Second Alliance – Chapter 41

Chapter 40: Mistakes of the Father

Chapter 41: Playing Pretend

Kagome and Sesshomaru had spent another hour simply sitting together in the forest. They spoke of social customs, but the time was also used to hold one another. For the daiyoukai, it was an opportunity to exchange scents and learn better what surprises his intended might have in store for him. For the miko, it was a relaxed, almost normal, time spent with the man she wanted to marry. Their travel arrangements to return to the shiro consisted of another walking date, with the addition, just before supper time, of a youki light orb. It had taken several long explanations and a struggle to translate concepts like physics and aerospace technology, but Kagome had finally figured out that he felt the speed would crush a feeble human body. Once she understood that that Sesshomaru’s orb broke the speed of sound she did her best to assure him that humans in her time had been flying that fast for years without consequences to their health.

The flight was warm and close and tingly – at least to Kagome’s senses. She did have to close her eyes to avoid motion sickness, not from the speed but from the way the curve and coloring of the orb warped the view. She could feel Sesshomaru tension for the duration of the ten minutes or so, and did her best to assure him there was nothing wrong with her.

So, is this going to be like a big thing?”

To what ‘this’ do you refer?”

Kagome waved her hand absently, and immediately found it tucked between their bodies. She blanched, remembering what Sesshomaru had said about excessive movement. Keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle. She had no desire to lose any appendages to the blistering surface of his youki or the wind shear around it. “Ah, I meant your return. Everyone was there to meet you last time, is that a regular thing?”

Hn.” He was quiet for a moment, but Kagome was surprised to find that she understood that silence, in contrast to so many other versions the daiyoukai expressed, to mean he was considering his response. “Several of my servants and vassals usually greet my arrival. When an honored guest visits, they are shown respect by many more.”

Well, that’s a relief.” Kagome didn’t have to see his face to know he was curious. She twisted her lips, “I’m not exactly dressed for a crowd.” She was grateful, not only because her kimono was stained and her hair a mess, but because she wasn’t certain she was ready to give up the quiet time with Sesshomaru. He had said ‘when you become the Lady of the West’. He was teasing her at the time, but Kagome felt a new pressure that she did not want to think about. Mating Sesshomaru wasn’t just joining his little family: Rin, Kimi – and that was an overwhelming idea on its own, the closest thing he had to friends in Kento and Hisao. It was also joining the West – ruling the West. A ripple of nausea made her belly clench in a way that had nothing to do with motion sickness. She forcible pushed it out of her mind.

You are beautiful,” Sesshomaru stated, as though it were a fact of nature. Kagome couldn’t help a little blush and a smile. “Although completely unpresentable.” The Killing Perfection, Ladies and Gentleman, decimating a mood one cold truth at a time.

Gee, thanks,” she said dryly.

You will have time to repair yourself,” he continued as though her sarcasm had no effect on him. Which, she was well-aware, it most likely did not. “We will approach Aki’s house under concealment. There you may change before we walk up to the shiro.”

Kagome frowned, and risked cracking open an eye to study Sesshomaru’s face. He was not looking at her, but forward with intense concentration. His youki was so solid and strong around them that she could gain no other sense of his mood. “That seems a lot more…casual…than I expected from you. Not that you can’t do subtle,” she assured him after he quirked an eyebrow, “but you don’t really seem like a window-shopping kind of guy, and I thought you were in a rush to get back in time to eat with the kids.”

This is not a,” he pronounced the phrase carefully, “window-shopping excursion. Although you are welcome to peruse any stalls that are open. We are, indeed, casually returning from visiting your new friend Aki. Nothing of import has happened recently, I am merely escorting my miko through the village.”

Your miko?” She watched the corner of his mouth quirk up and let out an amused huff. There was no point in arguing, especially when a good portion of her enjoyed the possessive claim. She turned the rest of his words over in her mind and responded slowly, “I take it not many people know that I was kidnapped?”

On the contrary, the news was impossible to contain.”

Then why…” Her voice drifted off, puzzled. If everyone knew that she had been taken they would surely think it odd that upon her return she decided the first thing she had to do was go shopping.

