Chapter One: Kouga's Realization

He watched with silent disgust as his love raced into the arms of the mutt. He saw the half-breed's face soften ever so slightly before he enveloped her in his arms. Snorting with derision, he turned from the tender scene to view the battlefield. Finally, after four years Naraku was dead. The undead priestess had sacrificed herself at the last moment, insuring the evil hanyou would not come back. Kagura had died next, saving the boy who traveled with them from Naraku's wrath as he died. Kanna had followed her sister into death, too heartbroken to remain on Earth alone. He had watched the boy take the jewel shard from his back, giving it to Kagome before dying in the slayers arms.

He saw the taijiya limp toward the monk, wrapping her arms around him gently and helping him to stand. The Lord of the Western Lands, Sesshoumaru, cast on last glance at the commotion around him before turning and walking away. The taijiya's pet and the small kit soon joined the slayer. Sighing, he looked away from the group, searching for his ever faithful comrades. He finally spotted Ginta and Hakkaku limping slowly toward him. It would appear they would have to seek shelter for the next few days in order for the two morons to heal.

Grimacing at the thought of asking the mutt for any favors, he watched silently as the group gathered around their hanyou hero. Though the undead priestess, Kikyo he believed her name was, had given the killing shot, it had been Inuyasha and Kagome's teamwork that had weakened Naraku to the point she was able to do so. As if he didn't have enough to deal with. The mutt's ego was surely the size of his Northern territory by now. Sighing, he motioned to his comrades to follow as he made his way silently over to the solemn group.

Silently reaching the hanyou's pack, he waited for them to notice his presence. He saw the tears shining in everyone's eyes and wondered whom they were morning. Though they had sustained battle wounds, none of those that had fought against Naraku had perished. He watched in silent wonder as the body of the boy who had died in the taijiya's arms lay encircled by the silent entourage. So this was who they were mourning. He realized the boy must have been family to the taijiya because she knelt next to him, kissing his brow as the head of household did when a loved one died. So sad, the atrocities Naraku had pushed upon each of them apparent in the body of one small boy who gave his life for the greater good. Looking up, the group finally noticed his presence. He watched with a sardonic smirk as Inuyasha grabbed Kagome, pulling her close and growling a warning to him.

"What do you want wolf," he sneered, hugging the girl even tighter against him at the smirk that graced the wolf prince's lips. He watched Kagome try to draw the mutt's attention to the fact that he was cutting off her air supply. Realizing his error, the hanyou's arms visibly relaxed, but refused to release the woman in his arms.

"I only came to ask for a place to stay," he replied quietly. The obvious affection between the miko and hanyou were affecting him. He had chased her for four years, always waiting for the day he could finally claim her as his mate, and now she was lost to him. He heard the growls issuing from the mutt's mouth. Obviously, Inuyasha didn't trust him very much.

"Inuyasha, stop," Kagome admonished gently to the distraught hanyou, "Of course you are welcome to stay, Kouga."

"Fine, but stay away from my Kagome. No more of that touchy feely crap or I'll rip your throat out," the inu-hanyou hissed. He quickly swept the miko into his arms, amid small sounds of protest, before bounding through the forest in return to his village. Funny that a hanyou such as Inuyasha was accepted by the human's while a youkai such as he was still feared and threatened because of that fear.

The rest of the group followed Inuyasha's lead, each going the pace their injuries allowed them. Kouga held back, guiding his limping pack mates to the miko's village. They walked for almost twenty minutes before the smells of humans bombarded his nose. Reaching the break in the woods at the entrance to the village, he followed the taijiya and monk to a hut at the outer edge. Holding the door flap open for his comrades, he let it swig behind him as he walked into the dim home. He saw the taijiya and monk seated across the room from him. Inuyasha, with a blushing Kagome planted firmly in his lap, was seated against the adjacent wall to the slayer. The kitsune and fire cat demon lay nestled in a corner, the events of the day causing sleep to embrace them. He watched as an old woman, the village miko he guessed, walked from an adjoining room to greet her guests.

"And who do we have here," she asked softly, her eyes alight with interest as to why the wolf prince of the North was sitting in her home.

"Kouga and his two friends need a place to stay while they heal, Kaede. I figured a couple extra people wouldn't hurt," Kagome replied kindly.

"Ye know I welcome all those needing help in to my home, Kagome. I will go retrieve extra bowls, sleeping mats, and blankets for our guests," the old woman said, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth at Inuyasha's obvious discomfort. She disappeared for a few moments, returning with the promised articles. Suddenly, Kouga's nose was assaulted with the savory smell of stew. How he had missed its aroma until now he didn't know. Smiling in anticipation, he waited for the old woman to serve him.

