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Dangerous Game by Sage McMae

Chapter 1

The miko’s request comes at the end of the day, just as he is leaving the village. “I want you to train me.” 

Sesshomaru does not hesitate to respond, “No.”

“Why not?” she asks, following him up the hillside. 

“Your humanity leaves you at a disadvantage. Your movements are not as swift or refined as mine. You are more perceptible to injury. I cannot teach you as I have learned.”

“Are you saying you’re not up to the challenge?” 

He scowls. “You cannot trick me into changing my mind. The answer remains no.” 

She places her hands on her hips and glares up at him. “What if I wasn’t so easy to hurt?” 

“Meaning what exactly?”

“You think I’m weak. I’m not,” the miko insists. “If I can prove it to you, will you train me?” 

“Perhaps.” 

She extends her hand to him. “Deal?” 

Sesshomaru stares at her for a moment. The determination in her blue eyes makes him uneasy. He has learned not to underestimate her. She is not a typical human. Her mannerisms, speech, and perspective are unique to her and her alone. Sesshomaru cannot guess her motives for this but he does not believe she will change his mind. The miko would have to best him and that is something he will not allow. 

He shakes her hand. “Deal.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A fortnight later, Sesshomaru returns to the village to check on Rin. His ward is acclimating well to her new life. He had concerns about leaving her amongst the humans but she is happy. Despite his differences with the demon slayer and his half-brother, the group has taken Rin under their wing. She tells him of all the things she is learning from the village elder, how the monk has remained faithful to his wife, and the trials of the kit as he attempts to obtain his ranks. 

The information is trivial. Sesshomaru does not care how the group is faring, as long as Rin is content. She is his only concern. 

The gifts he bestows upon her bring her joy and ease his guilt. He knows leaving her here is for the best. Sesshomaru is giving her a chance at a normal life, yet his heart is always heaviest when he leaves. 

A-Un and Jaken continue to travel with him but it is not the same. With Kohaku off in the East and Rin in Edo, Sesshomaru feels isolated and aimless. He has no ward to protect, no worthy opponent to battle, and no grievances left to act on. He has no purpose. 

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Rin interrupts his reverie. 

They are walking on the outskirts of the town. While some of the villagers have grown accustomed to his visits, others are still wary of him. Sesshomaru limits his time amongst them to avoid confrontation. 

“I learned to set a bone this week. Kaede taught me how to make the splint and wrap the bandages but I did it all by myself,” she informs him proudly. “Kagome said that if I lived in her time, I would be a world-class doctor.”

“Is she training you as well?” Sesshomaru inquires. 

Rin shakes her head. “No, she was the one whose bone I set.” 

The Lord of the Western Lands freezes. Instinctively, he inhales deeply, searching for a blend of lavender, oranges, and sage. Sesshomaru picks up the scent several meters ahead of them. His golden eyes scan the riverbank before they come to rest upon a lone figure standing at the water’s edge. 

“What happened?” he asks Rin. 

“I don’t know. She wouldn’t say,” his ward confesses. 

His gaze hardens. Sesshomaru had not considered that the miko’s request was out of necessity. He assumed that she wanted to learn as a way to pass the time or perhaps was dared by his half-brother. The sight of her arm in a sling makes him reconsider. 

“Has Inuyasha returned?” Sesshomaru questions. 

“No. He is still away visiting his mother’s grave.”

Sesshomaru does not assume the half-breed is the cause of the miko’s wounds. Inuyasha would never willingly hurt her— at least not in the physical sense. Sesshomaru suspects if anyone knows how she broke her arm, it would be the half-breed. Unfortunately, with his brother absent, the only person he can go to for answers is the miko herself. 

He doubts she will be honest with him. Sesshomaru has done nothing to earn her trust. Their history is complicated and he has never sought her out to make amends for his past behavior. Sesshomaru has considered it yet he has never followed through. Her opinion should not matter to him. 

But it does. 

As he continues his stroll with Rin, Sesshomaru turns his attention back to his ward. “Would you like a new pair of sandals? Yours appear worn.”

“You don’t have to bring me gifts each time you visit, Lord Sesshomaru,” she replies. He starts to respond but Rin continues. “I know you feel guilty about leaving me here sometimes. At first, it was hard to imagine a life here. I enjoyed traveling the country at your side. There are days when I miss riding through the open skies with A-Un but my friends are here— Kaede, Kagome, Shippo, Sango, Miroku, and even Inuyasha. I have people to look after me. I’m safe. You don’t have to worry.” 

“You are my ward. I will always be concerned,” Sesshomaru tells her. 

Rin smiles up at him. “I worry about you too.” 

He frowns. “Why?” 

“You’re lonely.” 

“I am not—.”

"You don't have to lie, Lord Sesshomaru. I know you miss Kohaku and me," Rin interrupts. 

He does not argue. What the child says is the truth. Rin has always been perceptive, uncannily so, but he is unprepared for her to see beyond his impassive facade. 