Because it had no effect on the West. I suspected a spy within my House prior to your abduction. That your ally Ko has confirmed as much brings a new imperative to our strategy. Whatever we feel privately, we cannot allow outsiders – any that might carry news to our enemies – know that they have caused us even a moment of fear. Even if the West were bleeding its last, even if we faced the certainty of our destruction, those that would strike at us will tremble before our strength of will. Do you understand?”

She did. Kagome had to take a few deep breaths, but she nodded. She understood because she had seen Sesshomaru bleeding in front of his opponents before. Even after he had lost an arm to Inuyasha, he had never seen less, smaller, weaker. It was perhaps one of the most frightening and trust-inspiring things about him. Despite physical wounds, Sesshomaru was not hurt, not even moved, by the actions of others. He made the loss of a limb seem like a minor irritation. Her civics teacher in high school had stressed the lesson: perception is power. If that was even half true, the daiyoukai could not afford to let others think he was weakened in any way. If she extrapolated from that, as part of his household, his pack, she could not be seen as weak either. Nor can the future Lady of the West, her traitorous brain whispered, sending another nervous spasm through her stomach. If she was weak, she was vulnerable. Her vulnerabilities were Sesshomaru’s and they were as good as an invitation to attack.

Kagome spent the rest of the short journey trying to meditate, to find a calm, still place inside herself so that no one would see even a hint of the trauma she was still working through. It was just an irritation, she told herself. She tried to imagine her own face with Sesshomaru’s cool distance. That didn’t work very well. She thought of her mother and the polite sort of blank smile she used when avoiding a rude answer.

How was your sleep, Gen-san?” This was from a distant cousin that had put them up once at their country house. The room was swelteringly hot, the futon musty, and Kagome had killed at least six ginormous spiders before they even went to bed and then laid awake most of the night for fear of what might crawl across the floor to her.

I could say nothing but thanks to you for it,” Mama had murmured politely. Not a lie, but the cousin had preened as though she received the highest compliment.

The memory made Kagome smile, and also made her a little sad. She did miss her family, and felt guilty for wanting to spend more time in the feudal era than in her own time. A fleeting pressure from Sesshomaru’s arm at her waist caught her attention.

I will revert to my cloud now, please remain still.”

She did as he asked, and couldn’t help but hold her breath as well. Please remain seated until the ride has come to a full stop. The pressure of the orb intensified for an instant, pressing against her skin with almost unbearable heat. Then it dissipated, leaving a pleasant tingling along her skin and a sense of anticipation. They descended into a sparsely wooded area at the outer-most edge of the shiro’s defenses. Just beyond the trees were open fields that provided food for the village, and forced any attackers to cross open ground before reaching the small huts that dotted the edge of the river. The bridge that stretched over the water to the village proper was made of stone. Kagome could make out two figures sitting under a tree halfway across the field, apparently picnicking. Sesshomaru sent out a slender, controlled burst of youki and the two demons immediately stood and gathered a blanket and basket before heading toward the trees.

Kento and Aki,” Sesshomaru said before she could ask.

I take it we spent a pleasant afternoon with them?”


Kagome laughed lightly and did her best to adjust her hair while they waited for the newly mated couple. She was almost embarrassed on their behalf; as they drew closer she could see their youki wrapping around each other. Joyful caresses were at odds with the calm expression on Kento’s face; Aki was smiling widely, her long rope of hair swinging against her back. Kagome did her best to shrug off a blush. If they were happy and not the least self-conscious, then there was no reason she should feel awkward. “Aki-san,” she called as soon as they were within human hearing distance, “you look lovely today.”

The spider demon grinned even wider, showing off her fangs. It was Sesshomaru’s low whisper, for her ears alone, which forced a new blaze to the miko’s cheeks. “Such a glow from recent mating may be yours as soon as you wish it, Kagome.”

I was referring to her kimono,” Kagome stuttered. Thankfully, neither of their new companions took notice of the exchange – or were too polite to comment on it.

