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“Hiraikotsu!” Sango’s deadly boomerang sliced through the snow, slamming into the ice demon.  Despite the bone construction of the weapon and the immense force behind the attack, the enemy was not taken out of the fight.  Icicles shattered and chunks of fur and blue ichor sprayed the tachi, but the blow only seemed to enrage the demon.  The thing stood on its hind feet, rearing back until it was more than twenty feet tall.  The echo of its roar shook snow from the trees and caused the ground to vibrate.  When its front hooves slammed down again, the earth shook - causing Inuyasha to stumble.

            He braced himself with Tessaiga and held his ground.  His leg throbbed where the demon had slammed him into the side of the mountain.  His back felt bruised and battered, but he stayed on his feet.  Kagome was behind him, fumbling with her bow.  His sensitive ears picked up her muttered curses as her frozen fingers struggled to fit an arrow.  She was afraid, he could smell it.  She was kneeling in the snow - he knew because he had put her there after the initial attack had left her in the demon’s path with a twisted ankle.  

            Out of the corner of his eye he watched Sango catch Hiraikotsu as it returned to her.  One of her arms hung limply at her side.  The shoulder was probably dislocated.  Blood dripped over her eyes from a cut on her head.  She fought without Kirara as the neko was tasked with guarding Miroku.  He had fought well, incapacitated a half-dozen of the demon’s spawn - goat-like creatures the size of small ponies with poisonous fangs.  When the larger demon had appeared and the winter storm grew worse, the monk attempted to use his wind tunnel to clear them a path through the blowing snow and ice.  

            Unfortunately, the storm was not natural, but made by the ice demon’s youki.  As the snow and cold had entered his hand, Miroku turned ashen.  His lips went blue, his breathing grew weak.  He had barely managed to replace his prayer beads and seal the wind tunnel before he collapsed from the evil cold that had entered his body.  Kirara carried him on her back, the fire-cat’s fur would hopefully keep him from death until they could get out of the storm.  Shippo sat with him, helping keep the monk steady and doing his best with small illusions to keep the demon’s attention away from the injured man.

            He had to end it.  Inuyasha knew that.  Even he was beginning to feel the cold  - the humans would be frostbitten soon, if they weren’t already. “Where is it?” he yelled over the wind.

            “I can’t see with all this snow!” Kagome replied.  Inuyasha stepped back beside her and took a deep breath,

            “Wind Scar!” Tessaiga cut through the storm and opened a clear path to the ice demon.

            “In the chest - at the heart!”  Finally! Inuyasha growled and made a running leap to attack the demon.  He sank his blade deep into the thing’s shoulder, landing on its back and wrenching with all his strength to try to throw the demon to the ground and expose its chest so he could retrieve the shard.  Too late, he realized the Wind Scar had worked both ways.  Kagome could see the demon and the Shikon shard it possessed, but the demon could also clearly see Kagome.  It bellowed, ignoring Inuyasha and the weapon buried to the hilt in its muscle and charged the priestess.  

            Naked fear and rage coursed through Inuyasha.  Kagome couldn’t get away.  Even if she could stand on her injured leg, she couldn’t possibly outrun a demon.  Inuyasha’s eyes widened and he abandoned Tessaiga to vault onto the demon’s head.  He seized one massive curled horn and twisted.

            The demon slid across the rock and snow, its feet scrambling to find purchase.  Kagome fitted her arrow and managed to lift it in a ridiculous attempt to defend herself against twenty tons of muscle and fur flying towards her.  The demon brayed and shards of ice erupted from his mouth and shot at Kagome.  Time moved impossibly slow for Inuyasha.  The ground trembled with the force of the demon’s hooves.  Kagome’s blue eyes widened as she loosed the arrow, its purity reflecting on her face and turning the falling snow around her pink.  The shards of ice, not unlike his own blades of blood attack, sparkled as they raced past the arrow towards their target. His arms burned and he gave one last, screaming effort - hauling the demon’s head to the side and throwing it completely off course.

            He was also thrown clear.  Inuyasha had the opportunity to blink once as he sailed through the air, watching a thousand tiny cold blades rip into the priestess.  The last thing he heard before he hit the ground was her scream.

 

***

 

            Sango watched in shock as Inuyasha grappled with the demon.  She could not throw Hirakotsu without hitting her friend, even if her body had been capable of the strength.  The ground trembled again under the huge hooves of the ice demon, and a fissure opened before her.  She would have fallen in, if Kirara had not grabbed the back of her suit in her teeth and dragged her to safety.  

            “Kagome! Watch out!” she cried.  The demon had seen the vulnerable priestess and would trample her to death in moments. Sango couldn’t bear to see it, nor could she look away.  Kagome, resolved to do her best even in the face of unbelievable odds, lifted her bow.  Sango could barely make out her lips moving - commanding the arrow to hit its mark.  A bellow, so low it was nearly inaudible, rent the air and a cloud of daggers - icicles, Sango realized - pressed toward Kagome.  Tears pricked Sango’s eyes.  Kagome threw up one arm and turned her face to shield it from the oncoming attack.

            A scream of pure animal rage cut through the storm and then the demon was turning, falling, sliding away from Kagome to crash into the wall of the mountain.  A red blur flew through the air, landing with a wet crack that could be easily heard even over the storm and the snarls of the ice demon.  Sango held her breath.  

            There was a twitch of black and green and she squinted. Through the blowing snow she could make out Kagome’s hair and green skirt, slowly moving through the snow.  She was alive!  The rush of relief was not long-lived, as Kagome became easier and easier to make out. The pale skin of her face and long legs quickly became blurred with smears of red.  Sango gasped.  The girl must have been cut a hundred times to draw so much blood.  It left a pink trail in the snow as she crawled toward the place where Inuyasha had fallen. The red robes of the fire rat were motionless; the tree he had crashed into was broken in a jagged line behind him. His white hair hung over his face.  

            Sango slung her boomerang onto her back and prepared to mount Kirara and fly to her friends.  Before she could get onto the big cat, the ground under her feet trembled, bringing her to her knees.

            The ice demon stood and shook chunks of rock and dirt from its fur.  One rear leg was completely missing - purified by Kagome’s arrow.  It stomped its hooves, making the ground shift more and shaking rocks and snow loose.  Sango couldn’t risk flying so close to the demon with Miroku, but Inuyasha was still down and Kagome was injured.  She could barely lift Hiraikotsu, and the ravines created by the demon were too wide for her to cross on foot.  She glanced at Shippo, but the poor fox-demon could not speak through the tears streaming down his face at seeing his adoptive mother injured.  Even if Sango was willing to risk him, she did not think Shippo could transform and float to Kagome in time to save her - especially with the gales produced by the storm.  Sango had never felt so helpless. She whispered a prayer and watched for an opening in the fight where she might make a difference.

