A/N: Wrote this for another LJ fic challenge, the theme was villains. It won second place. I've been wanting to write this one for some time and I finally had a good excuse.

They battled for days, for weeks perhaps. Neither had the intention of stopping or yielding until the other was a bloody corpse. One came by his strength and stamina naturally, born to it as he was born to command others with effortless ease. The other was more complex, layers upon layers of hard edged magic shielded him, along with a stony tough skin that even a taiyoukai's fury couldn't break.

The fight dragged on, too evenly matched between them although neither wanted to concede or admit to their weariness. This had been a fight to the death from the start as they had both agreed. One fought with grim determination, the other fought with a burning fire in his belly, an aching for revenge. This conflict had been a long time coming, a long time for waiting, far too long in the dragon's opinion. His hunger hadn't dimmed by time, nor had his painful loss.

They fought well, amazing displays of power and pure demon magic, overlaid by physical prowess and somewhat jaded youkai pride. Strikes upon strikes, youki blazing across the sky in a falling star of dreadful portent. He'd saved everything he had for this one moment, this one opportunity to take back what was his. A dragon had a long memory, a need to even the score. He would not lose this chance for vengeance.

"Ryuukossei," the dog lord drawled as they paused in battle. "I have to compliment you, you fight like a true demon."

"Mock me at your peril," the dragon hissed angrily. He sent a burst of blue white flame to fell his most hated enemy, only to see the lord block it with a negligent wave of Tessaiga.

"Who's mocking?" the dog general asked, a confident smirk on his face. "I do believe in giving praise when due, Ryuukossei. It's the mark of a civilized demon."

The dragon hesitated, eased back in his headlong attack. He's trying to fool me again, Ryuukossei told himself. The Inu no Taisho was a cagey fighter, experienced and ruthless. Nothing he did was without cause or reason, even an offhand compliment was carefully calculated to put his opponent at ease.

"As I am merely a filthy dragon youkai, a beast in your eyes, I wouldn't know the meaning of civilized," he said at last, putting venom in his tone.

Ryuukossei saw a flash in the gold eyes of his foe, a moment of vexed amusement. "I don't recall ever insulting you so," the dog lord said at last.

His tail lashed angrily, making the ground shake in his fury. "Insult?" Ryuukossei demanded coldly, answering the lord's mocking tone with his own bitter tasting sarcasm. "Is it not true that you and your soldiers hunt lower youkai for amusement?"

The Inu no Taisho smiled fondly. "Not just for amusement, one has to keep the vermin under control. A daimyou in my position has obligations to his people."

Ryuukossei seethed. Vermin. His belly twisted in old pain and rage. Inuyoukai saw everything around them as lesser beings, treated every inch of their territory as sacrosanct. Unwary demons that wandered into inuyoukai lands could meet a most heinous death. Dog demons did not care, they patrolled their borders with a bloodthirsty ruthlessness that allowed for no mercy and no quarter given those who violated their privacy.

The lord's soft, sardonic voice caught his attention once again. "You are no lesser youkai, Ryuukossei. Ordinary dragons are formidable warriors, but nothing ordinary can stand against me as you have done."

Condescending white haired bastard. "I grow tired of this conversation," Ryuukossei hissed, drawing himself up for another strike. "Let's end this battle now before you fall any more in love with your own voice."


The fight raged on again, the earth trembled and the mountain itself cracked and broke under the strain of their fierce battle. The dog general was growing weary, the dragon could sense it. Even as he continued to move with lightning precision and grace, even as each shock of his sword rang true against the dragon's stony hide, it couldn't be hidden. Fatigue was beginning to overcome them both.

Ryuukossei waited, expecting an attack when the Inu no Taisho lowered his sword and made a show of wiping the sweat from his forehead. "You're definitely no ordinary dragon," the lord said, and this time there was sincerity in his tone. "Are you ever going to tell me why you came here to challenge me?"

"My reasons for destroying you are my own," the dragon answered.

The dog general raised an elegant eyebrow. "Come now," he murmured. "At least give me the satisfaction of knowing my enemy. You invaded my territory, laid waste to my holdings and attacked my soldiers. I expect barbaric behavior from common youkai, but I can tell already that this is personal for you."

"You have many enemies, great lord," Ryuukossei said, his voice a low hiss of venom. "Any number of them could come to claim your head in vengeance. Your territory means nothing to me. It's for your blood alone I come to battle with you."