Thank you, Kagome-sama. I was practicing a new technique for an obi Sesshomaru-sama commissioned for you. I have it with me if you would care to try it on?” She held up the basket and gestured to the trees. Kagome glanced at Sesshomaru, wondering when he had managed to prepare for such an eventuality. It wasn’t like she always ruined her clothes.

Do not go far,” Sesshomaru rumbled. Both females nodded, and walked only to the closest large bush which would conceal them. They were still less than twenty feet away – well within a single leap from even Kento. Kagome was pleased and surprised to find that Aki had thoughtfully packed a jar of fresh water, soap, and a scrubbing cloth as well as new clothes. With her help, it was quick work to change and resituate her hair into a loose knot. The kimono itself was rather plain, but made of a slippery fabric that was more similar to synthetics from the future than anything Kagome had seen before in the feudal era. The dark blue layered over a soft, warm lighter blue kimono. The obi was a work of art. Red, the color of Sesshomaru’s hexagonal flowers, it was stitched with blossoms in pink, gold, navy, and white. The embroidery was so intricate that Kagome could make out tiny bees with metallic pollen clinging to their legs.

Oh, Aki,” Kagome murmured, and then impulsively hugged the youkai. She froze for a moment in the embrace, but then gently returned it.

I am glad you like it, Kagome-sama.”

Sesshomaru’s eyes gleamed when he caught sight of her, inflating a feminine pride in Kagome. He began to walk without comment, but his pace was slow enough to be comfortable for her. Kento carried the basket and blanket for Aki, tucking her hand into his elbow and strolling just behind and to the right of his lord. “It humbles me, Kagome-sama, that you would offer friendship to my mate. Aki-san and I have considered how we might repay this generosity.” Kagome would have interrupted and assured him it wasn’t necessary, but Sesshomaru grasped her hand and laid it on his arm with a serious look. “Aki-san has determined that she would like to present you with a particular wardrobe that might rival even Kimi-sama.”

Kagome opened her mouth again, and this time was silenced by not just a look, but also a squeeze of careful claws. “Yes, Kagome-sama,” Aki smoothly joined in. “I have been thinking long on what might best suit you…”

It took nearly thirty minutes to reach Aki’s house, and not once did the spider or her mate allow Kagome a word in edgewise. The miko swore she knew more about exotic fabrics, hem-stitching, and salt-dyes than she had ever wanted to. However, as they had entered the village the reason for the one-sided discussion became obvious. Demons stopped in the street and stared as they passed. All of them quickly dropped into a bow, or even knelt as Sesshomaru swept by. Kagome was acutely conscious of the whispers that followed them, but thanks to her human ears and Aki’s constant chatter she could not make out what was said. She was certain if she had been able to, her blush would have been uncontrollable. The spider was left at her home, and they continued on to the shiro, this time with Kento noting the quality of the rice trade and the status of the whitewashing project underway on the outer wall. It was a relief to step inside the castle and leave Kento to his duties.

Many servants had gathered to greet them, but received nothing more than a brief glance from Sesshomaru and a smile from Kagome as they continued up towards the family quarters. Anticipation to see Shippo and the other children made her step quicken, but as they ascended the final staircase, Sesshomaru drew her to his side, lifting her feet from the floor and increasing his pace. His youki formed a barrier around them, concealing their approach.

Wha-” There was no need to finish the question, and a short burst of unfamiliar youki erupted from the ima. Fear and anger battled for supremacy as she summoned her reiki. The possibility that any thing desiring to hurt her children had gotten past the rock brothers and the doubtless intense security that Sesshomaru had implemented since her kidnapping was small, but Kagome was not ready to take that chance. They rounded the corner and although Sesshomaru slowed when he saw the twin demons standing at attention and unharmed, Kagome remained apprehensive. Eiji opened the screen silently for them, and the miko felt her mouth fall open in shock.

Shippo and a full-grown kitsune female, her tails swaying and gesturing as she spoke, stood across the room from the other children. Rin held Emi in her lap while the pup dozed lightly. Nankae was nearly bouncing with excitement. “Again, again!” he called.

