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To Love From Dusk 'Til Dawn

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“So, are you guys excited?”

It was dark, only the soft glow of streetlamps and the incandescent light emanating from the cars they drove past illuminating the night. Kagome didn’t respond at first, eyes and smile tight as she focused on the road. It was a hard question to answer, even though Kara’s cheerful energy washed over and surrounded her. Sharing enthusiasm when the event she referred to heralded so much heartache in her past was hard.

“I am relieved that this wait is almost over,” Kagome hedged. As she eased onto the highway, she felt a delicate hand rest on her leg.

 “Is Daddy having a hard time too?”

Kagome did smile then, Kara’s moniker for Sesshoumaru always warming her heart. They had adopted the American girl eighteen years before when she was three, and her sunny demeanor was a joy to be around. The only thing in her whole life she had been exceedingly stubborn about was what she called her father. 

Risking a quick glance at Kara’s face, Kagome found only understanding in the young woman’s blue eyes and tried to smile again. “Wouldn’t you?”

Kara’s own smile was gentle as she pushed her perfectly curled blonde hair away from her face. “Probably. But it wouldn’t change the fact that I love you and still looked forward recommitting my life to you. You’re allowed to be excited about the vow renewal despite all the crap going on.” She squeezed Kagome’s leg reassuringly and then flipped down the mirror, digging into her purse for her makeup. “Thanks for picking me up from the airport even though things are crazy right now. I feel like the biggest loser in the world that I couldn’t make it for Grandpa’s funeral.”

At the mention of Grandpa, Kagome swallowed back tears, and her hands gripped the steering wheel just a bit tighter. His death was hard for several reasons, the least of which being that it signaled one of the hardest times in her life starting soon—even if it was technically in her past.

The loud smack of lips from the seat beside her as Kara slapped on some lip gloss pulled her from her thoughts, and she exhaled heavily. “Grandpa knew you loved him. We have some pictures you can take back with you. Your boss, on the other hand, is a jerk for not letting you come sooner.”

Kara giggled. “Yeah, Naoki called and let him know that one personally. Chris, however, literally came down to the office and got all up in his business just a couple hours before he flew out to be here. You should’ve seen the old bastard’s face.”

Kagome laughed out loud at the mention of their other human American child and finally turned onto their property. Chris was almost thirty, a dedicated businessman and bachelor, and had a temper that rivaled Miyu’s on a bad day if someone messed with his family. “That would’ve been a sight to see.”

“Oh, it was. Like, remember when Daddy got pissed at Naoki for dressing up like him and twerking on YouTube?” She laughed out loud, clutching at her stomach. “So much worse than that.”

Shaking her head, Kagome couldn’t hide her grin. Their children had always kept them on their toes, but Naoki especially had a knack for getting under Sesshoumaru’s skin. The fact that they looked almost identical just made it easy for him to find ways to get on the daiyoukai’s nerves.

“Ooooh, there’s the house! Loving all the lanterns lining the driveway!”

Turning into said driveway, Kagome slowed the car. “You can thank Enmei for that. He insisted on doing it after Umeko and his Hiromi slipped out after dark one night to go exploring.”

Kara’s eyes widened, her panic at the thought evident. “Well, that’s terrifying. Bet Daddy and Enmei flipped.”

“Flipped is putting it lightly.” And I had a panic attack that lasted all night. Easing to a stop, Kagome put the car in park and turned to Kara. “We’re here.”

Grinning, Kara leaned over and quickly hugged her, bouncing in her seat a bit as she undid her belt. “I’m so excited to be back here and see everyone. Sometimes it sucks living on another continent.”

Undoing her own belt, Kagome silently agreed. It was never easy having family spread thin, and the closeness she shared with hers—large as it was—made that even more difficult. With a sigh, she watched Kara race up to the door, fling it open, and disappear inside before stepping out of the car.

“What I’d do for some of your energy right now, Kara,” she murmured to herself, shouldering her purse. And peace.

Especially at a time like this.

 

The kitchen was a cacophony of sounds and smells when Kagome finally made her way into the house. Setting her purse down on the console, she closed her eyes and inhaled, letting the evidence of her children’s presence wash over her and sink into her bones, and a sad smile pulled at her lips. It was bittersweet. So many children had come into their family over the years, each one loved, cherished, and protected whether blood or adopted, but the nature of mortality meant that there would never be a moment where their family was whole.

“It is an unkind reality.”

His voice pulled her from her private grief, and she turned to find the only one who knew exactly what she felt learning against the wall in the entry way. He looked like she felt, and her eyes softened. “Hi, Babe.”

She laughed quietly when he arched a brow. Modern terms of endearment usually threw him for a loop, especially babe. The first time she had used it, he lectured her on how it made no sense because he was older than her by centuries; therefore, she was the babe.

That lecture had backfired on him, and he’d been stuck with it since. He stared at her, not really mad about the nickname, his eyes holding the bittersweet marriage of anguish and love she felt in her core when she listened to the sounds of their family.

Without a sound, he approached and bent to kiss her. “Hello. Babe.

Closing her eyes and smiling, she let him fold her into his arms, happy to enjoy a moment of peace and closeness amid the chaos. She noticed a glass of wine in his hand and stole a sip. “Oh, that’s delicious.”

“Chris stopped over in Napa Valley before arriving.”

Kagome looked up, resting her chin on his sternum. “Napa? He’s been here a week. Where’s he been hiding this?”

Sesshoumaru took a sip and almost smiled. “Far out of sight of the females. I believe he may have swung by your mother’s before getting here.”

“Well, I’m glad he did.” She took another sip as he held the glass to her lips. “Sayuri would do this in on her own given the chance.”

The low resonance of a chuckle vibrated against her. “She would only succeed if Yuna did not find it first.”

With a melodramatic sigh, she rested her head back on his chest. “Could’ve been tequila.”

“Akari is enough to handle with that one.”

The sharp tattoo of his heartbeat drummed against her cheek. To the casual eye, he exuded calm, but she knew him better than that and recognized the turmoil flowing in his veins locked just under the surface. It was barely restrained by the practiced control intrinsic to him. It ebbed and flowed as they held each other, his disquiet only outwardly evident by unconscious swirling of the wine in its glass.

She wrapped her arms tighter and pressed closer. “Are you okay?”

He didn’t answer at first, and she heard a swallow resonate behind his ribs. “I will be.”

“What can I—"

One of their daughters swearing in the kitchen cut her off.

“Fuck. Does anyone know where Papa is? I can’t get this jar open.”

“Seriously, Hanako? There are other youkai in here too. Give me the jar.”

“Touch it and die, Enmei. Last jar you opened shattered in your hands, and I had this imported. Now, where’s Papa?”

Their timing was impeccable as always. Kagome’s mood lightened a bit, and she craned her neck back to find some of the melancholy melting away from Sesshoumaru’s face as well. She offered him a grin, wanting to share the humor of the situation. It was small, but he smiled back.