"Ah, it is personal then," the Inu no Taisho mused. Certainly, he had many enemies, many who would gladly see him to his grave. This dragon was different, there was something more than just hate behind his words. The dog general could sense the presence of great magic, and great pain, in every strike. Bitterness and loathing filled the air, painted the mountains with its stain.

It didn't matter much to him, the reason for the dragon's venom. He kept the conversation going because he wanted to find the crack in the dragon's defense. He needed to before he exhausted all of his strength. This wasn't an enemy he'd be able to defeat by brute force. He'd need all his cunning to discover the reason behind Ryuukossei's loathing, find that vulnerable secret that was tucked away inside a body made hard as steel.

Casually, he swung his sword, bleeding off a little bit of the power in a bright flash. The dragon watched him carefully, expecting a trick. It would be there, but not where he expected, the Inu no Taisho thought grimly.

"You've studied," he said, his voice light and unconcerned. "You have protective spells wrapped around your body, infused within your youki. If you were just a dragon, you'd be dead by now and I'd be on my way back to my fortress. My guess is that you have me at a disadvantage, Ryuukossei. You've prepared for this battle for a long time."

"Decades," the dragon snarled. "I have had decades to nurse my hatred for you, decades to strengthen myself for this battle. Of course I've studied you, your attacks, your fighting style. Your weaknesses."

"And I made the mistake of taking you for a common beast," the dog general said wryly. Oh, he did like to be surprised. It had been years since he'd had a challenge like this to contend with. "No wonder you've been able to repel my Kaze no Kizu. I am most impressed."

Ryuukossei roared, shaking the ground under their feet with a howl of fury. "Impressed? You mock me again, you mock what I've sacrificed everything for

with your false compliments!"

"Everything?" the dog general asked sharply. "Only a fool would sacrifice everything for a fight he can't win."

Ryuukossei smiled to himself, taking a long moment before answering. "Then you are the fool, dog. You don't have the power to defeat me and you won't walk away from this fight. My goal is to die in this battle and take you with me. You won't live long enough to see your half human child be born."

The Inu no Taisho flushed, realizing he'd been trapped into this conflict. What should have been an easy victory had turned into a stalemate. His strength was waning and the dragon knew it. The dragon also knew that this

opponent would never retreat. He didn't have it in him to back down, to admit defeat in anything. It made him an unstoppable force on the battlefield, the kind of commander other demons would lay down their lives for. But here, with the dragon, there was no army to be inspired, no legion of warriors to call to his side. There was only death and Ryuukossei's unrelenting hatred.

Grimly, the dog general sheathed his sword. "It appears we have arrived at an impasse. Perhaps we should continue this another day?"

"No." Ryuukossei's long tongue flicked out, bitterly tasting the air. It had been so long, he had forgotten the sweetness of victory. The conflict in his opponent's eyes was worth all his long suffering. Now he wanted to see defeat, he wanted to feel the elegant lord's despair as they ground each other into nothingness.

"Then why?" the dog general demanded, his patience at an end. He was no longer certain how long they'd been fighting, the woman's time was coming soon and he wasn't going to miss the birth of his son. If he wasn't there to protect them...

"Are you worried for your mate?" Ryuukossei asked almost sweetly.

The dog general's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What would a dragon know about such things?"

Ryuukossei felt the acidic tang of old anger. "Did you not know that dragons mate for life?" he asked, his voice low with hatred.

"Then perhaps you will understand," the Inu no Taisho said softly. He met his opponent's gaze with a direct sincerity the dragon hadn't seen before. "Do not dragons also wish to protect their mates and young?"

"Of course," Ryuukossei whispered, his gaze going dark with memories. "We cherish our young, our mates as well, above everything else."

"So do inuyoukai," the dog lord told him quietly. "If you can save your vengeance for another day, I will return to finish this. It is not for my own life that I ask this, but for my son's. My child won't live past his birth if I'm not there to protect him."

The dragon seemed to hesitate, torn by age old longings and memories. "I too had young to protect," he said, his voice no longer harsh with anger. "I had a mate once. She was lost in battle, as were my children."

"We are not so different then," the Inu no Taisho told him. "We both know what it's like to care for our young and our mates. Save your vengeance for another day, Ryuukossei. At that time, if you can take my head, you would be welcome to it."

"Go now," the dragon said bitterly, turning away. "Go before I change my mind. We will finish our dispute another day, leader of the dogs. Go to your mate."

