Chapter 14: Decisions

"So it was you, Sesshoumaru," Satori purred with an arch smile, idle fingers playing with the necklace she always wore as she looked almost mockingly at her stoic son, ignoring his little group as though they didn't exist – which was just fine with him. "I suppose this is about your father's heirloom, the Tenseiga? Of course it is - why else would you seek out your mother?"

"If you know why I am here then tell me what you know. I have no time to waste with your frivolities," he replied after a few moments as Jaken and Rin both stammered with the shock of finding out the female inu's identity. As if it were really difficult to tell who she was – he did, after all, resemble his mother greatly.

She sighed lightly and with a long-suffering expression turned and took to the air. "Fine, then, if you are so impatient, follow me."

"Jaken," he snapped, beginning to form his cloud under his feet, and he didn't have to say more as his little servant immediately ordered Rin and Kohaku to join him on Ah-Uhn so that they could follow him into the sky.

The flight was short and he soon landed on the steps of his mother's palace in the sky with his followers right behind him. Ignoring their awed exclamations, he turned his attention on his mother, who had taken a seat on her 'throne' as soon as she'd landed.

"Honestly, Sesshoumaru," she said with lightly scornful amusement, "I thought you hated humans. And yet here you are with two human whelps. Are you planning to eat them?"

He didn't miss Rin's scared little inhale and narrowed his eyes warningly at his mother. "Do not be absurd." He eyed her coolly for a moment, then said, "Father must have told you how to expand Tenseiga's meido."

"No," she sighed with a shake of her head as she once again gripped her necklace, "he only gave me this meido stone for safekeeping."

"Meido stone?" he asked evenly.

"He did tell me to use it if you ever came calling." She closed her eyes for a moment, a secretive smile on her face. "Oh, and there's one other thing he said to me. If you use the meido stone you will put our son in mortal danger. But you mustn't be fearful or melancholy."

"She doesn't seem too concerned," Rin whispered to Jaken, who nodded, a drop of sweat falling down his face.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh? he thought, shaking his head in consternation.

"What should I do, my son? I am conflicted," Satori sighed again, that same almost taunting, knowing smirk on her face as she almost always had when speaking to him.

Sesshoumaru was not impressed. "Conflicted," he grunted sardonically. "I am surprised that you even know that word."

Her smirk widened. "Don't be rude. Come now, why don't we have some fun?" she purred.

With that, she took hold of the large black stone at the center of her necklace and held it up, whereupon a huge black hound leapt from the portal it became and headed straight for Sesshoumaru.

He reacted instantly, drawing Tenseiga in one smooth motion and releasing the meido ability that it had always had – the one he hadn't known about until recently. Unfortunately, it was still merely a crescent, not at all the full circle it was supposed to be, and the hound wasn't affected by it at all.

It tore past him and headed right for his followers that were still on the steps behind him, and he whipped around to the tune of Rin's scream. Before he had even blinked the beast had disappeared into the meido... taking Rin with him.

Instantly, without even thinking on the matter he was moving, turning towards the meido and looking over his shoulder as his mother spoke up again, a growl rumbling up from his chest at her words.

"Do you honestly plan to step into the meido to save a human? What has become of you?" she asked, her wide-eyed look of shock as false as her earlier pretense of concern and worry for his safety.

"I go merely to slay the hound!" he retorted angrily, falling back into his habit of denying his protective instincts when faced with his mother's seeming scorn. Nonetheless, he disappeared into the meido at a swift pace, quickly becoming uncaring about what she thought of his actions as he turned to hunting the creature that would dare to take something that he claimed as his.

He wasted no thought at all to the possible consequences of going where he was. He would hunt this hound, slay it, and take back what was his before returning to the world of the living.

And by the time he was finished, he would have the secret of the meido in full – despite his mother's continuing petty amusement derived from dragging things out and annoying him.

He was Sesshoumaru – he was above her games and his father's secrets both. If they would not help him, then he would conquer without their assistance and he would turn his back on her as well as he had his father without remorse.

He needed no one.

The knowledge that he was lying to himself he kept buried inside, refusing to face his own fears, his own heart. Despite his – reluctant – acknowledgment of the fact that his heart wasn't as dead as he'd wanted it to be, especially in regards to Kagome and Rin he was still so conflicted over the matter, still wanting so much to be able to say that he had no such thing as a heart...

Kagome's face flashed before his eyes and he once more damned his weakness before pushing all thoughts of it aside.

