A/N: Okay, here it is. Last chapter, down and dirty. This chapter is about three times longer than my usual ones, so get yourself a comfortable seat and a beverage. I hope you enjoy the conclusion of this story every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it!

"Damn it, Sessh! Think about what you're doing!"

His cousin ignored him, continuing to stuff clothing into a bag. "I've already thought about it, Jano. I'm leaving. I can't stay here anymore, not with him treating me like dirt under his feet. It's about time I was on my own anyway."

Namichi sat on the edge of the bed, watching tension crackle between her two best friends. Her heart was sore at the idea of Sesshomaru leaving for good, but to be leaving his home over that evil little wench! "Maybe you should just take a couple days more to think," she offered, looking down and playing with the end of her braid. This was so stupid, the Daimyo was not about to let his only son and heir just walk out of the fortress.

"I'm going, Nami-chan," Sesshomaru said stiffly. Jano glared at him, fists planted on his hips as his eyes followed his cousin's movements. "You won't even get out of the damn valley, Sessh. How humiliating will that be, when he sends the guard to drag you back home like a little lost puppy!"

Sesshomaru drew himself up to stare coldly at Jano. "That's my problem, not yours. I can get out without being noticed."

Jano rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think of what might make his stubborn ass of a best friend come to his senses. "Okay, suppose you make it out of the valley. I'll give you that one. What kind of a life are you and Chi-chan," he sneered the name mockingly, "going to have? She's already told you that she can't go home, are you two going to take up farming and live in a human village? How sweet."

"We'll figure out something," Sessh muttered, not looking him in the eye. "As long as we can be together, we'll find a way to get by. She still has friends of her father's that won't..." he trailed off, realizing he might be saying too much of her plans to Jano and Namichi. They were, after all, his best friends and he loved them both, but they were also dead set against this and he knew that one or both of them might even end up running to the Daimyo. "You aren't planning on telling him, are you?"

Namichi flushed, she actually had been thinking about doing just that when Sho-kun left. As soon as she could get up her nerve to approach the Daimyo. Like most of her people, she was terribly intimidated by Inutaisho, even though she strongly believed he would never hurt her, a child really, for any reason. It was more a question of working up the courage to speak to the person she'd idolized since she'd first come here. Sesshomaru's words stung deep though and Nami had to swallow hard before looking up. "I won't tell," she murmured.

Jano cast her a withering look. "I will. You put one foot out that door, Sessh, and I'm running right to the Daimyo. Hate me if you want, I'm not letting you go."

Sesshomaru moved quietly across the room, his face composed peacefully enough but the threat was standing in his eyes. "You wouldn't do that, Jano. I know you wouldn't betray me like that. We've been friends too long."

Jano didn't so much as flinch, he folded his arms across his chest and met his cousin's gaze head on. "You bet your ass I will," he said softly. "I'm not letting you throw your life away because of some worthless, lying little whore."

His cousin's body blurred as he moved across the room and slammed his fist into Jano's mouth. Although still young, Sessh was fast developing a full demon's strength, as well as a full demon's temper. Jano rocked back on his heels, stunned by the force and the malice behind the blow. Luckily, Tsing-Pao had already taught him a thing or two about how to take a punch and Jano was already coming back around to sink a hard fist into Sho-kun's undefended middle section. He heard Sessh grunt, but not cry out from the blow and found himself staggering from another lighting quick series of punches to his face.

Nami jumped off the bed, shouting as the two cousins grappled at each other. Jano had a fistful of white hair by now and was forcibly trying to get Sessh to eat his knuckles. Sesshomaru also had a handful of hair and was getting ready to kick Jano where neither human or demon wanted to be struck. Nami threw herself on top of them, the smaller girl knocking both young demons to the floor. Angry, she started slapping whichever of them she could reach and finally got up when she realized that both Sesshomaru and Jano weren't fighting each other anymore. Both young males were just laying on the floor and staring at her like she'd lost her mind.

"You two make me sick," she bawled at last, sounding for all the world like the captain of the household guard disciplining a rowdy recruit. The girl swung around and grabbed up Sesshomaru's sword, still in its sheath, and raised it over her head. "I'm going to knock both of you unconscious if you don't stop this stupid fight!"

Sessh had an ugly bruise under his right eye and Jano got to his feet blotting at his bloody nose. With a rough yank, Sesshomaru grabbed his sword out of her hands and stuffed it in his sash. "I'm going, tell the fucking Daimyo if that's what you want to do. Just remember that you're responsible for whatever he does to me and Chi for it. I hope you can be happy with that."

Watching him storm out the door, Nami felt a sense of loss. He was right, if she went to his father, and his father did something awful to punish Sho-kun, she would feel like she was at fault. Even for his own sake, she didn't want to do such a thing to her friend. She knew he'd never betray her, would always defend her, and even against her better judgment she thought she couldn't do less for him.

She turned her coppery colored eyes on Jano, noting the determined, grim expression he was wearing. "What are we going to do? We can't just let him go like that, can we?"

Jano nodded, wiping a little more blood off his mouth. "Let him go, Nami. It's what he wants."

She rubbed her cheeks with her hands and wished that she had the answers. "But she's going to betray him, I just have this feeling. What if there's something going on we don't know about, you told me what Naota said."

He shot her a piercing look. "I didn't say we were going to let her get away with it. He's not going alone, we're going to follow him. In case he needs us." So they couldn't talk sense into Sessh, it wasn't that big of a surprise. Jano wasn't done yet, he wasn't about to let his cousin go off alone with that bitch. When Sesshomaru figured out what kind of person Chinatsu really was and her little game was revealed, they would be there to stand beside him. Count on it.

Naota's eyes opened slowly, consciousness brought another gut-wrenching burst of pain. Tears leaked slowly out of his eyes as he tried to hold back the spasms. They hurt so much, like his body was trying to tear itself apart. Hasuke and Dazu had gotten tired of his moans of pain and picked him up, carrying him deeper into the forest so he could expire without interrupting their sleep. Alone, feeling half frozen on the cold ground, he had no other companion but despair in his last moments.

No. He wasn't going to let them win. They were going to kill Sho-kun and he couldn't just lay there and let it happen. Grimly, ignoring the ache that filled his entire body, the burning fever that was starting to consume his mind, he tried to sit up. Inch by inch, he forced himself to move until he was flush against the trunk of a sturdy tree. Naota rolled over until he was able to brace his shoulder against the tree, slowly using it for leverage as he worked his elbow underneath him to try and sit up. His hands and feet were bound, but if he could sit, he might be able to get the ropes around his arms to loosen and then, maybe even get a hand free.

A sudden spasm seized the boy and he fell over, twitching uncontrollably as his body tried to fight off the poison that had been introduced into his system. Helpless, he vomited again, sick white bile and felt his muscles clench and unclench in ever increasing spasms of pain. Hot tears came out from Naota's eyelids as the painful shuddering slowly eased, leaving him too exhausted and sick to move. It was no use, who was he kidding. He was going to die here, die and be buried in a shallow grave or most likely just left to rot since his captors had no interest in even hiding what they'd done. His uncle would never know what happened to him, not until it was too late. I'm sorry, uncle, he thought, more useless tears falling on his cheeks. I'm sorry, Sho-kun, I'm weak like you've always said I was. I failed you both.

Naota was slipping back into unconsciousness when he felt someone touch his head and gently lift his face off the ground. Panicked, he struggled, trying to fight off whoever it was and cried out in sheer terror. A hand clamped over his mouth and Naota froze as that someone leaned in close. "Ssshhh, don't make any noise. I'm not going to hurt you, Naota."