 

***

 

            “-have to be all right.  You have to get up, Inuyasha. Please!”

            There was an enemy nearby.  He knew that.  He could smell another demon, large - but not as powerful as he was, approaching through the snow. His youki swelled, already knitting his broken spine together. He inhaled sharply.  There was another scent as well - not a demon.  It was close, far closer than anything living should be allowed.  The words returned, distracting him from the enemy and from that other scent.

            “Please, you can’t die. Inuyasha! Please!” A sob interrupted the words and he opened his eyes to a world of whiteness.  The enemy was moving through the storm, coming for him.  It was injured, but the wound had only made it angry.  It would attack.  It wanted to end him. To end the...girl...who spoke to him.  He looked down to find dark hair spilled across his blood-soaked chest.  Slim white fingers were wrapped around his own.  She was weak, injured, and her cries were attracting the ice demon.  He bared his fangs and growled in warning, shoving her away quickly and standing.  She was no threat - he could deal with her later, after he had tasted the blood of his enemy.  He extended his claws and attacked.  

            The blood was bitter in his mouth and on his fangs.  The flesh of the ice demon was hard and cold, but no match for his claws.  He tore into the animal, gouged below the fur and the tissue to reach the soft organs underneath.  The demon tried to trample him, but he was too strong.  He braced his legs and pulled.  Instead of crushing him, the movements of the demon pushed it up and away, leaving him standing still, covered in ichor and clutching the beating heart of the beast.  He grinned savagely.  He was the strongest.  This is my territory. My mate.

            He stopped, his anger still pulsing in his veins and making it difficult to think.  He was strong, he must have a mate. He struggled to remember before the battle.  His mate should be at his back...or guarding their pups...or... Had the thing killed his mate?  Anger surged again from deep inside him.  The ice demon could not tell him what had happened, but the weak girl...

            He turned and stalked to where she lay on the snow.  She did not move and her eyes were closed.  He breathed deeply, inhaling her scent and that of blood.  She was covered in it, hers and his, but she had not attacked him.  No others should be here.  Not in his territory.  Only his pack, his mate, his pups...  He felt his claws lengthen again and a snarl rose in his throat.  He knelt at her side, the blood from the heart clenched in his fist dripping onto her pale legs and strange garments.  He bent to her exposed neck, ready to rip out her throat and taste the warm blood that lay just under the surface.  She smelled sweet.  She would erase the bitter taste of the ice demon and then he could scout his territory.  Hunt. Stalk. Mate.

            So close to her skin her scent flooded his nose.  Sweet and light, her day had been walking in dry leaves, crushing them under her feet.  She had eaten noodles and fish at her last meal, which he tasted in his own mouth as well.  Her cycle had ended only a day or so ago, and her body had not been touched by a male in at least a few weeks.  She was not marked.  He gained the impression of warm sunlight and dusty roads, a campfire with seasoned cherry wood, a young male fox demon, a female neko, and two humans - male and female.  She carried herbs for healing that had the smell of an old human woman, and ointments that were not familiar to him.  The yellow bag on her back belonged to her, but he had carried it recently.  He growled against her skin.  He wanted to bite, to kill, to taste her blood.  But she was not his enemy.  Frustration made his grip on her shoulder tighten, drawing blood.

            A gentle hand brushed against his hair, settling at the base of his ear.  He stilled, wary and ready to sink his fangs into her.

            “Inuyasha,” she whispered.  He looked up and her blue eyes widened.  He smelled a new trace of fear in her, but she did not pull away.  Her fingers rubbed his ear gently. “We can’t stay here, Inuyasha.  It isn’t safe...the snow...do you understand me?”  Her voice remained quiet, even hoarse.  He watched her lips move.  They should have been red with the blood he wanted to taste; red like the blood that seeped from cuts all over her skin.  They were blue. He grunted.  The urge to bite, to attack, was still strong, but he felt something else as well.  He did not want to sort out his instincts - he wanted to act.

            A rumble, this one farther away and larger than any sound the ice demon had made, echoed through the wide pass where the battle had taken place.  He found himself crouched over the girl, protecting her from whatever new threat was coming.  His ears swiveled and he sniffed, searching for the source of the sound.

            His eyes were sharp, and even through the snow - falling thicker every moment - he could make out the human female watching him from across a ravine.  She was squinting and waving, trying to get his attention but most likely unable to see more than his outline in the storm.  He breathed deeply.  She was upwind, and her scent was the same as the faint traces on the girl.  He felt a twinge of surprise to note that it was faintly present on his own sleeve as well.  She shouted, but her words were incomprehensible, even for him, over the growing wind.  She pointed and he looked.

            Far up the mountainside, a cloud was growing.  Snow billowed out in great puffs, leading the edge of an avalanche.  The ravine was too wide to jump, and he did not know the human on the other side - or her companions.  He scooped up the girl with one arm, slinging her over his shoulder, and bounded away into the trees.  He forged a path up and away from the cascading snow as it descended on the pass where they had been standing only moments before.

 

***

 

            Sango lept onto Kirara even as she pointed out the avalanche to Inuyasha.  She could barely see him through the blowing snow, but he must have recognized the danger because he picked up Kagome and jumped into the forest, angling up the mountain and away from the path of the snow, trying to get above and over the crushing weight of hundreds of tons of ice and rock. She followed his example and urged her neko into the air in the opposite direction.  If they all made it out of the storm alive, they would meet on the road or back at Kaede’s and examine their injuries.  Until then...she dared a glance back at Shippo where he gripped a handful of fur on either side of Miroku, effectively belting the unconscious monk down. She swallowed.  When they all made it back...

 

***

 

            The dog demon leapt across the snow, barely touching one sliding, careening boulder of ice before propelling himself up and forward again.  It was minutes before they were out of the dangerous slide of frozen water and rock and he could get his bearings.  He knew this mountain.  Its scent was familiar even if the snow and time had changed the landscape.  This was his territory.  The snow was still falling too thickly to make his eyes much use. He quickly took in his surroundings through his nose.  Orienting himself and tossing the girl more securely onto his shoulder, he took off at a run.

