Under the Dog Star

Author's Revision Note: Well, here's something long coming. A fully revised edition of Under the Dog Star in celebration of Inuyasha coming to American TV. I have fixed all the mistakes! (Well, the ones I caught, anyway.) And there will be a sequel! (It's in the planning stages) For those reading this for the first time, I hope you like this story. There are quite a few retro-generation fics out there, but this was one of the first and I'm quite sure it's the longest.

There is even a glossary for this fic now. It contains all the original chapter notes pertaining to words and phrases. Those familiar with Inuyasha probably won't need most of them.

Also, don't forget to read the lemon "A Side Story, Part III" and the Inunatsu one shot "Inunatsu." The latter is the weddings!

Total Disclaimer: Inuyasha and all associated characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi and many honorable companies. I have gained nothing but fame by writing this (I make no profit) and I beg that you not sue me because I'm poor. About the only thing you'd get if you sued me was my Inuyasha tankoubon, and you'd have to tear those from my arms. (Viz, if you or your lawyers are reading this, could you please release volume 12 already? SHEESH!)

Under the Dog Star Part One
(Containing the whole of chapters 1-6)

Chapter One: The Territory of the taiyoukai Inutaisho

The Bara no Cha teahouse of Kusabana, the largest city in the area known to humans as Kyushu, had a surprisingly delicious meat dish that Inutaisho had found nowhere else. Given that it was also a hub for the entire region's human social network, he'd decided to make it his base of operations while he finished marking his territory.

The claiming of a "territory" for a demon was more than just dominating the land and frightening away the lesser demons who challenged your claim, Inutaisho mused, as he sipped the delicate beef broth that the lovely human serving girl had given him. It meant grasping the sense of the people, both human and demon, who lived within it. It meant absorbing the spirit of the land into yourself, so that even after you were gone, people would remember it as yours. It meant knowing it in every sense, and for a demon, that meant mingling with the human population.

Inutaisho was fortunate that people found it pleasant to look upon his human form. The men at his gambling table trusted him, although he was a stranger to them, and the serving girls and occasional kept woman spoke freely with him. In just this one night, he'd learned much about the state of affairs of his territory.

Territory. A surge of pride ran through him, and he banked his canine instincts in irritation. It would not do to howl his claim in the human teahouse. In his human form, he could at least control his instincts to some extent. A thousand years of traipsing around the island had taught him that control was perhaps the greatest asset a youkai could have. Without control, a youkai was nothing, purposeless, worse than a vengeful spirit might at least wander around with a just cause.

"Hey, did you hear about the latest attack on Nigunshi?" a human next to him said in a friendly way, nudging him with his elbow. Inutaisho blanked out for a moment, then remembered. Oh, yeah. I did that, didn't I? Fighting off that upstart Inuaoiryu . . . Remorse instantly replaced the pride in his head.

"No, I didn't," he said carefully, keep his expression lightly interested and attentive. Did I . . . did I kill . . .?

"The entire town was trashed, but amazingly, no people were killed. It's odd. I always thought youkai wanted the deaths of humans, but they just wrecked the place."

"Must be some compassionate youkai." someone else chimed in as he moved his shogi tile.

"Compassionate youkai? Ha!" The rest of the group chuckled heartily at the idea. Inutaisho hid his face with his soup bowel.

Humans find the idea laughable, he brooded, resisting the urge to lick his chops. That meat dish was good. So they laughed at the idea. Perhaps demons weren't born with compassion -- his only son and unfortunately, his only living heir at the moment, Sesshoumaru, certainly didn't have a compassionate bone in his body -- but they could develop it.

We're not so different, demon and human. We're born. We live. We die. We don't know what is to come. Why can't we get along? he wondered rhetorically, and then answered his own question.

Because youkai are too full of themselves to realize that their powers lie only in destruction, and not creation . . .

"Excuse me, honorable sir, but would you like a second helping of that?" a gentle voice offered. Inutaisho turned to find a sweet, beautiful woman kneeling just behind him. She was not particularly striking, but her very being radiated a purity that he could smell even in his current human form. A miko? No, there was no power there, only tranquility. He allowed himself a few moments to bask in her scent before returning her friendly smile.

"Yes, I would. There is no other place that I can find this dish. I enjoy it very much. Thank you."

The serving girl blushed at his polite words and kind tone, and gathered the empty dishes onto a flat tray. She rose gracefully, neither her tray nor any of the half full glasses tipping in the slightest, and disappeared into the far depths of the restaurant. Her sweet scent lingered in the air for several moments.

Inutaisho had to shake his head to clear his thoughts of the human woman. Purity like that simply didn't exist in a demon. Maybe that's why they were so attracted to it.

He turned his attention back to the gambling table conversation. "Yeah, I heard that if the youkai attacks this village one more time, they're going to offer him a virgin sacrifice."

"Feh. How're they gonna find a virgin in this town? All the girls are married or spoiled by the time they're fifteen, and if I were a youkai, I wouldn't want a child."

"I dunno, there are a few miko around here."

"I heard that the miko are the easiest to have of them all!" The table erupted into conspiratorial masculine laughter again.

Sacrifice? All of Inutaisho's thoughts on human nobility vanished, and he felt a low, angry growl rise in the back of his throat before he could catch it. He disguised it with a cough, but that nearly dislodged the black wig he'd tossed on to hide his waist length mane of silver hair. He recovered quickly and tried to look nonchalant as he adjusted it.

We really are more alike than anyone realizes. We're both petty, too. Tossing some innocent to a demon to protect their own skins. Cowards.

Well, there would be no need for that with him around. It was his territory, after all. No demon would dare go near the heart of his lair, because to do so would mean certain death at the hands of the taiyoukai.

The serving girl returned, bearing another bowl of the meat dish. Inutaisho nearly yipped in canine pleasure.

"You do look happy to see it," the girl said with a shy smile, and placed the bowl before him. She stood again to take dishes to the other gamblers around the table, but Inutaisho caught the edge of her kimono before she could leave.

"Please, Miss, give this lowly one the honor of knowing your proper address," he smarmed as nicely as he could, unable to resist the sweet scent of her purity. The girl looked startled, and looked him directly in the eye in near distress. Uh oh. Bad move. He hoped that she wouldn't see the vertical pupils that even his human form carried.

After a heartbeat of pause, she smiled again. "Tomiko," she said, her kind eyes blinking once. "I am called Tomiko."

Then she was gone, to serve the other men their food.

Tomiko, eh? A nice, human name. He watched Tomiko from across the room, and, unable to resist the attractiveness of her pureness, made plans to catch up with her after the teahouse had closed for the evening.

Chapter Two: The Promised Flower

Inutaisho sank into the shadows behind the Bara no Cha, casting a few barrier spells around himself so that none of the humans would see him.

