A/N: To all of my patient reviewers, thank you for your support and comments. You might be interested to know that one scene of this chapter was a major basis for the creation of this entire story. Can you guess which one? Well, without further delay, I hope you enjoy the chapter!
"Our next story is about an unidentified body found in a dumpster early this morning. The cause of death is unknown and there were no external wounds found on the body. The youkai is believed to have been killed several days ago. Police are asking anyone with information on this youkai or the case to please step forward."
Kagome nearly dropped the cup she was holding when her eyes met those of the demon pictured on the television screen. A youkai of reptilian descent… and hard brown eyes that she would not soon forget.
Sesshoumaru was at her side a second later. Before he could ask what was wrong, Kagome spoke. "That's him," she said slowly. "The one from the other night… that's him."
Sesshoumaru's lips tightened. Whoever was behind this was not willing to take any chances. Several middlemen had probably been used in the act of contacting Kagome that night. He would not be surprised if more bodies turned up within the next week or two.
"What should I do? I can't tell the police…"
"No, not at this stage. It would be dangerous for everyone. Try not to worry about it too much."
Kagome dropped her gaze to the carpeted floor and sighed. "Not the best way to start the day, but we'll just have to make it better." When she raised her eyes they were still a bit worried, but he was relieved to see that her smile was not forced. "Are you almost ready?"
He nodded. Today the four of them were going to the park where Kagome and Sesshoumaru had met for the second time, a place that had become a common meeting area for the children to enjoy on many other occasions.
The saplings that had been planted but a few months earlier had taken root nicely. One day they would offer ample shade in summer and shed bright red and orange leaves in autumn. As Kagome was observing the young trees, she thought that someday she would like a garden of her own to nurture. Then she was reminded of the splendidly overgrown garden Sesshoumaru had shown her that one night.
Her musings were interrupted when Rin tugged gently at her hand and asked for company on the swing set. Kagome happily obliged. Once sitting, she followed Rin's example and swung her legs back and forth to gain momentum. A short distance away, she could see Shippo displaying the few tricks he knew to Sesshoumaru. After a brief comment from the dog demon, inaudible to Kagome, Shippo tried something new. The thought had occurred to Kagome before to find someone to teach Shippo about his fox demon abilities, but she had yet to do so. She really should look into that. She had put it off long enough.
Kagome returned her attention to her swinging companion. She listened as Rin chatted about her swimming lessons, which sounded as if they were progressing nicely. Sesshoumaru had been certain to find an instructor that would best suit Rin's particular needs.
Shippo jumping unexpectedly into her lap was her only warning before a strong push sent her much higher than she had been going. A girlish squeal of joy next to her told her that Sesshoumaru had given Rin the same treatment. Kagome soon found herself laughing freely.
Later, Sesshoumaru insisted on paying for the flavored shaved ice the three of them ordered from a nearby food stall, even though he refused getting some for himself. The four of them sat on a bench and enjoyed the treat in companionable silence. The situation was a bit too awkward for Kagome, with Sesshoumaru not eating, so she offered him some of hers. He stated that he would only eat what she spoon-fed him, much to the amusement of Rin and Shippo. In the end, he was given several bites—and not just from Kagome.
The children finished theirs relatively quickly and trotted off to enjoy the sandbox. Though his focus was on the Rin and Shippo, Sesshoumaru was instantly aware when Kagome paused with the spoon still in her mouth. "What is it?"
"Hm?" She removed the plastic utensil. "Oh, sorry. I was just remembering that news report… I know you told me not to think about it right now," she added hastily. "But…"
Kagome was surprised when a deeply contemplative look appeared on his face. Then he stated plainly, "I know a few things that could take your mind off it."
His words shocked a laugh out of her. As she stood to dispose of the trash, she said, "If I did not know any better, I'd say you were spending too much time around Miroku." His only response was a huff of mock offense. Or perhaps the offense was real.
The trip to the garbage can brought her very close to the sandbox, and a third of the way to the large play structure. An idea came to her. Catching Sesshoumaru's attention, Kagome declared playfully, "Race you to the slide!" The children immediately joined her sprint.