Sesshomaru does not know how to address her observation. Avoidance is the easiest method for evading uncomfortable topics. He has practiced the technique for centuries, first with his mother and her requests for him to join the High Court, then for a time with Naraku, and finally with his current predicament. Just because Rin has noticed does not change anything. 

“You could stay here,” she suggests. 

“No.” 

Sesshomaru would sooner join his mother in court than remain here, surrounded by human families and his half-brother's friends. He will no longer be alone but he will still be lonely. Proximity to others did not equate to companionship. He is not interested in a relationship born of pity. What he seeks is a connection, a real bond between him and another, built upon mutual trust and understanding. 

“Have you considered adopting another child?” Rin asks. 

He has not. His ward is unlike any human child he has come into contact with. Regardless of her misfortunes, her heart is pure. She does not see him simply as a demon. Rin sees him as a protector, a warrior, and a loyal friend. Sesshomaru does not have faith that others will see him the same way. 

“You don’t have an heir. Why not look for one?” she encourages. 

“The demon courts will not recognize any offspring who is not born of my blood. Appointing a child who is identified as my ward is not sufficient. I would require a mate,” he explains. 

“So take one,” Rin states. 

"This is not an appropriate conversation for someone of your age," Sesshomaru chides. 

“I delivered a baby. I grasp the mechanics,” she retorts. 

He blinks. Though Sesshomaru understands her response, he finds her phrasing odd and also alarming. Rin is far too young to know what occurs between mates. Sesshomaru would prefer his ward to be the miko's age before she begins considering such activities— perhaps even older. 

“Kagome says—,” Ah, so that is where Rin learned such a strange expression. —, “that the only way to move forward is to let go of the past.”

Sesshomaru scoffs. “The miko deems herself a philosopher now?” 

Someone snorts. “Hardly. I just know what it’s like to live in a cage of your own making.”

His ward greets the young woman brightly, “Hi, Kagome!” 

She smiles. “Hey, Rin.” When she glances in his direction, her smile disappears. “Sesshomaru.”

He inclines his head. “Miko.” 

“What are you up to?” Rin asks. 

She sets down a large clay jug. “I’m getting water for Sango. She needs to launder the twins’ clothes again. They are adorable but they are also a handful.” 

His ward laughs. “I like them.”

“Me too. I just wish they were a little less like their father. He always was trouble,” she says with a wink. Rin laughs. “Well,” the miko pauses to sigh and hoists the container up, “I have to get going. You two have fun.” 

His ward waves. “Bye, Kagome.” 

Sesshomaru stops her. “You should not be doing chores with your wound.” 

Amusement dances in the miko’s eyes. “If you can handle living with one arm, so can I.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A month passes before he can visit the village again. Sesshomaru has brought the sandals he promised as well as a collection of ribbons. 

During his travels, he has noticed the way women are styling their hair. Pins, combs, and ribbons are sold at nearly every market. Since Sesshomaru does not know which Rin prefers, he settles on an array of colorful ribbons. He deems this option the most practical since his ward is often gathering medicinal herbs or laboring over a fire. 

When he arrives in Edo, Sesshomaru finds Rin tending to the communal garden with Kagome. His ward is happily chatting away, displaying what she has removed from the earth. The miko praises her efforts. They resume their work, unaware of his presence.  

Sesshomaru notices that miko’s arm is no longer in a sling. For some reason, he breathes a bit easier knowing that she has healed. 

That is until her shirt lifts and he spots the bandages wrapped around her midsection. 

He turns away and seeks out his brother.

Sesshomaru locates him outside the slayer’s hut. The half-breed is at the mercy of a pair of dark-haired twin girls. One is pulling on his ears while the other is trying to tie herself up in the sleeve of his robe.

“Knock it off, you brats,” he demands. The girls merely giggle. In truth, his brother does not appear bothered by their antics. He looks happy.

“Inuyasha.”

His brother glances away from the meddlesome children. “Eh? What do you want?”

“Why have you not protected a member of your pack?”

Inuyasha stares at him. “Huh?”

“The miko,” Sesshomaru clarifies. “The last time I visited, her arm was broken. Now, her side is wounded. She is yours to protect. Why have you not put a stop to this?”

“Okay, first off, Kagome doesn’t belong to anyone, least of all me. Second, don’t come here pointing blame. This is your fault,” Inuyasha snaps.

“Excuse me?”

“She asked you to train her and you turned her away,” Inuyasha reminds him.

Sesshomaru fears his earlier assumptions were correct. The miko had a reason for requesting his aid— a reason that he neglected to take into consideration.

“I will speak to her,” he decides.

Inuyasha snorts. “Good luck. Once Kagome gets it into her head that she’s going to do something, there’s no stopping her.”

He does not understand his brother's words in this context but he is aware of how obstinate the miko is— stubborn but loyal. Whatever path she has chosen, she must believe it is a valid one.

“She is not unreasonable,” he remarks.

Inuyasha chuckles. “Reason has nothing to do with it.”

The way Inuyasha is smirking at him leads Sesshomaru to believe that he is missing something. He scowls. Sesshomaru does not like to be mocked. 

