomaru suggests, “You may wish to step outside until I have finished disrobing.”
The coloring of her skin turns scarlet and she scurries out of the room like a frightened rabbit. He chuckles, pleased that he has regained control of the situation.
Once she returns, he will determine her reason for working here and whether or not she will be allowed to continue.
Kagome leans against the wall, one hand on resting her chest and one clawing at the fabric of her skirt. She wants to scream. She wants to cry. She wants to run.
Lord Sesshomaru wasn’t supposed to return to his chambers so quickly. Kagome watched him for two weeks to memorize his daily routine. He’s methodical in how he conducts himself. She’s never seen anything like it.
Kagome knows she had the timing correct. He shouldn’t have been in that room for at least another five minutes.
As soon as she felt his approach, she’d panicked and knocked over a vase to cover her tracks. Sealing her reiki is uncomfortable but necessary if she wants to remain anonymous amongst the demons living here. Kagome has only used her powers a handful of times since Kaede brought her in. Each time, she has made sure to be alone to prevent anyone from noticing. She’s been so careful.
None of that matters now because she’s trapped.
Lord Sesshomaru may not know what Kagome is but he certainly suspects her of something. She swallows nervously. Entering that room is madness, but not entering the room isn’t an option. He has her cornered.
Kagome takes a steady breath. I can do this. I can do this, she chants to herself. There is still much she needs to do, so many things left unresolved that she must make right. Kagome can’t let one arrogant demon lord stop her.
Steeling her nerves, she knocks and masks her emotions. “My lord?”
She slides the door open and slips into the room. Lord Sesshomaru is lying on the table, his head resting on a pair of thick, muscular arms folded in front of him. He is covered with a sheet that leaves little to the imagination.
Kagome feels her resolve weaken. She’s never been this close to a naked man before. Her skin feels hot and itchy like it’s been pulled taut across her bones.
He opens his eyes lazily as she approaches the bench. “You may begin,” he tells her.
Kagome tries desperately not to compare him to the friend she lost, even if his long silver hair and golden eyes make her throat constrict. She reminds herself that they are similar in those two aspects alone. That harrowing thought helps her maintain her composure.
The cabinet behind her holds all of the oils needed for this treatment. Kagome knows them well. She wasn’t dishonest about the fact Kaede has trained her. She only lied about the length of time she has studied. Lord Sesshomaru does not need to know that Kagome has been Kaede’s pupil for nearly all of her life.
He doesn’t need to know anything about her.
She pours a fair amount of oil onto her hands and presses them firmly to his back. The muscles beneath her palms are tight. Kagome balls her hands into fists to knead the strained tissue.
As she works, the demon lord remains impassive. He doesn’t hiss the way others under her ministrations have. He doesn’t move at all. If she wasn’t able to feel his lungs expanding rhythmically, Kagome would worry she rendered him unconscious. There are tension points along the spine that can ease pain or cause it. There are also pressure points that cause paralysis, loss of consciousness, and, in extreme cases, death.
She’s learned to avoid these locations when conducting a massage but when it comes to combat, Kagome leverages all of her knowledge to her advantage. Though anatomy differs between humans and demons, the concept is the same. A solid strike to certain pressure points will render any opponent motionless, at least for a little while.
Kagome considers this as her hands move across the expanse of bare skin. Attacking the lord in his chambers is risky— too risky if she means to stay here. She can’t incapacitate him with force. Maybe if she manages to put him to sleep with a scalp massage. Inuyasha always enjoyed them— something to do with his dog demon side. Kagome can only hope the same can be said of his older brother.
She steps to the front of the table, sliding her hands along his neck toward the base of his skull. Just as her fingertips brush his hair aside, the door opens.
“Lord Sesshomaru, I have come to— What are you doing in here? Get out!” Kagura snarls at her angrily.
Kagome withdraws her hands immediately. She’s only taken one step before a hand clamps around her wrist. Lord Sesshomaru adjusts the sheet around his lower half and sits up. He doesn’t release his grip on her.
“I wish her to stay,” the demon lord tells his attendant.
Kagura’s red eyes harden but her smile remains intact. Kagome knows she will be on the receiving end of a beating tonight. Kagura doesn’t tolerate disobedience. She’s as ruthless as she is manipulative. Kagome wonders if Sesshomaru knows his head of the house is in league with Naraku.
“My lord, there are more skilled girls who could—.”
“She is a healer. Why do you confine her to the kitchens?”
Kagura’s face slips only for a second then she’s grinning demurely at Lord Sesshomaru again. “She hasn’t been properly trained for servicing the court yet, my lord. With the funeral proceedings, there hasn’t been time.”
“So make time,” he insists tersely.
Kagome fights the urge to release her powers in retaliation for the withering glare Kagura gives her.
“As you wish, Lord Sesshomaru,” Kagura says with an obedient bow of her head.
The moment she slides the door shut, Kagome wrenches her wrist out of his hold. “You shouldn’t have done that. It’s not my place to be a healer. I’m better suited for cleaning,” she says, rubbing her arm.
“No,” he returns sharply, standing so he towers over her. “It is not your place to make demands of me. This is my land, my property, my staff. I expect that what I request will be done. That goes for Kagura and you.”
She holds his gaze. It’s a mistake. Servants don’t refute their master’s orders. They accept them. Kagome is annoyed and her patience is wearing thin.
Somehow she manages to keep her voice even when she replies, “Forgive me, Lord Sesshomaru. I assumed you’d desire a more experienced woman.”
His eyes glint as he catches the double meaning of her words. He smirks and she catches a glimpse of his pearly-white fangs. “I believe I said I wanted you.”
Kagome doesn’t let his sultry tone unravel her. If he wants to play this game, she’ll match him turn for turn.
“Then may I suggest lying down on the table?” she prompts.
Lord Sesshomaru pauses to study her face. Kagome isn’t sure what he’s looking for. He must find it because his grin widens and he situates himself beneath the sheet, face down on the table.
Kagome sends a silent prayer to the Kamis that her hands will have the same effect on him as they did his brother.
She starts with featherlight touches along the nape of his neck. Slowly, Kagome increases the pressure and works her way up along the curve to the crown of his head. Her fingers drag languidly through his hair. She alternates between combing the tresses and rubbing soothing circles into his skull.
When she touches his ears, he makes a noise that Kagome can only describe as purring. Inuyasha’s ears were reminiscent of a dog’s. Sesshomaru’s are similar to hers, though longer and pointed at the ends. Kagome starts at his earlobes, gently pinching the flesh between her thumb and forefinger. The purring increases, vibrating through his massive form. She takes this as an indication and continues the process up along the curvature of his ears until she reaches the tips.
Eventually, his breathing evens out and Kagome feels the last bits of tension release. Quiet snores fill the room. Cautiously, she unmasks her powers to inspect the slumbering demon. When she confirms that he is truly asleep, Kagome exhales in relief.
She gazes over her shoulder at the doorway to his bed chambers.
Time to get to work.
Sesshomaru blinks and suddenly it is night. He jerks upright, causing the table to shudder beneath him. Glancing around, he confirms that he is still in his chambers.
That woman, he seethes.
He tears the sheet away from his body and tosses it to the floor. Storming into his bed-chamber, Sesshomaru moves toward his wardrobe to procure fresh garments. His eyes catch the glare of a shiny object in the corner.
Instantly, he is crouching over the token, snatching it up in his clawed hand. They are a string of prayer beads. The necklace is not his but Sesshomaru recognizes it. The jewelry belonged to Inuyasha.
His half-brother’s scent still lingers on the piece as does the smell of Inuyasha’s mate, Kikyo. There is no other trace on them.
Sesshomaru scowls. He does not believe in ghost stories. Even if he did, the dead would not visit him. Someone left these in his room, either by accident or as a taunt. He does not appreciate the idea of either.
He dresses quickly, clenching his jaw as he fastens his robes closed. First, Sesshomaru will track down whoever snuck into his chambers. He will make them beg for death. He does not indulge deception nor does he permit trespassers. His rooms are for his private use. Anyone who enters without an invitation is asking to be punished. Sesshomaru is all too happy to provide some.
Once he takes care of the intruder, Sesshomaru is going to hunt down the girl.
He flings open the porch door just in time to see a shadow dance across the courtyard. His focus latches onto a figure racing across the rooftop.
Sesshomaru leaps into the air, landing soundlessly on the roof several meters behind the red-cloaked figure. He is surprised to see the vigilante within the palace walls.
Until he remembers the beaded necklace.
With a menacing growl, he rushes at the fleeting figure. The red robe billows around the vigilante as he leaps off the ledge, soaring over the outer wall. Sesshomaru swipes at the fabric. His claws tear through it and the figure lands unharmed beneath the tree line.
They pause to glance back at him but only stall for a brief moment before continuing on.
His eyes narrow. He will not be bested.
Sesshomaru pursues the faceless interloper. He locks onto the sound of their labored breaths. No matter how he tries, he cannot pick up on a scent as is if there is none.
He grins. It has been centuries since he met such an intriguing challenge.
The trees blur as his boots hit the ground. The vigilante is fast though not nearly as swift as he is. Within seconds, Sesshomaru is side by side with the Crimson Cloak.
This time, when he attempts to rip the hood away from their face, a burst of pink light blinds him. The power strikes him, burning across his skin like fire. He hisses in pain and collapses on the ground.
The Crimson Cloak halts, shoulders shaking with ragged breath. They observe him from underneath the shadowed veil of the hood, which remains intact.
Sesshomaru reaches for his whip. He did not intend to kill the vigilante but now that they have struck the first blow, he is within his rights to seek retribution. The light of his weapon shines brilliantly in the dark wood. He snaps his wrist, aiming for the Crimson Cloak.
His whip slams up against a barrier. The contrasting energies crackle. Sesshomaru snarls, trying again only to generate the same result. It is not possible. The only thing strong enough to withstand his weapons is reiki. If that were the case that would make the Crimson Cloak a woman— more accurately, a miko.
“Priestess,” he murmurs, withdrawing his whip.
The figure in the fire rat robe does not speak. Doing so would only confirm his assumption. He suspects she is also shielding herself from him. It would explain why he cannot scent her.
She is clever.
He has only come across one other miko in his lifetime. His brother’s mate had been strong but this woman— whoever she is —possesses infinitely greater power.
“I received your offering,” he tells her, holding up his brother’s necklace.
The priestess takes a step toward him then, as if remembering herself, backs away.
He pockets the piece in his robes. “Would you like it returned to you?”
“Drop your shield.”
There is a pulse of reiki. Her power stretches beyond the barrier, rippling over him in waves.
He takes it that her answer is no.
