Second Alliance – Chapter 20

Back to Chapter 19: The Burden of Leadership

Chapter 20: A Mother’s Love

Dawn was nearing as Sesshomaru silently walked through his castle to meet his guest. The sky was not light yet, not even hinting at the sun that would rise within the hour, but he could feel the change in the air. The temperature was rising; life was moving on in the Western Lands as nocturnal animals found their lairs and those that thrived in sunlight stirred. Emi slept on, secured against him by mokomoko and clutching the miko’s robe. Sesshomaru tightened his hold on her as he descended the stairs.

He had not summoned the Western Lady, InuKimi, but he had been considering it. That she had arrived without summons – set foot inside the Western Palace for the first time since the death of Inu no Tashio – was significant. Whether it would aid him or become a detriment, he could not yet tell.

He steeled himself for a confrontation. Discourse with his mother was always a battle of wits, and more than that, a battle of senses. It was intrigue, cunning, deception, and sly familial concern all at once and executed with the skill of a master of political maneuvering. Sesshomaru, ever striving for truthfulness with himself, admitted that he was not her equal.

Rather than attempt to best her on a field which she easily controlled, he had learned to reign in his emotions and reactions and refuse to compete at all. Eventually, InuKimi would grow bored with his lack of response, and either leave, or drop her veil and make her machinations plain. If Sesshomaru could fold her into his strategy, it would give him an advantage. It might allow him to… He shook himself, refusing to consider those eventualities before they were a possibility.

Kento opened the last door between Sesshomaru and his mother, bowed, and closed the ornate screens behind his Lord. A youki barrier slid smoothly into place, pulsing with the deadly precision of the Lady herself. The daiyoukai stood still, just inside the room, considering his dam even as she considered him while she pretended to be concerned with nothing but the temperature of the tea before her. It did not escape his notice that she had taken her former place on the small dais, despite the fact that the cushion reserved for the Western Lady had been removed centuries ago. His mother had simply commandeered his instead.

Are you so wrought with joy over seeing your long-absent mother that you cannot even move? Or have you simply forgotten all manner of graciousness that you were taught? Perhaps your human has been a poor influence.” She did not look at him, but poured a second cup of tea and placed it near his designated spot.

Mother,” Sesshomaru greeted her flatly, “I see not even the disease that has killed so many youkai dares to inconvenience you.” He made no move to sit beside her, knowing that her actions were designed to achieve some end that only she knew of – and it was unlikely he would appreciate the results. “Why have you come?”

She sipped her tea and glanced at him over the rim of her cup. He noted the slight flaring of her nostrils, and guessed she was assessing his mood, and that of the pup with him, via scent. Kimi’s nose was exceptional. He had no doubt she would also note the miko’s scent and attempt to conjecture how it had come to be on his fur.

It is indeed a sad day in the West when the Lady is not welcomed at the Palace. I have made a long journey, and yet you have offered me no greetings, no warmth, no respite. Can we not share a meal, as a pack should, before you interrogate me? Surely you have some morsels in your kitchen that would be suitable. Has your little human grown plump yet? Perhaps-”

As I have said before,” Sesshomaru interrupted, “the child is not for eating.”

Hn, pity.” Kimi pouted slightly, no doubt disappointed he did not rise to her teasing. “I see you have come into your second tail. Was the event as shocking as your father’s? Or did you manage it when you forged Bakusaiga?”

The defeat of Naraku,” he answered shortly. He did not take her bait at the mention of his sire. Inu no Tashio’s second tail had grown after he saved a human village from being razed as a casualty of youkai warfare – long before he had sired an heir. What had inspired him to end a long history of youkai either ignoring or slaughtering humans, Sesshomaru had never learned, but the result had been impressive. The Great General’s strength and youki increased substantially, resulting in the physical growth of his dog form and a second tail.

His father had teased an overly serious young Sesshomaru that his human form grew taller as well. Sesshomaru had never allowed himself to believe his father completely, but when his own second tail came in, he couldn’t stop himself from checking over his human body. He was surprised with a wave of sadness when he found he had grown at least two inches, and was broader across the chest.

Regardless, the conversation was a complete ruse. Kimi had spies and informants across the Western Lands, even in Sesshomaru’s own castle – although not among his closest advisors and servants. She was well aware of his second tail, and how its growth had occurred. Probably within hours of the event itself.

