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Han-Kichi: An Omijuki Epilogue by ironlotus

Act One

AN: Aaaand we’re back! Belated as always because real life is a thing and being an adult is hard. But we’re back!

Just a heads up, duders. These chapters are long. I tried to make the story rich enough, and conversely pared down sufficiently so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself by making the story too complex, but, uh…

That said, I can’t say that I’ll be posting frequently but I do hope to be posting regularly. There will only be three of these suckers, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, but as they’re long and I’m trying to be realistic about my production schedule, I’m anticipating MONTHLY updates. I know that each chapter is divided into parts, and theoretically I could update with just one part each time, but, all of these parts are meant to be read together, so that’s not how it’s gonna go down. I hope you understand!

Anyway, enough from me! I’m happy to be posting again! Let me know what you think – I’ve missed you guys!

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Han-Kichi : An Omikuji Epilogue

Act One

In Five Parts

 

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I

Prologue

             

              May this be the year that brings happiness like no other!

              It was the same wish every time. After the year she had just had – her Great Curse – she really felt the need for a complete change in her luck. And this Omikuji fortune would deliver it.  Today, New Year’s Day, her new beginning was in her very hand.

              Sesshoumaru walked up to her and looked at her curiously, maybe noticing the suddenly anxious expression on her face. His eyes went to her fingers, as though anticipating the big reveal. But Kagome wasn’t quite ready to unfold the paper that would determine her fate. With a fortifying breath, and a reminder that ‘Whether in good or bad fortune, you should tenaciously do your best; You can carve out your own fortune’, as the posted placard to her left said, she braced herself.

              “Okay,” she uttered aloud, finally ready. Slowly – ever so slowly – she opened the parchment. She looked past the paper and into the air ahead of her until the fortune was completely unfolded. “Okay,” she said again, before letting out a long breath, which puffed into the cold winter air like a cloud of steam. For the briefest moment, she had the urge to crumple her fortune up, shove it into her pocket and never look at it again.

              But Sesshoumaru was having none of that. “What does it say?” His resonant voice beside her shattered her concentration.

              Heartened a little by his presence beside her, Kagome turned her gaze up to his perfect face. He was excruciatingly handsome, and his expression of unsatisfied curiosity was both charming and new. He moved closer to peer over her shoulder, eyes flicking around over the sheet in her hands. With a deep breath in, she reassured herself one last time. Then she too looked down.

              And gasped.

              But her sudden delight vanished when, vision refocusing, Kagome looked at both of the characters at the top, and not just the one that first caught her eye.

              Not just “吉” – Luck – which would have merited the gasp of excitement, but “半吉” – Half-blessing. Whatever remained of her good mood fizzled.

              After struggling through twelve months with the cloud of Dai-Kyou, Great Curse, over her head, she was barely gripping onto her tenuous hold on reality. She had been hoping for something that turned things around from the way they had been the year before; something definite. Smooth sailing – happiness like no other – is it really so much to wish for?

              But apparently it must be. Those two characters in bold print were a splash of lukewarm water that spoiled her mood. “Han-Kichi”. Half-blessing. Not all bad, but just uninspiring enough to make her throat tighten in anxiety.

              She skipped over the poem at the top to read through the different fortunes specified below. It was a mix of good and bad, as one would expect from a ‘half-blessing’. Progress in studies, which ominously included learning “that which you did not seek to know”. No marriage proposal, again, even though this time it was less inconceivable a prospect than it had been at the start of the previous year, considering the man beside her.

              What a mess of a fortune.  

              Frustrated, she turned her eyes back up to the poem at the top. Reading last year’s poem through again at the end of the year, just a few minutes ago, had kind of pulled everything together into a tidy lesson about life. Maybe reading it more carefully at the outset would help her to make sense of this half-boiled fortune in her hands.

              But no. Despite multiple re-readings, the pretty image of cherry blossoms falling and being swept up on the breeze gave her no further insight to the flip-flopping fortune written below it [1].

              Her hands trembled in the cold, and she folded the strip of paper up slowly, brow furrowed in thought.

              “What will you do with it?” he asked. “Will you tie up it as you did the previous?”

              Kagome shrugged, looking at the man whom she would challenge for love, and fail— who would not propose to her. She knew they were just silly words; that she didn't need to live her life by this little sheet of paper. But last year's fortune had been frighteningly accurate, and though she had come out of it for the better, having tenaciously done her best, she had a sinking feeling that she was in for a similar struggle this coming year.

              With a deep sigh, she reached her hand out for his and deposited the paper, now tidily folded once more, into his palm. “You decide,” she said, and his eyes widened minutely in surprise. “It was nice to read back on it at the end of the year,” she mused. “But I don't know that I want to have it on my mind for the next twelve months.”

              “You will not wonder?” His eyebrow quirked upward in disbelief.

              “I mean, I will. But only for a while. Life is too short for a long memory.”

              His lips squeezed together in a funny way, as though what she said unsettled him. “I will meet you by the steps,” he said finally, closing his fingers around the fortune. She nodded and turned away, the burden of deciding her fate now tidily passed off to his eminently capable hands.

.

半吉 

Han-Kichi : Half-Blessing

 

Not at all like snow

so ready to melt away—

these cherry blossoms,

fallen but then lifted again

by storm winds in the garden.

 

恋愛 Love: Your challenge will meet with failure.

病気 Illness: Prepare for a long illness.

学問 Studies: You will learn even what you did not desire to know.

争事 Competition: You will be your biggest competition.

願事  Your Wish: Your wish will be realized.

商い Business: Do not mix business and pleasure.

縁談 Marriage Proposal: It will not come.

待人 An Expected Visitor: They will arrive when you need them.

旅立ち Travel: Travel will prove fruitful.

失せ物  A Thing You Have Lost: You will find it if you search for it.

 

 

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II

商い Business: Do not mix business and pleasure.

              There were less than twenty steps between Ueda-sensei’s door and Sesshoumaru’s. Since this favored professor-advisor had come in to replace Naraku after he passed away, Kagome had made the trek between the two offices what felt like at least fifty-thousand times, free from any burden that could take the bounce from her step. This time, though, she was filled with a mild sense of trepidation.

              Not five minutes ago, as she had passed Ueda-sensei’s door, he called her into his office. "Higurashi-kun!" His unkempt black hair and bespectacled face made him look almost like a caricature as he popped his head out through the open doorway. Kagome pivoted in her step and made her way to the delightful man she had so come to respect in the span of a few short weeks.

              "Can I do something for you, Ueda-sensei?"

              He waved dismissively but ushered her into his office. “I have a few notes for the preliminary outline for your dissertation." He moved to his desk, making a great show of shuffling several messily stacked piles of papers, scattered here and there on his desktop, before finally finding the one he was searching for. "Ah, here it is." He handed it over to her, and Kagome was surprised to see the alarming amount of red marks on the top sheet.

              He must have noted her dissatisfaction, because he again waved her off. "Don't worry about that. It’s a first draft. There's always a million things to improve on for the first draft. I know it’s just an outline, but the outline is the spine that holds your work together; have an open mind as you read through, and make notes of some of those comments moving forward, so we can make this the best work it can be." He paused and gave her his equivalent of a wizened grin. "Trust me. There will be many, many revisions, and many, many more red marks in your future. Such is the life of an academic."

              His withering sigh made Kagome laugh and dissipated her concerns. She tucked the papers into a dark blue folder, and then inside the confines of her backpack.

              "Do you have any pressing appointments this afternoon?"

              "I was going to stop by Aotsuki-sensei's office for a minute. Was there something else?" she replied, zipping her worn yellow backpack shut.

              His lips thinned but he shook his head. "I was heading to the library and thought I might introduce you to one of one of my favorite resources there – have you met the librarian, Miss Sachiko? – but it’s nothing that can’t wait. I do wonder at Aotsuki-sensei, though."

              Kagome paused in the motion of swinging her bag over her shoulder, attention caught. “How do you mean?”

              He smiled at her again before waving a hand as he so often did, this time to have her return to her seat.

              "I am not at all opposed to your cultivating a mentorship with Aotsuki-sensei, you know, Higurashi-kun. But I would like you to consider that the world of academia is quite small, and there is already a little cloud over your head, from what I understand."

