It was such a pretty day. High above her, the tress rustled as a soft wind blew through their branches, making the light patterns the leaves made on the ground shift and jump. White butterflies danced among the many flowers that littered the forest floor. Izayoi smiled as the wind swept down to gently tug at her hair. She twirled in it, flinging her arms wide.

"Isn't it so pretty?" she asked her youkai companion. He smiled, gazing up through the trees at the puffy clouds.

"Yes it is." He returned his gaze to her and gave her a dry look. "It might have been better had you not slept half the day." He seemed annoyed. Izayoi frowned slightly. Heros were never supposed to be annoyed with their ladies. They were supposed to find them cute. A shake of her head dismissed the stray thought. It was just another thing she would have to teach him. She skipped ahead a few paces and picked a blue flower, bringing the soft petals up to her nose to inhale the scent.

"It's slow going enough without you stopping to pick flowers," the youkai said, tapping her on the head with his fingers.

"Smell," she said, turning and holding the flower up to him. He made no move to grab it, only inhaled softly. His eyes slipped closed and a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

"Mm. That is good."

"You can't smell it properly from all the way up there," Izayoi said, mildly irritated by his pretending.

"I'm an inuyoukai, brat," he said, gently tweaking her nose. "Just because you can't smell past your own feet doesn't mean I can't."

"Oh." Izayoi giggled, tucked the flower behind her ear and wrapped both her arms around one of the youkai's.

"You know, if I smell any more human, we're going to be attacked by every youkai in the area."

"But they're no match for you," Izayoi said, giving his arm a squeeze. He laughed.

"That's true. For a human you're damned hard to argue with. What's your name, anyway?"

"Izayoi. Like the flower."

He wrinkled his nose.

"You don't smell like a flower."

"That's rude!" she said with a giggle. She knew he didn't mean it. A hero would never say anything like that to his lady and mean it. The youkai shook his head but said nothing.

"And what should I call you?" she asked, peering up into his face. He seemed to think on it a moment.

"You may address me as the great, powerful and attractive Lord of the Western Lands."

Izayoi blinked. A hero with a title greater then his lady? No, that wouldn't do at all. Besides, it was too much to speak in one breath.

"Okay, Youkai-san," she said with a smile. He laughed.

"You little shit." In a smooth movement, he slipped his hands under her arms and lifted her up to face level. She put her hands on his arms, more for something to do with them then actual fear of falling. He was smiling up at her, golden eyes reflecting the sunlight. "Do you know how easily I could bite your head off?"

"But you wouldn't," she said, tapping his nose lightly with two fingers.

"Why is that?"

"Because I'm cute," she said, cocking her head to one side. He chuckled, setting her on the ground.

"You're right. Damned if I hate to admit it, but you're right. But if you weren't, I'd eat you."

"No you wouldn't," she said, absently brushing dirt off the hem of her yakuta.

"Are you sure about that?" Youkai-san asked, raising an eyebrow.


He chuckled and passed a clawed hand briefly through her hair before moving ahead of her. Izayoi walked a few paces behind him, admiring the easy confidence in his step. Even if he didn't act like the best hero, he certainly looked like one. From behind, it was easy to imagine that he wasn't youkai.

The trees parted and they came to a narrow road. It sort of looked like the one she'd been on last night, but it was hard to tell. Youkai-san stepped on the road, looking first one way, then the other, his face serious and noble. Izayoi clasped her hands. He looked so heroic and dignified! He cocked his head, then suddenly dropped to all fours and began sniffing at the road. Izayoi blinked. Were real heros supposed to do that?

"Well, isn't that interesting," he said, sitting back cross-legged on the road.

"What?" she asked, coming closer.

"Humans passed this way." He absently rubbed the tip of his nose with his thumb. "I don't know if they were yours but I suppose we'll find out."

"Is that what was interesting?"

"In a way…" With a shrug, he bounded gracefully to his feet and started down the road. Izayoi ran to catch up with him and grabbed his arm.

"But what do you mean? What's interesting?"

"Curiosity is just killing you, isn't it?" he asked, grinning down at her. She nodded and he laughed. "In that case, I don't think I'll tell you."

Izayoi sighed and added the remark to the list of things she would have to train out of him. She leaned her head against his arm and smiled. Still…despite his flaws, he was the best hero she'd ever had.

Twilight was falling rapidly. The forest that lined either side of the road was bursting with activity. Some creatures were ending their daily routine, others just starting them. Inutaisho smiled, thoroughly enjoying the racket. It had been a while since he'd spent any length of time on the ground. Lately he'd been flying, simply because it was so much fun to disappear into the clouds and let Sesshou-chan completely exhaust himself trying to find him. Thinking of finding… Inutaisho tested the air and his senses informed him that they would reach the humans by dawn if they kept up this pace.

"Youkai-san?" said the child at his side. He glanced down at her. "I'm tired. Can we stop now?"

"What? How can you possibly be tired? You just slept all morning."

"But we've walked all day… There's a nice little clearing over there- Ooh! And it has a pretty little pond. We'll rest there."

"I never said-"

But she was all ready skipping in the direction of the clearing. Inutaisho sighed and followed after her. He should just leave her. Really he should. It wasn't possible that she was tired. At that age, Sesshou-chan could walk for three days straight before he started whining. The damn female was just doing it to irk him. The youkai lord dismissed the emotion with a shake of his head. He would not let this little human manipulate him like this. Although, it was hard not to smile as Izayoi checked the clearing, almost as if inspecting it for dust, before she nodded and sat down by the base of a large tree, tucking her legs underneath her. Folding her hands in her lap, she looked up at him.

