Snow flurried down as they buried Mai’s body. It wasn’t viewed by many as they watched the funeral commence, though her ex-mate and sons were in attendance. Sesshomaru wouldn’t allow Nikki out of the castle as she hid away from everyone within it as well. Most weren’t sure if she was regretting the way her mother died, if she were finally rejoicing her freedom, or if she were having another breakdown of her own.
By dinner that evening, which was also a sullen and quiet affair in comparison to the rest of the time the other kingdoms had been there, Nikki had been seen wandering the castle. Sesshomaru, naturally, by her side in case she needed him.
“So you’re going to go to the Western Lands with them?” her father asked her softly as she found him prior to heading off to dinner. Nikki sighed and nodded as they sat in his study quietly. Her brothers all nodded as they looked at her sadly. “Are you packed?”
“Yes,” she answered as she sat at his feet, head resting against his knee as they would sit all those times when Nikki would come to her father for safety from her mother. “At least, for the most part of what I’d need while there. I’ll be home at some point after the mating ceremony for a bit.” He nodded as he listened, he hated that she was leaving them already.
“Nishi and Izayoi know you’re going with them?” Seiji asked her as she chuckled and nodded.
“If Sesshomaru didn’t go and inform them, I’m sure Kagome has by now,” she answered mildly amused by the thought. “Despite everything, when I told her I was coming along, she got so excited I think she may have scared Sesshomaru.” Seiji snorted amused as Jiro smirked and shook his head. “I’ll be fine.”
“It doesn’t make it any easier,” Rinji told her as she sighed and nodded in agreement. They all stood and headed to dinner after they were alerted to it being ready by one of the maids. Higashi watched as his daughter sat down at the table, her brothers in their respective spots, and Sesshomaru immediately taking his place next to Nikki.
“Have you started plans and such for a place of your own?” Higashi demanded of Sesshomaru as he ate. He was going to make sure that everything that was happening would be to the benefit of his daughter. She deserved that much.
“Yes,” Sesshomaru answered as Higashi nodded while listening, “the new palace will be constructed in a location right by the two borders so that we are as close to center as possible. That way if we need you or you need us we can get to each other quickly.” Higashi nodded as he listened and sighed.
“It’ll be alright, Higashi,” Izayoi assured him with a smile. “This is a good thing.” Higashi sighed and nodded as he thought about it.
“Yes, but it’s a lot right now, my lady,” he muttered as he thought about it. Nikki and her brothers all nodded in agreement as she smiled and nodded.
“You’re worrying about quite a bit,” Nikki informed him as both Sesshomaru and her father looked at her. “We’re not courting, so it’s one more thing to add to a list that’s already forever long.” Higashi wanted to chuckle as Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes at her as he tried to figure out what she was doing. Everyone fell quiet as they ate together, quietly murmuring as they discussed various subjects, though the gloom of the day keeping down the joyous chatter.
Dessert brought a more rambunctious mood to the table. Kouga was attempting to convince Sango to let him throw her Hiraikotsu as she laughed. Her younger brother was looking at him stunned as Kouga insisted that if Sango could throw it, it’s either extremely light or he should easily be able to. Nikki shook her head as she listened in.
Sesshomaru, despite Nikki ignoring the conversation as he tried to get her to participate, had an arm possessively around her waist as he discussed plans with Inuyasha. They both were looking at building homes of their own, which Kagome was also not paying attention as she tried to listen in to what Sango and Kouga were saying, though nodding her head in the conversation when Inuyasha would try to pull her into it.
Kayura, Izayoi, and Naoko had their hands full trying to keep the four lords out of some mischief as Minami and Kita tried to enlist the assistance of Higashi and Nishi. Seiji and Jiro chuckled with Miroku as they listened to their fathers get reprimanded and reminded that they were lords of their own lands, thus too old and responsible for childish games. By the end of it all, they were all very worn out but a happier group from it.
“When are we leaving?” Nikki asked Sesshomaru as she snuggled up in his arms as he carried her back to her room.