“They have been quarreling for hours.” It wasn’t a complaint, and his look grew fond. “There has not been a moment of peace since you left.”

Eyes sparkling, she took another sip of the wine when it was offered. “So, you’ve been hiding here from them?”

He lifted his chin then, gold eyes looking down with a quiet mischief behind them as he cocked his head and allowed the evidence of his smile to stay. “I will not deny it.”

She choked back a laugh. “Can’t say I blame you.”

A crash sounded from the kitchen.

“Hands OFF. Papa, where’d you go?”

“Just let me open it, Hanako! Or, I don’t know, give it to Akari.”

“When hell freezes over, Mothman. Papa!”

“Oh, for the love of…Sesshoumaru!”

Sesshoumaru’s look darkened, and Kagome struggled to hold her laughter.

Growling under his breath, he took the glass of wine back and took another sip before he spoke. “If I hear anything other than father again tonight I will—”

“Daddy, are you in here?”

Kagome did laugh then, nearly spitting wine when he let his control slip and rolled his eyes.

“That does not count.”

Clueless to her parent’s conversation, Kara came around the corner, smiling brightly as she set eyes on them with the pilfered jar in her hand. “Aw, look at you two. All snuggled up like newlyweds and—"

Sesshoumaru snatched the jar in question out of her hands, popped the lid, and handed it back. “Goodbye, Kara.”

Kara’s grin was saccharine as she took the jar and turned back to the kitchen. She waited until she was out of sight before shouting. “Lovebirds are hiding by the front door!”

Kagome sighed, her hope of continued privacy shattered. “It’s a shame we can’t ground her anymore.”

“It never did any good anyway.”

The memory of their bubbly blonde girl sneaking out a second story window when she was sixteen only to come face to face with a giant, white dog popped unbidden into her mind, and she snickered. “We got some good memories out of it.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyes dulled a bit then, his expression tightening. “There are too many memories.” Downing the rest of the wine, he let go of her and stepped away for a moment to set the glass on the console before reaching for her hand. “Come with me.”

Hers slid easily into his, and she followed him out into the night. Cold starlight twinkled overhead and the crispness in the air chilled her cheeks. But unlike many nights like this they had shared, it wasn’t quiet. The sounds of their family still echoed from inside the house, and the mashup of voices from the group of them gathered in the backyard washed over them as they headed down the dark drive.

As happy as her family made her, it was times like this she missed the peace of the past most. “Remember when we could just run off into the dark and not worry about anyone seeing or stopping us?”

He stared straight ahead, but his smile was wistful when he drew her arm through his and pulled her closer. “I remember.”

His warmth pushed into her, and Kagome leaned into his side as they walked. “Sometimes the past seems like it was easier.”

She realized too late what she said, the intimacy of the moment shattering as he stiffened beside her. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she stopped and stepped in front of him. Of all the careless things she could’ve said right then, that ranked right at the top of the list. “Sesshoumaru, that’s not what I meant.”

He looked straight over her head, refusing to look at her. “It’s fine.”

Again, Kagome kicked herself mentally. This was the worst possible time and worst possible day to be having this conversation. “Sesshoumaru? Sesshoumaru, look at me, please.”

Lips pursed, he slowly let his eyes drift down to her face, but the tension in his jaw made it clear he wasn’t keen to discuss things with her at the moment.

Her hands reached up and gently stroked his cheeks, trying to ease the pain he tried—and failed—to hide behind his irritation. “I would change the past if I could.”

He nodded, looking away again. “But you cannot.”

Closing her eyes before her own upset broke free, she cupped the back of his head and pulled his face down to her, pressing her forehead to his. “I’m sorry.” She swallowed thickly, breathing in the scent of him. Sandalwood. He always smelled of sandalwood, the forest, and warm spices, and she loved it and the immediate comfort it brought. Tilting her chin, she let her lips drift over his. “I will always be sorry, Sesshoumaru. If I could change things, I would.”

His hands gripped at her waist, and he leaned more heavily into her. “I know.”

She pulled back then as she offered a weak smile. “It’s just harder this year, isn’t it?”

“We knew it would be.” He didn’t meet her eyes for long, but his hand found hers again, lacing their fingers. After what felt like an eternity, he squeezed reassuringly. “We made it through this before. It will not break us now.”

Kagome could only nod as her tears burned. He was right; she knew he was. And though she didn’t deserve it, she had his understanding. “I don’t want this to ruin tonight.”

His features calmed, and he lightly bumped her shoulder. “It will not.”

Before she could speak again, the high-pitched cry of their newest family addition pierced the night. Sho was five weeks old, nursing, and likely unhappy that his last feeding had come from a bottle since she had gone to the airport to pick up Kara.

“Oh, baby boy sounds mad,” she murmured, looking back at the house.

Sesshoumaru nodded, eyes following hers. “He’s in the backyard with your mother.”

The hunger cries grew louder, and completely outside of her control, Kagome’s hormones responded for her. Dread sank into her stomach as she felt the let-down reflex kick in. “Oh no.”

Sesshoumaru looked down, concern in his voice. “Oh no?”

“Yeah. Oh no.” Kagome crossed her arms over her chest, already feeling milk soak through her nursing bra and pads and into her skin. Exhaling in frustration, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back. Maternal instincts could be a real hassle and had no regard for new blouses and anniversaries. Or her embarrassment. “I need your shirt. Now.

After a brief moment of confusion, the smell of breastmilk hit his nose, and the previous tension dissipated at his unexpected laughter as he pulled the requested article of clothing over his head. “With every pup, Kagome.”

Kagome glared. “Stop laughing. If your children didn’t eat so much, the nursing pads may have been able to hold back the let-down.”

He took her soiled shirt and handed her his, a soft smile lingering on his lips. “I do not think that is how that works.”

Making a face at him, she shoved his shirt over her head and looked back at the house. “Just get us back there unseen, please. I need more than five minutes with you tonight, and the older bunch will give us crap for the next several hours if you turn up shirtless.” She grimaced then, feeling wet start to seep through his shirt as well. “Great.”

Before she could ask again, he hooked an arm around her waist and leapt.

 

“Okay, I have the thick, disposable nursing pads, reusable wool, or a good, old-fashioned dishtowel.”

From her upright position in her bed, Kagome held her hand out to her daughter-in-law, right breast still streaming milk unforgivingly through her nursing bra while Sho happily suckled away on the left. “This calls for a dishtowel.”

With an understanding laugh, Mariko quickly folded it into a thick square and handed it over, empathizing as Kagome stuffed it into the right side of her bra. “If it makes you feel better, I spent all of yesterday morning with one stuffed on one side or the other while Hana marathon nursed through her wings unfolding.”

Kagome smiled at the mention of her granddaughter. Hana had been born three days before Sho, and she appreciated having someone who had lived life nearly as long as she had going through new babies at this age with her. Their family dynamics were certainly different from any others she knew, but centuries of shared experiences left them a close-knit unit. “Hana unfolding and Sho teething. Sounds like none of us are getting sleep.”

