Inspiration: “Wrapped in Red” by Kelly Clarkson
"Lord Sesshoumaru, do you celebrate 'Christmas'?"
He looked up from the missive in his hand, his ward staring out the window of his study, the landscape blanketed in white from the recent snowfall.
"Such a thing does not exist."
Rin giggled but didn't turn around. "Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
Her laughter was a familiar sound, one he often heard while in her presence, but he never grew tired of it. She had missed out on many opportunities to laugh during her childhood, and Sesshoumaru was glad she was carefree enough to do it now.
"Enlighten me then, what is this 'Christmas' you speak of?"
"Kagome mentioned it. She says it's a 'western thing', so I thought you'd know about it."
Sesshoumaru shook his head. "It is not something I am familiar with."
As it was with most things with the miko.
Rin hummed softly, tightening the fur around her shoulders as she continued to gaze out the window. "She says it's a time for family and exchanging gifts. And decorating things!" The girl suddenly turned around, her face lit up with excitement.
"Kagome teaches us new origami every year, and we place them on the trees outside her hut. Shippou has learned how to make them move from his lessons at school!"
"You have told me of his many accomplishments."
She smiled, her mouth no longer littered with gaps. She had flourished in the eight years since the fall of Naraku.
"Will you come this year?"
Sesshoumaru blinked in confusion. "To what?"
Rin laughed again, sliding off her perch to stand in front of his desk. "To Christmas! You're never in Edo during the celebration."
"I have business to attend to during the winter months. The clans in the south—"
"It can wait until the new year. Please Lord Sesshoumaru? Kagome says it's an important time for families. You should be there too!"
His eyes slid back to the missive, but it remained unread. "It sounds like a frivolous activity." The parchment was snatched out of his hands, chestnut eyes gleaming at him.
A chuckle escaped his lips, unable to stop the softening of his eyes at her pleading look. "I suppose the discussions can be delayed by a day."
Rin clapped her hands together, her exuberance written all over her face. "You won't regret it, Lord Sesshoumaru, I promise!"
He was right. It was indeed a frivolous activity.
The miko had procured others in the village to help 'decorate'. Lanterns hung from the roof of her hut, swaying as the last of the falling snow swirled around them.
Rin had been worried the storm wouldn't let up in time, but the dark mauve clouds had parted mid-afternoon, giving way to clear skies and crisp winter air. Sesshoumaru had kept to the shadows, the villagers still wary of the daiyoukai whenever he came to visit his ward. He'd become fed up with the stares and stench of fear, so Rin had started spending every other visit at the western stronghold, secured on the back of Ah-Un.
However, she had refused to let him keep to himself during this particular celebration, tugging him closer to the raging bonfire in front of the miko's abode. His brother had greeted him casually—a rare moment regardless of their current alliance—and had even offered him a place to sit.
Rin had spoken of this 'Christmas' causing miracles to happen, but Sesshoumaru had not believed it until now.
"What made you finally decide to show up this year?" Inuyasha asked, helping one of the monk's twins twist strings around a strip of parchment.
"It was a request from Rin."
"Keh, smart girl. Guess she's playing the role of Santa this year."
Confusion marred Sesshoumaru's brow, and he opened his mouth to question the foreign words, but a flash of red caught his eye, drawing his gaze towards the miko's front door.
The woman had established herself as a wandering miko since her return, but Edo was the place she called home. Rin would regale him about her adventures and all the people she'd helped, but it was through the lens of a child, and Sesshoumaru was hesitant to believe everything that came out of his ward's mouth.
He made a note to listen more in the future.
Power radiated off the miko in abundance, her body almost glowing in the dim firelight. Her head was held high, the confidence she'd been lacking during the year she'd spent fighting Naraku shining brightly through the smile on her face.
But although many others had fallen to its charm, it was not the smile that had caught his attention.
The miko was wearing his crest.