            The cave was untouched since he had left it last, although he was not sure how long that had been.  His scratch marks on the rock were undisturbed.  A waterfall, frozen and suspended as a sheet of ice, covered most of the entrance.  A small hot springs, lacking the sulfurous smell that usually tortured his nose when such things appeared, descended in a trickle from the back and pooled in a deep depression near the mouth of the cave before finally melting a small hole in the waterfall and descending into the frozen lake.  Dry wood was stacked at the very back, as far from the water as possible.  A ring of stones was arranged near the front, clean but for many years collection of dirt.  A nest of tree boughs and leaves had crumbled into mostly dust and dead wood.

            He set the girl near the old nest and scoured the den for unfamiliar scents before starting a fire.  The kindling caught easily from the sparks his claws made on the stones.  His stomach tightened in hunger, and his eyes turned to the narrow shelf high on the wall where he had stored nuts and dried meat.  The storage crock was broken and the nuts had turned to dust - except for one which had rooted and wormed its way through a crack in the rock to the outside.  From the size of the root mass, he guessed it had been many decades since he had last been in the cave. He still clutched the demon’s heart in his claws.  He could eat it...his stomach flipped at the thought of the bitter blood in his mouth again and he dropped the organ on the floor.

            The girl shifted in her sleep, stirring her scent.  Her blood caught his nose again and his stomach rumbled.  He could kill her before he ate her, so that her screams wouldn’t bother his ears.  He stalked closer, until he was poised over her. His hands and feet framed her body and his face studied hers.  The yellow bag on her back propped her up at an odd angle so that when he leaned in her shallow breaths fanned against his mouth.  Her hair was half frozen, half soaking wet - as were her clothes.  As the snow on her melted and chilled her skin she began to shiver.  He growled in frustration.

            She was not his mate.  He could tell she had not been marked - nor had any male taken her - but his scent was covering her.  He pressed his nose against her jaw and was greeted by the image of her chin resting on his shoulder.  He followed the pictures those smells made: down her chest and belly - where she pressed against his back while he carried her.  Her hands smelled of his own - from grasping his fingers or clutching his shoulders.  Her legs were mostly bare and smelled of his fire rat and hakama where she had held onto him. He pressed his nose between her legs and found that even there she smelled of him - but only because he had held her. No deeper scent marked her intimately as his.  His scent was embedded in her clothes and layered on her skin and hair over a long time.  He obviously carried her on his back often.  

            He bared his teeth at the sleeping girl and let out a small gruff in confusion.  She was not his mate, but he traveled with her.  He carried her; he supposed as a human female she was much weaker and could not keep up with him otherwise.  An unmated human girl would only attract trouble.  Her scent was sweet, clean, soothing...intoxicating.  He shook his head.  She didn’t have any bite marks, he hadn’t been carrying her around as food.  She had warned him about the ice demon and the avalanche.  Even if she wasn’t laughingly weaker than him, she was no threat. The demon snarled at the empty cave.  Not mate. Not food. Not enemy.  

            Her eyes fluttered and he stared at her, his face still twisted in ire.  “Inuyasha?” she muttered sleepily.  She shivered and his eyes were drawn once again to the thin, ripped cloth that barely covered her. Dried lines of blood broke as she moved and fresh liquid seeped out. “A-Are you okay? I-I-I-” Her chattering grew so bad she interrupted herself.  A shaking hand moved forward to brush his hair from his face.  She drew in a sharp breath when she saw his eyes.  A tart note of fear entered her scent.  He growled quietly.  He didn’t like that smell.

            “Inuyasha? W-Where is Tessaiga?”

            She was afraid, but her hand did not leave his hair.  She brushed it back further to cup his cheek.  The soft skin of her palm brushed against his markings and a rumble started low in his chest.  Not enemy. Not food. Her fingers were cold, but a warm tingle started where she touched his skin and spread.  It would be foolish to travel with a weak human.

            “Inu-Inu-yasha,” she chattered.  Her fingers delved in his hair to find his ear.  He stiffened momentarily, baring his fangs, but her touch was gentle.  She rubbed hesitant circles in the soft fur at the base of his ear and the warmth grew hotter, seeping down from his ear, to his chest, to...  There was no reason to travel with others, unless they were pack.  She was not inu... “We need Tessaiga, Inuyasha.”  A very strong human might be the lowest in a pack, but she was not strong.  Her fingers were distracting him.  The sensations she caused...he could feel the rumble in his chest growing stronger.  She smelled sweet. He wanted her blood.  He wanted to taste her.  Her thumb slipped around the edge of his ear, gently pressing the thin flesh between the pads of her fingers. A coil of heat pooled in his belly and his eyes flew wide open in sudden understanding.

            Not enemy. Not food. Make mate. That was why he would carry a weak female for so long.  He intended to mate her.  He breathed deep again, sorting through the images of all the scents that layered her.  Her cycle had only recently ended.  He must have waited to mate her until it was done - but then the ice demon had attacked them.  He growled and pressed closer, laying his body along hers and pressing his nose into the curve of her neck.  In that instant, his frustration and ever present rage disappeared - replaced by another base instinct.

            “Inu-Inu-Inuyasha?” She was shivering so badly she could barely speak, and the demon frowned.  He wanted to take her, to mate her, but a human could become sick easily - he knew that.  She was injured as well.  He pulled away to look at the surprise and confusion clouding her eyes.  Her teeth were chattering and her skin was grey with cold. She could not bear healthy pups if she was not healthy.  “We-we n-n-need to go. We n-n-need to find Tess-Tess-T-”  She struggled to sit up further, but the weight of her bag was too much for her in her weakened state. The demon growled.

            She paused, wide-eyed.  He growled again, pushing his face into hers to force her back down.  She could not leave the den.  It was storming out, and she was already in danger from sickness and injury.  He would not let her out until she smelled healthy...and marked.  His claws brushed against her arm and she flinched.  Five perfect holes marred the thin cloth of her shirt, stained with her blood.  He grasped the material in one hand and ripped.  He had injured her, when he shoved her away from him during the battle.  Something akin to sorrow tightened his chest.  A mate was to be protected, cherished.  His was injured - some by his own hands.  He leaned close and sniffed the wounds.  There was no trace of infection.

            “Inu-Inu-yasha?” Her voice was even quieter than before.  It sounded thready and hoarse to his sensitive ears. He looked up to find her eyelids drooping and her eyes rolling back in her head. She relaxed abruptly against the yellow bag and the demon took a moment to reassure himself she was still breathing.  She was alive, but she would not be for long if she didn’t get warm.  He added wood to the fire, although he still kept it small, and stripped off his own wet garments.  He lay them over a rock to dry before gently pulling her arms from the straps of her bag.  He flipped off her shoes and stockings, but ignored the rest of her clothes as he submerged them both in the hot springs.

