Locked Away by Sereia

Part 2

Inspiration/Prompt: "Locked Away" by R. City feat. Adam Levine

Triggers/Warnings: Claustrophobia, panic attacks

..::**::..

Part II

Dead, dead, dead. She was so dead.

Tapping a foot impatiently, Kagome willed the traffic light to turn green. Everyone else on the bus seemed to be unaware with how long they'd been waiting at the intersection, unbothered that time was standing still as cars raced in the opposite direction.

Checking her watch for the fourteenth time in just as many minutes, she cringed. Her shift hadn't started yet, but she was supposed to be at work over twenty minutes ago. Her boss was going to kill her.

Ever since that intense thunderstorm had cut the power to the whole building six months prior, Kagome had been sharing her morning and afternoon elevator ride with Sesshoumaru. Well, it had been going on a lot longer than that, but now she was conscious of it and did it on purpose.

She still couldn't believe that someone as powerful and imposing as the former Lord of the West had claustrophobia. And that something as mundane—and human—as an elevator was the cause of his strife.

The bus jerked and Kagome tightened her hand around the pole she was holding onto. Normally she'd have taken a window seat; content to watch the world go by on her way to work. But the gods seemed to have it in for her today and her entire body was on edge.

First, she'd woken up late due to forgetting to plug her phone in the night before. Then she'd discovered her bicycle had a flat tire, so she'd had to scramble for the bus. It wouldn't have been an issue, but the bus she should have caught was five minutes early and she'd arrived at the stop just in time to see it turn around the corner. Which was why she was almost jumping out of her skin.

She wasn't worried about any blowback from her boss—she'd like to think she was indispensable to him now, especially since she was so good at fixing other people's mistakes. What had her gnawing on her bottom lip was the increase in foot traffic that happened as the morning wore on.

Sesshoumaru appeared to be handling the elevator rides better in the last little while. Maybe it was because she was actively using her reiki during their time together? Or the fact that he hadn't had an attack in six months? Or maybe she was out of her mind, and she'd completely imagined his progress due to the consistency of their daily routine.

One thing she knew she hadn't imagined was how tense he became when there were people in the elevator other than themselves.

When it was just the two of them, he was fine. Friendly even. But as soon as someone else stepped through the silver doors, his youki would crackle along his skin and that damn mask would cover his face.

She hated that mask.

It had never bothered her before—she couldn't have cared less how closed off he was—but ever since the night the power had gone out, something had shifted between them. They weren't just acquaintances anymore. Or allies for that matter. She'd tried to label them as friends, but her mind had rebelled at such a simple explanation. It was like the term wasn't enough. Wasn't complex enough.

Letting out a sigh, Kagome glanced out the window, happy that the weather report had been correct and there didn't seem to be any sign of rain. It was supposed to be like this all week and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, her mood lifting at the thought of what she had planned for the weekend.

It didn't have to be sunny, but it definitely would make things go a lot smoother. She just had to get him to agree—

The bus jerked again, cutting off her thoughts as the doors in front of her opened, revealing the front of Sesshoumaru's skyscraper. Groaning in relief, she half jumped off the last step, tightening the strap of her backpack as she hurried through the front doors.

"No bike today, Higurashi?"

She shook her head. "Flat tire! But it should be fixed by tomorrow!" Flashing the security guard a strained smile, she ran past his desk, her eyes glued to the stoic figure standing by the elevator doors.

"You are late."

She skidded to a stop, then clasped her hands together in front of her, pleading for forgiveness. "I'm sorry! It was one of those when-it-rains-it-pours mornings."

Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow at her before looking out the front doors. "It is sunny."

Cerulean orbs blinked at him before she burst into giggles. "That's not—I didn't mean it like that! It's just an expression."

His own golden gaze hardened as he stared at her, coming to the sudden realization that he'd misinterpreted something. Kagome stifled the rest of her laughter, then reached beyond him to call the elevator.

"I really am sorry. You know I'd never make you go up by yourself."

"I am aware."

"If I had your powers, I'd never have to worry about being late," she grinned.

"If you had my powers, miko, I would have to pry you off of the building's exterior on a daily basis."

Kagome's mouth dropped open. "Was that a joke? Since when do you make jokes?"

"Since you make it entirely easy to do so at your expense."

She sputtered, words failing her as the doors in front of them opened and he stepped inside. He waited expectantly, and growling, she took her usual place next him, leaning back against the cold metal wall.

"I thought we were friends! You're not supposed to insult me on purpose." She crossed her arms over her chest, her lips pursed in a petulant pout.

"And yet humans engage in this behaviour all the time."

"There's a difference between teasing and taunting."

"I see no difference."

Rolling her eyes, she let out an exasperated sigh. "Of course you don't. This is why you don't have any friends." The elevator dinged and Kagome grimaced. She knew they hadn't been in there long enough to get to their floor, which meant—

"Good morning!" a cheery brunette sang, before choosing her desired floor. Kagome felt Sesshoumaru stiffen as she returned the greeting. The elevator didn't make it past the next floor before the doors opened again, letting in three more people. The next floor allowed the brunette to leave, but she was replaced with two more.

The elevator began to buzz with their mingled conversations and Kagome sucked in a deep breath. It was amazing how much humans missed due to their lack of spiritual abilities. They may feel slightly uncomfortable, but she could feel Sesshoumaru's distress radiating off him in waves.