              Kagome blinked in surprise. "A cloud?"

              "Ah—” he looked so profoundly uncomfortable, and at the same time a little annoyed, as though he regretted saying anything at all, but he forged ahead as delicately as he could probably manage. “Myouga-sensei and I had a lengthy conversation sometime after I began working here, and he filled me in on the unpleasantness that you experienced at the hands of your previous advisor – I want you to know I’m aware of and sensitive to what you went through because of him. But due to his poor character and conduct, it seems that he set out to harm you not only directly, but through more far-reaching means as well. You may have heard he had a hand in your lack of success in obtaining an internship this past summer…?"

              He seemed not to want to get into any of the specifics, and Kagome could hardly fault him for that. His usually pleasant face was twisted with a bit of discomfort and distaste. Kagome had gotten to know him well enough at this point to know that his distaste was not directed at her but at the man that had tortured her the year prior.

              "I had heard that there was some negative feedback provided to the prospective employers..." she trailed off. Even if she didn’t point her finger or say his name, they both knew what she meant.

              "Yes, exactly. Myouga-sensei of course provided ringing approvals for you, as your work deserved, however, there seem to have been other forces at work – I hesitate to say 'slandering' as it’s too overt – but at least, not f-fully endorsing your academic honesty, as it were." He was starting to stutter, and his eyes were riveted to a point on the wall approximately a foot to her left. "This, combined with a certain rumor regarding your relationship with the senior staff... you can see where I am going with this."

              "Of course," her voice was light, but her stomach felt full of lead.

              "It would just be best if you were to seek Aotsuki-sensei’s counsel and mentorship through easily verifiable means – email – which can be demonstrated should the question ever arise, and avoid spending time in his office as much as possible, especially behind closed doors.”

              Kagome nodded her understanding. "I will do my best to follow your advice," she replied meekly.

              "It pains me to have to say any of it," he shook his ahead again, the expression of distaste doubling. "But as I said. Academics are gossips, and it would not do to damage your good name, when you have so much potential. I wonder about Aotsuki-sensei, not taking the initiative in steering your interactions down that path, even knowing all of this."

              Kagome thought to herself that at one point, he had tried to steer her toward a digital-only relationship, and oh, how miserable that had made her! Sesshoumaru had a high view of things, as only he could, being infinitely old and at the top of the food-chain, as it were. Little things like her academic reputation could hardly bother him.

              They exchanged a few further words on the subject of her dissertation topic and outline, the change in gears serving to cleanse the bitter taste of their previous conversation just long enough to see her out the door with a smile on her face.

              But now, halfway between Ueda-sensei’s room and Sesshoumaru’s, that brief conversation had unsettled her to the point of considering curtailing her visits to her lover-slash-mentor on campus. Her gut clenched, the reality of Naraku’s lingering influence of her life weighing heavy on her shoulders.

              Sesshoumaru was in his office – she could feel that hot current of his youki, flooding through the hallways, twining about her legs, tugging at her as though encouraging her to take the few steps to cross the remaining space between them.

              A part of her wondered how Myouga-sensei could stand such blatant, overt, and constant displays of his strength. Every other youkai she knew was discreet with their youki, restrained and controlled when they had the occasion to display it. She had never felt the full brunt of his demonic aura, granted, but the small taste of it she had when he faced down Naraku and brought him to his end had been so oppressive that she could barely breathe, barely move. Though he held back the vast majority of it the rest of the time, he seemed to see no need to inhibit the overwhelming strength of his aura the way the others did. It was always like a maelstrom around him. How could Myouga-sensei stand it?

              But then she remembered that Myouga-sensei called him Sesshoumaru-sama and had an almost unhealthy reverence – or fear? – for him; he would have no complaint to make, no matter how Sesshoumaru behaved. At least not when he was within hearing distance. Myouga-sensei could have a distinctly ingratiating side to him that she had only come to notice recently… it was almost comical. Especially considering that though Myouga-sensei was, by human standards, Sesshoumaru's boss, in the youkai world he was a tiny flea to be crushed under Sesshoumaru's foot – a peon, whose subservience was not only expected, but given without hesitation.

              Sesshoumaru’s youki tugged insistently at her ankles, and Kagome shook away her wayward thoughts. She started forward again, knowing he’d felt the hesitation in her approach. He would also have heard the entire conversation on the other side of the wall from his office. A little annoying that she had little privacy, but it was handy to not have to explain every little thing to him, since his senses were so sharp and his intuition so keen.

              But despite having heard the conversation, he greeted her at the door of his office, ushered her in, and locked it behind them with a click. Kagome stared at him, a sense of foreboding rushing through her as he shed his human trappings, human features melting away as the signs of his heritage appeared on his face. His eyes more gold, his voice pitched lower, smoother, and a marked gleam on his canines as his lips parted in a predatory smile.

              “Didn’t you hear anything he said?” Kagome asked, pulling her backpack in front of her, covering herself with it in an unconsciously defensive posture.

              He snorted. Of course he’d heard.

              “Fine—didn’t you pay attention?”

              Slowly, gracefully, he began his advance, closing in on her.

              “Sesshoumaru—” She fought a sigh as he reached out, trailing a claw-tipped finger down the side of her neck. “It may not matter to you, but I’m taking what he said seriously!” She pivoted, turning her back to him, inadvertently – and dismayingly – releasing a surge in her spiritual power as she pushed him slightly away.

              “Mixed signals,” he murmured, pressing into her back, lowering his lips to her exposed nape.

              Kagome shuddered as he kissed her, but turned laughingly back around to face him, hand planted squarely on his chest to resist him. Her eyebrows shot up in challenge. “I’m setting a boundary. Not here.”

              He made that little huffing sound as he stepped away from her. She blinked and he was wearing his human face again. In three steps he had reached for his messenger bag, slung it over his shoulder, and made his way back to the office door. “Come,” he said.

              “Where are we going?” Kagome asked, giddiness and relief filling her.

              He cocked an eyebrow at her and held the door open for her to precede him into the hallway. His place, then. Kagome took three steps for each of his two, rushing to wind her scarf around her neck and zip up her winter jacket. February was deep winter still, and the dry air crackled with cold.

              They were passing the little kombini, less than two minutes from his apartment, when Kagome’s phone beeped, and she felt a surge of happiness when she saw her cousin’s name on the notification. Sesshoumaru must have felt the rising in her spirits, for he slowed his pace to walk beside her, head tilted slightly in question. “Ichiro,” she said by way of explanation, breath puffing little clouds in the air before her. “He’s asking about a good time to call.”

              “Not tonight,” was his low, even reply. Kagome glanced up at him, trying to gauge his mood without success; his eyes were fixed forward, his expression blank, a pared down version of the haughty dispassion she saw only when he was in youkai form.

              She swallowed her discomfort as Tanaka-san, with his pleasant smile and sparklingly mischievous eyes, greeted them at the door of Sesshoumaru’s building. Sesshoumaru breezed past him without evincing any sign of having noticed his presence at all, but Kagome stopped to return his greeting. “How are you?” She asked, unwrapping her scarf.

              “Perhaps another time,” Tanaka-san murmured, eyes on Sesshoumaru’s stony expression. He turned back to Kagome and gave her a dazzling smile. “He seems in a hurry,” he added, giving her a wink.

              She waved, a little perplexed, and entered the elevator behind her host in silence.

              As it turned out, Sesshoumaru was in a hurry. No sooner had his apartment door closed behind them than his lips were on hers, fingers unzipping her jacket and ripping it from her body, steps herding her toward the bedroom.

              “Sesshoumaru,” she mumbled around his lips, appreciating his eagerness but still trying to keep things on track—this time, when she would usually be in his office, was reserved for the discussion of his father’s texts and her developing reiki.

              “Raincheck,” he grunted against her throat, recognizing her resistance for what it was. She melted against him, her concerns allayed, and she felt the vibration of his voice against her neck once more, with the ‘hn’ she had grown to know so well.

              Things moved quickly. One moment she was tripping over the threshold into his bedroom, and the next she was bare from the waist down before him, perched on the edge of his mattress. He hadn’t bothered with his clothes at all, though at some point he’d flung his coat away. Instead, his focus was entirely on her.

