Author's Notes: Okay, so this is the first of a series of oneshots I've been meaning to write as little augmentations for "The King's Mistress". There are lots of little side stories within the overall story, and all of you have been asking me for more details about various couples, events, or individuals, so I figured this was the place for it. As such, I figured I would allow all of you, the readers, to tell me what you want me to write. I promise I will do my best to write as many of the things you want to see as I can, so long as the inspiration is there for me as well.
Here are the rules, however, since I do have a few basic guidelines I want to follow (I know, I know, rules are overrated).
1) Please only request things that fall within the range of the story itself. I will not write A/Us to this story, a.k.a. other pairings, etc. You can do so yourself if you wish if you ask me first, but I will not.
2) If you have a specific thing you want detailed, be specific with me. I can't read your mind. So if you say something vague like "elaborate more on the relationship between Sango and Miroku" I won't have anything to go on.
3) DO NOT ASK ME TO WRITE A LEMON. I won't. You all know my opinions on this as I have stated it several times. End of story.
4) Oneshots only please; I'm not looking to write an entire new story. I'm already working on the outline for "Lord of the West". I can't handle more than one spin-off/sequel/prequel at one time.
So that's that. With those rules in mind, if there's anything you want detailed or clarified, just let me know!
This first oneshot was actually requested by several people, so I don't have a specific reader it's dedicated to. It revolves around Kouga and Ayame, and how their relationship began to change as Kouga learned to let Kagome go. Several people asked me for more details about his grief process regarding their relationship, and more Kouga/Ayame fluff. While this isn't exactly fluffy, I do feel it's a step in the right direction, and if people want more just ask and I can probably write another one in the future.
Title: Worthy of Love
Rating: PG (rated for extremely mild language and any implied adult themes)
Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha, nor do I take credit for any of the historical facts, ideas, or realities mentioned below.
Summer had come at last, its warmth melting all but the highest peaks of the Northern Mountains, the clear blue lake full once more thanks to all the pure, fresh melted snow. Reflected in the still surface of the water was the incredible blue of the sky, uninterrupted by clouds, allowing the sun to cast its friendly rays across the cheeks of any who ventured outside without intrusion of any kind.
To Ayame, summer had always been the most beautiful time in the North. Granted, she hadn't really lived anywhere else, but then again she was normally so incredibly happy with her homeland that such a reality didn't bother her. Or at least, it never used to.
Sitting on the green grass surrounding the clear blue lake, gazing out across the still water to the forest beyond, the great castle of the North to her back, the young wolf demon rested her chin on her knees and sighed. A slight breeze responded, blowing several strands of her brilliant red hair off her back and in front of her face. She paid them no mind, her heart too heavy to care as her emerald-green eyes flicked to her left, seeing her longtime friend with his legs extended before him, his head bowed in desolation, a letter in his hand.
Her eyes clouded with pain and Ayame felt as though someone were physically punching her in the gut.
He was the love of her life. The man she had sworn loyalty to for all time, no matter who her parents decided to marry her off to in the end. And yet now that he could actually be hers, she had never felt further from having what she yearned for.
It had been almost seven months since Kagome had left him with nothing but a letter explaining where she'd gone. And yet rather than moving on, Ayame felt like Kouga was becoming more solitary than ever. Three months ago when he'd finally stopped carrying the letter around in his breast pocket she'd hoped he was finally starting to mend…but then the announcement of Kagome and Inuyasha's marriage had arrived, and ever since the wolf king had been in even worse shape than before, taking extended and unnecessary trips around his province, managing everything from crop output to the fur, spice, and valuables trade…all things he normally left to his trusted advisers.
In other words, he'd been slowly burying himself further and further in his supposed duties as King (duties he had always happily left to others better educated and suited for such things), and when he wasn't working he could be found in one of his many solitary retreats sulking.
Something had to be done. But Ayame had no idea what he needed. She felt like she'd already tried everything, but none of it seemed to work. At first she'd decided to just give him space, waiting for something…though she'd have been lying if she'd said she knew exactly what she was waiting for. Unfortunately, if it had been for Kouga to suddenly wake up one morning and ask her to marry him, she had been sorely mistaken.
He had slowly welcomed her back into his life as his friend, for which she was grateful since he seemed to reject just about anyone else in his life, but never any more than that. A friend.
Then she'd thought perhaps he just needed a nudge in the proper direction, showing him she was interested, naively hoping she had perhaps simply been too subtle before (and ignoring the reality that had she been any more obvious she would have been forced to post a sign on his back saying "Property of Ayame"). And so every day for nearly a month she'd risen and dressed in her finest gowns of white, ivory, green, red, and orange silk, taking care to wash her hair daily and brush it into a shimmering mass of fiery red. She'd even tried wearing makeup occasionally; subtly drawing attention to her full red lips and her stunning emerald eyes.