Really? And you didn’t even kill the spider hanyou yourself. That must have come as quite a surprise.” InuKimi sipped her tea calmly, but her eyes were sparkling.

Sesshomaru held back a frown. She was enjoying herself. If she found their exchange amusing, it would take her longer to get to the point. He had far more pressing matters to deal with than sparring with the only youkai who regularly engaged, and defeated, him in verbal battles. He also did not want to be occupied with her when his scouts returned. They will have news of the miko- He cut off his own thoughts, knowing that not even he could completely control his scent and expression where the priestess’s welfare was concerned.

He was too late. Kimi’s eyes narrowed with interest and her mouth parted slightly to better take in his scent. “Oh, my dear pup, you can’t possibly think you will be able to get rid of me now.”

Sesshomaru stalked forward, holding back the rage and shame, at his own untenable position and helpless inability to follow his instincts, by a thread. He knew he was vibrating with a repressed growl, but he determined that there was no reason for Kimi not to feel some of his anger. Let her wonder if it is her, or something else that pushes me to the edge.

The threat of physical violence had never entered their competition for dominance, as it did occasionally in other family packs. Sesshomaru was aware that he was Kimi’s superior in physical strength and combat skill, as she also knew. His status as Alpha was not challenged. But she was his mother. She undermined his authority over the West, simply by implying authority over him by way of her longer life, extensive knowledge, political skills, and the virtue of having created him.

I do not have patience for you this day, Mother. Come to your objective, but do not test me.”

Have you taken a mate, son, or a concubine?” Kimi changed the subject without warning and gestured to the sleeping Emi. “I am most grieved that you would sire an heir without alerting me to the news. Such a significant event should be celebrated by a pack, if not all the Western Lands.”

Sesshomaru deviated from his own plotted course to defeat his mother by refusing to play her game, and growled. He refused to regret the action. “She is not of our line, which you well know. Why have you come? If you will not answer, then leave.”

Sesshomaru.” Her tone was sharp, and her eyes lost the gleam of amusement. “I will explain myself when I know what needs explaining, and to whom, but not before. And you will not speak to me in such a way, Saidai Mao.” Sesshomaru clamped down on the distant instinct to tell her everything he had ever done that she would disapprove of. That tone made him feel like a pup again; as if his mother already knew his sins, and he could only mitigate the consequences through confession. It had been many centuries since she had wielded that tone against him with any actual power, but it did not fail to make him recall – vividly – the few instances when he had disappointed or disobeyed his mother.

They considered each other for a few moments, and Sesshomaru weighed the potential advantages of gaining his dam’s support and assistance over his distaste for explaining himself to anyone – much less answering his mother’s questions and listening to her cutting opinions on his actions. There was also her position to consider. If she was not willing to stand behind his strategies, or at least stay out of the way, she could become an adversary. There were many among the West who would support her, who thought of her as the Western Lady – even ahead of their loyalties to him. She had saved Rin, but how would her tolerance of a ward, a child, translate to his new attachment to the miko? Although she had hidden it well, Kimi had been nearly crushed by the deception and rejection of Inu no Tashio for a human woman. Sesshomaru would have been surprised if that experience did not color her opinion of his choice for a mate.

He would save the West. He would defeat his enemies. He would regain his miko, and secure his claim on her. Options and complex contingencies opened before his mind’s eye. With Kimi’s support, much could be gained. Much could be done. With another daiyoukai of his line to defend the West, he could leave his lands and-

He had to navigate the politically charged, dangerous territory around negotiations with his mother logically, carefully. He needed her support. He wanted it. He had not stopped the miko from being taken, and allowed her to remain with his enemy too long already. Shame, sadness, anger, longing threatened to choke him. He stared down at the smooth cheek of the pup in his mokomoko and pushed back his emotions, keeping his face impassive. If he wanted to save the miko, he had to hope, to trust, that she would survive long enough for him to get to her. He needed Kimi.

He gracefully lowered himself to the bare floor where his cushion usually sat, and turned towards his mother. His expression was cold when he looked up. Hers was slowly slipping from icy rebuke to naked interest.

He picked up his tea and took a long sip before speaking, “The pup is a consequence of attacks the North has made upon our lands. There are other orphans as well, some of whom I have brought to the castle. I will adopt this one, along with a kit, when I mate her new mother.”

