Rain had soaked every inch of the four youkai standing near the edge of the forest by Aion's keep. Though a torrential downpour would have made lesser beings appear as drowned rats, the gathered demons stayed ever pleasing to the eye. Clothes saturated or no, they managed to exude power and grace from every pore.

Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes as they came to rest on the charred remnants of a tree that had been shattered by lightning. The muddy earth around the small crater had been scorched even though enough water had been falling that it should have prevented it. Mouth flattening to a grim line, he brushed his wet bangs back from his forehead where little frigid droplets had begun to trail his face.

Seeing the raging storm they had traveled into once nearing his uncle's land had caused a dreaded suspicion to grow inside the Taiyoukai. He was very familiar with Shurin's mode of emotional outlet and attack since they were one and the same. When the congregated group had left Taisho Palace, he had debated on whether or not to bring Ah Un since his cousin and Kouga could not take to the air as the other two could. In the end, he had decided to have his dragon bring the wolf prince and dark dog demon to the very borders of the West and South, depositing them before returning to stay near to where Rin's rooms were. There was no way his mount could fit inside the castle without causing an uproar, but he could, however, take residence outside her windows in the garden which attached there. In leu of what had transpired that evening, his guards were well informed that the tightening of security was top priority, primarily in regards to the little girl and his half-brother's mutinous group.

The storm that had encased them, made their journey more difficult than it needed to be, had lost its potency when there was perhaps an hour left of their travel by foot upon crossing the boundaries which separated Lord Tachikaze's and Sesshoumaru's provinces. He didn't even want to think about the possibilities such a thing could mean, instead, focusing on keeping everyone in the same frame of mind as they moved like ghosts through the dense vegetation of the dragon's domain.

The smell of the rain-child's blood that was almost completely washed away from the area confirmed that his ex-personal aide was indeed ensconced in the thatch of buildings visible in the wavering countryside.

Really, he had expected the demon to head towards his uncle's when Sesshoumaru had been informed of his absence. Now, standing in the softly pattering rain of the youth's making, he felt a chill invade his bones that had nothing to do with the nearly freezing temperature, and everything to do with the realization that Kagome was somewhere inside the various structures spread out before them.

Daija came up alongside him, his vibrant hair flattened to his skull turning it the deep vermillion of fresh blood. Kouga stomped forwards, his customary battle attire in place, the fur matted and dirty high up his thighs from his hurried gait through the forest. The ookami had chosen to scout out ahead of them in small increments, his speed and coloring the perfect camouflage to perform said duty without being detected in case some of Aion's soldiers were patrolling nearby. He had run into not a single youkai in the vicinity, which was virtually unheard of since any lord of considerable wealth or prestige was known to have cells out roaming so they would be able to forewarn of an enemy's approach.

Sora stayed back, the dark inu youaki's expression grim and a little fearful beneath the horned helmet he wore. He was the only one who had put any head-gear on, a precautionary measure as well as a way to shadow his face from the others so they would not be able to read his feelings on returning to a place he had never wished to see again. A light of trepidation lingering from the amber orbs all those from the white dog heritage possessed made them glow eerily in the burgeoning shades of the horizon where the sun was just now vainly attempting to shine through. His grasp upon the slick pole from his glaive would have broken a lesser piece of timber, yet, because all weapons fashioned from wood were procured from the enchanted forests in the East, it naturally resisted the demon strength which punished it.

Glancing over to his cousin who was still going over the scene with a critical gaze, he lost himself in memories of what his childhood had been like within the frigid walls of his father's keeps.

Sesshoumaru, unaware of the other demon's musings, regarded Aion's fortress while working out various battle plans in his head. He couldn't simply use Toukijin to take out a wall along with the guards there because he wasn't sure where they would be holding Kagome. The last thing he wanted to do was accidentally kill the woman he had come all this way to rescue.

"Why the hell are we just standing here?!" Kouga demanded hotly, drawing the Taiyoukai's attention to the scowling wolf who was standing with his arms laced over his chest, feet spread apart in the slippery surface of the forest.

"We will not just go charging blindly into Lord Aion's castle without a plan, Lord Kouga," the phoenix answered calmly, awaiting his master's orders on what he would like to do next.

The ookami made a cutting gesture in the air between them with one hand, impatience thick in his voice when he bit out, "This is ridiculous! Who knows what the bastard has done to Kagome already and we aren't even hurrying to get in there to help her."

It didn't aid matters that all present knew about the bloody locket Sesshoumaru had received, the Wolf Prince's reaction of icy rage uncharacteristic for the commonly loud demon. The piece of metal seemed to pulse where it lay near the dog youkai's heart, as though it was trying to offer the unsettled male a bit of the comfort its owner would normally give him.

Movement brought all of their attention to a lone figure making their way out of the large gates of the keep, the growing illumination offering ample light for creatures who already had superior eyesight to clearly see that whoever it was wore a cloak to hide them and give shelter from the rain. Sora and Daija flanked their master, Kouga standing to the dark dog demon's left as they awaited the arrival of whoever was now traipsing slowly up the incline.

A stray wind brought a scent to the canines which had a low growl escaping the ookami's throat, arms falling to his side as he gripped the pommel of his sword with a white-knuckled hand.

Despite the unenthusiastic greeting, the figure halted a few feet from them, reaching up with clawed hands to push the hood of the cloak away, exposing pink hair and eyes with a lone black stripe trailing down one cheek. Clasping her fingers together to settle them at her midriff as the neko was wont to do, she inclined her head towards her previous master, the strands of her hair turning dark and spotted as water fell upon it.

"Greetings, Lord Sesshoumaru. I am instructed to invite you and your entourage into the keep to discuss terms."