            The water was nearly scalding after the cool winter air of the cave.  The girl moaned in her sleep, and the demon worried for her safety.  He nuzzled her cheek and neck, searching for the beat of her heart.  Reassured by the slow, steady pulse, he sank lower into the water, leaving only her face exposed to the air.  As the fire began to warm the cave and the color returned gradually to her lips he studied her.  She was beautiful.  Even by a demon’s standards, she was beautiful.  Her dark hair was thick and silky.  He pictured the exotic blue of her large eyes and admired the fullness of her lips.  Her skin was smooth and pale - where it wasn’t marred by thin cuts.  He frowned.  One mate should care for the wounds of the other.  

            A line of blood stretched from the corner of her mouth to her temple, angling across her cheekbone and emphasizing the delicacy of her features.  He pressed his mouth against hers.  In one long, slow lick he traced the cut, cleaning it with his tongue and allowing the healing properties of his saliva to work on her skin.  Her blood was sweet. Sweet and spicy and crisp.  She tasted of a spring breeze across an orchard of apples.  She tasted of sunlight on lilies in cool water.  She tasted of... He found another cut, this one along her jaw.

            By the time he finished all of the cuts on her face and neck, she had stopped shivering and her lips had regained a pink color.  He lifted her to float on her back in the water.  Her clothes were ruined by rips and bloodstains.  Even if she needed them, and he assured himself she would not, they were useless in winter weather.  He slipped a claw under the neckline and quickly reduced both her top and skirt to tatters which he flicked onto the floor.  He considered her undergarments.  Strangely flimsy and delicate, seeing her creamy skin cupped by the lacy things fanned the embers that burned low in his belly.  He cut them away, careful this time to keep the material mostly intact.  

            A growl of pleasure escaped his throat once she was bared to him.  Even with the cuts and new bruises, she was lovely.  Her skin was smooth and taut.  Her muscles were sleek and enhanced by generous curves.  Full, round breasts were tipped with dark pink nipples.  Nestled between her thighs was a neat mound of soft black hair that begged to be explored.  Saliva pooled in his mouth and he had to lick his lips and fangs.  Mate, his mind screamed and he inhaled her scent, clean of blood and dirt from the hot spring.  His hand brushed across her arm and fresh blood welled from the wounds his claws had made.  The reminder of her injury banked his desire and he bent to continue to treat her wounds with his tongue.

            He laved across the holes in her arm, stemming the flow of blood.  His tongue soothed cuts on her shoulders and collarbone, across her chest, under her breasts and down her ribs.  Her belly was mostly untouched - protected as it had been by her legs when she drew them up.  Her thighs and calves had taken the worst of the injuries.  By the time he finished he had licked nearly every inch of her skin from hip to ankle - all but the inches he most wanted to taste.

            His blood raced under his skin as he examined her back and found it unblemished.  Tracing his claws gently down her spine to cup her buttocks he was tormented by the image of her on her hands and knees before him.  He pressed a final kiss to her mouth, unable to resist licking inside for another taste of her, before he draped her over the edge of the pool and hopped out.  He shook himself dry, headless of his own nudity, and checked his fire rat to find that it was still damp.  He opened her yellow bag, hoping that she had a blanket or kimono to keep her warm.  He found another pair of the undergarments, a small towel, and a surprisingly thick bedroll, but no other clothing.  He unrolled her futon and found it to be a sort of bag made of squishy blankets.  Her bag was full of other interesting things.  Some smelled of medicine, others of food; everything was vaguely inky and very her.  The food smelled good, and made his stomach tighten, but the wrapping was strange to him so he left it alone and returned to the girl with her towel.  

            He sat on the edge of the pool and pulled her into his lap, careful to reseal any cuts that opened as he patted her dry.  He squeezed the water from her hair and quickly groomed her with his claws before sliding her into the futon bag.  He slipped in alongside her, pulling her flush against his own body and ignoring the ache in his cock as her bottom nestled against him.  When she woke, he would check her wounds.  If she was healing and had not become sick...

            He growled in anticipation and satisfaction as she murmured in her sleep and pressed back against him.  When she was better he would mate her, mark her, take her as his.  That sweet scent, that taste, would be only for him.  He buried his nose in her hair and closed his eyes.  One ear remained alert, listening for danger.  The other focused on her quiet breathing and steady heartbeat.  They were safe for the time being. My territory. My den. My mate.

 

***

 

            Sango slumped against the wall of the hut, feeling numb.  Kirara curled up on a bedroll with Shippo, both exhausted after flying all night to return to Kaede’s village.  The old priestess was bent over the mat closest to the fire, tending to Miroku.  Sango felt a wave of despair wash over her as she studied his pale skin and shallow breaths.  He had almost died, on the way to the village.  Shippo had cried out that he wasn’t breathing and the neko had landed in a dangerously wooded area at Sango’s urging.  She had listened for breath, and finding none had tried to hear his heart.  It was slow and uneven.  She did the only thing she could think of and pressed her mouth tightly to his - forcing warm air into his body.  She continued for nearly a minute, tears streaming down her own face silently while Shippo cried.

            Finally, the monk took a shallow breath on his own.  They continued on through the night, stopping twice more so that she could force life into his lungs.  She had pushed her will into him as well, doing her utmost to make him live.  Yet...she followed Kaede’s movements as the priestess lifted a warm compress from the man’s chest and recovered him with heavy blankets. ...and yet he might still die.  Sango swallowed hard.  She had never been one to ignore the truth, even when it hurt.  This truth...this truth might kill her as well as him.

            “I’ve done all I can, child,” Kaede said quietly.       

            “Then he’ll...” For all her strength, she couldn’t finish the thought.

            “He may live, he may not.  I have given him every chance I can.  I must rest. You will watch him until morning.  Make certain he stays warm, and wake me if his breathing slows any further.”

            Sango nodded, and Kaede creaked as she stood and shuffled to the little curtained area at the back of the hut where she slept.  The demon slayer crept to the monk’s side, bending to let his breath blow against her cheek and watch his chest rise and fall in the low light of the fire.  His face was still cool to the touch and so she lay down next to him, pressing her body against his through layers of blankets.

            “You can’t go yet, you pervert,” she whispered. “Who will swindle us a room while we travel? Who will grope all the young women’s bottoms? Who will calm the disturbed spirits in every prosperous village we pass? Who will guide Inuyasha? Who will-” her voice cracked and she had to wet her lips and swallow before she continued.   She clutched him tightly, willing her own body heat to pass into him and smother the cold. Tears streaked down her face and soaked the edge of the blanket. Her voice was even softer, barely a murmur in the silent hut, “Whose children will I bear?”