Silly, silly old boy, he chided himself. Chasing after a human girl for no reason other than that she smelled sweet. The diversion was wasting valuable time that he could have spent prowling his territory. But Inutaisho had not lived for nearly a thousand years by acting without emotion, and it was better to indulge himself occasionally than to think completely in reason. Sesshoumaru had been the product of a mating without emotion, and in typical ironic demon fashion, the result had been an impeccable specimen of youkai without a single shred of love for anyone but himself. All breeding, no feeling. Well, that was unkind, perhaps. Sesshoumaru was young, and Inutaisho had some hope for him yet.

The serving girls began leaving the teahouse for the evening, traveling in packs for safety in the cool of the night. He paid close attention to the various groups, but none contained Tomiko's scent. She was still inside, then. He waited for a few more minutes to make certain that she wasn't coming out, and then slipped inside, staying close to the walls.

He caught her scent drifting in the air, and it wrapped itself around him, drawing him, entranced, toward one of the back storage rooms. He felt his feet nearly lifting off the ground before he remembered that he was in human form at the moment and that humans did not float. Allowing gravity to pull him down again, he crept silently toward the back storage room, which had been brightly lit with many lanterns.

There she was, putting away dishes and utensils for the evening. She worked silently, quietly, efficiently. Inutaisho reeled from a sudden surge of desire that welled up from deep inside. Ah, so the human form still held the youkai desires. He'd never really noticed that before. He wanted her, her scent, like a spell that had enchanted him from the moment he . . . first smelled her, called him to her. Checking to make sure his black wig was in place, he quietly stepped inside, and then slid the door to the storeroom shut without making a sound at all.

Tomiko registered the difference in the air, however, and whirled around, her face lighting with fear until she recognized him from earlier. Heaving a sigh of relief, she leaned against the storeroom wall. "You frightened me nearly to death, sir," she said in a shaky voice. "I was afraid it was a youkai come to steal me away."

Suddenly embarrassed, with reason, Inutaisho cleared his throat. "Forgive me if I was intruding then, Tomiko-san. However, I could not help but think of the moment I saw you earlier. I could not be without the presence that is Tomiko a moment longer or else my soul would shatter."

Flowery language gets 'em every time, he thought smugly. And he could wax poetic with the best of them. Several of his verses were even in the great Kokinshuu, a fact that would probably smirch his name in youkai society if it every got out.

"I too, felt the same way, but I cannot give a name to your presence, sir," Tomiko said, her tone of voice implying the question.

Inutaisho paused for a moment. His name was a human label given to him, not a real name. Older demons rarely had names of their own, instead choosing them or taking on the name that humans gave them. He wracked his brain for a suitable name for his human form, and was relieved when he found one. "You may call me Akio," he said.

"The presence that is Akio is welcome here," Tomiko said, stepping closer, then hesitating. She turned away, her face saddening in the flickering light. Inutaisho sensed a change in her demeanor. "But this presence is not truly free to accept." Dropping the formality, and letting her sorrow leak into her voice, she said, "I have been promised to another."

This gave Inutaisho a proverbial cold shower. Youkai didn't muck around with honor as much as humans, especially when it came to picking and choosing a mate, but Tomiko was too pure to allow him to play fast and loose with her. If she was promised, then there was no help for him, and he'd have to go without her. Damn.

But when he started to reply, he saw that she was crying silently. "I take it it's not an arrangement you are happy with," he said softly, stepping closer. Tomiko tried to smile through her tears. Even when she cried, her sweetness was not sullied by bitterness, but only sadness and acceptance.

"No, it's my father's bidding. I have no say in the matter at all."

"Then allow me to be your friend, then," Inutaisho said, surprising himself. He couldn't stand to see human females crying. Youkai didn't cry except in mourning, but humans knew that some other things were just as painful as the death of a loved one.

"Thank you," Tomiko said shakily, and Inutaisho gathered her in his arms, and let her cry onto his chest. She must really be engaged to someone horrible if she's accepting the embrace of a stranger, he thought sadly. He stroked her hair, whispered soothing words in the manner he had observed humans doing. Tomiko cried like a child, with her whole being. Her scent filled his mind, and her body in his arms was soft and pliable. The girl needed a friend, he realized, far more than she needed a lover. He regretted even thinking of sullying her purity with his indecent propositions.

After Tomiko's sobs had mostly subsided, he pushed her away from him a little, and said, "May I ask, if it is not too forward of me, what manner of man has your father betrothed you to that would cause you to weep so sadly?"

Tomiko sniffled softly, then turned her simply, sweet face up to him. "Akio-san, it is not that I am betrothed to a man. I am promised to another, however. The council decided earlier today. If the youkai Inutaisho attacks our village, as he has been attacking villages in our area, then I am to be offered as a sacrifice in an effort to appease him."

The irony of the situation burned through Inutaisho's mind, and he had to stifle a miserable laugh. Tomiko, in all honestly, had no idea that the very youkai she was intended for now held her in his arms.

"Do not worry, friend Tomiko," he said, trying to project wisdom and sympathy in his voice. "I have heard that the youkai Inutaisho has settled down and will not be attacking the villages any longer. Truly, he was never attacking them, only defending his territory against invaders."

Tomiko did not look placated. "But youkai eat people," she said in a small voice.

Well, there was that, but . . . "Not all of them. I don't -- that is, I have not heard that the youkai Inutaisho has eaten anyone. There have been no human causalities at any of his battles."

"Friend Akio-san, why are you defending the youkai?" Tomiko, her tears gone now, looked at him in mild puzzlement.

"Let me just say that I am unusually . . . familiar with the youkai and the spiritual world. There are bad youkai, but there are also good, just as there are good and bad humans."

Tomiko sighed. "Perhaps you are right, Akio-san. But I do hope that the youkai does not attack again. That way I can live my life in peace. Perhaps I can marry a husband of my own choosing someday." Tomiko smiled genuinely this time.

Inutaisho said nothing, but looked at her, relieved that she was now back to normal.

"I am not so frightened now. Thank you, Akio," she said.

Her smell had changed again. Inutaisho recognized that she had accepted him as a friend, and a much needed one. Really, it was all for the best. He had intended only to scope out his territory that day, not to pick up a human female. Tomiko had helped him in more ways than she could realize. He now knew the extent of the villagers' fear of him. That they would offer him a girl . . . it was simply unthinkable.

"Tomiko!" a voice called from another area of the teahouse.

"Oh, it is my father," she started, and realized she was still being embraced by a strange man, all alone in a room with no chaperone. She hastily slipped from his arms. "You must go. If my father catches you . . ."

"He will not," Inutaisho said assuredly. "I will leave now."

"But when will I see you again?" she said, her soft eyes growing sad once more.

"I will . . . be around. Fare well, Tomiko," he said, and left the storage room, his minds whirling with plans.

No matter what, he could not get into a fight near the village.

Chapter Three: Defense of Honor

Inutaisho slept in his favorite tree fitfully, dreaming of a gentle scented woman who loved him with her whole heart, until she saw him transform into his true form, when she screamed in fright and rejected him. He'd been having the same dream the entire night, and each time it ended the same way. Even as dawn approached, he found himself unable to cope with the fact that he couldn't have Tomiko, even though she was within his grasp if he so desired.