“If you tell me what you were searching for, I may be able to offer assistance,” he suggests.
She shakes her head.
“Then we are at an impasse,” he states.
She nods and turns to continue on her way.
“I will hunt you,” Sesshomaru warns her. "With or without your scent."
The Crimson Cloak does not glance back. The only acknowledgment that she has heard him is the stiffness of her shoulders.
From beyond her barrier, Sesshomaru watches until she vanishes into the forest.
Kagome hauls herself over the rear wall of the Western Palace. The night was long and full of obstacles. Her body is weary. Each step feels as though it may be her last. She wonders how badly she would be punished if Kagura finds her sleeping outside.
As predicted, the head of the house kept an exceptionally close eye on Kagome all day. When she returned from Lord Sesshomaru’s chambers, the demoness descended upon her, demanding to know who had authorized her to clean the lord’s private chambers.
Considering Kagome had told Sesshomaru it wasn Kagura, she lied. “I heard him mention your girls were slacking so I thought I would lend a hand. Kaede and I were all caught up in the kitchens.”
Kagura’s eyes had gone wide at this. “You heard him say this?”
Kagome nodded. “He was sparring in the courtyard and commented to one of the guards.”
The best lies are always those closest to the truth. Inuyasha taught her that.
Kagura pursed her lips. Kagome hadn’t been sure if she would accept the falsehood. Then the demoness flipped open her fan and began lecturing Kagome on the proper etiquette for revealing such critical information.
In the end, she hadn’t been punished too harshly. Being sent to bed without dinner wasn’t uncommon. It didn’t bother Kagome. She had suffered through worse things than going hungry.
After waiting for everyone to fall asleep, she slipped out of the servants' wing to the old magnolia tree in the training yard. She had hidden her quiver, bow, and Inuyasha’s robe in the hollow at the base of the great tree.
The circumference of the trunk was wide enough to hide her from any guards who were making rounds. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to hide from the Lord of the Western Lands.
When Kagome jumped off the roof, she had been sure he’d ruined the robe. The Kamis must have been on her side. He only managed to tear a hole in the side.
She thought by attacking him, he would be discouraged from following but it had only spurred him on. Kagome had chided herself. Dogs enjoyed the thrill of the chase, a trait he made apparent when he threatened to hunt her down. Kagome is still reeling from that particular remark.
Quietly, she creeps along the side of the kitchen, following the wall until the courtyard is in view. Kagome spots the magnolia tree. It’s clear across the yard.
She waits until the guards’ backs are turned and darts for the hollow. Quickly, Kagome stuffs her supplies through the opening, keeping as low to the ground as possible.
When she glances up, the guards are still facing away. She breathes a little easier. Perhaps, she will be able to rest for a few hours before chores duty.
Kagome straightens up and a shadow falls over her. She narrowly avoids shrieking. “You startled me.”
Lord Sesshomaru tilts his head, eyeing her curiously. “I am equally affected. I did not anticipate finding you in my courtyard.”
She begins to apologize but he cuts her off.
“Imagine my surprise when I requested your services and your bed was found empty,” he says, taking a step toward her.
Kagome begins to inch away. Running will provoke him. She has to be smart about this.
“My apologies, my lord. I couldn’t sleep,” she tells him.
It’s not a lie. Kagome hasn’t been able to rest peacefully since Naraku took her sister away. No matter how far she travels, her search always end the same way. Kagome hasn’t been able to locate Rin. The bastard is constantly moving her, keeping her just out of Kagome's reach.
“Perhaps you are in need of a massage,” Lord Sesshomaru quips.
If he thinks she’s going to fall into his trap, he is mistaken. She cannot be caught, not when Rin is depending on her.
“That is a luxury not meant for maids,” Kagome states.
“Indeed,” he replies. “May I ask why you were strolling through the courtyard unaccompanied?”
“As you already noted, it is late. I doubt anyone would care to join me for a midnight stroll.”
“Seeing as I am also unable to sleep, I will walk with you,” Lord Sesshomaru decides.
Kagome glances nervously at the hollow. She catches the glint of one of her arrows peeking out from her sheath. She can’t let him discover the truth.
Bowing her head, Kagome thanks him.
He brushes against her side as he passes. Kagome knows it’s a test and is grateful she masked her reiki before crawling over the wall.
Lord Sesshomaru is distrustful of her. Whether he suspects she is the Crimson Cloak or merely a thief, Kagome isn’t sure. Neither bodes well for her. She needs to find Tetsusaiga and get out of here.
“Is there a reason you are unable to find rest?” he inquires as they stroll near the koi pond.
“Nothing that you need trouble yourself over, my lord.”
Kagome keeps her head tilted down, her eyes on the ground, and her hands neatly clasped in front of her. Kagura’s instructions were clear. If Kagome disgraces the House of Taisho in any way, she will be thrown out the gates. Acting like a submissive servant isn’t how she intended to spend her time but it is necessary if she wants to stay safe long enough to rescue her sister.
“Is there something I may assist you with this evening?” she asks him.
He arches a brow.
“Your lordship mentioned he is also incapable of falling asleep,” Kagome reminds him.
Lord Sesshomaru hums thoughtfully. “I was visited by the one the villagers call the Crimson Cloak. Her appearance left me with many questions.”
Kagome bites the inside of her cheek. “Her? You think the archer is a woman, my lord?”
“A miko to be precise,” he says with a nod. “You would not happen to know of her, would you?”
“No,” she answers evenly.
“Or if I do, my lord, she has not made her true intentions known to me. I suspected a man.”
It’s a blatant lie. They both know it but, for some reason, he doesn’t press her.
Instead, he chooses a new line of questioning. “You are quite gifted with your hands. Kaede is an excellent healer though I have never known her to provide a massage. Where did you learn such a useful practice?”
Kagome can’t help it. She stares at her hands as of expecting sparks of reiki to burst forth like flames. The truth is complicated especially considering she discovered her abilities when confronted with his late brother— her best friend.
The best lies are always those closest to the truth.
“Years ago, I came across a feral dog in the woods. I was cornered with nowhere to go. He didn’t trust humans and I feared he would maul me,” she begins, remembering her first meeting with Inuyasha.
“I held out my hand and let him come to me. It took a long time, minutes or hours, I’m not sure. Eventually, he approached me and slowly, I began to massage his ears. After that, he was a loyal companion.”
“Where is this dog now?” Lord Sesshomaru inquires.
“Dead.” Kagome feels the word hit her like a strike to her core. It still pains her to think of a world without her best friend.
“I am sorry for your loss.”
She swallows and clears her throat. “It was only a dog.” The words of her lie taste bitter on her tongue.
“A trustworthy companion, in any form, is a valuable asset,” Lord Sesshomaru says sagely.
“I miss him,” Kagome confesses.
At least this part is true. She does miss Inuyasha and her cousin, Kikyo. Every day without them feels wrong as though the world has shifted on its axis.
“I have also suffered loss— my brother,” he explains. “We were estranged. I had not seen him in many years yet the news of his demise affected me greatly.”
Kagome bows her head lower, unsure if she will be able to withhold her tears. She didn’t expect this of him. From what Inuyasha told her, Lord Sesshomaru never cared for him. He blamed Inuyasha for their father’s infidelity and cast him out for his designation.
Hearing the demon speak of his younger brother, Kagome can’t help but wonder if Inuyasha was wrong. Lord Sesshomaru is arrogant but he isn’t dishonest.
“I’m sorry for your suffering,” Kagome says.
“Thank you,” he responds.
They pause at a small bridge that bisects the koi pond. Across the way is the entrance to the servants' quarters. Kagome moves closer to cross but is stopped when Lord Sesshomaru’s hand grabs her wrist.
The action catches her off guard and her masking falls as she unleashes a burst of reiki. He withdraws his hand, inspecting his pale flesh as he considers her for a moment. She swallows, nervously awaiting his next words but when he speaks, it isn't in anger.
“I did not dismiss you."
Kagome bows her head, shielding her abilities once more. “My apologies.”
He is silent for a time. Each second feels like an hour while Kagome awaits her fate. Finally, he asks, “Do you have any family?”
“Yes, my lord, a younger sister,” she reveals softly.
Now a tear does escape. It leaves a cold trail as it runs down her cheek. Kagome bats it away before he notices.
“She is not with you,” he surmises.
“No, she’s—,” been taken from me,”— I’m not sure where she is. I have tried to find her but—.”
Kagome can’t complete that sentence. It’s another failure, another example of how useless she is. Despite her power, she was unable to stop Naraku. She couldn’t protect her cousin. She couldn’t save her best friend. She can’t even keep her sister safe. More tears slip free. Kagome hastily wipes them away, feeling foolish. She's losing her head, making mistakes. Kagome can't afford to— not now that she is so close to finding Rin.
Crying in front of the demon lord won’t bring Inuyasha or Kikyo back. It won’t make finding Rin any easier. She fights against her emotions and pulls herself together, mumbling apologies to him.
“Your sister— how old is she?” he inquires, shifting away to give her a moment to compose herself.
It’s unexpectedly kind. Kagome takes the opportunity to dry her eyes before answering, “Eight.”
“Still a pup then. What is her name?”
“Where was she taken from?”
“Edo,” Kagome says without realizing her mistake. As soon as the town passes over her lips, she stiffens.
Lord Sesshomaru’s gaze is fixated on her. “My brother lived in Edo. Did you by chance cross paths with him?”
“If I recall correctly, Kaede was born there. Prior to joining the Taisho family, she served the village as their miko. I believe she may have even trained others. What do you know of that?”
Kagome shuffles backward. Lord Sesshomaru walks toward her. Any leniency he was willing to give before has dissipated. He knows.
“I was surprised to hear about the village’s misfortunes. I had been informed they were protected by a new miko, my brother’s mate, but I was never told she had a younger sister.”
Her eyes go wide. He thinks that she’s Kikyo? Anger surges through her. He’s not the first one to make that assumption but he will be the last.
“I’m not Kikyo,” she snarls. “My name is Kagome. Ka-go-me." She huffs in frustration. Despite her fury, her tone is respectable.
He watches her skeptically, weighing his response.
"Stop comparing me to her!”
Up until the point she yells, Kagome maintains control. Under his scrutiny, however, her old insecurities flare up. Jealousies that have been lying dormant resurface. Kagome finds herself breathless as she stares at him. She’s just as stunned as he is.
“You are not his mate?” Lord Sesshomaru questions.
“Kikyo was my cousin,” Kagome explains.
“But you loved him.”
“It was a long time ago. We were children. It never would have worked.”
