InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Sachi ❯ Trap Move (hamate) ( Chapter 20 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
Chapter 20 Trap Move (hamate)

“Night trip” my mother-fucking ass. InuYasha gripped the steering wheel, his fingers nearly white from the tension as he debated just turning the truck around and making the drive back home.


From the corner of his eye, he noted Miroku had slumped against the window, his elbow draped lazily along the door, and not even the way he’d set his chin against his palm could hide the bastard’s grin. “Oh,” he said into the silence of the cab, going for surprise and failing miserably. “It appears the Uzumas decided to come into town today after all. And look, they brought Kagome with them.” He paused, pretending to think. “Come to think of it, she did say something about wanting to see the ice festival.”


Slowly, black brows low and tight over narrow eyes, InuYasha turned his head, his glare dark and murderous.


Miroku didn’t deign to notice; instead, he kept his eyes on the foursome walking down the sidewalk towards where InuYasha had just parked against the curb. They strolled along, oblivious to the truck, the Uzumas bundled up in their designer clothes with Mrs. Uzuma wrapped beneath her husband’s arm, and a laughing Kagome with Shippou tucked into the crook of her elbow. They hadn’t noticed them yet, but they would any moment now.


Two days. He’d managed to survive two of the three days the damn intent-spewing Uzumas had been wandering the Sachi. He’d done this mostly by stints of seclusion in his room—and had found, much to his consternation, his inability to tolerate it from their first night hadn’t been a one-time thing. No matter his intentions, the growing anxiety kept driving him out into the hallways, where Kagome’s scent mingled in different concentrations with the Uzumas’ contagious enthusiasm. And each time, it had been like going from strangling (isolated, irritated beyond rationality by the distinct lack around him) to drowning (overwhelmed by a tangle of scents and the dangerous need they spurred). The Uzumas’ had a particular quality to them that was pure and intoxicating, seeping through his thoughts and soaking into his body, leaving both obsessive and reckless, wracked with incessant craving. He’d been fighting himself—his own damn instincts—every waking moment (and a few sleeping ones) since the Uzumas had graced them with their sex-saturated presence.


The balancing act of the past few days had been a lot of agony tinged with the smallest hints of ecstasy. And always with the knowledge that Kagome, and some damn relief, was just on the other side of that enclosed space. InuYasha didn’t know what the Uzumas did for a living, but their intent pheromones, bottled and sold on the youkai-specialized markets, would probably set them up for life. Just his luck to wind up trapped in tight quarters with humans who fucking embodied the equivalent of youkai Viagra.


So of course, when Miroku had come knocking with a small list of items they needed, he’d jumped at the chance to get the hell out of that enclosed space. They could pick up some things and take their time about it, Miroku had said, make it a night trip and not come back until late.


And InuYasha hadn’t bothered to be anything but relieved that neither the Uzumas nor Kagome seemed to be anywhere nearby as they’d been leaving. Hadn’t paid any attention to the smirk on Kaede’s otherwise serene face as she’d waved them out the door.


He should leave. Tomorrow would be soon enough to stock up on whatever was on Miroku’s list. He could come out first thing, and it would mean avoiding a full morning of the damn Uzumas wandering his halls; it would mean avoiding running into Kagome in those same halls and having to battle the urge to yank her into the nearest dark room and get them wrapped hot and naked around each other, spend the rest of the day, maybe longer, fulfilling all those lustful thoughts and images he’d been battling for what felt like forever.


“If you hold onto that wheel any tighter, we’re going to have to order another one,” Miroku said, eyes still locked on the four down the sidewalk. “Since we still have to drive home, let’s avoid that, shall we?” In a smooth serious of motions, he dropped his hand, pulled the handle, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. It took less than three seconds for Kagome to notice him and call out with a friendly wave. Miroku waved back, then turned a flashing, wicked grin back into the spacious cab. “Unless you’d prefer we all, all of us, spend the night in town?”


“Tch.” His hands loosened their death-grip. He dropped his fingers to hover over the ignition key, a hair’s-breadth of pressure away from cranking the engine back up.


“Miroku!” Kagome came running up, cheeks pink from the cold, gray eyes light and carefree. She flicked a glance into the SUV’s interior, and touched on him for a breath—just enough time to spark a gut-tightening hum of electricity through his veins. He swore the pink on her cheeks went a little deeper in the spare moment before she turned back to Miroku. “I thought you two were staying with Sachi today?” She’d left the waves and loose curls of her hair free for her outing, covered by a thick, green and white beanie she’d pulled low over her ears. It matched the scarf she had wrapped around her neck, and the heavy white jacket she had over her…


He blinked.


green knit top.


He remembered that top. It was the same one she’d been trying on in the dressing room the time he’d been with her on a trip to Sounkyo. The one with all the little buttons that had been undone when she’d yanked open the door and pressed right up against him. The first time he’d seen her in a bra—the pure white one that had plumped her breasts up at him like offerings—and the resulting flustered, hair-tumbled, cherry-faced reaction that had made her look halfway to orgasm. And of course, after the snowstorm during the Uzumas’ first night, the weather had ticked up a bit in the last few days, so she hadn’t felt the need to keep her jacket done up in the afternoon sun. She was wearing a layer or two underneath the top this time, but the fine wool still clung enough to her curves and dips for his mind to tease him with remembered details.


All except the bra. He had no idea what color bra she was wearing this time.
…If she even was wearing a bra this time.


Shit. He closed his eyes and bit back a growl, his ear flicking in annoyance, and realized he’d missed some of Kagome and Miroku’s conversation.


“That’s great!” Kagome clapped her hands together, both free now that Shippou had made a hop over to Miroku’s shoulder. “We still have several hours before sunset. I’m sure we can get everything on the list and meet back up for the festival once the sun sets!”


His head jerked around. “Festival? You mean that damn ice festival you’re so obsessed with? No. No way in hell. It’s a stupid tourist trap, and I’m not dealing with it.” It was more than him not wanting to deal with the confusion of non-local bodies and scents. A lot of tourists came from all over for festivals like this one. People who lived in big cities—like Tokyo. They gazed at everything with keen, starry eyes, took lots of pictures, then went home and posted their shit all over the Internet for anyone to just stumble over.


Kagome, Miroku, and Shippou all turned to look at him through the door, but only Kagome’s chiding gray ones had him fighting off a squirm. “Why not? Miroku said you were planning to be here for a while tonight. If we can get everything done quickly, and you’re going to be here anyway, why not enjoy the festival with us?”
“I told you before—”


“Owner-san!” Mr. Uzuma waved at him from the other side of the door. “My wife and I would be quite pleased to help you with your chores for the day. Then, of course, we could all attend the festival together.”


InuYasha scowled at him around a spurt of alarm. “What? No. You’re not—”
“Oh, don’t be silly. We could never allow such honored guests to do such menial labor as checking off our shopping list.” Miroku put a hand to his chest, his head tilted downward, his eyes and lips properly slanted with faux-chagrin. “I’m sure there are other things you’d like to see today.”


“Not at all. Housekeeper-san has been very kind to accompany us around Sounkyo today, but it is we who would be honored to get a glimpse at how the Sachi’s staff go about their lives when their home is so isolated away from everything.” He patted his wife’s arm.


Her answering smile bloomed with eagerness. “It would be like witnessing those outtakes from dramas, only in real life.”


“She loves watching behind-the-scenes footage,” Mr. Uzuma added in a stage-whisper, as if his wife couldn’t hear him, his manner almost sickeningly affectionate.
“Well…” Kagome exchanged a look with Miroku and Shippou. “I suppose if you really want to…”


Shippou clapped his hands in an imitation of Kagome. “It’ll be fun!”


And before InuYasha could comment any more on the subject, Miroku closed his door with a solid slam of metal on metal, leaving InuYasha in closed off quiet while their muffled voices continued on in the background.


Brows scrunched together, InuYasha sat back and gave his head a shake. Just what exactly the hell was happening while he was sitting like a dunce in the damn truck? “Tch!” He grabbed at the key again, yanking it out of the ignition, then flattened his ears, smoothed on his hat, and stepped out, slamming the door behind him. By the time he rounded the front of the truck, Miroku already had a few pieces of paper in his hand, and was consulting with Kagome…who was standing way too close to him, in a near full-body press while she peered over his arm.


Something unpleasant jittered the wrong way down his spine, and he might have done something stupid, like yanking her away from Miroku, if Miroku hadn’t taken a big step back just as InuYasha stepped up onto the sidewalk next to them.


With a minor flourish and a pleasant glance in InuYasha’s direction that should have made him suspicious, Miroku handed one of the two pieces of paper to Kagome. “InuYasha, would you like to accompany the Uzumas?”


“Hell no!” The words burst from him before he had a chance to consider them. InuYasha heard Kagome’s sharp inhale, then grunted when her elbow jammed into his gut.


While InuYasha glared down into Kagome’s reprimanding gaze and tried not to get stuck there, he peripherally noted Miroku’s serene nod. “It’s probably best I go with them anyway. That way I can show them Koharu’s place while we’re about, since I doubt Kagome has, and I think they’d enjoy that, don’t you?” He gave a wave of his damaged hand behind him as he turned towards the Uzumas. “We’ll see you two on the festival grounds in a few hours, then.”


InuYasha finally managed to yank his eyes away from hers when his head jerked around. “Huh? You two? What two?”


