"You sure this will work?" Kouga demanded.
The elderly youkai smiled at him and Kouga grimaced at the sight. What teeth the old geezer had were stained and black; his breath was strong enough to kill an insect in flight.
"Yes, my boy," the old man wheezed. Kouga stepped back, fighting the urge to cover his nose. The old fart's breath wasn't the only thing that stank. Kouga was used to strong smells; after all he lived among wild wolves and often bedded down with them at night for warmth. He could deal with smelly companions but this old demon's pungent aroma was really making his eyes start to water.
He'd found him in a bog, his legs stuck fast in the muck and too weak to free himself. Thinking that Kagome would be proud of him for showing his merciful side, Kouga had jumped in to rescue the frail youkai and pull him to safety. Once he'd had a chance to rest and drink some clean water, the old man had begged to repay the wolf prince's kindness.
"I dunno," Kouga said gruffly, scratching the back of his head. "I don't think you have anything I'd want, old man."
Grinning, the demon nudged him in the ribs. "There is always something, my boy," he cackled. "I'm a magician of sorts, I can help make your wildest dreams come true." He eyed the handsome young wolf speculatively. "There must be something you want. Is it wealth? A fine castle to rule?"
Kouga scoffed. "I don't care about that kind of thing. For me, wealth is the freedom to go where I please. I don't have any use for a castle or money."
"Power, perhaps? You'd wish to command your own army?"
That made him laugh. Kouga jumped high into the air with a flashing, quick kick and landed gracefully on his strong legs. "What good's an army?" he smirked. "Give me a couple of loyal men and there's nothing I can't fight."
The old youkai tapped his chin thoughtfully and then dug one finger in a hairy ear. "Maybe it's vengeance you seek," he said, sniffing interestedly at the waxy tip of his extracted finger. "You have an enemy you want to defeat?"
Kouga grinned nastily, cracking his knuckles and flexing his claws. "Yeah, but I don't need any help from you for that, old man. I can take care of getting Naraku all by myself. I don't need magic to destroy that bastard."
Satisfied that there was was nothing the old trickster could tempt him with, Kouga turned to go. He'd caught scent of mutt-face earlier that day and was already thinking fondly of seeing Kagome. He could just imagine the pleasure in her pretty eyes when he told her about his good deed, how he'd been compassionate and selfless when he'd saved the oldster's life without asking for a thing in return.
Just as he was about to run away, trusting that Hakkaku and Ginta would keep up as best they could, the old man's voice stopped him cold.
"What about love?"
Kouga spun around, annoyance written all over his handsome features. "I don't need any magic for love," he said, seething at what the demon's comment implied. "Look at me. Do I look like I'd have trouble finding a woman if I wanted one?"
"No, no, no," the old man said, waving his wrinkled hands in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean to imply anything of the sort. You're a fine young demon, strong and hale, I'm sure you'd have the pick of any youkai females you meet."
"Damn straight," Kouga grunted. Good that the old man had figured that out, an insult like that might land him back in the bog.
The youkai smiled at him again and his eyes glittered knowingly. "Unless of course the woman you desired was already in love with another," he said in a voice smoother than oil over glass. "Then even your considerable charm might fail you."
"Kagome nee-san," Hakkaku said in a loud aside to Ginta. Kouga fixed them both with a murderous gaze. Ginta turned a shade paler at his expression, while Hakkaku regretted his flippant comment and visibly withered under his pack leader's fury. Kouga snorted and turned away from them, giving the the elderly youkai a speculating look.
"Old man, tell me what you've got."
"Kouga-kun," the girl said, her eyes shining at him in welcome. "It's nice to see you again."
"Likewise, my beautiful Kagome," he answered, always just a bit breathless when he spoke to her. The girl's eyes shone warmly at him and Kouga puffed out his chest a bit, preening for her admiration. One of the things he liked so much about her was her way of greeting him like he was important to her. Friendship she liked to call it, still denying the obvious fact that she longed to be in his arms.
