InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Phoenix Rising ❯ Chapter Six ( Chapter 6 )

[ P - Pre-Teen ]


Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, etc., of Inuyasha or Yu Yu Hakusho. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and not for profit.





Summary: Not everyone is happy when Enki wins the Demon World Tournament. A new darkness rises out of the east, threatening the fragile new kingdom, and our heroes find themselves thick in the fray.




A/N: It's been what, three years? That's a long hiatus. I had some scenes pounded out on this story, and recently became interested in it again. I had a hard time with the last two scenes, they didn't seem to go/vibe with the rest of the chapter and were up on the chopping block. But I thought they added a bit of depth to the normal questions raised by any relationship, so decided to leave them in.








ADDED A/N: Updating on mmorg...didn't realize I was three chapters behind!








jyaki - demon energy


reiki - spirit energy




Chapter Six




            Troubled over last night’s incident, Kurama sought Lord Tenga early the next morning. Kurama greatly respected the elegant youkai’s intelligence and discretion as Yomi's former Spy Master. A past master of manipulation, many dismissed the handsome lord as a fool and a fop, more interested in pleasure than politics. But those who underestimated him often found otherwise, much to their detriment. 




            Dawn was just breaking over the city as Kurama made his way through the deserted halls of the Government Building, strewn with signs of last night's celebrations. The sun was hidden behind a perpetual pink haze of demon energy, casting a reddish splash across the sky and turning the wispy purple clouds indigo. Even the air of Makai was infused with jyaki, the ever-present life-force that ran through all three worlds but was distinctly attuned to each. Called reiki in Spirit World, and all but ignored in the Human Realm in favor of their science and technology, it was Youko’s mastery over demon energy that allowed Kurama to easily teleport from their darkened hotel suite to the Government Building.




            Lord Tenga, like each of the three demons set up in a triumvirate to rule the city-state at Yomi’s abdication, had his own suite of rooms deep inside the giant, square edifice. While Yomi had built a palace the equal of any daimyo’s country estate in the center of the city, the true governing of Gandera had always been conducted here. From the warren of rank dungeons and laboratories far below ground, to the tiny offices of countless officials and the large state ballrooms thrown open for last night’s fête, the Government Building was an entity unto itself.




            Kurama was met outside Tenga’s suite by his mate, Jueru. Many looked askance at the Lord’s lover, but not for being male. Demon World did not have the social prejudices of Ningenkai, although there would always be those who could not accept any other pairing than that of the traditional male and female. But the languid-eyed young man who oozed such unconscious sensuality could not be but what he was - an incubus, although the males of the species were rare.




            Yet Jueru’s blatant sexuality hid as keen a mind as his mate’s, in its own way. Attuned to the smallest nuance in another, an incubus “read” their prey and deliberately used their arts to manipulate those around them, enflaming others' desires to their own ends. A former pleasure-slave, Jueru knew well how to use those gifts nature had given him, and often for Lord Tenga’s benefit.




            Smiling silkily, Jueru intercepted Kurama at the door. “My lord kitsune, we did not expect you so early, given the late night. How fortuitous.”




            Kurama’s frown faded at the silent warning held in those jewel-bright eyes. Slipping a soft arm through his, Jueru drew him inside the suite, yawning sensuously as he scolded, “The hour is cruel to one unused to it. My lord, how do you manage to look so sharp-eyed and vigilant? Truly, if it weren’t for knowing how loyal my own lord is, I would be almost jealous with all the attention being paid him this morning. Being graced with royal favor is one thing. As to the others - I must say, so unexpected!”




            Warned again by the demon’s languid words, Kurama was unsurprised to find Lord Tenga entertaining not only strangers in his suite, but the King himself. Enki sat, a mild expression on his affable face, the couch almost bent double beneath his formidable red bulk. He looked terrible, barely holding back a yawn as he half-waved at Kurama to join them. Clearly worn out from last night’s party, the King sported the same dirty wife-beater and sagging grey sweatpants from yesterday. Dark smudges under his eyes and the unruly crop of brown curls atop his head testified to a hasty rising.




            Lord Tenga had assumed an effeminate pose hardly in keeping with the demon’s normal poise. He swept across the room, hands fluttering about like bejeweled butterflies. Those rings, in an array of colors only the Beautiful Suzuka could envy, contained more deadly poisons than an alchemist’s well-stocked shop.




