Kagome yawned and slowly opened her eyes to the dawn

I do not own Inuyasha and Company, no matter how happy it would make me. Rumiko Takahashi does.

This was written for iyficcontest (http/community. Week 136 – Odd Gifts

Title: Tradition

Word length: 8780

Rating: PG-13 for Inuyasha swearing

Warnings: Waaaaayyy longer than I intended when I started!

Pairing: Sess/Kag

Kagome yawned and slowly opened her eyes to the dawn. She had finally gotten used to rising with the sun after all the time she'd spent with Inuyasha. It was either that or be woken by an impatient and not so gentle hanyou. He had a tendency to 'nudge' her with his foot to wake her up and she had bruises to prove it. She stretched in her sleeping bag before sitting up. As her eyes adjusted to the light she rubbed the crusties from them and glanced around the camp, smiling as she took in the sight of her still sleeping companions.

Sometime during the night Miroku had scooted close to Sango and now he lay with her back pressed to his chest and an arm around her waist. He would pay for it when the slayer woke but at that moment he looked absolutely content and peaceful, and Sango didn't look too uncomfortable either. Shippo was cuddled against Kirara, her two tails covering his little body from the early morning chill, and Inuyasha was nowhere to be seen.

The young miko yawned again and turned to reach for her backpack, but instead she let out an ear-splitting shriek. The others were awake in an instant, holding weapons and looking around for the demon that had caused Kagome to scream. When neither Sango nor Miroku saw nor sensed any danger they looked at Kagome and saw what had her so frightened. There, sitting right next to her pillow and in front of her big yellow bag, was the head of a boar demon. Its eyes were open and lifeless and it looked as if it were staring right at her.

When Kagome finally regained the ability to move she was out of her sleeping bag and behind Sango in seconds. Miroku went over to investigate while Sango tried to soothe her friend. Just as Miroku was about to poke the disembodied head with the end of his staff Inuyasha came barreling into camp, sword drawn and ready for battle, and his golden eyes scanning the area frantically. When he found no one to attack he dropped the tip of his sword to the ground and whirled on Kagome.

"What the fuck were you screaming for? I thought you were being attacked!" Kagome just glared at him and Sango pointed to where Miroku was still inspecting the item that had appeared some time during the night. Inuyasha sheathed his sword and went over to join the monk. "Where'd this come from?"

"Don't you think if I knew that I wouldn't have had the life scared out of me when I saw it?" Kagome said in a dangerous tone. "Where were you? How could that thing get so close to me while you were supposed to be keeping watch?" She watched as the hanyou looked down and to his left in silence. Knowing that she was as likely to get an answer from him as it was likely for Naraku to come skipping into their camp in a tutu and hand her his portion of the jewel, she sighed and focused her attention elsewhere. "Is it dead, Miroku?"

They'd seen some unbelievable things in their travels, including headless bodies decimating acres of forest and bodies of demons reassembling themselves, so she wasn't taking any chances. In her mind there was every possibility for the thing to be alive and just waiting to attack somehow.

Miroku poked the thing a few more times with his staff and Inuyasha crouched down and stared into its eyes before giving its nose a good flick. When nothing happened he stood back up and turned to look at the two women. "It's dead. Been dead for maybe two… three hours tops." He looked around the ground and noticed that there was not a single drop of blood anywhere other than the small puddle where the neck had met with the ground. "Whoever put it here drained most of the blood out of the head, like they didn't want it to be messy or something."

Kagome gave her half-demon friend an incredulous look. "Who in the world would put a demon's head next to me while I was sleeping??" He merely shrugged his shoulders before picking the thing up by the hair and tossing it into the bushes at the edge of the clearing.

"See? All gone. Now can you start breakfast?" Sango grabbed Kagome's arm as the miko did her best impression of an intimidating growl and took a threatening step towards the oblivious and hungry hanyou. Finally, when she saw that he wasn't going to let it go Kagome stomped over to her bag, being sure to step carefully around the small pool of drying blood, pulled an instant ramen cup out of her bag, and proceeded to throw it at Inuyasha's head. Miroku had to hold in a laugh when the Styrofoam cup bounced off the hanyou's forehead and Sango rolled her eyes before following Kagome into the woods.

A short distance away a shadowy figure watched the proceedings. She'd discovered her 'gift' but she hadn't reacted quite as he had planned. He was almost shaking with rage when he saw the hanyou toss away his carefully obtained offering. He fought to calm himself. He would just have to do it again. She was a smart girl. She would figure it out soon enough. Besides, it was worth it to see her bounce something off the hanyou's head.

It was driving her absolutely insane. It didn't scare her anymore. Well, okay, it startled her sometimes when she first woke, but she was almost expecting it now. Every day for the last week Kagome had woke to the head of some demon or other sitting next to her pillow as if it was watching her sleep. Inuyasha was getting frustrated too. After the first time, he had stayed awake, alert, and most importantly, at camp, keeping an eye out for whomever it was that was bringing the things. Somehow though, every single night he was distracted in some way or another by a sound or scent that he had to go investigate, and by the time he got back it was there.