Now was the time to hunt. He could curse his damned heart later, once Rin was returned to him and his prey was dead.

He could not have known that the decision to follow Rin into the meido would have very definite consequences for him, and his mother's almost wistful smile that was there and then gone in the space of a heartbeat gave away just what she was really up to though he did not see it, intent on his prey as he was.

Finally her son was setting his feet on the only path that really mattered, and soon he would truly be the daiyoukai that her former husband had known their son could be.

He has become like his father in so many ways. Still, the young female companion of that hanyou that he chases so intently – she is neither weak nor truly human as was the woman his father abandoned us for. Her power will bring much strength to the pups she will bear my son, and I could not wish for more for him.

~oOo~

Back on solid ground in the world of the living once more, Sesshoumaru pondered on the things he had learned from his mother and his sojourn in the realm of the dead.

He was a changed daiyoukai from the experience. As much as he had desired to make Tenseiga into a sword that could be used against those in the mortal world, when confronted with the price that power would come at he had been choked with grief and unable to deny any longer that his heart was most definitely awake.

Holding Rin's cold little body had almost destroyed him when he'd learned the truth of Tenseiga – that it could only return a being to life once, and since he had already used it on her she was beyond his power. That he could fail so easily to protect one who was his had brought him up short – it had tested and broken a piece of his once indestructible arrogance.

He was not all-powerful.

There were things that he could not do no matter how badly he wanted to, as his mother had pointed out - he was not a deity. And as he'd stood there in the cloying darkness of hell surrounded by a sea of human corpses, that compassion that had been woken from within by the hime Sara-sama's death surged up again, even stronger this time as Tenseiga used his clamoring emotions to bring peace to all those that had died in pain and with violence to blame. It had healed all of the sea of corpses surrounding him of the wounds to their souls, allowing them to break free of the master of hell and return to the wheel of heaven so that they could be reincarnated much, much sooner than they otherwise would have and with no darkness in their hearts.

He had honestly been surprised when his mother had relented and used her meido stone to return Rin to life once more – she had not often done things for him in such a manner, and he had for once been unable to maintain his usual cold facade with her. For that one small mercy on his behalf he would be eternally in her debt – because of her interference in returning Rin a second time from death the child was now fully immune to the grasp of death or the master of hell.

His mother had for once had a real smile on her face as she'd explained that Rin, because of her escape from death twice in such a manner, was truly immortal – death could not touch her unless she allowed it to. If she ever grew weary and tired of life, then she could render herself into the next world, but not by any other being's hand or illness could she be killed once more. Of course, if she did choose such, Tenseiga's truth still held – it could not be used on her ever again, just as it could not be used to save Kohaku.

Despite that knowledge, his mother's gift to him was a boon that he could never repay.

He paused in his forward motion for a few moments as a certain scent came to him on the freshening breeze. "Jaken. Take Rin and Kohaku and find a safe place to camp."

Jaken never had a chance to answer before his master was gone. With a dejected but resigned sigh the gami did as ordered, taking Ah-Uhn's reigns and guiding him and the two human children along.

Sesshoumaru would find them again when he was ready to.

~oOo~

Kagome sighed and looked up at where Inuyasha walked ahead of them all, saddened for him and wishing that she could have done something to save Kikyou for his sake. But Naraku's plot had been too well thought out and Kikyou had made a choice none of them had truly thought she would, giving her life up for Kohaku's and sending all her remaining power into the shard of the jewel he had in his neck with the hope that her light would finally defeat Naraku – if Kagome was able to keep him from taking and tainting that shard once again.

She left it all to me – the responsibility to guard that last shard and help it purify the spider the moment he tries to reach out and take it. I only hope I can do it – besides not wanting Naraku to win, I don't want Kohaku to die.

Sango had already grasped just what Kikyou had done and what it could possibly mean for her and her brother, and Kagome hadn't seen such hope on her face in all the time she'd been traveling with them. It would break her heart to be the one to falter and destroy that hope for the beleaguered taijiya and her young brother who'd been through such hell already at such young ages.

But while the others had not noticed what the circumstances surrounding Kikyou's final death had meant, she had.

She was not the miko's reincarnation at all.

