AN: First, I would like to thank everyone fore their immense patience with me. These last two chapters have not been easy, most everything I tried over the past two years came out stilted, stiff, and forced, but I refused to post anything less then the quality of the work that had come before. In the past few months these last scenes have gradually come together and I hope that you all enjoy this conclusion to Hidden in Plain Sight.

Chapter Thirteen

Kagome stalked through the early morning halls of the den looking for Sesshoumaru. It had been several months since her last unfortunate encounter with the baku and there hadn't been even a hint of a rumor of the dream demon since. This little fact made her increasingly nervous. She knew it was planning something, something terrible; she could feel it in the depths of her soul and crawling across her skin. Nothing concrete that they could act on, of course, just an overwhelming looming feeling that was turning her into a nervous wreck. It didn't help that Sesshoumaru refused to talk about it. He would protect her and that was that.

His reticence had brought her to her current predicament. She tried it Keigo's way, being the patient little submissive until Sesshoumaru deigned to allow her to speak her piece, it hadn't worked. Now she was ready to toss all her hard earned lessons of inu propriety out the window and pin his ears back. There he is, she grinned viciously, her lips peeling back to flash a sharp set of fangs.

He was alone in one of the guard's dojo. It was a plain but solidly constructed building that had seen better days, probably seen better centuries. The thick poles that supported the ceiling were heavily scarred by errant blades and claws, the bamboo floor was worn thin by the regular tread of pacing feet, and occasionally marred with permanently stained spots of blood, acid, and whatever else inu youkai may decide to throw around during a fight. The slatted wooden screens that normally formed the walls had been pushed aside to allow the faint spring breeze to flow freely through the room filling it with the delicate scent of early blooms. Sesshoumaru stood in the center of the building with a weighted wooden practice sword, and moved through a slow kata. She paused; her irritation at him briefly checked by her admiration of sleekly toned muscles and tightly controlled movements. As soon as she stepped onto the dojo floor he turned to face her and lowered the bokken.

"Kagome," he greeted her neutrally. His immediate acknowledgement of her threw her briefly, she was expecting to fight him tooth and claw to get that much.

"Sesshoumaru, we need to talk," she said carefully measuring his reaction. While she liked to think that she was becoming proficient at reading his moods, he still didn't make it easy for her. "I think we need to consider Keigo's plan...," he looked at her flatly, unmoved and she found herself giving a little ground to that unwavering gaze. "We don't actually have to go through with it, but we need to consider something. The baku isn't going to just go away because we stuck our heads in the sand and ignored it."

"This Sesshoumaru does not ignore a threat, no matter the source." He said carefully after a long pause.


"Placing the Taigen into deliberate danger is an unacceptable risk for the clan."

"That's bull," she snapped, stamping one bare foot on the wooden floor. "If I was a full-blood inu you wouldn't even think twice about it. I'm not stupid, I've heard the stories, the Ryouchi no Taigen is as much a warrior as the Inu no Taishou."

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but she rolled right over him.

"I may not have all of the strength and speed, but I am not an invalid and I have more then enough powers to…," her tirade was cut off with a small yelp when Sesshoumaru closed the distance between them and pulled her into a rough embrace, nipping sharply at her ear.

"That was before," he said, voice low and harsh. "Before the Taishou had turned on the clan and had to be put down. Now, I cannot afford even a hint that history might repeat itself. If it is thought that this Sesshoumaru placed his new Taigen into deliberate danger the clan would be torn apart with the distrust. Loosing the remaining females will sign the clan's death warrant, even if we are able to retain the half-bloods that have recently joined us there is no guarantee of future strength."

She took a breath to speak but all that came out was a soft "oh." She nuzzled gently at the bare curve of his chest, the only bit she could reach to convey wordless comfort. "I'm sorry I didn't think…" He accepted her apology easily, quickly covering her mouth with his own. When a trail of kisses along her jaw line and throat came to linger at the juncture between her neck and shoulder she pulled back slightly, knowing where it would end if she didn't. "But I'm still worried about the baku, I keep getting this… feeling that something is going to happen, and soon."

He paused and blinked at her in surprise. "Premonitions?"

"Well… no, not exactly. Just," she shifted uncomfortably. "Just worried."

He rubbed his cheek against her hair, the reassuring gesture immediately relaxing her. As she melted against him, he spoke softly. "Keigo, myself and key members of the counsel have been working on the best defense for the clan against the baku. Some steps have been taken but nothing to trouble you with."