The dog general nodded once in respect and headed for the pass that would take him home to his wife. Ryuukossei had closed his eyes, memories overflowing him. The love of his mate, the first steps of his young, their baby claws weak and wobbling as they tried to fight in mock battles. He missed those days. He missed seeing them grow up into the fine warriors they would have been.

The dog lord was almost out of the valley, passing close beside him when Ryuukossei opened his eyes. Almost, he wanted the dog general to go, see his mate and child and a dragon would have a respite from the terrible hatred that had consumed his life.

They betrayed each other at the exactly the same moment. Instead of leaving, the Inu no Taisho transformed into the great dog that he truly was, his true and terrible form with all its power and strength. Ryuukossei attacked in that same instant, his claws reaching for the transforming body, a snarl of rage and pain rising into an earthshattering howl as the two foes again clashed against each other.

The Inu no Taisho was strong, very strong. In his true form he was a match for even the massive dragon and slammed his body hard against the rough, scaly hide and pinned his foe to the mountain. Ryuukossei screamed in pain and rage as the dog lord's formidable claw pierced his chest.

"Is this what you sought?" the Inu no Taisho asked harshly. "You should have known better, dragon. None may stand against me!"

Panting from the pain, the dragon began to laugh. He saw confusion and fury in the crimson eyes of the great dog. The fool thought he had him. The arrogant lord thought he had defeated the dragon, the lesser being that crawled like vermin on its belly before the majesty of the great general of the West.

"This is what I sought," Ryuukossei ground out. His victory was bitter ash on his tongue, but the sweetness of his revenge was filling him even as he felt the dog's powerful youki attacking his body.

"I wanted this. I knew I wouldn't defeat you in battle so I had to draw you close, in your true form. Now, at last, you can taste my revenge and pay for the slaughter of my mate and young!"

The Inu no Taisho gasped when he felt the dragon's claws slice into his unprotected side. Pinned as such, the dragon shouldn't be able to speak, let alone attack. Unwittingly, he had fallen into the dragon's trap and felt the blood pour from a mortal wound in his side.

He tore himself away, leaving a claw still imbedded in the dragon's body to seal him. Even now, he could see Ryuukossei's power fading, see the dragon's demonic aura withering as it was sealed behind his own great youki. Pain was filling the dog lord's body and he could tell this was no ordinary wound. Growling, he turned to inspect the bloody gash. It didn't seem so terrible, but it was throbbing almost unbearably.

"You feel my poison?" Ryuukossei asked. His consciousness was fading fast, he could feel weariness overcoming him and he welcomed the darkness of the void. At long last, he could rest. He missed his mate so much it was an agony to him. He would have ended his own life many years ago if the thirst for revenge hadn't kept him alive.

"Poison," the dog lord murmured. It seemed he had made an error, a fatal mistake. He could already feel his strength beginning to drain out of his body, flowing from him like the crimson blood that was staining his snow white fur.

"My mate, my young," the dragon whispered, his eyes already closed. From some place deep inside, he managed to find the strength to speak his last words to his enemy. The timing of this challenge had been no accident, he wanted the Inu no Taisho to feel more than just the pain of defeat, he needed him to experience the kind of loss that he himself had to endure. The loss of a mate, a child. The loss of everything important in his world.

"If you are swift, you may be able to save your own life," Ryuukossei told the dog lord. "The poison works slowly. If you return to your people, you may be able to heal yourself and recover from the damage I've done. It will take time for you to purge my poison, more time still for you to recover your strength."

"I leave that choice to you, Inu no Taisho, lord of the West. Save your own life or save the lives of your human mate and her half breed offspring. They will surely die at the hands of the humans who revile you so if you do not go to them. And you will surely die if you go to save them. It's a choice that you did not offer me when your soldiers slew my mate and young for simply crossing your borders. I was too late to save them. Will you also be too late? Or will you truly sacrifice everything for those you wish to protect?"

The dog general stood silently as the dragon finally subsided, caught behind the sealing spell that would ensure an eternal sleep unless the massive claw was removed from his chest. The Inu no Taisho reflected that the dragon's revenge was nothing less than just, nothing less than deserved. Only…Ryuukossei did not know his enemy as well as he had thought. Once again, he had misjudged the mind of his opponent, even as the Inu no Taisho had misjudged the depth of the dragon's rage and sorrow.

There was no choice for him. He had no hesitation about what to do, there was no sacrifice to make. His decision was a burning brand in his mind, even the poison of the dragon's claw could not stop him.

He would go to her.