When Kikyou had passed on the soul that she had been carrying ascended – it didn't return to her. As she'd watched the miko's soul ascend, she'd cried for her, but she couldn't help the relief she'd felt as she'd realized that she held no relation to the woman at all. Apparently she had simply been carrying the other woman's soul within her because of the Shikon no Tama. When Kikyou had ordered that it be burned with her body she had basically trapped her soul within it just as Midoriko's was. However, when Magatsuhi, in his fear of Kagome had sealed her, he had used Kikyou's soul as part of the binding, thus tying her soul to Kagome and not the jewel any longer.

That was why Urasue's spell had pulled all of Kagome's soul out when she had resurrected Kikyou – because their souls were bound together, not because she was her true reincarnation.

It had taken her a little while to work that all out in her mind, but she was absolutely certain that her conclusions were correct. When put together it all just fit too well to be wrong.

She was a little surprised, on the face of it, that Miroku had not realized the same thing. He was usually very perceptive – but then again, he had his own problems and concerns right now and thinking over her situation wasn't really all that important.

With a sigh her thoughts wandered back to her last meeting with Sesshoumaru. What he'd said... she still hadn't been able to cast those words away. She hadn't at all been prepared to hear them and when she had the instantaneous pain that had burned her from the inside out had forced her breath from her and burned her heart to ashes. In order to continue functioning she had been forced to block off the odd link she had developed with him and push all thoughts of him away. It wasn't easy, by any means.

She was so deep in her melancholy that she had completely missed the telling signs of the presence of the very being playing center stage in her thoughts until Inuyasha's half-hearted cursed, "Bastard!" drew her attention.

Freezing completely upon setting eyes on him, she tried to breathe and almost couldn't pull in enough air to keep herself conscious. Especially when she looked up and got caught right in Sesshoumaru's fiercely intent gaze.

"What the hell do ya want, Sesshoumaru?" Inuyasha demanded, though without his customary volume when addressing his brother. He was too deep in his funk over Kikyou's final death to really care about fighting with his brother too much at this point.

One word woke him up.

"Kagome."

"What the hell – are you still going on that kick? Haven't you gotten the message, prick? I'm not letting you have her!"

"It is not your decision," he replied without moving his gaze from Kagome.

His words were overridden by Kagome's instant furious, "Osuwari!" Sesshoumaru almost wanted to smile at the sound of his brother's thick skull hitting the even harder ground.

"I've told you before, Inuyasha, that I am not yours and that I can make my own decisions. Sesshoumaru asked to speak to me, not you. Therefore this is not your business."

Unable to respond as the spell was still pressing him into the ground too hard, Inuyasha twitched and waited angrily for the subduing command to wear off, inwardly scowling as Kagome stepped past him to stand before his bastard brother. Once again he was treated to the sight of them staring at each other as though the rest of the world no longer even existed.

Finally Sesshoumaru broke their melded gazes with a slow blink. After a moment he said, "I wish to speak to you alone, Kagome."

Blinking in momentary confusion as their gazes broke, it didn't take but a moment for her earlier thoughts and her memories of their last meeting to take her notice once more, and she sighed miserably, her face falling.

"Why? Didn't we already say everything that needed saying back then? What more is there?"

"Plenty," he responded evenly enough, though he gave no other clue as to exactly what was on his mind. "But I will not speak of such matters here with the half-breed and your companions to listen in to something that is not their business. It is strictly between you and I."

With the realization that the daiyoukai was not going to leave without speaking to her as he'd – sort of – requested, Kagome could do little more than nod and move to stand before him as she waited for him to lead the way. She turned her head to look over her shoulder at her companions and let them know that she would return shortly.

Inuyasha, by that time able to get to his feet looked on as the two walked away, just too heartsick to even bother anymore. If she was so determined to talk to the prick, then who was he to stop her?

The two walked for some little time, leaving the road and crossing the large meadow it wound through to the opposite side. Once certain that they were as private as they could get standing outside in full view of anyone who happened to be around, Sesshoumaru came to a halt and then turned to look at the woman standing behind him looking back at him with opaque eyes and a closed aura.

He frowned – he didn't like the feeling of being cut off from her as she'd been doing since their last meeting. She was shielding herself even harder now, and the feeling was most... disconcerting.

After a few moments of silence Kagome shook herself. "Well, you wanted to speak with me, so...?" she trailed off leadingly in a cool, rather distant voice.

"Why do you hide yourself from me?"

Kagome blinked, then blinked again. Surely he didn't just ask me such a stupid question...? "Shouldn't that be obvious?" she asked, her voice exasperated and disbelieving. "Have you forgotten our last... encounter?" she asked, blushing at reminders of just what all that last meeting had consisted of.