"I've been around humans too long," he muttered, stretching into the groove he'd worn into the tree branch over the course of many centuries. The forest he was in was the oldest part of his territory, a small patch of land he'd conquered in what could only be called his youth. Time didn't quite work the same way for youkai s as it did for humans. Whereas the human mind aged along with the body, a youkai only gained experience and knowledge unless he or she really wanted to grow old. Inutaisho's body would stay perfect, unchanged, until some other youkai destroyed him, and his mind would remain alert and quick. At least he'd matured beyond the point of most youkai, as had Sesshoumaru. The worst of them retained the desires and control of a human child. He'd progressed beyond the mentality of human adolescence, ending up at about the human equivalent of twenty. Sesshoumaru had aged about to there as well, testifying to his breeding again. Inutaisho sighed. That whelp would call him weak for desiring a human female, no doubt.

Well, tossing and turning as the day broke would not help him retain his land. He stretched and leapt nimbly to the top of his tree, staring out over the shallow cup of hills of his land. Kusabana, the city of Tomiko, was far enough away for him to risk transforming to his true form for a good morning prowl.

Watching a true demon transform is not as showy as most people would think. His limbs did not grow to grotesque proportions; rather, a gentle glow surrounded his human form, and his mane of silver hair lifted up in an invisible wind. As the sun broke over the hills, the light swelled gently, floating weightless of the top of the tree. This was the true form of Inutaisho, the great demon dog, and it felt wonderful to return to this body and really stretch.

His senses were far more alert. He could tell the time of day by the angle and amount of sunlight kissing his silver fur. The sharp smells of the forest existed as a fifth dimension all their own, which his mind interpreted as a matrix of time old and new. Older scents had faded to gray. Newer smells appeared as bright colors, a time-lapsed photograph covered with millions of streaks forming a map that only he could interpret. The smells called to him, and he leapt forth from his tree, howling his claim in the purest joy.

His, all his. No other demon would ever dare to encroach on this land so long as he was around. Yet, he still caught a scent from far off that alerted him that other youkai were near. Focusing on the faint wisp of youki, he finally placed it as his younger cousin, Inuaoiryu.

Hmmm. Why would that pup be here? Their shared ancestors were all long since deceased, and last he'd heard Inuaoiryu had made his territory to the far southeast near Osaka. Inuaoiryu was much older than Sesshoumaru, who was ambitiously trying to become the youngest taiyoukai in existence.

Suddenly wary, Inutaisho made his way swiftly across the land. The scent of a youkai in rage grew stronger, and Inutaisho's blood ran cold when he caught it mingled with the scent of human blood. Inuaoiryu had had the audacity to attack his territory. His territory.

The great youkai growled in barely controlled anger. It was not to be borne. And his own cousin, of all youkai!

The scent reached the saturation level near the small town of Yurinoki. Inutaisho alighted near the edge, his age-hardened stomach not reacting to the terrible stench of burning and decay, but his soul mourning nonetheless. A village of several hundred people had been slaughtered senselessly on his territory. There was little left of the village or its people, but he charred what was there nonetheless with a small fire spell, and sent a brief wish to the kami to take care of the murdered souls. "I shall avenge you," he whispered to the unhearing dead. Human or demon, he had failed to defend them on his land.

Then he set off to find the culprit. "Inuaoiryu!" he roared, the sound from his true form's vocal cords echoing around the hills, booming like the very thunder of the kami. He called his cousin's name again, snarling it out, smashing a few trees without thinking. Control, the sapient part of his mind warned. Don't lose control.

He smelled the other dog youkai long before he saw him. The bluish gray of Inuaoiryu's fur blended in with the smoke of the village as he lazily rose from his nest in the forest. The two cousins, bound by a common grandfather, glared at each other, golden eyes on lime.

"I see my lure worked, dear cousin," the younger dog demon said insolently.

"Why are you here?" Inutaisho asked, his voice deadly calm. He had no desire to play games.

"I had heard that the great taiyoukai of Kyushu had gotten weak. I didn't believe it for myself, dear cousin," Inuaoiryu said, yawning slightly, "so I had to come smell it with my own nose." He flicked over a tree with one finger, the great timber snapping like a toothpick. He had grown since the last time Inutaisho had seen him, and although he was not a taiyoukai yet, he was no longer an just an indifferent pup.

"Well, as you can smell, the rumors are entirely unfounded. I have not gotten weak, nor will I tolerate the senseless destruction of the people in my territory." Inutaisho let a bit of demon energy leak into his eyes, giving them an aggressive, reddish tinge. The warning was unmistakable.

"Feh, why care for the silly humans? They're pawns, just soul-food for us, dear cousin." The younger dog thumped his tail once, knocking down several hundred trees in one powerful sweep. "How weak you truly have become!"

"Inuaoiryu . . . leave. Now." This time Inutaisho let out a flare of battle aura.

"Aren't you going to attack me? I've insulted you twice now. Don't you want to tear me to shreds?" Since he was unable to get a rise out of the older demon, the blue dragon-dog rose lazily, and stretched his knuckles, popping the joints in anticipation of a fight. "Sesshoumaru is right. What a waste of a taiyoukai!" With the last word, he leapt at his cousin. Inutaisho was prepared for the attack, however, and dug his giant claws into the smaller dog's stomach, then flopped them both over and sent Inuaoiryu flying with a powerful kick.

Not hesitating for a moment, he ran to where the other demon had landed, several miles away. However, Inuaoiryu knew his cousin's weaknesses well, and leapt up before Inutaisho could catch up with him. He then began to run away, trying to lure his cousin toward a city. Since Inutaisho would have the handicap of avoiding the city and Inuaoiryu didn't care, being near a populated area would give him a definite advantage.

"Bastard!" Inutaisho roared. The two youkai fairly flew across the land, one great silver dog with two silver tails, chasing a smoke blue dog whose mother had been a dragon.

Fearing they were already too near a city, Inutaisho attacked in one great jump, and caught the single tail of his younger cousin in his powerful jaw, snapping it in half. Stunned, the younger demon returned his attack with a hoarse cry of anger and pain, and the two dogs fell into a tussling, writhing pile, destroying hundreds of acres of trees as they swiped at each other.

"So Sesshoumaru sent you to test me?" Inutaisho cried, giving his cousin a nasty gash on the shoulder.

"Your pup? That monster you spawned doesn't command me. I came here on my own!" The other dog slashed viciously at him, but missed, and instead hit a small farmer's hut that had been lying unprotected. The scent of fresh human blood wafted out of the remains instantly, distracting Inutaisho for a crucial moment. Inuaoiryu attacked, catching his arm in his jaws, sending a rain of demon blood across the forest. "I'll kill you and make myself the taiyoukai of Kyushu!"