“If you think you can convince her to stop this madness, go right ahead,” Inuyasha prompts, gesturing toward the fields.

Sesshomaru walks away, frustrated by his brother’s ambiguous nature. What does Inuyasha know that he will not share?

Is someone targeting the miko?

No, if that were the case, Rin would have told him. Her friends would have intervened. Inuyasha is foolish but he would not endanger his friend. 

Perhaps she has met resistance on her travels to the hanyou Jinenj’s farm. Naraku may be gone but a divide remains between humans and demons. His impact has only made the tensions between them more apparent. The land is at war. Those who come across a tolerant miko may not be welcoming.

“Lord Sesshomaru!”

“Rin,” he greets his ward.

She wipes her dirt-covered hands on her kimono and rushes to embrace him. Though Rin has grown, she still barely reaches his waist.

“Are you well?” he inquires.

“Yep! Kagome and I are weeding so the crops can come in for the harvest,” she tells him cheerily.

“That is wise,” he praises her as the miko stands, propping a basket on her hip. “Your arm has healed,” Sesshomaru says, his gaze questioning as he stares at her side.

She nods in acknowledgment. "It has."

“Yet, you remain injured,” he remarks.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” the miko assures him. She steps closer, retrieving the second basket from his ward. “I’ll take these to the composite pile for you Rin. Thanks for your help today.”

“Alright, see you later, Kagome.”

“Bye.” The miko gives them a wave and strolls off.

He sees no sign of the fire the miko possessed when she requested he train her. She is calm, poised. There does not seem to be any lingering resentment toward him for his refusal. 

And, yet, something is amiss.

Her indifference feels like a pebble stuck in his boot— small and seemingly insignificant but constantly there, a nagging sensation he cannot ignore.

“She is a peculiar woman,” Sesshomaru says as he watches her go

If Rin knows what is troubling the miko, she does not tell him. Her stories are centered around the monk, the demon slayer, and their three children. When she is not learning healing techniques from the village elder, Rin has been helping the family. Like the others, she is quite taken with the slayer’s offspring. 

His ward has made a life for herself in the village. She knows everyone by name, has a role and has a pack. Sesshomaru is proud of her. Rin's resilience is encouraging as is her capacity for forgiveness. 

Sesshomaru is pleased to learn that Rin has been in contact with Kohaku. The young slayer visits about as often as Sesshomaru does, always stopping in to check on Rin. They have a strong bond from their time spent traveling together. He was always grateful to Kohaku for helping to watch over Rin.

Perhaps, one day, that habit will develop into something more.

Sesshomaru tries not to think of the future. He enjoys his trips to Edo. They serve as a distraction from his wandering. Rin is the only purpose he has left. All other obligations have been seen to but there will come a day when Rin is no longer his to care for.

Sesshomaru does not want to think of that day, for then he will truly be alone.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

During his next visit, Sesshomaru brings along A-Un and Jaken. It has been some time since his vassal and the dragon saw Rin. As anticipated, she is delighted to have them both in the village. Though Jaken protests, Sesshomaru knows he is just as eager to see her.

While the trio catches up, Sesshomaru seeks to sate his curiosity.

He finds the miko in the forest, practicing archery. 

Rudimentary targets line the clearing. Some are made of straw and wood. Others are simply marks on trees themselves. Not a single one has been missed.

“Back so soon?” she calls over her shoulder, firing off an arrow.

It hits its mark several meters away— a gnarled knot halfway up an oak tree.

“I brought A-Un and Jaken to see Rin,” he answers.

“That was nice of you.”

The miko nocks another arrow and takes aim. Sesshomaru watches as she shoots. Just before the release, there is a second of tension in her jaw. Then she exhales and the arrow flies across the clearing to strike the center of the well.

“Was there something you needed?” she asks, turning around to face him.

“You are uninjured,” Sesshomaru points out.

Her brow furrows and then she laughs. “Oh,” the miko mutters, plucking a fresh arrow from her quiver, “is that what this is about?”

“If someone is targeting you—.”

“You’ve got the wrong idea. It’s nothing like that. I told you; you don’t need to worry about me. I know what I’m doing.”

As if to prove her point, she hits the same spot on the well, cleaving her first arrow in two. The miko beams at him. 

Sesshomaru is too stunned to respond. Her audacity only adds to his confusion. He cannot predict her behavior and it vexes him.  

He waits until she resumes her practice to leave. 

The Lord of the Western Lands resolves to put the encounter from his mind. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Winter comes to the village early. Sesshomaru brings a set of fur-lined blankets for Rin, as well as a pair of boots. When he enters the elder’s hut, he finds he is not the only visitor.

“Lord Sesshomaru.”

He inclines his head in greeting. “Kohaku, you have matured.”

“Yeah,” the boy says, chuckling as he rubs the back of his neck.

Sesshomaru examines him. Kohaku has indeed grown taller. His lean form has filled out with muscles from his extensive training and his hair is longer. He no longer possesses a timid voice but a confident deeper timber. ‘Boy’ is not an accurate term. Kohaku has become a man.