It was childish and completely beneath him, but Kimi tended to bring out the worst traits in her son. Amid all of the turbulence inside the usually calm-and-ordered Sesshomaru, amused satisfaction flickered. Kimi smelled of shock. After nearly eight hundred years, he had finally done something his mother did not expect. Whether it was his determination to mate and adopt two young ones, or his willingness to admit such to her, he did not know. He decided that the source of her bewilderment, however temporary, was not as important as the fact of it. It would only improve his chances of steering the conversation, and gaining her backing.

She recovered quickly, ignoring the news of the attacks and by that act confirming that she already knew of them. “The scent of the female on your mokomoko?” He nodded and she continued, thoughtfully, “Human. What is it about this one that has managed to overcome your distaste? For her species, and mating as well?” He did not miss the glint of intrigue in her eyes, quickly hidden, or the flickering tang of her worry.

If he had not become so used to the variety and intensity of emotions that he had felt since he brought the miko to the West, he would not have recognized his own reaction for what it was: relief. Kimi had not rejected the possibility outright. Despite the circumstances that had resulted the last time a member of her pack had taken interest in a human woman, she was willing to consider his reasons. If Kimi had objected, it would not have changed his determination to have the miko, but it would have presented unnecessary challenges.

He felt a distant pull on his youki, which he tried to ignore. He knew his power still rested within the miko. If it were possible, he would have sent her more, to keep her safe, to nourish her reiki until he could reach her. She is strong, he reminded himself.

She is the Shikon Miko, as you already know,” he acknowledged her spy network easily. If we are to be as a true pack once more, then there should be truth. Sesshomaru was not, had never been, one to act with assurance of the outcome. Nothing with his mother was ever certain, but in this instance, with what was at risk, he justified reaching out to the trait Kimi had passed down to her son – desire for superiority. Not only as an individual, but as a pack, and for the Lands. “She has great power, more than most youkai, and she can direct it to harm or heal our kind.”

So it was not exaggeration,” Kimi murmured into her tea cup. “The Miko no Mao.” Her gaze sharpened and a small, feral smile played at the corners of her mouth. It was the same smile she had worn when she had uncovered a plot by Kuren’s father to assassinate Toga. She’d smiled at the Lord of the East across a banquet table, and then used his verbal missteps to trap him into a confession, a surrender, and a tribute to the West. That smile did not bode well for her enemies. “You have taken her from Inuyasha?”

She was not his to keep,” Sesshomaru answered stiffly. He chafed at the need to let her ask what questions she would, to draw her to his side at her own pace before he could secure her assistance and leave the West. “She is mine.” He knew that Kimi’s spies would have already told her of his half-brother’s visit to the castle. “The hanyou has become mine as well.”

You claim him as part of your pack?” Her voice was perfectly even and without inflection. It betrayed no feelings on the matter, but Sesshomaru knew that was a sign of a strong reaction. If Kimi were truly indifferent, she would have scoffed, or insulted the half-demon, or acted the part of the welcoming step-mother. That she could not utilize her considerable skill for misrepresentation and sophism indicated how very deeply affected she was by the knowledge that her mate’s by-blow had not only been in the heart of the West, he was accepted there by the Alpha. Whether Kimi was hurt by Sesshomaru’s apparent reconciliation with the past, or upset by old memories he could not know, but he would tread carefully. He had no desire to bring his dam pain; she had suffered more than enough when the Great General left her for his mistress.

He had acknowledged his father’s bastard when he’d allowed Inuyasha into the Western Palace. The daiyoukai had made Inuyasha pack when he had trusted his impulsive half-brother enough to allow him to sleep in proximity to his daughter and intended mate, to spar with his men, to confide sensitive information about the Lands and his enemies. He’d sent Inuyasha on the most difficult and potentially rewarding assignment he could give. Sesshomaru expected nothing less than success in the East.

Only his two closest advisors knew all that had transpired between the brothers, and that their long feud was on its way towards a permanent mend; Sesshomaru would not share that decision with the Lady until it was necessary. Her mate had betrayed her to sire Inuyasha. The hanyou was not at fault, but it had taken Sesshomaru centuries to come to that conclusion. He would not blame his mother if she could not let go of the past. And if the miko was not saved, Inuyasha would no longer be his ally. He would do everything in his power to destroy Sesshomaru, and the daiyoukai might let him.