His subordinates waiting for his command on what to do, Sesshoumaru took a step forward, separating him from the group. "I would assume, Cheiro, this request is extended from my uncle?"

"Precisely, Lord Sesshoumaru." She appeared relaxed and unconcerned even with the hateful glares of the ookami and phoenix trained upon her, as though there was nothing to fear from them.

"You're a fucking disgrace, neko," Kouga cut in suddenly, stomping forward to crowd the female who remained unaffected by his show of temper or his nearness. "We should kill you right now for your treasonous acts."

Gracing him with a cursory glance, she looked around him to the Taiyoukai once more. "Your answer, Lord Sesshoumaru?"

The wolf snarled and grabbed a fistful of her attire, dragging her face near his own, fangs snapping as he did. "I say we kill her and to hell with Aion's offer!"

"Stay your hand, Lord Kouga," the frigid voice of the dog demon floated into the angry youkai's ears, blue eyes slicing to him from their corners as Kouga kept his hold on her, but went no further. "You will release Cheiro and we will go meet with my uncle."

The cold amber of the eyes staring resolutely into the ookami's resembled hammered metal, glinting eerily without a hint of emotion shining from their depths. Unnerved by Sesshoumaru's attitude, the wolf frowned further before pushing the female youkai from him, the healer stumbling on the slippery grass. Straightening, smoothing the wrinkles from her garb, she turned to lead the males towards the keep which was slowly becoming brushed with pale rays of sunlight vainly attempting to peak through the clouds. Their breath fogged out as they exhaled, the temperature remaining low even with the rising of the sun, the ludicrous thought if Kagome was warm enough floating through the Taiyoukai's mind.

He knew, after the time he had spent with her, that the ningen was prone to the cold, easily susceptible to the weather, especially with being ill and towards the end of her cycle. Pushing such imprudent pondering from his mind, he focused instead on the layout of the small castle, how many guards were present, matching what Sora had drawn out for them in his study with what his eyes saw now.

For all intents and purposes, his cousin had described everything to perfection, the dark dog demon's memory of this place vivid and accurate. Though, he could relate. Any time spent in Aion's company wasn't forgotten or suppressed as one might wish over the passing of years.

Refusing to appear affected by the numerous youkai who watched their procession with varying stages of fear, anticipation and eagerness, the Taiyoukai's group kept with the neko, the scent of scorched stone and burned thatch reaching the youkai's nose. Frowning, Sesshoumaru turned his gaze to where it was coming from, puzzled at seeing the faint burnt outline of a jagged hole near the side of the huge central building they were now entering by a proper doorway.

Unbidden, his heart accelerated as his mind raced to put together what such a thing would symbolize. Shurin's lightning was no doubt what had done the damage here as it had up on the hill to that tree, and if the rain-child was utilizing his powers to break into Aion's stronghold, it could only point to one thing. A sick roiling he wasn't all together familiar with slithered in his gut as he remained outwardly stoic, climbing a set of stairs before doing so again towards their destination.

His personal aide, he had been sure was one of the key conspirators behind the assassination attempt his uncle had devised for him. Such certainty had he held in this regard, that he had even sent the youth away from him, giving him enough leeway to hang himself with once he bolted, as Sesshoumaru had been sure he would. So, when he had disappeared the night of Kagome's abduction, he had felt positive it was because Shurin was guilty and finally went to join the master he was loyal to.

The miko's earnest face appeared before his mind's eye, the pleading in her voice as she took the rain youkai's side against him, begging him to understand and see that the boy couldn't hurt him anymore than she could. What couldn't have been regret, but felt damn near like it, made the dog demon have to forcefully keep his posture from tensing, show any sign of the turmoil his thoughts were in.

When they came to the top floor where a single room was held, the double doors open and the scent of Shurin as well as his blood thick in the air, Sesshoumaru felt sick for the first time in his life at the smell of it. Usually, an odor of a sanguine nature didn't bother him. The exact opposite was the case, mostly, since being a demon, he reveled in it to some degree. But as his sharp eyes went straight to the large patch of smeared red on the otherwise clean floor where someone had tried to remove it, his pupils constricted to pinpoints, the amber of his irises heating.

Cheiro moved ahead down the passageway to where Aion sat in regal authority, a shell-shocked looking Kagome at his side normally where the lady of the house would sit with her mate. Teeth clicking together in aggression unwillingly at the sight of the female in foreign attire, the smell of her blood blanketing his nostrils even over Shurin's and the vague out of it look in her eyes, Sesshoumaru's gaze burned hotly into his uncle's.

Halting a fair distance away from the other white youkai, his guards and Kouga followed suit, the ookami's tail twitching in obvious agitation as his vibrant eyes stayed locked on the woman's face, even though she didn't give any sign of seeing them.

"Ah, Sesshoumaru," his uncle's voice washed over him like sweet oil, thick and cloying as it stuck to your skin, invading your senses completely. "I'm so pleased you decided to pay your dear uncle a visit. It has been too long, my loving nephew!"

The caricature of a smile on the malicious youkai's lips grated on all their nerves, the Taiyoukai deigning to bow as would be proper upon being received by another Lord of stature in their home. This demon was beneath such shows of propriety, and Sesshoumaru wasn't about to draw this out any more than necessary.

Cheiro had gone to stand at the side opposite Kagome by the male, pink orbs ever watchful on them, the only other youkai in the room, no guards present even though potentially hostile visitors were in court with their leader. It made the Taiyoukai on edge. His uncle had something up his sleeve, and he was sure he wouldn't have to wait long in order for it to be revealed.