But none of it had worked. Ayame had practically had every other man in the Northern province crawling towards her on his knees begging for her hand in marriage by the end of that month, and she could still recall a few of the more heated proposals with a shudder of dismay…yet it hadn't been enough.
Still, if nothing else, it had demonstrated for her the reality that Kouga's rejection had nothing to do with her physically undesirable appearance and everything to do with his unfailing love for another woman. It was a small victory, to be sure, and one she would have traded for his love in a heartbeat, but even so it had made Ayame much more aware of herself; of the subtle sway of her hips she hadn't realized she possessed, of the toned muscles of her arms and her naturally slender waist and muscular abdomen, and of her healthy ivory skin and stunning hair and eyes.
She now knew she was beautiful. Knew her grandfather spoke the truth when he insisted she could marry any man she wanted…and yet knew he was wrong too, because he, like everyone else, didn't even suspect that the one man she wanted was the one man who she still apparently held no sway over.
And, in all honesty, who could blame him? Not even Ayame, with her unwavering love and dreams and hopes and desires, could truly blame her King for loving Kagome Higurashi.
When she'd first learned that they were coming to the North she'd dreaded meeting the woman Kouga was to marry like the coming of a plague, and then when she'd finally arrived Ayame had done all she could to hate the woman with every fiber of her being. But then Kagome had looked upon her with pity, and wept her own tears of heartbreak, and the wolf woman had found it as impossible as everyone else to dislike their supposed future Queen. Even now no one blamed Kagome for leaving; she had been too kind, too sincere, too passionate, too merciful, and too perfect to blame.
That was truly saying something, since wolves were fiercely territorial and loyal to their leaders, yet they all found it in their hearts to forgive Kagome for leaving their beloved King.
How could Ayame possibly compete with that? How could she hope to ever make Kouga forget Kagome's smile or her beautiful face, or that graceful turn of her head and her clear, bright eyes?
Sighing again and feeling her chin sink with even more weight onto her knees, the redhead realized it was a hopeless battle. If she couldn't forget Kagome, how could Kouga ever move past his feelings for her?
"Do you suppose she'll be happy with him?"
Ayame blinked and glanced over at Kouga, at first unable to overcome her shock that he had actually said something without her poking and prodding him to the point of death first. As such she was unable to process what he had said. "What?"
The handsome wolf king turned his head and trained his clear blue eyes on her face, his jet-black hair blowing out behind him clasped in its usual ponytail atop his head, a hide band around his head with the mark of his family in the center in red, his pristine white shirt tucked in loosely at the waistband of his black pants. His feet were clad in furred boots that matched the headband, and overall he looked relaxed save for the strain on his face and the way his right hand continually clenched the letter in his hands. It was the announcement of the impending wedding, a secret from the general public, now only a few weeks away.
"I said do you think she'll be happy with him?"
Ayame didn't have to wonder which she Kouga was referring to, and desperately groped about for patience to help her friend grieve in whatever way he needed. "Yes," she replied honestly.
He flinched openly at that, but didn't reprimand her honesty. That was one thing that had always been present in their relationship, first because they hadn't gotten along and felt brutal honesty was the best way to try and throw barbs at one another, and then as respect had developed between them it had seemed the only way to interact with integrity. "Why do you think that?"
She shrugged and looked back towards the lake, hugging her knees tighter, searching for the best words to use. She had never been nearly as eloquent as some (like Kagome came the unbidden thought) with her words. But then again, neither had Kouga so hopefully he wouldn't mind. "Because she loves him, and he obviously loves her too." She tried to smile as she turned to look back at Kouga again. "That has to count for something, right?"
Ayame's voice was soft and gentle as though she were speaking to a mere child, though affection was heavy behind every word as well. She felt her smile fade again however when he didn't respond, simply sighing again and staring out at the lake like a lovesick puppy that had lost his purpose in life.
She didn't know what to do anymore. She'd tried everything, used every talent she possessed (including her feminine wiles), and none of it had brought him out of his funk.
Maybe she really was being a fool in thinking she could stand to wait for him. Maybe he would never love again. She didn't really want to marry the shell of a man only, with his heart forever tied to one woman…perhaps that meant she didn't quite mean it when she said all she wanted was to be near him. But was that so selfish or wrong? Did that really mean her love was any less potent or strong than Kagome's was for Inuyasha?
So what if Kagome had run after him and insisted she would stay by his side forever no matter what. Ayame simply refused to live that way. She could perhaps accept being second best in his heart, but she refused to be a fool either and live in a one-sided relationship where all he ever saw was Kagome's face and Kagome's eyes and heard Kagome's voice and Kagome's laughter.
Her emerald eyes flared at the thought.