Even though it’s true, her still heart aches. Her pain isn’t because she wishes Inuyasha chose her— he and Kikyo belonged together —but because he left her alone. Inuyasha made his choice and abandoned Kagome to raise Rin alone. Kikyo hadn't wanted to be be bothered and he went with her. Despite everything Kagome had done for him— for them —they still left her alone. That betrayal was the one that hurt most of all.
“Why did you leave his necklace in my chambers?” Lord Sesshomaru inquires, holding the beads out to her.
A fresh round of tears threatens to fall. Kagome inhales a shuddering breath. Just breathe, she reminds herself.
Her story about the woods was true. Inuyasha was in his full-demon form, unresponsive to Kikyo’s attempts to subdue him. Kagome, who was on her way to Edo to visit her cousin, discovered two things that day. First, she was born a miko like Kikyo and secondly, she was the only one who could control Inuyasha.
The beads she had accidentally dropped in Lord Sesshomaru’s chamber had been her gift to Inuyasha. It served as a safeguard to protect the village in case he ever turned again. He had worn them until the day he died.
Kagome should have left the necklace to be buried with him but she couldn’t part with it. She’d been wearing it under her robes as a reminder of her promise to take down Naraku— a promise she made to both of them.
She can’t hide from Lord Sesshomaru any longer. Any lies she speaks now will be a dishonor to her friend’s memory. She can’t do that, not in front of his own brother. In any case, Lord Sesshomaru seems to already know the truth.
“It was an accident. I was searching for Tetsusaiga,” she admits.
“And the robe?”
Her body tenses. Of course, he would recognize it. Inuyasha had rarely gone a day without wearing the protective covering. Like the sword, it had been a gift from his father.
“He gave it to me before...” She can’t finish her sentence.
Lord Sesshomaru’s gaze flickers to the magnolia tree. Kagome wonders how long he watched her before approaching.
As if to answer, he says, “I told you that I would hunt you.”
Kagome swallows her fear and asks, “What will you do now that you’ve caught me?”
“That remains to be seen. Goodnight, priestess.”
He leaves her standing at the bridge, uncertain what to do next or how to calm her pounding heart.
He knew it was more than coincidence that the newest attendant arrived around the same time as the tales of the Crimson Cloak so he had decided to test a theory. Her scent— or lack thereof —was what prompted him to wait in the shadows. In the forest, she had concealed herself completely and it had led him to wonder about the discernible smell from his massage.
The priestess’s talent for masking is suburb. She was clever enough not to eliminate her scent completely. That would have drawn suspicions. Instead, she kept all the distinctive hints of her personal scent hidden beneath the smell of the places she frequented such as the kitchens.
A less concerned individual would not have noticed but Sesshomaru does. He observes everything.
Like the woman’s quiet movements and attention to detail. She has had training and not just in terms of healing. He suspects Kaede taught her to use a bow along with tricks of the woods. She appears to have mastered these lessons. In addition to her skills, she exercises full control over her powers. The woman is a talented adversary.
Sesshomaru ponders the predicament of the miko all evening. She wants to know what he will do with her. He has yet to decide.
Forcing her to leave the Western Palace is foolish. Even if Sesshomaru does not condone her actions, he cannot allow Naraku to have her. The woman is powerful, perhaps the most powerful being he has ever encountered. In the wrong hands, her abilities will be manipulated. Sesshomaru knows that is Naraku’s end goal. He cannot allow his brother’s killer to gain the upper hand. The miko must stay under his protection.
At least until the threat of the spider hanyou has been neutralized.
From there, Sesshomaru is uncertain how to handle her. He does not know if he can trust her. After all, she did coax him into submission to search for the Steel-Cleaving Fang. Yet, he finds himself unable to confront the reality of casting her out. She could have purified him or restrained him while he was unconscious but she did not. Her compassion gives him pause.
Sesshomaru decides that he requires more information to determine his next move.
When morning arrives, he forgoes his usual sparring session with the guards to go to the servant’s wing.
Kagura is still lining her eyes with charcoal and applying rouge to her cheeks. As she checks her reflection, she catches the sight of his silhouette in her mirror.
“Lord Sesshomaru!” She drops her cosmetics and stands abruptly. Lowering her head, she curtsies. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I require Kagome for the day. Please ensure her duties are covered while she attends to me.”
Kagura’s eyes go wide. “I don’t mean to question your judgment, my lord, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather a more experienced hand? I could aid you—.”
Her lips press together into a firm, thin line. The scent of her displeasure is as sour as spoiled grapes. “Very well, my lord. I will go fetch her.”
He waits in the corridor, pretending not to notice the inquisitive stares he receives from the other attendants as Kagura vanishes into the miko’s room.
This is the first time he has ever deigned to cross the courtyard into the servant’s wing. If he requires assistance, Kagura coordinates the appropriate girl for the work. He has never sought her out before. Considering her reaction, Sesshomaru doubts he will ever do so again. She seems to be operating under the mindset that he can be persuaded to do what she wants him to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sesshomaru takes direction from no one.
“Kagome, as you requested, my lord,” Kagura says, reappearing with the miko in tow.
“My lord,” she greets him.
Unlike the head of the house, she is fresh-faced and unaltered. She does not wear elaborate combs or pins in her hair. Instead, the tresses fall over her shoulders and down her back, free to blow in the gentle breeze winding through the halls. Her blue eyes are as clear and inviting as a natural spring. The miko bows and as she lifts her face to him, the sun crests over the east wall, decorating her fine features in golden light.
Sesshomaru takes a moment to admire her effortless beauty. Physical attraction has never been much of a consideration for him. Temporary qualities such as the way a woman’s face looks holds no value. However, in the case of the miko, she is not attractive merely because of her appearance. Her skills as a warrior are impressive and her spiritual powers are a gift from the Kamis themselves. She is a rare treasure, worth far more than his brother’s sword.
“Come,” he says to her.
He turns on his heel and strolls out into the courtyard. She trails wordlessly after him. His strides are far longer than hers, causing her footsteps to quicken as she fights to keep up.
Sesshomaru ignores the lingering stares of the staff on them. He curbs his impulse to remind the girls to get on with their work. It would only increase their curiosity and heighten Kagura’s attempts to regain his favor. She is an effective servant. That is where Sesshomaru’s interest ends. He is aware she desires more— of him, from him. He has no desire to fulfill those idle fantasies.
Upon reaching his chambers, he checks the corridor before stepping inside and securing the doors. The miko watches him inquisitively.
“Let us speak plainly,” Sesshomaru recommends.
“Do you plan to leave the palace grounds tonight?” he inquires.
She stares at him, confused by the question and suspicious of the reasons behind it. “Yes,” the miko hesitantly answers.
Sesshomaru opens the doors to the adjoining chamber. It has been vacant for centuries— since he was a pup. The room’s purpose is to act as a nursery, close enough to the bed chambers for him and his future mate to attend to their offspring but with enough distance for privacy. He has no intended or pups but he has use of the chamber.
“You may rest in here. No one will bother you within these walls,” Sesshomaru tells her.
The miko peers into the room, then up at him. “Is this a trick?”
“Why would I deceive you?”
“I don’t understand why you’d help me,” she returns.
“You and I share a common enemy. Naraku must pay for what he has done to the Taisho family. I know you seek vengeance for what he did to your lover—.”
“Friend,” the miko corrects him sharply. “Inuyasha and I were never— I’ve never—.” She shakes her head, her words dying away.
Sesshomaru cannot smell whether her words are truthful or not, though by the rising blush in her cheeks he believes she is untouched. The knowledge ignites a spark of heat in his core. He suppresses the instinct, merely considering it a carnal response.
“You seek to avenge your friend,” he adjusts his wording.
The miko nods.
“Neither of us has been successful in achieving our objectives. I propose an alliance against Naraku,” Sesshomaru suggests. “If you accept, I will allow you to rest here during the day under the guise of attending to me. In the evenings, we will hunt.”
“That’s it?” she asks, skeptically. “You only want my help to take down Naraku?”
He smirks. She is a shrewd woman.
“I don’t have it,” the miko reminds him.
“No, but my chances of locating the blade are infinitely better if you are searching with me,” he points out.
She licks her lips. Sesshomaru watches the soft pink flesh of her tongue dart along the curve of our mouth. Absently, he wonders what she tastes like. His inability to scent her has never been more frustrating.
“Why do you want the sword?” the miko asks.
“Why do you?” he counters.
“I don’t. I just don’t want Naraku to have it,” she reveals. “Inuyasha’s father— your father —intended the blade for protection, specifically mortal protection. Naraku won’t honor that request. Will you?”
“I know few mortals worthy of such protection,” Sesshomaru answers. Her eyes harden. “However, if those are your terms, I will accept.”
She blinks, taken aback by his acceptance.
“Kaede has earned my respect. I suspect, in time, you will do the same,” he explains.
“Are you saying you trust me?”
“No. That is a gift few have obtained,” Sesshomaru tells her.
“Then I don’t know how we can be allies,” she returns, crossing her arms over her chest. “If you don’t trust me, how can we fight alongside one another?”
He leans closer so that he is only centimeters from her face. “If you are so concerned, Little Red, you are welcome to try proving yourself.”
She doesn’t back away. Her blue eyes stare directly into his gold ones. “And how would I do that?”
“Do as I say and sleep. Trust me to watch over you while you rest, just as I will take it on faith that you will not purify me this evening.”
The miko doesn’t move, doesn’t even blink for several seconds. Sesshomaru patiently waits for her decision, searching her face for a hint of which way she is leaning. She gives him none. It isn’t until she speaks that he knows her answer.
“Fine.” The miko shoves past him with a huff.
He watches her arrange the pillows and blankets to her liking with a satisfied grin. Something about knowing she will be here— mere meters away from him —makes that spark in his core reignite.
Sesshomaru attempts to extinguish the growing heat but when he hears the woman’s relieved sigh as she lays down, he feels it grow exponentially. She is content. He has pleased her.
The Lord of the Western Lands has never cared what a female thought of him, least of all a human one. He is uncertain what to make of this strange sensation.
Tearing his gaze away, Sesshomaru slides the chamber door closed.
Until next time...
Kagome rolls over with a wide yawn. She can’t recall the last time she slept so deeply. Her nights have been a constant exercise in timing and observation. She is always on alert. Finding the opportunity to rest hasn’t been easy, especially when her mind is constantly thinking of Rin.
She sits up and stretches her arms overhead. Kagome scans the room. It is sparsely decorated but based on the furniture, she surmises that it must be a nursery. Her brow furrows. She doesn’t recall Kaede telling her that Lord Sesshomaru had an heir.
Not that it matters.
Kagome is only passing through. Once she has found Rin and destroyed Naraku, she plans on returning to Edo. The village may have been demolished but it is all she knows. They can rebuild their lives from the ashes of the past. They can start over.