"Over . . . my . . . dead body!" Inutaisho roared, and slashed at his cousin's eye. The younger youkai howled in pain and anger. Inutaisho freed his shoulder from the other dog's jaw, and grabbed his cousin's neck in his own teeth. His oversized fangs snapped the neck easily, and for a moment, a fountain of blood rained from his cousin's jugular, before the youkai faded into the ether.

Inutaisho spat out his cousin's blood, growling in frustration. Why? Why had he attacked his territory? He should have known that there was no way he could win.

Inutaisho saw that he was dangerously close to Kusabana. He needed to get out of there, quickly. But he'd lost a lot of blood himself, and his shoulder throbbed. It'd be hours before he was whole again. Limping painfully, he started to retreat, when he caught the scent of Tomiko drawing nearer.

"Please, no!" the girl cried in fright as a horde of villagers dragged her along the road to where Inutaisho stood. They saw, he realized in horror. They had witnessed the whole battle, and they're actually going to . . .

When the villagers saw the youkai staring at them, they dropped prostrate, and shoved the bound Tomiko onto the ground, forcing her to bow as well. She squirmed in fear and frustration, as she they had tied her so tightly that she could not even sit up to see.

"Mighty Inutaisho-sama!" an old man cried, hardly raising his head. "We beg of your greatness to live our city alone. We offer you our purest virgin of our women to do with as you wish." The villagers cowered in fright, hoping their plan would work.

"Human, what use have I for a girl?" Inutaisho growled. He didn't mean to sound so cross, but his shoulder was really killing him. It's hard to sound nice when you're bleeding to death.

"It's not working," the prostrate villagers whispered among themselves in alarm. "She must not be pure, she must not be a virgin!"

"Tomiko," another old man cried, leaping up from where he had been bowing. "Have you shamed yourself? Have you been with a man?"

"No," the poor girl sobbed, still bound, her face halfway in the dirt. "I did not lie to you!"

Inutaisho had had about enough.

"STOP!" he growled, and the old man immediately dropped back down to the ground, trembling in fear. Inutaisho stalked closer to the humans, and those kneeling backed away, unable to face the taiyoukai.

Tomiko, still bound and sobbing in the dirt, could not even lift her head, but she knew the youkai was right above them.

"The purity of the girl is not in doubt. It is you who shame me, humans." Since no one seemed willing to untie her, Inutaisho decided that he might as well return to his human form and do it himself. It might make things easier if he dealt with them on their level. Hopefully Tomiko wouldn't recognize him . . .

Slowly, the giant dog faded into an outline, then a glow, and in the center there floated a young man, his long mane of silver hair and fawn's ears the only testament to his otherworldly nature. On a ribbon of light, the taiyoukai floated down, and landed softly on the ground before the still sobbing Tomiko.

"Poor thing," he whispered, and reached out to untie her. She flinched, probably expecting him to devour her whole, but her eyes widened in surprise as his fingers nimbly untied her ropes. She was too frightened to move, however, even after she was free. Her breath caught in ragged, terrified gasps.

"I can't believe you would do such a thing," Inutaisho growled softly, standing up and facing the frightened crowd of villagers. "To give up an innocent is to sacrifice one of your most precious treasures. This girl is too pure for you. Could you not even see that I was defending you?"

Tomiko had slipped into unconsciousness. Ignoring the pain in his damaged shoulder, he leaned down and picked up the girl, amazed at how light and frail she seemed. Thank the kami she hadn't recognized him.

"Hear this, humans. You have willingly sacrificed a virgin to me. I hereby declare this human woman to be my woman. Any attempt by you to take her back will result in me being far less merciful than I am right now. You are in my territory, so I will not attack without provocation, but this girl is now mine!"

And with that, Inutaisho leapt away into the trees, leaving the group of shocked villagers to console the girl's sobbing mother.

Chapter Four: Connections

When Tomiko woke up, she found herself on the ground near the base of a tree. Several meters away, a small fire crackled merrily, and she breathed in the scent of the wood smoke.

Am I in the afterlife, now? she wondered. Did the taiyoukai eat me? Funny, she didn't feel dead. She sat up, and with a small feminine groan took in the state of her kimono. No, not dead, not yet, as her clothes were torn and dirty.

Then she remembered. The taiyoukai had come down, in human form, and freed her ropes. She'd been unable to catch a glimpse of his face, but she'd sensed the kindness in his act, and then fainted.

She rubbed her sore hands gingerly. But what had happened? Where was she now?

"Ah, I see you're awake," a familiar voice called from above. She looked up, and saw a person in the tree branch directly above her. Two white clad legs dangled above her head, and she recognized them from the evening before.

"Friend Akio!" she cried, relief flooding her body. He had rescued her! He had saved her from the youkai! "Thank goodness!"

However, the man did not come down from his position on the tree. Uncaring, Tomiko gushed, "Thank you so very, very much," feeling indebted to him with the whole of her heart.

There was a soft silence, filled only by the gentle sounds of the forest in the afternoon. Then the man spoke. "Tomiko-san, I have to tell you something," he said from his perch. "But you must promise me not to be frightened and run away."

"You are my friend," she said simply. "Nothing you could say would frighten me more than that youkai, and then I did not run away."

"Yeah, you were pretty brave back there," he said, his voice betraying a hint of anger.

"Do not be mad at my family, or the villagers. They are probably already dead," she said, suddenly saddened. She imagined them eaten – but then she felt a deeper sense of foreboding. The had died in flames, or perhaps they would die like that someday in the future. The image remained fixed in her mind until she cleared it away like the daydreaming fancy it surely was. She shivered. What a frightening way to die.

"No, I didn't -- the taiyoukai didn't -- look, maybe this'll be easier to explain if I come down. But promise me you won't run away."

"I promise," she said, more confused than ever. Akio dropped softly to the ground, and at first Tomiko didn't even notice what was different about him, so glad was she to see him. Then she realized that his hair was silvery-white and not black as it had been the day before. Her throat seized up suddenly in fear.

"Youkai," she whispered, feeling betrayed. The mental image of the village burning returned. "You're not Akio, you're a youkai." Out of the frying pan, into the fire, she thought miserably. She resisted her instinct to flee like a frightened rabbit.

Seeing that she had stayed true to her promise and not run away, the taiyoukai plopped cross legged onto the ground, and tried to ignore the still stinging wound in his shoulder. "I am Akio, and I am also a youkai. I am both at the same time. You humans call me by the name Inutaisho."

Tomiko bowed her head. So she had been taken as a sacrifice anyway. "You got what you wanted from this presence, after all," she whispered, her voice oddly hollow. She was still unable to cope with the idea that her new friend had really been a demon, disguised as a human . . .

"No! I didn't intend to get into a fight near Kusabana again. But my cousin attacked my lands, and if I hadn't destroyed him, he would have killed you all."

Tomiko was silent. She looked down at her lap, and it took Inutaisho a few moments to realize she was crying again.