Kouga reached out impulsively, tugging her girl against him. He tenderly stroked her chin as he gazed into her eyes, saying everything that had lain unsaid between them. Kagome's arms stole around his neck, accepting him, encouraging him and Kouga took a deep breath, preparing to at long last lay the kiss he'd been dreaming of on those rosy, perfect lips of hers. Dreamily, he leaned forward...
"Kouga-kun? Are you okay?"
Her voice snapped him out of his daydream and Kouga scowled down at the placid face of the dead boar he carried in his arms. He was aware he was cradling his offering for dinner like it was more than just a meal. Behind him, either Ginta or Hakkaku had the temerity to snicker and Kouga angrily let the dead pig drop to the ground.
"Sorry," he said, not quite able to look Kagome in the eye. "I was just thinking about something else." Stupid, stupid, he cursed himself. Now you look like an idiot, she's got to think you're an idiot. Even Ginta and Hakkaku saw it and they're both idiots themselves. What am I gonna do?
Dog-breath stepped forward at last, elbowing his Kagome out of the way to peer interestedly at the dead prey on the ground. "What's with the pig, wolf?" he inquired, poking at the carcass with a bare foot. "You get a girlfriend? She ain't very lively, I can tell you that."
"Shut up," Kouga snapped, peeved at the mutt for interrupting his carefully planned presentation. "It ain't for you so keep to yourself. "This," he said gesturing grandly, "is a gift for my Kagome."
Inuyasha growled a little at his possessive statement, but Kagome had edged her way between them. "For me," she asked, looking more than a little hesitant as she surveyed his kill. "Um, that's very sweet of you, Kouga-kun, but I don't know what I'd do with a dead, uh, pig."
She was so innocent, it truly amazed him. "It's for dinner," he said proudly. "I brought it to your as a surprise for dinner. It's young and fresh, should be very tasty."
Kagome still looked a little perturbed, retreating from the corpse as if it had offended her. "I'm very sorry," she said in a meek little voice. "I don't know that I can eat that much. And I...I just can't handle raw meat, Kouga-kun."
"You don't have to eat it raw," he said, staring at her. Did she misunderstand? Did she think that he didn't know his Kagome liked her food to be cooked before eating it? She wasn't some crass wolf that had no manners, he would never expect her to do that.
The girl still blushed and looked away. "I can't cook it either," she said a little more firmly. "Honestly, Kouga-kun, I don't know where I'd even start."
He laughed, suddenly understanding her hesitation. "Leave it to me," he announced, looking over her shoulder at her companions before turning back to Ginta and Hakkaku. "I will be preparing it for you, my dearest Kagome. A fine dinner for you...and your friends, in repayment of all the kindnesses that you have done for me in the past."
Her face lit up with sudden understanding and pleasure, Kagome took a few steps toward him and actually reached to touch his arm. "That is so sweet of you," she said, her eyes shining in admiration. "You are just the best, Kouga-kun."
His heart couldn't take it, the way she looked at him. Forgetting everything else, including the big plan, Kouga grabbed both of her hands in his and dared to kiss her fingertips. "All for you," he said, his voice low and sultry. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for the woman I love."
Kagome giggled nervously before Inuyasha interceded, grabbing the girl by the arm and plucking her neatly from the wolf demon's grasp. "He ain't being nice," the hanyou snorted. "He's just trying to kiss your ass, Kagome. When are you gonna learn that the stupid wolf only does things for his own reasons? If he's saying he wants to cook for us, it's got to be some kinda trick."
Kouga growled low in his chest and met Inuyasha's challenging gaze. "You calling my honor into question, dog?" he demanded, cracking his knuckles.
Inuyasha opened his mouth to make a caustic reply but Kagome herself came between them before a fistfight could erupt. "Inuyasha," she scolded, shaking her finger at the hanyou. "You take that back, Kouga is very honorable. He's our friend and he's certainly not going to try to trick anyone."
He blushed when she defended him like that, and he blushed twice as much because he knew in this case, it wasn't deserved. He did have ulterior motives this time but Kouga steeled himself against those thought, determined that this time, the ends did justify the means.