Miroku and Sango had both tried to stay up and stand guard as well, Shippo too, but it was like the nightly visitor knew when they dozed off for just a few moments. The visitor also had to have had help of some kind or some serious power to be able to simulate the scent of different demons or to lead Inuyasha away from camp with the sounds of rustling bushes. How could he, assuming it was a male visitor, lead Inuyasha away and leave the 'gift' at the same time? It just didn't seem possible.

They'd given up on their travel for the moment and were almost to Kaede's village, each hoping that the old miko might have some idea as to what was going on. Why would someone keep bringing her heads of all things? It just didn't make sense. She certainly didn't want them!

When they'd arrived at the village and spoke with Kaede they were disappointed to hear that the old miko had no answers for them. Since they were close to the well anyway, Kagome managed to talk Inuyasha into letting her go home for a few days, mostly with the promise of more ramen. Needless to say, Kagome enjoyed those three days that were a much needed break from severed heads. She'd almost forgotten what it was like to wake up without a pair of dead eyes staring at her but while in her time she was thankfully reminded of what a peaceful night's sleep was and waking up to nothing but sunshine coming through her windows and her cat Buyo laying atop herIt was a short visit though with Inuyasha insisting that she return so they could continue their hunt for the shards, and the miko from the future didn't get to spend anywhere near enough time in a hot bath or a soft bed.

When she returned to the past, Inuyasha was waiting for her at the well to walk her safely to the village. "So," Kagome started, the curiosity nearly killing her. "Any heads while I was away?"

The hanyou snorted at her oddly worded question before shaking his head. "No, wench. No heads while you were gone."

"Oh," she said softly. Well, now she had her answer. The heads were definitely intended for her, but what were they? Were they some kind of threat or a warning? Did they mean something and none of them knew what? Why oh why would someone leave her heads??

In the shadows he watched again. She had returned from wherever the well took her, safe and sound. He had nearly lost his mind while she was gone, not knowing why she had jumped into a dry well or how she had disappeared instead of lying broken at the bottom. The soft breeze carried her sweet scent to him and he calmed instantly. He would just have to make sure she didn't go through the well again, at least not until he understood it. He wasn't sure he could handle it if she disappeared again.

She couldn't decide whether to be relieved or confused. When she woke in the morning in Kaede's hut there was no head staring at her, but instead there were three dead rabbits. They were all rather bothered by the whole thing considering that Inuyasha hadn't left the hut all night. How someone or something got in to leave small dead animals they had no idea. No one had heard a thing and according to both Inuyasha and Shippo, the rabbits held no scent other than their own. The hanyou had eventually decided that the small mammals had their necks snapped, and after a thorough examination by everyone but Kagome, who refused to touch the things, they were deemed safe and became breakfast.

The group sat outside around a small fire, the scent of roasting rabbit filling the air as they talked, trying to determine a course of action. It didn't seem like they were in danger or that the 'gifts' were ominous in any way, just odd, so even though they still had no answers they decided to set out right after breakfast, ready to chase down another rumor about a jewel shard.

Standing, hidden in the shadows of the tree line yet again, he growled softly. They were all eating what he'd left for her and her alone. Her friends and companions were more hassle than they were worth. Not only were they making it increasingly difficult for him to leave his 'gifts' without detection, but they were helping themselves to his offering. He needed to think of something else, something that only she would need, something that would clearly convey his message, because it was obvious that so far she had no idea what he was saying with his gifts.

He growled again. The hanyou should have figured it out by now, and he was certain the kitsune, though young, would recognize it as well, but neither said a word. Even the slayer, he thought, would have had some idea. Yes, they were more trouble than they were worth if they couldn't help her understand his message.

The last few mornings had arrived with the discovery of more 'offerings' as Kagome had begun to silently consider them. There were more rabbits one day, several fish left near her two days in a row, and a medium sized boar left to her once as well. Whoever it was that was leaving these things apparently thought she needed to eat. She didn't mind these anywhere near as much as the heads. Sure, it was odd and she still wondered who it was, but it was mysterious, almost like she had a secret admirer, and soon Kagome found herself looking forward to discovering what the latest 'gift' would be.

It wasn't long before her afternoons were spent sitting and staring dreamily off into the forest while her teenage mind imagined all the wonderful things that the strange happenings could mean. It was clear now that the gifts were not meant as a threat or a warning. Was it really possible that someone out there was interested in her and was trying to tell her through the gifts? Yes, they were a little weird for her, but then again she wasn't in her time. In the modern era a secret admirer would leave flowers or candies or poems. Maybe it wasn't such a stretch for food to be from an admirer. She still didn't understand the heads, but she found that she no longer cared.