With another yawn, she rises and opens the door.
Lord Sesshomaru is sitting at his desk, reviewing scouting reports. A pile of scrolls sits next to the open one he is reading.
“Good evening,” he greets her.
Kagome glances behind him, shocked to see the courtyard is dark. She slept all day.
“Kagura came by with tea this afternoon. I will have to speak with her about interruptions,” Lord Sesshomaru remarks, not looking up from his scroll.
“You know she works for Naraku, don’t you?” Kagome asks, taking a seat across from him.
Briefly, he glances up at her. “I am aware.”
“But you allow her a position of authority in the palace,” Kagome points out, incredulously.
Lord Sesshomaru nods and returns to his parchment. “Working in proximity to my enemies allows me to observe them more closely to discern signs of weakness that I can later exploit.”
“Smart,” she replies.
They lapse into silence. Kagome takes advantage of the moment to survey his chambers. When she visited yesterday, her sole focus was on finding Tetsusaiga. Kagome figured if the sword was with anyone, it would be with Inuyasha’s next of kin, the only remaining Taisho, Lord Sesshomaru.
She was wrong.
His rooms are meticulously organized. There is a shelf of bound books over her right shoulder next to a cabinet of fresh linens stored for his massages. Across the room is a shrine to his late father. A single red candle burns in a white porcelain cup, illuminating the miniature painting of the Dog General. On either side of the shrine are larger paintings, depicting two of the great battles Touga championed. There are no unnecessary elements. Everything has a place. Lord Sesshomaru’s possessions are as orderly as he is.
“You may store your belongings in the nursery,” he announces.
Kagome blinks, turning her attention back to him.
“You risk exposure keeping them in that old tree,” he adds.
Lord Sesshomaru nods. “We should leave. The guards will be changing shifts shortly. It will give us an opportunity to slip out unnoticed.”
They stand at the same time.
Out of habit, Kagome keeps her gaze on the floor. She doesn’t notice the way Lord Sesshomaru’s eyes linger on her face for a second too long. If she did, she may not have agreed to go first.
Kagome slips out into the night and keeping to the shadows as she crosses the courtyard to the magnolia tree. He follows several paces behind, swift and silent. She breathes a sigh of relief when she confirms everything is still in the hollow. Kagome pulls on her cloaks before securing her bow and quiver over her shoulder.
Lord Sesshomaru stares at her, silently asking if she is ready.
His arm snakes around her waist and they leap over the wall. Kagome clings to his torso, excited and a little stunned that he would initiate contact so willingly.
When his boots touch the earth, she has to release the fine silk of his kimono. Kagome notices the loss of warmth, swiftly followed by an urge to wrap herself around him once more.
She yanks her hood over her head to hide her blush. What is wrong with her? She can’t be attracted to Lord Sesshomaru. He doesn’t like humans. He only tolerates her because he wants Tetsusaiga. This partnership is on borrowed time. Kagome would do well to remember that. She can't have her head clouded by silly ideas.
“I sense a strong yokai presence to the north,” he shares.
“How far north?” she asks. Kagome doesn’t want to run into Kouga— not tonight. She can only handle one arrogant demon at a time.
“There is a castle hidden within the mountain pass several kilometers in that direction,” Lord Sesshomaru points to a path ahead of them. “I believe he is there. The scent is faint but it is definitely Naraku.”
Kagome follows him into the woods, keeping to the trail he identified. She has an arrow nocked in her bow just in case.
“Will your powers be effected by your masking?” Lord Sesshomaru inquiries.
“It takes up more of my concentration than I’d like,” Kagome admits.
“Then remove it,” he commands.
She glares at him.
Being allies means a partnership— equal parts give and take. Inside the palace walls, he may be her superior, but out here they are on even ground. At least, that’s how Kagome sees it.
“Why does it bother you so much?” she asks.
“It does not.”
“Then I’m going to leave it in place,” Kagome decides.
He frowns. “You are leaving yourself at a disadvantage.”
“Well, you’re leaving your ally out of the loop,” she retorts. “How are we supposed to learn to trust one another if you won’t be honest with me?”
He stops to stare at her. Kagome wonders if he will slash his poisonous claws through her or if he will merely cleave her in two with his sword. His gaze is so intense she can’t imagine a different outcome until he speaks.
“I do not enjoy having my senses limited. If I cannot scent you, I cannot tell whether you are in danger or simply waiting for the opportunity to strike. It leaves me at a disadvantage,” Lord Sesshomaru informs her.
Kagome can’t argue with his logic. For the first time since she’s entered the Western Palace, she intentionally drops her mask.
Initially, Lord Sesshomaru doesn’t appear aware of the change. He continues to stare at her expectantly.
Then, his pupils dilate, his nostrils flare, and a low growl rumbles forth. The sound stirs something within her core. Kagome shifts backward which is a mistake because the instant she moves away, he advances.
Her quiver and bow are shoved off her shoulder to the ground. His hands find placement on her hip and the back of her head. He draws her to his chest and buries his face in the crook of her neck.
He inhales deeply. There is a pause where Kagome counts the stars in the sky. It’s a way to calm herself so she doesn’t accidentally purify him.
When he exhales, her hair flies away and his breath tickles her skin. She shivers. The sensation increases the strange feeling in her stomach. Her head is muddled with dangerous thoughts and she forgets herself.
He goes still. They are close enough that Kaome can feel his pulse. It’s almost as erratic as hers.
“Are you alright?” she asks.
His grip on her slowly loosens until he releases her completely and steps away. “Stay behind me,” he advises.
Kagome glances around, searching for a threat amongst the trees. She reaches out with her reiki, trying to determine which direction the assault is coming from but she feels nothing. If there are other demons in the vicinity, they are hidden behind powerful shielding magic.
She retrieves her bow and arrow. Her heart is still hammering in her chest. Kagome has never seen Lord Sesshomaru lose control like that before. Unlike his younger brother, he carefully guards his emotions.
Inuyasha never mastered the art of discretion. He was impulsive and rash. When she was in her youth, Kagome thought he was passionate. With time, she realized his behavior was impetuous and selfish. Nothing drove that lesson home more than the day he left her and Rin unprotected in favor of Kikyo.
A logical part of her knows that behavior was because Inuyasha chose her as his mate. Even before Kikyo accepted, Inuyasha was overprotective of her. He was sensitive about anything anyone said or did in terms of Kikyo. Once he had chosen her, she became his world. It was the main reason why he attacked Naraku so blindly. For Inuyasha, the only thing that matter was his mate and the spider had exploited that weakness.
“Coming, Little Red?”
Kagome glances up to find Sesshomaru well ahead of her. She shakes off her thoughts of the past and runs to catch up.
Sesshomaru breathes through his mouth to maintain his composure. The woman’s scent is an addictive blend of camellia, vanilla, and honey. It is fresh, sweet, and pure. Her smell is a combination of all of his favorite vices, delicacies he occasionally treats himself to. Bundled together they form an intoxicating aroma that has him vibrating with need.
The initial inhale nearly sends him to his knees. It is overwhelmingly pungent. The effect lessens but does not dissipate as he continues to breathe. It has him careening over the edge, tumbling out of reason and falling head-first into pure instinct.
Ignoring all sense of protocol, he grabs her. Sesshomaru presses his face to the miko’s neck, gulping down as much of her scent as he can. It is madness.
The fragrance seeps from her pores, untainted by the forest air or the lingering essence of the Western Palace. This close, all he can smell is her. The scent engulfs him, twisting its way down within like the roots of an ancient tree. Her essence burrows deep, carving out a place for itself. He will never be rid of her now.
She was made for him.
As the realization hits Sesshomaru, her voice draws him back to the present. The miko— his miko —asks if he is alright. She is concerned for him. It makes his beast purr with satisfaction.
He will protect her, care for her, cherish her, claim her. She is his just as he is hers.
His body is thrumming with desire, urging him to bind them together. He shoves the need aside. The forest is not the place. Sesshomaru refuses to take her like some wild animal. His mate— the one female worthy of him —deserves better. He wants her willing and pleased to bear his mark. He will wait until they have eliminated Naraku— when she is safe, secure, and happy.
Sesshomaru positions himself in front of her as they approach the northern mountains. He keeps alert for any signs of an incoming threat. His instincts are heightened by his recent discovery, causing his protective inclinations to show.
Every unexplainable sound or shift of the light makes him tense. The only thing keeping him from unsheathing Bakusaiga is the calming presence of his soon-to-be mate behind him. She has an arrow drawn. Her jaw is set with determination. He has never seen a more alluring sight.
Court customs demand that females present themselves formally, donning hand-woven garments of expensive fabric, powered faces, and elaborate hairstyles. They are like dolls— brought out for show but serving no higher purpose. Sesshomaru has never seen the value in such traditions.
When he glances over his shoulder to check on the miko, the demon lord sees a warrior. Her worth is not expressed through outdated rituals but by the abilities she honed in her pursuit for justice. She is magnificent.
“Well, this is indeed a surprise. The Crimson Cloak and the Taisho heir— what have I done to earn such an audience?” a silky voice inquires.
Sesshomaru’s metallic eyes harden as he faces Naraku. The spider hanyou smirks from where he stands by the gates to a deteriorating castle.
“Your crimes against the Taisho line end tonight,” he promises the half-demon.
Naraku chuckles. “Is that so?”
Sesshomaru scowls as a horde of flying insects appear from the haze surrounding the castle.
“Watch out!” his intended shouts.
Before he can stop her, she leaps in front of him and releases an arrow. Her projectile spears one of the insects, burning its body with purifying light. The corpse drops to the earth and turns to ash. She repeats the same process, taking out a dozen or so insects but the horde keeps multiplying.
They do not advance any further than their fallen comrades. Still, their position blocks Sesshomaru from approaching Naraku.
“I tire of your trickery,” he says, charging through the horde.
His intended calls out for him. He ignores her cries. His sole focus is destroying Naraku.
Bakusaiga slices through the hanyou. The baboon cloak drops open, empty. A small wooden figurine, bisected in two, lies in the center of the white fur. Sesshomaru blinks.
He growls at the foul deception. Wheeling around, he finds the miko hastily retrieving her arrows. His eyes bleed crimson the second he sees a dark figure emerge from the haze behind her.
Her gaze lands upon him but it is too late. A hand snatches her by the wrist, yanking her backward and off-balance. Her arrows scatter to the ground as his arm wraps around her, pinning her to his chest.
“Let go of me!” she screams.
The sound strikes Sesshomaru like a physical blow. He stands amidst the decaying bodies of the dead insects, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene.
