Disclaimer: All I own right now is a massive headache. You want it?

Thanks: To Fate (or YoukaiFate) for booting my rear into gear and "convincing" coughthreateningcough me to post this fic. She also beta'ed it, correcting my umpteen spelling errors, and has liberally peppered her influences throughout the fic.

A/N: To be on the safe side, this chapter contains adult content. If you really want to see adult content, go to ?no25201 and click on "Stronger." Also posted there is my one-shot "Interlude" as well as a link to my livejournal account (in case you want to know what lunitic produces this... and what unspeakable evil has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting IY fandom), and how to contact me.

Anyway, like I said, to be safe about all of this.. This is rated R for a reason, begining now. If you're underage donna read it. You have been warned.

Chapter One: Uninvited

Day by day, month by month, and year by year, he had watched her grow. A small, fearless child with tiny, sturdy limbs into a woman full of spirit and grace. Even now he stood, off in the distance, watching her. She stood with all the grace and inner fire of a demoness of the High Court, this little human. Smooth brown limbs cradled the bow like a lover, wielded it like a master. Head up, back straight, she drew the string back, notching the white-fletched arrow in one smooth motion. A small smirk graced her lips and, eyes never leaving her intended target, she let the arrow fly, only the slight twaang of the string indicating any movement on her part.

With a small sigh, her brow unfurrowed, and some of the tension seeped out of her lithe frame. Walking down the field, she wrenched the arrow from the straw target, her manner preoccupied. Twirling the arrow distractedly between her fingers, she turned and disappeared into the dojo, never noticing his presence on the outskirts of the field, hidden in the shadows. Appearing moments later, she now held a katana, and a kodachi sheathed at her hip, dragging a warrior behind her.

"Oh, come on now, Atoki! I just want a little practice."

"Ano..Lady Rin..." The demon stuttered, blushing furiously.

The shadow at the edge of the training field cocked a brow, taking in the demons accelerated heart rate, the hue of his skin, and the very faint scent of his arousal. Atoki was one of his best guards, steadfast and loyal, ruthless enough to take into the heat of battle, and well-mannered enough to accompany one to a High Court gathering.

The warrior in question had quite a reputation, hindered not at all by his handsome face, with demonesses of every caliber. His quick wit and silver tongue had won him many mating offers, from ladies of all stations, as well as many job offers, ranging from personal guard, to assassin, to diplomat. He had refused all of them...and now the warrior standing in the shadows had a fairly good idea why.

Rin turned, putting on her best pleading face, one that had yet to fail in getting her what she wanted.

"Please Atoki-kun? I've been restless lately, and Sesshomaru-sama won't spar with me." Her eyes took on a deceptively innocent gleam. "And since you're the best fighter here next to Sesshomaru-sama, I thought you could take some time out for a relaxing game. I know how hard you work, both yourself and your troops." She added sweetly.

Atoki blushed a bit more, looking pleased that she'd paid enough attention to notice. "O-of course, Lady Rin, I would be happy to spar with you for a small while."

Rin pouted, looking a bit miffed. "Atoki-kun, how many time have I asked you not to call me 'Lady?'" Her tone took on a faintly self-derisive air. "I am no lady, merely Lord Sesshomaru-sama's ward."

"You're no mere ward Lady," Atoki said lowly, a trace of anger coloring his tone. "Who in blazes gave you that idea?" Drawing his sword, he faced Rin.

Rin stuck her tongue out, drawing her word as well. "Jaken, of course. He's been telling me for years exactly what I am." Making a face, she raised her katana above her head and sliced slowly downward, giving Atoki ample time to duck or counter.

"Jaken," Atoki growled, blocking Rin's swing and countering deftly. "Is a slimy little toad who doesn't have any room to talk."


And with that last, distracted noise, Rin attacked, launching into a flurry of strike and parries with all the grace of a warrior of God. The figure in the shadows, still frowning over their disturbing conversation, could do naught else but admire the picture they made in the glow of the afternoon sun, the young, vibrant girl with all the power afforded youth clashing with the dark beauty of a demon accustomed to the gory brutality of war.

Swinging, ducking, parrying, she vented all her frustrations and restlessness until Atoki called a halt.

"Rin," He said gently, "you've had enough."

Panting heavily, Rin didn't bother to try to refute the statement. Allowing Atoki to take her arm, he gently led her to the gardens, and left her on a bench, returning moments later with drinks for both of them. Sitting next to her, he leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to look relaxed, neither of them noticing the figure residing in the trees across the field, taking in every word they said.

"Now Rin, what is wrong?"

Rin flushed. "It's nothing Atoki."

Cracking an eye, Atoki studied her out of a silted eye, watching the way her hair shone, igniting in the late afternoon light, studying the delicate flush of her skin, noticing how slender fingers clutched at the earthenware cup held prisoner in her lap. Long black lashes fanned against her skin as she stared at the water in her cup, steadily refusing to meet his gaze.

"Rin," he said quietly.