"These games do not suit you, Aion. You know why I have come. It has nothing to do with you, uncle." The familial title fell derisively from his chiseled lips as he was drawn once more to look over the woman now that he was closer. Her hair was a wild tangle over her shoulders and down her back, a black and gold kimono on her body with Aion's insignia trailing over it. He saw that her feet were bare, and since the room wasn't warm seeing as how youkai tended to be fairly impervious to the elements, he was positive icy as well. Which wouldn't help to improve her illness any, he knew. Unfortunately, her hands she was keeping covered by a length of the silk she wore, her blood something he could smell, but the injury she had beyond his sight. He didn't know where she was hurt, Akito's memory faltering once being subjected to the miko's purifying.

A dark chuckle brought his attention back to his uncle who had watched the interplay between his nephew and the miko with keen eyes. "Of course. How very obtuse of me, neh, Sesshoumaru." Gesturing grandly to the floor, he nodded to all of them. "Please, sit. I believe we have terms to discuss, and standing is such a rude mannerism to adopt when entertaining matters of this magnitude."

A few seconds passed as both white dog demons did nothing but look at one another, neither moving a single muscle except to breath. After the silent war had been waged for some time, Sesshoumaru finally looked to his cousin who was standing there, staring at his father with a mixture of fear and hatred, his helmet still in place even though it went against decorum to keep it on once entering a building.

"Sora," he waited until the eyes, so like his own, finally turned to him before continuing. "You will stand guard by the doors, Daija," he took in the phoenix who moved his roiling irises from Kagome to his master, standing straighter at being addressed. "You will do the same as Sora. If it looks like a trap, you are to use any means possible to ensure the miko's safety."

Bowing deeply to show their respect of his wishes, they both answered a simultaneous, "Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama" before going to stand one on each side of the open doors, Daija taking the spot where Shurin's old stain lay since he figured it would offer a little relief to the young dog across from him.

Satisfied that his warriors were in place, Sesshoumaru sat gracefully directly in front of Aion with a few feet spanning them, Kouga doing the same at his side with less finesse so he could be in Kagome's unwavering eyesight.

Amused at his nephew's precautionary measure with his estranged son, Aion said idly, "Why send Sora away, Sesshoumaru? After all, it isn't like that little whelp wouldn't love spending some quality time with his father once more."

The Taiyoukai let the comment slide, staying silent and cold until the white youkai smirked as he put his chin in one hand, resting the elbow on his laced knees. "My, but you haven't changed, nephew. Still no sense of humor I see."

"We are not here to discuss my emotional characteristics or lack thereof, Aion."

Nodding, ponytail swaying with the motion to make the flames of the sconces dance across it beautifully, drawing attention to the ornament in his hair that represented the house Sesshoumaru's mother had come from, he grew frightfully serious. "You are right, of course, nephew. We aren't here to talk about you at all, are we?"

Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed as he glanced briefly to the miko who didn't seem to hear or see the wolf sitting in front of her who was talking to her lowly, trying to get her to respond. Taking note of the inu youkai's action, Aion removed his hand from his chin to reach over and trace deadly claws along her cheek, smirking at the reaction it produced from all the males in the room.

"It is for this woman that you all came here today, is it not?" The ookami prince's growl as he delicately traced a line from her brow to her ear was all the answer he needed, the female shuddering lightly at the caress.

"Get your fucking hands off her, you bastard!" Kouga had begun to lean as though preparing to stand or leap forward at the youkai who dared to put his hands on her.

Arching a white brow, bringing attention to the moon mark on his forehead so like the youkai sitting stoically beside him, Aion gave the growling lord a bored stare. "Or what, Lord Kouga? The wolf tribe cannot risk angering the Southern Lord by engaging in battle with another ruler inside his provinces, am I correct? Only family is permitted to battle one another or feud without the reigning youkai of the region becoming involved."

Tilting his head, he cut Sesshoumaru a narrow look as he deliberately let his claws tangle in the heavy mane of her ebony hair and move it over her shoulder to expose the side of her throat. "Besides, the miko and I are already well acquainted with one another. I assure you, this small caress is nothing compared to what we have already....indulged in."

Sesshoumaru felt his eyes ring red with rage as he immediately honed in on the dark bruise marring the white column of her throat in the same place he had kissed not that long ago. The youkai inside him was beyond understanding at seeing their future mate marked by another male, their mate being held captive by said male and being subjugated to their attentions unwillingly. Nausea gripped his innards as the icy dread of what that mark could have been a part of flashed across his vision.

Had Aion raped her? It would not be the first time his uncle was known to take a woman without her permission, something which had always sickened and appalled the son of Inutaisho. However, the idea that Kagome could have been one of his victims, and all because she had come to care for him, Sesshoumaru, enough for his uncle to notice, made him physically ill inside.

Vaguely, he was aware of Kouga barely keeping himself in check, his claws lengthening and digging deep gouges in the polished wood of his uncle's hall, teeth flashing and eyes roiling blue in his ire. All he could see clearly was the dark blue-black of the blemish, his uncle's thumb sliding over it in a lover's touch that made him want to rend the other youkai apart with his bare hands.

"Ah, she means as much to you as I had thought." Aion's calm words in the face of the enraged youkai brought Sesshoumaru back to reason, years of locking his emotions away from this youkai coming to the fore and dragging his primordial nature back into control no matter how it wished otherwise.

Blinking slowly till he knew his eyes were but ringed and not near turning, he hated himself in that moment when he asked with indifference, as though it held no great importance, "Did you force yourself on her, Aion?"

Kouga went inhumanly still at those words, horror and bitterness swimming in the tortured eyes trained on the human. He was terrified to hear the answer, to know if it was true, if the woman he cared so much for had been abused in such a hideous way.