              In moments like this, in the shadowy darkness of his bedroom, his reflective golden eyes focused so sharply on her every moment, his body and his senses tuned in entirely to her, Kagome saw him for what he really was – a predatory species, closing in on his prey. He hadn’t turned on the heater [2] – her skin erupted in gooseflesh, and she shivered from the cold as well as from the thrill as she reached out for him.

              Sesshoumaru settled on his knees before her, tucking his face into the black curtain of her hair and burrowing his nose into her neck. The sweetness of this gesture was offset immediately by the way his fingertips trailed a scandalous heat up her thighs. His touch was fleeting, spreading her lips and tapping at her opening to assess her readiness for him, before he pulled his hand away from her to work himself out of his jeans.

              His left hand impatiently worked his flesh, already like iron in his hand, while his right found the hardened, sensitized nub of her clit and began a paradoxically slow, teasing rhythm against it. As his hips leaned in toward her, Kagome felt the chafing cold of his zipper on her inner thighs, and, since her hands were busy propping herself upright, reached her feet out and slid them down against his legs to lower his jeans out of the way.

              She had just managed this when he pressed forward, achingly slow, until just the head of his erection had disappeared between her folds. His breath was harsh and he trembled with restraint. “I thought you were in a rush?” she teased, hooking an arm around his neck and tangling her fingers into his hair.

              He grunted, gripping her hip with a sharply-clawed hand, but otherwise remained still. She let loose a soft giggle, surprised and delighted at how he was fighting to maintain control over himself this way. She breathed in deep, taking in the sweet, heady scent of his skin, and wriggled her bottom closer to him.

              His hand gripped her tightly to hold her still, but his restraint was fleeting; she wriggled again and he loosened his grasp, shifting upward so that he bore down on her a little as he pressed forward into her pliant wetness.  

              Kagome gasped, clutching him tightly to her as he settled against her, as deeply he could manage in this position. His thumb persisted in its gentle pressure against her most sensitive place, he ground his hips against hers. For a moment her breath hitched—he’d bumped her cervix and it was both uncomfortable and tingle-inducing—then she relaxed in his hold and pushed herself forward to meet his thrusts.

              Her skin was sensitized anywhere exposed to air, and the tickling brush of his hair, loose from its ponytail, against her legs sent electric sparks shooting upward. The wet sounds coming from between them, in harmony with his harsh breathing in her ear, wound her tighter and tighter around him. She was close.

              The hand on her hips moved down and grabbed her by the ass, kneading into the cheek and then pulling her into him. The arm that propped Kagome up collapsed, and the one she wound around his neck released him, as he leaned into her, pushing her into the mattress.

              She felt damp under her T-shirt, sweat beading between her breasts. Her abdomen squeezed each time she curled her hips up to meet him, her dewy skin sticking to his a little every time they touched. The silky, fine silver hairs that trailed from his belly button on down felt rough as he ground against her.

              His hands found their way under her knees and he hoisted her legs up and over his shoulders, and with the stuttering, jarring movement, Kagome lost herself. Head falling back, she saw stars. Her body, now limp, still managed to writhe around his where he was deepest within her. Sesshoumaru, trembling, continued to pump into her, his pace becoming frenetic now that she had let herself go. He didn’t bother holding out any longer than he had to—within the space of one deep, shuddering breath, he, too found his release.

              Kagome, body still humming, registered that he picked her up and settled her in bed, and then himself beside her. Comforter and body-heat cocooning her from the cold, Kagome found sleep.

              She woke much later, feeling the heavy weight of Sesshoumaru’s blanket as he uncovered himself. It was impossible that he hadn’t heard the change in her breathing and the beating of her heart as she came out of slumber, or seen the moonlight reflecting off her eyes, but he seemed not to have noticed it as he gently brushed her hair over her shoulder, where it fell onto the pillow. His eyes were on her but his gaze was pointed inward; he stood still over her for a long moment. Kagome’s breath caught in her throat.

              He turned, the silky curtain of his silver hair swishing in his wake, and padded out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

              Kagome lay in the silence for a long time, a heat behind her eyes and a tightness in her chest that she couldn’t quite explain. When she realized that her anxiety was rising, she blinked herself out of her stupor and focused on her breathing, the way her therapist had instructed: inhale, hold the breath, exhale slowly. It had taken her several weeks after Naraku’s death to start meeting with a therapist, but thank goodness she had, Kagome thought, imagining Murasaki-sensei’s calming voice guiding her through her breathing exercises.

              She closed her eyes again, but sleep eluded her.

              Minutes ticked by.

              The clicking of the door handle made Kagome’s eyes pop open. Sesshoumaru moved silently back to the bed, shifting the sheets to settle under them, sitting upright against the headboard. Kagome turned, trying to look over her shoulder at him. His eyes were unfocused, directed at the view outside the window. It was snowing again.

              Kagome’s lips parted to say his name, to ask if everything was alright.

              “Sleep,” he murmured the command, his hand gently touching the crown of her head. She sealed her lips, looking at him a moment longer, before she settled her head on the pillow once more, that familiar tightness again coiling around her heart.

 

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III

争事 Competition: You will be your biggest competition.

 

              The second Sango was out of the house, Kagome scrambled into the living room and settled herself down in the middle of the couch. Her practice place. Early in January, Sango had announced her intention to ride out their apartment lease until it ended in March, when she and Miroku would be moving in together. They already had a verbal agreement with their new landlord, whose current tenants were a pair of college seniors expecting to graduate on time. Since then, Sango had spent increasingly more time away from home, overnighting in her own room in what was now mostly Kagome’s apartment, at most once a week. So Kagome had gotten into the habit of conducting her training in the middle of the couch, in the middle of the living room, with no concern for interruption.

              Well, except for Sesshoumaru. He had an uncanny knack for interrupting her via text, almost unerringly, just right as she was getting into it.

              Tonight, she had zero worries that that would happen. He was out of town for a short business trip: a book signing tour, with ten locations across four days of travel, mostly to small, niche bookstores. He was a widely purchased and widely read author with his fair share of accolades, but there were few such fervent fans of history, and appearances at larger locations would be a waste. “At most, I expect twenty to thirty readers at each site,” he had said, when he told her about the trip a week prior, “but my publisher seems to be under the impression that these kinds of events really boost sales, even with limited attendance.”

              And while he would be busy, so would she.

              She flipped through her training manual, the one she had compiled after exhaustive reading, reorganizing and interpreting the texts Sesshoumaru had lent her, and opened it to a well-worn page near the beginning. Training sessions always began here. Quickly, she reread the highlighted sections, as she did every time, and then crossed her legs on the couch before closing her eyes.

              What used to be an exhaustingly laborious exercise spanning hours in her first days of training now came almost as easily to her as breathing. And indeed, it all began with her breath. Deep breaths in, slow breaths out, and nearly instantly she could feel the surging, electrical sensation coursing down her arms to her fingertips. With her mind’s eye focused on the soft pink glow within her, she traced it up through her arms and to her heart, where the fount of her energy was located.

              This was the first stage. It had taken her the greater part of a month to master.

              Now came the second stage.

              Kagome breathed in deeply, pushing the energy outward toward her fingertips, feeling them grow hot with concentrated reiki, then she breathed out, and pulled it back in quickly before shutting it off altogether. Her fingers went suddenly cold. Again, on a deep inhalation, she focused on the heart of her energy—her heart – and pushed the reiki out to her fingertips in a sudden burst, before retracting it and turning it off again on the exhale.

              Ten minutes of this, and she blinked her eyes slowly open. The second stage had come much quicker than the first. Figuring out where her reiki stored itself and learning to access it was a much greater challenge than growing used to opening and closing the tap. The first stage was about familiarity. The second, reliability.

              The third was control.

              There were several things she had to learn here; rate of flow, volume, and intensity. Volume was the first hurdle. Increasing volume seemed an impossibility—for now, decreasing it was her goal. She had started on this one just a few days before Sesshoumaru left.