Mariko shook her head sympathetically. “Nope. Enmei almost had to carry me out of the shower last night because I could barely stay standing on my feet.”

Someone knocked on the bedroom door.

“Mama, do you care if I come in?”

Kagome rolled her eyes at the sound of her son’s voice. “Emnei, how many times do I have to say nursing is perfectly natural?”

A moment later, an annoyed Enmei walked in with a bundled Hana in his arms. “Well, excuse me for having manners and not just barging in.” The tall moth youkai smiled at his wife and handed her their baby. “Hopefully she’s done going the distance, but she’s starting to whine.”

Kagome grinned at Mariko and patted Sesshoumaru’s side of the bed. “Get in.”

“Guess we’re having a nursing party.” Mariko climbed in next to Kagome and got Hana latched before the screaming could start. “Betcha you didn’t expect to spend your anniversary like this.”

Kagome smiled, rubbing Sho’s back as she did. Mariko held a special place in everyone’s heart. The human woman had been severely disfigured as a child when her home burned down, the entire bottom and then left half of her face stretched tight with scars that even a long life couldn’t fully heal. But she was kind and gentle with a fiery spirit, and she had captured Enmei’s attention from the moment he had laid eyes on her centuries earlier. “At least the company is good.”

Enmei interrupted them. “I’m going to go make sure Naoki and Chris don’t overcook the meat if you two are settled.” He leaned over to kiss Mariko and Hana. He was tall—even taller than Sesshoumaru—and had to bend a distance to do so. Despite, the lack of shared blood, the moth had the same, cascading silver hair as his father, although his eyes were lavender while cool patches of iridescent blues, purples, and greens reflected off his cheekbones and the bonier areas of his body instead of stripes. “Papa’s got everyone under ten plus Jiro rolling around in the backyard to keep them away from the stove, so don’t worry about the littles.” He stood and moved to the door. “Oh, and Naoki loaded a new video.”

Both Kagome’s brows shot up. “Oh, he did, did he?”

Enmei’s smile was downright devilish on his handsome features. “Someone’s definitely getting claws in his ass tonight.”

“What did he do?” Mariko asked, her curiosity having her reaching for her phone.

Laughing, Enmei shook his head. “You’ll want to watch it after those two are done nursing. You’ll wake them up otherwise.” He reached for the doorknob. “Okay, I’m out.”

He left.

The two women sat in silence for a moment, only the sounds of the nursing babies filling the bedroom. But seconds later, Mariko reached for her phone again.

“We can at least see what screenshot is on the video cover.” Happily bringing up the video app, she searched for Naoki’s channel, eyes going wide when she found it. “Enmei’s right. He’s dead.”

Kagome’s own eyes blew wide when she leaned over to look, but she snickered. “Oh, these two need to nurse faster.”

With a sigh, Mariko dropped the phone. “I shouldn’t have looked. Now I’m dying to watch.” She giggled, if we didn’t know it was Naoki—”

“Oh, I know. And the first time he posted a video, he hid his ears. I didn’t know it wasn’t Sesshoumaru at first.”

Mariko laughed louder then. “Well, we all know Inupapa can dance if he has to. He just doesn’t like to.”

Kagome tried to smile at the memory Mariko referred to, but it failed to reach her eyes. Even nearly five hundred years later, that one still stung despite the good in it too.

Beside her, the other woman groaned. “I’m sorry, Kagome. I wasn’t thinking.”

With a shake of her head, she offered Mariko a small smile. “No, it’s okay. It’s just one of those things.” She shrugged. “I don’t know that something like that ever fully heals.”

“Are you two okay?” Mariko asked gently.

Her eyes were earnest—as earnest and understanding as they had been centuries before in the face of the worst mistake of her life—and Kagome felt her appreciation for her daughter-in-law deepen.

“We’re okay,” she finally answered quietly. “The memories are hard right now. Facing them like this again so soon after losing Grandpa makes them harder.” Her voice grew quieter. “I know he’s feeling it more than he wants to let on, and it hurts to see him hurt.” She swallowed. “Hurts to know I caused it, even after all this time.”

Mariko reached over and squeezed her hand. “Sounds like you two could use some alone time tonight.”

Kagome laughed, wiping her tears, and switched Sho to her other side. “It would definitely help, but with this little teether, I think we’re going to be a boring, old couple tonight.”

“There’s nothing boring about either of you, Kagome.” Mischief twinkled in her dark eyes. “Though I’d pay some serious money to see Sesshoumaru cut loose like Naoki in those videos.”

“You and me both.” Kagome looked down at Sho and scratched his ears. “I’m starved. Think dinner will be ready by the time these two are done?”

“I’m sneaking dessert early if it’s not. But we are watching that video before we go out there.”

“Agreed on both accounts.” Sho chose that moment to sleepily unlatch and yawn, smacking his lips after as furry black ears drooped in his milk-drunk stupor. Carefully scooting off the bed, Kagome laid him in his bassinet and stroked the top of his head as blue eyes that appeared to be identical to hers closed. After Maya and Miyu, all of their biological children had come out with their father’s silver hair until this newest little bundle, and she was still marveling at dark, downy silk atop his head. She smiled softly at her sleepy baby. “I’ll be right back.”

Mariko nodded, adjusting Hana. “I’ll be here.”

Stealing through her bathroom to the walk-in, Kagome carefully went through her clothing, trying to find something that looked nice but was still functional in case there was a repeat of her earlier incident. Pulling a blue sweater off its hanger, she snagged a new bra and nursing pads and quickly changed before going back into the bathroom to touch up her makeup.

The face that met her in the mirror was still young except for her eyes. Her eyes, no matter how youthful her face, could never hide the truth about her age, centuries of grief and realities too grueling to dwell on for long having turned the blue depths into a storm that permanently displayed their grey undertone years before.

You only have yourself to blame.

No, not right now. There was plenty of time to rake herself over the coals later. Shaking off her melancholy, she quickly ran a brush through her short, black hair and smeared a nude gloss on her lips. Eye makeup she skipped.

Over the years she had gotten better about holding back the floodgates around her family. Life itself had hardened her resolve and built a new stamina against tears. But there were a few things that could still rip them out of her without mercy.

The memory tied to Grandpa’s death was one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are all the pups inside? Good.”

Miyu, mentally preparing herself, watched the rest of her family finish their dinner at the tables that had been set up earlier that day. She drummed her claws impatiently from her seat, sipping at ice water as she ran over her speech in her head. Once a year, as many of them as possible gathered to celebrate their parents’ anniversary, and she and her siblings enjoyed an evening of terrorizing each other in the kitchen as they cooked a huge meal in honor of their parents before embarrassing them after with stories and pictures from their past.

But this year was a bit different.

“Got something good for us this year?”