He rolled his head back and tried to get a look at his rescuer's face, but the man's head was covered in a dark hood. The forest was still cloaked in night, the sky was several shades lighter than what it had been but everything around him was still painted in darkness and silvery starlight. "Who are you?" he managed to whisper.

"It's not important," came the soft reply. Naota felt the man fumble for something, then something was being pressed against his mouth. Instinctively, Naota turned his face away, resisting. "No, please don't," he begged.

The man sighed, crushing the leaves between his fingers so Naota could smell the pungent, green fragrance. "It's the antidote. The poison she used would have killed a human by now, you're stronger than they give you credit for, little hanyou."

Naota decided that he was really out of options and obediently opened his mouth, chewing and swallowing the bitter leaves. He felt a flask touch his lips next. It was just cool, plain water and Naota thought his entire body was going to weep with relief. They hadn't given him anything to eat or drink since he'd woken up hours earlier.

A hand gently stroked his hair back and Naota relaxed a bit. "Why are you doing this?"

"I have no wish to see anyone fall victim to Chinatsu's poisons," the man said softly. "I'm sorry, Naota. I must leave you now. Say nothing of this."

He was startled. "You aren't going to take me with you?"

"Sadly, no. It would alert them to my presence and that might change their plans."

"But," he stammered. "I have to warn my uncle, they're planning to kill..."

A cool hand stilled his lips. "He knows, Naota. Your uncle knows. Just stay here, stay alive. He will come for you."

Stunned, Naota lay back on the ground. "You didn't tell me your name," he murmured.

The man stood and pulled back his hood, letting the eerie starlight illuminate his pale, drawn face. "It does not matter who I am, but you may call me Barou."

Inutaisho's golden eyes opened and he stared at the darkness surrounding him. It was very late, he knew instantly. It was nearly dawn in fact and the great demon lord of the West was restless for the day to begin. He hated waiting, part of that pure youkai psyche that demanded everything to be now, immediate, or damn there'd be blood to pay.

He hadn't slept, not really. Thanks to the concerted efforts of the two young women currently snoring in his bed, he had managed to unwind a bit. His body had relaxed, let his mind drift away for a few minutes maybe. Now he was fully alert again and the tension stood out from him in crackling waves. It was a wonder they could sleep, one of the girls twisted restlessly, whimpering in her dreams from the youki he was putting out.

Well, he thought, making an effort to quiet his aura, at least they're comfortable. I might as well try to follow such a good example. He rolled over, gathered one of them against his chest and buried his face in her hair and sighed deeply.

His ears pricked up at the sound of the door being quietly pulled open, a flicker of light said that someone was carrying a candle into the room. The light grew steadily brighter. "My lord?"

He didn't answer. Is it time? he wondered.

The light grew brighter as lamps were lit, a fire was being stirred. Inutaisho didn't move, ready as he was, he'd been dreading what knew he was going to do today. He felt an almost feral desire to put this off, an instinctive need to rebel against what was essentially his own plan anyway. His arm tightened around the woman and she nuzzled against him, murmuring.

Caso came around the side of the bed, holding a candle high. "My lord."

The light struck his eyes and made them burn. For a moment, Caso froze, held immobile by the strange, flicking power reflected in his lord's incandescent gaze. It was never really a safe thing to do, waking a demon lord from slumber, but he had his instructions. Caso swallowed hard. "You told me to awaken you, my lord. When Ari-san returned."

Inutaisho swung his legs out of bed and stood up, accepted a robe from his faithful retainer. It was time, he had no choice. "Good enough, I'm glad he's in. I need his report immediately." A wave of his hand extinguished the lamps and candles, dousing the room in darkness again.

Caso looked disapproving. "I just lit those, my lord."

Inutaisho flashed him a smile. "It's all right, Caso. Let them sleep there as long as they like." He ignored Caso's sniff of annoyance and strode into the study. Ari immediately stood up when he entered, but Inutaisho waved him back to his seat. His bodyguard looked tired. He swiftly filled two cups with wine and passed one to Ari. "Well?"

Ari took a long swallow before answering. "There was no problem. Sesshomaru left the valley without incident, heading right for the northern forest as you had predicted."

"Good," Inutaisho almost purred. "Did he meet up with the woman there?"

Ari nodded. "Yes, my lord. They entered the forest together. I followed them far enough to be sure that they were heading for the rendezvous that was arranged. All seems to be proceeding as you had predicted."

Inutaisho smiled into his cup. "I'm glad to hear it," he murmured.

Ari scratched at his ear, looking a bit uncomfortable. "My lord, were you aware that Jano and Namichi were going to follow Sesshomaru? I asked the sentries to pass them by."

The Daimyo looked startled. "They followed him? Why did you let them pass?"

His bodyguard shrugged. "I couldn't stop them without exposing the fact I knew they were there, my lord. I wouldn't have been able to follow your son."

"Damn." Inutaisho studied the ceiling. As long as they didn't get caught spying on Chinatsu they shouldn't be in any danger. Jano and Namichi should both be experienced enough to cover their trails. He had to commend Ari on his judgment, this would have been a very bad time to reveal their plans by chasing off after two strayed pups.

"It could have been worse," he said, smiling a bit. "They could have had Naota with them, then I would most definitely be concerned."

Ari met his gaze most soberly. "I was getting to that, my lord. I also found it strange that your nephew wasn't with them so I checked with the household guard as soon as I got back."

Inutaisho's eyes sparkled at him. "And?"

He cleared his throat. The Daimyo was not going to like this. "Naota hasn't been seen for two days, my lord. He's not in the fortress from what we can tell."

Inutaisho froze, his hand half raised to his lips and the sneaking sense of dread he'd been living with suddenly came to a head. Something was wrong, he'd known, but he hadn't been looking in the right direction. Naota. Why did it always have to be Naota? The Daimyo's cup shattered in his fingers and Ari winced as wine splattered his face. "Damn it!"

Chinatsu paced around the campfire restlessly. She honestly hated living outdoors, even for the short time that this mission had required. She was no warrior, no soldier, she much preferred the candlelight of intrigue to the clash of battle. Her weapons were her wits, her mind and her body, her ability to manipulate those around her, particularly males. She also was quite gifted, thanks to her mother, in the making of poison and use of several different herbs. One day she had every intention of taking it further, learning to manipulate youki magic as ably as she could use herblore. She herself hadn't been fortunate enough to have been born with a particularly strong demon aura. Her eyebrows flexed into a scowl, no that was her brother's luck, damn him.

She was tired of waiting, it was almost dawn and she felt exhausted. Her father's men were on their way, ready to escort her and her prize back to the safety of Himishima's territory. They would move swiftly, easily outdistancing any of the Daimyo's people, should Inutaisho eventually wake up and realize what had been done. Her eyes fell on the sleeping form of a young man, his face tipped upwards and his hair spilling like a cloud underneath him. Chi stopped her ridiculous wandering and went to kneel beside her 'lover'.

He really didn't resemble his father as much as she'd thought he would, the girl decided, reaching out to trace one high cheekbone. Under other circumstances, she wouldn't have minded having him around as a toy. Sesshomaru was really quite beautiful, he was growing into an arrestingly handsome young youkai. Her fingertips traced his facial markings. Heritage of his father's line for all to see, she thought with a slight smile. The blue crescent on his forehead was all Azaryu though, a hereditary marking that denoted lineage and a strong warning to whomever crossed him. His pale skin was like the finest porcelain, his features strong, yet delicate, as if crafted by some expert artist.