            “Why, Kurama! What perfect timing! Why, I was just saying to myself, really I was, what a shame my Lord Kurama is not here to meet the grand emissary of Thet for himself.”




            Thet? Kurama raised a polite brow of inquiry, not entirely surprised to find the tall individual he had encountered last night regarding him with a cool, measuring gaze. Dressed again in a simple white vest and kilt, he had added a short, purple cape, clasped to one shoulder with a stylized gold disk of a sun wreathed in flames. The simple addition somehow conveyed “official,” just as the unconscious arrogance in his bearing suggested “high official.”




            “My lord ambassador, may I introduce Kurama? He is held in much esteem by our humble court,” Lord Tenga simpered, and then airily waved towards the ambassador's party, which consisted of the tall, hawk-faced youkai and two smaller attendants, dark creatures of no particular importance. “And, of course, my lord Kurama, this is Praal, of Her Highness’s own court and sent by royal regard to grace our kingdom with his august presence.”




            The flicker of distaste at Lord Tenga’s fawning was barely hidden as the proud youkai bowed stiffly. “It is an honor, Kurama. Word of your skill has reached even the far lands of the Anvil of the Sun, and Her Highest has made known Her desire to know more of such celebrated warriors as have so recently fought in the Great Tournament.”




            “Why, how fortunate then that Kurama has come so you might make an acquaintance with not one, but two such celebrities of the tournament,” Lord Tenga enthused, laying it on a bit thick to Kurama’s mind. The lord was almost over-playing his hand, but Praal, by virtue of his very arrogance, might be blind to anything more subtle.




            “The results of the tournament have proved most…astonishing.” Praal bordered on insult as he bowed marginally to the king. His black eyes glittered, anticipating the reaction to his barely veiled barb. Kurama held his breath, wondering how the king would respond.




            But Enki only grunted, idly scratching his rear as he said, “None more than me, lemme tell you.”




            Praal did not bother to hide his sneer. “I am glad we can agree so easily, Your Majesty. May such cooperation ever exist between our two lands.”




            “That’d be good,” Enki agreed, shifting his weight and making the couch groan in complaint so he could reach that itchy spot better.




            Praal smiled, his hawkish features even more pronounced. “It is ever in the best interest of nations to prevent any unnecessary conflict that might arise out of…misunderstandings.” That last word was said with drawling emphasis. “Long have the three territories of the West been torn apart by mutual antagonism. Uniting them under one yoke may prove a Herculean task.”




            “I guess so.” Enki shrugged, clearly more concerned with finding that distracting itch on the royal rump. Half-closing his eyes, the King let his fingers wander.




            Barely hiding his disgust, Praal pointedly turned to the others as more receptive. “As the Highest, May She Reign Another Thousand Years, has sent me as but a poor representative of Her Splendor and Majesty, so would She also extend invitation to a chosen emissary of…” He deliberately paused, brow raised sardonically.




            Scritch-scritch. Scritch-scritch-scritch.




            “Oh, yeah, that’s the spot,” mumbled the King.




            Kurama winced as the ambassador smiled thinly.




            “Ah, yes.” Lord Tenga coughed, exchanging pained looks with Kurama. “Truly an honor, my lord. A mutual exchange of ambassadors…we all, I believe, would welcome such an unique opportunity to learn more of our neighbors to the east. Shall we adjourn to the gardens, where we might break our fast among the beautiful fountains and discuss it further? Clearly, His Majesty has had a long night…”




            “I just had an idea.” Enki suddenly sat upright, itch forgotten. A spring finally broke under the couch with a loud, metallic “thwong” as he shifted his weight forward. His brown eyes held a keen light as he beamed down on all of them. “Kurama could go. To What’s-It-Called…Shet? No, that can't be right. Sounds too much like ‘shit.’”




            Thet, my lord,” Praal bit out, clearly furious as a giggle escaped from behind Jueru’s raised hand and even Kurama’s lips twitched.




            “Ah, yeah. That’s it. Thet.” King Enki beamed down on them benignly. “As I was saying, Kurama should go. Meet the Queen, take in the sights…”




            “Empress, my lord,” Praal icily reminded. “She Who Is Thet is no mere queen.”