Of course Kagome knew that, even with her head start, Sesshoumaru would beat her there. What she had not expected was for him to scoop her up en route and carry her the rest of the way. Feeling like she might fall, she wound her arms around his neck. She was again laughing merrily by the time they arrived at their destination mere seconds later.
- - - -
"Sounds like you had fun," Sango commented with a grin. The two women were enjoying lunch in an anonymous new restaurant. They had not had time to chat lately, and had been exchanging news and stories for the last two hours. In addition to the work they both had, Kagome was spending more time with Sesshoumaru and Rin, while Sango had been occupied planning her wedding. So they each had made sure to take an extra long lunch that afternoon. "He's not quite the 'arrogant asshole' you first thought of him, huh?"
Kagome chuckled and reddened slightly at the recollection of her observation of Sesshoumaru Taisho after meeting him for the first time in person. "I guess it's a good thing I stuck with my policy of second chances."
"For your sake, and Shippo's, I'd say definitely." Sango nodded. "But he's still an ass to everyone else," she muttered irritably. Sango still had not forgiven his rude behavior on the phone that night, the night Kagome had called from his apartment after having been approached by a lackey of the mysterious letter-sender. Kagome laughed, knowing what her friend was thinking.
"I can't believe he hung up on me like that!" Sango fumed, repeating a phrase Kagome had heard many times since calling to reassure her friend the following morning. "Honestly, who told him about that problem in the first place?" she demanded.
Kagome knew Sango was not expecting an answer. She had long since forgiven her friend for revealing the secret to Sesshoumaru without her knowledge or consent. Sango had been worried for her and felt helpless to do anything about the situation. Kagome saw the gesture for what it was: a sign of affection and concern for her best friend.
Taking a deep breath and smothering her resentment, Sango changed the subject. "Anyway, these were the plans I wanted to run by you." She pulled a stack of large papers from her briefcase. They were sketches of a new branch of H&H to be built on a newly acquired site, the deal for which had been closed only the day before.
Kagome trusted Sango with important decisions like the purchase of property and the building of the new structure, and Sango was very aware of that trust. Otherwise Sango would have insisted on a more formal, professional setting to be discussing such business. But Kagome was still very much the head of H&H, and she liked to be up-to-date on what was happening.
Blue eyes scanned the pages as she flipped through them, and she nodded in approval. She made various comments and suggestions, and asked imperative questions, which Sango either addressed herself or made a note to pass on to the architects. A few short discussions on other matters later, they concluded their H&H business.
"So, how are things at Shikon?" Sango inquired, placing the few papers that had required Kagome's signature back into her bag. A waitress appeared to refill their coffee mugs. Sango waited until she was gone before adding, "You haven't made any announcements to the public in a while, and from what I can tell, people are not sure whether to take it as a good or bad sign."
Kagome nodded. She had noted the same, even without the other higher-ups pointing in out to her in their meetings. "I know. There has not been much progress recently. What we have learned is best kept confidential at this point. Whenever a treatment is believed to have been found, it won't work on some of the other samples we have. It's strange."
"It's not unusual for a virus to mutate, is it?"
"No, it's not. But since we don't know when each person was infected, it's strange that some would already have evolved to fight off the treatment…" She stopped, and Sango saw her eyes brighten with sudden insight. "We could use the changes to create a time table! Of course it won't be simple, we'd have to determine what treatments had been given to the patients for other ailments and when, and compare them to which forms of the virus reacted to it…." Kagome was now talking to herself more than to Sango, who remained silent so that Kagome would not lose her train of thought. "We should have paid more attention to patient histories!" she quietly admonished herself.
Sango could tell that Kagome was worried about not being able to cure or prevent the spread of the Fushou Virus. Soon she might even begin to feel guilty that she was spending so much time enjoying her own life. That she made have found a breakthrough caused Sango to feel relief as much for Kagome's sake as for the virus's victims'.
Kagome had taken a notepad out of her own briefcase and begun to scribble down notes. She sighed. "I'll probably need a whole other team on this. But finding people to work around the virus is hard… though technically they might not have to…" She groaned suddenly. "I'll need to get the board members to help."
Sango grimaced sympathetically. "Are they still giving you trouble?"