              Kagome furrowed her brow as she turned her attention to her manual, flipping to the next page. She reread it carefully, then looked at the margin where she had doodled a little drawing of a bathroom sink. A trickle, at first. Honestly, she was having a hard time differentiating rate of flow and volume, but talking it through with Sesshoumaru had landed her on this metaphor and it had been at least a little effective so far.

              She imagined a tiny, thin stream of water pouring from a sink spout, only a few droplets at a time. It doesn’t matter how quickly they drip, she reminded herself. Just that it’s only ever a few drops at time. She breathed deeply and steadily while she focused on this image, before turning her attention inward.

              Deep breath in, push the reiki out. She tried for the trickle but it rushed forward just the same way it always did. She exhaled, trying to pull just a thread of it back in, but the sum of it rushed back to her heart as usual. She closed the tap and fluttered her eyes open.

              In this manner, she practiced. Visualization, complete concentration, breathe in and push, breathe out and pull. But despite spending an hour at it, every trial was the same as the first; no change in volume.

              She gave up for the evening. By the end of these sessions, she was so spent she could barely drag herself off the couch.

              A cup of ramen, and then bed. She was out before her head hit the pillow.

              Two days later, after classes were finished for the week and after she left her appointment with Murasaki-sensei, she returned to campus to hunker down in the library. She had a lot to do, and never enough time to do it in, what with her spiritual practice and her lover also warring for her attention. Sesshoumaru would be home tomorrow morning, and she wanted to be free to spend time with him. They had made plans for the morning, which she knew would extend into the afternoon because they always did, and again for Sunday evening.

              So she labored through reading assignments and draft revisions and synthesis essays and a take-home short quiz, and when she finally looked up at the clock, it was a quarter past two in the morning. But at least she was done, for the most part, and would have a little time on Sunday to finish what was left.

              She was coping with the work overload very well, and she was proud of herself. Murasaki-sensei had been very complimentary regarding Kagome’s progress when they met today. When Kagome had first gone to see her, it was just after school had started up again, and the additional burden of resuming her schoolwork had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. She had been in a fragile state, unable to manage her anxiety, experiencing flashbacks and night terrors, with no idea how to cope despite the strong front she presented to her friends and family. But together with Murasaki-sensei’s help, they’d turned things around with surprising efficiency.

              Privately, Kagome wondered if keying into her reiki hadn’t helped that along. She had heard and read about the healing powers of Miko, after all, and there was nothing to say she hadn’t been inadvertently turning that healing in on herself. With that last thought, she braced herself against the frost, and stepped out into the night.

              Perhaps from force of habit, her mind returned to her breathing exercises, and she timed her steps to her breath until she reached home in half the time it normally took her. Oddly reinvigorated from the cold air and her brisk pace, Kagome settled down in her usual spot on the couch, crossed her legs and stared out into the living room.

              She could feel her heart pounding in her chest from the exertion of her walk, her nose still tingled from the frigid winter breeze. She felt alive and connected to herself, and closing her eyes for sleep seemed somehow impossible right now.

              “Just for a little bit,” Kagome piped happily to herself, throwing off her coat and cozying into her usual position. She skipped her warmup and jumped right into Stage Three. A thin trickle. Remarkably, the reiki flowed from within her almost instinctually, which freed her mind to focus on narrowing the stream as it coursed down her arm.

              Kagome launched herself off the couch the second she had closed off the tap, jumping in the air with arms raised and a wild cry of delight spilling from her lips. “I did it!” She crowed, bouncing a lap around the living room before eagerly landing on the couch once more and trying again.

              What was it that Sesshoumaru said? The student practices until they get it right—The Master practices until they cannot get it wrong?

              Thirty minutes later, she had managed the narrow stream on nearly three quarters of her attempts, and she was glowing with victory.

              Kagome’s celebrations paused. She was really glowing. She looked at her reflection on the windowpane, and the hazy pink atmosphere that floated like a rolling cloud around her. Her cheeks flushed hot with pleasure, as she took a moment to absorb the heady sensation of success that filled her. She might not have mastered the trickle yet, but, overcome with elation and confidence, she resolved she’d try for the flood.

              Settling into her couch, she closed her eyes.

              Not a trickle this time, she told herself. A flood.

              A deep breath in—

              The narrowed spout of her reiki widened, and widened, and widened again, until it traversed the expanse of what her mind’s eye could see, and her spiritual energy burst forth in a massive wave.

              Kagome could feel its warm, comforting softness pour from her fingertips in torrents, filling the room from floor to ceiling in the span of that single breath.

              Now pull it back, Kagome thought, beginning her exhalation, vaguely aware of the sound of a baby crying in the distance.

              BAM!

              Someone was pounding on her front door.

              Kagome gasped, cutting off the pathway of her reiki back through her fingers to her heart, before the totality of it had been swept from the room and back within her.

              Something snapped.

              Like a punch to the gut, Kagome flew sideways off the couch, colliding forcibly with the bookshelf at the other end of the room. In that one moment, the majority of the residual reiki had dissipated, but what little bit of it remained, like little streams of lightning whipping across the floor, flew to her side and soothed the ache of her impact.

              The pounding at the door had stopped.

              Heart knocking about in her ribs, Kagome glanced at her watch as she limped over to the genkan. It was well past three in the morning. She swung the door open, breath leaving her lungs in a pant, only to be sucked back in on her gasp.

              Before her stood a middle-aged man whose hand, arm, and shoulder smouldered, black and charred and crumbling. He wheezed, looking up at her through a pained grimaced as he stumbled back against the wall.

              She recognized him – a good-looking man, who lived somewhere on one of the three flights above their apartment. “What on earth--?” The words tumbled from her lips and she reached out to him, but he held up his good hand to stave her off.

              “I know Sesshoumaru-sama said you would do no harm,” he managed, voice thready, shaking. “But we have a baby--!”

              Suddenly, she felt it. The black fog that emanated from him. Youki.

              It moved to her, and where she might expect him to call out her fear, instead she felt that wave of coercive calm. “Please,” he pleaded, through gritted teeth, anger evident in his eyes.

              Oh no, Kagome took a step back. He’s afraid of me.

              “Please, stop.” He shook his head, as though trying to gather his wits. “Don’t do this here.”

              She stayed in the hall until he had reached the bottom of the stairs below and turned the corner, before stumbling dazedly into her apartment, uncaring of the open door.

              A commotion outside took her to the window, through which she saw the man shepherding a group of four people – no; youkai, they must be youkai – one carrying a crying baby, across the street and through an alley. All that time, they glanced in fear over their shoulders, locking onto her silhouette behind the glass.

              She waited until they disappeared from sight, until she could no longer feel their presence nearby, before putting on her coat and shoes, locking her front door behind her, and running blindly to Sesshoumaru’s building, where she tripped over the doorstep into Tanaka-san’s arms, and promptly threw up all over his shoes.

-+-

IV

待人 An Expected Visitor: They will arrive when you need them.

 

              Kagome woke to the soothing sensation of a warm hand rubbing slow circles on her back. She blinked her eyes open to the familiar setting of Sesshoumaru’s bedroom. She turned her head a little and met Sesshoumaru’s concerned gaze. “You’re home,” she breathed, contentedness bringing color to her cheeks.

              “And you have gotten yourself into trouble again,” he murmured, voice gentle to soften the blow.

              She remembered suddenly, the events of the night before, and all at once went pale. The man—with a baby—! She rocketed upright, and he wrapped his arms around her to prevent her from fleeing.

              “All is well,” he cooed into her ear, still stroking her back. He chuckled then, and added, “except perhaps for Tanaka’s shoes.”

              Kagome peered up at him from where he had her squished to his chest. “… His arm? The baby?”

              “Mother and child left the building before you lost control. The arm will grow back eventually.”

              Not much consolation, but the best she could expect from him.

              She burrowed into him. “I feel awful.”

              He pulled away just enough to indicate a plastic bucket on the bed behind her. “I have procured a basin.”

              “No, I mean,” she paused and released a little mirthful giggle at his misunderstanding before sobering once more. “I mean I feel awful about what happened. I didn’t realize how out of hand things had gotten. How I was affecting those around me.”