Chi's hand trailed lazily down his chest, watching as the young demon murmured in his sleep. He would not wake, not until she wanted him to. She needed him pliant for the moment, easy to transport back to her father. Then, she thought with a pleasured smile, he would be allowed to wake fully and take in his circumstances. And Himishima would revel in the screams of agony this boy would make, screaming for all the wrongs done by his father, all the insults and pain that had been left to fester in his enemy. She wondered if it would be enough to appease the sickening old man. Personally, she had no interest in Sesshomaru's pain or even his death.

Unlike her brother, she had not grieved for her mother or the rest of the Azaryu tribe. They were stupid, they were foolish. Chinatsu sighed, her hand going to stroke the strangely silky white hair. Himishima was a fool too, this plot of his would bring down the wrath of the Daimyo. She herself had no intentions of being caught when hell finally came to be paid. Instead, she'd betray her father at the last moment, after he'd taken the brunt of the Daimyo's anger. Tears and sobbing then, gestures of loyalty. Would the Daimyo believe her when she told him she'd been forced into her role? Barou would back her up, that much she knew. He hated her father.

Chinatsu's mouth curled in distaste when she thought about her brother, her twin. Unlike herself, he was not popular with their people. He was a strange creature, isolating himself as much as possible, timid really by inuyoukai standards. Her father shared her contempt, trying to play them against each other. She'd played them both back, seeming to share her father's opinion in public, whispering reassurances to her brother in private. He'd begged her to not follow through with this plan, no matter what their father ordered. She expected Barou was just frightened of the Daimyo, and who wasn't, but he would still support her, having no taste for ruling the clan himself and so desperately shy of outsiders. He'd come to rely on her presence for that. No, when the time came to plead for her life, her brother would do whatever he could to convince the Daimyo that her hands were clean.

Hasuke and Dazu weren't back yet, she was wondering what was keeping them. She'd been a little surprised to find out that the hanyou had survived this long, but it really was of little consequence. He could die of the poison, or of simple exposure when they left him here. No one would ever know what became of that silly little boy.

Sesshomaru muttered in his sleep and turned over, searching for her. Chi grinned, watching as her drugs made the boy dream for her still. It had been simple enough to snare him, the right behavior, a little closeness. A few delicate touches that made him yearn. A little sympathy for her in her fear of her brother, the most difficult part had been keeping from laughing while she poured out her heart to Sesshomaru. Of course, a little bit of insurance was needed. Enhancing her scent made it impossible to think straight while she was around, he would have taken the rushing of his blood as passion for her, not the administration of herbal compounds to fake such sensations.

She'd never intended to have to sleep with him, but in the end even that had been turned in her favor. Chinatsu still wanted to kick herself for ever being so stupid as making that move on Inutaisho. If he'd responded the right way, she would have been more than happy to spill all her plans to him. That had been her own private intention from the beginning. Her father would have been livid, but he wouldn't have lived long enough to punish her. If Inutaisho had only allowed her to seduce him, she could have moved forward with her plan and revealed everything, begged for his help against her terrible father and brother, exposed their plots, then there would have been no risk at all to herself. She could have laid back comfortably in the Daimyo's bed and let him take out her adversaries, make her clanlord in her father's place and his consort for everything else.

Chinatsu felt a thrill at the idea, what kind of power she could have wielded. She had no intention of making the same mistake that Seshiko, Sesshomaru's mother, had made. She should have realized that Azaryu interests were nothing when compared to becoming the most powerful lady of the entire West! Chi sighed a bit, thinking of her long dead relative, supposedly she'd sacrificed her own life out of love for the Daimyo, betraying her own father too late and paying the price with her blood. Really, she would have expected better out of an Azaryu female. She should have made her decision before her options had become so limited.

Thinking on the subject of Seshiko and Inutaisho was making her agitated, restless. She wanted out of this damn forest, what could be keeping her father's men? Her gaze rested on Sesshomaru again. He didn't have his father's charisma or give off that sense of wild uncontrollable power. But there was something compelling about him, more than just his physical beauty. It would be a shame that he would never grow into his true potential, a pity to waste Tai-Youkai blood like this. She leaned closer, watching him breathe deeply as he slept. She had time, Dazu and Hasuke weren't going to say a word about it even if they did come back and suspect what she'd done. No one could ever stop her from doing exactly what she wanted.

The girl rolled Sesshomaru on his back and straddled his body, her cheeks flushed. She leaned down to brush his lips with hers, he was so sweet, so helpless and Chinatsu felt a rush of blood in her ears at the power she held over him in this unconscious state. She could love him or kill him just as easily, maybe do both at the same time. No, she had to control herself, her father wanted the pleasure of killing the Daimyo's own son and she wanted to be able to look his father in eye if she needed to and say truthfully that she hadn't done the deed. But right now, he still belonged to her alone and Chi felt no hesitation about taking advantage of her situation. If she thought hard about Inutaisho while she mounted his son, it would be enough for her to feel like she was really with him.

Her fingers were working at Sesshomaru's clothing when she heard a hard, shouted laugh. Hasuke, damn him. Chinatsu sighed, then removed herself from the young demon. Damn them both, just because she didn't care about what they thought didn't mean she was going to put on a show. Miserable traitors like them didn't deserve to get to watch her play. She stood up and brushed off the dirt on her knees, waiting for Dazu and Hasuke to appear.

Her eyes got wide when they did, both of her allies burst out of the forest, laughing to each other. "What the hell," she murmured.

Dazu was holding an angry, struggling Jano, Hasuke had a firm grip on a furious Namichi. Both of the young demons were trying to fight, wrists bound in front of them and gags in place to stop their cursing and shouting. "What are you doing with them?" she demanded, furious. Jano and Namichi were no use to her, they meant nothing in her plans.

Dazu chuckled. "They were following us, my lady. Guess they trailed young Sessh out of the fortress. I think maybe they thought they could rescue him."

Hasuke shouted with laughter. He hoisted Namichi in the air so she was at eye level with Chinatsu. "You should have heard this one cursing at us, lady. I think she must have been spending too much time around the household guard, isn't that right, sweetness?" He nuzzled the girl's cheek with his jaw, Namichi's eyes flashed and she growled angrily in spite of her helpless state.

Chinatsu covered her eyes in disgust at their stupidity. "Why didn't you just kill them?" she asked wearily. "We don't have any use for them, there's no point in keeping them alive."

Dazu had dropped Jano hard on the ground, the young demon let out a muffled woof of pain and glared up at them. "I'm going to kill them," he said quietly. "I'm looking forward to it, both these two and that Naota since he managed to live through the night. I just decided we should have a bit of fun with it first, we deserve some reward for what we've been through."

She waved her hand at them. "I really don't care how you amuse yourself," she muttered. "Just be ready to move as soon as my father's men get here." Hasuke grunted his assent and dropped Namichi with a plop next to Jano. Her eyes were defiant but yet afraid as she met his gaze. How were they going to get out of this?

They both sat still as mice when Dazu reappeared, carrying a seemingly unconscious Naota in his arms. He set the boy gently on the ground and slit the ropes that were holding his wrists and ankles. Naota's eyes were tightly closed, his face was very pale. Jano stirred anxiously, trying to get a bit closer to his cousin. He looked sick and Jano's worried eyes met Namichi's. She shook her head at him, trying to say something and jerked her chin at Sesshomaru. Also unconscious, his head lay in Chinatsu's lap, his face turned towards them as she continued to stroke his hair. Her expression turned positively malicious as she took in their anger and pain. "Dazu, are you going to do what I think you're going to do?"

He smirked, pleased that he had managed to amuse his mistress. "Yes, my lady. I think this hanyou deserves a chance to defend himself. No fun killing him like this, maybe we have something that could perk him up a bit, make this more entertaining for everyone?"

