Standard Disclaimer: Inuyasha and all belong to Rumiko Takahashi…

A/N: This is actually an idea that hatched a while ago, and turned into a gift fic for Dev. I just didn't get around to posting it with the hospital appointments and holiday stuff that's been going on this month. Ah well… First half of the two-part piece…

-Cabrit Sans Cor-

"Just like that?" her disbelief was just as obvious in her voice as it was in her expression.

"Just like that," Naraku affirmed smoothly. He dipped his head to her ostensibly in respect, unblinking eyes never once releasing her gaze. "You may not believe me, but I assure you, my dear, I have found myself in the mood to be… indulgent. You and your friends are free to leave without interference from me."

Kagome's eyes narrowed on his face, searching for any sign of trickery as she looked up at the dangerous hanyou standing motionless barely an arm's length away. After several moments in the silent stalemate, she finally tore her gaze away from him. Finding the others where they struggled against Naraku's unnatural bindings holding them in place against the courtyard wall. Every sense, every instinct she'd gained since this mess had begun was screaming to turn and run to them. To set them free and get as far away from the castle as possible before whatever bizarre mood had taken hold of Naraku wore off. But even as she had taken a single step in their direction, her mouth was forming words she had never intended to say.

Her feet refused to move even a single step away from the self-made youkai. And even she could hear the damning whisper of curiosity echo back to her off the compound walls, "It… What was the point?"

Naraku's brows rose quizzically to illustrate his desire for clarification. "The point?"

"You could kill us all here and be done with all of this," Kagome murmured. Part of her could scarcely believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. Yet she couldn't seem to bring a halt to the confused questions. Her hands curled into fists to hide the way they shook as she twisted back to face him. Forcing herself to stand confidently as she met his subtly condescending stare. "Why go to the trouble to capture us only to let us go so easily?"

Those intense scarlet eyes flashed under her stare. He made no secret in indulging himself in a slow, thorough sweep of her body before steadily meeting her gaze. A smile tugged up the corner of his lips. "Why indeed…"

Kagome almost backed down. Her arms curled around her torso in an instinctive, fruitless effort to shield herself from the intensity of Naraku's attention. From the sensation of having her soul stripped bare for his eyes. Her wrist bumped against the tiny vial resting beneath her shirt, shaking her free of the frozen hypnosis. Struggling to bolster her courage, she flatly pointed out, "You haven't asked me about the last shard."

Naraku made a faintly disapproving sound as he closed the distance between them with a few leisurely steps. "Now, now, my dear miko… If all I had wanted was the jewel, don't you realize by now that I could have had it? My interests are more diverse than that."

"Don't patronize me, Naraku, I can feel it." Kagome's chin kicked up in a show of bravery that she was far from feeling. "Everything you've done. Everyone you've killed and betrayed... it's all been for the jewel. Why lie about it?"

"The thought is furthest from my mind at the moment," Naraku chuckled softly. He pressed his hand to his heart and bowed his head in a gesture of sincerity. "For now, there is just one small question I have for you, miko. That is, if you feel so inclined to suffer my curiosity now that you are here."

Kagome stared at him silently for a moment. Unaware that she had taken a step back, shaking her head as she whispered out, "You can't... You can't possibly be serious. A question… a question? You did all this, tricked them -tortured them- and used them to demand I come here like this. Just so you can ask me a question?" Kagome made absolutely no effort to hide the disbelief in her eyes. Her voice gained volume until she was shouting up at the elegant figure staring down at her.

"Even I am struck with bouts of curiosity from time to time." His shoulders lifted in a casual shrug, completely unmoved by her show of temper.

Kagome's confused frown returned. Something about the way he answered stirred an ominous feeling deep in her soul as she repeated, "Curiosity."

Naraku confirmed Kagome's suspicion with a nod. Slanting a sultry look at her through thick lashes he purred out, "I knew that without proper incentive, it might prove difficult to, ah- encourage your attendance. But that no longer matters, miko, you are here. And as I have said, you may choose to answer or not as you see fit. I will still allow you to leave peacefully regardless of your decision."

Kagome's brows furrowed. She glanced at her captive friends indecisively before refocusing her attention on Naraku. Half afraid that taking her eyes off him any longer would invite disaster. When he continued to do no more than stare down at her with that same mild expression, she shook her head. Voice wavering slightly, she demanded, "Then… why do it at all? If you're only intending to let us all go so easily. What reason do you have to think I'll answer any questions you ask me? Even if I was stupid enough to believe you plan to keep your word?"

"To be fair to me, believe me when I say that I am not without some sense of my own honor," Naraku chided. He walked towards her, making a slow circle around her position with disturbingly fluid grace. After one complete course, he came to a stop standing directly behind her. Pausing to bask in sadistic pleasure the clearly-displayed rage his proximity to the human miko caused on the faces of his prisoners. "I believe one must offer a sort of trade in the midst of delicate negotiations…"

A humorless laugh escaped her as she reflexively curled her hand around the single shard in her necklace. "If you aren't willing to give up the Shikon-no-Tama, and you'll let me and my friends go without a fight… What makes you think you have anything I want?"