 

***

 

            Kagome awoke to the sensation of something warm and wet, and just a little rough, lapping at her collarbone. “Get off, Buyo,” she murmured, snuggling deeper into the warmth of her bed.  She gradually became aware of a gentle vibration in her chest, and a delicious heat radiating against her back. “Errrm, perfect,” she mumbled, sinking back towards sleep. Another long lick, just on the pleasant side of raspy, wet her skin from her sternum down to her nipple before swirling around the peak and sucking gently. “Ack!” Her eyes flew open and she tried to sit up, but only managed to knock her chin against something hard.  She fell back down, rubbing her chin and wide awake.  White hair, silky and long, draped across her chest and neck.  “Inu-Inuyasha?” she whispered in shock.

            With a gentle flick, the silvery strands flew over his shoulder and she could clearly see him.  He lay behind her, pressed against her back from shoulder to toe.  He was sitting up on one elbow to look at her and...well, to lick her she supposed.  She would have blushed outrageously at the thought, but she was too stunned by what else she saw.  Jagged purple markings outlined his cheekbones.  His fangs had lengthened and swollen in size. His eyes were red, but instead of the bright blue irises that usually accompanied his transformation, his pupils remained golden.  He was- he was- calm. She had no other word to describe it. Well, calm and...aroused. This time she felt the blush overwhelm her and she was intensely aware of the hot, hard pressure of him against her bottom.

            He growled in response to her blush and his eyes dilated.  He leaned forward again, trailing his tongue over her skin and slowly pulling back her sleeping bag to reveal more of her.  She was momentarily too embarrassed to speak by the discovery that not only was she completely naked - so was he.  He continued to lick, finding dark pink injuries, little more than scratches really, and giving them the same attentive treatment as her breast.

            “Inu-” she cleared her throat, trying to hold herself still although she wanted nothing so much as to squirm - either closer or further away she wasn’t sure, “Inuyasha, can you understand me?”  He growled softly and nipped gently at her belly, causing the skin just below her belly button to shiver and gooseflesh to rise.  She took that as indication that he could hear her.  “Inuyasha,” she began and then hesitated when he reached the juncture of her thighs.  He breathed deeply, and for a moment she thought he would lick her there as well.  Her face burned, but she couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like as well. He took another, deeper breath and made a sound that was both satisfied and hungry at the same time.  Kagome had a split moment of absolute mortification where she forgot that he could rip her limb from limb and instead worried that he could smell her desire.

            “Inuyasha,” she squeaked. “Where is Tessaiga? Did you bring it with us? We need to find-” She cut herself off with a giggle when he licked at the back of her knee.  His head tilted up, watching her with a smile that was less reassuring and more fangy than she would have liked. He finished her legs quickly and covered them both back up, nuzzling his face into her neck and trailing his claws in circles across her abdomen.  “Inuyasha. Where. Are. The. Others.” He stopped, peering down at her with his head tilted in a manner not unlike a puzzled dog. “Sango and Miroku and Shippo - where did Kirara take them?”  He returned to her neck and Kagome sighed in frustration.  She had dreamed more than once of Inuyasha paying intimate attention to her.  It didn’t get much more intimate that what he was doing right then...not without... All that attention, finally on her, and she couldn’t enjoy it.  She had to know what had happened to the others.  And Inuyasha...he wasn’t himself. He wouldn’t even remember this when he returned to himself. Oh God.  That could be the only thing more mortifying that lying still while full-youki Inuyasha licked her - knowing he had done so, and apparently enjoyed it, and hanyou Inuyasha not remembering a thing.

            She needed him to focus on something other than...his lips reached a particularly sensitive spot and he followed with a gentle nip with his fangs.  She moaned - and then immediately blushed again in embarrassment.  He didn’t seem to mind, even made a low vibrating growl - almost a purr - of approval. Focus! “Food,” she blurted.  Thankfully, her stomach took the hint and chose that moment to grumble loudly. He pulled away from her neck and looked down at her with a frown. Oh God, please don’t let him want to eat me. That thought immediately led her to a few things she had overheard her friends from home say about their boyfriends and she blushed again.  She could feel heat pooling between her legs and she no longer had to wonder if he could smell her desire.  He turned towards her waist and sniffed.  His growl - of approval? pleasure? anticipation? - reverberated through her body. The clawed hand on her stomach moved lower, ghosting over her pubic hair to press between her thighs. Some half-crazed hormonal part of her mind was begging her to relax her legs and let him find out how much she wanted him.

            He’ll hate himself if he finds out.  He’ll hate you too.

            That harsh thought was like a bucket of cold water over her head. Once she could think clearly, she knew she had to distract him long enough to come up with a plan to find Tessaiga before he did something they would regret.  Like killing an innocent village. Or biting her. Or laying her back on the hard stone of the cave and testing the needy wetness between her legs for himself.

            They needed to find Tessaiga before he did something he would regret, anyhow.  Inuyasha didn’t want her like that.  If he had, he would have said or done...something over the past three years to indicate that she was anything more than a trusted friend.  No matter how much she wanted him, it wasn’t enough to make taking advantage of him when he wasn’t himself acceptable.

            “We need food, Inuyasha.” When he didn’t seem inclined to halt the progress of his questing fingers she added, “for strength.” He paused then and eyed her speculatively.  His fangs protruded a bit over his lower lip, and his tongue darted out to wet them.  Her reaction was instantaneous; she knew he knew it because his growl was accompanied this time by a feral grin. For a moment she worried that he would abandon the suggestion to find food, but then he pressed his lips quickly to hers.  His tongue delved into her mouth, sweeping the recesses and leaving her in a breathless state before he slipped out of the sleeping bag.  She was too surprised to look away, and he didn’t seem at all concerned by his nudity.  He added more wood to the fire before exiting the cave, only taking the time to step into his hakama, with a stern wuff that she took to mean “stay”.  

            She was out of the sleeping bag in a moment, finding a spot just outside the cave to relieve herself and pulling open her backpack to find her last pair of clean underwear.  Her uniform and previous undergarments, including her favorite bra, were in tatters on the floor.  The bra and panties were salvageable - once she had time to sew them -  but the uniform was more thread than cloth.  She found Inuyasha’s clothes draped over a rock, dry and warm from the fire.  She left the fundoshi and nagajuban and pulled his fire rat haori around herself.  The sleeves were far too long, so she belted them around her waist.  She quickly filled her battered pot with ice from the waterfall and set it near the fire to make ramen.  He still hadn’t returned, so while she waited she examined her injuries.