Next to her, Nozomi pulled out a chair and sat, an excited but mischievous grin on her face. The dark-haired human was far older than she looked, having been one of the first humans their parents had adopted. Mating an inuyoukai centuries before had granted her a long life.

Miyu smirked and absently smoothed her napkin. “I like to think I do.”

“Think you can irritate Papa better than Naoki’s video?” Nozomi stole a sip of her wine, eyes widening a bit when she tasted it. “Oh, I need to get some of that. Chris!” She stood to chase down their brother but shot Miyu one more look before scuttling off. “Knock ‘em dead.”

She watched her sister run off in search of alcohol and sighed. “If Papa doesn’t knock me dead first.” With a long draw on her water, she pulled her chair out and stood. No use putting it off any longer.

Chatter continued on around her, the cool night air washing over her and soothing her nerves as she tapped her claws against her water glass to get everyone’s attention. She hated speeches. “All right, troublemakers, listen up!”

The sound of voices, dulled somewhat now that the minors had retreated inside for a movie, didn’t quiet any further. “You all done yet? Hey!

Nothing.

Chris popped the cork on another wine bottle and ignored his sister’s glare. “Who needs more?”

Satoshi, a snake youkai, laughed behind his glass and pointed at her. “Mama and Papa if Miyu’s doing the talking.”

Jerk.

“Ah, yeah, good point.”

Excuse me,” Miyu ground out, eyes shooting daggers at her brothers. She tapped the glass again impatiently as she did. Getting everyone to behave at the same time was pretty much impossible. “Do you mind?”

The green-eyed snake threw up his hands. “I’m done.”

Everyone else was quiet and waiting, and Miyu cleared her throat. She hated giving speeches, but with the vow renewal and trip to America coming up, the siblings decided they wanted to save their traditional embarrassing slide show for that event. Upon that decision, everyone came to the same consensus that Miyu and her mouth could do the most damage without their usual arsenal. Never mind that she hated speaking.

Once again lamenting getting stuck with the job, she glanced at her twin for a second and saw Maya flash an encouraging thumbs up her way.

“You have no idea what’s about to hit,” she mumbled to herself, giving a half-hearted thumbs up back. Poor Maya. Always so encouraging and rarely aware of what her other half was truly capable of pulling.

With an attempted smile that probably looked more like a demented, contorted version of one at her twin, Miyu avoided making eye contact with Sesshoumaru and Kagome and said a prayer to the kami that she wouldn’t be struck down where she stood.  Here goes nothing.

She took a deep breath. “Everyone here tonight is family because those two”—she motioned to her parents—“were once friends with benefits.”

It was—to her immense satisfaction—enough to kill her father’s chill. Wine spewed straight out of his mouth onto the table, and she mentally patted herself on the back for a job well done. Meanwhile, Kagome was caught between choking on her own wine and slapping her mate on the back to help him clear the rest of what he had apparently aspirated.

Everyone else, including her grandmother, howled with laughter.

I’m going to hell, but it’ll be worth it. She ignored the flare of youki followed by burning amber eyes being narrowed in her direction and sent a smug look Sesshoumaru’s way. “Will someone get Papa a glass of water? And Mama a fan before she passes out?”

She took a sip of her own water, a quick glance at Maya showing her own face giving her a look. She’d be getting an earful later.

Oh well.

Miyu tapped her glass again to quiet everyone still laughing. “All teasing aside, once, a miko and a youkai were left with a heartbreaking, impossible situation, and they made the most of it. We all know the history.” She paused to sip her water again, trying not to laugh at the sight of Naoki with his face still buried in a tablecloth, shoulders shaking.

“We know there were good times and hard times.” The joking disappeared, and she smiled genuinely at her parents then. “But, most importantly, there was a lot of love. Friendship turned into something deeper.” She locked eyes with her mother, trying to send encouragement as she spoke, and she could feel the waves of anxiety coming from the older woman start to ebb somewhat. “Something fought for. And the sheer number of us, even though some are no longer with us, attests to both Mama and Papa’s devotion to building a life with each other.”

Any remaining snickers and giggles stopped. Some things—past pain and loss—would always be hard to speak about. Miyu didn’t miss the tears on Kagome’s cheeks or the way her father’s arm wrapped protectively around her. She didn’t miss the melancholy on his face.

Trying to smile despite the heavy subject matter, she continued. “Mama and Papa have dealt with a lot of crap that no one ever should have to. But they pushed though, loved each other, and loved us.” She took a moment to look over all her siblings. "And I think I can fairly speak for us all when I say that none of us ever questioned that we were brothers and sisters.”

There were murmurs of agreement and then more laughter when Hanako smacked Hotaru on the back of the head for making a snide remark that sounded suspiciously like except for Akimichi.

Miyu stifled her own laugh and then winked at her parents. “You two take in kids like an old woman does cats. Hell, you’ve even got a couple cats of your own.”

From a table in the back, Shimeko whooped.

“Technically a snow leopard and panther,” Jiro mumbled.

“The bottom line”—Miyu shook her head at the felines—“is that in everything you both always made one thing clear: love is a choice. And whether blood or adopted, you’ve always chosen to stick with us.”

Her eyes filled with a bittersweet memory as she focused back on her parents. “You stuck with each other.”

It was suddenly hard to speak, and Miyu pretended to have a dry throat, sipping long at her water while she gathered herself back together. Some things were too difficult to speak about, but she was determined to push through. “Your perseverance is something we all respect. Mama, you never, ever give up, and Papa”—she fought through a watery smile—“gods, you’re so fucking stubborn. And it’s held things together when everything else was falling apart.”

Both her parents were smiling gently at her now, and Miyu found herself once again in her water glass, blinking back tears.

“You both have a sense of humor—even if Papa’s is weird as fuck. By the way, some of us are still in therapy after what you pulled at Obon last year, Sesshoumaru.” She laughed when he glared at the use of his given name—something they all regularly did to irritate him. “Mama, thank you for being the normal one.”

Her mother’s grin was cheeky as she poked the demon lord in his side.

Miyu swallowed then, her voice quieting. “You’ve both survived the worst kinds of loss, and you became stronger through it rather than letting it defeat you, even when perseverance seemed impossible.”

Soft murmurs erupted then, and more than one set of hands found their way to their parents’ shoulders and backs.

Miyu sniffled but tried to hide it. Time to wrap things up. “Now, while we’ve decided to hold off on our slideshow until you all recommit to your crazy love story next week—because for some reason Mama and Papa think a trans-Atlantic flight with all our insanity is a good idea—we do want you to know we love you. And we like to think we love you as much as we know you love us.”

She paused then, struggling to choke back her own emotion before grabbing her wine. “Lift your glass with me to Mama and Papa.”

Everyone raised their wine glasses.

One more for the road. Mischief cracked through her features as she locked eyes with her parents “Happy Fuck-Your-Friend Day, you two. And here’s to many more!”

Her siblings erupted into a symphony of laughter, clapping, and cheers, Kagome groaned, and Sesshoumaru pinched the bridge of his nose.