They managed another two floors before the doors opened again and she watched in horror as a mail courier pushed his way in, forcing everyone else to make room for his trolley of packages. Sesshoumaru was pressed into a corner, the person in front of him almost tripping over his shoes before Kagome stepped between them.

She winced as the businessman stepped on her toes, then set her backpack at her feet, her aura spread out behind her like butterfly wings. They brushed the sides of Sesshoumaru's arms, encasing him in a protective chrysalis, effectively separating him from the rest of the people around them.

His youki instantly settled, causing her lips to curve up into a gentle smile. For someone who prided himself on being passive and unemotional, he was really easy to read. She wanted to put predictable in there too, considering how much of a stickler he was for routine—

She felt him grab her hand.

Kagome jumped in surprise, then forced herself not to whimper as her heart clenched. This was all her fault. He wouldn't be having to endure this if she'd been on time.

Moving her hand to the small of her back, she threaded her fingers through his and gave him a reassuring squeeze. Physical touch was still the most effective way to prevent him from having an attack. They'd tried various distances, and while that was fine when he was in his office, the only thing that helped when it got this bad was skin-on-skin contact.

Strangely enough, that never seemed to bother him. At least not with her. His aloofness and reserved persona kept the other employees at bay, and he always put his desk in between them anytime someone came into his office. Same with his business meetings, though that was because of the size of the tables in the boardrooms.

The mail courier exited at the next floor, taking his trolley and three other passengers with him. The tension in the elevator lessened and she shifted her weight, attempting to move back to her original position, but the grip on her hand stopped her. Staying where she was, the wings of her reiki fluttered behind her, brushing his shoulders as she gave his hand another squeeze.

Had Rin ever tried to comfort him in this way? The little girl struck her as the type to enjoy physical contact, reminding Kagome much of herself at that age. She never appeared to be starved for attention—always trailing after the pale daiyoukai even at the risk of her own safety—but Kagome wondered if she'd ever attempted to hold his hand or snuggle with him during cold nights. And if Sesshoumaru had allowed it.

The image of Rin curled up against his side, her hand clasped tightly in white silks as his clawed hand combed her tangled bangs away from her face did funny things to Kagome's stomach.

The doors opened in front of them again and blue eyes blinked, recognizing their floor. Grabbing her bag with her free hand, she smiled at the dark-haired figure behind her.

"Ready to conquer the world?" Her eyes glittered with mischief as she tried to lighten the mood. There were too many people within earshot for her to voice the question she really wanted to ask.

Gold met sapphire as a claw stroked the inside of her palm.

Kagome bristled, her heart skipping a beat before slamming against her ribcage. Sesshoumaru's lips curled up into a smirk as his slit pupils held her gaze for a moment, then gave way to the muddy brown of his glamour.

"Always." She felt a claw drag against her skin again and then she was alone in the elevator, Sesshoumaru's long strides taking him halfway to his office before she was able to collect herself enough to follow him.

What the hell was that?!

..::**::..

Kagome knocked softly on Sesshoumaru's door, the rest of the staff either in the staffroom or on their way to the lobby and then the various local eateries for lunch. Even before she became aware of his phobia, she tended to stay close by during her breaks. It gave her the chance to catch up with Tsubasa, as well as any messages from her mother and Souta. Plus, homemade food was cheaper than take-out.

"How're you doing, Boss?"

He didn't look up, his eyes roaming over the reports in his hands. Putting a few of them aside, he grabbed the next file on his desk. Kagome sighed as she shut the door behind her.

"You know, just because you don't eat on the regular, doesn't mean you can't take a break."

"Breaks are unproductive."

"And yet you'd get arrested if you forced everyone else to work through them like you do."

He finally looked up at her, eyes narrowing. "Was there something you needed?"

"Aside from distracting you with my illustrious charm?" She flipped her hair over her shoulder with extra fervor, grinning cheekily at him.

"Hnn."

Her head tilted to the side, humour draining from her face as her aura subconsciously sought out his. "Are you alright? After this morning, I mean." She knew the moment her reiki reached him—the muscles in his shoulders relaxed and he leaned back in his chair, the report forgotten on his desk.

"Does it matter?"

Her aura flared, the edges of it dragging along his skin like fingernails. "Of course it does! You haven't had an incident in months! It's natural for friends to check in with each other when they've gone through something traumatic."

"You insinuated that This One had no friends, miko."

"Yeah well, everyone needs one. Normally people take the time to get to know those around them. But since you refuse to, you don't get a choice. You're stuck with me."

"Indeed."

He was mocking her, the smug bastard. At least, she felt like he was. His eyes danced as he watched her, and Kagome couldn't decide if she wanted to throw something at him or push him away from his desk so she could sit in his lap like last time. She knew it would make him feel better, but she also knew how it would look to anyone who happened to come back early from their lunch break.

It was one thing when the cubicles they'd all been working at for over two years were suddenly rearranged after the power outage—hers now stationed right outside his office—it had been another when she'd basically taken over Tsubasa's job as his assistant.