Removing any contact with the girl, Aion waved a hand negligently before him. "Your lack of faith and low standards you view me in wound me, nephew." He let the suspense draw out further, relishing the torment both lords were ill concealing at this drama he was instigating. "However, you should be pleased to know I have not done anything of the sort with your miko. I've taken very good care of her in fact!"

Both youkai subtly released breaths of relief, the Taiyoukai's shoulders slouching a bit with the force of the emotion. Thank Kami for that! As it was, he could see she was in shock, from what he wasn't sure, but more than likely, a combination of all that had transpired since last evening. She was a human not familiar with carnage, and being exposed to his uncle's 'loving' solicitations would have sent the most hardened courtesan over the edge of sanity, let alone an innocent such as her. He just hoped he could get her removed from here as quickly as possible, begin to repair whatever damage the other youkai had wrought.

"You're a sick bastard, you know that?" Kouga's hate-filled whisper made the youkai it was addressed at arch his brow again in mild inquiry.

"I seriously doubt this matter has anything to do with you, wolf."

Kouga opened his mouth to retort when Sesshoumaru beat him to it, disarming an argument between the ookami and his relative before it began.

"What are the terms for Kagome's release, Aion. I would hear them and be done with this farce. I grow weary of your posturing."

"So impatient........and after visiting your mother's relatives after so long, you would think you would show better breeding than that, Sesshoumaru."

As the Taiyoukai was trying to salvage the legendary cool headed persona he was known for in the face of his uncle's continued irritating behavior, Kagome was slowly coming back to herself.

For she didn't know how long, the miko had been stuck within her own mind, replaying the more horrific events of the past twenty-four hours, driving herself deeper and deeper into whatever web of confusion she had found herself in. Sitting here, waiting for Sesshoumaru to make an appearance while perched next to Aion, she had allowed herself to withdraw from reality for a while, make an effort to give her overtaxed emotions a much needed break. The numbness she had felt was almost a godsend in her opinion. It blanketed everything till it seemed she was viewing the world with fuzzy glasses that didn't let her see clearly, clogging her ears so that all noise was a low hum and murmur she couldn't make out.

It wasn't until she had felt flesh running along her cheek, a deadly claw skim her throat in a familiar way, that awareness began to seep back in. With each second that ticked by, more and more of the world came into focus, the blurry shapes in front of her molding sharply into an outline, and finally, to reveal a person. The deafness left her ears, sound and voices trickling into the organs, gaining volume till she began to understand the words being spoken, recognize the voices saying them.

Taking in a deep breath, Kagome's eyes cleared of the glaze they had held since the youkai had entered, widening as she realized Kouga was sitting across from her, his blue eyes troubled, expression upset. He looked at her in shock at finding her back with the living all of a sudden, tuning out what Sesshoumaru and his uncle were saying, not daring to even lower his lids in case it was all a dream and she went back into her catatonic state.

"Kouga....?" Her unsure whisper had all noise silencing between the two white youkai who were bandying jibes back and forth at one another without ever getting to the real issue at hand. Swallowing to gain some moisture in her dry mouth, she slowly looked to the wolf's side, eyes watering, the sheen of unshed tears shining in them. "Sesshoumaru?"

When she went to launch herself at the Taiyoukai, the only thought in her mind to get to him and safety as soon as possible, touch him, make sure he was real and not a figment of her imagination, the crushing grip wrapping about her upper arm yanking her back to her seat made her falter. Crying out in alarm, she went to catch herself, placing her hands down to keep from sprawling all over the place, just to hiss in pain as the brunt of her weight went to her slowly healing hand.

Aion wrenched the woman to a sitting position once more, keeping her close to his side, a tight hold on her, in the event she went to bolt to his nephew again. A part of him was pleased she wasn't sitting there like a zombie any longer, that she would be able to fully appreciate the scene unfolding for her benefit without missing a thing. He hated when his elaborate schemes didn't go as planned, and her going into momentary shock had definitely put a damper on his mood. It looked like all that would change now, though!

The outstretched hand Kouga had thrown out in an attempt to grab her curled into a fist of rage that hung in the air before he lowered it to sit on his thigh, another growl working its way out of his throat.

"Now now, gentlemen. I'm not quite finished with issuing my terms for this little human's release, and I can't very well have her ruining it by showing a disgusting display of sentiment, now can I?" The youkia's overly polite words had Kagome cringing, the tone in his voice one she was becoming to know well.

Sesshoumaru was completely focused on her hand which lay in full view atop her thigh facing up, a bright red spot growing sluggishly as he watched, the spicy scent of the female's blood stronger and more potent now that Aion's pull had made her reopen it by accident. It stole the warmth from his veins, to see Kagome in such disrepair, damaged so heavily for no apparent reason. He wanted to snatch her away, take her with him, keep her close and never let her out of his sight. Curl about her in their bed, wrap his arm around her and hold her, offer her the comfort he was now accustomed to. When she had went to go to him he had been prepared to grab her, his primordial side overjoyed at seeing the human responding to something, anything, instead of looking like a lifeless doll.

Their reunion had been cut short by Aion. Of course. Who was at the root of this entire situation to begin with. But, seeing her injury, hearing her cry out, watching the way his relative handled the delicate miko, the flash of terror in her eyes, set a firm resolve and determination in his heart.

Bits and flashes of his past raced through his head at quicksilver speed. Kagome's words of goodbye, a piece of a song she sang, his mother's laughing voice praising him, his father asking him if he had anything he wished to protect......