Kagome nodded, but did not comment any further. "At any rate, I should first let Midoriko and the others know." She pulled out her planner to determine when she could soonest call a staff meeting.
- - - -
Sesshoumaru paused in his typing when he heard raised voices outside his office door. One belonged to his anxious secretary. The other, impatient one was equally familiar.
"Miss, you really can't enter without an appointment," his aide half-pleaded.
"This is important. I don't need a damn appointment. Now let me pass," was the unsympathetic reply.
Soon after, his door was forcefully thrown open by Kagura. She strode into his office as his secretary hovered near the doorway until he dismissed her. Sesshoumaru had yet to pay Kagura for this month's report, so her agitation was somewhat understandable. Her timing was good, since he had been meaning to request a change in the subject of her assignment.
Kagura opened her mouth to speak, but he was quicker.
"I know I've yet to transfer money to your account, but that's no reason for you to barge into my company. But it's good that you're here now. I want you to stop following Kagome. Instead, I need information on Naraku Kikensei."
"Naraku Kikensei? The Naraku Kiken—?" She stopped and shook her head. "That's not why I—"
"If money is the problem, we can discuss a raise. I understand the risk you'll be taking if you accept."
Kagura slammed her hand down on his desk to get his attention. It was then that he noticed it held a thin folder of papers. "I know you're good for the money. I've done a good job, so you have no reason not to pay me. But that's not why I'm here. You told me to see you in person only if something of extreme interest was found." She held the folder out to him. "I just got this report. Remember when she went to the hospital a while ago? Well, I was able to have a few extra checks done on the blood that was drawn."
Almost hesitantly he flipped open the file. As he skimmed through the information and reached the conclusion, Kagura saw his expression alter ever-so-slightly from its usual impassiveness to one not unlike confused distress. "I'll get on the project you mentioned earlier," she said quietly before she bowed slightly and exited. Though he made no move to acknowledge her, she knew he had heard her.
Sesshoumaru remained staring at the papers in disbelief for only a moment or two after Kagura had gone. Impossible. He stood then, grabbing the folder with its portentous contents from his desk and his cell phone from his pocket, and left his office while pressing the speed dial button for Kagome's new cell number. His secretary did not say a word as he passed, but probably began clearing his schedule for the rest of the day. He saw no signs of Kagura as he hastily headed for his new car with the phone ringing in his ear—not that he expected to.
Kagome picked up as he was starting the engine. "Sesshoumaru?" Hearing her voice say his name made his pulse quicken. "Is everything—?"
"Are you at home?" he demanded.
"Yes," was the slightly worried response.
"Good. Stay there." He flipped the phone closed without waiting for an answer.
Late as it was, traffic was not much of an obstacle. Still, he could not have arrived too soon. Kagome opened the door before he could knock. "Sesshoumaru, what's wrong? What's going on?"
"We need to talk. In the kitchen." Taking her elbow, he escorted her to a seat at the table.
"Please try and keep your voice down. Shippo's sleeping," she requested hesitantly.
He required more willpower than he should have to restrain himself from slamming the file down in front of her, much like Kagura had done to him. Opening the folder, he placed it before her. "This is true, isn't it? Why didn't you tell me?" He was overreacting, to some extent, and he knew it. But he still could not seem to calm himself. Such an occurrence was certainly not unheard of. So why was he so upset by it? Why?
Because he loved her, and that she had kept such a secret from him… "Why didn't you tell me that Shippo is your real son?"
He heaved a sigh and sat down in the nearest chair. "How is that even possible?" But it was a fact. The DNA from Kagome's blood and the DNA sample taken from Shippo, standard procedure when he entered H&H, were a match for parent and child. Sesshoumaru had noticed that their scents were similar, but had attributed it to their close physical contact over the years.
Kagome closed her eyes and took a few deep breathes until they no longer sounded shaky. "He is. Shippo is my biological son."
"How? When? Who… who's the father?" He asked the last through grit teeth.
She paused, as if considering how she should answer. "How old do you think my father was when he died?" He certainly had not expected that as her response. When he narrowed his eyes, she added, "I'm not avoiding your question, I promise. This is relevant."