“Weren’t you listening? We decided to split up. One of us is going with Kagome to pick up some groceries, and the other of us will go with the Uzumas to retrieve a few packages from the post office and arrange for some deliveries for Kaede and myself.”  Miroku paused before he’d quite stepped away, then pivoted to raise an eyebrow at InuYasha, his violet eyes lit with laughter. “I even let you choose. You chose Kagome.”


“I chose…” Something hot and molten started a slow boil in his stomach, curling his fingers into his palms. “Mother. Fucker.” He ground it out low and quiet, through gritted teeth.


“Your father, or mine?” Miroku shrugged; his eyes scanned the high irregular clouds breaking up the unrelenting blue of the afternoon sky before coming back to his. “Regardless, I suppose we’re both glad they were, right?”


Their fathers, who had been friends long before Miroku and InuYasha had met. Their fathers, whose friendship had ended literally the day their sons’ had started. It was both warning and reminder: Miroku was declaring himself an enemy combatant in InuYasha’s own private war, abandoning his annoying subversiveness for out-and-out attack. And he wasn’t even going to allow InuYasha the catharsis of getting truly mad about it, because they both knew Miroku would never do anything he thought would harm InuYasha. He’d proven it, through years of loyalty and friendship from before. Then he’d proved it by walking into hell to pull InuYasha out of it, and condemning himself in the process.


“Keh.” The slow, hot boil rolled into a frustrated simmer, and the tension went out of his shoulders as fast as it had invaded them. “You bastard,” he said mildly, with a disgusted curl of his lip. “Don’t think I didn’t notice those lists.”


Miroku’s grin was unexpectedly wicked and completely unapologetic. “Of course you noticed. The list of errands is why we came into town.”


One list, not two, you asshole. InuYasha snorted, then turned and plucked the piece of paper from Kagome’s hands, noting the way her brow knit and her eyes repeated an anxious flit between the two of them. That meant she hadn’t caught the meaning of their exchange, even if she’d sensed the underlying tension. Thank whatever little gods granted little favors—the last thing he needed was Kagome getting tips and strategies from Miroku.


“Whatever.” He glanced over the list, noting it was mostly food items. “Let’s just get this over with.” And hopefully avoid any more sabotage from his best friend for the day.


Kagome reached out to tug the hand holding the list down so she could peer at it again. Her fingers curled over his to hold him in place, sending ripples of awareness down his forearms and all the way along his spine. That her digits were chill from exposure irritated him, and he had the brief, insane urge to tuck them into his palm since his hands, not suffering from a normal human susceptibility to cold, were still warm.


He blinked, latching onto the way her smaller fingers and short nails contrasted to the bigger, rougher, and just as naked display of his claws. He glanced over at the SUV, and blinked again.


Oh?


His gloves. He’d forgotten them. He hadn’t even noticed.


Kagome was making a humming sound, nodding her head. “Good. All of these things will keep fine in the truck while we’re at the festival.”


“I’m not going to the damn festival.” He said it automatically, almost absently as he pondered how in the hell he could have forgotten his gloves.


He sure as hell noticed when she pulled her hand away from his, though. And he noticed even more when she squared off to him, pushed her jacket back, and used that same hand to punch her fist against a cocked hip. “And what’s wrong with spending a few more hours having a little fun with the rest of us? You’ve never even seen the ice festival, so how do you know whether you’d like it or not?”


And now, of course, the cursed green knit was in full frontal view, hugging the prominent curve of her breast, sliding down the dip of her waist, flaring back out along with the feminine rounding of her hip. He scowled at all the curves she’d just put on display for him, wondering if she remembered what else she’d put on display for him in that shirt, and if she was doing it on purpose just to torment him.


“I don’t do festivals.” Well, shit. His voice was all gravelly again.


“Well, today you do.”


He managed to drag his eyes back up to her face. Just barely. In his mind, he could still see the way she’d looked with all those tiny little buttons undone. His hands started itching, this time with the desire to have at those buttons, to get them out of those vexing little holes holding the tightly woven material together. The heat was roiling in his gut again, tight and churning, this time without the anger and double the frustration.

He growled, loud and low, not even caring that it wasn’t a human sound. “Like hell I do. I came into town to run a fucking errand, so that’s what I’m gonna do. You can stay if you want, but I’m getting the hell out of here once it’s do—”


He broke off. Oh?


He couldn’t see the entire column on her throat, wrapped in that thick scarf as it was—but he could see the small exposed patch where her neck met her jaw. There, right in the shadow beneath the corner of her jaw, he noticed a leap in her pulse. A subtle jump in the beat of it, an accompanying quickening of breath. The soft pink in her cheeks had deepened a bit, spread a bit, high in her cheekbones. Not the the flush of embarrassment she’d worn the last time she’d been in this shirt. He noticed a small spike in her scent, too, an enticing pop of richness that made him want to peel off all those damn layers she had on.


He had to pause and think for a moment before he figured out what had caused it. His eyes widened, just a bit.


Well fuck me hard…did she actually like his growl? Like, it was some kind of turn-on for her? Beneath his cap, his ears gave a squashed, uncomfortable twitch, an unconscious response to such an utterly intriguing thought. He had the sudden, nearly overwhelming urge to pull her into the nearest alley, put his mouth to her ear and growl again. Test the theory.


She didn’t give him a chance to ponder it, though. Her chin went up, her eyes going a stormy slate with stubbornness. “You’re already here. You can just stay, and we’ll all go back together.”


“Or,” he countered, focusing on her pulse to avoid either her eyes or her knit-caressed chest, “I can just go, avoid the damn headache, and you can come back the way you were going to if I never showed up.”


“You..!”


For a second, he thought she was going to stamp her foot. His eyes even dropped to the ground in anticipation. He was so invested in her next reaction, he actually started a bit when Miroku broke in.


“Now, now, Kagome. There’s no need to bother our dear Owner. If he doesn’t want to go, we shouldn’t force him. He obviously believes he won’t have a good time. We should just let him go, after all.”


It was gratifying to see Kagome jump as well at the sound of Miroku’s voice, as if she’d forgotten he was there. They both turned to look, and he realized they were all still there: Miroku, with Shippou still hanging off his back, peeking round green eyes over his shoulder; the Uzumas just a step behind them, cuddled unabashedly against each other, faces rapt with attention.


Kagome huffed. “But—”


“What the hell?” He burst out, unthinking. “Didn’t you guys have somewhere to go already?”


Miroku’s shit-eating grin got even shit-eatier, and InuYasha considered punching him in his pretty teeth. His eminently reasonable tone didn’t help, either. “It’s fine if you want to go without us, InuYasha. I’m sure Kaede will be happy to have her supplies sooner, rather than later.”


InuYasha scowled and shifted his restless body, crossing his arms. “Yeah? So glad I have your permission.”


“It won’t be a burden at all, I’m sure, for me to ride back with everyone else in the Uzumas’ tiny rental.”


He snorted and turned to Kagome. “See? No problems.” Paused. Nearly groaned, then turned back. “Tiny?”


Miroku nodded, thoughtfully. “Yes, well, it’s one of those that’s really only supposed to have two people, you know? It only worked coming down because Kagome and Shippou don’t even make up one full-sized adult between the two of them.” He paused, held out his hands and studied his own body, then shrugged. “Well, I’m sure it’ll work if Kagome sits in my lap.”


What?” He dropped his arms.


Another nod, no easing of that damn, shit-eating grin. “It’s only thirty minutes or so, right?” He pivoted, took in the Uzumas behind him. “You don’t mind?”


Her color high, looking absolutely thrilled, Mrs. Uzuma waved a hand. “Of course not, of course not! We’re happy to help!” Mr. Uzuma nodded, barely suppressing a laugh.


InuYasha almost choked on his outrage. None of these bastards were even trying to pretend they weren’t manipulating the hell out him. They weren’t even trying. “…Thirty minutes.” The words came out flat, unamused. In his lap. Like hell. He ground his teeth together hard enough to hurt. Like hell was Kagome sitting in Miroku’s lap for any amount of fucking time.

Manipulation or no. It. Wasn’t. Happening.


“And,” Miroku added, “if worse comes to worse and the drive seems untenable, the two of us can always just spend the night here in town, and take the ropeway home in the morning.”


He curled one hand into a fist at his side, rubbed the other one over his face, grinding at his eyes with his thumb and finger. “Stop.” He was barely able to force the word out through a tight throat and clenched teeth.


“Shippou, of course, would still be able to go, but Kagome and I—”


“Fucking stop!” He dropped his hand and glared. “You fucking win already! I’ll stay for the fucking festival. Bastard.” He whirled, stepped right up into Kagome’s space, still growling. “There! You happy?”


She stared up at him, the dark storm clouds in her eyes cleared, leaving them the same pale, smoky translucence that had so struck him the first time he’d seen them. Wide, round, warm, stunned. Then her mouth twitched. She glanced down, pressed her fingers to her lips, holding in a laugh. But when she glanced up, the laughter had spread across her entire face, mischievous and gentle, temper replaced with light-hearted pleasure.


The fingers she’d had pressed to her lips fell away from them, reached out to pat at his chest as she nodded and murmured an affirmative. “Mm.”


Just that simple response. Just that simple look. Just that simple touch, and his jangled, over-stressed nerves started to untangle. InuYasha stared down at the hand on his jacket, not even close enough to his skin for him to feel her warmth through the layers of his clothes. Only the pressure of her hand giving one or two soothing pats to his chest.