              His hand slowed its pace and trailed to her shoulder. Gently, he put a little distance between them, so that they might see each other fully. “The fault is mine. My guidance was insufficient. You are Miko, you cannot help your nature.”

              Again, her chest felt tight. “What is that supposed to mean?” Her voice was soft, but her eyes sparkled with indignance.

              “Did I not describe the incompetent self-righteousness inherent to Miko before?”

              He had, when describing Rin to her, ages ago. But the flippant comment felt like a backhand to the face.

              “Though you are not like the rest of your kind, precisely. Rather than incompetent, you are merely clumsy. Not self-righteous but naïve…?” This explanation, no less hurtful, seemed to satisfy him, and he touched her cheek with an indulgent hand. “But you have outdone your predecessors in every other way, and will surpass them in this respect as well.” He leaned forward and nuzzled her affectionately.

              His nose against her neck tickled her, and she loosened the tension in her jaw. It’s a cultural difference, she reminded herself, realizing that this was his version of kindness, of comforting. Releasing her anger, she put her hand on top of his head and ran her fingers through his hair. She’d discuss it with Murasaki-sensei, though.

              “For the time being,” Sesshoumaru intoned, lips still tantalizingly close to her ear, “you will curtail your training. Allow me some time to discover how best to assist you.”

              She wasn’t quite content with the authoritativeness he was displaying, but she accepted it, again, for what it was: his way of protecting her. The gentle, lingering kiss he planted on her lips went a long way in placating her dissatisfaction.

             

              It turned out that the ban on her training didn’t last longer than two weeks before it was lifted.

             

              Kagome, lounging on Sesshoumaru’s couch as he showered not 10 days later, had been idling her time away browsing through news articles on her phone, when she received a call from a masked number. She considered letting the call go to voicemail, but habitual politeness won out and she answered instead.

              “Higurashi speaking,” she murmured.

              There was a moment of static, and then a woman’s soft voice filtered through the line. “Hello, yes, my name is Ikami Akane. I am trying to reach a Higurashi Kagome-san; is she available?” Soft, but crisp. Businesslike.

              “Speaking.”

               “Do you have a moment to talk, Higurashi-san?”

              Sesshoumaru had just gotten into the bathroom; she had time. She murmured appropriately.

              “As I said, I am Ikami Akane, from Ikami shrine. We’re located in a small village outside of Tsurui, in Hokkaido.” Kagome made a mental memo to google the city name later [3]. “Word has a way of travelling within our community,” she explained, “and word has reached me about you. I understand that you made a visit to Himi shrine, somewhat recently?”

              Himi Shrine [4]. Kagome shuddered, thinking of the antipathy in Himi-san’s eyes, the way that she had ignored Ichiro and maligned Yura-san and Sesshoumaru. Kagome’s voice might have been a little cold when she replied, “I did,” but who could blame her for being suspicious?

              Ikami-san’s laugh, light and lilting, disarmed Kagome immediately. “No need to worry. I heard tell of what happened, I’m guessing it may have been an embroidered tale, but I am firmly on your side. Himi has some old and unfortunately common ideas about what Miko should be, and how they should view youkai. But I, like you, see things a little differently.” She paused. “Through my husband,” her voice was a little more hesitant now – testing – “I heard about an incident earlier this month, in which someone was hurt as a result of your practice?”

              Kagome sucked in a breath. The man’s black, crumbling limb flashed before her mind’s eye. “Yes,” she replied, voice a thread whisper.

              “My husband assures me that the family is all well – they’ve settled in not too far from here, actually. Personally, I find it ridiculous for them to have come all this way, but if it had been one of my children I suppose I might have panicked as well.”

              “Your children?” Kagome mumbled, train of thought still looping on the man’s arm.

              “Yes—hanyou.”

              What?

              “I heard that you called the youkai your friends, when you left Himi Shrine.”

              “Because they are,” Kagome protested, still defensive when recalling that encounter.

              “I would like to offer my assistance to you, if I may. I am not a Miko myself, though I grew up in a shrine family, and I haven’t any reiki to speak of either, but I have had a hand in training my children to manage their youki, with great success. I figure, those of us out there that view the world the way we do ought to stick together, and I think that maybe I can help you.”

              “I’m—” She wasn’t sure what to say. Hanyou children? And—and…

              “Do you need time?” Ikami-san asked, soothing.

              “No,” Kagome ejaculated, feeling as though she were overflowing with feelings just at the moment. “I would love your help, if you’re willing to give it. It’s so kind of you to reach out like this… I’m just a little overwhelmed.” She paused. “It’s so… out of the blue.”

              Ikami’s tinkling laugh came through the receiver once more. “I’m glad. I’ll be going down to Tokyo at the weekend, where I’ll be staying with my sister for a month or so. Tenya and the children will be on their annual retreat, you know, with their community. Perhaps we might arrange to meet on Sunday?”

              After settling all the logistics, Kagome hung up the phone and fell back into the couch, eyes wide with surprise and excitement. Sesshoumaru joined her then. She didn’t bother to ask if he had heard. Of course he had. “What do you think?” She asked, voice sparkling with pleasure.

              The slight thinning of his lips dimmed her joy a little. “Did I not ask you to leave it to me?”

              “Don’t pout,” she giggled, brightening again.

              He settled his hand on top of her head and ruffled her hair. “Perhaps this is indeed fortunate,” he conceded, sitting down beside her. “Though you will allow me to attend your first meeting, just the same.”

             

             

              Sesshoumaru’s hand between her shoulder-blades steered her through the small restaurant toward the back, where a young man in a black suit and bowtie ushered them through a door, then a narrow hallway, into a small, private dining room. After the din of the restaurant’s main room – people talking, silverware clicking and glasses clinking – and the racket as they passed the kitchen, this small room felt unnaturally quiet, unnaturally still.

               “I will return shortly with some water and to bring your guest when she arrives. Should you need anything, please press this button here,” the young man said, indicating a silver button flush with the table-top. “Excuse me.”

              The dining room door, Kagome noticed as he closed it, was quite thick, a good four inches at least. She glanced questioningly at her dinner partner. “The room is warded and insulated,” he explained. “No sound or energy can penetrate these walls. Everything that occurs in here is private – secret.”

              Kagome nodded absently in understanding before looking down at herself, outfitted in her usual clothing. “I still feel underdressed.” Sesshoumaru didn’t dignify this with a response. “I’m a little nervous,” she sighed, fidgeting, before pulling out her chair to sit down.

              “There is no call for concern,” he intoned, settling down beside her and draping an arm casually across her shoulders. “If she tries anything untoward I will end her.”

              She looked at him askance, saw the seriousness in his eyes, and laughed a little. She shook her head. “Please don’t do that unless she makes an obvious attempt on my life.”

              His grunt disappeared under the sound of a doorbell ringing, and then the door opened once more. The black-suited young man ushered in a middle-aged woman, with a rounded face and light crinkling about the eyes, dark hair cropped in a neat little bob. Kagome stood at once but said nothing until the – was he a waiter? – deposited three glasses of water onto the table, excused himself once more, and left the room.

              “Ikami-san,” she greeted, bowing a little, and the older lady returned the gesture. Her dark eyes shifted to the youkai seated at the table, then back to Kagome’s questioningly. “This is my – er… friend, Sesshoumaru; I’m sorry I didn’t let you know beforehand that he’d be coming, it was a last-minute change of plans.” Blatant lie, but he had told her to say nothing about his coming along. “Please, have a seat.”

              After a brief bow, and neatly hanging a lovely leather tote off the back of her chair, Ikami Akane seated herself across from them, primly folding her hands together on the tabletop before her. She looked at Sesshoumaru for a long moment, her face friendly but otherwise closed, before turning to Kagome. “A pleasure to meet you. Somehow I had pictured you differently.”

              Kagome blushed, unsure if this was a complement. “I pictured you differently too,” she admitted, before biting down on her lip.

              “I’m often told my voice sounds quite youthful over the phone,” she said, smiling gently to ease Kagome’s discomfort. Ikami-san couldn’t be more than her mid-fifties, Kagome was certain. She tilted her head a little, inspecting Sesshoumaru again unhurriedly. “Sesshoumaru-sama,” she murmured, bowing a little in her seat. “My husband Tenya would no doubt send his regards.”

