A/N: This is it! The last chapter, 'real' or otherwise.
Guys, it has been a *trip*. If you're still around from the beginning, thank you. If you just discovered this story today or anywhere in the midst of the last TWELVE years, thank you. You have spent all these years encouraging me, not just to work on and finish this story, but to believe that I can do even more as a writer than I ever thought possible. Y'all are the best.
A deep and abiding 'thank you' goes to Ijin, who has been my beta for longer than this story has been around, and who is always willing to answer my emails after months or even years of absence. This story wouldn't be what it is without her.
Happy New Year!
Beside You in Time
2000: Tokyo, Japan
They stood at the bottom of the stairs for a long time, nudging even him into restlessness. "Kagome," he said.
"Yeah. Yeah, okay." She took his hand. "It just feels weird, you know?"
"No, but I can imagine it," Sesshoumaru said. His eyes flickered up toward the shrine. "We should go. I do not have a concealment spell on."
She nodded. The streets around the shrine weren't bustling, but they weren't empty. A few people were staring at this towering man with long white hair and strange facial tattoos. "Right. Let's go," she said, and they started up the steps. Every hit of her shoe against the stone flooded her with memories - she felt almost swept away by a childhood memory. About two-thirds of the way up, her feet stopped. Sesshoumaru turned as she bit her lip. "It's just… a lot. I don't want to freak her out. I know it's going to freak her out, so how honest should I be? It's a lot."
"You're repeating yourself." He took a step back down to her, and lifted her chin with one clawed finger. "She is your mother, and you will tell her the truth. I will catch her if she faints."
Kagome let out a little bark of a laugh and then sobered. "Oh no, she could faint."
Sesshoumaru sighed. "Kagome."
"I know." She took a breath and gave him a wavering smile. "Kind of silly that this is what scares me the most after five hundred years of constant stress."
He arched an eyebrow. "There have been some moments of peace and quiet, among other things."
Her smile turned sure and spread. "That's true," she said as he bent toward her. She knew that he planned on a quick press of his lips on hers as an assurance, but she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him in place, deepening the kiss. Deepening his assurances. She felt steadier now with him, holding her and surrounding her.
They broke apart, and Kagome wiped the back of her hand across her mouth as she spun toward the top of the stairs. Her mother stood there, a broom in her hand and her eyes wide. "Mama," she said. An awkward moment passed as they stared at each other, and then, Kagome raced up the last half of the steps, pulling her mother into a tight embrace, which her mother returned. The smell of her - the scent of the laundry detergent and that lavender soap she used, mixing with the saltiness of the miso soup her family had for every meal - enveloped her. Kagome held back a shattering sob.
"Oh, Kagome, we've been so worried about you!" She could hear unshed tears in her mother's own voice. "It's been almost seven weeks! We didn't know!"
Seven weeks. It had only been seven weeks for her family since she had told them that the final fight with Naraku was coming and jumped into the well. She almost couldn't remember those days, and it had been less than a season ago for them. Kagome could feel tears splashing down her nose and onto her mother's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Mama. I should have come sooner."
"You were busy. It's alright. I'm just glad you and Inuyasha…" Her mother trailed off, and she felt her muscles go taut. "That's not Inuyasha."
Kagome pulled back, rubbing at her face. Her mother stared at the taiyoukai still standing several steps down from them. "Oh. Yeah, um. Mama…"
Sesshoumaru climbed the steps and bent at his waist in an elegant bow. "I am Sesshoumaru. I am Inuyasha's older half-brother."
Her mother bowed in return, sounding a little bit dazed as she responded, "Nice to meet you." She looked back at her daughter and lowered her voice. "Kagome? He's not… I mean, you were kissing him."
"I know." Kagome took a step down and wrapped her hand around Sesshoumaru's, tucking herself close to his side. "We have a lot to tell you, Mama, but I promise that you that it ends well. And I'm happy. You'll see Inuyasha again, and he's happy too, but Sesshoumaru is…"
"Are you dating?" her mother asked.
Kagome laughed as she looked up at the taiyoukai, who was doing an expectedly masterful job at keeping a straight face. She couldn't quite believe that he had introduced himself as Inuyasha's half-brother. How things had changed since she'd stood here as a teenager. She wished that she could tell that younger Kagome how she could never anticipate what was coming - how the fight against Naraku was a prelude to a greater adventure that she could imagine. How she would walk that path beside the demon lord Sesshoumaru, who held depths and love beyond her small understanding at nineteen years old.