He sighed. Uncurled the fist at his side, and held up the crinkled shopping list. “Here,” he said, gruff, but no longer agitated.


Her clear gray eyes blinked, then took the list, started to pick it out of the wrinkled ball his hand had turned it into. He stepped back, shoved his hands into his pockets, stuffing them in, willing them to stay, and scowled again at the traitorous group standing a few feet away, still watching them as if they were one of those weekly dramas Mrs. Uzuma had mentioned earlier. “Well? Don’t you have shit to do?”


Then, still scowling, he turned and strode down the sidewalk, heading for the grocer where they bought the majority of their food, willing like mad to keep himself from a full-blown erection in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Kagome hurried after him, running a few steps to catch up.


He hesitated…then shortened his steps by a half-stride. She fell in beside him. And even after all that, even with the challenge of her presence, it felt good to have her beside him.


Miroku’s smothered laughter followed him down the sidewalk. “Have fun, InuYasha.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It wasn’t until they were nearly at the grocery store that Kagome jerked to a stop on the concrete with a high, squealing “Ah!”


Startled from the contentment of his brooding, InuYasha looked up, then around, but found nothing amiss, at her horrified, round-mouthed dismay. The look she was giving him made him tense for a battle he hadn’t expected was coming. “What? What?! What’s wrong?!”


“Shippou,” she said, as if that explained everything, “went with them.”


“Hah?”


“Miroku said he was taking the Uzumas to Koharu’s place, didn’t he? Isn’t that…”
Oh. That. Understanding dawned, and along with it came a deep, smirking sense of vengeance and satisfaction. He smothered a snort of amusement, but let the slow smirk break across his face. “Heh. That’ll get uncomfortable. Bet the bastard didn’t think that through.”


“We have to go get him!” She whirled back around in the direction they’d come.


He didn’t bother to smother his next snort, and caught her elbow, yanking her back around. “The hell we do. Miroku set this shit up. Let him deal with the runt’s questions.” And suddenly looking forward to meeting up again, he pulled her along into the grocer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They loaded the shopping bags into the back of the truck—three times as many as he’d figured they’d have, thanks to Kagome suddenly remembering, right as they’d been rolling a cart through the produce section, a bunch of different things they’d been running low on not on their half of the damn list. Thanks to that shit, it had taken them at least an hour longer than they’d expected, and the tired orange ball that was the sun was just touching down on the mountainous horizon on its way to a fucking nap.


The bitch of it was, he hadn’t minded the time. In fact, he’d maybe had a little bit of fun arguing over all the extra shit she wanted to buy. He’d even felt a bit high off some kind of weird, sexually charged buzz as they’d made the slow walk back to the truck, then locked it up before heading for the festival.


Sonkyou, sprawled throughout a massive gorge high in the mountains as it was, got the full range of end-of-day rays and shadows as they danced flirtatiously across the white-draped colors of the peaks and valleys of the Daisetsuzan. It was a fifteen minute walk from where they’d parked to the outskirts of town where the vast festival grounds spread out on just the other side of the Ishikari River, and it was a hell of a view for most of it.


Kagome chattered the whole way, her cheeks still pinki-ish against the cold, her breath making small puffs in the air as she speculated aloud about what the festival would be like—as if he cared.


He didn’t, of course. Care. But he found he didn’t particularly mind how she bounced and sparkled with excitement and sheer joy. And then, just as they cleared the last cobblestone-lined hill to bring the festival into sight, the lights went on. Kagome squealed with delight, and InuYasha couldn’t quite keep the smile from quirking his mouth at her version of “Oooh” and “Aaah”. In the shadowy blue of late dusk, even InuYasha had to admit the jewel tones looked pretty as they made their way down towards the ice bridge connecting Sonkyou to the festival spread beyond.


This year’s theme had to do with dragons, so the ice city that sprung up every year around this time was limned throughout with what had to be literally hundred of dragons carved from pure ice. There were two huge ice castles, on opposite sides of the grounds, reaching high into the sky with an observation area at the top—each one shaped into a giant dragon head, with splayed, ferocious mouths for entrances; the eyes, nose and ears all formed winding, colorfully lit walkways for visitors to explore inside and out. Between the two massive dragon-heads were a scattering of ice buildings and smaller ice-booths—mostly filled, he was sure, with local businesses hawking commemorative “ice festival issue” wares.


The mouthwatering scents of cheap festival food floated on the breeze along with happy screams and laughter, making an interesting mix with the faint electronic burn of the lights and the hum and gas of the multiple generators powering them; a strong overlay of humanity and youkai in all their variety seemed to cover every other smell. InuYasha gave an experimental sniff, then shrugged. The scents and sounds didn’t bother him nearly as much as he’d thought they would. At least, not yet.


They found Miroku and Shippou waiting halfway down the bridge. Miroku was leaning against the thick, rounded edge of the ice railing, resting his forehead against three long fingers, while Shippou chattered up at him from his own seat on the ice. Below them, the as-yet-unfrozen Ishikari River rushed smoothly over its rocky bed, its currents barely visible in the twilight.


“Kagome!” Shippou spotted them first, taking a flying leap off the rail towards Kagome.


Scowling, InuYasha stepped between them, catching the little fox by the tail before he could barrel into Kagome. “Oi! Brat! Watch it. This bridge is made of ice. You hit her wrong and you’ll knock her over.”


Shippou wriggled against his grip. His untransformed fox feet kicked into thin air, bare, while the rest of his small body was bundled against the cold. “I wasn’t going to knock her down, dummy. The bridge is covered in snow.”


“And salt,” Miroku added, sounding suspiciously relieved, his boots crunching as proof as he stepped over to greet them. “But that still doesn’t mean you should go throwing yourself at Kagome.”


“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m sure Shippou didn’t mean any harm.” Laughter laced Kagome’s voice as she plucked Shippou from InYasha’s hand and tucked him against her body.


He noticed, with an annoying combination of relief and disappointment, she’d finally tucked that damn green top back behind her heavier jacket. Of course. The temperature had been dropping rapidly since the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. He’d spent the majority of the afternoon fighting off the urge to undo all those tiny white buttons, and now suddenly they were out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
Well, mostly out-of-mind, he thought with an irritated growl. It was gonna bug the hell out of him to know they were still there, but he couldn’t see them.


“Did you get everything done?” Kagome was asking Shippou.


Shippou nodded. “We picked up the packages, then toured a restaurant kitchen of a friend’s of Miroku’s, then went to go visit Koharu. She’s nice. She gave me snacks. And her hotel seems really fun! There are rooms with all kinds of toys—carousels and power rangers suits, and a giant Hello Kitty doll in some really strange armor. One of them even had a swing over the bed! I wanted to go play with it, but Miroku said someone else was using it.” His auburn head swiveled around, pinning InuYasha with overly wide, overly innocent eyes. “Hey, InuYasha, why don’t we have swings and electronic horse rides in our rooms? I bet people would love that stuff!”


For a moment, no one seemed to have a response. InuYasha blinked down at the little brat with the glint in his eye, then up at Kagome, whose wide gray eyes were nearly blank with shock. As one, they turned their gazes to Miroku.


With a look of distinct discomfort, he scratched at the side of his head. “In my defense, we were in the back, where Koharu lives. He wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the lobby where they display the rooms.”


Shippou was still looking expectantly at him, his fluffy tail going back and forth, almost like a cat’s. InuYasha narrowed his eyes and gave a snort, almost amused. “You mean you would love that stuff. Most adults don’t play that way.” Not most of the time, anyway.


He had to do a bit of mental gymnastics to keep his mind off the different forms of play he’d dabbled in over the years. Not a good direction when Kagome had only just tucked away a clinging, button-crazy top that taunted him with the idea of play in general. And even more dangerous with the Uzumas lurking who the hell knew where.


“Oh yeah?” Shippou pretended to think, but there was a definite challenge in the set of his mouth. “The Uzumas liked it so much they decided to stay and play for the afternoon.” His nose wrinkled. “They had the same smell my parents used to have every time they took their afternoon naps. Dad said naps were important to mental productivity.”


InuYasha’s eyebrows went up, glossing over another spurt of amusement at the idea of “naps”. So that’s where the sex-fiends are. Huh. Win-win for me. Maybe they wouldn’t show back up again until after they’d all left, and he wouldn’t have to deal with their drugging sex pheromones until the next morning. “The Sachi’s not the same kind of place as Koharu’s hotel.”


Shippou eyed him, his green eyes cool with doubt, yet glittering with mischief. “But people leave Sachi smelling like that all the time. And it’s not like they can’t take a nap anytime they want in the Sachi. If they had toys, they could play, too.”
Kagome’s expression had gone as frosty as the snow around them, and she was aiming it straight at Miroku.


His hands went up. “I plead mercy.”

“If they’re not taking naps and just playing with toys, I can understand, I guess.” Shippou twisted to peer up at Kagome. “Hey, Kagome. Why would anyone want to blindfold a giant Hello Kitty doll? Is that a girl thing?”


Blindfold…Kagome…


He blinked. Well, damn. Those were two things he didn’t need connected in his head.
“It’s not!” she crisped back, and even in the dimming evening light, InuYasha could see the furious red stain her cheeks.


He heaved a sigh. “Okay, that’s enough, you damn kitsune.” With a hard fist, InuYasha gave the brat the knock on the head he’d been asking for. “Quit asking about adult stuff. You wanna know the difference between Sachi and Koharu’s place? Grow up and find out for yourself.”