She was tired of waiting for Inuyasha to make up his mind. She was tired of him running off the Kikyo whenever she summoned him with her soul collectors. He was like a slave to the walking corpse, or a puppet. She controlled him and he let her. Kagome was tired of it. Inuyasha was strong in so many ways, but when it came to Kikyo he was weak, and it was that weakness that kept him blind to her manipulations. She was tired of being lonely and lovesick, and the idea of a secret admirer poked that spot in her heart that had once belonged to her puppy-eared friend without her even realizing it.

He watched her in the afternoons when her group stopped walking for the day and set up camp. He saw how she stared into the distance, but she wasn't just staring off into the distance. She was staring right at him, she just didn't know it. She couldn't see him, he was certain, because if she did she certainly wouldn't just look at him, but no matter where he watched from, that was the direction she looked. He couldn't keep the small smile off his face. She was drawn to him, connected to him just as he was to her, and soon she would be his forever.

When Kagome woke that morning and looked around there was something missing. There was no gift waiting for her. She wasn't expecting the pain that came with that discovery. Had something happened to her secret admirer? Had he given up or decided on someone better, someone stronger or prettier? She spent the whole day moping, and it was something that did not escape the notice of her companions.

Inuyasha was in a sour mood all day. Shippo had confirmed his suspicions as to what was going on and he didn't like it one bit. Kagome was his! She was his miko, his friend, his jewel detector, and someday she would be his mate. He just had to find a way to help Kikyo move on and release him so he could have her all to himself. And now someone was sneaking around courting his Kagome!

She had no idea of course, and he intended to keep it that way. If she didn't know what the gifts meant then she wouldn't be receptive when the coward finally showed his face. He'd been wracking his brain in an effort to figure out who it could be. It was obviously a demon, considering they were following demon courting rites, but he was almost sure that it wasn't the wolf. Kouga was bold and he absolutely loved rubbing Inuyasha's nose in it whenever he came around claiming Kagome as his woman. No, the wolf wouldn't court her from a distance. He would be right up their asses, being as arrogant and oblivious as always.

It only made matters worse when Kagome was visibly depressed by the lack of a gift that morning. He'd been happy of course, thinking that maybe the guy had given up, but for her to be so affected by it meant she was somehow developing some kind of feelings for the demon though she had no idea who he was or what his intentions truly were. Inuyasha was almost relieved when he spotted his half-brother in the distance. He was itching for a fight and Sesshoumaru was as good of an opponent as anyone, better even since he was strong. The hanyou wasn't in the mood for an easy fight. He had some serious frustration to work out and he was more than happy to take it out on the condescending taiyoukai.

Kagome tried to ignore the whole thing, intending to sit and stare at the trees again, but she just couldn't get comfortable. She was constantly shifting and she couldn't find a good place to focus her gaze, so eventually she gave up and watched the fight instead. She found herself staring at Sesshoumaru, watching his graceful movements in comparison to Inuyasha's wild ones. He almost looked like he was floating or dancing or both rather than fighting with his sibling.

Usually she would get involved at some point, trying to stop the fight before Inuyasha ended up hurt too badly, but this time she just sat there. It seemed like hours before the hanyou was flat on his back, fighting to catch his breath while Sesshoumaru held the tip of his sword to his throat. It was at that moment that he looked at her - right at her - and Kagome found she couldn't look away. There was expression, emotions in his eyes that she'd never seen before. It looked like he was trying to convey a message with his eyes alone and even though she didn't have a clue what it was it gave her goose bumps. Then he was gone and Kagome sucked in a breath, not realizing she'd been holding it the whole time he held her gaze. She didn't know what just happened, but whatever it was it was powerful.

They hadn't gone any further that day. Sesshoumaru had done a number on Inuyasha and it didn't seem likely that he would be doing much moving for at least a few more days, so they made themselves a comfortable campsite. Kagome cleaned and dressed his wounds, surprised that he didn't fuss about it like usual. Instead he just watched her silently.

He'd noticed how Kagome was distracted during the fight and he certainly hadn't missed the way Sesshoumaru looked at her. After some serious contemplation he decided that Sesshoumaru must know who it was that was courting her and was evaluating her worth. The taiyoukai always had a desire to know and understand things. Maybe he was just curious about Kagome and why a demon would court a human, a miko no less.

Inuyasha was creeping her out with the way he was looking at her. It was funny almost. She'd waited forever for him to look at her like that and when he finally did she didn't want it anymore. He was too late, she decided. She'd waited for him, given him chance after chance only to have her efforts and affections thrown back in her face. She wouldn't give him another opportunity to break her heart by running off to Kikyo. She was done being weak.