Rin flushed a deeper red. "It's truly a trivial matter."

"Rin-chan..." He looked at her expectantly. "Do you honestly believe that after spending the day at the dojo, trouncing my warriors, pummeling training bags and shooting the archery targets to swiss cheese, I'll just let you brush me off?"

"Oh.." Rin murmured, "saw all of that, did you? Don't you have better things to do then watch me all day?"

"Mmm..." Atoki said noncommittally. In truth, he had far more important things to do then watch as one upset human vent her frustrations on his recruits - however badly the new recruits needed the humbling experience of being beaten by a human girl who easily possessed more skill in a single hand then they could muster in their whole beings. He should have been doing any number of the tasks which required his attentions, but Rin...drew him. Just as she had always drawn him, ever since she had been a child, and Lord Sesshomaru had brought her to him and instructed him to train her to defend herself.

Though he had meant only for her to be able to defend herself until he could arrive, neither of them had expected the way the small girl-child, so enamored with her daisy chains and friend Ah Un, took to weaponry, much as a duckling to water, quickly learning everything the dojo had to offer. Eventually she had become a solid fixture in the dojo, and Atoki had the pleasure of watching her develop, going from a sturdy little girl who had constantly clung to his hakama, pleading for his attentions, to a gangly adolescent who had held the promise for great beauty, to watching her mature into the woman she was now. Spirited, skilled in weapons of all kinds as well as book learning and diplomatic skills, with an inner fire that granted her more beauty than any demoness of the High Courts, she was truly a sight to behold.

Only, somewhere along the years, she had turned from an adorable child to a charming adolescent to a good friend to... 'A good friend.' Atoki thought with a small sigh, 'And that's all...'Of course, that was for the best. Rin would always see him as her best friend, not a potential mate.

"I guess not." Rin said, interrupting his reverie. "It's just...Sesshomaru-sama won't spar with me anymore."

Atoki frowned. "He's very busy Rin. You know this."

"Of course I do! It's just...we used to go on border patrols together, and he would take meals with me, and spend time with me. He would sit in the library and let me read to him, or I would pen out some of his correspondences for him. Now... He won't take me anywhere, or allow me to go places with him, and he doesn't spend any time with me." Rin cringed at how forlorn and pitiful she sounded.

Atoki's brow furrowed as he recalled the way Sesshomaru had always seemed to have Rin close to him in years past. Thinking back, he realized that he had not seen them in one another's presence in some time.

"I'm sure there's a reason Rin." Atoki temporized. "Maybe he doesn't take you with him on patrols because it is unfit for a lady such as yourself to be with a male, unchaperoned, for such a great amount of time."

"But he always took me with him before! It was indecent then, and he still took me with him! It's just been these last few years that he hasn't taken me. And he would still spar with me, or take some leisure time with me. What made him stop now?" Tears coursed silently down her cheeks.

"I don't know Rin-chan." Atoki soothed, disturbed by her tears. Rin may have been sweet and emotional, but she didn't cry unless something had truly upset her. Silently, he leaned over and gathered her into his arms, placing her on his lap and cuddling her close, unable to stop himself from nuzzling his nose into her hair, inhaling her sweet scent. Twisting in his lap, Rin buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed.

In the shadows, the figure watching them narrowed his eyes as jealousy spiked through his frame. It should have been him that Rin turned to, him that comforted her tears, and him that got to hold her close, taking in the sweet scent of her.

"I'm sorry for bawling all over you like that, Atoki-kun." Rin said as soon as she was able, shifting a bit to look him in the eyes.

"Rin," Atoki said gently, "you are my friend. You needn't be sorry for showing me how upset you were. It...honors me that you trust me that much."

Large cinnamon eyes stared up into his own pale blue ones, lashes still spiked from her tears. Dainty shoulder attached to slender arms were still gently looped around his neck, equally slender fingers brushing the back of his collar. Frowning faintly, he shifted her backwards, a little further off of his lap, hoping she wouldn't notice his state of distress.

"Rin." He said, not giving her a chance to respond to his earlier statement. "Why don't you go bathe and we'll take dinner in an hour."

Rin's eyes sparkled happily at the "we'll" in his statement. "You mean you'll eat with me tonight?"

"Hai." Atoki answered, smiling a bit at her obvious pleasure. "Meet me in the dining room."

"No, meet me in the kitchen."

"Kitchen?" Atoki asked, a faint frown of confusion marring his otherwise smooth brow. "Why the kitchen?"

Rin made a face. "The dining room is so formal. It's distressing. The kitchen is much more open and friendly."

Atoki chuckled. Or course Rin, being the person that she was would want to be around people, even if they were servants who she was supposed to ignore. 'No, Rin's not one to ignore anybody.' Atoki thought fondly.

"Fine Rin-chan, I will meet you in the kitchens."

With a delighted squeak, Rin leapt up and raced towards the main house to gather a fresh kimono and head to the hot springs.