Donning a kimono instead of her traditional robes, the miko was clad in crimson silks. The plum blossoms and hexagons of his clan were stitched on her shoulders, sleeves, and around her ankles in ivory thread. Her obi was vibrant indigo; the ends tipped in yellow to match the ribbon in her hair.
To a passerby, it was simply a change of pace—a kimono to match the colours of the strange celebration.
To Sesshoumaru, it was a claim.
A blatant one.
Her outfit was complementary to his. To be worn by his—
"She's been wearing that every year for the past five years."
Sesshoumaru started, golden eyes widening even more at being caught off guard by anyone, let alone his brother.
Inuyasha was watching the miko as well, his hands stuffed into the sleeves of his haori. "Everyone thinks it's to match me."
"It is not."
"Keh, of course it ain't! Only people without a brain see it that way." Inuyasha scratched the back of his head. "K'gome never says anything, though. She's just happy to wear it."
"Why?" The question escaped Sesshoumaru's mouth without permission, curiosity burning under his skin.
His brother smirked, finally looking at him. "Like I'm going to tell you! Ask her yourself."
Adjusting the pack in her arms, the miko stopped in front of an array of baskets situated along one of the benches on the other side of the fire. They'd gone unnoticed by him before, but each had a piece of parchment with a name on it.
He watched as she placed a small gift in each basket, ranging from dried meat to hair accessories to paintbrushes. The baskets had been littered with various trinkets before hers, others clearly taking part in the tradition as well.
His alone remained empty.
A strange expression dusted the miko's features as she looked at his empty basket, then reached into her pack and pulled out three items. She brushed her fingers over each one before laying some bound parchment, a small carving, and a strange bundle of leaves he was not familiar with under his name.
Sesshoumaru's curiosity spiked again.
A playful breeze ruffled the miko's hair, causing her to push a stray lock behind her ear as she turned towards the fire.
Sapphire met gold and she froze.
They stared at each other for a moment, time stilling as the sounds around them were blurred and muffled. Sesshoumaru raised an eyebrow and her cheeks turned as red as her clothes.
She tried to flee back into her hut but was stopped by Rin, his ward grabbing onto her wrist and pulling her into a group of singing youngsters. The woman reluctantly joined the chorus but kept sneaking glances at him.
Sesshoumaru held her gaze, lifting his chin as he dared her to look away. The miko bristled, then squared her shoulders, sapphire eyes turning stormy as she raised her own chin in response.
He internally purred in approval.
The evening progressed without incident—or their paths crossing. It seemed the miko was avoiding him. He would have to take a more active role.
Patting his ward on the head, he rose to his feet, snow crunching under his boots as he closed the distance between himself and the woman draped in his insignia. Her face was still flushed, but whether it was from the cold night air or his approach, he wasn't sure.
Instinct implored him to find out.
"A moment, miko."
She didn't meet his gaze but nodded once, following him into the trees. The only sound was their footsteps, the world silenced by the newly fallen snow.
And perhaps her nervous breathing.
They broke through the treeline, moonlight reflecting off the frozen crystals and lighting their way. Once he was sure they were far enough away from burning ears and prying eyes, he turned to her, face blank but searching.
"You wear This One's symbol."
"Yes." Her voice was soft but clear.
Reluctant to answer that particular question, her fingers tangled together, her eyes looking everywhere but him.
"Is it the same reason you are the only one to present This One with gifts?" Sesshoumaru pulled the basket from his robes, holding it between them.
That seemed to get her attention as she gave him a startled look. "You're not supposed to look at those until tomorrow!"
"I do not adhere to your traditions," he said, picking up the bundle of parchment and presenting it to her. "You will explain."
"That's… They're doodles. Sketches."
He raised an eyebrow, watching as she pushed the snow around at her feet, then untied the parchment. The pieces had been torn and bound together on one side. He vaguely remembered her carrying items similar to this during her search of the Shikon shards, claiming they'd been for her studies.
Clawed hands delved through the drawings. Each page contained various images of his person, all different poses or parts—some of his hands, his armour, his weapons.
The majority were of his face.