She had to admit, she liked the way he thought. She despised hanyou in general, the idea of tormenting the Daimyo's favorite pet appealed to her and she tossed a tiny leather bag at Dazu. "Sprinkle just a touch of this in his face, he'll wake."

Dazu did as she commanded, grinning as the boy's face screwed up in disgust at whatever he was smelling. Naota's eyes suddenly shot open and he sat up with a scream. Namichi closed her eyes at that, feeling a helpless tear trickle down her cheek. She didn't want to cry in front of these people but her instincts told her that she was about to watch something horrible.

Grinning, Dazu leaned over the slap the hanyou boy's cheek. "You awake there, little Naota? I'm surprised you didn't die in the night, good thing we hadn't placed any wagers on it."

He was surprised himself, thinking that Chinatsu's poison should have gotten the better of him. The antidote, he thought, mistily remembering someone speaking softly to him in the night. He wasn't sure if it had been real, or just a fevered, desperate dream. Something bitter was still on his tongue, a pungent taste. Slowly, he took in his surroundings. "Namichi?" he murmured when he met her eyes. "Jano?"

He turned and looked at Chinatsu, his face contracting in anger when he saw her stroking Sho-kun's hair as if she owned him, like he was her plaything. "You leave him alone," the boy growled, his fists clenched.

Her laugh rang out pure and deadly. "What are you going to do about it, half breed," she taunted. "You aren't strong enough to stop us, aren't even strong enough to save your own life."

A hard hand seized him by the shoulder and dragged him to his feet. He stared at Dazu. "What are you doing?" he whispered, fearful as he looked back at Jano and Namichi.

"We're going to play a little game, Naota," Dazu said softly, rubbing his hair affectionately. "I'm going to give you a chance to defend yourself."

Naota stared at him, starting to back away. "No, you're crazy. You're like twice my size, you just want me to fight back so you hurt me more. I won't do it!"

Dazu's eyes glinted at him. "You will do it. You will do exactly as you're told, brat, or those two are going to die very slowly and painfully right in front of you."

He looked at Jano and Namichi's shocked expressions. "They haven't done anything to you, they aren't part of your plan. You can just leave them here alive."

Hasuke chuckled, leaning down to stroke Namichi's hair. The girl shivered at his touch. "Make your choice, hanyou. You fight Dazu and you fight like you're a real demon," he sneered. "Or else we're going to start with this girl. I will personally enjoy making her beg us to kill her."

He didn't have any choice. "This is just sick," he whispered. His eyes locked onto Chinatsu's. "Please don't do this, make them stop," he pleaded, hoping somewhere under that cold smile there was some kind of heart. Even she couldn't be so sadistic as this, didn't she care just a little bit about Sho-kun? Was it all just an act?"

Chi met his gaze placidly, her fingers still stroking Sho-kun's hair. She'd taken it out of its usual topknot and spread the silvery strands around her, playing with them. "I don't think you understand, Naota," she said quietly. "Dazu wants to punish you for what your father did to his family. Just killing you isn't going to be enough for him."

Naota turned away and looked up at the tall battalion commander. He was just starting to learn about combat, learning human techniques from Tsing Pao had given him more confidence, but this was a warrior, a man who had proved himself in battle over and over again. He must have killed hundreds of strong demons over the years, in service to a man he loathed. The anger and insensible hatred glittering in his eyes made Naota sick. "I'm not your enemy, Dazu-san," he said softly. "I didn't have anything to do with what happened to your family."

Surprisingly, Dazu knelt in front of him, putting both hands on the young hanyou's shoulders. "I know. Are you going to defend yourself and make your uncle proud, Naota? Or are you going to die like a little whipped pup? Your mother and siblings never even got the chance to fight back, neither did my family. I'm at least offering you the chance to die with your dignity."

Hatred had made him insane, Naota decided. He glanced over at Jano. The young demon emphatically shook his head. Don't do this, he was saying. Don't you play their game Naota!

But it was Namichi who would bear the brunt of his stubbornness, Namichi and Jano both. He wouldn't do that, not while there was still any kind of chance they would be left alive. Maybe he could satisfy Dazu and Hasuke's need for blood. Defiantly, he shoved Dazu's hands away from him and stepped back. "Okay, asshole," he snarled, taking a defensive stance. "You want a fight, I'll give it to you. Just leave Namichi and Jano alone!"

Dazu laughed, delighted. "Good boy, Naota, you have your uncle's sense of loyalty, at least. Come at me, boy, give me your best. I promise to let you get at least a few hits in before I start to take you apart."

Naota crouched and then flung himself up in one of Tsing Pao's best moves. It was a flying kick that had all his strength behind it. He was aiming for Dazu's chest, but just before he made impact, seeing as how the older demon braced himself for the blow, he dropped suddenly, crashing into Dazu with all the grace of a senseless hanyou, but he got in under the man's guard and rammed both fists right into his face.

Dazu staggered as Naota dropped against him, surprised by the amount of force the young hanyou could put behind his blows. They had all the flavor of desperation and fear, all the power of a boy who knew he was going to die. Dazu grinned, licking blood off his lips. "Thank you, Naota. You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this."

He swung a long arm and caught the boy under his jaw, Naota still too flustered by the circumstances to truly guard himself. Dazu laughed nastily, punching the boy in the gut. He didn't want to hurt him too badly at first, take all the fun out of it. Suddenly, Namichi screamed against her gag, protesting the fight or trying to encourage the hanyou, Dazu didn't know.

Hasuke slapped the girl on the top of her head. "Shut up, little wench. Your turn is coming." Jano growled at him and he easily cuffed the young demon away. "You too, brat!"

Chinatsu snickered behind her hands at their antics. It was fun, she was looking forward to seeing the defeat in their eyes when Dazu finished with Naota. There was no way she was leaving either Namichi or Jano alive after this, but she would make sure that their deaths were painless as Dazu promised.

Naota dropped to his knees, panting. Dazu was playing with him, he knew it. His speed and strength couldn't match the experienced demon. But he felt obligated, if he could distract them, draw them out, make this last as long as possible, maybe someone would be able to rescue Namichi and Jano before they were killed. It was all he had to work for at the moment and he gathered his strength again to make another run at Dazu. No fancy work this time, just desperate need.

Dazu flung him easily to the ground, then leaned over and picked him up with one fist. The boy's face was already bloody, he had been weakened by his battle with Chinatsu's poison. It wasn't quite as satisfying as he might have hoped, but it wasn't all bad either. Naota's lost look was precious too him, his battered resemblance to Inoki was what Dazu had really been craving. Pity the boy wouldn't be allowed to grow up, look more like his father. Dazu still remembered the murderous intent in that enraged hanyou's face, his claws dripping with blood and his eyes darkened by some kind of madness. He ached to see that in Naota as well.

Slowly, he hefted the boy up and took his wrist between his fingers. "Scream for me, Naota," he murmured. The bones shattered under his grip and Naota choked back a cry. It wasn't going to be enough. His hand hit the boy across the face, driving him into the nearest tree. Naota slumped, bleeding from his mouth, his nose, his ear. Everything was going red and black around him, burning pain where he'd been hit, agony in his left wrist. Dazu advanced on him with a predatory gleam in his eye and picked the boy up by his neck.

"I said scream for me, you piece of filth!" Naota spat blood into his face. Damned if he'd do anything for this sadistic bastard's pleasure. "Fuck you, Dazu-san. You're worthless and weak, caved in by your hatred. If my uncle was here, he'd laugh at you for being so pathetic, the only way you've got left to feel something is beat up someone half your size."

Dazu growled, the hanyou was not supposed to taunt him. "What did you say?" he rumbled warningly. It would be so simple just to squeeze, let his claws do the rest. It was still too soon for him, he'd waited for years to take out his anger on the son of his family's murderer.