After a moment, Sesshoumaru decided to accommodate her. "Mid-sixties."
She nodded as if she expected his answer. "He was around 250 years old." She continued before Sesshoumaru could interrupt. "Long, long ago, one of my father's ancestors fell in love with a hanyou, and had a family. That blood has been diluted over the centuries, but it still flows in our veins—my veins. But my mother came from a family of priests and priestesses with spiritual powers." Like Kagura's report had stated. "That power has also weakened over time, except every couple of generations a child is born with an immeasurable amount of holy power, perhaps to make up for the otherwise common lack. I was such a child. I possessed a dangerous amount of spiritual energy with no way to control it. So my grandmother sealed it away." She took another breath. "The best guess anyone, doctors and all, could make was that the combination of hanyou blood and sealed holy energy resulted in my giving birth to a full-blooded demon."
Sesshoumaru felt wood splinters prick his skin as his nails dug into the table. "So the father was…"
"A youkai. Yes." She gave hollow laugh. "Though I know little besides that about him." Another breath. Her gaze focused on her hands tightly clasped together in her lap. "It happened shortly after my mom and brother died. I threw myself into my studies, because if I didn't, I would have neglected them entirely. I got into a routine of staying at the library until it closed. Sometimes the librarians would even let me stay a little later if I needed. On one of those nights, near the end of the term, I was… caught off-guard. A man held a knife to my throat and dragged me off the path. When I struggled," she laid a hand over her right side just above her hip—a place Sesshoumaru recalled seeing a faint scar, "he stabbed me. When he was done, he left me for dead."
"I didn't know where my things were—he must have taken them, since I never found them—so I had to drag myself to a payphone. I lived by myself and didn't have much of a social life, so no one would even notice I was missing…" That explained why, despite her wealth, she had moved in with a roommate a few months later. "I called my father, and he came to pick me up himself and took me to Shikon to be treated. It was never reported, not even to the police. Sometimes I think my father was ashamed that I was so easily overpowered. Years of self-defense lessons when I was a child came to nothing. In any case, he only became more adamant about keeping the incident a secret when we found out I was pregnant and I refused to abort. Hiding it ended up not being too difficult, since it was a cold winter, and apparently a fox pregnancy lasts for less than two months."
Sesshoumaru took a minute to absorb all that she had said. When he sensed a familiar presence just outside the doorway, he said nothing. He deserved to hear this as well. "Still, the reporters can be relentless. How did you keep them from discovering that Shippo wasn't adopted?"
"Because Shippo is adopted. Right after he was born, and I was sleeping, my father had him taken away to be put up for adoption. I never really got to hold him as a baby…" Kagome hastily swiped away the tears that began to fall. "But I did at least get to name him," she conceded with an attempted smile.
Taking one of her hands into his, he gave it a gentle squeeze. "So that was why you founded Hope and Home: to find Shippo."
She nodded. "It was a stipulation of my inheriting Shikon that I start and run an enterprise on my own. I just used the opportunity to try and find him, since my father would never tell me where he had sent Shippo. He ended up being in the second group of kids sent to H&H. Shippo was legally adopted by me soon after." One shoulder rose in a noncommittal shrug. "No one gave a second thought to the founder adopting one of the first children placed under her care."
"What of Shippo's…?" Sesshoumaru dearly desired that man's head, severed from his body by none other than Sesshoumaru himself.
"Dead. About a month after it happened, I saw his face in a news report. He had attacked another girl. She didn't survive, but he was caught and charged with the rape and murder of several others, all female college students. After he was found guilty he was given the death penalty."
Sesshoumaru almost sighed in disappointment that he could not dispense his own form of justice. Well, rape explained his wonder at how anyone who had her once could stand to let her go. He felt a bit of pride that he was the first she had chosen to be with willingly.
He stood and paced slightly as his mind processed the new information he had been given. "Who else knows about this?" he finally asked.
"Now that my father is gone, only my grandmother… and you."
That's all? Not even Sango? Then he recalled what Sango had said one night, drunk on her own couch. "All that money, she could've had her own dorm room. I think she did before she changed her major. Pure luck she was my roommate." Perhaps luck was the wrong word.