"Trouble me, please," she exclaimed. "I hate being left in the dark."

"We did not wish to cause you worry."

"Sesshoumaru," she pulled back and looked up into his golden eyes trying to convey her seriousness. Belatedly remembering that looking into the eyes was a challenge and not the entreaty she wanted, she snapped her eyes shut and leaned up on her tiptoes to nuzzle gently behind his ear. "I worry. It's unavoidable. I am going to worry about something, just please let me decide what is worth worrying over."

He snorted softly. "This Sesshoumaru may consider it." Meaning he won't, she scowled at him and was about to press the issue when a familiar twinge in her gut interrupted her.

"We will discuss this later," she tells him, quickly disentangling herself from him and hurrying away with as much decorum as she could manage. She didn't make it very far, but at least she made it safely outside to a small alcove garden before emptying her stomach of the light breakfast she had eaten that morning. Yet another thing I have to talk to Sesshoumaru about, she mused to herself as she leaned against a convenient wall, remaining doubled over even though the sickness had passed it left her weak and wrung out. After his fit when Ryoushi just mentioned the possibility of a child with her she had been unsure how he would react when faced with the reality of that situation and was hesitant to share the 'good' news. Of course with my luck he can smell the changes in hormones or some such and already knows, she glowered at the ground if that was the case, and he hadn't said anything, leaving her to agonize over how to break it to him for weeks on end… if that was the case she was going to smack him, good and hard, with every ounce of strength she possessed.

"Taigen, are you well?" a lilting feminine voice asked, interrupting her violent fantasies. Kagome grimaced and looked up to find Dokoubashii, the fox-dog female that had tried to challenge her. Ever since that failed attempt she has been continuously ingratiating herself to Kagome, behavior that Kagome found to be disingenuous, especially considering she was moderately certain that the centerfold look-a-like was hitting on Sesshoumaru at every available opportunity. Not that he had said anything to her about it; he was distressingly close-lipped about important topics. Her bad mood now thoroughly entrenched; she turned her scowl on Dokoubashii.

"Thank you I'm fine," Kagome said. She stood up straight and found her self feeling a little woozy. "I think I just need to rest a bit," she added covering her eyes with one hand.

"Here let me help you." Dokoubashii oozed false sincerity. She slid one arm around Kagome's waist and, while supporting most of her weight, guided her through the garden.

"No, that's alright," Kagome said, batting uselessly at Dokoubashii's hands, but she was still too weak in comparison to the full-blooded demon to actually do anything substantial. "Perhaps, if you could get Sakura for me?"

"Oh no, Taigen, I insist," Kagome wondered if she should call for Sesshoumaru, then she weighed that against how stupid she would feel trying to explain that she was scared by the woman being helpful. Although considering the demon in question he'll probably understand.

"Where are we?" she asked muzzily, realizing that it was taking too long to get back to the female housing; it was one of the den's central buildings, and it shouldn't take this long to get there. But it was becoming increasingly difficult to focus, and this simple realization was late in coming.

"Do you like my perfume?" Dokoubashii asked her voice soft and low. "It's made special… for you."

The moments that it took for Kagome to process that statement and even begin to draw breath were too many, too long. She was slammed into the side of nearby building with supernatural force. With the air having been forcefully expelled from her lungs, it was all she could do to simply lay in a collapsed heap and gasp short, shaky breaths that never seemed to fill her lungs.

"Did you think I wouldn't know?" Dokoubashii knelt down beside Kagome and drew her head up by her hair. "My evening light?"

Kagome started at the strange multi-tonal voice that overtook Dokoubashii's naturally warm, low speaking voice. As she stared at the other demoness before her she could see a faint shadowy form outlining Dokoubashii's generous curves. "It's you, the baku," she gasped in surprise, as the sense of looming danger that had been plaguing her for weeks clamored in her head pushing out all coherent thought and Dokoubashii's lips curved up into a smile. Kagome's scattered thoughts settled on one small thing that had been irritating her for months. "Don't call me that."

"Why?" Dokoubashii/the baku asked. "Is it not your name? Higurashi, higure, the sunset, the evening. Shall I not call you what you are?"

"But not like that," she whined plaintively. The baku smiled, an arrogant stretch of the mouth that thinned Dokoubashii's plump lips unpleasantly. It opened her mouth to speak, but then the expression drained from her face and it backhanded Kagome across the face. If she were still fully human the force of the blow would have snapped her neck. As it was the unavoidable blow rocked her back but she was able to turn and glare at her tormentor.