Atoki leaned back on he bench, once more closing his eyes and trying to calm his raging blood, wondering how one human girl could be so innocently provocative, and never have a clue what she was doing. 'I pity the man or demon who takes her as his mate.' He thought wryly. 'As soon as she realizes her powers, they're going to have a hell of a wildcat on their hands...'


Shedding her sweaty hakama and hoari, Rin eased into the warmth of the spring, sighing as the intense heat loosened her muscles. Happily she stretched her arms above her head, reveling in the complete control she had over her muscles as they stretched and flexed beneath her skin. Looking down, she studied her body beneath the water. Her skin was unfashionably tanned from all her forays outside, and from training under the sun's intense heat. A true Lady did not engage in such activities, instead remaining inside and sewing tapestry or entertaining her husband's guests. When she did venture out of doors, she was always protected by an umbrella or parasol, shielding her fair skin from the sun's harsh rays.

The image of a warrior trying to fight while holding a parasol popped into Rin's head completely unbidden, causing her to snort in laughter.

Continuing her perusal, Rin studied her breasts objectively, taking in their pale gold color, the way small, dusky nipples bobbed contentedly on the water's surface. Rin frowned, afraid they may have gotten larger again. It wouldn't do to have her breasts getting in her way when she fought, and she desperately hated wearing the tight strips of cloth used to bind them flat to her chest....the bindings limited her breathing, causing her to tire more quickly, and the cloths were uncomfortable when dampened by sweat.

Other than that, Rin had no problems with her body. Sure, it was not the body of a fine court lady, pale and plump. Nor did it contain the ethereal grace and power of a youkai Lady, whose beauty she could never hope to compare to, them with their jewel-toned eyes and multi-hued hair that came in a variety of colors spanning the whole rainbow.... No, she and her kind seemed to be contained to a multitude of browns and blacks in their hair and eyes colors. But her ribs were narrow, her waist slender, and if she considered her hips maybe too wide for adequate battling, she made up for it by having exceptionally powerful and well-muscled legs.

The sliding of the shoji door alerted her to the fact that she was no longer alone. Turning, she saw that her new companion was one of said Ladies, a female of exceptional beauty who was visiting Sesshomaru-sama under the guise of wanting to negotiate a trade agreement with her kingdom, the Eastern Lands. However, Rin wasn't fooled by her altruistic attitude, Rin could see that what she was obviously hoping to trade was not material goods...unless counted oneself as "goods."

Lady Alina was indeed beautiful, her pale skin soft and inviting, her breasts like two halves of a ripe melon, hips and legs lusciously curved. Her soft hair a pale pink, cascading down to her hips in a sensuous fall. Her pale face was adorned with rubies for eyes over which pale pink brows slashed, petite nose and small, cherubim lips completing the picture of youkai perfection.

Laying her kimono neatly over a proffered bench, Lady Alina slipped into the baths and leaned back, closing her eyes and sighing in contentment. As Rin reached for the scented soap she liked for her hair, the Lady's smooth voice spoke up.

"And what did you do today Rin-chan?" She cooed, speaking to Rin as if she were five instead of eighteen and a fully grown adult.

Rin hesitated, not wanting to be rude, but not liking to be referred to as "Little Rin."

"Lady," She replied "I do not wish to be addressed as 'chan'...and today I practiced at the dojo with General Uuchia." She continued, making sure to us Atoki's full title and not to place the affectionate "kun" on the end.

Lady Alina affected mild distress rather well, but Rin could see the faintly malevolent gleam in her eyes. The Lady knew full well that she had no right to call Rin by any affectionate pet names, and had in fact meant to insult the child. She couldn't see how the most powerful demon Lord in all of Japan could tolerate being saddled with a ningen child - a female who paraded around as a warrior no less. Alina decided long ago that when she was Lady of the Western Lands, the girl would be the first thing to go, and that none of her daughters would ever indulge in such uncouth activities.

"Will you be joining Lord Sesshomaru and I for dinner tonight?" She asked, hoping for a negative, pleased when Rin shook her head.

"No Lady, I shall not. I had made other dinner arrangements this evening." Truth be known, she had not been invited to attend dinner with her Lord and his guest, and she would not intrude where she was obviously not wanted. Plus, it turned her stomach to think of spending any more time with this poisonous Lady then she absolutely had to.

Washing her hair and body quickly, Rin excused herself, anxious to quit the Lady's presence. Once safely in her room, Rin closed the oaken door and leaned back against it with a heartfelt sigh of relief. Striding over to her small vanity against a far wall, Rin sat down and began to brush her hair out, trying to dry it s much as she could before dressing it.

Rin's room was large and airy, with solid oak paneling and sheer cream colored fabrics. Her futon lay in one corner, neatly made up in pale yellow silk sheets, with a few emerald green pillows placed atop of it, their golden tassels dancing merrily in the breeze that blew through her open balcony doors. Smiling, she leaned over and gently touched the small bouquet of yellow buttercups and white daisies the had been placed in a pale cornflower blue vase earlier that day.