              “Hn,” was his unblinking response.

              “Now, dear,” Ikami continued, unperturbed, “tell me how you’ve been managing so far.”

              So Kagome explained. About her run-in with Kagura, where she had first experienced her reiki, to the death of Naraku; how Sesshoumaru had provided her with some literature, which she had been using as a guide. How, though her power felt as though it had been growing exponentially since her death and revival, the task of controlling this strength felt like an increasingly impossible task, and that every step forward was followed by three backward.

              She spoke at length, and neither of the two others in the room interrupted her in any way, allowing her to unburden herself in a way that she was quite unused to doing, even in Murasaki-sensei’s office.

              After all of this, Kagome was surprised that the first voice raised was not Ikami-san’s, but Sesshoumaru’s, that what he said had nothing in the least to do with Kagome’s monologue, and that it wasn’t even directed at her at all. “What ages are your hanyou children?”

              If she was startled by this abrupt change in topic, Ikami didn’t show it. She answered simply. “The elder is one hundred and forty six, and the younger has just turned eighty.”

              Kagome blinked.

              Sesshoumaru said nothing, merely stared.

              Though Ikami’s composure was laudable, nobody was immune to that stare. She capitulated after several seconds had passed, adding, reluctantly, “…They are, of course, my step-children.”

              “Oh.” Kagome looked between them, fascinated.

              “Tenya had two human wives before me,” she went on, hesitatingly, still subject to Sesshoumaru’s icy stare-down. “Hanyou children,” she explained, effortfully moving her gaze to Kagome’s openly interested face, “appear to age like humans do—adult-sized bodies, intellect and so forth, by the age of twenty, and from that point continue to age at a far slower rate, but they reach their… er, maturity at a pace comparable to youkai. Which is to say, a twenty year old hanyou would be similar to a human adult psychologically and physically, but in terms of youkai strength, similar to a newly born youkai infant, if you see what I mean?”

              Kagome nodded absently, suddenly realizing she had no idea how old Sesshoumaru was. Another, much darker thought followed that one, but she shoved it down deep for later reflection. She had to focus on the current discussion. “So, your sons…?”

              “Yes, Touki is just eighty, and appears to be an adult, though he is just now beginning to struggle with the control of his youkai side. He will have long outlived me before he can master it.”

              A silence fell then, filled by the soft buzzing of the Edison bulbs in the pretty chandelier hanging over the lacquered wood table.

              “That is a discussion for another time, of course,” Ikami said, laying her palms flat on the tabletop. “You mentioned that you have been working from a text? Did you happen to bring it with you?”

              Kagome shook her head. “I wasn’t sure how this conversation would go,” she explained, cheeks burning with her embarrassment. How rude she must sound!

              “That’s alright, dear,” Ikami appeared unsurprised. She shifted her gaze to Sesshoumaru and back before adding, questioningly, “you must be the recipient of some good advice…?”

              Sesshoumaru’s hand covering hers stilled Kagome’s lips, her voice dying in her throat. He stared hard at Ikami for a while before taking a breath in to speak. His voice was smooth and low, with a dangerous edge to it; the voice he used when he was himself, and it made Kagome’s stomach flip-flop hearing it come out of the more human version of his face. “You will have surmised that Higurashi is under my protection.”

              Ikami nodded slightly, eyes wide in her soft face.

              “Your situation here in Tokyo is transient, I understand?” He asked, lids drooping slightly, expression becoming blander by the second. “Make whatever arrangements you must with your family. You are to remain until such a time as your assistance is no longer needed.”

              Kagome opened her mouth once more to speak, but his hand tightened around hers and she thought better of it. It was odd to her that Sesshoumaru would accept Ikami without her having gone into any detail as to how she had helped her step-sons, the only credentials that should matter – but perhaps he knew who she was. He seemed to have recognized her husband’s name, at the very least. It also perplexed her that he was being so high-handed with Ikami-san, throwing his weight around like this. But Ikami seemed to accept it, or even expect it, so Kagome played along and controlled the reproach that was so eager to burst from her mouth.

              “Of course, Sesshoumaru-sama,” Ikami murmured, bowing her head once more.

              He leaned back, like an emperor in his throne, apparently contented, and bestowed upon them the honor of his “hn” in reply, gently untangling his fingers from hers.

              A brief silence filled the room, during which Kagome studiously avoided the gaze of the others in the room, opting instead to peer at an abstract floral painting on the opposite wall. She wasn’t sure what was going on – some odd dynamics that she didn’t understand, between Sesshoumaru and Ikami, and she had gotten caught up in it as well.

              “You have all of March before classes resume, but bear in mind that as a graduate student, despite the break, Kagome has commitments at her University,” Sesshoumaru’s low voice added at length, vibrating through the quiet. She wondered if he used her given name intentionally, or if it had been a slip of the tongue. Glancing at his features, it was impossible to tell. “See to it that whatever schedule you decide on does not interfere with her academics. She has, I hear,” his eyes slid sideways to meet hers, gold and glimmering with some secret joke, “so much potential.”

              Those had been Ueda-sensei’s words, when he’d cautioned her about her relationship with Sesshoumaru, hadn’t they?

              Puzzled, Kagome blinked, wondering where the humor was in that. “At any rate, I’ll be in your care, Ikami-san,” she said at length, directing a friendly smile at the older lady.

              Ikami murmured suitably and folded her hands together in her lap once more.

              The next ten minutes were spent discussing logistics; that settled, Ikami excused herself, leaving the two of the in the still little room. She turned her face up to Sesshoumaru to find his thoughtful eyes on her. Neither of them spoke; he leaned in and planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

              “Shall we?”

              Somehow the air felt different when they left the shut-up meeting chamber. Granted it smelled like a restaurant and sounded like one too, full of the early-evening buzz of people talking and eating, and the shuffling back and forth of the waitstaff. But having left the insulated meeting room behind, Kagome felt a little breathless, light-headed.

              Sesshoumaru wound his arm unselfconsciously around her shoulder, and she leaned against his side for a moment before they resumed their path to the exit. His car was in front of the building, engine running, the man with the bow-tie who had ushered them in waiting for them beside the open driver’s door.

              “I hope our service has not been lacking today, Sesshoumaru-sama,” he said in his well-modulated voice, torso at a precise forty-degree angle.

              “This Sesshoumaru has been satisfied,” he intoned loftily, as though conferring a favor. Kagome watched all of this, stunned. Bow-tie Man bowed lower, expressed his thanks in the most obsequious tones he had managed thus far.

              Myouga-sensei had a penchant for being ingratiating, and Yura-san had always been deferential and respectful toward Sesshoumaru, but this… And Sesshoumaru! Behaving like some kind of Lord, descending from on high!

              Kagome thanked the young man who had opened her car door, and he closed it gently behind her. Her gaze had already drifted to the driver’s side, however, to mull over Sesshoumaru’s bland, slightly amused expression. He glanced at her before turning his eyes back to the road and pulling away from the curb, lips slowly twitching upward.

              “I can hear your thoughts,” he said, eliciting a scoff in response.

              “Seems like there’s some things you ought to have told me about yourself…?” she suggested, voice mild.

              “That may be so,” he conceded, equally mild.

              “Well?”

              He glanced at her again, expression indulgent. “Another time, perhaps.”

-+-

V

学問 Studies: You will learn even what you did not desire to know.

 

              Kagome collapsed into her couch, exhaling a shuddering breath. Her fingers uncurled from around her phone, the screen still lit, displaying Ueda-sensei’s email. After another shaky breath, Kagome brought the screen up to her line of sight and read it again.

              Perhaps we ought to conceptualize a different topic.

              She sighed, feeling clammy with her disappointment, and let the phone drop into her lap once more. He had said there would be a lot of red marks in her future, but to suggest that she scrap her dissertation topic… that was definitely not the type of feedback she had been expecting. She would have to rearrange her schedule with Ikami-san for the next weeks, to allow for more research and writing time. Ugh.