            “Seems the same to me.” Enki shrugged. “Never could understand all that pomp and nonsense. But Kurama, now, he’d fit right into it. Know when it’s not good to burp at the table and all that.”




            Jueru beat a hasty retreat out the door, where his shriek of laughter could still be heard. Even Lord Tenga was having a hard time of it, seeing the two angry spots forming high on Lord Praal’s cheeks. The youkai’s resemblance to a raptor increased substantially at the dark glitter in his eyes. Seeing the cold fury, Kurama felt his own amusement die.




            “It would be my honor, my lord,” the kitsune said carefully, trying to salvage the situation as he bowed deeply to the ambassador.




            “Indeed.” For some reason, his diplomacy didn’t have the expected effect, but only fostered the youkai’s contempt. The scorn in Praal’s eyes - an expression the youkai didn’t even try and hide, now - and the shallow mockery of his respective bow spoke volumes.




            No, there was no mistaking the look of a predator with its prey in sight. The cold glint in that obsidian gaze, the cruel curve of his mouth that could not be called a smile…mimicking more the sharp curve of a raptor’s bill, poised to strike…




            Kurama felt a chill go down his spine, even as a slow, burning anger stirred within him. That this…creature…would dare to underestimate him! But mere reaction had never ruled either him or Youko, and he quickly turned the emotion aside, carefully schooling his features to show nothing but bland acceptance. These were dangerous waters he tread - an unknown territory, an unknowable enemy…this would take careful planning and all his skills at diplomacy and subtlety to avoid the inevitable pitfalls that awaited.












            Sango studied Kurama’s terse note with a frown. What was with that fox and letters that said nothing and revealed everything all at the same time? Although never what Kurama intended. A simple note excusing his absence, saying he was going to see Lord Tenga on something important and not to worry. That he could so easily dismiss them exasperated her no end, that he still felt the need for secrecy, certain he was only “protecting” them…Gah!




            “Stop over-reacting,” Hiei growled from the dark corner where he sat sharpening his sword. The repetitive scrape of the whetstone was actually soothing. So had the taijiya sat many an hour with blade in hand. Sango smiled softly, thinking how well at least one of them understood her. And how could he not, with his ability to read thoughts, gift of the third eye that rested between his own?




            “You’re giving me a headache,” came the withering retort. All sentimentality fled under that blithe response as her brown eyes narrowed. “It’s just a note, for gods sakes. Nothing to get so worked up over.”




            “Really,” she said, arms crossing.




            Oblivious to the danger signs, Hiei idly tested the edge of his sword, and went back to scraping.




            The silence grew. Hiei tested the edge again. Finally satisfied, he started on the other side.




            A whistle through the air was the fire demon's only warning before he dove for the floor, sword sweeping out defensively as he brought himself up to one knee. A knife quivered in the wall where his head had been but a moment before. Red eyes blazing, he turned on Sango.




            “Interpret that as you will,” she said sweetly, slamming the door on her way out.




            Grip tightening on his hilt, Hiei's eyes narrowed.




            “I wouldn’t, if I were you,” a familiar voice said tiredly behind him.




            Hiei whirled, angry that he had been so preoccupied he hadn’t noticed the kitsune’s arrival. He lowered his sword in disgust.




            “There are times when it is unwise to follow a woman,” Kurama said reflectively, adding at Hiei’s scowl, “Certain times of the month, especially.”




            At Hiei’s incomprehensive look, the kitsune sighed. There were times when the holes in Hiei’s experience were appallingly clear. The fire demon’s crude upbringing by a rough band of thieving cutthroats in no way helped. An all-male band of thieving cutthroats, Kurama mentally reminded himself, which left Hiei little in the way of social understanding, let alone any of the niceties.




            This little unplanned excursion to a mysterious land might prove harder than even he was prepared for. An official state visit, where every word was weighed, every gesture scrutinized, any nuance interpreted in unknown (and unknowable) ways…Hiei’s overt hostility might well set off an interplanetary war.




            “Hn.” Crossing the room, Hiei sheathed his sword with a snap. When he turned back to Kurama, his red gaze was cold. “You underestimate me, fox. I know enough not to pee on the carpet.”