"All done, come and get it," Ginta sang out, waving a ladle at the slightly suspicious looking members of Kagome nee-san's pack. Kouga had made short work of dismembering and dressing the boar's carcass and soon the small glade had been filled with the succulent smells of roasting meat. On Kouga's instructions, he'd combined the cooked meat with a savory mix of fresh vegetables and herbs. Hakkaku had been heard to remark that in all the time he'd known Kouga, not once had the wolf prince ever offered to make anything for them.
Hakkaku's comments had nearly gotten him banished from the dinner altogether and he had sulked until he was allowed to redeem himself by fetching fresh water for Kagome nee-san's bottles. The girl had laughingly shown him how to open and close the strangely shaped containers and even Inuyasha had snickered at the wolf demon's confusion over the unusual clear material they were crafted from. Apparently Kagome nee-san had many secrets of her own.
"Allow me to serve you, Kagome," Kouga said smoothly, intercepting the girl before she could get to her feet. Kagome's face turned crimson at such cordiality, knowing as she did that it was hardly proper, culturally speaking, for a man to serve a woman.
"Thank you, Kouga-kun," she said primly, ignoring the fascinated stares of Miroku and Sango and the way Inuyasha was grinding his teeth so loudly it sounded like a buzzsaw in the distance. "You are very kind."
Miroku grinned, noticing the way Sango in particular seemed surprised by Kougas' offer. "Would you like for me to serve you, Sango?" he asked, a faintly suggestive leer in his eyes as he got to his feet and took the bowl that Ginta was offering him.
The exterminator's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "That's very kind of you to offer, houshi-sama," she said at last. "But I am capable of serving myself dinner."
"And she doesn't trust your hands," Inuyasha grunted, not taking his eyes from Kouga as he filled a bowl with Kagome's dinner.
"Hush, Inuyasha," Kagome said, patting him on the arm to soothe his temper. It would be so nice to have a civil meal with Kouga and his friends, she didn't want it spoiled by the hanyou's temper. "Kouga just means it in a friendly way, right?"
"Keh," he muttered, glancing away. "I still don't trust what he's up to."
Kouga made a great show of not hearing the conversation, but when Inuyasha's attention was diverted, he moved his hand to a small vial that he'd hidden in his armor. According to the old man, this powder would invoke feelings of love and affection in the one who ate it. All he had to do was add the powder and serve it to Kagome with his own hands, and she couldn't help but love him.
Quickly, so that no one would notice his unusual movements, he opened the vial and sprinkled the powder over the food. It was pale, shimmering slightly in the late afternoon sun but as soon as it touched the steaming food it disappeared completely. Cautiously, he sniffed at the bowl, knowing that Inuyasha's nose was every bit as sensitive as his own. If there was anything amiss about the smell of the food, he and his companions would have to beat a hasty retreat and he would perhaps lose Kagome forever.
The girl's laugh rang out and he turned, seeing her leaning over to tweak the ear of the sulky mutt. A pang went through his heart at the sight, seeing the affection with which she treated the hanyou, a half breed that wasn't worthy of her attention. Why did she care about him so much, Kouga wondered to himself. Inuyasha was rude and obstinate, foul mouthed and crude. Still the girl never turned on him, never rejected him. Instead she was almost as protective of the hanyou as she was of the kitsune brat.
Was it love? Or was it just affection for a friend? Kouga couldn't tell for sure, but he was jealous of every minute the half breed got to spend with the striking girl. Obviously Kagome's friendship must mean something to Inuyasha, his protective jealousy went far beyond just normal antagonism.
Am I doing the right thing, the wolf prince suddenly wondered. He watched as the girl rustled in her bag for a brightly colored set of chopsticks, handing them over to the young fox. The way she ruffled his hair and smiled at him made Kouga sure that she would be a wonderful mother. All he had to do was make her see that it was him she really wanted, that he was the one for her. Still, he couldn't help but feel like a thief. Kagome's affections were the most precious thing he could think of, what kind of man would he be if he just stole them away from her?
Knock it off, the wolf told himself sternly. When she's yours, you'll make her so happy she'll forget all about them, all about mutt face. With her as part of the pack, we can gather the rest of the shards, I'll become powerful enough that she'll never be in danger, never have to sleep on the cold hard ground. He would treat her as a princess, as a queen. Resolutely, Kouga moved forward and bowed to Kagome.