              As it was, she wouldn’t have long to wait; Ikami-san was due to pick her up in about fifteen minutes, and they would carpool to Higurashi shrine as they had been doing nearly daily. Her mother had asked her why she didn’t just stay at home, in lieu of the frequent commute. Kagome had answered that she wanted to be close to campus to work on her paper. That was true, of course. But really, she wanted to be close to Sesshoumaru. They didn’t get a chance to meet as often as she might like – every day would be ideal – so she wanted to be as available as she could manage.

              But the shrine was working out as an excellent place to train. Naturally, youkai avoided the grounds, and hanging up wards around their practice space was met with no suspicion at all. By the time Kagome had managed to organize her thoughts, her phone vibrated with Ikami-san’s message, and she made her way down to meet her.

              “Good morning,” Kagome murmured, barely hearing Ikami’s response in kind as she settled into the worn fabric of the passenger seat, phone buzzing in her hand. Kagome looked down to her screen and pinkened upon reading the message.

              These past four days have seemed eternal. I’m home. Come over directly when you have finished.

              Ikami, glancing at Kagome briefly, saw the pleasure in her face. “Sesshoumaru-sama?” she asked, and the deepening of Kagome’s blush was answer enough. “I must confess, I find myself surprised at the attention he pays you.”

              Kagome startled a little at this. They hadn’t talked about Sesshoumaru nearly at all since they first began meeting, and anything that had been said was no more than a cursory comment or the request of conveyance of a greeting on her behalf. “I don’t blame you, I guess,” Kagome offered, turning her eyes out the window to study the passing scenery. Barren trees, slowly beginning to show the color of their bulbs despite the frosty day.

              “I don’t mean to intrude where I’m not wanted,” Ikami-san murmured, tone inquiring, “but I confess that I have some concerns.”        

              A soft sigh escaped her lips. “If it’ll make you feel better to express them, I don’t mind hearing them,” she offered. It was probably the same concerns she had herself.

              Ikami drove in silence for several minutes, chewing her lower lip, eyes on the road but thoughts apparently elsewhere. “Do you know much about his past, my dear? Or even his present? I have been under the impression that you are not quite clear as to his position.”

              “Well, you’re not wrong. I know how he is better than who he is. To everyone else at least.” She counted herself lucky that she even knew that much. His “another time, perhaps” had never materialized, and every time she had tried to raise the subject of his past and position in life, he had sidestepped her.

              “I might tell you a little about him, then,” Ikami suggested, voice light, the matter settled. “Has he made you any offers? Promises?”

              Kagome colored prettily and shook her head, following it with a choked “no”. She gathered her wits together enough to tack on, “we’re sort of playing things by ear.”

              But of course, she wondered how true that really was.

              Sesshoumaru was affectionate with her – at home as well as when they were out, even in front of their mutual acquaintances. Excepting, of course, when they were on campus and not in his office behind a closed door. He spoiled her with caresses and closeness, though he wasn’t much of a talker. After his initial assurances that he was willing to see where things led with her, and that his interest was more than a passing fancy, though, he had little to say on the topic. And there were times, at night, when she awoke to catch him sitting up in bed beside her, eyes on the moon outside the window, lost in thought, where she wondered…

              “Youkai and human relations are complex enough without throwing romance into the bargain,” Ikami said, tapping her thumbs on her steering wheel. “Tenya remained with each of his previous wives until the moment they left this world, and mourned each of them despairingly. But he is an unusual example.”

              “My cousin has a thing with a youkai,” Kagome offered, thinking of Yura and Ichiro, and the delightful way they looked at each other. “I don’t know if any… promises?... have been made there either, though.”

              “They’re not likely to,” Ikami murmured. “Youkai and humans rarely mix.”

              “I’m surrounded by outliers, then,” Kagome scoffed. Ichiro and Yura, she and Kouga when she was younger, she and Sesshoumaru, and now Ikami and her husband. It seemed like a lot.

              “Yes,” she replied, “you are in an unusual set of circumstances, Kagome-san.” They drove in silence the rest of the way.

              They worked hard that afternoon. Ikami-san, despite not having access to the spiritual energy that Sesshoumaru’s father’s texts insisted were as innate to humans as youki to youkai, had an excellent grasp of how it worked, endless patience, and an encouraging manner of instruction. She had explained at great length and with precise detail how she had managed to assist her half-demon step-sons with controlling their newly burgeoning youki, and some of the techniques she had worked on with them were becoming useful to Kagome as well.

              “How come you were in charge of that?” Kagome asked, once. “Shouldn’t your husband or another youkai in the family have been the one to help them?”

              And so Ikami explained. That as a human wife to a youkai, she had been shunned by the youkai community. That Tenya had managed while the boys were young, because they were easily ignored and not allowed to be underfoot, but now that they were older and beginning to display their paternal characteristics, were reviled. And that, unwilling to rock the boat with his tenuous social connections, he had separated himself from his wife and children, even though they were his children and not hers. Their yearly trip was the one concession, where he and his sons would commune with the wild, though separated from the rest of their youkai family. “We’re still in touch,” Ikami added, voice steady, “and he visits. But circumstances have forced us to be secretive about it.”

              Kagome found the whole thing appalling and wondered how on earth Ikami could be so accepting of the fact, and so progressive, when her treatment by the youkai community had been abysmal and would lead any less warm-hearted person to fester in resentment rather than seek reconciliation.

              Over tea that evening, Ikami praised Kagome’s progress. They had made great strides – Kagome could call the energy to her hands and put it back away again with little thought. Ikami had introduced interruptions into their training now, to help Kagome maintain her control despite her surroundings. Neither of them ever wanted for the arm-burn incident to repeat itself. But the praise was kept to a minimum, and as they sipped the steaming brew from clay cups almost too hot to hold, the subject from the car came up again.

              “I’m sure you’ve figured out that Sesshoumaru-sama is a youkai of some standing,” Ikami said, to which Kagome nodded, remembering that he had even made it into the history books. “He comes from the most noble family lines,” Ikami went on, “his father was a Daiyoukai, massively powerful and feared and respected. Their territory has been in the West for as long as their house has stood. Now that the world has become as global and mobile as it has, of course, his influence is infinitely more far-reaching. He’s something of a celebrity,” she added on a laugh. “I’d never met him before but the impression I’ve always had of him hasn’t necessarily been flattering.” She sighed.

              “How come?” Kagome sipped her tea without blowing on it first and yelped as she burned her tongue.

              “I always assumed he was one of his generation – deeply rooted in the old ways. He’s never been known to involve himself in human affairs, or to consort with humans more than strictly necessary. He’s the sort of man that will look down his nose at any being less powerful than he, which includes just about everyone on this earth.”  Now she held her cup to her lips and peered at Kagome over its rim. “With one exception of course.”

              Kagome turned pale and then pink, but kept her lips sealed.

              “I can see why, I think,” Ikami murmured.

              They sat together, for the next two hours, well past the time they usually marked as the end of their day. Ikami-san, in her light, sweet voice, told a tale of the Sesshoumaru of before – the youkai of the past that Kagome had glimpsed for the first time only recently, and who, she was beginning to see, was hiding himself from her in some ways, still.

              Strength was the chosen means by which Sesshoumaru sought conquest over his opponents. He was known to be cunning and patient, terrifyingly intelligent, and quite merciless when crossed. And the power he prized in himself had also been the mark against which he would measure the worth of others, and each and every time they came up lacking.

              “Tenya says that’s why he has never married.”

              “Do youkai even marry…?” Kagome mused.

              “Well – no. Not how we do. No family registers, though lineage is of course incredibly important. No legally binding documents to cement a match. But most do choose a partner with whom to spend their lives, you know, and once this intention has been declared, it’s a matter of honor that it be upheld. His father was married, in the way of youkai, to his mother, though it was not a love match and more of a political alliance uniting their families.”

              It must have been greatly upsetting to Sesshoumaru, Kagome reflected, when his father broke his vow and had another child with a human.

              “The world of youkai is much more violent than ours, you know,” Ikami continued. She explained that out-and-out murder, how Naraku had dealt with Kagura, or Sesshoumaru with Naraku, was not uncommon, or even considered distasteful. “We have an obsession with peace and prolonging life. But youkai acknowledge that death is part and parcel of their existence. Predators hunt and their prey must perish, at some point.”