With that last one, he let a serenity permeate his being, settle his turbulent feelings to a placid lake instead of the raging tsunami they had just been. Becoming blinded with anger would get him no where....his father's training had taught him that, not his uncle's. Right now, he would rely heavily on his sire's tutelage, the same youkai who had brought together a piece of a country, learned of his own death and accepted it, created a Well to magic a human priestess from the future here to aid his two sons, and left a letter explaining things with more clarity than any random ideas Sesshoumaru had ever took the time to mull over all these past decades.

One good thing about where the arrow had hit was that it wasn't a place which would kill her, unless a form of infection set in that is. Naturally, it also meant that her using a bow again would be in jeopardy, and since he didn't know exactly how bad the wound was, he wanted her out of here and to a healer as soon as possible. Knowing his uncle's penchant for dramatics, he seriously doubted Cheiro had seen to the miko, offer her anything which would alleviate pain or hasten healing.

"Terms, Aion, now." The ice crystals hanging from each word made even Kagome shiver as though someone had just waltzed over her grave.

The grip Aion had upon her ensured that she wouldn't be leaving his side until he deemed it appropriate, and now that Sesshoumaru was there, scant inches away, there was nothing she wanted more than to go right to him. Admittedly, she was a tad confused at Inu Yasha's absence during all this. The hanyou was known to go charging into battle right along with everyone else, and she vaguely wondered what bribe or restraints the Taiyoukai had used in order to keep his sibling home with the rest of her friends.

Pulling the tense form of the ningen closer to his chest so she was nearly sitting in his lap facing the others, using his free hand to sift through the soft strands near her temple with his free hand, the white dog demon murmured in amusement, "Really, nephew, aren't you having any fun? After I went to all this trouble too." He shook his head, his chin stopping to lean atop the girl's hair as he regarded his sister's child. "Though, I can see why you would wish proceedings to be expediated. If I had such a creature at my disposal, I wouldn't wish her to be with anyone else either. She does offer such......pleasant entertainment."

Grinding her teeth at being talked about as though not even present, Kagome lost her temper over his last remark to send her elbow back sharply into his armored stomach, forgetting her situation in the face of her anger. The stinging along her arm let her know the hit probably hadn't done much damage to him, but it did wonders for releasing some of the helpless frustration which had been accumulating for a while now.

Letting out a surprised "oomph", Aion was jarred from his position momentarily before readjusting his grip on the female to grab both her upper arms in a hard grip. Growling into her face as he turned her slightly to face him, he shook her slightly, annoyed with her mutinous glare. "If we didn't have an audience, woman, I would take great pleasure in teaching you your place!"

Baring her own teeth at him, she growled back at him, blue-grey eyes snapping in a fury none of those assembled save Aion had seen before. "I recall you saying such things before, Aion, and they didn't work then as they would not now!"

Kouga's mouth was hanging open in shock, dazed at witnessing this side of the normally passive mellow human. He had watched her in ire before with Inu Yasha, how she scolded the hanyou, or even her hatred towards Naraku, but never had he seen her act outright aggressive with someone else. Especially not displaying characteristics that more befit a canine youkai than a ningen.

Likewise, Sesshoumaru's brows were raised to nearly disappear in his bangs, the only visible show of the amazement he felt at watching his uncle and Kagome's 'conversation'. He had seen the dog demon slay others for less disrespect than she was displaying, and though he had felt a second of foreboding at what she had done, it was quickly blanketed by the outlandish sight of his uncle actually allowing the girl to get away with it, settling for giving her a warning instead of the deathblow he had been certain would follow.

Amber eyes narrowing dangerously at his captive, Aion went to great lengths to bring himself under control, not permit himself to be swayed by the swelling emotions boiling in his system that were nonexistent any other time. What was it with this girl?! It never failed, any time he was near to her, touched her, she made him act completely out of character.

Centering himself by sheer will, he inhaled deeply, a slow sinister smirk growing on his lips, the miko's expression turning wary at seeing it. The insidious chuckle that followed did little to calm the alarm that was replacing the bravado of before.

Moving to look at his nephew from the corner of one eye, Aion said in a pleasant voice, "Isn't she wonderful, Sesshoumaru? Such fire and spirit." Moving faster than her eyes could follow, she suddenly found her chin captured in his hand, claws brushing softly along her skin as he focused on her upturned face. "How I would love to break her. I'm almost convinced I should just keep her and disregard everything else just for the pleasure of it."

"Get your damn hands off me! You and your idle threats hold no interest for me, Aion." She was happy that her anger had returned at his musing. It helped her overcome the bone-chilling terror that had almost consumed her at the reminder of how they had spent their last episode in the bedchamber.

Another delighted laugh fell from his lips, his head tilting back to show the ivory column of his throat, and she was almost tempted to bite him again, just for the hell of it.

Wishing to forestall another bout of what could turn deadly in a matter of seconds between the youkai and human, Sesshoumaru interjected, "You do not want to keep her, Aion. I assure you, the human is more trouble than she is worth. So let us get this done, my patience has grown thin with the continued delay of it all."

The miko's outraged, "Why you!" was overrun by Aion moving her forcefully to her previous spot of almost lounging on him as he replied smoothly, "Very well. Terms for the miko's release are as follows. You will forfeit the rule of the Western Lands. A whelp of Inutaisho's has no right to bear such an honor, despite the aristocratic blood of your mother flowing in your veins. You will appoint me as the new leader of said provinces and henceforth leave its borders with your miko and never return." He gave the passive Taiyoukai a considering look. "Should these terms not be tolerable for you, your only other option is to fight for her." His face became disparaging, his voice mocking as he added, "Though it would be a waste of time since we both know I would be the victor since I trained you personally and you now only possess one arm to battle with."

The wolf sat back to cross his arms over his chest, a cocky tilt to his lips. "You're an idiot if you think Sesshoumaru is going to give up his title to you."