            Her ankle was still tender, the flesh slightly swollen and bruised.  She remembered tripping after she shot off her first arrow - it hit the only demon spawn she managed to kill.  She didn’t think she could walk on it for long, but it was alright for limping around the cave.  Her legs and arms were covered in long pink scratches.  She remembered the ice demon’s roar - the shards that flew towards her.  She threw up her arm to try to protect her face...and then there was the pain.  The remains of her uniform were covered in blood, so the shards must have cut her badly, but she didn’t seem to have anything worse than an angry scratch.  Even the claw marks on her arm, she blanched at the reminder of how angry Inuyasha had looked, were healing nicely.  She wondered what was in his saliva that had such remarkable healing properties...and why he hadn’t used it before.

            “Baka, he didn’t want to lick you,” she muttered to herself.  The knowledge that he had to be thrown into a primitive demonic state to want to kiss her or touch her put her in a depressing mood.  Focus, she coached herself.  You can moon over him later, after you have saved him from himself.  She had to get Tessaiga.  It was obviously not in the cave.  Although she did notice a foul-smelling pile of demon gore.  She sighed and picked out the shard still embedded in the heart, purifying it before washing and storing it in her vial with the others.  She marveled that even faced with an avalanche, Inuyasha would not give up something he claimed as his own - even if it was a gross, dead heart.  He was a possessive hanyou, that was certain.

            Something sparked in Kagome’s brain and she slowed down her thoughts.  He was possessive.  He didn’t have much, but he refused to part with anything he thought of as his.  His fire rat robe. Tessaiga. Goshinboku and Inuyasha’s woods. Her.  Even her.  He didn’t even really want her, but she was his first: his shard-detector, his friend, even his...lover, now.  That seemed too strange a word to call whatever had happened in the cave while she was asleep.  She was fairly sure they hadn’t actually done anything, but... She shook those thoughts out of her head.  Surely youkai Inuyasha was just as possessive as hanyou Inuyasha, maybe more so.  She just needed to convince him that Tessaiga was his - that someone else might try to take it.  It must have been left behind at the battle.  She gave a little shudder.  The memory of the avalanche was a little hazy, as she had passed out shortly after Inuyasha picked her up, but she figured a few hundred thousand pounds of snow might be a bit much for even him to dig through. Still...she didn’t know any other way to return him to himself.

            Inuyasha chose that moment to re-enter the cave, holding a stick heavy with fish.  She had to force her eyes to stay on his face.  Despite her good intentions, she was very aware of his bare chest - and the knowledge that he wasn’t wearing anything under his hakama.  He split several more sticks and spitted the fish, forcing the ends of the sticks into cracks between the rocks so that the meat leaned over the fire.  She moved gently to stir in the ramen, and Inuyasha hovered over her - watching and sniffing with interest.  She split the noodles unevenly between two bowls, giving the vast majority to her demon friend.  He sniffed cautiously and tested the flavor with the tip of his tongue before shoveling the food in his mouth with a speed that shocked her.  Hanyou Inuyasha had never eaten that quickly, not even at his hungriest.  When he finished he peered in the pot.  Disappointment at not finding more was evident on his face, but he rinsed his bowl and sat down on the sleeping bag behind her without comment.  He pulled her into his lap and rested his chin on her shoulder while she ate.  She was conscious of his eyes wandering between her bare legs, the vee of the fire rat, and the cooking fish.  She smiled to herself, wondering if she was going crazy for feeling proud that she rated in Inuyasha’s estimation as high as dinner.

            “Inuyasha,” she began timidly.  His left hand combed absently through her hair.  His right hand found a spot to rest on her thigh. She had to start somewhere, and there was no time to waste if she wanted to find Tessaiga before Inuyasha did something she would probably not regret.  His claws traced circles on the tender skin above and inside her knee. I would definitely not regret it, she thought. “Why did you not bring your weapon with us?” His hand slowed for a moment and she held her breath, but soon he continued.  “I know you are strong enough to protect us from anything without it-” He interrupted her with a pleased growl and nuzzled her neck.  Compliments are good, she observed. “I worry that someone might try to steal it from you, where you cannot watch over it.”  His claws stilled again, and this time did not start up again.  

            “My territory.” His voice was so gravelly, so deep, it took her a moment to understand he was speaking.

            “Yes.” She crossed her fingers and hoped she was leading him the right way - and not into a youkai rage that would end up with her bloody corpse at the bottom of a frozen lake. “Something bad could come into your territory to challenge you - to take what is yours.”  His arms stole around her, pulling her hard against his chest and tightening almost painfully.

            “Mine,” he growled.  She could hear the building anger in his voice, and she had to will away her fear.

            “Yes,” she agreed.  She ran her hands up and down his arms in time with the menacing rumble in his chest.  It was several long minutes before he relaxed, inhaling against her hair and neck and repeating, softer,

            “Mine.”  

            She nodded again, her heart thudding in her chest.  He shifted her and grabbed them each fish - two for him and one for her.  They ate side-by-side, shoulders and hips touching.  If she shifted even slightly away from him the growls renewed.  She finished her fish and refused the next one he offered, smiling with her teeth well-hidden behind her lips to show she was satisfied.  He inhaled the other five fish, tossing the trash far out the entrance - to the lake below she supposed - before returning to the sleeping bag.  He pulled her back into his lap and resumed the nuzzling.  This time his objective was obvious, his hands intent on finding their way under the haori.  She took a deep breath.  If she didn’t convince him now, she wasn’t sure that she would get another opportunity. Not before...but if she went too far, he might not appreciate the insinuation that someone might take what was his, could take what was his.  She crossed her fingers and hoped youkai Inuyasha remembered more of his regular life than hanyou Inuyasha remembered of his time as a full-demon.

            “You keep your territory safe.”  He growled in appreciation of her compliments and nipped at her earlobe.  Kagome’s breath came faster and she tried to ignore the hot palm that cupped her breast through the fire rat and the nimble fingers that slipped under the hem to dance on her thigh.  “Kouga the wolf would not dare come after me, or Tessaiga, while we are with you.  He has tried before, and you always beat him.  I am sure he won’t come back under the cover of this storm to take what is yours.” His hands stilled and she held her breath.

            “Wolf-cub,” he said slowly. Tension straightened his spine and stiffened his hands.