This time, Shippo-kohai, remember to gather up the scent as well. Your youki must shape a river of smells, sounds, and sight. Allow them to flow in only one direction.” Blue light, the same shade as his fox fire, began to shimmer in a rough circle around Rin and Nankae. The look of concentration on the little kitsune’s face intensified, and then a barrier snapped into place, forming a dome. It wavered for a moment, and then it winked out – taking the children with them. Kagome could not help but reach out with her powers, and found the children’s auras safe and whole. She could not see them at all; the room looked as though they had never been there.

Her brief surge of power must have cancelled out whatever Sesshomaru was doing to conceal them, or he let his barriers fall of their own accord. The older kitsune stiffened and turned slowly, falling to her knees to bow. Shippo’s head snapped up, and his eyes widened, “Mama!” At his cry the barrier popped and the other children looked up at the commotion.

Sesshomaru-sama!” Rin practically screamed with joy. “Kagome-sama!”

“’Gome!” Nankae shouted. He had her hand clutched in his mere moments after Shippo collided with her legs. “Saidai Mao,” he greeted the lord belatedly. Slower than the demons, Rin still managed to be only a few seconds behind them, carrying a blinking Emi. The human child leaned into her adoptive father’s leg and he bent to take the pup from her arms. One clawed hand squeezed her shoulder gently and then settled on her hair.

Rin,” he said quietly. Kagome tucked that tender moment away to be fawned over later, and focused instead on the unknown youkai that had been so close to Shippo. She sensed no animosity coming from the fox, but her usual careless trust was tempered by a new caution.

This One has not approved of your presence here,” Sesshomaru stated flatly. His tone was enough to give Kagome a shiver, but she agreed. They couldn’t take any chances with a potential spy for Ryustokokken in their midst.

My Lord,” the kitsune spoke with respect, “please forgive any trespass or impertinence – it was unknowing on my part. The Western Lady wished me to instruct these kits.”

These pups,” Sesshomaru over enunciated the word, obviously including all of the children with it, “do not-”

Another flare of youki announced the approach of Kimi. Kagome stepped closer to Sesshomaru’s side, holding the children tighter. The kitsune held her position while they all waited for the Lady in question to arrive. She did not disappoint with her entrance.

Kagome-san!” she smiled wickedly, ignoring her much higher ranking son and stepping right into the miko’s space. “This One is delighted to introduce a tutor being trialed for position in this House. Come, meet Aina, and decide if she shall be trustworthy for assisting with the care and protection of the young in this pack – or if she shall be sent below for questioning.”

Kagome choked and tripped as Kimi tried to pull her forward. The Lady received only a low warning growl from Sesshomaru before she ceased trying to drag the miko away from him. Questioning? As in, to see if she’s a spy? Like interrogation? Or torture? Kagome wasn’t pleased that a stranger had been left alone with the children, but she wasn’t particularly eager to draw a connection between her irritation and some sort of investigation. “I, ah-” she shot a wide eyed glance at Sesshomaru, but his shuttered expression was not helpful. Holy hell, this is not how I wanted to spend the evening. It didn’t help her discomfiture that the situation was most likely one that the Lady of the House was expected to sort out. She wasn’t the Lady, not yet, but Kimi was willing to defer on the matter. That was a big deal, Kagome knew. She really, really didn’t want to mess things up.

Er, let’s talk about that in the morning. Say – a…meeting…after breakfast. To ah,” she struggled to find the right words, “to assess this potential tutor.” A nervous sweat was threatening to break out on her skin, but Sesshomaru’s youki wrapped around her comfortingly and Kimi displayed a pleased little smile.

Excellent, Kagome-san,” she agreed. “Aina, you are excused for the day. You will appear at This One’s reception tomorrow morning.”