Sesshoumaru had prided himself on hiding his emotions; had been trained to do so since he'd come of age. He was, above all things, a warrior.
It appeared the miko saw through the mask he'd spent over a century perfecting.
The differences were subtle, but each sketch showed a slight crease of his eyes, a clench of his jaw, a turn of his head. Sesshoumaru couldn't remember ever feeling each emotion, let alone showing it, but the miko was able to capture each one with a few strokes of her strange graphite stick.
It was intriguing.
It was humbling.
He moved on to the small carving. Smooth fingers brushed his as she took it from him, her eyes softening as she looked it over.
"I was helping out a northern village a few months back," she began, dwelling on the memory. "They'd had an outbreak of fevers with their children. Nothing too serious, but they still wanted to repay me."
She held up the statue, bathing it in moonlight, and he finally recognized the shape.
His true form.
The replica was up on his haunches, muzzle open in a snarl. The quality was remarkable, the creases in the wood giving the illusion of movement.
"There was a carver in the village. I'd noticed his work when I first arrived. He offered to make me something, so I—" She looked up at him now, her cheeks once again the same shade as her kimono. "He used one of my sketches. I wasn't sure if I'd given him enough detail. It's been a while since I've seen you that way and—"
"It is accurate."
A smile graced her lips, brightening her eyes as she turned it over. "I'm glad. I wanted…" She bit her lower lip, trailing off before placing the figurine back in his hand.
"Anyway, sorry it's not much. I'm sure you're used to much more extravagant gifts—"
"They are meaningless without intent," he said, pulling out the final item. The corners of his mouth turned down as he stared at it. He could scent the poison from the white berries but had never come across it in any of his gardens. The ends were jagged—as if they resented being uprooted.
An innocuous plant with no meaning.
Except to the woman who stood before him.
The flushed remained in her cheeks—encompassing her neck and ears now—but her eyes were wide and vulnerable, the edges of her aura tainted in fear.
The meaningless plant seemed to carry the most significance.
"I am unfamiliar with this breed of sprout."
"It's…" she sucked in a breath, attempting to steady her nerves. "It's yadorigi. Mistletoe."
"What is its function? The berries are too toxic to eat."
Strained laughter echoed in the silence around them. "They're not for eating." Her hand rose, but he pulled it out of her reach.
"You have not answered the question."
She tried again, her movements desperate. "Maybe I don't want to."
"Considering the manner in which you are dressed, This One could hazard a guess."
Overextending, she tripped over her own feet, his arm catching her around the waist. Both hands gripped his bicep, digging into white silk as she steadied herself and Sesshoumaru found himself inhaling.
Her scent had never bothered him; it was one of the things that had caught his attention during their first encounter—and every encounter since. Rin had brought him many blooms in their time together, but nothing was ever as sweet as the aroma wafting off the miko.
Placing her back on her feet, he held the yadorigi above her. "An explanation, miko."
"Don't do that."
A pale eyebrow raised.
"Don't hold it up like that."
"I fail to see—"
"It's a tradition where I'm from. From back home. People hang it in doorways and…" She covered her face with her hands. "If a couple stands under it, they're supposed to kiss."
He thumbed the circular bundle of leaves, a few berries falling off and disappearing into the snow.
"Do you provide gifts for This One every year?"
A slight hesitation, then she nodded her head.
"Even though this is the first time I have attended the celebration."
She sucked in a ragged breath, clenched hands dropping to her sides before looking up at him. Sapphire orbs swam with an emotion he had only seen on the face of his father's mistress.
It left him reeling.
"I never thought you'd show up, but… I always hoped."
He considered her for a moment, then laid the basket at her feet.
"This One thanks you for your gifts, miko."
Her body finally relaxed, her smile returning and softening her tense features.
Sesshoumaru smirked, then grabbed her hand, lifting her wrist to his mouth. Fangs quickly replaced lips as he heard her gasp, goosebumps roughening her flesh.
"And you are welcome to hope."