There actually hadn't been much complaint on the butterfly youkai's part, she had actually seemed relieved. Her position had the most contact with His Royal Stick-Up-His-Ass-ness, so Tsubasa was more than willing to give it up. And now Kagome didn't have to deal with month end and had an excuse to constantly check on him, as well as accompany him to meetings and inspections on other floors.

She'd originally meant it as a joke, but Sesshoumaru had somehow made it beneficial to both of them.

"Have you eaten?"

Blue eyes blinked, then focused on him again, a faint blush staining her cheeks at being caught daydreaming. "Not yet, I wanted to check on you first."

He regarded her again, then went back to the report on his desk. "I will survive, miko. Do not forsake your own needs for mine." His eyes barely had time to read the next line before her laughter echoed off the walls of his office.

"Come on Boss, have you met me? I always have to make sure everyone else is okay before worrying about myself."

His gaze met hers again and she swore he actually smiled at her.

"I am aware."

"Alright, well, good. I'm glad we cleared that up." She turned to leave, then stopped, her hand on the doorknob. "Oh, I forgot to ask, are you free this weekend?" She was still facing the door, so she missed the startled look on his face. The foreign expression making his eyes widen for a moment before he managed to school his features once more.

"I am free most weekends. You would continue to badger me if I came into the office during that time."

"Damn straight," she muttered under her breath, then turned around to face him again. "I meant, are you free to do something with me?"

A slender eyebrow raised, and Kagome felt her cheeks heat up again. It seemed to happen a lot around him lately.

"Will I be forced to do something human?"

"Nope! Actually, the complete opposite—well, part of it anyway. We'll have to drive to the spot first. There won't be other people around, if that's what you mean."

"Then I accept."

Kagome's face lit up and she flashed him a radiant smile. "Perfect! Be at the shrine by 9:00am on Saturday." She quickly exited his office, almost closing the door behind her before poking her head back in, the smile still on her face.

"Oh, and bring a swimsuit!"

"A what?!"

..::**::..

Sesshoumaru arrived at the Higurashi family shrine at exactly 8:53am. He was dressed in a navy kimono, pale pink plum blossoms adorning the collar and sleeves, much like his original crest during the warring states, though he'd forgone the matching haori.

The sky was clear, a slight breeze ruffling the silks around his ankles and the branches of trees lining the shrine's courtyard. Sesshoumaru ran a hand through his dark hair, his watch snuggly attached to his wrist. Normally it spent the entire weekend sitting in a bowl just inside his front door; collecting dust as he roamed around in his humanoid but inhuman form, uninhibited and free.

He knew the miko's kin was familiar with youkai—he remembered Inuyasha speaking of his time in her era—but he wasn't about to take any chances while out in public. One thing that hadn't changed in his prolonged life was how quickly human fear turned into panic. And the need to destroy what they didn't understand.

Sliding his hands into the end of his sleeves, he walked slowly towards the main house, for once enjoying the smells wafting around him. The lack of pollution certainly made up for the number of steps he'd had to climb in order to get there.

He felt her before she appeared.

The door to the main house opened and the miko stepped out, a smile breaking out onto her face as soon as their eyes met. He felt the corners of his mouth twitch in response, the instincts warring against his usual emotionless exterior.

"I knew you'd be early. Was the drive over okay?"

"Hnn."

"Good. You never mentioned if cars bothered you, so I figured the windows made it less confining." She pulled her hair back from her shoulders, tying it up into a ponytail on the top of her head. "Wait, they don't bother you, right? We have to drive to get to the place I'm taking you and there aren't any buses—no wait, that would be worse. Maybe we could—"

A low chuckle rumbled through his chest. "You are overthinking things, miko. A car is fine."

Her mouth dropped open. "Did you just laugh? Since when do you laugh? First jokes and now you're laughing. You need a vacation, Boss, I think you've lost it."

Perhaps she was right, the movement of her ponytail was unusually distracting. "If I have, it is because I am spending too much time with you."

He sidestepped her foot, her heel hitting the ground where he'd just been standing.

Cerulean orbs blazed at him. "You put your foot back! You deserve to get stomped on for that comment!" Her ponytail swayed back and forth in agitation, raven locks curling around the swell of her neck.

"When have I ever allowed someone a free pass?"

"You're lucky I'm excited about our trip today, or I'd send your ass home," she grumbled, grabbing a set of keys from the back pocket of her shorts. Brushing past him, she headed to the top of the shrine steps.

"And what has you so excited? You have yet to tell me where we are going." He fell into step beside her, watching an array of emotions pass over her face before her cheeks turned an alluring shade of red.

"It's a surprise. But you'll like it, I promise." She tucked an imaginary lock of hair behind her ear, a muscle memory turned nervous gesture. "Actually, I've been wanting to take you here for a while, but I… assumed it to be beyond the limits of our relationship." A giggle escaped her lips as she tried to imitate his haughty tone.

"Hnn."

They made their way down the stairs, the volume of cars and general civilization slowly increasing with each step they took. Flora's natural silence was something else he hadn't realized he enjoyed until the buzz of industrialization had begun to drown it out. Humans lacked the inherent ability to just be still and listen to the sounds around them, instead filling it with the whine of electricity and mindless chatter.

Aside from the necessity of her calming aura to function at work, Sesshoumaru found he actually enjoyed her company. The miko appeared to have matured enough not to rely on endless prattle, their time together filled instead with few conversations and comfortable silences.