Who needs a slide show? Miyu snickered to herself, glad the hard part was over. And she hadn’t been knocked back for her cheek either. “We’re not quite done yet. Enmei?”

The moth disappeared briefly to retrieve a screen, and she tried to contain her glee. “Now, while we don’t have a slide show, we do have a bit of entertainment.”

She waited while her brother quickly set up a projector and laptop and signed onto YouTube.

Naoki paled while everyone else started laughing.

Miyu grinned. “So, Papa, guess what your heir did?”

 

______________________________________________

 

Kagome wanted five minutes without someone needing her.

She had spent the last half hour refereeing Sesshoumaru and Naoki after their son’s riveting rendition of the living room scene from Risky Business started Ragnarök. As soon as Naoki had gone sliding out onto the screen in tighty-whities and a mostly-open dress shirt with his father’s stripes painted on every visible part of his body, Sesshoumaru was up out of his seat after the hanyou while Naoki made a beeline for the house and the safety of the pups’ movie night.

He had gone sliding through the backdoors, barely avoiding his father’s claws.

“Still not letting it go?”

Looking up as her mother joined her in putting away dishes, Kagome glowered in her mate’s direction where he sat outside with most of their daughters. “No, he’s not. I’m pretty sure Naoki is going to have sleep with one eye open after that one.” She loved her son, but there was no doubt that he was a handful.

Satomi took a plate from her hands and put it away in a cabinet, a fond look on her face. “Those two are a pair. Naoki’s expressive face always throws me off a little bit. Sometimes I think I’m looking at a Sesshoumaru who finally cracked. If it weren’t for those ears and the shorter hair, I’d spend life confused around them both.”

Kagome smiled then. Satomi and Sesshoumaru had developed a close relationship over the years, and she had to admit her mother knew her mate quite well, noticing the little things others may not more often than not. And when the steadfastly reserved youkai was tight-lipped about one thing or another or struggling with something he tried to squelch down, it was Satomi who could pull it out of him.

“No doubt they’re different.” She handed her mother a fresh towel to replace the soaked one she had. “It probably disturbs Sesshoumaru on some level to see Naoki’s levity on his face. But they share more traits than they like to admit too.” Leaning on the counter, she let her eyes drift over to her son, her look thoughtful. “Naoki’s a force to be reckoned with, even if it doesn’t show it most of the time.”

She didn’t say more, but she recognized to herself the understatement of her observation. Naoki was something else entirely. Kagome felt her heart lighten somewhat as she watched him laugh and wrestle with his rambunctious nieces and nephews, despite the fact that movie time was supposed to be winding them down for the night. Much like his father had been, Naoki had no interest in taking a mate at his age—though it wasn’t for lack of interest from females—and was happy dedicating his time and energy to his family.

He must have noticed her scrutiny because he looked up then and met her gaze, the mirth disappearing too quickly from his face. For a moment they simply stared at each other in silence, Kagome noting not for the first time how her son had the uncanny ability to stare through someone. She didn’t have to explain anything to him; she knew he somehow saw everything that had been tearing at her heart. And so much like his father, she watched his eyes soften in understanding.

Then, out of the blue and unlike his father, he shoved his fingers in his mouth, stretched his lips wide, and tipped his head to the side as he crossed his eyes.

A snort of laughter escaped, and Kagome slapped a hand over her mouth.

There’s my boy. That face, so like and then not like Sesshoumaru’s, could undo her gloom even at the worst times. Unable to stop his own grin at her reaction, Naoki finally straightened and turned back to the pups.

“You’re a nut,” she whispered, just low enough for him to still hear it. He looked up long enough to throw a quick wink her way.

“Kagome?”

Attention snapping back to her mother, Kagome apologized. “Sorry, Mama.” She shrugged with a grin. “Naoki. Though I think all my children are equally capable of distraction.” She watched as Chris knocked his hanyou brother over and sat on him so the pups could more easily win the wrestling match. Then, Enmei sat on them both.

She shook her head. They also didn’t play fair.

Satomi followed her line of sight. “I think you’re right.” She cleared her throat and sent Kagome a sly look as she continued to help put away dishes. “Miyu’s speech was certainly entertaining. That brought back some memories.”

Groaning as her mother laughed, Kagome leaned against the counter. “Let’s not take a walk down that memory lane, please.” Flashbacks to the inordinate amount of embarrassment she had suffered right after she and Sesshoumaru had come through the well centuries before brought fresh color to her face. “It’s a miracle I could look anyone in the eye back then.”

“Oh, you didn’t always.”

Kagome slapped a dishcloth down on the counter and glared at her mother. “Yes, thank you, Mama.”

With another laugh, Satomi tweaked her nose. “You’re welcome, my Dear.”

Shaking her head, Kagome shifted some leftovers from the counter to the fridge. Five years before, in her mother’s timeline, it had been hard for Satomi to adjust to both the loss of her younger self and sudden appearance of her as she was now after that fateful night against the panthers at the shrine. She had understood; it would have been confusing for her as well to lose and gain the same daughter in the span of literally minutes.

Though I do kind of know what that’s like.

Brushing the thought aside, Kagome set a kettle on for tea. “Want some?”

Satomi nodded, hanging her dish towel to dry. “Please.”

Pulling out an assortment of loose leaf, she handed her mother an empty muslin bag and mug and joined her at the kitchen island. “How are you doing, really?”

It took only seconds for tears to spring into Satomi’s eyes, but she pushed them back with a shake of her head. “It’s hard. Grandpa was old, and it wasn’t unexpected, but I miss having him around all the time. Souta’s gone most of the time at university now, so it’s a bit too quiet around the shrine.”

Kagome reached for her mother’s hand. “We miss him too.” She swallowed around the emotion rising in her throat. “I hate that we only had five more years with him once we could, you know, finally show ourselves to you all again.”

It had been a point of tension in the beginning when everything was new and chaotic, but Satomi understood now and squeezed her hand. “I know. And he did very much love getting to have such large family in his final years.”

The memory of her children all sitting around the Goshinboku listening to Grandpa’s stories and throwing in bits and pieces of the history they lived as he talked popped into her head, and Kagome her eyes shone with her attachment as she poured hot water over their tea. “Everyone loved having him in their lives.” Her voice dropped. “I’ve never seen Sesshoumaru so upset with Tenseiga. Not since everything that happened with Naraku.”

Satomi’s own expression was tight, remembering the first time she saw what the sword could do. “I can’t imagine.”

Though he didn’t show much outwardly, Sesshoumaru had grown fond of her grandfather. He was as much a link to the past for Sesshoumaru as Sesshoumaru was for him, and they had enjoyed many quiet nights together, reviewing artifacts and sharing stories. His anger at the sword when nothing could be done to bring the old man back a second time had been chilling to witness.

Clearing her throat, Satomi focused awkwardly on her tea. “Speaking of swords, Souta said Tessaiga is singing again.”