While Shippou gave a pained wail, his hands rubbing furiously at the small lump on his head, Kagome gave a horrified gasp. “InuYasha!”


He gave another snort, less amused now that her glare was turned on him instead of Miroku. “What? The little brat’s just making trouble for the hell of it. He’s figured out he’s making you uncomfortable and he wants to see how far he can take it.” He narrowed his eyes on Shippou again and lifted a fist, letting him know the line had already been crossed. Shippou flinched back, guilt sulking over his features. “He knows better than to pull that kind of shit on us.”


Kagome hesitated, then lifted a slim brow. “Only on us?”


“Yeah, well…” He shrugged, trying to ignore the way a shadow fell right across her eyes, darkening them almost like…a blindfold. Shit. He shoved his hands back into his jacket pockets and resolved to keep them there. All this talk about love hotels, and toys, and play time wasn’t helping his state of mind. Just then, desire was a banked burn in his gut, but it was still a burn, and thanks to those damn Uzumas, it wouldn’t take much to stoke it. “He’s kitsune.”


“All right.” Miroku clapped his hands, sounding somewhere between amused and weary. “I think we’ve had enough about Koharu’s hotel, don’t you? Let’s go see what they’ve done with this year’s Ice Festival, shall we?”


Shippou perked up, forgetting about the tiny bump InuYasha had given him, and with dueling expressions of excitement, chattering about food and ice structures of years past, he and Kagome headed for the other end of the ice bridge.


InuYasha rolled his eyes. “What the hell were you thinking, taking Shippou to a place like that?”


Miroku sighed out a long, slow stream of steam, a furrow troubling his brow, the purple in his eyes deep against the colored lights of the festival as he followed Kagome and Shippou’s progress through the steady trickle of people filtering into the festival. “I was thinking to have a nice visit with Koharu without… Well, I didn’t think Shippou would wander off without me. I should have been paying more attention.”


InuYasha’s steps slowed, his brows dipping over his golden eyes as he studied his friend. For a little under five years now, Miroku had been coming and going from town covered in the light touch of Koharu’s scent. As far as he knew, it was a sexual relationship of friendship and convenience, not anything serious and subject to change with no hard feelings from either party.


But it wasn’t Koharu’s scent that had been clinging hard to Miroku for the past few days. It was that other female. The tourist he’d chased and gotten naked with. And she was still there, whoever she was, even though Miroku had said she was gone. Scents were funny, and brutally honest across species. Sometimes, if a scent came from something special, it went deep and left a mark. Quick flings and one-night stands didn’t tend to do that.


Maybe she’d been something special, and Miroku was still getting over it? Maybe taking Shippou to see Koharu had been his way of avoiding any kind of conflict over it.


Curious brats being curious about things they shouldn’t even know about yet was still a damn pain, though.


InuYasha shut one eye with a growl, and let it go. Miroku had never had any trouble keeping his emotional house in order. If Miroku needed something from him, he’d let him know. Until then, InuYasha’d leave it alone. “Whatever.” He tugged the cap a little lower over his head. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered, for the second time that day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They spent a couple hours exploring the miniature ice city, starting at one dragon castle—the one labeled North Dragon—and moving across the festival grounds. The North Dragon was a legitimate castle, with various levels containing a throne room, a dungeon, an armory of ice weapons, and even a “kitchen” with a small booth, inside which stood a young male phoenix youkai selling hot drinks to anyone who might be feeling the ice seep into the cracks of their clothes—and doing brisk business. Those colored lights were everywhere, insetting the dragon-carved archways with greens and reds and purples, hanging pale pinks and blues within the long, snowy hallways, bright yellows and oranges highlighting the random ice chairs and benches set back in nooks throughout the place, the lights bl

eeding through like watercolors, glowing out of the everywhere, snow-packed ice.
They climbed all the way up to the observation area on top of the North Dragon’s head, and were able to look through an impressive bunch of telescopes that seemed to be made entirely of ice (though hell if InuYasha could tell how they managed that), and see across the festival grounds all the way to the people on the South Dragon’s observation deck.

When they got back to the ground floor, the young phoenix male called out to InuYasha after Miroku and Kagome had passed by on their way towards the toothy entrance, with Shippou flitting around their feet.“Hey, hanyou! Buy your girl a drink! Humans get cold easy in environments like this.”

Trailing a bit behind them, InuYasha scowled at the kid, whose form was mostly human and a bit pretty, like all the higher class of phoenix youkai tended to be. “Who the hell are you talking about?”


The kid blinked his red-rimmed irises and cocked a thumb. “Your human woman with the kitsune. You should buy her something to keep her warm.”


My human woman?” His scowl blackened. It wasn’t the first time a youkai had assumed the wrong thing about them today. The ancient tanuki who had manned the register at the grocery store had used the word “mate”—a hopelessly anachronistic term for this day and age, but one that still had a bit of meaning. A meaning that didn’t have anything to do with his and Kagome’s relationship. “She’s not mine.”


“But she smells like you.”


“Yeah.” Irritation razed his spine, curling his lip to expose his canines. “We live in the same damn house.”


“You live in the same house, but she’s not yours?”


“We work together.”


“Sure, sure.” The younger youkai visibly suppressed an eye-roll, but then shrugged. “My mistake, then. You think that human guy is the one keeping her warm?” He cupped his hand around his mouth to call out to the receding pair.


He bought four drinks, and told the kid keep his eyes and his nose to himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It took them another hour to meander their way through the snowy booths hawking local wares. Somewhere near the back, Kagome found an ice-shrine dedicated to a dragon god he’d never heard of, but for some reason, she was so thrilled by it she made him say a prayer at the ice-slicked bell. “For luck,” she said, eyes dancing as she tossed in her offering coin, clapped her hands together, and bowed her head. Then she grabbed one of the hands she’d made him pull out of his pockets, and tugged him down the stairs and back beneath the red-and-green illuminated ice torii.


Miroku and Shippou were waiting at the bottom (how the hell had they managed to slip away from the shrine?), hands filled with cardboard trays of fair food: takoyaki, dango, and a few warm taiyaki pastries in plastic sleeves. They found some empty benches under one of the dragon-decorated ice gazebos overlooking the river, and sat for a while, grateful the benches were made of wood for once. Kagome sat next to him, Miroku sat on a perpendicular bench, and Shippou darted around between all of them, commenting on the taste, their eating habits, and occasionally stealing food. InuYasha considered giving him another lump on the head, but Miroku and Kagome were amused and laughing, so he didn’t. The river rushed along in the background, edged all around by thick white banks, but smooth and dark as silk, with the occasional frothy eddy. Someone deeper in the festival grounds had started plucking at a couple stringed instruments, and a bamboo flute joined in, drifting serenity atop the boisterous atmosphere.


“There, you see?” Miroku said to him as they plunged back into the steady (but thankfully not overwhelming) flow of people. “You’re having fun, admit it.”
He snorted. Like hell he would.


“And no one has died, or recognized you yet. You should have come with us sooner.”
He narrowed his eyes ahead, following Kagome and Shippou as they stopped to admire a booth with handmade masks hanging from it’s snow-packed walls. He shrugged, his hands back in his pockets now that Kagome wasn’t holding on to them. “So maybe I’ll come next year.”


Miroku seemed satisfied with that answer, and let the matter drop.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kagome couldn’t remember having such a good time on an outing—not that she had a lot to draw on, but she was still having a blast. The intricate ice-sculptures, the winding ice-tunnels connecting so many of the structures, the very festiveness of the atmosphere—it was all refreshingly outside her normal routine at the Sachi. She took particular joy in breathing the cold air, the shared laughter, the silly fun of new experiences. Shippou went right along with her, feeding her enthusiasm with his childish wonder. Miroku was a good sport about the whole thing, smiling both at them and with them, and InuYasha…


Despite all his resistance, he was having fun. She’d seen more smiles from him in the last few hours than she had in the last few weeks, and she’d even caught a chuckle or two when he thought she wasn’t paying attention. She was already wondering how she would coax him back before the festival was over. It felt so good to relax and be easy around each other. The past few days had been so intense, the air between them thick and heavy. InuYasha had been at his standoffish best, irritable and rude, practically running in the opposite direction whenever he saw her. She understood now, at least a little, his reasoning (even if she didn’t agree), but it didn’t make it any less disheartening to deal with.


Disheartening and exhaustingly frustrating. She’d slept well, that night in front of the fire when she’d fallen asleep on his shoulder, but every night since had been fitful and disturbed. It wasn’t just the sexual frustration, but a confused mix of the sensual tinged with horror. She kept waking with the sense of being stalked by dark and shadowy things, things determined to taint everything good in the life she’d built within the Sachi. As if she weren’t even allowed to enjoy her own dreams! It wasn’t his fault, but his attitude sure wasn’t helping matters.


The festival had turned out to be an unexpected respite. Kagome still felt it, the hot, achy tension of desire beneath all the lightheartedness, especially right after InuYasha and Miroku had made an appearance in town earlier in the afternoon. There had been a moment there, just a breath, when she’d been convinced he was going to drag her off someplace (and had been shiveringly willing to get dragged, audience or no). But that molten look in his eyes had receded into a bated, underlying hum of pleasurable energy, leaving them to enjoy the rest of the day without all the pressure. Even their bickering in the grocer had been good-natured, buoyed as it was by the ticklish subtext of energy. Kagome had the feeling this was the way it should be—the way it would be, if he wasn’t always fighting himself over fears about what might happen if they gave in to each other.