The demon lord feels a pang in his chest. He is reminded that time passes quicker for humans. In a blink of an eye, their lives are over. He has precious time left with his ward. The realization sours his mood. 

“These are for you,” Sesshomaru says, placing the offerings down in front of her.

Rin squeals with delight. His ward may be growing up but she still finds joy in simple things. He hopes she never grows out of that.

“Thank you, Lord Sesshomaru,” she says, rising to hug him.

“I will leave you two to visit,” he decides, making to leave.

“Stay,” Rin insists but even as she speaks, there is an air of obligation.

“I have other matters to attend to. I will return once I have completed them,” Sesshomaru misleads them.

Kohaku catches his eye and he knows he has not deceived the slayer.

“Say goodbye before you leave,” Rin reminds him.

Sesshomaru nods and ducks out of the hut.

He wanders through the village. Many are in their homes already. The days are short and darkness creeps across the sky, signaling the end of their available work time.

Footprints in the freshly fallen snow crisscross in paths ahead of him. He does not follow any particular one but he finds himself at her side all the same. 

The miko is sitting at the base of a large tree on the crest of the hill overlooking the village. Her hands are wrapped around a steaming cup of tea and she has a thick fur cloak draped over her. His nostrils twitch at the stench of a wolf. A gift from the prince in the north , he surmises. 

“Did you get kicked out too?” she teases.

“These huts were not built for someone of my stature,” Sesshomaru replies.

This appears to humor her. She smiles. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, buildings are taller in the future.”

He eyes her warily, unsure what the miko means by this statement. It matters not because she continues talking to him.

“It’s been a few weeks.”

“I was summoned to court,” Sesshomaru reveals.

“Did everything go okay?”

“Fine,” he confirms.

She is the first to ask him how the meeting went. Not even Jaken bothered to inquire.

The conclave is an annual meeting of the lords and ladies. It is tedious but mandatory. Sesshomaru dreads attending each year yet he goes out of obligation to his mother and his lands.

“It was an excuse to gather the most pompous of us in one location,” he remarks.

She laughs. “I take it you aren’t a fan?”

“Why would I be a lady’s accessory?” he inquires.

Her cheeks are rosy from the cold. Dimples appear as he speaks and her smile widens. “Never mind.”

He sits on the ground beside her, leaning into the tree and inclining his head toward the starry sky.

The cosmos are infinite. They expand farther than he will ever be able to travel and have existed for even longer. His father told him stories of the heavens, tales of great battles, forbidden love, and the history of his people.

It is all there— written in an indecipherable language that has long been forgotten. The secrets of the universe have been sealed away— a treasure that will never be uncovered no matter how hard explorers search. Sesshomaru thinks that perhaps some mysteries are better left unknown.

That does not stop him from contemplating the answers.

When he was a pup, Sesshomaru thought age would bring wisdom but he was wrong. His list of questions continues to lengthen the more time he spends wandering the wilderness. No matter the number of hours Sesshomaru spends analyzing situations, he is still no closer to understanding.

He intended to speak to the miko about her activities but the bitterness in his heart wins out.

“It seems my presence here is unnecessary,” Sesshomaru states.

The miko stares at him. She sets her tea down, contemplative for a moment. “He’s good for her. If it wasn’t for Kohaku, I’m not sure Rin would have accepted the rest of us. She trusts him,” the miko explains.

“They bonded during our travels,” Sesshomaru returns.

She nods. “Adventure certainly seems to be a good way to make fast friends.”

“Hn.”

“Just because Rin chose to live here doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss you. You saved her life. No matter where she lives, how she ages, or who she spends her days with, you are still her guardian. She will always love you,” the miko tells him.

He purses his lips. Rin’s perceptive behavior is concerning but the miko’s assessment startles him.

“You’re not as alone as you may think,” she adds before standing up. 

She brushes snow off her cloak. Then, with a nod, she bids him goodnight and returns to the village. 

He ponders her words long after he has returned to the West.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The first storm of the season brings howling wind and ice. Sesshomaru manages to arrive at the village before the worst of the weather hits.

He is several paces from the elder’s hut when he spots a figure marching through the snow. The drifts come up past the miko’s knees, hindering her movements.

His initial thought is that she should not be outside at a time like this. His second is that he needs to get her inside before she freezes. Sesshomaru leaps across the snow-covered ground to land at her side.

“You are a foolish woman,” he admonishes her.

She glances up at him, startled.

The roaring wind makes it difficult to hear but the miko directs him to her home. Together, they trudge through the village to a hut by the bridge.

Once inside, she seals the door to prevent any heat from escaping the small space. He catches her wincing more than once. Each time the miko bends, her breath catches and her motions stall.

Sesshomaru smells arnica, citrus, and aloe vera— the ingredients for a healing salve. He knows because Rin learned how to make it last summer when one of the villagers fell during roof repairs.

“Again?” he questions angrily.

The miko blinks, confused by his query.

“Is that why you were out?”