Not sparing the prince a glance, he absently traced his fingers along one of the female's upper arms, continuing to wait to see what his nephew would say. "Perhaps, Lord Kouga. But Sesshoumaru also knows that I am correct with the latter. He cannot win against me."

The youkai in question was silent as he went over the different scenarios in his mind, working out the best course of action in dealing with this. Aion knew he would never give up his rule, no matter what was held hostage for it. Though he may have to come to cherish the woman being held by his uncle, he would never allow himself to be replaced on the throne of his lands, and deep down, he knew she wouldn't allow him to anyway. She would know that it would never sit well with him, to not be what he was born and bred to be, and that she was the cause for it. Not to mention, he had no intention of ending up like his father who had gone through a similar situation with Inu Yasha's mother.

Feeling everyone's eyes on him, including his guards by the doors, he mulled over every aspect of the situation, Shurin's face flashing in front of him for a moment. "Where is Shurin, Aion?"

"The rain-child?" Aion asked, though he obviously already knew the answer, his spies within Taisho Palace keeping him well informed on everyone within its walls. "He's currently enjoying the honorous gift of my hospitality. I regret to say, however, that he isn't feeling exactly well at the moment."

"That could be because you stabbed him, you bastard!" Kagome bit out fiercely, glaring with all she was worth at his profile.

Nodding, he answered blithely, "Yes, that would probably be why, miko. You are right."

While Kagome was contemplating the odds of being able to jab him again without him noticing in time, Sesshoumaru chose that moment to give his own set of terms to the youkai.

"Your terms are unacceptable. Release the woman, give me back my personal aide, and we shall leave here peacefully without any more bloodshed."

A sigh of false lament lifted the chest she was leaning on, made her bob with the movement. "Unfortunately, Sesshoumaru, your terms are unacceptable as well. It would appear we are at a draw, nephew. What would you propose we do to solve this?"

There was a foreign light in the Taiyoukai's eyes that made Kagome stiffen, after getting to know him so well, easily reading what he was about to do. Raising her good hand to point an accusing finger at him, drawing his attention, she whispered harshly, "Don't even think about it, Sesshoumaru. Don't you even dare....."

Puzzled at her words, Kouga looked to the demon at his side. "What are you thinking of doing, Sesshoumaru?"

Scowling, ignoring the wolf's question, she went on tremulously, "If you do, I'll never forgive you, you idiot."

The Taiyoukai's features softened minutely as he gazed at her, the barest trace of a grin passing over his lips as he addressed her. "Liar."

Heart aching with his answer, her shoulders slouching, she bit her lip to keep from arguing with him, his voice as he spoke to his uncle making her close her eyes in misery.

"An agreement of terms cannot be met. Therefor, we fall on recourse and engage in battle. The victor's conditions are then met, and final. Is this proposal to your tastes, Aion?"

Face now a steely mask, Aion inclined his head once. "Agreed. I suggest we take this to the eastern dojo, inclimate weather proving too much of a hindrance in this case. I wouldn't wish for you to cry foul because of slipping in the mud when you lose, nephew."

"The location is also accepted." He felt the old familiarity of an upcoming challenge begin to take hold of him, the poison in his system already heating and rushing to the surface in preparation of being summoned by its master.

"Weapons?"

"Any you wish, they matter naught," Sesshoumaru said easily. Nothing his uncle could use would phase him, there were none the sadistic youkai had not used on him before already.

"Swords, and whatever inheritant abilities you possess." With each new designation, Kagome could feel her heart constricting even more with fear, not for herself, but for the dog demon across from her. A part of her was angry at him for engaging in this stupidity. Didn't he realize he could die?!

"Agreed. Anything else?"

False sympathy coated the voice of the male holding her when he said, "Since I am not heartless, I see no reason why you and your human can't have time to bid farewell to one another once we are there. I will allow you two a few moments to say your goodbyes before we start."

"You mistake a fleeting separation for a morbid finality, Aion, but I will accept this as well."

Laughing at his nephew's arrogant words, Aion rose, taking the woman with him, keeping a hold on her until they would reach the dojo. "Then let us proceed, Sesshoumaru. The sooner I defeat you, the sooner the Western Lands finally get a decent ruler. Besides," he glanced down at the down-bent head next to him fondly, "I might decide to keep the miko as a concubine when all is said and done. You can always have her once I tire of her."

Kouga would have launched himself at the damn dog if he hadn't been so certain of Sesshoumaru's imminent victory in this fiasco. Instead, he reigned in his temper and followed the growing procession of the two white youkai and female to the doors, Sesshoumaru's guards falling into step immediately as their master left.

Sesshoumaru would kick his uncle's ass, this he knew. Then Kagome would be free, Shurin would get released, and they would all be in the Taiyoukai's halls by sundown enjoying a celebration over sake.

Assured of his thoughts, the ookami continued on down the halls of Aion's keep, already envisioning tonight's celebrations.

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Kagome stood facing Sesshoumaru, his uncle across the span of the huge dojo that resembled the Taiyoukai's own, save its lack of windows and doors as the other possessed. Kouga, Daija and Sora were all standing off to the side, giving them what privacy they could with the semblance that they were keeping a close eye on the only entrance and exit to the building, in case any of Aion's own troops would decide to join them. The demon had said there would be no interference, but they all knew to trust what he was said was sure folly.

Gazing up in the inu youkia's amber eyes, searching his serious face that even now gave nary any emotion away, Kagome felt tears surfacing. Sniffling, she reached out with both hands to smooth out the collar of his haori, being careful to use only the edge of her injured palm as she did. He let her fuss over him, knowing it was her way of distracting herself from whatever distressing thoughts were floating about in that head of hers.