So she threw herself into relishing the different aspect of them for the day, and by the time they reached the South Dragon on the other side of the festival grounds, she was out of breath and chilled in a way that didn’t quite reach the warmth in her belly. They stopped to read the signs posted around the yawning entrance.


“A maze?” Shippou leaned forward over her shoulder. “Getting through is the only way to reach the upper levels of the castle.” His head tilted back as he peered up at the top, several stories above. “It looks bigger than last year.”


“Yes, well, everything seems a bit more this year, somehow.” Miroku came to a stop beside them, glancing up at the elaborate, colorful features of the dragon that somehow managed to be both building and animal.


Shippou nodded. “Yep!” He didn’t sound displeased. “Hey, InuYasha! I bet Kagome and I make it to the top before you do!”


“Hah?” His voice came from somewhere right behind her, and seemed to flutter along her spine. Kagome had to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the bottoming temperatures. She clasped her hands, red with cold, together as his body just touched along her back while he read the sign over her shoulder. “Oh, yeah? And how are you gonna do that, when I can just jump to the top?”


What? That’s cheating, you bastard!” Shippou whirled on her shoulder. Sometimes, his balance amazed her.


“How’s that? You said “make it to the top”, not “get through the maze”, idiot.” His boots crunched as he stepped to the side to say it, angling to better get in Shippou’s face. Her back suddenly felt exposed, despite her thick jacket.


She pivoted, just a fraction, to take in his expression around the Shippou on her shoulder. His ears were still buried under his silly cap, the bill of which he had pulled low as a kind of shield against anyone looking too close, and his long hair was tied back, only loosely, just enough so it didn’t go everywhere—probably because a wild cascade of silver was something people might note. But it was the smile lurking deep in his golden, youkai-slit eyes, twitching the corners of his lips up into a half-gloat, half-grin, that prompted her own lips to curve.


He must have noticed, because his gaze shifted, slipping past Shippou to focus on her mouth, then her eyes for a brief moment before pulling away, down, to where her hands still clasped together.


He frowned. “Hey. Didn’t we get you gloves?”


“Mmm.” The curve teasing the corners of her lips lifted, but all she did was tilt her head and lift her shoulders in a shrug. “I left them in the Uzumas’ car.”


His dark brows lifted a bit, and he gave a few blinks at her before his scowl returned and he crossed his arms. “Tch. Stupid.”


It didn’t sound like an insult. In fact, it almost didn’t sound like he was referring to her at all. Her eyes drifted down to where his bare hands tucked beneath his biceps, and her mind drifted back over the past few hours of her chill hands grazing against his hot ones:


…putting fruit in the shopping cart


…bags in the car…


…the ice-shrine
.


She lifted her eyes back to his and found them already on her, the yellow near burnished, near liquid, and knew he was remembering, too. The subdued heat of energy stirred and flared as the knowledge passed between them, a brief, searing lash of intimacy that slipped away when he yanked his gaze away from hers.


Her breath caught; her heart thudded against her throat. “I’ll be fine,” she murmured, soft voice more for him than the other two standing with them. “We’ll be leaving soon, anyway.”


He was looking away from her, but she caught the subtle flex under his cap, the twitch of the ears he’d so cruelly smashed beneath the scratchy cloth.


Shippou followed their interchange with a furrowed brow. “Are you cold, Kagome?”


“Well, it’s warmer tonight than it has been, but that’s not saying much. And we have been out for a while.” Miroku, his own hands wisely encased in leather gloves, pointed off to the side, away from the South Dragon’s mouth. “How about we stop in and get something warm from this year’s pub before we take on this maze?”


The Ice Festival Pub was a large, blue dome with a wide section cut out for a door, people trickling in and out of the opening. The interior was mostly ice, but felt warmer than outside anyway, with round blue tables sprouting from the wood-dusted ice of the floor. Blue lights seemed to be embedded in the walls and the tables so everything glowed blue, and several intricate dragon carvings wriggled their way around the walls. A long bar, made of nearly clear, smooth ice sliced across the back third of the dome, and several workers scurried around, pulling make-shift taps and filling mugs with various types of alcohol. Off to the side, boothed in by a wooden structure, was a mini grill and fryer to supply the minimal food menu.


As Miroku sought out a table and Shippou and InuYasha made identical frowns at the limited menu listings sitting in chalkboard just inside the entrance, Kagome studied the workers behind the bar. They were all dressed so lightly. No coats or jackets, no hats. Just pointed ears, elaborate hairstyles, lots of bronze jewelry and summery clothes. And…if she wasn’t mistaken, most of them had bare feet. On an ice floor. In an ice pub. With walls and a long bar all made of ice. It wasn’t that warm in here.


She tapped Miroku’s arm. “Aren’t they cold?”


Miroku followed her surreptitious nod, then glanced over at InuYasha, who’d looked up at her question. “Phoenix clan.”


InuYasha grunted. “Yeah. There’s a whole bunch of ‘em all over the festival grounds. They must be running the place.” He shrugged. “It’s been over a decade since they took over the Daisetsuzan, and now they have all those onsen, too. Makes sense they’d be involved in some local stuff.”


“They’re barely dressed. Isn’t dangerous to be so exposed in cold like this?” With unconscious solidarity, she rubbed her bare hands together.


Miroku seemed appreciative. “Phoenix youkai are descended from hellbirds. They produce their own internal heat, so the cold doesn’t bother them, and prefer to live in or near active volcanoes. They could probably live in the arctic circle as long as there was a lava flow nearby.”


“Owner-san! Housekeeper-chan! There you are!” The cheerful voice carried over the background bustle of the restaurant, drawing their attentions simultaneously.
“Oh,” said Miroku. “Looks like the Uzumas made it here after all.”


Kagome turned in surprise, her eyes scanning along the wall until she located the Uzumas sitting at a table near the bar. She waved to Mrs. Uzuma, who gestured them over.


Behind her, she heard InuYasha groan, then a muttered, “Shit.”


She gave him a quelling look over her shoulder, one he returned with a scowl, and they all made their way over to the Uzumas’ table. They both had a bit of a lazy glow to them, with Mrs. Uzuma in particular flush-cheeked and sparkling. A large, steaming platter of yakisoba, nearly finished, sat between them, along with two small cups of what looked like beer. Mrs. Uzuma didn’t wait to be asked, but launched into her impressions of the Ice Festival before they’d even settled in their seats, a nonstop flow that lasted for several minutes.


Miroku disappeared, then reappeared with several cans of hot coffee. Kagome gratefully wrapped her semi-frozen digits around her can and took a sip, surprised at how good it felt to have the hot liquid sliding into her stomach.


“And we were just getting ready to try out that big dragon maze when we saw this pub and thought to eat something first.” Mrs. Uzuma paused, and a blush colored in a little more of her cheeks as she glanced at her husband. “We were famished.”
Mr. Uzuma looked entirely too pleased with himself as he nodded. “This day-trip was a wonderful suggestion, Manager-san. We would have regretted not seeing the marvels of the festival. The ice-sculptures exceeded our expectations.”


“I have to admit, I’m impressed as well.” Miroku said. “The craftsmanship is superb. They didn’t have anything near as elaborate last year.”


A small metal tray plopped down onto the table. “Of course it is! We put a lot of effort into this year’s festival. Even brought in a yuki-onna to help with the ice-work. It’s the best Ice Festival Sonkyou has ever seen.” The only items on the tray were a curved carafe made of clay, and a stack of shallow cups.


Like everyone else at the table, Kagome blinked up at the newcomer. Like everyone else, she followed the hands that had dropped it up along bare, subtly muscled arms, and shoulders draped in a wild riot of black hair. The neck was slender, the breasts huge and encased in a thin red shirt embellished with some kind of bronze-ish filigree, draping down to a flared skirt ending well above the knee. Shapely bare legs led to bare feet, and her toes flashed the same blood-red polish as her fingers did. She was beautiful in an untamed, dramatic way, a youthful face with a smirk the same color as her nails. Her irises were red, framed by strangely bunched lashes, and fixed on the other side of the table.


She was smirking at InuYasha.


Miroku gave a start. “Abi-hime.”


InuYasha scowled at him, then turned it on the strange youkai-woman. “Abi. What the hell are you doing here?”


Abi gave a careless shrug and waved a hand. “Why else would I be at a silly human festival? Business. Our Onsen Networks have been major sponsors of the festival for years, and getting some good returns off of it. So this year we decided to do a major push to see if we can generate a more sustained increase in business. I’m here to make sure everything goes smoothly for our investment.” She leaned in, braced her arms against the slick, frozen tabletop. “You, though. I pointed you towards that ill-mannered inn five years ago, yet this is the first time you’ve had the balls to show your face at a public event like this. I thought maybe you were dead.”


Kagome glanced down at Shippou, settled in her lap. “Ill-mannered?”


Shippou shrugged.


“Dead?” Mrs. Uzuma looked startled. “Why would he be dead?”


“Ah-hahaha.” Miroku’s laugh drew everyone’s attention. “Abi-hime, may I introduce you to the Uzumas, guests who are temporarily staying at The Sachi.”


That got Abi’s eyes off InuYasha and briefly narrowed onto the human couple. She took a deep breath, and the already high arch of her black brows arced higher. “Staying at that damn inn? I bet you’re providing an interesting stay.” She stood, crossed her arms over her generous chest. “So. You’re enjoying our festival, you said?”