"It's a bit more than that, Mama," she said. "Maybe we can put on some tea and all talk about it? It's a long story."
The older woman looked between them and smiled. "You do look happy." She stepped back toward the house. "Well, come on. I'll get Sota and Grandpa, and then, I want to hear everything."
Sesshoumaru opened an eye as she settled on the bench next to him. The leaves of the Goshinboku rustled over them, slicing the high moon into slivers of silver light. "It's late," he said.
"I woke up alone in my childhood bed. For a second, it all felt like a dream." Kagome looked at him. He almost glowed in the moonlight. "Don't worry, it came rushing back."
"You should go back to sleep. You will need the energy." The corner of his mouth quirked. "Your family has more questions than I thought possible."
Between her mother's need to know the details of her daughter's long life, her brother's desire for a blow-by-blow of every fight and battle, and her grandfather's probing inquiries about her brushes with history, it had been a long-winded affair. "And I'm only up to Moscow," she said with a light-hearted groan.
Sesshoumaru had excused himself to wander the shrine sometime after Salem, as he had largely dropped out of her tale for the next century. While he had long ago disclosed his movements in their years apart to Kagome, he saw no reason to do so with her family. There was little of note without her, after all, he had said. "Do they know about Adele?"
"Um, no." Kagome's face screwed up tight. "I thought it'd be best to tell them about my boyfriend's daughter born out of wedlock in the morning, preferably before they've woken up too much."
Sesshoumaru snorted. "Boyfriend," he muttered. "We are not teenagers."
"I still am, in their eyes," she said. She interlaced her fingers with his. "We're piling a lot on them. You should have seen my mother's face when I told her about the multiple times I've been in jail. Or that I was married to a French noble. I wasn't going to try to make them understand what it means to be your mate quite yet. Some of these things are going to take time."
"Which is the reason you woke alone," Sesshoumaru said. "A century and a half in your bed, and I have been banished like a schoolboy."
She bit her lip to keep from laughing at the thought of how her grandfather had planted himself on her threshold to face Sesshoumaru, who had unthinkingly started to follow her into the bedroom. She didn't think she'd ever seen the taiyoukai so shocked.
"Well, Grandpa is a bit old-fashioned. After all, I'm just an innocent girl, and you're this big, powerful demon looking to take advantage of me. What about my virtue?" His eyes cut in her direction, and she covered her mouth to stifle her giggles before losing the fight. Her laughter rippled out of her, loud in the deep of the night. It took a few minutes for her to regain her composure, and she wiped away the tears of mirth. "I promise he'll loosen up, Sesshoumaru. Thank you for being so patient."
The dog demon untangled himself from her and stood, one hand going into his pocket. "Humans and their insufferable morality," he said.
"Still human here," Kagome said, although she was smiling. She knew that her grandfather would be asking about great-grandchildren in no time. (And then they'd have to put up with a whole new set of huffy complaints from him when she explained that, regardless of lifted curses, they still hadn't made any decisions on that front.) At least he wasn't tossing sutras at the dog demon though. Not after the first one, at least.
Sesshoumaru was giving her a curious look. "No, you are unique," he said after a moment. "I would not take anyone ordinary as my mate."
She tilted her head. "I feel like that was a compliment. Maybe."
"It is, although ordinary things can be of use at times." He pulled his hand from his pocket and thrust it in front of her nose, opening it to expose the ruby in the center of his palm. "Would this help your family accept us?"
She stilled, her breath catching for a long minute until she could find the words. "What would help them accept us?"
"Our engagement." He shook his hand, and the gem jumped.
Kagome pushed herself to her feet, her eyes fixed on the ring in his grasp. "Are you really asking me to marry you? Marry you, like humans do?" she asked.
"Yes," he said simply. When she stared at him, he arched an eyebrow. "Do you expect me to get on one knee?"
Another laugh bubbled out of her. "No, of course I don't. But why are you asking at all? Why now?" She looked at him from beneath her lashes. "I would've married you centuries ago, Sesshoumaru. We've been pretending long enough. I would've thought that it'd just be a piece of paper to you. Valuable only to humans."