The next morning Kagome was once again disappointed to discover no gift waiting for her when she woke, or at least she was for a little bit. When she saw it, for a moment she was certain she was imagining it, but sitting there next to her pillow was a jewel shard. With a shaking hand she reached out and picked it up, watching as it was purified the instant she touched it. She didn't know what to think. From the odd quality to the previous gifts she'd assumed that her secret admirer was a demon, but for a demon to hand over a jewel shard willingly and without being asked or anything… she didn't think it was possible. There was only one demon she could think of that was powerful enough…

She slammed on the emergency breaks of her train of thought before the tracks could lead her somewhere dangerous. It wasn't possible. It was laughable but not possible. She shook her head and her hand closed around the small pink shard. No matter how certain she was that it couldn't possibly be him, she couldn't keep the small smile from her lips. If only it were true. He was an absolute Adonis. She could look at him for days on end and never get bored. She might drown in her own drool but she would never be bored. 'Oh, Inuyasha would just flip.'

From the look on her face he knew she'd finally figured it out. He allowed a smug smirk to appear on his face. He watched as she silently slipped the shard in the small bottle she wore around her neck, not saying a word to anyone. 'Interesting. She does not intend to tell her companions about the shard?' He frowned when he saw her shake her head and laugh. 'She does not believe it.'

'And why would she?' his beast growled in his mind. 'You have shown her nothing but violence, spoke of nothing but your hatred of human and hanyou alike.'

'This Sesshoumaru knows no other way to convince her. I have followed the traditional courting.'

'You are not courting a demoness. She did not understand the meaning of our previous gifts. Ask the child. She will know.'

Kagome didn't know why she kept the shard a secret. It just seemed right to do so. No one needed to know about it. No one would question one extra shard. They wouldn't even notice, so it didn't matter. She'd spent the entire day trying to catch up on her schoolwork, poignantly ignoring Inuyasha's stare. There was something going on with him but she didn't know what. Something was bothering him. 'Maybe he's just upset that he got beat by Sesshoumaru,' she thought, but she wasn't convinced.

The next morning she was unsure of how to react. She didn't know if she wanted to smile or laugh. Waiting for her was the oddest combination of gifts she'd ever seen. There was three rabbits, a whole watermelon, a large leaf piled high with berries, a bouquet of wildflowers, and the second best, another demon head. The best was the little silk drawstring bag, or rather its contents. When she poured them in her hand her eyes widened comically. There in the palm of her hand was a pile of jewel shards, a big pile.

'I don't think I've ever seen this many shards in the same place!' she thought, even her mental voice sounding shocked. 'How in the world did he…' She stopped herself when she realized she was about to think that it was him. She had already decided there was no way it could possibly be him, but the evidence to confirm her suspicions was becoming rather hard to ignore.

She couldn't keep the bright smile off her face as she reached past the demon head, barely even noticing it this time, to grab a few berries. She popped them in her mouth and was reaching for more when she heard a rustling to her right. Kagome turned and saw Shippo standing a few feet away, staring at the ground with a guilty look on his face. "Shippo? Is something wrong?"

The little kit looked up at her with wide green eyes that held worries a child should never have to carry. She opened her arms to him and he threw himself against her. When Kagome heard a threatening growl she looked around, finally realizing the sound was coming from Inuyasha. "Inuyasha? Is something the matter?"

Inuyasha knew it was too late. The kit felt guilty not telling her the meaning of the gifts and now he was going to spill the beans and there was no way to stop him. Instead he just let out a "K'eh," and turned away, not wanting to see her face when she found out what they'd been keeping from her.

"Kagome?" Shippo asked in a soft voice, unsure of how to start.

The miko could see his hesitance and set out to reassure him. "Whatever it is Shippo, you can tell me. I promise I won't be mad."

"I wanted to tell you! I wanted to tell you as soon as I realized it but Inuyasha made me promise not too!" Once he got started it was like the dam broke and it all came rushing out. "The gifts… they're courting gifts. When a demon wants a demoness for his mate he has to prove himself worthy. It is the duty of the male to protect the female and to provide for her. He has to show her that he is strong, powerful enough to keep not only her safe but any pups they might have too. It is also his job to keep his mate well fed. He… he's been showing. He's been proving his worth to you in hopes of you accepting and becoming his mate.

Kagome was silent for a few minutes, allowing her time to digest the new information. "So the heads were…"

"To show that he is a strong fighter," Shippo finished for her.

"And the rabbits and other food was all to show that he could provide for me?" The little kitsune nodded his head. "And Inuyasha knew what it meant and wouldn't let you tell me?" Her voice was beginning to take on a dangerous tone and the hanyou who'd been listening in silence winced at the thought of how many times she would 'sit' him for this.

"He didn't want you to know so you wouldn't be able to accept. I think he didn't like the competition."

Kagome smiled. 'Ah, the things children say…' Children often say things that others would never dare to, not realizing the implications of their words, and Shippo was no different. He didn't stop for a moment to think that maybe Inuyasha didn't want Kagome to know that he was worried about competition. He just told her honestly what he thought, also not realizing that the hanyou would more likely than not want to kill him for blabbing his secret, but it didn't matter. He had Kagome to protect him anyway.

"Okay, so what about the flowers and the fruit? He's never left those before."

Shippo shrugged his little shoulders. "I dunno. It's not a part of demon courting."

