It had been seven hours, and maybe a dozen minutes. She was still shaking from the shock. Her hands, normally animated and delicate, lay as limp rags across her lap, curled into loose fists to protect the severe burns inflicted by Tetsusaiga. Even a slight breeze ruffling the forest with gentle comfort caused her to wince in pain, standing tears making their way down her cheeks in tracks used too often to dry.

He had not meant for it to happen.

The resulting scars would always remind her of that encounter. She did not even have to concentrate to bring the image of the first time she had set her gaze upon SesshouMaru as he stood regally atop the shoulder of a gigantic lower youkai, to her mind. Or of when they had all finally made their way into the tomb of the brothers' dead sire, or of the battle between siblings, or of when she had pulled the prize from its captive stone by accident. It would play over and over to her alone, behind eyes glazed over with memory, seeing into the past as easily as she could see the creature standing before her.

He had thought to take if from her.

It had happened when she held the sword, backed into a corner with no escape, to ward of the full demon Lord of the West. InuYasha had tried to stop him, to draw the attention linked with his molten gaze away, and to give her the moment to move. The hanyou would have gotten between them and in her mind she played out the ending differently. She fantasized her escape and the power of the Tetsusaiga in InuYasha's capable hands. Another gust of the night chill shivered down her spine.

He helped her to her feet, securing the petite form to his, and moved them off towards the forest edge.

SesshouMaru appeared before her. He had spoken of involvement, of alliances, and of dues. The sword should have been his, to secure the land of his heritage and protect the bloodline entrusted to his care, and she would provide for him. Words coated in death meant to frighten and inform. She had used the sword to protect herself from his claws, spread towards her like a lily in bloom, their noxious poison dripping to sizzle the floor. Kagome closed her eyes, as she had done in the tomb only an instant before he touched the blade. He was without Tetsusaiga but had instead his half-brother's miko.

She saw his fingers pinched on the end of the blade, his hand completely engulfed in the green glow from releasing his poisonous attack.

The girl whimpered as they approached the water, a small stream-fed pond near the spot his spell had landed them at. SesshouMaru had spent the remainder of the day and most of the night observing the human female InuYasha had brought into their father's grave, the woman who had pulled Tetsusaiga from it's earthen scabbard.

It had taken no time at all to determine she was not a normal human. Her indecent clothing, apparent cleanliness, and magical aura put her above the norm within the territories SesshouMaru knew. All the humans he had ever encountered were detestable scum, unworthy of the life bestowed upon them by their laboring mothers. He had a rioting dislike, to put it lightly, for such men and was considered it completely within the bounds of all things "humanitarian" to destroy humans of such caliber.

She felt the ward flare and hum down the sword, the smell of burning flesh, and the skin tearing from her palms when Tetsusaiga was turned out of her grasp.

SesshouMaru removed his armor and outer robe. The miko watched the calm waters but without seeing anything. She had been that way all afternoon, lost in her memories, silently cry for the pain he'd caused her. He tied back the pristine mane of his hair and shrugged from the white linen shirt before addressing the woman.

Her shoes first, then her hair and lastly her clothing. He allowed her no modesty as piece by piece the strange attire was removed. What he could not get off her easily was torn away, even the strange lace and metal apparatus covering her breasts, until she stood before him completely unadorned. The beauty of her took his breath as a single tear glittered in its track down her cheek.

She saw him and the other, both of them looking from her to where the blade had landed, at cross-purposes to one another.

After a belated minute, SesshouMaru finally acted. Drawing her close, he turned to the pond, her back to his chest, and together they knelt at the water's edge. He used the white cloth of the shirt she had worn under the heavier black outer-shirt to clean her face and body.

They were no doubt a sight to see, he mused as he carefully cleaned away dirt and sweat from her form. Her natural scent soothed him and SesshouMaru relaxed, his body fitting more snuggly around hers. Their combined body heat warding off a sudden chill to the early, early morning air.

She was in his grasp even as InuYasha retrieved Tetsusaiga, a bargaining chip once again.