"Sneaky little bitch," it snarled. "They really are turning you into a dog."

Kagome glared defiantly up at the possessed youkai. She wished that she hadn't left the Tetsusaiga safe in her room. It wouldn't help her, but having it close made her feel better and less uncertain. She may still loose on a pure physical battle, and she knew it; but she also knew that when it came down to pure raw power not even Sesshoumaru himself was anywhere near her. Kagome let her mind drift downwards into the earth. Her power may be hedged around with wards but once she found an outlet to funnel them through she could do anything. She had to believe that or she was as good as dead.

Ah, there! She gasped as her mind brushed across the delicate, but deeply entrenched roots of the weeds that the gardeners keep pulling but can never fully get rid of. She poured her power into the little tendrils and they erupted with life, and within a few moments the courtyard erupted with thorny brambles that tangled themselves around Dokoubashii. Kagome smirked and leaned against the wall she had been slammed into just moments before.

"Well, it ain't exactly a cherry tree blooming in mid-winter, but it is eminently more practical." She drawled, inordinately pleased with herself; she figured out one of the Taigen's "mysteries." Amazing, really, what blind panic and sheer desperation will get you, she thought to herself as she examined the strange plant. It was somewhat demonic in nature, most of the plants in the den were having been exposed to varying levels of youki for centuries, but when she poured her power into the plants more then just youki had leaked through. The thorns were tipped with the slight pearlescent glow of holy light.

"Kagome." "Taigen!" Voices called out to her. She looked up to see Sesshoumaru and Keigo,the last was carrying the Testusaiga, perched on the peak of a nearby building. It was then that she realized that her eruption of weeds had not only bound up Dokoubashii but walled her in as well though she remained untouched by the wickedly sharp thorns. Okay, mental note; need to work on that.

"Hey, guys," she called out and waved her arm enthusiastically. "I'm kind of stuck."

She could hear Sesshoumaru's snort of amused derision from her place on the ground. Well, maybe not exactly, even her new enhanced hearing wasn't quite that good, but she knew it was there.

Kagome reflexively ducked down as an explosion of movement erupted from the mass of vegetation behind her, accompanied by Dokoubashii screaming in fear and agony. Kagome huddled on the ground letting the wall of thorny vines hide her, but the screaming just continued on and on until her curiosity finally got the better of her fear and good sense. She hesitantly peeked over her green barricade. Doukobashii was thrashing wildly as the vines drew tighter and tighter, thorns biting deeply into her skin. Blood ran freely, and something else, a dark oily smoke also leaked from her wounds.

"How do you manage to get yourself into these messes, Taigen?" Keigo asked from directly above Kagome. She looked up to find him perched directly above her at the edge of the roof with one hand held out help her up.

"Not funny," she said with a low growl but let him pull her up anyway. Once she gained safe footing on the roof she looked out over the mass of thorns filling the courtyard. Dokoubashii must have been dead; she had stopped screaming and stopped struggling. "What the hell?" Kagome muttered under her breath and squinted at the strange smoke that was congealing above the body.

"Here," Keigo said, holding out the Testusaiga. But Kagome was too focused on the strange smoke. She fluttered one hand at him to quiet him as she concentrated.

"Sesshoumaru," she shrieked in panic as the black cloud suddenly shot forward directly at him. "The baku, look out!"

He reacted just in time, drawing the Tensaiga it formed a golden barrier that rebuffed the dream demon, but the strikes slid through the dark smoke like air. The baku's attempted possession rebuffed it pulled back away from Sesshoumaru and drifted upwards. She could see blood red eyes deep inside the smoke surveying the courtyard, and coming to rest on her and Keigo. Kagome flinched back falling against Keigo, as the demon came hurtling at them. His arms came around her protectively and the sheathed Tetsusaiga was held up defensively. But to no avail, the dark cloud engulfed them and she could feel the baku's powers probing her mind, seeking entry. And then, it was gone.

Blinking in the sudden sunlight, she found herself staring up at Keigo, his expression completely flat and unreadable, unusual for the more gregarious inu. "Keigo?" she asked hesitantly.

His lips twisted into an alien smirk, his voice when he spoke was that strange two-tone sound that echoes in Dokoubashii's voice. "Do not worry my evening light. I shall protect you from these dogs."