The vase had been a gift from Atoki many years ago, when he had seen her placing her flowers in small, earthenware cups that she had snitched from the kitchens. He had presented the vase to her one spring morning when she had offered him a bouquet of daisies (complete with leafy greenery and small bugs) as an exchange of gifts, so the she would have somewhere nice to place the flowers she had gathered for her room. Rin's smile broadened as she traced the lovely daisies as they chased each other around the slender curve of the vase, the flowers resting just above their comrade's stems, admiring the sheen of the glaze. When she had received the vase, she hadn't known what a prize she had received- for and eight-year-old it had simply been a nicer cup - but now she could appreciate the fact that this vase had been expensive, the glaze hard to come buy and the pale cornflower blue a difficult color to obtain.

Sighing over her friend's thoughtfulness, she quickly went to her clothes press and selected a pale blue kimono, which had a pattern of sakura leaves trailing in a silvery sheen across the left shoulder. Selecting a sash of a deeper, sapphire hue for around her waist, she put the kimono aside for donning after she finished her hair. Sitting down once more she quickly picked up he comb, trying to decide what would look best. Glancing at the small timepiece sitting behind the vase, she snorted and realized that she hardly had time for an elaborate hairdo - she had to be downstairs and in the kitchen in ten minutes!

Running the comb through her hair once more, she pulled half of her hair - from her ears to her crown - up and secured it with a small wooden clip, leaving the rest to fall down her back and dry. Slipping on her kimono, she struggled a bit with the sash, her normally deft fingers slipping through the elegant fabric. Making a face at herself in the mirror and giggling, she ran out of the room and headed down to the kitchens.


Sesshomaru sat in his study dutifully studying the trade agreement Alina had drafted for him to look over. He knew as well as everyone else that she wasn't very concerned with the distribution of western and eastern silks and spices, but with eliciting a mating offer from him and uniting their two kingdoms. Treasure hunter that she was, she had been perusing him for years, trying to get a hold of his properties and wealth. Now that she had come up with a legitimate excuse to follow him home, he was forced to endure her coy glances and simpering stares. Using the excuse of paperwork that he couldn't put off any longer, he had managed to avoid her for most of the day.

He groaned a bit as he recalled watching Rin with a bow earlier, her straight back and proud eyes far more alluring than any coyly hooded glances and subtle posturing.

He knew full well that he had been ignoring her of late, deliberately not taking meals with her and not training with her, not even to keep her in practice. He also knew full well that it hurt her deeply, but he honestly felt he had little choice in the matter.

He didn't know when these feelings of warmth had started. It may have been when she had been a small abused child who had tried in vain to heal an injured demon lord, bringing him food and water even though she herself wasn't getting enough to eat. It may have been the first time she had run up to him with an abused buttercup and offered it to him as a gift. Or was it when Naraku had kidnapped her in an effort to lull Sesshomaru into a trap? Either way, what had started as a grim sort of responsibility had slowly become admiration for the strength and innate goodness that one small female had borne so willingly, happily following him to the ends of the earth for a pat on the head or a kind word.

Nor could he pinpoint exactly when these feelings of admiration had taken on a romantic hue. Perhaps it had been when she had first defeated him in the dojo, having finally been able to best him and place her sword to his throat. He easily recalled the way her eyes had sparkled with mischief, her face hot and her body pressed flush with his, small breasts pressed against his chest as her taxed lungs heaved with the force of her pants.

It could have been the time when he had first presented her to the High Court as his ward. She had stood in front of him, Atoki at her back, swathed in many layers of silk, her hair done in an intricate knot, looking for all the world like a hime of the highest caste.

Thinking back, he realized it may have been the time they were out patrolling and he had startled her while she was at the stream looking for her tami sock. So absorbed had she been in her task that she had never heard him step up behind her, and a soft inquiry had startled her enough to send her tumbling over the low shelf and gracelessly into the water. The way her eyes had sparked and flashed as she stood there, hip-deep in the clear water, wet hair falling in her eyes and an equally soaked gi and hakama molded to her newly blossomed curves, berating him for all she was worth at the rudeness of startling unsuspecting peoples... He never had heard the rest of her enraged tirade, so entranced was he with the way the thin fabric had revealed nipples hardened by the comparatively chill air and clung lovingly to firm high breasts. He had been startled out of his reverie by an angry forefinger waving dangerously close to his nose, but even then he had not heard her speech as he studied the thin human nail and the slender strength of the digit. Further more, he had not thought to ask until much later exactly how she had lost her sock.

Yes, these feeling would never do. Besides the fact that she was much younger then him - eighteen to his four hundred and twenty-five - she was also his ward and a human. As usual, he refused to acknowledge the fact that comparatively he wasn't that much older - merely twenty-seven in human years - or the fact that by mating with her and sharing his powers with her he would expand her life span considerably, he had decided long ago that the best way to get rid of these unwanted feeling was to leave her to her own devices and avoid unnecessary confrontations.