Yes, Kimi-sama.” The kitsune bowed even lower, her forehead touching the floor, but one fluffy tail twirled and tapped against her back. Sesshomaru drew them out of the room, his youki still stiffly at attention between his pack and the stranger. Kagome was forced to follow beside him, one hand still trapped in the crook of his elbow where Emi now leaned over to press against her shoulder. Nankae dropped her hand and skipped in front of them, while Shippo interlaced his fingers with Kagome’s and began a race to see how many words could fall out of his mouth before they reached their quarters. Rin walked sedately on Sesshomaru’s other side. Kagome was sure the little girl was relishing the attention, as the daiyoukai had let his hand drift to her shoulder and kept it there. Kimi walked behind them, but it did not stop her son from addressing her in a cool tone.

This One is displeased, Mother.”

This One is not affected in the slightest, Son.”

Kagome glanced back over her shoulder with wide eyes to catch a wink from the most overwhelmingly powerful youkai she had ever met, aside from Sesshomaru himself.

As far as homecomings went, it could have been worse.


Kimi waited for the little miko to pour tea, but she appeared too distracted to notice. The pups kept returning to her side to nuzzle and hug before retreating again to Rin’s room where they had built a fort of futons and blankets. Inside they conspicuously enjoyed the strange sweet treats the miko had offered them from her home. After several futile attempts to gain Sesshomaru’s attention so that he might direct his intended in her duties, Kimi gave up with a huff that quickly eased into a smile. It was good for the future-mate-of-her-son to be so attached and protective of these adopted children. It spoke well of her maternal instincts, and what she would be willing to do to protect the heirs of the West.

That brought her attention back to another detail she had been considering. Namely, how long she could expect before the human ripened. It would be preferable to wrap up the vexatious business with the dragons first, but the sooner the West had a secured line, the better. It would also be quite satisfactory to see her aloof son moved as only the birth of a pup could do.

This One understands that humans are fertile nearly all the time. Is that true, Kagome-san?” The rather simple question caused the miko to stare, wide-eyed, and her skin to turn bright red. Kimi was fascinated by the response. They would soon be related, were already pack as Sesshomaru had claimed her. Although she was ridiculously young in comparison to Sesshomaru, Kimi was aware that the miko was older than most humans when they first took a mate. And yet the girl reeked of embarrassment at the discussion of physiological cycles. Charming. She would have to make a similar inquiry of the hanyou – he would surely sputter and attempt to flee her presence. Delightful.

Mother.” Sesshomaru’s voice was quiet and devoid of emotion, but his youki practically shook her with admonishment.

Actually,” the miko took a deep breath and appeared to attempt to suck the blood flushing her cheeks back into her body. She smoothed her hair and reached for the teapot with a hand that only shook slightly. “I want to discuss how it is that a woman – demon – I have never met came to be alone with my children.” With each word, her voice firmed and the sharp turnip sent of her humility faded to be replaced with a pepper that made Kimi’s nose twitch.

Oh, her,” Kimi waved a hand and accepted a cup of tea, dropping formalities. She was not yet Sesshomaru’s mate, but it was obvious she would be soon, so there was no need to stand on formality. “She came seeking employment and I thought ‘what a perfect little addition to the security around the young ones’.” Sesshomaru’s aura was thunderous at her flippancy. She enjoyed arguing with him immensely, but she was also pleasantly full from a meal that included a delicious new noodle dish – credited to the miko. And if Sesshomaru let his temper loose, even a little, his intended would no doubt lose her patience, the children would be unhappy, the guards would be on alert. She wasn’t in the mood for such nonsense. “Do you really believe, my child, that I did not know every detail of that vixen’s life, every hair in her tails, every trick she has even thought of, before she walked into this House?”

Kimi could sense the moment he grudgingly admitted the superiority of her spy network. His youki settled, but, unpredictably, Kagome’s reiki rose. She kept an unforeseen amount of control over it, considering how much power was seething just under her skin. Kimi was impressed. She had not realized the human had so much energy available to her. “I don’t really care if you tracked her movements like a bloodhound or ran her through Interpol.” The pepper sparking in the air increased along with the unintelligible words the miko spoke. “Just because you didn’t find her ‘Free Candy’ van, it does not mean that she has the values, morals, and knowledge that I want Shippo to know. And what about Rin? For all I know this youkai will treat her poorly, for being human. Nobody does that to my little girl!” Her voice was a furious whisper, and the two demons at the table just stared at her.