She struggles against Naraku’s hold. He laughs at her failed attempts and shoots a smug grin at Sesshomaru over the top of her head.
“I didn’t realize the Lord of the Western Lands held such compassion for mortals. Like father, like son?”
Sesshomaru snarls. He will not allow anyone to disrespect him or his mate.
Sheathing Bakusaiga, he withdraws his light whip and finishes off the remaining insects. The buzzing falls silent as the last of the horde collapses into the fray. It’s wings flutter one final time and then it’s eyes glaze over, as lifeless as it’s siblings.
There will be no further interruptions. When Sesshomaru kills Naraku, he will do so with his bare hands. He will drive his poisonous claws through the hanyou’s chest and rip out his heart while it still beats.
“Release her,” he demands.
“I’m afraid I can’t. This woman is something of an enigma. I intend to explore her fully, learn all her secrets,” Naraku croons, his other hand coming up to clasp around Kagome’s throat.
The suggestive taunt incites Sesshomaru’s protective instincts even further. The hanyou will pay for his outlandish remarks. No one touches his mate.
He holsters his whip, glaring at Naraku. His boots crunch on the discarded exoskeletons as he approaches.
Naraku merely chuckles, seemingly unbothered by Sesshomaru.
He is a couple of meters from Kagome when he feels the air shift. The wind rages around him, sharp as knives. It tears at his armor and rips apart his kimono. Sesshomaru hisses as the invisible force cuts him.
“Stop it!” Kagome cries.
Naraku’s only response is maniacal laughter.
Sesshomaru braces himself as another blast of wind hits him. It howls in his ears, drowning out Naraku’s voice completely. Above it all, Sesshomaru still hears his mate.
He stares into her watery blue eyes, mesmerized by the changing color of them even as she screams.
There is a pulse of light and everything stills.
The wind ceases. A wail of pain comes from ahead. Sesshomaru takes a haggard breath and glances around. The entire castle is illuminated by pale pink light emanating from Kagome. As Sesshomaru staggers toward her, he sees Naraku collapse to the ground, grasping at his limbs.
Sesshomaru reaches for his sword but a hand touches his wrist, halting the movement.
“I warned you to let me go,” Kagome tells Naraku, situating herself between them. “You should have listened to me.”
“You’ll pay for that, wench. I’ll bury you just like I did your cousin,” he sneers venomously.
“You’re never touching me again,” she snaps. “Now, tell me where my sister is.”
The hanyou’s eyes gleam victorious. He still has one bargaining chip left to play. “You’ll never find her,” he says.
A feather floats past his face. Before they can stop him, he plucks it from the air and takes off.
Sesshomaru moves to chase after him but Kagome grabs his hand. “Don’t,” she pleads. He can tell she is crest-fallen, can scent it in the air but her grip is iron-clad. He will not disrespect her wishes.
“Your wounds,” she says, turning to face him. “We have to get you back to the palace and Kaede.”
“I will be fine,” he assures her.
She does not listen to him. His intended steps closer and positions herself under his arm. Holding onto him, she leads Sesshomaru away from the castle.
By the time they return to the palace, it’s less than an hour until sunrise. Kagome aches from taking on a portion of Lord Sesshomaru’s weight. Even though she will feel the effort in her limbs long after today, Kagome has a sense of gratification. Lord Sesshomaru never asks for help. The fact that he is allowing her to assist him speaks volumes to her earning his trust.
“Let’s go around back,” she suggests when they reach the barrier wall.
“No need.” He wraps his free arm around her middle and jumps over the structure. This time, Kagome doesn’t cling to him.
As they land, she takes inventory of their appearance. The fire rat robe kept her safe. The only tear is the one Sesshomaru caused. Her bow needs to be restrung and cleaned. The quiver also needs to be scrubbed. Kagome will have to fashion new arrows before she faces Naraku again.
Lord Sesshomaru’s kimono is in tatters. The snow and scarlet fabric hangs loosely off his shoulders, baring more skin than it hides. Kagome turns away, hiding the creeping blush on her cheeks. The kimono can be replaced but his armor is sacred. It is splintered like a pane of glass. She doesn’t know how he will repair it.
“I will need to travel south to meet with Totosai,” Lord Sesshomaru tells her.
Kagome glances up at him, only then realizing she spoke the question out loud.
“I will be gone for several days while he makes the repairs.”
She nods in understanding. Maybe she can use that time to track down Rin and Tetsusaiga.
As if reading her mind, Lord Sesshomaru says, “I forbid you from leaving the palace grounds while I am absent."
Kagome gasps. “What?”
“Naraku knows who you are and what you are capable of. He will be waiting for a chance to strike,” the demon lord explains as they enter the kitchen.
“I can handle him.”
His face is unreadable and it frustrates her.
“No, I can’t handle him or no, you won’t let me?”
Kaede is already awake and boiling a large pot of water over an open fire. She stares at them, stumbling into the chamber together with Lord Sesshomaru leaning heavily on Kagome. The eyebrow over her good eye arcs.
“Good morning,” she greets them warily.
Kagome gives her a wave, not backing down from the fight. “I saved you, remember? I can handle him.”
Lord Sesshomaru’s hands grip her shoulders and he looms over her, golden eyes hard. “You will stay here until I return.”
“I need to find my sister!”
“You need to rest,” he counters, giving Kagome a little shove that throws her off balance.
Kagome rights herself and glares at him. “You’re the one who is wounded.”
“And you’re both going to wake the entire palace if you keep this up,” Kaede interrupts sternly. Then to Lord Sesshomaru, she says, “Sit here and remove those rags.”
Without hesitation, he does as she asks. Kagome’s ire vanishes as he reveals his defined torso. His muscles look firm and smooth as if they are chiseled from white marble.
“Kagome, fetch me the turmeric,” Kaede instructs.
She turns away with a nod, grateful for the distraction.
Under Kaede’s guidance, she mixes a salve to apply to Lord Sesshomaru’s wounds. More than once, he tells them the healing paste is not necessary— he will heal on his own —but neither woman listens. Kaede scoffs about how he is as stubborn as his father while Kagome remains silent. She doesn’t trust her voice around him, not when so much of his skin is visible.
“There,” Kaede announces once she has finished applying a layer of bandages. “Come tonight, you will be right as rain.”
“Thank you,” Lord Sesshomaru says, inclining his head politely.
Kagome starts to clear away the medicinal bowls so she can help Kaede prepare breakfast.
“I can manage, child,” the older woman insists. “Why don’t you escort the young lord to his chambers?”
Kagome opens her mouth to argue that he will be fine, only to find Lord Sesshomaru waiting for her at the door.
“Very well.” With a sigh, she removes her cloak, folds it around her weapons, and hides them underneath Kaede’s medicine cabinet. She’ll come back for them tonight. Orders or no orders, Kagome won’t give up an opportunity to find her sister.
“You are displeased,” Lord Sesshomaru observes as they stroll alongside one another.
“I’m not weak, you know.”
He smirks. “I am aware.”
“Rin is the only family I have left. You can’t expect me to sit here and do nothing,” she argues.
“I do not,” he responds evenly. “I expect you to take advantage of these secure lodgings to heal, strategize a new plan, and train to execute that plan.”
“What plan?” Kagome asks, confused.
Lord Sesshomaru leans down until his nose is almost brushing against hers. She can feel his reply as the words glide over her lips. “For the final battle.”
Gotta love how fierce they both are!
No amount of snarling or growling alters Totosai’s timeline. Even with the persistent death threats that Sesshomaru throws out, the old blacksmith remains convinced that the repairs will take all week.
The distance from his intended and the looming threat of Naraku make Sesshomaru uneasy. He attempts to restrain himself from pacing and fails. It is an undignified act but he cannot stop his feet from moving. His key is restless. After he has worn circles into the ground, Sesshomaru trains. He wields his sword until his arms grow weary and his form begins to suffer from exhaustion.
On the seventh day, the constant clang of Totosai’s hammer falls silent. Sesshomaru pauses.
“All fixed,” the blacksmith announces proudly, holding up the repaired armor. “I reinforced it with the bones of your father.”
Sesshomaru slips the armor over top of his new kimono. There is more weight to it, given the extra layer of protection Totosai crafted into this version.
“Touga would be proud,” Totosai says.
Sesshomaru tilts his head, uncertain what the elderly demon means.
“As his firstborn, his heir, he always expected great things but this,” Totosai gestures to the crimson threads tangled around Bakusaiga’s hilt, “is the path he wished for you. He wanted you to succeed where he had failed.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have found her— your true mate.”
Sesshomaru stares at him in disbelief.
“Your mother was a great demoness— powerful, revered —but she was not Touga’s great love. That title rests with Izayoi. Your father was torn between two halves of himself. He wanted a better life for you, one where you didn’t have to choose between your head and your heart. And now,” Totosai grins, patting Sesshomaru’s shoulder, “you have.”
His words echo in Sesshomaru’s mind during his trip to the Western Palace. They are persistent, like his need to see Kagome, to ensure she is safe. He has no reason to fear otherwise— no reason except his intended’s stubborn personality which is as aggravating as it is attractive.
When Sesshomaru arrives, he finds that she is not in his chambers. The nursery is vacant. It appears that she has not slept in the room at all. He tries to track the miko by her scent but her masking is in place again. A growing unease settles in his gut.
As he turns to leave, an attendant enters the main room.
“My lord, you’ve returned!” she squeaks, surprised to find him inside.
He has no time for pleasantries. “Where is Kagome?” he demands.
Her face pales and her eyes stray from his face. “My lord, I am not sure—.”
“Do not lie to me,” Sesshomaru growls.
The attendant’s eyes go wide, then her face falls. Bowing her head, the girl mutters, “She’s in the kitchens, my lord.”
He storms out of his chambers, heading directly for the rear of the palace. Sesshomaru seeks her, not by the smell of vanilla but by the absence of it.
When he reaches the kitchen, she is alone with her back to him as she labors over a boiling pot of some concoction. He could care less about what the pot contains. The only thing Sesshomaru desires is his intended.
As he reaches for her, Sesshomaru watches the miko go rigid. “Kagome—.”
“Just give me a minute. I’m almost done,” she says, angling herself away from him.
Annoyance flares in his chest. He pulls her away from the task, forcing her to turn around. His greeting dies in his throat. A snarl replaces it.
Her left cheek is cut. The skin around the laceration is an ugly purplish-blue. There is bruising on her opposite cheek as well and marks on her neck.
His hands cup her face, gingerly shifting it into the firelight so he can inspect the damage. “Who did this?”
“It’s nothing,” she tries to tell him, pushing his hands away.
He growls and steps closer to her. “Who?”