            “But do you know when to hold your sword?” Kurama replied blandly, ignoring the fact that Hiei had shamelessly followed his thoughts with the Jagan. While they had always had an uncommon understanding, the fire demon had always been discreet. But that was before…before they had both claimed Sango, and yes, even each other, in a strange triple-bonding they were all still trying to come to terms with.




            “I know full well how to hold my sword,” came the sharp retort, Hiei’s eyes heating in a way that gave Kurama pause. The fox was suddenly conscious of the fact that Hiei wore nothing but a pair of black pants and his boots, leaving the wide, muscular expanse of his chest bare. There was a certain tension in the fire demon’s stance, a certain challenge in that indelible red stare.




            Kurama felt his breath coming short, his own muscles tightening in response. The very air crackled between them, something building that might well end in -








            “Helloooo! You guys in there? It’s Yusuke, damn it. Open up, already!”  




            With a disgusted sound, Hiei reached for his coat even as a disgruntled Kurama went for the door.




            “Hey! What took you so long?” Yusuke demanded, brown eyes suspicious as Kurama awkwardly coughed. But Hiei was already perched on the window sill, swathed from neck to knee in the concealing folds of his black trench coat and no sword in sight. He acknowledged the former Spirit Detective with a cool look.




            “Hey, three eyes.” Yusuke sprawled across the couch, knocking several pillows to the floor that Kurama went and collected.




            “This is pretty nice,” he said, grinning at the over-done Moroccan theme, or Demon World’s interpretation of it. “So what are you guys up to? Haven’t seen you much, what with everything.”




            Kurama straightened, turning to look at the black-haired boy. Yusuke smirked. “Well, I saw Sango storming off, muttering something about dumb demons. Trouble brewing already in paradise?”




            “That,” Hiei snapped, “is none of your concern.”




            “Oh-ho! Struck a nerve, have I?” Yusuke chortled, helping himself to a bowl of grapes left out on the coffee table. “Hmm, these look good.”




            “Careful, Yusuke,” Kurama cautioned, “they’re carnivorous.”




            “Ow! What the hell?” Yusuke flapped his hand, trying to get one of the evil little buggers off his finger. “Damn, these things bite!”




            Carefully pinching the purple “grape” behind the eyes, Kurama dropped it back inside the bowl, where it growled and thrashed among its fellows. “They’re decorative.”




            “They’re disgusting,” Yusuke replied, sucking on his bloody finger as Kurama carefully fed the bowl dead crickets. The feeding frenzy that ensued had the detective rearing back. As often as not, the “grapes” ate each other. “Okay, that’s really disgusting.”




            “Hn.” Hiei actually smiled.




            “I don’t know who’s creepier, three eyes. You, or them.”




            “They’re useful, in their own way,” Kurama said. “They glow at night, providing a soft ambiance without the need for lighting.”




            “Like the toilets.” Yusuke shuddered, recalling the ghoulish green glow that came from the fungus that inhabited the pipes and sewers of Gandera, ingesting the offal of others and providing electricity as a convenient by-product. An elegant solution to the problem, but still hella weird. But that was Demon World, where even the chickens were rapacious, three-eyed cousins to their Earth-bound counterparts.




            *Welcome to Hell,* Yusuke thought irreverently, and grinned. Demon World wasn’t so bad, once you got used to it. And those evil little chickens tasted just as good cooked over an open flame. With tare and a little salt…oh, yeah…




            His stomach growled, and he looked forlornly at the bowl of evil not-grapes. “Got anything to eat?” he demanded, scratching his belly. “I’m starved.”




            “You’re always starved,” Kurama said dryly, pulling an orange-like fruit off of the table and handing it to him. It peeled like an onion and tasted like apricots.




            “Demon energy requires lots of fuel,” Yusuke dismissed, busy chewing. “Or so Hokushin told me.”








            “You gotta work on your grunts, Hiei. They’re getting a little repetitious.”




            “That’s a big word for you, Detective.”




            “Yeah, isn’t it?” Finished with the fruit, Yusuke propped his hands behind his head and planted his feet on the table. “Botan’s been working on my vocabulary.”




            “How is Botan?” Kurama asked, seating himself beside the Mazoku.




            “Good, I guess. Busy with work. Ferrying dead people’s a full-time job. So’s mentoring Koenma’s new stooge. You guys hear some chick got my old job as Spirit Detective?”