Naota hung loosely in his grip, no longer fighting. "Do you think you could have saved them if you'd been there? I think you're afraid you couldn't have. My father, worthless hanyou or not, would have ripped you to shreds along with everyone else. Even half a demon, he was more than a match for you." Naota honestly didn't know where these words were coming from, a hatred was welling up inside him, filling him slowly with a sensation of rage. He wanted to hurt Dazu back, make him pay for threatening Namichi and Jano, make him hurt for working with this evil bitch to destroy his Sho-kun. The Daimyo wouldn't give up, not that demon, not Inutaisho. He didn't know how to relent, he didn't know how to give in. That stubbornness was something he'd passed on to his son. And his nephew.

Dazu felt a sudden pulse under his fingers, the boy wasn't struggling enough for him to be happy and he shifted his grip so he could drive his claws into the boy's unresisting flesh. "You shut your hole," he growled. Boy was supposed to beg for his life, not throw out challenges. And where was that power coming from? His hands were tingling with some kind of force. Don't tell me that hanyou has youki after all, Dazu thought to himself.

A low laugh surprised him and he shook the boy. He was not supposed to laugh, he was supposed to BEG. Darkness filled the glade, a strange wind started to blow through the leaves on the trees and what had started to be a beautiful morning suddenly grew dim and foul. Naota laughed again, louder this time, and the sound was cold with fury.

Jano felt the hair stand straight up on the back of his neck, seeing Dazu's confusion as he held onto Naota. What was happening? Namichi's eyes were wide above her gag and furiously she started to work at her bonds. Something was happening, Hasuke was too distracted to watch her and she twisted her wrists against the coarse rope until the fibers were wet with her blood.

Dazu slammed his fist into Naota again, holding the boy against the tree so he could concentrate on beating him to death. Naota screamed, but it wasn't in pain. He was still...laughing. Jano sat limply as Namichi struggled and watched his young cousin start to change. As the mocking, horrible sound that wasn't Naota came out of his mouth, his eyes seemed to glow from within. It was terrible to see. Suddenly, Naota had fangs, long, sharp ones and a pair of jagged purple stripes grew down his cheeks like his rage was coloring his very skin. Jano looked right into those reddened eyes and felt pure terror course cold down his spine.

"Are you done yet?" Naota asked, blood flowing freely from his torn mouth. His face was bruised almost unrecognizable, nothing was recognizable, least of all his voice. "Are you almost done, Dazu-san? I'm tired of this little game."

"I will kill you, you fucking freak!" Dazu was quite losing his control, this wasn't fun anymore. He could beat the boy bloody and still hear the mocking taunts. He reached down and pulled a sharp blade from his belt. Let's see him run his mouth with his throat slit open, Dazu thought grimly.

Naota kicked suddenly and slashed at him like a wild creature, tearing a great gash down one side of Dazu's face. He dropped to the ground, crouching, circling like a predator. Hasuke snarled and jumped after him, intent on catching the hanyou, but Naota was fast, way too fast, and ran right up the side of a tree, sprang from a tall branch and landed on Hasuke's head, tearing, snarling and biting like a monster.

Chinatsu was still sitting on the ground, quite stunned by the transformation from weak hanyou to pure demon. This was unbelievable. Roughly, she shoved Sesshomaru's head off her lap and started to get up.

"Chi-chan?" She looked down, gods above was he coming to already? Sesshomaru sat up, blearily looking around him as his eyes didn't seem to work correctly. "What happened, Chi? Did I fall asleep?"

"Shut up!" she snarled, suddenly furious with him. She stepped closer to him and struck him as hard as she could across his face. "You're a fool, this is your fault! If that idiot didn't have to follow you everywhere this would have been simple." She whirled around to look where Dazu and Hasuke were still trying to catch the nimble little demon. "Finish him off, you fools!"

Hasuke finally managed to get his hands on Naota, taking a nasty couple of strikes to his face. The boy was electric, he was moving twice as fast as a normal demon and still showed no signs of relenting. He hissed quite ferally, no trace of Naota in his bloody face. Only death, anger, magnificent rage. He was a demon, a full demon now and he wanted blood from these fools. He couldn't get enough of it, couldn't cause enough pain or do enough damage. He barely knew who they were anymore, but he was absolutely going to kill everyone he could.

Grimly, Dazu raised his heavy fist and punched Naota in the back of his skull. It was enough, barely. The little demon slumped in Hasuke's grasp, his eyes rolling back in his head and his lips caked with blood. Disgusted, Hasuke dropped him hard on the ground. "I've had it," he muttered, meeting Chinatsu's eyes. "It's not safe here, we need to move. Your father's men are overdue."

It was true. Chinatsu straightened her clothes regally, ready to give orders. Focusing on Dazu, she met his eyes coldly. "Kill Naota, no more playing around. Then kill those other two. We have to leave and I'm not taking them with us."

"No!" Sesshomaru had finally gotten himself together, finding it strange that his hands were tied and just become lucid enough to realize that Chinatsu might very well not have his best interests at heart any more. "Are you crazy, don't kill them! What the hell did you do to Naota to make him act like that? I can't believe he was just..." His voice cut off when Dazu turned on him with menace and kicked the young lord right in the face.

"You shut up!" he howled, furious. Sesshomaru blinked at him, laying still on the ground from shock. "Chi," he managed to choke out. "What's going on?"

"Fool," she hissed, glaring down at him wrathfully. "Don't you get it yet? You're the fucking prize, I'm taking you back to my father so he can have the pleasure of killing you personally. That's the only reason I ever came to this forsaken place. I was to lure you out and you, like a hopeless fool, fell right into it!"

He stared at her. He wasn't stupid, not by a long shot, but his father's words were haunting him. Her face was a mask of contempt, all the beauty wrenched away by hate and anger. "You don't love me. You never loved me. It's just as he said, you were using me to get at him for your father."

Her eyes blazed. "Yes! You were my only objective, just you, Sho-kun," she said, twisting his nickname viciously. She knelt next to him. "What a worthless excuse for a demon you turned out to be, I never expected it to be that easy! Even that foolish hanyou was suspicious. Not you, Sho-kun."

Gods, he never wanted to be called that again, her every word was like a burning nail in his heart, hammering his shame against his mind. He couldn't even be angry with her, that was what hurt him the most. He still loved her, or thought he did, hoping he'd wake up from this dream. "I loved you, Chi. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

Her fingers took hold of his chin hard. "No," she breathed. "I don't care at all about you, I never did. So get that out of your mind right now, you'll have no mercy from me. You must be exceptionally dim to have ever believed what I said, even now you want to still believe it. You're nothing to me. You must be so desperate for someone to love you that you can't help yourself."

She saw pain flare in the young man's eyes, still no anger, no rage. Only a lost ache for what hadn't even been real. Slowly, the hurt look faded from him, no justified anger at her deception. It was if he slowly cooled before her eyes, very calm, very much in control of himself. The icy mask had dropped again and this time he knew it was more than just a mask. It was refuge. He looked right into Chi's angry face and murmured softly. "I see. I was your target, your mission from the beginning. For your father and his revenge. I understand that now, thank you for explaining so well."

His eyes flicked over to Namichi and Jano, still watching. "You don't need to kill them," he said quietly. "If I'm really your only objective, you can let them live. My father will find them soon enough and they'll be sure to tell him everything about how you've outsmarted us all."

She didn't like the tone of his voice. It was so emotionless, so damned calm. Now that everything was revealed, she found she needed to see his pain, wanted him to feel her betrayal burning his heart. It wasn't fair of him to act like this, not when she'd worked so hard for everything. "No," she said harshly, waving her hand at Dazu. "Kill them all, I want the Daimyo to see their bodies and realize it was his actions that brought this upon his household."