"Oh, please no, don't cry," he said, and was at her side in an instant. But she backed away in fear. "I'm so sorry I deceived you, Tomiko-san. This lowly one should never have lied to your presence." He sat back on his haunches and stared at the fire. Tomiko was still silent, but when he glanced at her, the fear in her eyes bad been replaced by another emotion.

"What?" he asked, unable to fathom her. The wood smoke had made his nose all but useless, and he couldn't detect her emotions by scent that well in his human form anyway.

"You apologized," she said, her voice and eyes full of wonder.

Inutaisho blinked. "Eh?"

"I had always heard that a youkai was without compassion. A youkai would never apologize for anything he did. Are you really a youkai?" This time she was the one who crept closer, the awe on her face clear now.

"I'm a taiyoukai. That's about as much of a youkai as you can get," Inutaisho said, shrugging softly, forgetting about his shoulder. He winced involuntarily.

"Oh, you're hurt!" she said, losing all sense of fright of him in motherly instinct when she saw the blood on his kimono. "Akio-san -- I mean, Inutaisho-sama, you need to have someone treat that." She grabbed the edge of his happi and started to tug it off.

"It'll be fine," he explained before she had a chance to try to undress his formal white kimono. "Youkai heal much faster that humans. I'll be fine in no time. What doesn't kill me just makes me stronger."

Nodding in surprised understanding, the girl kneeled beside him, drinking in his features for the first time. She'd seen him only in passing when he was at the Bara no Cha, assuming he was just another flirting customer, and when he had come to her that night, she had been in a storeroom with only a few lanterns to keep things visible. Now in the mid-afternoon light, she could see his smooth, handsome face, unmarked by worry or pain, his silver mane falling in gentle waves to the ground as he was sitting, and his eyes.

She hadn't noticed those in the dim light at all. His pupils had been dilated. Here in the daylight they were narrow slits. Yet still, they were not unkind. They twinkled merrily with a hidden laughter and ancient wisdom at the same time.

He was not unkind. A wash of relief ran through her for the second time that afternoon. Her situation wasn't so bad at all. Inutaisho was her friend, just as his human disguise Akio had been.

Realizing she was very close, she tiptoed backwards, trying not to appear too nosy. The youkai smiled when he realized that she was slightly embarrassed to have been caught staring. But she could not remove her eyes from his. His eyes were warm, golden yellow, a marked contrast to his silver hair.

"I would never hurt you," he offered simply, willing her to keep her gaze fixed to his own.

"I realize that now," she whispered.

"I wasn't kidding before, Tomiko-chan," he said, slipping in the endearment without really meaning to. He felt closer to this human than he'd ever felt to any being before in his life, and it felt natural to speak comfortably around her. "I want to be your friend. And to do that . . . I have to return you to the village."

Tomiko was startled. "No, please don't send me back."

"Why . . .?"

Tomiko turned away, miserably. "You saw how they automatically assumed that I was at fault when you seemed to reject me. I have always been the unpopular one in the city. Even my father preferred my sisters to me. That's why I was chosen to be your . . . virgin sacrifice. Everyone assumed that since no one liked me . . ."

Inutaisho was very surprised that no one would like the sweet girl. The villagers had assumed right, however; the human female was as innocent as any could hope to be. No man had ever touched her. But to endure the cruelty of being unpopular, and then to be chosen as a sacrifice because everyone assumed that no one would want you? Inutaisho felt his hackles rise in anger on her behalf again. No, he could not send her back.

"Then you will stay with me, then," he said simply, deciding it just like that. He now had a human companion, whether he'd wanted one or not. He caught a drift of her pure scent through the burning wood smoke, and felt a familiar wave of desire. Oh yes. He wanted her, that was a yes. Every experience had an hidden gift, and the lagniappe of his cousin's unprovoked attack was Tomiko.

"I don't know what I can offer a youkai," she said, folding her hands primly on her lap. Despite her bedraggled kimono, dirt smudged face, and disarrayed hair, she managed to look as cool and refined as any he'd seen at the Imperial Court in Kyoto. "I can cook, a little, and I can clean, but I will most likely be a burden to you."

"That is all right. I'm not much for either chore, so you will certainly be a help in those areas." He stood up then, and began shoveling handfuls of dirt onto the fire. "Normally at this time of year I'd just sleep in the tree," he said, pointing to his branch between shovels, "but I'm going to take you to my winter lair. It's quite cozy, and will be much safer for you than the open woods. The fire here was to disguise your scent from any minor youkai that would be hanging around, but in my winter home, it will be unnecessary."

Tomiko was touched by his thoughtfulness, and joined him in tossing dirt onto the fire. Their arms bumped as they reached for the same patch of sand, and the two new friends caught each other's eyes, sharing a conspiratorial smile. Soon the fire was completely out, only a last wisp of wood smoke betraying its former existence.

"Come on then," he said, and swung her easily into his arms, startling her. She started to protest, but he interrupted her. "I can travel much faster carrying you than you can walking. If we walk, we won't be there before nightfall."

Seeing the logic in this, Tomiko made one small suggestion. "I'll unbalance you like this, though. Wouldn't it be better for you to carry me on your back?"

"You're right." Inutaisho let her slide out of his arms, perhaps enjoying the sensation a bit too much, and then crouched down. She clambered onto his broad, firm back, and realized her mistake when he grabbed her under the knees. Her kimono rode nearly all the way up her thighs.

"Hold on tight," he said with a smile, glancing back, and then he took off, leaping into the trees, then bounding from treetop to treetop. With a human on his back, he was unable to turn off the pull of the earth like he normally could, but Tomiko was such a small person that he barely noticed her weight at all as he leapt nimbly across his territory.

For Tomiko, however, unused to this method of travel, it was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. She knew that Inutaisho would not let her fall, but that made it all the more fun as they traveled swiftly across the land. He was right; he could travel extremely fast, much faster than she could ever hope to travel even running. His silver hair flew into her face, and she couldn't resist taking a sniff of the wonderful stuff. He smelled soft and earthy, like the forest itself, not the least bit . . . doggy as she'd thought he might.

Within the space of a half hour, they'd traveled to the other side of the region of Kyushu, where the foothills began to grow into mountains. Inutaisho's winter lair was a small cave, with a beautiful little waterfall and a deep bathing pool not far away. Inside the cave was cozy, just as he'd said, with a pile of furs in the far corner and a pit for a fire still containing last winter's ashes.

As Tomiko slid off his back, he apologized for the negligent state of his home. "I wasn't planning on coming back here for many months," he said sheepishly. Tomiko took in the comfortable mess, and smiled to her new guardian.

"I can clean this," she said matter-of-factly.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded. "I wasn't a serving girl for nothing."

"Well, then, I'm going out to hunt us up some dinner."

Tomiko blinked in alarm. "Dinner?"

"Well, yes. The villagers only offered me a virgin, not a meal." Seeing her eyes widen in fear, he tried a more direct explanation. "Not all youkai eat human souls. I myself prefer getting my energy the old-fashioned way. I'm going to try to nab us a boar, or something along those lines. I'll also fetch a sack of rice."