And apparently, subtle jabs at her expense.

A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. Was she aware of the fire that burned behind her eyes whenever he provoked her? Or how her cheeks became flushed with anger and then the realization that the gibe had come from him? It had quickly become a daily pastime of his, an act he took pleasure in just to revel in the emotions that crossed her face and scents that spiked her aura.

Waves of controlled excitement were wafting off her as they reached the bottom of the stairs, as if she were wary of giving into the emotion. Normally she basked in the emotions she felt, wearing them clear and proud on her sleeve for anyone to see. There was no deceit in her scent, just…caution.

"Why did we not meet at your apartment?"

A guarded expression soured her aura again, before the anticipation sweetened the scent. "There were a few things I needed to pick up. And some questions for Grandpa. I wanted to make sure I got it right."

"What do you—"

"No more questions! I'm not spoiling the surprise before we get there!" A slender finger was shoved in his face to emphasize her point. "Just trust me on this, it's totally going to be worth the wait."

An unfamiliar emotion wound around his heart, constricting his chest and causing words to fall from his lips before he could catch them.

"I do trust you."

Blue eyes blinked owlishly, silence stretching between them before the blush on her cheeks was outshone by the brilliance of her smile. He stared at her for a moment before his gaze softened, one corner of his mouth turning up.

Perhaps some things were better communicated through words than actions.

..::**::..

Kagome's skin was buzzing by the time she pulled into a secluded clearing, barely cutting the engine before she was bounding out of the car. Grabbing her bag from the trunk and quickly double-checking that all of her supplies were accounted for, she waited for her companion to join her.

She watched as he slowly pushed himself out of the passenger seat, his muscles flexing under dark silk. She'd tried to stop her imagination from running wild at all the things he could've shown up wearing—stopping short of an actual t-shirt—but he'd exceeded her expectations with the simple, albeit clearly expensive, floral kimono.

He always looked his best in silk.

Shaking her head to stop herself from staring, she motioned for him to follow her, nudging some branches out of the way to reveal a hidden path. Her car had taken them most of the way up the mountain, but the last part of their trek required walking, the ground uneven and covered in foliage.

Serene was always the word that ran through Kagome's head whenever she was here. So much was concealed, most of it purposefully so, but she felt like she was part of it. The mystery. The secrecy. There was nothing but happy memories here and it had been her only solace after the well had closed.

"There is power here."

A knowing smile touched her lips and she turned to face him, continuing to walk backwards in front of him. "Very good my lord. Anything else?"

He shot her a fierce look, coffee-coloured orbs turning to amber as his glamour flickered with an intense light. "Something…familiar…but old. Stale."

"Very good again!" She took a few more steps before a rogue tree root caught the back of her ankle, causing her to stumble slightly, forcing her to turn around again. "I came across this place while we were still hunting Naraku. I needed a place to practice."

"Practice what?"

"Everything." Her shoulders slumped at the memory of how inexperienced she'd been at the beginning of their journey. "I couldn't rely on being Kikyou's reincarnation and lucky shots anymore. I needed more of a guarantee that I'd be able to help. That I'd make a difference. Even with the little things."

"The best warriors seek to better themselves without the stress of war nipping at their heels."

That pesky blush was back again, creeping up her neck and into her cheeks. "I don't know if I'd call myself a warrior, but no one else was willing to train me, so I had to figure it out myself."

She missed the incredulous look on her boss's face.

"Maybe willing isn't the right word. Everyone else was dealing with their own demons, literally, so it felt selfish to ask them for help. It worked out in the end though."

"You thought to ask the wrong people. None of your pack was skilled in the ways you sought to improve."

One shoulder lifted in a shrug. "Maybe, but it wasn't like I could go ask Kikyou. Or you for that matter."

"This One would have accepted the task."

Kagome sputtered, her head whipping around. "What?! Mister all-creatures-are-beneath-me would've trained a mere human? Come on Boss, you don't have to lie to make me feel better."

"Once our packs united, I became more aware of your value. Rin was very taken with you." He kept his eyes on the path ahead of them, refusing to meet her gaze. "And I never lie."

Various emotions swirled around her, and she tried desperately to keep the more enthusiastic ones from bleeding into her aura.

"I'll remember that the next time I need a favour."

"I am already in your debt, miko, you have but to ask."

Her hand twitched, her body bursting with the need to physically touch him, but she squashed the compulsion. He wasn't having an attack right now, so it wasn't necessary. He'd probably see it as overstepping, and she didn't want to ruin what they'd built up over the last few months.

Turning around a sharp corner, they came to a wall of trees, a frayed piece of parchment stuck to one of them with an arrow. Two names were scrawled on the faded paper, Kagome's and—

"Inuyasha would use this place too. That's the stale scent you noticed before."

Sesshoumaru stepped closer to her, a slender hand reaching out to trace the messy lines of his brother's name.

"He may have been the first to rush into a fight, if he hadn't been the one to start it in the first place, but he took it seriously."

He inclined his head, his hand dropping from the scroll. "What now, miko? I can feel the strength of your barrier, I will not be able to pass through."

"Really?" she asked, her eyes lighting up. "I mean, I know, but I thought that maybe with your level of power, you might—look at me! I'm stronger than the Lord of the West!"