Maybe she was being foolish now, leaving Sesshomaru's friends alive was the best way for her to convince the Daimyo someday that she had been innocent of her part in her father's plot. She wouldn't have minded sparing them, only the calm, disinterested tone of Sesshomaru's voice and the icy lack of concern in his eyes suddenly enraged her. Oh, so she couldn't touch him now? Well, she thought, I'll see you crack when I have their throats slit open.

Hasuke laughed and grabbed Namichi's braid, hauling her up. "This one is first," he grinned, unsheathing a blade. Dazu smirked and followed his lead by grabbing Jano's hair as well and dragging him to his feet. "Together, Hasuke? I'm sure they'd like to die at the same time."

Sesshomaru didn't move, didn't react at seeing his best friends dangled by their hair while they were about to be murdered. It was funny, he really should feel something right now. Instead he was drifting, hoping that somehow Inutaisho would forgive him for being such a colossal ass and falling into this trap. Father, he thought, can you hear me? Do you know what's happening? I'm sorry, I should have listened to you.

"Damn right you should have," a voice suddenly rang out in the silent forest. Hasuke and Dazu both froze, staring at each other. They knew that voice, everyone knew that voice. Together, the men started to turn towards the shadows of the forest when two thick shafts sped out of the trees, each aimed with a skill and precision that spoke of years of training. Namichi and Jano both fell hard to their knees as their respective captors were both pinned by the arrows to the nearest trees. So great was the force of these projectiles that they tore through bone, tissue and flesh to lodge deeply in the wood, holding the men's weight easily on their tempered shafts.

Inutaisho stepped from the woods then, glancing disdainfully at the dead traitors. He didn't so much as look at Sesshomaru or Chinatsu. Dazu and Hasuke had both died almost instantly, each of them wearing the Daimyo's arrows in their throats. Not many could have made those shots in rapid succession like that, nor with such pinpoint accuracy and strength. "Excellent shots, Ari," the Daimyo murmured. "You truly astound me sometimes. My compliments."

"Thank you, my lord Daimyo," Ari said softly. He raised his bow again, this time aiming right at Chinatsu. "Do not move, my lady. I have orders to kill if you do."

Chinatsu didn't hesitate, Ari was fast, but she was already moving to haul Sesshomaru up in front of her, shielding her body with his. Her fist glinted with a blade and she held it flush against his throat. "Take your best shot," she invited. "You won't be able to stop me from killing him."

"It doesn't have to be like this, Chinatsu," the Daimyo whispered, his golden eyes holding hers like fire. "I will spare your life if you surrender peacefully."

"I don't believe you," she said harshly. "You'll kill me the moment I drop my blade. If I'm to die, I will take your son with me."

"Chinatsu," the Daimyo said in a warning tone. "I'm already out of patience with this game. Be a good girl and let Sessh go, I'll see to it that you are returned to your father's people, safe and sound. Your own clanlord will have province over your punishment for your treachery."

She laughed at that. "My clanlord? On whose orders do you think I'm doing this? This has been my father's plan from the beginning."

"And your father is no longer clanlord of your people, nor will his men be coming to your rescue," Inutaisho said softly. His voice remained light, unconcerned for his son's safety, disinterested in her reaction. "I fear my patience with Himishima has somewhat eroded, forgive me. I had to dispatch Izitaki two days ago to see to the problem. Your brother will take his place, naturally."

"Barou?" she sneered, almost gaping at him. "That weak willed fool of a boy? You couldn't get Barou to come out of his bedroom without my father's orders, I hardly think he'd be agreeable to taking his place!"

"Actually," Inutaisho smiled, a wicked intent in his eyes. "Barou is the one who suggested it."

A slim form came from the woods then, swathed in a dark cloak. The young man raised his eyes to those of his sister. "I'm sorry, Chi-chan. I found father's plans to be reckless. Our people would suffer needlessly if he were to provoke a war. I went to the Daimyo for help when we first visited the fortress. He was agreeable to my request, asking only that we allow you to play your part completely so that he might expose any traitors in the process."

"You betrayed father...and me?" she asked, seemingly shaken for the first time. Sesshomaru could feel the trembling in her body, she hadn't hardly reacted that Himishima was dead, but that her brother had betrayed them both, that shook her.

Barou moved closer. "Let Sesshomaru go, sister. No one else has to die today. I'm not like father, I have no intention of hurting you. The Daimyo has graciously allowed your life to be spared. In his place, I don't know that I could be as merciful."

"Merciful," she whispered, Sesshomaru listening to the hard pounding of her heart. It was only a few moments before she gave in, he decided, relaxing his body as much as he could. She would bend to his father, everyone always did. It would be better this way, perhaps she could help her brother, make the transition easier. She would never be clanlord, but there was no reason to waste her life for nothing.

Chinatsu smiled, seeming to relent. "It seems I've been thoroughly outplotted," she said in a strange, high pitched tone. It made Ari's nerves twitch, there as a tinge of desperation in that voice. "My lord?" he asked tensely.

Inutaisho held up his finger. "So you've been outplotted, Chinatsu. It doesn't have to end this badly. Let him go."

She shook her head. "I don't believe it, you'll have me killed the minute I release him. What assurances do I have?"

"My word," Inutaisho said in a hard tone. "Do not be a fool and push me, Chinatsu." This needed to end immediately. He'd done what he'd promised Barou, given his sister a chance to save herself. Now he was finished, one way or another. "Release my son."

She smiled at him, a beautiful smile. "I just want you to know, I've been in love with you since the first moment I saw you. I only wish I'd had Barou's bravery, and approached you with my father's plans on my own."

He scowled, not liking the way she was leading up to something. "Chinatsu..."

She moved fast, bringing her blade up and into Sesshomaru's throat, the strike went deep, burying the blade up to its hilt, severing all the major arteries and vessels in one smooth, desperate slash. Sesshomaru fell forward, his face not changing expression even as his blood poured from his throat, darkening his hair with crimson, spilling onto the ground in an elegant fall of death and gore. She let him go then, falling limply to the ground, his golden eyes already gone dark.

Inutaisho's expression never wavered, no outrage graced his features at witnessing the death of his only son. Namichi let out a strangled cry, sobbing as she fell against Jano's body, shaking with grief and outrage. The Daimyo didn't look at her, or even at Naota who was still quite unconscious on the ground. He sighed, expecting this the whole time. He raised his hand and let it fall.

Ari immediately put two arrows into the girl's slim body, one at her throat, one right into her heart. The force of the combined shafts sent Chinatsu flying back, pinning her to a tree much as both Dazu and Hasuke had met their ends. Strangely enough, she didn't stop smiling, her lips fixed in a sweet expression, even as she died painlessly, almost instantly. Barou's body jerked convulsively at witnessing his twin's death, even knowing he'd done as much as he could to save her. Grief still welled in him, she'd tried to kill him numerous times over the years, hurt him in ways he'd never even spoke of, but she was his sister and he couldn't help but regret for what she'd never been. He felt the Daimyo's hand on his shoulder then, and wondered at a man who could have compassion to spare for him even after watching his only child struck down like that.

Ari swiftly put his bow aside and went to help Jano and Namichi, both sitting struck dumb and staring at Sesshomaru's body. He gently slit the bonds on Jano's wrists and pulled the gag from his mouth. "Are you okay?" he asked softly.

Jano stared at him, shock making his eyes wide and staring. "I'm fine," he whispered, his body starting to shake. "I'm...I'm sorry, Ari-san...father, I'm sorry."