Her gaze falls to the floor. “I’m fine. Really. It’s nothing to worry about. Besides, I think I found Tetsusaiga. We need to—.”
“Tell me,” Sesshomaru demands, placing his hands on either side of her face.
He can feel his composure slipping. His mind is racing with thoughts of her leaving the castle, venturing out alone to face Naraku. Did he not order her to remain here? Did he not tell her it was for her own safety?
All the breath leaves his lungs. He is stunned into silence. It takes him several moments to gather his thoughts.
“You stayed here?”
“You did not leave the palace?”
She shakes her head.
Sesshomaru feels his inner beast rage. She did as he asked. She followed his commands. It did not keep her from being harmed. She suffered. He was not here to protect her. He failed to keep her safe. He failed his true mate.
“Lord Sesshomaru,” she says, slipping her hand around his.
“Let me heal you.”
Her eyes shift to a shade of cerulean that he has not seen before. “What?”
“Let me heal you as I have allowed you to heal me,” he insists.
“I—. No, Lord Sesshomaru, it’s not necessary. Kaede’s herbs are fine. You should—.”
“Cease with the formalities,” he orders, catching her hands before they can bat him away again. “We are beyond them.”
Cerulean transforms into sapphire. “Alright,” she relents softly.
Sesshomaru tilts her chin up. As he lowers his face to meet hers, the sapphire color darkness like the night sky. Sesshomaru presses his lips to the opening on her cheek. She flinches, a slight hiss escaping her. He replaces his lips with his tongue, tracing the length of the cut. Kagome stiffens but he will not be deterred. Sesshomaru repeats the gesture several more times until he feels the heat of his saliva sealing the wound.
He releases her.
“Wh-what was that?”
“An efficient method for mates to care for each other and their pups,” Sesshomaru explains candidly.
She stares up at him, lips parted and eyes nearly black with desire.
“I trust my intentions toward you are now clear, Little Red?”
There is an almost imperceptible nod of her head.
“Good. Join me.” He offers her his hand.
Kagome takes it.
Sesshomaru leads her through the palace, ignoring the curious glances and whispered assumptions of his staff as they pass. He will make an official announcement later. For now, he has a score to settle. It will serve as a lesson for all of them that attacking his mate is the same as attacking him. The crime is severe, as is the punishment.
He halts outside the head of the house’s chamber. “Kagura.”
There is the sound of rushed movement from inside. The door cracks and her voice precedes her. “Yes, my lord. I just heard of your return and—.” The demoness stops in her tracks at the sight of him with Kagome at his side.
“On whose authority did you strike her?” Sesshomaru inquires.
Kagura’s crimson eyes fill with dread. If Kagome had not given him a name, he would know by the guilt coming off the demoness. Her scent is polluted with deception.
“My lord, everything I have ever done has been to protect you and your great house,” she tries appealing to him.
“Is that why you report on my activities to your master? Or do you lie to Naraku as well?” Sesshomaru challenges.
Kagura trembles. She does not know that he unearthed her secret long ago.
Sesshomaru withdraws Bakusaiga. “You have disgraced this house, willfully deceived me, and dishonored my requests. May the Kami’s have mercy on you, because I will show none.”
“Wait! I can help you!” the demoness shrieks, holding her hands up over her face.
He does not hesitate, thinking her pleas are merely an attempt to salvage a few final minutes of life but Kagome steps between them.
“What can you do for us?”
Kagura’s gaze flickers between the miko and Sesshomaru.
“Speak quickly,” he advises.
“I— I know where the Steel-Cleaving Fang is,” she announces.
“In Edo?” Kagome guesses.
“Yes,” Kagura confirms, “but it’s a trap. Naraku can’t retrieve the blade because Kikyo placed a protective spell around it. No demon can touch the sword. It can only be retrieved by a priestess. Naraku sent a child into the well for it, thinking her status as a mortal would be enough. It wasn’t.”
Sesshomaru watches Kagome’s expression change. “A child? Was it a girl? Where is she?”
“I don’t know where he took her afterward,” Kagura says, shaking her head.
His intended’s chin quivers as her eyes shimmer with unshed tears. She backs away from Kagura.
“You will determine the girl’s whereabouts and report back to us or you will die by my hand now,” Sesshomaru tells her.
Kagura glances at Kagome, hoping the miko will defend her once more but she remains silent.
At the sound of Sesshomaru’s voice, Kagura bows and departs. It does not escape his notice that when she takes flight, she uses a feather. Now he knows where the wind attacks came from.
He waits until they are alone to ask her the question that has been plaguing him since he saw the state of her face. “You allowed Kagura to hurt you even though you knew she was the enemy. Why?”
“I knew she was working for Naraku but I couldn't be sure if she knew who I was until the other night. I didn’t want to act prematurely. We know she helped him escape but she still returned here. Why? My guess is that she was watching us for a weakness, something to tell her master to give him an advantage. I allowed her to think she caught me off-guard, the same way I let him catch me. I want them to think I’m weak because when we face Naraku again, it will be the last time,” Kagome reveals.
“You put yourself in danger,” Sesshomaru points out.
“I didn’t want to compromise my position here. She's Naraku's ally. We both needed to see what she was capable of. Now we know,” she retorts. “Besides, you said so yourself, keeping your enemies close has its advantages. I merely followed your advice.”
Despite his concern for her wellbeing, he smirks. She certainly knows the value of patience.
“Gather your things. You will not be staying in this wing any longer,” Sesshomaru tells her.
He follows Kagome into a small room. There are no personal effects in the tiny space, just the standard kimono all the servant girls wear, a basic bedroll, and an empty teacup.
Or so he thinks.
Kagome sits by the bunched up bedding and pulls out a doll. The child’s toy is dressed in ragged-looking clothes and its painted face is chipped in numerous places.
“This is Rin’s,” Kagome says quietly. “It’s the only thing I managed to save from the village. She slept with it every night before…” she trails off, voice wavering. “It still smells like her.”
Sesshomaru kneels beside her. “Perhaps that is what we need.” He holds out his hand. Kagome stares at his open palm, then at the doll before the realization dawns upon her. Carefully, she places the toy in his hand.
He inhales deeply, committing the smell of wildflowers, dirt, and berries to memory. Her scent is fresh and pure, much like her older sister’s scent is. Sesshomaru can smell Kagome’s essence on the doll, lingering from the nights the two have been parted. There is also the burn of salt from the tears she has shed.
“Give me a few days,” Sesshomaru tells her.
“What about Kagura?” Kagome asks.
“She cannot be trusted. When I leave, construct a barrier around the palace. Do not allow anyone to pass through.”
Her brow furrows. “Won’t anyone be upset or at the very least suspicious?”
“They will not speak against the Lady of the West,” Sesshomaru replies.
He watches color bloom across her cheeks. Her eyes drop to the floor. “Oh.”
Cupping her chin, Sesshomaru steals back her attention. “You look lovely when you blush, Little Red.”
She is unable to form a coherent response.
He presses a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth. “I will return in five days time. Wait for me?”
Sesshomaru escorts her to his suite of rooms, guiding her past the nursery into his bed chamber. “From now on, you stay here. These rooms are yours, as they are mine.”
“What should I do while you’re gone?” she asks as he places his hand on her lower back, leading her to the porch so she can see the courtyard.
“I will instruct the guards to spar with you. They are accustomed to spending hours each morning training with me so it should not affect their routine.”
“Are they experienced with archery?” Kagome questions.
“Yes, but I would prefer they provide you with combat techniques. Your skills with a bow are impressive. You can use that as a foundation to enhance your other abilities,” Sesshomaru informs her.
“You’re worried, aren’t you?”
“Where your safety is concerned, I am always worried,” he confesses. “Come. I must speak to the staff before I depart. I will not tolerate another incident like Kagura’s in my absence.”
Sesshomaru’s announcement to take her as his mate is met with several hushed conversations and even more worried looks. Kagome feels uncomfortable under their scrutiny. It is evident that his decision has come as a surprise to all of them— all of them except Kaede, who is the first to bow.
Her acceptance spurs the others to fall in line but Kagome is not naive. She knows it will take more than Kaede’s blessing to earn the respect of the staff. Up until now, they have only known her as a passive maid. She’s been under the Taisho’s employ for a month. It’s hardly enough time to make friends, not that she has been trying.
Her sole focus has been on finding Rin, locating Tetusaiga, and ending Naraku. She never imagined creating a life here. She didn’t plan on falling for Sesshomaru.
She wonders if they knew she was the Crimson Cloak if it would endear her to them or cause them to doubt her motivations for being with their lord. Kagome decides this is one secret she will keep between herself and Sesshomaru, at least for now.
Once Naraku is eliminated, there will be no need for the Crimson Cloak.
When Sesshomaru leaves, she walks with him through the courtyard to the far western wall. It feels strange to see him off. Fighting alongside him was the first time Kagome experienced the joy of working with a partner. Their rhythm was effortless. It was easy to strike a balance, even though they hadn’t fought together before. She will have to ask him if that is a benefit of being true mates.
“Five days,” he reminds her.
“Five days,” she echoes.
Kagome doesn’t know where her boldness comes from but suddenly, she is surging up on her tiptoes to plant a kiss between the magenta stripes on his cheek.
She lowers herself to her normal height, wondering if she was too brazen.
As if to answer her, he snakes an arm around her waist and hoists her up so that her feet barely skim over the tops of his boots. Kagome braces herself on his shoulders, holding herself away from his armor. His lips descend upon hers, soft at first as they seek approval then more demanding as she opens for him.
It is like fire in her veins. Kagome feels heat erupt in her center and explode through her body. The breeze feels cold on her neck. Her skin prickles with the contrasting sensation. Her fingers curl in the fabric of his kimono as she tries to ground herself from the heady feeling of his kiss.
Just as quickly as it begins, it ends. Sesshomaru gently sets her down, swiping the pad of this thumb across her lower lip.
With one final look at her, he leaps over the wall.
Kagome stands in the courtyard, staring after him longingly.
Over the next few days, she acclimates to her new role at the Western Palace. It’s a struggle to get used to people calling her ‘Lady Kagome’ and bowing. More than once, the attendants have to stop her from bowing to them in return. They remind her that it’s not appropriate for the lady of the house to bow.
She spends her mornings training with the guards. Her fingers itch to pick up her bow but Kagome respects Sesshomaru’s wishes and practices hand-to-hand techniques. She has much to learn. It’s frustrating to get knocked down multiple times. Kagome wishes she hadn’t relied so heavily on archery and asked Inuyasha for lessons. Still, she has never backed down from a challenge before and despite the soreness in her limbs, she feels accomplished. Each practice teaches her more about fighting and more about herself.