“Father had mentioned remaining for a few more days,” he answered as Nikki and sighed as she felt his arms tighten around her a little. “Are you that anxious to get away?”
“Not really,” she replied as he stood her up outside her room. He followed her in as she sighed and looked around. “More curious than anything.” He nodded as he watched her sit down and look out her doorway to the garden; it glistened in the moonlight with the light layer of snow on everything. “Plus, I worry that a bigger storm might be on its way.” Sesshomaru nodded as he sat behind her and pulled her onto his lap, the two curling up together as they relaxed.
“Do you wish me to stay with you tonight?” he asked her softly as she sighed and continued to look out the window. It was obvious she was off in her own mind, which worried him though daily she grew better.
“If you wish to, you’re more than welcome,” she answered softly as she thought about it. “I’m fine if you can’t or don’t want to.” Sesshomaru just shot her a look as she smiled weakly at him. “I promise, I’m better than most people think and I won’t do anything silly.” He sighed as he nodded and held onto her a bit before she wiggled out of his hold. She slid behind the screen she used when getting changed if he stayed in her room with her, which was quite frequent at this point.
During dinner Nishi and Izayoi had assured Higashi that while their rooms would be close, Nikki and Sesshomaru would be under close supervision. Both of their parents were bound and determined to make sure nothing happened before it’s due time, which Sesshomaru and Nikki weren’t overly in a rush to do so anyway. As Nikki had reminded everyone at dinner, they weren’t true courts yet anyway. Though she did muse on the thought that if their parents realized how often Sesshomaru slept in her room they’d be furious.
The next morning, after breakfast, found Nikki, Sango, and Kagome seated with the ladies as they discussed various topics and prepared themselves for the long journeys home. While Nishi was taking his time taking his family home because he was also taking Nikki, the other clans were getting a bit more anxious.
“Nikki, if you need anything or wish to get away from Sesshomaru,” Naoko said as the ookami clan prepared to leave, “please don’t hesitate to write. You are most welcome to visit with us in the north.” Nikki bowed with a smile as Izayoi smiled and watched while playing with Eri.
“Thank you so very much,” Nikki said as she straightened up. “I truly mean that, I think one of the things that helped me get through this chaos the most was everyone’s kindness and understanding.” Naoko smiled and shook her head as she and Chiaki hugged Nikki before turning to Kagome and Izayoi.
“We shall see you all in a few months,” Naoko said happily as they turned to leave once Kita had motioned that he and Kouga were done with the other lords. Nikki walked with them to the doorway as Sesshomaru kept an eye on her and Higashi joined her with Seiji.
“Yes,” Nikki said pleased, “for something far happier than this time.” Naoko smiled and nodded as Chiaki giggled at the thought.
“And then we can discuss yours, princess,” Chiaki said as Nikki smiled with a short chuckle and shrugged.
“If he properly does things, we shall see,” Nikki mused as Sesshomaru shook his head while his brother laughed a little at him. Seiji chuckled as they bid the ookami family safe travels and a fond farewell as Nikki looked innocently around.
“You’re going to hold that over his head, aren’t you little cat?” her brother asked her as she smiled and shrugged. “Good, you should keep that inu in his place.” Nikki rolled her eyes as she walked up to Sango and Kagome as the two giggled together.
“The rest of winter is going to drag out forever for you,” Sango said as Kagome sighed and nodded in agreement. “And then the rest of the year will drag out for Nikki.” Nikki smiled and shrugged. “Or however long it’s going to take.” The girls all giggled together as Sesshomaru shook his head again as Jiro laughed with Inuyasha a little at him.
“You realize, she’s going to hold that over you until you do so,” Inuyasha reminded his older half-brother.
“Yes,” Sesshomaru grumbled as Jiro chuckled.
“She’s earned it,” Jiro said as the two nodded in agreement.