A chill ran down Kagome’s spine. With concerted effort, she picked up her own tea and took a sip, refusing to meet her mother’s eyes and stalling to get a grasp of her pounding heart and emotions. The warm liquid slid down her throat and pushed out some of the nervous energy gathering in her chest. With a strained smile, she set the cup back on the table. “Oh? It hasn’t done that in a while.”

Satomi regarded her skeptically before sighing and setting down her own tea. “Listen, Kagome. I know things have been different than they were before you returned through the well. And I do understand that—there’s a lot of years I wasn’t able to be there for.” Her voice grew quiet, her upset becoming more apparent. “I’ve missed so many of the big events in your life. And things are, well, strained at times.”

Guilt sank straight to the pit of Kagome’s stomach as her mother spoke. She wasn’t wrong. While things were nowhere near as tense as they were in the beginning, things were different. Sesshoumaru was probably closer to her mother now than she was.

“I don’t mean to pry or be invasive, but it feels like there’s something you’re hiding from me. Something you feel like you can’t tell me.” Satomi looked away. “I don’t know what to do with that.”

It was too much. Kagome squashed down the sinking feeling in her chest. This—all this right now—was the hard part of life she had been dreading since arriving on the heels of her past self. And the last thing she wanted was her mother feeling like she was hiding stuff from her.

Even if I am.

With a forced smile, Kagome sipped her tea. “Sounds like you and Souta should talk to Sesshoumaru.”

Satomi, though strained, returned her smile and patted her hand. “Tomorrow. Souta will bring the sword by after his class.” She drained the rest of her tea and gave Kagome a wink. “I think you two deserve some time to yourselves tonight.”

Before she could respond to her mother, five-year-old Umeko came into the kitchen tangled up in her pajamas and needing them straightened out, grandpups started shouting about popcorn and another movie, and Sho started screaming from somewhere in the backyard.

Kagome sighed and finished her own tea before standing. “Mama, would you help Umeko, please?” She leaned around the kitchen entryway and looked into the chaos that was the pups. “Enmei, Naoki, Chris, can you take care of the snacks and the movie?”

Naoki carefully picked his way between piles of kids as he headed for the kitchen. “I’ll take care of popcorn.”

Chris followed after his brother. “I’ve got drinks.”

From the living room, Enmei glared at the bailers. “Guess I get to settle the movie fight.” He picked up the remote and started flicking through the streaming service. “Okay, what do you monsters want to watch?”

About seventeen different opinions were shouted all at once.

Confident that everyone else had things handled for the moment and ignoring Enmei’s sullen expression, Kagome stepped outside to get Sho.

The temperature had dropped since dinner, and she found most of her daughters lounging around the firepit with Sesshoumaru. Hanako, Minoko, Sayuri, Miyu, and Yuna were all doing their best to stay warm together in the mokomoko. It was a tight squeeze with all of them, but they were smiling and chatting. Nozomi and Mariko sat closest to the fire wrapped in blankets. Maya sat next to her father, chatting quietly with a now sleeping Sho. Shimeko and Akari were huddled under a shared blanket by Sesshoumaru’s feet with another bottle of wine.

“Hi, Babe.” Kagome leaned down to kiss Sesshoumaru, ignoring his sour look at the nickname and then took one look at the baby and shook her head. “Looks like I ran out here too soon.”

Maya smiled softly and tucked him closer. “I think he just startled awake.”

“Do you want me to take him?”

“I’m good unless you really want him right now.”

With a shake of her head, Kagome approached Shimeko and Akari. “Enjoy those baby snuggles. Alright girls, make room.”

The snow leopard and fox let her wedge in the middle so she could rest against Sesshoumaru’s legs. Once tucked under the blanket, she let her head fall back and rest on his knees, keeping a moan to herself when claws automatically began to run through the short strands of her hair. Sweet, blessed relaxation. If he kept that up, she was going to fall asleep.

Akari took one look at her parents and smirked. “You know, we can handle the little ones tonight. Why don’t you two take some time for yourselves?”

Taking a long drink of her wine, Shimeko nodded her agreement. “Seriously, Akari’s right. Are there anymore bottles pumped? Maya and I can handle Sho for the night.”

Kagome frowned, looking over at the tiny infant. “I don’t know…Sesshoumaru, what do you think?”

The youkai in question shifted behind her. His hands moved down to her shoulders, kneading the tense muscles there. He was silent for a long moment before he spoke. “Sho is fine, and I think there is something else on your mind.”

Each of the girls quickly turned their heads to look at her, startled but expectant looks on their faces.

Kagome glanced back at Sesshoumaru, her fatigue showing on her face as she did, and she reached a hand up to rub her temple. “Mama said Tessaiga is singing again.”

She didn’t miss how his hands stilled on her shoulders and reached up to cover them with her own.

“Now?” Maya’s voice shook with her whisper. “This soon?”

Akari, tension etched into her sharp features, threw back the rest of her glass of wine and stood, pulling Sesshoumaru’s arm out to tuck into his side as best as she could with the chair between them as Shimeko did the same to Kagome beside her. “We knew this would happen. We shouldn’t be surprised.”

“But this soon?” Shimeko was shaking her head, clinging more tightly to Kagome than was comfortable. “This seems much faster than expected.”

Sesshoumaru squeezed Akari and reached down to tip Kagome’s chin back up. She looked into his face and frowned when she noticed the tightness at the corners of his eyes and firm set of his lips. Centuries hadn’t aged him the way that single bit of news had in the space of a breath. Unspoken words and understanding passed between the two of them as they looked at one another in silence.

Too much silence.

Sesshoumaru exhaled and closed his eyes, leaning down to press his forehead to hers. “It is only singing?”

His breath whispered across her lips, and Kagome allowed her own eyes to slide shut as she just felt with him amidst their shared turmoil. “For now.”  

Chapter Text

Satomi walked through the shrine house’s front door, hung her keys on the hook, and shook her fingers through the short strands of her hair. Then, she smiled. It had been a good night, and Grandpa would have loved every minute of it.

“Over five hundred years,” she murmured to herself, lighting a stick of incense for her father-in-law as she passed the small altar in her home. The smell of smoke and sandalwood wrapped her in a sense of calm, and her smile grew wistful. “Amazing.”

Leaning a hip against the wall, she bent and pulled off her shoes. She had forgotten to leave them in the genkan in her distraction over the night’s events.

Lazily tossing the shoes back where they belonged, she mussed her hair again and rolled her shoulders. They lived closer than she could have hoped, but it was still a long drive. She couldn’t complain though. It beat centuries of separation any day.

Thoughts of her grandchildren—great grandchildren—filled her mind as she tidied up the minor disarray that she had left behind when heading out the door earlier, and she found her spirit lightening. The motley mix of adults and children filled her with a satisfaction and peace that she hadn’t known was possible.