Yes. He adds to the West.”

Hn.”

They sat in silence. Sesshomaru found it difficult to remain patient while Kimi considered all that she knew from her informants and what he had told her – while she sorted through reason and emotion, and decided which would rule her decisions. The room brightened as dawn broke, and then was cast into gloom again as the sun disappeared behind the ever-present snow clouds. Emi woke, and he settled her into a quiet, if not calm, seat on his lap. He did not bother to call for food. The pup had refused everything but the strange future food the miko kept in her bag. She’d finished the last of it before nightfall. If he could not bring the woman back soon, he would have to force the pup to eat.

Emi stared with wide eyes, reddened from crying, at the Lady of the West. She returned the gaze, and they considered each other for some time before Kimi reached for the pup.

She will cry if I do not hold her,” he warned.

It has been some time, Sesshomaru,” Kimi responded dryly, taking hold of the young one, “But I believe I remember how to care for a pup.”

She pulled the robe away from Emi, who immediately screwed up her small face. With quick, deft movements, the Lady refolded the garment, releasing another puff of scent and exposing the seams of the collar and sleeves. She pressed it against the pup, who immediately buried her face in the material. Kimi’s mokomoko wrapped gently around the young one, cradling her in the voluminous fur. Sesshomaru was struck with a memory worn fuzzy by time, of being comforted in the same manner. Kimi, more so than most females, was two sides of a coin. Viciously maternal and protective of her pack, and at the same time beguiling and wantonly lethal.

One tail pressed against Emi’s back, while the other flicked against the floor in anticipation. “You will tell me everything,” Kimi ordered after another long silence. “I will not abide your recalcitrance on this, Sesshomaru,” she warned. “I know you want my help; in fact, you need it. Do not think that I will throw my power in blindly, even for you. I want to know your plan, and your contingency plans. I will know all that has happened to bring you to this point.”

His instincts were screaming at him that he was wasting time. His beast wanted to put Kimi in her place, behind her Alpha, and leave her to protect the pups while he went after the miko. His youki roiled with anxiety and anticipation. Instead he sipped his tea, and spoke in short, pointed sentences. He told her of his suspicions of the North, and the informants he had begun placing some twenty years ago on the border. He spoke of the rumors of humans and lesser youkai that strayed over into dragon territory and disappeared. One of his spies had confirmed that the dragons were primarily eating those that trespassed.

It came to my attention that there was a single village, deep in the Northern Lands, where such humans are bred. They are used for food, and entertainment.”

You have done nothing about it?” Her eyes widened in obviously feigned surprise, and Sesshomaru was made aware that she already knew the generalities, if not the specifics, of the intelligence he had received – and the result.

They should not have gone where they were not welcome.” Sesshomaru bared his teeth, savagely. “It is unfortunate that a rock slide eliminated Ryukostokken’s herd.”

A rock slide? That is unfortunate…for Ryu. Poor boy,” Kimi responded dryly. She took another sip of tea. “How are those two elementals you took in? I still do not understand why your father and his captain allowed you and Hisao to bring rock orphans back to the castle. The captain was certain they would die without their own pack.”

Hisao’s sire was an excellent captain, but his long-term strategy was not as indefectible as my own.” Sesshomaru allowed himself a small, brief smirk. “The brothers have proven to be of some use to the West.” His smirk disappeared, “With sufficient incentive, they may overcome more recent error – in a few decades.” He continued his retelling.

The years after that yielded little information about the dragons’ intentions. Then Naraku had surfaced, and Sesshomaru’s attentions were divided for a time. He had only just begun to dedicate more resources to watching the North when the disease struck. He did not spare his own ego when he spoke of how the pox had nearly killed him. Nor did he downplay the magnificence of the miko’s healing ability. His description of her efforts for Aki were carefully constructed to maximize how the miko could benefit all youkai – and become a weapon for their enemies if she was not rescued.

Aki and Kento have mated as a result.” Sesshomaru paused, considering how much of the theory he and the miko had developed to share with Kimi. “There are too few pups born to replace those youkai that die.”

We are dying out,” she nodded. A small, sad smile graced her features. “It has been happening for several centuries. I have kept a tally of births among the daiyoukai, even their bastards, and numbers have decreased significantly. My records of lesser youkai are not as well kept, but they decline as well.” His mother was unfazed by the revelation, her vast knowledge once more impressing Sesshomaru. He was curious, even a bit envious, of her information network and how quickly she had come to the conclusions that he had only recently realized. “While the humans have increased at a phenomenal rate.”