In that moment of time, that scene in his life, SesshouMaru did not question the decision he had come to earlier, the choice he had made to help this miko. She was not his brother's as he had thought initially upon their meeting the previous day. There were no blemishes on her body that could be identified as youkai marks and no hint in her scent of InuYasha or anyone else. She was free, unattached, and beginning to shiver again in his arms.

He tightened them around her and began the process of seeing to her hands. Tucking the other against her body, SesshouMaru held her left hand at the wrist, using his right to inspect the damage.

She hadn't heard anything said, the shock and shaking already beginning, only feeling the rumble of his chest as words where exchanged, and then they were falling through darkness.

Curled protectively over itself, he heard the dried burn crackle like a fine papered scroll being unraveled when he slowly pushed open her fingers. She moaned, not the sound associated with passion, or even with horror, this was born purely of pain. Just beneath the crisp, cracked, and blackened skin SesshouMaru saw the tendons and ruined tissues of her palm contract slightly, trying in vain close the hand. She was crying again and her breathing, which before had been somewhat smooth, began to chop and sputter with her coughing sobs.

He had caused this.

Incredible pain brought Kagome out of the dream she was having.

Morbid walls of bone and decaying flesh faded to a peaceful expanse of water, rippling in the night breeze. She shivered when it reached her, flowing over her bare skin and urging her to snuggle into the warmth at her back. But the agony returned and she screamed this time, the sound carrying across the pond to be absorbed in thick vegetation on the other shore.

"Shhh," he breathed in her near ear, relieved she had finally broken the spell of shock that had held her for so long.

The woman cringed away, struggling for the first time, but his grip on her arm was solid, and wrapped as she was in his embrace, SesshouMaru didn't worry she would get away. He had stopped his ministrations on her hand at the first sign of her return to the present, but had not released what he could only imagine was an incredibly uncomfortable hold on her damaged appendage.

He waited, breathing evenly in hope she would calm. All the moving about was awakening his body is a way neither of them was in a position to handle at the moment.

"Please," she whispered, the single word a plea for freedom, release from not just him but from the indescribable sensations emanating from her hands. "Oh, please... make it stop." The last came in a sob and she broke down completely.

SesshouMaru was at a loss. He knew nothing of comforting other beings; especially not mortal mikos with almost irreparable injuries that would be hard to tolerate even with a youkai's threshold for pain. When she began to cough as though the air was getting caught up in her throat he released her hand and wrapped both arms around her. She immediately huddled into herself, tucking her hands together at her breast and curling back into his warmth.

He felt an instinctual nudge in the back for his mind, a remembrance of something locked away, and began to rock slightly back and forth. They remained that way until her breathing eased and she loosened her hold on herself.

The night rushed in to surround them again, its placid silence a comfort after the storm of her awakening, but only the eye of the storm still to come.

"You must let me heal you," he stated, evenly and without infliction or emphasis.

The miko tensed slightly, the only indication he received that she had heard him at all, then slowly began to unravel her cocoon. Drawing out the hand he had been inspecting before, she gazed at it, panic rising once again in her scent.

"What can you do," she asked in a near whisper.

To Kagome it seemed only the barest of tissue remained of her palm. The outer layers of skin were black and a strange shade of amber brown, burnt to flakes, with globs of congealed blood rimming the edges. There were places where she could see the luminescent sheen of tendon and ligament, the sponge round of her thumb joint as the bone glistened in the full moon light.

He slid his left hand up her forearm to cup the back of the ruined appendage. Gently interlacing his fingers with hers, SesshouMaru held her steady as he guided their hands down towards the water's surface. He began concentrating then, drawing the venom he used to destroy his enemies into his free hand, feeling the powerful toxin develop through body and magic to infuse him.

She gasped and tensed further, but didn't move to escape. He'd said he would heal her and just now, in the position they were in, she had no choice. The glowing color changed from green to a more golden yellow. Kagome watched, fascinated for the moment, as SesshouMaru spread his hand wide just over hers, the golden aura warming her frayed flesh.

It was beautiful.

It was going to hurt her like she had probably never known.