Kimi was in the unusual position of being mildly offended that the human felt she would not have made considerations for those very concerns, and being impressed by both her courage to stand up to the Lady of the West as well as her claim on Rin. It was good that the little orphan she had saved from hell would have found another champion. The miko set down a cup of tea in front of Sesshomaru with a click, and then her face jerked up to meet his gaze. “Ah, I mean, your, Rin. And Emi and Nankae.”

Kimi watched, enthralled, as her aloof son captured the hand of his intended against the delicate porcelain she still held. She could not hear the pleased rumble, but she could feel it as a low undercurrent in the room. “That is right, Kagome.”

The tender moment was broken by Nankae, who bounced right into Kagome’s lap, causing her to let out a startled breath and spill several drops of hot tea on herself. Kimi gave a soft growl of warning, to make the little inu more careful with the delicate human woman, but Sesshomaru had spoken first. His quiet rumble caught the pup’s attention, “Gently,” he commanded. If the pup had been in his true form, he would have laid back his ears and tucked his tail.

Sorry, ‘maru-sama,” he mumbled. The submissive response earned him a stroke of youki. “I just wanted to see if Rin-san was right. She said we hafta go to bed, but Shippo-san says ‘Gome might let us stay up for a story.” His eyes turned big and soft, and Kimi hardened her heart reflexively. It had not lasted long, but even Sesshomaru had gone through a phase where he would ask for privileges with large eyes and snuggling youki. It was extremely difficult to resist. The miko did not seem to have any defenses.

Of course you can have a story, Nankae-kun. Have Rin pick one out while you and Shippo straighten up the futons.” The child barked at the joy of victory and ran back to his compatriots. It gave Kimi a feeling of yearning for the days of soft hair and tiny claws against her skin. It occurred to her that she might miss the little female that had been a near constant companion since the miko’s abduction. Such thoughts were set aside when a hot blue stare focused on her. “I am sure you were diligent, Kimi-sama, but please try to remember how you might fell if you had found a stranger with Sesshomaru when he was a boy – er, pup.” She frowned, and then dismissed the confused terminology with a wave. “I’ll speak with that kitsune tomorrow, but even if I decide not to keep her for Shippo, it will be up to Sesshomaru if she teaches Rin, Emi, and Nankae. And I am certain he won’t throw her in the pokey if she’s not acceptable.” Her squeeze of Sesshomaru’s hand did not go unnoticed before she stood. Then the miko gave Kimi a sharp, if perfectly respectful, bow and glided after the children. The exit would have been exceedingly dramatic if she hadn’t pinched her hand in the shoji screens as she slid them shut.

The two daiyoukai sat in silence, savoring their tea and playing a game of waiting. Kimi deigned to break first. “Pokey?”

She quite obviously referred to the prisons,” Sesshomaru answered flatly.

Ah, well, you can understand my confusion with her dialect. Such a strange turn of phrase she had. What was the name of her village again?”

You should not have brought in a tutor.” She watched her son over the rim of her cup. He appeared unruffled and calm, far less irritated than he usually was after sharing a meal with her. I will have to develop new tactics, if he is not going to take the usual bait.

She is also a guard, Sesshomaru,” Kimi stated, barely repressing an eye roll. “She is another protector, she can teach young Shippo how to handle the youki that comes with a second tail, her presence will allow the miko time to pursue training, she has extensive experience with humans, and Hisao is off center merely by being in her presence. She is an excellent choice. Do not turn up your nose at perfectly good game just because you didn’t get the kill yourself.”

Experience will humans does not equate to tolerance, or affection. And Hisao’s center is of little concern to me.” He took a final sip of tea and set the cup down precisely. “Also, I always get the kill.”

Kimi laughed. True, deep, happy laughter. It had been years since – or actually it might never have happened before. Sesshomaru had joked with her. His face remained composed, and his youki still and predatory as ever, but his intention, and success, was undeniable. It was a good thing they had both secured barriers around the family quarters once the meal had been cleared away. Kimi did not doubt any demons that heard her would think her mad, or on the verge of a cheerfully bloody rampage. Perhaps both.