The deadpan look he gave her had her bursting into laughter and she waved her hands in front of her.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. It's not like I'll ever be able to say that again."

"Hnn."

She slid her backpack off her shoulders, pulling an arrowhead out of one of the smaller pockets. Chanting softly, the edges began to glow, encased in her pearlesque reiki. It ebbed and flowed until the hum of power became constant, as if the object were enchanted from the start.

"We have to add your name. So the barrier will recognize you and let you in."

"In blood," he affirmed.

She nodded sheepishly. "The invitation is permanent that way. You'll be able to come here whenever you want after this, even if I'm not with you."

He extended his hand to her, frowning slightly when she didn't move.

"Oh, you have to take your glamour off first."

A dark eyebrow rose as he gave a questioning look, his youki automatically swirling around them as he searched for any threats.

Her expression softened, the edges of her eyes crinkling as she smiled at him. "There's no one else here, I promise. You're safe."

He regarded her for a moment, then slid the watch from his wrist. The change instantaneous; midnight turned to starlight as his hair faded and grew back to its original length, catching the sun's rays in sharp contrast to the dark material of his kimono. Blunt fingernails gave way to deadly claws and his facial markings slowly resurfaced, taking their rightful place on his pale skin.

He looked like a god.

His youki was more discernable now as well, the need to hide his demonic presence gone. Why did the air feel stifled when the glamour was in place? Did he feel claustrophobic within his own skin when he was around other people? An unpleasant feeling snaked along her skin, settling deep in her heart as she stared at the proud demon.

No one should have to hide their true self.

Resolute in her plan more than ever, she took his hand in hers, pricking his index finger with the still-glowing arrowhead. She watched as the crimson pearl that appeared on his skin turned a dark shade of violet, her thumb unconsciously stroking the magenta stripe on his wrist.

"Now you just have to write your name on the scroll."

His movement was swift, fluid. His name now sat beside hers, and she bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from making a comment about it. She'd fully expected him to write his name at the top, or even across his brother's for that matter.

Minutes passed, blood seeping into the parchment before the letters began to glow. There was a pulse of power; a second echoing quickly after, the tremors rustling the leaves around them. The arrowhead in Kagome's palm vibrated, then lost its spark, returning to its original, dull state.

"Great! That's all done, now for the fun part!" Pocketing the pointed stone, she walked between two large trees like they were the gateway to another world, easily passing through her own barrier and grinning when he did the same.

"Like I said, you can come here anytime you want now. That spell has a lifetime guarantee."

"You still have yet to enlighten me as to the point of this journey. I am not inclined to return just to go on a hike."

Her shoulders shook with silent laughter, the impish grin on her face making her feel like a teen again. "Just wait! We're almost there. You're going to lose your mind."

The path inclined upwards, the trees growing taller, shielding them from the harsh rays that were illuminating the cloudless sky. Shadows stretched and shifted, seeming to claw at their feet as they walked, their pace slow, their bodies relaxed.

Time stood still, the pair falling into a peaceful silence, The dirt shifting under their feet the only sound. The trees grew closer together, almost caging them in before Kagome stepped out into the sunlight, an enormous clearing stretching out in front of them.

The forest was like a barrier itself, surrounding the clearing from any prying eyes that managed to get too close to her barrier. A roaring waterfall could be heard in the distance, the water dancing over slick boulders and landing in a large pool.

They made their way into the middle of the clearing, Kagome only making it a few more steps before she spun around, unable to contain herself anymore.

"Transform."

Sesshoumaru gave her a startled look. "What?"

"Transform! Into your true form! There's lots of room here and you can—"

His eyes narrowed and Kagome felt his aura flare in agitation. "You are not amusing, miko. Just because we appear to be hidden does not give me the luxury of—"

"You don't understand!" She was practically bouncing in delight now. "The barrier is like a shield. An illusion! It covers this whole area like a dome and even if an aeroplane flew overhead, all they'd see are more trees. It's how Inuyasha and I could train here using our powers. Everything is contained inside, and you'll be able to feel it if you get too close."

All remaining colour drained from his face as he stared at her, his youki spiking in various directions as her words slowly sunk in, clicking into place one by one. How long had it been since he'd truly been free? Since he'd released the creature within him and let the beast and his instincts rule? Kagome's heart beat wildly against her ribs.

His shock slowly faded; his features untamed as he looked up at the sky. Gold gave way to ruby, the stripes on his cheeks turning jagged as he gave her a feral grin. Blood roared through her veins, heat pooling low in her stomach as she struggled to breathe, her voice raspy.

"Transform."

His youki exploded and Kagome was reminded of their time in the elevator. Only this time, there was no fear. From either of them. The buzz from her anticipation turned physical, igniting her skin as she was engulfed in terrifying, magenta flames. And yet she was left unscathed; the fire churning around him as fur burst from his skin.

The tranquility of the clearing was shattered, a snarl echoing around them as he stood before her on four legs. Steaming poison leaked out around razor-sharp teeth, crimson eyes bearing down on her. The crescent moon on his forehead stood out against his iridescent fur, his claws digging into the ground as she stared up at him in awe.