"It is. But it would make you happy. It would make your family happy." He stepped close, crowding her with his warmth. "It will get me back in your bed, where I wish to be."
"This isn't a new idea though. You didn't pick this up tonight." She moved to tap the ring that hovered between them before she froze. The red stone sparkled at her, even in this dim light. Kagome felt the tug of things long lost as she gazed at the fire in the center of the ruby. "Sesshoumaru, where did you get this ring?"
He took her hand and slid the ring onto her third finger. "You gave it away once to save my life."
"Berlin," she breathed. "My wedding ring from Bastien. I gave it to that guard who caught us while we were escaping."
"Without hesitation," he said. His fingers ran around the edge of the band. It fit her perfectly, and she felt a warmth in her heart that it had come home to her. "The gold was damaged beyond repair. I had to have it melted down and reforged. I hope it is sufficient."
She laid her other hand over his chest. "It's more than sufficient."
"I had not entirely planned on the gift being used for this purpose until…" He glanced at the house and mouthed, 'boyfriend' with disgust curling his lip. He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head before looking back at her. "Is it strange that it is the same gem that your first husband gave you?"
Emotion thickened her voice. "From anyone else? Yeah, it might be a little weird. From you though? It's almost sentimental. Definitely romantic," she said. "But why did you go searching for it in the first place?"
Sesshoumaru kept his eyes on the stone. "You have sacrificed everything in these past centuries, and then, you turned over your last valuable for my sake. Your last tie to something other than me and our fight against the shape-shifters. I did not have the breath to speak it aloud, but I swore in that moment that I would return at least this to you." He touched his forehead to hers. "I do not break my word."
"No, you don't." Tears began to blur her vision. "I can't believe you found this for me."
"It took thirteen years. He kissed away a tear that fell down her cheek. "Penance for not telling you about our mating."
She grinned. "You play a good long game, Sesshoumaru. Does this mean I can't call you a jerk every time that comes up?"
"That would be preferred." A rumble came from deep within his chest. "You have not accepted or declined the offer, although I feel that I may presume you are in favor of the idea."
Kagome pulled away a bit, smiling as she did to soften the loss. "I'm not sure you're aware of what you're getting yourself into. I'm the only girl in the extended family. A full wedding will be expected, not just a run down to city hall. Mama will want to invite everyone. There'll be a crowd. A large one."
"I can bear it for one day," he said, dragging her back against him.
"It's not just one day though. You'll be signing up for family meals and holidays and parties for years to come. And obviously, you're going to have to marry me here at the shrine," she said, laughing as he nuzzled the curve of her jaw.
He hummed. "It sounds tedious, but I did not agree to spend the next several years here without being aware of the familial obligations that came with it. And I would marry you in a barn, Kagome." His teeth scraped over her skin, and she felt herself go a bit weak in the knees. "I would do anything to you in a barn."
"I think barn weddings are a thing actually," she breathed. "Also, naughty."
"Hn, yes." He drew back and looked down into her face. "Your answer? With the knowledge that I accept any tiresome gatherings, traditions, or even small talk with your extended family?"
Kagome smiled as she reached up, brushing her fingers over the curve of his brow and down the length of his magenta stripes. "It was always a 'yes', Sesshoumaru."
She couldn't breathe for a moment when he stepped into the living room. From behind her, she heard Inuyasha make a strangled cry. "You realize that the last time he wore that, he was trying to kill us, right?"
Sesshoumaru's eyes slanted in his brother's direction. "Be quiet, Inuyasha," he said with far less spite than he would have once had.
Kagome inhaled and stepped toward her soon-to-be husband, touching the red sakura blossom pattern on his shoulder before putting one tip of her finger on the pointed spike of his armor. "Is it alright?" She tapped the hilt of Tenseiga at his waist. "It looks… well, you're going to have quite the effect on my friends and family."
He lifted a hand and ran his finger along the edge of her uchikake, which had the same design with reverse colors, so that Kagome was draped in red. She could tell by the appreciative sweep of his eyes that it pleased him to see her wearing his family crest. "As will you." He glanced down at his own clothing. "And it is more than suitable."
"The seamstress was confused. She kept asking if I was sure that it was for a wedding." Kagome grinned.