"Perhaps your admirer has decided to take a more human approach?" Miroku asked from where he'd been sitting, listening silently to the revelations.

Kagome's smile widened. "Maybe he had some help."

"But who would…" Shippo started, stopping when Kagome set him on the ground and stood up.

"Oh, I can think of someone," the miko said before giving them all a quick wave. "I'll be back in a little while."

"Where are you going?" Miroku asked, concerned.

"To go visit with my admirer of course," she said with a smirk.

"But Kagome! We don't even know who it is! It could be dangerous to go out there alone!" Sango called after her.

"I'll be fine! I know who it is!"

They all watched as she disappeared into the forest, a bounce in her step, before turning to glare at Inuyasha. "What?" he snapped at them. He wasn't in a very good mood considering he'd just watched his last chance with Kagome vanish before his eyes.

'Finally,' he thought. If he wasn't such a dignified demon he would have let out a sigh of relief. 'The kitsune has finally explained it to her.' The taiyoukai allowed a small smile to curve his lips as he glanced back at the little girl who had helped him. He should have asked her in the first place. He was almost certain things would have gone a lot smoother if he had, and Kagome wouldn't have been frightened by his first few gifts either.

He was surprised when he noticed the miko approaching. He hadn't expected her to come to him, at least not so soon. He straightened his posture and flicked his hair over his shoulder where it fell into place with the rest of his long silver strands, flowing like a waterfall down his back. He watched as she got closer and found that he was quite proud of her. She'd been able to locate him without any real effort. Yes, she was more than deserving of the honor he would bestow upon her.

It wasn't until she could see him that Kagome realized she had no idea what to say. She didn't know whether to just march right up to him and ask why he didn't just say something to her or if she should play coy. In the end, she just stood there and stared at him, frozen in place.

He noticed her expression when he watched her stop moving. She looked like a deer that had noticed a moment too late that it was being stalked and would soon be a nice dinner for some bigger, stronger creature. "Is there something that you desire of this Sesshoumaru?" he asked with a small smirk on his face. When she didn't answer, only swallowed and stared, he took a few steps towards her, evaluating her comfort level in his presence. When she didn't back away he continued until he was just inches from her. His hand came up and he caressed her cheek, more than pleased that she didn't flinch away from his touch.

"Why?" she whispered while staring up into his eyes.

"Why?" he repeated, unsure what exactly she was asking him about.

"Why the gifts? Why me?"

"You are the only one deemed worthy of this Sesshoumaru."

Kagome let out a snort and pulled her face out of his reach. ""The only one 'worthy'? Oh for Kamis' sakes, that is your reason?"

"Is it not a suitable one?" he said more than asked.

"No! Not even close! No, I won't even consider it if that's your only reason."

Sesshoumaru couldn't stop the small frown that slipped its way past his defenses. She didn't want him? He didn't think it was possible for a female to turn him down, but apparently she could. What possible reason could she be looking for?

She watched as the taiyoukai thought. 'Ha! Thinks that he can have me because he thinks I'm 'worthy'? I'd be better off with Inuyasha and he can't choose between me and a walking corpse!' She refused to put herself in that position again. She was always left feeling insecure around Inuyasha because she didn't know where she truly stood with him. She kept coming back over and over when he hurt her, like a kicked puppy crawling back to its master, tail between its legs. She knew what she wanted, what she needed, and if Sesshoumaru couldn't give it to her then she would just have to find someone else.

He didn't know what she was waiting for, what she wanted him to say. He had chosen her. Did she not understand the honor he was bestowing upon her with that choice? "You are the one this Sesshoumaru has selected. No other reason is needed."

Kagome just laughed before turning around and walking away. She turned around, walking backwards for a moment while she spoke. "I need another reason and if it's not there then it's not there. I'm sure you'll find someone suitable that won't need anything more than the fact that they were chosen. Thanks for the gifts, especially the shards… and thank Rin for me too. I know the fruit and flowers had to be her idea." She turned again and continued her departure before stopping in place. This time she didn't turn around to face him. "If you really have no idea what it is I'm looking for then maybe you should ask her. I'm sure she'll know."

He watched her in stunned silence. She was really walking away from him. She had really just turned him down, rejected him, and he had no idea why. What had he done wrong? He'd followed the courting steps and even followed Rin's suggestions about human traditions. What more did she want from him? Sesshoumaru was angry. No one turned him down! He was the Lord of the Western Lands, taiyoukai and most powerful demon in all of Japan. She should have fallen to her knees at his feet and given thanks that he had selected her, not walk away from him.

Somewhere under the anger was another feeling, something he didn't recognize, something he was certain he'd never felt before. 'What is this sensation, this emotion?' he thought to himself.

His beast scoffed at him. 'It's sadness… loss… defeat… Tell me, do you really believe that you simply chose the miko because of her suitability? Because if you do you are a fool. There are many demonesses that would be far more appropriate as our mate, yet you chose a human miko. Be honest with yourself and me. There is another reason. You just don't know how to handle it so you deny that it exists.'