Naraku slipped his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his kimono and leaned forward. Brushing his chest against her back just enough to feel her instinctively flinch away from him. "Does that mean you don't want to hear my question, miko? Can you turn away from me now? Or would the thought, the question of what I want, and what I could grant you in return continue to eat away at your soul even after our paths have ceased to cross?"

Kagome shivered as the wind in the courtyard abruptly picked up. He fell silent again, allowing her own curiosity to slowly eat away at her resolve. The wind shifted, catching her hair and fanning out over her shoulders to twist and tangle among Naraku's. She lifted her hand trying to tame it down only to feel it pull uncomfortably. As though even that small part of him refused to relinquish its hold on her-

Alarmed at the path of her own thoughts, Kagome jerked her hands away. Harshly insisting, "I can forget everything about you."

"Is that why you're shaking, my dear?" He tilted his head to one side, purposefully allowing the weight of his hair to bring it spilling over his shoulder. Discreetly he manipulated his youki into mingling their hair, just to increase her discomfiture. He regarded her bent head with deepening amusement. Bringing one hand up, he traced his fingertips delicately over the joined locks in a slow caress.

Seeming to remember his rather captive audience, Naraku lifted his head and let his attention wander over her companions. There was a strangely methodic air to his perusal. His gaze was meticulous and critical as he stared them down one by one until it finally fell on Inuyasha. His eyes locked with hanyou's the longest, a cold smile playing across his borrowed face. The fear the hanyou was trying to hide behind his rage was intoxicating, and he purposefully focused on feeing it. "Can you truly resist hearing what I have to give you?"

Kagome's chin bent towards her chest to hide her face from him. Fisting her hands in front of her, she struggled to resist both the pull of his words and the urge to yank away from him. Her eyes closed, head turning slightly to the side in a subconscious gesture of defeat. But she still attempted to hide the struggle his careful words were creating inside her. "Why should I believe anything you say?"

Naraku's smile was full of triumph as he completely dismissed the others from his thoughts. He shifted his stance to have a clear view of Kagome's profile, but also conversely to block out her view of them as well should her gaze wander. "I am the one holding the control, holding all the pieces, am I not? I could have ended our fighting. Taken the shard by now and killed your companions in front of you if that was what I wanted. What other proof can I offer you, my dear?"

Kagome fell silent yet again. She hunched her shoulders in a protective gesture against the foreboding tingle that made her skin crawl. Something inside her was screaming its warning. There was more danger in this situation than she could possibly dream. And the longer she stood there in Naraku's shadow, the deeper she was falling into its grasp… but still…

She felt strangely detached. As though she was watching the scene through someone else's eyes as her lips formed another shaky question. "I don't have to answer if I don't want?"

Inuyasha jerked so forcefully against the manacles that his skin tore open, blood spattering in twin arcs into the dirt in front of him. Naraku's eyes flashed at the disruption, and he glared over his shoulder disapprovingly. His lips compressed as he reinforced their bindings. Unsatisfied, he poured a stronger layer of miasma into the barrier surrounding the battered trio. Allowing Kagome a moment with her own thoughts, he splayed the fingers of one hand at the ground and wrapped another barrier around them.

Naraku's smirk returned as he watched Inuyasha's mouth move in a soundless, furious scream. His voice blocked from reaching Kagome and possibly influencing her decision. And rendered helpless to do anything but observe and listen as Naraku so carefully played out the scene he'd orchestrated.

"You can turn and leave at any time." Naraku assured her of that option with expertly-crafted sincerity. Nodding a single time despite knowing she still refused to look at him. "There is no obligation in agreeing to hear my offer, miko. The choice is still yours alone."

Kagome hand rested over her heart again. Her gaze turned introspective as the frantic beat of her heart began to slow under a strange sense of calm. The tension across her shoulders began to melt and her other arm relaxed loosely at her side. A strange sense of warmth wrapped around her body, shielding her from the increasingly cold winds. She had no idea how long she stood there silently. Listening to the peculiarly soothing rustle of silk as the youkai's kimono fluttered in that same breeze.

But finally, her feet were moving. Turning her towards him, she demanded, "What do you want to ask me, Naraku?"

Naraku smiled benignly even as his eyes began to glow deeper scarlet in victory.

Waiting until she was fully facing him again, Naraku withdrew his hands from his sleeves with elegant precision. He saw her flinch, saw the way her jaw clenched as she forced herself to stop. She was so determined not to show him how he was affecting her. Bringing his pleasure to new heights and encouraging him to reach out and curl his fingers under her chin. Tipping her head up, he bent his head to rest his lips against the startled miko's ear.

Naraku closed his eyes, inhaling the scent of fear mingling in her deliciously pure aura. He savored the way her body trembled and sinuously wound his youki around her slight frame. Her pulse fluttered beneath his fingers as he slid them down her neck.

Lightly circling her throat with his hand, he whispered softly, "How much do you love your friends?"