Ari reached out to stroke the boy's cheek, comfort his son. "It's all right, Jano."

He shook his head. "No, father. I should have come to you, I should have stopped Sessh from doing this, it's all my fault."

Ari only smiled, gentle as ever, his voice hardly above a whisper. "Don't say that, Jano. I'm very proud of you. You showed real courage and loyalty in following Sesshomaru. Both you and Nami-chan have nothing to be ashamed of."

Nami was shaking as Ari reached to free her wrists. They were aching something terrible, but she thought her heart was going to wrench apart and that was hurting her far worse. She pulled the gag out of her mouth, tears standing in her eyes. Sho-kun, Sesshomaru, he was dead and she didn't think she could bear it. The girl tried to hold back her grief and couldn't. "Oh Ari-san," she cried, throwing herself into the bodyguard's arms and sobbing wildly. Nothing was ever going to be all right again.

Ari sat on the ground, folding his long legs under him so he could hold the distraught child. His hands stroked her hair soothingly. "Nami-chan, I promise it's going to be okay. Please trust me, please trust the Daimyo." It was heartbreaking really and he reached out to hold his son, sensing that the boy needed comforting as badly as Nami, too proud to show his father that he needed held too. For all he was a true inuyoukai warrior, a bodyguard and assassin, the Daimyo's own most trusted comrade, Ari held them gently, soothing away the pain as best he could. Finally, he drew Nami into his lap, turning the girl to face Sesshomaru's body, holding his son's shoulders with his arm. "Listen," he whispered to them. "Watch. Learn. This is what your Daimyo can do."

Inutaisho was standing over his son's body, looking into the dead eyes of his son's murderer. He felt a bit of sadness, such a waste of a life, he thought. Chinatsu had been truly twisted by her father, so had Barou for that matter. He couldn't begin to understand what the young clanlord must have gone through at Himishima's hands. The details of that might come later. Still, he'd been moved by the young man's courage. It wasn't every day when one was able to break away from a lifetime of torment and abuse to throw himself at the mercy of his father's enemy. He'd been quite surprised when Tashiki had vouched for Barou, adamantly insisting that Himishima's plot this time was aimed at Sesshomaru.

Was he a monster to have used his son like this? Inutaisho privately thought so. He'd thrown the boy right in Chinatsu's path, deliberately letting the so called plot carry forth. He'd hoped he'd given young Sessh enough guidance to know when he was being played. Tashiki and Barou hadn't had all the details, only that Chinatsu planned in some way to snare his son, take him from the safety of the fortress. For ransom, for just the pure pleasure of one-upping his Daimyo maybe, Himishima's motivations had never been entirely clear. Even Barou hadn't know for sure what his sister was plotting or why. He should have guessed, knowing Himishima. Only blood, only pain was intended, the flesh of his enemy at last.

If only Sesshomaru had trusted him, at least enough to have believed him about Chinatsu, it might not have come to this. Inutaisho's mouth twisted bitterly, looking down at his son's blood staining the forest floor. He hadn't realized his own son's desperately hidden craving for love. That really stung him, he'd made his son vulnerable by trying to make him stronger. Was he any better than Himishima, exploiting Sesshomaru like this? Let his son be used cruelly, viciously, snaring a few traitors like Dazu and Hasuke, exposing a fellow clanlord's plot so that he'd have a good reason to have him killed and a more suitably loyal person put in his place. Gods, he truly loathed himself sometimes.

But even a Daimyo got lucky now and then. He'd never intended Sesshomaru to pay for this with his life. He might not be the best father, hell he was far from the best and he knew it. Inutaisho sighed as he drew the new katana from its sheath. Ironic that his own flesh and blood would be the first to test its properties. Funny how that he'd never doubted that it would do exactly as he'd commissioned. From the moment that Totosai had placed the smooth blade in his hand, he'd known, yes he had known that it was what he'd asked for. It was the heavenly lifegiver, the blade that would cut death. Tenseiga.

He was mesmerized as the blade shimmered in front of him, catching the golden light of his eyes on its smooth surface. "For no other purpose," he whispered. "For this moment alone I had you made, Tenseiga. Give me back my son. I, Inutaisho, command it."

A pulse of power answered him and Inutaisho's mouth fell open in surprise. Like Tetsusaiga, this blade would always have a will of its own. He raised it, watching as pure youki poured from the blade, making his nerves ring with it. Forged of his own tusk, this katana knew him. Totosai's words echoed in his ears, the old man's face weary and pensive as he handed over his latest masterwork.

"I don't know how it will work, my lord. Only that it will draw from you its need and intent. And you will have to answer for it. Gods have mercy upon you if you ever misuse this blade."

Misuse? Not in saving the life on my only son! Inutaisho's heart was fierce as he looked down into Sesshomaru's open, sightless eyes. My son!

Something shimmered before him, his eyes were blurring. The light of the blade's power seemed to engulf him for a moment before he realized what he was looking at. Strange, ugly little creatures, imps of some kind, were tearing at his son's still form. They had come for Sesshomaru's soul, to guide him to the underworld. No. It would not happen!

Inutaisho bared his teeth at the imps before bringing the blade down in a swift, cutting stroke. They burst apart, shattering under his blow and power poured from the Tenseiga. Sesshomaru's body seemed to glow, fill up with incandescent light. Then it faded, the air grew still and Inutaisho barely remembered to breathe as he watched his son for signs of life. He dropped the sword like a useless relic and fell to his knees, taking Sesshomaru by the shoulders. The blood covering his boy's body began to fade, Inutaisho's eyes grew wide as he realized it was being absorbed back into his son, leaving his hair and clothing unsullied. Even the gaping wound in Sessh's throat had closed completely, fading under his very gaze until there was no trace of the lethal injury. His son drew in a gasping breath, twitched and slowly opened his golden eyes to meet those of his father.

"My lord Daimyo," Sesshomaru managed to whisper.

Relief flooded the demon lord's body, suddenly realizing how much he'd been holding back, unwilling to accept the remotest possibility that the Tenseiga would fail. He closed his eyes briefly, thanking whatever had been listening that he still had his son. "Are you all right, Sesshomaru? How do you feel?"

Sessh took a long moment before answering, one hand reaching up to feel his throat. He had been sure she'd stabbed him. "I'm fine, my lord Daimyo," he murmured. Something was wrong, he'd never felt so strange. "I must have passed out, I thought...I thought Chinatsu had killed me."

Inutaisho sat quietly for a moment. "No," he said at last. "Ari shot her first. You must have struck your head when you fell, her blade never touched you." He wasn't sure why he was lying now, surely his son could handle the truth. That his father had allowed him to be manipulated like a puppet, that a woman he'd given his love to had been so heartless that she ended his life purely out of spite and hatred. And then, that he'd been resurrected by a mystical katana his father had only just had created. No matter how you looked at the facts, Inutaisho realized how his son would see it. You risked my life, he would think, without even the base assurance that I would survive. You let that woman murder me right in front of you because my life mattered so little to you, you knew you could simply restore me, maybe only so you might use me again.

He couldn't bear it, what had happened was bad enough. He wouldn't do that to Sesshomaru, not after everything else. The boy deserved so much better. And the worst part was, Inutaisho knew deep in his heart, he would have done the same thing again. Not because he did not love his son, but because of who and what he was, a Tai-Youkai lord, the Daimyo Inutaisho and he answered to no one and nothing...not even his own aching conscience.

"Rest for moment, Sessh," he said quietly. His son lay obediently back, completely willing to abandon the thought of moving right now. He felt funny, he was so sure he'd felt his own blood, the cold steel of a blade. Even Chinatsu's cruel betrayal meant nothing to him. He composed himself as he stared at the lightening sky, willing his body to relax as his mind ebbed and flowed in strange patterns.