He tilted his head in that odd way he had sometimes and looked her over with now opaque eyes of his own. "I have not forgotten that you ran off before I could reassure you. My previous words were not meant as a truth that you had to fear, but merely as a point to draw your attention to our imminent mating."

She was shaking her head before he even finished. "I'm not that stupid, Sesshoumaru," she interjected. "Once my attention was drawn to certain facts by your words I remembered the practices here in this era. You could have an entire harem and I would be unable to say a word about it." She shook her head, looking down and away from the daiyoukai's burning stare. "Besides, I realized something else, too, when you said that. You'll need to find yourself an inuyoukai mate so that you can have purebred heirs. I can't give you that, so it was not hard to deduce that you would have other women."

Frowning, Sesshoumaru opened his mouth to refute her statements, but Kagome was not willing to hear what he'd have to say, certain that it would be something that would just break her heart all over again. "Don't," she finally said, holding up her hands and waving them agitatedly at him. "Just... don't, Sesshoumaru. There's no need for you to lie to me – I didn't say that I wouldn't come to you when this is all over."

That arrested his attention and he stared at her with surprised eyes. "You would come to me even were I to take other females as concubines?"

"What choice do I have?" she asked in an aching whisper. "Are you willing to let me go?"

His frown melted into an aggressive scowl. "No."

She nodded, still without looking up at him. "I didn't think so." She reached up slender fingers to push an errant lock back behind one dainty ear and then let her hand fall as she shook her head. "Then there really isn't anything left to say, is there? Once my duty to the Shikon no Tama's destruction is completed I'll be free to come to you. Until then, nothing more needs to be said." The moment the last words were out of her mouth she was gone, hurrying back across the grass of the verdant meadow to her resting companions.

She left behind a severely conflicted daiyoukai who watched her retreat with a bitter twist of his lips. Oh, yes, his careless words had caused much damage – he'd lost almost all the ground he'd gained with her. Fool! he growled at himself.

It looked as though her overactive imagination had provided her with even more reasons as to why he actually would take other females as wives or concubines, and now the whole thing was blown up all out of proportion. He couldn't stop the thought that slid through his mind, however, that castigated him even more fiercely for his overactive mouth – had the roles been reversed he would have reacted even worse than she had. The thought of sharing her with another was enough to send him mad, his claws lengthening and drawing his own blood as his eyes burned with crimson light.

After a few seconds of that he shuttered his eyes with a growl and deliberately drew his normal mantle of cool hauteur around himself with purpose. There was nothing to be done about this situation at this point in time. He would only be able to reassure her once she had come to him permanently, so with one last inhale of air that was still laden with her scent he turned and flashed away, his senses once more turned on his small followers. It was time to return to them and continue on in his sworn purpose – the destruction of the spider hanyou that was the base cause for his forced delay in taking the girl he'd claimed for himself - right now.

Soon though, Kagome, you will learn how wrong you are. There will be no others for either of us – ever.

Once I kill Naraku it will be all over for you – you will be mine for eternity.

~oOo~

Ima aitai anata ni,* Sesshoumaru. *I'm missing you now... I never understood just how much my heart could hurt until you took me over. And that's all this love is – a means to murder me from the inside out. You're doing a good job of that, she laughed painfully, and yet I still miss you. How sick is that?

It had been almost a week since she'd seen him and it was getting harder and harder to breathe everyday that she was away from him. If this kept up too much longer Inuyasha would figure out quite easily just how much of her his half-brother owned – and flip out.

She'd almost been afraid to go home, but not with the thought of seeing him in her era – rather at the thought of not seeing him. And she hadn't, though she'd felt him clearly enough – apparently he was still watching her closely there in her era whenever she appeared. My own personal stalker, she sighed, closing her eyes for a moment as they moved down the road, once more on Naraku's trail.

"Ano... Kagome-sama, are you alright?" a light tenor voice broke into her downgrading thoughts and she opened her eyes and looked up into Miroku's concerned violet ones.

No. "Yes, Miroku-sama, I'm fine," she replied with a shake of her head. "I'm just thinking."

"Your thoughts seem heavy and steeled with pain and sadness. Why is that?" he asked softly, casting a quick look ahead to where their hanyou leader walked along, conversing with Sango as they attempted to work out where Naraku was and where he was going.

Kagome flicked a glance his way. "I'm not the only one, Miroku-sama," she shot back quietly, inclining her head and indicating the youkai taijiya that he loved.