"Please, eat," he entreated, holding her eyes in a serious gaze.
"Thank you," Kagome said, smiling at him as she dug into the savory mix. "Hmmm, Kouga," she said brightly, her eyes lighting up with pleasure. "This is absolutely delicious!"
"Really?" he asked, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot. Hakkaku and Ginta were silent behind him, waiting for whatever would happen. Minutes ticked by as the girl and her friends ate the meal that had been prepared by the wolves. At last, Kagome stretched and pushed aside her bowl.
"I can't remember when I've had something that tasty," she declared.
Inuyasha grunted, already at the bottom of his third helping. "It's nothing special," he muttered around a mouthful of vegetables. "Ramen is better."
The girl turned on him, her eyes flashing. "Don't be rude," she hissed. Inuyasha blinked and stared at her, noticing the way her entire body had gone rigid.
"What's the matter with you?" he demanded.
"I'm sick of the way you always get on Kouga's case," Kagome said angrily, getting to her feet. "Here he comes all this way to make a special dinner and what do you do? You insult his honor, you insult his intentions, and then you scarf up everything he made and don't even give him a decent thank you!"
"I'm not going to thank him," Inuyasha exploded. He jumped to his feet and flung his bowl on the ground. "Nobody asked him to come here, ya know!"
"Exactly," Kagome snarled, getting right in his face. Kouga watched in fascination as the petite girl backed the startled hanyou into a tree. "He does something out of the goodness of his heart," she began.
Inuyasha snorted, glaring over her head at Kouga. "That mangy wolf doesn't have goodness of anything," he said acidly. "I'd have cut his ugly head off a long time ago if you hadn't always whined about it so much."
The sound of a slap echoed across the glade and Kagome found herself staring at her hand. "I don't believe I just did that," she murmured.
The hanyou was staring at her too, a bright red handprint on his left cheek. "Kagome," he said, looking abashed. "I didn't mean..."
"You always ruin everything," the girl cried. She covered her face with her hands and burst into tears, her shoulders shaking. Inuyasha reached to touch her but she swatted his hand away, sobbing harder all the time. Kouga couldn't stand it, he knew that his little gift might be the reason she had overreacted. He just wanted her to love him, not upset her or make her unhappy.
"Kagome," he said, moving closer to her and sliding an arm around her shoulders. "Please don't cry, the mutt was just being his usual rude self."
The girl turned and flung her arms around him, squeezing him tight. "Take me away from him," she murmured into his chest. "I don't want to see him right now."
"Of course," Kouga said tenderly, his heart overflowing from the warmth of her. "I'll do whatever you say."
"Oh hell no," Inuyasha snarled, grabbing the hilt of his sword. "You ain't taking Kagome anywhere without me!"
She pushed away from the wolf, her eyes gone cold and distant. "You don't control me, Inuyasha," she said, her voice filled with contempt. "If I want to go with Kouga, I will. You can't stop me."
The hanyou laughed harshly. "I can still follow you," he sneered.
"Sit!" As Inuyasha went face first into the dirt, Kagome wrapped her arms around Kouga's neck. "Run," she instructed.
He didn't need to be told twice. He gathered his love into his arms and ran like Naraku himself was in pursuit. Kagome was his, at last she was his!
When he thought they'd put enough distance between themselves and dog-breath, Kouga slowed and skidded to a halt. Around them, the forest was darkening slowly, the wind teased through the leaves of the trees, making soft music as a backdrop for a romantic moment. Kouga held Kagome tight, loathe to let her go.
"My beloved," he whispered. He reached down tenderly, stroking her cheek to make her look up at him. Now he could safely declare his love for her with no interruptions and Kagome would at last be free to return his feelings. He'd waited ages for this first kiss, many nights he'd spent awake dreaming of it, planning it. He couldn't have asked for a more romantic moment and silently blessed the old youkai for giving him this opportunity.
"Kagome," he said, cupping her cheek with his palm. Her eyes were very large, deep pools that he wanted to drown in, never come up for air again. His voice was husky, deep with longing for her. "Kagome, may I kiss you?"