“I think it’s very responsible to wait until you’re both ready,” they heard Sango say as Sesshomaru looked at the two unconvinced. “It’s better to wait until you’re ready. How terrible would it be if you were both miserable and then something big, like a baby, comes along?” Nikki nodded in agreement, though in youkai mating that usually wasn’t truly an issue of being miserable. “I don’t know if I’d be able to accept if I were proposed to, by someone courting me, I don’t think I’m ready for such a step yet.”
“It is a big step,” Nikki said in agreement as she noticed Sesshomaru paying attention, “we both have so much going on and everything. I mean, he’s still on his quest for whatever it is and I have a few more things to figure out.” Kagome and Sango nodded as they listened. They knew what she was talking about; they also knew she was not a fan of Sesshomaru’s quest for ultimate power. But because of that quest, it was still a very large part she had to take into consideration when the idea of mating him was brought up.
“Yes, that quest is a big thing to think about,” Kagome said in agreement. “I mean, I don’t think I’d mate Inuyasha if he were on the same quest.” Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes at his future sister-in-law; he didn’t want her convincing Nikki to not mate him because of this quest.
“Yes, but with that power comes protection,” Sango said in consideration, it was obvious she was trying to rationalize it. “I mean, especially with youkai, power is respect and if he has ultimate power there is no one to worry about.”
“Except there is always something bigger, badder, and stronger than you out there,” Kagome argued as Sango sighed and nodded in agreement. “And they always have to fight each other to gain more power. Who’s to say that something doesn’t come along and get them as a surprise? Or they’re strong enough Sesshomaru can’t stop them? Or worse, it attacks Nikki or whatever family they have to get to him?” Sesshomaru wanted to growl in irritation, all of her questions were valid. He was genuinely in the belief that she was attempting to sway Nikki from mating him.
“Usually youkai that are devoted to their mates, and we can at least agree that Sesshomaru couldn’t be more devoted than he currently is at this point,” Sango said as Nikki and Kagome nodded in agreement and listened, “they usually find a way to defend what is theirs. I’ve seen mates that are almost invincible because they’re defending each other and their offspring.” Sesshomaru, if he did such things, would have thanked Sango for her assistance. If he did such things, Sesshomaru thanked no one unless he absolutely had to. “At the same time, I don’t think I’d be able to mate someone on that quest, just for fear that they wouldn’t know when to stop. Every quest has to have an end.” And there went any desire to thank the pestering human girl.
“It is something we will both have to discuss beyond what we have already,” Nikki said nodding to both of them and their debate for her. “And hopefully far more peacefully than we did in the past as well.” Sesshomaru wanted to smirk as he remembered their first argument about his quest.
“Knowing his feelings, and since you had said in the past you’d pity any female he mated,” Kagome asked curiously, “do you pity yourself?” Nikki shook her head as Sesshomaru huffed out a sigh of relief. Miroku chuckled at him amused as he watched the young inu youkai seem to battle out his emotions. Sesshomaru just shot him a look and shook his head as Miroku grinned.
“I would never pity myself, beyond I’m strong enough to handle quite a bit,” Nikki said thoughtfully as the two young human women nodded in agreement. “At least, I hope I’ve proven that much with all of this.”
“Yes, I don’t think I’d handle it all as well as you have,” Sango said shaking her head as Kagome nodded in agreement. Sesshomaru and Miroku just watched over them as they seemed to suddenly switch gears. “So, what exactly happens at a mating ceremony?”
“It’s a traditional san-san-kudo, the marking, and then the toast and gifts to the parents,” Nikki said as the two girls nodded and listened. “Usually the san-san-kudo involves the use of a very special sake, I’m sure for Kagome’s it will be and for my own when it happens.”
“Wait…marks?” Kagome asked timidly. “Like this?” She showed her courting mark as Sango giggled and Nikki nodded. “How am I supposed to mark Inuyasha? I don’t have sharp enough teeth.”
“My father never held a physical mark,” Nikki explained as the two nodded. “I think it’s a scent thing when a human is mated to a youkai, because no youkai is going to have a physical mark from their human counterpart. I know, despite being away to help Lord Nishi for a few months, father still had a hint of mother’s scent on him when he returned.” Kagome nodded as she thought about it. “That should fade now that she’s gone.”