She was not so inferior. She was Ayame, the daughter of one of the wealthiest and oldest families in the North, a pureblooded wolf demon with honor and respect and pride flowing through her veins. And if Kouga could not get past his love for Kagome Higurashi, then perhaps he wasn't the man for her anyway.
With her anger propelling her forward, Ayame rose to her feet and started to walk away. "I'll see you at dinner I suppose," she finally said, and he turned to look at her in surprise.
"You're leaving me?"
The utter confusion in his eyes was enough to send her over the edge. Months of inner torment and heartbreak, and he hadn't even noticed because he was too preoccupied with his own loss to care. "Yes, I'm leaving you. I can't stand this silence any more, Kouga, and I can't stand to simply sit by and watch my best friend since I was four years old waste away his life pining for something that can't be his. You're better than this, Kouga! You're so much better! You're usually so strong, and so confident, almost to the point of arrogance! But this…" She gestured about wildly with her hands, indicating his general person. "This man you've become is unfamiliar to me. I don't know you any more. The Kouga I know and care about would stand up and walk forward and keep living, not sit around and mope all day. And I can't take it any more."
He blinked and stared at her in utter shock for several seconds while she took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart and raging temper, wondering if perhaps she had just blown any chance of ever getting him to care for her. Kagome had been so kind and delicate and fragile and human and in need of his protection and…
A smirk turned up the corner of his mouth, and she thought she saw something sparkle in his eyes, which had been so dull for the last several months. Her thoughts froze, and she decided whatever she was doing must be working, and instead chose to hold onto the last remnants of her anger, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him for all she was worth in the process. "You'd better not be smirking at me."
And then he started to chuckle, and Ayame felt her own lips twitch in response. "It's just that…that…" He stammered, clearly unable to finish his thoughts.
"It's just that what Kouga?" She felt laughter bubbling up from somewhere in her heart, lightening the load that had been growing on her shoulders for so long.
Their eyes met and she saw a glimmer of true joy in his eyes. "Kagome used to always snap at me like that."
Ayame felt her laughter instantly vanish, realizing that yet again it was not herself he was seeing, but rather Kagome. And yet, suddenly, she was intrigued as well. Kagome had actually talked back? But she'd thought that, being a human, Kagome had always…
"Like what? Kagome actually yelled at you sometimes?"
He laughed outright at that, and without realizing what she was doing Ayame sat back down by his side, much closer than before, in a silent gesture for him to elaborate. "Sometimes? Kagome was always yelling at me about something. And if she wasn't yelling at me, she was yelling at Inuyasha or Miroku or Shippou. Frankly, the only people she never seemed to yell at were Sango or Kikyou." Kouga's laughter began to dissipate as he sat back on the heels of his hands, tilting his head to look up at the sky. "She was a real strange combination of everything. And each time I thought I had her figured out, she'd throw another surprise my way. Frankly the only emotion I think she was incapable of feeling was true hate." He chuckled again and turned to look at Ayame. "I mean, she liked to think she could hate people as much as the rest of us, but she couldn't. And that's what was so adorable about her; most of us are desperate to let go of our hate, and Kagome sometimes seemed just as desperate to feel it."
Even Ayame couldn't help but chuckle at that, but also at the reality that she was sitting with the man she loved while listening to him talk about the love of his life as though she were perfectly fine with the fact that he saw her as nothing more than a friend.
But strangely enough, some of the pain she'd been feeling earlier had lifted. Curious, she decided to continue with the conversation. "What was she like then?"
He blinked and looked at her. "Don't you know? I mean, you met her and I saw you talk to her several times…"
"Yeah, but I only saw one side of her, Kouga, and that was obviously a very misguided, disillusioned side of her at best. I mean, I honestly thought she never got angry and was docile and somewhat fragile in spite of her inner resolve."
He laughed again at her honest response and looked back out at the lake. "You obviously didn't know her then."
She nudged his shoulder and grinned. "I think that's what I said, jerk. Now stop laughing at me and answer the question."
He sobered slightly, but at least the light didn't fade from his eyes as he did so. It was a start. "Well…what do you want to know?"
Ayame shrugged and allowed her feet to sprawl in front of her, wagging her feet back and forth, clad only in simple gold slippers that accented the deep green velvet of her skirts. It occurred to her that she hadn't really sat with him like that since before he'd left to meet Kagome for the first time, and that had been almost eighteen months ago, long before Kagome had actually come to the High Court.
It was nice. And maybe that's what she'd been missing in the entire equation. She first had to help Kouga regain what he had lost in terms of his heart, recognizing that maybe he would never entirely be whole again, and then, once she'd done what she could, she could maybe start to hope for more…but that would only come with patience and her own love for him.
"What did you, um…" She bit her lip. "What did you love most about her?"
Kouga jerked his head around to face her, and she felt his intense gaze on her, a crimson stain painting her cheeks as she also felt a familiar desire pool in her belly. Did he really have to look at her like that?