Kagome can tell that the guards will be the first to accept her as the new Lady of the West.
She visits Kaede in the afternoons. Just because she has chosen Sesshomaru, doesn’t mean she plans on forgetting her miko training. Kaede’s healing remedies are famous in the West. Kagome plans on mastering all of them. There is merit in having abilities that aren’t tied to her spiritual powers.
Kagura does not return, or if she does, she’s wise enough to stay far enough away from the barrier that Kagome doesn’t sense her.
At night, Kagome’s mind drifts to Sesshomaru. The burn of his lips on hers distracts her far more than she cares to admit. Kagome can’t find her place in his large bed. The more she shifts under the sheets, the more lonely she feels.
She is grateful when the five days come to an end.
Kagome is pacing the courtyard after her third round of sparring with the guards. She debated visiting the bathhouse to freshen up but she doesn’t want to miss their arrival.
It will be them, not just him, she tells herself.
She trusts Sesshomaru. He wouldn’t promise to return Rin to her if he didn’t mean to follow through.
Just as Kagome pivots to make her twentieth pass across the yard, she feels him. She turns to face the wall and lowers the barrier.
Sesshomaru flies over the wall and lands several meters from her. In his arms is her sister.
At first, Kagome can’t move. She’s waited for this moment so long that it feels surreal. Part of her worries that this is all an elaborate dream and in a second she’ll wake up on her old bed roll in the servant’s wing, still laboring under Kagura’s orders.
Then Rin screams her name. “Kagome!”
“Rin!” Kagome envelops her younger sister in a tight hug, barely able to breathe from the sobs wracking her body.
Her sister clings to her, shoving her face into Kagome’s shoulder as she cries. She can feel her kimono becoming damp from the tears but Kagome doesn’t care. A soiled kimono is a small price to pay to be able to hold her sister again. She never thought she would. After hearing what Kagura said, Kagome feared the worst.
“I missed you,” Rin wails, squeezing her.
“I missed you too,” Kagome confesses. She leans back just enough to see her sister’s large brown eyes gazing up at her. “Are you injured?” Kagome asks, brushing Rin’s hair out of her face.
Rin shakes her head. “Lord Sesshomaru saved me.”
Kagome glances up at the demon lord. He is standing in the same spot, several paces away, silently observing them.
“Naraku didn’t hurt you, did he?” Kagome questions, needing to be sure.
“No. He scared me though. He made me crawl into that creepy old well,” Rin admits.
Kagome’s eyes go wide. “The Bone Eater’s Well?”
“Yeah, that one.” Rin shivers. “He said Inuyasha dropped his sword down there but I couldn’t pull it free. I guess I wasn’t strong enough.”
Kagome turns to Sesshomaru. He comes to stand beside her. He doesn’t appear startled by this development. They knew Tetsusaiga was in Edo, they just hadn’t known its exact location. Kagome wonders if Sesshomaru understands how dangerous the sword’s resting place is. They need to talk. Alone.
“Come on,” she straightens up, taking hold of Rin’s hand. “Let’s get you out of those dirty clothes and into a bath.”
Rin perks up, the way only a child can. They are so resilient. “Is there a stream nearby?”
“No, but there’s a private bathhouse we can use.”
“Really? We don’t have to share with the entire village?” Rin chirps excitedly.
“You need not share with anyone. Everything here is at your disposal,” Sesshomaru confirms, falling into step with them as they head inside.
Rin’s eyes go wide as she takes in the Western Palace. “Wow,” she breathes.
“And you’ll never guess who is in the kitchen,” Kagome adds with a smile.
“Oh! Can we go and visit her?”
“Sure,” she relents.
“I want to tell her all about how Lord Sesshomaru came to rescue me. He’s amazing,” Rin continues.
“Yeah,” Kagome agrees, beaming up at the demon lord, “he is.”
“Rin’s finally asleep,” his intended says, a smile of pure adoration on her face as she closes the nursery doors.
“Kaede was pleased to see her,” he remarks.
Kagome comes to stand before him. “Thank you for finding my sister. I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
Sesshomaru tucks an errant lock of hair behind her ear. “I will do anything for you,” he vows.
She sandwiches his hand between one of her own and her face, closing her eyes as she feels the smoothness of his bare skin against her. “I missed you.”
“And I you,” Sesshomaru confesses. He leans down until his forehead rests against hers. Kagome wraps her arms around his shoulders, keeping him close. That’s when he smells her distress. “What troubles you?”
“The well,” she answers. “Kikyo wouldn’t have bound the sword to that place unless it was for a specific purpose. I spoke to Kaede about it. The well isn’t just a resting place for deceased demons, it’s a portal.”
“No one knows. Those who have passed through it have never been seen from again,” Kagome informs him.
He straightens up, dropping his hands to her waist. “You are not to go near it,” Sesshomaru states firmly.
“We may not have a choice.”
He hates her answers nearly as much as he admires her. Someday soon, Sesshomaru knows he will grow to love her.
The emotion, so foreign to an individual like him, has become a constant thought at the back of his mind. He has never considered caring for another so deeply. Such an attachment is a weakness, one that his enemies will seek to use against him.
Let them try, he thinks.
His mate is not some fragile court demoness who knows what rouge to apply but cannot name the various types of blades. Kagome is a warrior. She would purify any threat that came within a meter of anyone she cared for. She will not be manipulated into serving an opponent. Kagome would sooner die.
Her loyalty is as iron-clad as his vow to her. He will do anything she asks of him. She is his mate and no other comes before her.
“Where did you find Rin?” Kagome asks.
“Naraku abandoned her in a village to the east of Edo. When I located her, the wolf tribe was descending upon the place.”
His eyes narrow at the wolf prince’s name. “You know him?”
“He asked me to be his mate a few times,” Kagome admits.
“I told him no,” she adds, crossing her arms over her chest. “So don’t even think about leaving me alone again so you can go all alpha or whatever it is dog demons do.”
Her word choice strikes him. Sesshomaru feels his anger lessen. “I will not leave you again, Little Red,” he says as he embraces her.
“Good, because I can’t sleep in that big bed all by myself,” she snaps petulantly.
Sesshomaru can think of many reasons why sleeping is the last thing he wants to do with her in their bed. However, the nursery is occupied this evening and he does not intend to take his mate quietly or quickly. He will savor every minute with her, every gasp, every cry.
He has waited for her this long. He can be patient a little while longer.
“Come, Little Red. We both are in need of rest tonight,” Sesshomaru coaxes her into their bed chamber.
Regardless of what he tells Kagome, Sesshomaru knows he will find no sleep this evening.
Not with her sweet scent clouding his mind.
One more chapter to go! Are you ready?
They spend the next several days determining a strategy.
Returning to Edo is the only logical next step. While Naraku can’t retrieve Tetsusaiga, they don’t doubt his ability to track down someone who can. Tsubaki, a dark priestess, has always rivaled Kikyo. Kagome wonders if Tsubaki would turn to Naraku to land one final blow against her cousin.
But Tsubaki isn’t their only concern.
Kagura’s absence confirms that she has either sided with Naraku or been eliminated. Neither option works in their favor.
Naraku is familiar with Sesshomaru’s fighting style. He is aware of Kagome’s spiritual powers. They know he will be prepared for them to fight together. His insects may be dead but he has had time to find other pawns he can use as a diversion.
The more they discuss their plan, the more Kagome is convinced they need the power of Tetsusaiga to defeat Naraku. Forged from Touga Taisho’s fang, the legendary sword was crafted with the intent to defend human life. Kagome can only hope that the blade will protect her from the portal at the bottom of the well.
When they aren’t discussing battle tactics, Sesshomaru and Kagome are in the courtyard with Rin. Her sister is flourishing at the Western Palace. Rin has befriended every attendant, demon or mortal, and can often be found studying with Kaede in the kitchen. Kagome is glad to see her acclimating to their new home.
Sesshomaru seems quite content with the child as well. He spoils her far too much, permitting her to have her fill of sweets at mealtimes and purchasing a ridiculous number of finely-sewn kimonos. He even gifts Rin with a suite of rooms. Kagome starts to protest against this latest gesture when he points out that it is on the other side of the castle, situated by the kitchens so Rin is closer to Kaede. It also means that she is farther away from them.
“You indulge her too much,” Kagome argues that night as she settles into bed beside him.
“Some would claim I indulge you just as much, if not more. Yet, I do not hear you complaining, Little Red,” Sesshomaru retorts with a smirk.
Kagome makes a grab for her pillow. This turns out to be a mistake. Since Sesshomaru’s return, he has taken to sparring with her. He knows her style and can read her intentions. His reflexes are lightning-fast. Before Kagome can even register what’s happening, he has her flipped onto her back and is hovering over her. She stares up at him, partially stunned but mostly aroused.
She sees the instant he notices. Kagome hasn’t masked her powers or her scent since Sesshomaru announced his decision to take her as his mate. His nostrils flare and his pupils dilate. He looks feral.
They talked about waiting, how it would be easier on both of them if they were mated after defeating Naraku.
All reasonable thought vanishes the moment Sesshomaru’s lips meet hers.
The only thing Kagome can comprehend is the weight of him, the feel of his muscles rippling beneath his kimono, and the heat of his skin as he touches her. She doesn’t want to wait. Her body is burning from the inside out. She writhes beneath him, seeking friction, yearning to feel him everywhere.
Kagome reaches up and runs her fingers over the set of magenta stripes on his cheeks. Sesshomaru leans into her caress, kissing each of her palms.
Their clothes end up a shredded mass of fabric on the floor.
When Kagome traces the matching pair of magenta stripes on his hips, his eyes close and he lets out a guttural moan.
Coming together is like a clash of wills. They both vie for control. There is biting, growling, grabbing, keening, and cries of pleasure. It’s pure bliss. It’s complete torture.
Kagome feels herself falling apart. Her body shakes with the desire for more even as her limbs scream from exhaustion.
Then a crescendo, greater and more forceful than anything she’s ever felt before washes over her like a tidal wave. As it sweeps her up, Kagome clings to Sesshomaru, the one stable thing in this chaotic storm of sensations.
His teeth sink into the juncture of her neck and shoulder. The pain is as intense as her pleasure. Her vision whites out and she goes limp.
The last thing Kagome is aware of, as she falls unconscious, is Sesshomaru pulling her to him as he arranges a blanket over them.
“Sleep well, mate.”
Sesshomaru wakes to a string of tender kisses being left along the curve of his neck. When his mate reaches his earlobe, she catches the soft flesh between her teeth. He growls and grabs her around the waist to pin her beneath him.
“Morning,” Kagome greets him with a satisfied smile.