They exchanged looks, but it was Mrs. Uzuma who replied. “Yes! It’s very beautiful. I’ll be sure to tell all of my colleagues about what a wonderful experience it is. I’m sure they’ll want to visit.”


“Hmmm.” The sound was one of satisfaction. “Good. We paid enough for it.” Her eyes turned to Kagome and Shippou. “This is the little witness, I assume? And the other human?”


Kagome’s eyes widened, while Shippou gave a squeak. The Uzumas exchanged another eye-crinkled, brow-arched look.


InuYasha growled. “Abi!”


“Abi-hime is the current acting head of the Phoenix-clan youkai in the area,” Miroku broke in before the Uzumas could question her terminology, his tone hasty. “The Phoenix own several businesses in and around the Daisetsuzan, so Abi-hime is running things for the clan while her mother the Queen recovers from a grave illness. Kagome is our new housekeeper. This is her first year viewing the festival.”

Queen? So the hime is a title, then?

As Abi studied her, Kagome’s eyes got a little wider. Wait. What had InuYasha said?
It’s been over a decade since they took over the Daisetsuzan.


Was she looking at the current daiyoukai lord of the area? If she was, did she know about InuYasha and Miroku? The things she’d said so far made her think she did. Did that mean she was sheltering them? If she was, surely she knew better than to discuss it in public, right?


Swallowing, Kagome inclined her head respectfully. “Abi-hime.”


“Housekeeper?” A slow, knowing smirk curved those blood-red lips once again. Abi slid a glance to InuYasha, who looked less than pleased. “As goes the father, so goes the son, then?”


Annoyance curled his lip. “Hah? What the hell are you talking about?”


She waved her hand again. “Well, it’s none of my business.” She stepped forward so her thighs just touched the edge of the table, then pulled the shallow cups from the tray, lining them up. She picked up the carafe and poured a small amount in each one. “So long as you stay alive and I don’t have to deal with your asshole brother, I don’t care what you do.”


“I don’t understand. Why would Owner-san not stay alive?” Mrs. Uzuma’s eyes rounded with horror. “You’re not sick, are you, Owner-san?”


Miroku massaged at his forehead with stiff fingers. “No, of course not. It’s nothing like that. Please don’t misunderstand. Abi-hime and InuYasha have known each other for some time. They merely like to…tease each other. It’s a joke.”


“Oooooh.” Mrs. Uzuma looked relieved. “Thank goodness.” Behind her, Mr. Uzuma’s brow remained crinkled, but he kept quiet.


“Hn.” Abi-hime was pushing cups around the table: two towards InuYasha and Miroku. Two towards Kagome and Shippou; two towards their human companions. Shippou peeked his head up, then jumped up onto the table, sniffing at the cup.
InuYasha growled and reached out, snatching the cup away from Shippou before he could pick it up.


“Hey! That’s mine!”


“It’s sake!” InuYasha yanked it out of his reach, the growl in his words ramped up a bit and his eyes narrowed with enough warning to get Shippou to quail back. “What the hell, Abi? He’s a kid.”


“Really?” Abi’s shoulders lifted delicately, and she picked up her own cup. “So? All brats have to learn sometime, don’t they?”


InuYasha stared at her for a long, silent moment, then, with a hard roll of his eyes and a sigh, he turned to the Uzumas. “Hey. You guys were about to go check out that dragon maze, right? So were these two,” he gestured to Kagome and Shippou. “Why don’t the four of you go ahead and we’ll come find you when we’re done here.”


“Yes,” Miroku agreed, looking more anxious than Kagome had ever seen him look. “That sounds like an excellent plan. I’m sure sure you don’t want to wait while the three of us go over business gossip.”


The Uzumas found that agreeable, and despite her curiosity about the daiyoukai princess, Kagome didn’t want to make any problems. So, with a look telling both InuYasha and Miroku she expected a full accounting later, she and Shippou herded the Uzumas in the direction of the South Dragon’s throat.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Damn it, Abi.” InuYasha didn’t let the tension even start to drain from his shoulders until after Kagome, Shippou tucked in her arms the same way he’d been when he first saw them for the day, and the Uzumas had vanished out the open end of the pub. “Why can you never keep your shit to yourself?”


Her red eyes flashed amusement at him. “It’s not my shit we were referring to.”


“I think we can all agree it would be wiser if we refrained from mentioning anybody’s shit in front of people who have nothing to do with it,” Miroku pointed out, rubbing once again at the throbbing vein in his temple. “Are you trying to get us caught?”


She flicked dismissive fingers. “Idiot humans are not my concern.” Her eyes narrowed back to InuYasha. “Although, those idiot humans pack quite a punch, don’t they? Been having fun in your creepy cabin of seclusion, InuYasha?”


His growl was deep and hard, forced out between clenched teeth. “Keep minding your own business, Abi.”


“Why? At least half the youkai in this room are thinking about partners and corners right now. And it’s not as if you don’t have one yourself. No one in their right mind wouldn’t take advantage.” Her lips curved into a blood-red smirk. “Hell, you should sell them.”


Miroku’s eyebrows rose. “Am I missing something here?”


“How’s your mother, Abi?” Not that he particularly cared about Queen Tekkei. Anyone who was stupid enough to fucking eat something offered to them by Naraku—when she already knew what he was, that damn chicken—deserved whatever limb-melting death they got. As far as he was concerned, Abi could stay the damn head of the Phoenix. The clan itself had flourished with her in charge, going from a nearly homeless, wandering tribe of poor royalty to a wealthy minor local power—an asset to the Inu. And local human-youkai interaction was way more stable under Abi than it had been under the dragons, something he never would have guessed she could achieve the first time he’d met her. But Abi adored her mother, so being anything but respectful to the old bird could start a war.


Also, fuck Miroku. If he found out what really bothered InuYasha about the Uzumas, there was a very real chance InuYasha would find himself sealed into a room with Kagome and the two lovesick idiots until he lost control of his own body. And for his own sick, twisted delight, Miroku would probably film the event. Damn pervert.


An actual smile softened Abi’s mouth. “My honorable mother is doing much better. It will take some time for the treatment to work the poison from her body yet, but you don’t have to worry that I’ll forget our debt to your father.” Her mouth thinned. “Or our mutual enemy.” She picked up her cup and lifted it. “To the continued cooperation between the Inu and the Phoenix.”


InuYasha eyed the cup he’d taken from Shippou, wondering whether the stuff Abi had on hand at a human festival would be human-brewed or youkai-brewed. Metabolism was a problem for youkai when it came to alcohol, so they’d developed their own brew-masters with their own special youkai blends. The last thing he wanted was to get piss-drunk if Abi had brought her personal collection.


He exchanged a glance with Miroku, and they both shrugged. It wasn’t worth offending Abi over one drink. Thankfully, it burned going down, but seemed to evaporate in his stomach; not like Abi to waste her best stuff on the locals.
“Speaking of our mutual enemy, Abi-hime, have you head anything worth reporting?”


Abi sat back in her seat with a heavy grunt, crossing both bare arms and bare legs as if it wasn’t cold even for a youkai like himself with all the damn ice everywhere. “Nothing recently. He’s still looking, if that’s what you’re wondering. The reward is twice now what it was when you first got here, you know.” She tossed her wild mane. “Hmph. Don’t worry, though. My people are safe, and all indications are his attention is elsewhere right now. Except for a few rare public appearances, he’s been practically sealed in that tower of his for the last three years now.”


InuYasha blinked, then glanced at Miroku. “Tower?”


Miroku’s violet eyes flicked over him briefly while his brows twisted. “He bought one of the towers twenty minutes downtown right after you…well, you probably didn’t hear. He renovated and made his new home and the headquarters for his entire operation.” Grim lines bracketed his mouth. “Had them build an old-fashioned castle at the very top so he didn’t have to leave. Moved his whole corporation in, turned the bottom half into a medical-specialized plaza for the wealthy.”


The growl pulled up straight from his gut, and his claws scraped a few blue shavings from the smoothly frozen tabletop. Twenty minutes downtown—smack dab in the middle of the business district. Right in Sesshoumaru’s fucking backyard. A challenge subtle enough to not carry the risk of an actual challenge. “Fuck that coward.”


“A wealthy coward, now.” Abi didn’t seem any more pleased than he did. “But he’s been so busy with all his new youkai medical advancements and all his slithering around Tokyo to undermine his daiyoukai lord he doesn’t seem to be coming actively after you. Why?” Her red eyes gleamed again, this time with blood-lust. “Do you have a reason to be suspicious, monk?”


Miroku shook his head, looking tired. “No. It’s just with Kagome showing up out of nowhere like she did, I thought I’d ask if you’d heard anything unusual in the area.”
“Hn? Kagome? The hanyou’s new bedmate? Is this something I should know?”
His scowl grew black, his teeth grinding hard enough to hurt his jaw. “Damn it, Abi, she’s not!” But her look was skeptical, and he figured any more protests would just lead to discussion of those damn Uzumas again.


In a low, quick voice, Miroku outlined the circumstances of Kagome’s arrival to Abi, while InuYasha sat and stewed over the number of people making their own damn assumptions about his private life.


“Shot in the head?” Abi sat forward and tucked her chin in her hand, a delicate sneer on her face. “An illegal hunter, maybe? I’ve had to suck a few dry recently for hunting even when they shouldn’t. But what about it makes you think of that other hanyou bastard?”