"You're magnificent,"

She swore his canine mouth pulled back in a smirk before he huffed, the hot air tousling her hair before he leapt into the sky. She wasn't worried about him getting near her barrier—she'd actually increased the height over the last few weeks—so she just let herself observe.

Sesshoumaru sprinted around the treetops, his youki curling around his paws as he let out another roar. Kagome cried out in enthusiastic joy, jumping up into the air before spinning around. She hadn't been sure what his reaction would be, whether she'd overstepped or not. But from what he'd told her over the last few months—which hadn't been much—she got the feeling that it had been a while since he'd been able to use his true form.

Unsure how long he planned on running around, she headed towards the waterfall. The plunge pool glistened in the sunlight, soft ripples sliding against the earth as the water ricocheted off various rocks.

Setting her bag at the base of a tree, she quickly stripped down to the bathing suit she'd been wearing under her clothes. She stepped into the pool, the cool water lapping at her ankles, goosebumps crawling up her legs. Wading a little ways in, she tightened the elastic of her ponytail, then dove under the water. Kicking hard, she swam as deep as she could, feeling the pressure increase around her ears before changing direction, her arms and legs working in tandem before breaking the surface.

Treading water, she looked up at the sky again, smiling as Sesshoumaru continued to run around on invisible paths. His powerful muscles constricted under his fur, the poison from his jaws evaporating before hitting the ground. Kagome imagined a very large ball in front of him, bouncing just out of reach every time he moved, his massive paws finally pouncing on it before it abruptly popped from the acid between his teeth.

She couldn't hold in her giggles at the thought of him pouting. And then whining.

The daikyoukai's ears twitched at the noise, his head turning towards her in a questioning tilt of his muzzle. Kagome squeaked, not wanting to have to explain her sudden outburst, and dove under the water again, hoping the cold bite of the water would wash away the blush in her cheeks.

..::**::..

Sesshoumaru landed gracefully beside the plunge pool, the pads of his feet barely making contact with the earth before a tornado of youki surrounded him, pale fur giving way to even paler skin. He'd lost track of time, having let the beast take over and instincts rule.

Noticing the miko had ducked under the surface again, he took a few slow breaths, trying to calm the racing of his heart.

He felt alive.

Normal.

He couldn't count how many years it had been since he'd been able to roam free. Free of persecution and meddling faces. Free to let the beast reign, to let his true power swell and overflow. She had let him do that. Encouraged him even.

His debt to this woman was increasing by the day.

He was nothing if not honourable. He knew this was a debt to be repaid. Though he also knew that she would refuse anything he offered her. She had done this out of the goodness of her heart. To ease his suffering.

When had he become so transparent?

He was the last of his line. A daiyoukai. The former Lord of the West. And only so because there were no Western Lands to rule anymore. When had he become so weak as to rely on a human? To be so far into her debt that it would take a lifetime to pay her back?

And why did he relish the thought of doing so?

Hearing a gasp, his still golden eyes searched the clear waters, the miko's raven hair whirling around her head as she came up for air. She still had it tied up into that strangely appealing ponytail. Water trickled down her neck in small rivers, gleaming like diamonds in the sunlight.

Taking a seat beside her bag, he leaned back against the thick trunk of the tree, his arm automatically coming to rest on his knee. He would most likely transform again before their time was up, but for now he was content to rest in his inhuman form.

The miko had swam closer to the falls, pulling herself up onto the rocks at the base before turning around and waving at him. Sesshoumaru found himself returning the greeting and his brow furrowed as he stared at his treacherous hand.

Since when did he wave?

Perhaps there was some truth to his earlier words about spending too much time with her. He was clearly picking up on her mannerisms and overall friendliness. But the thought of minimizing their time together—regardless of his need to have her near to limit his dread of that blasted elevator—had his hackles rising in vehement displeasure.

He knew he enjoyed her company—had freely admitted it to himself. But having such a strong reaction to not seeing her was strange. Had she crawled so far under his skin that it was not possible to be rid of her?

And did he even want to?

He focused again on her lithe form from across the pool, watching as she sprawled out on a rock, letting the sun warm her skin like a siren. Completely unaware of the heat of his own gaze that wandered over her body.

No. He did not want to be rid of her at all.

She lay still for a few minutes, his eyes continuing to drink her in, before standing again, stretching her arms above her head before diving into the pool once more, slowly making her way back to the bank.

Sesshoumaru schooled his features, his mask settling into place as she pulled herself out of the water, wet footprints following her as she reached for her bag. Moving a few items out of the way, she dragged a lush towel out of the main pocket, wrapping it around herself before sitting down next to him.

"Aren't you going to swim?" She ran her fingers through the end of her ponytail, twisting the strands together tightly to remove the excess water.

"No."

"Too bad, I wanted to see if your swimsuit had any fun designs on it," she grinned at him, mirth dancing in her cerulean orbs.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "It seems you have enough patterns for the both of us."

"How dare you!" The back of her hand touched her forehead in mock offence. "I'll have you know I picked this out especially for you!"

Sesshoumaru smirked. Her swimsuit was dark plum in colour, silver moons adorning the middle of the top and each side of her hips. He wondered if it was new, if she'd gone out specifically to buy it for this occasion. If she was trying to impress him. He couldn't let her be disappointed if that was the case, as he was impressed.