Without warning SesshouMaru clasped his hands together, hers in between, and plunged them into the pond. The miko would have shot bolt upright and three feet into the air if he hadn't been engulfing her like mounted lovers. She sucked in air, laboring to breathe through the pain, and then added hyperventilation to her tactics of coping with the treatment. She cried, she moaned, and when the process was almost complete, she reached into the bubbling water with her other hand, equally mangled by Tetsusaiga, in an attempt pry him from her.

Something that took less than a minute to do seemed like hours to them both. SesshouMaru felt the pond water cool around his hands and knew they were done. Giving slightly on the solid hold he'd kept on her, the miko jerked back and resumed building her cocoon of protection against him. There was no time and he severely doubt he'd trust him enough again to do the other hand.

Exasperated with himself, he pried her right hand out quickly and held it open while gathering the healing tonic into himself for a second time.

Kagome could barely see her other outstretched arm through the curtain of tears. Searing pain, worse than Tetsusaiga's bite, was spearing through her left hand and she knew it would do the same in her right. SesshouMaru was quickly building the glow in his hand from green to yellow, and she held her breath this time when he clasped them together and put them underwater.

She could feel the pressure of his hand over hers for just the briefest moment before the poison invaded her bloodstream. It not only penetrated her hand but also coursed up her arm and into her neck and chest. Like an electric current running the length of her body, Kagome spasmed again, groaning in agony because there was no other option. She couldn't enunciate enough to actually scream and her brain was too overloaded with signals of torturous pain without escape to command her body to do anything more than just shut down.

Tossing her head back to look briefly at the sky, Kagome plummeted into darkness.

SesshouMaru gathered her fragile form to him and walked back to where he'd left his clothes. Wrapping her in the linen undershirt, he removed the rest of his own clothing and returned to the pond to bathe. With the cool water surrounding him he could finally reflect on what it was he had done and how it was making him feel.

The miko was incredible, he deduced. Be it courage or simply a natural reaction to what had just happened, she had managed to endure his treatment better than any other being he'd deemed worthy enough to warrant it. She had barely uttered a sound, unlike fellow youkai he'd know who had screamed like banshees at the golden torment of his Sun Touch. She'd struggled, but it was only a normal reaction of the body to flee, an instinct of self-preservation and nothing more.

He paused to consider that for a moment. The woman had experienced an instinctual reaction not at all associated with maternal feelings. Perhaps there was salvation for humanity yet, he thought, fully realizing that part of his disgust with humans was their scorn towards things not intellectually logical. It was as though they felt above the baser commands that drove all beasts at some level or another. SesshouMaru could recall several experiences in the past when he'd followed that little hunch in his mind and lived to see the next dawn. He was suddenly pleased with the miko for listening to hers; it gave him a connection to her that he would rely on in the future.

Then there was the other base need he felt from touching her. Despite the cool pond water, his body reacted to just the memory of her in his arms. She had pressed back into him all through the treatment, seeking strength and comfort, as well as escape, in his presence behind her. On the previous two occasions that SesshouMaru had used Sun Touch the youkai in question had to be strapped and bound in place. Grown beings, some stronger than him but immense measures, had pleaded for release, asked that the wounded part be removed rather than healed, and never once had they looked to him for support through the pain.

It was not trust, by a long shot, but it was a commonality he now shared with only her. It was the type of bond that one might share with a mate, a partner, like a secret kept between two for all time.

On the shore she stirred and he made haste to exit and dress. The miko came conscious but did not open her eyes; rather preferring to lay still and absorb what remained of the pain. SesshouMaru waited. He did not bother to adorn his armor for his dwelling was close by and so deep in the heart of his territory he had little to fear from attack. Tonight he would sleep in his own futon.

Kagome finally opened her eyes to be greeted by the sky. Dawn was close, she could see Venus shining brightly in the eastern sky, a sure sign that the Sun would rise soon. SesshouMaru was sitting close by, watching her with that same blank expression he'd had the first time she'd seen him. At such a close distance though it was like looking at a beautiful statue brought to life in every way but one. Though it breathed, moved, and at times spoke, it was still made of stone on the inside.