Abi knew some of the details of the InuYasha’s legal trouble, but not the finer points—like what Kikyou had looked like. A ridge forming between his brows, something unpleasant brewing in his stomach at the thought of Abi comparing the two even from a distance, InuYasha gave a subtle shake at Miroku. She didn’t need to know.
Miroku cleared his throat. “Well, it was just a concern, since she can’t remember anything. And you have a better finger on the goings and comings in the area than we do. Like maybe where she might have come from.”


Abi thought about it a moment, her eyes drifting back to InuYasha. “Well, I haven’t heard anything—and everyone in this area in particular is to inform me of anything suspicious right away.” She paused, still watching InuYasha, her unblinking regard strange enough to make his ears wriggle under his cap. “You could always dump her back in the woods, if you really want to be sure.”

His lip curled. “And what the hell purpose would that serve?”


“If she dies, you’ll know she was harmless. If she doesn’t, you’ll know who sent her.”


He was on his feet before he realized he was moving, slamming his hands down onto the tabletop hard enough to produce a fine-pitched cracking as he compromised the integrity of the ice. “Don’t fucking push it, Abi!”


“InuYasha!” Miroku hissed, glancing around at all the eyes he’d suddenly drawn.


Abi’s red lips curved up at the corner, her sharp teeth glistening. “No? Well, it’s up to you.” She shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, though. That house is picky about who it lets in and who it lets stay. It’s why I pointed it out to you, because the last three owners were driven off. Since the house likes you, and it seems to like her enough to have let her stay all this time, that’s a good indication about your Kagome, don’t you think?”


“She’s not my—”


“Okay.” Miroku stood as well. “Maybe it’s time we caught up to everyone else?” He turned to bow to Abi—a move that put InuYasha’s back up, but Abi had stood as well.


She gestured one graceful bare arm towards the entrance. “A wonderful idea. I’ll walk with you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The maze was a delight of illuminated snow and icicles, all of them formed into natural bridges and tunnels honeycombing their way across the first floor. In some cases, the passageway dead-ended in a quaint nook with another Phoenix youkai offering food or drink; in some cases, they came upon a wall of clear ice, showing the path on the other side but blocking the way. In one particularly amazing set of hollowed-out nooks, they found themselves surrounded by ice-mirrors of all kinds, reflecting a freezing confusion of Kagome and Shippou’s back at them.


The Uzumas had lagged behind, stopping to “ooh” and “aah” at a tiny display of carved ice figurines near the front.


Kagome and Shippou managed to stumble on the maze’s exit before they were actually ready, after only about fifteen minutes of wandering around in the dragon’s throat. But the elaborate, sweeping stairs peaked their curiosity, and they decided to do more maze exploration after they’d seen what other joys resided inside the dragon’s head. The second level had them standing, blinking for a bit as their eyes wandered about the floor, following a series of branching, arcing walkways formed from thick, sturdy ice. They climbed up and down, curved over and through each other, with occasional spots on the floor peaking down into open areas of the maze from above. The dragon’s “eyes” were on this level, made up of large openings leading out and curling around the outside of the dragon’s head. Kagome took one look at the great curling, sliding, twisting room, and turned to Shippou.


“Hey, Shippou. InuYasha would really like this place, don’t you think?”


Eyes wide, head back, Shippou gave a mute nod.


Kagome smile softly. “Then let’s wait for him, okay?” Her certainty about him was instinctive, and the desire to wait for him to enjoy exploring the room came from deep inside, a feeling she had no intention of ignoring. He would like it, and she wanted to be with him when he did.


Shippou was disappointed, but followed her up to the third level anyway. This area was smaller, tighter, and filled end-to-end with a series of passageways, tunnels of ice glowing in shades of purples, reds, and blues, flowing from one to another. Not quite a maze, but not quite easy to find their way, either. And, inset at even intervals along the outer walls were huge, rounded windows of ice. They domed outward, bulging over the spectacles of ice below, giving a lovely view of the festival as a brilliant, colorful vista of oddly shaped buildings, each window set at a slightly different angle. Humming with delight, she and Shippou wandered through the tunnels, taking random turns and finding, with squealing wonder, new views at every window.


At one point, Shippou thrust an excited finger to the far side of the window they gawked through. Kagome leaned out a bit and smiled to see Miroku and InuYasha standing in the snow near the entrance to the South Dragon, just visible through the lower edge of the tapered ice. Abi-hime stood with them, staring up at the dragon with her arms crossed, her bare feet sunk nearly out of sight in the thick snow. As they watched, Miroku bowed and trudged away.


Shippou jumped up into her arms. “Miroku’s coming! I want to go down and meet him.” His green eyes rounded, gloated. “I solved the maze in fifteen minutes. I bet it takes him longer.”


Kagome bit back a giggle (since they’d only accidentally found the exit), and her eyes strayed back to InuYasha. She tucked an errant curling lock behind her ear and tugged her beanie down a little more securely over the chilly tips of both appendages. “You go on ahead. I’ll come down and meet you in a moment, okay?”


Shippou didn’t seem to think anything of it, and slipped from her arm to disappear along the outer wall towards the curving staircase. For another minute, Kagome stood there, pressing her cheek into the smooth, coldly burning curve of the ice, watching as InuYasha and Abi seemed to progress from casual into serious conversation.


When Abi turned and leaned into InuYasha’s space, she couldn’t see his expression because of the distortion of the ice. But she thought he was agitated—something about the way he held his shoulders, even with the heavy jacket. Whatever it was, the conversation seemed…intimate. It made her wonder how long he’d known Abi-hime, and what exactly their relationship had been. Miroku was obviously wary of her, but Abi-hime had seemed to have no problems getting into InuYasha’s personal space.


Of course, she didn’t seem to have problems getting into anyone’s personal space. Was it because she was basically the youkai boss of the area? Or because she had more in common with InuYasha since they were both children of important youkai? Or something else? She was beautiful in a peculiar youkai way, and…


And she was being silly, of course. InuYasha had wanted nothing but to get away from her, even though she was an ally who was probably protecting them in some way. And given what she could see of his body language, whatever they were talking about, it was probably something he didn’t want to hear. Hopefully it didn’t put him in a bad mood, or he might not be able to enjoy the crazy pathways curving their way through and around the second floor.


Actually, it was probably best to head down and meet up with him before he started the maze. She’d noticed it since the shrine. He did things with her he wouldn’t otherwise. If she was there, he might relax and enjoy parts of the maze, too.


Kagome sighed, and her breath skated against the ice, moisture beading over the frozen curve. With a sudden shiver (well, she had been resting against ice), she pushed away from the deep impression and rubbed at her arms. Even though she was well bundled today, the constant exposure to the chill was staring to seep through her layers. She might be colder than she realized.


Oh, well, she thought with a shrug. It’s not as if we do this every day. The adventure will be over and we’ll be home and warm again soon enough.


She let her eyes wander around, but she didn’t find another person anywhere near her, and no voices bounced around the level’s many walls, even distantly. It was almost as if this entire floor was abandoned. Tipping her head to the side, she tried to remember which way they’d turned to get to this side of the dragon’s head, but when she couldn’t, she gave another fatalistic shrug and just picked a passage. A quick series of turns led her to another window. The larger-than-her-whole-body ice-glass looked out over deep blackness. Trees, a forest, all stretching out to meet the glittering, star-crusted horizon. The Daisetsuzan at night, as exquisitely  beautiful as always. She smiled, then sighed again.


Somehow, she’d managed to get to the back side of the South Dragon’s head.
With her second sigh, she looked straight down, even though she knew there was nothing on this side of the dragon.


A flutter of movement caught her eye, and she frowned. Pressed her hands to the freezing ice once again, even though she was already chilled, then tipped her head down, trying to catch the flutter of movement again.


She did. Her eyes widened. A gasp slipped past her lips.


Her head hurt—a piercing, driving pain, and she pressed her forehead against the ice, eyes tearing beneath squeezed-tight lids.


And a compression of force and sound rolled through her, knocking her back into darkness.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Abi’s bare feet sunk ankle-deep into the snow, leaving deep, vaguely melted impressions as she stepped off the sawdusted ice floor of the pub and out onto the festival-ground proper. Her red toes gleamed black against the snow, itself a pale, light blue in the ambient glow of so many lights and the partial disk of the moon hanging low and bright in the sky. Everything else was dark, the trees of the wild Daisetsuzan a black expanse stretching endlessly out beyond the South Dragon; even the buildings of Sonkyou, beyond the North Dragon, were darker and muted against all the light of the festival.


She didn’t say anything as she drifted along beside InuYasha, their steps crunching across the snow towards the big mouth of the South Dragon and the trickle of people coming and going from inside. It looked to him as if the crowd around here had thinned dramatically—though a number of people seemed to be gathered up at the top. When they were still several yards away from the entrance, Abi stopped.
“People are gathering around the heated pavilion for the fireworks,” she commented to no one in particular. “It’s supposed to start in the next thirty minutes or so. You should go find your people and make sure they don’t miss it.” Her hand lifted, shooing Miroku.


His careful glance at InuYasha had InuYasha responding with a shrug. Then Miroku bowed and disappeared into the gaping maw.


Abi stood next to him, her arms crossed loosely over her chest, all her exposed skin blithely unaware of the rapidly deepening plunge of the temperatures as the night progressed.