They will overtake us.” Sesshomaru made the decision to be as open as possible, without revealing the miko’s secret. “She has seen this: a time when youkai are no more, and humans cover the earth with villages that are so large, their breadth cannot be walked in a day.”

Is her vision proven?” Kimi’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

Yes. Many other things she has said have been confirmed to my satisfaction.” Kimi was unmoving, but Sesshomaru could see her mind working at a furious pace. “She calls it ‘extinction’. The death of an entire species.”

You believe that the lack of pups is the cause?”

As do you,” Sesshomaru confirmed, unwilling to allow her to pretend to be unconscious of the implications. “Other factors – the disease, this war – may accelerate it, but that is the root of the issue.”

Your miko can bring life to those that are barren.” The Lady spoke slowly, considering each word in her statement.

Hn.” In a moment of amusement, rare under the circumstances, he elaborated, “Although she claims it is just as often a flaw in the male that causes such problems.”

Of course,” Kimi sniffed delicately. She waved away the topic in favor of returning to the discussion of their enemy in the North. “What have your scouts learned?”

The room was cast in the shadows of late afternoon when he reached a description of what Eiji had found as he attempted to track the miko. A few ill-placed footfalls by Gakuto had made an impression on the earth, rather than being cushioned by snow. It was enough to send his best trackers in the right direction – farther to the east than Jun had directed them, but Gakuto might have changed directions, or Jun might have been confused by the storm. The trackers were still out, pinpointing her path and location, although Sesshomaru was nearly certain he knew where she had been taken.

Your miko has power,” Kimi said slowly. “What are her chances for escaping the North by herself?”

Her reiki, although great, has been strained by recent events. I do not doubt that she has the capacity to purify even a daiyoukai – but not in her current state.”

It isn’t just a daiyoukai she needs to worry about. If Ryukostokken has any idea, however ill-formed, of her value, to you and to all youkai, he will have her under considerable guard. No miko is strong enough to eliminate an entire castle of youkai.”

She is rare, and not constrained by what should be.” Sesshomaru felt intense pride in being able to make such a statement.

What of her training? What weapons does she favor?”

Bow,” he answered shortly. Kimi already knew that; any who had heard of the Shikon Miko knew of her purifying arrows.

You have not taught her the use of any other weapons?” Kimi arched a brow reproachfully, and let Sesshomaru’s hesitation speak for itself. “You have neglected something so important, my son? If you would mate her, how would she protect herself? No,” her mouth tightened in anger, “do not tell me that you have truly followed in your father’s footsteps and chosen a human woman who is incapable of surviving in the youkai world?”

I will let no harm come to her,” Sesshomaru ground out between his teeth. “I will do my duty, and ensure the downfall of my enemies and the security of my people. There has been treachery in the West, and it may not yet be rooted out. At my side, she will not need to protect herself.” He wanted to close his eyes against the pain that twisted inside him, squeezing out his air and making his blood pulse painfully. He focused instead on his anger, his rage. Gakuto and his new master had dared to touch what belonged to Sesshomaru – subverted his defenses. They would pay. He met his mother’s calm facade with one of his own.

How will you do that? By leaving her defenseless in the North, among your enemies? By leaving the West undefended while you take your army, unprepared and without time for strategy, to the North? Or will you go alone, into territory you have not seen with your own eyes since you were a pup, and throw yourself on Ryukostokken’s blade?” Kimi closed her eyes, her scent smelling of irritation, disappointment and…Sesshomaru sniffed in surprise. Worry. “Why have I been so blessed with a son who has learned all the wrong lessons?” she lamented.

She flicked a long, silky strand of hair over her shoulder in irritation. “Even if you do bring her back – alone or with the assistance of your army – what then?” Kimi did not wait for his reply, “You will, at best, be weakened from those acts, and the North will be poised to attack. Will you leave the miko, newly mated, to protect your pups with only her untrained reiki? Or will you wait here, guarding your den jealously, while the dragon destroys your lands on his path to you? Perhaps Ryukostokken will meet you before you can enter his stronghold. How long can he delay you, on his own Lands? How long can the miko wait for you to reach her with enemies all around her?”