“I had to see Sango,” she answers, kneeling to stoke the fire.

“The demon slayer made the salve for you?”

“No, I made it. She just put it on for me,” the miko reveals.

His eyes run over her form, trying to catch a glimpse of where she is wounded.

“It’s my back,” she admits, “but I’ll be fine.”

“You are not fine,” Sesshomaru insists. “It is as I said before. You are perceptible to injury. You need to be more careful.”

Her blue eyes harden. She jabs the bottom log harder than necessary, sending sparks flying around. With a huff, the miko shakes her head and stands.

She goes over to the corner to begin brewing tea. Sesshomaru watches her, paying special attention to her back. The miko appears aware of his gaze. He does not catch her cringing once.

Stubborn, indeed, Sesshomaru thinks.

“You’re welcome to stay here until the storm is over,” she offers begrudgingly. 

The miko’s hut is decorated in scraps of strange glossy parchment. They are realistic paintings of her surrounded by others that Sesshomaru can only assume are her friends and family. In one, she stands at the entrance to a towering building that extends beyond the parchment into the sky.

“That’s the Keio Plaza Hotel from the Godzilla films. It’s the tallest building in Tokyo,” she tells him.

He stares at her.

She shakes her head again, laughing. “Sorry, I keep forgetting you have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Sesshomaru purses his lips.

“Godzilla is a fictional monster that was created for the movies. He’s pretty famous,” the miko explains.

"What are the movies?"

The miko tells him that in the future pictures, like the ones secured to her walls, are created in succession to show movement. With technology, humans have created a new art form called animation where the pictures move and film where they can capture images in the real world for later viewing.

Sesshomaru has many questions. Each one leads him to several more. They talk until the fire smolders and the miko’s eyes are heavy with sleep.

When she reaches for the poker, he places his hand over hers. “I will tend to it.”

“Okay,” she says.

He watches her struggle to remain awake as he reignites the fire. Cast in the golden light, her blue eyes appear almost purple— the same shade as his markings.

“Rest,” he tells her. “I will keep watch.”

Her head nods in response and a yawn escapes her.

Slowly, she goes to her bedroll. He hears her hiss as she removes her cloak. His gaze latches onto her form just in time to see a greenish-yellow patch of skin along her lower back.

His hands clench into fists. He does not understand why she feels the need to suffer. If she told him who was responsible, he would put an end to her agony. He would ensure she never hurt again.

The miko crawls beneath layers of thick blankets. Within minutes, she is asleep.

Sesshomaru spends the night pondering many questions, the most pressing of which is: What is she hiding?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The storm rages for three days. Sesshomaru stays confined in the miko’s hut. They fall into a comfortable rhythm. Between chores and maintaining the fire, they discuss court politics and why he finds it dull. She shares tales with him about her home and the life she left behind. The future is vastly more interesting than how he spends his days. He finds himself eager to learn more about it. The miko is happy to provide answers.

Sesshomaru does not ask about her wounds again. 

He acts as a respectful guest, assisting where he can— tending the fire, helping prepare their meals, and applying salve to her back.

The first occurrence is uncomfortable for both of them. The miko can barely voice her request. It takes her a few tries to get the words out.

Sesshomaru does not anticipate any issue with the process. After all, it is simply a matter of healing. His ward cares for everyone in the village. He can manage one young woman.

But then she loosens her robe, baring her flesh to him and Sesshomaru realizes the problem.

He has never been alone with a woman in an intimate manner before. The concept has never appealed to him. That was then. This is now. 

When his fingertips press to her skin, they both hiss. Whether the sound is elicited from her due to pain or pleasure, Sesshomaru cannot be certain. For him, the touch burns. As soon as he makes contact with the miko, his entire body feels as though it is on fire.

It is not the consuming agony he knows but a pleasing warmth that caresses him from head to toe. His nerves are alive with this wildfire sensation. He purrs in delight and strokes the expanse of skin gently.

Sesshomaru is not sure how much time passes. He does not stop until her entire bruise is coated with a thick layer of salve.

Blinking a few times, he draws himself away from the miko. The heady feeling dissipates enough to where he can think clearly.

They do not speak about it but, each night, he repeats the process.

And each time, he burns for her. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the fourth day, the wind no longer howls and the ice rain halts. When the miko opens the flap, Sesshomaru sees that the entire valley has turned into a wonderland of pure white. 

The sun’s glare across the ice-covered landscape causes the miko to shield her eyes as she steps outside. As he follows, Sesshomaru notices the other villagers doing the same. With his heightened senses, the light is bothersome but not to the point where he needs to cover his face.

Sesshomaru begins to tell her that he will return after he has visited Rin. The words never make it out. A sudden flurry of activity catches her attention and before he can stop it, she is yanked out of his reach.

The northern wolf pack has descended upon the village. They come in droves, covered in furs and carrying wide planks of wood with them.

One with short two-toned hair has his arms around the miko. “Hey, Sis! How was hibernation?”

“For the last time, Ginta, humans don’t hibernate,” she responds, flicking his nose.