Five years before on the night the panthers had attacked, her life had turned upside down. She had loved and faced the stabbing pain of loss only to gain a family she hadn’t known existed in the span of minutes. It had been shocking. Almost unbelievable. There hadn’t even been enough time to fully recognize the grief that had taken root over the sudden loss of Kagome and Sesshoumaru before they were once again standing before her. Her relief had been indescribable, but it had also come with a confusion that even years later she still hadn’t fully processed.

“Life is strange,” she murmured. For a moment, she let that strangeness wash over her. It never helped to pretend it didn’t exist. But despite it and the unique circumstances that came with uncommon tensions, there wasn’t one moment she would sacrifice—nor one person.

“I’d do it all again.” She stopped to look at herself in a mirror before heading up the stairs. There were a few more lines in her face that hadn’t been there when this whole new crazy part of her life started, and she thought with no small amount of amusement that her family more than assuredly was responsible.

Still, it was worth it.

She nodded to her image, affirming her conviction. Then, bidding her reflection goodbye, she started up the stairs and snickered to herself. Oh, her grands were a handful.

Satomi grabbed a laundry basket filled with freshly folded clothing and made her way toward Souta’s room, pulling the door to Kagome’s old room shut on the way as she reminisced over the evening. She hadn’t laughed that hard in a good long time. Between the speech, Naoki raising hell with his antics, and the little ones climbing all over the place, it had been a good night for memories.

Besides, she didn’t think any of them had seen Sesshoumaru spit wine like that before.

“Miyu,” she laughed, shaking her head. Raising a hand, she knocked on Souta’s door. “Honey, are you in there?”

No answer.

“Souta, last chance, and I’m coming in.”

Nothing. Must not be back yet.

Satomi pushed the door open and flicked the switch, sighing as the lighting revealed what amounted to a disaster area once it had fully warmed. Apparently, she had raised an animal.

“Well, this is fun.” Frowning, she placed her free hand on her hip. She wouldn’t usually even think of touching her son’s mess, but after the turmoil of losing Grandpa and life being upturned while dealing with the aftermath of that, she was beginning to crave a sense of normalcy. And a new normal wouldn’t establish itself.

Resigning herself to college male induced chaos, she quickly placed the clean laundry on the bed so she would have something to collect dirty clothes and odds and ends in. Strewn clothing and books were scattered all over the floor, an odd cup or plate on various surfaces—including his desk and dresser. And in the corner of the room, a haphazardly flung towel hung from Tessaiga’s hilt.

She huffed her exasperation. “Really, Souta? You know better than this.” Swiping the towel off the sword, she tossed it into the now empty basket. Sesshoumaru would have kittens. She wrinkled her nose a bit, suppressing a laugh. Technically, Shimeko and Jiro meant he already had.

Turning her attention to the rest of the mess, she began swiping up random bits of clutter and adding them to the basket to deal with later while she tried to ignore the sword in the corner.

Satomi couldn’t explain why, but something about it made her uneasy. While she had a respect for the heirloom, the ancient weapon was a mixed bag of emotions where her family was concerned. It was the red string of fate that tied them all together.

The sudden image of a red-clad hanyou sprung to mind, and a different kind of grief stabbed through her. “I’m just going to be haunted by ghosts tonight,” she mumbled, pushing back tears. She missed him too, and things had never quite been the same since finding out he had sacrificed himself for the sake of her daughter and his brother.

Inuyasha and that sword were the only reason she hadn’t lost Kagome—were the only reasons she had gained the steadfast friendship she had in Sesshoumaru.

It was a sobering thought. Without the Tessaiga, nothing she knew now would exist, and she frowned as the thought entered her mind. It was a strange mixture of blessing and heartache, heralding one of the greatest, though briefest, losses she had faced. But it had also protected her daughter—protected her family—and now it stood as a reminder of one they all loved and missed.

She glowered. And she had found a wet towel hanging from it.

“Boys,” she muttered, throwing boxers into the basket. Heaving a sigh, she shook the grimy feeling of unclean laundry from her hands. “As soon as he gets back, I’m going to—"

“Take me back.”

Satomi dropped the towel, head whipping around. “Who’s there?”

“Take me back."

Her eyes widened. Tessaiga.

A faint pulse echoed from the sword, and she stumbled backward, legs buckling underneath her when she ran into Souta’s bed. The pulse resonated again, and she barely caught herself from falling as she sank down. “No.” She shook her head. “No, swords don’t talk. You don’t talk.”

For a moment, the Tessaiga seemed to agree.

Satomi sat there, her eyes glued to the sword. Waiting. Watching.  A cold sweat broke out over her skin, and she could feel her body start to tremble. You’re going crazy, Satomi. Thinking back to a few days before, she remembered Souta’s excited face as he headed out the door to class casually tossing over his shoulder that it had begun to sing again. She hadn’t shared his excitement, but singing was at least somewhat normal for the sword. Talking? No. This had never happened before.

“Chris’s wine,” she said to herself, pressing an unsteady hand to her forehead. “You drank too much of that wine. That’s all this is.” When a few minutes passed and nothing more happened, she pushed herself up, laughing nervously as she reached for the laundry basket. “Just a bit too much—"

“Take me back.”

Cold terror sank into the pit of her stomach, and she shot up, nearly tripping over the basket as she fled the room.

She didn’t look back.

 

________________________

 

“I know that look.”

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes and let his face tilt up to the moonlight. Sunflowers, cut grass, sweet lemon…Nozomi.

A peaceful smile spread over his lips as a warm presence sank down beside him, and he lifted his arm, feeling his daughter tuck into his side.

“Hi, Papa.”

The mellow sound of her voice washed over him, instilling a sense of tranquility, and he squeezed her where she sat, barely suppressing a smirk when she giggled. Still ticklish.

“Who were you thinking about?”

He frowned. She was also almost annoyingly astute. Flicking a dry blade of grass, he avoided answering her question. “Where’s your mate?”

Nozomi let the evasion slide and snickered. “Junpei is currently leading the snore-a-thon in the middle of the pup pile upstairs.” She leaned closer and dropped her head against his shoulder. “Don’t make me suffer that. He’s currently outdoing Akimichi.”

Sesshoumaru chuckled quietly.

“See?” Her voice had softened, and he could hear the smile in it. “Made you laugh.”

A sense of calm rolled over him, and Sesshoumaru felt some of the tension held trapped in his muscles relax. She had always been a stabilizing presence in their family. “That you did.”

“So, you going to tell me who you were thinking about now?”

Tension snapped back like the recoil of a whip, and he glowered.

“Oof, that face is a mood,” she said, poking him in the ribs. When he slanted a look at her, a bit of her humor slipped, letting the understanding shine through. “He’s been on my mind too.”

Akio

Beside him Nozomi sighed, though she didn’t cry. It had been too long and the pain too familiar—too engrained—to spark sudden tears. But he could detect the subtle change in her natural scent as her brother came to mind, the sweet lemon souring a bit with the old grief.

“He would have loved tonight.”