            “Actually, we’ve met Kagome,” Kurama said.




            “Really?" Yusuke cocked a brow at him. “She cute? Or is she built like a tank, like that first detective, old Kuroko Sanada?"




            “She has tremendous spiritual energy,” Kurama allowed.




            “Ha! So she is cute.” Yusuke smirked. “Good. One ugly mug is enough for any team, and I hear Kuwabara’s gonna fill that role again.”




            “Hmph.” Disgusted with either the subject or the conversation, Hiei stared out the window.




            Rolling his eyes - Hiei’s dislike of the large carrot-top was well-known - Yusuke abruptly turned the conversation. “So now the crown’s safely on Enki’s head, what are you guys gonna do? Enki’s got some ideas about using the tournament fighters to fill the border guards under Mukuro, now that the kekkai barrier protecting Human World will be going down. Sounds boring to me, though. I kind of like Yomi’s idea of traveling around teaching his son to fight. Sounds more interesting than staying here being eaten by grapes.”




            “Well…” Kurama looked over at Hiei, thinking this might be as good a time as any to broach the subject. “We might be traveling as well.”




            Hiei gave him a sharp look. “This “mysterious land” your thoughts were so tangled with earlier?”




            “Ooh, this sounds good,” Yusuke said, finding a missed orange-bit on his shirt and popping it into his mouth.




            Leaning forward, Kurama steepled his hands under his chin. “Not precisely. This is all quite unexpected…”




            Quickly, he told them of the strange ambassador from Thet, and King Enki volunteering him to go represent the three territories. He left off his own personal observations of the arrogant ambassador, and frankly admitted how little he knew of the mysterious land.




            “Wait a sec.” Yusuke held up his hand. “I thought the Great Tournament was about crowning one demon to rule all Demon World, not just this part of it. Are you telling me there are whole other countries out there we don’t even know about?”




            “Demon World isn’t that simple, Yusuke. The land of this world is vast, as vast as that of Human World. This is only one part - a rather small part, actually - of a wide world, with creatures and societies even more complex and diverse than Human World’s. The border territories…”




            Hiei snorted. “The only territories Spirit World acknowledges.”




            “There is that," Kurama agreed. “Spirit World has only ever dealt with the border territories, as only they posed a threat to Ningenkai. Any invasion from Demon World would have to cross over from one of these three lands, where the border between worlds is so thin.”




            “Huh.” Yusuke rubbed the side of his nose, turning the information over. “So any country wanting to start a campaign against the humans would have to win through this place. And now they’re not guarded by three of the most powerful youkai of Demon World, there might be people thinking they can take advantage of the situation.”




            “You are more intelligent than you appear, Detective.”




            “Why, thank you, three eyes. Coming from you, that means a lot.” Yusuke smirked, but once again, the former detective had seen right to the heart of the matter, without any help from anyone.




            “Then this guy, Praal," Yusuke continued, "could just be testing the waters. See how stable the kingdom is, now that Enki’s in charge.”




            “Exactly. Which is why it is so important the three territories provide a united front. Enki would do well to put any dissenters from the tournament on the border under Mukuro's command. She has had plenty of experience leading…ah…” Kurama searched for a polite phrase that would encompass the motley crew of brutish demons who had ever called the chaotic lands of Mukuro’s former territory home.




            Hiei gave him an impatient look.




            “Well, I guess I should probably stick around here, then.” Yusuke sighed. “It might help Enki to have some of us here in case anything goes down. I know Chuu ain’t going anywhere, not with Natsume being the Queen’s best friend. And Jin and Touya and the others…they might be interested in hanging out, maybe training a bit to relieve the boredom.”




            “I’d be reassured, Yusuke, if you did,” Kurama admitted.




            “Hell, I haven’t gotten a chance to explore the city yet. There’s got to be plenty of trouble to get into around here.” Yusuke grinned wolfishly, and Kurama worried over what ructions would ensue with that crew unleashed on Gandera. But that was Lord Tenga’s problem. And knowing Yusuke, the founder of the Great Tournament, would be here, supporting the King, might sway public opinion in Enki's favor.




            “Well, and that will leave you three free to go suss out the new territory, see which way the wind really blows.” Yusuke crossed his arms behind his head. “Speaking of which, you better let Sango in on all this, or you’ll find yourselves with a tempest on your hands.”