An ugly feeling seeps into Sesshomaru’s chest, making his lips curl into a snarl.

The wolf’s eyes go wide. He spots Sesshomaru and immediately sets the miko down. “I, uh, didn’t know you had company, Sis.”

“Huh?” She glances over her shoulder at him. “Oh, Sesshomaru stayed with me during the storm. Have you two met?”

“No,” the wolf, Ginta, answers, eyeing Sesshomaru warily.

“I was unaware your pack frequented these lands,” he remarks.

"Well, we have to come to check up on Sis, since she's all alone," Ginta says.

There is an edge to his tone that Sesshomaru dislikes. It almost sounds as if the wolf is angry with him.

“Hey!” The miko smacks Ginta. “I can take care of myself. I did save you, after all.”

“I know! I know! Oh, come on, Sis, I didn’t mean anything by it. We just worry about you,” he whines.

“I’m perfectly capable of handling things on my own,” she snaps indignantly, placing her hands on her hips.

“Yeah but you deserve someone who actually—.”

“Hey, stop hogging Sis,” another wolf interrupts, stepping between them and putting his arm around the miko’s shoulders.

Her ire disappears instantly and she hugs the second wolf. “Hakkaku!”

“We brought the sleds,” he announces. “Wanna go for a ride?”

“Yeah, just let me grab Shippo first. He’ll never forgive me if we take a run without him,” she says.

“Alright. We’ll meet you on the hill,” Hakkaku responds.

He does not interact with Sesshomaru. Given the way both wolves are eyeing him, the Lord of the Western Lands does not believe they approve of his presence.

The feeling is mutual.

As the miko walks past him, Sesshomaru falls into step with her. “I do not think it wise for you to encourage their antics. You should be inside resting,” he advises.

He glances at the planks of wood they brought. There are holes drilled through the top to secure rope reins. He shudders to think what they will use them for.

The miko does not share his aversion. She is keen to join the fray. “My back is bruised, Sesshomaru, not broken. It will be fine. We do this every winter. It’s fun. You and Rin should join us. I think she’d enjoy it if you came along.”

“My ward has a history with these wolves. Or have you forgotten?”

She sighs. “That was years ago. Kouga and his pack have made amends. They stop in every season to trade provisions for furs, some even trade labor for food. They are good craftsmen.”

He pauses, then inquires, “Your cloak?”

“A gift from Kouga and Ayame.”

“And your blankets?”

“From Ginta and Hakkaku. They look out for me.”

“Because you are unmated,” he surmised. “They are trying to win your affection, prove they can provide for you, and are worthy of you.”

“Because I’m their friend,” the miko insists.

She shakes her head and mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like, ‘Idiot.’

Sesshomaru ignores her remark. She is becoming defensive. He suspects he is close to uncovering the truth. “Are they responsible for your injuries?” he asks.

“No.”

“Then who is?” he demands.

She halts and stares at him. “You don’t get it, do you?”

He is not sure what the miko means. She must discern that because she makes a defeated noise.

“Maybe Inuyasha was right.”

Just as he starts to ask what about, Rin races up to them, “Lord Sesshomaru! Kagome!”

“Hey,” the miko greets her. She smiles but it does not reach her eyes.

“Have you seen all the snow? The entire village is coming out to enjoy it. Miroku is bringing the twins and Shippo will be along soon. Will you stay and sled with us?” Rin asks Sesshomaru, grabbing his hand so she can lead him toward the hill.

“Fine,” he relents.

He tries to make eye contact with the miko but she is facing the ground, eyes unfocused. Her scent has soured. The tainted smell stings his nostrils.

Rin turns to the miko. “How about you, Kagome? Wanna race?”

“Actually, I think I’m going to go visit Sango. I’m sure she would appreciate the company while she’s stuck at home with Hisui,” she says.

Rin pouts but the miko does not see. She strolls between the snow-covered huts without looking back.

Sesshomaru watches her retreating form. There is a slump to her shoulders as if she is being dragged down by invisible chains. He takes a step toward her but his arm goes taut.

Rin looks up at him. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Yes,” he tells her.

He will hunt down the miko later.

They have things to discuss.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

But when later comes, the miko is not home. Her hut is empty. The fire is out, signaling that she has not returned since they left this morning.

Sesshomaru scowls.

They did not finish their earlier conversation. He intends to figure out what she is hiding and no wolves, monks, or slayers will get in his way.

He goes to her friends’ hut, barely knocking before he sweeps inside.

The slayer glances up from where she is feeding their youngest pup. Her twins gape at his towering stature. The monk stands, startled. “Sesshomaru?”

The miko’s scent is here but she is not.

“Where is she?”

“Kagome?” the monk surmises.

Sesshomaru nods.

“She needs space,” the slayer states, rising to stand next to her mate. “I think it would be best if you let her be.”

“As you have done?” he inquires with a note of resentment.

“I respect her wishes,” the slayer insists angrily.

“You left her unprotected,” Sesshomaru retorts.