Her eyes glazed for a second, in pain or something else he could not tell, and then she turned her head to focus back on the night sky. It was time to be off. He was tired and needed sleep if InuYasha was to come pounding on the doors for her.

He offered no explanation and no apology, simply lifted her into his arms and took to the sky.

They made it to his dwelling shortly before the rose hues of light, signaling dawn, streaked across the Western Lands.

He easily took survey of the property. A simple, one-story expanse of garden and house, there was no reminder of his father's grand palace here. SesshouMaru had specifically sought the solitude and lack-luster appearance of this place to create his home. The four-corner design had come to him in a dream. Three 'wings' were connected by hallways wide enough for three grown youkai to walk abreast. They opened to an interior garden, one of two though the second was a private affair, and provided a sense of space SesshouMaru had never felt at his father's home.

Meeting, dining and the more public rooms were situated in the entry wing. There was a place for his personal interests, a library of sorts and reading porch that looked out to the side of the house, and a small sand garden. SesshouMaru had kept a similar such garden at the palace as he'd grown. His father had questioned the sanity of keeping rocks as one would plants, but its serenity then had given SesshouMaru a measure of peace and joy. Now the area was meticulously groomed without any grumbling over its existence.

Along the upper hall to the second wing was the guest and common rooms. Though he rarely hosted anyone, SesshouMaru had had need for the rooms on previous occasions. Farther behind the main dwelling were several huts built in the same style of his house which his staff used. Only Jaken was permitted a place to call his own on the premises, yet all the servants attending the house spent their time in the second wing unless otherwise needed in the first.

Connected through the lower hall was SesshouMaru's private domain. Here a second garden was hidden away, set into the floor between the bedrooms and his private office. A masterfully crafted bathing pond occupied one corner of the garden. Fed by a spring beneath the dwelling, which supplied all the buildings and occupants with water, it gurgled pleasantly. From one edge water trickled over into the garden, a natural stream, that disappeared under a corner of the floor to drain away from the house.

The stone and wood structure had only a quarter the rooms his family seat held, most of them not nearly the size of ones he played in as an infant, but it was peaceful and that was what SesshouMaru wanted more than anything.

As he came to land within the garden, the miko sighed against him and SesshouMaru tightened his hold on her a little more. Being too tired to care, and hoping her return to unconsciousness meant the same, he tucked her into his own futon, dressed in a lighter pair of pants, and joined her. They kept one another warm until the sun got to its zenith in the sky, at which time SesshouMaru rose and began tending to the daily needs of his home and heritage.

There had been rumors of demons, lesser demons in particular, overstepping their bounds along the northern border. Most certainly a result of the strange jewel shards he'd been finding scattered all over his lands. The shards were a herald of times to come, of that SesshouMaru was sure.

He did not doubt that there were many demons, hereto in life unable to defend themselves or gain any real foothold in the youkai social caste, which found these shards a quick fix to their low birth. All it took was one or two of the tiny slivers of what he suspected to be the Shikon-no-Tama in order for these usually just annoying demons to be real trouble makers. SesshouMaru could not fathom how such a powerful thing as the Shikon Jewel could be scattered to the wind like dandelion seeds, but it had happened and so now life went on.

It was about the time he'd finished all that needed to be done, that SesshouMaru realized the day had passed without a visit from InuYasha, an unexpected pleasantry in and of its own. He had stopped to wonder only once, when Jaken had finally made his way back to the dwelling, if his brother valued the miko enough to come for her.

His loss, SesshouMaru though, he had no qualms about keeping her, especially if she continued to be such a tame bedmate. He couldn't stand females that tossed and turned in their sleep, stealing the covers and causing him more pain in bruised shins, than pleasure from warmth. The human miko was a wonderfully calm sleeper, and he was actually looking forward to returning to the comfort of having her in his bed.

Twilight filtered into his garden, beckoning him to watch its descent and the appearance of the stars. He stood watching the twinkling points for a minute before becoming aware she was there too.