"You, what?" she stared at him blankly as he drew the Tetsusaiga, the fang transforming into a wide, wickedly curved blade as it left the narrow sheath. "No, no, I don't want it." She yelled and pushed away from him. He stood unmoving on the roof tiles. It was Kagome instead who fell back, tumbling off of the roof into the thorns below. When she screamed it wasn't because of the thorns slicing through cloth and skin with equal ease, but at the sight of Keigo and Sesshoumaru hurtling at each other and clashing above her.

The holy powers, her holy powers that had been absorbed by the thorns now turned against her as they sliced through the sutras written along her arms, legs, and back. She could feel the inner turmoil of her powers within her surging once again, fighting for release and fighting each other, as the bonds began to weaken. Screaming, now in frustration, Kagome lashed out at the vines entangling her, her finger curled into claws. She froze in shock as the thick plants disintegrated under her touch. Looking down in amazement at her hands she found that her delicate claws, elegantly manicured by Sakura, were outlined with holy light. The bindings had weakened enough to let her exercise a little of her natural powers allowing them to form around the only weapons she had. She looked up at the two combatants with grim determination; she was not going to sit this one out.

When they parted, she was ready. She leapt for the baku, firmly putting aside thoughts of what her friend's body was going to go through with her plan. Her attack was completely unexpected and she managed to successfully latch onto his sword arm, claws digging in deep.

"Let go," He growled at her. He tried to shake her off, tried hitting her with his other hand, but she held on tenaciously through the blows. Her claws dug deeper, one at his hand the other at his elbow and she could smell the acrid scent of burning flesh. He gripped her wrist with his free hand and pried her hand away from the Tetsusaiga.

"You first," she snarled back pouring her powers into his elbow, tearing away skin and muscle and laying his arm open to the bone. His hand suddenly useless the fang plummeted to the ground far below them.

"Sesshoumaru, get the Tetsusaiga," she shouted at him, but he remained unmoving, watching them for some opening he could take advantage of. She growled in frustration, of all the moments to be honorable and… and nit-picky. "Sesshoumaru! Take the Tetsusaiga."

That did it. A streak of white flashed downwards. She shrieked in surprise as she found herself suddenly yanked around, the baku pulling her against him so that her back was pressed against Keigo's chest and she was held up as a shield against Sesshoumaru. She smiled grimly, hadn't he learned any better the first time they did this?

Sesshoumaru now stood before them with both swords, strangely enough the forms of the blades changed once again, balancing out until it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. They truly were twin blades. He struck, swift as lightning with one blade, the Tensaiga by its feel, cutting from the joint of the neck down and across their torsos. Kagome could hear the baku, it's voice alone screaming in pain and rage. As she fell, tangled together with Keigo to the ground below, she could see up above her Sesshoumaru striking the baku with both fangs, the oily cloud and small wiry body hidden underneath it disintegrating. The baku was a creature that walk the line between two worlds, so of course it would take weapons from both to defeat it. Then she hit the ground and stars exploded across her vision.

As she lay dazed on the ground she gradually became aware of a new development; when Sesshoumaru struck her with the Tensaiga the blade had sliced agross her heart and the holy edge of the blade cut through the key spell, unraveling it. Kagome struggled to sit up and pull the neckline of the kimono down, heedless of exposing her breasts or of anything else at all. She watched in horror as the red lines beaded and ran off of her skin like water. Kagome heard a shocked gasp and looked up to see Keigo staring at her in surprise and fear.

"Ancestors… you're a miko," he breathed. That was when she realized that her holy powers were rushing forward, expanding, forcing out the youki, and everyone in the den could feel it. Both of them were too stunned to move; it was Sesshoumaru who broke the frozen tableau.

"Keigo, bring her to the Hall," He ordered. "I shall clear the way." And then, he was gone, but neither of them made a move for several long moments.

"Um…," Kagome spoke hesitantly. "I'm sorry about your arm."

He blinked at her and slowly, painfully slowly, looked down at his destroyed right arm. She couldn't help but cringe slightly as he asked softly, "what happened?"

"The baku possessed you," she told him "do you remember anything?"

"A little bit," he spoke softly with a troubled frown. His head snapped up suddenly and his nostrils flared. She followed his lead, but her abilities were quickly diminishing and she could only barely catch the distant whiff of other inu youkai. "We must get you out of here quickly," He said, but he seemed hesitant to approach her, torn between his duty and ingrained fears.