“So they mark at the ceremony? Or in private?” Sango asked curiously.
“It will be done in front of everyone, so the kimono will be loose so that her shoulder can be freed for him,” Nikki answered as Kagome blushed bright red at the idea of Inuyasha biting her in front of everyone. She didn’t know if she was alright with him biting her at all. Sango smirked as Nikki watched the fascination and dawning cross the young human’s face.
“So, Nikki,” Sango grinned as she looked at the neko hanyou, “what was it like?” Confused, Nikki looked at her as she tried to figure out what she was asking. “When he kissed you? What was it like when Sesshomaru kissed you?” Nikki blushed as she thought about the kiss, really it wasn’t the first he’d ever kissed her but it was definitely the most passionate to date.
“It was quite intense,” Nikki answered as she genuinely thought about it, “and sweet. I was surprised when he had done it, but I guess Sesshomaru had realized that mother was never going to believe me. He gave her physical proof, because she was beyond rationalization.” Sango nodded as she seemed to fall into a day dream. Kagome giggled and nodded as she thought about it.
“So, would you do it again?” Kagome asked curiously as Nikki blushed further but remained silent. The two human girls laughed out loud at the embarrassment of their much more silent and private friend. Nikki sighed as she pretended she didn’t hear them. Sesshomaru wanted to puff up in arrogance at the idea that Nikki would kiss him like that again, though he was positive if he did it in public like that she’d kill him. That was before her father got a hold of him, and then he was certain he’d have to deal with her brothers.
After the castle had calmed down from the executions and funeral, Higashi had called both Nikki and Sesshomaru into his study with Nishi and lectured them about the effects of public affection before they were mated. Higashi didn’t hide his displeasure with the idea of Sesshomaru being openly affectionate, but more so with a kiss like that, when his daughter was still deemed uncourted, unmated, and in public. He understood what the kiss was to do, and appreciated that it worked, but he was still not a fan.
“I wish I could be kissed like that,” Sango said dreamily. “Someone to just pull me close, in his big strong arms, and lovingly look at me before kissing me with all of his emotions.” Nikki looked at her mildly surprised as Kagome sighed and nodded in agreement. Sesshomaru wanted to smirk at them and shook his head; he’d have to drop a hint to Kouga knowing the ookami youkai was particularly fond of the taiji-ya maiden.
“Inuyasha’s only ever kissed me on the cheek and over my mark after giving it to me,” Kagome said with a shrug. “Technically, we’re not supposed to kiss like that until after the ceremony. Which is fine, I don’t think I’d want my first kiss like that to happen in such a public display.” Nikki shrugged and nodded, keeping quiet about whether or not it was her first kiss.
“It’s not like it’ll happen again,” Nikki informed them as the two looked at her amused. “At least, not until after whatever potential mating ceremony everyone thinks we’re going to have happens.” Kagome laughed a little as Sango chuckled and shook her head. Quickly both girls were off in their own day dreams about the males of their dreams kissing them as passionately as Sesshomaru had Nikki. It surprised the neko hanyou that the taiji-ya girl was such a romantic.
That night, after everyone that slept went to bed, Nikki went out into her garden to meditate. She knew it was one of the few places, if she wanted to be alone; it was the place to go. She was still highly restless, but had improved immensely now that all restrictions on her were lifted. As she meditated, she didn’t know he was in the garden until he was seated next to her.
“You’re getting better with the sneak attacks,” she mused without opening her eyes. “But I could still hear you.”
“I’m sure,” he groused as she smiled and shrugged. “You’ll just never admit you didn’t hear me.”
“I’ll always hear you,” she agreed as he watched her open her eyes and turn to look at him curiously. “Why were you looking for me is the bigger question.” Sesshomaru just watched her as she stretched a little.
“Are you tired?” he asked her with concern.
“No, but I’m usually not,” she answered as he nodded and looked down to think.
“We should talk,” he started as she looked at him curiously.