"Sango, why don't you and I go bathe in the hot spring while the men bathe in the river. We are all pretty dirty," Kagome said quietly. He watched the women gather their bathing supplies before heading from the hut. Disappointment reared its head at the thought of waiting any longer to eat, but he realized that he did feel pretty filthy from the day's battle. He followed Inuyasha and the monk to the river, helping Ginta and Hakkaku as well. Reaching the bank, he quickly stripped before wading into the cool water. He could feel the dirt lifting from his skin. Sighing with pleasure, he sank back into the water.

"So what are you going to do now, wolf," and rude voice, belonging to the mutt, interrupted his reverie. Righting himself, he turned to face the scowling hanyou.

"I'm going to go home and try to rebuild my pack. It's time I took control once more," he replied in a matter of fact tone. He watched the surprise flicker across the other man's face at his answer. So, he had thought Kouga would continue his pursuit of Kagome, even after she'd declared her love for the inu-hanyou. He never realized that the mutt was so insecure. He supposed being taunted and ridiculed all his life must have hurt the hanyou worse than most knew. Suddenly, he felt ashamed of his behavior.

He'd always secretly known Kagome was never his. He'd gone after her as much to piss the hanyou off as anything. He loved her, but he could have forced himself to push it aside if necessary. He was sure that he scared the mutt now; making him think that Kouga would take the only human who had ever truly accepted him as he was. He silently snorted in disgust at his behavior. Too prideful to apologize, he turned from the hanyou to finish bathing. Wringing out his long hair, he tied it back in its usual high ponytail before donning his clothes. He slowly walked back toward the old miko's hut, contemplating his next course of action. He had a feeling it was going to be a long couple of days.

Kouga covered his ears, a growl escaping through his lips. Did they never stop? For the last three nights, Inuyasha and Kagome had disappeared, returning at daybreak to help with what needed to be done in the village. At night he could hear the woman's pleasure filled moans and screams, followed by Inuyasha's howls. He thought angrily that the mutt kept them within ear shot just to taunt him at his obvious loss in regards to the miko. Damn his youkai hearing and the fact he was a light sleeper, unlike his two pack mates who snored unfazed by the calls issuing from the forest.

Growling in frustration he sat up, methodically channeling the sounds around him until he was able to block the sounds of the mating pair. His thoughts turned inward. He needed to head home soon. His pack needed him. He would go to Ayame's grandfather to see about uniting the two tribes, or at least getting some females to help build up his existing pack. Knowing the wily old wolf, he would want Kouga to mate the stubborn wolf princess. He didn't care. His pack was his priority now. Who he mated was of no consequence since he couldn't have the only one he loved.

He thought over how best to approach the old wolf. It had been so long since he'd had contact with anyone outside his pack, unless it was Inuyasha's group. Kneading his temples, fighting the approaching headache, he decided on what route he wanted to take. The sooner he got to the mountain wolf tribe, the better. He quietly woke the pack mate beside him, telling Ginta what he was doing and to catch up with him when they were healed. He was glad he'd decided to journey to Ayame's pack. At least it got him away from his love and her new mate.

Quickly rolling up the sleeping mat and blankets, he snuck from the hut, softly bounding into the forest until enough distance was put between him and the village to safely run at his full speed. His tornado quickly formed, shielding his body from any outside view. He could feel the slight difference in his speed without the shikon shards embedded in his leg. He'd had the shards so long that he'd absorbed some of their power. He watched in his mind's eye as he laid them atop the bundled sleeping items. He thought of it as his gift to the new mates, but mostly his parting gift to the woman he loved.

He ran far into the night, only stopping occasionally to drink. He wanted to get to the mountains by midday if he was lucky. He felt his body's strength gradually diminish. So that was another side affect of no longer possessing the jewels shards. His stamina was less than it had been before. He could remember being able to run for days on end with no need for rest. He realized that it would be a close call to whether or not he could run straight through to Ayame's pack.

As the hours passed, he watched his surroundings gradually change, becoming more barren as he got closer to the mountain. Few knew why the mountain wolves remained so far from the good hunting and vast water supply the land surrounding the mountain provided. Only a lucky number had any knowledge of the lush valley nestled within its craggy peaks. The hunting within the valley would be envied by any who were wise. A small pass, only used by the animals that lived in the valley, allowed fresh game to enter and restock the existing game with fresh blood.

He smiled in anticipation as the sun traveled its way higher in the sky. He couldn't wait to bath in their hot springs and hunt with a pack again. He could see the base coming closer. He put in an extra burst of speed, wanting to get to the wolf pack as soon as possible. He nimbly jumped up the cliff face, barely a rock disturbed. He quickly reached the top, the valley spread out before him. Smiling, he took in a big breath of air, having finally reached the mountain wolf tribe.