"Oh!" Her mother stopped cold in the doorway from the kitchen, her hand over her mouth. It took a few seconds for her to stop staring at them. She finally shook her head and smiled. "Well, it's not entirely traditional, but it certainly works. Is this really what you wore when you first met Kagome?"
Sesshoumaru watched his mother-in-law's hand drift toward the fur over his shoulder. "It is," he said, when she was a couple inches away.
Inuyasha snorted, and Mrs. Higurashi caught herself, snatching back her hand. Sesshoumaru hadn't moved. "It leaves an impression," she said, her cheeks coloring slightly.
Kagome smothered a laugh. "Are Sota and Gramps ready?"
"I'll check." With one final glance at the taiyoukai, Mrs. Higurashi gathered up the front of her own kimono and headed off toward the bedrooms.
"Keh, wait til she gets to know you better," said Inuyasha. "She won't be so impressed."
"Inuyasha." Kagome turned to the hanyou, who flinched slightly at her tone. He wore a concealment spell but it had only hidden his ears, not the color of his hair or of his eyes. Everyone would still see the family resemblance, although based on the lines around his mouth and his temples, Inuyasha looked like the elder sibling. Maybe even the father. "Inuyasha," she said again, her voice softer. "Thank you for coming to represent Sesshoumaru's family."
He stuck his hands into the sleeves of his haori, which Kagome had asked him to pull out of storage for the occasion. She could imagine the wilt of his dog ears as he begrudgingly replied, "Yeah, well, it's about time he did something decent by you."
Kagome crossed the room and touched his arm. "Aren't you happy for me, Inuyasha?"
His mouth twisted until he gave her a half-smile. "You know that I am. Wish it was with someone else, but it's not like anyone less than you could have put up with him."
She didn't have to look behind her to know Seshoumaru was sending daggers at his brother. "Can you look to see if everything is ready outside?" Their collected friends and family would wait in the courtyard during the ceremony, since the actual shrine was too small for more than the closest of family - her mother, brother, and grandfather, along with Inuyasha. Kagome had insisted on a dressed-down version of a reception on the grounds instead of in some fancy hotel afterward. "Make sure everyone has chairs and drinks and all that."
"Yeah. I should check on Kikyo and the kids anyway. Make sure Shippo is on the opposite side of the courtyard from Suoh and Rin."
"And my daughter," interjected Sesshoumaru.
Inuyasha cocked his head. "They're still friends, just not friends from what I can tell. For now." He smirked. "But sure. I'll check on that sort of thing."
She caught him before he could step away so that she could press a light kiss to his cheek. "Thank you, Inuyasha. For everything."
The half-demon turned as red as her wedding kimono. "Just do me the favor of letting me help out if he screws up and you decide to fry him."
"I'll pencil that in, Inuyasha," she said, laughing despite herself.
He tossed a triumphant smile at Sesshoumaru and walked out of the house.
"You raise his hopes too much."
Kagome returned to the taiyoukai's side, smoothing the folds and wrinkles of his kimono, of which there were few. Still the Killing Perfection, she thought with amusement. "He knows that I would never do that. But the offer of help is appreciated." She smiled up at him.
"You have sent everyone else away," he said, his voice going soft.
"A moment of quiet in a busy week. Can you blame me?" Kagome asked. She tugged on the bow of his sash, although it had already been even and straight.
"I never tire of being alone with you, particularly after the recent festivities," Sesshoumaru answered. He lowered his head so that his breath and his unbound hair tickled her ear. "Although if you continue to do that, the wedding ceremony will be considerably delayed due to more alone time. And it appears that it would take you some time to redress in that outfit."
Kagome grinned. "Oops. Sorry." She dropped her hands to her sides and cleared her throat. "I wonder what's taking my family so long."
"Sota lost his shoes." He turned his head slightly. "But they have been located. They will be down momentarily."
"They do like you, you know," Kagome said. "Don't listen to Inuyasha."
He lifted his chin. "I am aware," he said. She thought he might have looked slightly relieved, although that might have been her imagination. "It is fortunate, since we will be spending a considerable amount of time with them. Sota has expressed a desire to learn kendo."
She brightened. "He did? Well, you are the best instructor in the city." Kagome laughed at the arch of his eyebrow. "Sorry, I meant in Japan. The world?"