Hoping to bring her back to a bit of her normal self, he said flatly, his voice causing her to still and stare up at him, "Your lack of faith in me is going to give me a complex."

Mouth falling open, it took her a second to realize he was trying to tease her, put her at ease, let her know everything was going to be okay. Deciding to play along with it for the moment, she stepped back to cross her arms over her chest, head tilted at an arrogant angle as she looked down her nose at him.

"Ha! Aren't you the same youkai who said I nearly killed you in your own bed from me hitting you in the stomach with my elbow?" Arching a brow, she shook her head while sighing heavily, as though greatly disappointed in him. "I mean, I know I am a great foe and could vanquish anyone, but I was hoping for a better fight from the supposed feared Taiyoukai of the West." Reaching over, she patted his hand consolingly, the other youkai watching everything unobtrusively. "I'm afraid your reputation is going to be forever tarnished now once that gets out."

Frowning down at her for bringing that up where everyone could hear, they were all demons after all and the space wasn't large enough to allow for total privacy, he said with a scoff, "Your addled female brain doesn't remember the situation clearly, as usual, Kagome." Shaking his own head at her, his long silvery hair swaying gently back and forth, he added, "We shall have to be certain and get you checked over by a healer once we get back. I can't have a crazed human running around my castle, spreading her madness."

Eyebrow twitching, teeth grinding together, she stepped forward to poke him in the chest in her favorite place, right above where his armor stopped so he could feel her nail stabbing at him. "I am not crazy, you jerk!" Stomping her bare foot on the floor, the sound reverberating in the cavernous chamber, she poked him again. "If anyone is a nut, it's you, Mr. I Am All Powerful Hear My Name And Tremble In Terror For I Am The Great And Formidable Lord Sesshoumaru!"

Arching a cool brow, he asked placidly, just because he knew it would goad her temper, and he much preferred her yelling at him than cowering, "How are you able to talk so long without even taking a breath?" He tilted his head in consideration, sweeping her in concentration as though searching for something as he leaned down a bit towards her. "Perhaps you actually have some special innate ability to ramble on about nonsense which allows you to forgo the need for oxygen altogether."

Pulling at her hair in agitation, Kagome growled in frustration, being mindful not to use her hurt hand too much, her action unknowingly exposing her neck to his sharp eyes. Releasing the strands, after shoving them behind her shoulders, she went to poke him again and give him an earful on his lovely manners. The feel of his fingertips sliding along her skin from below her ear to the hallow of her throat made her falter, stop and stare dumbly up at him even though he was completely focused on what he was doing.

When it clicked what he was looking at, she cringed and put her hand over his own and the mark as though to hide it, shame bubbling up inside her. Him seeing it once in Aion's hall was bad enough, she didn't want to even guess at Sesshoumaru's thoughts now that they were relatively alone. He probably thought her weak for not fighting his uncle off, or maybe that she had deserved it from how he knew her temper got the better of her at times. The experience was too new for her to understand it, work everything out, pick apart her own misgivings over it, and what others might see it as.

Unbeknownst to her, the aura synchronization had initiated as soon as his skin had touched hers, the Taiyoukai feeling her emotions crash over him, making him scowl, lips thin in displeasure.

Kagome, seeing this, mistook it for what she feared was disgust and would have retreated if his grip hadn't tightened subtly to keep her from doing so. Lowering her eyes, not being able to bear his reaction, she hugged her midriff with her free arm in an attempt to comfort herself.

"You feel ashamed. Why?"

She didn't bother to look up when she answered his query in a pained whisper. "Because......." Swallowing in an attempt to dislodge the stubborn lump now living there, she tried again. "Because......" giving up, she finished helplessly, "I don't know why."

Since she wasn't aware that he could feel her turmoil within himself as though it were his own, he could understand her confusion on how to assimilate the maelstrom inside in enough order to translate it coherently. Sighing heavily, the rage and fury he had felt towards his uncle reaching new heights, he used the leverage he had to maneuver the woman till her face was clear to him. When he saw she still wouldn't meet his eyes, Sesshoumaru leant forward till his forehead lay against her own, the action causing her stare up at him in surprise.

"Never fear that I will reject you, Kagome. Whatever has happened, none of it is your fault." He searched the blue-grey orbs so close to his own, willing her to understand and accept what he was telling her. It pained him, the new shadows, the haunted quality, that now resided in her eyes, something hollow and damaging that couldn't be erased easily or with little effort. Though her fingers still trapped his own, he managed to move them enough to caress the bruise lightly, careful not to apply pressure lest it hurt her. "No matter what Aion may have done, what he has told you, do not ever believe that I would turn my back on you for something far beyond your control."

Overcome with emotion at his words, she nodded silently as tears began to trail down her cheeks, reassured at what he was telling her. Releasing a shuddering breath, she leaned forward to let go of his hand, wrap her arms about his body and hug him as she had wanted to do since seeing him here at Aion's keep, mindful not to crush the silky length of tail lacing about his shoulder.

A moment of quiet enveloped them before he asked, "How is your hand? I know it must pain you, but rest assured I shall do anything in my power to ensure you retain the full use of it after this. Even if I have to take you back to your own time."

Confused at the last part, she frowned in puzzlement. "How can you take me back there? I thought that the only reason you could go through the Well in the first place was because you were sick." Coming back to his question, she added, "And my hand is alright. Not....as bad as you might think."

It was his turn to feel a tad puzzled, but instead of asking any more questions, he simply stated, "I will explain everything to you later. For now, it is enough for you to know that everything will be fine."

She nodded, finding comfort in the Taiyoukai's words despite the dire situation as tears continued to fall.