First, he had stopped taking her on patrols with him - that was far too intimate a setting. Then he had stopped practicing with her - that had required far too much close physical proximity. Finally, as the feelings had flamed brighter and the urges became stronger, he had cut his time with her to nothing more than what was absolutely required.

Of course, she didn't have to know that he watched her whenever he could sneak away for a while, had in fact seen her sparring match with Atoki this afternoon, and had smelt his general's not-so-platonic interest in his ward. His Inu blood had raged at him, demanding that he rush forward and challenge the other male for his woman. He had purposefully beat it down and had overheard Rin's tearful confession to Atoki, and he had been disturbed at how much he had hurt her by ignoring her. Of course she wouldn't understand it was for the best; she didn't even know there was a problem! He had anticipated her hurt, but the quiet self-decrepitating comment about not being a Lady, merely a ward, just as Jaken had told her, had made his blood boil. How dare she degrade herself like that? She of all people should know that if she were merely a ward, she would not possess the services of his dojo to train, nor the run of his castle, nor access to his library. Nor would she have been taught to read and write, to strategize in wartime situations. Nor... the list went on and on, but the fact remained that she simply should have known that no mere ward would be treated as well as she was, nor trusted as much as she was.

A gentle knock at the door interrupted him from his reverie. Carefully scenting the air, he called "Enter Lady Alina."

The door opened to reveal the Lady in all of her feminine glory, beautifully dressed and lightly daubed with attar of roses. Smiling brightly she entered the room closely followed by a servant bearing a covered tray.

"My Lord," she said sweetly, the bright smile never faltering, "I brought dinner since I know you've been working hard all day."

'Oh yes, I did promise her dinner, didn't I?' Despite the fact that he had made the promise in an effort to get her out of his hair, he looked forward to the repast, having been so engrossed in his work and in watching his ward that he had completely forgone any meal prior.

Moving from behind his desk, he directed the servant to set the tray on a low table across the room, well away from the documents, maps and correspondences littering his desk. Dismissing the servant with a nod of his head, he and the Lady took their seats.


The kitchens were a flurry of movement, and constant bustle of activity as Atoki entered. Looking around he spotted Rin sitting at a counter chatting amiably with one of the cooks, who was busy kneading dough. Wandering over, he could see that she was inquiring after the demon's two young children, asking after their health and other such trivial matters.

"Is Sakura still running wild with Ino?" She asked brightly, a grin lighting her face as she thought of the two young girls. Atoki knew Sakura was the daughter of the cook she was speaking with, and Ino was the daughter of one of the stable hands, and Rin regularly spent time with the two, picking daisies and making them into crowns and necklaces.

The cook laughed. "Of course they are! You should have seen the way the bedecked Ah Un the other day. When they were done, the poor dragon looked like a walking garden!" The cook laughed harder, recalling the way his daughter had come and drug him out to admire their work, the ever-patient dragon looking horribly embarrassed. "I didn't know dragons could even look embarrassed until I saw Ah Un!" He chortled.

"I seem to remember a certain young lady who thought that bedecking tolerant dragons was great fun as well." Atoki said warmly as he came up behind the two. "And I seem to recall being drug out on more than one occasion to admire her handiwork..."

"Atoki-kun, that was ages ago!" Rin laughed, turning to give him a warm smile.

"Really?" Atoki arched a brow. "I seem to recall three giggling females, chasing Ah Un around the pasture not two weeks past, bearing arm loads of daisy chains.... Of course, I could be mistaken. However, if I am, then you need to find the person impersonating you post haste."

Rin's cheeks tinted a delicate pink. "Yes, I'll get right on that. After dinner."

Hakashi laughed. "Speaking of dinner," he said, "what were you two hoping for?"

"Oh, nothing special." Rin said. "Just whatever's cooking on the fire."

"Are you sure Lady?" Hakashi said, brow furrowing at the thought of the General and the Lady, though they were friends and entertained his children on occasion, eating the same common for that the servants were partaking of.

"Of course." Atoki said. "We all know how hard you and the others work."

"Ah yes, well at least someone appreciates out efforts." The cook grumbled darkly.

"What do you mean by that?" Rin inquired, looking perplexed. The castle ran smoothly, everyone who worked here for any length of time knew well how hard everyone had to work in order to keep the place running that way. From the stable hands who kept the beasts trained and the stables clean and well-kept, to the soldiers who guarded the grounds and had to stay battle-ready at all times, to the cooks in the kitchens who had to keep at least a pot of stew full at all times for workers who kept odd shifts and needed nourishment at odd hours, everyone knew how much work was needed to maintain a fortress of this size. Even Sesshomaru knew that his people worked hard to maintain his standards, and rarely made any extra demands.

"Oh a certain Lady came prancing in about an hour ago and complained that my stew wasn't good enough for Lord Sesshomaru. She then proceeded to demand that we make an entirely new meal and prepare some strawberry tarts as well." Hakashi complained, remembering the Lady Alina's snobbish attitude and condescending tone.