"Hn. We will see." The strangely tattooed, terse, and harsh (but fair) kendo instructor had been making waves in the local kendo circles, although Kagome knew that he would only consider his venture a success if his students took top prizes at some upcoming competitions. "My work pales beside that of the gifted surgeon before me."
She nudged him with her elbow. "Don't make me flush all red right before we go outside," she said. "I'm barely done with my residency."
"Your grandfather seems to believe that you are months away from curing cancer, as well as a number of other maladies," Sesshoumaru said.
"Oh no." Kagome covered her face as she let out a nervous giggle. "Did he really say that? That's not even close to what I've told him."
"At the family barbecue earlier this week," said Sesshoumaru, enunciating each word with some distaste. "Somewhere around the twenty-fourth minute after your numerous aunts had trapped me. Thirty-eight minutes in all. During which time they attempted to braid my hair."
She bit at her thumbnail as she tried not to laugh again. "I told you that I'd make that up to you."
"You have not yet, although I have some proposals for how you can manage it."
"We'll make a list," Kagome said, turning a suggestive gaze up at him as she tugged on his sash again.
Footsteps on the stairs prevented any reply, and Kagome took a long stride back from her intended. "Alright, I think we're finally ready," said Mrs. Higurashi as she swept back into the room with Sota and Grandpa on her heels. She smiled at her daughter and the taiyoukai and then tugged on her collar. "Goodness, it's warm in here."
Kagome laughed all the way to the shrine with Sesshoumaru beside her, wearing an uncharacteristic smirk.
It wasn't until they walked into the building that her amusement fell away, replaced with an awe that she was finally standing here, in her own family shrine, for her own wedding. She had seen and assisted in a thousand before, but suddenly, it filled her heart to know that this was theirs alone. Her family, sitting behind her with Inuyasha, got to be here to witness it. How many times had she feared that she would never make it back to them and this time at all? And now, they were here with her for this.
She peeked at Sesshoumaru out of the corner of his eye as he received the first drink of sake from the shrine maiden, which he would sip from three times before she repeated the action, and the depths of her love for the stoic taiyoukai startled her anew. Kagome wasn't certain she'd ever find the ends of it, no matter how much time with which the gods favored them.
The cup was placed in her hands, and he turned his head, catching her eye as the miko poured three times. He wasn't touching her - he wasn't even bending toward her - but Kagome could feel the intensity of his feelings for her. It radiated off him, unleashed and unconcealed.
"Careful," murmured the shrine maiden.
Kagome looked and saw that her hands were shaking. She steadied herself and took the three sips that represented herself and Sesshoumaru, her parents, and his. A larger cup was put into the taiyoukai's hands for the second drink to represent mankind, earth, and heaven, and then it passed to her again.
She looked at the lacquered up as the miko poured again. Mankind, earth, and heaven, she thought as she put it to her lips. But what more can this do for me? I already have it.
Twenty minutes later, the sake consumed, their pledges spoken, and offerings made, they stepped back out of the shrine. A cheer erupted from the friends and family that had been waiting, and Kagome leaned into Sesshoumaru, a grin on her face.
"Everyone's here," she said to him. Shippo was waving from over in the corner of the courtyard, where he stood with Ranulf and Nina. Rin clapped enthusiastically with Suoh's arm around her waist and their children in a cluster around them. Adele was laughing with Faraji, the leopard demon. There were two dozen more friends from their travels, at least. Even Brandt and Gisela looked less sour than usual as they grabbed some drinks from a passing waiter. Tables had been set up in front of the Goshinboku already for the multi-course meal. "This will be a long reception. Are you ready for it?"
"Yes, although I am more ready for what comes after."
She laughed. "Stop it, Sesshoumaru. There are too many demon ears about."
"Kiss!" came a call, which Kagome immediately recognized as her friend Yuka. The chant was taken up by the crowd. "Kiss! Kiss!"
She let out a soft peep of surprise as Sesshoumaru pulled her close. "I was not speaking about tonight, enjoyable as it will be," he said as he placed a finger under her chin to tilt her head up. That unmasked intensity was back in his eyes, and she shivered at the same time as he warmed her. "I was speaking of the rest of our days together."
"Forever," Kagome whispered.
"And not a day less," he answered before he kissed her.