"Do you really want to know, Ayame?"
She blinked. "I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know, Kouga."
"But wouldn't it be, um…hard for you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, just that…you…I mean, the way you feel might make it hard to…" He swallowed; obviously embarrassed by what he was trying to say, but she refused to let him off the hook, instead giving him an intense emerald stare of her own. "I know I wouldn't like to hear Kagome tell me how she felt about Inuyasha," he finally said in a rush.
Ayame blinked, her stern expression faltering as she tried to comprehend what she had just heard. Was he saying that he knew how she felt? Was he really not as dense as she'd always thought him to be? But then…if he really weren't, then how could he possibly have not seen the fact that Kagome was so hopelessly in love with someone else?
Or had he seen?
A new thought struck her. Had he been willing to marry a woman who could never love him the way he loved her?
She felt tears in her eyes. Kouga loved Kagome that much? How could she ever compete with that?
Seeing her tears, Kouga immediately rushed to remedy the situation in the only way he knew how: by talking. "You see! I knew you couldn't have me be honest with you! I knew it! This is why I haven't been talking to you lately, because I knew I could only talk about Kagome, and that would make it hard on you, and while I don't love you that way, I do care about you, and I don't want to make all this even worse for you, and…" He stopped when she put a finger over his lips, a kind smile on her face even as her eyes were swimming with tears.
"It's not that, Kouga. I do love you, and I have for a long time, but that doesn't mean I can't hear you talk about Kagome." She looked away, realizing that was the first time she'd ever told him how she felt. "Honestly, it's more that I didn't realize just how much you loved her. I guess a part of me truly thought you loved her more out of convenience than because of anything real."
Kouga's eyes softened as he looked at his longtime friend. "I'm sorry, Ayame."
She shook her head. "You shouldn't be sorry, Kouga. It's not your fault. Like Kagome said to me, we don't choose who we love, it just happens. I know she wished she could love you, just like I'm sure you wish you could love me…then nothing would be wrong. But love isn't supposed to be convenient, right?"
He smiled. "When did you get so wise, Ayame?"
She winked in spite of her tears, lifting her chin, the gesture born of the spunk he was more familiar with. "You seem to be asking me that a lot lately."
"Maybe that's because you've grown up a lot. You've changed."
Her eyes looked away. "In a good way?"
Kouga sighed long and low, glancing down at the letter in his hand, flapping lightly in the breeze. "In another life, Ayame, I could love you right now just as you are. And I don't ever want you to change, because you are wonderful. But…not yet. I want to love you; I know that would make all this easier. But…"
"But then you wouldn't be you, Kouga, and you wouldn't have loved Kagome as much as you do if you were able to be over her so easily." Ayame put a hand on his shoulder in a sign of friendship. "I think it's probably comforting to know you weren't willing to give your life to just any woman. You really loved her. And whatever girl ends up having you for herself in the end is going to be all the more lucky for it, because she really will have you heart and soul."
He looked up and met her gaze again. "I promise, when I'm able, Ayame, and when my heart is ready…"
"Don't, Kouga." She shook her head. "Don't make promises like that. You don't know what your heart will do. So please don't promise me something like that. I couldn't bear it."
"Okay." He looked away like a chastised little boy.
"So do you want to talk about her now?"
"If you don't mind."
"I wouldn't have asked if I couldn't handle it, Kouga." She gave him another encouraging smile, and this time he returned it hesitantly. "So…tell me the first time you knew you loved her."
She saw his eyes glaze over in memory as he started speaking. "Well, I liked to think I loved her even before I met her. Everything I heard was so wonderful, Ayame. But I realized the moment I met her that what I'd felt before wasn't even a pale shade of what love could be. She was so incredibly wonderful. She smiled, and I felt like my entire world came alive in a way I hadn't thought possible. Kagome had this way of…"
Ayame found herself leaning back and genuinely listening to what he had to say, which surprised her since she had really thought it would be painful, and that she was lying when she told Kouga it wasn't. In truth, the more she heard about Kagome, the easier it was to accept the way Kouga felt about her. Selfishly she had wanted to remain ignorant of Kagome's true personality because it was easier to hate an inferior woman, but now she saw that to heal and move on it was easier knowing she was in truth a remarkable woman who was worthy of Kouga's love.
A strong gust of wind whipped through the trees and caught the paper in his hand, but Kouga didn't seem to notice, engrossed as he was in talking, and so only Ayame saw as the announcement of Kagome's wedding blew away and into the center of the lake, landing on the surface before slowly disappearing forever.
It was going to be a long, slow road for both of them, but Ayame hoped that, in time, he could come to see her in even half the light he saw Kagome. She knew if he could, she would be content and satisfied to give him her life and her heart in return. And while they had a long way to go, at least they were talking again. It wasn't much, but it was a start.