The Daimyo stood slowly and moved to where Ari was still holding Namichi and Jano. The two young demons looked at him with awe, fear, and most uncomfortable of all, worship. He really hated that, the way people seemed to see him as something so far beyond themselves. The men who served him, the women he bedded, it was most wearying sometimes to be always idolized and set so far above the rest. Sometimes he even started to believe it himself. That's when he'd miss his brother Inoki the most, no else had ever looked at him and seen just Inu, someone who had been beaten and tortured by the beast that was their father. Someone who had struggled and fought and wept, desperate to keep the darkness at bay. Only Inoki had ever seen that side of him and he missed his brother with a vengeance that made the youki burn in his eyes.

The kids saw it and recoiled of course. Well, they had just seen him raise the dead, what the hell else could he expect?

Kneeling before them, he regarded his young subjects with a seriousness that they couldn't begin to comprehend. "Namichi, Jano," he said softly. "Say nothing to Sesshomaru of what you've just seen. I intend to tell him in my own way and I would consider myself in your debt if you kept it to yourselves for the time being."

Eyes wide at such a request from their Daimyo, they nodded, unable to even speak. He knew they were probably in shock themselves, it had been a terrifying experience for them. Even young demons needed time to recover.

The matter settled for now, he moved on to his next duty. Naota. His nephew was lying face down on the ground, sprawled in the dirt and looking very much like he needed the Tenseiga as much as Sesshomaru had. Inutaisho smiled and turned him over. The smile froze on his lips. For a brief moment, he seriously considered using the katana to revive Dazu and Hasuke so that he could personally torture them to death over and over. Now that might be construed as misuse of Tenseiga, but it would be most just. His nephew was almost unrecognizable, his face was so bloody and swollen he didn't know long it would take him to recover. He hadn't seen what had been happening, they'd reached the clearing just in time to hear Chinatsu ordering him and the others killed, just in time to hear Sesshomaru's protests.

It was when he reached out to take Naota in his arms that he felt it. The boy growled and Inutaisho's eyes widened as he saw his little hanyou had grown fangs. What they hell had they done to him to cause this? The boy's demon blood was fully awake, he would no doubt be snarling and attacking right now if he hadn't been beaten unconscious. Inutaisho's eyes closed against the sudden pain that filled him, remembering Inoki's last moments. So young, far too young to have any chance of controlling this. He knew, better than most, he knew what it meant to be hanyou and he'd sincerely hoped that his nephew might somehow avoid this. In waking his demon blood, his captors had set in motion a downward spiral, one that would eventually end in madness and murder unless it was stopped. Gently, he laid his palm against the boy's head, willing the wildfire of youki to bend to his will. Right now, he could quiet the madness, mute it, force it into submission. Being Tai-Youkai was good for that at least. It wouldn't stop the problem, he would have to think on it. He'd be damned if he'd let Naota suffer the same fate as Inoki.

Sesshomaru paced in front of the door to his father's study. Once again, he was left waiting outside. He knew better than to complain, even if Inutaisho had seemed to be in a strangely mellow mood. It had been weeks since he'd even shouted at Caso, Izitaki declared he was starting to worry about him. Sessh snorted to himself at the idea. Just because the Daimyo seemed to be unusually thoughtful and withdrawn didn't mean that he was ill or taken leave of his wits. Far from it.

The Daimyo had gleefully set about ridding his fortress of those suspected to have had a hand, or at least an interest in Himishima's plots. Those who had been spared from the purge were walking on eggshells, striving to make it obvious how loyal they were. Inutaisho had loudly announced, in the full view of the gathered court, that his tolerance had become most strained and anyone who had a word to say about Himishima's abrupt and violent replacement was more than welcome to air their opinions. And then he'd give them a head start running.

Sesshomaru yawned into his fist, it was way too early for thinking about politics. His breakfast was waiting for him on the other side of that door. Inutaisho had insisted that his son join him more frequently. He didn't know why, his father often spent the time growling playfully at him about his studies or his opinions regarding the court. Sessh didn't much like to think about anything too closely these days and was grateful that the subject of Chinatsu seemed to be completely off limits.

Caso finally opened the door, wearing his usual harried and distressed expression. The man seemed to labor under the assumption that not only was the Daimyo of the West incapable of setting affairs without his guidance, the entire fortress would grind to a halt if he didn't handle every detail personally. He let the old retainer guide him to his seat, as if he didn't know the way, and settled at his father's breakfast table on the balcony.

The sky was so blue it sparkled, a light breeze brushed his hair back and Sesshomaru took a deep breath before starting in on his food. He'd already learned not to wait for Inutaisho. This morning, he was hoping to have a few serious moments of his father's time and his courage needed food in his belly to bring up the subject.

The Daimyo joined him at last, flopping into a chair with a characteristic lack of grace and poise. In public, he had to be intimidating. At least at breakfast with his son, he could relax a bit. Something was on the boy's mind, something he'd seen lurking for some weeks now. Was he going to ask about what had really happened in the woods? Inutaisho steeled himself and gave his son his full attention. "You wanted to talk to me," he prompted, his fingers tracing lazy designs on the tabletop.

Sesshomaru sighed. As much as he hated to bring it up, his conscience wasn't going to let him leave it alone. "I don't think I ever apologized, my lord Daimyo. For running away like that. If I hadn't been a fool, you wouldn't have had to rescue me and I wouldn't have nearly been killed and nearly responsible for my cousins' deaths."

His father nodded, not quite meeting his eyes. "That is correct. You disobeyed me, I should probably have you flogged within an inch of your life."

Sessh found himself smiling. "I just wanted you to know, I am sorry. I shouldn't have believed her, I shouldn't have..." He suddenly found himself unable to speak. "Father," he said at last. "She told me she was pregnant with my child. I was afraid that you wouldn't believe me or let me be with her. I know, I'm an idiot but..."

Inutaisho shook his head. "I'm the idiot, I let her stay here. Even knowing what her father was, what her intentions probably were, I let her stay and I'm responsible for anything she did or said to you."

It was more than he was expecting, he'd expected a lecture if nothing else. "I don't even know if it was true," he murmured. He met his father's eyes. "It could have been true."

"It could also have been a lie," Inutaisho said quietly. He sipped at his tea, waiting for what his son had been working towards.

"Do you know?" Sessh asked him. "Was she pregnant?"

Slowly, his father set down his teacup, giving his son his full attention. "Yes, I do know. Before I answer your question, I would like you to answer mine. If I knew she was pregnant with your child, do you think I would have done anything different?"

Sesshomaru scratched his head, puzzling about it. "No," he said finally, staring out at the breathtaking view. "Even if you knew she was with child, you wouldn't have done anything different. I know that."

He'd given her a chance to surrender, a chance to live. She had declined to accept his mercy. And his son knew that he would have killed her just the same, pregnant or not. It was a given, it was understood.

The Daimyo looked at his son, the brisk morning wind lifting his hair and making it dance around him. He met his son's eyes with all the seriousness of the matter, regretting much, but not this.

"If you know the answer, why do you even ask?"

The End

And that concludes The Daimyo's Son. If you've been reading this story, please let me know what you thought of it. I deeply appreciate all reviews, all comments, and I really want to know if you liked it...or even if you hated it!

There will be another Daimyo story, this one will be called the Daimyo's Lover. It's going to be very dark and dramatic, lots of action and lots of lemons. It picks up several years later, following Sessh and his cousins. It will also focus very much on Inutaisho and how he meets and falls in love with Izayoi, Inuyasha's mother. Should have the first chapter up in about a week or two. Hope you'll read it!