Wait. "So Shippo does not know?" Kagome shook her head in the negative. "Why not? I believe he would be very happy to know you're his real mother. Kagome, he has the right to know."
"I know… I know, but I was worried he would ask about his father. How should I respond to that? I decided to put it off until he was a bit older, but then I was afraid he would hate me for not telling him sooner." She hid her face in her hands. "So I put it off again and again, and the more I put it off, the more I was afraid to tell him. I tried. I started to so many times, but when he would look at me, I would think of him being upset with me, and I couldn't do it…"
"Kagome?" Kagome gasped and met the eyes of her son as he entered the kitchen in his pajamas, which were patterned with different colored yoyos. "It's okay. I already knew. So don't cry."
"W-what?" she whispered. Even Sesshoumaru was surprised. "You… you knew?"
The little kit nodded. "You smell like my mother. I always knew." Kagome covered her slightly agape mouth with one hand. "So can I call you Mom now?"
Kagome nodded vigorously, too emotional for words, as her son hopped into her lap and she wrapped her arms around him tightly. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything before," she finally said.
"I told you it's okay. And you don't have to tell me about my dad if you don't want to. Please don't cry."
Kagome dried her tears with a smile. "Don't worry. They're happy tears this time."
Shortly after, Shippo was happily tucked back into his bed and sleeping soundly. Kagome closed the door quietly behind her before going down the stairs to say goodnight to Sesshoumaru before he left. He was waiting for her by the front door.
"That was quite an eventful night," he observed with a wry smirk.
Kagome made no response to his comment. Instead, she wrapped her arms around him and pressed against him tightly. "Thank you," she murmured. "I'm so glad I met you." Her cheek against his chest, she tilted her head to meet his widened eyes. "I love you."
- - - -
Sesshoumaru opened his door a few days later to greet the mother and son. Shippo gave him a quick hello before slipping past him to find Rin. Kagome appeared more subdued than usual, but perhaps her mood was because of their destination today. The relatively plain black skirt and matching top added to the look. He, like the children, was dressed equally somber.
"Sesshoumaru, I have a big favor to ask," Kagome said suddenly. She had not come more than two steps inside, and she shifted her weight nervously. When he waited, she took a deep breath and met his eyes. "If something were to happen to me, would you take care of Shippo?"
His eyes narrowed. "Do you think something is going to happen?"
"No, it's not that!" she hastily replied. "It's just, you know, with everything that has happened… I worry. Any mother would. Even without that, though, I'm human. I don't have the strength or longevity that a demon or even a hanyou has. I won't live nearly as long as Shippo will. I've thought about it a lot. Right now, Sango would take him in. Or Jakotsu and Bankotsu. But… I don't know how to explain it, but I just know you would take good care of him for me. And he's heir to the Shikon corporate empire. When he's old enough, he has to option to accept the position at the top or leave it. And if he did accept, you would be able to help him with that better than anyone else. And he gets along so well with you. So, please." Her eyes begged him as much as her words.
Sesshoumaru sighed and pulled her into a tight embrace. He hated being reminded of her mortality. "Of course I will. I already see him as my own pup." He could tell how much she had debated with herself over the matter, especially when the tension in her shoulders disappeared at his words.
He leaned down to press his lips to hers, and she met him halfway.
"Mom, are we going yet?"
Not bothering to hide his smirk at the red face Kagome turned away, Sesshoumaru answered the two children who stood unperturbed at the intimate scene they had witnessed. "Yes. Let's go."
The children were appropriately solemn as they and Kagome arranged the white lilies at the three adjoining gravesites, but Kagome's melancholy was by far more genuine. Jaken soon escorted the children to a nearby café, but the adults remained behind in silence. After a long moment, Kagome, kneeling before her father's stone grave marker, reached out and gently traced the engraved characters of his name. "He did love me, you know," she whispered.
As if she could sense Sesshoumaru's skepticism, she continued, "He was just never very good at expressing emotions he thought could be taken as a weakness… a bit like you. He was better at it before my mother and brother died." Her smile was sad with memories from a time that would never be again. "My brother and I would be playing a game in the yard, and he would randomly appear and grab us both up in a hug. If I had a nightmare, he would tell stories until I fell back to sleep. There were mornings when he would come in for breakfast and kiss each one of us on the cheek before sitting down to eat. Those moments did not happen a lot, but often enough. And even when they didn't, we always knew he loved us."