"Ah, Lady Alina..." Atoki mused. "Yes, she does rather have a high-handed manner doesn't she?"

"I wish Sesshomaru-sama would just tell that treasure hunting bitch to take a hike." Rin muttered darkly.

"Rin! "Atoki admonished. "Such words are not fit for a Lady!"

Rin rubbed the bridge of her nose thoughtfully. "Well, they're not fit for a gentleman either, but I seem to recall much worse pouring from your maw during training exercises...."

Atoki sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward and puffing out a short breath.

Hakashi snorted. These two really were just too cute together. Especially since the suave, debonair general, so feared in battle and desired in the bedroom, was reduced to nothing more intimidating than a kitten in the face of the Lady's constant humor. His wife was right he mused, kneading the bread dough thoughtfully, these two would make a good couple, and any resulting children, even if they were hanyou, would be much loved. He smiled secretively to himself as Rin and Atoki continued their friendly bickering. Of course, he could think of one person who may object to their union...

"Anyway," Hakashi said, placing the dough in a pan to let it rise and covering it with a clean cloth, "You both know where the bowls and spoons are kept. So if you want to get yourselves some food, I'll go get some drinks."

"Sun tea?" Rin said pleadingly, thinking of Hakashi's wonderful chilled drink, traditional tea brewed in the sun and kept in a chilled environment. Who would've thought that putting tea leaves in cheese cloth and letting it steep in the sun would produce something so tasty? Especially when kept at a low temperature in the ice box, and sweetened with just a touch of sugar.

"Sure." The cook said, chuckling at the girl's borderline obsession with his invention. Of course, it was the perfect refreshing drink after a long hot day...

Gathering two bowls from a nearby cabinet as Rin procured two wooden spoons from a nearby drawer, the two companions moved to a sunny alcove set off from the main kitchens.

"I just love this area," Rin said, taking in the tall glass windows that let a veritable torrent of the afternoon sunlight pour in, washing over the potted shrubbery that had been placed about the room. In the middle of the area stood a large, low communal table, cushioned with leather sitting pillows. A few other small tables sat off to the side, also cushioned with leather pillows, providing more privacy.

Taking a seat at a small table next to the window, Rin smiled happily as Hakashi brought over two cups of the sun tea and some fresh, hot rolls, complete with sweet butter melting on the inside.

Atoki grinned at Rin, appreciating her sweet nature, and obvious enjoyment of even simple fare. Truly, he couldn't stand the court ladies who turned their noses up at simple, working-men's fare, insisting on rich and fattening dishes, who wouldn't abide by a simple, hearty, meat-and-vegetable stew accompanied by a fresh roll and a cup of tea. Sure, Rin never minded rich foods or sweet cream, but she didn't complain when they were only served for special occasions. Atoki knew that Rin, who had understood true hunger, would never turn her nose up at any type of nourishment.

Rin, catching his grin from across the table, desisted in her crooning over the sweet butter and grinned back. "Shall we then?" She asked jovially.

Atoki's grin widened. "Hai."


Much later that night, after escorting Lady Rin to her rooms and bidding her sweet dreams, Atoki sat on a bench near the garden pond, clutching a cup of Hakashi's cold tea and watching the moonlight dance over the water. If he were honest with himself, he would admit that he was avoiding going back to his lonely quarters.

Tired of sitting as he had been doing, chasing his own thoughts in circles, he decided a walk would be good. Maybe around the outside of the fortress, and go check on the guards, and "encourage" the ones who needed it to stay awake at their posts. ''Besides,' he mused 'I need to return Hakashi's cup...'


In his chambers, Sesshomaru also was awake, tossing and turning on his futon, burning with some unnamed need. He had managed to rid himself of Lady Alina just a little while ago, after making several references to how fatigued she looked. Finally, she had taken the hint and decided to retire for the night, but not before making yet another not-so-subtle offer to accompany him to his lonely chambers and tuck him into bed... Of course, she hadn't said those exact words - they were much to overt for a Lady of high caste such as herself - but that had been the general sentiment.

Dinner had been a trying affair, at least in his opinion. No doubt Lady Alina had thought it had gone quite well. Upon seeing the richness of the dishes he had realized that this was certainly not what had been cooking in the kitchen earlier. When he commented on it, she had blithely replied that when she had gone down and requested a meal for the master, some man had given her a bowl of common, everyday workingman's stew from a pot on the hearth and a small jug of cold tea. She had been understandably - in her opinion at least - upset and had demanded better fare on his behalf. Sesshomaru had frowned and replied, being sure not to sound upset, that he had indeed had the hearth stew on a number of occasions and had always found it to be quite good. In addition, the tea was supposed to be cold, it was an invention by the head cook so that there would be something light and refreshing to serve to weary workers after a long day.