I see your time with the miko has given you an appreciation for humor. Tell me, how did Bokuseno find your human?”

The sound of the miko’s voice faded and lamps in the children’s rooms were blown out as they spoke of the tree youkai and Ryustokokken’s perfidy. The miko bid them goodnight and retired to the larger room, which Kimi noted smelled of the woman and her son quite strongly. Sesshomaru is resolute quickly when he has set a goal for himself. Kagome’s breath and heartbeat evened and slowed as they spoke of the intelligence gathered by Kimi’s spies and the coming Full Moon Council. The shiro was quiet and the restrained pulse of youki from the many guards posted on the walls and in the mountain became a rhythmic background sensation to the discussion of treason.

You are certain of this?” Kimi frowned, not bothering to conceal her disappointment and displeasure in the privacy of Sesshomaru’s company.

As I can be. There were signs, I even considered, decades ago, that certain values he held might lead him down such a path. Nothing came of it, in time, and so I let it go, thinking he had discarded them.”

My great-uncle had the gift of mind-speak. He told me once he could even pull thoughts from those in close proximity without their knowledge, if they were related by blood. I always believed he was boasting.” Kimi sighed, allowing her spine to curve into something nearing a slouch. She had lived a long time. She wasn’t old – certainly not – but she was mature. She had the experience of years and it seemed the more experienced she became, the less shocked she was by betrayal. It was never a comforting thing, to have your suspicions proved correct. “Kento is your cousin.”

Yes.” Sesshomaru straightened. He towered over Kimi’s form. Even with her tails pooled around her, at that moment she felt small in comparison to her son. His was the mantle of leadership, of responsibility. Recent error with the miko aside – no matter how it might have pained him personally, he carried that responsibility well.

Go to your intended,” she instructed softly, also standing. She had taken up rooms closer to the front of the shiro, between the ima and the children’s spaces. “Breath her in. Tomorrow you will secure her, and the West, from further espionage. I will keep her attention while you are occupied.” At his quirked eyebrow, she smirked. “There is the tutor to interview, and training to begin,” she smoothly opened the screens and spoke over her shoulder as she closed them, “and I believe we will begin planning to announce your courtship at the Full Moon Council.” The paper screens did nothing to halt the oppressive wave of youki her son sent after her. Nor did it prevent him from hearing her quiet chuckle.


Shall I summon Kento?” Hisao asked as they made their way to the prison cells on a lower level of the shiro. There were not many in the Western Palace. Sesshomaru’s grandfather had spent most of his life securing the West and fighting for the security of his pack which rarely allowed for the detention of those deemed enemies or criminals. Inu no Tashio had favored swift justice and strict adherence to ancient code and trials by combat, which rarely necessitated detention. Sesshomaru himself had not made much use of the chambers for longer than a few days. As he saw it, his enemies would die at his hand. Criminals were either malicious, in which case no amount of time considering their actions would reform them, or desperate, in which case they could be molded to loyal subjects that added to the security and economic superiority of the West. Torture was not a tactic to gain reliable information from the prisoner either. It did, however, make an excellent tool for convincing others who feared the same treatment to speak up.

You should not,” Sesshomaru replied. The two youkai shared a look of understanding. They had discussed the situation during an early-morning training exercise in a secure dojo. Hisao had agreed with his lord, but he did not enjoy that accord. Sesshomaru could smell the frustration and disappointment on his captain. “Security first.” Hisao nodded, clearly uncomfortable but resigned.

Their time spent in Geiken’s cell was shrouded by a youki barrier. It held back sound, but scent and youki passed through it freely. Before he even stepped out of the room, calmly retracting his dokkasou while Hisao tried to get the smell of fear out of his nose, Sesshomaru was sure that every youkai in the palace was aware that his time with the prisoner had resulted in wild surges of frantic youki, blood, acid, and terror.

Have the Ringu prepared, he stated coldly, golden eyes hard and unforgiving. “And summon Kento there. For combat.”

Chapter 42: Subversion