He was about knocked off his feet by her enthusiastic response. Kagome jumped at him, wrapped her slender legs around his waist and kissed him so fiercely that her teeth scraped against his fangs. Stunned, the wolf demon tried to keep his balance, flailing around as the girl assaulted his mouth with her hot and demanding tongue. Kouga staggered as her small hand wormed its way down his chest and started to pull at the fastenings of his furry kilt.
"I want you," she hissed against his neck, biting him hard wherever she found skin. "I want you now, Kouga."
"Hey, hold on," he gasped as she tried to smother him. He managed to get her legs untangled from around him and tried to set her on her feet. Kagome wasn't about to be denied though and flung herself at him, heedlessly knocking the both of them to the ground. Gleefully, she attacked him again, biting and nipping like any demon female would have, drawing blood with her short nails.
"Kagome," he panted, twisting to the side as she kept molesting him rather painfully. Apparently Kagome didn't realize that males had their sensitive spots and as delighted as he was with her sudden ardor for him, he couldn't suppress a cry of pain when she finally got under his kilt and grabbed his balls with a rough squeeze.
"I said, I want you now, Kouga," she snarled, tearing at his armor. Kagome was a wild creature suddenly, a fiery eyed demoness that was consumed with lust. He managed to get a hold of her wrists and shoved her back so he could breathe.
"What's got into you?" he burst out. The tender loving moment he'd planned was utterly ruined, spoiled by Kagome's forwardness. Kouga was accustomed to being the pursuer, the instigator of the affair. Now a mere slip of a human girl was intent on ravishing him within an inch of his life and he didn't even get to enjoy seducing her.
Kagome whimpered as he held her hands back. "Please, Kouga," she whined, grinding her hips against him. "I just need you so bad I can't help it. Just take me now!"
Guilt washed over him. She couldn't help it, she would be acting the same for anyone who had given her that powder. Disgust and self loathing filled the wolf, along with a fine sense of irony. Oh, did he deserve this or what?
"Just calm down," he said, letting go of her wrists because he was going to bruise her if she kept fighting him. "Kagome, relax, would you?"
She tore her hands out of his and slid them under her skirt. Kagome's face was bright red as she writhed on top of him. "Oh Kouga," she cried out, her hands frantic. "I can't take it anymore. I don't what's wrong with me but I have to have you right now or I'll go crazy!"
He rolled to the side and pushed her away. "Kagome," he said, backing away from her as she crawled toward him. "You aren't yourself, just hold on a minute and let me think!"
"Think about what?" she snapped, her eyes glittering and insane from lust. "You've been after me all this time and now when I finally want it, you're turning me down?"
She grabbed the hem of her shirt and tore it apart. Kouga's eyes boggled as he stared at her, perfectly rounded breasts concealed by a lacy bit of nothing that made his pulse hammer in his temples. Damn it, he wanted her, but he couldn't because she would be doing this for anyone. He wanted her to love him, really love him, not just ride him like a horny she-demon. This wasn't his Kagome anymore.
"I'm sorry," he babbled, trying to placate her as she advanced on him, crawling up his legs as he was backed against a tree. Kagome's hands were on an extensive tour of his lower body and Kouga couldn't fight the panic that was welling inside him. She didn't know what she was doing, if he laid her now, it would be almost like rape because she wasn't in control of herself, she couldn't even say no if she wanted to.
But wasn't that what he'd already tried to do anyway, rape her emotions, force her to love him so that she'd forget about mutt-face. As Kagome's hands worked at him, Kouga was shocked to find that his body wasn't responding. He remained limp as a dead fish, his body gone cold and clammy with horror at what he'd done to his sweet, innocent little Kagome. She growled at him, frustrated that she couldn't make him harden in her hands.
"You're disappointing me," she growled, finally pushing away from him in fury. Her eyes were hard and cold, her small fists clenched as she was nearly shaking in reaction. "You're humiliating me," she cried.
"I'm not," he gasped out, pleading with her. "It's just not right, okay? Let's just calm down and think about this before..."