He lowers his face, inspecting the mark he gave her before latching onto the spot. Sesshomaru gently bites the tender flesh before soothing it with his tongue. His mate whines, squirming in his hold. Sesshomaru does not relent. If she wishes to tease him, he will show her that there are consequences.
Mating marks are especially sensitive after the bond is formed. The erogenous spot remains responsive to their mate’s touch throughout their lifetime together. Sesshomaru does not know if Kagome is aware of this aftereffect but he intends to teach her.
He slides one hand down along her side until he reaches the curve of her waist. Sesshomaru hooks his hand under her thigh, drawing it up and over his hip. His mate arches into his touch. Their bodies move in unison, a primal dance of push and pull.
Sesshomaru is careful not to break the skin a second time. Though it would not affect the mating bond, he knows it will be painful. Kagome’s makeup is far more delicate than a demon’s. The mark is situated over her clavicle. Piercing the flesh so close to her bones could result in permanent damage. He would rather die than risk his mate’s health.
Her hands claw at his back. Sesshomaru barely feels it over the mounting pleasure burning in his core. He rocks into her, delighting in every gasp and moan. Kagome’s hair is fanned out along the pillows. The halo of obsidian frames her milky skin and accentuates the blue of her eyes. She is a vision, laid bare before him— a goddess he intends to worship until his dying day.
An outpouring of emotion escapes him at that thought. It is vibrant, strong, and pure— purer than anything Sesshomaru has ever felt before. It reminds him of his mate’s scent.
That is the moment he realizes he loves her.
Providing for Kagome is indisputable. Protecting her is undeniable. These are the objectives of a good mate. Sesshomaru suspected he would eventually grow to love her. It did not expect it to happen so rapidly. The sensation crept up on him, incrementally advancing over time until, suddenly, it was there. The realization overwhelms him, a layer of conscious thought even as he careens over the edge into his climax.
He rolls onto his side, gathering his mate in his arms to keep her close. She is covered in a fine sheen of sweat and her skin is flushed. Sesshomaru cannot resist stealing another kiss.
“Good morning,” he finally greets her.
Her only response is a blissful sigh as she snuggles close to him.
Sesshomaru tucks her under his chin with renewed purpose.
No one will separate her from him— not the court, not Kagura, and not Naraku.
The next time he meets the spider hanyou, Sesshomaru will kill him.
Returning to Edo is bittersweet. There is familiarity in the past, a kind of comfort that comes from going back to the start. The forest looks the same as it always has. The river flows just as peacefully as she remembers. Nature remains constant while everything around it changes.
Kagome accepts that she has changed too.
With the comfort of the familiar comes pain. The remnants of the demolished town are a stark reminder of what she has lost. It is the catalyst that sparked Kagome to take action. After what Naraku did, donning Inuyasha’s robe and becoming the Crimson Cloak wasn’t a choice. It was destiny.
As she gazes at the decimated village, Kagome feels the same determined air surrounding her.
Sesshomaru stands beside her, silent while she processes the many emotions the sight forces her to confront. When she is ready to move forward, Kagome takes his hand.
He is wearing the necklace she made for him. It is a similar construction to the beads his brother wore, though these are crimson, like her robe. White lettering is painted along the curve of each sphere. She imbued the piece with a protection spell. When Kagome gave the necklace to Sesshomaru, she told him that it was her way of marking him.
“I bear your mark, as is customary for demon mates,” Kagome had told him. “Humans have a tradition of exchanging rings but I believe this will be more meaningful.”
Sesshomaru accepted her gift without question. Together, they placed Inuyasha’s necklace on the Taisho family altar. They may not have a portrait of the late hanyou but they will still honor him. Today, they fight for Inuyasha, Kikyo, and everyone else Naraku has affected.
As they approach the Bone Eater’s Well, the clearing pulses with malevolent energy. It is another thing that has changed. This is no longer the quiet place where Kagome practiced her archery. It is a trap.
Kagome can feel Naraku before she sees him. The spider appears out of the shadows, darkening the skies with each step he takes toward her.
“The Crimson Cloak and her pet dog,” he sneers. “How quaint.”
“You can come out too, Kagura,” Kagome prompts the wind sorceress.
There is a blast of chilly air from the north as the clouds shift. Kagome turns into Sesshomaru, holding up her hood to shield her face as Kagura slips out of the fog.
“You’re rather shrewd for a human,” she remarks, flapping her fan as she stands by her master.
“Smart enough to see through you,” Kagome retorts.
“But not wise enough to stay away,” Kagura taunts.
She flicks her wrist and blades of wind cut across the clearing. Sesshomaru blocks the attack with Tenseiga. The sword’s healing powers deflect Kagura’s abilities, sending the wind blades ricocheting around the forest. Branches drop to the ground, leaves rustle, and a few smaller saplings are severed in half.
Kagura’s red eyes spark with anger. She closes her fan with a sharp jerk of her hand. When she reopens it, the ribs make a pronounced popping sound from the force of her motion.
Kagome steps in front of Sesshomaru. She sends an arrow through the wind tunnel that Kagura fires at them. Before the demoness can close it, the point pierces the center of Kagura’s fan.
There is a burst of pink light as the weapon is purified. It disintegrates in Kagura’s hand, burning the tips of her fingers. She spits a curse at Kagome, who returns the outburst with a smug smile. The incineration doesn’t stop at the tips of Kagura’s fingers. It continues until the wind sorceress fades away just like her fan.
“Enough of this,” Naraku murmurs.
He stalks forward. Placing both of his hands on the well, he stares down into its dark depths. “The souls of those who met their end by your hand and the hands of your ancestors will serve me.”
Kagome releases another arrow but it hits the wood with a thud.
Naraku disappears into the well.
Kagome races toward the opening and hurtles over the edge.
She is aware of Sesshomaru’s hand reaching out to stop her. His claws brush through her hair as she descends into shadow.
Kagome lands in a pile of bones at the bottom. Gross, she thinks, glancing around. She can’t see anything but she can feel the decaying bodies beneath her feet. They squish and crunch. The smell is nauseating. She has to cover her mouth to keep from gagging.
“Rise,” Naraku’s sinister command comes from somewhere to her right.
The ground quakes. Kagome throws her hands out to keep her balance. Her bow swings precariously on her shoulder and she grabs at her quiver to hold it steady.
What he means to do should be impossible. Kodoku is a form of dark sorcery, a form of regeneration but Kagome only knows of it being used on living organisms. She has never heard of an instance where demons were resurrected to form a new body.
Vainly, she grasps for her weapon. Kagome struggles to set up her arrow but muscle memory serves her well. She nocks the arrow and lets it fly in the direction of Naraku’s voice.
He chuckles. “Are you here to see greatness unfold, Kagome?”
She doesn’t answer him. She’s too busy readying another arrow.
“Where is your lap dog?” he questions mockingly. “Afraid of the dark?”
Instead of taking the bait, Kagome fires her weapon.
This one grazes Naraku. She hears him hiss in both pain and surprise before he continues chanting ‘rise’ over and over again. The words are rushed. He is hurrying to complete the ritual.
The shifting earth sends Kagome to her knees. She grunts as her palms break her fall. Hastily, she steadies herself and fires an arrow into the ground.
In the purifying light of her strike, she sees the bones and flesh begin to sew themselves together. The decaying bits are forming one massive whole— a new vessel to house Naraku.
She has to stop him.
The arrows are only slowing him down. They aren’t enough to prevent him from completing the spell. She needs the Steel-Cleaving Fang.
Kagome shoots arrow after arrow into the bulging mass, hindering the kodoku while she searches for Inuyasha’s blade. Rin told her it was lodged in the corner of the well but Kagome has yet to see it.
As she fires her final arrow, the pale pink light glints off metal.
She darts across the rolling dirt to grab the hilt.
The instant her hand touches the sword, the air changes. It’s as if all the oxygen is being sucked out of the well.
Kagome grips the blade tight as a vortex opens in front of her. The portal sucks bones, flesh, and earth into it. Everything that isn’t fixed down is swallowed up by the black hole, including her sandals. They fly off her feet and disappear past the mouth of the vortex.
She glances up to see Sesshomaru climbing down. His claws pierce the sides of the well, keeping him grounded against the howling whirlwind.
“Sesshomaru, go back!”
His determined gaze tells her that he won’t listen. If Kagome wants to keep him safe, she has to act quickly.
Digging her bare feet into the dirt, she pulls Tetsusaiga free from the earth. The blade sings in her hand, thrumming with the power to annihilate demons and mortals alike. Kagome knows what it's capable of— has seen Inuyasha use the weapon in a fight — but knowing and doing are two separate things.
She doesn’t think she has the strength to hoist the blade overhead the way she’s seen Inuyasha do when wielding it. Kagome can barely manage to draw it waist-high. She decides that it will have to do. Mustering all her energy, she heaves the sword back and swings it at Naraku.
The hanyou’s smirk vanishes as the blade cuts through him— the real him. Instantly, the kodoku is terminated. The remaining body parts are sucked into the void, along with a stunned Naraku. One pale hand reaches out for Kagome as he falls backward and vanishes into the vortex.
“Kagome!” Sesshomaru yells.
“I don’t know how to close it,” she shouts back.
With one hand, he unsheathes Tenseiga and pushes off the well wall. Like his brother, he raises the sword overhead and brings it down over the portal. The wailing wind dies as the vortex closes.
Sunlight breaks through the treetops as Naraku’s dark haze dissipates.
“It’s done,” Sesshomaru says.
“It’s over,” Kagome agrees. Then, with a smile to her mate, she holds out her hand. “Let’s go home.”
Tales of the Taisho heir begin the day their son is born. Rin helps Kaede with the delivery. They are the only people Sesshomaru allows in the room with his mate. He does not permit anyone else entry until he has confirmed both Kagome and his pup are well.
Kazuhiko is the first hanyou to be granted the title Lord of the West. While he has his father’s striking golden eyes and crescent marking, he is equal parts his mother. Kazuhiko’s hair is the same color as a starless night and his cheeks are bare of the magenta stripes that adorn the rest of his family’s faces.
Sesshomaru plans to train him to hold a sword as soon as the pup possesses the strength to hold the weapon. Both Tenseiga and Tetsusaiga are his birthright. The legendary blades are part of his heritage, along with the fire rat robe his mother has hanging in the nursery. These tokens of the past tell a story, one that history will no doubt forget over time. The details will be lost and the message misconstrued. It is of no concern to him how others chose to remember them.
To him, how he and his mate came together will always be the tale of Little Red and the Silver Beast.
Thanks for reading. Happy Halloween!
Look out for my Inuvember fics next month