              Kagome was accepting all of this in good stride, but when Ikami-san informed her that Sesshoumaru had a sword that could kill hundreds of youkai in a single strike, and that he had been known to use it with some frequency, she sucked in a harsh breath. Ikami seemed to sense her discomfort, and changed the topic immediately.

              “It’s getting late,” she said, setting down her half-finished tea. “Let’s go?”

             

              Kagome had felt too awkward asking to be dropped off at Sesshoumaru’s building, so when Ikami dropped her off at home, she made the pretense of going through the front door and waited for her to drive away before heading outside to make the short walk to his place. Tanaka-san greeted her as usual, one hand on the button to call the elevator. Kagome glanced down at his perfectly polished leather shoes.

              “I know I said it before, but I’m sorry about your shoes,” she said, gripping the strap of her purse tightly in her hands.

              “Do not concern yourself with that, Higurashi-sama,” he said, eyes sparkling with mirth. “I was happy to be of service to you. My shoes as well.” The elevator door dinged open, and he ushered her inside, hitting the button for the uppermost level for her before stepping back out. “Good evening,” he called, and the door closed him out.

              Tanaka-san, after she’d spewed her guts on him, had been the one to take her up to Sesshoumaru’s apartment, let her in and clean her up before tucking her into bed with a cup of hot tea on the nightstand. He had also been the one to apprise Sesshoumaru of what happened, having put the story together from the bits and pieces that Kagome managed to say while he was with her. He was wonderful, and she adored him.

              The elevator stopped on the top floor and Kagome walked into the small foyer. Sesshoumaru, as usual, had left his door open for her to come in. She returned the borrowed key after her summer internship last year and though he had a key to her place, Sesshoumaru still had not given her one to his. She didn’t make it through the door frame before he was pulling her inside and slamming the door shut behind her.

              The room was dark, the watery glow of a waning moon streaming in through the windows and bathing the room in a calm at odds with the haste of his movements. He hoisted her up into his arms only to toss her bodily onto the couch. “Where have you been?” he asked, nimble fingers unzipping, unbuttoning, unfastening. He glanced up at her briefly, his golden eyes almost luminescent in the moonlight, but did not wait for her reply before resuming his work.

              “Things were going really well, we didn’t want to – ahh,” he nipped the side of her neck, “—lose momentum.”

              He made a noise deep in his throat, a grunt, and did not speak again once Kagome’s hands found their way to his skin, having shoved aside the open front of his button-down shirt. She pulled him in closer to her, reaching around his back to grab a fistful of his silken silver strands, yanking his head back gently to return the fevered kisses he had been placing on her neck and sprinkling over his collarbone.

              Another grunt. She felt his hands roving up her inner thighs under her skirt, pushing her panties out of the way, and she pressed down into his seeking hand. She was already wet, infected with the urgency that had him pulling her down against him while they both remained fully clothed. When he was fully seated within her, Kagome reached down and plucked ineffectively at the waistband of her panties—he hadn’t bothered removing them and they were chafing weirdly.

              Sesshoumaru groaned, one hand grasping her hip tightly. She felt him fumbling around and then heard the sound of fabric ripping. The panties, in tatters, flew to the floor. Kagome might be on top, but he was in control. Hands guiding her movement, they ground together, a long low moan escaping her mouth as his thumb applied a careful pressure to her clit. He was nipping at her neck and clavicles, the zipper of his pants biting into her too every time she pressed herself back on him and he rose up to meet her.

              Her end was not long in coming – fingers convulsing where she gripped to his shoulders, insides convulsing where she gripped to his cock, she trembled through her release. He sighed, rocking within her as she rode out her orgasm, before finally tightening his fingers around her hips once more and unseated himself from within her to hoist her up into his arms.

              Kagome wrapped her arms around his neck, relaxing into the princess carry. When he settled her down onto the bed, and proceeded to undress her first and then himself, she felt the rekindling of that internal fire that seemed to perpetually smoulder within her for him.

              He settled down beside her, facing her, and pushed her shoulder gently down to keep her on her back when she reached for him. The hazy yellow streetlight filtering in through the windows illuminated his face as a clawed hand reached up to the crown of her head. A small, tight knot formed in Kagome’s stomach when she saw no answering fire burning in his eyes.

                            “You had a fruitful meeting today, then?” Sesshoumaru murmured, running his fingers through her hair.

              “Ikami-san has been so great,” Kagome answered around her confusion.

              Minutes passed, in which the silence between them was filled by the sounds of Sesshoumaru’s fingers carding through her hair, and the smooth rhythm of their breathing. He didn’t finish, Kagome concluded at length, but I guess we’re done. The knot in her belly twisted. Eventually, despite his calming caresses, she couldn’t sit still with her discontentment. “We talked a little about her family situation today, you know. And about youkai-human romance.”

              “Hn.”

              She really hadn’t expected any other answer than that, but it disappointed nonetheless. “She’s been through a lot, and especially because of her kids, I guess. And Tenya-san too. It must take an extraordinary character to be willing to be in a relationship where they know they will lose their partner. And three times!” He said nothing, and his fingers continued their steady combing of her black tresses. He really has nothing to say about it, huh? All of a sudden, her impetuous mouth started moving on its own, vocalizing the dark thought that had rooted itself deep within her when she first met Ikami and heard her story, and Kagome was powerless to stop it, even knowing that there could be no result where she didn’t end up hurt because of it. “You wouldn’t… would you?”

              Now his ministrations stopped, as he drew his hand away from her. “Three times, or do you mean ‘even once’? I confess your mortality has weighed heavily on my mind. That is what you really wanted to know, is it not?”

              Kagome tore her gaze from the ceiling above them, looking at the low-lidded golden eyes that stared at her, glowing slightly in the shadow. She hadn’t meant to get into a discussion, but it seemed he was going to be cooperative, at least. “I just feel like you’ve been keeping me at arm’s length,” she managed.

              “As indeed I have.”

              Kagome flinched. He’s being honest, she reminded herself. Cultural differences. He’s participating, he’s not trying to hurt me. Murasaki-sensei’s sweet, low voice echoed in her head, reminding her to breathe. She did, a long breath in and out, ignoring Sesshoumaru’s observant eyes on her. Then, in a whisper, she managed to ask, “would you tell me why?”

              He sighed, the brilliant gold of his irises disappearing behind magenta-streaked lids as they pressed closed for a fraction of a moment. “However much I may desire it not to be so, it is inevitable that you will predecease me in what to a youkai would feel like the blink of an eye. Humans, further, are not known to be long-lived in their affections,” he paused, reaching out and touching her shoulder. “I am content to be beside you, to share in your life, however, I am not as yet certain that I am able to share mine.”

              “Oh,” said Kagome, voice small, cheeks flooded with color, eyes stinging a little. “I need to think about that a little,” came the words, around a growing lump in her throat. “Can we talk about this more later?”

              He said nothing but moved his hand from her shoulder back to her hair, resuming his calming caress.

              That was close enough to a yes for her. Her gaze shifted to the ceiling, and when it got too blurry for her to see anymore, she closed her eyes.

             

-+-

AN: I mean. A lot in there. And a lot of feelings. But like, they have to boink too, right? That’s a lot of words that add nothing to the plot!! What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on where things are going!

Expect Act Two on or around 5/1!

Footnotes:

[1] This, and all the other waka in this fic, are English translations of 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poems by Tonna, which I am excerpting from the book Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna, by Steven D. Carter.

[2] Cold: Fun fact, many buildings, even the newer ones, do not have central heating! Room heaters, small stoves or heat lamps, or gas heaters are commonly used. I used to have a gas heater that had a spot for a kettle on top—get your heat, humidity, and tea all in one go!

[3] Tsurui: I admit I’ve never been there, but wanted to! Tsurui is a breeding ground for the red-crowned crane, one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan (these are places meant to promote the rediscovery of the sounds of everyday life: another fun one is the cicada sounds at Yama-Dera, in Yamagata!)

[4] Himi Shrine: In Omikuji, Kagome visited Himi Shrine to seek help with reiki control, and had a very cold, mean reception, made worse by Sesshoumaru’s meddling.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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