If Kimi agreed to his plan, Kagome wouldn’t have to wait that long. Sesshomaru would be able to go to her far in advance of the army. She must survive. Mother must agree so that I may go to her, save her, crush those that took her and bring her back where she belongs. If I cannot, if Mother does not- Sesshomaru would not allow himself to finish the thought. The miko will survive and return to me. He prepared himself to ask, as proposals and demands would not be well-met, that Kimi to lead the West in his absence, but was diverted before he could begin.

There is a better way, Sesshomaru.” Kimi sighed, and her son’s frustration mounted. “If you can see it past your clouded emotions and enormous ego.”

Ego implies that I cannot kill the dragon. That is incorrect.” He gritted his teeth to keep from snapping at his own mother. Such disrespect should not be tolerated, but he needed her. Sesshomaru vowed that once the miko was returned, he would endeavour never to repeat such a situation – needing another for help.

And his army? How many can you kill, Sesshomaru? Ten? Twenty? One hundred? How many trained youkai can you fight, for how long, before even you make a mistake? Go to her now, force your way into the North and you risk yourself, the West, and her. She cannot be lost! You are nothing if not a great strategist, my son, find another way. Do not lose the thing you desire most, the greatest hope for us all, because you can see only black or white. This or that. You have tried so hard to not be Inu no Taisho, that you have become his worst faults!”

Sesshomaru struggled to contain his emotions. No longer did the scent of amused disinterest or cool irritation fill the room. The youki barrier was all that kept the entire castle from knowing the rage, the bitter grief, the desperate concern that exploded from both mother and son. “Father-”

Kimi interrupted him with a sharp motion of her hand and a deep frown. “You think your father made a mistake. You believe that if you leave the West to go after this woman, you will follow in his footsteps. You are wrong, and you are right. And neither in the way you think. Your miko is more than just a mate, more than a female. She has value to our species. If you claim the title of Alpha to us all, you will see that and plan accordingly. You have the opportunity to strike at the dragon whelp at the seat of his power, to steal his prize and bide your time, growing more powerful and forcing him to meet you on your terms. You must do this, for the good of your pack, of the West, of Japan.”

Her frown relaxed and her tone shifted to the idealistic coercion of a counselor. “Use your incredible logic, Sesshomaru. There is another way. You need not risk your own life, and you may still save your miko. You have learned the wrong lessons from your father. He was right to go to her, but wrong to sacrifice himself when it was unnecessary. If he had openly claimed her, he could have summoned his army to fight Ryukotsusei and gone to her himself. Better yet, he could have used stealth and cunning from the beginning and kept his new mate guarded at the Western Palace while he planned a war against the Dragons. That was always his failing, the Great General,” her anger and disappointment soured the air. “There was no one who could defeat him in combat, but he preferred to rush into battle rather than choose the field that yielded a more thorough victory. I had thought you had learned better.”

Kimi took a deep breath, turning her face away from her son before she continued, “You have punished his memory long enough, Sesshomaru. He did not choose them over us, he chose her over me. Toga did what he needed to do, finally. What an Alpha should do. It took him a disgracefully long time to realize that he could not have us both, that I did not want a male who looked to another, and then even longer to understand that Izayoi, her protection and that of their pup, was what made him worthy of the title Alpha.” She took a deep, painful breath. “It was the right choice. I should have never been his mate, I was not meant to be, but we both put our misguided sense of duty above our instincts. We were miserable, my son, and the only thing to come from our union that was good, was you.

He failed in that he did not trust her to protect herself – he did not give her the tools to do so herself. You have told me of your miko’s strength. You speak of her as one speaks of a true mate, the other half of your spirit. You are strong, Sesshomaru, so trust her to be strong. But do not make the mistake of risking all that she means to the West so that you may spite a memory, to spite a false sense that Toga turned away from us. Do not try to claim to me that you mean the West, because you speak of the sting to your heart, not to your people. If you deny your actual reasons, then you are not only wrong, you are a fool.” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply to regain her calm facade.

Sesshomaru felt as if he should do the same. If, in past years, or even hours, he had been asked if he harbored resentment towards his sire, he would have responded negatively. As his mother spoke, he was uncomfortably aware that the opposite was true. He still blamed the Great General. He blamed him for so many things: for his mother’s pain, for the war that exploded in the wake of sealing Ryukotsusei…for his father’s own death. In some well-hidden corner of his mind, he had felt cheated. He would never again have the opportunity to learn from his father, to show him how great the son had become, to at last defeat Inu no Tashio and prove his superiority in the inu way. He felt the revelation physically, like a blow to his chest. It knocked the breath out of him, and with it the misconceptions that had held him back from going to the miko.