The woman opens her mouth to respond but then shakes her head and turns away.

“Perhaps it would be best if you both took time to sort things out,” the monk suggests, ushering Sesshomaru out of his hut.

“I do not require time. I wish to speak with the miko.”

“Kagome is gone. She left with Kouga’s pack this afternoon,” the monk informs him.

Sesshomaru growls. The idea of her being surrounded by those mongrels does not sit well with him.

Without uttering farewell, he takes to the skies. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The wolves are constantly on the move. Tracking her takes a couple of weeks and each day his patience wanes a bit more.

Sesshomaru did not anticipate this. He assumed they would hibernate for the winter months but this year they seem to be changing up their lodgings. They switch caves every few days, often leaving their scent along separate trails when they leave.

He starts to suspect that they know he is following them. Sesshomaru is amazed that the wolf prince is clever enough to employ a counter tactic. Even so, it is not enough to hold him off forever.

Eventually, Sesshomaru tracks them to a mountain pass in the South. The snow has melted and the first stirrings of spring can be seen. 

While approaching the caverns, he picks up on the scent of blood. The smell is intermingled with the familiar scent of lavender, oranges, and sage. 

Sesshomaru does not bother to check the cliffs that are dotted with fires. She will not be there. The scent is coming from the hot springs at the opening of the pass. 

He charges through the winding road in a blind rage. The rocks and dirt blur as he moves. Sesshomaru finds her at the mouth of a steaming pool. Her sandals are discarded a few paces away and she has just begun to remove her garments.

“Kagome.”

She stiffens before hastily adjusting the fabric around her. Then, she pivots around to face him. 

Instantly, Sesshomaru is looming over her. She does not flinch when he cups her chin, tilting her head back so he can inspect the damage.

Her right cheek is almost as dark as her hair. The purple color tells him the wound is fresh, no more than a day or two old. The blood he scented is coming from her lower lip. Sesshomaru swipes his thumb across the deep crack, smearing the crimson liquid across her mouth like paint.

She does not wince, does not cry out. Her blue eyes remain on him.

There has been a fight. That much is clear. What is unclear is why no one has interjected. Why is he the only one who has sought her out? Where is Inuyasha? Why have her friends left her alone again?

Her silence compounds his frustration. It is what finally sets him over the edge. His rage burns through him and his youki flares. “Who did this to you?”

Sesshomaru feels her tremble, not out of fear— she has never been afraid of him —but from the effect of his aura. It is overpowering her reiki, suffocating her as it spills forth.

He releases her, taking a step backward.

She gasps for breath. When she manages to speak, her voice is soft, “It’s not what you think.”

“Tell me,” Sesshomaru demands.

“No.”

His eyes turn scarlet at her refusal. “You will answer me or I will—.”

No,” Kagome cuts him off. She holds herself tall and glowers at him. “I don’t belong to you and, even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. I don’t take orders from anyone.”

His nostrils flare.

“If you do not tell me, then I will interrogate each of the wolves until the guilty one confesses.”

The miko angles her head as she asks, “Are you sure it's one of them?”

His golden eyes narrow. “Whoever has harmed you, I will find them and when I do, I will make them pay.”

Kagome crosses her arms across her chest. Her tone is challenging when she asks, “Why does it bother you?”

Why, indeed?

Sesshomaru has spent countless hours contemplating the miko’s wounds and her friends’ ignorance. He has not identified a plausible answer. Even more unnerving is the fact that Kagome seems determined to continue no matter how many injuries she sustains. 

So why not leave her to her fate?

The answer hits him like a bolt of lightning. The reason why Sesshomaru cares about her opinion, the reason why he cares if she is injured, and the reason why he cannot seem to stay away from her is that he cares about her. He cares for her.

“If you can’t give me an answer to my question, then don’t expect me to answer yours,” Kagome says.

She turns away and he grabs her wrist.

No sooner has Sesshomaru wrapped his pale fingers around her than Kagome has swung around, stepping into him and bending his wrist backward.

But she does not stop there.

Before he can get his bearings, the miko shoves all her weight into the twist, forcing him toward the pool. Kagome positions her foot in front of him and the obstacle is enough to cause him to lose his balance. He pitches precariously close to the hot spring. His reflexes save him from an impromptu bath. 

He whirls around, eyes wide. “You’ve been training.”

“I have,” she confirms.

“Why?”

Kagome lunges at him. Sesshomaru side-steps, easily grabbing her around the waist and flipping her onto the ground beneath him. He takes care to shift his hands underneath her before she hits, absorbing the blow. She still winces.

“I am taking you back to the village,” he decides. “You require rest and—.”

She lands a strike to his ribs. The blow gives her enough of an opening to slip out from under his arms. Kagome is on her feet instantly. He follows.

Sesshomaru recognizes her stance. She has learned from the demon slayer, though he suspects her rushing tactic was taught by Inuyasha. When it came to battle, his brother always was rather rash. The grappling techniques come from the wolf tribe. He wonders what the monk taught her. 

“They have all been keeping your secret,” he says.