            “Yes,” she affirmed.  She hoped she was doing the right thing. Inuyasha had fought Kouga once as a full-youkai, hopefully he still hated the other demon. Suddenly she found herself flat on her back on the sleeping bag, Inuyasha’s blood-red eyes inches from her face.  He growled with rage and made a snapping motion with his fangs near her throat.

            “Mine!” he practically snarled. He tugged on the fire rat and it fell loosely to the sides, revealing her breasts.  His forehead butted her chin forcibly, exposing her neck.  His fangs were on her, pressing into the skin, almost to the point of breaking it.

            “Yes! Yours! I will always be yours!” She was panting, and she was certain he could smell her fear.  That wouldn’t be good.  A predator stalks prey.  She didn’t want to be prey.  Oh God, I’m going to die here.  When Inuyasha finds out he killed me, he’ll never forgive himself.  She distracted him the only way she knew how.  She lifted her hips, thrusting against his groin and wrapping one ankle behind his knees. “Yours,” she whispered. His mouth eased fractionally and she snaked her arms around his torso. “Only yours.”  He licked her neck, then bit not quite hard enough to break the skin but enough to hurt.  She took that as a warning.  She needed to tread very carefully.  “I am yours, I want to be yours. Always.” He growled in satisfaction and she pressed on. “Tessaiga doesn’t know it is yours. The wolf-cub will try to take it because he can’t have me.  He wants what is yours.”

            Inuyasha paused above her, but he did not force her to submit again.  She continued stroking his back, running her foot along the inside of his calf.  Her heart was thudding with a combination of fear and excitement and...there was no denying the heat in her belly or the embarrassing amount of moisture between her legs. She even leaned up to press her breasts against his chest and place a wet kiss on his neck. A rumble in his chest indicated his approval, as did the impressive length hardening against her stomach.

            “Tessaiga,” he said the name of his sword slowly, as if it were unfamiliar. “Mine.”

            “Yes,” she was mortified to find herself almost purring as she rubbed against him, but the sensation was amazing.  That combined with his apparent following of her rather crude manipulations was enough to make her almost giddy. She pressed another kiss to his neck, this time licking the skin.

            “Mate, mine,” he declared hotly.  She gasped in surprise, mate? Then she let out a muffled shriek when he squeezed her.  He let go immediately, seeing that her wounded arm had been pinned to her side by his bicep.  The claw marks had reopened and were bleeding sluggishly. He made a concerned sound, almost a whimper, before turning her to her side and snuggling in tightly behind her.  He licked across the injuries, resealing them and wiping away any traces of blood.  She was still aroused, although the sudden pain had taken the edge off of her desire.  He flicked the sleeping bag over them both and left it unzipped.  The warmth of his front against her back and the heat of his breath on her neck combined to make her eyes droop and her breathing deepen.  She was drifting off when she heard him growl quietly against her skin, “My territory. My den. My mate. My Tessaiga.”

 

***

 

            “Finally you have seen reason, lovely Sango.”

            The raspy whisper was barely intelligible, but Sango was awake in an instant.  She lifted her head from where she had fallen asleep on Miroku’s shoulder and examined him with hope.  His eyes were open - barely.  Dark circles bruised the skin underneath his eyes and his skin was still deathly pale.  His lips were cracked and dry, but pink. He would live.

            “Do not ever do something so stupid and reckless again.” Her words were stern, but she couldn’t help that her voice broke in the middle, leaving a pleading tone that trailed off into something close to begging.  His eyes widened slightly and the faint smirk on his mouth disappeared.

            “Life is about risk, dear woman. We must defeat evil to live - so we risk our lives.” One hand struggled out of the blankets to wrap around her fingers with surprising strength. “We must love to make life worth living - so we risk our hearts.”

            Sango took a deep, shuddering breath and stared at the monk who had infuriated, irritated, and harassed her into loving him. She had lost so much already, if she gave him her heart and he was not true...but he already had her heart. The aching pain in her chest when she thought he was gone was proof enough that she could not command herself not to love him.

“You are the only risk to my heart,” she whispered.  He smiled widely, the light sparkling in his eyes belying the pallor of his skin. “If you are so reckless with it again - you’ll have more than a slap to worry about.”  He pressed a kiss to her fingertips and sighed, ready to say more, but she interrupted him.

            “As soon as you are well enough, we should go look for Inuyasha and Kagome.”

            “They are not in here?”

            She shook her head, “We were separated by the avalanche. They escaped in the opposite direction of the village.”

            “Avalanche?” he asked incredulously at the same time that Shippo sat up sleepily.

            “Miroku! You’re awake!” He bounded over to the monks side and grinned widely. “You missed all the best parts! There was an avalanche, and Inuyasha ripped out the demon’s heart, and Sango kissed you, and Kagome-”

            Sango looked pointedly away from the curious monk, knowing the blush rising on her cheeks would give her away. “You stopped breathing,” she muttered.  Shippo continued as though nothing odd was happening between the adults.

            “Don’t worry, Miroku. I’ll draw you some pictures so it will be like you were awake for the whole thing,” he said seriously. “Do you think Kagome and Inuyasha are okay?”

            “Inuyasha will take good care of her,” Miroku murmured.  His eyelids were drooping, so Sango tucked his hand back under the blankets and shooed Shippo away.

            “Rest,” she said quietly. “Everyone is safe.”

 

***

 

            Kagome woke to the smell of cooking meat and a wet tongue on the inside of her thigh. “Ahhh-” She fumbled for words, embarrassed.  Inuyasha’s head emerged from the sleeping bag with a self-satisfied smile.  Kagome noted absently that he was still definitely full-youkai.  He frowned when he looked at her shoulder, bared by the loose fire rat.  Kagome glanced down and discovered that although the cuts were almost completely healed - she couldn’t even see some of them - the claw marks on her upper arm were still an angry red, surrounded by bruises.  Only two of the five hadn’t scabbed over, those still bled sluggishly.  Inuyasha gave those wounds careful attention before pulling the haori tight over her breasts and crawling out of the sleeping bag to check on the food.  Kagome adjusted her meager clothes and tried to will her blush away.  Before she could stand, Inuyasha thrust a roasted rabbit leg in her face.

            “Eat,” he commanded in the same gravelly voice that sent a tremor down her spine.  He finished the rest of the rabbit and redressed in his remaining clothes before she could toss her bones outside.  He gestured to the bedding, which she took as an order to break camp.  She had her shoes on and everything back in her bag and was about to put it on when he lifted it from her and secured it on his own back.  He picked her up, one hand under her knees and the other behind her shoulders and they were outside, bounding through the air before she could blink.  The storm had stopped, and the winter sun shone brightly on the snow.