He waited, scowling up at the top of the dragon structure in front of him, wondering if he should just do as he’d threatened earlier and jump up to meet everyone at the top. Who the fuck wanted to deal with the aggravation of a maze? Kagome and Shippou were probably already through the damn thing anyway.


“Are you really not with that human?” 


He blinked up at the yellow-and-pink observation deck far above them. “What?”
“That human. You really haven’t been using her even with those humans making it all…” she smirked, “…hard on you?”


Using her? Bitch.


“Tch!” He snorted. “I thought you were minding your own business.”


“I thought you were smarter than to waste such a good opportunity. With all those pheromones, the sex would be…” She lifted an arched black brow.


The tension invaded his body all over again, drawing him tight from his shoulders all the way down to his calves. In his pockets, his hands clenched hard enough to dig his claws into his palms. He knew. He knew. He’d been living with it for days now; fucking dreaming about it—in excruciating, bare-skinned, adrenaline-pumping detail—for days now.


But all he did was roll his eyes and mutter. “Yeah. I get it.”


“You haven’t come into town much over the past five years. And you always keep your head down under that hat.” Disdain had her gaze flicking up to the bill he’d pulled low over his forehead, even during the night. “You never visit the love hotel. And almost all the visitors to your place are already paired.”


He knew what she was getting at. Youkai, specifically the higher class of youkai who had the ability to take human form, were generally quite fond of sex. They had all those animal instincts and supernatural power combined with the human physical senses that made it such an intensely pleasurable pastime. Most of the youkai with human forms didn’t go very long without, and it wasn’t considered particularly healthy for a youkai to go too long without scratching the pleasure itch. Many youkai treated a fuck with the same casual routine as they would a bath, or a handshake.


He never had, but many did.


He finally pulled his gaze over to her fully, eyes narrow, fury brewing in his chest. “What the hell, Abi? You got people watching me?”


“More like people watching out for you. I think I said I don’t want to have to deal with your asshole of a brother if you turn up dead in my territory, didn’t I?” She shrugged. “It’s not as if I send people out to that ridiculous building to peep on you.”


You got a fucking point, Abi?” The words were more growl than voice.


“She smells like you.”


He drew in a deep breath through his nose, pushed it out in a grumbling sound from his throat. “We live in the same fucking building. Of course she smells like me. What the hell is wrong with everyone today?” His fingers flexed, clenching and unclenching. No one had bugged the shit out of him like this the last time they’d been in town together.


She blinked at him, then pivoted to face him dead on. “You really can’t tell? You, with the Inu nose?” She gave a mocking laugh, then leaned in. “She smells like you, idiot.”


The world seemed to go on pause, went blurred and fuzzy for a moment…


Scents were funny, and brutally honest across species. Sometimes, if a scent came from something special, it went deep and left a mark.


…then, with a not-quite-aural ringing that made his ears itch, it rushed back into focus.


Only long-time partners carried scent marks. Scent marks weren’t like other deep scents in life, the kind that blended in to become a part of a person’s individual scent, adding layers and nuance to their own unique signature. No, for long-time romantic partners, their own unique scents seemed to sink into each other, past skin and bone, deep into the core of what made them them—but remained apart, singular. A separate scent, clinging onto the essence of another as if to insist its presence be known. It was a mark of both ownership and acceptance. It was distinct enough it could be detected by most youkai.


But it was rare. It took years, sometimes decades together, for such scent marks to emerge between two people—human or youkai. It happened most often with humans: in aged, wrinkled, back-bent old couples, wobbling around on walkers or clutching onto each other to hold up their partner’s failing body. Youkai almost never stayed together long enough to develop them—Shippou’s parents had had such a mark, but they’d been together for nearly six decades before they’d had any offspring at all—and even then, sometimes decades together wasn’t enough to make such an impact.


He scoffed, but something deep in his blood was beating out a panicked rhythm, charging through his veins, pumping at his heart. “It’s only been a few months.”


“I know.” Abi’s smirk was making him hella uneasy. “That’s why it’s so remarkable, don’t you think?”


Kagome couldn’t smell like him. She couldn’t.


His brows drew low. “Don’t fuck with me, Abi.”


“Not when she’s around to do it for you.”


That panicked beat rushed into his head, straining at the chords in his neck. “I’m not fucking her!”


“So you keep saying. But I don’t understand why not.” She leaned in again, her smirk nearly triumphant, sniffing. “She’s not the only one.”


Sniffing.


A piece of him fell quiet, fell waiting. “She’s not?”


She still had her arms crossed, and now her eyes were narrowed on him, as if she were trying to puzzle out a difficult riddle. “You smell like her, too. And it’s not because you live together.”


“Don’t. Bullshit me,” he said quietly, earnestly.


“You know I’m not, inu-hanyou.”


“The hell I do.”


Scent marks took dedication. They took commitment, the kind that built up over lifetimes. They were belonging, one to another. They were everything he’d been trying to avoid with Kagome, everything he’d been trying to protect the both of them from. It had only been a few months. They couldn’t be that dedicated to each other. He’d been keeping away from her, for fuck’s sake!


Not that he wanted to. Not that everything inside him, from his mind to his damn dick, wasn’t pulling, pushing, and tripping him back to her. He’d. Stayed. Away.


Abi stared at him for a long moment, then snorted, the sound delicately feminine, and shrugged. “Fine, then. It’s not like it’s any of my business. Do as you please with your housekeeper, hanyou.” She turned back toward the pub, her bare feet crunching easily into the snow, the smirk still in her voice as it drifted behind her. “If you really don’t want her, though, you should send her to visit me. I wouldn’t mind helping out a human as pretty as her. I wouldn’t even mind your scent on her.”


The acting head of the Phoenix clan had always famously self-described her sexual predilections as non-restricting.


A hand came out of his pocket, knuckles cracking and curling at his side. “Stay. The fuck. Away from her, Abi.”


“Really?” She paused, nearly back to the pub, but still close enough for him to see her turn and study him. “Well, you can come, too, if you want. I wouldn’t mind her scent on you, either, hanyou.” She snickered and vanished back into the pub.


Thankfully, only a few people had been around. And none of them seemed to realize what they were talking about. And no one noticed his claws. He shoved his hand back into his pocket and turned back to study the South Dragon as a whole, feeling vaguely disgusted with himself.


Abi couldn’t be telling the truth. She didn’t have a reason to lie, it didn’t feel like a lie, but she couldn’t be telling the truth. He and Kagome… They hadn’t had long enough to be so indelible to each other, so deep into each other. Instinctively, he put his hand up to his nose, sniffed his wrist.


He couldn’t tell.


Of course he couldn’t. It was his scent. Was she there? Yes. But was she deeper than he’d thought? Deep enough for Abi to scent it? Deep enough for a tanuki, and a brazen kid hawking drinks to note it as different?


If she is….


If she was, then it was already too late to avoid getting so tangled up in her it wouldn’t hurt too bad if something happened. It was too late keep his mind on her protection, and nothing else. It was too late avoid the utter destruction a betrayal would bring. It was too late to keep her from mattering too much.


And if the damage had already been done….


Then what, in the ever-loving fuck, was he torturing them both for?


His parents had had a scent mark. He didn’t know how long it had taken, but they’d only been together fifty years or so. Fifty years.


He needed to find her. He needed to examine her scent for himself. The answer would be right there, where her jaw rounded up to her ear.


Adrenaline burned through him, hot and thick. It would be other places, too. Deeper, more hidden places. He could put his nose in any of them, and she would welcome him. And, eventually, cry out for him.


Something flitted across his nose. A scent that flagged itself as familiar, but it was gone so swiftly he didn’t have time to identify it: microscopic and barely there, like an atom. Still, it was enough to make him a different kind of tense. He frowned, stepped back, glanced around.


An explosion ripped through the night; a fireball erupted upward, blossoming from the back of the South Dragon’s head, framing the huge thing in a hellish nimbus of roaring, orange flame. The shockwave rolled through the festival grounds, a push of force almost physical. It nearly knocked him back a step, because he hadn’t had time to brace.


He blinked, then gaped up at the remnants of the fireball blowing outward and upward.


Panic filled his mouth, clutched at his throat.


Kagome.


Shippou, Miroku.


Even those damn Uzumas. They were in there. They were all in there.


“What the fuck just happened!” Abi’s voice echoed across the festival grounds, distracting him for just a second, the smooth crunch of her steps running towards him.


A sharp, echoing crack whiplashed through the air, like the ricochet of a gun.


He was already moving, heart in his throat, barely breathing, barely thinking. Another crack, thick and popping, bounced almost painfully against his eardrums. Then, as he watched, as his feet moved too slowly, as Abi started to scream directions and other people just screamed, half of the South Dragon’s head…collapsed inward.
_______________________________________________________________ ________

A/n: ~whistles~ ~slowly backs away~
What’s that? The lemon(s)? Huh? Oh, yeah, th(at)/(ose). Next chapter. Almost certainly, I think. In fact, I can almost guarantee it, given how quickly things are moving in the next chapter.  (What’s that? Yes, of course I’m already writing it. Why ask silly questions, silly people?)
So…the completion thing that I’m doing is actually helping a ton, though it may not seem like it from the other side of things. I’m hopeful, though what I really need is a break from my horrible, awful, no-good, very-bad soul-sucking job.
That…might actually be coming up soon, though, so “yay”.


Chapter 19
Chapter 21
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