“They’re my friends. I would do the same for them,” she returns as they circle one another.

“You have yet to answer why,” Sesshomaru reminds her.

“You first,” she quips.

He smirks. The fire is back in her eyes, awakened by her fierce determination.

“You are caught without your bow.”

“I don’t need it,” she responds. 

Pink light casts halos around her hands. She has strengthened her spiritual powers. Sesshomaru always suspected that Kagome was capable of more than purification. Now he knows what the village elder taught her.

He draws back a clawed hand and dives for her. Kagome drops, flattening herself on the dirt. As he passes over her, she kicks both legs up, catching him in the stomach. If it weren’t for his ability to fly, Sesshomaru would have made contact with the rocks.

He smirks. “Impressive.”

There is an almost imperceptible twitch of her lips as she tries not to smile.

Sesshomaru unsheathes Bakusaiga. Her gaze follows the smooth motion. He has no intention of hurting her but he is curious to see how excessively Kagome has trained. 

Charging her has not worked. Given their height difference, she expects it. The majority of opponents will try to overpower a smaller adversary, weighing brute force over strategy. It is a mistake and one she has leveraged well.

Sesshomaru changes tactics. He waits for her to make the first move.

Kagome is not quick to act. Unlike Inuyasha, she knows the value of patience. Kagome circles him for a time, keeping her eyes on his face even though he can tell she is watching for a shift in his weight.

When she advances, she targets his left arm.

Sesshomaru swings around, intending to block her from the right. A blast of reiki shoots forth from her hands, tearing the sword out of his grip and stunning him for a split second. It is all the time Kagome needs to kick-off from the ground and flips over his shoulder. She yanks on his armor, using the full weight of her body to pull him off balance.

He hits the ground on his side. Immediately, she is upon him, using his own weapon against him. Sesshomaru can see his surprise reflected in Bakusaiga’s blade.

“You’re pinned. I win,” she says smugly.

“You have,” he concedes.

Smiling, Kagome straightens up and offers him her hand.

Sesshomaru allows her to help him up, studying her closely. “You never did answer my question. Why was it so important for you to train?”

“Nope. I won so you owe me an answer first,” Kagome insists.

“Indeed.”

He sighs, uncertain of how to explain his feelings. This is uncharted territory. His care has always been limited to those too weak to defend themselves. Sesshomaru has never applied that logic to the miko. She has always been able to hold her own in a fight, even when she was not confident in her abilities.

“I am fond of you,” he confesses. “I don’t wish to see you hurting. If it is your desire to be trained, I will, but only to mitigate unnecessary injuries —and you will rest after each session. I will not permit you to overexert yourself. It is not healthy.”

“You’re worried about my health?”

“I am concerned about you.” 

Her expression morphs into one of pure delight. It is so intense he swears she glows.

“You asked why I wanted you to train me,” she prompts.

Sesshomaru nods.

“I wanted an excuse to spend time with you.”

He stares at her.

And stares.

And stares.

It takes longer than Sesshomaru is prepared to admit for him to fully comprehend what she means. Details of their conversations, from his visits to the village, and the attitude of others start to connect the dots. Eventually, he finds the words to respond. 

“You really are a foolish woman,” he tells her.

“Maybe, but you’re fond of me so...,” she trails off with a shrug.

Very fond,” Sesshomaru confirms.

This time when he grabs her, she does not stop him.

When Sesshomaru kisses her for the first time, he realizes she was right. 

He is not alone. 

Not anymore. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I want you to train me!”

“No.”

“But, Papa—.”

“You heard me, Mai.”

“Mama,” his daughter cries, running face-first into his mate’s side, nearly waking her baby brother.

Kagome laughs and envelops her in a one-armed hug. “Don’t worry, Mai. Your father will teach you one day when you’re older. Just be patient.”

“But I wanna learn now! Hisui already knows stuff,” Mai whines.

“Hisui is a few years older than you,” his mate reminds their daughter while stroking her hair.

“Yeah, but he’s human,” she points out.

Kagome shoots a disapproving look at Sesshomaru over Mai’s head. “What does that have to do with anything?” she asks.

Mai looks at him. “Papa said that—.”

“—some humans like your mother possess the ability to become skilled fighters,” he interrupts.

His mate arches a brow, eyeing him skeptically. He should have known that conversation would come back to haunt him. His only saving grace is she is too busy tending to their pups to attack him.

Kagome adjusts her hold on their second pup. “Mai, did you ever hear about the time I beat your father?”

Their daughter stares up at Kagome with disbelief. She has never seen her mother fight before. “Beat him? Like a game?”

“Yes, the most dangerous game I ever played," she says, grinning at Sesshomaru, "but, in the end, it was worth it.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Author's Note: For DarkAngelDesignStudios, who brought Inuvember to my attention. Thank you for all your kind words and constant support. Hope you like this, dear!

Special thanks to my beta, originalone73.

Also, there will be a follow-up to this fic, posting on the 24th for 'Family,' based on a scene in Hotel Transylvania 2.

 

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