            “Tessaiga?” she asked quietly.  He grunted, but did not look down.  Kagome could only hope for the best and press herself close to him to stay as warm as possible in the cold air.  It took less time that she would have thought to return to the site of the battle.  At least she assumed it was the same place.  The avalanche had transformed the landscape of the wide pass into a treacherous labyrinth of jagged rocks and deceptively unstable snow.  Inuyasha set her down gently on an exposed boulder and sniffed the air.  He crouched on all fours in front of her, his nose tipped up and his ears swiveling.  Kagome tried to remain quiet while he surveyed the area.

            He stood suddenly and ran his claws up her legs and over her arms.  He nuzzled his face into her neck, as though trying to brush his skin against every bare part of her.  She opened her mouth to remind him why they were there, but he plunged his tongue inside - sweeping across her lips and teeth in an almost routine manner.  One hand even slid under the haori, rubbing across her bottom and between her legs, making her squeak.

            “Mine,” he growled against her mouth.  She could only nod, too shocked and far too aroused to do anything else.  He made a vibrating sound of approval before leaping off of the rock to examine the remains of a cliff face and the smooth snow drifted against it.  He prowled back and forth over the snow, then suddenly leapt into the air and dove down with a clawed hand.  He broke what turned out to be a thick sheet of ice that concealed an air pocket.  Inuyasha disappeared down into the hole, only to reappear moments later. Without Tessaiga.  Kagome let out a disappointed breath.

            He beckoned her forward.  She took one limping step onto the snow before he was at her side, lifting and carrying her down into the chamber under the surface.  The ice demon’s body had trapped the air, creating a cavern that smelled even worse than the thing had while it was alive.  Inuyasha set her down close to the body and stepped away. She looked over her shoulder at him, puzzled.  He gave a short wuff of encouragement and nodded at the demon.  There, still buried deep in the fur, was Tessaiga.  Kagome gasped.

            “Yes!” She did a little one-footed dance of joy that left Inuyasha growling. “You should get it,” at his blank stare Kagome cleared her throat, remembering why he had agreed to come after the sword. “Take what is yours before the wolf-cub tries to steal it.” He was on her in an instant and Kagome realized too late the misinterpretation of her words.  His hands found her waist and pulled loose the belt she had made of his sleeves.  His claws dragged across her bare ribs and his mouth seized hers in a kiss that left her ravaged and breathless and nearly forgetting that there was something more important than letting Inuyasha claim anything he wanted. His lips dragged across her jaw to find the sensitive spot on her neck that made her moan.  He growled, the vibration settling into her chest and causing everything below her waist to tingle pleasantly. Focus!

            “Tessaiga,” she said breathlessly. “Get Tessaiga and we can go somewhere warm and...” She pressed her hips against his and slid her hands in the vee of his nagajuban.  The rumbles in his chest increased in volume and his hand found her breast.  She couldn’t help but press into his palm - completely forgetting about the sword or Inuyasha’s very real need to return to himself.  He spun her around and nipped quickly at her neck before abruptly letting her go.  Kagome stood in shock, the fire rat hanging open from her shoulders, her underwear uncomfortably wet.  Inuyasha was breathing hard and the red of his eyes glowed in the dim light from above.

            “Mine,” he repeated. Kagome nodded mutely.  In a graceful leap he was on top of the dead demon and he grasped Tessaiga in his hands - and froze.

            Kagome pulled the fire rat closed and hastily re-tied the sleeves. “Inuyasha?” she asked timidly.

            “What the fuck?”  His voice was back to normal, although he sounded absolutely confused. Kagome could sympathize.  Although she was also frustrated and the tiniest bit disappointed.

            “Inuyasha,” she said, managing a smile. “I’m so glad you’re back.”  He flicked back his hair and pulled out Tessaiga.  He jumped to the ground and stared at her, his expression somewhere between angry, afraid, and something else she couldn’t place.

            “What the fuck is that smell?”

            Kagome froze.  She knew youkai-Inuyasha could smell her desire, and she was very aware of the state of her panties in that moment.  Surely he didn’t mean....  “You killed it,” she managed in a tight voice, “you should know what it smells like, baka.”  His nostrils flared, and Kagome stood absolutely still while his eyes traced her bare legs and his fire rat, the way she was sure her hair was tousled.  She had to force herself not to lick her lips which felt swollen from the violent kisses he had given her moments before.  His gaze finally stopped on her arm.

            “What the fuck is that?” He pointed at the claw marks with Tessaiga.  Kagome had no need to look, but she did anyhow.  The combination of dried blood and dark bruises looked marginally worse in the dim light.

            “That was you saving me from being trampled by an ice demon,” she responded calmly. “And please stop saying ‘fuck’.”

            “I was...I was gone, wasn’t I? I was him?” Inuyasha swallowed hard and looked at the floor.  

            Kagome’s heart twisted in sympathy for him. “You carried me to safety after I fell remember?” She asked gently.  He nodded, still not looking up. “Your youkai pushed me out of the way when the ice demon charged.” He met her eyes, but he still looked guilty - almost beaten. “Besides, he did his best to heal it up afterward.  I think it was a fair deal.”

            “Heal it up? How long was I-” Inuyasha scowled. “How did he heal it?”  Kagome hesitated, she could feel her blush rising, so she turned away to pick up her yellow bag from where he had dropped it and slung it over her shoulders.

            “Your youkai licked me,” she managed coolly.  “You never told me inu spit was good for wounds. I-”

            “Shut up! Stupid baka,” he muttered.  His face was even redder than hers, but at least he had stopped asking about his transformation.  He turned around and crouched down so that she could climb on his back. She settled herself easily in the familiar position and he gripped her legs behind the knees, preparing to leap to the surface. He inhaled, and she worried about what exactly he could scent on her. “I really didn’t hurt you?” he whispered.

            “You really didn’t,” she responded gently.  Then she lightly tweaked his ear. “Your youkai might even be better company. Not once did he call me a bak-A!” Her words ended in a shriek as he vaulted upwards and began running back to the village at a dizzying speed.  She buried her face under his hair, against his neck and breathed deeply of the warm, woodsy scent.  She smiled. Inuyasha was himself.  As long as he didn’t ask her exactly what happened while his youkai was free, then she wouldn’t really be lying to keep certain things to herself. Besides, now she had a lot more than her imagination to keep her company when she was lonely.