"You should start a fire," she said. The commanding tone set Inutaisho's teeth on edge. Youkai-san was one thing. But if she thought he could order him around like he was some sort of vassal…

"I don't think you need one," he said, folding his arms and trying to sound as irritated as he felt. She couldn't manipulate him if she didn't know what he was feeling.

"Oh." Izayoi bowed her head apologetically. "I'm sorry. A youkai like you probably doesn't know how to start one."

Inutaisho glared at her. What the hell was that supposed to mean? He bit back the growl that was rising in his throat and spoke as levelly as he could.

"I just don't feel like starting a fire for your sake."

She looked up at him, smiling gently.

"It's okay, Youkai-san. None of my sisters know how to start a fire either."

"I know how to start one!" he snapped.

"It's okay, really. Sometimes people who can do strong, great things have trouble with simple things." She reached up to brush the flower resting in her hair and smiled warmly. "I still like you anyway. Even if you're not…" she trailed off and frowned.

"Not what?"

"Nothing, I'm sorry," she said, returning her gaze to her lap. The youkai instinctively flexed his claws. This- this human thought he was a complete idiot. Stomping to a nearby tree, twisted off a large branch and started breaking it into pieces. He would show her who the idiot was.

It wasn't flames crackled sharply over the pile of wood did he realize the truth. He bared his teeth at the female who was happily warming her hands. That little bitch. She'd done that on purpose. She took one look at his expression, put her sleeve over her mouth and started giggling. Inutaisho narrowed his eyes.

"I'm sorry," she squeaked between laughs.

"No you're not."

For some reason, that only made her giggle harder. A tear formed at the corner of her eye and slipped down her cheek. Well… He was so glad he amused her. That was it. He was going to leave her. As soon as the sun rose, he would be gone faster then she could blink. After a while, Izayoi calmed herself and gave him a sweet smile. Inutaisho felt some of his irritation fading. Damnit all- She was just a human. Oh well. Leaning back on his elbow, he watched her through half-closed eyes. She smiled and bowed her head, almost shyly, but that was all pretense. He couldn't believe this little female would be shy about anything. The blue flower that she'd tucked up in her hair fluttered from its perch and twirled onto her lap. She cupped it gently in two hands and lifted the flower to her face, inhaling deeply.

Anxiety entered her scent then, making her shoulders tense. Inutaisho sat up, opening his eyes and blinking a little at the sudden brightness. What was she scared of? There was nothing in the forest around them….nothing she would be able to sense anyway. And even if there was, Inutaisho could easily take care of any youkai stupid enough to stumble onto their path. So what could she be worrying about?

"I hope big brother isn't too worried about me," she whispered. "He must think something terrible happened after the bandits took me away."

"How do you know he survived?" he asked, just to see what her reaction would be. Izayoi clenched her hand around the flower. When she looked up, her eyes were angry and full of tears.

"Don't say that!" she snapped. "Big brother is alive! He's too strong to die! Never say that again!" She covered her face with her hands and her shoulders tensed as if she were trying not to cry. He could smell her tears, though and suddenly, inexplicably, felt bad. He really hadn't meant to upset her. Crawling around the fire to her, he gently lifted her face. She was more upset then angry now and the look on her face was so desperate. It was as if she knew the truth but wanted to believe the lie she was telling. He wanted to apologize, if just to make her feel better, but wasn't sure what to say. Instead he licked a tear from her cheek, the distinctive saltiness of it bursting on his tongue. Izayoi looked at him, seeming startled, then whined softly and hugged him, burying her face against his shoulder.

When it was apparent she wasn't going to let go any time soon, Inutaisho sighed and pulled her on to his lap, keeping his arm around her waist. She shifted into a more comfortable position, rubbing her cheek against his pelt. Inutaisho shook his head, not sure whether to be amused or annoyed at his weakness. He could feel her ribs underneath his hand, so delicate and small one twitch of his claws could snap them. Yet he couldn't bring himself to hurt her…or even abandon her.

Inutaisho stared into the fire, watching as the hours passed and it slowly faded to glowing embers. Izayoi shivered and he instinctively pulled her a little closer, curling his pelt around her shoulders.

"Youkai-san?" she murmured, voice heavy with sleep.


"Will protect me forever?"

"Mm-hm," he said absently. She sat up, reached behind him and pulled some of his hair over his shoulder, patting it for a moment. He stared at her, one eyebrow raised. Finally, she looked at him, dark eyes catching the meager light of the embers.

"You have to give a lock of your hair to seal it. So I can always remember." She held up the requested amount of hair. Inutaisho cut the strands away with the tips of his claws, without really thinking about it. The strands of silver fell limp in her palm and he watched her, absorbed in a lazy way, as she began to braid the hair. When she had finally finished, she wrapped the hair around her wrist, yawned and curled up against him again. Soon she was breathing deeply, lost to sleep.

Inutaisho yawned himself, stretching his legs out in front of him. Hmm. Maybe he should take a nap him— Wait a minute… What the hell had he just done? Frantically, Inutaisho replayed the last moments of conversation in his mind. He'd just promised to- And then he'd- How in the hell had she- Inutaisho shook his head. No. This wasn't acceptable. Next thing she would be asking him to wait on her hand and foot for the rest of her life and at this point, he didn't trust himself to say no. He had to leave her and leave her now… First thing in the morning…

Yay! Just in time, too! Happy Valentines Day, people!