She slapped him and raked her nails down his cheek. "You bastard!" she shouted.
Kouga looked up to see Inuyasha hurtling towards them. The hanyou's face was absolutely livid, his eyes flashed red as he took in the scene. "You son of a bitch," he screamed, pulling his sword from its sheath. "What did you do to her?"
"I didn't mean to," Kouga yelled back. "I just wanted her to love me!"
Kagome flung herself at Inuyasha, cuddling relentlessly under his arm as her eyes shot daggers at Kouga. "He tried to force me," she sobbed, no tears staining her cheeks. "You were right about him, Inuyasha. Kill him!"
"Kagome," Kouga whispered, too shocked to even defend himself. How quick her passion had turned to hatred, it made his head swim.
"Prepare to die," Inuyasha said, grinning sadistically as he raised the huge blade. Kouga knew he should explain, he should try to run away, but all he could see was the shining katana coming for him. He deserved this too. He closed his eyes.
He snapped back into himself from where his dark and dismal daydream had taken him. Kouga looked down at the bowl in his hands, where the last of the glistening powder had faded away. She was giving him a quizzical look, holding up her hands for her meal.
"Kouga-kun," Kagome admonished gently. "Aren't you going to give that bowl to me?"
Hell no, he thought grimly. There was no way he could do that to her, he honestly didn't know what he'd been thinking to have even considered it. His Kagome was pure and innocent, he wasn't going to let a youkai's twisted love potion defile her.
But he still had to save face. Putting on his best rakish grin, Kouga held the bowl out of her reach. "I'm sorry, my dearest," he said, smooth and suave as he could manage. "Some dirt seems to have fallen into this, please let me get you a clean bowl."
Kagome looked confused, but she nodded and he turned away with a grateful sigh. Now he just had to dispose of the evidence and hope to hell no one ever found out what an idiot he'd almost been. He was just about to chuck the tainted food into the bushes when a hand came out of nowhere and snatched the bowl away from him.
"Give that back," he snarled at Inuyasha. The wolf made a dive for the bowl but Inuyasha just danced out of his way, shielding it with his body as Kouga made a frantic grab.
"Why throw it away?" the hanyou chuckled. "I'll eat it, I'm not afraid of a little dirt."
"I didn't make it for you," Kouga snarled.
"So?" Inuyasha held the bowl out of his reach as the wolf tore at his sleeves. "You seem pretty worried, Kouga, does it taste like wolf shit? Is that why you're afraid to give it to Kagome?"
"It tastes fine," Miroku commented from where he'd already gotten his serving from Ginta. "It really not bad at all, Inuyasha. There's nothing wrong with it."
Kouga stared in absolute horror as Inuyasha tipped the bowl to his mouth and swallowed most of the contents in one single gulp. The hanyou smacked his lips messily and grinned.
"Damn good for a mangy wolf," he said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Guess I was wrong about you, Kouga. You can at least cook decent."
The wolf felt trapped, his worst nightmare coming to pass as Inuyasha moved closer, still grinning, and clapped him on the shoulder in what was meant to be a friendly way. Kouga stiffened as the fingers on his shoulder slowly tightened and he found himself looking into a very interested pair of bright golden eyes.
"In fact," the hanyou purred. "I'd say you're a pretty decent guy all over, Kouga. Maybe we should try to be friends. For Kagome's sake."
"Get the fuck away from me," Kouga howled, throwing the small vial at the confused old man. "Keep your damn potions to yourself, you damn old fool! I have enough problems without that!"
The wolf ran away in a cursing whirlwind, damning everyone and everything in his life. He'd thought about it, just for a minute he'd weighed the consequences of using such a potion on Kagome and felt even more ill when he thought about what could happen if the wrong person, the most wrong person of all, ingested the spell instead.
No way was he going to take a chance like that! Not caring how far behind Ginta and Hakkaku were or how long it would take them to catch up, Kouga the wolf demon swore and snarled to himself as he ran. Someday he'd win her heart, that much he promised himself. But he wouldn't need any potion or powder to do so. And one thing was absolutely certain in his mind.
The was no way in hell he was ever going to cook for Inuyasha.