"You mean . . . steal?"

Inutaisho paused. His wealth, earned over centuries from aiding humans against invading demons, was quite famous among demons, but to a human, the lands and items in his possession were more wealth than they could ever imagine. One large sack of rice could feed a village for a week, and it represented a substantial amount of money in these turbulent times.

Tomiko isn't the greedy sort, he thought, but I don't really want to disclose my actual value just yet.

To placate his new companion, he said, "I'll make sure to take it from a mean, rich warlord who is hoarding it away from his serfs anyway." Unsure of why he did so, he winked at the human, and then flew quickly away from the cave to hunt around a bit.

Left alone, Tomiko sank to her knees, trying to understand all that had happened to her in the past twenty-four hours. She'd befriended a youkai disguised as a human, been offered as a sacrifice to the same youkai in the form of a giant dog, and been championed by him, and apparently accepted as his woman.

Tomiko's purity didn't mean she had no grasp of irony. As she pondered her strange plight, a smile grew on her lips, which quickly erupted into a fountain of giggles and then a full-blown laugh. Refreshed with a newfound sense of freedom, she collected herself and set about cleaning up the cave.

She beat the winter's dust from the furs until they were soft and supple again. She formed a crude broom from the twigs that had blown into the cave, and swept the hearth free of the old ashes. She also cleared out the cobwebs from the corners with that. Then, using a strip from her already ruined kimono, she crushed a saponin plant and began to scrub down the cave walls themselves.

When Inutaisho returned, bearing an aged deer and the promised sack of rice, he was simply amazed at the transformation. In the course of a few brief hours, Tomiko had changed the dusty old winter lair into a clean, sweet-smelling room. She had even laid new wood in front for a fire, and had scrubbed clean his old rice pot and his few dishes.

"I told you I could clean this," she said, not proudly, but with a simple feminine satisfaction that warmed Inutaisho to her even more. Why couldn't there be demons like this? he wondered for the umpteenth time. In the course of one afternoon, she's corrected five centuries of neglect. A demon woman would not have seen the point and simply blown the cave up.

He handed her the sack of rice, and she started a fire with the small piece of flint she'd found, to heat the water for their food. Inutaisho took the old buck back outside to perform the necessary but messy cleaning of it.

"Inutaisho-sama, when you're ready, bring that meat back in. I'll make that dish you so favored last night."

He turned, and looked for a moment so much like the silliest, happiest puppy she'd ever seen that she had to stifle another giggle. It really was going to be all right.

Chapter Five: Ai no chikara

After she'd cooked the evening meal and they'd eaten, Tomiko suddenly felt very sleepy. It wasn't surprising, considering she'd had quite an adventure that day, and she'd also done a lot of hard work. Once they'd eaten and she'd cleaned the dishes and rice pot, she excused herself to go soak in the spring a bit.

"Hand me your kimono," Inutaisho said, earning him a wary look from Tomiko. He held his hands up defensively. "I just want to repair it. Fixing clothes is one the few constructive things a demon can do."

Still giving him a strange look, she stripped out of her simple borrowed summer kimono and obi behind a bush, and handed them to the taiyoukai, who took them reverently. She waited until he'd disappeared into the cave again, and then touched the bathing pool with one finger to gauge the temperature.

"Warm?" she said in surprise. The water in the pool was warm -- not scalding hot, but the perfect temperature for a good, relaxing bath. Curious, she padded over to the waterfall. It, too, ran warm. Was it youkai magic, or just a warm spring? Not really caring about the source of her good fortune, she gratefully pulled the combs from her hair and gave it a good scrubbing, and rinsed the mud and mess off her skin. The delicate area on her wrists was still bruised from the ropes. She pinned her hair up again, and realized with a start that her hair was only barely longer than Inutaisho's silver mane. Finally, sighing, she sank into the warm pool. Oh, that felt good . . . She closed her eyes and let the warm water sooth her sore body for a long time.

"I'll just leave this here," Inutaisho said from behind her. She stiffened, but all he could see from there was her back She heard a rattling in the bushes, and then he was gone again.

Reluctantly, she rose from the pool, the water streaming from her small body as she stepped out into the rapidly cooling evening air. She approached the bush, grateful that she'd swept off the rocks in front of the cave as well so that her feet weren't growing dirty, and plucked her kimono and obi from where he had laid them. She was stunned to see they'd been restored to new -- they were even in much better shape than they had been before her adventure. They had belonged to her older sister, who had no use for that particular style after she'd married, and while they had once been fine, they had worn over the years and been cast down to her as work clothes.

Now they were new again, the delicate embroidering standing out against the soft silk on them both.

"Youkai . . . magic?" she wondered aloud. So this was the extent of what a demon could do. She was just beginning to realize how powerful a demon her benefactor was -- even the sight of the giant dog that morning was nothing compared to seeing the loving care the youkai had taken to clean her kimono. Of course, she still had trouble believing that the giant taiyoukai was the same as her newfound friend, who in human form looked as mild mannered and kind as any noble lord, if she ignored the white-silver shock of hair and pointed ears.

After donning her kimono, tying her obi, and slipping on her socks and geta, she returned to the inside of her new home. Inutaisho had thoughtfully separated the furs into two piles, and was working on his own garments on the pile closest to the cave mouth. Her mouth suddenly went dry, although she was not sure why. The taiyoukai had taken off his formal kimono, and sat there, bare-chested, his silver mane spilling down his shoulders to brush the furs beneath him.

She had only see a man without a shirt a few times, when she'd accidentally walked in one of the couples in the less reputable back rooms of the Bara no Cha, or when a man stupidly gambled away the clothing on his back in a game of shogi. But this was much different. Those men had been older, and their backs and chests often had scars or blemishes from fights, or in some cases, even patches of hair. The taiyoukai's form was perfect, and the gash she knew she had seen earlier was completely healed now, so that his strong shoulders formed a perfect line and his broad chest and back tapered to his narrow, well-muscled waist.

"Done already?" he asked softly, but he did not look at her. Instead, his concentration stayed focused on the happi before him. Thousands of tiny shafts of light pierced the cloth, and as she watched, the blood disappeared and the cloth seemed to mend itself.

"Sugoi," she breathed involuntarily. She knelt before him, her hand reaching out to touch the threads of light, but she hesitated, fearing her hand might be sewn into the fabric.

"This is probably the only difficult spell that any youkai with a human form ever masters," he explained. "Since it is hard to purchase new human clothing, we've found it much simpler to go ahead and mend it instead."

"I see," she said. The spell wore down, and the dancing lights faded into nothing, leaving a whole, unscarred happi behind. "So not all youkai have a human form?"