'This Sesshoumaru is no fool.'

'Then why did you choose a human as a mate?'

For a moment Sesshoumaru was going to give every reason Kagome was suitable, her power, her loyalty, the list was quite long. Then he realized that none of those reasons really explained it. His beast was right. He had chosen her for some other reason… he just didn't understand what it was.

His beast mentally smirked. Finally his master got it through his thick skull that there was something else going on, something unknown to him, something he'd never before experienced. 'The miko had a good suggestion. Ask the child. She was right once. She may be right again.'

Kagome was teetering between the urge to laugh and the need to cry. It was absolutely ridiculous that she had thought for even a moment that Sesshoumaru could have feelings for her. He chose her for other reasons, reasons she didn't understand, but other reasons nonetheless. He didn't choose her because he was attracted to her or because he loved her. She was chosen like someone would choose a sperm donor, by looking over a list of traits until you found one that sounded good. There was nothing emotional about it, but then why would there be? He was as cold and emotionless as they got, wasn't he?

She wanted to smack herself for wanting to cry. She should never have allowed herself to develop feelings. Even before she guessed it was him she was falling for her secret admirer. She'd seen the whole thing as romantic when apparently it had been more like a business transaction. She had been a fool to allow herself to feel anything towards the icy and stoic demon, and now she would suffer the consequences, the pain of rejection. Sure, she rejected him, but only because he didn't see her as anything more than a qualified candidate. In doing so, he rejected her need for an emotional attachment.

'I should have known better. Why did I think that Sesshoumaru might… might… love me? Stupid, stupid Kagome! Of course he doesn't love you! Inuyasha doesn't love you and Sesshoumaru certainly doesn't!' The cruel voice in her head pointed out. 'No one loves Kagome. I'm just a shard detector to Inuyasha, and a replacement for Kikyo when she's gone. And I'm just a qualified candidate to be his mate to Sesshoumaru! What is so wrong with me?'

She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her shirt as she realized she was almost to their campsite. Inuyasha would probably be a huge jerk, gloat and say 'I told you so' or something similar. Maybe he was right to keep the meaning behind the gifts from her. If Shippo hadn't told her she would never have made such a fool out of herself expecting Sesshoumaru, the Sesshoumaru, to have somehow morphed into Romeo instead of the Killing Perfection. It had to be the stupidest thing she'd ever thought.

She sniffled and paused to compose herself before walking into the clearing, finding Miroku, Sango, Shippo, and even Kirara looking at her expectantly. Inuyasha was nowhere to be found. Kagome just walked over to her sleeping bag and plopped down on it, looking at the ground in front of her and ignoring the gentle questioning of her friends. She really didn't want to talk about it.

Sesshoumaru returned to his small campsite and sat down against the trunk of a large tree, watching as the little human girl he cared for stirred awake. Rin sat up and looked around. She smiled when she spotted him, but then frowned when she saw the look on his face. She'd spent enough time with him to be able to recognize the minute differences between his expressions. "Lord Sesshoumaru?"

"Rin, come here." She came over, sat down in front of him, and looked at him expectantly.

"Did Kagome not like the presents?"

"She did. She asked me to thank you for her. But Rin, she was not happy with the reason this Sesshoumaru gave for choosing her."

Rin smiled. She'd never before seen her Lord look uncomfortable and unsure, but at that moment he did. "What reason did you give?"

"That she was the one deemed worthy," he answered. He watched as the little girl rolled her eyes at him. She looked so much like Kagome at that moment that it hurt.

"Lord Sesshoumaru, can Rin ask you some questions?" He gave a short nod for her to continue. "Do you think Kagome's pretty?"

"This Sesshoumaru finds her attractive, yes."

"Do you worry about her, if she's safe when you're not with her?"

"Rin, what is the purpose of these questions?" he asked, not sure where she was going with this.

"Rin thinks she knows the reason Kagome wanted and I'm trying to figure out if you have it. Do you worry about whether she's safe or not?" This time he merely nodded. "Do you think about her at night?" Another nod. "Do you like it when she smiles?" Again he nodded. "How do you feel when she's sad?" He really didn't know how to answer that one. Rin understood and continued. "What about when she cries?"

"This Sesshoumaru wishes to punish any who make her sad and kill those responsible for her tears."

The little girl smiled. "Do you want to do things for her just because? Do you want her to smile at you?"

"Yes," was his only reply. They both looked over when they heard Jaken stirring awake before returning to their conversation.

"Do you want to hug her, hold her when she sleeps like you do when Rin has a scary dream?"

"What are you babbling about, you foolish girl? Lord Sesshoumaru does not 'hug'," Jaken squawked, spitting out the last word like it left a bad taste in his mouth. The toad was silenced by a death glare from the demon lord and he scurried away to find something to do, hoping to avoid his master's wrath. Rin smiled again. It was always funny when Jaken got in trouble.