At some point, Sesshoumaru had sat down behind her and guided Kagome to sit between his legs with her back resting against his chest. One of his arms wrapped securely around her stomach. "But after they died, he seemed to close himself off from the rest of the world. He loved my mother more than anything else. She once told me, a couple years before she died, that my father confessed to her that he never wanted a family. Despite living for over a hundred years before he met my mother, he never had any other children. He said he did not want to pass on his blood, which is cursed with only a minimally expanded lifespan. If someone from his lineage were to have a demon mate, he would die well before his partner, yet survive long past the lifetime a human mate. He had vowed to himself not to suffer or cause suffering that way, but when he met my mother, he could not resist. She said he took plenty of persuading, though, before he even considered a first date." Sesshoumaru smiled at the grin in her voice.
"He cared about Shippo, too," she went on. Again, Sesshoumaru was cynical, but said nothing. "He just worried about me more. He always tried to protect his family from the worst of what the media could do. For the most part, he succeeded, though not without a lot of effort on his part. Adopting Shippo legally was probably the best solution he could think of at the time. The coverage I got for that was nothing compared to what it would have been if it had been found out that I'd had a child out of wedlock, not to mention a human giving birth to a full-blooded youkai.
"I didn't realize until he died, though, how much he really cared for Shippo. It happened when I met with his accountant. My father had set up an account in Shippo's name that he'll have access to once he becomes a legal adult. The amount is… very generous, and has been gaining interest for years. Turns out he opened it shortly after Shippo was born. I'm not sure whether he always knew where Shippo was or if he simply knew I that would find him with or without my father's help. Maybe he even had something to do with Shippo being one of the first to come to H&H." She sighed sadly. "I guess I'll never know.
"I also found out that he had an account for my grandmother that he added to monthly, so she could live comfortably and not have to worry about the paying for the shrine's upkeep. When I asked my grandmother about it, she told me he even came by once in a while for tea."
She shook her head sadly. "He even set aside a large amount that is meant only for my wedding and honeymoon. Funny, after he was so against passing on his blood." She was silent for a long moment then, and Sesshoumaru was content to remain as they were. He only wished that he could somehow ease the grief that radiated from her.
"In the end, I think, he was just tired of living so long. And he missed his wife and son too much. What he said, before he… passed… I've been thinking that the pain and drugs muddled his thoughts. And my brother and I looked similar when we were younger. I think… I'd like to think that he really was proud of me, too."
Then, taking a shaky breath, she said softly, "I really miss him. I miss them all."
Sesshoumaru leaned forward and pressed his lips to the tear that had fallen halfway down her cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed as the corners of her lips raised in an appreciative smile. As lovely as it was, Sesshoumaru decided that he preferred her laugh.
A/N: A special thanks to DarkCrystalis and Strawberrylover for pointing out some of my mistakes in Chapter 12, which I fixed. Nothing relevant to the plot was changed, however, so there is no need to go back and reread. Once again, thank you for your kind and supportive reviews Channah, stoictimer, localsamurai, Veata, Crazy Mishka, Seishi Sairensuno, KhysserKat, nanamihikari, anime-lover-forever2007, Kagome Lady of Darkness, prisimscollide, LadyAkina, Kawaii girl 4 life, Dana Daidouji, Setsuna Bu, LeafeKnight7, nightmareofcat, Mystical Hanyou, kouga's true lover, ShioriRose, kristen chaos, Miracle-writer, Sesshy's Sweetheart, ss, invisible1withnofaith, kattylin, Sesshy'sChic23, lil mutt face grl, doragon no mizu, ratgirl407, xForbiddenxDeathx, Kimzy Hardykinz, NeKuRaSaMa, Solemn Tuesday, tif, Rachster, EyeOfDlareme, Charmc18, favegirl13, ty, Lil' JJ, vanessa1822, The Gothic Miko, Anonymous, mischievous female, chillychincilla, and Kiki! Whew, I hope that's everyone. Thank you!