Inutaisho shook his head. "Only the more powerful have more than one form. Some have a human shape as their true form, whereas most, especially the weaker ones, are monstrously designed. But the more powerful youkai have at least two forms. My true self is the giant dog you saw this morning, but over the course of my life I've always found it more comfortable to live in this shape." He grinned, and for the first time Tomiko saw that his incisors were unnaturally long, sharp, and dangerous looking. Fangs. "It's easier to find a place to sleep, for one thing," he said, causing Tomiko to giggle. She could just imagine the giant dog making a nest in the forest, destroying farms and trees as he slept.

He caught her arm, and suddenly looked serious again. "You're not afraid, Tomiko-chan? You're not afraid to sleep in the lair of a taiyoukai?"

She was taken aback by his question. "You said you would never hurt me," she said simply, gazing at him. "So far I have no reason to doubt you. You apologized for deceiving me before. I . . . can usually tell when people are being honest," she said shyly. "And you never actually said you were a human when you came to me last night, which is why I didn't know . . . and Akio really is one of your names, in some sense, although I can't see how . . . " She had a frown on her face. "You were telling me the truth even then; at least I think you were. Perhaps because you are a youkai my sense does not work."

Finally, Inutaisho figured it out. Her source of purity was not that of a miko, as he'd been thinking it was, but instead lay in her ability to sense the truth. She was a human lie detector. She could automatically tell when a person was telling the truth or a lie, and because of that, her own soul had remained unspoiled. What a treasure she was, true to her name!

Moreover, it was no wonder that the humans of her town didn't like her. Human society thrived on the polite social lie. No one would like a person who could tell if a person's words were true as they spoke them.

"Inutaisho-sama . . .?" she said, and he realized he'd been staring at her.

"I'm sorry," he said, offering her another smile. " The light outside has almost faded now. We should rest. We'll take our lives one day at a time from now on."

Tomiko nodded, and crept over to the second pile of furs, sinking into their warmth with a smile on her face. One day at a time, eh? That sounded like the safest plan. For a moment, she questioned the wisdom of sharing her gift with Inutaisho, but as she knew he'd been telling the truth, she had nothing to fear from him, no matter what her cultural instincts told her. She believed now that there could be such a thing as a good youkai.

She was asleep in moments, and began having a strange dream.

A ball of light shattered into a thousand pieces. Youkai of all shapes and sizes began searching for the shards, for they granted them unbelievable power. The youkai, blind in their greed, had no idea that the price of that power would always be death, death at the hands of a flashing sword unlike any she had ever seen.

Then she found that she, too, was a youkai, and in her forehead glowed one of the fragments of the ball of light. She tried desperately to remove it, because she knew that the power it granted was temporary and would only bring misfortune, but it would not be moved. And the strange sword came down on her, and cut her in half as she screamed, and screamed . . .

She woke all at once with a start, to find strong arms surrounding her. "A dream," she whispered, all her fear suddenly gone. Inutaisho was holding her, and in the faint moonlight that seeped into their cave, she could see his face, full of worry for her.

"Are you all right?"

"I think. I've never had a nightmare like that before," she said, her voice sounding small and weak. "I'm so sorry I woke you."

"That was no ordinary dream," Inutaisho said, not loosening his grip on her. "That was a premonition. Tell me what happened."

"A premonition? No, it couldn't be, because I was a youkai," she said, confused. She gripped Inutaisho's kimono, trying not to think about how right it felt to be held by him. He was so warm, and solid, not like the youkai she'd seen in her dream. "The youkai were dying. Thousands of them. They were chasing after shards of light that made them stronger, but each one that had one died a horrible death at the hands of . . .of a . . ." She searched for a word to describe the curved sword she had seen, but found none.

"Perhaps it wasn't a real premonition then," Inutaisho said, but pulled her closer anyway. "But I do think that it was not an ordinary dream. Given all that you have gone through, I'm not surprised that you had a nightmare, but why the death of youkai?"

"No one should have to die, not like that," Tomiko said, miserably. She thought again of the image from earlier; her entire village being burned to the ground.

"We are all destined for death," Inutaisho answered comfortingly. "It is part of the cycle of life. What is to come next, not even the youkai know, but all things with a soul must have the soul's end."

"Even youkai?"

"You saw the battle yesterday morning." His eyes flashed with the memory of the death of his cousin.

"I could feel their pain . . . that . . . thing, whatever it was, made them go mad. They lost control of their power in their quest for more. Even I did."

"Control," Inutaisho murmured, mostly to himself, and pulled Tomiko closer still, inhaling her scent again. She nestled into his chest, and he rested his head in her hair, breathing deeply of her. The sudden surge of desire returned with a vengeance, and it took all the control that Inutaisho had not to take the human woman right then and there.

But there was more than just blind lust. He wanted to protect her. He wanted to see her smile. He wanted to keep the purity of her soul safe, and he wanted the purity of her body all to himself. Can it be that I'm falling in love? he wondered, softly stroking her hair. The humans at the court of Kyoto spoke of love all the time, penning poems about it, mourning and pining over love unrequited, breaking and forming alliances for pairings and intrigue among themselves. Inutaisho had gone through the motions in his time there, but every attempt at finding a love of his own, among demon-kind, had fallen to failure. Even Sesshoumaru's conception had been an act of business, to give him an heir and his mother the elevation in power that comes when a demon female has a child. Never had there been love.

Until now.

Intoxicated by his newfound feelings and her sweet, untainted scent, he nearly forgot his promise to stay her friend, and reached down to claim her lips. But as he had discovered his love for her, she had fallen back asleep, curled into his lap. Sighing, he lay them both down onto her pile of furs, and willed himself to sleep as well, content to know that she was safe in his arms.

Chapter Six: The Pale Moon's Indifferent Face

Day broke over the hills of Kyushu slowly, the sunlight leaking across the sky like a well of light overflowing. Inutaisho had been up well before dawn, chasing a few youkai away from the entrance to the cave where they had settled, attracted to Tomiko's purity. He'd given up and lit a small fire, and the soft smoke effectively disguised her scent to all but the most powerful demons.

Then, as he turned to survey his land, he spied a lone, familiar figure standing on a ridge, watching the sunlight. A strange shadow passed over his face, and he stilled, resting his hand against the cool stone of the cave entrance. The other one looked over in his direction slowly, and they stared for several heartbeats before Inutaisho drifted across the air to join him.

The fresh day broke over the two of them, standing there. Neither had anything to say at first.

Finally, Sesshoumaru broke the silence, still staring directly at the sun as it gently bled onto the distant mountains.

"You smell like a hanyou, Father," he said in his soft, low voice.

"Nice to see you too, son," Inutaisho replied calmly. So. The news of his sheltering a human had already spread as far east as Kyoto, where Sesshoumaru, who was, unlike his father, actually not much older than he looked, had been studying per his father's request. It was to be expected. The demons of today considered themselves above humans, and even the few who were as old as he himself didn't understand his fascination with them. Of course, most of them were already in their far twilight years, whereas Inutaisho was in his prime.