“About?” she prompted as he fell silent. She figured it was important or he’d have waited until morning. Instead of answering her verbally, Sesshomaru pulled her close and kissed her softly. Nikki blushed as she settled in his lap and nodded once they parted.
“I think we have a few important things to discuss,” Sesshomaru informed her as she looked up at him and nodded. “First and foremost, my quest.”
“Yes, that is something we need to discuss that is highly important,” she agreed as she relaxed against him and waited to hear what he wanted to tell her. She had more than prepared herself for when he was going to tell her he was doing it and he’d finish it whether or not she approved of it.
“You understand what it is,” he started as Nikki nodded; “I’ve been questing for a while, but not near long enough to test myself against anyone of true power; like father.” Sesshomaru explained as Nikki listened, she had never really heard of his travels with his curious mess of a quest. He had never tried to explain it to her like he had the travels he did for the rebellion. “And really, I do not believe there would be retribution for what I have done because it has created quite the name for me being ruthless.”
“Yes, but that wouldn’t stop someone stronger from coming to find you,” Nikki reminded him as Sesshomaru shook his head.
“I’ve always remained within the confines of the Western Lands,” Sesshomaru explained as Nikki looked at him slightly surprised. “My ties there are known and obvious, specifically who my father is. No one in the kingdom would attack him within their right mind.” Nikki snorted and nodded in agreement, it really was stupid to attack someone like a youkai lord, least of all the fact that they were their parents.
“So you’re planning on continuing with the quest,” Nikki said nodding as if she were accepting it.
“No,” Sesshomaru replied as she looked up at him surprised, “I have no intention of putting my future mate or family in danger because of something so base.” Nikki smiled as she snuggled against him some. Sesshomaru wrapped his arms around her and grew further comfortable with her. “Especially since, my future mate doesn’t seem overly appreciative of this quest.”
“Yeah, I’m sure whoever this female is, she’s going to put you in your place about it,” Nikki agreed with a chuckle as Sesshomaru seemed to sigh at her. He shook his head as she grinned at him amused.
“I’m sure,” he replied as he thought about it. They fell silent as he mused over his next move. He had permission from her father and brothers, she has kissed him as much as he her and returned just as much passion in those kisses, and they had written each other every day they had been separated before she was incapacitated. He couldn’t figure out why he was so hesitant in asking her. He looked down at her as she seemed to day dream in his arms and let out a heavy breath, he knew why he hesitated as he looked at her. He didn’t know what he’d do if he changed so much to be with her and she still refused him.
“Just ask me already,” she instructed him softly without looking at him. Sesshomaru wanted to shake his head; he didn’t know how she always seemed to figure out what he was thinking. “Do you honestly think, after all of this, that I’d say no?” Sesshomaru made her look up at him as he looked her in the eye lovingly.
“Would you be willing to become my mate?” he asked her softly, their faces were mere inches away as she smiled at him and shrugged.
“I dunno,” she answered as she slid from his arms and walked around a bit, “I mean I’m just a kitten. I don’t think I’m ready to mate someone so much older than myself.” Sesshomaru growled at her as he grabbed her and pulled her against himself.
“I think you’re enjoying this just a little too much,” he grumbled before kissing her again. He felt her sigh before sliding her arms around him and kiss him back.
“Or,” she replied as they parted, “a little teasing never hurt you before.” He smirked and shook his head at her. “Of course I’ll be your mate.” He kissed her again, though much softer this time. “Oh you’re going to be in so much trouble when they all wake up.”
“Why?” he asked her curiously.
“Because I’m covered in your scent,” she warned him, “they’re going to think we did something bad.” Sesshomaru shrugged as he picked her up and carried her into her room. He sat down by the fire holding her tightly in his arms. He chuckled a little as she snuggled against him.
“Making sure I get in a good amount of trouble at least?” he teased her as she smiled amused.
“Well, if you’re going to get in trouble, at least make it worth it,” she replied with a shrug. Sesshomaru chuckled as he relaxed and held her close, her arms wrapping around him as she held him just as close for the rest of the night.