"It's okay," she said, hauling herself shakily to her feet. "I can make.." she was cut off by a sharp stabbing pain that drove her to her knees. Something was ripping from her chest down to her belly, reducing her to a quivering, whimpering heap on the ground.

And Keigo was there, lifting her up and making a strange sound, a soft soothing whine. Looking up into his golden eyes, she could see that he was still afraid but that he was worried too. "Let's get you to Sesshoumaru," he said.

The brief trip to the Hall was made even quicker when traveled at top speed by an inu youkai. Almost before she knew what was happening she found herself being set down onto a futon in one of the modified penitents' cells. Sesshoumaru was barring the door and she could feel the wards snapping into place.

Keigo turned to Sesshoumaru, "She's a miko!"

Sesshoumaru gave him that look; the one that said 'you are a flaming moron.' Kagome grinned despite the pain. Her gritting teeth making the expression seem more of a grimace than anything else.

"And you knew… are you mad?" Keigo yelled.

Kagome gasped as she felt a flood of wetness between her legs. "Um… guys…" she called out weakly.

"This Sesshoumaru has always acted for the good of the clan," He said stiffly, clearly uncomfortable and uncertain but also unwilling to budge from that point.

Keigo paced in an anxious circle before coming to rest once again before Sesshoumaru, this time in a more subservient, rather then challenging, stance. "If this gets out… if this gets out we are destroyed."

Sesshoumaru nodded. "We need…"

Kagome stared in horror as the bright red stain spreading across her legs, waves of pain once again ripping across her abdomen. "Sess…" She gasped, panting with the pain unable to catch her breath, and was relieved when he turned towards her. "Help…me…"

She blacked out as a scream was ripped from her throat. But not before she felt Sesshoumaru's strong arms come around her, holding her up. Even through whatever was wrong with her he would see that she was safe. Her last thought was surprise at how fundamental that belief now was.

... ... ...

When Kagome awoke the first thing she was aware of was of how well she felt. For the first time in her life, or at least for the first time in recent memory she was not fighting to maintain that constant inner balance in the battle between dueling forces in her soul. Both powers were still there, and just as strong as before, but instead of the constant strife they existed peacefully in perfect harmonious balance

The second thing she became aware of was that she was clean. She remembered being a torn, bloody mess. But now she was dressed in a clean pale blue yukata and was covered in a lightly woven, and clean, blanket. Even though she was clean, the rest of the room was not. It was a down right disaster area. The stone altar had been cracked down the middle and the halves of it pushed aside, one even fallen on its end. The walls were deeply scarred with burn marks and acid etchings splashed liberally across them, though the binding spells remained untouched and strong. She could smell the faint traces of blood and Sesshoumaru's poison on the air. As for the demon in question, Sesshoumaru was sitting calmly in the center of the room. He was looking a little worse for wear, with a fading black eye, and deep claw marks across his chest and shoulders, and raking down his arms. They were healing but still livid. He wore only his hakama, his haori and under-kimono had been shredded and mostly removed. The only evidence that he had worn them at all was tattered strips that hung at his hips.

"What happened to you?" she asked, her voice coming out as a harsh croak.

Sesshoumaru cracked one golden eye open, not the bruised one, and gave her a level look. "Keigo and I had to settle a disagreement."

Kagome's jaw dropped open; she couldn't imagine Keigo ever going so far as to actually challenge Sesshoumaru on any matter, then she remembered their argument before she had passed out, though her memory was mostly still fuzzy. Worried, she asked, "Was it about me? Where is he?"

Sesshoumaru gave a single brief nod. "He is gone."

"Oh gods," her hands flew to cover her mouth. Keigo was like Sesshoumaru's best friend, or at least the closest to it that he got, and he just… because of her. Tears started to spill down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"Kagome," he spoke her name in that chiding, disapproving voice that she knew meant that he wanted her to stop what she was doing and stop it right now. But she couldn't. Then his hands gripped hers and pulled her up to him, his nose nudge slightly against her ear followed by a gentle scrape of a fang. "It's not what you think."

"What?" she asked, tears still in her eyes and voice. "What isn't what I think?"

He huffed in annoyance, his warm breath puffing lightly against her ear. "This Sesshoumaru… lost."

"You… but how…? What happened?"

He settled down behind her on the futon and gently pulled her into his lap. He lightly rubbed his cheek against hers, though she couldn't tell whether it was for her comfort or his, before speaking. "When you lost the pup…"

"Pup?" she asked her mind freezing and her hands clasping over her stomach. "…the baby?"