Sesshoumaru let his chin rest on top of her head, feeling her tears soaking into his haori, the way her breath flit along his skin near his heart, reminding him of something. Moving his hand to trail in the hair at the nape of her neck, the heavy fall of it hiding the massaging motion he was doing in the knotted muscle he found there, he told her softly, "I have something of yours that I am sure you will be happy to see again."

Sniffling, she asked in a muffled voice, "What is it?"

Hiding the smile her curiosity gave him by nuzzling his face near her ear, he noticed how her hold on him tightened, as though she was afraid he was getting ready to move away, her hand tangling in his tail and hair. "My uncle was kind enough to send me your locket."

Her mind was filled with memories, her hand pulsating at the remembered pain of the dog demon crushing the jewelry against the wound to stain it red. Clinging to him without knowing it, trembling from what she had recalled, she could only nod, her cheek bumping the top of his bone armor as she did.

Since he didn't know precisely what had happened in regards to the locket, he was puzzled at how his bringing it up made her react. Annoyed with his own blundering, he quickly added in an attempt to bring her out of the quagmire of her thoughts, "If you find, after this is all over, that it does not suit you any longer, I shall purchase a new one for you."

Recognizing it as his way of apologizing for upsetting her, the miko stepped back, letting her arms drag along his sides until she had let go of him completely, if reluctantly. Wiping the moisture from her face, her crying having ceased, Kagome gave the Taiyoukai a wan smile, his arm falling away when she had left.

"I tell you what, Sesshoumaru. Do me a favor?" She waited for him to nod before going on. "Keep it with you until after the fight with Aion, alright? It.....it's always brought me luck to have my family with me, and I hope it will do the same for you."

Moved by her admission, he did something that had his uncle arching a speculative brow, Kouga and his guards staring on in wide-eyed amazement. Putting his arm across his chest, he bowed lowly to her at the waist as a show of respect, his hair trailing over his shoulders to almost brush the floor. "This Sesshoumaru would be honored to carry such a talisman into battle with him."

Not knowing what to do at this display, she waved her hands frantically in front of her. "Please, Sesshoumaru, don't bow to me." A blush stained her cheeks as she noticed everyone watching them. "Will you stand up already so people will stop staring?!" she whispered in an embarrassed rush.

Amused at her antics, he straightened, sending the errant silver locks back to their customary place with a careless shake of his head. Smirking at the blushing human, fang flashing from the wall sconces blazing along the walls, he listened to her berate him, happy that she was back to telling him how wrong his behavior was.

"I swear, you just love driving me up the wall. A simple thank you would have been fine for crying out loud! Can't you ever do anything without going out of your way to draw attention?"

Pretending to give the matter serious thought, lifting his hand to cradle his chin with a hum, he finally said, "No."

Throwing her hands up in defeat, she mumbled under her breath about 'insufferable youkai' and their 'arrogant tendencies towards the grandiose'. He would have let her continue to work herself up if he hadn't been aware of his uncle moving into readiness out of the corner of one eye, their time together coming to a close for now.

"Woman, if you could halt in your unseemly disparage of my character, could you please hurry up and say farewell so I can get this finished and go back to my palace?"

She considered strangling the male for all of five seconds before finally just sighing and letting it go. It was his way to push her buttons until she couldn't see clearly from her need to keep herself from smacking the hell out of him. Catching sight of Aion unsheathing his sword, she tensed, realizing that soon the Taiyoukai would be facing his uncle, the dependancy of him winning weighing thickly in the air.

Adopting a calm exterior, Kagome presented a proud bearing, even in her bare feet and rumpled clothing, wishing for him to not leave remembering her as a crying sniveling woman. She had faith in him. He would win. That's the only option there was, really, so that was what she would hold onto no matter what happened.

Reaching out to hold one striped cheek in her palm she said with a smirk to rival Inu Yasha's, "Go out there and kick his ass, Sesshoumaru." Coming to a decision, she moved forward quickly to give him a fleeting kiss on the lips, pulling away before he could do anything about it as the blush on her cheeks deepened. "And don't you dare get hurt, because I'm not nursing you back to health if you do!" she threatened before going to leave him.

She let out a startled 'eep' when his hand tangled in her hair, drug her forward as he lowered his head to kiss her deeply. Certain the red on her face was never going to leave, she let her eyes slide closed and enjoy the moment, the feel of his tongue brushing the inside of her mouth caressively, gently, the taste of him filling her senses until nothing else existed. The hand on his face traced the twin markings, absorbed the texture of his skin that was so different from any other she had felt before because it was his.

When he pulled away at last, letting go of her abruptly, Kagome almost fell over, catching herself in time, the heated amber of his gaze sending a fissure or warmth that encompassed her entire body. The blue-grey of her irises reflected the deep affection she held for him, the love and devotion clear for him to see even if she didn't know it.

Taking in her flushed features, the rosy color of her kissed lips with satisfaction, he straightened into his usual arrogant pose, a mask falling over his face, any trace of the kiss gone. Turning away from her, he began to walk towards his side of the room, cracking his knuckles as he did. "Quit dawdling, woman, and get over there with the others before you get in the way. I'll be there shortly."

Exasperated, but happy at the same time, she grinned before calling out, "Don't tell me what to do, you arrogant dog demon!" before dutifully doing as she was told and walking to where Kouga, Daija, and Sora were, purposefully not looking at any of them.

Taking a deep steadying breath, she went to stand between Sesshoumaru's two guards, waiting in the deathly silence for it to begin, hoping it wouldn't but knowing no wishing would make it stop.

With a twin flurry of white, both demons went charging at each other, and Kagome began praying like she never had before.

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