"This One appreciates the sentiment, miko." He gave her a sideways glance. "Were you thinking of me when you tried it on?"

Her stammered response was highly satisfying.

As was the sizzle of reiki along his skin when she smacked his arm.

"You perv! I'd expect that out of Miroku, not you!" An instant and melancholy silence descended around them at the mention of the monk's name. And for once, Sesshoumaru was the one to break it.

"You have never asked about your former companions."

She shifted slightly before replying, resting her chin on her knees as she pulled them up against her body. "No… I haven't…"

"Are you not curious as to their fate?"

A soft sigh escaped her lips, her eyes unseeing as she tilted her head to the side. "No—I mean yes, of course I am. But if I don't know what happened to them, then they aren't really gone. I can keep them alive if I keep wondering."

"Hnn." He had done the same with Rin. Though it had been difficult when she had specifically asked for him during her final hours. He could still see her aged features, skin wrinkled from laughter and time. Her smile had never wavered, even as her strength had faded.

His hand somehow found hers, covering her fingers before giving it a slight squeeze. "They found happiness. If you wish to know nothing else, know that."

Her body stiffened, eyes staring straight ahead before she interlaced her fingers with his and squeezed back.

"Thank you."

They stayed like that for a while, and Sesshoumaru was surprised that she didn't give into her wayward curiosity, bombarding him with questions about each member of her pack. Perhaps he should contact—

"On the topic of awkward questions about the past…" She gnawed on her bottom lip, clearly trying to find the right words to phrase her next words properly.

"You have nothing to fear from wherever your mind has gone, miko. Ask."

She flashed him a grateful smile. "I might need that in writing first."

Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow at her, wondering exactly where her mind had gone, as guilt seeped into her aura. No, not guilt. It was lighter than that. Apprehension? Nervousness perhaps?

How odd.

And then she was moving, her land leaving his as she tucked her legs under herself and faced him. He cocked his head to the side, regarding her closely as her hands balled into fists.

"Look, I know your claustrophobia is a touchy subject. We've talked about it without really talking about it. The whole I-have-to-be-within-ten-feet-of-you-so-you-don't-tear-somebody's-head-off isn't a thing anymore. It's not comfortable, but I can be at the other end of the floor without you getting antsy."

He didn't break her gaze. She was still uneasy about something but pressed forward.

"But the elevator is still the biggest issue. The doors closing is what bothers you the most right? Not counting when there's other people in it."

"Hnn." This was nothing new; she had voiced these concerns before.

"Have you ever thought that, well, that this whole thing started with Magatsuhi? When you first got Bakusaiga?"

Sesshoumaru felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. Just the mention of the vile gremlin's name had his eyes bleeding red, his youki darkening and swirling around them, lifting silver and ebony locks into the air.

It had been the only time he'd ever felt fear. The manifestation of the Shikon Jewel had sought to corrupt and steal the final shard embedded in the young slayer's neck and Sesshoumaru had found himself in a losing battle.

He'd been engulfed in the foul spirit's body parts, surrounded by darkness and the stench of decay. Memories flooded his mind and he suddenly found it hard to breathe, his lungs heavy, airway constricting.

Magatsuhi had tried to poison him first. No poison had ever had an effect on him before then. He'd been unprepared for the burning of his own flesh and even his true form had been unable to make a difference; even at his most powerful, he'd been trapped.

Sucking in a ragged breath, the air burning his throat as Sesshoumaru squeezed his eyes shut. It was fine, the miko was near, she would—

Wait.

No she wasn't.

She was unconscious. Magatsuhi had gone after her first, invading her mind after she interfered with the boy. He was alone again. Alone and helpless. There was no light, and the walls of the rotting youkai were shrinking, pressing against him, stealing the warmth from his skin. He had to get out. He had to get out

Warm hands touched his face.

"Come back to me."

His eyes shot open, the light just as blinding as the darkness that had been swallowing him moments before. He blinked slowly, the ringing in his ears drowning out everything. Everything but her.

"It's okay. You're safe. Come back to me." Her words were soft, the hue of her eyes more grey than blue as concern swirled within them.

Focusing on her voice, his eyes closed again, the pressure on his chest slowly subsiding as he forced oxygen into his lungs. She was still talking but he couldn't make out individual words, just the overall tone of her voice. It was soft. Soothing.

Her thumbs stroked the stripes on his cheeks, the movement hypnotic and distracting. Something else to focus on as the darkness slowly faded from his mind. He wasn't on the battlefield. He wasn't locked within Magatsuhi's cocoon of death.

He was safe. He was with her.

"Are you alright?"

Prepared for the sun's glare this time, he slowly opened his eyes, the slits of his pupils adjusting before she came back into focus. His heart was still beating wildly within his chest, but his breathing had returned to normal, though not enough for him to answer.

"That's a stupid question, of course you're not alright. I'm so sorry, I should've known better than to—I mean, I didn't see it, but Miroku told me about it after. About how you'd—what Maga—what that worm did to you."

She was still stroking his cheeks and then he realized she was all but sitting in his lap. She'd straddled his thighs, water leaching from her swimsuit into the silk of his kimono, her towel forgotten on the ground beside them.