Kimi continued, calmly, “If you face the North by yourself, you will lose. The loss may be the greatest leader the West has known, or only your miko. Either will be our downfall. Put aside your fear of becoming your father. Put aside your anger and your ego.” She tilted her head and turned her ear towards the doors. “Your scouts have returned. They have found many signs of the traitor and your miko: blood, vomit, a footprint. Your miko is at the Northern Palace.”

He was torn between too many tangled emotions: worry, confusion, and dawning understanding. If his father had been right, if Inu no Tashio had made the correct decision to save Izayoi and Inuyasha… If his mistake had been in his strategy, the same strategy Sesshomaru had been following – one that might cost his own life, then… then how can I berate his memory? Realizations, painful in their intensity, hit him hard. The miko was everything… his future, and that of the West – of all youkai, even. The strength of an Alpha, of a Lord, was measured by how he protected his pack, not just his subjects. Denying himself, his desires, did not make him a better leader. He was an alpha, the Alpha of all of Japan. His desires were in the best interests of the West. Father did not abandon me. Perhaps there is another way. Sesshomaru observed that her cool, golden eyes melted a fraction, as though she could not repress the care and concern she felt for her son.

You do have a choice, Sesshomaru. You may stay here and let your anger and fear of becoming someone, a father who only existed in your mind, dictate your actions – but you will not be fit to be called Saidai Mao, nor Lord, nor Alpha, nor even inu. Or, you can follow your instincts, as youkai are meant to do. Temper them with the logic and strategy of a daiyoukai; save her and return to the West. You can listen to your beast and recognize that you want this female; more than that, you love her, and you can cast aside all other things as less important and go to her, but she will not appreciate your action if you are not with her once she is safe. Die at the hands of the North and you will fail your female, your pack, and the West.”

Kimi took a deep breath and her mask slipped completely. Sesshomaru saw not only her concern and care for him, but pain, worry, anger, and shame. The latter he knew was for his actions – for the false logic he had used to justify them to himself. No matter how deeply she felt that emotion, it could not match the bottomless pit of contempt that he felt for himself. Contempt he would wash away in the heat of battle.

“You,” Kimi spoke slowly, calmly, as though commenting on the weather, “were wrong.” Her eyes found his, and Kimi tilted her chin up in a sign of challenge, “What will you do, my foolish son? Are you Alpha? Or a simple dog?”

She is mine, will always be mine,” he said, as calmly as he was able. His head was clear, his mind compartmentalizing his feelings for the miko and his instinctual desire to let the blood of his enemies steam upon the ground from a newly forming battle strategy.

You will go to her, then?” There was a resigned disappointment in Kimi’s voice.

Sesshomaru threw aside all intrigue and bared his plan completely, “If you will stay and lead the West, we will bring her back – quietly.” He missed her. The tightness in his chest that increased when he spoke of her was almost unbearable. He was angry that she had been taken; he was angry that his defenses had been breached. He was ashamed that he had failed to protect one who should, who would call him Alpha. The miko was more than a vassal to defend and protect. She was more than a pack member to avenge. She would be his mate. A mate was more than a bed partner or the mother to his pups: mates were a part of one another. She had been joined with him for those hours while she healed him, and he would have her with him in that way again. He missed her as he had missed his arm when Inuyasha had cut it off, as he would miss his heart if it was ripped from his chest.

As he had sought to destroy Inuyasha for a time, as he would feast on the blood of any who challenged him, he would seek out those who had taken his miko and end them once she was secured back in the West. His teeth and claws would sink into flesh and break bone; his dokkasou would eat away at their corpses. He was the Killing Perfection, and he would deny any who opposed him, who touched what was his. He would deny them their lives.

Stay, Mother, and oversee the defense of the West.” His calm facade was firmly in place, and he scented her pleased satisfaction growing as she realized his plan. “Hisao and Kento will assist you, until the rock brothers and I have returned with Kagome.” For the first time in days, the snow clouds had parted.

Chapter 21: A Miko’s Worth

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