He blinked and chuckled a little at her riposte. "Is it that obvious?" he asked.

"Only to one who knows what you are like when you aren't being eaten alive by other worries," she teased a little, an open poke at his usual antics with women.

"Ah, but then this mess we are a part of leaves little time for such amusements, Kagome-sama, as I know you are aware. If you were not, your thoughts of a certain daiyoukai wouldn't be so heavy and sorrowful."

"Touche, Miroku-sama," she whispered, her eyes falling on the ground again. "Yes, I'm thinking about Sesshoumaru."

"Did something untoward get said the other day when you went to talk to him?"

Oh, something untoward got said all right, but it wasn't then. "Oh, no, nothing much was spoken of at that time except that I told him that I could not think of anything else until my duty to the Shikon no Tama's destruction was completed," she said, editing the truth quite a bit.

Miroku shot her a slightly disbelieving glance and she flushed, knowing he knew better than to take what she was saying at face value. "I... see," he said carefully. "Was he trying to get you to follow him then?"

She shook her head. "No. He knows that until this is over, I won't leave Inuyasha or you and Sango. If he truly wants me, as he says he does," she whispered, "then he knows he's going to have to wait."

"And yet... that in itself is nothing to upset you in such a manner," Miroku returned, eyeing her knowingly.

A sigh echoed over the tinkling sounds of Miroku's Shakujo, and Kagome shook her head, not really wanting to talk about the subject but knowing that Miroku would keep trying to make her feel better by talking the matter out. The world's first psychologist, she thought with a brief flare of irritation.

"Maybe not, Miroku," she finally said, throwing him a nice little red herring, "but the whole thing with Sesshoumaru will cause me much grief. If I stay here with him I will lose my home and my family. I will be tied to a powerful daiyoukai, the Lord of the West, and be forced to exist in a culture that I don't understand the first thing about. Do you see why I might be feeling upset and unsettled now?" she asked, almost exasperatedly.

The monk glanced sideways at the young woman walking next to him and nodded thoughtfully. As sure as he was that those were things weighing on her mind, he was just as positive that those were not the only things going on by far.

For a time there, back a few weeks ago, she had calmed from all her angst over the daiyoukai and his claim on her, basically accepting it. She had even begun to be her usual strong and determined self – and then overnight that had gone to the dogs, so to speak, he rolled his eyes at the unintended pun, and she had gone back to the angst and even sadness with the pain overriding it all that she had been dealing with since he'd met her, really.

That told him that something had happened – and thinking back to that confrontation with Kouga, he was almost positive it had happened the night before – the night when she had, as Kouga had said, 'smelled like a bitch in heat' and been wrapped around the daiyoukai in a very... personal way.

Something had gone wrong after that between the two, and he would very much like to know what.

But it was just as obvious that Kagome had no desire to speak about it, at least not at this point, and so he nodded with a faint sigh. "It is plain that you do not wish to share all of your heartache at this time," he said, letting her know that he was well aware that there was more to the issue, "and so I will respect your boundaries. But know this – if you decide you need a friendly ear, one who will not judge you for your ties to this youkai Lord, I will – hopefully - be here."

Kagome flushed and then paled, suddenly understanding that it was very possible that his concentration on her problems was to escape his own very dangerous problems for a time and thereby lighten his mood. She hung her head a little and frowned at herself.

"Thank you, Miroku," she said softly. "If I need to talk, I'll be sure to take you up on that."

Silence fell once again as both decided to catch up with the still talking Sango and Inuyasha so as to forget those same problems for a while.

~oOo~

Ima aitai anata ni- this was taken from a Kang, Daesung song. He's a yummy Korean singer that just released his first Japanese album for those who don't know him – I absolutely adore him. The phrase means exactly what I wrote next to it in the sentence above referenced – I'm missing you now.

Hope you all don't mind me slipping a little Japanese in here and there into the story – I like to use things I'm learning sometimes. It's good practice, lol.

Amber

A little update-things are slowing down for my writing, and that's because my first and only grandchild is about to make his appearance. Gabriel Alexander is past due, and so my daughter has been induced. Besides the fact that it's payweek for VA beneficiaries which means I need to do all my shopping for the month and pay all my bills and rent, I now am waiting for word that my daughter has finally dilated and gone into labor so that I can go to the hospital to be there for his birth. And so with all of this I might not be posting regularly for a while or answering reviews, and you all now know why. Anyway, hope everyone's holidays were great and Happy New Year!

Amber