            “You’ll learn.” Yusuke smirked.










          Sango didn’t know what was more irritating - the turmoil in her heart or the churning in her gut. Kami, she must have eaten something earlier that didn‘t agree with her. A sharp pain intruded on her fury, and she kicked a wall to relieve her feelings.




            Stupid demons. Stupid meatheads. Men! Who could understand them? Gods, she missed Kagome. She could really use a friend right now. A girl friend, and not just some other guy who just wouldn’t understand. They would just pat her on the head and tell her she was over-reacting.




            Okay, maybe she was. A little, she temporized. But it was more than just Kurama’s stupid note and Hiei’s crappy response. She’d foolishly thought all would be roses and sunshine once they all came together. She blushed, reminded just how they came together. And smiled grimly, remembering how she had slugged Kurama right through a wall after he told her “I love you.”




            Ha! Point for her! Served the smug bastard right, as if just saying the words made everything all right. Well, okay, so it helped. Her smile turned tender, as she recalled other instances. And then darkened, remembering others. Those two needed some serious talking-to, especially about not crowding in on her independence. She had spent the last five hundred years taking care of herself, and doing a fairly good job of it, thank you very much! And now, now she was just supposed to give that up, accept whatever they decided was the end-all, be-all?




            Fat chance! She’d been careful these past few days, considerate of their feelings, knowing how uncomfortable and new all this was. Compromise, that was the foundation of any good relationship, as she well knew. But when did compromise reach a point where one started to compromise their self?




            Maybe she was being too hasty. Hell, it had only been a week, really, since they had all…well.




            Sango blushed, still uncomfortable with that side of their relationship. Not that she didn’t like that side of their relationship. It was…enjoyable. Heck, more than enjoyable. But her feelings were so tangled up right now, she couldn’t even gain heads or tails on them. Lord Tenga had warned her, in his own drawling way, that demons, particularly male demons, were used to dominating others. By preference, they sought the strongest female they could find to challenge and overcome, like calling to like.




            But where was it written that their mate, once caught, just had to roll over and capitulate? When did compromise become subservience? And when, frankly, did the cost of love become too high?




            Not that Hiei or Kurama had demanded that kind of cost from her. Not yet, anyway. And maybe her fears were groundless. She was just speculating, maybe putting too much importance on the small things like what she wore (and how annoying was that, with Kurama urging her to take stuff off, and Hiei always urging her to put more on - gods, those two needed their own shrink, just to get their priorities in sync!) or where she went. That one really sat in her craw.




            She’d hadn’t had to report her movements since she was thirteen, when she’d been accounted a full warrior, and thus an adult, by her village. Of course, she had always let her father know out of simple courtesy if she was heading out to go slay a demon. But he had never demanded it of her, had never made it a requirement. And there were only so many excuses she could make to explain her mates’ tendency to do just that.




            Yes, she understood the bond was new, that there was a certain jealousy and protectiveness that would arise from any new pairing. Hell, she experienced it herself, watching the speculation thrown Kurama’s way whenever they passed. The kitsune was a handsome man, and more approachable than Hiei, who while no less striking, was about as huggable as barbed wire, as Kagome so aptly put it.




            Sango giggled. Gods, didn’t she know it! But there was a tender side to the fire demon that made her heart ache with just how gentle those sword-calloused hands could be, touching her skin like it was as fragile as glass and just as precious. There were times - very few, true, but there nonetheless - when she caught an expression from him of such wonder and vulnerability that it made her heart tighten just to think of it. There was a part of Hiei, too, that was just as fragile as glass, and so very, very precious.




            Now Kurama - Kurama would never allow himself to be caught at such an expression. And that bothered Sango. It was as if the kitsune were still holding a part of himself back, too chary of how he might be hurt, and by those who loved him most. But then, hadn’t she just been arguing over how much love could hurt you, if you let it?




            Gods, now she had a headache on top of everything else. And her stomach was roiling, the cramping sensation becoming more poignant with each passing moment.