He nodded and pulled her close. "When you lost the pup, the Shikon no Tama was expelled along with it." The Shikon? Was that what she had felt tearing her up inside? "It had been completed. The baku had been able to collect the shards that we could not."

"Where is it?" she asked, panicked by the sudden realization that she couldn't sense it at all.

"It is gone," he answered simply. She was beginning to hate that answer; Keigo was gone, the Shikon no Tama was gone…wait a minute…She pulled back.

"Tell me he didn't take the Jewel?" Even as her fingers dug into his shoulders with the panic she tilted her head to the side and back, a response that was becoming more and more ingrained in her interactions with Sesshoumru.

"He didn't," Sesshoumaru pulled her back and ran his tongue along the side of her neck to her ear, his voice muffled by the skin of her throat. "I told Keigo the truth of what had happened… he was less then pleased with this Sesshoumaru," he told her, sounding slightly disgruntled and a little ashamed. It took her a moment to realize that he was trying to apologize for the way he had treated her, but was still clearly uncomfortable with the process. She turned her head and kissed his jaw line; apology accepted. He had continued speaking through her sudden epiphany, so she settled in to listen to the rest of the story. "We agreed that you had to be restored to your bound status somehow, the Jewel seeming to be the only answer at hand. Keigo felt that this Sesshoumaru would taint the Jewel. I disagreed. He pressed his point."

"Why would you taint the Jewel?" Kagome asked, baffled by his short statements and curt manner of speaking.

"Keigo felt that this Sesshoumaru had personal reasons for restoring your condition, not only for the good of our people."

"And did you?" she asked bluntly. He was uncomfortably silent so she tried another track. "Why didn't you just let him make the wish?"

"You are my responsibility, it was through my action that the spells had become undone," he explained. "It was my duty to set it aright."

"Oh," she breathed, once again surprised by the depth of his loyalty and sense of duty. "But, Keigo won the right to make the wish? Then what happened?"

"The wish was granted, but we had not considered the form it might take… to maintain the balance the Shikon no Tama required more youki so the Jewel took it, from Keigo. Both he and the Jewel are gone but you are… more then restored, you are changed." Sesshoumaru said as he gently pulled up the long sleeves of her yukata to show clear, unmarked arms and hands tipped with sharp claws.

She curled her fingers, gave a little push and a film of gentle holy light edged her claws. Hesitantly she explored her features. She had dainty little fangs but no puppy ears, instead her ears were tipped with the slightest of points. "What am I?" she asked.

"What you always were: only Kagome. Nothing more, nothing less," he answered her.

She smiled up at him, her smile faltered as another thought stole it away. "Sesshoumaru, about the baby…"

"The pup?" he asked, still apparently uncertain of human words.

"Er… yes. What…?" she started to ask but was uncertain about what to say or how to ask it.

He held her close and gently combed his finger through her hair. "The fall caused a miscarriage. I am sorry Kagome."

"Are you?" she asked her voice sounding distant and cold, and entirely unlike her. Sesshoumaru froze with his fingers still buried in her hair. "You were certainly adamant enough against the idea last spring."

He tried pull her in close but she pulled away, not comfortable with accepting such an intimate touch until he had answered her question, and depending on the answer maybe even not then. Fortunately, he did not press the issue but leaned back and weighed his words carefully. "I was a fool," he enunciated the words clearly, careful not to distance himself as he often did. "I was more concerned with the opinion of others, not just the clan but…" he shook his head. "They don't matter. I had forgotten that clan is at its core a family; a mated pair and their offspring. When that creature threatened you here, in my den, in my home, I was reminded of that simple fact."

He lifted her chin up and held her face in his hands so that she was forced to look into his eyes, and his claws lightly pricked the delicate skin at her temples. She was confused for a moment before realizing that he was trying to communicate with her in ways she would understand, in human ways. And looking someone in the eyes to indicate truth was very human. "You are important to me, our… children are important to me. I grieve for the one that was lost. Whatever else you have been, are, or will be you will always be my mate and if the clan has any problems with that, I will hunt them all down one by one."

Breathless with shock, she pulled his hand away from her face and held them clasped between her own. "I believe you." She leaned in licked him lightly on the cheek. He turned his head and kissed her fiercely, almost desperately. "I love you," she whispered as he held her close, and closed her eyes as weight of the words she had carried for so long finally left her.

His voice was soft, barely a sigh, but all the more treasured. "I love you, too."