Her own chest was heaving as she watched him and Sesshoumaru was relieved at the lack of judgement on her face. Had she always been such an empathetic creature? He thought back to their time together as allies, images of her doting on the younglings and matching wits with Inuyasha, returning every verbal blow he gave her.

Yes, she'd always been this way.

And he was grateful.

He leaned back against the tree, his muscles starting to relax as he placed a hand over hers, holding it against his skin. "I apologize. My reaction was…unexpected."

She jerked and gave him an incredulous look. "I cause you to have a PTSD-like flashback and you're the one apologizing to me? Are you insane?!"

"Not since the last time you have accused me of being so."

Her mouth opened again but then clicked shut, her eyes searching his before reiki flowed out of her fingers, sliding over his skin like a caress. Sesshoumaru bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from making an inappropriate noise, somewhere between happiness and pleasure. It would be improper for a daiyoukai of his standing to do something as uncouth as purr.

He let the warmth of her power encompass him, basking in the peace it brought him until something tickled the back of his mind. She'd only just released her reiki, there'd been no tingle of it in the air during his flashback, no sizzle of power around them until that very moment, which meant—

She'd brought him back from the brink by herself.

She hadn't needed her power to ground him, to pull him out of the desolation of his mind, it had been her touch, her siren's call. Her only thought had been to alleviate his pain—his terror—to guide him out of the darkness. And now she sought to comfort.

His mind immediately returned to his earlier thoughts of his continuing reliance on the small woman in front of him. He enjoyed it, craved it. A bond had been created between them, one that flourished under her continued care. One that he suddenly wanted more from.

"Can I ask one question before we forget this whole I-traumatized-you-on-your-day-off thing happened?"

"Hnn."

"You broke out of his trap because of your own power, right? When you formed Bakusaiga?"

"Indeed."

"Have you ever thought of, well," she paused, biting her lip, "What if you brought Bakusaiga with you to work? It's what destroyed him before right? Enough that you could escape anyway. And everyone said he was afraid after you used it. Maybe it could help you in the elevator. Remind you that the doors will open again."

An interesting thought. The miko was quite insightful, considering she never witnessed the birth of his newfound power. The weapon could be easily hidden or passed off as a new hobby. However, he knew that even if Bakusaiga proved beneficial, it would be a difficult task to overcome in the long run. Especially without her help.

"Are you trying to shirk your duties by replacing yourself with a sword, miko?"

The tension around them finally dissipated. "Of course not! Riding in the elevator with you is the highlight of my day!" She leaned back, her hands dropping from his face as she seemed to realize her position, that blush had been ever present lately sneaking back into her cheeks.

She rose to get off him, but his fingers encircled her wrist, keeping her in place. She swallowed loudly, then tried to give him a reassuring smile.

"You're feeling better now, right? I can still use my reiki if I'm—"

"Why did you bring me here?"

A frown donned her brow. "What do you mean? You know why, so you could unwind. You're always so uptight at work, and this place is so spacious and calming. It's nice to get away once in a while."

There was no dishonesty in her scent, and yet…

"Why did you bring me here?"

He felt her body tense atop his thighs, her eyes widening with a stark vulnerability that youthened her features. Her fingers furled and unfurled as she struggled to answer.

"I thought it would… make you happy. A place for you to be f-free. I thought it might remind you of the past. I mean, it's your day off and you're wearing a kimono instead of jeans and a t-shirt." Breaking his gaze, she glanced behind her at the falls. "It's a place where you can just be you. No elevators, no responsibilities, no glamour. I thought—"

"Kagome."

Blue met gold as her head whipped around, her eyes darkening to sapphire as she stared at him in shock. The side of his mouth curled up to reveal gleaming fangs, inhaling deeply when the heady scent of her arousal permeated the air.

Good.

His fingers tightened around her wrist, pulling her against him as he claimed her lips, his other arm sliding around her waist to keep her in place. Her mouth was soft and pliant, molding against his as the fabric of his kimono bunched between her fingers. He held her there for a moment, then slanted his head to deepen the kiss, chasing her mouth as she pulled back.

"Don't…" Her voice was barely above a whisper, unease swimming in her eyes as she stared at her hands on his chest. "If you don't mean it… Don't…"

So many years past, and yet she still struggled with the weight of her self-worth.

"You wound me Kagome" He slid a still damp curl behind her ear, enjoying the shiver that went up her spine as he raised her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze.

"When have I ever done something without purpose?"

The brilliance of her smile blinded him before she used the grip on his kimono to yank him forward, entangling her hands in his hair. Fangs nipped at her bottom lip, persuading her to open her mouth before his tongue found hers.

She moaned softly, his claws digging into her hips as she melted against him. Citrus and honey mingled together as her aura flickered between happiness and hunger, the only thing more potent than her scent was her taste.

He wanted to devour her.

She broke the kiss again, though this time it was due to the lack of oxygen, not reassurance. Cheeks flushed and breathing heavy, she nipped at his nose before touching her forehead to his.

"You've ruined this place for me now."

"Oh?"

"I won't be able to come here without thinking unsavoury thoughts about you."

"I have not even begun to be unsavoury, miko, but I will indulge you since you are so adamant about it."

She leaned back on his legs, a mischievous glint in her eyes before she took off towards the pool, laughing, beckoning, like the nymph she was.

He gave her a full minute of false hope before darting after her.

 

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