"Continue," Sesshoumaru said softly, reminding her of what she was doing before they were interrupted.

"Does thinking about her make you happy?"

Sesshoumaru looked thoughtful for a minute. Did thinking about Kagome make him happy? A small smile pulled at his lips unbidden and he had his answer. So did Rin. The thought of Kagome did make him happy.

"Do you think about her a lot?" He nodded as he realized that it was true. Kagome did take up a large portion of his thoughts. "Rin has one last question for Lord Sesshoumaru. Do you want to kiss Kagome?" He nodded and her entire face lit up. "Rin was right!"

Sesshoumaru lifted a brow, curious was to just what Rin was right about. He watched as she stood up and began to dance happily around the clearing, laughing as she spun around and around. Finally his impatience got the best of him. "Rin! What is it that you are right about?"

She stopped spinning and looked at him with her toothy grin. "Lord Sesshoumaru is in love with Kagome!"

Sesshoumaru simply stared while the little girl began her happy dance again. 'Love?' Was it possible that was what she was looking for?'

When Rin finally noticed his confused expression she skipped over to stand before him. "Every girl dreams about finding the perfect man, Mi'Lord. Someone to love them and to spend their lives with."

"Every girl?"

"Yes Mi'Lord! Rin wants to get married someday, maybe to that boy… Kohaku."

Finally he understood. Kagome thought he wanted her for some logical or strategical reason, and he basically confirmed it, when she wanted him to have chosen her for an emotional reason. She had been asking him if he loved her and he might as well have told her no.

"Does this mean that she harbors feelings for this Sesshoumaru as well?"

"Did she look sad?"

He thought about it for a moment. "Yes, she seemed sad and disappointed. But this Sesshoumaru cannot simply tell her now. She is likely to assume that I am only saying what she wants to hear."

Rin looked contemplative for a few minutes before jumping up and down and squealing in excitement. "Rin knows what Lord Sesshoumaru should do!"

Three days had passed since Kagome had made a fool of herself thinking that Sesshoumaru could have feelings for her. She was still upset but she was doing her best to hide it from her friends. Every time one of them asked she would insist that she was fine. She refused to talk about it and they were all worried about her.

Even Inuyasha was concerned, and not just because he was curious about what happened while she was away from camp, but because he'd never seen her look so broken before, not even when he'd abandoned her for Kikyo. It bothered him that she was more upset about the mystery admirer than she'd ever been about him. He knew now for sure that she would never be his.

"Kagome, either tell us what happened or stop moping," he said harshly, frustrated with the whole thing.

She turned around and glared at him before softly saying, "Sit." The grunt of pain when his body slammed into the ground made her smile for the first time in three days. She was still kicking herself. She had actually thought it possible that he would keep trying, that he really did want her for another reason, but he hadn't shown his face and there hadn't been gifts in the morning either.

"God Damnit Bitch! What the fuck? I didn't do a damn thing! I just told you to quit being so depressed!"

She whirled on the hanyou and gave him a death glare that oddly reminded him of his older half-brother. "What happened is none of your damn business, but if it will get you to stop bugging me about it then fine! He didn't love me. Hell, he didn't even like me! I was just the most qualified candidate! Happy now? I told him that I needed a better reason than that and apparently I wasn't worth the extra effort. I was stupid to even think he would!"

Kagome turned away with tears streaming down her face and took off into the forest, Sango following close behind. Inuyasha simply stared after her until Miroku's staff collided with the back of his skull.

"What the hell, Monk? I didn't do it!"

"How many times must she say she does not wish to discuss it? She wasn't ready to talk about it but you forced her to. Do you enjoy bringing her pain?"

Neither of them heard or sensed their visitor, too focused on yelling at each other, until he spoke. "She is wrong. Her admirer not only has a very good reason for courting her but he has not given up." They both turned around to see Sesshoumaru standing there in all his regal glory. He took a few steps forward and before Inuyasha knew what to do he'd been punched in the face. "That is for upsetting her. Do make sure not to do so again or I may not be so lenient." Sesshoumaru then turned to Miroku and held out a small drawstring bag similar to the one he'd given her the jewel shards in. "Make sure she receives this."

Miroku took the gift in silence, stunned to discover the identity of Kagome's suitor. Inuyasha was flat on his back holding his jaw while the world spun around him. Sesshoumaru disappeared into the forest. "Inuyasha? Did you know that it was him?"

"Fuck no!" he groaned.

"I thought your brother hated humans."

"It looks like he made an exception," Shippo said with a smirk. He knew that Sesshoumaru would be able to provide for her and keep her safe, and from what Kagome and the taiyoukai said, the kit was fairly sure he loved her too.

When Miroku had given her the little bag she didn't know what to think, and when he'd told her who left it for her Sango just about had a heart attack. Everyone had watched intently as she opened it and pulled out a bracelet. Sango snatched it out of her hand and inspected it, holding it up for Miroku to look at too.