The two youkai, one dressed in the simple formal kimono, the other wearing a much fancier outfit with extra bits of fur and armor, studied the rising sun of their country with eyes unburned by the brightness. They seemed so out of place in the rugged foothills, dressed as cleanly in white as they were, like polished and cut diamonds set in clay. Yet, it was only a deception, for within both ran the purest, wildest blood in all of nature. Their civilized outward show merely coated them; a veneer on the younger; a patina on the elder.

Sesshoumaru came right to the point when he spoke again. "The family will never stand to see you with a human as a mate. They will say, 'See, Inutaisho was the greatest, but how he has fallen! He has waited a thousand years only to choose a human as his mate!' The indifferent face of the moon can only witness this, for they cannot stand it, and this Sesshoumaru will not." The younger youkai turned only his eyes to look at his father.

Inutaisho raised an eyebrow. Either the language of the court had changed over the centuries since he'd been there, or his son had penned then memorized that little speech. 'This Sesshoumaru,' indeed.

"She is not my mate yet. I wished to return her to her people, but she does not want to go."

Sesshoumaru snorted, dropping his attempt to sound like a poet. "Humans. They are useless baggage. You should have thrown her back anyway."

"I think it isn't so much that she's a human as she is a female." Inutaisho smiled slightly. She was very female, all right -- tiny, but delightfully well proportioned. "And she is no ordinary human. She possesses the gift of Truth. No one, human or demon, has had that ability since Tsuki no Memorii was destroyed over eight hundred years ago."

Sesshoumaru returned his gaze to the sunrise again, digesting that bit of information for a while before replying. "Truth or not, she is not youkai, and even if you do choose her as a mate, you will outlive by for a thousand years. Our clan has always mated for life. Except for you." Sesshoumaru's voice was bitter. "Twice now you have refused to mate for life. This human, and before her my mother."

Who had broken her end of the bargain, Inutaisho thought, the bitter pain returning. Yumemaru, once known as Yumeko, the Dream Inscriber, had agreed to bear his child, for motherhood allows female demons the greatest power any demon could hope to achieve, and he had felt it was time to have an heir. She had expanded her territory far across the northern part of the island while she carried his son, then, once he was born, reneged on the bargain. Instead of naming their child Inusesshou, as they had agreed, she had named him after her own clan, and then attempted to kill Inutaisho so that their son could claim his inheritance, the land of Kyushu, immediately. She had also inexplicably changed her name to the masculine form. Their battle had been long, and in the end, she had been willing to sacrifice their newborn son to save her own skin. Inutaisho had had to destroy her, a fact that hurt him every time he saw his son's face. He bore her markings and her name, for once a Dream demon is named into the clan he or she cannot change it. Sesshoumaru would be Sesshoumaru forever.

But Inutaisho said nothing. His son had made a point, one that struck a little too close to Inutaisho's heart for him to be comfortable with it. Although he probably wouldn't live another thousand years (no youkai, no matter how powerful, live that long), if he chose Tomiko as his life mate, she'd be dead before another hundred years were over. Love was not powerful enough to break the circle of life, a fact that Sesshoumaru never hesitated to remind anyone, especially his own father. Motherly love certainly hadn't been powerful enough to do it for him.

* * *

Tomiko woke to find her face buried in the softness of fur. Yawning gently, she wondered why she was on fur instead of her futon in one of the back rooms of the Bara no Cha. Then she remembered it all, and a soft smile stole across her face. Her friend had comforted her in the night. She had sleep peacefully afterward, warmly embraced by the taiyoukai.

But he was gone now. She sat up and stretched, and yawned, catching a faint drift of smoke again. He must have been up earlier.

Living in a cave wouldn't be so bad. With the bathing pool around the corner, and the forest a few steps down the rocks outside, she'd be comfortable enough to live here indefinitely. She had no friends in the village, and probably the only person that would miss her was her mother, the only one who knew the true nature of her gift. Whereas the other villagers had hated her for her clear, simple gaze that pierced through any spoken lie, her mother had loved her most of all for it.

Tomiko stood up efficiently, found her geta, and started to go outside to begin her morning ablutions. But as she tipped her head around the mouth of the cave, looking for Inutaisho, she stopped, and rubbed her eyes. Was she seeing double?

They were both so far away that at first she couldn't tell which was which. Both stood tall and proud, facing the morning sun, their silver hair drifting slightly in the gentle morning breeze. She studied them more closely, and decided that Inutaisho was the one on the right, as his kimono was what she remembered from the day before. The other one's kimono was much flashier. He looked like he had come straight from the court at Kyoto.

Brothers? she wondered. Do youkai have brothers? Families? The two youkai seemed identical as their stared at the land. Then the one on the left turned toward her, and she saw that his face bore stripes like claw marks, and on his forehead was a deep blue crescent moon.

* * *

"Your human is awake," Sesshoumaru said coolly, glancing at Tomiko's round, staring eyes. "What a scrawny thing. She looks like she's barely old enough to stand on her own."

"She's actually not much younger than you, pup," Inutaisho warned. "Don't age yourself beyond your years."

Sesshoumaru, still very young sometimes, tried to ignore the jibe but ended up blushing anyway. "This Sesshoumaru will leave now," he said. "But Father, know this: the youkai have no use for one who chooses a human over his own family. Even if Inuaoiryu was out of place in his attack, if anyone connects your taking of the girl with his destruction, your lives will be in danger."

With that, the younger youkai walked to where he had parked his chariot, and it rose from the rocky hill in a swirling cloud of air, pulled a lesser dragon demon. Sesshoumaru could not fly like his father. Inutaisho watched his son until he disappeared, then went to find Tomiko, who was still peering out of the cave mouth, her eyes and mouth perfect Os.

Inutaisho greeted her with a smile. "My method of transportation is a bit more humble than Sesshoumaru's," he said, not wanting to explain exactly who the other youkai was at the moment. Someday, of course, he'd tell her about Sesshoumaru, but for now, it was too delicate a situation. The great clan of inu-yokai wasn't the most accepting lot. "However, my lady, would you like to take a tour of my kingdom today?"

Tomiko blinked for a moment, as she'd been expecting an introduction to what she thought must be her benefactor's brother, but she decided to let the matter drop. Inutaisho could only mean to carry her on his back again. The thought of experiencing that terrifying, thrilling flight again was more than enough to make her forget the strange youkai.

"I'd love to," she said. "But first . . . can you please look away?"

Puzzled, Inutaisho complied.

After a few moments, she said, "You can turn around now." As he did, he saw that she'd rearranged her summer kimono to bare her legs, tucking the edges up between them, to form a crude pair of pants. More than slightly turned on by her logical actions, it was hard for him to stop staring wolfishly at her long enough for her to clamber onto his back and tuck her legs around his waist.

"I think we'll need to pick up some different traveling clothes for you," the taiyoukai said, and then leapt into the air, landing on a far tree branch. She needed them, as much for her own comfort as for his. Having her glomped onto him, her bare legs riding his hips, was far too distracting to be safe.

The woods were always full of minor youkai, especially away from the cities as they were. Distractions, no matter how pleasant, were always dangerous.

End Part One