Lady Alina had looked a bit incredulous when he had said that he had partaken of the hearth stew, and perplexed at the thought of cold tea. Deciding that her Lord certainly had his oddities, and that she would correct him in due time, she had pushed ahead with a demure smile, inquiring over his health and the state of his holdings, as well as gossiping about the other Lord's and their Ladies. By the end of the hour, Sesshomaru had a headache, and was resisting the urge to turn her sake cup up into her painted face. He had beat down the childish urge, contenting himself with merely imagining doing it, and watching her painted on face smear and rub off on her expensive silk kimono.

'I bet Rin would have done it.' He thought with a small smile. Rin had a way of "accidentally" causing discomfort to anyone who irked her. He had no doubt that she would have found a way to embarrass the twittering chit. Instantly, he winced at his thoughts. Not about causing Lady Alina discomfort, but at the thought of Rin. As soon as he thought of her smiling face, the general burn had concentrated to the pit of his stomach.

Giving up on getting some sleep, at least for the moment, he stood up from his futon and dressed, deciding that a short walk would help relieve some of this pent-up pressure.

Atoki strode around the side of the fortress a while later, having returned the borrowed cup and made a circuit of the grounds. He had stopped to talk to a few of the guards, encouraging new recruits who were faltering under the unfamiliar hours, praising those who were awake, and chatting amiably with a few of the ones he knew, inquiring after their health and general well-being. He knew many of his comrades personal problems, and often asked their opinions on matters of importance. His opinion was that knowing your comrades state-of-being was essential; if a solider was lacking, it may be because he or she was having a hard time dealing with a personal issue, not because of laziness or insolence. And if these were to be the people you counted on to watch your back during a skirmish, they had better be in a sound state of mind. Also, going off of that idea, he had often consulted his warriors on battle strategies before they were implemented, asking their ideas and opinions, and respecting their thoughts on matters. He knew many commanders didn't see that way, and thought him daft for his actions, but no one could fault the state of Lord Sesshomaru's army at any point at time. And because he was allowed to implement such procedures, and also because Lord Sesshomaru himself was often personally involved in such trivial matters, every one of the soldiers under the command was fiercely loyal to their commander and his Lord.

However, this had not always been the case. Before adopting Rin, Lord Sesshomaru had often wandered him borders with only Ah Un and Jaken for company. Rarely had he come back to the castle, and had cared little for it's state, minding only his borders and their upkeep.

Then came Rin. For years Atoki had not understood where the small child had come from; she was not a demon or a hanyou, so she couldn't possibly be Lord Sesshomaru's get, but he had treated her with all the care of a child born of his own heart. He had returned to the castle with the tiny female in tow, had arranged for her to have quarters down the hall, as well as seen to her education and health. Atoki had been perplexed, what was so special about this tiny, frail human girl? When Sesshomaru had enlisted him to see to the girl's personal defense however, everything had become clear.

This tiny, frail-looking little human had displayed an indomitable strength of spirit. Her sunny, smiling face and glowing heart had quickly enchanted nearly every demon in the dojo. It had spread to the grooms when she became a regular visitor courtesy of her good friend Ah Un. From there, several of the children had befriended her, and finally the housewives of the surrounding village had fallen for the small child, with her willing hands and gifts of daisies.

Atoki chuckled as he remembered Rin running barefoot through the streets of the village in the rain, splashing through the puddles and giggling. She had directly after come straight to her Lord Sesshomaru's study, where he had been in the middle of a meeting with Atoki, and sweetly inquired if they would like to come play with her. Sesshomaru had simply stared in shock as the little girl had danced around his desk, covered head to foot in mud and soaking wet, while Atoki had fallen into fits of laughter.

Of course, Rin wasn't perfect. She had a temper unlike any other when she was upset. Atoki recalled as one time a young demon boy had inquired of a teenage Rin if she would mind "pleasuring" him for a nominal fee. Having spent most of her time in the dojo, around crude soldiers who didn't always watch their conversations, and in the stables, Rin had understood exactly what he was asking of her. By the time she had gotten through beating him, he had been injured severely enough that, even with a demon's superior healing powers, he had to spend several days in the infirmary recovering.

Atoki sobered. The boy hadn't known how incredibly easy he had gotten off - Sesshomaru had been fully ready to kill the boy for is insolence to his ward.

Atoki turned the corner, rounding the back of the castle, and, out of habit glanced up towards Rin's room, vaguely hoping to see the girl outside at her small balcony as she often was. Vaguely disappointed to not see her there, he continued on towards his rooms.


Sesshomaru's walk had somehow ended at the back of the castle, with himself staring up at Rin's balcony, hoping beyond hope that the girl would be out stargazing as she was often wont to do on clear nights. However, she was not there, nor was there any scent of her on the breeze denoting a walk in the gardens. Sesshomaru's brow furrowed slightly. Mayhap her work out in the dojo this afternoon had worn her out more than he had thought. Maybe he should check and make sure she was okay...