Saying nothing, Sesshoumaru nodded. Of all their children who had known Akio, Nozomi had the strongest attachment, the two having come into the family together. His loss had had a profound impact on her.

For a while they simply sat in silence together, watching the moon arch and continue in its descent across the cold sky. It was darker here at the house than other parts of the city, and more stars were visible, their white light glittering with the vague memory of a time long ago.

“Look!” The skittish tail of a meteor streaked across the darkness, and Nozomi lifted her head to smile up at him. “We don’t see many of those anymore.”

“No, we do not.”

She didn’t say anything else, but Sesshoumaru could still feel her eyes on him. He turned after a minute to look at her and found her still looking up at him.

“What is it, Nozomi?”

She shrugged, but her smile didn’t falter. “Nothing really. It’s just been a good night.”

Sesshoumaru tightened his hold on her. She wasn’t wrong. Even in the midst of some more unpleasant realizations, more members of their family than they could have hoped for were together, and neither he nor Kagome could complain about that. “It has.”

They fell back into silence then. And despite the hour, more of his daughters began to appear. Ahead near the edge of the woods, Maya and Miyu walked arm-in-arm, whispering in the dark while Minoko, Shimeko, Hanako, and Yuna trailed not far behind, their soft giggles traveling over the stillness.

“Do any of you sleep?” he murmured, arching a brow when five-year-old Umeko appeared out of nowhere, streaking across the yard straight toward her sisters in a fit of laughter and soap suds. Seconds later, it was Kara who breathlessly caught up with the naked pup, scooping her up and tickling away squalling protests as she carried her back to the house to go finish her bath and go to bed.

Nozomi laughed beside him. “Doesn’t look like it.”

He opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by the sound of the sliding door flying open.

“Alright, bitches! Who wants coffee?” The sound of too many ceramic mugs clinking together in one hand chimed in the dark. “I stole Papa’s!”

Akari. Sesshoumaru turned to level a look at the fox over his shoulder. He was secretly satisfied to see that he could still make all the color suddenly drained from her face when unsuspectingly busted, as Kagome liked to call it.

“Oops.” Chittering nervously, she guiltily set a large carafe and several mugs down on the table and then turned all five tails back toward the house. “I’ll go get another mug.”

Several snickers came from across the yard as the rest of his girls headed in for the after-hours caffeine boost.

“Someone wasn’t using her nose,” Minoko sing-songed, bending to pop a kiss to his cheek as she walked past to the tables.

Maya and Miyu laughed in unison, settling on either side of him and Nozomi instead of following the others to the patio. And a minute later, Hanako was tucking a warm mug into his hands.

Sesshoumaru offered her a tired smile. “Thank you.”

“Black like you like it. It’ll perk you right up.” Hanako winked at him and then spun on her foot, going back to pour more.

His expression turned fond. She had always been an optimistic child, and she had a determined investment in her family’s creature comforts. Lifting the mug, he was about to take a sip when Nozomi craned her neck up and wrapped her lips over the rim, stealing the first bit.

Miyu snorted. “Some things never change.” She elbowed Nozomi and was swatted off blindly.

Sesshoumaru watched big brown eyes blink at him unapologetically over the dark liquid and narrowed his own halfheartedly. “No, they certainly do not.” When she was six, it had been his tea. When she grew older, his sake. After centuries? It was whatever happened to be in his hand.

His eyes softened a bit. That little habit had been the first sign that she had become comfortable around him after they took her in as a child. Even though she was too old for the antic now, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to tell her to stop.

Nozomi finally swallowed down her stolen sip and laughed, swiping a hand over her mouth. “Mmm, can’t really blame Akari for stealing yours. It’s definitely the best.”

“I know, right?” Maya reached over and took the mug from his hand, stealing her own sip. She grinned sheepishly when he glared and handed it back. “Sorry, Papa. But like they said—”

“Things never change,” Sesshoumaru finished. He lifted the mug to his lips, looking straight out into the night as the warm liquid slid down his throat. Things never change.

Never had there been a more untrue statement.

“Hey, you okay?”

Nozomi’s voice pulled him from his thoughts, and he looked down to find her watching him curiously. The heavy weight of Maya and Miyu’s gazes lay on him as well.

Offering a tight smile, Sesshoumaru briefly made eye contact with each of the girls before looking back out into the night. “I am fine.”

But as he lifted his coffee to take another drink, he felt Nozomi lean closer and Maya’s hand rest on his back, rubbing small circles. Miyu, always the one to push things just a bit further, dove her claws straight into his hair and lightly scratched at his scalp.

“Bullshit, Papa,” Miyu mumbled.

Maya’s head came down on his shoulder. “I have to second the bullshit.”

“Count me on the bullshit train too,” Nozomi said softly, slipping both arms around his waist.

Sesshoumaru closed his eyes, swallowing the coffee down around a sudden knot in his throat. It felt tight. Painful. The hot liquid seared him straight to his chest, reminiscent of another ache—one so deep and suffocating that could steal his breath with the burden it bore.

“Papa?” Maya said gently.

He grew still. Too still. Inhaling deeply, he ignored the knife-life stabbing in his lungs and tried to suppress the sudden rise of unpleasant memories—the sudden reminder of his mistakes.

“Hey.” Nozomi squeezed him more tightly. “It’s okay. We’re okay.”

Sesshoumaru growled and set his mug down. Without a word, he stretched his arms out around all three of the girls and pulled them close. They toppled around him, squalling and laughing their protests against being knocked around and “manhandled,” and a sweet relief slowly bled into the tension that threatened to choke him.

He didn’t deserve them.

His mug suddenly rustled through the grass, and he turned his head just in time to see Miyu snaking his coffee.

“What?” she shrugged and grinned as she lifted the mug to her mouth. “Shouldn’t have let it go.”

Sesshoumaru!

Dad!

Panic tinged the voices shouting for him, and his shoulders dropped, his peace shattered.

Beside him, Maya nervously licked her lips. “Is this…”

She couldn’t finish.

Eyes hardening, Sesshoumaru pushed back the heavy feeling that blazed in his chest. “Miyu, keep that warm.”

He stood.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” Nozomi squealed, lifting off the ground with him. “I’m human, slow, and still attached!”

He pried Nozomi free of his waist and set her down, just as Chris approached with a visibly upset Kagome. And when his eyes met his mate’s, he knew. She didn’t have to say anything. The cold dread swimming in her eyes sank into his bones and told him everything he needed to know.

Kagome held out her phone, the device shaking in her unsteady grip. “Mama,” she croaked.

Sesshoumaru held her eyes as silence and understanding passed between them. Suddenly, centuries of memories felt like millennia.

“Grandma’s freaking out,” Chris said, his voice barely holding its normal calm. “She’s been screaming since…”

Sesshoumaru didn’t hear the rest of what their son said. Not dropping Kagome’s gaze, he took the phone and lifted it to his ear.

“I am here, Satomi.”