"D'ya think maybe I could have it back?" Kagome asked in an annoyed tone.

"Oh! Sorry," Sango said as she realized how rude she'd just been. "It's just… it's got a serious demonic aura. Don't you see it?"

"I haven't had a chance to look at it! You took it from me before I even saw what it was!" Sango handed her the gift and Kagome held it up for her own examination. Sango was right. It was a beautiful woven bracelet and it had a very obvious demonic aura. After a few minutes of looking at it Kagome walked over to Inuyasha and grabbed a fist-full of his hair.

Inuyasha let out a yelp as she yanked his hair lower and held the bracelet up to compare the two. "What the fuck, wench?"

"Oh shut up Inuyasha. I was right. It's his hair."

"His hair?" Sango asked in shock.

"Definitely his hair. Sesshoumaru's hair is more silvery than Inuyasha's but I'm sure."

The next morning Kagome woke up to fruit, flowers, and another demon head and she couldn't stop laughing. When her friends asked what was so funny all she could do was point. It was like his gifts were a combination of human and demon traditions, like he was really trying to make her happy but just couldn't leave out the head. It showed her that he cared enough to learn more about her and the warm fuzzy feeling in her chest grew. This time she let it.

Every morning for a week she woke to new surprises. There was a traditional miko outfit with blue pants instead of red, the blue matching the color of the crescent moon on his forehead, a new beautiful bow, a quiver of arrows, a book about mikos, and on the last morning, jeweled combs for her hair. Each perfect gift came with an offering of food, flowers, and another demon head.

She was surprised when he appeared at the edge of the clearing they had spent the night in but she shot him a bright smile and made her way to where he stood. She looked beautiful in his gifts and he knew the last would be the perfect finishing touch.

"Would you accompany this Sesshoumaru?"

Kagome grinned. "I don't know. Where does that Sesshoumaru desire to take this Kagome?" His arm wrapped around her waist and his youki cloud formed under their feet, giving Kagome just enough time to wave good-bye to her friends. "You know, I didn't say yes," she teased, wrapping her arms around his waist as they floated higher and higher up.

"You were going to," he said with a smirk. "Did you like your gifts?"

Kagome nodded excitedly. "Loved them! Well, maybe not the heads but everything else was wonderful."

"This Sesshoumaru is glad. You look beautiful." Kagome's head snapped up in shock and she stared at him. "What? Is this Sesshoumaru not allowed to compliment you?"

"It's just… I… never mind," she whispered.

"You did not expect this Sesshoumaru to do so?"

"Not really," she answered honestly. She looked around as they started to descend and smiled as she took in the beauty of the area. They were near the base of a waterfall and there were wildflowers everywhere. The cloud dissolved while their feet touched the ground and he led her to where his surprise was waiting. "A picnic?" Kagome asked in surprise.

"Rin has been helping this Sesshoumaru in understanding what you would enjoy." They sat side by side and were both quiet for a while before he decided he was ready. He reached into his sleeve and pulled out his last gift. "I would have given this to you sooner but it took some time to have made."

She reached out and took what he offered and gasped at the detail on the necklace she held. "You shouldn't have."

"It is your choice whether you wish to activate the spell that the pendant holds. If you agree to become this Sesshoumaru's mate it will bind you to me so that I will not lose you to time." He looked at her and knew what she was thinking. "You may ask your question."

"Why me?" she asked him once again.

"There are many reasons why you would make a suitable mate for this Sesshoumaru, but none of them are why I chose you. I did not understand at the time what the true reason was, though both my beast and Rin did. She helped me to see that…" he sighed, not sure how to say it. "I've never experienced this feeling before. I have always avoided emotions; even saw them as a weakness, but nothing about loving you could ever make me weak."

She looked up into his eyes and saw the truth in them. "You really do," she whispered before surprising him. She moved faster than he thought she was capable of and was in an instant straddling his legs and sitting in his lap. "Yes. Yes, I'll be your mate. What do we have to do for the spell?"

"Put the necklace on," he directed and once she did he cut his thumb on a fang and allowed a few drops of his blood to land on the pendant where it rested on her chest. Both the necklace and bracelet began to glow a bright green and Kagome watched, entranced, as the bracelet sunk painlessly into her skin, leaving a magenta braid around her wrist, the color matching his markings. The necklace did the same, leaving a braid around her neck and a crescent moon where the pendant had been. "You will now live as long as I," he said before sliding his fingers into her hair and gently pulling her in for their first kiss.

- - - - -

Kagome smiled at the two children sitting at her feet while she sat comfortably in front of an ornate fireplace. One hand rested on her rounded abdomen and every now and then she could feel the baby kick, making its presence known, like she could ever forget she was nine months pregnant.

"And that is why every year on this day your father gives me gifts. It's our anniversary."

"Okay, but Mama?" the little girl with magenta markings and black puppy ears said with confusion in her voice. "I understand the flowers and stuff, but why does he give you a demon head?"

"It's tradition…"