            Cramps -




            Oh, gods. Damn it. No wonder she felt like crap and ready to tear everyone's heads off, her emotions all over the place. But she hadn’t had to worry about it, not for the past five years at least. Although, she did remember that fussy old doctor in Spirit World who administered the implant warning her she would have to renew it twice a decade. Sango hadn’t seen the need, really, since she had never been interested in anyone after Miroku, so focused on finding her brother and finally carrying out her revenge. But it was standard issue in the SDF - Spirit World Defense Force - where a child resulting from an idle night’s negligence would just be a burden on the woman so foolish not to take the necessary precautions.




            Sango froze. Could she be…? They certainly hadn’t been taking any precautions, hadn’t even thought about it, actually. But then a particularly bad cramp seized her, almost doubling her over, and she felt that ominous sensation of…




            Blanching, she ran flat-out for the closest bathroom.












            Sango was in no mood to talk when the others finally returned from wherever they had gone. She’d drawn the curtains, plunging the room in darkness as she lay curled around the pain. It seemed spending the last five years denying her body’s natural cycles was catching up with a vengeance. She didn’t want to see anyone, she didn’t want to talk to anyone, she just wanted to lie here wallowing in misery as the aspirin did nothing to alleviate the horrible clenching in her gut.




            “Sango?” The surprise in Kurama’s voice was justified, maybe, but gods, she wished he hadn’t turned on the overhead lights. They were too bright. Squishing her eyes tightly shut, she buried her dark head in the pillows.




            “What’s wrong?” Kurama was at her side in a moment, one hand brushing her hair back to test her forehead as the other ran feather-light down her back. “What’s the matter?”




            “Nothing.” It sounded petulant, even to her. She’d always made a terrible patient. The very weakness of sickness, ugh. She couldn’t stand it. “Stop that.”




            Someone was tossing pillows off the bed, making room at her side. She wanted to kick them.




            “Hn.” He kept tossing.




            “Go 'way,” she protested into her crossed arms. The last thing she wanted to do was have to explain the situation to those two.           




            “There’s no fever,” the kitsune observed.




            “It’s nothing,” Sango protested, then amended, “Nothing serious."




            “There’s pain, in her lower abdomen.”




            Stupid Hiei. Stupid Jagan.




            “Is it something you ate?" Kurama asked. “There are many things in Demon World that are toxic to humans.”




            “No, it’s not something I ate.” Sango sucked in her breath at a particularly bad cramp. It felt like half of her uterine wall was peeling off. “I’m fine.”




            “You’re not fine,” Hiei growled.




            “I will be,” she snapped, raising her head to glare at him, “if you two would just leave me alone.




            “We are not leaving you like this,” Kurama said sharply, an edge to his voice that surprised her. Raising up on one elbow, Sango pushed her hair out of her eyes to stare at him. Specks of gold were splashed through the intense green of his eyes, and there was an uneasy aura building around him, as if jyaki were crackling just under the skin.




            “Kurama?” she asked softly, and he blinked, the gold dying as he won control over his emotions.




            “Sango,” he said, sliding gracefully to the bed, his voice husky. “What’s wrong? Tell me.”




            An ugly blush stole up her cheeks. Not a cute blush, to brush a light color across her cheeks, but the raw heat of mortification. “Don’t worry,” she insisted, staring down at her fingers, plucking the beaded decorations on a pillow to shreds. “It’ll pass. Eventually."




            “How ‘eventually?’” Hiei demanded.




            “Can’t you leave it alone?” Sango shot back.




            “No,” came the implacable reply.




            “You are the most infuriating - ” She paled, clenching her middle. “Ooh. I think I’m going to be sick.”




            Hiei jumped back so fast it would have been funny under different circumstances. Dragging a pillow to her stomach, Sango curled around it. “Don’t…gods…it’s just a female thing, okay?”




            “What do you mean, a female thing?” Hiei snapped, but comprehension dawned on Kurama’s face. Thank gods, she didn’t think she could explain any further, not without dying of embarrassment. There were some things one just didn’t talk about, not from her era, anyway. Maybe it was anachronistic in these modern times, but she had been raised in the Sengoku Jidai, not the Sixties. Women’s Lib hadn’t hit the Spirit World until well into the Eighties, actually, and even then it hadn’t exactly taken…




            An uncomfortable silence fell over the room, as Kurama silently explained to Hiei what was going on. The Jagan had its uses, after all.




            “Is that all?” Hiei growled.




            Sango saw red.




            “I’ll make a tisane,” Kurama wisely said, and took Hiei with him.