Not allowing himself to consider what he was going to do any further, he summoned his small cloud and quickly ascended to her ledge. Landing and looking through the open balcony doors, past the muslin curtains to her futon, he frowned when she wasn't tucked safely between the sheets. As small rustle caught his attention, and he shifted his gaze over to the stone pillar arching above the doorway.

There, propped up against it's supporting strength, was Rin. Her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms looped lightly over them with her head tilted upwards resting against the stone pillar. She lay fast asleep, clad only in her thin sleeping yukata, without even an over robe to ward off the nights chill. Frowning, Sesshomaru stepped off the railing and made his way slowly to her side, noting the way the moonlight shone off of her thick dark hair and made ethereal her already sleep-softened features. Her yukata parted a bit in the front, revealing the swell of creamy breasts to his gaze. As he moved closer, a particularly deep sigh parted the folds further, revealing the top of a dusky nipple to the night air.

Sesshomaru drew in a shaky breath as his groin hardened almost instantaneously. Beating the desire down, he leaned over and gently scooped her into his arms, intent on carrying her back to bed and trying to resist the urge to look down once more to see if her yukata had parted further. Her head lolled trustingly against his bicep, dark hair spilling down over his arm as she made a small noise in her sleep. Sesshomaru stood back up, finding it difficult to walk at this point. Damn, but when had the burning become an all-consuming need?

Heart thudding in his chest, he carried her into her room and stooped down laying her pliant form on the futon. Brow furrowing the tiniest bit, her hand came up to grip his bicep as she nuzzled against him, burying her face in the collar of his haori. Unable to stop himself, he buried his nose in her hair, taking in her sweet, indefinable essence, not wanting to let go of her.

Her face brushed against his neck, nose and lips like butterfly wings against his skin. Her other hand coming up and reaching around the back of his neck, tangling in his hair, making him want to groan aloud as the hardness became a veritable ache of longing.

Quickly he put her down, untangling her twining fingers from his hair and left the room, going through the door rather than over the balcony. No one would be about this late to think it odd that he would be emerging from her room and he refused to leave like a thief in the night. Striding through the hallways towards his own chambers, he spotted a maid lingering in the shadows.

"My Lord," She said breathily, curtsying in his general direction. Her curtsey parted the folds of her loosely done kimono enough for him to receive an ample view of her bountiful breasts. As she raised her head he recognized her to be Mitsuki, a demoness here in the palace who had readily assuaged his needs in the past when he needed it - as he did now, desperately.

"Come." He commanded and continued on towards his chambers, Mitsuki falling eagerly into step behind him. Closing the chamber doors behind her, he turned just in time to watch her loose her hair from it's bun, and watch it cascade down her back in deep blue waves. Sapphire eyes flashed as she loosened her kimono further, revealing full breasts, nipples hardened with desire. Divesting herself of the garment entirely, she stood bare to his burning gaze.

"Come here." He ordered, his eyes darkening with barely leashed passion.

Eyes bright, she sauntered over to him, hips rolling provocatively. Wrapping her arms loosely around his torso, she twined her fingers through his hair much as Rin had done moments earlier, though to much less effect then Rin had achieved. Cooing as she rubbed herself against him, she leaned up and pressed her lips egarly agains his.

Growling low in his throat, Sesshomaru returned her kiss and pulled her lower lip between his teeth, sucking on it, demanding entrance to her mouth. Obligingly, she opened her mouth and eagerly he plundered, plunging her tongue in and sweeping into the warmth, grazing his fangs over her lips.

Moaning softly, Mitsuki clutched at the front of his haori, undoing it and sliding her hands against the rippling muscles of his stomach and abdomen, scratching lightly with her claws as she battled with the ties of his hakama. Growling again, he pushed her hands away and started to undo the ties himself as she reached for him.

Sensation spiked through Sesshomaru as he made quick work of the ties and pushed the hakama down to join the rest of their clothing on the floor. With a low hiss of pleasure at her renewed touch, he pushed her against the wall and viciously attacked her neck, sucking and nipping on the sensitive skin there, no longer caring if he drew blood. His length throbbed, aching to be inside her. The gentle grasp of her fingers very nearly threw him over the edge as he moved lower, running lips and tongue over her skin till he reached the peak of one taunt breast.

Somewhere deep in him though, something was unsettled. His body was screaming for relief, demanding that he take a female - any female - and drive into her until he was granted reprieve from himself. His soul cried out that this was wrong - this wasn't his mate, and that no other would fulfill him until he had his true mate in his arms. His heart was agreeing with his soul - this was not his mate, but his mate was a human, unavailable to him and he had better be contented with what he could get. His mind was enraged, screaming that they were all wrong, his mate couldn't possibly be Rin, couldn't be a human woman, and she deserved better, she deserved a normal life with a human man who would love her and give her children.

However, when morning came and he found himself alone in his bed, sated but unsatisfied, he couldn't deny that all through the night, no matter how many times he had pounded into Mitsuki, it had never been her face he had seen.